Word Count 9,505
“Johnny! Scott!” Teresa cried as the Lancer sons came bolting and hollering into the yard.
They pounced off their horses and grabbed their little sister from each side, bear hugging her. She screamed with delight.
“I’ve missed you so much! Where’s Murdoch?” she laughed.
“The old fellas comin,” Johnny said as he pointed toward the road.
Murdoch was riding under the gate with the two pack horses. Two ranch hands went out to meet him and take over the chore. With all the commotion, most of the Lancer ‘family’ of ranch hands had come out of their bunkhouses and small homes. Teresa waved at Murdoch as he came near, then nearly knocked him down when he dismounted.
“Well! That’s what I call a welcome home!” he proclaimed as he laughed at his ward’s enthusiasm.
“I’ve missed you all so much!” she said.
“We missed you too, sweetheart,” Murdoch answered.
“We certainly did! Where’s my pie!” Scott demanded, not quite pulling off the serious demeanor he was attempting.
“Just one moment all of you!” Teresa said as she began circling each of them one by one looking them up and down thoroughly.
“Uh, Teresa? What are you doing?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, I’m just making sure nobody has any wounds,” she smiled then laughed.
“Very funny. We actually managed to get home without so much as a hangnail, thank you very much!” Scott replied indignantly.
She grabbed him by the arm and took Johnny’s arm to put them on either side of her as she guided them into the house and through to the kitchen. There, sitting on the table, were cookies, cakes and pies of all manner. Scott and Johnny stared slack-jawed at the splendor before them.
“Teresa, what did you do?” Murdoch asked, equally dumfounded.
“Well, I got lonely and when I’m lonely I like to bake,” she explained.
“Remind me to leave you alone more often!” Johnny said as he headed toward the banquet of goodies.
Scott joined him and they began to do their very best to make a dent in the treats.
“You’re both going to be sick if you don’t slow down,” Murdoch admonished in his best fatherly voice.
“Murdoch’s right. Now sit down both of you and I’ll get the coffee. Now choose one, and I mean just one, and we’ll save the rest,” Teresa commanded.
“Aw, Teresa. How can we choose just one?” Johnny sounded like a ten year old.
“I can!” Scott said and dove for the cherry pie.
Johnny frowned as he tried to decide what to have. He was a man used to making fast choices but this was impossible!
“I can’t choose. Teresa, pick one for me.”
“Alright, Johnny,” she said as she turned back from the stove with a chocolate cake in her hands, grinning like a cheshire cat.
“Cheater! You should have told me there was chocolate cake!” Johnny exclaimed as he lunged for the plate in her hands.
“Now would I bake all these goodies and not make your favorite?” Teresa teased.
Johnny gave her a dazzling white smile, the kind that always got him his way. She relented, of course, and served him a huge piece. As they sat at the table indulging themselves, Murdoch went into the great room to check the mail and see if there was any pressing business waiting for him.
He started as he looked up and saw Johnny standing in the doorway with a plate of cake.
“Just checking the mail, son,” he smiled as he thought how much his youngest reminded him of when he was a toddler just then.
Johnny nodded his head, his mouth was full, and walked over to the desk, propping his rump on the edge. “Anything interesting?” he mumbled through the cake.
“Johnny! Don’t talk with your mouth full!” Murdoch said, exasperated but quite amused. He tried to hide the smile on his face without much success.
Johnny grinned at him and he refrained from any further lecturing on etiquette. Suddenly, Murdoch’s expression changed. Johnny couldn’t read this new face but he knew instinctively that it wasn’t a happy one.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A letter for your brother…from Boston,” he nearly spat the last word.
Johnny gently took the letter from his father’s hand and perused the return address. It was from Harlan Garrett alright. Johnny didn’t like Garrett but he had tried very hard not to badmouth the man to Scott. After all, no matter what Johnny thought of the old geezer, he was Scott’s grandfather and after his own recent discoveries, he had a new respect for that relationship.
“I’ll give it to him,” he said softly as he walked to the kitchen. “Hey, Boston. Ya got a letter from…oh Boston,” he teased.
Scott held his hand out but didn’t reply to the teasing as his mouth was full. He took the letter and nodded his head.
“Oh, you’re welcome, brother. Need anything else? No? What’s that? You’re going to do all my chores for a week!? Scott, you are a true gentleman,” Johnny continued his unmerciful taunt.
Scott finally swallowed and gave his brother an exasperated look. “Don’t get too cocky, little brother. You know I’ll get you back,” he warned with a grin.
“Just read your letter and let me worry about being cocky,” Johnny grinned back.
Teresa sighed and smiled at the two brothers. She had missed them terribly and was very glad and relieved to have them all back in one piece.
Scott finished his letter, folded it and put it in his pocket without a word.
“Everything alright, Scott?” Johnny asked trying to sound only slightly interested.
“Fine, Johnny. Grandfather just wanted to let me know about some business matters he has to take care of personally…in Sacramento,” he said with hesitation.
Johnny stared at his brother for a long moment, then a grin began to spread across his face. “So, he’s comin for a visit.”
“He said he might stop by on his way home,” Scott replied, trying to sound casual.
“You better tell Murdoch, Scott. The sooner the better.”
“I…well I thought I’d wait a day..or two,” Scott said.
Johnny starting laughing at this. “You’re afraid of the old man, aren’t you?” he accused.
“I am not! I just don’t…well he’s tired after our trip. I was just going to give him a chance to rest first, that’s all,” Scott replied, blushing.
“Uh huh,” was all Johnny said.
The next morning, all three Lancer men slept in. They were exhausted from their trip and all the emotions it had stirred up. Johnny came down to the kitchen to find Maria starting breakfast.
“Buenos dias, Senora,” he smiled.
“Buenos dias, Senor. Your breakfast will be ready in a moment,” she replied.
