Surrogates by Sue

Rated:  G
Feedback: All feedback welcomed on and/or off list
Disclaimer: Lancer and their characters are not mine just love to write and read about them
Many thanks to Janet and Barb for fixing my mistakes and the suggestions which improved the story. Any remaining mistakes belong to me. I also want to thank Janet for allowing me to use Maura as a character and to Wendy for allowing me to use the explanation of how Scott was named which appeared in her story, The First Birthday.

Word count: 11,713

“Boys, I have a job for you to do”. Murdoch Lancer was sitting at the breakfast table with his two sons. It had been 4 months since the arrival of these two at Lancer.  It was a time of getting to know one another and adjusting to living a whole new way, especially for the youngest, Johnny. After his mother, Maria, had left Murdoch, taking him with her, his life had been one of drifting from town to town while his mother looked for whatever way she could to support them and then after her death, he did the same on his own. He never lived with a family, never had to consider others when making his plans and it had caused some problems at the ranch and with Murdoch. Johnny had actually left a few weeks ago with his old friend Wes, thinking that he again wanted to experience that “sense of freedom: but he came to realize the freedom he thought he had was more of a prison than one with bars and had returned. Murdoch welcomed him back and the family continued their tentative journey of coming to know one another.  

The eldest son, Scott had been raised by his grandfather in Boston and was used to a fine house and having everything he needed. His adjustment was to the ranch itself and the responsibility of learning how it should be run and how to be “owner” to the hands who worked for them. All this while getting used to a father he had always know about but never met and a brother he never knew about and only met on the first day of his arrival. Scott seemed to be settling in and there was almost an instant bonding and understanding with his brother. It was as if they had common experience even before they met. He was working on the relationship with Murdoch and that would take time.

“What’s that, Sir?” Scott asked.

“You haven’t met them yet, but two of my oldest friends, Nuala and Aisling Carlin, have a small farm about a 2 mile ride from here. Every couple of months I go over or send some hands over to see if there is anything that needs to be done on the farm. I think it would be a good idea for you boys to go this year. It would give you a chance to meet some of your neighbors.”

Johnny didn’t look up but Scott could tell that this was not news he wanted to hear. Scott noticed that Johnny was always a little hesitant about meeting new people.

“What would we be doing at the farm?” Johnny asked.

“Their barn needs some work on the roof and I know that the irrigation ditch needs some work as well. It will be good for both of you”.

“What will be good”? This question came from Teresa O’Brien. Teresa was Murdoch’s ward, the daughter of his closest friend, Paul O’Brien. O’Brien had been killed by the same land pirates who were the reason Murdoch had asked his sons to come to him. Since the boys had come home, Teresa had taken on the role of a go between for Murdoch and his sons. Teresa was taking her self-described role as a sister very seriously.

“Johnny and Scott are going over to Nuala’s” explained Murdoch.

“Wonderfu!”, Teresa exclaimed. “You’ll have a great time Nuala and Mamo are wonderful people. They are two of the best people I know.”

“Mamo, what kind of name is that?” Johnny asked.

“Oh, that’s Gaelic for granny, her name is Aisling but everyone calls her Mamo. She knows as much about horses as you do Johnny.”

“Doubt it,” he murmured under his breath.

“Why are they on the farm alone?” Scott asked.  

“Nuala’s husband, Barney, died about six years ago. They only had one child, a daughter, Moire, who has married and moved to Sacramento. Nuala and Aisling would not leave the farm and they’ve actually done very well. Barney never wanted a huge spread, just something large enough to support his family.”, Murdoch explained.

“How old are these people?” asked Johnny.

Murdoch laughed. “Well, Nuala would be about Scott’s mothers age, so about 47 or 48, and I’m not sure about Aisling – she seems ageless.”

“Don’t seem like a lot of fun spending time with two old ladies,” grumbled Johnny.

“Be careful what you’re considering old, boy” – Murdoch growled, “and I think, by the end of your time with them, you’ll find that these two are younger than most people you know.” answered Murdoch.

“Murdoch, are you sure that the ladies will be comfortable with two strangers in their home. After all, they have no idea who we are,” said Scott.

“I’m sure that they will be fine but I did plan on riding over tomorrow and make sure that there isn’t any problem. And now, I’m going to spend some time on the books and then go to bed.”

“I don’t know Boston, this doesn’t seem like a good idea to me”.

“Well, I don’t think we have much choice. At least we’ll be going over together, it’d be worse if he just picked one of us ”, said Scott.

“Yah, well I guess this is one of those ‘adjustments’ Murdoch is always preaching to me about.” said Johnny.

Scott laughed, “Yes, little brother, I think you’re right.”

Murdoch rode into the Carlin farm early the next morning and caught Nuala on the way to the hen house. It was as Murdoch had described to the boys a small farm but it was efficiently run and the ladies were as good as any man in taking care of their stock and land. Mamo loved horses and seemed to communicate with them as one person communicated with another. Those ranchers not afraid to trust the word of a female got as good advice from Aisling about their stock as they would from any man, sometimes better.

This was one piece of information that had helped form Murdoch’s plan. He was hoping that Aisling’s and Johnny’s love of horses would provide a bridge that would allow a relationship to build between the two.  He felt that Scott would be able to bond with Nuala – she was a calm, caring person and Murdoch saw those same traits in his oldest son.

Nuala and Aisling knew Catherine and Maria. Nuala and Catherine were close friends during the time that Catherine was at Lancer. They were both pregnant and shared a lot. Nuala had also married someone outside of what her family had considered their social status. In Ireland, Nuala was the daughter of one of the landed gentry but had fallen in love with the gentle man who cared for the livestock on her father’s farm. She and Barney married and moved into his home. Murdoch was hoping that Scott would feel comfortable enough to question Nuala about his mother.

Nuala and Aisling were also around for Maria and Murdoch knew that this would be a more sensitive subject. While she never said anything, Nuala was not fond of Maria and both she and Aisling were horrified when she left with Johnny. They had both spent a lot of time watching the baby at Maria’s request and felt his loss when she left. Murdoch was hoping that Johnny would come to some understanding of the situation so that they could move beyond their individual feelings for this woman and start to build their own relationship.

“Good Morning, Murdoch, how are you, how are the boys? When do we meet them?”

“Slow down, Nuala,” Murdoch laughed. “I’m fine, they’re fine and that will be up to you if you’re willing to take on a couple of hands.”

“Murdoch, how many times do we have to tell you…..”

“I can see from here that the barn roof needs looking after and what about the irrigation ditch, didn’t you see Maria after Mass on Sunday and tell her that it was falling in in spots?” asked Murdoch.

“I did and as soon as it was out of my mouth I regretted it. I tried to get her to promise that she wouldn’t say anything but I guess that didn’t work.”

