#5 in a pentalogy of stories:
x-over with The Big Valley
Word count: 5,987
At dawn Murdoch Lancer walked sedately out to the stable to ride out to the north range. It was most likely that his older son had chosen to spend the night in the old line cabin which many of the cowhands used from time to time when the ride back to Lancer would mean traveling in the dark. Still, something in the way his son Johnny had referred to the fight that he had had with his brother made the rancher nervous.
That there was a great deal of affection between his two sons, he had no doubt, but they were also virtual strangers with different pasts and ways of handling troubles. In the months since the two young men had arrived at Lancer those differences had become readily apparent. Fortunately, their individual strengths and weaknesses had seemed to complement each other so that Lancer and her inhabitants had profited from them. But Murdoch Lancer had not spent a lifetime building his empire by expecting all to go well. The loss of two wives, a good friend, and the other tribulations of owning a ranch like Lancer had shown him that disaster could strike at any moment. Something told him that now could be another such moment.
Riding across his land in the chill of the early morning was always exhilarating. Remembering the freezing days in Scotland, he still marveled at the warmth of the sun as it rose above the mountains. He knew that he would never tire of seeing this vista which meant so much than just beauty and grandeur.
Picking up the pace, Murdoch headed straight for the line cabin. If Scott had spent the night there, the two could share a welcome cup of coffee while the tall man tried to find out the reasons behind the fight. Murdoch did not delude himself that it would be easy. There was a great deal of Harlan Garrett in Scott, too much for his liking; but there was no question Scott Lancer had a weakness and the patriarch was not above exploiting it.
Riding up to the cabin, the rancher was dismayed not to see a horse in front. Hoof tracks abounded, but there was no way to tell how recent they were. As a result, he dismounted and entered the small shack which looked remarkable clean and uncluttered for a space used by various cowhands from time to time. Just as the big man had decided that he must have been wrong, Murdoch’s eye lit on a small splotch on the rough blanket. It was blood and fairly fresh.
Unsure of himself, he decided to return to Lancer and confront Johnny about the disagreement that the two sons had had. As far as he could remember, Johnny had said nothing about a wound so perhaps some stranger had made free use of the cabin and then left.
For some reason, Murdoch did not notice the delights of Lancer on his return ride. The morning had now taken on a chill that settled into his bones.
Walking into the kitchen for a welcome cup of coffee, Murdoch lamented the fact that Teresa had left for San Francisco. Her coffee was so much more drinkable than his own, still, it was hot at least.
To his surprise, Murdoch found Johnny sitting at the table with a mug of the dark brew in his hand. “Enough there for me, Son?”
“Sure. Made it good and strong. Teresa’s too timid with her coffee.”
“Yes, well, I’m sure she thinks yours is somewhat too strong. I’m just glad it’s here. It’s chilly out there this morning.”
“Well, it will be Thanksgiving in another coupla weeks.”
“Say, what are you doin’ up so early, Murdoch? You didn’t mention havin’ to do anythin’ special today.”
“No, I was. . .I’m a little worried about Scott. He didn’t come back last night.”
“Probably spent the night at the line cabin. Probably figured I’d forget about the things he said.”
“Things he said?”
“Called me a victim. Everybody knows Johnny Madrid’s never been a victim. I’m the one who survived.”
“Johnny. . . .”
“Then he tried to say I called Teresa a liar. And he’s the one who didn’t tell us about this feller Cox. I just don’t understand what got into him.”
Taking a sip of the potent beverage, Murdoch hesitated, “Well, maybe he’s just off sulking somewhere for a couple of days.”
“Yeah, it’d be a good way of gettin’ outta work.”
“Speakin’ of that, there’s a lot to be done today so I’ll see you tonight. Are you heading to the south range?”
“Yeah, I’ll get it done today. Uh, you plannin’ to make dinner tonight?”
“Well, actually I asked Jelly if he’d mind helping out.”
“Good, at least he doesn’t burn. . . I guess I’d better get goin’. See ya.”
The dark wind was gone before Murdoch could even defend his cooking.
As the next few days passed, Murdoch began to feel that he had misjudged the situation. He couldn’t believe that Scott was just sitting out there somewhere pouting. It was now apparent that something would have to be done to locate the missing Lancer and then flay the hide off of him, if the young man was just sulking.