He nodded as he poured himself a cup of strong coffee and sat down at the table. Scott came stumbling in soon after.
“Whoa, Boston! You look like you’ve been horse dragged,” Johnny said.
“I know, I feel that way too. I don’t know what’s wrong with me this morning. I’m just so tired.”
“Well, you better get untired before you know who gets here,” Johnny whispered the last part. “Maybe your getting sick,” he added.
Scott just groaned and Johnny reached over and felt his forehead. He
shrugged as he felt the normal temperature.
Murdoch came in just in time to witness this physical assessment. “What’s wrong, Scott?” he asked.
“Don’t feel good,” he mumbled.
“It couldn’t be that entire cherry pie you ate last night could it?” Murdoch asked, more than a little displeased with his son’s appearance this morning.
“You ate the whole pie!? Forget it, I’m not doin your chores, Boston. You’ll just have to grin and bear it,” Johnny said with false disgust.
“I didn’t ask you to!” Scott yelled.
“Hey! Don’t yell at me! I didn’t tell you to eat the whole damned thing!” Johnny shot back.
“Alright, that’s enough!” Murdoch interjected. “It’s too early to start arguing,” he added.
“Too early? I’ve been up for hours. What a bunch of lazy men!” Teresa exclaimed as she entered the kitchen door with her empty wash basket.
“Teresa, Scott ate that whole cherry pie last night and now he’s sick,” Johnny ratted.
Teresa stared at Scott in disbelief. “Scott Lancer! I might have expected such foolishness from Johnny, but not you!” she scolded.
“Hey!” Johnny started but she waved him off.
“Here, I have just what you need.”
She pulled the dark brown bottle off the shelf, grabbed a teaspoon and shoved a dose in his mouth before he could object, then she grabbed his nose to make him swallow it. He did, then turned nearly green.
“God! What was that!?”
“Cod liver oil. It will make you feel better,” she explained.
Johnny howled so hard he nearly fell out of his chair.
“I’m glad this amuses you so much, brother,” Scott hissed.
Before Johnny could get started again, Murdoch intervened. “Johnny, come into the living room with me. I want to discuss some things with you while your brother recovers himself,” he said.
“I’m sorry, Murdoch, but he deserved it,” Johnny said, still chuckling.
Murdoch just gave him a look of ‘this is getting old’ and went over to his desk. He started fumbling through some papers then stopped.
“What did Garrett have to say?” he finally asked.
Johnny stared at him and simply said, “you’ll have to ask Scott.”
“He didn’t tell you?” Murdoch said suspiciously.
“He told me, but you’re still gonna have to ask him. It’s not my place,” Johnny said shyly.
“I see,” he clipped and began discussing ranch business. As they finished, Scott came into the room looking a little better.
“All better, Boston?” Johnny grinned.
“Much, thanks for your concern,” Scott replied snidely.
“Well, I got work to do, see ya,” Johnny said as he hightailed it out of the room.
“What’s his hurry?” Scott asked.
“I guess he didn’t want to be around when I asked about the letter,” Murdoch said calmly.
“Oh yes, the letter. I was going to talk to you about that…… Uh, grandfather has some business in Sacramento and he…well he thought he might..” Scott cleared his throat.
“He just thought he might stop by for a visit?” Murdoch inquired.
“Yes,” Scott mumbled.
“Son, I don’t want you to think you can’t see your grandfather. We don’t like each other, that’s not going to change, but he is your grandfather and I can hardly deny you seeing him,” Murdoch said compassionately.
Scott stared at his father, “You mean you wouldn’t mind if he stayed here a few days?” he asked incredulously.
“I didn’t say that. I mind. But I won’t object,” Murdoch said flatly.
“Thank you, Murdoch.”
“Youâ€™re welcome, son.”
“Well, I guess I’ll get to work too.”
“Wait a minute, Scott. When is he coming?” Murdoch asked.
“Oh, next week,” Scott said with a grin as he hightailed it out of there.
“How’d it go?” Johnny asked as he waited for Scott to come to the barn.
“Pretty well, actually. He’s not thrilled but he said he wouldn’t object.”
“Wow, the old man must be goin soft,” Johnny said with a grin.
Scott smiled at his brother but said nothing. He noticed Johnny wasn’t looking at him anymore but past him to the barn door. Scott turned to see Senora Cipriano standing in the doorway.
She seemed unsure of herself, as if perhaps she shouldn’t be there. Johnny had a puzzled look on his face but walked toward her and smiled.
“Buenos dias, Senora.”
“Buenos dias,” she replied.
“Is there something I could do for you?” Johnny asked, remembering the strange way she had behaved when they left for Mexico.
“I am glad to see you are well, Senor,” was her answer.
“Gracias,” Johnny said as he peered deep into her eyes, trying to see what it was she wasn’t saying to him. She fidgeted and shuffled her feet as if to leave.
“Uno momento, Senora,” he said and turned to his brother. “Scott, I’ll catch up with you.”
“Sure,” Scott said confused.
Johnny took Senora Cipriano gently by the arm and walked her over to the flower garden.
“Senora, I have the feeling you want to say something to me. Am I right?” he asked with those piercing blue eyes searching her face for answers.
She was hesitant, unsure. This was not the woman he knew could stare down her husband with the fire in her eyes.
“Senora, please,” he said still searching her face.
She couldn’t stand to be scrutinized by this sweet young man. She knew what she wanted to tell him, but she wasn’t sure he was ready to hear it.
“Por favor, Juanito. It is difficult,” she said.
“Just say it, whatever it is. I won’t be angry with you,” he pleaded.
“I am not so sure, chico,” she answered.
She sighed as if she had finally decided she would tell him and took his hand, pulling him behind her. They arrived at her front door and she ushered him.
“My husband will not like this. He thinks I should mind my own business.”
