Word Count 25,261
Disclaimer: I don’t own them, I just play with them. Truman and some minor characters (you know who they are) belong to me and are in my control.
Muchas Gracias, Mamacita Lacy! My awesome beta.
Story 3: Harlan`s Coming to Town, Part A
One afternoon, Johnny and Scott were returning from town. They had gone to pick up more fencing supplies and Scott dropped by the post office to pick up the mail. As Johnny drove the team, Scott shuffled through the letters. True had received his issues of The Child at Home and Our Young Folks. These were magazines for children that Murdoch had subscribed to on Truman’s behalf.
Johnny and Teresa each received a letter from Nick and Audra Barkley, respectively. Murdoch had some bills and contracts, Jelly received a letter from his sister, and Scott had a letter from his grandfather. There were letters for some of the ranch hands, as well.
Scott pulled his letter out and secured the rest of the mail in a bag and stowed it among the supplies in the back of the wagon. He opened the letter and began reading, nodding once in a while, muttering to himself about certain “idiots” he had known and then heaved a deep sigh.
“What’s wrong, Scott?” Johnny asked.
“Grandfather is coming for a visit.”
Johnny pulled the reins hard and the team came to a stop. He looked over at Scott with apprehension.
“When is he gonna get here?” Johnny asked.
“According to my calculations…tomorrow,” Scott replied.
“I sure am glad I ain’t the one who’s gonna have ta give that information to Murdoch,” Johnny stated emphatically.
“I wish I were in your shoes, brother,” Scott agreed.
Johnny whistled, the team started trotting again and before long they were pulling up to the estancia.
Murdoch came out with Truman on his heels.
“You’re just in time for lunch, boys,” Murdoch said by way of greeting. “Any trouble in town?”
“No, but trouble’s comin’ ta town,” Johnny muttered as he lifted Truman and tossed the boy into the air, then caught him. Truman squealed with delight.
“How ya been, lil cowboy?” Johnny asked, ignoring Murdoch’s questioning glare, and tickling True’s belly.
“Fine,” replied the giggling, squirming child.
“What do you mean by that, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“Ask Scott,” was Johnny’s brief reply. He grabbed the bag of mail and went inside with the tyke in his arms.
Scott glared after his brother and sighed.
“Scott?” Murdoch asked.
“Grandfather has invited himself for another visit, sir. I just got the word today.”
Murdoch sighed heavily. “If he mistreats Johnny or True or anyone else…”
“I know, sir. I’ll invite him to leave myself and pack his bags for him,” Scott answered.
Murdoch nodded. “When will he be here?”
Murdoch instantly deflated. “I need a drink,” he muttered as he turned on his heel and went indoor.
`I could use one myself,’ Scott thought. `That wasn’t as bad as it could have been, though.’
Scott turned and went inside himself. As soon as he crossed the threshold, a little cannonball ran into him. Scott caught and lifted True into the air and turned the tyke upside down.
“What are you doing running in the house, little buddy?” Scott asked.
“Put me down!” the boy demanded.
“Scott…,” Murdoch warned.
“I’m gonna pee on you if you don’t put me down!” True threatened.
“Truman Oliver, I don’t like that kind of talk,” Murdoch warned.
Johnny snickered. He was leaning against Murdoch’s desk, watching the action unfold. Murdoch gave him a look of exasperation, so he tried to school his features.
“But it’s the truth, Papa!” the boy wailed.
“Scott, put him down and let him go tend to his business, please,” Murdoch requested.
“Well, okay. If you insist,” Scott replied as he flipped the boy right side up and put him on his feet.
Once True was on solid ground, he pushed past Scott and just made it to the outhouse.
While the boy was gone, the Lancer men fixed themselves drinks and settled at Murdoch’s desk. Johnny and Scott sat in the chairs facing their father’s desk and Murdoch eased himself into his big leather chair.
Truman came in, slammed the door and walked over to his brothers and Murdoch.
“Did you have to slam the door, son?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, cause I just made it to the outhouse. It woulda been your fault, Scott, if I had wet myself!” was the petulant reply.
“I’m sorry, little buddy. Do you want to go with me to pick up my grandfather from the stage tomorrow?” Scott asked.
“Is Johnny goin’? Can I…”
“May I,” corrected Murdoch.
“MAY I ride Mickey?” True asked.
“I’m goin,. Yeah, we’ll ride our horses,” Johnny replied.
“Okay. I’ll go,” the boy answered, as he climbed into Murdoch’s lap.
Murdoch wrapped his arms around his youngest and tickled the boy. True giggled and pushed the offending fingers away from his stomach.
“You’ll only go if Johnny goes?” Scott asked.
“No, I’ll go if I get ta ride my horse,” the boy corrected Scott.
“Do you know what time his stage will arrive?” Murdoch asked.
“I assume he will catch the stage that gets to Green River at three,” Scott replied.
“Ya mean the one that gets here anywhere between fifteen and thirty minutes late?” Johnny asked.
Just then, a knock was heard at the door. Scott rose wearily and strode to the door. When he opened it, Tyler Wilson was standing there with a telegram for him.
“Hey, Scott. This telegram is for you. We were told to deliver it immediately.”
“Thanks, Tyler,” Scott replied as he took the message and dug into his pocket for a dollar coin. He handed the coin to the young man and smiled. “Have a great day, Tyler.”
The messenger left and Scott closed the door. As he walked back to his chair, he opened the paper and read it.
“Well, here’s the answer to our question. Grandfather will arrive on the three o’clock…”
“Ish,” Johnny interrupted.
Truman giggled and Johnny winked at him.
“Right, the three o’clock-ish stage tomorrow,” Scott finished his statement.
“Hey, did I get any mail?” True asked.
“Why do you ask? Ya got a girlfriend stashed somewhere?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch and Scott chuckled.
“Stoppit, Johnny!” Truman fussed.
“I believe I saw a couple of things for you, True. Get the bag and sort the mail,” Scott replied.
“I don’t wanna get out of Papa’s lap. I’m comfortable.”
“You’re getting downright lazy, boy!” Scott complained.
“I’ll sort it if you bring the bag over here,” True offered. “Why didn’t ya just pick it up when you came back from answering the door?” the boy asked.
Scott sighed in exasperation. Johnny grinned at his little brother. True grinned back. Murdoch chuckled at his sons.
Scott rose from his chair, glared at the boy, then went to retrieve the mail sack from the dining room table and handed it to Truman when he returned to the desk.
“Thank you, Scott,” True said sweetly.
Scott grumbled unintelligently and watched as the boy dumped the mail onto Murdoch’s desk.
“Oh! Goody! That’s mine, that’s Johnny’s, that’s Teresa’s,” the boy began muttering as he sorted the mail into piles.
Truman flung Johnny’s letter at him and called, “here ya go, Johnny!”
Scott chuckled as Johnny bent over to pick up the letter that did not quite get delivered to him.
“Truman! You’re supposed to hand the letter to the recipients, not fling it at them!” Murdoch admonished the boy gently.
“Well, okaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy,” True replied.
“Please hand deliver the rest of the mail to the people who received some, okay?” Murdoch instructed.
“Thank you,” Murdoch replied.
“You’re welcome, Papa.”
The elder Lancer men exchanged smiles as they watched the youngest finish sorting through the mail and they chuckled at him as he squealed in delight when he found his second magazine.
Once all the mail had been sorted into the correct piles, Murdoch set the boy on his feet and instructed him to deliver the mail. True picked up the rest of the mail, excluding his magazines, and went to hand the letters to their recipients.
Johnny gave the boy a pat on his back as he passed.
“See ya in a few,” the boy replied as he went outside.
Story 3: Harlan`s Coming To Town, Part B
Truman, did indeed, return from his mail delivery shortly. He didn’t quite meet Murdoch’s expectation for hand delivery, but he got the job finished, anyway. The people he saw were pleased to receive their mail and visit with the youngest Lancer.
True arrived back at the estancia in time for lunch. He washed up and joined the family in the kitchen for a meal of roast beef sandwiches, potatoes, and cole slaw.
The boy started yawning and his eyelids became heavy as he ate a second cookie. Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch exchanged smiles. Murdoch rose to his feet, stepped behind Truman’s chair and gently took the cookie from his son’s hand.
“Hmm?” True roused slightly when he realized his cookie was no longer in his hand.
“Shh, son. You’ve been a very busy boy this morning, and it’s time to rest,” Murdoch cooed softly as he lifted the child into his arms.
True immediately nestled his head onto Murdoch’s shoulder.
“Not tired…want my cook….,” True fell asleep before he could finish his sentence.
The elder Lancers grinned. Scott and Johnny smiled at Murdoch as he turned to head up the stairs with his precious cargo. Murdoch carried his youngest to the boy’s room and gently placed him on the bed. After removing the boots, Murdoch placed a gentle kiss on the top of his son’s head and left the room quietly, closing the door behind him.
When he returned to the kitchen, he sat down and finished his iced tea. He smiled at his older sons and Teresa.
“Did he stay asleep?” Scott asked.
“He’s a great kid,” Johnny declared.
“Yes, he is. I need you to take that great kid to get his hair cut tomorrow, so leave early enough to get that done before Harlan’s stage arrives,” Murdoch requested.
“Okay,” Johnny answered.
“Yes, sir,” Scott replied.
“Now, how about going out to the south pasture and cutting 50 head of heifers and move them to the east pasture so they can get that healthier grass before they calve?” Murdoch suggested strongly.
“Right, Murdoch. Yes, sir,” the Lancer sons replied.
Once everyone had finished lunch and left, Teresa helped Maria clean the kitchen. She wrapped the remainder of True’s cookie and placed it in the pantry on a plate.
True woke up an hour later and ambled down the steps while carrying his boots. He found Murdoch sitting at his desk and going through contracts and receipts.
“Hey, big boy. Have a good siesta?”
“Yep. Whatcha doing?”
“Oh, just some paperwork. You’re going out to do your chores, right?”
“Yes, Papa. Where are Johnny and Scott?”
“They are moving some cows.”