“Well, I would have found out about it anyway – and I have a proposition for you.” said Murdoch.

“Get off that horse and come inside for tea and I’ll listen to your ‘proposition’ Murdoch Lancer.”

Murdoch swung off his horse and grabbed his old friend in a bear hug. Laughing they went into the house for their tea.

“Good day to you Aisling. You go well, I hope.”

“Good day to you Murdoch, I do and thank you. I’m glad to see you, you old Scotsman.”

“Now Aisling, a Scot is as Celtic as any Irishman,” Murdoch said with a grin.

“Not as,” Aisling answered with a smile, “but enough, enough.”

Murdoch laughed and gave the woman a kiss on the forehead.

“Now, Murdoch, your ‘proposition’, said Nuala.

“Well, Nuala, I’d like to send the boys over to help out.”

“Murdoch, I have told you over and over that there is no need for that and telling you again would have no effect I’m sure. But I’m curious, why would they want to spend time with two old ladies they don’t even know.”

“Well, to be honest Nuala, it wasn’t their idea. It was mine and I have an ulterior motive.”

“I thought as much, go on, tell us about it,” said Aisling.

“First you tell me, would you be comfortable with the boys helping out?”

“Your sons, Murdoch! Why do you even ask?”

“Well, I hardly know them Nuala and you don’t know them at all. I wanted to be sure that you and Aisling are okay with the idea.” Murdoch answered.

“I held your youngest more times than I can count Murdoch,” Aisling said. “I will be happy to see him again.”

“Well, he’s not a baby anymore, Mamo, and he has had a hard time growing up. You’ve heard that he grew up as Johnny Madrid – the gunfighter?”

“I heard, Murdoch, I heard but I’ve learned throughout my life not to pay too much attention to what I hear but to find out for myself,” replied Aisling.

Murdoch swallowed hard. He had to admit that he was nervous about Johnny’s reputation and how these two good women would feel about him. He should not have been surprised by their reaction and he was grateful for good friends.


“Murdoch, don’t even waste a moment of concern about it, your sons are welcome here anytime and not just when you’re forcing them to do some work!!”

“Well, you haven’t heard my second request yet. “

“And that is?”

“There is a strangeness between us, Nuala, Some of it because we are new to one another, and the boys are new to the idea of ranching. They’ve left lives where they basically only needed to be concerned about themselves and now are part of a whole. They have a “sister” to get used to as well. I will say, though, that Scott and Johnny seem to be getting to know and rely on each other. But questions about their mothers and why they didn’t grow up on Lancer hang in the air. I’m not sure that I can answer the questions they have, I’m not sure that they feel comfortable even asking me. Do you know what I’m about to ask?”

“You want Mamo and me to explain their mothers to these boys?”, asked Nuala.


“Well Murdoch, I understand what you are saying. I’m not sure that they will want to talk about it to a stranger. But, if it comes up naturally, I will do what I can. You understand that speaking of Maria will be more difficult than speaking of Catherine?”

“I do Nuala, and I’m thinking that Aisling is better for that?”

“Why, boyo, my opinion of Maria and what she did isn’t any different than Nuala’s.”

“It’s just something I feel, Mamo. I think Johnny will be comfortable with you.  I haven’t told you but he has a way with horses much the same as you.

“Well, Murdoch, if the boys will come and the opportunity comes up, we’ll do what we can.”, said Nuala.

Murdoch rode away satisfied that he had a least done something to address the questions he knew his sons had – now all he could do was hope that they would be able to ask them.

“Scott give Nuala and Mamo my love. Take care of yourselves. I’ll miss you.”

“See you soon Teresa,” said Scott.

“Johnny, I’ll miss you too, will you at least smile before you go?’

Johnny flashed a grin at his “little sister”.

“Adios, hermana, we’ll be back soon.”

“Boys take advantage of your time with the Carlins. Take care of yourselves.” said Murdoch.

“Come on brother, cheer up! We might as well make the best of the situation, we can’t change it much. No use being miserable the whole time.”

“Boston , my personality don’t allow for miserable, only charming and extra charming.”, Johnny teased with a grin on his face. The grin faded and he said, “but I don’t know, I have a feeling that this getting to know the neighbors routine is something more than just fixing roofs and ditches.”

“Don’t be so suspicious. I’m sure Murdoch wants us to get to know the neighbors and this way is easier than all at once. Or would you prefer displaying your “extra-charming personality” to a large gathering at a party in our honor at the house? That’s the way is done in Boston.”

Scott didn’t know the man riding beside him very well yet but he had a feeling that he would not enjoy all that attention focused on him.

“No, no, if we gotta meet folks this is the way to do it but I figure we’ll never actually be working on Lancer if Murdoch’s gonna be sending us off all over creation to do chores just so we can meet people.”

Johnny’s voice and the expression on his face was so forlorn that Scott laughed and said, “Come on, little bother it won’t be the tortures of hell – it might even fun, gives us some time to get use to the idea of ‘brotherhood’ – I’ll race you to the top of the ridge.”

At that, Johnny’s face lit up and the two brothers took off at a gallop.

As they neared the farm, Johnny grew pensive again. Scott sensed this withdrawal and hoped that Johnny would relax once they had met the ladies and started the chores. He had watched Johnny get to know the hands and their families at the ranch over the past four months. He seemed to make friends easily, was especially good with the children and had won everyone’s respect with his hard work and his ability with horses but, as he thought about it, Scott realized that whenever there were visitors to the ranch, Ladies Aid Society, Cattleman’s Association or just someone dropping in, Johnny left as soon as he could. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea – if it helped Johnny become more comfortable in social situations. As the sons of the largest rancher in the valley, social obligations would quickly become part of their responsibility

Having been raised by one of the wealthiest businessmen in Boston, Scott was no stranger to these social obligations. From the time he was a child, he had been trained in the etiquette of formal dinners, receptions, even grand balls.  As a Harvard graduate, he had been exposed to the great thinkers and philosophers and was able to discuss literature, art, politics with ease and with some authority.

Fortunately, Scott’s warm personality and genuine interest and concern for people had made him open to everyone regardless of their station in life. So along with dinners, receptions and balls, he had spent and enjoyed time with the servants in his grandfather’s home, the children of the working families in his Boston neighborhood, the enlisted men in his regiment. He had a great deal of respect for people and it was evident in his interaction with them. In turn, people responded to this kind man, sensing no barrier between them despite his wealth. The hands on the ranch, at first skeptical that the “Easterner” would be willing to or able to do the hard work of ranching, soon learned that nothing was beneath him and he was willing to do whatever was necessary to learn this new way of life.

