Word Count 14,070
Johnny and Scott Lancer were riveted to the chess board in front of them. Each stratagizing their next move. Each determined to crush his opponent. Scott had that determined look on his face and it was quite evident. Johnny looked as if he were sitting in a rocking chair watching the world go by without a care. It was his poker face and he wore it well, much to the chagrin of his older brother. It unnerved Scott at times. The way Johnny could hide his feelings and thoughts so well. He knew it had been a necessary part of his brother’s former life and very survival. But such things are not easily, if ever, abandoned and Scott thought Johnny would never completely break from the habits of his past life. Of course, some of those habits were of great value in certain situations and had been beneficial to Scott and his family in the past. Deep in these thoughts and trying to figure out how to finally beat his brother at chess, Scott never noticed his father walk into the room.
“How’s the game going?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny looked up at his father and grinned. “Oh, I think Boston is just about to concede defeat, right?”
“Now just a minute!” Scott said indignantly. “I haven’t given up yet!”
Murdoch smiled at his sons and a warm feeling swept through him. He loved to see these two go at it, any contest between them was all out war. In the most lighthearted way of course. The boys rarely argued and when they did, the storm would pass as quickly as it had come. One would always approach the other to apologize and soon they would be bantering back and forth once again. “Well, I’d like to talk to both of you for a moment if you can tear yourselves away from that chess board that is,” Murdoch said with a grin.
Johnny tensed immediately as he thought ‘What horrendous job does he have in mind for me this time’. Instead of verbalizing his fear, he simply said “What is it?” albeit his voice was tenuous at best.
Murdoch chuckled to himself, knowng what Johnny was thinking. “I thought it would be a good idea for the three of us to take a little vacation together. We could go up in the mountains and do some hunting and fishing. There’s a cabin up there. It hasn’t been used for some time but I’m sure it just needs a little airing out. What do you think?” He asked both his sons.
Scott smiled and said, “I think it’s a great idea! When did you want to go?”
“Tomorrow morning,” his father replied.
“Oh,” Scott said with a disappointed look on his face.
“What is it, Scott?” Murdoch asked.
Scott sighed heavily and said “Don’t you remember? I have to take that string of ponies to Mr. Henderson tomorrow. It will take a week to get there and back, if I push it.”
“Oh that’s right, I completely forgot,” Murdoch replied, obviously disappointed.
For the first time since Murdoch suggested the trip, Johnny spoke. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to do it another time, Murdoch. It was a good idea though.”
Scott suddenly jumped up, nearly knocking the chess board to the floor.
“Whoa there, brother, are you trying to cheat?” Johnny grinned.
“Sorry, I just had a great idea. Why don’t you two go?”
“What, just the two of us?’ Murdoch asked.
“Yes! Yes, it’s perfect. You and Johnny go on your vacation together and the three of us can go some other time,” Scott replied, very proud of himself for coming up with this idea.
“What do you think, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny had turned a bit pale as he stammered “Y…yeah, sure, ahem, why not?”
“Great! I’ll go tell Teresa it will be just the two of us. We’ll head out first thing in the morning,” Murdoch declared, slapping his youngest on the back as he went to the kitchen to find his ward.
The smile on Scott Lancer’s face suddenly disappeared as he saw his brother’s expression. ‘Now that one I can definitely read’ he thought as he braced himself for what was coming.
“Scott, how could you do this to me?! I thought we were brothers! How could you suggest such a thing? Now, Murdoch and I will be stuck together for a week without anyone to keep us from killing each other!” Johnny decried.
“Johnny, calm down. It will be fine. You need this time with Murdoch. Maybe you can both sort out some of the things that you always seem to butt heads over.”
“Like what, Boston?”
“Like your mother,” Scott replied softly.
Johnny tensed again at the thought of having any kind of calm conversation with his father about the woman who had taken him away from his home so many years ago, then lied to him about his father.
“I’m telling you right now, one of us is comin home slung over a saddle,” Johnny mumbled.
“What a beautiful morning!” Teresa sang as the Lancer men made their way down to breakfast.
‘What’s she in such a good mood about?’ Johnny though as he plunked down in his chair. He was not in a good mood and didn’t particularly want to be around anyone who was. He was about to find out that he would have to endure this joviality the rest of the day as his father entered the kitchen with a smile and enough energy to drive a whole herd of cattle single-handedly. ‘Great! Now I have to put up with this all day.’
“Good morning everyone. Johnny, are you all packed?” Murdoch asked.
“Good morning,” Scott replied with just as much happiness in his voice as was in his father’s.
Johnny moaned inwardly but tried to be lighthearted with his reply. “All packed a rarin to go,” he declared.
“Good! Good! We’ll leave right after breakfast.”
Johnny smiled as best he could. He was not looking forward to this little trek. He had thought about it most of the night since he found he couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend time with his father. He had come to the staggering realization during the wee hours of the morning that he was afraid. It had come as quite a shock, this revelation. Johnny Madrid, afraid? How could that be? He wasn’t afraid of any man. It wasn’t that he was especially afraid of his father, it was spending that much time alone with him that gave Johnny that chilling tingle down his spine. They were so much alike, though neither man would admit to it. They were stubborn, mule headed and set in their ways, and neither would be likely to give an inch. He knew this would not turn out well. No, not well at all. He wished he had his brother’s confidence that this would be a good thing. Having his father all to himself at this point in his life was not going to be easy. After all they had been through, and were still struggling with. No, it wasn’t going to be a cake walk, that’s for sure!
“Johnny!” He jerked his head up at the loud tone his father had taken. “What’s wrong son, you were far away there for a minute.”
“Sorry, just not quite awake yet I guess,” he lied.
“Well? Are you ready to go?”
“I’m ready,” he replied, giving his brother a parting look that would have dropped most men to their knees begging for mercy. ‘You’ll pay for this Boston. Oh yes, you will pay,’ he thought as he followed his father out the door.
They had ridden several hours without saying too much. Johnny continued thinking about his quandry and how he could avoid talking to Murdoch about anything serious. Not that he didn’t want to, but he still didn’t know how to talk to this man. After all, they were really still strangers. He knew Murdoch didn’t understand him and he certainly didn’t understand his father most of the time. Maybe Scott’s right. Maybe this will help us get closer after all, he hoped.
Murdoch, having noticed how deep in thought his youngest son was, did not want to disturb him with idle chatter. ‘This is going to be the opportunity of a life time. As long as I don’t mess it up. I just have to be very careful of what I say and how I say it. Maybe I can get him to talk about his past and I can start to understand this puzzle that is my son.’ Murdoch was lost in his own thoughts so the majority of the day past quickly for both of them.
As evening fell, they made camp near a small stream. After looking after the horses and cooking a quick meal of beans with some biscuits Teresa had packed, they settled in for the night. Murdoch couldn’t help but notice as Johnny removed his gun from its holster and slid it under his blanket so it would be handy if needed. Murdoch felt a sadness come over him at the thought that his son needed this security. Oh yes, most men did keep their gun near when camping out. You never know what or who might come along, but it was unsettling to see Johnny do this without even thinking. He probably didn’t even realize he did it. ‘Habits’ Murdoch sighed inwardly.
During the evening hours at camp, Johnny continued to be quiet and Murdoch did not want to push conversation so soon, so he chatted about the ranch and the coming cattle drive next month until both men fell asleep under the stars.
The next morning Johnny awoke to the smell and sound of bacon frying. He smiled and stretched before even opening his eyes.
“Good morning,” Murdoch said.
“Mornin,” Johnny sleepily replied.
“Breakfast is almost ready if you want to get washed up.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Johnny smiled at his father and headed toward the small stream to wash the sleep off. The cool crisp water felt wondeful and as he headed back to camp he felt refreshed. He realized during the ride the day before that he was being sullen. He decided this morning that he would make the best of the situation. Who knows? Maybe this would work out. He decided he would be in a better mood for his father who was obviously looking forward to this trip a great deal. “Don’t forget to burn it,” Johnny smiled as he looked at the bacon frying over the campfire.
Murdoch looked up and saw his son smile for the first time since they had left. “I remember,” he said softly.
