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From Across the Miles by Wendy P.

Word count 14,545

Chapter 1

Murdoch Lancer consulted the letter he had just placed on his massive oak desk.

In response to his elder son’s question he replied,  “Iain says they’ll be arriving in San Francisco on the ship Dakota and after he concludes his business there they’ll leave around April 24th, get the train to Modesto and then come by coach, arriving in Morro Coyo on the 26th. He will telegraph us from Modesto to let us know when
they are leaving for Morro Coyo.”


Amongst the mail that Johnny had brought from town that afternoon was a letter postmarked Melbourne, Australia. To say that Johnny was intrigued would be an understatement; to his knowledge Murdoch knew no one in Australia.

He was sorely tempted to open the letter but decided against such a rash move – Murdoch had been positively jovial that morning and his younger son thought it best to avoid any act that might affect his father’s disposition. So he waited, albeit impatiently, for Murdoch to return that evening.

Murdoch was barely inside the front door before Johnny called from upstairs, “That you Murdoch?”

“It is indeed.” replied Murdoch as he closed the door and placed his hat and gunbelt on the nearby stand.

He looked up in surprise as Johnny came bounding down the stairs, followed more sedately by Scott. When Johnny had told his brother about the letter Scott’s interest was also piqued and he too was eager to find out about the letter.

“There’s a letter for ya from Australia,” announced Johnny. “Who d’ya know in Australia Murdoch?”

“Australia?” puzzled Murdoch as he walked towards his desk. “I don’t think I know anyb… no wait a minute, Iain… Iain Gillespie…”

Murdoch picked up the letter from the desk and sat in his leather chair turning the envelope over and over as he stared out of the picture window. He hadn’t heard from, or indeed even thought about, Iain for nigh on… how many years would it have been? He couldn’t remember. In any case it was far too long he thought sadly. He should have kept in touch if not for Iain then for his mother’s sake.

“Iain Gillespie? Who’s Iain Gillespie?” queried Johnny in exasperation. At this rate he would never find out who sent the letter. The imperious voice of his youngest regained the father’s attention.

“He’s my mother’s youngest brother Johnny. Let me read the letter and then I’ll explain.”

He quickly perused the missive whilst his sons waited impatiently.

“Well boys, it seems we will be having some guests staying with us shortly.” Murdoch Lancer said. 

“Guests?” queried Teresa who had just entered the room and was beginning to lay the table for supper. “How many? I’ll have to air the spare rooms and the linen. Not to mention picking some flowers. When are they coming Murdoch, I hope not for a few days because with all this spring-cleaning I just don’t have enough time to …” she

Scott laughed, “Slow down Teresa. I’m sure the rooms are already in order.” He turned to his father, “When are they coming, Murdoch?”

Upon hearing that she would have plenty of time to prepare Teresa hurried out to the kitchen to let Maria know that they were expecting guests in a few weeks.

“Business, huh.” stated Johnny. “That’s a mighty long way to come for a business meetin’!”

“It is a long way Johnny, but Iain is coming to San Francisco to meet with some textile manufacturers who intimated that they would sign some contracts to import wool from Australia.

Jelly Hoskins snorted as he placed the armful of wood he had just carried in near the fireplace. Although the days were now longer and warmer the nights still had a certain chill to them and the fire was relit each evening. “Humph, hope he ain’t plannin’ on bringin’ any o’ them woollies with `im.”

Johnny grinned at his brother and Scott reciprocated. Murdoch meanwhile turned away from the old man to hide the smile on his face.

Jelly had however seen the grins on the faces of the two youngest Lancers.

“Oh you two can stand there grinnin’ like Cheshire cats if ya want, but ya remember as well as I do what happened when Johnny brought that Gabe feller and his woollies to Lancer. No tellin’ what folks round here’d do if they saw more o’ them varmints on Lancer.”

“Relax Jelly, Iain isn’t bringing any sheep with him. He’s in California to arrange the importation wool from Australia, not the actual sheep. He’ll have some Saxon Merino wool samples with him, but he’ll have left the sheep behind.” Murdoch smiled kindly at the old man.  

“Well just so’s he does.” the Lancers’ old friend said grimly. He could be heard muttering to himself as he left the room “More trouble than they’re worth, stupid brainless creatures, who ever heard of havin’ an animal that ya have ta cut it’s coat off each year. Give me a cow any day o’ the week, why if I…”

Murdoch consulted the letter again, “Iain says that the Saxon Merino is without peer in the quality of wool produced. Specifically, the wool is extremely bright and white in colour, soft to handle and fine, that is narrow, in diameter. These features make the wool prized by the textile industry for the highest quality and most expensive cloths it can produce. Superfine Saxon Merino wool normally commands price premium in the market.”

Johnny’s eyes sparkled as he suggested, “Hey Murdoch how about I find a sheep to bring home with Iain? We could tell Jelly that the buyers wanted to see the whole animal not just it’s coat.”

Murdoch smothered his laugh and managed to say in a serious voice, “It’s called fleece Johnny and no, I don’t think that would be a good idea at all. Apart from the fact that it would give Jelly a heart attack he’s right – people round these parts would not see the humorous side.” At that thought he became deadly serious, “Lucy lost her life over the fight over Gabe’s sheep remember.”

Johnny’s smile died instantly at the mention of Lucy. He still felt guilty about bringing Gabe home and inadvertently bringing about Lucy’s death. Sure he had no idea his gratitude to Gabe for saving his life would have such disastrous consequences and if he had known he certainly would not have invited the sheepman back to Lancer. Gabe had tried to tell him, but no, he knew better and it had cost Lucy her life.

To brighten the conversation again Scott said, “Well Murdoch, you were going to tell us about this Iain Gillespie.”

He looked at his brother, “If he’s our grandmother’s brother that would make him our great-uncle. It will be interesting to meet a Lancer relative, they certainly are a rare breed in America.” Scott smiled at his father, not wishing to cause offence at his remark.

“That is true, other than Iain all of my remaining relatives are still in Scotland. I regret that it is not easier for you to meet them boys.” //And so sad that they cannot see what fine men you two have grown into as well. I would love to be able to show you off.//
Murdoch thought proudly.

Murdoch moved over to the settee in front of the now blazing fire and motioned his sons to sit. Johnny chose the large armchair to the right of the fireplace whilst Scott positioned himself at the other end of the settee to his father. Both turned expectantly towards Murdoch. It was a rare occurrence for Murdoch to share his past, let
alone volunteer the information, and they were eager to hear about this previously unknown relative.

“As I said,” Murdoch began, “Iain is my mother’s youngest brother. Much younger in fact,” he smiled at his sons, “he is actually only a month older than I am!”

He fully expected a comment from his youngest about `old men’ but although a retort was on the tip of Johnny’s tongue he held back, not wanting to interrupt the flow of his father’s thoughts.

Murdoch smiled, “I’ve never realised it before, Johnny but do you know that Iain is Gaelic for John?”

“Iain Madrid… Iain Madrid.” mused Scott with delight, “No Johnny, I don’t think that has the right ring to it. How could men be a feared of a gunfighter named Iain Madrid!”

He ducked to avoid the cushion that was thrown at his head and it sailed harmlessly by to land on the floor behind the settee. Murdoch chuckled before he continued.

“Mother came from what would have been a large family if all the children had survived. She was the eldest daughter although she had one brother, Andrew, who was two years older. Iain was twenty years her junior, there were six children born between Mother and Iain but only one, Alan, survived past childhood.  Illness took them, sadly some only in infancy. The family plot at the Inverness Cemetery is testament to the tragedies that struck the Gillespie family, like many others, over the years.” he said sadly.

“But fate seemed determined to dog Mother’s family further. Iain married young, he was only eighteen when he met and subsequently married his Aileen. As I was the closest in age we were more like brothers than uncle and nephew so he asked me to be his best man. They had been happily married for four years and had three delightful children, two boys, Hamish and Lachlan, and a girl, Mhàiri, when I made the decision to come to America.”

“We exchanged letters for a number of years after my arrival and then after about ten years I heard nothing from him. I thought perhaps that the letters had gone missing but it wasn’t until I received a letter from my mother that I discovered why I hadn’t heard from him.” Murdoch stopped and thought back to that day, he shivered even today thinking of the chilling news his mother had passed on to him.

His mother, who had never quite recovered from his decision to leave Scotland and start a new life in America, never failed in each and every letter to appeal to him to come home. It pained him to respond each time that he had to disappoint her. How could he leave America with one son living in Boston and the other missing? It was

And then came his mother’s letter about Iain. She was distraught, for not only had her twenty-two-year-old son left Scotland and deserted her but also ten years later her thirty-two-year-old brother had emigrated to Australia. However it was the reason for
Iain’s desertion of his homeland that was the hardest to bear.

Chapter 2

Aileen, Iain’s beloved and devoted wife and all three of their wonderful children had been burned to death in a croft fire. Living in the city the children had yearned for a country holiday and so he had after much pestering from them given in and rented a croft in which they were to spend a month relaxing in the Scottish countryside. 

