Word Count 4,191
This was an idea that soon fizzled on the keyboard and thanks to SF it finally became worth reading. I have given her equal billing on this one because without her it would never have gotten this far. We don’t own the Lancers or any of the rights to them. We just enjoy using our imaginations and seeing what happens.
Just remember this is fanfiction and was only written for enjoyment.
A cold wind surrounded the hacienda, huffing at the windows and puffing at the doors, stymied in its bid to invade the house. Inside, the Great room glowed from the undulating light from the fireplace; the warmth spread throughout the room. The sound of the logs crackling and popping made the atmosphere a peaceful pleasant feeling. Murdoch his head encircled by a wreath of blue-gray smoke from his pipe, sat contentedly with a tumbler of the finest scotch whiskey money could buy in his hand. Even though he had to have it shipped from his homeland, the Glenlivet was well worth the cost.
The room was lavishly decorated for the holidays. Maria and Teresa had outdone themselves this year. The tree stood in the corner decked out in ornaments, old and new. Strands of popcorn and cranberries had been weaved in and out of the branches as well as the bright red blooms from a poinsettia plant.
Murdoch smiled as he remembered the antics of his children as they had put up the tree and then decorated it. It was an enormous pine that Johnny and Scott had ridden out early one morning to fetch. The brothers had taken all day to select the perfect tree. He knew the boys should have been about their chores but he couldn’t help but indulge them in their quest. They had so much missed time to make up for and Murdoch encouraged them to pair up as much as possible.
The fussing and bantering that had taken place when the tree was ready to be adorned with the ornaments had been a balm to him. It was the best present he could have ever been given and worth more than gold to be able to watch his children doing something so traditional and enjoying themselves as they decorated the tree.
Removing his pipe and taking a sip of whiskey, a satisfied smile graced his mouth as he recalled how Scott had teased Teresa by hanging ornaments in places he knew she wouldn’t approve. The rowdy fun escalated when Scott and Johnny lifted Teresa up high enough to place the star on the top and after a few staged performances of almost dropping her she managed to get it to its rightful place of honor.
There had been a cranberry fight between Jelly and Johnny that had everyone laughing until Maria came in with her wooden spoon and broke it up. She threatened a whack for every berry she found on the floor so Johnny had been very careful to try and find all the cranberries in order to avoid the swats he knew would be coming his way if Maria found any. Murdoch was still finding a stray cranberry now and again and picking it up to try and help the boy escape the wrath of Maria.
Teresa had fussed at Johnny for eating more popcorn than he had strung. While they had quarreled at each other, Jelly and Scott had been cramming their mouths full of the light fluffy treat which resulted in more popcorn having to be popped. It had all been worth it though once the tree had been properly dressed out. Everyone had stood back and admired the beautiful tree. Teresa had given both boys hugs and thanked them finding the perfect tree.
The best though had been when Murdoch and Johnny set the little Nativity up together. It sat in its special place of honor as it had since Johnny’s first Christmas ever. It had been an emotional moment for them both as memories flooded back to Christmases of long ago.
That evening had been topped off with hot chocolate and fresh baked cookies. As the family had settled down for the special treat they each shared some of their favorite memories of Christmases past. Murdoch was grateful that Johnny had some very sweet memories of his own to share. It helped to know that there had been some happiness in his youngest son’s life.
Murdoch surveyed his family now as they sat quietly engrossed in their own activities. It was nice to have his family gathered around him each evening. It’s what he had always dreamed.
Teresa sat on the couch closest to the fireplace mending the never ending stack of shirts, pants and socks. She never complained of the job and seemed to actually enjoy the chore.
Scott was sitting in a chair opposite of Teresa reading a book that Murdoch assumed must be one of his favorites, The Three Musketeers. Scott had his own tumbler of scotch sitting on the table next to him and without looking up from his book he would take a sip.
Jelly was sitting cross-legged on the floor off to the side of the hearth mending some of the worn tack that seemed to always be piling up. The older man had truly become a welcomed addition to their family. He was like a favorite uncle to Murdoch’s children and a trusted friend to himself. He knew when he wasn’t able to watch out for the boys or Teresa that Jelly stepped in making sure nothing happened to any of them.
Taking another sip of his scotch, Murdoch looked over at Johnny or more specifically over to where Johnny should have been.
“Scott, where’s your brother?” Murdoch turned around in his chair to see if the boy had even left the table yet. It wouldn’t be the first time his son had returned to help himself to a third helping of whatever might be left over.
Without looking up, Scott answered, “I believe he’s in the attic again. Apparently, he found the keys to the old trunks up there. He seems positive that his presents might be hidden in one of them.” Scott turned the page just as they heard a thump from above and then a muffled voice that was most likely spouting language as colorful as the ornaments on their tree.
