Word count: 11,616
The tall peaks that surrounded Lancer pierced the morning sky with their eternal majesty. These same mountains and hundreds of their compatriots had proven to be formidable obstacles to the settling of the West. Travelers, lulled into a feeling of safety by flat plains, trekked on despite roaring rivers and savage Indians who were determined to protect their sacred land. Ultimately, the mountains, the rivers and the Indians would give way–not easily and with great loss of life–but give in they would.
Ironically, it was the great distance between East and West that had isolated many westerners from the recent conflagration of civil war. To be sure many sons of the West headed east to fight–for Union, for glory or to protect the country’s soul against the evils of slavery. Many more easterners, living in the West, also headed for the great battlefields of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Tennessee–there to die and never see the tall peaks again.
After the war, thousands–victors and defeated–made their escape from the terrible devastation to start new lives–to forget what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they had done.
Riding along with his brother, Scott Lancer breathed in the cool pine-scented air. On a morning such as this it was almost easy to forget a lifetime of big-city noises, dirt and the almost-claustrophobic feeling of being walled-in by people. This beautiful land had rarely seen violence such as that which had nearly torn the country apart forever.
“Hey, Boston, quit yer day-dreamin’. We got miles ta go before we get home.”
Scott’s head jerked up. Barranca was already way ahead. He kneed his own horse into a trot so that he could catch up. “Sorry, Johnny. I was just thinking about how peaceful it is here.”
“Well, it is that,” murmured the dark-haired man, “but these mountains have seen their fill of death ‘n dyin’.”
“I suppose. It’s just that….”
“What? I know ya fought in a war, but people out here have been gettin’ shot up for lotsa years. I should know. I done some of the shootin’ myself.”
The slender blond glanced at Johnny. His brother had told him only a small part of his troubled past. Violence had been his constant companion for too many years; but now, since coming to Lancer, the younger man had slowly let the tension of being hunter and hunted begin to slip away. “Sorry I mentioned it.”
“Let’s just get goin’. I wanta cover some miles before we camp.”
Silence framed the ride. Scott returned to his thoughts, determined not to give Johnny any cause for complaint. Something was bothering the young man, but the stubborn brunet would not confide in his older brother.
Finally, as twilight gently shaded the magnificent trees, the two men stopped, built a small fire, hastily made a quick meal, and then bedded down for the night.
Sleep didn’t come easily to the older Lancer. Johnny’s aloofness worried him. Usually, he would talk Scott’s ear off about his latest girl or the ranch, but for the past two days the dark-haired man had barely said a dozen words, except those of censure. Finally, though, the thoughts gave way to sleep.
Waking in the post-dawn light the blond immediately noticed that his brother was nowhere to be seen. Barranca was still tethered to a tree so Scott wasn’t too worried, but then he heard a faint yell from somewhere above and behind him. Looking up, he saw the figure of his brother. The dark shirt the younger man wore blended into the mountainside, but he knew that figure well. As the sun made its way higher into the sky, Scott could see that Johnny wanted him to make his way up to the ledge where he was standing. While not afraid of heights, the older man did not enjoy rock climbing. The smooth surface of the rocks made handholds as well as toeholds difficult, but eventually he successfully made it to his brother’s side.
Johnny stood in front of what appeared to be a cave except that there were timbers supporting the shaft. “Look what I found! It’s an old mine. I wonder if Murdoch knows it’s here?”
“It looks like it was abandoned a long time ago.”
“Yeah, but let’s go take a quick look.”
“Johnny, I thought you were in a hurry to get back to Lancer?”
“Aw, Boston, come on. Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud! We’ll only go for ten minutes.”
Scott hated to dim the eager look on his brother’s face. He had seen it so rarely these past few days. “Oh all right, but only for ten minutes.”
Just inside, they found an old torch, which they lit so that the formidable dark shadows were cowed into gray areas reaching back into the mountain.
“Whooee, this tunnel must go back a long ways. Wonder what they were diggin’ for?”
“I have no idea but those timbers don’t look too steady to me.”
Johnny threw his brother a withering look. “They’ll probably be standin’ here when we’re both dead and gone.” With that pronouncement he moved forward, followed by Scott who took out his pocketwatch.
“Johnny, you said ten minutes and we’ve already been in here fifteen.”
Frowning the brunet replied, “If you don’t wanta stay, go on out. I wanta see where this tunnel leads. I think I can hear water drippin’.”
“Please, let’s go now.” A cold, squirming tendril of fear had wound its way around Scott’s heart. He didn’t want to be in here. He didn’t want his brother to be in here. It was too much like….
Scott heard it first. A low moaning, a tremor, and suddenly the whole mountain seemed to move. Above Johnny the ancient timbers crackled with dryness then split, and with a tortured scream came crashing down.
“JOHNNY!” The blond sprang forward grabbing at the other man’s arm, pulling him back, back to safety. The torch dropped and with it the darkness swallowed the two men in a rumble of dirt, debris and splintered wood.
Johnny fell back towards the mouth of the shaft, stumbling, bumping one arm on a huge rock. In the darkness he couldn’t see Scott. Tempted to call out, he decided against it in case the sound caused a new cascade of debris. Taking a match from his pocket, he held it up. Just ahead, where his brother had been was a small hill of rocks. Cautiously, he moved forward. The match fizzled out. Barking his shins on the pile, he discovered it was only a foothill of rubble. Pulling out another match Johnny lit it, only to be astonished by the commanding sight of a mountain of rock and shattered timbers. If Scott were under that…
The brunet scarcely noticed the sharp pain in his left arm as he carefully began shifting the rocks. It was like removing sand, grain by grain, from a beach. In only minutes his back ached, his lungs sucked for air, and his hands bled from rough, sharp shards of stone. He kept at it, calling softly from time to time. Nothing.
Since he had only two matches left, he did not want to waste them; but he needed to know how much more there was to go, and if there was an arm or leg that would point the way. He called once more. Again, there was no sound but that of his own labored breathing. The young man lit one match. To his dismay the pile of rocks he had removed still was dwarfed by the amount that remained. Deep in his heart Johnny knew that he couldn’t do this by himself. He had to leave Scott, dead or alive, and get someone to help.
Stumbling out to the mouth of the tunnel, he turned to look back, but the inky darkness hid the debris mountain just as surely as a child would hide his head under the covers during a thunderstorm. In a loud voice, he called, “I’ll be back, Scott.” He could only hope that somehow his brother could hear and would know that he had not been abandoned.
Fireworks. A sparkling array of stars lit up behind the blue eyes as he hit the edge of a jutting rock. The blood from the wound flowed into ears, down cheeks and into his mouth where the copper-tasting liquid nearly gagged him. The slender body lay face down for long moments while the rubble settled. As he turned over the thunder of an artillery barrage roared through the blond head. Sitting up brought new torture, but gradually the pain ebbed away to a throbbing ache that was at least tolerable even if his stomach remained on the edge of nausea.
