#4 in a pentalogy of stories:
x-over with The Big Valley
Word count: 5,,136
“Teresa!” The young woman with long blonde hair warmly greeted her darker haired friend as the Lancer ward, followed by Johnny Madrid, was led into the parlor of the Barkley home.
“Uh. . .uh, what should I do with these, Audra?”
The Barkley daughter glanced over at the man carrying two suitcases, saddlebags, a trunk a hat box, and a long draped bag. “Oh, just put them anywhere, Johnny. Silas will take them up to your rooms later.”
Snorting with annoyance, Johnny informed Audra, “These are all Teresa’s. Can’t figure out why you women need all this stuff just for a short visit. Me, I just carried my stuff in my saddlebags.”
Taking in the rather rumpled appearance of the gunfighter, Audra discreetly smiled and replied, “I can see that you travel light, Johnny, but we women have to keep up appearances.”
“That’s right, Johnny. Besides the trunk is nearly empty. I plan to put my purchases in it when we get to San Francisco .”
“Did you say something, Johnny?”
“No, no, I just think I’d better help Silas take these up. I wouldn’t want HIM to strain his back!”
“If you want to do so, your room is the first one at the top of the stairs and Teresa’s is next to mine at the end of the hallway. It’s decorated in shades of red.”
Awkwardly making his way up the stairs, Johnny barked one shin on the trunk. Uttering some rather impolite words, he continued on until he reached the top. Peering into each room to see if it was red, the young man could feel the hat box start to slip. Frantically trying to hold on to the one, the others began to slide as well until they dropped to the floor in a loud thud.
A voice floated up the staircase, “Johnny, will you stop playing around up there! And for heaven’s sake, don’t drop my hat. I’ll need it in San Francisco .”
The brunet shouted back, “Your hat is fine. It’s better ‘n my leg which is already swelling up.”
Two giggles from below were heard. “Johnny, you are such a dear to help me like this.”
“Yea well,” murmured the dark man under his breath. Finally, he had the cases into the right room. Audra had been right. The room was a symphony of reds, but was warm and cozy with a fire against the chill of the November day.
Straightening the cricks from his back, Johnny descended the stairs to return to the parlor where he found Audra and Teresa drinking tea and eating some cookies. Silas had also left a third cup for Johnny. The gunfighter looked doubtfully at the tea, but since he was hungry and thirsty from the long drive, he decided to partake of the innocuous liquid. After taking a sip, he stuffed two cookies into his mouth. “Not bad.”
“Thanks, Johnny. I made them just for your visit.”
“You made ’em, Audra? I thought maybe Silas did.”
“I can cook, Johnny. I just don’t need to most of the time.”
Teresa took up her friend’s defense. “Of course Audra can cook, Johnny. Don’t you remember that sauce Scott brought us?”
A strange look entered the sapphire eyes. “Yeah, sure I do. It was. . .delicious.”
“So glad you enjoyed it. Mother and I intend to take Teresa to the restaurant in San Francisco where it is their specialty.”
“Speaking of your mother, Audra, where is she?” Victoria Barkley liked Johnny so he always felt comfortable with the older woman—unlike he did with her three sons!”
“The wife of one of the ranch hands just had a baby so Mother went to visit to see if there was anything she could do to help. She promised to be back by dinnertime.”
“That’s nice. Uh, where’s Heath and Jarrod?”
“Jarrod’s at his office while Heath and Nick are out on one of the ranges, I believe. There was a problem with one of the cows so they went out early this morning.”
“Oh that’s good!” When the blonde girl looked at him questioningly, Johnny quickly amended his statement. “I mean, well, it’s not good there’s a problem with a cow; it’s good that Nick’s not here. . .no, that’s not right, I mean. . . .”
“Don’t worry, Johnny. Nick has forgiven you for kissing me. I told him it was my fault.”
“Hey, I’m not afraid of Nick. If I want to kiss a girl, I do it.”
At that Teresa popped up with, “And does he! Half the girls of Morro Coyo think that they’re going to be the next Mrs. Johnny Lancer. I tell you. . . .”
Looking over at the distressed man, Teresa put a small hand over her mouth, “Ooops.”