“Those keys won’t open the trunks,” Teresa informed the men. “I just told him they might to get rid of him before Maria killed him. He was bugging her again to let him check in her pantry. She is determined to keep him out of there after that time he decided to bake cookies by his self.” Teresa looked up in order to roll her eyes to the ceiling conveying her attitude towards Johnny and his baking skills.
Another loud thump sounded above with more muffled yelling. Murdoch took a long sip of his drink before asking.
“How many days are left before Christmas morning?”
“Eleven,” Scott and Teresa answered at the same time.
Murdoch got up and made his way to the liquor cabinet. “I’m going to need another drink.”
Three days later
“Johnny, breakfast,” Murdoch yelled as he walked by and knocked on his younger son’s door. Scott was always up and the second one down right after his father.
Scott exited from his room a couple of minutes after he heard the customary call from his father. He intended to follow up their father’s rousting attempt since it usually took a threat to yell for their dad in order to get the boy stirring. Johnny didn’t like mornings much and seemed to wait to the last threat before he emerged from his nest of warmth.
When Scott stuck his head in his brother’s room he was surprised to find the bed empty though there was evidence that Johnny had slept in it.
Not too concerned Scott yawned and made for the back stairs and a hot cup of coffee. Once in the kitchen, he grabbed his cup and yawned again. He offered the pot to his father without saying a word and Murdoch held his cup up and continued to read the article in the latest paper from Stockton.
After a few minutes Murdoch noticed Johnny was still not in the kitchen. He usually was pretty quick after Scott nudged at him for the second time. “Where’s your brother?” he asked.
“I don’t know, he wasn’t in his room when I looked. I figured he was down here.” Scott replaced the pot on the stove and sat down as another yawn nearly split his head.
Murdoch noticed Scott seemed unusually drowsy for the morning. “Something wrong, Son?”
“Nothing that a proper night’s sleep wouldn’t cure,” Scott responded with a hint of irritation in his voice.
It was highly unusual for Johnny to be up before the rest of the family unless he was up to something, and by the way Scott was yawning and the irritation he picked up on, the boy must have been up and about causing chaos fairly early. Murdoch looked up just as Maria came in the room from the pantry and noticed she had her mad face on.
“Maria, has Johnny been bothering you again?” He was afraid of the answer he would get but it was the only way to find his son and rein him in before he got into too much trouble. The look on Maria’s face told him it might be too late to keep the boy out of trouble.
Her eyes snapping with a fire of displeasure she ranted, “Yes, he is in the old bathhouse and he is not taking a bath.” Maria waved her spoon in Murdoch’s face as she fussed about Johnny’s latest fiasco. He could tell by the way she had placed her hands on her hips that there was more to come and it was most likely not going to be a glowing report that his son was being helpful.
“Do you know what he did?” Her foot started to tap an angry staccato beat along with the waving of her spoon again.
Murdoch involuntarily leaned back as the little woman became more aggravated and her spoon gave testimony to it. “No, I have no idea but I’m sure you have it all under control Maria.”
“He does not get breakfast until he has cleaned up his mess, powder everywhere.” Maria fumed and walked off muttering to herself in Spanish.
Since the new bathroom had been installed the old bathhouse was used for laundry and large tins of laundry powder were stored close by for the scrubbing the clothes.
Murdoch sighed and looked at Scott, “How many more days till Christmas?”
“Boss, you just gotta do something with that boy!” Jelly huffed as he marched up to Murdoch’s desk.
“What’s Johnny done now?” Murdoch inquired as he continued to peruse the contract he was considering with the army; never even looking up.
Jelly licked his lips, “He’s workin’ on getting himself lynched by Old Pete that’s what. Been a plunderin’ through his pantry spillin’ flour and cornmeal all over the place and movin’ his fixin’s so’s the old guy can’t find nothin’.” Jelly stuck his thumbs in his suspenders and began rocking on his feet like he always did when he was feeling important.
Murdoch groaned, visions of bunkhouse mutiny playing through his mind.
“And if that weren’t bad enough then the boy knocked over a whole crock a beans and Pete nearly slipped and fell on his butt. That boy is gonna have to be harnessed before he causes a real bad accident.”
Murdoch sighed and put down the contract. Rubbing his suddenly weary hands across his brow, he finally looked up at Jelly with frustration written all over his face. “How many days until Christmas, Jelly?”
“Five and if you ask me it’s gonna be five days of pure hell around here.” Jelly turned and stalked out muttering, ”Five days of mischief and if you ask me he wouldn’t be gettin’ nothin’ but switches and soap.”
Murdoch watched his friend leave wondering how one young man could cause such havoc by himself.
Johnny was running out of places to look for his presents. He had searched every inch of the hacienda and out buildings. Nothing, he had turned up absolutely nothing. Every time he asked for a hint he was handed some cock and bull story about Santa Claus bringing them when it was time.
