Word Count 5160
‘…May you find that love never leaves you
may you find it by the end of the day
you won’t be lost, hurt, tired or lonely
something beautiful will come your way.’
Robbie Williams – Something Beautiful (R. Williams/G. Chambers)
Johnny Lancer fought to regain consciousness.
He was vaguely aware that he was lying on the ground – but why? He tried to raise himself but his body would not obey the directions his brain was giving. His whole being hurt – finally the battle between consciousness and unconsciousness was lost and he subsided into the black oblivion that was beckoning.
Murdoch and Scott were deep in conversation as they made their way back to the hacienda. The legal papers transferring ownership of a small tract of land from a neighbour to Lancer had been finalised at the lawyer’s offices in Green River, and they were looking forward to a relaxing evening with Johnny, planning the future use of the new acquisition.
They were within sight of the ranch and its outbuildings. Time then froze as a scene unfolded before them, stopping them in their tracks. Neither man could comprehend what was taking place near the Lancer arch.
Some weeks previously Harlan Garrett had had a ‘Boston chaise’ shipped from Boston to Lancer. None of the Lancers were naive enough to believe that Scott’s grandfather had accepted that Scott’s move to California was permanent or that Harlan had given up his quest to ‘retrieve’ his grandson. But it was quite obvious that he wished Scott to maintain some of the finer trappings of Boston life, thus the vehicle was sent to enable Scott to travel in style in the ‘barbaric West’.
Scott had conveyed his thanks to his grandfather by letter, acknowledging the ‘thoughtfulness’ of the gift, although in reality he knew he would never drive the old fashioned vehicle. He was aware that this type of vehicle had been very popular with the ‘young men about town’ in the first half of the century. Although Scott had seen a chaise before, in fact there was an old unused one in his grandfather’s carriage house, they were deemed unfashionable by the young men of Boston. Scott and his friends used more modern modes of transport; it would have been an embarrassment to be seen in something so out of date. Scott could only surmise that his grandfather, in his desperation to ensure Scott retain his Boston lifestyle, had sought out some relic of his own youth to pass on to his grandson. However Scott had been amazed to find a brass nameplate at the back of the chaise – Bradley and Pardee, New Haven, Conn. 1871 – the vehicle was new!
As father and son watched in disbelief, a bolting horse was dragging this vehicle, or what remained of it, towards the ranch buildings. The chaise had been approaching the arch at a very smart pace when the near side wheel hit the stone edge of the arch. At a steadier pace – or if the occupants had been in a better-balanced four-wheeled vehicle – all would have been well. But at speed, in the unsprung two-wheeler, disaster was inevitable.
At the point of impact the wooden spokes of the wheel splintered and one of the leather braces, on which the light body was mounted, snapped. As the carriage suddenly dipped to the left the right wheel lifted into the air and the passenger was thrown out, hitting the ground face first. The vehicle continued on its inexorable journey past the point of no return, tossing the driver out in front of the chaise, before it turned completely upside down crushing the hood and snapping the elegantly curved near side shaft. To the watchers’ horror the remaining wheel then ran over the back of the prone driver. The terrorised horse then took off, dragging the vehicle behind. The noise of the remains dragging and bouncing behind only serving to frighten the horse even further, the jagged end of the shaft continually jabbing sharply into the horse’s flank as the panic-stricken animal galloped back to the corrals.
The whole catastrophe only took seconds to unfold. Murdoch and Scott, having regained their senses, then spurred their horses forward and arrived at the scene of the mayhem within minutes.
Both driver and passenger were unconscious. By the time the two senior Lancer men dismounted the passenger was starting to regain consciousness. Scott went directly to the driver, and rolled Johnny onto his back. Momentarily Murdoch was unsure what to do – his paternal instinct said ‘go to your son’ but with Scott already at Johnny’s side he moved towards Teresa.
“Shhhh, darling. Just lie still.” Murdoch said gently to the girl who was moaning and starting to move. He cast his eyes towards his two sons.
Scott was kneeling beside his younger brother, who remained motionless.
Once again Johnny’s subconscious was urging him to wake up. This time it was a little easier but no less painful. He could hear a persistent voice repeatedly calling his name and asking if he was all right.