Now, it was not the torment of pain that chilled his body. It was the darkness–the absolute, hellish darkness. He could not even see the hand that gingerly touched the wounded temple. For one stark instant the young man feared the blackness came from within, then he chided himself for his fear. There was just no light. The cave-in blocked the light after Johnny dropped the torch.
Johnny! Where was Johnny? He called out but only echoes returned the raspy query.
Inch by inch Scott Lancer felt his way over the rocks, wood, and debris underneath his body. The sting of hidden nails ripped at hands and knees. He crawled forward until he could go no more. He was right—a wall of rubble did block the way. The injured man stopped to listen but heard only an elusive drip of water from somewhere behind him.
Fear began to tiptoe into the perimeters of his mind–a terrifying, primitive fear. Did anyone know that Scott Lancer was a prisoner of rock and stone? Surely if Johnny was alive, he would get him out? He just had to wait, be patient. <<You’ve done it before, you can do it again. You survived Libby. You can survive this.>>
Fleetingly, he remembered the tunnel used for the escape at Libby. It had taken so long to dig with just the pitiful shovels and picks they possessed. There had been cave-ins, even one that had nearly cost Lieutenant Lancer his life, but then came the day it was finished. That day the Union prisoners wore secret smiles. They knew this might be their only chance to get home before the war ended because it was common knowledge that Grant had forbidden the exchange of prisoners so the only hope seemed to be escape or a pine box. Sixteen men pinned their hopes on that tunnel, and all but Scott had died. Surely he couldn’t now die in an abandoned mine shaft?
By careful maneuvering, the blond had found a small piece of wall space where he could lean back and rest his aching head. He sat there lost in his painful thoughts.
Solitary. It was just being in solitary confinement except that there was no one to bring him a maggot-filled bowl of slop once a day. The food at Libby had been truly disgusting to a man used to fine china and French chefs. It was a good thing Scott had never told Harlan Garrett about some of the things he had eaten because his grandfather would never believe that a gentleman could sink so low.
Low? Men had abased themselves for a fragment of hardtack. Men had killed those weaker than themselves for a morsel of greasy meat that a dog would turn down. Scott had been appalled by the depths of suffering and humiliation visited upon the federal prisoners, but he had survived when many others had not.
And he knew he could do it again–if only Johnny was alive to help him.
Hours went by. The injured blond drifted in and out of sleep. Not a healing slumber but a tormented sleep which saw the death of his comrades over and over again. He could feel the excruciating moment of impact as the bullets shattered bone and muscle. He could hear the merciless thunk of bullets hitting already emaciated figures. He could smell the sickening odor of blood and excrement as bodies released themselves in final agony.
After some days in solitary, Scott had realized what a heinous punishment this truly was. You couldn’t get away from your thoughts, your memories. Sleep didn’t bring relief, only more nightmares until the dreamer questioned the reality of everything. He knew there were men out there, but they cared little for his welfare. Lieutenant Scott Lancer could only depend on himself. Strangely that thought brought a smile to the battered face. Even in his rocky prison, he knew that he wasn’t really alone. If Johnny was alive, he would rescue him. If Johnny was alive…
Once again a flutter of nausea tickled at his stomach. If his brother had been caught by the debris, then Scott recognized that he, too, was a dead man. No one else knew where they were. Lancer was still miles away.
What would Murdoch and Teresa think when the two brothers didn’t show up? They might never even know what had happened. He and Johnny would be like those unfortunate unknown soldiers at that new cemetery just outside Washington. What an irony–so many Union soldiers buried on ground that had once belonged to the family of Mrs. Robert E. Lee.
Scott started to laugh–at what he wasn’t even sure. <<I survived a war and it’s come to this.>>
As the minutes ticked away, a fogginess masked the reverie. Shifting, he realized that it was becoming more difficult to breathe. The air seemed foul with specks of dust and strange odors. His throat felt much like one of the tumbleweeds he had seen from the train as he traveled west.
To add to the torment, he could still hear that drip of water. It sounded so close, but in the dark it would be perilous to move too far. If only he had a torch. Then, he remembered. He had lit the fire last night. Maybe he still had a match. He felt in his shirt pocket. A slender piece of wood scraped at his finger. He touched the tip. It seemed to be in good shape, but would it light? Even if it took more oxygen, Scott knew he had to give himself a chance to see if there might be a way out or at least to find water. By now, his need for water outweighed everything, even a need to breathe clean air.
Carefully, the blond swiped the match on his boot sole. Nothing. He tried again. A pitiful little flame glowed. He held it up to see if there was a draft of air, but the flame didn’t flicker. The darkness was all around, enveloping him like the grave. He discovered that the wall of debris reached nearly to the top of the shaft.
Letting the match burn until his fingers felt scorched, he discovered one wall of the shaft was wet. Even as the match burned out, his other hand felt a slight trickle of moisture. He sucked the wet fingers. The fingertips brushed again. The trickle was barely there. He leaned forward to lick at the wall. A drop. Two drops but it tasted better than champagne. After waiting for more to accumulate, Scott licked again. Another two drops. For the next hour, that wall became the center of his existence. Then the flow made one teasing gush and stopped.
His exhausted body slumped over in pain and despair. The water had given him hope, but now there was nothing–only the realization that the water he had consumed so eagerly would only prolong the inevitable. Dizziness penetrated his mind. Scott lay down, curling into a ball.
<<Oh God, Johnny, please hurry!>>
Ghostly voices called out his name. He knew what they wanted. They were envious that he was still alive. Why him? Why not them? Scott wanted to tell them to wait because it couldn’t be much longer. In fact, it was only the pain that told him he was still alive. Why did the ghosts have to torment him? Why couldn’t they just let him drift off? He didn’t think he was afraid. At least then he would be with his brother. Johnny had to be dead or he would have come for him by now. Johnny wouldn’t let the ghosts torment him.
A pinprick of light appeared like a shooting star in the rocky prison. The ghosts called again. The blond refused to listen to their pleas. He covered his ears with his hands and tightly clenched his eyes shut. Maybe they would give up if he didn’t give in.
The light grew bolder. It had come to dispel the darkness, and it would not be denied. Its warmth was magnetic, forcing the imprisoned man to chance opening one eye. The piercing illumination attacked the senses sending pain along tortured nerves. Just as a scream escaped the parched throat, the light moved back, only to be replaced by a comforting voice. “Boston, it’s me. We’re going to get you out of here.”
For an instant Scott couldn’t, wouldn’t let himself believe. “Johnny?” he whispered. “Don’t let…ghosts…take me.”
“It’s okay, Brother. I won’t let anyone hurt you,” as he wrapped a blanket around the slim figure. With that reassurance the blond slipped into unconsciousness.
The older Lancer woke to find himself riding double with Johnny on Barranca. Even though the gait was at a walk, the motion brought on an overwhelming feeling of nausea, which would not be quelled.
“Please…stop.” The golden horse reluctantly pulled up. “Sick.”