Johnny was getting more anxious as they neared the farm. He hated the feeling. I’ve faced gunslingers, land pirates, Mexican rurales but the thought of meeting two little old ladies is giving me the shakes. Johnny Lancer did not have the self-confidence of Johnny Madrid. He was sure that people, once they knew of his past, would turn away from him.

Johnny’s life had not been easy. Soon after Maria left Murdoch for a gamble, the gambler left her leaving the mother and child on their own. Maria found comfort in men and alcohol, often forgetting the small child waiting for her. The men who took care of Maria were not always happy to see that a child was part of the package and he was often neglected and abused. His dual heritage was apparent to everyone who saw him so he found no acceptance outside his home either. Johnny had learned very early how to keep himself safe by drawing as little attention to himself as possible.

It was near lunchtime when the boys finally reached the ranch. Nuala was on her porch and watched them approach. She wondered what Murdoch expected her to accomplish on this “visit”. Two boys, men, really, strangers to the ladies.  Was Murdoch hoping that a conversation about Catherine and Maria would wipe away years of questions and resentment? If he was, she was sure he would be badly mistaken. But, she had promised that if the subject came up naturally, she would do what she could. As for Mamo, she was a wise woman who had survived a potato failure, the loss of a husband, an ocean crossing and then travel across a strange country. Mamo would do what she felt best and it may not be what Murdoch felt was best. It would be an interesting couple of days.

Scott and Johnny rode into the farmyard. It was much as Murdoch had described. A small but well kept farm with a barn to the right of the farmhouse and a small corral with two pens just beyond the barn. There was a lone horse in the outer pen. The hen house was to the left of the farmhouse and what looked like a small smokehouse just beyond that. A quick look at the barn roof revealed that it did indeed need some work but not much more than maybe a day or two. The irrigation ditch might take a little more time but Scott was glad to see that their time at the Carlin farm would not be long.

Nuala came out to the yard as the boys rode in. She was a handsome woman, tall, thin, her reddish brown hair pulled back from her face. Her eyes were a light hazel and her friendly smile put Scott at ease.

“Welcome, boys, it’s nice to finally meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you both. I’m sorry that you’ve been “hired out”. I hope you don’t mind too much” said Nuala with a smile.

“Not at all, ma’am, we’re happy to help out,” replied Scott.

“Happy to help, ma’am,” echoed his brother.

“None of that ‘ma’am’ talk, my name is Nuala and I’d be pleased if you would call me by my name.”  

“Now, you must be Scott and you’re Johnny.”

“Right, ma.. Nuala” acknowledged Scott.

“It’s amazing how much you both resemble your mothers.”

There it was. It slipped out as naturally as saying hello. Nuala was startled to see Catherine and Maria looking at her in the form of their sons. She now knew what Murdoch meant when he said that the subject hung in the air between him and his sons. She waited for the reaction to her remark.

Johnny instantly hung his head and looked extremely uncomfortable; Scott merely smiled and nodded his head.

“Well, she thought, I’ll let it go for now and see what happens.”

Just then there was movement from behind the house and a woman, not more than 5′ tall appeared before the three. She was about 60 or so, straight-backed and clear-eyed. It was apparent that she had been an attractive woman in her younger days. Her white hair was plaited and pinned around her head; her blue eyes were clear and honest. Her welcoming smile was playful.

“Dia dhut,” said the small woman.

“Mamo, you’ll frightened them with the strange tongue,” Nuala said laughing.

“Nonsense, daughter, they both have Celtic blood in them, they should know these things.”

Nuala laughed again, “Dia dhuit, boys, Gaelic for welcome – come on, get down off the horses. She’s not as frightening as she seems.”

Nuala led Scott and Johnny into the house and got together a lunch for them.

Aisling took a moment to study the boys as they sat at the table. She saw the same thing that Nuala had; the physical resemblance that both of them had to their mothers. Scott seemed relaxed and confident but she sensed a reserve about him. Johnny seemed a little uncomfortable and deferred to his brother to handle most of the small talk at the table. Aisling had heard the ranchers’ gossip about this young man. Murdoch’s gunfighter son – good for the land wars but what about after the fight? Did the ranchers want someone with Johnny’s reputation living in their midst. From what she had seen so far, this was not a hard man but a young man not sure of himself and what was expected of him. She could still see the baby who crawled around her feet in the face and eyes of this boy. She had heard the stories and she wondered what harm had been done to this child in the past eighteen years.

Her thoughts were broken by Nuala telling her that lunch was ready.

Aisling decided to jump right in.

“Tell me boys, how do you find life at Lancer.”

“Well, ma’am, so far it’s been fine. I’ve had to learn a lot but it seems to be going pretty well,” said Scott.

“And you Johnny, how are you finding it?”


“Conversationalist are you, lad?” she said with a smile.

Johnny’s head snapped up and an angry reply was on his lips until he saw the gentle eyes looking at him with compassion and understanding. The look both confused and comforted him and he went back to concentrating on his lunch, not sure how to respond.

“Scott, you’re from Boston?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Now that’s the second time you’ve called me ma’am. Please call me Mamo, everyone does. My family landed at Boston Harbor when we left Ireland to come to America. I remember the city with some fondness, although I will admit it was not entirely welcoming to new comers.”

“What made you leave Ireland, ma’am – Mamo,” asked Scott.

“My husband had been killed during a skirmish with the British. I was left on the farm with my son, Barney and Nuala. They had just married. The potato crop failed, the Great Hunger had begun. It was 1845. We tried to hold on but by the next harvest it was clear that the crop was again blighted. My son made the decision to leave. We were lucky, those that stayed went through the worst of times. The hunger lasted until 1849 and millions died. We were able to raise the passage for America. Barney, Nuala and I arrived in Boston, November 1846. There was a growing Irish colony in the city, but my son missed contact with the land and truth be told, so did I. I’ve always loved horses. I had worked in the landlord’s stables back home.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Johnny lift his head with interest at her statement. “We had heard of land out west and decided to make the journey. It was not an easy trip. We arrived much the same time as your father and mother Scott and began to build a life out here.”

“I remember the Irish in Boston. They are becoming a political force and the troops who served in the Union Army were some of the best we had,” said Scott.

“I remember stories of the Irish fighting in the Mexican army against the United States,” said Johnny. This was the first full sentence he had uttered since lunch began. He almost regretted saying anything as three sets of eyes looked at him as soon as he spoke.

“You’re speaking of the San Patricios, are you lad?” asked Aisling.

“Yea, there were stories that they had deserted and joined the Mexican Army to fight against the Yankee invasion – sorry Scott,” said Johnny sheepishly.

“No, Johnny, I’ve heard the same stories. The claims of desertion don’t fit with my experience with Irish troops in the war but I know that there are many career soldiers who have strong feelings about the San Patricos.” said Scott.