“Oh. Is Scott’s grandfather nice?”
“He can be, when he wants to.”
“Don’t worry about it, big boy. Go see to your animals, now.”
“Okay, Papa. See ya later.”
“See you later, son.”
The next day, the Lancer sons were off to clear streams in the south pasture so the heifers would have plenty to drink when they were moved there in the next rotation.
They made it back to the estancia for an early lunch. True had a short nap before he joined his brothers for the trip to town to meet Harlan’s stage. Johnny and Truman mounted their horses as Scott drove the surrey around. Jelly had helped Scott and Johnny saddle the horses while True napped.
The brothers made it to town in good time and headed straight for the barber shop.
“Johnny, I’m going to check in at the depot to see when the stage is expected. I’ll be back soon,” Scott informed him.
Zeke, the barber, was always pleased to see the youngest Lancer. True was a polite boy and had never given him any trouble. The boy had been nervous the first time they met, but that was understandable.
Today, True climbed up into the chair without having to be invited a second time.
“Same as usual, Zeke,” True politely instructed the barber.
“Parted on the left and the top halves of your ears covered. Got it, Truman,” Zeke replied.
“Sure. When was the last time your hair was washed?” Zeke asked.
“Day before yesterday,” True replied.
“I’ll wash it now and you won’t have to wash it again til the day after tomorrow. Unless, of course, you get all muddy.”
“Good idea, Zeke,” Johnny said.
“No problem, Johnny.”
Once the boy’s hair was washed, towel dried, and combed out, Zeke began trimming Truman’s hair.
When Zeke was finished, he took the apron off Truman and the boy jumped down.
“Thanks, Zeke! My head feels lighter!” True exclaimed.
Johnny and the barber laughed. Johnny paid Zeke and ushered the boy towards the entrance.
“Thanks, Zeke. See ya around!” Johnny called as he and True walked out.
They headed for the ice cream parlor and strode in, itching for a treat. Truman had a small dish of strawberry ice cream while Johnny had a dish with chocolate ice cream.
Scott found his brothers sitting at a table in the parlor shortly after visiting the barber. He was looking for his younger brothers to tell them that the stage was going to be late.
“Surprise, surprise,” Johnny muttered when he received the news. “How late is it gonna be?”
“About thirty minutes. Elmer said that they had wired from Cross Creek and informed him that they had to have a new wheel put on,” Scott replied.
“That’s going to take some time. Well, True, we don’t hafta rush with the ice cream,” Johnny said.
True grinned. He had a layer of strawberry cream on his chin. Scott took his handkerchief out and wiped the boy’s face. He stepped up to the counter to place his order of a dish of vanilla ice cream joined his brothers at the table.
The Lancers enjoyed their afternoon treat, then stood to leave.
“You boys have a good day!”
“Thanks!” they called as one.
They headed to the mercantile to kill some time and Truman found a yo-yo and a cannon for his soldiers that he wanted. He had brought some of his allowance and was able to purchase the items. He had enough to buy two cannons, but decided to wait until he got his next week’s allowance. In the meantime, his Union troops would have a distinct advantage over the Confederates. He couldn’t wait until after supper when he had time to play with his soldiers. Maybe Scott would play with him.
The Lancers walked over to the depot and sat to wait for the stage. Truman was playing with his yo-yo and accidentally caught Johnny on the side of his head.
“Oops, sorry, Johnny.”
“It’s alright, lil cowboy. Why don’t you stand over there and play with it, okay?” Johnny suggested as he rubbed his head and indicated a spot in the alley right next to the depot.
True could play there without putting anyone in danger, yet still in sight of his watchful brothers.
“Stay out of the mud, little buddy,” Scott advised.
“Okay,” True said. He walked to the spot Johnny had indicated and began playing with his yo-yo.
A few minutes later, a large group of boys from Mr. Peabody’s class came running along the boardwalk, past Scott and Johnny and True. True was accidentally knocked aside, lost his balance, and fell into a mud puddle. Lucas Carter was at the back of the group. Even though he wasn’t the one to knock Truman down, he was the one who stopped to see if his little brother’s best friend was okay.
“Truman, are you alright?” Lucas asked as he helped pull True out of the mud puddle.
“Yeah, I’m okay, just muddy,” True replied.
Lucas said, “I am really sorry about that.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Lucas. Thanks for helping me up,” True said.
True stood with his arms out to the sides. His back and the back of his pants were soaked and muddy. His yo-yo dangled with filthy string from his right hand. The boy looked up at his exasperated brothers piteously.
“I’m sorry,” True said.
“It’s not your fault, True,” Scott said as he pulled his watch out and took a look at the time. “Johnny, we still have about 15 minutes. Why don’t you take True to the bath house and I’ll get him some new clothes and meet you there. We’ll put his muddy ones in some paper and take them home,” Scott suggested.
“Good idea. Come on, True, we gotta go,” Johnny said as he took the boy’s hand and pulled him along to the public bath house.
Scott thanked Lucas for his help and concern and sent him on his way. Then, he hurried to the general store and bought a new outfit for True, including drawers. He rushed to the bath house and delivered the new clothing to Johnny, who was helping Truman rinse his hair. Scott unwrapped the new garments and laid them out on a dry chair, then dumped the muddy clothes onto the paper. Just before he started to bundle the muddy clothes, Truman hollered.
“Scott! Wait! Look in my pockets and get my change and the cannon, please,” the boy requested. “Thanks.”
Scott nodded and pulled out the three cents change and the cannon and laid the items next to the new shirt and pants. He pulled the belt out of the loops and placed it on the bench. He bundled the muddy clothes and took them to the surrey.
“Come on, lil cowboy. We need ta hurry so we can beat the stage,” Johnny urged the child.
“Okay. I was washing my yo-yo string.”
Johnny grinned at the boy and lifted him out of the bigger than usual tub. The public bath tubs were much larger and deeper than the one the Lancers had at home because they had to accommodate all sizes of clients. The boy would have hurt himself if he had tried to climb out by himself.
Johnny dried True’s hair with a towel as the boy dried the rest of his body and his yo-yo string. When he was dry, Johnny handed the drawers to him and the boy put them on as Johnny shook out the shirt and pants.
The shirt was red with little blue horseshoes all over it and the pants were tan. Johnny handed the shirt to True, then wiped the mud off his belt. True finished buttoning his shirt then took his new pants from Johnny and sat down to pull them on. His socks had been spared, so the boy pulled them on and then tugged his boots on. Johnny noticed that he was having difficulty with the boots.
“Are they too small, True?”
“Not yet. I just hafta stomp them on.”
“I’ll tell Papa. He’ll probably get some new ones for ya for school, anyway.”
“Here’s your belt. Put that on and we can get going. Don’t forget your toys and change,” Johnny kindly instructed the boy.
“Okay. What about my hair?” True asked as he picked up his cannon, three cents and the yo-yo.
“I’ll finger comb it or you can just put your hat on. Let’s go,” Johnny said as he took the boy by the hand and they left, stopping to pay and thank Harold on the way out.
True tried his best to keep up with Johnny. He had to run three steps for every one Johnny took. They made it to the depot just as the stage came into view down the street.
Story 3: Harlan`s Coming To Town, Part C
Johnny held Truman back from the edge of the boardwalk as the stage approached and stopped. Scott stepped forward to open the door as Cedric, the shotgun rider, climbed down from the front seat. Amos, the stage driver, had untied the ropes that secured the passengers’ luggage and was tossing the bags down to Cedric.
Harlan Garrett of Boston, Massachusetts, had just stepped out of the stage when his bag was tossed to Cedric.
“Don’t throw that bag! There is expensive cologne in there!” Harlan yelled.
Cedric turned to Garrett as the man began to yell and missed catching the luggage. The carpet bag landed on the boardwalk and a faint smash was heard upon impact. Garrett gasped, then sighed and clenched his jaw.
An unpleasant odor drifted from the saturated bag. The glass bottle had broken and the cologne had permeated the clothing in the luggage. The other passengers and bystanders pursed their lips and scrunched their noses when their olfactory lobes detected the odiferous scent.
“You’ll pay for that you incompetent ruffians! I’ll see you fired! I’ll see that the company goes bankrupt!” Garrett yelled.
Scott was clearly embarrassed and turned to look at his brothers. Truman’s mouth was open in shock and Johnny smirked and rolled his eyes at his brother’s incredulous expression.
“Johnny, is he throwing a temper tantrum?” Truman asked.
“That isn’t Scott’s grandfather, is it?”
“Afraid so, lil cowboy.”
Johnny chuckled and gently squeezed his brother’s shoulder.
“What does expensive mean?” True asked.
“It means something costs a lot of money,” Johnny replied.
“Did he actually pay money for that smelly cologne?”
“Teresa’s not gonna let him in the house with that stinky bag,” True stated, matter-of-factly.
Johnny grinned and wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders. True was standing in front of Johnny near the depot entrance, but the two younger Lancer brothers were away from the milling passengers, who were trying to extricate their bags from the pile and get them away from Garrett’s odiferous luggage as soon as possible.
After all the luggage from the top had been tossed down, the boot on the back of the stage was opened and a trunk and three more traveling cases were unloaded and placed on the boardwalk next to the carpet bag.
Scott studied the pile of baggage with trepidation.
“Are all of these your bags, Grandfather?” Scott asked.
“How long did you plan to stay?” Scott enquired apprehensively.
“Yes, Scotty. I want to spend time with you.”
Truman and Johnny had heard the conversation and looked at each other with expressions of disbelief.
“I think this is gonna be a long month, Johnny,” True predicted.
“I think you’re exactly right, True.”
Once Scott had helped his grandfather secure his bags on the surrey, he introduced Garrett to his new younger brother.
“Grandfather, I’m sure you remember Johnny,” Scott began.
“Yes,” was the clipped and resentful reply that Garrett gave.
Scott had heard the tone and sighed in exasperation. Johnny smirked at Garrett and nodded his head in acknowledgement.
“This is my other younger brother, Truman. I wrote to you about him, remember?” Scott asked.