Quickly, Johnny Lancer helped Scott down, and over to the side of the road where the former prisoner retched up what little he had in his stomach.
Taking a bandana from his pocket, Johnny wetted it with water from his canteen to wipe off his brother’s sweating face. “Here, now drink just a little.” Even the motion of tilting his head back caused the injured man a grimace of pain. “Feel better?”
“I know your head must hurt, but we’re almost to the Taylor place where you can rest.”
Scott continued to sit on his knees. At least being evening the excruciating light had dimmed. “Taylor?”
“Them.” Johnny pointed to the men with him. Carefully Scott looked up at the two blurred figures. The two burly men with heavy-set jowls dwarfed his brother. “They helped me rescue you. I know you don’t feel much like it, but we need to get you back on Barranca so we can reach their place before dark.”
The wounded flesh wanted nothing more than to curl back into its ball until the pain was only a memory, but the mind forced the body to its feet, helped by Johnny’s strong arm. Scott’s stomach lurched again as he was helped back into the saddle. He leaned back against the brunet’s chest for the remainder of the journey trying to concentrate on the familiar presence of his brother.
Soon, he was lifted off the palomino’s back and tucked into a soft, if none-too-clean, bed. The pain remained a constant even as a tanned hand took one of his own and squeezed gently. “I’m here. I’ll keep the ghosts away.” A small smile crossed the dry lips–no ghost could get past Johnny Madrid.
Some hours later Scott awoke. He knew someone was holding his hand, but these fingers were not the calloused ones belonging to his brother. These hands were rough and cracked from decades of work. One hand stroked his arm. “Ya sure are purty, Boy.”
Scott hadn’t been called ‘boy’ in years, and then only by his grandfather. Reluctantly, the cerulean eyes opened to see the figure of a woman by his bedside. The weather-beaten skin, grayed hair and mouth of broken teeth gave her the appearance of age, but when he looked into the green eyes, he knew that was a lie. “Who are you?”
“Name’s Tilda Dawson. Mark ‘n Luke brought ya here.”
“Mark and Luke?”
“Ma brothers. That kin a yurs paid ’em to help find ya.”
“You mean Johnny?”
“Where is he?”
“Sleepin’ in the stable. He was right tired. Said I’d look out for ya.”
‘S’allright. Feel like eatin’?”
“He put a wrap on yur head.” Raising his arm, Scot touched the bandage covering his left temple. “Ya took a real knock there, Boy.”
“Yeah, ‘e told me. Said ya wuz brothers.”
“That’s right. Could I have some water?”
“Sure ‘nuf. We got our own well.” The cool liquid tasted like ambrosia. “Not too much now. Slow. Good ain’t it? Ya wanta go back ta sleep?”
Scott started to shake his head, but the pain reminded him why he was lying in this stranger’s bed.
“Heard tell ya wuz a soljer?”
“My man and boy wuz soljers. They fit for the South.” She glanced at the injured man, challenging him. “Ya be a Yank, I s’pose?”
“Thought so. My boy looked lot like ya. He was killed by a big ‘splosion in Virginny sometime in ’64. Course I didn’t hear nothin’ ’bout it for months jest like when his daddy got killed up in Pennsylvanny.”
“Your husband was at Gettysburg?”
“Yessir. Kershaw’s Brigade. Wuz ya there?”
“No, I was at Vicksburg.”
Tilda nodded. “We brought my man back to South Carolina ta be buried.” Then in a sad whisper she added, “Didn’t find my boy’s body after the ‘splosion. ‘Spect there was nothin’ left.” The green eyes glistened with remembrance.
“I was a prisoner of war in Richmond by that time, M’am, but we did hear about the Crater incident since it was at Petersburg. A lot of good, brave men died on both sides in that war.”
Again she nodded. “I know yur right. Micah told me ’bout those Yanks at that place in Virginny with some stone wall. He said they just kept acomin’ even though it was freezin’ and they was adyin’.”
“I believe that was at Fredericksburg. I wasn’t in the army yet, but it was in the Boston papers.”
“Boston? Is that where yur from? I always wanted ta go there ‘n see all them sights, but I wuz married young and lost four young’uns afore William lived past six. Ma brothers sent for me after the war so I come out here, and now I cook for ’em and keep their socks darned. I sure do miss South Carolina, ‘specially since I cain’t put flowers on Micah’s grave.”
Silence filled the room. Tilda Dawson glanced over to see that her patient was asleep. She patted his hand. “Ya sure do look like William. Don’t ya worry. Yur gonna be jest fine.”
Just then the door opened. Johnny Lancer walked over to the bed. “How is he?”
“Seems a might better. We talked some. I’m gonna get some dinner for ya, Mark ‘n Luke. Him too, if he’ll eat somethin’.
“Just a minute, Mrs. Dawson. I wanta thank you for lookin’ after Scott. Please take this and buy yourself somethin’ pretty.”
The $5.00 coin sat there in her hand. “Fer me? But ya paid the boys for helpin’ ya.”
“I really appreciate your fixin’ my arm too, and here’s another $5.00 to cover the cost of the extra food.”
“Ma stew ain’t worth $5.00!”
“You won’t say that when you see how much I intend to eat.”
“Lord a mercy, ya cain’t eat more ‘n Luke or Mark. Those two can take apart a beef all by theirselves!” Johnny and Tilda laughed. After watching the two throw huge rocks around at the mine shaft, he could believe almost anything about the two men.
“Dinner’ll be on the table right shortly. I ‘spect you’ll wanta sit with your brother awhile.”
“Yes, M’am, thank you.”
“No need fer that. You jest take care of ‘im.” She took out a worn cardboard frame from her apron pocket. In it was a faded photo of a young, blond man. “This was my William. He sent it ta me for ma birthday in ’64. It’s about all I got left of ‘im.”
“He was a fine-looking young man.”
“He was that, jest like his pa. Micah coulda had the pick of girls in Edgefield County, but he chose me.”
“Your husband was a smart man.”
Tilda Dawson flushed. “Yur a nice boy. Wuz ya a soljer too?”
“No, I was in Mexico during the war.”
The woman’s green eyes lost focus and in a wistful voice, she replied, “Wish ma boy had a been in Mexico.” Then she straightened her narrow shoulders. “Well, that stew ain’t gonna cook itself so I’d better git busy.” She skurried over to the iron stove to light the fire.
Johnny turned towards the bed where his brother lay. The pale face under the blond hair and white bandage was streaked with grime. What did that matter? Scott was still alive. For some hours there the younger man had been sure that he wouldn’t be in time to rescue his best friend. If he had found it necessary to ride all the way to Lancer, he was sure Scott would not have survived.
Instead, he had chanced upon the Taylor place. The two brothers had been reluctant to go with him, but the sight of Johnny’s money had overcome their fears. Luckily, Luke even knew of a back way into the shaft so they didn’t have to dig through the rubble mountain. It had required the removal of some rocks and other debris built up over the years, but it had allowed them to make it in time. Now he just had to get Scott safely back to Lancer so the real healing could begin.
