Word Count 3,400
The three Lancer men and Teresa walked out of the lawyer’s office and headed home. No one spoke but Scott still had a grin on his face. Johnny thought he might just break his jaw if he kept it up much longer. Murdoch was smiling as well, though Johnny wasn’t sure why. Teresa nearly bubbled over with joy. He wondered why they were all so danged happy. Didn’t they know how hard this was going to be? He figured they didn’t, couldn’t know what it would be like living with him. They certainly hadn’t got much of a chance to find out since he had been laid up most of the time, healing from Pardee’s bullet.
He wasn’t so sure himself, if he could do this. He figured he’d passed the first test with Pardee and the second when the old man told the lawyer to change his name to Madrid on the deed. He was a little surprised at himself for telling the man to let it stand. He sure didn’t feel like a Lancer, whatever that was supposed to feel like. He wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about any of this. Scott had been really nice to him, trying hard. Maybe a little too hard, he thought. Still, he reckoned the blond was going through some changes himself and only wanted to make it easier. Johnny knew it wasn’t going to be easy though. He thought he might impart that little piece of wisdom to the easterner at some point. Then again, maybe not. Maybe he should let him learn it the hard way. The way he himself had learned everything in his life.
They were nearing the house now and he began to feel uneasy again. He didn’t have a clue what the old man expected from him. He supposed he wanted a couple of extra hands for sure. He didn’t mind that, never had minded hard work, but he didn’t think he was going to let it go at that. No, if he was truly an owner in this thing, he wanted to be part of all of it, not just the manual labor. He reckoned that would take time though. He had worked on a few ranches in his time and he knew it was a lot of work to run one. He thought he’d just wait for Murdoch to lead the way for awhile.
Teresa scuttled off to the kitchen and they all stood around the living room for what seemed like an eternity. No one was sure what to say. Johnny picked up a wooden figure of a horse sitting on the desk and started playing with it, his head bowed. Murdoch watched him for a while with a smile playing at his lips. Scott seemed most interested in the book titles on the shelves and scanned them thoroughly.
“You used to do that when you were little,” Murdoch suddenly said.
Johnny looked up and realized he was talking to him. “Do what?”
“Play with things when you had something on your mind. Your hands were never still,” he replied, still smiling.
Johnny returned the smile but the sadness in his eyes was evident. He remembered nothing of living here before and it saddened him to no end. He wished he could remember even a little of it. “I was wondering what’s next,” he said softly.
“I was wondering the same thing, myself,” Scott joined in.
“Well, I think the first thing is to get you two familiar with the ranch. We’ll take a ride tomorrow and look over some of it. Then we can talk about what you think of the place and how you see yourselves fitting in,” Murdoch said.
Johnny nodded as did Scott.
“Okay, but what’s next today?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch raised both eyebrows at this question. He didn’t have a clue and said so. This brought some humor to both the boys faces and they exchanged a glance.
“It’s still early. Why don’t we take part of that ride now?” Scott suggested.
“Alright, if you want. I’ll let Teresa know we’re going out for awhile,” Murdoch responded and headed to the kitchen.
“Well, brother, what do you think of all this?” Scott asked.
“Think I’ll keep my opinion to myself a while longer, Boston. I ain’t too sure what I think at this point,” Johnny grinned.
Scott nodded, “It feels strange. I wake up in the mornings and it takes me a few minutes to remember where I am.”
“That always happens to me,” Johnny laughed.
Scott’s expression changed to a frown and he was about to ask a question but Murdoch rejoined them.
“Okay, Teresa made me swear on a stack of bibles that we’d be back for supper,” he announced.
“Don’t have to worry about me. I’m always ready to eat,” Johnny grinned.
They rode off under the gate and headed south. Murdoch knew the best place to start and that’s where he went, the boys following, watching the scenery as it unfolded before them. They climbed higher and higher until Murdoch reined in his steed and dismounted.
“Come over here,” he said. “From here you can see all of Lancer. Every acre.”
Johnny and Scott looked out over the expanse below them in awe. Johnny whistled loudly.
“That’s a lot of land, old man. How’d you manage to get it all?” he asked.
“I worked hard,” Murdoch said simply.
“It’s beautiful. I’ve never seen such a beautiful place,” Scott nearly whispered with reverence.