Breakfast was done and both men had had their fill of coffee. “Ready?” Murdoch asked as he began cleaning up the camp.
“Yep, let’s get to that cabin of yours. I can’t wait to shoot some fish!” Johnny declared.
Murdoch laughed aloud at this, remembering the last time he, Johnny and Scott had gone fishing. Johnny was so disgusted with his lack of quarry that he started shooting at the fish. He got a couple too. As they rode out of camp, both men were smiling and talking. The rest of the trip was spent with idle chatter and quite moments of contentment.
When they finally arrived at their destination Johnny was a bit surpised. “Hey, I thought you said this was a cabin,” he said.
“Yes, that’s what I said,” his father replied then asked, “why, is something wrong?”
Johnny looked at the building. It was made of logs and creekstone and was quite a bit larger than any cabin he had ever seen. It must have a least two bedrooms. The chimney was huge, suggesting a large fireplace inside. “No, nothin’s wrong, it’s just bigger than I imagined.”
“Oh,” Murdoch smiled. “Well, it is roomy. I know you don’t like small places, son.”
Johnny averted his eyes from his father’s and softly said, “only ones I can’t get out of.”
They set about opening windows and airing out the cabin, removing dust covers and sweeping the floor clean. Murdoch built a fire and Johnny finished with the bedrooms (there were two). Then they unloaded their supplies and took care of bedding down the horses. Johnny had brought Barranca’s brush with him and the palomino whinied his appreciation as Johnny curried him. He smiled at the golden horse and said to his father “Ya know, I don’t think I ever thanked you.”
“For giving me Barranca. He’s the best horse I ever had and smart too.”
Murdoch laughed softly and said “I’d hoped you’d like him. I wasn’t sure but ever since you broke him that second day you were home, he’s been devoted to you.”
Home, Johnny thought. A year ago he had no home. Hadn’t had one to speak of his entire life. Well as much as he could remember anyway. He had wished fervently in the past few months that he could remember living at Lancer as a toddler. That somehow he could command those memories to the forefront through sheer willpower. But they hadn’t come. Oh, every so often when he walked about the great hacienda, things seemed familiar to him. What did Scott call it? De ja something. Anyway, he knew what it meant. That feeling that he’d been there before, seen a certain thing before. Sometimes, though rarely, when Murdoch was talking, he had that feeling too.
It was strange and confusing but somehow comforting and a little sad. If only he could remember. He thought that the memories could somehow bring him closer to his father if they could just share something, anything. He sighed aloud without realizing it.
Murdoch looked at him closely, trying to read his son. Johnny felt his father’s stare and looked over smiling his biggest, most charming, ladykiller smile. Murdoch returned the smile and realized everything was alright. Johnny wasn’t closing himself off as he was so likely to do when he felt pressured. ‘Well there will be no pressure here,’ Murdoch thought. ‘No, we are going to enjoy this precious time together if it kills us both!’ He laughed inside at this determined thought.
The evening meal was a joint effort. Both men had a hand in the preparation. Murdoch was surprised at how well Johnny could cook. When he commented on this, Johnny replied, “born of necessity. A person gets tired of eating rabbit stew made out of rabbit and water. Got to have some taste to it,” he grinned.
Murdoch grinned back but inside there was an ache for his son that he thought might never fully go away. All the years wasted. Wasted! And for what!? For what, he sighed silently. After supper and the chores were all done, both men were worn out. They decided to make it an early night and get a fresh start in the morning. They had decided to go hunting on the ridge above the cabin. They bid each other goodnight and went to their rooms. Murdoch’s last thought before sleep claimed him was ‘tomorrow, tomorrow we’ll talk’.
Johnny relaxed into the feather bed and thought ‘so far so good. We actually managed to get through two days without a fight. Whew!’
The next morning they started out early, wanting to take advantage of the early morning hours before it got too hot. They started up the ridge looking for signs of the deer they were hunting. Johnny took the lead without a word, which irked his father somewhat, but he didn’t want to get into a tiff over such a small thing. Soon, Murdoch was glad his son was on point. Johnny’s tracking skills were impressive. Murdoch had done some trapping in his day, but Johnny seemed to see the unseeable. Whenever Johnny would point a new direction that Murdoch could not understand, he would poke his son on the shoulder and give him a ‘what did you see that I didn’t’ look. Not wanting to speak so they wouldn’t scare off their prey, Johnny would smile and patiently point out the telltale signs that an animal had come this way recently.
Murdoch was amazed at Johnny’s keen sight and marveled as his son continually surprised him. An hour later they came close to a clearing. Johnny held his hand up indicating he wanted to stop. Murdoch looked up the trail and saw a beautiful white tailed buck. He was a good twelve points. Johnny grinned at his father and indicated with hand signals for Murdoch to take the shot. Murdoch shook his head and whispered softly “you take it.” Johnny’s grin broke into a huge smile as he turned back toward his prey and raised his rifle to fire.
Suddenly he stopped, frozen in his tracks. The hairs on his neck were raised and he knew something was terribly wrong. Murdoch tugged on his sleeve to ask what the problem was but Johnny turned and put his finger to his lips to shush his father. He gave Murdoch a concerned look and the older man nodded his understanding. Johnny signaled his father to move to the other side of the trail. Just before Murdoch moved, the buck brought up his head, alerted to whatever it was that had given Johnny the exact same feeling. The buck took off up the ridge and disappeared. Johnny sighed to himself and shook his head. ‘Damn! That would have been a great catch,’ he thought.
Scanning the area surrounding him, Johnny could see nothing but the internal warning he had felt was still very much alive, telling him that trouble was near. Murdoch searched the forested area as well, but could see nothing. He looked at Johnny and shrugged his shoulders. Johnny shook his head to say no, something’s still wrong. Just then Johnny saw what had disturbed him so much.
The great grizzly was enormous. Johnny thought he had never seen such a large bear. It stalked along coming closer and closer and Johnny and Murdoch both tried to move back into the trees to hide themselves. But the bear had obviously caught the scent and wasn’t about to give up so easily. He growled and snorted and sniffed. Then he stopped and looked directly at Murdoch.
He was no more than 30 feet away. Murdoch would never outrun him and Johnny saw this too. Slowly and deliberately Johnny raised his already cocked rifle and waited. Maybe the bear would decide to move on.
Then he lunged forward. Murdoch cocked his rifle but Johnny was already firing. He fired 3 shots into the mammouth. The bear stopped and turned toward whatever was causing it pain. He raised on his hind legs to his full height, a good 8 feet, and growled visciously at Johnny. Johnny fired again, this time striking the bear in the heart. As the grizzly pitched forward it was clear he was about to drop all 800 pounds on Johnny. He leapt to the left with the speed of a cheetah and rolled out of the way.
The grizzly fell to the ground, which shook as if an earthquake had hit, and took his last breath. Johnny approached the mountain of fur, teeth and claws and made sure the animal was dead. When he was satisfied, he turned to check on his father. Murdoch was standing a few feet behind Johnny staring at the massive beast. “Murdoch, are you alright?” Johnny asked concerned.
“He could have killed you,” Murdoch replied in a whisper.
“Yeah, well I guess I bested him, huh?” grinning like a cat stealing cream.
“It’s not funny, Johnny,” Murdoch growled. Then softly he added “You could have been killed.”
Johnny looked at his father and saw the deep concern etched in his face. He felt a warmth come over him as he realized the old man was really worried about him. “Sorry, Murdoch. I guess we ain’t gonna have deer steaks tonight. Do you want to try for some fish instead?”
Murdoch relaxed and smiled. “Sure, but how about trying a fishing pole this time. That .45 doesn’t leave much of the fish left to eat.” Laughing, the two Lancers made their way down the hillside to gather the fishing supplies.
“How long do you want to keep trying at this?” Johnny inquired. They had been sitting by the lake for several hours with little more than a nibble.
“I guess we should give it up. It’s getting late. Guess they just aren’t biting today,” Murdoch replied.
With that they set about gathering up their belongings, ready to head back to the cabin. Murdoch was grateful they would be inside soon. He planned on having that conversation after supper and he was secretly glad there wouldn’t be any fish to clean or deer to dress down. It would give them more time to talk, he hoped.