A merry smile crossed Audra’s face, “Don’t worry, Teresa, I’m sure that both Johnny and Scott are much sought after in Morro Coyo.”
“Well, I am rather popular, but Scott’s such a stick-in-the-mud!”
“Strange, he’s never seemed like that to me. He was the life of the party in his costume at the Halloween party.”
“Scott never told us much about the party. What costume did he wear?” inquired the brown-haired girl.
“The Headless Horseman.”
Johnny, who had just taken a sip of tea, spewed out the beverage and began to choke as a partially-devoured cookie went down the wrong way. Both girls immediately went over to pat him on the back. It took some minutes before he could croak out the question, “A headless horseman?”
“Yes, he put this sheet over his head, but cut out very small holes so he could see. Then he decorated a pumpkin to look like a head and carried it under his arm.”
“Clever,” muttered the brunet, shaking his own head.
“What was your costume, Audra?”
“Joan of Arc.”
“You mean like one of them boats Noah used?”
“I think she means the girl who led a French army, Johnny.”
“The French let women for ’em? No wonder that Napoleon fella, Boston keeps talkin’ about, lost!”
Audra signed, but politely informed him that Jeanne d’Arc had lived during the 15th century, not their own. Johnny nodded in understanding. “Guess that’s what Scott meant about the Dark Ages, huh?”
Before either girl could question Johnny’s observation, Victoria Barkley walked into the house. After refusing a up of tea, she did sit down for a moment to talk to her guests. When the discussion turned to proposed visit by the three women to San Francisco , Johnny made his excuses and asked if they would mind his walking about the ranch. He wanted to explore without Nick or another Barkley at his shoulder. Since none of the women objected, he made his escape.
Taking his time, the young man inspected the stables, the corrals, and even stopped by the bunkhouse where he met an old man named Carter who took care of the tack and equipment. Carter reminded him of Jelly Hoskins, being grizzled and rather out-spoken. Carter was a fountain of information about all the Barkleys. He had been with the family for many years and was devoted to the whole family.
To Johnny’s surprise, the man seemed quite attached to Nick. When Johnny remarked, in a roundabout way, that Nick had quite a temper, Boyd Carter just laughed in agreement. Then in a quieter voice, he confided that Nick reminded him of his own son who had been killed at Shiloh . The sadness left the man’s eyes though when he mentioned Heath. “Sure was a happy day when Heath came to live here, mister. He’s been real good for Nick.”
“I can imagine. Jarrod seems to be a fine man too.”
“They all are. Sure wish Tom Barkley was still around to see how his family turned out. Say would you like to see the prize mare that Nick and Heath bought Miss Audra for her birthday?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve seen the chestnut. She’s a beauty. They stopped by our place before they returned to Stockton .”
“What’d you say your name is again?”
“Oh? So you’re Johnny Lancer? Nick’s mentioned you. ‘Nother man with name of Lancer was here not long ago.”
“My brother Scott.”
“Nice feller. He came out ‘n talked to me some. Didn’t know my boy, but knew some who fought at Shiloh .”
Johnny stood there for a long moment. “Well, thanks for tellin’ me about the ranch. I’d better keep goin’. See ya again.”
“Bye, Mr. Lancer.”
After walking around for another few minutes, Johnny began to wish that he had brought Barranca with him. In the distance, the foothills of the great Sierra Nevada beckoned. Still, he knew that he didn’t really have time to explore as he wished. Murdoch had agreed that he could stay for a day or so, but then he needed to get on the road south. Scott had agreed to take over much of Johnny’s chores just as the dark-haired son had done so that the blond could visit Stockton some two weeks before. And since Murdoch intended to pick up Teresa when her visit was over, Johnny knew that he wouldn’t be able to see much of the huge ranch—at least for this visit.
Feeling a chill wind beginning to blow as the sun began to set in the late afternoon, Johnny shivered. Northern California was much colder than he was used to from his years of growing up and traveling in the border towns. Already the mountain passes would have experienced snow. The young man wasn’t sure how he felt about snow. Sure, it was beautiful, but could be unforgiving if a man was caught out in it without protection.
One evening his brother had told him about the snowfalls in New England , skating, sledding and other winter past times. Johnny had seen the remembrance of pleasant days in the cerulean eyes—just another memory that the two had missed sharing.