It was on their third day there that early in the morning Iain had taken their Cairn Terrier Fergus for a walk through the heather covered hills. Unbeknownst to him while he was gone a log had rolled out of the fire and set fire to the croft. His sleeping family had died in their beds, the smoke ending their lives before the flames ever reached them. Iain had suffered a breakdown at the loss of his family, blaming himself for putting them in danger. 

He had eventually recovered, to a degree, but could not bear the thought of staying in Scotland. 

Scott and Johnny had sat silently whilst Murdoch told of Iain’s anguish.

“Mother kept me informed of Iain’s life but I am ashamed to say I lost touch with him and we never corresponded again.”

“Until now, so it seems.” said his elder son.

“So it seems.” agreed Murdoch. He continued, “In 1847 a childhood friend of Iain’s from the highlands of Scotland, Lachlan Patterson, had gone to Australia where he took up a run of over 16,000 acres, naming it Glenalbyn Station after his native glen, Glenalbyn. He asked Iain to come and work on the run.”

At the puzzled looks from both his sons Murdoch explained that a ‘run’ was a huge range of pasture without any fences and usually uncleared, “What we would call open range I suppose.” he said.

“So Iain emigrated to Australia in 1853. He made the arduous sea voyage to Melbourne and travelled overland by bullock dray to Kingower, only to find that by the time he arrived at Glenalbyn the run had been taken over by a Cambridge University educated Reverend William Hall.”

“Didn’t his friend tell ’im that he was goin’, or where he was goin’?” Johnny queried incredulously.

“Well back then, just like here in California, the mail wasn’t as reliable as it is now. Robberies, shipwrecks, dishonesty – any number of things could have delayed or even destroyed the mail. So no, he didn’t hear from Lachlan.”

“Disappointed as he was he liked what he saw in William Hall and he stayed on at Glenalbyn, living in a slab hut. He became firm friends with William and his wife Elizabeth who lived at their other run, Brenanah, until they built on Glenalbyn in 1856.”

“They had something in common too, for the Halls had also lost a child. William Hall had been given the task of establishing the first Church of England church in inland Victoria. But he soon became disillusioned and in 1853 just after their daughter Eleanor died he left Ballan with all their possessions in a bullock wagon. He made for the newly discovered goldfields at Kingower and beyond to become a pioneer squatter. He had with him in a special lead lined sealed coffin the body of his seven-month-old daughter who ultimately was buried at Brenanah.”   

“Iain adored the Hall children Mary, Elizabeth Clare, Beevor and Arabella. In a way I think perhaps that they helped him recover from his tragic loss.”

“There was a gold strike made on the run in 1860. It apparently became a little exciting because diggers from other goldfields stormed the area. The nuggets were relatively easy to dig out but the leads of gold were found to extend into the Reverend Hall’s private land. You can well imagine the consternation and reaction of the diggers when they were told, ‘That’s as far as you go!’. Hall almost caused a riot; the diggers threatened to storm his paddock. Some did and the police were called and those who tested the Reverend’s bluff found themselves before the Police Magistrate – that’s like a judge,” explained Murdoch.

“So Iain was involved in keeping the diggers at bay and some heated exchanges were had. In Australia bushrangers – they’re hold-up men who rob stages and the odd bank or two – were about the only ones armed so there was little or no gunplay involved. But there were plenty of fistfights. Iain would have found this quite different from his life in a Scottish city.” Murdoch chuckled again. The thought of the city businessman Iain from Scotland enforcing the law against a horde of unruly diggers in remote and untamed Australia was hard to imagine.

“Did he eventually succumb to the lure of the gold?” inquired Scot. He was sure that the Australian gold rushes would have been no different to those that had taken place in America. Gold fever had a way of luring previously well-adjusted and content men, seeping into their very soul as if through osmosis, until they lost their sanity and joined the throngs seeking to make their fortune.

As if reading Scott’s mind Murdoch continued, “Iain did make his fortune, but not as you might expect – not from digging for gold.”

“How then?,” queried his younger son. There was a gleam in his eye as he said, “He didn’t become one o’ them bushrangers did he? Making his fortune by stealin’ other people’s gold!”

“Perhaps you could ask him that, brother.” said Scott playfully.

Murdoch laughed heartily. “No son, he didn’t! Although many did! No he made his fortune by going back into business. With more than eight thousand diggers in the area there was a drastic need for clothing, food, mining equipment and all manner of goods. Iain, having an astute business mind, foresaw this need and set up stores early on. It was a wise move as there was almost as much money to be made from selling goods to the diggers as finding gold – it was certainly an easier and more secure way than grovelling in the dirt.”

“Many miners left for other diggings in 1863 but Iain stayed on and luckily he did for there was another rush in January 1864. He remained at Glenalbyn, making the two mile journey to the town each day and was apparently a popular and well-liked man – so well liked in fact that he married Ettie Fisher in 1868.”

“He and Ettie decided to move to Melbourne in 1870, where he became involved with the burgeoning wool industry. And so he’s coming to California in order to secure contracts for exporting Australian wool to America.”

He noticed an inquiring look from Teresa as she entered the room carrying some steaming platters. “Well boys I think that supper may be about to be served, so perhaps we’d better hold off the rest of the family history lesson until later.”

The conversation over dinner that evening concerned much wondering over their prospective visitors.


The morning of April 26th  dawned clear and crisp with the promise of a warm spring day and the sky was cloudless as the 11am stage rocked to a dusty halt in Morro Coyo. Murdoch Lancer and his two sons were awaiting its arrival, each busy with their own thoughts.

Murdoch’s thoughts had turned to Iain, and how much he himself had changed over the years. Not having seen each other since they were twenty-two he pondered whether they would recognise each other. Without conscious thought his left hand found itself running through his hair – rather sparser and certainly a lot greyer than when last he saw Iain he thought with amusement.

Scott had been intrigued with the story of his great-uncle and was looking forward to finding out more from the man himself. He speculated too on the appearance of Iain Gillespie, would Iain bear a resemblance to Murdoch? Would the two men recognise each other?

As for the youngest Lancer his inquiring mind was full of questions not only about his unknown relative but also of the wilds of Australia – the adventurous side of him wanted information on bushrangers, the gold diggings and the wild horses of Australia, brumbies he had heard they were called. 

“Murdoch!” The brothers stared as a tall solid man of about fifty alighted from the stage. He gripped their father’s hand and clapped him on the shoulder, “You haven’t changed a bit. I’d have known you anywhere!”

“Iain, you always were a poor liar!” Murdoch laughed, shaking Iain’s hand heartily. “I hope we both didn’t look like this thirty years ago, all those lassies would have run a mile if we had!”

Scott and Johnny couldn’t help but feel that that would have been true. However the resemblance between the two men was remarkable. Not only were they of similar physique but also both had blue eyes and receding grey hair. The resemblance was uncanny – there could be no doubt that they were related.

“It’s wonderful to see you after all these years – I feel ashamed that I didn’t keep in touch.” Murdoch began.

“No need, Murdoch. It takes two to tango and I didn’t write either. But let’s not dwell on what should have been – aren’t you gong to introduce me to these two fine young men standing here?” he asked quizzically.

“Oh I am sorry. Iain these are my sons, Scott, the eldest and my younger son, Johnny.”

Iain shook hands eagerly with both men and said how pleased he was to meet his great-nephews. Neither Scott nor Johnny could quite place the accent as he spoke. They were quite aware that their father had lost any Scottish accent he may have had over the years since he had left his homeland, but Iain’s accent was quite different again. A touch of the Antipodes Scott supposed, it was so interesting how people from different English speaking countries could sound so different.

From the coach then stepped a tall elegantly and immaculately dressed woman also of about fifty years. As she settled her skirts she turned and smiled at her husband.

“Murdoch, I’d like you to meet my wife, Ettie. Ettie this is Murdoch, the scoundrel I was telling you about.”

Ettie smiled knowingly at Murdoch as he shook her gloved hand. “Knowing Iain as I do I don’t believe a word of it.” she stated, “I am so pleased to meet you Murdoch.”

“And these are Murdoch’s sons, Scott and Johnny.” Iain completed the introductions.

“What a handsome pair of lads you have there Murdoch.” Ettie commented.

As Murdoch and Iain gathered the luggage that had been deposited on the ground beside the stage Scott stepped forward to shake Ettie’s hand. “Pleased to meet you Ma’am” 

“Oh please not so formal,” she laughed. “It’s Ettie, we’re related so no formalities!” After having given him a hug and a peck on the cheek she moved towards Johnny who was hovering in the background.

“Don’t stand back and be bashful young man,” she said laughing. “Come and give your Australian great-aunt a hug.” So saying she enveloped an embarrassed Johnny in what could only be described as a bear hug and to his surprise he felt himself reciprocating, his arms in turn hugging this unknown woman from Australia.

Chapter 3

That evening as they ate the delicious meal that Maria and Teresa had prepared the conversation was lively and full of laughter.