Two days later the Lancer brothers started their trip home. It took longer than usual because Scott needed frequent stops, but at last the great gate at Lancer appeared.
Riding up to the house, Johnny spotted Jelly Hoskins out feeding Dewdrop. The whiskered man quickly came over to help Johnny get Scott into the older Lancer’s bedroom.
As soon as the blond was settled on the bed, Jelly rounded on the younger man, “Consarnit, Johnny, what happened to the two of you?”
“Scott got trapped in a mine shaft. He took a hard knock on the head.”
“He’s got more ‘n that. He’s a burnin’ up.”
“Yeah, I know. The last coupla hours, I didn’t think he’d make it. Me and Mrs. Dawson cleaned the scrapes, but one of ’em musta got infected.”
“Well, I’ll go tell one of the hands to fetch the Doc,” he replied with a concerned look on his face.
“He and Teresa drove into town. When you two didn’t get here t’other day, they got worried. They went in to send a telegram to Major Kline. I s’pose they’ll be back pretty quick, but I’ll tell Ramon to keep a lookout for ’em.”
“Do that, Jelly. I’m gonna sit with Scott. Could you bring in a pan of water? I think I’ll wipe off his face. See if that’ll cool him down.”
Hoskins hastened away to do as Johnny asked while the brunet sat down beside his brother on the bed. The young man felt like he wanted to crawl into his own bed and sleep for a week. His arm ached and he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since he and Scott had left Major Kline’s house the week before.
The Major, had been delighted to meet the sons of his old friend, Murdoch Lancer. In fact, he had particularly taken to Scott since they had both served in the cavalry. The two former officers had reminisced during a fine dinner. Johnny had been polite, but found himself talking more to the Major’s wife. She was a handsome woman, but seemed too flirtatious for his tastes. He had no intention of being shot by some jealous husband.
After dinner Scott, Johnny, and their host had concluded the business, which had involved 200 head of Lancer cattle. While Scott and Kline drank some fine brandy, the brunet walked about the study looking at various photographs on the walls.
“Ah Johnny, you noticed that photograph, did you? That is one of the proudest moments of my life. Do you know who that officer with the long, blond hair is?”
“George Armstrong Custer.”
Astonished, the Major’s voice dropped. “Why yes, but how did you know?”
“Scott told me about him.”
“I see. Well, I was the major of the 8th NY Cavalry at the end of the war. He shook hands with most of us so I had a photographer, who had been there for the surrender, take that picture.”
Johnny turned around to face his brother. “Ya know, Boston, the two of you are a lot alike.”
Scott chuckled. “Hardly. He was a brevet major-general. I was only a lieutenant.”
“Yeah well, it’s a good thing you don’t wear your hair as long as him or Murdoch would make you cut it!” At that, the three men all started to laugh and converse about the patriarch.
The next morning the brothers left for Lancer with a reminder for Murdoch to visit himself the next time.
A soft moan from the man lying on the bed brought Johnny back to the present. Carefully wiping off Scott’s face with the water that Jelly had brought, the younger Lancer spoke quietly to his sibling, “You just take it easy, Boston. You’re home now. The Doc will be here soon.”
Even as he spoke the words, Johnny could hear voices from the great room. Immediately, Murdoch and Teresa came to the bedroom door.
“What happened, Son?”
“Scott hurt his head and I think a couple of his wounds are infected since he’s got a fever.”
Teresa entered to take the wet cloth from Johnny. “I’ll do that. You go talk to your father.”
Reluctantly, Johnny handed over the cloth. He knew he had to tell Murdoch what had happened. After the two men walked into the great room, Murdoch inquired, “So how did he get hurt?”
Wrapping his arms about himself and fidgeting slightly, Johnny explained, “We stopped to explore that old mine up in the hills near the Taylor place. Part of the shaft collapsed. It took quite awhile to get him out. We rested for a couple of days at the Taylor’s place then he insisted we ride home. He thought you and Teresa might be concerned.”
“We were. When I got the wire from Stephen Kline saying that you had left some days before, I couldn’t understand why it was taking the two of you so long to get through the mountains. . . .Did you say the doctor’s coming?”
“Ramon went to get him.”
“Good. Hopefully, he’ll….”
A scream like a demon from hell burst forth from Scott’s bedroom. The two men rushed in to find Teresa trying to calm the thrashing figure on the bed. Murdoch tried to hold down his son’s body, only to be pushed off with a shriek of agony. Startled, the older man backed off. Immediately, Johnny moved in to place his hands lightly on the heaving shoulders. It took some time before the exhausted body relaxed enough for his brother to release his hold.
As Johnny stood up he could see the fear in Teresa’s eyes. He smiled at her. “Don’t worry. Boston’ll be allright. Mebbe you could go make some of that lemonade he likes? When he wakes up, he’s gonna be powerful thirsty.”
Teresa gave him a small smile in return. “You’re right. He always asks for my lemonade when he’s been sick. I’ll go make a big pitcher and maybe some biscuits too.”
“Sounds good. I could eat some myself.”
As the young woman hurried to the kitchen, Murdoch glanced at his younger son. “It’s not good, is it?”
Johnny shook his head. “He seems worse than when we left the Taylor’s. I tried to talk him into stayin’ longer, but he hated takin’ Tilda’s bed.”
“It’s not your fault, Son. He’ll get through this.”
“I hope so. I’m gonna sit with him ’til Doc arrives.”
“Good, I’ll be out at the stable. One of the mares is about to foal.”
After his father left, the brunet sat down and, just as he had at the Taylor’s, took his brother’s hand in his own. With the other hand, he wiped off the too-hot forehead. “Come on, Boston. It’s time to wake up so you can yell at me for getting us into this. I’ll even let you say, ‘I told you so.’ Just wake up.”
Scott’s condition remained much the same for the next two days. For most of the time he lay there unmoving, then there would be an outburst of screaming anguish. The doctor had cleaned the wounds again, but could provide no reassurances. He readily admitted that medical science knew little about head injuries.
Because of the outbursts, Johnny had taken to sleeping on a cot in Scott’s room so that he could calm down his stricken brother.
On the third night after his return, Johnny Lancer lay there, sapphire eyes wide-open, staring into the darkness as he tried to get through another restless night. These frenzied bouts with Scott were almost as hard on Johnny as the blond because it took the brunet so long to return to sleep. After the first night, he had discovered a way to relax so that eventually he succumbed to slumber. He counted his brother’s rasping breaths. It was reassuring for him to know that the blond, young man hadn’t left him. Usually by the 10th or 11th breath, the sapphire eyes would close and he would rest.
He had just counted number nine when he realized that he hadn’t heard numbers ten or eleven. Jumping up, his heart pounding, he touched Scott’s chest. A strong and steady heartbeat thrummed through his fingertips. He left his hand there for a moment, just to be sure. Then as he slowly took it away, a thin hand reached up to catch his.