“Of course I remember, Scotty! I haven’t lost my faculties, you know!” Garrett snapped.
“Of course, Grandfather,” Scott replied meekly. He desperately wanted to keep the peace in this very public venue.
“I am Harlan Garrett of Boston, Massachusetts,” Garrett introduced himself to Truman.
The boy transferred his toys from his right hand to his left, extended his right hand for a gentleman’s handshake, and replied, “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hah-lan Garrett of Baws-tun, Mass-uh-chew-setts. I am Mr. Truman Sutherland Lancer of Morro Coyo, California.”
Truman tried his best to pronounce Garrett’s name and place of origin as the man had so he would not insult the guest, but Garrett perceived the boy’s efforts as being cheeky and refused to shake the child’s hand.
“Why you insolent little….,” Garrett began sputtering.
“He wasn’t tryin’ ta be insolent, Harlan. He was trying to say your name as you had so he wouldn’t insult ya. You, of course, had ta jump to the wrong conclusion,” Johnny stated in defense of his little brother, who had lowered his hand and his head.
“How old are you, boy?” Garrett asked, ignoring Johnny’s remark.
Truman looked up at Garrett with a glint of defiance in his blue eyes.
“I’m seven and five-sixths,” True replied.
`The boy looks almost identical to Madrid,’ thought Garrett, reproachfully.
“Hmph. So, your birthday is in September?”
“You address me as `Sir’ when you speak to me, is that clear?” Garrett demanded.
True crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the man without replying.
“Let’s get going. It looks as if a storm might be brewing,” Scott suggested.
However, the storm he had referred to had absolutely nothing to do with the weather.
Johnny ushered Truman towards their horses and helped the boy mount his steed. When True was situated, Johnny mounted Barranca and led the way out of town with Truman by his side.
Scott drove the surrey with his grandfather sitting next to him. They had followed Johnny and True about a mile away from the bustle of Green River when Garrett complained again.
“Have them ride behind us. I don’t want to look at the backsides of horses all the way to that place you call a ranch,” Garrett ordered.
Johnny and True had heard this comment and looked at each other. Truman shook his head in the negative while Johnny grinned.
“Don’t say anything, True. Let me handle this. When I ride off, you ride with me,” Johnny instructed.
True nodded his agreement.
Johnny turned in his saddle and met Garrett’s unfriendly gaze with one of his own.
“We don’t want to get a whiff of that poison you call cologne or look at the backside of a horse, either, Harlan,” Johnny replied with equal disdain.
Truman smiled at Johnny and when Johnny returned the smile and nodded, they rode away, leaving the road and headed towards the ranch by going cross country.
Scott’s shoulders slumped with stress. `It’s gonna be a long month,’ he thought to himself.
“Those insolent half-breeds are poisoning your mind, Scotty!” Garrett exclaimed.
“They are not half-breeds and please do not refer to them that way,” Scott said.
“But they are, Scotty. They’re not worth your time,” Garrett argued.
“Truman is Scottish. Johnny is part Mexican. They are not pure-breds or half-breeds. They are people with feelings, not animals. If you insist on behaving this way, I will turn this surrey around and drive you back to town. Murdoch and I will not tolerate your insulting behavior towards anyone on the ranch. It’s your choice,” Scott lectured.
“Fine. I will do my best to be civil.”
Scott nodded curtly and continued to drive the surrey to the ranch.
When Johnny and Truman arrived at the estancia, Murdoch was waiting outside.
“Where are Scott and Garrett?” Murdoch asked.
“On their way,’ Johnny replied.
Murdoch nodded and then noticed that Truman was wearing different clothing.
“What happened to the other clothes you were wearing earlier?” Murdoch asked his youngest boy.
“I got pushed into a mud puddle and Lucas helped me up. Johnny took me to the bath house and Scott bought these clothes for me,” True answered.
“I see. Well, I hope you thanked your brothers,” Murdoch said.
“I did, Papa. They take good care of me, don’t they?” True asked.
“They sure do, son,” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch squeezed Truman’s right shoulder as he smiled at Johnny. Johnny smiled back shyly and tweaked his little brother’s nose. Truman retaliated with a gentle poke to Johnny’s stomach.
“Papa, Scott’s grandfather had a temper tantrum at the depot,” the boy reported.
“He did? About what?” Murdoch asked.
“His expensive smelly cologne,” True replied. “I don’t think Teresa is gonna let that yucky stuff into the house, Papa.”
“What happened?” Murdoch asked.
“Amos dropped Harlan’s bag and the bottle of cologne got smashed,” Johnny replied.
“It’s really smells bad, Papa,” the little guy said.
“Yes? Well, we’ll take care of it when they arrive. Were you introduced to Mr. Garrett?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, but I don’t like him. Do I hafta be nice to him? Even Nick is better than Mr. Garrett,” True stated with conviction.
Murdoch and Johnny chuckled at the boy.
“You have to be polite, but you don’t have to entertain him, deal?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, Papa. Entertaining a grizzly would be a lot more fun than trying to entertain Mr. Garrett,” True muttered.
Johnny laughed as Murdoch smirked.
Just then, they heard the surrey approaching and looked up to see Scott and his grandfather. Scott was wearing a scowl and Garrett was sporting a self-satisfied smile.
Murdoch’s olfactory lobes were assaulted by the odor of the cologne and he reared back, covering his nose with his hand. When he had recovered, he turned to face his nemesis and did his best to be civil to Garrett. Murdoch felt he needed to set a good example for his youngest boy.
“Harlan, welcome back to California. I hope this trip is more pleasant than the last,” Murdoch said as nicely as he could.
Johnny thought his father had done a good job and gave his father a sneaky wink of approval. Murdoch smiled and nodded. Truman hid behind Johnny and buried his little nose into his brother’s leg so he wouldn’t have to smell the spilled cologne. Johnny looked down at him and patted the boy on the back.
“I hope it is, too, Murdoch,” Garrett said.
Scott unloaded the luggage and set the one with the spilled cologne aside.
“What are you doing with that bag, Scotty?” Garrett demanded.
“It needs to be cleaned and aired out here, Grandfather,” Scott replied respectfully.
“Absolutely not! I am not leaving that bag out here!” Garrett protested.
“Grandfather, the odor is very strong. We can’t have that in the house. I’m sure we can get everything cleaned to your satisfaction,” Scott said, trying to reason with Garrett.
“It’s not that strong. I’m sure the family can handle it,” Garrett continued.
Just then, a gagging sound was heard. Scott and Murdoch turned to see Johnny holding True as the boy held his stomach a few yards away. Murdoch raced to his sons’ side and lent a helping hand.
“What’s wrong, big boy?” Murdoch crooned to True.
“The smel..ly… stuff…made me…feel sick,” True replied between gasps for fresh air.
“Quit coddling him, Murdoch. He’s fine. He’s just trying to get attention,” Garrett barked.
Johnny turned his Madrid stare on Garrett.
“Don’t tell me how to take care of my boy, Harlan!” Murdoch snapped. “He feels genuinely ill and that bag is NOT going to enter MY home until it has been deloused!” Murdoch commanded.
Harlan opened and closed his mouth without making a noise. Murdoch, satisfied that Garrett had been duly reprimanded, turned his attention back to Truman. Johnny handed Truman his canteen and watched as the boy drank from it.
“That’s it, lil cowboy. Slow and easy,” Johnny coaxed True gently.
“How do you feel, now, son?” Murdoch asked.
“Better, thanks. May I go inside, please?” True asked.
“Sure, big boy. I bet Johnny will take you in,” Murdoch replied. He turned to Johnny and instructed him to take Truman to the kitchen and inform Teresa and Maria about why True felt sick.
Johnny nodded and took True by the hand. They went to the back of the house so they could avoid going near the contaminated bag. Johnny delivered Truman to the care of Maria and Teresa with a suitable explanation. They immediately started to fuss over Truman as Johnny went to care for Barranca and Mickey.
“Does he have a fever, chica?” Maria asked.
Teresa felt True’s forehead and replied in the negative. “No, Maria. No fever.”
“I coulda told ya that, T’resa. The smell in the bag made me feel sick. I’m okay, really. May I go play?”
“Okay, True. Stay away from the bag and don’t forget to feed your pets,” Teresa instructed the boy.
True scampered out of the kitchen before they could change their mind and ran towards the barn to care for his animals. True did not like Scott’s grandfather and hoped that he would decide to leave before the month was over.
Story 3: Harlan‘s Coming To Town, Part D
When Truman entered the barn, he saw Johnny unsaddling Mickey.
“Hey, Johnny. I’ll help ya,” the boy called as he moved closer to his brother and the horse.
“Hey, lil cowboy. Feelin’ alright?” Johnny asked as he removed Mickey’s bridle.
“I’m fine, now. As long as I don’t hafta smell that bag, I’ll be right as rain,” True replied.
Johnny grinned and handed a brush to the boy.
As True and Johnny groomed their horses, they talked about Harlan Garrett.
“Why is Mr. Garrett so mean?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s cause he doesn’t have control over Scott anymore,” Johnny replied.
“I don’t get it.”
“Harlan likes to get his own way and Scott decided to come out to California and be a rancher instead of working in Harlan’s office. That made Harlan mad. He doesn’t like me cause I’m half Mexican,” Johnny said, trying to explain as simply as possible.
“Just because your Mama was Mexican, Mr. Garrett doesn’t like you? That’s not right, Johnny.”
“I know, lil cowboy. Lots of things in the world don’t make sense.”
“I think you’re great. I don’t care what your mama was. I don’t care what church you go to. I don’t care that your skin is darker than mine or Scott’s. I love you, Johnny, cause you’re you.”
Johnny beamed at his little brother. That was a very nice thing the boy had said to him. Little True did not have a bigoted bone in his body. He was very accepting ofpeople who were different. As long as the people were nice and didn’t cause trouble or hurt others, True was friendly.
Johnny knelt in front of the boy, and put a hand on each side of True’s waist. He looked into the boy’s honest blue eyes and smiled.