Iain and Ettie had regaled them all with tales of their trip across the Pacific, telling of high winds and high seas, the ship being becalmed and then having to heave-to to avoid a gale. For those present at the dinner table that had never experienced shipboard life it sounded all too exciting. 

Finally the last morsel of rhubarb tart had been eaten and Ettie stated, “That meal was superb Teresa. You have both done yourselves proud with the meal you have provided tonight.”

“It certainly was,” agreed her husband, “and you certainly have.”

Teresa murmured her thanks as the colour rose slightly in her cheeks. Johnny, sitting bedside her, gave her a gentle dig in the ribs with his elbow.

Iain continued, “My dear Teresa you must let Ettie repay you by allowing her to prepare a meal. She is an excellent cook.”

Murdoch noticed the gleam in Iain’s eye that as children had usually resulted in neither of them being able to sit down for several days. They had been adventurous boys and Iain had led them astray on more than one occasion.

He smothered a laugh as he questioned, “And just what did you have in mind for Ettie to cook Iain? Beware children, when Iain gets that look in his eye trouble’s a’brewing!” he warned his two sons and Teresa, but the smile on his face gave no credence to his warning.

“Why Murdoch Lancer, I am cut to the quick! Whatever are you suggesting?” Iain said in mock outrage. “I merely offered you the chance to sample my Ettie’s culinary delights.” he added barely disguising the laughter in his voice.

Ettie, whom the Lancers had discovered in the few hours they had known her had a sense of humour equal to her husband’s, joined in. “Well it would be interesting to let you experience some of the tastes of Australia. We could start with nettle soup or Kangaroo Tail soup…

Johnny looked at Ettie with scepticism, “Kangaroo tail soup?” he echoed, “Do they…”

He was interrupted by the sound of giggles from beside him and he turned to Teresa questioningly.

She looked at him and then the giggles turned into laughter. Through her laughter she managed to splutter, “Perhaps you could get Ettie to make soup from that giant Easter Bunny that attacked you!”

Johnny glowered at the girl to no avail, “That ain’t funny Teresa.” 

He looked at Ettie, “You’re jokin’ aren’t you? Kangaroo tail soup and soup made from nettles? What d’ya think Scott, ya ever heard of such things?” he queried.

“No I haven’t. I must admit they do sound rather fanciful”

“No Scott, they really are types of soup, aren’t they Iain?” Ettie looked at her husband for support.

“They certainly are,” smiled her husband, “and quite tasty, but I’d like to hear about the Giant Easter Bunny? It sounds intriguing.”

“Ah, it’s a long story Iain, but it is a wonderful tale. I’m sure you’ll agree when you hear it, but not tonight, we have plenty of time to share it with you.” Murdoch said smiling at his younger son.

Delighting in his sibling’s discomfort over the unfortunate Easter Bunny incident Scott asked, “Do you have any other culinary delights to bestow upon us Ettie?”

She smiled, “Oh yes Scott, there are many more. Finding a kangaroo around here may prove to difficult so instead perhaps we could have miner’s soup – are there any sheep around here?” she asked innocently, “We need a sheep’s head for that one.”

Teresa’s giggles started anew and Scott couldn’t resist, “Johnny knows where we could get a …”

“Don’t say it brother, just don’t say it.” warned Johnny. “Just wait you two, your time will come.” he added with a grin that bode ill for his brother and ‘sister’.

Murdoch smiled indulgently at the banter, and although his younger son was on the receiving end of the teasing he knew that he would harbour no grudges. And besides the Easter Bunny incident was quite humorous.

Ettie continued, “For the main course we could have Eel Stew or Billabong Yabbies, or Slippery Bob – we could use the kangaroo’s brains for that if we had one – or Sheep’s Head Bake  – you did say we could get some sheep didn’t you?” 

“Or perhaps Hash Magandy accompanied by Pigs in Blankets,.” Iain finished with a smile.

“Okay, now I know you’re pullin’ our legs,” stated Johnny with a smile, “Whoever heard of eatin’ somethin’ called ‘Hash Magandy’ and why would ya wrap pigs in blankets.”

“Now that one I have heard of.” observed a smiling Scott. “I believe a ‘Pig in a Blanket’ is meat encased in either wilted cabbage leaves or pastry. Isn’t that so Ettie?”

“I believe so,” agreed Ettie, “but the Australian version is actually a scone made from mashed potato wrapped around the meat. Hash Magandy is really just left over salt pork cooked with lamb or beef, onions and other vegetables and perhaps some rice and then thickened with flour.” 

She paused then continued, “Now we could also have…”

The room rang to laughter as the dinner menu became more and more outlandish.


After his houseguests and his ‘children’ had retired for the evening Murdoch lingered downstairs before he also retired. As he relaxed in the leather armchair by the side of the now dying embers of the fire he thought back on the day’s events.

It had been one of those rare special days, days that linger in the memory for the pleasure one gained. Days that were all too few – with the running of an enterprise as large as Lancer it was difficult to take time off from the work without feelings of guilt.

From the moment the stage carrying Iain and Ettie had drawn to a halt in Morro Coyo that morning until the Gillespies and the three younger members of the Lancer household had climbed the stairs moments before, the day had been filled with laughter and chatter. 

He was pleased to find that the intervening years had not diminished the relationship he had had with Iain – they seemed to have taken up as if they had last seen each other only recently. Iain’s wife Ettie, whilst vastly different from Aileen, was an ideal match for Iain and it was as if they had known her for years rather than hours. There had been an instant rapport with her.

It brought a smile to his face to think also how his sons and Iain had taken to each other. Iain’s easy going nature had warmed even his oft-times suspicious younger son’s heart. Perhaps it was that Johnny and Iain were in fact much alike – they both had a surprising sense of humour. 

Knowing that his sons had limited knowledge of his Scottish roots Murdoch had decided that with Iain and Ettie visiting the time was ripe for Scott, Johnny and Teresa to be enriched by some Scottish customs. The sight of Iain had opened the floodgates of childhood memories and they had come gushing out like waters from a breached dam wall. 

They had been good days; fun days, and both Iain and he had been the instigators of many pranks, much to their parents’ dismay. To his surprise he had felt the resurgence of youth upon seeing Iain again and much to his internal embarrassment felt the need to once again join Iain in some foolishness. How childish he thought, here he was a mature, grown man wanting to relive his childhood. But still…

He smiled with contentment as he thought about dinner that evening…


The table was laden with all manner of dishes. Teresa placed the last dish on the table and Scott pulled the chair out for Ettie, Ettie smiling her appreciation. Once they had been all seated Johnny, as was his custom, reached for the closest dish to start loading his plate.

“John. We haven’t said Grace yet.” Murdoch’s mild rebuke stopped Johnny in his tracks. 

“Huh, what?” Johnny managed to say in amazement. “Since when do we say Grace, Murdoch?”

Scott, who had just taken a sip of the fine white wine that had been chosen to accompany the meal, nearly choked. He had to agree with his brother, since when did they say Grace? But the expression on Johnny’s face was priceless – he had no doubt that saying Grace had never been high on Johnny’s agenda.

“Just humour your old man, son.” Murdoch would treasure the look he had seen on his younger son’s face, but the best was yet to come.

“Iain, would you do us the honour? Perhaps the Grace we used to say when we were children, if you remember it?” he suggested, knowing full well that Iain remembered it as he had spoken to him earlier about his plan. 

“Certainly Murdoch. It has been a long time but I may just recall it.” Iain replied with a hint of a smile.

They all bowed their heads waiting for Iain to commence but Murdoch raised his head slightly so he could see the reactions of his sons and Teresa.

“Oh Lord, who blessed the loaves and fishes,” began Iain in the thickest Scottish brogue that he could muster,

“Look doon upon these twa bit dishes,

And though the taties be but sma’

Lord, mak ‘em plenty for us a’;

But if our stomachs they do fill,

‘Twill be another miracle.”

Murdoch could not have hoped for a better reaction. Teresa remained silent but had an extremely puzzled look on her face as she stared at Iain. Scott’s upbringing prevented him from commenting but he too looked at Iain with obvious perplexity.  

Johnny merely looked at him with total bewilderment, “What did he just say?” he asked to no one in particular. “What language was he speakin’?” and then, “That ain’t your normal voice Iain.”

Ettie raised the table napkin on her lap to her lips to hide her smile.

Johnny turned towards his father when he heard the laugh that Murdoch could not contain.

“Would you believe Johnny, that that is how I sounded when I first came to America? Well perhaps not quite so broad, I think you may have overdone that a little Iain,” he gently admonished. 

Iain smiled sheepishly.

“You didn’t!” exclaimed Teresa. 

“Yes, he did,” declared Iain. “We both left Scotland with heavy accents.”

“But you don’t sound at all like that, either of you.” Teresa looked from one to the other.

“No, not any more,” agreed Iain, “When you live in a country for many years you tend to lose your native accent, well most folks do anyway. Murdoch will have taken on the American accent and I have no doubt developed a touch of the Australian. Have I my dear?” he queried laughingly.

“Definitely dearest.” was the reply.

“Well that explains the accent but what did Iain actually say?” inquired Scott with amusement.