He’d had a few bad encounters during his searches. Maria had used that damn wooden spoon on him more than once and threatened him with more severe sessions if he didn’t stay out of her kitchen and pantry. Old Pete had chased him out of the bunkhouse with a broom twice and all he got for his efforts were loose broom straws in his hair. Walt and Frank had offered to his father to take him up to a line shack and tie him to a chair until Christmas and for a second he thought Murdoch was going to take them up on it.
His search of Scott’s room had proven to be a bust. Besides, he didn’t much like going in there since his brother was so meticulous about where everything went. He could tell if just one thing was slightly out of place. Johnny had to be sure he replaced everything exactly like he found it.
Murdoch’s room hadn’t turned up anything either, other than some questions. There were some mementos that suggested that his father had lived a very interesting life before becoming a rancher. Johnny would like to ask him about some of them but it would be tricky since he didn’t want Murdoch to know he had been rifling through his room looking for presents.
Desperate for any kind of clue Johnny had finally decided to search Teresa’s room. He had put it off not wanting to be exposed to all those female booby traps that women thought they had to have. The thought of what he had found in there made him blush all over again. Johnny wasn’t exactly innocent when it came to women’s unmentionables but there had been things he found that he could have lived a life time not knowing about. Then when Teresa had come out of her room later screaming at him about plundering through her things he had tried to look innocent but the young woman was just not buying it. Maria had heard them arguing and when she found out Johnny had been searching Teresa’s room she began wielding her wooden spoon again. The memory of that encounter had him involuntarily rubbing his backside.
Now here he stood in the Great room looking around and trying to think of any place he might have over looked. He had just come from Scott’s room which had been tricky since he was trying to look without waking his brother up.
A sudden tiredness overcame him as stood trying to figure out a place he might have overlooked. He decided to sit down in front of the fire for a few minutes and rest before continuing his search to find his presents before Christmas Day. As he sat thinking he rested his head in his hands. Somewhere in the hacienda his family had hidden his presents and he was bound and determined he was going to find them. He was struck by the thought maybe they were pushed to the back of the tree, concealed by the other packages, so he moved a few boxes and shimmed carefully under the lower branches of the pine. He drew in a deep breath of pine scent and yawned.
“Hurry, Scott.” Teresa fairly flew through the kitchen preparing breakfast. She wanted to get everything cleaned up so they could gather in the Great room and begin their Christmas festivities for the day. A big dinner had been planned for later and the Lancers’ closest friends had all been invited to share the feast with them. Most of the food was prepared with the exception of the large ham and turkey that were waiting to go in the ovens.
“Where’s Johnny?” Murdoch couldn’t help but be a little apprehensive over the fact that the boy had yet to make an appearance. After all he had been driving them all crazy for the last several days.
“I’m sure I don’t know. After he left my room, in what I believe was the sixth time in as many days, I turned over and after a short prayer that he wouldn’t break a leg or worse, I went to sleep.” Scott looked at his father and smiled. “I wonder, Sir, just how many times he snuck into your room while you slept?”
Murdoch’s left eyebrow arched upward a sure sign that he wasn’t amused by his oldest son’s humor. “He never went into my room, at least not while I was in there.” A concerned look graced the older man’s face as he thought about his son prowling through his room looking for presents and possibly finding nothing but mementos from the past.
“I should have made him go to bed, and then tied him to the bedpost. You two sit down and eat your breakfast while I go find that boy.” Murdoch took one last long sip from his coffee before rising and making his way towards the stairs.
He searched his own room hoping to catch Johnny in the act of searching his private sanctum. Nothing seemed to be out of order and there was no Johnny. Next he went to Scott’s room again. Johnny seemed pretty sure the family had used this room to hide his presents and had made repeated trips to search.
Next, he went to Johnny’s room wondering if the boy had given up and fallen asleep in his own bed but Murdoch found that nothing had been disturbed including the bed. Scratching his head he went down the front staircase intending to check out in the bunkhouse and barn.
Arriving in the foyer Murdoch decided to exit the house by way of the French doors so he could check the patio on the way to the barn. Stepping down into the Great room, he sighed taking in a lungful of aromatic pine scent. Averting his eyes from his intended path over to the Christmas tree his heart constricted in fear.
Johnny’s prostrate form was on the floor, his upper body hidden beneath the lower branches of the tree, his leather clad pants and white sock covered feet protruded out into the room; at the small of his back, where his rumpled blue shirt tucked into his waistband was a large splash of bright red color.
Swallowing back his fear Murdoch approached his son, his knees going weak in relief as his closer proximity revealed the red stain to be a poinsettia bloom that had fallen from the trees branches, obviously dislodged by his son’s foraging.