On Saturday the two Lancers rode into Morro Coyo to pick up supplies. While there the rancher intended to find out if anyone had seen his older son. He didn’t even have to look. Passing by the telegraph office, he and Johnny were waylaid by the telegraph operator who handed him a short missive:
“Mr. Lancer, Scott here. Very sick. Suggest you come at once. Nick Barkley.”
Murdoch handed the telegram to his son.
Murdoch and Johnny Lancer rode up in front of the pillared house which the Barkleys called home. The two men had kept up a steady pace from Lancer, covering the distance in two days’ time with very few breaks except for a few hours sleep. Just as Murdoch started to knock, the door was opened by a grim-faced Nick Barkley. “Mr. Lancer, Johnny, come in. I’m really sorry. . .I. . . .”
Johnny grabbed the middle Barkley by the arm. “How’s Scott?”
Shrugging off Johnny’s hand, Nick turned to face the older Lancer. “As I was just starting to say, right after I had Heath send off that telegram, Scott’s fever broke. He seems to be better so perhaps I shouldn’t have sent it.”
“Nonsense, Nick, we were beginning to wonder what had happened to him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My BROTHER just decided to hightail it up here to see you, but forgot to tell us that.”
Nick digested that piece of news for a moment before remarking, “Perhaps, he had a good reason. Now would you like to see him?”
“Of course,” replied the tall rancher, “I have a few words for my errant son.” Murdoch had started to follow the man in black when he noticed that Johnny had remained at the bottom of the staircase. “John, are you coming or not?”
Madrid shuffled up the steps in his father’s wake, content to remain by the door as the men entered.
Scott Lancer lay against a pile of pillows, not much whiter than his own face. Looking up he saw his father enter, followed by his brother. Stifling a groan, Scott nonchalantly asked, “Why are you here?”
Murdoch stopped in his tracks. “We were worried when you disappeared.”
“Oh. I’m sorry that you had to leave Lancer and come all this way.” Glancing over at Nick, he clenched his jaw before uttering, “I assume Nick took it upon himself to tell you I was here?”
“Scott, there’s no need to be rude. Nick did what he thought was best.”
“He’s had a habit of that lately.”
An uncomfortable Nick Barkley made his excuses, “I’ll leave you two with Scott. I’ll go downstairs and make sure that Silas sets two extra places for lunch.”
Murdoch Lancer lowered his tall frame into a nearby chair while Johnny leaning propped up against the bookcase in the corner. “All right, suppose you tell me what this is all about.”
Scott glanced down at his hands before shifting slightly. “There’s nothing to tell. I needed to talk to Nick. I must have picked up a fever from being out in the chilly air so by the time I got here, I was, well, I wasn’t myself. I talked to him some and then I collapsed. That’s it.”
The tall rancher leaned forward, “That’s it? You ride close to fifty miles just to talk to Nick and conveniently forget to tell us where you were going?”
“You don’t have to believe me. I guess I’m just not very trustworthy or at least some people think so.”
“Scott, we have been riding for the better part of two days and I’m in no mood for this so I intend to have a wash up, eat and perhaps have a lie-down. Maybe then, we can have a more conducive conversation.”
The tall man walked out shaking his head.
Sapphire eyes stared at the young man in the bed for a moment. Then, Johnny too, walked out.
After tracking his father down in a room down the hall, Johnny informed him that he wanted to talk to Nick before lunch. Murdoch only grunted a reply. Right then he was not feeling too happy with either of his sons.
Making his way down to the parlor, he found Nick and Heath indulging in a whiskey. Seeing the shorter man standing in the doorway, Heath immediately said that he had something to do. As he passed Johnny, he patted him on the shoulder.
Nick Barkley quietly invited Johnny to sit down and then took a seat himself. “I guess you’re not too happy with me either? Scott’s already ripped my hide for even mentioning Cox so I suppose you should be free to have a go as well.”
The frankness of the remark blunted Johnny’s ire. He had been prepared to tear into the middle Barkley, but now was on unsure ground. “Scott’s mad at you?”
“Well, you might say that. If he hadn’t been so damn sick when he got here, I think he might have taken a gun to me!”