“I think you’re great, too, lil cowboy. I love you and I think you are a very special person.”
Johnny enveloped the boy into a big bear hug and relished the affection the child bestowed upon him in return.
“After mum and dad died, I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again, but I am. I’m so happy you found me, Johnny,” True confessed as he rested his head on Johnny’s shoulder.
“I’m very happy I found ya, too, Truman Lancer. You mean the world to us.”
Johnny released True and they grinned at each other. They returned to their work and enjoyed each other’s presence in companionable silence. These two brothers didn’t need to talk to understand each other’s feelings.
When the horses had been fed and bedded down for the night, True fed the rabbits and Trevor.
“Johnny, do you think Miracle would be upset or lonely if I gave Simon and Sandy one of her babies?”
“I don’t know, True. The pen is getting a bit crowded, now, cause the babies have grown so much. Why don’t we talk it over with Papa?” Johnny suggested.
“Okay. Hey, Trevor, ya wanna play ball?”
The dog wagged his tail and woofed in reply. True threw the ball out of the barn and watched as Trevor went after it. Johnny watched with an easy smile as he braided some rawhide, his fingers flowing through the motions, almost of their own accord.
When Trevor came back, he did not have the ball. He sat in front of Truman and whined.
“What’s wrong, Trevor? Where’s the ball, boy?” True asked as he rubbed the dog’s ears.
“Are you looking for this, young man?” Garrett asked as he entered the barn.
Garrett was holding the ball wrapped in an embroidered handkerchief.
“Yes. Why do you have it?” True asked.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘yes, sir?‘ You threw it at me. It hit my knee. I picked it up.”
“I threw it for Trevor. It’s his ball.”
“Give the ball to True, Harlan,” Johnny demanded.
“Your manners are worse than the boy’s. He must pick up a lot of bad habits from you, Madrid,” Harlan sneered.
“That’s Lancer, Grandfather. Johnny’s name is Lancer,” Scott said as he entered the barn. “Johnny usually has very good manners.”
Johnny and Scott shared a look of understanding, then Johnny turned back to Garrett. Scott approached his grandfather and took the ball from him. He handed it to Truman.
Truman smiled his thanks at Scott and received a pat on his back from his eldest brother.
“Johnny, Murdoch wants to see you and True in the great room. I’ll escort Grandfather to supper when it’s time,” Scott addressed his brother.
Johnny nodded, took Truman by the hand and they left the barn with Trevor on their heels.
Truman threw the ball for Trevor again and the dog chased after it, barking and wagging his tail happily.
“I know I’m s’posed to say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ to my elders to show respect, but what if I don’t respect someone cause they don’t deserve it? Will I go to Hell?” True asked seriously.
“No, True. You won’t go to hell,” Johnny replied as he lifted the boy into his arms.
Johnny sat in a chair on the front porch, set True on his lap and talked to him about respect. The French doors were open, thus allowing Murdoch to overhear his sons’ enlightening conversation.
“True, people have to earn respect, they don’t just get it cause they’re older.”
“Then why do people say we must always respect our elders?”
“Most people who are our elders are wise and experienced in things cause they’ve been around a long time and we can learn from them. Most of them do deserve our respect,” Johnny began.
“What makes you respect someone?” True asked.
“Do you mean how do people earn respect in general or what do people have to do to earn my respect?” Johnny asked for clarification.
“What do people have to do to earn your respect?” True asked.
“They have to be kind to children, women, and animals. They have to be honest. They have to be willing to listen and learn from others, and they must never shoot anyone in the back,” Johnny replied.
“That sounds good to me. I don’t think people should think they’re gonna be treated nicely just cause they’re older if they don’t treat other people nicely,” True said.
“I agree, True. People need to be nice to be treated nicely. That’s the golden rule, ya know,” Johnny said.
“Yeah. Hey, didn’t Scott say that Papa wanted to see us?” True asked.
“Yeah, we better go see what he wants. Hop down, lil cowboy,” Johnny kindly instructed the boy.
True slid off Johnny’s lap, Johnny stood and stretched, and they walked into the hacienda together.
Murdoch was sitting at his desk when his two younger sons entered. He smiled up at them and beckoned them to him.
“Papa!” True called as he ran to Murdoch and received a hug.
“Hey, big boy. How are you feeling?” Murdoch asked as he gave his son a love pat.
“I’m fine, now, Papa. Scott said you wanted to see me an’ Johnny,” True replied.
“Yes. Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, Murdoch. Everything is fine,” Johnny replied.
“Any…unpleasant…encounters with Harlan?” Murdoch asked.
“Nothing we can’t handle, right True?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch gave Johnny a meaningful look, as in “we are not finished with this discussion,’ but let it go for the moment.
“Right, Johnny,” True replied.
“Chores done?” Murdoch asked.
“Good boy. Go play for a little while, then I’ll call you for supper,” Murdoch kindly instructed the boy.
True gave Murdoch and Johnny each a quick hug and ran up to his room to pull out some of the toys.
While the boy was upstairs, Murdoch asked Johnny if Garrett had been unkind to either him or Truman. Johnny explained the incident in the barn and Murdoch nodded.
“I…um…heard the conversation you two had about respect. You did a great job explaining it to True, son.”
Johnny smiled shyly. “Gracias.”
“De nada. Is all of your work finished?” Murdoch asked.
“We need to clean out the storage shack for items for the charity auction. We’ll start on that tomorrow. You, True, and I can clean it out and sort through the stuff,” Murdoch stated.
“What about Scott?”
“Scott will be entertaining his grandfather and keeping him out of our hair. When Garrett leaves, I’ll have plenty of things to keep Scott busy.”
“Don’t give Scott extra work just cause his grandfather invited himself out here. We’ll manage,” Johnny said.
“Well, I guess you’re right. We can’t punish Scott because his grandfather is a bully,” Murdoch agreed.
“Go wash up for supper and make sure True cleans his room and washes his hands,” Murdoch requested.
“Alright. See ya at supper.”
“See you there, son,” Murdoch replied with a small smile and a pat on the arm.
Johnny went upstairs and followed through with his instructions as Scott and Garrett entered the front door.
“Hello, Scott, Harlan. Would you care for a drink? Supper will be ready in about fifteen minutes,” Murdoch asked, doing his best to be civil.
“Thank you, Murdoch. I’d like a Scotch,” Garrett replied.
“Whiskey, please, thanks,” was Scott’s reply.
Murdoch fixed the drinks and handed them off. A few minutes of tense silence followed, then the thudding of boots, the jingle of spurs, and the lighter tap-tap of smaller feet in smaller boots were heard as Johnny and Truman made their way down the front steps.
The younger two Lancer sons had put on clean ranch clothes and washed their faces and hands in preparation for supper. They entered the great room and settled on the settee near the fireplace.
“Hey, Scott,” True greeted his big brother.
Scott smiled at the boy and returned the greeting,” hey, little buddy.”
Johnny noticed that Harlan scowled while he listened to the interaction. He smirked to himself and smiled down at the boy sitting next to him.
Teresa entered and called the men to the table for supper. When True climbed into his chair next to Murdoch, Garrett scowled even deeper.
“That child is not having his meal with us, is he?” Garrett asked.
“Of course he is, Harlan. True is a member of the family,” Murdoch replied.
“He’s a child and he needs to eat with your servants, not with the adults of the family,” Garrett answered. He scowled at Johnny, wishing he, too, could be banned to the kitchen. Johnny gave Garrett one of his best Madrid stares.
“Truman eats with us, Grandfather,” Scott cut in, thus putting an end to the discussion.
“Maria isn’t a servant, she’s family,” True said.
“She’s your Mexican cook,” Garrett replied.
“So? She’s family and I love her. She should eat supper with us, too,” the boy stated firmly.
Garrett’s mouth opened silently, in shock. The other Lancer family members smiled at the boy who was taking a stand for their beloved Maria.
Story 3: Harlan‘s Coming To Town, Part E
Truman turned and summoned Maria, who was sitting in the kitchen. When she heard the nino’s voice calling for her, she entered the dining room to see to the boy’s needs. She looked towards Murdoch questioningly and he smiled at her mysteriously as he gestured her to respond to True.
“Si, chico? What is it?” Maria asked the boy.
True asked Maria, in Spanish, if she had eaten her supper yet. When she answered in the negative, True insisted that she join the family at the table. When Maria tried to decline, the boy turned his patented puppy eyes on her, a trick he had learned from Johnny, of course.
Maria sighed, looked back at Murdoch for help, but only received a nod of approval from him. Johnny moved down a seat so Maria could sit next to Truman. The boy beamed in his excitement that Maria was joining them. Once she was settled, the family joined hands for the blessing. Truman and Johnny each took one of Maria’s hands and Murdoch had taken True’s left hand and Teresa’s right. Johnny held his hand out for Garrett to take. The man was clenching his teeth and hesitating.
“Come on, Harlan, it’s a hand, not a snake. We always hold hands for the blessing. Ya don’t wanna set a bad example for True, do ya?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, Harlan. Take Johnny’s hand so we can say the blessing and eat. I’m hungry, aren’t you?” True asked.
When Truman called Mr. Garrett ‘Harlan,’ the man gasped and turned three shades of red.
“What’s wrong with him, Papa?” True asked.
“You shouldn’t call him ‘Harlan,’ son,” Murdoch replied.
“Why not? Everyone else does. Should I call him ‘Grandfather’?” the boy asked innocently.
“You will address me as ‘Mr. Garrett’ or ‘Sir,’” Garrett replied through clenched teeth.
True looked at the man appraisingly.
“Mr. Garrett, please take Johnny’s hand so we can eat,” True politely requested.
The food was getting cold and the boy’s stomach growled loudly.
Garrett heaved a pained sigh and gently took hold of Johnny’s first two fingers. Murdoch and the others smiled and bowed their heads for the blessing. As soon as it was over, Garrett dropped Johnny’s fingers as if they were on fire.
Johnny tapped Scott’s ankle with his boot and received a grin from his older brother. Plates were passed and filled from the bounty on the table.