He looked at her, still not understanding what this was all about. She walked over to a small curio and reached in a tiny drawer. When she pulled her hand out, she was holding a necklace. She did not give it to him, but held it, caressing it as she thought.
“I knew your mother, Juanito. I knew her well,” she said quietly.
Johnny watched her closely. It didn’t surprise him that she had known his mother. Cipriano had worked for Murdoch for many years, from the beginning in fact. What he didn’t know was what she was trying so hard to tell him. He remained silent, figuring any questions from him would only distract her from her mission.
She paced the room for awhile as if she was unable to find the words she needed. “Your mama, she was…she was not a well woman,” she said.
Johnny sighed and looked compassionately at the older woman. “I know, Senora,” he whispered.
She stood stunned, staring at him as if perhaps she wasn’t sure what she had heard. “You know?” she gasped.
“Si. When my grandfather was here, he told me some things and I put that together with what I knew and, with Scott’s help, I figured it out,” he explained.
“I see,” she whispered. “Juanito,” she began then faltered.
He smiled gently at her, “It’s alright, I don’t mind you calling me that,” he reassured her.
She smiled at him. “Gracias. I remember well, when you were a little one. You were full of energy and mischief. It seemed as if you were born running around and never slowed down,” she laughed a little at the memory. “She loved you very much.”
“I know,” he said softly.
“I hope you do, Juanito. She was tortured by some of her thoughts. She told me once that she thought you were possessed of the devil.”
Johnny stared at her. “She what?” he asked incredulously.
“Si, it is true. I convinced her it was nonsense. Still, she worried so about you. I know she did not want to take you with her. She would not have if…”
Johnny’s head was spinning. He had not known she had considered leaving him behind.
“If what?” he demanded, growing angry now.
“Please, chico. Do not be angry with her. She thought you would be better off here. That man! He convinced her to take you. He wanted you and her for his own familia. Loco! He thought he could have a ready made familia and would have to do no work to build and keep it strong. He had no idea what a real familia is!”
She was growing angry herself at the memories of the man Maria had run off with.
“Oh he was suave! He told her many things. He promised her many things. Lies! Bastardo!” she spat on the floor in disgust.
Johnny sat down in the nearest chair. He felt overwhelmed by this new information. Just when he was putting his mother’s memory to rest, finding some peace in himself about her, this comes out! He didn’t want to hear anymore. He shook his head and stood to leave.
“Juanito, please. I am sorry to have told you these things. Perhaps I should not.”
“It’s alright, Senora,” he said heavily. “I have to go now.”
“There is one more thing,” she said.
Johnny stopped and dropped his shoulders as if he were suddenly weighed down by a boulder. He turned to face her and she held out her hand. He took the necklace and examined it.
“It was hers,” she said.
A silver necklace with a cross pendant lay in his hand. The cross was intricately carved and the image of Christ was very detailed.
“She said her father gave it to her. She wanted me to keep it…for you. She told me to give it to you when you were older. That was before she decided to take you with her,” she explained.
Johnny stared at the necklace for a long time. He thought about giving it back to the old woman but his grandfather had given it to his mother and he wanted to keep it.
“Gracias, Senora,” he whispered and bent down to kiss her cheek.
Johnny thought about the necklace all day. He wondered if he should show it to Murdoch and tell him what Senora Cipriano had told him. He couldn’t decide what to do so he thought he’d discuss it with Scott that evening.
Scott was lost in his own thoughts all day. He was worried that his grandfather’s visit would be a repeat of the last one and he didn’t think he could deal with that again. How could he make the man understand that he belonged here? He knew he would never be able to convince Garrett of this and he fervently hoped his grandfather wouldn’t pull any more tricks to get him back to Boston.
Johnny noticed his brother’s somber mood and didn’t have to guess what it was about. He decided the necklace could wait. They had spent enough time lately dealing with his past. Now it was time to deal with Scott’s.
“Whatcha thinkin about, Boston?” he said lightly when they took a break for lunch.
Scott had gotten even moodier as the day progressed. He wasn’t up to teasing with his brother.
“Johnny, I would appreciate it if, while my grandfather is here, you would not call me Boston!” he said angrily.
Johnny started at his brothers show of anger. He hadn’t thought Scott was in that bad a mood. His own mood wasn’t too great and he was about to regret his answer.
“Don’t worry about it, Scott. I won’t call you anything while Mr. Garrett is present! In fact, just to be on the safe side, how about I don’t talk to you at all!”
Johnny was shocked by his own words and knew he had made a mistake. The look on Scott’s face was a mixture of anger and hurt.
“Scott, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I promise I’ll be a good boy while your grandfather visits,” he used his best grin in hopes of appeasing his brother. It worked.
Scott smiled back, “No, Johnny, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a little worried.”
“You thinking he might try to get you to go home with him again?” Johnny asked.
Scott nodded his head.
“Well, he can try I guess, Scott. You’d probably be disappointed if he didn’t at least ask. All you have to do is say no.”
“It’s never that easy with grandfather,” he said morosely.
Johnny hated what the old man did to Scott. It seemed like he turned back into a little boy when Garrett was around. Well, he was going to watch his brother’s back just like he always had, so Garrett better watch himself!
The stage was late, no big surprise, and Scott waited anxiously for the arrival of his grandfather. He was more than a little apprehensive. He knew Murdoch would try to behave but Harlan Garrett had made no such promise and Scott knew these two men in the same room would be like lighting a match to a fireworks factory.
The stage pulled in, blowing up a cloud of dust in it’s wake. As people began to disembark, Scott strained to see the man. He was the last one off and he looked none too happy until he caught sight of Scott.
“Scotty!” the old man bellowed.
“Grandfather,” Scott smiled and extended his hand as the man accepted.