“You’re right, Scott”, said Aisling.  The ‘San Patricos’ were labeled deserters and they were but they left an army who discriminated and abused them because of their religion and because they were Irish. It seems they found more of a connection with the Mexican rebels than with their Army officers. Mexico considers them heros; America considers them deserters.” said Mamo.

“But, we were happy to survive our trip across the country and settle here. Most of the settlers were looking to establish large ranches and estates. Barney was happy to be able stake a claim on some land and establish a farm. What you see today is much the same as Barney farmed it. The corral pens were added a few years before he died. So Scott, that is how we came to be where we are today.”

“I think you boys have had enough of a history lesson for now.”, said Nuala. Why don’t we show you around the farm and then let you settle in and start work tomorrow. I have the spare room all ready for you.”

“Ah, ma’am, Nuala, I’m just as happy to stay in the barn, you don’t have to go any trouble for me.” said Johnny.

There was almost a hint of panic in his voice.

“Now, Johnny, I wouldn’t think of you staying in the barn when we have a perfectly good room for you” said Nuala.

Scott thought he knew why Johnny did not want to stay in the house. During the time of Johnny’s recovery from the wounds he received during the Pardee incident, Scott had often stayed with him and witnessed the nightmares he had. Scott had hoped that once he was well, the nightmares would stop but he knew they hadn’t. He wondered if Johnny was afraid that he would have nightmares here and that the ladies would overhear. Scott was trying to think of a way to support Johnny’s request to stay in the barn when Aisling spoke up.

“Don’t be silly Nuala. Let the boy stay where’s he is most comfortable. He looks like a “sleep out in the open fellow’ to me.”

Johnny shot her a look of gratitude.

Scott tried to make light of the situation to save Johnny and Nuala embarrassment.

“I agree, Nuala, Johnny likes open spaces – and I’m happy to have a ‘private room’ all to myself.”

Nuala recognized Scott’s attempt to take care of both of them. Taking care of everyone around him. I wonder who takes care of him, she thought.

And so, with the sleeping arrangements made, the tour of the farm began.

It was a self-sustaining farm. There was a small herd of milking cows, the hen house, pigs and a crop growing on about 10 acres of land. There was a vegetable garden and apple tree in the back of the home. In the inner corral pen were three horses and a buggy. Nuala mounted her horse to take the boys out to the irrigation ditch so they could see what needed to be done.

The irrigation ditch was beginning to collapse in on itself and would need to be re-dug in places and shored up. The boys could see that some work had been done on the ditch.

“Someone’s been up here already,” Scott said.

“Oh, yes, Mamo and I have done this a number of times. I guess Murdoch thought that you boys might be able to repair it a little more permanently.”

“Well, we’ll certainly try – I think we can handle this and the roof without too much problem,” Scott said with a smile.

With that the threesome rode back to the farm house. As they passed the corral, Johnny again noticed the lone horse.

“Why is the horse out there on its own, does it belong to you,” he asked?

“No, that’s a horse that Jeb Browing brought over to Mamo. She’s been skittish and riles up the other horses in the barn. Jeb was hoping Mamo could do something with her. She just arrived yesterday – beautiful animal, isn’t she. She’s called Apache.”

The horse was a paint- a mare about 16 ½ hands. She pranced around the corral nervously and Johnny felt sorry for her being penned up.

He would have loved to go over and get a closer look.

“Well boys, the work can wait until tomorrow. I’ll finish my wash, you can settle in, and we’ll meet again for dinner. We usually eat around six.”

“Sounds fine, we’ll see you then.”

“Well, brother, this might not be so bad, the ladies are nice and friendly and the work doesn’t seem like it will be too bad.”, said Scott.

“Yea. I’m gonna get my gear to the barn.” answered Johnny.

The lure of the horse proved too great for Johnny. After stashing his bed roll in the barn, he took a walk over to the corral. He climbed the fence and gently eased himself into the pen. The horse immediately began to whinny and neigh and it seemed like she was starting to rear. Johnny went over, talking slowly and softly in Spanish to the animal. She calmed down a little and allowed Johnny to approach. He began to pat her withers and continued to speak soothingly to the horse.

Aisling stood on the porch and watched Johnny and the horse. Smiling to herself, she was satisfied that Johnny had the gift she and her son had shared. The challenge now was to get him working with her. She also decided that she would do as Murdoch has asked and try to get Johnny to ask about his mother. She saw a young man who was worth knowing. The stories of his exploits as a gunfighter did not jive with the young man before her. She wanted to know more about him.

Scott had washed up and walked into the farmhouse kitchen. As he passed the window, he noticed Johnny in the corral and smiled. Nuala noticed.

“You’re smiling, Scott?”

“Yes, I was watching Johnny with that horse. I think if he had a choice he’d pick horses over humans every time.”

“He sounds like my husband and Mamo, some people just have that gift.”

“Yes, I guess so. May I help you with the table?”

“I’d be pleased to have your help, it’s nice to have some men to feed.”

After a fine but simple supper of beef, potatoes, corn and apple pie, Johnny and Scott excused themselves and went outside for some time before going to bed.

Nuala and Aisling cleaned up..

“What do you think, child? Will you speak of Catherine and Maria to the boys?”

“Yes, Mamo, I think I will. Murdoch’s right, I sense so many unspoken questions. It may be a blessing for them to hear about their mother without having to worry about how it affects Murdoch. What do you think?”

“I agree and I believe that I will be able to convince Johnny to help me with Apache. It may be easier for him to open up with the horse as a distraction.”

At that Scott came back in and announced that Johnny had bunked down and that he would be doing the same.

Everyone was up early the next morning and the boys went to work on the barn roof. They worked all day, with a short break for lunch and by dinnertime most of the roofing work was done. They were sure that they would be able to finish up the next day.

Scott and Johnny were offered a whiskey after dinner and they all retired to the ladies’ living room. Nuala had a great deal of questions about Boston and Harvard and Scott was happy to talk with her about his former home. Johnny took this opportunity to slip out and again go to the corral.

“Do you miss Boston, Scott?”

“Oh, sometimes. I miss some of the opportunities of city life and I miss my grandfather.” he answered

“Do you?”

“Does that surprise you,” Scott asked.

“I guess I was assuming that since you were willing to leave Boston and come out to a strange place and to a strange man, that you and your grandfather were not that close. I’m sorry. I never should have made such an assumption.”

“That’s okay. I do have some feelings about being kept away from my father all those years but I am still grateful to my grandfather. He did raise me and I believe he loves me.”

“May I ask a question?”

Here it comes, Nuala thought. It seems that opening the subject of Catherine would be easier than she thought.

“Certainly, Scott, what is it?”

“Did you know Johnny’s mother?”