They set about cooking their supper side by side. Neither speaking much, concentrating on the task at hand. Murdoch was starting to feel a little nervous in anticipation of the evening’s events. He hoped he would be able to find the right words. The words that wouldn’t put his son on the defensive, but instead get him to open up.
With supper finished and the dishes done, the two men sat by the large creekstone fireplace enjoying the warm glow of the firelight. It reminded Johnny of the many nights he’d spent sleeping under the stars. He liked the quiet the night brought, and the solitude…well, he used to like the solitude. Lately, he had not been so anxious to be alone. His new found family had changed him, even if the old man couldn’t see it.
‘No,’ Johnny thought. “Don’t go there. Don’t start thinkin about things that’ll just get you all riled up.”
Murdoch broke the silence by clearing his voice and speaking. “Johnny? Uh, do you think we could talk about a few things, son?”
Johnny instantly tensed but tried not to show his uneasiness. “Like what?” he asked.
“Well, I was hoping we might clear the air between us. I know I’m hard on you, son. I’m just trying to keep you from..from….”
“From screwing up?” Johnny finished the thought with a smirk. “Why do you always think the worst of me, Murdoch?” he asked softly.
Murdoch was surprised by the directness of the question and immediately felt defensive. “I don’t always think the worst of you, Johnny. It’s just that, well…Hell son, I don’t know you anymore.”
“Anymore? What do you mean, anymore?” Johnny asked.
“I mean, well it sounds silly but, I did know you. For two years you were my little boy. I knew your moods. I knew when you felt guilty about something. I could always tell when you’d done something you knew you weren’t supposed to,” Murdoch replied with a smile on his face remembering his impetuous toddler. When he looked at his son there was a sadness there. “Johnny? What is it, did I say something wrong?”
Johnny sighed deeply. “No, you didn’t say anything wrong. It’s just that I…I wish I could remember is all. Sometimes, when I’m walking through the house, I get this feeling like…like it’s familiar to me. Scott called it some French name De ja somethin.”
“De ja vous,” His father interjected.
“Yeah, that’s it. Well, I get that feeling sometimes. And then, too, when you say something in a certain way…it’s the same. It’s kinda spooky.”
“Oh Johnny, I wish you could remember too. You were such a happy child. Always laughing and….”
“Stop Murdoch, please,” Johnny implored with a quiver in his voice.
“You don’t want to hear about that I guess. I can’t blame you. I guess it just makes you sad because you can’t remember it.”
“It doesn’t make me sad that I can’t remember,” Johnny said, then in a whisper he added “It makes me sad that it ended.” He looked up at his father and Murdoch could see how hard he was fighting to keep the tears back.
Murdoch moved over to his son and took the chance of a lifetime. He put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder and pulled him close. Johnny practically collapsed into his father’s arms. They sat there for a long time. Both grown, rough, tough, stubborn men gently weeping for what might have been.
They sat up until dawn, talking things out. Explaining their own points of view on their relationship as it had been thusfar. They talked about Johnny’s mother and for the first time he could see how deeply she had hurt his father. How heartbroken he had been to lose not only his wife but, more importantly, his son. He told Johnny he could have taken Maria leaving him but what he couldn’t take was losing another son. Johnny began to understand this man. He knew one night, even a week of talking like this would only be the beginning, but he was glad they’d have this time. It was going so well, then Murdoch started to ask him about his life as Johnny Madrid.
He felt Johnny’s shoulders immediately tense under his own arm. He almost let it go but then he thought it was too good of an opportunity. An opportunity that may never come again. “Johnny, I’m sorry. I know this is uncomfortable for you son, but I need to know at least some of it.”
Johnny sighed and replied just above a whisper “What do you want to know?”
“I’d like to know how it all started. And I’d like to know the details of your mother’s death.” Murdoch knew this was a very touchy subject, but he just had to know.
“I would have thought all that was in your Pinkerton file,” Johnny quipped. Then immediately he said “I’m sorry Murdoch, that was uncalled for.”
“It’s ok son, I know this is hard for you. I…I just feel like I have to know.”
“I guess I can understand that,” Johnny sighed. He then started telling Murdoch the story. He knew it was going to be more than his father bargained for, but Johnny also knew, no matter how much it would hurt, that Murdoch deserved to know the truth.
“She was always telling me that you kicked us out. That you didn’t want a Mexican wife or a half-breed son. She said that’s why we always had to keep moving. The Pinkerton’s were closing in so we’d pack up and move to the next flea-ridden village. I asked her once, if you didn’t want us, why were the Pinkerton’s after us. She never really answered me. She would just start cussing and blaming you for all the hardships in the world. It was hard to listen to and, well, after listening to it so much and seeing the pain in her eyes, I..I hated you.” Johnny looked up sheepishly at his father and was greeted with a sad smile and urging to continue.
He sighed again and went on. “This is going to be hard for you, I’m sorry. She was always finding some man to “keep” us, or rather keep her. When there wasn’t a man around, she would…um…dammit…ok..she would sell herself.”
Johnny felt that old anger start welling up inside him. The only difference now was that the anger wasn’t directed at his father anymore. It was directed at his mother. This sudden realization shocked him and he visibly shuddered at the thought. Murdoch felt this and held his son closer. He didn’t want to let go, not ever. Johnny decided he was in for the long haul so he might as well go on with it.
“Anyway, most of the time when there was a man around he didn’t pay much attention to me. Unless I got in his way or tried to stop one of them from hurting her. Of course, I usually got slapped into next week for my efforts. She would always come later and comfort me and tell me not to do that anymore. I couldn’t help it though. I couldn’t just stand there and watch someone hurt her! But after a while I started to realize that it really didn’t do any good. In fact, most of the time I just made things worse for her. So after a time, I would just stay out of the way and if it looked like there was gonna be a fight, I’d leave or hide somewhere. Until that night anyway. It was different. I don’t know how but I just knew it was different and it was going to be very bad. I stayed in my bed and listened while they screamed at each other for what seemed like forever. She could give as good as she got most of the time. Man! She had a temper!”
Murdoch chuckled softly and said “Yes, I know.”
“Yeah, I guess you do,” Johnny said. He hesitated, glad to be in his father’s arms at that moment. Not only for the comfort and love he found there, but also because he wouldn’t have to look in his father’s eyes, especially now. He continued.
“Anyway, I heard things crashing and breaking so I got up to see if she was ok. He was standing over her and she was lying on the floor. She wasn’t moving. He looked up and saw me and just stared at me. I think he was surprised by what he had done. Then he ran…like the coward he was. I went over to her and tried to wake her up. God, I must have knelt there for an hour trying to get her to wake up. I knew inside that she was dead but I just had to keep trying. After a while, I don’t know how long, I got up and packed what few things I had and what little food there was and I left. I never looked back.”
Murdoch sighed heavily. He wasn’t sure his voice wouldn’t betray him but he had to ask. “You didn’t see that she was buried?”
Johnny was quiet for a moment and then, without any emotion he said, “She understood, I had to keep moving. Just like she taught me. It took me over a year, but I finally found that bastard and I shot him dead where he stood. That was the first time I ever took another life. I was 12 years old.”
“I guess that was more than you wanted to know, huh?” Johnny asked softly, hoping his father wouldn’t be disgusted with him but knowing he would be. How could he not be, now that he knows the truth? Now he knows just who his son is.
Murdoch’s voice was unsteady but he knew he had to say something. “I’m so sorry, Johnny. I feel like part of all this is my fault. If I’d only tried harder to find you…” He couldn’t continue the thought.
Johnny was so stunned he turned and looked into his father’s eyes to see if what he had heard was really true. What he saw there shook his very soul. Murdoch meant what he said. He didn’t think Johnny was some evil, souless monster. He blamed himself for the choice Johnny had made.
“It’s not your fault, Murdoch,” Johnny pleaded. Murdoch couldn’t speak, the emotions he felt were overwhelming him. Johnny felt more than saw what this was doing to his father. “I’m sorry, Murdoch. I knew this would be hard for you.”
“Hard for me!” Murdoch exclaimed. “My God, Johnny! You’re the one who had to live through it. It’s no wonder you made the choices you did. What other chance did you have to survive in those border towns?”