Harlan Garrett was not an affectionate man in private, any display of emotion past a smile was unthinkable in public. They gathered his belongings into the back of the surrey and headed off immediately.
“How was your trip, Sir?” Scott asked, already knowing the answer.
The old man did not like traveling in the west. He preferred the civilized methods of train or ship.
“Bumpy, Scotty boy, very bumpy!” he answered with a smile.
Scott was surprised his grandfather was in such a good mood after the long ride from Sacramento. Garrett talked most of the way to the ranch. He filled Scott in on the social scene in Boston, commenting on most of the young ladies Scott had associated with. He told Scott how good he looked and even commented on how nice the scenery was. Then he asked something that nearly caused Scott to fall out of the surrey.
“How’s Johnny? I hope he’s well.”
“Uh…he’s f..fine sir,” Scott stammered.
“Is something wrong, son?” Garrett asked with amusement.
“No, sir. I’m just a little taken aback.”
“Why? Oh, because I asked about your brother? Well, Scotty, I have come to realize how important he is to you and I have decided that I may as well accept it.”
Scott was dumbstruck. He found it hard to believe that his grandfather had become so…relaxed about his relationship with his brother. Although he didn’t like to admit it, Scott knew his grandfather to be a prejudiced man especially when it came to mixing races. Scott had never given the subject much thought himself since he had never known anyone of mixed ethnicity before coming to Lancer, and even now he didn’t think of his brother that way. He had, in fact, found it amazing that someone who grew up so disadvantaged had turned out so well.
They pulled up into the yard and the ranch hands took the luggage as Scott had arranged before he left to pick up his grandfather. He took another deep breath as they walked into the hacienda to meet Murdoch.
The air was as thick as stew in the room as both older men eyed one another for a moment. Then Garrett walked over to Murdoch and extended his hand.
“Murdoch, good to see you again. You’re looking well.”
Murdoch raised an eyebrow but accepted the handshake. “Thank you, Harlan. You look well yourself.”
Garrett walked around the room as if he’d never seen it before. He was looking at a picture near the dining room table when Johnny came strolling in.
“Hey, Scott. Where’s your grandfather? Did ya throw em off a cliff on the way home?” he teased.
Scott went white as Harlan came into view.
“No, Johnny, I’m afraid he allowed me to stay in the surrey the whole way,” he said with a smile.
Johnny got a little pale too, then a little red. “Oh, hello, Mr. Garrett. I was just joking around,” he explained.
“I know, Johnny. It was amusing, too. How have you been?”
“Fine, thank you. And you?” Johnny answered suspiciously.
“Well, aside from a little arthritis in my back, I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”
Scott decided he had better get his grandfather settled in before the lightning struck. “I’ll show you to your room, Sir,” he said as he shot Johnny a death look.
“Oh, good. I would like to rest a while before dinner. Gentlemen,” he said as he nodded his head to Murdoch and Johnny and followed his grandson upstairs.
“Well, how do ya like that! What’s gotten into him?” Johnny exclaimed.
“I don’t know but I don’t trust it and you shouldn’t either,” Murdoch said with a hint of grumpiness.
Johnny shrugged and headed out to the barn to care for Barranca. He still hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to Scott about the conversation he’d had with Senora Cipriano and he doubted he would until Garrett left.
They gathered for dinner in the great room. Johnny would have just as soon ate in the kitchen and he sure didn’t like the tie his brother had made him wear to dinner but he figured it was a small price to pay to make Scott happy.
The conversation was friendly and light. There were no hidden innuendo or sarcasm to be found. It was actually very pleasant. Garrett made every effort to converse with Johnny, Murdoch and Teresa. He seemed especially cordial toward Johnny and Johnny was beginning to feel uneasy. He wondered what the old geezer was up to now.
They retired into the great room for brandy and Johnny slipped outside, he’d had enough of being treated well. He would rather the old geezer ignore him. At least then he knew where he stood. He heard footsteps on the cobblestone of the veranda as he sat in a chair in the shadows.
“I’m here,” he answered with surprise as Harlan Garrett approached him.
“There you are. I wondered where you had gotten off to,” the old man was smiling at him.
Smiling at him! Johnny decided he would not show Garrett how stunned he was by this turn.
“I like to come out here at night, it’s quite now,” he explained.
Garrett stood still and listened.
“Yes, it is quiet, very serene. And the stars, my goodness they are bright!”
Johnny smiled at him. He could play this game too.
“Johnny, I wanted to talk to you privately.”
Uh oh, here it comes. He knew there was a catch.
“Not now, this isn’t very private. Could we meet sometime tomorrow?” Garrett asked.
Johnny thought for a moment before answering. “I’ll be working on the fence line out at the south mesa tomorrow, alone. You could ride out there and meet me. That’s about as private as it gets.”
“Good. Oh and just between us…for now, okay?” Garrett winked conspiratorially and Johnny felt his skin crawl. “Now on to more pleasant topics. Scotty wrote to me about your grandfather. I can only imagine how shocked you must have been.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes and braced himself instinctively waiting to see where this might be going but he said nothing. He wasn’t too thrilled that Scott was telling the old geezer his business.
“I hope it went well. Do you think you’ll have the opportunity to visit with him often?” Garrett asked.
Johnny’s eyes widened, “I guess Scott didn’t write you about that part. My grandfather died in his sleep 4 months ago,” Johnny said softly.
“Oh, I am sorry, Johnny. No, I didn’t know about that. What a shame you didn’t get much time with him.”
He actually sounded sincere and Johnny decided to just accept the man’s condolences.
“Thank you, it was hard but at least I did get to spend a little time with him.”
“Grandfather, are you out here?”
“Yes, Scotty, Johnny and I are over here.”
Johnny heard a soft groan coming from his brother’s direction and he had to smile.
“What’s going on?” Scott asked hesitantly.