Johnny’s mother! she thought! She wasn’t expecting that question!

“Yes, yes, I did.”

“What was she like?”

“Why do you ask, Scott?”

“Well, I don’t know how much you know about my brother, I’m sure you’ve heard the stories that the townspeople and ranch hands are telling but he isn’t like that at all. He’s loyal, and caring, and gentle. I’ve seen him with children, they swarm around him and he has so much patience with them and they…”

“Boy, boy, you’re getting yourself riled up! Yes, I’ve heard the stories but nothing I’ve seen today would make me afraid of Johnny.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just that he seems to have gone through a lot in his life and I want things to work out for him now.”

“I’m sure they will,” said Nuala,”but what about you, are things working out for you?”

Nuala found it interesting that Scott had asked about Maria and was so defensive of Johnny. It confirmed her earlier impression that Scott saw himself in the role of caretaker for his brother.

“Yes, I’m happy here. It’s good to have a family and I’m learning more and more each day about ranching.”

“I’m glad to hear it Scott. You asked about Maria. What did you want to know?”

“Why do you think she left the ranch and took Johnny with her?”

“I have to be careful, Scott. It’s easy to be unfair to the woman because I was so angry with her for leaving and for taking that baby with her. When she first came to the ranch with Murdoch, we were surprised. She was so different from Catherine. When I think of it, we were probably not as welcoming in the beginning as we could have been because of the comparison. But, after a while, we realized that she made Murdoch happy and that Catherine would never have denied him that happiness. Your mother loved your father very much, Scott.

“For the first year, things seemed to go well. Murdoch was working hard on building his ranch and Maria seemed interested in helping. The baby was born and it seemed to solidify their relationship. That child was well on his way to becoming very spoiled between me and Mamo and Maura Talbot,” she smiled. “But from the time Johnny was about a year old or so, things began to change. She became very moody, seemed to resent the time caring for the baby. Requests to watch him while she went to town for “supplies” or to see a friend or help someone who was feeling poorly came more and more frequently. We began to hear rumors of a man and finally one night, she just left. By the time she left, I can honestly say that none of the woman around here were sorry that she was gone but we were all horrified that she had taken Johnny with her. Your father was devastated. He spent his entire time searching for her. Thank God for Paul O’Brien or the ranch would have gone completely down hill. As it was, it suffered. Finally, he gave up and resigned himself to the fact that he would never find them. Your father was a changed man, Scott. He focused entirely on building his ranch and while it was important to him, there was no joy in his life.”

“Why do you think she took Johnny with her? From what you say, it seems that she was trying to get away from any domestic responsibility.”

“Ah, that was a topic of discussion in the quilting circle for quite some time, Scott. I’ve always had two opinions on that matter. Neither of them very charitable.”

“Are you willing to tell me?”

“Well, one I think that Maria knew that most of the women here did not have a high opinion of her and leaving her husband would do nothing to improve it but leaving her child as well would be absolutely damning. I also think she intended to use Johnny as sort of an insurance policy in case she every decided she wanted to return. She could use Johnny as a means to get to Murdoch. Both those theories may be entirely unfair, but that’s the way I feel.”

“Well, it sounds as good a reason as any, I wondered why she never tried to come back. From what I can piece together, they didn’t have a pleasant life.”

“I suppose you get caught up in a way of life and it’s hard to break out of it,” said Nuala.

“We can only leave her to the mercy of God.” she added softly.

“I wish she had felt some mercy for Johnny and gave him the option of going to his father if he wanted to.” Scott said with some bitterness.

Scott and Nuala sat in silence for a while, each thinking about their conversation and the effects of Maria’s decisions on the Lancers.

Nuala also wondered about Scott and how he was feeling. She was still shocked that the first question from him had been about Johnny’s mother and not his own. She could see the empathy Scott had for his brother and his anger over the life Johnny had been made to endure. Nuala was warmed by this generous young man and his sense of compassion but she also worried that he was downplaying his own sense of abandonment by his father.

“Well, Nuala, thank you for a fine supper, I think I’ll say goodnight to Johnny and then get to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night Scott.”

Nuala promised herself that they would be discussing Catherine sometime tomorrow.

Scott went out to see Johnny and was not surprised to find him in the corral.

“What are you up to, little brother?”

“Just checking on the horse, seems a little skittish.”

“Well I’m getting ready to go to bed, we should be able to finish the roof tomorrow and then start out on the irrigation ditch.”

“Okay, Boston, I’ll see you in the morning, I’m gonna stay out here for a little while longer.”

Aisling waited for Scott to go back into the house before she approached the corral.

“What do you think, child. Can the horse be saved?”

Johnny was startled by her approach and quickly swung around and felt for his gun. Aisling noticed the movement but did not react to it.

When Johnny saw who it was, he was embarrassed and hung his head.

“This child spends most of his time looking at his feet,” Aisling thought.

Still looking down, he apologized. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect that it would be you this late.”

“No worry, child, I was just getting ready to go to bed when I thought I’d check on Apache, I shouldn’t have walked up on you that way. I’m glad to know that we safe on the ranch while you’re here, she said with a smile in her voice. “Tell me, what do you think of the horse?”

‘”She’s a fine animal, her spirit seems to have been broken a bit but once you let her know that you respect her, you can get near her.”

“That’s true, that’s true. Your Da told me that you have a way with horses.”

“He did?!”

“You sound surprised – now why would that surprise you?”

“Oh, I guess, I’m never really sure what the Old Man is thinking.”

There was a touch of regret and resentment in Johnny’s voice and Aisling, knowing Murdoch’s, temper and stubbornness, wondered how many battles Johnny and Scott had had with Murdoch since the boys return.

“I wonder, Johnny, would you work with me on Apache for the time you’re here?”

“Sure, Ma.. Mamo, I’d be happy to.”

The two stood there in silence watching the horse walk the corral.

Suddenly, Johnny broke the silence.

“Mamo, can I ask a question?”

“Yes, child?”

“Did you know Scott’s mother?”

Unlike Nuala, Aisling was not entirely surprised that the first question had been about his brother’s mother and not his own.

“I did.”

“What was she like?”

“Catherine was a lovely woman. She was very much a lady but entirely committed to the hard work that building a ranch took. She spent many days out on the range with your father. He didn’t have the hands and help he does today and the work of the ranch fell on them both. But I believe it was a wonderful time for them. They were very much in love, you could see it just by looking at them. And when it came to be known that she was carrying Scott, you would have thought that no other woman had ever given birth, Murdock was that over the moon about it.”

Aisling smiled remembering the excitement and joy of the two young people as they waited for the birth of their child.

“Murdock talked constantly about the child and how, male or female, how he was looking forward to being a father and passing his dream on to his child.”