“It is an old Scottish Grace that we used to say as children, it is referring to the fact that there is not really enough food for the family to eat.” Murdoch answered.

“Not that that it is really a problem here though!” he added noting the array of dishes on the table.

Grace having been said they dined. The meal had been delicious and all had enjoyed it immensely. They had talked about more mundane topics and even some serious subjects as well.

When the laughter over the possible future menus had died down Maria brought in the coffee pot and placed the tray on the table.

“Why don’t we move to more comfortable seating for coffee,” suggested Scott “I for one would like to hear about the mischievous young Murdoch Lancer! Don’t you agree Johnny?”

Johnny grinned as he replied, “Sure do Scott. It’s your turn to squirm now Murdoch. Now you’ll know how I felt when Mac and Maudie were tellin’ you about me!” he added gleefully. 


And squirm he had done he thought with satisfaction. Although he had found to his surprise the trepidation that he had first felt about Iain sharing their boyish escapades vanished with the first anecdote, and he had found great pleasure in his sons learning of the young Murdoch Lancer.

He gave a deep sigh of contentment.  Then arising from the chair he stretched before extinguishing the lights in the Great Room and wearily climbed the stairs. 

All in all it had been a very gratifying day.

Chapter 4

“That’s an interesting bit.” commented Iain looking closely at the bit on the bridle as he bridled the bay gelding. The bay obligingly opened its mouth to accept the bit.

“It is?” queried Johnny in surprise, turning from Barranca. He’d never really thought about the bit he put in his horse’s mouth. “Don’t you have bits like that in Australia?”

Iain laughed as he replied, “No, not like that and nor do we have saddles like these either! I’m not sure I know how to saddle a horse with one of these monstrosities!”

The warm smile on his face nullified any offence that the Lancers may have taken upon Iain’s words. “These saddles certainly are different to those I’m used to.”

“They would be the English saddles that you would have seen on the hacks in Boston, Scott.” said Murdoch as he tightened the cinch on his big chestnut. 

“I used to ride in one in Scotland.” he added. “I was surprised by the saddles when I arrived in America too. But you soon get used to them. Here Johnny, hold Monty while I show Iain how saddle a horse with one of our ‘monstrosities’.”

Johnny took Monty’s rein whilst his father placed the saddle on the gelding and slid it back until it sat comfortably on the bay’s back. He hooked the stirrup up onto the horn to get it out of the way and quickly explained to Iain about the cinch and the cinch strap.

“We don’t only ride in English saddles you know Murdoch,” Iain stated as Murdoch cinched up the gelding. “The Australian stock saddle is quite different too.”

“In what way?” asked Murdoch as he tightened the cinch.

“Well they are built for comfort not style. The seats are deep and they have a single buckle girth. They have pads below the pommel and on the back of the saddle flaps to help keep the rider stay secure. 

“Sounds a bit like ridin’ in an armchair.” observed Johnny. 

Iain smiled, “I suppose it is in a way. English saddles are used too of course but not for work, mostly for town riding and for hunting of course.”

“Hunting?” Scott asked, “Do you mean foxhunting? There are a few hunts in Massachusetts, although I’ve never hunted myself.”

“Yes, they do hunt the fox now.”

“Now?” queried Scott. “What did they hunt before?”

“Would you believe kangaroos?” replied a smiling Iain who looked at Johnny pointedly. He had thoroughly enjoyed hearing the tale of the Easter Bunny the evening before and he had admired the good grace with which Murdoch’s younger son had endured the teasing that accompanied the story. 

The day before Murdoch and he had spent the day together, just the two of them. Ettie had accompanied Teresa on a visit to Murdoch’s friends Henrietta and Thomas Walker and Scott and Johnny were busy working with some stock in the corrals. Other than seeing Murdoch’s sons at lunch they had spent the day solely in each other’s company.

It was really the first time they had had to themselves to talk over the events of the past twenty years. The highlights and the lowlights – and they had both had had their fair share of the latter. Murdoch had bared his soul telling of the loss of two wives and sons. Of his reservations about sending for his sons, especially Johnny, and then the absolute pleasure he had gained from having them home. He found he had ultimately made the right decision despite what many had thought of a Boston raised son and a gunfighter coming to live in the valley.

He, himself, had spoken of the misery and torment he had endured after the loss of his family. Of the pain he had caused his sister when he had ultimately made the decision to leave Scotland for Australia. Of the joy of meeting and falling in love with Ettie, and the agony he had felt when thinking about asking her to be his wife. But here Murdoch had spoken of similar feelings; they had both felt that they were abandoning the love they had for their first wives. Which of course was nonsense as they had both luckily realised at the time.

He had been most impressed with Murdoch’s sons. They were so alike in many ways – certainly not in their physical appearance but they were both obviously honest, responsible and hardworking young men. He supposed that he was more surprised that Johnny was such a man considering his upbringing and former occupation, but the lad had an endearing quality about him. 

“…and dingo.” he added as an afterthought. “They are a type of wild dog native to Australia. Some enterprising gentleman imported some foxes to Australia in about 1845 for his foxhounds to hunt. So now the Packs hunt not only kangaroo and dingo but fox as well.”

The saddling completed they led the horses out of the barn and mounted. 

As he settled in the saddle Iain said, “Murdoch, do you remember that time we went to visit Grandfather at Mountwhanny during the hunting season?”

Murdoch chuckled, “I certainly do, we were what, about nine or ten?”

“Ten I think, but then we were lucky to have reached eleven after what we did!” 

“What /did/ you do Murdoch?” asked Johnny, guiding Barranca close to Iain, his interest piqued. Scott manoeuvred Warrior closer so he too could hear the story.

Both Iain and Murdoch laughed heartily. 

Murdoch began, “Well Iain’s grandfather – my great grandfather – David Gillespie, had been Master of the Fife Hunt round the turn of the century and although he no longer rode to hounds he still took a keen interest in the Hunt.”

“That’s right, and one winter Father took us both to visit him. Grandfather took us out to follow the hunt in the dogcart. How long was it before we got bored Murdoch?”

“Not long I’m sure. I think it was after he started discussing something like the breeding of hounds with some friends. So we wandered off and went exploring in the copse. It was there that we found our little friend if you remember.” Murdoch laughed.

“How could I ever forget Murdoch!” Iain said as he looked from Scott to Johnny. “Boys don’t ever disrupt a fox hunt, not if you value your life!”

“Why, what happened? What did ya do?” Johnny asked intrigued. It was hard to imagine their large rather gruff and very formidable father as a mischievous ten year-old and he, like Scott, was enjoying these new insights into the man they were still getting to know.

“Well, your old man here felt sorry for the fox, grabbed it and hid it in the dogcart!” 

“Now just a minute Iain!” Murdoch said feigning indignation. “Let’s get the facts straight! I seem to remember that it was your idea to hide the fox in the dogcart and we /both/ felt sorry for it being chased by the hounds. So the resulting fracas was really all your fault.”

“Hmmm, yes well perhaps you’re right but how was I to know that the hounds, all 29 of them, would follow the scent and surround the dogcart and climb all over it!”

Murdoch smiled at the memory, “It was rather funny but Great Grandfather wasn’t amused. Once the Huntsman had called the hounds off and Great Grandfather had apologised to the Master and the entire hunt we were dragged off back to Mountwhanny. I’ve never seen anyone quite so irate; I think he quite enjoyed the hiding he gave us. Father was furious too, especially as he was told to take us home immediately, Great Grandfather saying that he had never been so embarrassed and would never be able to face the Hunt again.” 

Johnny was grinning as he asked, “What happened to the fox?”

“Well it isn’t considered sporting to just hand the fox to the hounds so Grandfather let it go once the hounds were out of sight.” Iain replied. “Mind you we had a constant reminder of him all the way home because the dogcart smelt of fox for hours.”

With the image still in their minds of Iain and their father surrounded by hounds trying to find the fox hidden in the dogcart, Scott and Johnny preceded the two older men along the road towards the Lancer arch. Iain was about to discover the beauty and vastness of the ranch they called home.

Chapter 5

“That would be a perfect place for a bunyip to live. Have you ever seen one here?” Iain asked with a determined effort to keep a straight face. 

The ride had been uneventful and Iain had marvelled at the extent of Lancer and the beauty of the landscape. He had commented here and there about the similarities or differences he noted between the San Joaquin valley and the Australian countryside and asked about the flora and fauna they observed.

The riders had happened upon a waterhole surrounded by trees and undergrowth whereupon he made his comment. This particular waterhole was not fed by running water, filling only from the run-off during heavy rain. It was deep and its water was murky and still.

“A bunyip? What’s a bunyip?” Johnny asked.

“Oh it’s a mythical creature, much like Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. Do you remember the stories of Nessie that we heard as children Murdoch?”

“I haven’t thought of it in years,” replied Murdoch, “but I certainly do remember, especially as Loch Ness is so close to Inverness. I also remember ‘Invernessie’ Iain.”

Iain’s face reflected his confusion. 