‘Stupid thing t’ ask, do I look all right?’ was the retort Johnny wanted to make, but his mouth refused to co-operate and he was unable to say anything.
His befuddled brain made another attempt to give orders to his body with limited success this time. His eyelids felt like they were weighted with lead but with great difficulty he opened his eyes. The sight of his elder brother leaning over him with a worried expression in his blue eyes gave him an unexpectedly contented feeling. He smiled in spite of the pain.
“Hey, Boston.” was his faint greeting. He felt pleased that his mouth was now working.
“What happened?” Johnny hoarsely whispered.
“All in good time, Johnny. Just be quiet and lie still.”
At this stage Scott looked over to where Murdoch was tending to Teresa.
She had regained consciousness but had not moved. “I’ve got to go to Johnny, darling, do you understand?” She nodded to signify her understanding of Murdoch’s words. Her face was pale and confusion was evident in her eyes, but she was calm.
Now that Teresa appeared all right Murdoch quickly moved over to his youngest son. He was alarmed at the sight of the pale face looking up at him, and at the stillness of his usually vibrant and energetic son. His eldest son was kneeling beside Johnny, quietly trying to reassure his brother.
The sound of galloping hooves heralded the arrival of riders. Several ranch hands and Jelly arrived at full gallop. Hauling their horses to a sliding stop in front of Murdoch and Scott, Jelly immediately started asking questions.
Murdoch quickly interrupted and directed one of the men to go to fetch the doctor. Having dispatched the rider, Murdoch succinctly explained what had happened. Jelly was by then at the side of the young man he considered to be like a son. After giving the boy a cursory inspection for obviously broken bones and finding no such evidence he transferred his attention to Teresa. She was by now sitting up and holding her head, and was evidently recovering. After being questioned by Jelly about how she felt, it appeared that she was injury free other than having a large livid bruise on her right temple and a massive headache.
Moving back to the youngest Lancer, Jelly heard Johnny’s response to Scott’s urging to stay calm and lie still.
The whispered words, “I can’t move, Scott.” sent a chill down the old man’s spine.
This stunning revelation now sent shivers down Scott’s back as he realised what he had done. Without thinking he had moved his brother from lying face down on the ground onto his back. The thought that Johnny may have had severe injuries that could have been exacerbated by moving him had never entered his head. Those four frightening words uttered by Johnny now started the self-recriminations – Scott knew that he would never forgive himself if he had unwittingly injured his brother further.
Murdoch was now trying to keep his youngest son calm, a son who was becoming increasingly alarmed. The more Johnny tried to move without success the more perturbed he became. His voice was still husky but there was no mistaking the rising panic in the boy.
“Murdoch, Scott, I can’t move my legs, I can’t move my legs!”
“Calm DOWN, Johnny.” Murdoch ordered, trying to remain calm himself. It would not benefit his son any by allowing his own rising panic to be seen. The devastated look on Scott’s face forced Murdoch to try to maintain an air of normality and be the voice of reason.
“Sam will be here soon. Try to keep calm and relax.” He hesitantly smoothed the dark hair that had fallen over his son’s forehead. Johnny’s skin felt clammy and now had a greyish hue. Alarm bells rang in Murdoch’s brain as he felt for a pulse. Finding it racing Murdoch realised with apprehension that shock was setting in.
His feeling of inadequacy was growing with the knowledge that there was nothing else that he could do for his son – Johnny could have internal or back injuries so he was unwilling to try to further move him in any way.
“How is he? How’s Johnny?” Teresa asked tentatively, as she slowly walked over to the group near Johnny. She had now almost recovered from her rapid departure from the vehicle. She would have a headache for the next few days and the ugly bruise on her temple would take time to dissipate, but she had escaped relatively unscathed.
“I don’t know, honey.” Murdoch hesitated before elaborating further. Should he tell the girl that Johnny couldn’t move? What would it achieve? But she had to know, she would find out in due course, and finding out later rather than sooner would hurt her. He quickly decided that he had to tell her, then weighed up how best to break the news.
“Johnny’s conscious but he …,” Murdoch took a deep breath, “he can’t move his legs at the moment.”