“Right around the time for your brother to be born, land wars began to break out around us. The news of the richness of the valley was spreading and many were trying to run the ranchers off their land and take over. Murdock was worried for Catherine and decided to send her away for her safety. Her father had come out to be with her for the birth and when she died, he took Scott back with him to Boston. I think Murdock felt that it was alright for the time being, until things settled down and he could bring Scott safely back. I really do believe that Murdock thought that Scott would be back with him by the time he was a year old. He used to talk about him all the time and made sure that we knew he would be relying on us to help care for him. My granddaughter was born about the same time and we laughed about the next generation taking over the valley. He asked that we keep our eye out for a woman he could hire as a housekeeper/caretaker for Scott. A year passed, however, and no Scott, another year and then.”

‘And then, my mother..”

“Yes, Johnny, then Murdoch met Maria. I think that he was even more convinced that Scott would be returning to the ranch now that there was a family to take care of him, but for some reason, it did not happen. Whenever anyone tried to bring the subject up – and believe me, I did- Murdoch would get very angry and refuse to speak about the situation at all. I never did learn why it took so long for Scott to come out and be with his father.”

The two shared some silences, each with their own thoughts.

“Who named him?” Johnny broke the silence.

“Who named him?”

“Yea, who called Scott, Scott.”

Oh, there was much more to this boy that people realize, Aisling thought.

“Murdoch and Catherine. Scott William was the name given to the first born son of a Lancer for generations. Even though he is gone from his homeland, Murdoch still feels a strong connection to Scotland and it was his way of connecting his son to his family. Catherine was determined that the family tradition be carried on and had written her father that the child was to be called Scott William if it was a boy. Scott was named by his mother and father Johnny. And now, I think I will go to bed it is getting late.”

“I’ll see you in the morning Johnny. Oíche mhaith, codladh sámh , Good night, sleep well.”

“Good night”

Johnny walked slowly back to the barn. She was a nice old lady, he thought, funny how she’s always throwing them foreign words in but I guess not really, I use Spanish all the time. Never thought there was any other language I’d be connected to.  He thought about the conversation with Mamo. It was clear that she was very fond of Scott’s mother. I wonder what she thought about my mother. Probably not much, Johnny figured. Hell, sometimes I don’t know what I think about my mother. I loved her but I never understood why we lived the way we did – and Teresa telling me that the Old Man never kicked her off the ranch … Why, Madre, why- ….

Scott lay on the bed thinking over his talk with Nuala. He liked her. As much as he was enjoying his new life, it was nice to have someone to talk about books and plays – connecting him to what had been his life for 24 years. The conversation about Maria was interesting. Nuala seemed to be willing to look at the situation from both sides but she was definitely not happy about what had Maria had done to Murdoch. Scott was glad that Johnny had had people caring from him then, even if it was just for a short while. Her idea of why Maria left with Johnny and stayed away made sense logically but Scott could not forgive this woman he had never met for the hurt she had caused his brother. All of a sudden it occurred to him that if things had worked out, Maria would have been his stepmother. Would it have been different if Murdoch had brought him out to the ranch, would Maria have stayed, would she have left Johnny home when she left. Too many questions, I need to get to sleep.

Scott knew he was avoiding the biggest question of all, Catherine.

The next morning brought threatening skies. After breakfast, they set to work on the roof and finished it before noon. They took the lunches that Nuala had packed and rode to the irrigation ditch to get as much shoring done as they could before what promised to be heavy rains started. They were a little more than halfway done when the heavens opened. The boys worked a little longer but it was becoming clear that the sides were getting too soft to make sure that the shoring was solidly in place. They knew they would be doing double work if they continued and so they returned to the farm about mid-afternoon even though the rain was slowing down to a drizzle.

“I’m not surprised to see you boys, I was about to ride out and bring you in”, said Aisling as they rode onto the farm.

“Well, we got about halfway through but it’s going to have to dry out a little so we can be sure that the shoring will hold,” said Scott. “You may be stuck with us for a little longer than planned.”

Aisling laughed, “it’s a pleasure to have you two around and Johnny, this will give us time to work with Apache if you’re still willing.”

“Hello boys. Come in and dry off. I guess the weather had a different idea of what was to be done today.” Nuala had heard them ride in and had put the teakettle on.

“Fraid so, Nuala, Perhaps there’s something that could be done around the house since we have this extra time. I think Johnny’s already has a job but I’m free as a bird”, said Scott.

“Well, I’ve been wanting to get my mantle hung above the fireplace. I had it made in Stockton but I’ve not been able to get it anchored.”

“Sounds fine, show me where it is”.

Nuala led Scott to a cubbyhole off the kitchen. He retrieved the mantle and they returned to the living room.

After a few minutes of comfortable silence, Nuala decided to open the subject.

“Scott, you asked about Maria. Wouldn’t you like to know a little about your mother?”

Scott paused. He looked at Nuala and made the decision to trust her.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to ask about something you don’t feel a connection to.”

“Tell me what you mean?”

Scott sighed and put the hammer down.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to miss or who I should be missing. I never knew a mother. When I was around friends and their mothers I wondered what it felt like to have a mother but it was more of a curiosity than a sense of loss. I didn’t know what it was I was supposed to be sad about. The way people reacted when they found out that I didn’t have a mother gave me the idea that I should be upset and sad but I wasn’t. I had always felt taken care of. Grandfather made sure of that. When they said how sorry they were, I would smile and say, thank you, all the while terrified that they would find out what an uncaring person I was because what I felt wasn’t missing my mother. I was feeling rotten because I couldn’t miss her – I didn’t know her. How can a son not miss his mother……”

The last statement as made with such pain that Nuala thought her heart would break. She would never have imagined that he was carrying this burden of feeling badly because he didn’t miss Catherine.

Scott put his head down in his hands – “Grandfather talked about her all the time, the servants too, she was an icon, a wonderful person, I know she was beautiful. I’ve had the same dream on and off all my life. I’m sitting in a chair, I’m watching a woman walk away from me. She’s not leaving me or running way or abandoning me, she’s just walking. I’m not angry or sad, just confused.”

Scott stopped talking and looked at Nuala. The confidence of the highly educated, army officer was gone. In its place was a young man whose face revealed the struggle he was going through.

“Scott, there’s no need for you to feel badly about this, the way you’ve explained it makes perfect sense”.

“You don’t know Nuala, all my life I’ve felt like I didn’t miss a mother but what I missed was not missing her.”

Nuala wasn’t sure what to say that would help the young man before her.  

Scott looked up and smiled sadly. “Well it’s said. Maybe, you can teach me about my mother, Nuala.”

“I will do that Scott, I will, It will make me proud to introduce you to Catherine.”

“Tell me, Scott, about your father. Can you speak to him about this?”