“Surely you remember Invernessie. I’m sure the McDonalds do!” Murdoch concluded with a smile. “Aunt Fiona? Sarah and Bridie?”

Understanding replaced the confusion on Iain’s face. “Oh how could I forget, that was another case of you leading me astray!”

“Well, yes I have to admit this time that Invernessie was my idea.” Murdoch replied with what his sons, if they hadn’t known better, would have called smugness.

“Who or what is Invernessie?” asked Scott intrigued.

“Invernessie was our own version of the Loch Ness Monster.” Murdoch admitted. “Mother’s cousin and her two daughters had come to visit and I, much to my dismay, was expected to keep her daughters company. It was so degrading for a nine year old boy to have to play with two girls – city girls at that.”

“Sarah was also nine and Bridie was seven I think. Anyway my mother wouldn’t listen to my protestations and I was saddled with them, so I enlisted Iain’s help as the Gillespies lived not all that far from us.”

Iain laughed, “I wasn’t any more impressed than Murdoch was with the idea – that was until Murdoch told me of his plan.” he added mysteriously.

“The girls were a nervous pair and seemed to be scared of their own shadows. They squealed at the slightest thing and insisted that a candle or lamp remain lit at night in their bedroom.”

“You mean ya had to sleep in the same room?” queried Johnny.

“No, that at least my mother agreed to, they slept in the guest room. But their apparent fear of everything gave me an idea. Iain and I could have some fun.”

“And so ‘Invernessie’ was born.” stated Iain.

“Murdoch lived near a loch, or lake, and we often went out in the small boat that was moored near the Lancer’s house, we loved to go fishing although we rarely caught anything. So with much persuasion and coercion Murdoch convinced Sarah and Bridie to go out in the boat with him. I still don’t know how you managed to do that Murdoch!” 

“It took a lot of doing I must admit. But they did. As we rowed I talked about the loch and asked if they had ever been to Loch Ness, which they hadn’t. Of course I steered the conversation to the Loch Ness Monster, everyone who lived in or around Inverness knew about Nessie. I told them what the monster could do in graphic detail. They were suitably scared.” 

Murdoch stopped, “I’m not sure that you should be hearing this boys, it may affect the awe and respect in which you hold me.”

His smile was answered with a cheeky grin from his younger son. “Ya don’t need ta worry about that Murdoch, it won’t affect the way we feel – we ain’t in awe of ya anyway!” 

“And we don’t respect you either!” added Scott with a smile.

Murdoch laughed, “Well in that case I shall continue. I had the girls well and truly scared by the time we were heading back to shore. We were about fifty feet from the shore when suddenly up from the water burst this apparition covered in slime, roaring and waving its dripping arms around.”

“It was most satisfying,” said Iain, “from ‘Invernessie’s point of view. The girls screamed and stood up rocking the boat alarmingly. Murdoch hung onto the edges of the boat and gave the rocking a little help.”

“And Sarah and Bridie fell into the water?” 

“They most certainly did Scott, and then half ran half swam to shore and ran home screaming. They really were a sight, sodden clothes and dripping hair” Iain said.

“Iain and I laughed and laughed and eventually made our way home, the fun we had had was worth the trouble we got into.” Murdoch admitted.

“Aunt Fiona told Mother that I was irresponsible and a disgrace to the family name. Mother was shocked and scolded me, saying how disappointed she was in me, but Father was a little more physical in his punishment.” He looked at his two sons, “Your grandfather was a very large and very strong man, and punishment given by him was not forgotten in a hurry!”

“What happened to you Iain?” asked Johnny. 

“Oh I was sent home and Father dealt with me in much the same manner. We weren’t allowed to play together for quite some time. Needless to say it was Invernessie’s only appearance. Puts your father in quite another light doesn’t it lads?”

“Sure does Iain, when Murdoch yells at me for somethin’ in future I don’t think I’ll take much notice now.” Johnny grinned at his father.

“Thank you very much Iain,” he said with mock resignation. “I’ve spent the time since my sons came home trying to convince them how gruff I can be and how obedient they should be and you’ve just undone all that hard work!”

Iain laughed, “Glad I could be of service Murdoch!”

“You mentioned a bunyip, Iain,” observed Scott. “and that it is a mythical creature.”

“Yes, it’s said to inhabit the depths of lagoons and waterholes, emerging on moonlit nights to capture and devour any luckless human prey that came within its reach.”

“Just as well ya hadn’t mentioned that to the girls Iain or they’d have died of shock when ‘Invernessie’ appeared.” Johnny said.

“Yes, it may be just as well,” agreed Iain. “Like Nessie many people actually report sighting it. It supposedly ranges in size from that of a dog to bigger than an elephant. Why only earlier this year in New South Wales there was a sighting apparently. It was even reported in the newspapers. It was seen swimming quickly in a lagoon by a party of settlers. They said it was longer than a retriever dog, and had long jet-black shiny hair.” 

He laughed, “Of course the reports didn’t say in what state of inebriation the settlers were in when they made their sighting!  Most of the bunyip sightings seem to be made by men heading home from an evening of drinking. I suppose the reality or not of the bunyip like Nessie will remain a mystery for decades, maybe even centuries to come.”

“No doubt.” said Murdoch. “Well we’d better head back, I’m sure Ettie and Teresa will be back by now and Ettie will be wanting to hear about your day Iain.”

The four horses headed back to the ranch without any guidance from their riders.

Chapter 6

Johnny clenched the last nail in Barranca’s shoes. After rasping the edges he lowered the leg, straightened up and put the blacksmithing tools back in their box on the shelf. 

“All done?” queried Iain who was sitting on a nearby straw bale observing Johnny working.

“Yup, barring accidents I won’t have to break m’a back for another six weeks or so.” Johnny answered smiling.

“Hard on the back isn’t it.” agreed Iain. “Do you know Johnny that once a horse was shod with solid gold horseshoes?”

Johnny looked at Iain briefly before deciding that he was not joking. “Don’t seem much point in that, gold’s real soft so the shoes wouldn’t last long.”

“No they wouldn’t but the horse only travelled a mile in them. It was really just for show. It was in Beechworth, that’s a town about 140 miles from where I lived. In the 1850s it was an important gold town, in fact over 4 million ounces of gold were found around there. Thousands of miners were in the area and it became the administrative and commercial centre for a large area.”

“In an election in 1855 two candidates were standing for a government position, one was supported by the owner of the goldfield’s richest claim. He organised a massive procession to Beechworth, to be led by his candidate Cameron. About a mile from town Cameron’s horse was shod with the solid gold shoes provided by the mine owner. As they rode along they handed out free beer to everyone along the way.”

“Did he win?” asked Johnny with amusement. “With all that free beer bet he had a lot’a friends!”

Iain laughed, “Yes, Cameron was announced the winner but only after more beer was given out to the thousands of diggers present in town There were rival bands playing trying to outplay each other too. Must have been quite a scene!”

“What about the shoes? Did they last the distance?” 

“They did but some gold had been worn away. When they removed them in town and weighed them they were an ounce lighter than they were before the ride.” 

He plucked a piece of straw from the bale and chewed on it a moment. “Seems the story of the golden horseshoes has since become quite a legend.”

“Not surprisin’,” agreed Johnny. “Interestin’ way to prove that you’re the richest man around and to buy votes for ya candidate.”

“Speakin’ of beer,” he added, “why don’t ya come to town with me this afternoon. I have ta get the mail and some supplies and I think we could manage ta have a beer, I’ll buy so I guess it’ll be free beer too! I want’a hear some more stories, especially about Murdoch.” he finished with a grin.

“I never could refuse the offer of a free beer,” said Iain smiling, “and Johnny my boy do I have some tales to tell about your father!”

Chapter 7

Iain and Johnny had an enjoyable and companionable ride into Green River, Johnny pointing out the various landmarks and answering Iain’s innumerable questions about Lancer and its surrounds.

It was obvious that Johnny Lancer loved the country that constituted the Lancer ranch and the pleasure and pride he derived from it was evident to Iain as he listened to the young man.

He smiled as he listened and thought of Murdoch and his two sons. He knew his sister had been devastated to hear of Murdoch’s first wife’s death and she had hoped and prayed that he would be able to retrieve his first-born from Boston. That was not to be however although letters from Murdoch relayed to her the little that he knew of Scott. 

Bridget would have been so proud of the young men he had met. The elder, tall, blond and slim bore a striking resemblance to his grandmother who had sadly passed away without ever meeting him.

Murdoch’s younger son on the other hand bore no physical resemblance to his grandmother, other than having blue eyes, yet they were very alike in nature he thought. Caring, vibrant and intelligent – neither Bridget nor Johnny had had much schooling but nonetheless they displayed more intelligence than many so-called ‘educated’ people. Theirs was an inherent intelligence, a gift bestowed upon them.

His sister had been so thrilled to hear of Murdoch’s marriage to Maria and of the birth of a second grandson. Her pleasure however had turned to dismay when Maria had run away with little Johnny. 

Her grief was compounded by the fact that no one knew where Johnny was, whether her grandson was even still alive. She had died still with the hope that Murdoch would find him one day.