Teresa’s muffled sob was drowned out by the sound of the doctor’s buggy arriving. Sam Jenkins hurriedly alighted from the vehicle and took in the sight before him. The group parted in order that he could reach his patient.
“Thank goodness you were in town, Sam.” Murdoch greeted the doctor.
“You’re lucky Murdoch. I was heading back to my office when I met your rider.”
As Sam bent to examine Johnny, Murdoch and Scott explained the events that had taken place.
After what seemed an eternity to the concerned father, brother and onlookers, Sam straightened up. All had remained silent during the examination; each busy with their own thoughts of what Sam’s diagnosis would be. The doctor himself had said nothing, other than asking his patient about his pain. Johnny had managed to suppress his groans as Sam’s fingers probed the myriad of painful areas on his body, and hissed his answers to the doctor’s questions through clenched teeth.
‘Well, Sam?” Murdoch was almost at the end of his tether; the strain of watching his son suppressing his obvious pain was almost too much for the man.
“Well, Murdoch, I think he’s been very lucky. There are no obvious breaks anywhere. Of course I can’t be sure about his back or neck, but I think it’s safe to get him back to the house and then I can give him a thorough going over.”
“But why can’t he move, Sam?” queried Scott.
“There could be a number of reasons, Scott. I’ll know more when we’re back at the house. Just to be safe I want Johnny to be moved on a backboard, that way there will be as little movement as possible for his back and neck.”
A little over an hour later, after Johnny had been carefully manoeuvred onto a wide plank and placed in a buckboard which had been driven slowly back to the ranch, the doctor had completed his more detailed examination of Johnny.
He had even managed to convince his very reluctant patient to take some laudanum. Despite the pain Johnny had been unwilling to take the detested pain killer, but common sense and a determined doctor prevailed. With the level of pain decreasing he had drifted off into much needed sleep.
Downstairs the doctor settled down with a cup of coffee and a slice of fruitcake. Looking at the concerned faces of those standing near the fireplace, he was relieved that he would be the bearer of good news.
“Johnny is a lucky boy. Other than some cracked ribs there are no breaks or fractures. There is, however, severe and deep bruising on his lower back where the wheel ran over him. I’m pretty sure there is no kidney damage, but the bruising will take weeks to come out. The rest of his body is covered in bruises of varying depths and he has a concussion. He’s going to be very stiff, sore and sorry for himself for some time! But he’ll be fine.” He paused to take a mouthful of coffee, and then continued.
“Before you ask, Murdoch, the reason, I believe, that Johnny is not able to move yet is a combination of severe bruising and shock. Given time he will start gaining movement back again. I would suspect that with a good night’s rest there should even be some improvement in the morning.”
There was a palpable lightening of the atmosphere in the room at the doctor’s words. Scott headed for the decanter on the drinks table and poured a large brandy for Murdoch, Jelly and himself. After handing these out he sank onto the couch and heaved a sigh of relief. His father joined him there and they both took a sip of their brandy. Jelly, etiquette not being one of his strong suits, downed his drink in two gulps and then announced that he would spread the good news to the ranch hands.
Presently the doctor took his leave, stating that he would check in on his patient on the morrow.
Scott and Murdoch went upstairs, looking in on Teresa who had gone to bed and fallen asleep as soon as they had arrived home. Noticing that she was awake they quickly told her the good news about Johnny, and then left her to rest again.
They quietly entered Johnny’s room and paused for a moment to gaze upon the sleeping man.
“It never ceases to amaze me,” began Murdoch, “how young Johnny looks when he is sleeping, especially when he is ill.”
Scott smiled wryly, “That’s seems to be quite often, doesn’t it?”
Murdoch couldn’t help the slight smile as he answered, “Yes, your brother does seem to have a knack for injuring himself. I think he enjoys sparring with Sam!”
The two men quietly pulled chairs up to the edge of the bed and settled themselves down for the night. The youngest Lancer would have two guardians watching over him throughout the night.
As he sat there watching the gentle rise and fall of his brother’s chest Scott whispered to him, “What I would like to know is what on earth you were doing in that chaise.”