“No, not now. I told you that I never felt my mother had abandoned me but I do feel that way about Murdoch sometimes. He never came for me until he needed me to help him save the ranch. I’m not sure what he wants of me or expects.”

Nuala could have easily strangled Murdoch at that point. Hadn’t he told Scott of his attempts to bring him home, of the letters and presents sent, of his trip back East. What was he thinking?

“Scott, Murdoch is a complicated man, I know he loves you and has always wanted you home with him but that is something you will have to learn from him. All I would ask is that you give yourself the time to learn. He is a good man, a stubborn man, but a good man.”

Scott smiled. “Well, I think I’ve made that commitment at least for now.” Scott stood and went back to work on the mantle.

Nuala wanted to go over and hug this man but wasn’t sure how he would react. In a moment of impulse, she decided to take the risk. She walked over and took Scott in her arms. She felt his gratitude for her acceptance and no words were spoken.

After dinner, Aisling looked for Johnny. She found him in the corral speaking softly to the mare. She noticed that he did not “pat” the horse but scratched her. She approved. Too many times, she had seen horses being “patted” and reacting as if it were some kind of correction. The scratch is a better choice. The horse recognizes it as affection. Johnny was trying to teach the horse to relax with the other horses. He would calmly walk Apache over to the corral rail and whistle for Nuala’s horse, Zanzibar, who would come over to the rail. Initially, Apache snorted and neighed showing her anxiety. Each time, Johnny would again speak softly, scratch her neck and lead her back to the middle of the outer corral. After a few minutes of soft talk and physical contact, he would again walk Apache to the corral rail and repeat the procedure. This had been going on for about a half hour and Apache seem to be getting more comfortable with Zanzibar. She was beginning to put her head down and sigh.

Aisling called to Johnny. “What do you think child, enough for now?”  

I think so, Mamo, I think she needs this every day, a little at a time and she’ll be fine”, said Johnny.

“I agree.”

Johnny led Apache to the barn and the stall and began to brush her down for the night.

Aisling followed.

“You do have the gift, Johnny. Come sit with me a while when you’ve finished.”

After the afternoon’s rain, the night was clear and crisp, the sky a sea of stars. Johnny and Aisling sat on the farmhouse porch in silence.

Finally, Aisling spoke.

“I know I asked before Johnny but I’m wondering- an old woman’s curiosity and you should feel free to tell me to mind my own business- how are things at the ranch?”

Johnny closed his eyes. How to answer the question. The easiest way would be to tell her she was right – it wasn’t her business and leave it at that. But Johnny was feeling a need to connect with someone – maybe he could safely talk with this woman. She reminded him a little of the abuelas in the villages he had known as a child. He envied the children who had not just a mother to care for them, but a grandmother as well. Grandmothers to the young Johnny seemed to exist only to love and defend their grandchildren. Teresa said everyone called Aisling grandmother, so maybe he could pretend she was his grandmother.

Aisling sat quietly and waited. She hoped that he would decide to trust her but she wasn’t going to push the question any further.

 Johnny decided -“It’s good sometimes and not so good sometimes,” Johnny said.

“Why?” asked Aisling.

“I wasn’t sure why the Old Man got me out of the firing squad – I guess you heard that story?” Johnny asked looking over at Aisling. She nodded. I guess you heard a lot of stories, Johnny thought. “The only thing I knew about him was that he threw my mother and me off the ranch when I was just a kid – but he saved my hide, was giving me $1000, so why not. I figured he owed me that much. After Pardee, I had to make a decision and part of me wanted to stay and part of me wanted to go. Mostly, I stayed because of Scott and Teresa.”

“How did you feel about finding out you had a brother.”

“Always wanted one when I was a kid, then I wouldn’t have been so…..,” he stopped.

Aisling was sure he was going to say “alone” – but Johnny didn’t finish the sentence.

“Anyway, I like having Scott around. Like I said he’s one reason I stick around even when the Old Man and I are butting heads.”

“The other reason?”

“Well, the second day I was here Teresa told me a different story about why I didn’t grow up on the ranch.”

Aisling didn’t respond, waiting to see if Johnny would continue.

“I guess you know what she told me,” he said softly.

She looked at Johnny, she could see the hurt and shame, yes, shame in his face, knowing that Aisling would confirm Teresa’s story.

“I imagine that she told you that it was Maria who choose to leave rather than Murdoch running her of the ranch.”

Johnny sighed and nodded. “All my life I hated him. I blamed him for… so many things. Then I get here and find out that I shoulda been hating her,” he said with bitterness. “I guess no one around here though very much of her.”

“Do you want me to tell you about Maria, Johnny?”

There was a barely perceptible nod.

“Maria was a beautiful child, That’s right, Johnny, a child. Maria wasn’t much more than 18 when she married your father. He was very much in love with her and for the first few months she seemed happy. She helped Murdoch around the ranch and worked with the hands’ families. She helped out at the Mission while she was waiting for you to be born. Maria was very different from Catherine but she and Murdoch seemed to get along well. Your father was very excited about you Johnny. He had all kinds of plans for his new child. He was also sure that after the babe was born, he would be able to bring Scott back and his family would be complete again.

“I began to see a change in your mother as her time came closer, moodier, restless. I felt sorry for her, far from her family having her first child. It was a difficult birth. Thank God you both survived. Murdoch was ecstatic about you.  At first your mother appeared happy again and had settled into a routine. She brought you along on visits. Oh yes, boyo, I knew you as a little one, Aisling smiled and was glad to see the hint of a smile from Johnny. It quickly faded and he put his head down again, twisting the bracelet on his left wrist.

“Then what,” he asked. Aisling was struck by the flat, emotionless tone of his voice.

“Her restlessness returned. She seemed to resent being tied down. I think Murdoch’s plan to bring Scott back frightened her. My guess is that she was overwhelmed with the thought of caring for two young ones  Murdoch was busy with building and running the ranch and was often away. I don’t believe that Maria felt she fit in his life anymore and she wanted more excitement.”

“So partly Scott not being able to come home was my mother’s fault?” Johnny said quiety.

“Johnny, you sound like you believe it’s your fault,” Mamo said sharply.

“No, it’s just that it seems my mother was much more trouble than she was worth to everyone around here,” he answered with some irritation.

“Are you angry with your mother, child,” Mamo asked.

“I don’t want to talk about my mother,” Johnny answered sharply.

Mamo wasn’t put off so easily.

“I think you should.”

“I think you should mind your own business, old woman!” Johnny yelled and immediately regretted it.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” he apologized.

“I think you did mean it Johnny and it’s all right”, Mamo answered.

“It’s not all right, nothing about my mother is all right”, Johnny said with bitterness in his voice.

“Johnny it’s okay for you to love your mother.”. Mamo said softly.