That evening after Teresa and Murdoch had gone to bed, the two young men had sat in the great room talking over snifters of brandy. In a mellow mood, the blond had confessed that one day during the winter of his thirteenth year, he had laid in wait behind some bushes near the Garrett house to throw snowballs at gentlemen passing by. As soon as he thrown the snowball, he would dash for cover and none of the irate men had ever detected his presence since he had had the foresight to dress in white.
The frosty ambush ended when Harlan Garrett had arrived home. Of course, Scott had not attempted to throw at his grandfather, but somehow the astute man had known that his heir was hiding out among the statuary of the garden and had summoned him with nine succinct words, “Young man, I would like to talk with you.”
A very sheepish Scott Lancer had trailed into the house, shivering with cold and feat. After making sure to remove any wet clothing and booths that might ruin the fine leather of his grandfather’s study, the boy had presented himself to Garrett. On the desk was a tray with two cups of hot chocolate and a plate of oatmeal cookies which SPIN had made.
Scott’s nose had begun to twitch at the delightful smells. Without a word, the white-haired man had indicated that Scott should take one of the cups and a cookie. Tentatively, the boy had done so. Soon the icicles that were his toes began to thaw as he sat near the fire in the fireplace.
“Are you warm now, Scotty?”
“Fine. Now, I would like to know what you were doing out behind the bushes in the snow? I did not see a sled or skates.”
“No, sir, I was, well, I was throwing snowballs.” It hadn’t even occurred to Scott to lie. Harlan Garrett could read his grandson very well.
“I see. And did you hit anyone?”
“Oh no, sir. I was just aiming at their hats. I knocked off several.”
“Hmmph! Perhaps Miss Nicholson needs to keep a closer eye on you.”
“It wasn’t SPIN’s fault. She had to go out.”
“Scotty, do you consider throwing snowballs at a man’s hat to be a gentlemanly thing to do?”
Reluctantly, the blond boy admitted, “No, sir.”
“Then do you agree that you should be punished?”
Sighing, Scott nodded, “Yes, sir.”
“Very well then here is your punishment. The day after tomorrow, you, Miss Nicholson and I will be traveling north of Boston to the house of a friend of mine. His name is Homer Peabody. He has three sons, ages thirteen, ten and nine. When we arrive, you will engage in snowball fights with these gentlemen to your heart’s content.”
Scott’s face burst into a grin.
“However, I will not tolerate one word of protest if you are struck in the face with an icy snowball, your toes and fingers become unbearably cold or you are pelted with snow by these brothers. You must take your punishment like a man. Of course, I would not forbid you to deal out the same to the Peabody brothers. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir! But, three against one—isn’t that somewhat unfair?”
“Perhaps, you will then learn an important lesson, Scotty—life is rarely fair, however, you do have a point so I have also arranged for you to have someone on your side so the odds won’t be quite as one-sided.”
“Thank you, Grandfather. Is he good at making snowballs?”
“She is excellent at making them and has an amazing arm.”
“Homer Peabody also has a daughter, age 12—a most enterprising young girl. I think the two of you will do quite well together.”
“You mean she’s willing to help me against her brothers?”
“Like most sisters, she is not too fond of her brothers at times so she this is an opportunity to stand up for herself.”
“Very well sir. Then I accept my punishment.”
Indeed, those days at the Peabody home had turned out to be one of the happiest times of Scott’s life. The five children would come in from their battles or from skating and sledding, eat and fall into bed, exhausted from the cold and intensity of the fight. Then all too soon the Garrett party had had to return to Boston . Scott never saw the Peabodys again, but years later he had seen an announcement in the paper when Priscilla Peabody had married. As a wedding present, he had sent her a magnificent crystal bowl and small snow globe with a note saying, “To the best snowball partner I ever had.”
He had received a note from Priscilla thanking him and asking him to visit if he was ever near Providence . Two weeks later Scott Lancer had ridden off to war.
As Johnny started to walk into the house with the white pillars, he heard hoofbeats behind him. Turning around he saw Nick and Heath Barkley approaching. Johnny’s heart sank to his stomach as Nick’s dark eyebrows knitted together at seeing him. Heath, however, jumped down and walked over to pump the visitor’s hand. “Boy howdy, Johnny, good to see you.”