“Not a thing, brother. We were just talkin, but now if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll turn in. Mr. Garrett, it was nice talking with you. Goodnight,” he said and slapped his brother on the back as he walked inside.
Scott stood there stunned then turned to his grandfather. “What was going on here?” he said in his military tone.
“Scotty, we were just talking, like Johnny said. I asked after his grandfather. I didn’t know he’d died. I feel bad about bringing it up now.”
“You couldn’t have known. I didn’t have time to write to you about it.”
“Well, son, I think I’ll turn in, too. I am still tired from that trip. Goodnight.”
Scott stood on the veranda for a long time thinking about this change in his grandfather’s attitude. He wondered if it was genuine or another of his ploys. He hated thinking that way but he also knew the man did not give up easily. Finally he decided there was no sense in worrying about something that had not happened and he went to bed.
Johnny was swearing in Spanish at the tree root that he was trying to move out of his way. It had grown directly in the line where he was trying to put the fencing. He wasn’t having much luck with it and contemplated just shooting the damn thing. Not that it would solve anything but he reckoned it might make him feel better.
He heard a rider approaching and stopped his fuming to see Harlan Garrett riding towards him dressed out in his riding suit. Johnny had to try hard not to laugh at the spectacle. He put his shirt back on but didn’t button it and took a long drink from his canteen.
“Good morning,” he said as the man dismounted.
“Good morning, Johnny. How goes it?”
“Not too good. This da.. uh tree root is as stubborn as a mule,” he smiled.
“Can you take a break so we can talk?” Garrett asked.
“Sure, any excuse works for me,” Johnny replied companionably.
They sat on the log of the tree root that had become Johnny’s nemesis. It was shady and cool, though Garrett was perspiring a bit.
“What’s on your mind?” Johnny asked.
“That’s what I like about you, Johnny, you don’t beat around the bush,” Garrett said.
Johnny smiled at him and said, “I didn’t think there was anything about me you liked, Mr. Garrett.”
Garrett frowned at this. “Yes, I suppose I deserve that but recently I’ve had what you might call an epiphany, a revelation of sorts. Johnny, I decided to come to you with this because I’ve had to accept some things and quite frankly you are one of them.”
Johnny watched the old man closely and listened to every word. He was looking for any hint that this might be a scam but he could find none. The man was totally sincere and this alone was a surprise.
“As you can see, I don’t mince words either,” he continued. “I didn’t go to Sacramento on business, I went there to see a doctor, a specialist. You see, Johnny, I’m dying.”
Johnny’s eyes widened and his mouth opened as if to speak but he could think of nothing to say. He was shocked that this news actually made him a little sad, that Scott was going to have to face the pain he was all too familiar with lately.
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.
Garrett looked closely at him, “Yes, I believe you are. Well, thank you but it isn’t your sympathy I need.”
“What do you need from me?”
“What I already know you’ll do, take care of Scotty. I’m telling you now so that you’ll be prepared to help him through this. Johnny, I have many regrets in my life but the one thing I regret more than anything right now is not giving myself a chance to get to know someone my grandson so obviously loves…you.”
Johnny suddenly felt helpless. Of course he would be by Scott’s side for anything he needed, but to hear this man, this old geezer, say these things to him was overwhelming. Johnny knew the man was telling him the truth. He’d had plenty of experience reading men’s faces, their movements and he could usually tell when he was being lied to. A thought suddenly occurred to him.
“Wait a minute. Are you saying you’re not going to tell Scott about this?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I don’t want him to know,” he said emphatically.
“I don’t get this. All you have to do is tell him and he’d be on the first stage back to Boston with you!”
“I have thought about that, but somehow it just doesn’t seem right. If Scotty doesn’t want to come back of his own accord, I certainly don’t want him coming back to watch me die. Can you understand that?”
Johnny nodded his head and thought he could understand it better from anyone but the man he was talking to right now! He stood up and walked over to the wagon and started fiddling with his gunbelt which was hanging over the back of the wagon. He sighed and looked at the old man.
“I guess it’s true what they say. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…or almost gone.”
Garrett smiled and nodded. “You’re saying it took dying to make me appreciate my grandson’s wishes.”
“Something like that I guess,” Johnny smiled back.
Scott rode to the top of the rise and saw his grandfather sitting on the log close to the wagon. Johnny was standing next to the wagon. What he saw next stunned him. Johnny drew his gun from the holster and fired and the old man reeled back off the log. Scott kicked his horse hard and bolted down the hill.
As he jumped down and ran toward his grandfather, Johnny was leaning over the old man. He grabbed Johnny by the shirt collar and yanked him backwards.
“Get off him! Where are you hit?” he asked breathlessly.
“What? What are you talking about, boy?”
“I saw what happened, grandfather, now where are you shot?!” he yelled.
“Have you lost your mind, Scotty? Johnny didn’t shoot me for heaven’s sake! He shot that!” he shouted and pointed to the remains of a rattlesnake lying too near him.
Scott stood up and stared at the snake. His face turned beet red as he realized what a fool he’d just made of himself. He turned to face his brother, an apology on his lips, when he froze.
Johnny was lying on the ground, almost. His left side jutted upward as he lay on the tree root. He was barely breathing, staring at Scott with bewilderment.
“Johnny, my God what have I done?” Scott whispered.
He approached his brother and Garrett was by his side as they knelt down to help Johnny up. Scott started to pull on his brother’s arm but Johnny stopped him.
“No! Scott, my back,” he cried out.
A large piece of the tree root jutting out had speared him in his lower back on the left side. Scott put his hand there to feel and drew it back saturated with blood. He hung his head in shame and agony at what he had so thoughtlessly done to his brother.
“Scott! Get a hold of yourself! We have to help him.”