Briefly, he thought of swatting the boy’s backside but visions of the bauble bedecked tree crashing over onto the both of them vetoed that plan. Instead, Murdoch settled for plucking the red flower from Johnny’s back and nestling it back into the prickly needles of the branches.
Johnny sighed heavily and shifted in his sleep causing the pine to quiver in its stand; the ornaments issued a merry tinkling sound as they clinked together.
Backing up a few steps so that he was positioned at Johnny’s feet, Murdoch widened his stance, leant over, grasped his son’s ankles and in one powerful movement pulled the boy back and out from under the tree, flipping him onto his back at the same time. He winced in sympathy when the action caused Johnny’s head to hit the floor with a thud.
Johnny’s eyes flew open at the same time his right hand scrabbled at his hip for his gun; coming up empty handed. Reaching full alertness; he blinked to clear the starbursts from his vision caused by the blow to his head. He tried to focus on the large blur floating above him. “Morning, Pa,” he offered sheepishly, embarrassed to have been found asleep under the Christmas tree.
“Good morning, my son,” Murdoch grunted as he reached down and pulled the boy to his feet. “Your presence is required in the kitchen for breakfast; there’ll be no gifts until we’ve eaten.”
Frowning as he brushed off his clothes, Johnny turned and pointed at the packages under the tree, the frown morphed into a petulant pout as he protested, “There’s not one box under there with my name on it, I know, I checked them all.”
Murdoch’s stern face softened with an indulgent smile as he retorted, “They’ll be there by the time you finish your breakfast.” Grasping his youngest by the elbow and giving him a playful swat to the rear, he ordered, “Kitchen, now!”
Johnny was so busy grumbling as they entered the kitchen, he didn’t see his brother headed up the back staircase.
Humming, Good King Wenceslas as he strolled down the hall to the only room Johnny had not searched, Scott couldn’t keep the smirk off his face that his strategy to hide Johnny’s presents had worked so well. Entering Johnny’s room, he walked straight to the closet, opened the door, bent over and scooped up his little brother’s discarded dirty clothes, revealing a steamer trunk.
Reaching into his pocket, Scott retrieved a key; glancing around to make sure prying eyes weren’t lurking about; he fit it into the keyhole and released the locking mechanism. The lid creaked as the rusty hinges protested the movement. The now open trunk revealed its secret treasure, the gaily wrapped boxes for Johnny Lancer, placed within its confines at the end of November.
Removing the presents and stacking them on the floor, Scott closed the trunk and once again gathered up the clothes and tossed them on top. No need to give little brother any clues as to where his gifts were hidden. We can use the same spot next year. He chuckled, biting his lip to hold in the sound; fearful Johnny would detect where the sound was coming from.
Collecting the packages in his arms, Scott huffed under the awkward load but managed to hold them all. Traversing the room, he exited to the hall and headed for the main staircase. Descending the stairs, he turned left into the Great room and crossed over to the tree. Crouching down, he arranged the bundle of gifts in front of the decorated pine. Satisfied with his efforts, he rose and swiftly climbed the steps back to the second floor hall, sprinting to the back staircase and descending back into the kitchen. I do love a rousing game of subterfuge!
Murdoch looked up as his oldest entered the room, smiling at the slight nod of the blond’s head, which let him know everything was in place. Turning, he interrupted his youngest son’s grumbling by tapping the edge of his plate of eggs, bacon and biscuits with a rigid index finger. “I suggest you quit complaining about your supposed unjust treatment by your trifling family and finish your breakfast if you want to open presents.”
Swallowing his mouthful of eggs, intending to point out none of the boxes under the tree were addressed to him, the words stalled on Johnny’s tongue as he was struck by an explanation for where his presents were. AH HAH! I know what they did, they hid them in plain sight, some of those boxes under the tree are actually for me but they put their names on the tags to fool me. Thinking he had it all figured out, the joy and excitement coursed through his body causing him to twitch and fidget as he rushed to consume his food.
Murdoch, Scott and Teresa exchanged surreptitious glances and smiles as they sipped their coffee, waiting on Johnny to finish his meal.
All eyes turned to Johnny as his fork clattered down on his empty plate. “I’m done,” he announced, his top lip outlined by a milk mustache that he wiped off with his sleeve as he stood, “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Johnny marched into the Great room, his family right on his heels. He rubbed his hands in glee as he thought about how he was about to expose their ruse of the name tag game. Instead he gasped in surprise to find a stack of gifts beneath the tree that had not been there earlier. Shocked, he turned and glared at his family, “Where did those come from?”
“Santa Claus,” they replied in unison, thrilled to have pulled off the great caper to keep the youngest Lancer’s presents a surprise.
Now that they were here Johnny was more interested in opening them than finding out where they had been and soon the room was littered with laughter and Christmas paper.
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