“But I thought he rode up here ’cause you’re his friend. He seems to trust you more ‘n me.”
“Johnny, that’s not true. He told me very little about this Cox. I stupidly assumed he had told you and your father, but I should have realized that he wouldn’t.”
“How could you ever know somethin’ like that?”
“Because he has told me some things about you, Murdoch and his life at Lancer.” Johnny Madrid bristled at that idea of Scott discussing him with Nick Barkley. “Now, don’t get those fancy pants of yours on fire. “He only told me how scared he was, when he came to Lancer.”
“Johnny, you and I have lived out here in the West all of our lives. It’s as natural to us as breathing. You fit right in at Lancer.” When the younger man started to protest, Nick cut him off.
“I know you’ve had some trouble adjusting to a family life, but for the most part you’ve taken to the work at a big spread like Lancer.”
“I s’pose. What’s your point?”
“Except for being in the cavalry, Scott never had a chance to experience this kind of life. He admitted to me that it’s only been in the last few months that he’s begun to feel that there might be a place for him at Lancer. Then that bastard, Cox, got ahold of him and it shook everything he believed about himself.”
“I still don’t understand why he just didn’t tell us. Did he think we wouldn’t understand?”
“I believe that’s exactly what he thought. He reckons that he has to do more on the ranch, be more fearless than any other cowhand, and somehow outdo Johnny Madrid at being loyal to Lancer for you and your father to accept him.”
“Is it? It’s not easy being the brother of a legend.”
Sapphire eyes became granite. “I am not a legend.”
“Johnny, let’s be frank. You may not want to be a legend, but your name and reputation have spread as far as Stockton. Men come after you just to be the one to kill Johnny Madrid.”
“I can’t help that. I don’t ask ’em to come after me.”
“No, but you’ve got the easy part. You draw and either kill or die. Scott and your father have to be the ones to watch, knowing there’s not a damned thing they can do. Scott told me that he sometimes he has nightmares about some man shooting you down and you dying in his arms.”
A white-faced Johnny Lancer sat there for some time before whispering, “He said somethin’ like that to me ‘n I told him he didn’t have to watch.”
“Johnny, don’t you understand? That would be even worse for him. To lose you and regret for the rest of his life that he hadn’t been there when you needed him.”
“I. . .I just never thought of it like that.”
“I know. My gut ties up in knots every time somebody goes after Heath and he doesn’t have your reputation.”
Johnny Madrid glanced over at the lined face of Nick Barkley. The man looked as solid as a rock, like nothing would ever faze him. “You’re mighty fond of him, aren’t you?”
“Sure am. We’ve had our moments, just like you and Scott, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”
“I can see that. ‘Spect he feels the same about you.”
The dark-haired Barkley peered at the other man for a long heartbeat. “Did Scott ever tell you about the time I was bitten by a rabid wolf?”
“No, he never mentioned it. How. . .why. . . .?”
“Why am I still alive? Luck, God and the fact that we cauterized the wound in time, I guess. Anyway, I figured I was a goner and I didn’t want to burden the family so I took off. Heath was the only one who knew about the bite. He must have sweated hell before Mother convinced him to find me and bring me home, no matter what. By the time he found me and said that the sixty days had passed, I’d learned a lot about myself. I’d thought I didn’t want to spend my last days bein’ just a rancher. I wanted to matter. Well, when I saw Heath’s smiling face, I knew what really mattered. Man needs to be humbled sometimes—although I wouldn’t recommend using a rabid wolf to do it.”
“Since I’ve told you this much, I might as well go whole-hog. When Scott was out of his head, he kept calling for you. Does that sound like someone who doesn’t trust you?”
Before Johnny could say another word, Silas entered to announce that lunch was ready. As the two men left the parlor for the dining room, Johnny murmured in a low voice. “Thanks Nick. I’m sorry I was jealous of you. Scott’s lucky to have you for a friend.”
“Well, maybe one day you and I can be friends too—but not if you keep kissing Audra.”
Laughter followed the two dark men as they headed into the dining area.