Scott shook his head to clear his mind and focused on the task at hand. He laid flat on his stomach next to Johnny so he could see exactly what he was dealing with. He could see no other way to free his brother other than pulling him off the spear. He couldn’t look in his brother’s eyes so he glanced at his grandfather.
“There’s no other way. We’ll have to pull him off. I’ll need something to put on the wound right away.”
Garrett pulled off his riding jacket and handed it to Scott, then he stepped over to Johnny’s right side and knelt over him.
“Did you hear that, Johnny?”
Johnny groaned and nodded his head. “I’m ready,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Put your right arm around me and hold on. Scott when I say, you pull.”
Scott nodded and Johnny did as he was told. He held on but tried not to put too much weight on the older man. Scott slid one arm under Johnny’s upper back and put one hand behind his right shoulder, positioning himself nearly on top of Johnny. He took a deep breath and when Garrett said go, he pulled with all he was worth.
Johnny tried not to cry out, he moaned loudly and grunted as he was freed from the root. Scott held him in a sitting position and immediately pressed the jacket to his wound which had starting pouring blood the instant it was free.
Johnny suddenly felt very cold and starting trembling. He was pale and his breathing was quick and shallow.
“Scott, clear out the back of the wagon so we can get him home,” Garrett ordered.
As Scott did so, Garrett held Johnny up. “Take it easy, boy, we’ll have you home in no time. You’re going to be alright,” he whispered.
With some effort, they managed to get Johnny into the wagon and Garrett rode in the back with him, applying pressure to the wound with his jacket. Johnny lost consciousness soon after they laid him down.
Murdoch was alerted something was wrong when he heard the wagon come barreling into the yard. He ran outside to see Scott driving the wagon Johnny had left in that morning. His heart sank as he ran around to the back and saw his son, pale and unconscious.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“It was my fault,” Scott said.
“Nevermind that now. We have to get him inside,” Garrett interrupted.
Murdoch Lancer jumped into the back of the wagon and pulled Johnny to the edge. He jumped back down and picked his son up like a rag doll and carried him into the house and up to his room.
Teresa was already there, turning down the bed covers. “I’ll be back in a minute,” was all she said as she ran to get the medical supplies and send for the doctor.
Murdoch started undressing Johnny and told Scott to help him, but Scott could only stand in the corner and stare. Garrett came over and helped Murdoch
undress Johnny and turn him on his right side. He examined the wound, it was deep. Teresa reappeared with hot water and bandages.
“I might need a knife,” Murdoch told her and she nodded as she went to retrieve one. “I need more light!” Murdoch bellowed.
Garrett brought him the lamp from the night table and hurried to his room to get another one. Scott stood in the corner. Murdoch cleaned the wound and removed the splinters of wood as he flushed the whole area with hot water. He decided against trying to sew the wound since it was so deep. He thought that was better left for the doctor. The bleeding had slowed down quite a bit but still oozed constantly. He bandaged the area and wrapped it tightly to keep pressure on the hole in his son’s back.
Garrett brought extra pillows and they positioned them behind Johnny to keep him from rolling over. Once they had finished and Johnny seemed more comfortable, Murdoch turned to Scott.
“What the devil happened?!” he scowled.
Scott kept his head down and still could not answer his father.
Murdoch turned to Garrett. “Well?”
“It was a misunderstanding. Scotty thought Johnny had shot me.”
“What!? Why would he think that?”
“I was sitting on a log talking to Johnny and a rattlesnake appeared out of nowhere. Before I could do anything, Johnny drew his gun and shot it. I was so surprised that I jerked back and fell of the log. Scotty was too far away to see the rattlesnake,” he explained.
“I see. So he naturally assumed that his brother had just shot an unarmed man! Is that what youâ€™re telling me?!” Murdoch was yelling so loudly, the room seemed to shake at the sound of his voice and Scott cringed.
He whirled around at the sound of Johnny’s soft voice. “Johnny, how do you feel, son?” Murdoch asked as he knelt next to the bed.
“I knew I should’ve shot that tree stump,” he smiled. He could see Scott standing in the corner, his head hung low.
“The doctor will be here soon, son. I did all I could but he’s going to have to sew this one up,” Murdoch explained.
Johnny nodded his head but kept looking at his brother. “Are you going to just ignore me, Boston?” he asked.
Scott’s head jerked up and the pain in his eyes spoke volumes to Johnny.
“Come over here,” he said quietly.
Scott moved hesitantly to his brother’s side and knelt on the floor that Murdoch had just vacated for him. “Johnny, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I should have known you wouldn’t….” his voice trembled as it trailed off and he buried his head in his arms.
Johnny placed his hand on Scott’s head and stroked his hair. It was painful to move his left arm but he was laying on the other one.
“It’s ok, Scott,” he whispered.
“It’s not ok, Johnny. It’s not ok at all. Look what I did to you! How can you ever forgive me for being so…stupid…so…irrational?”
“Because you’re my brother and I know you would never hurt me on purpose,” replied Johnny simply.
Garrett shook his head at this show of affection. He was more convinced than ever that he’d made the right decision.
Johnny looked up at his father, his eyes pleading. “It was an accident, Murdoch. It wasn’t his fault.”
Murdoch sighed as he too was touched by Johnny’s pure love for his brother. He knelt down next to Scott and put his arm around his shoulder.
“I know Scott would never do something like this intentionally. You just didn’t think it through, son. It was a shock to see your grandfather fall back like that, I’m sure.” He tried to comfort his eldest, especially for his youngest sake.
Scott, still with his head buried in his arms, shook his head slowly. “Do you see, grandfather? Do you see now?” he said in a muffled voice.
“Yes, Scotty. I see. I really do see,” he replied.
The doctor sewed up Johnny’s wound, grumbling the whole time over his best customer. Scott hadn’t left Johnny’s side and had no intentions of doing so. Johnny wished he would, his guilt was starting to wear on his already frazzled nerves.