Murdoch smiled at this, pleased his son appreciated the land that was now part his.
“It sure is, Boston. Hey, look at that! See those eagles!?” Johnny exclaimed as he pointed toward two birds in flight above them. “Wow, that’s somethin’,” he said.
Murdoch watched his face, surprised that Johnny would appreciate something as simple as a bird in flight.
“And look at that field down there. You know what those are, Boston?” he asked. “They’re bluebells. Pretty, ain’t they?” he informed the blond who had shaken his head.
“They look a little like the ocean from up here,” Scott noted.
“Yeah, they do, don’t they?” Johnny smiled at the comparison.
“You’ve seen the ocean?” Scott asked.
“I reckon I have! I did live in Mexico. Geez, what did you think, it was surrounded by a desert?” Johnny asked sarcastically.
Murdoch chuckled at this. “We had better head back. We should get in just in time for supper,” he suggested.
“Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to upset Teresa,” Scott smiled.
“I have a feeling that’s more true than we think,” Johnny replied.
“Why do you say that, John?” Murdoch asked.
“Well, she’s a little thing but I get the feeling she could tan any of our hides without a second thought,” Johnny laughed.
“You don’t know how right you are about that. You’re pretty good at reading people,” Murdoch commented.
“It’s a requirement,” Johnny said softly and turned to his horse.
Murdoch frowned but didn’t press, he knew exactly what Johnny meant. Scott didn’t but he was shushed by the look his father gave him and said nothing.
“Well, come on, Barranca. Time to eat,” Johnny said as he mounted up.
“Barranca?” Scott inquired.
“Yep, that’s his name. It means canyon. I figure this fella’s got enough heart to jump clean over one,” Johnny explained.
They walked in just as Teresa was setting the food on the table and she smiled at their punctuality.
As they sat in the living room after supper, all were quiet. Teresa worked on her sewing, Scott had found a book to read, Murdoch was reading the Sacramento newspaper and Johnny sat in front of the fire, staring into the flames.
“I heard somewhere that if you stare into the flames of a fire for too long, you’ll go blind,” Scott spoke up.
Johnny had his back to him, but he smiled in spite of himself. “I’ve heard that if you read too many books, you’ll end up a bachelor for the rest of your life,” he retorted.
Murdoch chuckled at the two of them but never looked up from his paper.
“Sounds valid. I don’t suppose you play chess, Johnny?” Scott asked.
“Why would you not suppose that, Boston?”
“Is that your way of saying that you play?” Scott asked.
“Are you asking me to play?” Johnny asked.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! The board is over there on the hutch. Just get it and get on with it,” Murdoch interrupted.
Johnny laughed out loud at this and swung around to face the coffee table as Scott retrieved the game.
Two hours later, they were at a stalemate. Both refused to give in and Murdoch had been watching intently for the past half hour. He shook his head at their stubborness.
“Well, Boston?” Johnny asked.
“Well what? I’m not done yet,” Scott replied.
“Oh, I thought maybe you’d fallen asleep seeing as how it’s taking you so long to move,” Johnny said sarcastically.
“I’m thinking. Is that alright with you?” Scott shot back.
“Think all night if ya want. I’m going to bed,” Johnny said. He stood up and stretched and just before heading for the stairs, he nonchalantly laid his king over. “Good game.”
Scott stared at the board for a full minute, dumbstruck that Johnny would give in. “Wait!” he yelled and ran after him. He caught up with his brother half way up the stairs. “That’s it? You’re just going to concede?” he asked in amazement.
Johnny smiled and shrugged. “You like to win. I don’t really care. It’s just a game, Scott,” he said and walked away.
The next morning, Johnny came down to the kitchen to find Murdoch half way through his breakfast.
“Did I oversleep?” he asked.
“No, I always get up before dawn. Maria’s used to me, she always has my breakfast ready,” Murdoch smiled.
“Smells good,” Johnny smiled at the woman.
“Sit, eat,” she replied with a smile of her own.
“Good morning,” Scott said as he walked in.
“Mornin, Boston. Ready to start earnin your keep?” Johnny grinned.
“As ready as I’ll ever be. I hope you both remember that I don’t know what I’m doing,” Scott said warily.
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll go easy on you the first day or so,” Murdoch smirked.
After breakfast, they rode out to tour the ranch some more. Murdoch pointed out a multitude of things that needed tending to.