Silas served an excellent meal as usual which all consumed with pleasure. After making sure that all the gentlemen, both Lancers and Barkleys had sufficient quantities, he informed them that he had prepared a tray to take up to the invalid. Hesitating, Johnny asked if he could take the tray up. Surprised, Silas started to reassure the visitor that he would be glad to take the tray up when Nicked piped up with a simple, “Sounds like a good idea, Johnny. I’m sure Scott could use the company.”
Nodding gratefully at the man in black, Johnny leapt to his feet, followed Silas into the kitchen, picked up the tray and made for the stairs. He slowed down as he approached the door, heart thumping. Briefly knocking, Johnny entered to find his brother lying with his eyes closed. “Scott?”
“Johnny, if you want me to go back to Boston, I will.”
“Boston? What the hell is going on here?”
Two pairs of blue eyes focused on the tall man in the doorway. Murdoch Lancer entered to stride over to Scott’s bedside. “You are not going back to live with that bastard Harlan Garrett!”
Wincing as he sat up abruptly, Scott’s temper flared. “Now, just you listen, Murdoch Lancer. You may hate Harlan Garrett, but he is my grandfather. He was my only family for twenty-five years. I love and respect him. You can think whatever you want about him, but I will not tolerate your talking like that about him! Is that clear? If it’s not, then I will certainly go back to Boston.”
The big man stood there silently for a moment then his shoulders slumped. “You’re right. I apologize. It’s not fair to put you in the middle.”
“No, it isn’t. Both of you are my family and I will not be forced to choose.” Determination defined the sensitive planes of the thin face.
“Uh, I’ll go back downstairs and let the two of you finish your talk.” The patriarch backed out of the room.
“You were kinda tough on him, weren’t you, Boston?’
“I meant it, Johnny. I am sick of being torn apart. Why can’t they understand that I can be both son and grandson.”
“And brother? Or have you decided you’d rather be an only child?”
“I was an only child—or so I thought—for twenty-five years. That was more than long enough.”
“So mebbe you can forgive me for hittin’ you?”
Scott reached up to touch the spot where the back of Johnny’s had met his face. “I lay there for what seemed like hours. I kept waiting for you to come back and. . .I don’t know what. When you didn’t, I managed to get on my horse, but I just couldn’t go back to Lancer. I was furious at you and furious at Nick for telling you about Cox. I just got it in my head that I had to confront him. By the time I got to Stockton, I was in bad shape. I yelled at him some and then all I remember is falling down a long tunnel.”
“I shoulda come back. Told myself you were just doin’ it to make me feel guilty. Don’t like feelin’ guilty.”
Scott smiled. “I don’t suppose many men do, but when you stake yourself to a position or an action, you’ve got to stand by it. Maybe I should have told you about Cox and what I did, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. I trust you more than any man alive. It’s me I’m not so sure about.”
“Whaddya say we make one of them packs, Boston?”
“You know, a solemn deal!”
“Oh, you mean, a pact? About what?”
“I’ll be sure of you and you can be sure of me.”
“Sounds like a fine idea and I promise I’ll try never to let you down.”
“Same here. Now, I’m going down and get us some hot food and then you and me will eat together. Okay?”
Around the time that the Lancer Brothers finished their shared meal, they heard a carriage, driven by Jarrod Barkley, pull up outside. In it were Audra and Victoria Barkley with Teresa O’Brien. Although the formidable matriarch was surprised to find so many guests, she immediately took it in stride, welcoming her old friend Murdoch Lancer,
Upon hearing of Scott’s illness, Teresa headed upstairs to check on the blond young man. Finding him in a recovered state, she began to regale the two about the beautiful new clothes she had purchased. Groaning, Johnny Madrid sat down on his brother’s bed lamenting, “Move over, Brother. I can feel a backache comin’ on!”
A rather peeved Teresa started to flounce out then stopped and sweetly remarked, “Well, if that’s the case, Mr. Madrid, then you won’t be in any condition to eat chocolate cake so I won’t have to worry about making one when we get back to Lancer!”
On that note, she headed downstairs to find her guardian.
A weak, but determined Scott Lancer joined the others for dinner that night. Murdoch had agreed that they would stay one more day before returning to Lancer so that Scott could regain some more strength. This pleased all concerned, especially Victoria who enjoyed having her old friend to talk to.