Puzzled the brunet hesitated.
“Yes, Boston. The fire’s out. You’re safe.”
“Good,” he said in a whisper. The injured man turned over slightly without letting go of his sibling’s hand.
For a long time the former gunfighter knelt beside the bed holding onto that hand. Then he brushed back the blond fringe from the sweaty forehead, tucked the blanket around the bare shoulders, and went back to his cot.
As dawn’s rays poured in the window, Johnny awoke to look over at the other bed. Blue eyes looked back. “Hey there, Boston, you finally gonna join us?”
“You hurt?” Scott queried.
“I’m fine. How about some lemonade?”
Carefully, he helped the older man take a few sips of the cool liquid. “T…tastes good.”
“Thought it would. Now why don’t you go back to sleep for awhile, then when you wake up, Teresa will make you some biscuits and I’ll help you eat ’em.”
“You got that right, Boston.” But the blue eyes were already closed and the slow, even breath of sleep had begun again.
With Jelly, Teresa and Murdoch to watch out for Scott, Johnny spent much of the next thirty-six hours sleeping. He only stirred from his bed long enough to check on Scott’s progress and eat. By the afternoon of the second day, the brunet woke feeling much more like himself.
Walking into Scott’s room, he was surprised to discover that the bed was empty. He immediately moved toward the kitchen where he found Teresa baking.
“He went to town with Murdoch to get supplies.”
“To town? He should be in bed!”
“He said he was sick of being there.”
“Damn fool!” Teresa just gave him a look
“Dammit, not ten days ago we pulled him out of that mine more dead ‘n alive.”
“Don’t get mad at me, Johnny Madrid. Talk to your brother and father.”
“He said that it was Scott’s head and that if he felt good enough to work, then he could.”
The gunfighter stormed out of the house, saddled Barranca, and headed for Morro Coyo. Half-way there he met the other two Lancer men returning with a buckboard full of supplies.
In a voice tinged with frost, the smoldering young man inquired about the success of their trip. Murdoch conceded that all the errands had been accomplished including the acquisition of the mail.
Taking in Scott’s pale face, Johnny questioned further, “And what about you, Boston, did it feel good to make that long, bumpy trip into town?”
The blond, avoiding his brother’s disapproving eyes, just answered affirmatively.
“Well, if you’re through interrogating us, Son, I’d like to get home in time for dinner. I think Teresa’s making fried chicken.”
Teresa’s dinner that night was especially good with chicken, biscuits, potatoes and buttered carrots from her garden. One chicken completely disappeared under the onslaught of Jelly, Murdoch and Johnny. Indeed, dinner was so good that it wasn’t until the plates were cleared that the younger man realized that his brother had only consumed a biscuit. As soon as dinner was over, Scott excused himself to head to his room.
This became the pattern for the next week. Scott would spend most of his day helping Murdoch or doing errands for him. Johnny rarely saw the blond Lancer except at meals, which Scott hardly touched. If the easterner was not working or at the dinner table, then he always seemed to be in his room–with the door closed.
The gunfighter, who had backed down to no one while riding through the border towns, now hesitated to confront his brother. It was obvious to Johnny that Scott blamed him for what had happened, but when the younger Lancer had tried to apologize the older Lancer had merely said that he knew it had been an accident. The only trouble was that Johnny’s guilt had burned deep into his soul, and he was sure that he had lost his brother’s trust.
That night after dinner, Johnny decided to make one more effort to resolve the situation before it cost more than either man could afford to lose. Knocking on the door, Johnny entered to find Scott lying on the bed.
“Uhh, Boston, could I …uh…talk to you a minute?”
“I…well….” Then he blurted it out, “Are you mad at me?”
“Johnny, I told you I wasn’t. It was just an accident. Now, if you don’t mind,” rubbing the scar on his temple, “I’d like to be alone.”
“Dammit Scott, if you aren’t mad at me then why do you treat me like I’m one of them unclean guys?”
For a moment confusion passed across the lean face. Then, “You mean a leper?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’ve…I’ve had things to think about which I’d rather not discuss.”
“About the mine?”
“And other things.” Again he rubbed the puckering, pink wound. “Please Johnny, please go.”
A dejected Johnny Lancer turned and left the room.
Murdoch Lancer sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating one of his favorite cookies. The tall man rarely spent time inside during the day, but today was different because he wanted to talk to Teresa alone. With Scott already out on the range and Johnny over at the corral, this seemed to be an ideal time.
Teresa sat across from him also munching on a cookie. After a few bites, she seemed to lose interest in the rest. In fact, she wrapped up the remaining part in a napkin, brushed up her crumbs, and started to head outside when she stopped. She stood there hesitating, then making her decision she turned to face the older man. “Murdoch, what’s going on with Scott and Johnny?”
Sighing in relief, Murdoch replied, “So you’ve noticed it too?”
“How could I not? Scott barely eats anything and they seem to avoid each other whenever they can.”
Running his hand through his gray hair, the man agreed, “I know. I just don’t understand those two. It has to have something to do with what happened up in that blasted mine. I knew I should have had it sealed up long ago, but I never thought anyone would go up there. Ramon and Tom went up there yesterday to take care of it.”
Teresa nodded. “I only wish it was that easy with your sons. I’d never admit it to them, but I miss their teasing and jokes.
Murdoch focused on Teresa. “So do I. These two are almost like strangers.”
Taking Murdoch’s hand, the young woman comforted her surrogate father. “Don’t worry, knowing Johnny’s temper, he won’t let this go on much longer.”
“Maybe. Let’s hope so. It just feels like the whole ranch is holding its breath waiting to see what happens.”
Just then one of the subjects of their conversation entered the kitchen. “Murdoch, Luis just rode in to say there’s some vultures or somethin’ circlin’ over on the North range. I think I’ll ride out to take a look.”
“The North range? Isn’t that where Scott’s at?”
Fidgeting with his hat, the brunet stared at the floor, then murmured, “Yeah.”
His father started to say that he would go with Johnny to check out the vultures when he noticed Theresa shaking her head slightly. “Uh well, you go on out there and check it out. It’s probably a downed cow. I hope we aren’t having trouble with cats again.”
“Right, I’ll head out.”
After the younger man left, Murdoch looked over at his ward. “Why didn’t you want me to go with him?”
“Well, maybe it’s nothing; but Johnny did seem more concerned than just about a cow, and I just thought it might be a chance for him to talk to Scott in private.”
Murdoch thought it over. “You’re a smart girl. I just hope you’re right.”
Barranca seemed to sense his rider’s mood. The smooth canter of the four legs covered the ground at a relentless pace. From a distance, Johnny could see the birds circling in the sky against a background of darkening clouds. As he approached, he recognized the figure near the carcass.
Frowning, Scott Lancer looked up at his brother. “Johnny, what are you doing here?”
“Luis said there a cow down. I thought I’d take a look.”
“Yeah well, it’s been chewed up some, maybe by a cat.”