Johnny reflected on this question and replied “Well, I guess I coulda been a farmer,” he grinned.
Murdoch laughed aloud at that ludicrous notion. “Well, son, not that there’s anything wrong with being a farmer. I just can’t quite picture any son of mine or your mother’s farming!” he laughed.
Johnny settled back into the arms of his father, not wanting this time to end. “Did you want to hear anymore?” he asked pensively.
“I think that’s enough for one night. Well, make that morning. The sun’s coming up,” Murdoch answered.
“Damn, we’ve been sittin here all night! It didn’t seem like it,” Johnny exclaimed.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry,” Murdoch declared with enthusiasm.
Johnny smiled mischievously and stated, “Yep, I’m so hungry, I could eat a grizzly!”
Murdoch looked at his son in dismay then laughed as hard as he’d ever laughed in his life.
Johnny and Murdoch finished their breakfast and sat quietly at the table. Each man with his own thoughts of what had transpired the night before. For his part, Murdoch felt an intense mixture of feelings. Love, sadness, pain and remorse for his son’s life. He was most amazed that Johnny was more concerned about his feelings. After all he’d been through in his short life, he was worried about his father’s feelings for the woman he had married. Murdoch had tried to reassure Johnny but, truth be told, it did hurt. It hurt alot! ‘Well, no sense in dwelling on that now. What’s done is done,’ he thought. Then it occurred to Murdoch that he was being a hypocrit. ‘Of course it mattered!’ he mused. ‘How could he ask his son to tell him about that life without thinking his son would expect the same in return. As uncomfortable as it was, he realized that it was his turn to do some explaining. It was only fair after all, to let his youngest know about that missing part of his life. The part Johnny couldn’t remember. He was so young then. How could he remember?
“Penny for your thoughts,” Johnny said.
Murdoch, jolted from his reprise, looked at Johnny and smiled. “I was just thinking what a hypocrit I am.”
“Hypocrit? What do you mean?” Johnny asked.
“Well, I’m always telling you boys that what’s past is past. Yet I expect you to bare your soul to me. It doesn’t quite seem fair.”
Johnny grinned and said, “ya know, I was going to suggest that we talk about you for a change. I don’t know as I’d call you a hypocrit though. So, start talkin.”
Murdoch sighed and repeated Johnny’s question of him the night before. “What do you want to know?”
Johnny looked intensely at his father. He took a sip of his coffee and said simply “Whatever you want to tell me, I guess.”
Settling into the chairs on the front porch of the cabin, Murdoch took in the view. He hadn’t said anything yet. He wasn’t really sure where to start or exactly how much he should tell Johnny. He had a faraway look in his eyes and Johnny waited patiently, knowing this was not easy for the old man. Finally Murdoch spoke. “I don’t know just how much to tell you, son. You’ve been straightforward with me, so I guess I can only give you the same courtesy.”
“I’d like to know everything, Murdoch. No matter how hard it is to hear,” Johnny replied.
Murdoch looked at his son with a concern in his eyes. Johnny had seen that look before. Usually just before he stormed out of the house after one of their famous (or was it infamous?) arguments.
“Alright son,” he sighed heavily and began. “I met your mother about two years after Scott’s mother died. She was so beautiful and alive. Her laugh was infectious. She was so full of energy! It was the first time I think I’d really laughed since Catherine died. We started seeing each other and…after a few months I knew I was in love with her. I think I knew before that but I was a little gunshy. Anyway, I really wasn’t thinking about marriage yet. And I wasn’t sure she would even consider it until….” Murdoch stopped here.
“Please go on,” Johnny asked softly. “I think I already know what your going to say, but I need to hear it from you.”
Murdoch nodded and continued. “Until the day she came to me and told me she was pregnant. I’m sorry, son.”
“Why? You loved her,” Johnny replied.
“Yes, I did. Very much. We got married the next week. Everything seemed to be going well. I really thought she was happy. Oh, I know I wasn’t the best husband in the world. I was still building the ranch and it took a lot of my time. But the day you were born, I was right there. I held you in my arms…I was so happy, we were so happy. For the next year or so, things went along with few problems. Oh, the usual problems between a man and his wife. Small disagreements and the like. But then things seemed to change. She would start a fight with me over nothing. She seemed to be angry all the time. I tried to talk to her but after a while, I guess I just gave up. Nothing I said or did seemed to satisfy her. She started resenting any time I spent with you. She would get furious with me when I’d take you riding. You loved to ride. Horses were your passion even back then. Then I started hearing the rumors from the ranchhands about her leaving the house early and not returning until just before I came in. One day I was checking out the line shacks and I saw her surrey out front. I walked in and…..saw them together.”
“What did you do?” Johnny asked, startled at this revelation.
“I drew my gun and started to kill the bastard, until I heard a noise from the corner. I looked over and saw you. You saw me too and called out to me. I…I couldn’t kill him in front of you, Johnny. I didn’t know what that would do to you and I didn’t want to scare you. I picked you up and left. When she came home, she didn’t speak to me. I tried to talk to her but she ignored me. She went into one of the spare bedrooms and locked the door. The next morning when I woke up, you were both gone.” Murdoch sighed and hid his face from his son. He didn’t want Johnny to see the pain there.
There was a long moment of silence. Johnny was just about to say something when Murdoch started again. “I went crazy for awhile. A long while. I searched everywhere I could think of but I couldn’t find you. I’d be gone for weeks at a time. I let everything else go, my only focus was finding my boy. I didn’t even care at that point whether she came back with me but I couldn’t lose you. Finally I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own. That’s when I hired the Pinkerton’s. You pretty much know the rest,” he ended.
Johnny closed his eyes and, in a dead pan voice said, “I wish you had killed the bastard.” Then he added, “Maybe then she would have left me here. Murdoch, I can tell you one thing. You may not want to hear it but…she would have left anyway. I’m sure of that. But I think if she’d had to leave on her own, she wouldn’t have taken me with her. That’s the impression I got when she would talk about leaving here.”
“Maybe your right, son. I guess my worrying about how it would affect you to see me kill a man is pretty laughable now. Of course, who could have known what was to be?”
Johnny smiled slightly at this. “I think it’s called irony.”
Murdoch hmmph’ed and nodded his head in agreement.
“Murdoch? I’m sorry.”
“Sorry about what, son?”
“I’m sorry about what she put you through. What she put both of us through. She was my mother and I’ll always love her, but, well I think it would have been better if she never had any kids. She wasn’t very good at it.”
Murdoch looked at Johnny in stunned amazement. “Don’t you ever say that again!” He growled. “I have never regretted having you. Not ever!”
Johnny stared at his father and realized how what he had said must have sounded. “No, I..I didn’t mean that. I know you don’t regret having me. I just meant…hell, she really had an affect on people didn’t she? No one who ever met her could forget her.”
Murdoch relaxed and smiled. “I’m sorry, son. But I don’t want you to ever think anything that happened between your mother and me was your fault. You were the one thing we could share. Even if it was for just a short time.”
Johnny shook his head. “You really loved her didn’t you?”
“Yes son, yes I did.”
They sat there for awhile longer, neither speaking. Finally Johnny stretched and said “Well I don’t know about you, but I could use a little nap. I’m worn out.”
Murdoch agreed. It had been a long morning and an even longer night before. They went inside and took to their beds.
When Johnny awoke it was dusk. He got up and splashed some water on his face to wake himself up. He walked into the kitchen and found Murdoch busy cooking supper. “Well, sleepy head, finally up?” Murdoch said.
“Did you get any sleep?” Johnny yawned.
“Yes, a couple of hours. I thought about trying my hand at fishing again but it was pretty late. I figured they wouldn’t be biting anyway,” Murdoch replied.
“Want me to go shoot ya a couple?” Johnny grinned and patted his revolver.
Murdoch laughed and told him that wouldn’t be necessary. He’d already started a stew. They ate in silent companionship.
After supper Johnny gave Murdoch a wary look and asked shyly, “Are we gonna have another heart to heart tonight?”
“Is there something else you want to tell me, son?” Murdoch asked suspiciously.