That night before going to bed, Murdoch stopped by Scott’s room where he found Johnny, Nick, Heath and Jarrod all talking away. Hesitating at the sight of the group, he started to back out, but Scott immediately invited him to sit down too. The patriarch did, and found that he enjoyed listening to the lively banter of the boys who were men.
Finally, the tall man excused himself to head to the parlor for some brandy. There he found Victoria reading, but she quickly arose to pour a glass for her guest. Inviting him to sit down, the two discussed their great ranches for awhile, then mutual friends, and finally their children. Seeing the look on the lined face, Victoria quickly asked if Scott was better. Murdoch only nodded. “Then what is troubling you?” she inquired.
“Scott took me to task for something I said about his grandfather. I know I shouldn’t have said it directly to him, but he just doesn’t understand how I feel about that man!”
“Murdoch, I know you have some legitimate grievances about Harlan Garrett, but you must know that Scott has a different relationship. I know when I found out about Heath’s mother, I was devastated, but none of it made me care any less for Heath. You can’t let your attitude about Garrett taint your feelings about Scott.”
“I know. I’ve told myself the same thing, but it’s just like with Maria, Johnny’s mother. There are times I hate the woman for taking him and then exposing him to such a world.”
“I can understand that, but she must have loved him a great deal or she would just have walked off without him.”
“But how could anyone want that kind of life for her son?”
“Maybe she didn’t, but things happen. The point is that Johnny loves his mother and it will only diminish you in his eyes to disparage her.”
“I guess the same goes for Scott.”
“Certainly. He loves his grandfather—no matter what you feel about him. I suspect that destroying Harlan Garrett would destroy Scott as well—or at least any feelings he has for you. Just be grateful that he’s decided he also wants to get to know you. You might never have had the chance to know your sons—just as I could have missed having Heath in the family.”
“Well, I’d better say goodnight. Are you sure you want to take me on a tour of your ranch tomorrow? You must be tired after your shopping trip.”
“Well, I am a little tired, but it will be nice being able to spend time with an adult, instead of children masquerading as adults!”
“Oh, Victoria, I can see we think the same way.”
“Yes, but don’t let them know. We deserve to have some secrets.” On that note, the two parted for their own bedrooms.
Scott Lancer sat on the edge of the bed, finishing the minimal amount of packing that he to finish before he, Teresa, Johnny and Murdoch left for Lancer. Fortunately, the Barkleys had a carriage for them to use since Murdoch and Johnny had arrived on horseback. To start the trip, it had been agreed that Johnny would drive the carriage with Barranca and Scott’s horse tied behind. Later on, the youngest Lancer would mount his palomino and Murdoch would drive. Scott frowned as he heard a knock at the bedroom door. He knew he was moving slowly this morning, but his strength had still not fully returned so the others would just have to wait.
But it was not an impatient traveler who entered the bedroom, instead it was Nick Barkley. “Almost ready to go, Scott? Johnny’s downstairs wrestling with Teresa’s trunk and bags. He keeps asking if he can use another carriage just to transport them.”
When the blond Lancer didn’t smile in reply, Nick stopped and paused. “Scott, I’m really sorry all this happened. I have a bad habit of opening my mouth without thinking sometimes.”
Blue eyes stared at the other man. “Nick, you don’t have to apologize. This was my doing. I. . .I know you were just concerned. I guess I pulled a Johnny and acted before I really thought about it, which is just not like me.”
“Hey, Scott, you were sick and there’s nothing wrong with acting on your emotions. I know men are supposed to just stiffen their backbones when troubles come, but if you can’t be honest with your friends, what good are they?”
“Thanks for saying that. I do value your friendship. I appreciate having someone to talk to about the war and all. You’ve been really generous about listening to me.”
“Well, maybe one of these days it’ll be your turn to listen. I may be brave, forthright, incredibly handsome and humble, but I do have troubles of my own—once in awhile.”
“I’d be glad to. Uh, I. . . could I ask you something?”
“When I was . . .out of my head with fever, did I say anything?”
Nick hesitated as if he was trying to think. “Well, now that you mention it, you did ask for Johnny.”
An intense look entered the cerulean eyes. “Is that it? I mean, did I say anything else?”