How delighted she would be to know that Murdoch now had both his sons with him. Fine upstanding and honourable men, grandsons of which to be proud. 


The town of Green River surprised Iain. Whereas Morro Coyo, the town in which Ettie and he had first arrived, bore a decidedly Spanish influence in its architecture, Green River did not. From all that he had read it appeared to be a typical western town.

Johnny was as good as his word for having first gone to collect the mail from the Post Office he then steered Iain towards one of the saloons that stood on the main street of the town. The supplies it seemed could wait until later.

Iain could not help but notice Johnny hesitate as he entered the building but thought no more about it as his grandnephew made his way to an empty table by the far wall. Johnny pulled out two chairs choosing the one against the wall for himself. He removed his hat and casually tossed it onto the opposite side of the table. Iain sat down beside him and gazed around the interior of the building.

The room had a hazy appearance as several of its inhabitants sitting around one table on the opposite side of the room were smoking cigars. They appeared to be playing cards, poker probably he thought.

There was also a stale odour most likely from the beer or spirits that no doubt accounted for the stained floor near the bar. The bar itself was not unlike the bars and serving counters in Australian inns and stores.

Presently the barkeep came over to the table and greeted Johnny. Johnny asked Iain what he would like to drink and the man went off to collect the two beers ordered.

“Well what’ya think of the town Iain?” asked Johnny lazily leaning back in the chair. “Is it like towns in Australia?”

“Yes and no.” answered Iain causing Johnny to slightly raise his eyebrows.

Iain smiled, “Not a very definitive answer is it? What I mean is that its appearance is similar, long wide streets with an assortment of buildings along both sides. In the towns made rich by gold strikes many of the buildings are built of brick or stone and are up to three storeys high. A lot of bridges are made of stone too, built either by convicts or Scottish stonemasons.” Iain laughed lightly. “We Scots pop up everywhere! Most towns though have single or double storeyed wooden buildings like Green River. The majority of houses have wide verandahs to keep out the hot Australian sun.”

“Any adobe buildin’s like at Lancer?” Johnny asked.

“No, although the earlier dwellings were of wattle and daub. Branches and saplings were cut and woven onto wooden frames. This wattle-work was then daubed with mud and dung to fill the gaps. A hut could be built in a day and dried out that night by burning a fire inside.”

“Dung, huh?” smiled Johnny, “They must’ve smelt real nice to live in.”

“No worse than the people that lived in them I suppose, many people think that bathing is bad for you and so they only bathe weekly or monthly!” laughed Iain.

The barkeep arrived with two glasses of foaming beer and set them down on the table, some of the amber liquid sloshing over the sides of the glasses. 

“Thanks Mac,” said Johnny.

Mac pulled a rather grubby looking cloth from his back pocket and wiped the spilled liquid before going back to the bar taking with him an empty bowl from the table. 

The two men at the table drank deeply. 

“Ah that hits the spot.” said Iain appreciatively as he put down his glass.

“That’s something we don’t have either.” said Iain nodding towards the man that had just entered the saloon. The scruffy looking individual paused and pushed his hat back off the crown of his head and studied the inhabitants of the room.

Apparently he found what he was looking for and started walking towards the table where Iain and Johnny were seated.

“By the badge on his shirt I assume that that man is a lawman, a sheriff is what you call them isn’t it?” asked Iain.

Johnny swallowed his mouthful of beer. “Yep, he’s the sheriff. Howdy Val.” He greeted the lawman.

“Howdy Johnny.” The man pulled out a chair and put his foot on it and rested his arms on his knee, looking at Iain questioningly.

“Friend o’ yours Johnny?”

Johnny looked at Iain and then smiled at Val, “He’s Murdoch’s uncle. Iain Gillespie meet our esteemed sheriff of Green River, Val Crawford.”

“Uncle huh?” 

“Must seem strange I suppose as we’re the same age, but yes Murdoch is my nephew” agreed Iain.

“So ya found another relative have ya?” Val said to Johnny. Without waiting for a reply he went on. “Where ya from Iain?”

“Originally Scotland, like Murdoch but now I live in Australia. My wife and I are in America on business and of course we had to visit Murdoch – and to our surprise we got to meet my grandnephews.”

“Betch’a got a shock to meet this one.” Val gave Johnny a grin. “He’s nothin’ but trouble!”

“Only when I’m around you,” retorted Johnny, grinning. “Val and I go back a’ways.” he explained to Iain.

Val stood up and sighed. “Guess I’d better get back ta work. Nice to meet ya Iain.”

“Likewise Sheriff.” 

“See ya Johnny.” 

The two men watched him walk out of the saloon.

“You two seem to get along well.” commented Iain.

“Yeah, Val’s a good man, he don’t look like much but he’s a good sheriff – and friend.” agreed Johnny. He took another pull at his beer, and then said, “Ya don’t call them ‘sheriffs’ in Australia? Is that what ya said?”

“Yes, our peace officers are called troopers. I gather here each town hires the sheriff?”

Johnny nodded.

“Well our police force is run by the government. The police, or troopers, are under the control of a superintendent and inspectors in each district. The government makes the law and the troopers enforce it.”

“Trooper Val.” mused Johnny. “Sounds kind’a funny.”

“If he was a trooper he’d have to wear a uniform but I’m sure he’d fit in all right, some of the troopers are pretty scruffy looking, no offence meant.” said Iain.

“None taken, Val quite enjoys bein’ scruffy,” said Johnny, “makes it easier ta catch the bad guys – they think he’s goin’ to be a pushover and he takes ‘em by surprise.”

“How about another beer Johnny, I’m buying this time.”

“I think the supplies can wait a bit longer.” Johnny said with a lopsided smile. “What Murdoch don’t know won’t hurt him!”

He raised an arm to attract the barkeep’s attention and Mac made his way to the table.

Chapter 8

Along with the two beers the barkeep brought a bowl full of hard-boiled eggs, which he placed in the middle of the table.

“Thanks Mac.” Johnny said, the barkeep nodded and moved to another table to take orders.

Johnny looked at Iain who was inspecting the bowl of eggs intently.

Johnny smiled as he sipped his beer, “What ya lookin’ for Iain? Chickens?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” answered Iain with a straight face.

Johnny lowered his glass, “Don’t tell me that it has something to do with Murdoch and you as boys.” 

“Murdoch yes, me no.” Iain picked up his glass and drank before continuing.

“I didn’t witness it but Bridget said it really happened, She told us about this episode many years later. She had asked Murdoch, who would have been about six at the time, to gather some eggs. Some time later he came in with a basket of eggs which Bridget proceeded to hard-boil for supper that evening.”

“Our elder brother and his family were visiting not having seen the Lancers for quite some time. Bridget was kept quite busy cooking for Andrew and his wife and three daughters.”

Here Johnny interrupted Iain. “Andrew? That’d be the brother I was named after?”

“Andrew? Oh of course, Andrew John – I had forgotten. Your grandmother was so pleased when Murdoch told her Maria and he had kept the family tradition and called you Andrew John.” He smiled at his grandnephew, “She would be so proud of you.”

Johnny dropped his head and said quietly, “I don’t think so, I ain’t done anythin’ to be proud of.”

“Not for the past I admit, but for the man you have become – you’ve overcome your past my boy. You wanted to change and you succeeded – not an easy thing to do. It’s something many weaker men fail to do.”

Johnny looked at Iain briefly and a faint smile crossed his face. “Thanks Iain. Now tell me about Murdoch’s eggs.”

“Well Bridget had decided that, to make things a little easier, they would have a cold supper that night, just cold meat and vegetables. So everyone was seated and began eating when suddenly there was a great commotion. Andrew’s daughter Elspeth, who was about 12, started screaming and leapt up from the table. Meanwhile Mary, the eldest and about 16 also screamed and pushed her plate away from her and stood up. Poor Bridget didn’t know what was going on.”

“Andrew of course reprimanded his daughters and made them return to the table but then William, your grandfather, stood up staring at his plate. He had a very deep voice and everybody at the table jumped when he asked loudly where the eggs had come from.”

“When Bridget asked Murdoch where he got the eggs he explained, crying, that on his way to the chicken coop he had seen a rabbit and he had chased it under a bush in the garden. There he had found a nest of eggs and he put them in the basket he was carrying. I suppose to his child’s mind it seemed like the sensible thing to do.”

“So the eggs were bad, that caused the fuss?” asked Johnny with amusement.

“No, worse than that I’m afraid. The eggs were fertile – when they were sliced open there were chickens inside. Boiled chickens that were completely formed.”

He laughed and Johnny smiled in appreciation of the story thinking of how he could tease his father about chickens in eggs.

“My sister took sometime to recover after the embarrassment of the dinner.” Iain finished. “Of course William was furious but it had only been a mistake, Murdoch didn’t plan the disaster but I think he was punished all the same. William was a serious man who didn’t suffer fools easily.”