When Johnny awoke the next morning he sensed that he was not alone. He carefully turned his head towards the window. The rays of the early morning sun streaming in the window illuminated the two men still sleeping by his bedside. He lay there looking at his father and brother, feeling thankful that he now had a family that cared about him. Although he might grumble about the fact that they mollycoddled him when he was hurt, truth be known, he enjoyed it. In past times there was no one to watch over him when he was injured, the times that he had awoken lost, hurt, tired or lonely were numerous – but no more. He had now found a niche in life – or was it that life had found a niche for him? And that gave him a warm feeling of love – a love he hoped would never leave him. Those lonely and painful awakenings were a thing of the past.
Scott awoke to find blue eyes quietly regarding him.
“Welcome back, little brother.”
“Nice to be back, big brother.”
The two men smiled at each other. “How do you feel, Johnny?”
“Like I was trampled by a herd of buffalo.” was the response.
“You’ll have to tell me that story sometime.”
Johnny gazed perplexedly at his brother. ‘What d’ya mean tell you the story?”
“About the time you were trampled by a herd of buffalo, of course!” said Scott with a straight face but a twinkle in his eye.
Murdoch was awoken by the sound of the laughter of his two sons. “Well boys, it seems that the patient must be feeling a little better! How do you feel, son?”
He was totally bewildered at the renewed laughter emanating from his sons.
Scott wiped the tears from his eyes as he explained to his father that it was nothing, just a joke he and Johnny had shared.
After this jocularity Scott became serious again. It had been very obvious that Johnny was in pain even though he had joined in the mirth. “Seriously, Johnny, how do you feel?” He hesitated, thinking back to the panic his brother had shown the day before when he found that he was unable to move. “Is …um, I mean can … er …” He didn’t know how to broach the subject.
“Stop beatin’ about the bush, Boston. Spit it out.”
Scott looked at his father in despair. Murdoch, realising what his eldest son was trying to ask, took over.
“Son, you had some difficulty moving your legs after the accident,” he began gently, “Sam said it was to be expected due to your injuries, and that you could be showing improvement as early as today …” he trailed off, also not knowing how to ask the difficult question.
Johnny said nothing, he couldn’t remember anything about the accident or its aftermath, he recalled taking Teresa for a drive in Scott’s present but that was all – a total blank – until he woke up in bed with his father and brother at his side. He tentatively tried to move his legs – nothing. He tensed and tried again, but his body was not listening.
Scott and Murdoch, pain in their eyes and hearts, watched the young man struggling to make his body obey.
Before Johnny could become distraught at his lack of success, Murdoch interjected.
“Just try to relax, Johnny. Sam will be here later and he’ll let you know what’s happening. Try not to worry, it won’t help.” He could see the tension in his youngest but was unable to offer any other comfort.
“I’ll get Maria to bring you up a bit of breakfast. I’d better check on Teresa too.”
As his father left Johnny asked Scott about Teresa. He was relieved upon hearing that she was not badly injured.
When Maria arrived with breakfast for Johnny, Scott carefully eased his brother up the bed and into a sitting position, noticing the grimaces that Johnny could not disguise. Pillows were placed behind the young man’s back.
He hovered near his brother whilst he picked at the food on the tray but did not interfere. “Might help if he’s able to do something for himself.” he thought.
Finally, Scott removed the tray as Johnny had only pushed the food around and had eaten very little. “Get some more rest.”
“Yeah, think I might.” was the flat reply. Scott once again helped Johnny into a comfortable position in the bed.Scott stood by the window until his brother’s breathing told him that he was asleep and he quietly left the room to undertake his morning ablutions.
It was late morning when the doctor made his call. Johnny had slept since breakfast and only stirred when Sam and his father and brother entered his room. Even in the throws of awakening Johnny’s mind was sharp enough to cut off the doctor’s inevitable question.
“Don’t you dare ask me how I feel.” he growled at the doctor. “That’s all anyone asks me.”
“Fine, I won’t ask it then,” replied Sam Jenkins with a serious countenance. “Far be it for me to join the common throng. Of course, as your doctor I haven’t the slightest interest in how you feel. Don’t care about how any of my patients feel.”
Feeling rather foolish, Johnny smiled sheepishly at Sam. “Okay, you win. I feel tired, very sore and …”
“… extremely grumpy.” finished Scott.