“How do you know where to start? It seems there’s so much to do,” Scott asked.
“Well, you just have to realize what’s most important. What can cause the most trouble if it isn’t taken care of. For example, see that fenceline down? You wouldn’t think that was a major concern, but we’ll be moving the herd to this pasture in a few weeks and that fence has to be repaired first. Otherwise, we’ll have a lot of strays on our hands and that means more time spent away from other jobs,” Murdoch explained patiently.
“Do you have much trouble with rustlers?” Johnny asked.
“Not since Pardee,” Murdoch smiled.
“Okay, so I can mend this fence. Probably take me a day or two at the most. You want Boston to work with me?” Johnny said as he surveyed the damage.
“Actually, I had something else in mind for the two of you. I do want you to work together for a couple of weeks, though. Just until you’re more familiar with things,” Murdoch said.
“What to you want us to do, sir?” Scott asked.
“I want you to work in the east pasture, rounding up strays with the men. They need to get to know you both as well. Be comfortable working for you.”
Scott grimaced at this, he didn’t know anything about rounding up anything. Johnny noticed the look and smiled.
“Don’t worry, Boston. I won’t let you become a stray,” he laughed.
“Come on, boys. I want to show you more of the ranch,” Murdoch said.
They spent the entire day together, riding the land. Murdoch showing them the things they needed to know right off and saving less important details for later. He had to get them going in a hurry. It would be time to drive the herd to market before too long and he wanted them both to be ready. He wondered if Johnny had ever driven a herd. They stopped on the way back to the house at a stream to water the horses.
“Well, what do you think?” Murdoch asked them.
“It’s a bit overwhelming but I’m sure I’ll get used to it in no time,” Scott said.
“What about you, Johnny?”
“It’s a nice spread, real nice,” he said softly.
“Have you ever worked on a ranch before?” Murdoch asked.
“Yeah, a few. Mostly worked with the horses though.”
“Have you ever been a drover?”
“Yep, once or twice. I hate cows. They are the dumbest animals on the face of the earth! They’d walk right off a cliff if ya let ’em,” Johnny laughed.
“Oh, great. I really didn’t need to hear that,” Scott laughed.
“Don’t worry, they also do pretty much what you tell them to. You just have to know how to tell ’em to do it,” Johnny shrugged.
Murdoch was relieved that at least Johnny had some experience, maybe not a lot, but some.
“Well, I guess we should head back, now,” he said.
“Where is the east pasture?” Scott asked at supper.
“I think it’s east of here,” Johnny laughed.
Scott shot him a scornful look, but smiled as well. “Dumb question?”
“No, you’ll learn, Scott. It just takes time. That’s something we don’t have a lot of however,” Murdoch said.
“Why not?” Scott asked, concerned.
“In three months we have to drive the herd to market. It’s a huge undertaking that lasts several weeks,” Murdoch explained.
“Several weeks? Where do we take them?” Scott asked.
“Stockton, to the train.”
“Sounds like a big job.”
“It’s a long, hard, frustrating, dirty job, Boston. You’ll love it!” Johnny teased.
Scott threw his dinner roll across the table at Johnny, who caught it deftly and popped it in his mouth. “Thank you,” he mumbled.
“Scott Lancer! I know you were brought up with better manners than to throw your food!” Teresa exclaimed.
Scott looked sheepishly at her. “I’m sorry, but he deserved it.”
“Yes, he did!” Teresa stated. A grin spread across her face and they all joined in her laughter.
“Some on, Boston! Let’s get goin,” Johnny called up the stairs.
“I’m coming. Is there a fire somewhere, brother?” Scott replied as he came down the stairs.
“Just the one I’m tryin to light under you,” Johnny grinned.
They walked out to the barn together and saddled their horses in silence. Johnny stood beside Barranca for a minute, deep in thought.
“He seems to be trying,” he said.
Scott looked up and smiled. “Yes, he does.”
“At least he’s being honest, so far,” Johnny commented.
“What do you mean … so far?”
“Well, it ain’t like we’ve talked about anything besides the ranch,” Johnny pointed out.
“What do you expect from him, Johnny? I mean, what do you hope to find out?” Scott asked, quite serious now.
“I don’t know. The truth would be nice. I get the feeling it’s not something he’s gonna want to talk about, though.”