“Thanks Iain, must say though it’s hard to imagine Murdoch as a six year old!” Johnny drained his beer and stood up. “Guess those supplies ain’t gonna load themselves.” he said with resignation. 


That evening there appeared on the supper table a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. Maria had willingly agreed to Johnny’s request for them but couldn’t help wonder why the sudden urge for hard-boiled eggs.

“Egg, Murdoch?” Johnny asked offering the bowl to his father. 

Murdoch thanked his son, took an egg and placed it on his plate.

He began to eat his meal but paused as he noted Johnny looking at him with a smirk on his face.

“John?” he asked. “Is there a problem?”

“No, Murdoch, just waitin’ to see what’s inside your egg.”

Teresa said in a puzzled voice, “Yolk and white, Johnny, of course. What else would there be?”

“Oh I dunno, maybe a chicken perhaps.” smirked Johnny.

Murdoch looked hard at his son then over to Iain. “Have you been telling more tales Iain? I don’t think it’s safe to leave you alone with my sons.” 

Murdoch laughed and said, “Well I suppose we’d better tell the tale again so Scott, Teresa and Ettie can appreciate the joke!”

Once again the room rang to laughter as the chicken tale and others were told at the supper table that night.

Chapter 9

The next morning father and sons and Iain saddled up early to check on some cattle that were grazing in the far reaches of Lancer. It would a good opportunity to show Iain some more of the ranch, a fact that he was looking forward to greatly. 

Iain had now mastered the ‘monstrosity’ and saddled his horse quickly and efficiently. In fact his horse was saddled first and he was mounted and waiting outside the barn looking towards the hills where they would be riding.

As Murdoch led Monty from the barn Iain asked, “How many cattle to you have grazing up there Murdoch?”

“Oh a couple of hundred head – cows that is, more with calves.” Murdoch answered as he mounted Monty and with Scott and Johnny following rode out the gate with Iain.


An hour and a half later they rode into a grassy valley where there were Hereford cattle contentedly grazing. Several lifted their heads as they heard the riders approaching and the herd became a little restless. When the riders halted to view the scene however the cattle went back to their grazing.

The men observed the peaceful scene for several moments. Scott was the first to speak.

“Murdoch, there aren’t any calves up here, shouldn’t some of the cows have calved by now?” he queried.

“They should have, yes. That is odd.” commented Murdoch looking around the herd.

“Could the calves have died?” asked Iain.

“Some could but not all of them, there isn’t a calf in sight and there are no cows that are missing calves. None of these cows have calved yet.” He looked around, “There aren’t enough of them either – there should be a lot more cattle in this area.”

“Murdoch, there are lots of hoof marks around here.” Johnny was leaning down from Barranca, peering at the ground.

“Well there are lots of cattle around here, so wouldn’t there be lots of hoof prints?” observed Iain.

“Yeah, Iain, ‘cept these ain’t cattle prints, they’re horses – shod horses which means they’re not wild. There’s been riders up here Murdoch.”

 “Rustlers?” suggested Scott.

“That’d be my guess, son.”

“But why would they only take cows with calves at foot?” asked Scott.

“Ease of movement. It would be much easier to drive the cattle off even with calves than to be slowed down by cows calving along the way. Not so likely to get caught.” Murdoch answered.

“They must have got away with at least half the herd from up here.” he growled. “How old are those prints Johnny?”

“Not fresh, days at least I’d say. They’re long gone Murdoch.”

“They still might be able to be found. Scott, ride into Green River and tell Val. Make sure he wires all the towns within a few days ride of here – someone may have seen them. Or they may have tried to sell them. The Lancer brand will probably have been changed and the calves will be wearing someone else’s brand by now.”

Scott turned Warrior in the direction of Green River. “Are you and Johnny heading after them Murdoch?”

“No, let the law take care of it. Better to lose the cattle than to lose some lives – no cattle are worth losing my son’s life over, or any of the hands’ lives for that matter.”

“But Murdoch…”

“No Johnny. Val can find out what’s happened – I don’t want any more gun battles. I had enough of that with Pardee. Lancer can stand the financial loss if the cattle can’t be found, although I’d rather have them back.”

“Iain why don’t you go with Scott. Johnny and I will see if any neighbouring ranches have had losses too.”

“All right with you, Scott?” asked Iain.

“Certainly, I’d enjoy the company.” stated Scott. 

Murdoch watched the two men ride off and then he and his younger son rode off intending to visit the Turner ranch first.


Not long after they had left Murdoch and Johnny Iain asked, “Do you have much trouble with rustlers Scott?”

“None that I can recall,” Scott replied, “or at least none that we know of that is. The only time I know of was when Johnny and I first came home.”

He was silent for a moment, “Has Murdoch told you about that?”

Iain nodded, “He sent for you two boys to help him fight, what did he call them – land pirates wasn’t it?”

“That’s right, Dave Pardee and his band of killers. Murdoch’s foreman and friend – Teresa’s father – was killed when Murdoch and he went after Pardee. Pardee had stolen a stallion from Lancer. Murdoch was shot and whilst he was recovering he sent for us.”

Scott leant both hands on the horn and shifted his weight in the saddle. He smiled and looked at Iain. “When I accepted that request to come here I had no idea that I’d be staying permanently with my father let alone finding out I had a younger brother. That was a real surprise – a very pleasant one as it turned out, although we nearly lost him before I even really got to know him.”

“Johnny was shot in the back wasn’t he?”

“Yes, as he was riding back to Lancer. We had, er what you might say, quite different plans to defeat Pardee. We didn’t exactly see eye to eye over what to do”

“Pardee burnt ranches, killed ruthlessly and stole cattle and horses all in order to gain control of the valley – why no one is quite sure even to this day. Anyway that is the only time that there have been rustlers in this area to my knowledge. Rather a risky business, rustling, the law of the west is to hang rustlers!”

“It is risky in Australia too,” said Iain, “if they are caught they face the gallows too, the courts are harsh in their punishment of cattle duffers.”

“Cattle duffing,” he explained, “is the Australian term for cattle stealing. Duffers steal cleanskins, or unbranded cattle, like your calves, from a squatter and place their own brand on them, or alter the brands already on them. They usually take only strays but some of the bolder duffers make off with large groups of cattle, even branded ones. They usually hide in the mountains. Naturally the raided owners are displeased and as troopers are few and far between the owners along with other stockmen hunt them down. If they are caught they face court, often after pitched sieges and not surprisingly some deaths on both sides.”

“Seems law breakers and justice in our two countries aren’t that dissimilar then.” observed Scott.


When they arrived in Green River they rode straight to the Sheriff’s Office but the Sheriff was not inside. However just as they were walking out the door Val crossed the street from the telegraph office and saw them.

“Hey Scott, are ya lookin’ for me?” he called.

“Yes, Val.” 

Val greeted Iain and they entered the office. Val sat down, putting the telegram he held in his hand on the desk. He looked at Scott. “I was just about to ride out ta your place. Murdoch with ya?”

“No, Val we’ve had some…”

“Rustlers on ya place.” Val finished for him. “Is that what ya here about?”

“Well, yes. But how did you know?”

Val picked up the telegram and waved it at Scott. “Just got this wire from the Sheriff in Langtree, town ‘bout five days ride from here. Got a railhead there and seems some fellers were tryin’ ta sell some cattle to the cattlebuyers. The buyers thought the brands looked a bit odd and then one recognised the Lancer ‘L’ despite it bein’ altered. Anyway they got the rustlers locked up and I got this wire.”

“Tell Murdoch he can go an’ collect his cattle, might be some there from other ranches round here too. They had over five hundred head in all.”

“He and Johnny are checking with some other ranchers now Val. That’s good news, Murdoch said to leave it to the law.”

“Your old man does make sense now an’ then.” smiled Val.

“Thanks Val.”

“Nice seein’ ya again Iain.” said Val as the two men took their leave.

“You too, Val.” said Iain.

Scott and Iain untied their horses and mounted. As they rode out of town Scott’s chestnut, at the best of times a rather skittish beast, shied and spun, almost unseating his rider. Scott, once he had Warrior under control again looked around to see what had spooked the horse.

Snickers could be heard from above and Iain and he looked upwards into the tree under which they had just ridden. A couple of the town lads were perched in the limbs of the tree armed with pebbles that were thrown at passing horses. 

Scott glared at the children who ducked out of sight but he said nothing and Iain and he continued on their way.

“That could have been Murdoch and I in that tree.” observed Iain. “Let me tell you about the prank we played on riders when we were children Scott…”

Chapter 10

That evening Murdoch was surprised and puzzled to find some round pebbles neatly arranged on his plate when he sat down to supper. Behind the plate was the bronze of Barranca that Scott and he had given Johnny for his last birthday.

He looked around the table where a sea of innocent faces gazed back. 

Having absolutely no idea of the relevance of the pebbles and the bronze he asked, “What is going on?” 

There was silence, then his elder son, his responsible and well-educated Boston-raised son Scott, or so he thought, said with a perfectly straight face, “We thought you may like to throw some stones at a horse before supper Murdoch.”

Murdoch looked at his family around him and then at Iain looking at him in all innocence.