Glaring at Scott, Johnny had the grace to say to the doctor “I’ll be good Sam, I’ll answer your questions, anything to get better an’ outa this bed.”
“All right then, let’s have a look at what your body is doing, shall we?” said the doctor.
The ensuing examination was interspersed with muffled gasps and suppressed groans from Johnny, as the first two examinations had been. His body was a mass of livid bruises, and the pain of even the lightest touch of the doctor’s hands on his tender skin was agony to the injured man. Murdoch and Scott had winced in sympathy as they assisted the doctor in rolling Johnny onto his stomach so his back could be examined, and then back again. Feeling satisfied with what he found on the torso Sam turned his attention to Johnny’s legs.
“You should be starting to get some feeling back, Johnny. Have you noticed any change?”
Words were unnecessary; the shake of the young man’s head eloquently expressed his dismay at being unable to move.
The doctor then brought out from his bag a long pin. “I’m just going to touch various parts of your legs and feet, Johnny. Let me know if you feel anything.”
There was no response as Sam methodically prodded Johnny’s legs. But an involuntary twitch of his left foot met the touch of the pin.
“Johnny, your foot moved,” Scott gleefully told his brother. “Did you feel it?”
The grin on his brother’s face was all the answer he needed.
The doctor also had a smile on his face as he said, “Well, young man, I think we can safely say you are on the mend. That is a very positive sign. It will still be a week or so before you gain full feeling and movement though. I’ll give you some exercises to help but don’t try to force it – just let it happen. Your body has taken a beating and needs to recover at its own rate.”
“We’ll make sure he obeys you this time,” Murdoch said, eying his youngest sternly. “No shortcuts, Johnny. Promise.”
Johnny meekly agreed. The thought of not being able to walk or ride and being dependent on others for the rest of his life had scared him more than anything ever before. He knew that this time he would follow Sam’s directions to the letter.
And he did. For the next week Johnny religiously did the exercises, stopping when he felt tired, as Sam had suggested. He made steady progress, feeling and movement was coming back and the discolouration of his body having reached its zenith was starting to fade.
Teresa had also recovered from her injuries. After suffering from headaches for the first few days, the only evidence of her sudden meeting with the ground was a fading bruise. She had had to threaten that she would cease visiting Johnny if he apologised once more. The young man was full of remorse for causing the accident, but Teresa had reminded him that it was actually because of her that they had been in the chaise in the first place.
In between the bouts of exercise and rest Scott kept his brother company. He read to him, played checkers and discussed the comings and goings of the ranch. As Johnny’s body and mind healed Scott felt that he could now ask the question he had been itching to ask his younger brother. Why?
Johnny had just won his fourth straight game of checkers, which had followed a very successful round of exercises. Scott felt that now was the time, Johnny was feeling euphoric and might be in the mood to answer him.
“Johnny …” Scott began tentatively.
“Yup.” Johnny’s face was alive, with eyes sparkling and that brilliant smile. “Wanta be thrashed again do ya?”
“No thanks, brother. I’m beginning to doubt my ability to win at checkers; you’ve won so many games. No, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Fire away then.”
“O-kay. What were you and Teresa doing in that vehicle?”
Johnny paused and thought before he answered. As his body was healing some memory of the accident had surfaced. There were still gaps as he had no recollection of the actual accident, but the events leading up to it were quite clear. He gazed earnestly into the face of his brother. “I been askin’ myself that very question.”
“And I don’t know the answer. It was all a big mistake.”
This question was answered by another question from Johnny. “What’a we drive around here, on Lancer?”
“Buggies, buckboards, wagons. Why?” Scott could see no relevance to the question he had asked about what had happened, in the direction the conversation was taking.
Johnny continued. “They’re all four-wheeled, well balanced, hard to tip over – and with turntables making turning easy.”
“Yes, I agree. Go on.”
“Our horses ain’t ever pulled anythin’ like your chaise. Didn’t know they’d find it different to pull. I’d never driven anythin’ with two wheels either, thought it’d be just the same. But it weren’t. And I was stupid enough to use that 3-year-old gelding that’s green broke to harness.”