True had outgrown his big booster seat, but still needed some elevation to reach the table properly, so Johnny and Scott had cut the bottom half off the old one, which lowered it, so True was able to sit comfortably at the table. The boy kept smiling at Maria throughout the meal because he was so happy his mamacita had joined them. They conversed quietly in Spanish and laughed softly, much to Garrett’s chagrin.
“If you’re going to insist that the boy and your servant join us at the table, could you at least require them to speak English instead of that barbaric language they are using?” Garrett snapped at Murdoch.
“She’s not a servant!” True hollered at Garrett. He had risen from his seat and was almost standing, with his feet on the cross bar under the cushion of the chair.
“Truman Oliver, sit down! You know better than to yell at the table,” Murdoch admonished his youngest.
True had the grace to accept his chastisement quietly and resumed his seat.
Maria rubbed the boy’s back to soothe him, and assured him she was fine.
“Harlan, Spanish is not a barbaric language. It is a language much derived from Latin. You know, one of the romance languages? I prefer you didn’t refer to Spanish as barbaric in my home. By doing so, you are insulting my son, Johnny, and Maria, who is also considered a member of the family,” Murdoch concluded.
Murdoch was doing his best to stay cool and collected. He wanted to prove that even though he was angry, extremely angry, he could hold his temper. He did not want to set a bad example for his sons and daughter or embarrass anybody. He hoped to get his point across without the discussion erupting into a shouting match.
Murdoch looked at Truman and noted the boy had settled down, but was moving his food around his plate with the fork, but not consuming it.
Murdoch leaned toward his youngest and put a finger under the boy’s chin. He raised Truman’s face so he could see it and looked into the boy’s sorrowful eyes.
“Eat, Truman. Everything is fine,” Murdoch instructed the boy quietly, calmly, and kindly.
True gave his Papa a small smile and nodded. He resumed eating his supper and received an approving wink from Murdoch.
Garrett was too busy grinding his teeth in seething anger to enjoy his meal. He stared at the boy, Maria, and Johnny in turn with loathing.
“I refuse to be addressed in such a manner as a guest in your house, Murdoch!” Garrett snapped.
“Well, that’s too bad, Garrett. You do not have the right to invite yourself into my home and, before twelve hours have passed, insult my sons and Maria. I won’t have it. This is MY house, Harlan. MY ranch, MY house, MY rules. If you cannot abide by those rules, then excuse yourself from the ranch,” Murdoch stated. He was holding on to his temper tenuously.
Garrett turned to Scott with a look of astonishment.
“Aren’t you going to take my side in this and say something, Scotty?” he asked.
“No, Grandfather. I agree with Murdoch. You DID invite yourself, and despite my request, you have not been kind to either of my brothers or other family members who happen to make a living on this ranch,” Scott replied. “And…my name is Scott, NOT Scotty.”
Garrett harrumphed and returned his attention to Murdoch.
“You don’t have any rules posted, Murdoch,” Garrett replied. “How can I follow rules when I don’t know what they are?”
“Ignorance is no excuse, Harlan. My rules are quite simple and require little common sense to figure them out. The main rule is the Golden Rule. Treat others as you wish to be treated. THAT is your biggest problem. The second rule is not to insult anyone on this ranch. The third rule is not to assume you know everything because you don’t. If you don’t know something, swallow your pride and ask. You may ask me or Scott, whoever you feel most comfortable with. You may not always get the answer you want, or any answer for that matter, but ask anyway. The worst that can happen is that an answer is refused,” Murdoch stated firmly.
“And if an answer is refused?” Garrett asked.
“Then it was none of your business to begin with. And another thing, don’t expect respect when you don’t give it in kind. You have to earn respect. It’s the same as to have a friend, you must be a friend,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny and the others were quite impressed with the lessons Murdoch was giving Garrett on social etiquette. They each silently cheered him on.
Garrett threw his napkin on to the table and stood. “Excuse me. I am retiring for the evening.”
“Goodnight, Harlan,” Murdoch replied civilly.
“Goodnight, Murdoch,” Garrett said in kind.
“Goodnight, Grandfather,” Scott answered.
“Goodnight, Scott,” Garrett answered.
“Night, Harlan,” Johnny joined with a grin.
Garrett glared at Johnny before he turned and started walking towards the front steps. He had one foot on the first step when he heard Truman call, “goodnight, Mr. Garrett!”
He paused, then continued his journey to the upper floor.
Story 3: Harlan‘s Coming To Town, Part F
The next morning, Johnny, Truman, and Murdoch went to work cleaning out the storage shed to find suitable items to donate to the Green River charity auction.
They found some clothing in decent shape that only needed to be washed. Also, an old side saddle, a child’s rocking chair (too small for Truman), and other odds and ends were found. The rest of the items were inventoried and packed away again for future generations of Lancers.
Truman was excited when a child’s wagon was found. The wood was rotted through in the middle, but the wheels and handle were in decent shape.
“Papa! Could I have this if I fix it up?” the boy asked eagerly.
“Sure, son. It will be a good project for you,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny smiled at the boy and patted him on the back.
“I’ll help ya if you need it, True,” Johnny said.
“You’re welcome, lil cowboy.”
Murdoch smiled at his two younger sons, who were almost inseparable.
Garrett happened to be strolling by at that time and looked disdainfully at the wagon, then at Truman.
“What do you want that old thing for? It’s a waste of time to fix it. Just get a new one,” the man said nastily.
“Leave him alone, Harlan. If he wants to fix it up, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Murdoch snapped at the unwelcome guest.
Johnny stepped closer to True protectively and watched the interaction carefully, ready to intervene if necessary.
True glared at Garrett with intense dislike. The old man caught his eye and scowled at the little boy.
“Don’t you dare look at me like that, boy!”
“I can if I want,” True replied defiantly.
“Murdoch, if you don’t teach this boy some manners, I will!” Garrett threatened, while raising his walking stick.
Johnny moved behind Truman and put his left hand around the boy’s shoulders while his right hand hovered over his Colt. Truman reached back with his left hand and grasped a handful of Johnny’s trousers.
“If you touch my son…,” Murdoch began.
“If he touches Truman, Murdoch, he won’t know what hit ‘im,” Johnny finished the threat for Murdoch, using his ice cold Madrid voice.
“Johnny, be careful,” Murdoch warned.
Johnny knew exactly what Murdoch meant in his veiled warning and nodded his understanding.
“Are you going to pull a gun on an unarmed man, Madrid?” Garrett asked, taunting Johnny.
“Do you really want to find out?” Johnny shot back.
Unbeknownst to them, Scott was close by, listening and watching the confrontation. He had received several complaints about his grandfather’s treatment of the ranch hands and their families from the vaqueros and other people who lived and worked on the ranch. He wanted to see for himself how Garrett was behaving, so he had excused himself to use the outhouse, then doubled back and shadowed his grandfather to see what he would do without Scott’s supervision.
Scott had heard and seen enough. He would intervene and give his grandfather one last chance before he sent the busybody back to Boston. He approached his family at a brisk and determined pace.
“Why can’t you just leave Johnny and Truman alone? They weren’t hurting you or interfering in your business. Why must you interfere in theirs?” Scott asked wearily.
“This…boy…has no manners whatsoever and is constantly allowed to do and say as he pleases,” Garrett complained as he gestured towards Truman. “Your so-called half-brother…is a menace to society, threatening to shoot anyone who displeases him,” Garrett continued his rant.
Scott looked at each of them in turn, meeting their determined gazes. True appeared to be scared, but he stood his ground with Johnny’s arm wrapped around him protectively. Murdoch met his Garrett’s eyes with his standard Scottish stubbornness, and Johnny returned his gaze with barely controlled anger. When Scott turned to his grandfather, the old man appeared smug and self-righteous.
Scott knelt in front of True and grasped each side of his waist.
“True, why don’t you take your wagon over to the barn and see if Jelly has some spare lumber you could use to fix it, okay? I need to talk to Papa and Johnny and my grandfather in private,” Scott explained quietly and kindly.
Truman looked at each adult in turn, not lingering on Garrett too long, then returned his gaze to Scott.
“Are you gonna use big words I’m not allowed to hear and use?” True asked.
Scott smiled at his little brother and nodded. “Most likely, little buddy,” Scott replied.
“Okay. I’ll see you all later. Thanks for the wagon, Papa,” True said.
“You’re welcome, son. We’ll see you at lunch, if not before. Don’t forget your chores,” Murdoch replied, then patted his youngest on the back as the child walked away, pulling his wagon.
“Yes, Papa,” True called back.
Once True had gone to the barn, Scott turned and spoke to his grandfather.
“This is your final warning, grandfather. I am tired of having to hear about your attitude and disrespect towards my family and friends. If you say another derogatory thing to anyone, mistreat, or threaten anyone again, I’ll drive you to Green River and put you on the stage so fast, you’ll be home before the dizziness stops!” Scott promised.
Garrett stared at Scott open-mouthed and could not produce an adequate retort. The man turned smartly on his heel and stalked off.
Scott heaved a sigh and his shoulders drooped. Murdoch laid a hand on his eldest son’s shoulder and squeezed it supportively.
“It’s not your fault he is like that, Scott,” Murdoch said.
“I know, but I feel responsible for him,” Scott replied wearily.
“Well, you’re not, brother, so let it go,” Johnny advised.
“Easier said than done, Johnny, especially when innocent people could get hurt,” Scott answered.
“We’ll help ya, brother,” Johnny assured Scott.
“Let me tell you something, son. If Harlan threatens ANY body on this ranch, especially the family members, that includes Maria, Cip, and Jelly, I will throw Harlan off this ranch myself,” Murdoch warned.
Scott nodded his understanding.
The lunch bell rang and the Lancer men headed for the house to join Teresa for their mid-day meal. True ran into the kitchen just ahead of Johnny and washed his hands, then took his customary place at the table and waited patiently for the others to sit.
Johnny leaned over and tweaked the boy’s nose as he passed him on his way to the sink to wash. True giggled and tried to squirm away, but Johnny caught him and tickled the boy, too.