Johnny sighed deeply and said, “I’m sure there’s plenty I could tell you but I’m not too anxious about it, unless you have some questions.”
“Well, actually there are a few things I’d like to discuss, Johnny. But it’s about your brother.”
Johnny was startled, “Scott? You want to ask me about Scott?”
“Yes I do, let’s go into the living room,” Murdoch said.
Johnny walked into the great room of the cabin and hesitated. “I’ll be right back,” he said and darted off to his bedroom. He reappeared a minute later with a bottle in his hand. “Care for a nip?” he grinned.
“I knew no son of mine was likely to go off on a trip without the proper equipment,” Murdoch replied sardonically. So they sat in front of the fireplace side by side and enjoyed their libations.
Johnny finally spoke. “What can I tell you about Scott?” he asked.
“Well,” Murdoch started, “it seems like you and I are always butting heads. Oh, I know we’re both stubborn and set in our ways but so is Scott. Yet, he doesn’t ever really…oh, I don’t know.”
“Butt heads with you?” Johnny interjected.
“Yes, I guess so. What I really want to know is why? Why doesn’t he argue with me when he believes in something. He’ll talk it out, even give in, but he never raises his voice. I just thought he’d have a little more…guts.”
Johnny started and looked increduously at his father. “Guts? Scott’s got more guts than anyone I’ve ever known! Don’t mistake his politeness for weakness, Murdoch. Scott’s biggest problem is that he was raised to think that ‘gentlemen’ don’t raise their voices. That you have to be polite all the time and respect your elders and all that stuff.”
“Well, that’s probably the proper thing,” Murdoch said.
“Yeah well, it may be the proper thing in Boston, but this ain’t Boston. Besides, I like to think I’m loosening him up some,” Johnny grinned.
“He’s so easy with you. The two of you just seemed to click right away. It’s really made me happy to see the way you relate to each other,” Murdoch replied a bit somberly.
“Hey, I was as surprised as you about that. I think Scott was just so glad to have a family, and a little brother he thought he could boss around, that it came naturally for him. I know I’m not the easiest person to talk to but he always seems to know when to push and when not to. Well, almost always. I can’t explain it Murdoch. All I know is Scott was determined that we were gonna be brothers from day one. But, as far as you two go, I think you really need to talk to him about that.”
Murdoch nodded, “You’re right son, I wish he could have come with us. But, in a way I’m glad he didn’t. I don’t think you and I would have been able to talk the way we have unless we were alone.”
It was Johnny’s turn to nod his agreement, “I know. That’s why he did it.”
“Did what?” Murdoch asked.
“Suggested we go ahead with this trip without him. Murdoch, are you that blind?” Johnny smiled.
Murdoch, a bit surprised by this revelation, laughed softly and said, “Maybe I am. It didn’t even occur to me that he was setting us up.”
“Well, it occurred to me! You just wait til I get hold of him!”
“Now, Johnny,” Murdoch admonished.
“Now Johnny nothin. I owe him a big….thank you,” he said, saying the ‘thank you’ part a little more softly.
Murdoch’s heart warmed as he realized his son was actually glad to have this time alone with him. “Johnny?” Murdoch said rather timidly.
“There is something else I’d like to ask you, son.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I never really knew exactly why they were going to…to execute you,” Murdoch said.
Johnny tensed immediately as the memories of those days in the Rurales prison came flooding back to him. They’d tried so hard to break him, make him beg for his life. But he wouldn’t. He would never give them the satisfaction. The sounds and smells flooded his senses and he suddenly felt overwhelmed, almost panicked.
Murdoch saw the color drain from Johnny’s face and was immediately sorry he had brought up the subject. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to talk about it.”
Johnny took in a deep breath, “No, it’s ok. I just try not to think about it, the prison I mean. The reason is pretty simple. There was a revolution going on at that time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very organized. We really didn’t stand a chance.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“Because, these people are so poor. Murdoch, they have nothing and the patrons treat them like chattle to be used and abused at their whim. It makes me sick. So when they asked for my help, I gave it to them.” Johnny replied with a shrug.
“Exactly who was it that decided you were a cold-blooded killer? I’d like to know so I could wring their neck. I’ve never heard of a gunfighter who would give a poor village the time of day, let alone give his life for them. I suppose they couldn’t even pay you?” Murdoch spewed, his anger not directed toward his son, but at the outrageous unfairness of it all. That life would deal his son such a dirty hand and yet, somehow, Johnny could come out of all that poverty and destitution with his soul not only intact, but with so much love to give to anyone who would ask for it. J
Johnny was stunned by this outburst. He wasn’t sure why his father had gotten so worked up.
“Whoa, Murdoch. Take it easy.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny. it’s just…it makes me so mad to think of the kind of life you were forced to lead. I just get riled up sometimes.”
“Yeah, I’d say so,” Johnny grinned. Then his expression turned serious. “Listen to me, ok? Murdoch, we’ve all been cheated. All three of us. Cheated out of knowing each other, of being allowed to love each other. But ya know what? It’s okay because we’re here now . We can’t change what happened. We can talk about it because it helps us understand each other, to know each other. But there’s no sense in letting it hurt us any longer. It’s like you said, and it is true, it’s done and we can’t change it no matter how much we wish we could. Yes, we’ve all been through our own private hell and we have the scars to prove it. Some you can see and some you can’t. But it’s those scars that make us who we are now and who we are now is all that really matters. Isn’t it?”
Murdoch just shook his head in disbelief, “You are amazing, did you know that? If you didn’t, I’m telling you now. Johnny, I couldn’t be more proud to call any man ‘son’.”
ohnny dropped his head as he felt the tears welling up inside. ‘Here we go again’ he thought, smiling. He looked up into his father’s eyes and without a word, simply hugged him. He never thought it would feel so good, so safe to feel his father’s arms around him. He knew that now was the time, he had to say it or the moment may never come again. He pulled away, “Murdoch, I love you,” he said simply.
Murdoch, his heart in his throat, replied, “I love you too, son.”
The next morning they both slept in. Exhausted by the events of the past two days. The breakthroughs they had experienced with each other had brought them closer than either had thought possible. Still, the pure raw emotion of it all had spent both men. Johnny awoke to the sun streaming in through the window directly in his eyes. He thought briefly of covering his head and going back to sleep but he remembered the revelations of the night before and he very much wanted to be with his father. He drug himself out of bed and readied himself for the day.
Murdoch awoke half an hour later. He was amazed that he’d slept in so late. It certainly wasn’t his habit to slack off like this but , like his son, he was spent. He dressed and walked into the kitchen. Smelling the aroma of bacon frying, his stomach started to grumble.
“Good morning,” Johnny said cheerfully.
“Good morning. How long have you been up?” Murdoch asked.
“Oh, not long. I was about to come and throw you out of the bed. Breakfast is almost ready,” Johnny replied.
“Good. I’m starving.”
“Well, I think I got a little carried away. There’s enough here to feed an army.”
Just then they heard a horse riding up. Each looked at the other and shrugged. Johnny opened the door and let a smile spread across his face.
“Who is it?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny, still smiling, said, “It’s the army,” as his brother walked into the cabin.
“Scott!” Murdoch exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
“Well, it’s nice to see you too, Murdoch,” Scott replied with a grin.
“You know what I mean. We didn’t expect you.”
“Well, things went much faster at the Henderson’s than I expected so I thought I’d ride up here and make sure no blood had been shed,” Scott said with a mischievous expression.
Johnny laughed and said, “No brother, sorry to disappoint you but we managed to get along just fine, so far.”
“Good! Looks like I’m just in time for breakfast.”
Johnny jerked around toward the stove and cursed in Spanish, “I almost forgot. Sit down, I’ll set another place.”
“Quite the little homemaker, aren’t you?” Scott asked.
“Keep it up brother and you’ll be wearin your breakfast in your lap!” Johnny teased back.
Murdoch chuckled as he watched the bantering with enthusiasm. “I knew something was missing around here, now I know what it was. You two never stop, do you?”
The boys just looked at each other, then at their father and, in unison, simply shrugged. They spent breakfast listening to Scott’s account of the transaction at the Henderson ranch. All had gone well and Mr. Henderson, being an old friend of Murdoch’s, was not as skeptical of the string of ponies as he would have been if the seller were someone other than a Lancer. Murdoch was pleased at Scott’s report.