Johnny walked over to the bloody mess. “Those damned vultures sure went to work on it.”
“Maybe we should keep the beeves out here away from the rest of the herd for awhile, just in case.”
“Good idea. If it was sick, we don’t want to lose the whole herd. We’d better burn the remains,” Johnny looked up at the sky, “and we’d better do it fast ’cause I think it’s gonna storm.”
Fear flickered across the blue eyes but Scott agreed in a calm voice. “Right. I’ve got something in my saddlebags which should help it burn.”
In a short time, the mutilated carcass began to smolder, then it unexpectedly roared into an all-consuming blaze, which crackled and sizzled as the hide was consumed. The stench of the burning flesh was overpowering.
Scott’s handsome face paled. He turned away from the bonfire and started to walk. The walk became a run, then an all-out need for escape. He kept running until his lungs would not give him the luxury of breathing anymore. He dropped to the ground, shaking and sucking at the air, much as he had done in the mine.
Terror overwhelmed his senses. He could still smell the putrid odor and hear that horrifying sizzle so he didn’t even notice his brother’s approach.
“Scott, Scott! What’s wrong?” Reaching down, the young man pulled his brother into a sitting position, letting him rest against his chest. “Here, take a drink.” Johnny offered his canteen. The tepid water seemed to revive the stricken man.
Opening his eyes, the older Lancer looked into his brother’s worried face. “I…I’m sorry. The fire…it was the fire.”
“It’s okay. That smell was sickening.”
“Not…not just…that. The sound….”
Even before Johnny could ask about the sound, another sound spread out across the valley–the rumble of thunder intermingled with flashes of lightning over the mountains. Ominous dark clouds loomed overhead promising a torrent of rain.
“Come on, Scott. We’d better find some shelter. It looks like we’re gonna have a big one.”
Shakily, the blond got to his feet. He started to head for his own horse, but Johnny steered him towards Barranca. “We can ride double. Don’t want you fallin’ off on your head.”
Fortunately, the Tate place was nearby. Even though it was no longer in use, the ranch house would provide shelter for the two young men. Johnny managed to get his brother inside and onto a cot before he went out to stable the two horses.
When he returned to the house, he found the blond huddled in a corner. “Scott?”
With an urgent shriek the terrified man pulled his brother down beside him. “Get down, don’t you hear the artillery fire?”
At loss for words, the brunet knelt at Scott’s side. Then in a soft voice, he tried to reason with the blond, “It’s just thunder. It’ll be over soon.”
Scott turned around to look at him. “Not…the guns?”
“No, it’s just a thunderstorm. Why don’t you lie down on the cot and go to sleep? By the time you wake up, it will be all over and we can go home.”
Scott seemed to think it over for a moment, then, “You won’t leave, will you?”
“I’ll be right here.”
The slight figure move to the cot, turned over and slipped into an exhausted sleep. For some time Johnny watched the troubled man, then walked over to the door to look out at the rain.
It was as if the heavens had opened up. Cascades poured down, beating at the roof and windows. <<Wish it would wash away his fear.>> An hour passed as the storm began to move on. Feeling the stress of the past week, Johnny sat down in the corner, put his head on his bent knees and also went to sleep.
“Johnny!” Scott shook his brother’s shoulder. Startled, the gunfighter was instantly at the alert. “Don’t you think we should head back to Lancer?”
For a second, Johnny couldn’t register what Scott was asking, but then it sank in. “S’pose so. Can’t do much out here.”
“I’ll go get the horses.”
“Fine. . . . Wait a minute, Boston, before ya do. I wanta ask ya somethin’.”
“What?” Scott’s reluctance to talk anymore was almost visible in the lean face.
“When ya woke up at Lancer and just awhile ago, ya mentioned somethin’ about fire. Would you tell me what ya meant?”
“Just leave it alone!” The steel in the cultured voice matched the steel of the blue eyes.
“No, dammit, not this time. I want ya ta tell me what’s got ya so spooked that ya won’t won’t eat or even talk ta me.”
The slender man pulled loose from his brother’s restraining hand. “I can’t tell you.”
“Why not? What could be so bad ya can’t tell me? Ya know I’ll understand.”
Hissing fiercely, Scott spit out, “Oh, will you? Will you understand that I murdered a man? You may have killed a lot of men, Brother, but did you ever just put a gun to a human being’s forehead and pull the trigger?”
“No. But if ya did that I know ya had a good reason.”
Scott laughed mirthlessly. “A good reason? Oh, I guess I thought it was one at the time, but now…I just don’t know. Maybe I just took the easy way out.”
“Tell me about it.”
We should go back to Lancer. They’ll be worried….”
“Let ’em worry. Tell me.”
For a long heartbeat Johnny waited.
“Please Johnny, I can’t.”
“If ya trust me, ya can. If ya truly don’t blame me for the cave-in, ya can.”
The cerulean eyes looked into those of sapphire. Sighing, Scott gave in to those pleading eyes. “You know I was a prisoner during the war, but do you know how I was captured?”
“No, but I’m listening.”
Wrapping his arms around himself, the blond spoke in an almost-whisper. “When Sheridan went east in April of 1864, our cavalry unit went with him. The Army of the Potomac was just about ready to move out of its winter camp on a new campaign. Grant was now in command of all the armies. You could tell that he meant business especially when he made Little Phil the head of the Cavalry Corps. Sheridan really kept us busy. He even took on “Old Snapping Turtle” Meade about our proper duties.
“As the army moved further into Virginia, we crossed some of the battlefields from the year before. There were bleached-out skeletons everywhere. Dogs had dug up some of the bodies….”
Scott stopped. “Are you sure you want to hear this?” Johnny only nodded.
“All right, I guess you might as well know what kind of man your brother is.”
The blond glanced once more at the younger man and began again. “On May 5, the army entered an area known as the Wilderness. You should have seen it, Johnny. It was so dark and gloomy. There were all kinds of second-growth trees. I really felt sorry for the infantry. There was no way you could stay in a straight line. Sometimes you couldn’t even see a man standing six feet away. At least on horseback, it wasn’t so bad, but we were forced to stick to the few roads that existed.
“Anyway, some of Wilson’s men came upon some Confederates and the two days of hell began. That first day our troops pushed back the Rebs in good fashion on both flanks. I spent most of the day acting as a courier trying to link up the cavalry with command. It was just so confused. I got lost, I don’t know how many times.” Taking off his hat, Scott wiped his sweaty face.
“One of those times, I came across a young soldier in blue holding the body of an older man in his arms. He begged me to help save his friend, but I knew it was too late. When I confirmed that the man was dead, the boy burst into tears. I realized then that maybe the other soldier was the boy’s father. I tried to comfort him. I even offered to help him get his father’s body back to our lines.”
Tugging at the blond hair over the injured temple, Scott hesitated. “The boy just looked at me. His only reply was, ‘He ain’t my father, he’s my husband.’ For a minute I didn’t understand, then I knew it was true. That slight figure wasn’t a boy, just past adolescence, but a woman. I had heard that there were women in the army who pretended to be men, but I hadn’t believed it.