When everyone had arrived and settled, the family said their grace and dug in to their meal. When it was finished, the elder Lancer men returned to their work and the youngest retired to his room for a rest.
An hour or so later, True descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. Maria greeted him warmly with a kiss on his cheek and presented some cookies and milk to him. True gave her a big smile and thanked her for the snack. When he finished his treat, Truman carried his dishes to the sink, hugged Maria, and dashed out the door.
True heard Trevor barking as he left the kitchen and looked toward the barn, so he did not see that he was about to run into somebody. That somebody happened to be Harlan Garrett.
Luckily, Jelly was a witness and watched to see what happened.
Harlan grabbed Truman’s upper arm tightly and hauled the boy to his feet roughly. The little boy was scared and winced in pain.
“Let go of me! You’re hurting me!” True yelled.
“You better start watching where you’re going, boy!” Harlan yelled back as he shook Truman.
Just then, everyone within hearing distance came running to see what was going on and how they could help. Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch had been in the work room cleaning the items found in the shed that morning and ran out when they heard Truman yell. Jelly met the Lancers at the site of the confrontation.
“Let go of him this instant!” Murdoch ordered Harlan.
“He ran into me,” Garrett protested as he released Truman.
The boy ran to Johnny and was immediately enveloped into his big brother’s protective embrace. Johnny squatted and held Truman as the child wept.
“Shhh, you’re safe, now. It’s alright,” Johnny crooned to True.
“I didna mean ta run into Mr. Garrett. Honest, I didn’t,” Truman said.
“I know, I know. What happened?” Johnny asked.
“I r-ran out of the kitchen and heard Trevor bark and I looked to the barn and then I ran into Mr. Garrett. He was just there,” True explained between sniffles.
Scott and Murdoch had listened to True’s confession and then looked toward Garrett.
“Is that what happened, grandfather? Did True purposely run into you or was he just not watching where he was going?” Scott asked.
“He wasn’t paying attention,” Garrett snapped.
“Okay, so he wasn’t paying attention. That’s normal for a boy his age. Did you need to yank him around like ya did?” Jelly intervened.
Garrett glared at Jelly and the beloved handyman stuck his chin out defiantly and held Garrett’s glare.
“Did you see what happened, Jelly?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, boss, I sho did.”
“Please tell us,” Scott requested.
“True did run out and look’d to the barn when he heard Trevor bark and he ran into Mr. Garrett there,” Jelly began. He finished by describing the actions he witnessed Garrett doing. He went on to say that he didn’t think True ever realized that Garrett was approaching him.
“Thank you, Jelly. That will be all,” Murdoch said, dismissing Jelly kindly.
Jelly nodded, turned and started walking back to the barn, stopping to offer assurances to Truman. The boy was being held lovingly in Johnny’s arms. He had calmed and dried his tears, and was now listening to the adults as they discussed the situation.
“Well, Harlan, once again you have over-reacted and caused pain to one of my sons. Do not touch Truman again. Is that clear?” Murdoch asked pointedly.
“Crystal,” Garrett said, just before he stalked off muttering to himself.
Murdoch looked around and dismissed the crowd of spectators. He walked over to where Johnny was holding Truman and patted the child’s back.
“Come to me, Truman. We’re going to have a little talk,” Murdoch said as he extracted the boy from Johnny’s arms.
Johnny gave Murdoch a weary look.
“I’m not going to punish him, Johnny. I just want to talk to him,” Murdoch said.
Johnny nodded and relinquished his hold on the boy.
Murdoch took his youngest and they went to the boy’s room. Murdoch settled in the rocking chair and pulled True onto his lap.
“How are you?” Murdoch asked, concerned.
“I’m okay, now, Papa.”
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
“My arm is a little sore, but I’m okay everywhere else.”
“Let me see,” Murdoch requested.
He unbuttoned True’s shirt cuff and rolled the sleeve up, where he saw the red imprint of Garrett’s hand and a little bit of bruising. Murdoch rubbed the arm gently and then folded his youngest in his arms.
“I’m sorry I ran into him, I really am,” True said.
“I know, son. He had no right to grab you the way he did.”
“Is he staying all month?” True asked.
“Not if he can’t behave himself.”
“Can we invite the Barkleys to come? I like Nick a whole lot more, now,” True declared.
Murdoch chuckled and hugged the boy tighter. “We could invite them to visit at the end of the summer, okay? Maybe for your birthday. Would you like that?”
“Really? That would be nice.”
Murdoch kissed the top of True’s head and set the chair into gentle motion.
“Truman, I want you to stay away from Mr. Garrett, alright? If you see him coming towards you, go find one of your brothers, me, Jelly, or one of your friends. Don’t even talk to him, alright?”
“I’m not in trouble?”
“No. You did nothing wrong.”
“I wasn’t paying attention and ran into him.”
“That was an accident. Remember when you spilled your milk last week?”
“Did you mean to do it?”
“Did I punish you?”
“No, Papa. You just asked me to help clean it up and to be more careful.”
“Right. You need to be more careful when you know Garrett’s around the ranch, okay?”
“Yes, Papa. I need to do my chores.”
“Okay. Let me know if your arm starts hurting more.”
“Yes, sir. I love you, Papa.”
“I love you, too, son. Let’s go.”
Murdoch snuggled the boy one last time before they rose and went downstairs. Johnny looked up as he heard them descending and raised his eyebrows curiously.
“Everything is fine, son,” Murdoch assured Johnny as he walked by and patted Johnny’s arm affectionately.
Johnny smiled and nodded, then lifted his little brother up and gave him a hug.
“Do you want me to go to the barn with you?” Johnny offered Truman.
“That would be a good idea, Johnny,” Murdoch stated.
“Thanks, Johnny,” True said.
“No problemo. Let’s go feed our animals.”
Murdoch smiled as he watched Johnny put the boy down and take him by the hand to go out. His boys waved to him and he waved back, then Murdoch settled at his desk to do some book work as the door was closed.
Story 3: Harlan`s Coming To Town, Part G
Later that afternoon, before supper, Sam Jenkins paid the Lancers a social call.
Truman was walking back to the hacienda with Johnny close behind. When the boy recognized Sam’s buggy, he raced towards the house. Murdoch was standing on the veranda with Sam and they were talking.
“Uncle Sam, Uncle Sam!” True called as he ran towards the man.
Sam held out his arms and caught the little whirlwind, then hugged the boy close.
“How are you, Truman?”
“Fine, thanks. Where ya been ? I’ve missed you,” True said sincerely.
“I’ve missed you, too, Truman. Are you taking care of your brothers and Papa?” Sam asked.
“I try my best, but I can’t control them, ya know,” True answered honestly.
Sam, Murdoch, and Johnny laughed at this.
“Hey, Sam. Good to have ya back,” Johnny said as he greeted the doctor and shook Sam’s hand.
“Thanks, Johnny. It’s good to be back,” Sam replied.
“Let’s go inside where it’s cooler,” Murdoch suggested.
The men and the boy went inside and sat in the living room.
“Uncle Sam, where ya been?” True asked.
“San Francisco,” Sam replied.
“What were you doing there?” asked the curious boy.
“I was at a medical conference.”
“Oh, well…umm…I guess that was…fun…for ya,” True said hesitantly.
“It wasn’t exactly fun, Truman, but it was informative and interesting and I did see some old friends. I was able to have some leisure time, too,” Sam replied.
Johnny and Murdoch were enjoying listening to the conversation between Sam and Truman and they shared a smile.
“What’s…lee-shure?” True asked.
“Leisure is when someone gets to go and do something they enjoy,” Sam explained.
“Like play time or recess?” True asked.
“So, what did you do for leisure?” the boy asked.
“Truman, quit pestering Sam,” Murdoch gently admonished the boy.
“He’s fine, Murdoch. I don’t mind answering his questions,” Sam retorted. “Truman, I went to a zoo and saw some really wild animals.”
The boy’s eyes opened wide in wonder. “What did you see?”
“Lions, tigers, penguins, and a giant panda bear,” Sam replied.
“Penguins and a panda? What does a panda look like? Where do penguins and pandas come from?” True asked.
He knew about lions and tigers because they had been his parents’ animals at the circus.
“Penguins come from the Antarctica and giant pandas come from China. The penguins did not have names, but the panda’s name was Tai Shan. (tie-SHON) His name means `peaceful mountain.’ They eat fruit and bamboo,” Sam said, concluding his explanation.
Truman’s eyes were wide open as he listened attentively. The boy loved animals of all kinds, except snakes and skunks.
“I have something for you, Truman,” Sam said.
“You do?” the boy asked, surprised.
“Yes. After I saw all the animals, I browsed in the gift shop. I found this and this,” Sam said as he pulled out a small stuffed toy panda and a children’s book about pandas out of a bag that True hadn’t even noticed before.
“WOW! For me?”
Sam chuckled. “Yes, Truman. Just for you,” Sam replied as he handed the gifts to the stunned boy.
The boy took the gifts gently and then hugged Sam fiercely.
“Thank you, Uncle Sam!” True said with feeling.
Sam hugged the boy and patted his back. “You’re very welcome, Truman.”
“I’ll take good care of Tai Shan and the book. That was really nice of you, Uncle Sam. Thanks!” True said. He turned to Murdoch and Johnny and smiled.
“Did you see my panda? Isn’t he beautiful? The book…it has lots of pictures!” True exclaimed.
“I see that, son. That was very nice of Uncle Sam to remember you. I like the way you thanked him. We’re going to have supper soon, so why don’t you take the panda and book up to your room and wash up, okay?” Murdoch kindly suggested to his youngest boy.
True showed Johnny the panda and book and Johnny oohed and aahed over it appropriately, then Truman headed for the staircase. The boy stopped and gave Sam another hug, and scampered to his room, where he placed the panda in Mr. Bear’s arms and put the book on his desk.
Truman washed for supper and changed into a clean shirt before returning to the living room and plopping himself down right next to Sam, who smiled at the boy and put an affectionate arm around True’s shoulders as he continued to converse with Murdoch.