“No, I don’t remember anything else.”
The slender man breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. I was kind of worried I might have mentioned. . .a girl’s name or something.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” the middle Barkley reassured his friend. And no one will ever hear from me what you really did say. “Now, would you like me to help you carry your things downstairs?”
“Oh, I’m sure I can handle my saddlebags. Let’s go see if Johnny has figured out a way to get Teresa’s stuff in the carriage. I’m afraid I might have to ride on top of all that paraphernalia.”
Fortunately, there was plenty of room for the three people in the carriage, plus the numerous types of luggage. As the Lancer party pulled out, five Barkleys waved at them, wishing them happy holidays.
On the road south, Teresa took the opportunity to tell her men about her adventures in San Francisco with Victoria and Audra Barkley. She had purchased several new dresses, and other articles of feminine apparel. When Johnny asked if she intended to model her purchases for them, she had hesitated. “Do you. . .do you really want to see them or are you just going to laugh?”
Scott looked back at the brown-haired girl. “I’d certainly like to see what you bought. Your coloring is so much different than Audra’s, I’m sure you didn’t buy anything the same color.”
“You’re right, Scott. She tends to favor shades of blue.”
Just then Johnny piped up with, “Say, I just remembered, I’ve got a new shirt I haven’t worn. Mebbe I’ll model it for you when we get home.”
“That is earth-shaking news, Brother. Why did you make this unaccustomed effort?”
“Had to ’cause I couldn’t get the red. . .I mean dirt out of my blue shirt.”
“Johnny, I’d be glad to wash it for you,” insisted Teresa.
“No, no, Teresa, couldn’t ask you to do that. It was really, really dirty. Fell into a mud pit tryin’ to help a poor little calf.”
“Oh, that is sweet. Maybe I will make a chocolate cake as a reward for you after all.”
In his most innocent voice, the gunfighter simply replied, “Thanks, Teresa. You have a good heart.”
Scott immediately began to cough. When Teresa began to pat him on the back, he reassured her that his lungs were improving—slowly. He then gave his brother an incredulous look.
Mile after slow mile passed, until they stopped for a quick meal and Murdoch took up the carriage reins. The jovial banter among the three young people came to an end as it was difficult for Johnny to keep pace with them. After awhile, he told them he would ride on ahead and make sure that they had a place to stay for the night. All agreed to that plan since it was quite obvious that Johnny and his horse needed to stretch their muscles.
The silence in the carriage was finally broken when Teresa mentioned that she needed to start planning what she intended to serve for Thanksgiving which was just over a week away. “I certainly hope we can get a turkey this year.”
“Maybe Johnny can go out again and find one in his turkey trees?” Teresa quickly began to giggle. She had heard the story of Johnny bagging Jelly Hoskins in his endeavor to catch a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Well, I’m not sure I want to plan my whole dinner around that possibility. Perhaps, one of the ranchers around here will have some for sale.”
Murdoch sat there pensively then he spoke up, “I’ll check when I’m in town this week, Teresa. I know Mrs. Logan has raised turkeys some years.”
“Good. The rest of the menu should be easy, except for the desserts. I don’t think I’ll make any this year.”
Murdoch and Scott Lancer both yelped, “What?”
“Well, there’s always too much food and who needs all those sweet things anyway?”
Two disgruntled men gloomily contemplated a Thanksgiving dinner with no dessert!
Seeing the scowls of displeasure, Teresa leaned back in the carriage, thinking about the pies and cakes she would make. It would do the Lancer men good to worry a bit.
After another mile, Murdoch glanced over at his son, “You must have had some memorable Thanksgiving dinners in Boston, Scott?”
“We certainly did. SPIN would spend weeks getting ready for the meal. My grandfather. . .my grandfather frequently invited guests in for the meal so SPIN made all kinds of desserts!” At that point the blond stopped, turned around and gave Teresa a questioning look. “Of course, the centerpiece was always a huge golden brown turkey with all the trimmings. Well, that was true until the Thanksgiving before my ninth birthday.”
“What happened that year?” inquired the rancher.
“A few days before the big day, the poultry man delivered the turkey to the house. We had a shed that we used to keep it in. Well, I went out and made friends with the bird. I called him Ebenezer Antherbus. As it got closer to the day, I couldn’t stand the idea of eating him so I let him loose.”