After breakfast and Johnny had managed to wrangle Scott into doing the dishes, they discussed the days itinerary. Johnny and Murdoch told Scott about the encounter with the grizzly on their second day, so Scott wasn’t too enthusiastic about hunting.
They set their sites on a day of fishing, even Johnny was agreeable, and having packed a lunch, set out for the mountain lake. They sat there side by side, each son on either side of their father. Scott tried to read the atmosphere around the other two men and decided that all had gone well. He didn’t realize how well, not yet. Scott and Murdoch caught a respectable amount of fish that day and Johnny napped most of the time.
‘Fishin ain’t so bad’ he thought as Scott woke him up to head back to the cabin. They cleaned their catch as Johnny quickly offered to start the kitchen preparations for the evening meal. Murdoch had to laugh at this obvious attempt to avoid any contact with the catch until they were properly cooked. As they sat outside cleaning their prey Scott ventured into the subject of the previous few days his father and brother had spent together.
Warily he asked, “So, how have things really been around here?”
Murdoch smiled and said, “Good, Scott. Really, really good.”
With a raised eyebrow Scott inquired, “Oh? What happened? If you don’t mind my asking.”
Murdoch shook his head, “No, I don’t mind. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that your brother and I have had some very revealing conversations.” He looked off and wistfully added, “I think I’m finally starting to understand him.”
Scott sighed with relief. He hadn’t realized how edgy he’d been all day about this. He had wondered if the two of them were covering for his benefit, but obviously the comradery between them was genuine. “I’m glad Murdoch.”
“We have you to thank, you know.”
Scott, feigning surprised, said, “I don’t know what you mean.”
Murdoch looked skeptically at his son and said, “Oh no, of course you don’t. Thank you, son.” Murdoch squeezed Scott’s shoulder affectionately.
“Come on, we better get these fish fried up,” Scott said. With that they went in and the three of them cooked supper, together.
It wasn’t until supper was over that Murdoch noticed the saddle bags lying next to the door. “What’s this?” he asked.
Johnny looked at his father and grinned. “I’m going back to the ranch.”
“But why, son?’ Johnny sighed and looked at his father as if he’d asked the silliest question ever.
“It’s Scott’s turn,” he said simply.
Scott and Murdoch looked at Johnny with surprise then understanding.
Scott moved to his brother’s side and put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder. “That’s really not necessary, Johnny. Stay. We’ll have a good time.”
“Oh, I know that Scott, but as much as you knew that Murdoch and I needed this time alone together, I know that you two need some time too. Don’t look at me like that, brother. If you don’t realize it, at least Murdoch does.” He looked at his father with an expression that said ‘time to jump in here’.
Murdoch approached his sons and looked directly into his eldest eyes. “He’s right, Scott. There are some things you and I need to talk about. I just have one question for both of you.” The boys looked at each other then at their father.
“What is it?” Johnny asked.
“Well, how come you both get a break and I don’t?” he asked with a grin.
Laughing, Johnny replied, “Because you started this mess.”
Murdoch looked stunned then laughed as well, “I guess you’re right.”
“Ok, well I’m outta here.”
“Now? Johnny at least wait til morning,” Scott suggested.
“No, there’s a full moon tonight and besides, I had a nice long nap, remember?” he smiled that smile that Scott could never not return. He saddled Barranca and tied down his bedroll.
Murdoch put his arm around his son and asked, “Are you sure about this, Johnny? You really should wait and get a fresh start in the morning.”
“I’ll be fine Murdoch. Don’t worry about me,” then in a whisper he added, “You have other things to worry about.” Smiling, he started to mount the palomino when he felt a tug on his arm. He turned and found himself in a bear hug. He returned the hug with the same ferocity as he’d received. Looking up at his father he wanted to say something, but he was afraid his voice would fail him.
“Be careful, son.”
Clearing his throat, he replied, “I will. Just treat him the same as you did me and it’ll be ok. I promise.” Johnny turned and mounted his horse and with a wave to his brother, he was off.
They stood there a moment longer as Johnny disappeared from view. Murdoch shook his head at the wonderment that was his baby boy, smiling at the thought of Johnny as a baby any longer. Scott broke his reverie, “What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking about your brother.”
“Looks like you two had a real breakthrough.”
“Yes, I believe we did.” Turning to his son, he said, “Let’s go inside. I want to talk over some things with you.”
As they entered the cabin, Murdoch noticed a bottle of brown liquid sitting on the kitchen table that hadn’t been there before. He laughed as he picked up the bottle.
“What’s that?” Scott asked.
“A present from your brother,” Murdoch replied. “Let’s go sit by the fire,” he added as he grabbed a couple of glasses. Murdoch, inspired and more courageous after his revelations with Johnny, started immediately, “Scott, I talked to Johnny about you a little.”
Scott was surprised, “Don’t tell me you two spent all your time on the subject of me?”
“No, no. But there were some things I wanted to know and since I didn’t know you were coming…well, I just took the opportunity.”
“Well? What did you want to know?” Scott asked the question that was the thread holding all his conversations with his sons together over the past few days.
“Well, I’m just going to be straight with you. I want to know why you hardly ever argue with me. I know that may sound like a strange question but you just always seem to try hard to avoid any confrontation with me. You don’t seem to have any problem fighting with your brother. Why is that, son?”
Scott sighed and looked into the fire for a long moment. Finally he said, “I was raised to respect my elders. That you don’t need to raise your voice to make your point. I guess that’s a hard habit to break.”
‘Habits’ Murdoch thought once again. “Look, son. I’m not saying that’s wrong. I just don’t want you to feel that you can’t argue your point with me as…as passionately as you feel it. Does that make any sense?”
Scott smiled slightly and said, “Yes sir, it does.”
“And another thing.” Murdoch added, “Everytime you call me ‘sir’ I get the distinct impression it’s because you would rather throttle me, but your just too damned polite to do such a thing.”
Scott laughed aloud at this for several seconds. “I..I’m sorry, Murdoch. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. I guess sometimes that is the reason, but not always. It’s just my way of showing you respect.”
“Scott, I want you to respect me, but not just because I’m your father. I want you to respect me because you feel I’ve earned your respect.”
Scott looked stunned. “I never really thought of it like that. I was taught to respect my elders, period. It didn’t matter if they had earned it from me.” He gazed into the fire rattled by this new thought. That someone should have to earn his respect. Oh, he knew he’d had to earn other men’s respect before. During the war, he’d had to earn his men’s respect and when he first arrived at Lancer, he’d had to earn his brother’s, his father’s, even the vaquero’s respect. But it never occurred to him that his own father should have to earn his respect.
“Scott? Are you alright?’ Murdoch asked, concerned.
“Yes, I was just thinking about what you said. It makes sense to me. I just never looked at it in that light before. In any event, I want you to know that you have earned my respect. You certainly do get to the point don’t you?”
Murdoch smiled, “Well, I guess I’m a little braver now. Since I had such success with your brother. And, well, the fact is I have always felt I could talk to you more easily than I could Johnny. I just always felt it was hard for you to really talk to me. You’re so quick to come to your brother’s defense, and your usually right, but when it comes to you…well.”
“I know. You’re right. It’s easier to see what’s right or wrong in someone else. It’s not so easy to look at yourself,” Scott replied.
“I know we haven’t had the kinds of problems that Johnny and I do, but I still feel like I really don’t know very much about you, son,” Murdoch said. Then he squared his shoulders and continued, “You asked me what I wanted to know. There’s something I want to know about that I don’t think is going to be easy for you to talk about. But it’s important to me, so I hope you’ll try. I want to know about the time you spent in Libby prison.” Scott sucked in a breath and his entire body tensed. “Look, Scott. I know this is hard but,”
“You don’t know anything!” Scott yelled.
“Please, son. Don’t be angry. Have you ever talked about that time with anyone? That’s what worries me. A man keeps something that horrible locked up inside himself and after a time it just gets to be too much. I don’t want to see that happen to you. I’m worried about you, Scott.” Murdoch finished his plea with a deep sigh.