About ten minutes to supper time, Scott and his grandfather came in and joined the others in the living room.
“Grandfather, you remember Dr. Jenkins, don’t you?” Scott asked as they sat on the settee.
“Yes, I do It’s nice to see you again, doctor,” Garrett responded politely.
“It’s good to see you, too, Mr. Garrett,” Sam replied.
Truman was still sitting next to Sam and the doctor could feel the boy begin to tremble. Sam looked down at Truman with concern, and pulled him closer, then looked up and met Murdoch’s eyes. Murdoch mouthed the word `later’ and looked at Garrett. Sam understood and tousled True’s hair gently.
Teresa came in and announced it was time to be seated. Johnny hopped up and extended a hand to Sam to help him up. Truman climbed off the couch and took Sam’s hand as they walked to the table.
Sam was deeply concerned about the change in the boy’s demeanor. True had been relaxed and content to sit with Sam while the doctor and Murdoch spoke about San Francisco, but now the child was nervous and clingy. Sam associated it with Garrett’s entrance.
Johnny took Truman aside and whispered into his ear The boy nodded and allowed Johnny to lift him into his seat Johnny sat next to True and Sam sat between Johnny and Garrett, much to Garrett’s relief.
The blessing was said and the food was served. Truman was very quiet during this meal. All of the adults, except Garrett, noticed and became concerned. True was pushing his food around with his fork and had his head resting in the palm of his left hand. Murdoch had been watching the boy when he was not engaged in conversation, but he was not sure True had actually eaten anything.
Murdoch reached out and felt Truman’s forehead. The boy did not have a fever, but he was not acting like himself. Murdoch leaned over and whispered to the boy, “what’s wrong, son?”
“My head hurts, Papa. I don’t feel like eating,” True replied.
This was unusual and sudden because the boy was fine less than twenty minutes ago. Murdoch decided to pursue the matter privately. He stood up and lifted the youngster into his arms.
“Excuse us for a few minutes, please,” Murdoch said before he took Truman to the kitchen.
Once they reached the other room, Murdoch set his son on the table and lifted the child’s chin with his fingers.
“Did you bang your head or does it hurt from the inside?” Murdoch asked.
“From the inside.”
“Maria, please go ask Sam, quietly, to come in here,” Murdoch requested.
Maria left and just a few short minutes later, she returned with Sam behind her.
“What’s wrong, Murdoch?” Sam asked.
“Truman says his head hurts from the inside and he doesn’t want to eat anything,” Murdoch replied.
“When did this start?” Sam asked.
“He just told me about it, but it could have started earlier, before supper. Truman, when did your head start to hurt?” Murdoch asked softly.
“Before I saw Uncle Sam’s buggy. It didn’t hurt bad and I forgot about it when I was talking to Uncle Sam about the pandas. It hurt more after we sat down to supper,” True replied.
“Sam?” Murdoch asked.
“It’s been very hot today. True, did you drink a lot of water or lemonade today?” Sam asked. “Did you have to pee a lot today?”
“No and no,” True said. He put his head in his hands and rested his elbows on his knees.
“He’s dehydrated, Murdoch. On days like this, it’s very important for everyone to drink a lot of fluids, especially young children and elderly people,” Sam explained.
“What can we do for him?” Murdoch asked.
“Give him something to drink and let him rest on the couch. Tomorrow, keep him in and make sure he drinks lots of fluids. He can get dressed and be down here, but I want him to rest. No rough play. Understand, Truman?” Sam asked.
“Yes, Uncle Sam,” True replied quietly.
“What do you want to do right now, Truman? Stay down here or go to your room?” Murdoch asked.
“Could I please have some lemonade and rest on the little couch?” the boy requested politely.
Murdoch looked at Sam and received a nod.
“That’s fine, big boy. Maria, would you please fix a cup of lemonade for Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“De nada, patron. Anything for the nino.”
Murdoch lifted Truman and carried him into the living room and Sam followed. They settled the boy on the settee, or the `little couch,’ as True called it. Murdoch pulled the boy’s boots off and Sam covered True with a blanket. They made sure he was comfortable.
Johnny came over to see what was going on. He wore a worried expression as he approached.
“What’s wrong with True? He didn’t eat anything,” Johnny said.
“He has a headache due to dehydration, Johnny,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny sat on the sofa with the boy and rubbed the child’s arm gently.
“You’re gonna be alright, lil cowboy,” Johnny assured the boy.
“Have you finished your supper, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“Yep. I’ll sit here with True for awhile,” Johnny replied.
“Okay. Make sure he drinks his lemonade. Maria will be bringing it out soon,” Murdoch instructed.
“Right,” Johnny said as he lifted his younger brother, sat down, and then put the boy in his lap.
True rested his head on Johnny’s chest. He loved being held by either one of his brothers or his papa. He felt safe and loved.
Maria brought the lemonade and gave each of the guys a kiss on their heads. Johnny smiled and True grinned at his brother. Johnny made sure True drank the refreshing beverage as the rest of the family finished their supper.
“What’s wrong with the child, Murdoch? Is he trying to get extra attention, not that he is ever ignored,” Garrett said nastily.
“Truman has a headache due to dehydration, Mr. Garrett,” Sam clipped.
“Hmph. That child gets too much attention and coddling,” Garrett muttered.
“Be quiet, Grandfather,” Scott said quietly, but with conviction.
“Pardon me, Scott?” Garrett asked.
“You heard me. Leave Truman alone.”
“I can’t believe you are speaking to me in that manner, Scott.”
“Believe it. You’ve been warned, grandfather. Tonight, you are packing and tomorrow, I will take you to town.”
“I will NOT stay in some run-down, flea bitten hotel room!”
“I know. You’re going straight to the stage to Cross Creek. I’ve asked and pleaded with you to be nice and you just can’t do it. We’re not putting up with it anymore,” Scott said.
Story 3: Harlan`s Coming To Town, Part H
Scott had planned to take his grandfather to the stage this morning, but he remembered that it was Wednesday and the stage didn’t run on Wednesdays, so he’d have to wait another day. He was looking around inside the house for his grandfather’s whereabouts. He would soon find out.
Truman had been told to stay away from Garrett and that is what he was going to try to do. He walked outside to use the outhouse and saw Charlie working in the forge. True waved to his friend and headed towards the privy, but he was intercepted by Garrett.
“Where are you going, boy?” Garrett asked in a snide tone.
True stopped for a moment, without looking at him, then began to walk around Garrett without speaking to the man. Garrett reached out and snagged the boy’s right arm, almost in exactly the same place he had previously grabbed the child. Truman gasped, then hollered for Charlie.
Charlie had just set the hammer down so he heard Truman’s cry of distress. He looked up, and sure enough, Garrett had the boy’s arm in another vise-like hold. Charlie ran towards the pair to help True and hollered out to gain more assistance.
True had twisted around and planted a well-aimed kick at the old man’s shin. Garrett gasped in pain and shook True, then received another kick.
Garrett dropped his walking stick and slapped True across the face just before Charlie reached them. True’s head snapped back and his eyes watered as he reached up with his free hand and rubbed his cheek. Charlie grabbed True around his waist and lifted the boy away from Garrett.
“This boy needs a hard lesson in manners,” Garrett roared, raising his walking stick in the air.
“Put your stick down and move away from Truman or your brains will poison Lancer land,” a cold voice said behind him.
When Garrett hesitated to follow the directions, a gun was cocked and placed at the base of his skull. A shiver ran down Garrett’s spine. The person wielding the gun was pleased to see fear ripple through the old man.
“Don’t make me repeat myself, Harlan,” the hard voice urged.
By then, a whole slew of witnesses had gathered to watch the confrontation. Scott and Murdoch arrived on the scene from different directions just mere seconds after the second warning was given.
“Please…,” Garrett began.
“Please WHAT?” the voice asked.
“Please, don’t shoot.”
The gun was removed from the base of Garrett’s neck. Garrett heard the gun slipping into a leather holster and then the safety thong being put back in place. He turned slowly to see who had held the gun at his neck. Johnny Lancer was standing near a column of the veranda and watching Garrett with detached interest. His arms were crossed against his chest and he was standing straight with his legs shoulder length apart.
Charlie carried True to a chair on the veranda and sat down, holding the boy in his lap and soothing him so Murdoch and Scott could take care of the situation
“Did anyone see what happened?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, Mr. Lancer. I did,” Walt said, as he walked forward.
When the loyal ranch hand was given the nod to continue, he described the confrontation. Murdoch nodded his thanks then dismissed the other hands. Soon, only Walt, Scott, Murdoch and Garrett stood in the yard. Johnny had walked over to where Charlie was tending to Truman.
Johnny lifted the boy into his arms and examined his left cheek closely. It bore a dark red mark with a bruise beginning to show in the middle of the mark. Johnny gently kissed his brother’s head and held the child close. While still holding Truman, he walked over to stand next to Murdoch and Scott, who were facing Garrett.
Scott sighed heavily. “Before I take you into town, I’d like to hear your side of the story, grandfather,” Scott said as calmly as he could.
“You’re taking me to town today? But…but the stage doesn’t come till three o’clock tomorrow!” Garrett sputtered.
“Just tell me!” Scott ordered.
Garrett was stupefied, but began to tell his version.
“The boy walked out and started walking that way,” Garrett started, while gesturing towards the outhouse. “I approached him and asked where he was going. He wouldn’t speak to me or even look at me. He started to walk around me. I took him gently by his arm and he yelled for Charlie and he kicked me. I tightened my grip and he kicked me some more. So I slapped him. Charlie picked him up and moved away. Then, someone,” Garrett continued, eying Johnny with intense hatred, “put a gun to my head and threatened to shoot unless I moved away from the boy, so I did.”
“Ya wouldn’t move till I told ya!” Johnny interceded.
“John…,” Murdoch said mildly, while placing his hand gently on Johnny’s arm.