As if reading his mind, Murdoch put his big hands on Scott’s shoulders and gently lifted him out of the chair. “Come on now, son, let’s get out of the doctor’s way. Come downstairs and have some coffee with me.”
Scott looked at Johnny and Johnny nodded so he went with his father and Johnny sighed slowly after they had left. The doctor wasn’t surprised, he knew this particular patient very well and he knew the boy hated to be coddled.
Dr. Jenkins finished his handiwork and rebandaged the wound. “It looks clean, shouldn’t have to worry too much about infection,” he said. “Now I’m going to get a cup of that coffee myself and your going to go to sleep, young man,” he ordered.
Johnny just smiled at him.
“I don’t suppose you want some laudanum.”
Johnny shook his head as the doc knew he would so he left.
“Johnny, I am so sorry about all of this,” Garrett said and Johnny nearly jumped out of his skin. He hadn’t realized the man was still in the room. “I’m sorry, did I startle you?”
“Just a bit, didn’t know you were still here. It’s ok, it was just a stupid mistake. I’m more interested in finishing our conversation,” he said as he studied the older man’s face.
“I thought we had finished,” he said.
“Nope. I still think you should tell him.”
“And if I don’t, will you?” Garrett asked.
“It’s not mine to tell,” Johnny said with a tired sigh.
Garrett smiled at him. “Thank you, Johnny. I will think more about it, I can promise you that much but right now I think you had better follow doctor’s orders and get some sleep.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Johnny said sleepily and nodded right off.
Johnny seemed to be recovering rather quickly although he was still confined to his bed. Scott tried to spend as much time as he could with his brother but the guilt was almost too much to bear. No matter how many times Johnny told him it wasn’t his fault, Scott knew better. Finally, tired of dealing with his brother’s litany of apologies, Johnny told Scott to go back to work because he wasn’t going to die and Scott was getting on his nerves. At least it made Scott laugh, a little.
Murdoch took up the watch and spent most days in his son’s room. He brought his paperwork upstairs and they would work on it together or play chess. Johnny decided it was as good a time as any to tell his father about Senora Cipriano’s confession. He decided to leave out certain parts.
“Murdoch, I need to talk to you about something,” he began.
Murdoch looked up from his ledger. “Is it about Scott?” he asked.
“No, no. It’s about…my mother.”
“I see,” was all Murdoch said.
“When we left for Mexico, Senora Cipriano came up to me.”
“Yes, I saw that. It was a little odd, I thought.”
“That’s what I thought too so when we got back I took an opportunity to talk to her,” Johnny was watching his father for any hint he might know what was coming. There wasn’t any so he went on.
“She gave me something,” he said as he reached over to the drawer in his bedside table. He pulled out the necklace. “Does this look familiar?” he asked.
Murdoch took the necklace and examined it, nodding his head. “It belonged to your mother,” he said softly.
“Yes. She gave it to Senora Cipriano to keep for me. She was supposed to give it to me when I was older.”
Still no inkling that Murdoch knew where this was going.
“I don’t understand, son. Why wouldn’t she just keep it to give to you herself?” Murdoch asked.
“Because she knew she wouldn’t be here. She had planned on leaving me here with you.”
Murdoch looked dumbstruck as he stared at his son. Johnny went on, not wanting to make his father have to ask.
“She told me my mother thought I’d be better off here and that.. the uh..the man that she left with had talked her into taking me.”
Murdoch’s expression turned from confusion to raw rage. He said nothing but Johnny noticed and cringed as he waited for the explosion. Murdoch stood up and began pacing the floor. Johnny thought it best not to interrupt so he waited, for a long time. He was fascinated as he watched his father struggling to get himself under control. He could see, almost hear, the turmoil inside the man and thought ‘he does it just like I do, only I don’t show it so much’.
Murdoch finally sat back down heavily and rested his face in his hand. He was still clutching the necklace in his other hand, forgetting it was even there.
“Are you all right?” Johnny asked, unable to stand the silence any longer.
Murdoch looked at him and tried to smile. “I’m alright, son.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you,” Johnny said softly.
“No, I’m glad you told me. Now I know the truth.” He suddenly remembered the necklace and handed it back to Johnny.
“Don’t know what I’m gonna do with it but my grandfather gave it to her, so,” he shrugged.
“Give it to your daughter,” Murdoch smiled.
Johnny smiled back and laughed a little at the thought of himself as a father. “There is something else I wanted to talk to you about but I’m not sure I should,” Johnny said with trepidation.
“Good Lord, what now?” Murdoch said exasperated and exhausted.
“Out with it, son.”
“Ok. It’s about Scott’s grandfather.”
Murdoch’s eyes narrowed. “I was wondering about that. What was he doing out there with you anyway?” he asked.
“I arranged to meet him. He said he wanted to talk to me privately. What he told me was pretty incredible,” Johnny stopped. He hadn’t promised not to tell Murdoch but he wondered if Murdoch would keep the secret.
“You have to promise me right now that you won’t tell Scott about this. Mr. Garrett doesn’t want him to know and although I think he’s wrong, I have to respect his wished.”
“Respect his wishes?” Murdoch hissed.
“Wait, ok? Let me explain then you’ll understand. He told me he’s dying.”
Murdoch hmmphed, “Just a trick to get Scott back to Boston.”
“No, Murdoch. It isn’t a trick. He doesn’t want Scott to know. I even said he could use this to get Scott back and he admitted he had thought of it but he said he had a epifa something or other. Anyway, the point is, I believe him and you know how I’ve always felt about the old geezer. I watched him the whole time we were talkin and, Murdoch, I do believe him.”
“Why did he tell you about it?” Murdoch asked still not convinced.