He paused, lowered his eyes and began to rearrange the bedclothes. Scott, recognising the avoidance tactics his brother had used in the past, waited. Johnny had not yet answered his question as to why he and Teresa had been out driving.
When Johnny lifted his head and met his brother’s eyes Scott noted the embarrassment in his younger sibling’s blue eyes. “I… I guess I was showing off to Teresa. She’d been out admiring your present …” He grinned at his brother’s quizzical look. “Yeah, I know, there’s no accounting for taste is there? As she seemed to like it so much I asked her if she’d like to go for a drive in it. I s’pose I should’a asked you first.” Scott gave his brother a searching look at this statement. “Anyhow, we was goin’ fine until we turned for home. We was speedin’ along, Pete was gettin’ stronger and stronger as we headed for home, and we was bouncin’ all over the road with the road bein’ so rough an’ all. I should’a checked him before goin’ through the arch, but I didn’t and he pulled to the left and, well you saw what happened. Now he’s probably ruined. And I could’a hurt Teresa real bad too. Can’t believe I was so stupid!”
As Johnny spoke he pounded the bed emphasising his annoyance at himself. When he had reached the end of his tale of woe he looked at Scott.
His brother tried to ease Johnny’s frustration by saying “We all do some foolish things sometime in our life. Experience is the best teacher, Johnny. You’ve just learnt a painful lesson, but you won’t do it again. And now I think I’d better let you rest.”
As Scott left the room he smiled to himself. He was probably being overly optimistic thinking that his irrepressible and exuberant brother would learn from his mistake.
Johnny surveyed the remains of Scott’s gift – it was not a pretty sight. Although Scott had said that he would never use it, it was a present from his grandfather. And Scott would never knowingly or willingly hurt Harlan’s feelings if it were at all possible.
At the time of the gift’s arrival Johnny had wondered whether his upright and exceedingly honest brother would stoop to lie to his grandfather if he were asked about using the chaise. Johnny had not been able to suppress a smile when he had thought of his honourable brother – what would Scott’s ‘Boston gentleman’ grandfather think of his Scotty if he knew of their escapade with the train? The old man would probably have a heart attack! It still seemed inconceivable to Johnny that Scott had assisted in his plan to aid Charlie Poe so readily.
Johnny had been allowed to leave the house after a week in bed, then two weeks’ recuperation. He was able to move around without too much difficulty but was not yet ready to resume strenuous or demanding ranching duties. This was his first venture outside. His first call had been to his beloved Barranca. He missed the palomino and looked forward to the time when Sam would give the okay to ride again.
Johnny had then looked at the young gelding. He too was getting over his injuries. There had been some nasty cuts in the horse’s flank and stifle area where the broken shaft had dug in as he galloped along. The horse had also over-reached, resulting in a deep gash to the heels of the near foreleg. It was fortunate that the horse had been unshod; the over-reach could have pulled the shoe off ripping the hoof, and might even have brought the horse down. Pete was recovering but it would be some time before he was put to a vehicle again. Before he left Pete Johnny rubbed his hand up and down the horse’s nose and whispered an apology to the horse.
He cast his eyes over the remains again. One of the curved shafts had been snapped at the breeching strap dee. The dashboard was shattered where it had dragged along the ground. The hood was beyond repair. The leather upholstery on the seat had also seen better days – it was now dusty, tattered and torn. All in all the chaise was in need of quite an extensive paint job. One wheel was the only part of the rather pitiful looking vehicle that had escaped unscathed. Johnny sighed. He hoped that his brother would forgive him.
“That was a heartfelt sigh, brother.” remarked Scott who had just entered the building where the sad and sorry remains had been stored. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Me? Yeah, I’m fine. But can’t say the same for your grandfather’s present. I’m so sorry Scott. I’ll get it fixed up as soon as I can.”
In spite of the earnest look on his sibling’s face Scott couldn’t help but tease him. “And so you should be! Taking my present and using it without asking me! And then you broke it!”
Johnny realised that his elder brother was pulling his leg. “It was awful, wasn’t it?”
“That it was, brother, that it was. But we’ll keep that as our little secret, won’t we?”
Scott was rewarded by his brother’s disarming grin. “Yeah, and I promise I’ll never play with your toys without asking again.”
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