“Thanks, Heath. Good to see you too. Been down to visit the Johnson sisters lately?”
“No, no, Nick’s kept my nose to the grindstone.”
Behind him came a growl, “Heath, I wouldn’t call the three days you took off to help Audra decorate for the party all that taxing!”
Heath turned to wink at Johnny. “Well, after all you took the same three days off to show Scott around the ranch so I thought it was only fair. . . .”
“All right, all right, let’s go in. I wanna get cleaned up before dinner.”
The three men all went to their rooms to do just that. Johnny was the first one down so he went to wait in the parlor where he found Jarrod Barkley indulging in a glass of sherry which he also offered to Johnny. Taking a sip at the drink, Johnny frowned so Jarrod handed him another glass with whiskey in it which was much more to his taste.
Dinner that night was excellent as usual. Johnny made sure that he watched Heath and Jarrod so that he used the correct piece of silverware for eating. He even discovered that he enjoyed the vegetables which he had never seen before. They looked similar to carrots but had a sweet, nutty taste. After the excellent dessert, a chocolate soufflé, Johnny nudged Teresa, saying that if she wanted to make one of those some time, he wouldn’t object.
The whole group then retired to the parlor for awhile, but then Victoria reminded Audra and Teresa that they were to leave for the train to San Francisco at an early hour so the women decided to head for their beds. Before going upstairs, the matriarch stood at the door to the parlor eyeing of the four men carefully. “Gentlemen, feel free to stay up drinking brandy and smoking cigars as long as you want since none of you are to accompany us tomorrow, however Johnny has a long drive ahead of him and you other three have work to do as well. Let your consciences be your guide.” The small woman then walked up the stairs.
Johnny leaned over and got Jarrod’s attention, “Is it possible that your mother is related to my father?”
“I don’t think so, why?”
“‘Cause if she was a foot taller and a man, she’d of sounded just like Murdoch Lancer!”
The parlor rang with laughter for the next few minutes.
An hour later Jarrod also made his way to bed, mentioning that he had a case in court early the next day. That left only Johnny, Nick, and Heath. Just as Madrid had decided that maybe this close proximity to Nick was not such a good idea, he was stopped by a question from the dark-haired Barkley. “How’s Scott doing?” Has he recovered yet from what happened with Cox?”
Sapphire eyes stared into Nick’s dark ones. “Cox?”
“You know, the guy in Nameless.”
“I know Scott went to a town with a strange name, but. . . .”
Heath nudged his brother, “Nick, I don’t think you should be talking about this.”
Nick flushed. “Sorry, Johnny, I assumed you knew.”
“If. . .I’m sure Scott will tell you when he’s ready.”
The compact gunfighter stood up, slightly red from the brandy. “It looks like I just may have to find out what he’s been up to since he hasn’t seen fit to tell me.”
Heath got up to go over to the smaller man. “Johnny, I’m sure Scott has his reasons. Don’t. . . .”
The dark-haired Lancer stood there grim-faced for an instant then smiled, “It’s okay. I guess Scott’s got a right to some secrets.”
With that, the tension broke as the three men consumed another brandy before all headed to their beds.
Early the next morning, two Barkleys and a Lancer watched as one of the Barkley hands and the three ladies set out for the train depot. Then, Johnny also climbed aboard the buggy which had carried he and Teresa to Stockton . Waving to Heath and Nick, Johnny started for Lancer—determined to find out exactly what had happened in Nameless.
Scott Lancer looked up as he heard the clatter of the buggy across the clumps of grass and dirt of the north range. From a distance, he recognized the familiar compact figure of his brother, Johnny, who had been in Stockton taking Teresa O’Brien to visit with Audra and Victoria Barkley. As the buggy pulled up, Scott lay down the shovel, straightening up to meet his brother. The broad grin that filled his handsome face faded as he took in the grim look on the gunfighter. “What’s the matter, Johnny? Did you get caught kissing Audra again?”
Granite-hard sapphire eyes looked back at the blond. For an instant Scott understood exactly what it felt like to be a man about to face Johnny Madrid in a shoot-out. Then, the dark-haired man moved a step closer so that Scott could clearly hear his low-voiced question. “Why don’t you trust me anymore, Brother?” The faint hint of a sneer at the title caused a shiver down the slender blond’s spine.