“What about you? What do you think he expects from you?” Scott asked.
“That’s what worries me. I hope he doesn’t expect me to get all mushy. I don’t like talking about my past. Funny, a few weeks ago, it wasn’t my past, now all the sudden it is. Do you ever feel like your head is swimmin with all this?” Johnny asked.
“Constantly,” Scott replied.
“Well, come on. Time to show you just how dumb cows are,” Johnny laughed.
It was quite a chore at first, teaching Scott how to manage strays. To Johnny’s surprise, he caught on pretty quickly, though. He watched as Scott finessed a stray into the fold and nodded his head in approval when his brother looked over at him.
Scott thought it was the hardest job in the world, but it seemed to get easier as the day went on and Johnny said he was doing good. He listened as his brother talked in Spanish with the vaqueros, seemingly at ease with them. He laughed with them easily. Scott felt like an outsider, not understanding the language and he promised himself to ask Johnny to teach him Spanish. Funny, he didn’t think there was anything Johnny could teach him. How’s that for being full of yourself, he thought.
At lunch, they sat together under the shade of a tree and Scott stretched out his tired muscles.
“Yes, this is hard work,” he smiled.
“Get used to it, Boston. It don’t get any easier. You better let me rub some liniment on you tonight. You won’t be able to move in the morning, otherwise,” Johnny said.
Scott noticed there was no teasing or malice in his voice, he was simply stating a fact. Still, for some reason it irked him that Johnny would think he needed a rubdown but his younger brother didn’t.
“Are you saying you won’t be sore?” he asked, perturbed.
Johnny looked at him with some degree of surprise. “Didn’t mean that at all, Boston. I was just offering,” he shrugged.
“Sorry. I tell you what, you rub my back and I’ll rub yours,” Scott smiled.
“Deal. Now, let’s get the rest of these heathens rounded up,” Johnny said.
“How did it go?” Murdoch asked as they rode in that evening.
“Long, dusty and hot,” Johnny said.
“It went well, sir. I learned a lot,” he reported.
“He’s quick, Murdoch. He’ll be runnin this place without us pretty soon,” Johnny laughed.
“Oh? I guess I’d better watch my back,” Murdoch grinned.
“I think I’d like to wash my back, along with everything else. If you’ll excuse me gentlemen, I’m going to take a hot bath,” Scott said.
“Okay, Boston, ready for that rub down?” Johnny asked as he walked into Scott’s room.
“I’m never going to get used to people barging in without knocking,” Scott said.
“Sure ya will,” Johnny grinned and waved the brown bottle of liniment in front of him. “Take off your shirt and lay across the bed.”
“Uh, you don’t really have to do this, Johnny. I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Scott said hesitantly.
“What are you talking about? Just take off your shirt and lay down! Jeez, ya think I ain’t never seen a man’s back before? Don’t worry, Boston, I’ll be a gentleman,” Johnny teased.
“Really, Johnny, I can take care of it,” Scott insisted.
Johnny narrowed his eyes and considered the blond. “What don’t you want me to see, Boston?”
“I … I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Scott fidgeted.
Johnny chewed his lip for a second, then sat the bottle down and unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it off. “See this one, here by my belt, got that in Nogales. And this one, along my ribs here? Soldano. This one, here on my belly, got that in Kansas City. That was a bad one. This one ….”
“Alright! I get the point. You have a lot of scars,” Scott snapped.
“Yeah, so I’m used to looking at ’em. Now, take off your shirt,” Johnny said firmly. “I’m gonna see it sooner or later.”
Scott sighed and unbuttoned his shirt, then laid down across the bed. Johnny looked at his back, the scars had faded well but were still discernible.
“Bullwhip?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Yes, in a prison camp,” Scott said in a muffled voice.
“The war, huh? Yeah, I got some of those, too. No war though, well not that kind of war, anyway,” Johnny said as he began to rub the liniment on his brother’s back.
Scott relaxed under his brother’s gentle hands. Johnny kept talking in a soothing voice, keeping his brother’s embarrassment to a minimum.
It worked, and soon the blond was breathing in deep, even rhythms. Johnny moved gently off the bed and laid a comforter over his brother.
“Goodnight, dandy,” he whispered, then smiled.
He went to his room thinking maybe it wouldn’t be so bad here after all.
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