Scott relaxed a little and said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. It just threw me when you brought it up. I wasn’t expecting that. What can I tell you? It was awful. It was the worst time of my life. I thought I was going to die in that hellhole.”
Murdoch slipped his arm around his son’s tense shoulders, “Please, Scott. Nothing you can tell me would ever make me think less of you.”
“Don’t be so sure about that, Murdoch,” he said with a shudder.
Murdoch squeezed his shoulder a little tighter as if helping his son brace himself, for he knew Scott was going to tell him now. Had wanted to tell him for so long. “Don’t be afraid, son. I’m here,” Murdoch whispered softly in his son’s ear.
Scott closed his eyes for a long moment and took in a deep breath. “Ok, I’ll tell you. I was captured in the third year of the war. I don’t think the details of that are really important. They didn’t bother us too much until we got to Libby. We were held in the cellar. That’s where they put the prisoners who were to be executed.”
Murdoch shuddered as he heard this revelation. He’d known Scott was a prisoner of war, but he never realized how close his son had come to being executed. ‘Just like Johnny’ he thought miserably.
Scott felt the shudder from his father but was determined to continue. ‘If Murdoch needs to hear this, then hear it he shall’ he thought. “It was pretty disorienting at first. We tried to get aquainted with all the prisoners, to form some sort of union of our own. Then the interrogations began. They’d call us out one at a time. It took hours sometimes, but nobody ever talked. Of that, I have no doubt! They were courageous men, every one of them. When we wouldn’t talk they….(sigh) they would torture us. They used whips mostly or beat us. Some didn’t survive the torture. After a month or so I guess, it was hard to keep track of the time, we started working on breaking out. We started digging a tunnel. All we had to work with were some chisels, one old pocketknife and a few odds and ends. It took almost two months, but we did it. We planned our escape. It was a good plan but that’s when Dan Cassidy got so sick and with the fever…he told of the plan. He didn’t know what he was doing. Anyway, all but three of us were slaughtered. We were brought back in shackles and left in the cellar trussed up. No shoes, barely a shirt left on our backs. They said we were to be ‘punished’ as a lesson to the other prisoners. They took me first, since I had the highest rank. They tied me to a tree in the center of the prison yard and….” Scott couldn’t continue.
He hadn’t realized it but tears were streaming unabashed down his face. Murdoch took his son in his arms and held him like a baby. Something he had never had the chance to do before. He whispered soothing sounds to his son. Comforting him. Finally, as Scott settled, he whispered, “It’s alright son, you don’t have to say anymore. I’m so sorry, Scott. I’m so sorry.”
Scott sniffed and wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. He let out a ragged, weary sigh. “I’ve never told anyone about that before, not even Johnny,” he said.
This was Scott’s terror from his past. The one thing that had haunted him for so long. He had often thought after coming to Lancer that he had been pretty lucky after all. He’d spent a year of his life in that hellhole but, compared to the life his brother had had to lead, it wasn’t so much. He voiced as much to Murdoch who was shocked at his son’s confession.
“No, Scott. That’s not fair to you. What you went through was horrendous. There is no justification for it. Don’t minimize your experience just because you think someone else had it worse. You need and deserve to be heard. It’s the only way, son. The only way to heal your soul. Johnny would understand that better than anyone.”
“I know he would and I know he would listen to me, try to help me anyway he could. It’s just so hard,” Scott replied.
Murdoch felt his heart breaking for his son, for both his son’s. Then he remembered what Johnny had told him and he wanted Scott to hear it, too.
“Scott, your brother said something to me that I think you need to hear. He said we’ve all had our own private hell to go through, but we have to try and put it behind us and live for what we have now. A family. He said it was good to talk about the past because it helps us to know each other. I think it helps us to heal, too.”
Scott looked up at his father amazed, “Johnny said that?”
“Yes, he did.”
Scott smiled, “Well, what do you know. My brother is a philosopher!”
“He’s also right.”
“Yes, I guess he is.”
“I love you , son.”
Scott lowered his head and snugged it into his father’s chest, “I love you too, Murdoch.” He drifted off to sleep, exhausted by the emotional upheaval of remembering the worst time in his life. Murdoch held him for a long time before succumbing to sleep himself. There they stayed, holding onto each other for the rest of the night.
When morning came, Scott awoke feeling quite stiff from the unusual position he had slept in. He moved quietly and slowly so as not to wake his father. He stood and stretched out his muscles though they protested the movement. He went into his bedroom and performed his morning ritual, feeling much better afterward. When he returned to the great room of the cabin, Murdoch was gone. He could hear him moving about in the other bedroom and surmised he was doing the same thing Scott had just completed himself. He went into the kitchen and started breakfast.
“What are you doing?” Murdoch asked as Scott jumped, startled.
“I’m cooking breakfast,” he replied.
“Oh, uh..I’ll do that, son. Why don’t you go get some more firewood?”
Scott looked at his father warily. “Is there a problem, Murdoch?”
“No, no problem. I just, well I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Scott, but…your a terrible cook,” Murdoch said with genuine remorse.
Scott laughed and said, “Well, now how am I going to learn to cook if I get thrown out of the kitchen all the time?”
Murdoch considered this. “Your right, you just watch me and learn,” he smiled crookedly at his son.
Scott was not too sure it was a good idea to learn how to cook from his father. After all, how much experience did the man have in the culinary arts? “Maybe I’ll just wait until we get home and persuade Teresa or Maria to teach me, in the meantime, I’ll get that firewood.”
Murdoch hmmphed at the dig but smiled anyway. He was happier than he had been in a long time. He was finally able to talk meaningfully with his son’s. It had been a good week.
With the most difficult subject out of the way, Murdoch thought the next two days would pass in peaceful bliss. He hadn’t considered that Scott expected the same reciprocation as his brother. Sitting on the front porch of the cabin after breakfast, Scott was deep in thought. He was wrestling with the decision of whether to broach the subject with his father. After all, hadn’t he literally bared his soul the night before? Wasn’t it Murdoch’s turn to be completely candid with him? He decided it was. Turning to his father he hesitated. Murdoch had such a peaceful look on his face. Still, he wanted to know the answer, the truth, finally. “Murdoch?”
“We aren’t finished you know.”
Murdoch opened his eyes and looked questioningly at his son. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Scott began, “I told you everything you wanted to know last night. There’s something I want to know now.”
“I see. Alright son, what is it?” Murdoch asked with trepidation.
“I want to know why you left me in Boston. I want to know why you never came to get me, or wrote to me or even visited me. I know you came on my fifth birthday, but I didn’t even know who you were. I want the real reason, Murdoch.”
Murdoch sighed and asked, “Even if it hurts?”
Scott answered quickly and emphatically, “Even if it hurts.”
“Alright, but let me just say first that you know how I feel about your grandfather. What I’m about to tell you may sound like I’m disparaging him because of my…dislike for him. But this is the truth Scott and you’ll have to decide for yourself to believe me or not.”
“I’m ready,” Scott whispered.
“When your mother died, yes I thought it best for you to stay with your grandfather. The whole reason your mother was going to Boston was to keep her safe. There was a range war going on at the time and I wanted both of you out of harm’s way. When she died, I let you go on to Boston. I always intended to come for you after the danger was over. The war lasted a good six months. After it was over, I wrote to your grandfather and told him I was coming to bring you home. He wired me to wait for a letter he was sending me that would be more detailed than anything he could explain in a telegram. So I waited. I never received the letter. He came here himself. Your grandfather told me he knew about a man I had killed during the range wars. He was a hill person who really had nothing to do with the war. He had tried to rob me on the trail one day and I shot him. It was self-defense. But Garrett said the man’s two son’s were willing to testify in court that I had murdered him in cold blood. He said they would swear they witnessed it. They hadn’t even been there during the robbery attempt. But Garrett said I would be hanged or at the very least spend the rest of my life in prison. Believe me I was furious. At first I thought I could fight it, but after thinking it through I realized that Garrett would make good on his threat and with his wealth and influence, he would probably get his way. When I asked what he wanted in return he was surprised. He said he wanted you, of course. I had to promise that I wouldn’t come for you. That I wouldn’t try to contact you in any way. When I did show up for your fifth birthday, he was furious, but he promised to let me see you that one time as long as you never knew who I was. I had no choice. He was quite willing to remind me of the hold he had over me.”