Johnny looked at the old woman. He was full of all kinds of emotion.

Mamo continued, “and it’s okay for you to be angry with her too.”

“What do you mean, how can I love her and be angry with her at the same time?”

“You can love her because she was your mother, you can be angry with her because she lied to you and wasn’t able to give you what you needed.”

“Sometimes, sometimes, I feel like I …… I hate her!”, Johnny said with a half sob.

“Do you hate her Johnny or do you hate what she’s done?” questioned Mamo.

“Does it make a difference?”

“A very big difference, child. You have a right to be upset with Maria. She was not fair to you and you suffered for her indifference or immaturity or whatever it was that led her away from Lancer but you can also love her because she was your mother and I truly believe she loved you child. I often wondered, after she left, whether there was something that I or Nuala or Maura could have done to make it easier for her to stay. I’m only sorry that you went through a childhood not feeling love because of what the adults in your life couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

Johnny was beginning to get his emotions under control.

“I did feel that she loved me Mamo, he said softly, but there were so many times….. “ He did not finish the sentence and Mamo did not press him to continue. She could hear the pain and confusion in his voice but also his need to maintain control. This was not a man who wanted pity.

“Can you speak of any of this with your father?”

“No, Murdoch sees my mother when he looks at me – I think that sometimes he wishes I hadn’t stayed.”

“I can tell you that’s not true, he loves you child. You need to give him the chance to learn how to show it. Will you promise me that?”

Johnny looked over at Mamo and saw in her eyes what it seemed he searched for all his life. He didn’t understand what it was about her that let him talk about his mother the way he had but he felt as if a little weight had been lifted from him.

“I promise, I’ll try”, he answered softly.

“Good, to bed now, there’s hard work to be done tomorrow.”

Johnny walked back to the barn, took out his bedroll and lay down. After a half hour or so he knew it would be a sleepless night. He walked back out to the corral and stood watching Apache. The conversation with Aisling kept running through his head. Since coming to his father’s ranch and hearing how Maria had took him away from his father and the reason why, he had battled with the emotions memories of his mother caused. Anger, betrayal, hurt and love, yes love, he admitted with a deep sigh. The funny thing was that when he thought about his father, those were the very same emotions he felt. The whole thing made him very tired, all he wanted to do was to find some peace in his life. He supposed that it was one of the reasons he was becoming so close to Scott. Scott was only support, acceptance and caring with no history to deal with. Apache walked over to the rail, Johnny buried his head in the horse’s neck, sighing deeply again. “Well amigo,” he said to the horse, “I guess all I can do is what I told Mamo I’d do, just try.” With that he walked back to the barn hoping to get a little rest before dawn.

The brothers headed out early the next morning to tackle the irrigation ditch once again.

Murdoch rode into the Carlin’s farm. He hoped that the work would be almost done and he was anxious to see how the past few days had gone.

“Nuala”, he called from his horse and he entered the farmyard.

“Murdoch, lovely to see you. The boys are out working on the ditch. They should be back by the middle of the afternoon”

“I see they’ve fixed the barn roof.”

“Yes and hung a mantle and helped Mamo with one of her horses. Come in and we will talk about what you really want to know.”

Murdoch grinned. He knew that he couldn’t fool these women.

Aisling was at the table when Nuala and Murdoch came into the kitchen.

“Murdoch! How are you”, Aisling greeted her neighbor.

“Fine, Mamo, fine, I’ve come to check on the boys”, he answered.

“You’ve come to see if we had the chance to talk with them about Catherine and Maria,” Aisling said.

Murdoch felt like a schoolboy but acknowledged that it was true. He wanted to know how it had gone.

Aisling started, “Murdoch, you have two fine sons who love each other and want to love you. They are both more concerned with how their brother is doing than with themselves. There are strong feelings about their mothers. Johnny particularly carries a huge burden and the way his life has gone and the way he has been treated seems to make him think that he isn’t worth much to anyone. That’s why I think he is so happy with knowing Scott. It’s clear Scott loves Johnny and wants to make sure he is always okay. That role for Scott is also a concern, he needs to know that he is not responsible to make everything okay for everyone around him.”

The more Aisling spoke the sadder Murdoch seemed.

Nuala continued, “It’s true Murdoch, Scott takes on a great deal of responsibility. He needs to know that he has a right to be taken care of too. I don’t think we should tell you all that the boys talked about. There needs to come a time when they can say those things directly to you and you will need to hear what they have to say with a new ear. Just try to listen to what they say and hear what they really mean”.

“I feel that I’ve failed both of them in so many ways,” Murdoch said sadly.

“Murdoch, you all have a chance for a new life, you all need to be patient with each other and ready to forgive each other for the past. You can’t ignore the past, it has to be dealt with when it can be but the focus has to be now and the future. It can be done, don’t give up,” counseled Aisling.

“Well ladies, I thank you for all your trouble, I’ll try to do my best.”

“Fine, fine, now let’s have some tea and wait for the boys to come in.”

They heard sounds of laughter and clattering hoofs about an hour later.

The boys spied Murdoch’s horse tied to the farmhouse porch.

“Hey Boston, looks like the old man stopped by to check up on us,” said Johnny.

“Yep, little brother, hope we’re getting a good report from the ladies,” said Scott with a smile.

“Hello, boys. How did everything go?” asked Murdoch.

“Oh, I think that ditch will last for a while now,” said Johnny.

“And the roof held during yesterday’s storm, added Scott.

“Your sons have done a wonderful job, Murdoch, thank you for sending them over,” said Nuala. “Now, stay for dinner”, she commanded.

After dinner, Murdoch and the boys got ready to leave.

Nuala walked out with Scott, “Take care of yourself, Scott, Come back and see us when you can. Remember my promise to teach you about your mother.

“I will,” said Scott, with a kiss on Nuala’s forehead, “Thank you.”

Johnny was over that the corral saying goodbye to Apache.

“She’ll miss you, child”.

“You think so, Mamo? I’ll miss her”, saying Johnny softly patting the horse’s neck.

“Good-bye amigo, Listen to Mamo, she’ll treat you good”, whispered Johnny to the horse.

“I’ll see you soon, Johnny?” asked Aisling.

“I’ll be back” he answered.

“Slán agus beannacht leat – good-bye and blessings with you,” said Mamo as she traced the cross on Johnny’s head.

“Adios, abuela. Thank you” Johnny answered.

As the boys mounted their horses, Murdoch walked over to the two women.

“Thank you again, I’ll try to follow your advice. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping the boys”.

“Hush now, Murdoch, go home, start enjoying your family”. Said Aisling.

 “What do you think, Mamo?” asked Nuala as the three rode away.

“I think they’ll be fine, she answered.





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