“I tried to persuade her to come with me, but she wouldn’t go. She said she wanted to kill some Rebs. Before I could react, she took off into the underbrush. Although I took her husband’s body back, I never saw her again.” Looking down at his scuffed boots, he continued, “I hope she made it through.”
“Boston, you did all you could.”
“Oh, I know that, Johnny. I would have had to tie her up to get her to come along. She was a soldier same as any man. She deserved to fight her way.”
Almost as if he hadn’t heard the interruption, Scott went on. “That night after I got back to headquarters, you could almost feel the mood of the army. We were all sure that the next day would bring us a great victory and the war would end. We should have known that the Army of Northern
Virginia wouldn’t just roll over and die because of a few wounds.
“Whenever Grant had a tough job, he usually called on Hancock’s 2nd Corps. They were again slated to lead the attack against Hill’s Confederate corps, early on the 6th. You see, Johnny, the southern army had three corps and we had fought only two of them on the 5th. What we didn’t know was that Lee’s best fighting corps, under Longstreet, had come up that morning and even then was flanking us.
“I was still acting as courier that morning. There’s just no way to tell you about the confusion of noise, smoke and panic that set in as those Rebs pushed our troops back. You could hear the screams of wounded men as their positions were overrun and they were left by comrades who fled for their lives. . . . I was hoping to get back to someplace behind our lines when I noticed this unearthly glow around me. Wails of sheer terror filled the sky.”
Sitting on the cot, Scott shifted so that his head slumped down. Wearily he covered his face with his hands. “I didn’t know which way to go and there was no one–no one alive–to ask so I just headed towards a clearing where the smoke was less dense. I heard a cry. It was a Reb voice–I knew that. At first, I thought he wanted me to surrender; but then when I heard the cry again, I knew it was for help.
“I dismounted only to find a horribly wounded Confederate corporal. He had…no legs below his knees and a shell splinter had laid open his stomach. All his entrails were hanging out. He begged me for water. I knew he shouldn’t have it with that stomach wound, but his eyes held such pain, I couldn’t refuse.
He asked my name and then gave me a photograph of his wife and children and a locket with a lock of his wife’s hair in it. He asked me to send it to her. I protested. I told him I’d get him back to safety. He just gave me a forlorn smile. Both of us knew it was hopeless.”
Scott seemed not to even realize that Johnny was still in the room. The words just kept pouring out as he stood up and began to pace. “I was going to stay with him until…until…but then the wind changed directions. The fire, which had started in the undergrowth from shellfire and gunpowder, was spreading in our direction. I could see it coming closer. So could the corporal. He just looked at me, then he pointed at my pistol and said, ‘Do it!’ I started to back off. I knew he was in agony and yet he hardly moaned. I just couldn’t let him die in that fire so I put the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger.”
The gunfighter watched as the slim shoulders slumped as if expecting condemnation. When none came, the former officer returned to the story. “I got back on my horse and started towards where our line had been that morning. But the Confederates had moved too fast and suddenly, I was surrounded by ten or twelve of them. I tried to break through, but a bullet grazed my head and I lost control of my horse.
“The next thing I knew was on the ground with Rebs going through my pockets. Evidently, they must have thought I was dead because they sure were surprised when I sat up. One of them found the photo and locket. I guess they believed that I had stolen it from the corporal. A couple of them were all for shooting me, but an officer stopped them. So they took me prisoner.”
Again, the blond sat down and began to rub at his wounded temple. “The next few days are kind of blurry. I guess I had a concussion, but we kept moving south. There seemed to be more and more prisoners taken as we headed towards Richmond. I encountered some soldiers from the 2nd Corps who had been captured at Spotsylvania. They told me about the terrible carnage there, but that Grant was still moving south.
“Finally, we got to Libby. This was in early June–I still cared enough at that time to keep track of how long I’d been a prisoner. Then about a week after I got to the prison, I came upon some men from my regiment, including Dan Cassidy. They had mostly been taken at a place called Cold Harbor.
“One night Cassidy came to see me. We had known each other before, so I guess he felt he could talk to me. He told me about the battle at Cold Harbor. Johnny, the man cried like a baby when he told me. 7,000 men were killed in under a half-hour! 7,000 men just gone and for nothing. Most didn’t even reach the earthworks. I sat there with him and that’s when we came up with the plan to escape. Escape! Just sixteen more dead men in a war of dead men.”
Scott stood up to walk over and stand directly in front of his brother. “Now, are you happy that you know what kind of man I am?” He held his breath as he searched his brother’s face. Seeing no response, he murmured, “Let’s just get the hell out of here.”
The former lieutenant straightened his shoulders, walked out to the stable, got his horse and headed for home.
Dinner that night was a tense affair. As soon as the older son reached Lancer, he took his horse to the stable, then had gone to his room. The click of the key turning in the lock was audible throughout the house. The blond did not appear for dinner.
Johnny, who had made a point of not catching up to his sibling, also went to his room upon his return. He needed to wash the stench of the burning carcass from his hair and skin. After cleaning up, he stayed in his room until dinnertime when he ate next to nothing.
The three people at the table were noticeably quiet until Murdoch questioned his son about the vultures. The younger Lancer explained about the cow and what the two brothers had done, but Johnny avoided mentioning Scott’s reaction. The patriarch approved of their actions and gave orders to keep the beeves on the North range quarantined until they could be certain that no disease threatened his cattle empire.
As soon as dinner was over, Johnny returned to his room while Teresa and Murdoch remained sitting at the table. Shifting in the hardback chair,
Teresa leaned forward to speak softly to Murdoch. “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for Johnny to go out there. I wonder what happened?”
“I don’t know, Teresa. It looks like I’m going to have to speak to the both of them. This just can’t go on.”
“You’re right, Murdoch, but wait until morning. Twisting one strand of dark hair, she counseled, “Sleep on it. You don’t want to make things worse.”
“Good advice, honey. Right now I’m so disgusted with both of my sons, I might say something I’d regret for a long time. I think I’ll work on the books for awhile–at least I understand them.”
Two hours later Teresa gave up hoping that either Scott or Johnny would come out and eat something. When Teresa said goodnight to Murdoch, the older man looked up and smiled at his ward. “Teresa, I know I don’t say it enough, but I want you to know how much your affection and support mean to me. I couldn’t love you more if you were truly my own daughter.”
Tears gathered in Teresa’s dark eyes. “I love you too, Murdoch. As much as I miss my father, I’ve always been grateful that I could be here with you.”
“Teresa, is it just because they’re boys that I can’t seem to…to understand Scott and Johnny the way I should?”
“Oh Murdoch, don’t be so hard on them or yourself. They are men who had lives of their own before ever becoming a part of Lancer. Lancer is in my blood and yours. It’s our home. We don’t have their memories–good and bad. They need time to fit in those memories with being a part of this family. You are a lucky man, Murdoch Lancer. Johnny and Scott could have taken your money and your deeds and walked out, but they chose to stay because they want Lancer to be their home. Now, you just have to be sure that they know how much you want them to be here.”