“I don’t know what you mean, Little Brother. I trust you.”
“Tell me another one, Scott Lancer. You seem to trust Nick Barkley more ‘n me.”
The former cavalryman stood there speechless for a moment. What had happened in Stockton ? “Would you like to inform me exactly what you are talking about?”
“I had an interesting little talk with Heath and Nick—about a man named Cox.”
Taking off his hat, Scott wiped his white face with a bandana. “How. . .how did that subject come up?”
“Nick was worried about you so he mentioned the encounter you had with this Cox. I guess he assumed my devoted brother would have already filled me in.”
“Johnny, I told you there were things I didn’t want to talk about, and you said at that time you understood!”
“That was then. Now, I want to know why you told Nick, but couldn’t tell me?” Johnny’s hand played restlessly at the grip of his gun.
Gritting his white teeth, Scott struggled to stay under control. “I didn’t tell Nick anything except that I had had a run-in with the man—and that it had been settled.”
“That’s more ‘n you told me or Murdoch.” His blue eyes narrowed as an idea flitted through his mind. “Or does he know all about this too?”
“Of course not! Do you think I could ever tell him something. . .something like that?”
A glimmer of bewilderment flashed through Johnny’s eyes. “Somethin’ like what? Teresa said she saw some wounds on your shoulder. Did this Cox cause ’em?”
Scott Lancer licked at dry lips. It was obvious that Johnny would have to be told something, but certainly not the whole truth. “Ye-ss but they’re healed now so I don’t think we need to discuss this subject anymore.”
Hands hanging loosely at his side, Johnny Madrid stepped closer still. “You don’t huh? Well, I do. I think it’s time for you to stop bein’ one of them close-mouthed now so I don’t think we need to discuss this subject anymore.”
“Are you saying that just because I. . .I chose not to tell you things about my private life, that you don’t trust me to watch your back or care about your welfare?”
“That’s about it.”
“Dammit, Johnny, that’s not fair. You’re worse than anybody about keeping things to yourself, but I’ve never said I don’t trust you because of it! You ride off on your own to take down Pardee and just expect us to somehow know that you’re not going to sell us out! Hell, you’ve practically made a profession of being Johnny Madrid, the legend, the man with the gun who doesn’t need anything or anyone so where do you get the right to tell me I’m not to be trusted?”
“I never asked to be some kinda legend!”
“Maybe not but it’s there. You just ride into a town and there’s tension whether somebody’s going to decide to be the man who finally takes down Johnny Madrid. I’m scared to death that one day there’ll be a man who puts a bullet right through your heart and I’ll have to stand there and watch.”
“Nobody asked you to be there!”
The anger that Scott had attempted to keep banked down flared into his blood, igniting with a passion that put a lie to reserved countenance. “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Always the victim—kidnapped from a loving family home by your mother, losing her to death and a childhood of poverty, misery, and prejudice. Makes a good story for a legend, doesn’t it? Then, you top it off with almost getting shot by a firing squad for some mysterious reason—that you’ve never seen fit to divulge!”
This time Johnny’s gun hand didn’t just flicker over the grip as he whipped it from the holster. Pointing it steadily at the slender man in front of him, Johnny’s face reflected his quandary. “Why. . .why are you sayin’ these things?”
“Can’t take the truth, Brother?”
“Whattya know about it? You’ve lived your whole life with money and privilege!” Johnny replaced the gun in its holster. “You sit out there in the East, never havin’ to worry about where the next meal’s comin’ from. ‘Course I s’pose it would be tough havin’ to put up with that bastard, Harlan Garrett. Think I’d rather be an orphan than havin’ to call him kin!”
The heat, which had flared previously, extinguished itself under the onslaught of endless cold. “My relationship with my grandfather is none of your business. At least I know he loves me.”
Sapphire eyes closed partway in a menacing scowl. “And I s’pose your sayin’ that Murdoch don’t love me!”
“I have no idea if he does or doesn’t, but it wasn’t Murdoch that took you off to lead a life of poverty.”
“Are you talkin’ about my mother?”
Now it was Scott’s turn to move closer to his sibling. “You believed what Teresa told you, didn’t you? Or are you calling her a liar?”