Murdoch was so caught up in telling his story, he hadn’t seen Scott’s reaction. When he finally looked at his son, Scott’s face was pale, his hands were gripping the arms of the chair he sat in so tight, his knuckles were white with the strain. He feared he had made a mistake, telling Scott the truth and he wished fervently that his son would say something. When Scott was finally able to control his rage enough to speak, his answer shocked Murdoch.
“So, that’s it,” he whispered almost to himself. “That’s what he had on you. I’ve thought for some time that he was holding something over you, but I had no idea what it could possibly be. I even tried once to go through his papers, but he locked everything of any importance in his safe. I’m sorry, Murdoch. I’ve been so torn between believing that he was blackmailing you and believing him when he told me you just didn’t give a damn…I didn’t know what to think.”
“Scott, I’m so sorry. I thought if I told you the truth you wouldn’t believe me. You would think I was just trying to blame your grandfather for my shortcomings.”
“It’s alright, Murdoch. Really. I understand. I finally understand everything.” Scott closed his eyes and dropped his face into one hand.
Murdoch reached out and placed his hand gently on his son’s shoulder then moved it up to caress the fine blond hair. ‘So much like your mother’s’, he thought.
Scott looked up and smiled, “It’s going to take me some time to come to terms with this. I need to figure out where things stand between my grandfather and me now.
“He loves you. Scott. That much I do know.”
“I know he loves me, Murdoch. But I think his main motive wasn’t love for me, but hatred for you. That’s what I have to come to terms with.”
They sat there quietly, each reflecting on the conversation. Murdoch ached for his son, knowing the torment this truth was causing him but at the same time, relieved that his son had believed him.
Finally, Scott stood up and stretched. He looked down at his father with a smile, “I believe I am going to take that valuable advice my brother gave you. I’m going to focus my energy on something positive. Us,” he said with a determination that Murdoch had come to recognize all too well.
“I think that’s a grand idea, son,” he replied.
Scott frowned then and said, “I’m hungry, want me to start supper?”
“No!” Murdoch cried.
Scott laughed til his sides hurt at his father’s predictable reaction. Murdoch laughed to. The sound was like music to both of them. The last day of their trip was spent with Murdoch teaching his son some of the finer points of tracking. He figured he’d get Scott started, then Johnny could take over once they returned home. It felt good to be able to teach one of his son’s something. Something he should have been the one to teach them in the first place. That night they sat together by the fire and talked about Lancer and the future. There was no talk about the past. It was done and over.
Scott and Murdoch Lancer stopped on the gently rolling hill and gazed down at the white hacienda. They were certainly glad to be home. All seemed quiet at the ranch house. Murdoch was anxious to see how things had been running without him. Scott was anxious to talk with his brother about the events of the past week. They rode down the hill and under the gate proclaiming their name.
“They’re back! Teresa, they’re back!” They heard Jelly shouting from the gateway. Both men smiled as they saw Teresa and Jelly waiting for them in the yard.
“Murdoch, Scott welcome home,” Teresa cried with joy. As soon as their feet hit the ground, she was bouncing to hug them both.
Jelly, being a bit more reserved, shook hands vigorously with them. “How was your trip? Did you catch any fish? Did you get a deer?”
“Whoa! Slow down, Teresa. We’ll tell you all about it after supper tonight, sweetheart,” Murdoch said with a laugh.
“Where’s Johnny?” Scott inquired.
“Well, where do ya think he is in the middle of the day. He’s workin,” Jelly said with his usual sarcasm.
“Oh, right. I guess I’ll see him a little later then,” Scott replied with disappointment. He had been anxious to see his brother and compare notes on their experiences with their father.
“There’s plenty of time, son,” Murdoch said as he put his arm around Scott’s shoulder and walked him into the house.
“I’ll take care of the horse’s,” Jelly called, then mumbled, “Just like I always do.” He had just finished currying the two horses and putting away his tack when Johnny walked in with Barranca.
“Hey, Jelly. I see our two slackers are back,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Yep, been back a couple of hours.”
“How did they seem?” Johnny asked with a bit of trepidation.
“Looked to me like two peas in a pod,” Jelly reported.
Johnny let his grin turn into a full fledged smile. “Guess it’s safe to go in then,” he laughed.
“I guess you want me to take care of Barranca!” Jelly said indignantly.
“No, Jelly I’d never ask you to do such a thing. I take care of Barranca,” Johnny said then added, “They can wait a few more minutes.”
Scott had seen Johnny ride in and was hoping, for once, he’d let Jelly bed down his horse. Of course, that rarely happened. Johnny had to be sick or in some big hurry to let anyone else care for his beloved palomino. Scott thought about going out to the barn to greet his brother, but he felt a little guilty. He didn’t want Murdoch to think he was trying to get away from him as soon as they’d gotten home. So he waited for Johnny to come in.
Murdoch sat behind his massive desk looking over the ledgers. Scott smiled and said, “Can’t that wait just one more day or are you afraid Johnny has bankrupt you?”
Murdoch laughed softly. “I guess I’m just set in my ways, son.”
“No kiddin!” Johnny exclaimed as he walked in through the french doors.
“Johnny, good to see you, son.”
“Welcome back. Are you two still speaking to each other,” he teased.
“Of course they are, don’t be silly,” Teresa chimed in as she entered from the kitchen. “Supper is ready.”
They gathered at the dining room table, each in their usual seat. They talked companionably through supper. Johnny caught the other two men up on ranch goings on. After supper they retired to the great room. Scott tried to get Johnny’s attention but wasn’t having any luck.
Murdoch suggested a game of chess and Johnny was agreeable. ‘Great, now I’ll never get to talk to him’ Scott thought. So, he sat there and watched his brother demolish Murdoch in what seemed to him like the longest chess game ever. Finally, Murdoch conceded defeat. Scott was quick to chime in before something else happened to keep him from talking privately with his brother. “Well, it’s getting late. Murdoch, you must be tired after that long ride today.”
“As a matter of fact, I am. I think I’ll turn in. Goodnight, boys.”
Both young men bade their father goodnight as he started up the stairs. “You wanna try your luck, Boston?” Johnny asked pointed to the chessboard.
“No, thanks. I wanted to talk to you alone.”
“What about!?”, Scott exclaimed. “Tell me what happened with you and Murdoch in that cabin.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No, Johnny. Nothing’s wrong. He was just so…so open with me. I was stunned. What did you do to him?”
Johnny laughed aloud and replied, “I didn’t do anything to him. I told him the truth.” Sobering, he added, “And he told me the truth.”
“I see. We had the same conversation. A truthful one,” Scott replied quietly. “He told me what you said.”
“What I said? What do you mean?” Johnny asked.
“Well, about it being good to talk about the past but not let it eat us up. That we should focus on now and the future. Or something along those lines.”
“I said that? Hey, I’m pretty smart, huh?” Johnny laughed.
“Yes, you are little brother. You are,” Scott whispered.
“Don’t get all serious on me, Boston. This was a good thing. Don’t get all sad,” Johnny said, watching his brother closely.
“Oh, I’m not sad, Johnny. Really. I…I’d like to share with you what I shared with Murdoch. If you want to hear it, that is.”
“Of course I want to hear it, Scott. You know I’ll always listen whenever you need me to.”
Scott smiled lovingly at his brother. “Yes, I do know that.” And so he began his story. He told Johnny all about being at Libby prison. He even told him some things he just couldn’t bring himself to tell his father. When he had finished, Johnny was beside him, comforting him and telling him how proud he was of Scott. He said all the things Murdoch had said. And all the things his grandfather never said, never would be able to say. Scott felt more peace than he had since before the war.
After a time of sitting quietly side by side, Scott told Johnny that he was ready. So, Johnny told him about his childhood with his mother and how she had died. He told Scott more, too. More than he had told his father. Scott sat beside his brother and comforted him. Saying all the things Johnny needed to hear from his big brother. The week of discovery between father and sons ended with new discoveries between brothers and a deeper sense of love, friendship and family.
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