The tall gray-haired man stared at the small woman for a moment. Teresa and he had rarely talked like this since the arrival of his sons. Part of him was astonished, but the other part conceded that she was right. “You know, Teresa, I said that you were a smart girl–I was wrong.” Teresa’s questioning eyebrows arched. “You are wise beyond your years. I am fortunate to have you and my sons here. Don’t ever let me take that for granted.”
Laughing, Teresa went over to kiss her surrogate father goodnight. “I won’t, now you just have to think of something to get those two stubborn mules to listen.”
The ranch owner groaned. “Truthfully, I’d rather drive 1000 head of cattle to market by myself. It’d be a lot easier!”
Still laughing, the dark-haired woman reassured him, “I know you can do it. Just give them and yourself the chance. Now, I’m going to bed. I plan on baking a cherry pie and a chocolate cake tomorrow. If that doesn’t get them to eat, nothing will!”
Murdoch Lancer stood up and stretched. <<I hope I can help Scott and Johnny work out their problems. They need each other and I need them.>> With that thought, the gray-haired man turned off the lamp and headed to bed.
As the clock in the great room chimed midnight, the door to Scott’s bedroom opened. The older son quietly walked out to the porch through the French doors. The air smelled so clean and fresh after the cooling rain. Leaning against the hitching rail, the blond-haired man relished the peacefulness of the night. His earlier confrontation with his brother had deeply disturbed him. He still couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to talk to Johnny about the war. In the six years since Appomattox, he had tried to find peace for himself and his memories. It had seemed easier here at Lancer, then Dan Cassidy had shown up–in a sense opening up Pandora’s Box. Now with the night terrors caused by the mine cave-in, the box had been thrust wide-open. Would he ever be able to shut it again?
Lost in reverie, he missed the quiet opening of the glass doors. “Scott, can I talk to you?”
Turning to face his brother, the blond could only make out the brunet silhouetted against the lamp lit inside. He had known that he would have to face the other man eventually. After this afternoon’s revelations, it was inevitable that the impetuous younger man would force another confrontation. Scott was too tired to think, but sleeping brought only dreams–dreams of fire, of being trapped in eternal darkness and worse.
“Johnny, I really don’t want to talk anymore about the war. I did what I did. I’m sorry if you are disillusioned with me. I never pretended to be a hero.”
The dark-haired man started to say something when the blond turned away and started to speak again. Johnny wasn’t even sure that his brother was really talking to him, but the words squeezed his heart with pain.
“God, I wish I could talk to SPIN one more time. She always understood when I told her about my dreams and about…about the Corporal. I guess it was because she had been a nurse and had seen what artillery fire can do to a man’s soul. She even understood when I couldn’t talk about the memories, when I just wanted oblivion.”
Turning around, Scott glanced at his brother’s shadowed face. “You remember last July 4th when I couldn’t stand being near the fireworks?”
Johnny nodded, recalling how the two of them had spent the time at the other end of town–away from the fireworks.
“That was nothing compared to July 4, 1865–the first Independence Day of peace. I hadn’t been back home all that long. It took awhile for prisoners to be released and I was…sick, but at least I made it home unlike those poor devils on the SULTANA. Anyway, I had been back in Boston only a short time when SPIN showed up. Somehow she knew I needed her. My grandfather had tried to help me, but he was a very busy man and had to be out of town a lot. SPIN took over. She made sure I ate and when I couldn’t sleep, she would come in and talk or mostly listen.”
“July 4 was the worst. There seemed to small explosions all day, but that night I thought I’d go mad. SPIN read to me for hours that night. I don’t even remember what the book was; but everytime there was a sound, she would squeeze my hand and continue reading. The next day my grandfather returned and she left. I never saw her again. Johnny, I..I don’t think I would have… survived those dark days without her.”
“Before you say anything, Brother, will you tell me something?”
“Why were you angry with me after we left Major Kline’s?”
For a moment Johnny said nothing. Scott wished he could see into the sapphire eyes. There he would find the truth.
“Boston, …I…I’m sorry about that. The truth is I was…envious of you.”
The gunfighter could hear the astonishment in his sibling’s voice.
“Envious? What are you talking about?”
“I saw how you talked with the Major. You know all of those famous people– Custer, Sheridan. I’ll bet you even know President Grant, don’t you? The only kind of people I know are scum like Day Pardee, not men who saved this country. You’re an educated gentleman who served your country in wartime. It’s a part of you I can’t share in. Like you just said, SPIN understood, but not me. When I heard you talking to Major Kline, I knew I could never truly know that part of you. Hell, there’s so much I don’t know about you–so much you never show me. We lost so much being apart all those years. I was just so angry that I was cheated out of my chance to know the unscarred Scott Lancer. Maybe if I had, I would know how to help you now.”
“As for what you told me this afternoon, I don’t think less of you for what happened. You did the only thing you could to help that soldier. You don’t need to feel guilty for surviving something that would have taken down a lesser man. I always knew you were a brave man, but now I know just how brave you are.”
The two young men just stood there staring at each other in the darkness. It had not been easy for either man to speak of his feelings, but both knew it was necessary if their bond was to grow rather than wither away.
“Little Brother, I’m glad you didn’t fight in the war. I’ve always had this secret fear that somehow we might have ended up trying to kill each other. I don’t want you to be envious of me. I’ve done things no man should ever have to do and live with himself. You’re the finest man I know and I’m quite proud to be your brother.”
Johnny stood there, hands on hips, apparently thinking over Scott’s words. “Well, now that you mention it, Boston, I guess I am kind of special so tomorrow I’ll take the day off and you can do all my chores!”
“What? Why you….”
“Oh come on, Blondie, don’t be a stick-in-the-mud.”
“I’ll show you stick-in-the-mud!”
The brunet took off running with the blond close behind. In the dark, both men plowed through the puddles of water left over from the heavy rain.
Finally, after tripping the younger man, Scott pounced on his brother. The two rolled around in the mud, laughing the whole time.
When a voice called out from the doorway, “What are you two doing out there?” the wrestling stopped.
With sheepish faces, the two brothers headed back to the house. Scott poked Johnny in the ribs with his elbow, “Now who’s a stick-in-the-mud?”
This brought on a new fit of laughter.
Trying to appear dignified, the brothers Lancer sauntered past Murdoch and Teresa who were speechless at the sight of the two mud-covered men. Reaching their respective bedroom doors, the duo scurried inside, not to be seen until breakfast, which they both consumed in vast portions.
As the doors slammed shut, Murdoch just looked at Teresa in wonder. “Well, it looks like we’ve got our boys back.”
Teresa wrapped her arms around the tall man to give him a hug. “Believe me, I’m grateful, but now I’m the one who has to wash their clothes!”
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