“She only knows what her father told her!”
“Exactly. And he certainly wouldn’t have any love for a woman who’d steal from his boss, especially a woman of questionable morals!”
“Keep my mother outta this. She only did what she thought was best for her ‘n me!”
“Did she? Well, you’d know best, wouldn’t you? You’re the one who was there, just like I was the one to be raised by my grandfather.”
“Enough of this wranglin’, Scott! Are you gonna tell me what happened in Nameless or aren’t you?”
The slender blond’s shoulders slumped. “Johnny, please let it go. It won’t help either one of us for you to know.”
“All right, I’ll tell you and then I hope you’ll be happy. This. . .man, Cox, wanted the money I was carrying. He shot me in the shoulder just before I reached town. I got away, but couldn’t find anyone. . .to help me. When I went to the stable to try to get out of the town, he was there waiting for me. He used a white hot bar. . .to try to get me to tell where the money was. I screamed and kept screaming ’til I passed out. He threw water in my face and tried again. He must have know who I was since kept telling me you were all dead. . .I. . .I didn’t tell him.”
“So why couldn’t you tell me that?”
“Why? What could you have done? I just wanted to forget the blood and pain. I. . .I tried to be what you wanted to see—the easy-going Scott, the man who keeps peace between you and your father, the reserved easterner who keeps his cool. Murdoch and you had those rustlers to worry about. I just knew I had to handle this on my own—so I did.”
For an instant, Johnny’s intense glare softened. “How’d you do that?”
“I killed him.” The sadness behind that simple statement was more than evident.
“I took a page from your book. I practiced with my gun for three weeks and then I challenged him to draw on me. I shot him through the eyes. Now are you satisfied? Are you happy knowing what I did? Do you want to hear more about how I just walked out of the stable, leaving him there with his brain leaking out of that small hole? How I went outside and retched up my guts before I left town? Is that what you want to hear?”
Johnny shook his head. “I would have understood that.”
“Maybe you would have, but not the rest, never the rest. Now, I’m done talking. Go back to Lancer.”
Johnny stepped forward to grab his brother’s arm.
Scott twisted away. “Let go of me!”
Something in Johnny snapped as he jerked away his hand. “I’ll let you go—all the way to Boston , if you want. You and Harlan Garrett can keep each other happy!”
White with rage, Scott took a step towards his brother who reacted swiftly by backhanding the older son who fell awkwardly, landing on his side.
Without another word, Johnny Madrid Lancer walked back to the buggy and drove off.
Madrid didn’t bother to even unhitch the horse from the buggy before he slammed in through the door of the white hacienda. Seeing his father sitting at his desk, Johnny walked past into his bedroom where he locked the door.
Immediately, Murdoch walked over to knock on the door. “Johnny, what’s going on? Are you all right? Did something happen at the Barkleys?”
When the younger man did not answer, Murdoch knocked once again. “If you don’t come out here, I’ll break this door down.”
Silence reigned until there was a slight click of the lock. The dark-haired man walked out defiantly face his father.
“What’s this all about?”
“I had a fight with Scott.”
“Scott? But he was out on the north range.”
“I know. I found out he’s been keepin’ stuff from me so I confronted him.”
“Now, just you wait a minute, young man! I am your father and I won’t be spoken to that way.”
“Oh right, you’re just as bad as Scott. Twenty years of sayin’ nothin’ and then at the last minute your Pinkerton finds me—just in time to save your ranch!”
“We’ve been over that. I had looked before.”
“So you say, but when it was to help you, you bring out the big guns to find me. Amazin’, ain’t it?”
“Johnny, this is ridiculous. I know mistakes have been made, but you can’t let the past destroy this opportunity for a future together. Please give us a chance.”
The dark-haired man looked down at his scratched knuckles. “I. . .I need time to think. Mebbe you’re right, but one thing you gotta know, there’s no way to forget the past. It’s always there, threatin’ what you got. Now, I’m tired. I’ll see you in the mornin’.”
Murdoch Lancer stood there staring at the closed door before he returned to finish the work on his desk. Three hours later he rose, intending to head for bed. Passing by Scott’s room, he realized that his other son had not returned home.
To Words And Actions —->
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