“I sense your hand in this Iain.” Murdoch couldn’t help but smile at Iain.

Iain put up his hands in mock surrender, “I have no idea what you mean Murdoch. This has nothing to do with me.”

Teresa giggled and Johnny grinned openly, before admonishing his father good naturedly, “I’m surprised at you Murdoch. I thought ya had a love for horses, never thought you’d deliberately throw rocks at ‘em! Did ya only love foxes?”

“They were /not/ rocks, they were pebbles and we were only twelve at the time!” Murdoch vehemently protested, a memory returning. “And the horses weren’t hurt! Iain you have been telling tales out of school again!”

“Did you really throw things at riders when they went by?” asked Teresa.

“Yes, I have to admit we did, note the ‘we’ though! Iain, who was not an innocent in the prank, and I did hide in a tree and threw pebbles, not rocks I might add, at passing horses. No one ever thought to look up into the tree; we spent a whole afternoon there.”

“There now that I have admitted the error of my ways may we get on with supper?” he said with mock sternness. 


All too soon it was time for the Gillespies to depart. Two weeks had flown by and finally it was time for Ettie and Iain to farewell Lancer.

The last meal together lacked the laughter that their first meal had; all were feeling the sadness of the impending departure. However strong and enduring bonds had been made in those two weeks and Murdoch and Iain had re-established their relationship.

Teresa had enjoyed Ettie’s company and although Ettie was a good deal older than Teresa had become firm friends with the older woman. Much information had changed hands – there would be some surprises in store for the menfolk both at Lancer and in Australia. Teresa would miss Ettie but they had assured each other that they would keep in touch by letter as often as they could.

That night after dinner as they relaxed with their coffee Iain excused himself and went upstairs. 

Presently he returned bearing a an object wrapped in brown paper and handed it to Murdoch, “Just a small thank you from Ettie and myself for your hospitality Murdoch.”

“You didn’t have to do that, you’re family and we loved having you both stay. I’m just sorry that it couldn’t have been for longer. The journey from between America and Australia is so long and arduous we can’t expect many visits.”

“Unfortunately that is true, but travel is becoming easier you know.”

Murdoch held up the now unwrapped framed sketch of several goldminers standing in front of a poppet head so all could see it.

“It’s by Samuel Thomas Gill who is known as the ‘Artist of the Goldfields’.” Iain explained. “He is becoming quite famous for his sketches, drawings and lithographs of the goldfields in the 1850s and 60s. Hang on to it Murdoch, it may be worth something in the future.”

“It’s worth something now,” said Murdoch. “Thank you both, it will hang with pride of place.”

With a tinge of sadness in the air they all retired for the evening, knowing that tomorrow may be the last time they would be together.


Murdoch and his sons accompanied Iain and Ettie to Morro Coyo the next morning, arriving well before the stage arrived.

 As it pulled up and the driver began unloading the luggage from atop the stage Ettie observed, “Not quite the Leviathan is it Iain?”

“The Leviathan?” queried Scott.

“No it certainly isn’t.” Iain answered his wife. “The Great Leviathan was a huge coach built in Ballarat in 1859 for the journey between Ballarat and Geelong.” he went on. “It could carry 89 passengers and was pulled by eight to twelve horses.”

“Hey Fred, how’d ya like ta drive a coach with twelve horses?” Johnny called out to the driver who was now beginning to load the new passengers’ luggage.

“Twelve? I got me enough trouble managin’ four o’ ‘em, thanks!” Fred replied with feeling.

At the call to board from the clerk at the stage depot Iain and Ettie climbed into the coach, Iain helping Ettie in first. As she settled herself on the seat Iain leant out of the stage window and shook Murdoch’s hand. “It’s been wonderful Murdoch, I’m so glad we were able to catch up. You have a lovely ranch and two fine sons, Bridget would be so pleased with her grandsons.”

“Thank you, they are fine boys although I can’t claim any credit for that I’m afraid. We mustn’t let time slip by again Iain, we’ll keep in touch.”

“No, time is too fragile to let it pass.” agreed Iain. “Look after your old man here boys. Don’t let him work you too hard!”

The stage driver picked up the reins and urged the team on. Ettie’s head appeared beside her husband’s as the stage moved off.

“Good bye Murdoch, Scott, Johnny.” she called. “Take care of yourselves.”

“You too Ettie,” the Lancers called, almost as one.

“You’ll miss Iain Murdoch.” said Scott as the stage disappeared round the corner.

“/We’ll/ miss Iain,” corrected Johnny, “and Ettie too.”

“We most certainly will boys. But who knows what the future holds – we may fancy a sea voyage across the Pacific Ocean sometime.”

Father and sons walked to their horses and began the journey home to what would be now a far quieter house. But their visitors had opened many doors over the past few weeks and their relationship would only be the better for the knowledge gained about the past.

Wendy Parsons
July 2006


Although Iain Gillespie is a figment of my imagination (the man not the name – my mother was a Gillespie!) the Reverend William Hall and his family isn’t. He is actually my Great-Great Grandfather and he and his wife came to Australia in 1849 after marrying in the Ferriby Church in Yorkshire. He was both a clergyman and a mathematician educated at Cambridge University and was brought out to Australia by Bishop Perry, the Bishop of Melbourne. He did indeed take his dead infant daughter to Brenanah and did live at Glenalbyn, now Glenalbyn Grange; the property is still in the family. He built several churches including our family one at Kingower. There is still gold in the area, (as the info below states) in fact Mum’s cousin (who owns Glenalbyn) picked up a nugget the size of your fist when it had been unearthed in the paddock by a pig!

Below are some links and some history of the area in case anyone is interested. 

The Wineries of Bendigo

Glenalbyn Winery – Loddon Valley Tour

Number 04 on the Touring Map: 

In 1847, Glenalbyn was selected as a Pastoral Lease and purchased in 1853 by Rev. William Hall, M.A., the great-great grandfather of the present generation. 

By 1857, the survey maps show the extensive areas of the vineyard, orchard, garden, dams and cultivation paddocks. 

The homestead was built in 1858, featuring an unusual brick-nog construction from bricks made and kiln-dried on the property. They were clad with nine-inch quirked weatherboards and Georgian windows which were brought from Melbourne by bullock wagon. 

In 1986 the second vineyard was planted by Jack and Lee Gillespie, along the creek flats of the Old Kingower Creek, in rich, red loam over a layer of clay and limestone. The vines are not irrigated which enhances the fruity, berry flavour and the intense colour to produce boutique wines. 

Making the wines is definitely a hands-on operation. The grapes are hand picked, pressed and fermented in open stainless steel vats. The wine is pressed and pumped into French oak barrels to mature. It is estate bottled with a minimum of filtration.

The no-longer-used dairy of Glenalbyn Grange, a double brick building has been insulated and adapted for the Cellar Door. Its windows look out onto the garden. It exudes a very convivial atmosphere.

After six generations the Hall/Gillespie family is still farming Glenalbyn Grange. 

Glenalbyn Grange and property is registered by the Historic Buildings Council, the Australian Heritage Commission and classified by the National Trust (Vic). 

Possibly the worlds largest, and heaviest gold nugget was the Welcome Stranger found at Moliagul, just north of Dunolly in Victoria’s famous Golden Triangle region of Australia. Found at Black Lead, the Welcome Stranger was just a couple of inches below the ground surface. Found by John Deason and Richard Oates on February 5th 1869 it was twenty four inches long and weighed 2620 ounces. Deason and Oates went to great lengths to conceal their find. They even hid it in their fireplace and kept the fire burning over it. Unfortunately this monster nugget was later melted down, but several replicas are in existence, one at Dunolly where the nugget was cut up on a black smith’s anvil to be weighed.

The largest gold nugget thought to be in existence today is the Hand Of Faith. Found at Kingower Victoria in 1980 with a metal detector. Kingower is just a few miles north of where the Welcome Stranger was found. Last reports place the nugget at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. Even today the Victorian goldfields continue to produce large gold nuggets, the latest is a rumoured 180 ounce beauty from near Bendigo, Victoria. When Victoria’s Golden Triangle goldfields are not producing large nuggets, they continue to produce a steady stream of smaller gold nuggets to metal detector operators. Gold detectors have been scouring the area for over twenty years, but with every advance in gold detector technology, a mini gold rush occurs where several large nuggets are found, and huge numbers of lesser nuggets gleaned from the earth.



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3 thoughts on “From Across the Miles by Wendy P.

    1. A well written story and fun to read. It was good to have links about the family and the information about the winery. Using your family name and giving history about the area in Australia where Murdoch’s uncle lived that was also family related was a nice touch.

      Oh, Murdoch should have figured that his uncle was going to grace Johnny and Scott with a few tales about their escapades.

      It would be fun to read a few letters exchanged with the uncle and Murdoch and Murdoch’s sons.

      Paula R


  1. This is wonderful story. I like meeting Murdoch’s family and hearing the stories-he isn’t such an old grizzly after all. I love the endnotes about your family. Most interesting! Thank for sharing it.


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