“He said he knew I would be there for Scott but that he wanted me to be prepared so I could help him get through it better. He even said he was sorry for not taking the time to get to know me since Scott…well since we’re so close.” Johnny leaned forward, grimacing from the pain, and took his father’s hand. “Murdoch, it’s true,” he said as he stared into his father’s eyes to drive home his point.
“Listen to me, this is not the time to be worrying about Harlan Garrett. We have to think of how best to help Scott get through this. It’s going to tear him up and you know it,” Johnny was determined that Murdoch not turned this into another useless argument with Garrett.
“I don’t think he should know I told you either. It would only upset him, and I know you don’t care if he’s upset, but I do. Look, I just went through this myself and my grandfather didn’t raise me. I know it’s going to be even harder on Scott and I need your help!” he pleaded for his father’s understanding. He finally got it.
“Your right, son. This is about Scott. I won’t let on that I know anything. I won’t be nice to the….man. We’ll just act as if nothing’s wrong and hope your brother doesn’t start wondering what Garrett was doing out in the middle of nowhere with you.”
Johnny hadn’t thought about that, but he agreed with his father and hoped Scott wouldn’t ask either. He didn’t want to lie to his brother but he wouldn’t break his promise either.
Harlan Garrett stayed at the Lancer ranch for two weeks. He spent most of his time with Scott and some with Johnny as he recuperated. Johnny had finally, with Garrett and Murdoch’s help, convinced Scott to stop blaming himself for the accident. This helped his grandfather immensely since he could spend some quality time with his Scotty.
The day he was to leave, he found Johnny in back of the house sitting in the garden watching Teresa hang laundry and keeping her company. He still wasn’t quite up to spending the whole day in the saddle, but he was much better and his wound was almost healed.
“Hello, Johnny. How are you feeling?” he said in greeting.
“I’d be a heck of a lot better if I could move normally,” Johnny grinned.
Garrett smiled back at him then glanced at Teresa, who took the hint and went in the house. “I wanted to thank you, Johnny, for keeping my secret.”
“I still think it’s wrong, but it’s your decision,” Johnny replied.
“I was hoping that I could indulge on your kindness one more time,” Garrett began hesitantly.
Johnny narrowed his eyes, then smiled.
“When it’s time for Scotty to come back to Boston to take care of my affairs, after I’m gone, that is…I was hoping you would go with him.”
“Mr. Garrett, I have to tell you something. I’ve met a lot of different kinds of men in my life and some of them were downright evil. But I have never had anyone surprise me as much as you have in the past two weeks. Of course I’ll go with him, whether he wants me to or not!”
Garrett laughed at this and was still laughing when Scott came around the corner of the house. He looked at the two men suspiciously.
“I don’t know what’s been going on between the two of you but I don’t think I like it,” he said seriously.
“Scott, your grandfather has made a lot of effort to be nice to me and try to get to know me a little bit. The least you could do is be grateful,” Johnny admonished his brother in an effort to conceal the truth.
Garrett’s gratefulness was evident on his face.
“Uh huh. Ok, well we had better get going if you don’t want to miss your stage, Sir.”
Garrett nodded and started toward Scott.
“Hey, wait a minute. I might not be ready to sit in a saddle but I can sit in a surrey. Mind if I come alone, or would you rather have this time to yourselves,” Johnny said.
“Well…” Scott began.
“Johnny, I’d love to have you come along, if that’s alright with you, Scotty,” Garrett said.
Another stunned look came to Scott’s face as he said, “Sure, it’s alright with me.”
The stage was late, no big surprise. They decided to wait inside the hotel where it was more comfortable. They sat in the dining room and chatted. Johnny began to think maybe he shouldn’t have come and given these two some time alone.
“I think I’ll go over and say hello to Val, give you two some time together,” he said and stood up.
“Johnny, thank you,” Garrett said as he stood and offered his hand.
Johnny shook hands with the man he had hated a few short weeks ago and smiled genuinely.
“Goodbye, Sir,” he said as he walked out of the hotel.
Scott was getting very tired of being surprised every five minutes. “I sure would like to know what brought on this sudden change in attitude, grandfather,” he said.
“Well, I guess the boy is just growing up.”
“I’m not talking about Johnny and you know it!” Scott said exasperated.
“Scotty, you really need to relax more. You should be more like your brother. Nothing much seems to upset him.”
He’s teasing me! Scott thought, awestruck.
The stage pulled up and they said their goodbyes as the luggage was loaded on top of the stage. Scott got his last, and biggest, surprise from his grandfather. Just before he boarded the stagecoach, Harlan Garrett turned to his grandson and hugged him tight and said “I love you, Scotty.” He boarded and the stage pulled away, leaving Scott Lancer staring at it, tears beginning to form.
Johnny walked up next to him, having seen what transpired and put his arm around his older brother.
“People change, Scott. Especially as they get older. Sometimes they just have an epiphany and it changes the way they look at the world. Let’s go home.”
Scott stared at his brother’s back then followed him to the surrey.
Two months later, Scott received the telegram Johnny had been waiting for. Harlan Garrett was dead. He was there for his brother and helped him grieve. He held him at night when Scott couldn’t sleep. He spent every waking moment at his brother’s side. And when Scott left for Boston, Johnny was with him just as he had promised. Murdoch saw them off with understanding and sympathy. Scott had never felt so loved, especially when Murdoch comforted him. He was genuinely sorry for Scott’s loss. He realized then more than ever that he had made the right decision staying at Lancer and he didn’t regret it or rebuke himself for leaving his grandfather. This was in part due to the letter Harlan Garrett had had sent to him the day he died, explaining that he had come to terms with Scott’s decision and held no ill feelings toward any of the Lancers. Scott never found out that Johnny knew of his grandfather’s illness because that was what the old man had wanted and what Johnny had promised. Johnny Lancer always kept his promises.
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