“Couldn’t your grandfather get another one?”
“SPIN tried but there wasn’t another turkey to be had, but luckily, she was able to get a home-smoked and cured ham. It was huge so she served that.”
“Did Garrett know that it had been you to let the turkey loose?” Murdoch asked with curiosity.
Scott nodded. “I’m almost certain he did because at the end of the meal and just before the pies and cakes were brought out, he remarked, ‘The ham was certainly delicious. I do believe I’m glad that our noble bird escaped.’ From that year on we always had something in addition to turkey and the poultry man never brought a live turkey again.”
“I’m. . .I’m glad you have such happy memories, Son.”
“Thanks, Murdoch. I’m sure we’ll have good ones from this year too—even if we aren’t to have dessert.”
Picking up the pace, the three travelers finally pulled into the town where Johnny was waiting for them. That night at dinner, the four talked about the coming holiday although a certain gunfighter’s chin almost hit the table when he heard the ‘no dessert’ rumor.
By the time the party drove under the great gate at Lancer, all were extremely happy to see the white hacienda, especially Scott. Exhaustion had filled his slender body for the last dozen miles. Under Teresa’s watchful eye, he headed to his bedroom where he sunk into the welcome depths and fell asleep.
After Murdoch and Johnny carried in all the luggage, both men stopped to make a quick check on the slumbering man. “Do you think he’s going to be all right, Johnny?”
“Sure he will, he’s a Lancer, isn’t he?”
Accepting his younger son’s reassurance, the rancher headed out to the stables to talk to some of the hands. He had had to leave abruptly so he wanted to reassure himself that there had been no problems.
Just as Johnny, too, started for his room, he heard a whisper from behind, “Johnny?”
Turning to face Jelly Hoskins, Johnny asked why he was whispering.
“Cause, I don’t wanna wake up Scott. He looks plumb tuckered out.”
“Yeah, he’s had a tough time.”
“Are you still mad at him?”
“How’d you know that?”
“Well, you was awalkin’ around here grumblin’ and scowlin’ like a polecat with a burr under his tail when he took off so I figured you fellers had words.”
“Well, you’re right. We both said some stupid stuff, but that’s all over now.”
“Good to hear that. I was afeared you blamed him for that horseman business.” The grizzled man started to head outside having satisfied himself that all was well between the brothers.
“Just a minute, Jellifer! What do you know about the horseman?”
“Well, uh, Scott just happened to mention a story about this Headless Horseman and then I heard you two atalkin’ about it.”
Hoskins shook his gray head. “I sure am sorry, Johnny. I just wanted ta play a joke on you fellers. Knew you’d be goin’ to Old Maude’s, but then Scott went north. Almost called it off then, but I had my blanket and all. Even had some of Teresa’s stewed tomatoes to use.” Jelly stopped to glance at Johnny. His gun was still in his holster. “I didn’t hurt ya, did I?”
Johnny Madrid stood there in full gunfighter mode. “My shirt was ruined. I had to use some of my wages to buy another.”
The older man gulped. “Didn’t mean ta do that. I can sure buy you another.”
“I’ll tell you what.” Madrid took his gun out and carefully began to rotate the cylinder. “You can forget about the shirt if you go out in the kitchen and talk Teresa into making a coupla pies and cakes for Thanksgiving.”
Almost blubbering, Jelly burst out with, “Sure, Johnny, be glad to. Just don’t you worry. She’ll make enough for an army. Anythin’ else you want? Mebbe extra stuffin’ or somethin’?”
“No. The cakes and pies are enough.”
“Consider it done!” The small man practically ran to the kitchen, only to return in less than a minute. “She agreed, Johnny. No problem t’all. She even said she’d make sure there was a chocolate cake just for you!”
Johnny reached out to pat Jelly on the shoulder. “Glad to hear it. Now, I’m kind of hungry. Could you bring a cup of coffee and a handful of cookies to my room?”
“‘Course I can. You just go relax. I’ll be right back.”
Watching the bustling man, Johnny had to refrain from laughing out loud. **Mebbe it’s not so bad bein’ a legend after all!**
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