“You hurt my son, again, Harlan. Why? He was trying to avoid a confrontation with you, but you couldn’t let it go, could you? Why? Why hurt an innocent little boy? Did you ever hurt Scott like that?” Murdoch asked.
“I would never strike Scotty! He had manners. That boy isn’t even your real son. You just adopted him so you could have absolute control over a boy and make up for losing your real son, Scott! As for that half-breed killer you claim as your son…” Garrett shouted back. He didn’t get much further because he suddenly felt intense pain on his jaw and saw stars, right before he ended up sitting on the ground.
Scott rubbed his knuckles as Murdoch looked at him in astonished silence. Scott met his eyes and shrugged.
Murdoch heard a noise and looked over at Johnny and Truman. Truman was sobbing into Johnny’s shoulder and Johnny had a look of intense hatred on his face while glaring at Garrett.
“John, take True to the kitchen,” Murdoch instructed him.
“Murdoch…,” Johnny began to protest.
Johnny heaved a heavy sigh, nodded once, and carried the boy to the kitchen, where Maria and Teresa instantly started fussing over the nino.
Once his younger sons were gone, Murdoch turned and looked Garrett in the eye.
“Don’t you EVER say anything derogatory about my sons again! Truman may not be my natural born son, but he does have Lancer blood in him, he is legally adopted, and he is well cared for and loved in this family. Johnny is my natural son. He is a person, NOT an animal to be labeled as a breed. He is a million times more of a human being than you will ever hope to be. He is also a rancher, not a killer. He turned to the gun to protect himself and to help others in need. He is an honorable young man and I am very proud to have him as a son,” Murdoch concluded his monologue with a heavy sigh and wiped his brow.
Garrett could only sit in stunned silence and rub his jaw.
“Walt, Charlie, thank you for helping Truman. Scott, I think it’s best if two of our hands and I take your grandfather to town and check him into the hotel for the night. I’m going to check on True and Johnny while the surrey is hitched, then we’ll load your grandfather’s bags. I’ll be right back,” Murdoch said.
Walt and Charlie nodded and went to hitch up the surrey. Scott looked down at his grandfather with disdain and turned on his heel to follow Murdoch.
When they entered the kitchen, they saw Johnny sitting on the table and holding Truman on his lap. A cold compress was being held against his left cheek. There were dried tears on the child’s face, but True was calm and leaning against Johnny’s chest while Johnny rubbed the boy’s sore arm.
Murdoch sat in a chair in front of Truman and took the little boy’s hands in his gently. Scott stood behind Murdoch and met Johnny’s eyes, then looked away in shame.
“How are you, Truman?” Murdoch asked lovingly.
“Okay, Papa. I tried to get away from Mr. Garrett,” True replied.
“You were following my directions, weren’t you, big boy?” Murdoch asked quietly.
“Yes, Papa,” came the whispered reply.
“Good boy. You did nothing wrong, son.”
True nodded silently. He released a deep breath and leaned more heavily against Johnny.
“Truman, I’m going to town for a little bit. I want you to stay inside with your brothers and rest.”
“Papa, I need to pee. I was going to the outhouse.”
Murdoch and Johnny smiled.
“I’ll take him, Murdoch,” Johnny volunteered.
“Thanks, John,” Murdoch replied.
As Johnny passed Murdoch, he whispered to his father to speak to Scott. Murdoch nodded and Johnny took True out to the privy.
“Come with me, Scott.”
Murdoch led Scott into the great room and poured a drink for both of them. As he walked to the couch, he handed one glass to Scott.
“Scott, did Harlan ever slap you?”
Scott sighed. “Just once, sir.”
“When? Why? How old were you?” Murdoch asked.
“When I announced my enlistment. I was seventeen. Grandfather had forbidden it.”
“I see. Well there is a big difference between seven and seventeen. While you had defied your grandfather, you were of age and standing up to your beliefs and doing what you thought was the right thing to do. True was avoiding a confrontation, per my instructions.”
“I understand that, sir. I have no qualms about tossing him off the ranch. He had every warning possible. When he started in on my brothers, it was the last straw,” Scott said, explaining his actions.
“I know. I just couldn’t believe you actually hit your own grandfather. That was quite a right hook, son,” Murdoch said while smirking at Scott.
“This is not a laughing matter, sir.”
“No, it isn’t, but seeing your grandfather sitting on the ground, dazed….well, that was pretty damn funny.”
Scott snorted and tried to school his features. “It was funny.”
Johnny brought Truman in to see Murdoch and Scott.
Scott reached out and invited the youngster to come to him. Truman went to his older brother immediately and received a warm embrace. Scott rubbed the boy’s back lovingly and kissed his head before releasing him.
“I’m so sorry my grandfather hurt you, Truman. You didn’t deserve it. You’re a good boy,” Scott told the child.
“Thanks, Scott. It’s not your fault your grandfather got mean. Maybe he’s lonely and needs a dog,” True replied.
Scott grinned at the little fellow and pulled him in for another hug.
Walt came in through the open French doors and told Murdoch that the surrey had been hitched and was ready for loading.
“Thanks, Walt. Scott, let’s get your grandfather’s bags and take them out. Walt, you and Frank are coming with me to take Garrett to town,” Murdoch said as he rose from his seat.
Murdoch took Truman from Scott’s arms and hugged the boy close, then set the child back on his feet.
“Go ahead and play for a bit. How’s your head? Have you been drinking a lot today?” Murdoch asked.
“My head was better earlier and I did drink a lot, Papa. That’s why I hadda go pee.”
“How is your head now?” Murdoch asked.
“It hurts a little.”
“Well, rest on the little couch or play quietly, whatever you feel like doing. I’ll ask Maria to bring some lemonade to you, okay?”
When Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny went up to retrieve Garrett’s bags, they discussed Truman.
“His head must have started hurting again due to the tension of the confrontation,” Scott suggested.
“Yes, that’s a logical explanation,” Murdoch replied.
“Rest and a drink will help it go away again,” Johnny said, putting in his two cents’ worth.
“They will, son.”
“Murdoch..,” Johnny started.
“I heard what you said about me….thanks,” Johnny said shyly.
Murdoch met Johnny’s eyes and smiled. He squeezed each son on their shoulders and said, “I meant it. I am very proud of all of my sons.”
Johnny swallowed and smiled, then lightly smacked Murdoch on his shoulder.
“Thank you, sir,” Scott replied in his dignified way.
They entered the room Garrett had been using and finished packing the old man’s things. The bag that had been transporting the odiferous cologne had been disposed of and a new bag had been purchased to replace it. Once all of the bags were ready, the threesome carried them down and secured them on the surrey. Scott went to find his grandfather and located the man in the garden, sitting on the bench. He had a wet handkerchief held to his bruised jaw.
“Grandfather, the surrey is ready to take you to town. I wish this had been a better visit. When did you become such a bigot? Or, were you always this way and I just didn’t notice, or want to notice?” Scott asked.
“Scott, I’m sorry. I only want the best for you. I feel you’re wasting your time and education out here,” Garrett replied.
“Well, Grandfather, I’m sorry you feel that way. This is my home, where I belong with my father and brothers. I love this land and I love the physical work. I’m happy here. Can’t you be happy for me, for once?” Scott asked.
“I guess I should be, but that house is so lonely and quiet without you.”
“Get a dog,” Scott suggested.
“What?” Garrett asked, astonished. “You know how I feel about animals in the house.”
“Truman thinks you’re lonely and that you should get a dog. I agree. They are faithful and they don’t talk back.”
“Humph. Do you always take advice seriously from that child?”
“I always listen to him and respect his views, even if they are not my own. He’s a smart little guy. If you had given him half a chance, you would have realized that,” Scott said, despondently.
“I guess this is good-bye forever,” Garrett said.
“Forever is a long time, Grandfather.”
“Yes, it is. Well, take care of yourself, Scott.”
“I will. You do the same,” Scott replied.
They had been walking as they talked and now stood next to the surrey. Walt and Frank were there with Murdoch. Johnny stood off to the side with True standing next to him, offering silent support to Scott. Scott gave his brothers a small smile. Johnny returned the smile. True didn’t see because he had his head facing the other way, watching the horses frolic in the corral.
Scott turned back to his grandfather and shook the man’s hand, then assisted him into the back seat of the surrey. Frank sat with him. Murdoch patted Scott on the side of his arm and nodded to Johnny before he turned and climbed aboard. Once they were seated and ready, Murdoch picked up the reins and started the team forward.
Garrett waved to Scott and smiled when Scott returned the gesture. He scowled, however, when he saw Scott move to stand next to Johnny and throw an arm over Johnny’s shoulders. Scott ruffled Truman’s hair and laughed at something that Johnny said to him.
`That half-breed needs a lesson in humility. I’m sure I can figure something out between now and tomorrow afternoon. Just you wait, Madrid. Just you wait,’ Garrett thought to himself as the surrey was driven further and further away from the estancia.
Part I: Harlan’s Visit: Trouble in Green River
A couple of weeks had passed since Harlan’s hasty departure from the Lancer ranch. Life had resumed a normal routine.
Truman was getting ready to enter third grade. The family had invited the Barkleys to visit the ranch during the week of the boy’s eighth birthday and a big party was being planned with the boy’s reluctant blessing. Truman had been apprehensive at first about having a large party, but was persuaded to give it a try. This birthday would be his second as a member of the Lancer family.
Lancer Ranch, 4:40pm
This Saturday afternoon, the youngest Lancer was dutifully cleaning his pets’ living quarters and providing love and nourishment for his dog, horse, and the rabbits.
Johnny and Scott rode in from their assignment of branding and dismounted. They walked their horses to the trough and allowed them to drink and become refreshed. When their trusty steeds had finished, the brothers entered the barn and greeted their younger brother enthusiastically.
“Hey, lil cowboy!” Johnny called as he entered the cool darkness from the hot August afternoon.
“Hey, Johnny! ” True replied cheerfully.
“Hello, little buddy,” Scott greeted his younger brother with a gentle squeeze on the boy’s shoulder.
“Hi, Scott. Are y’all going to town tonight?” Truman asked.
“Yeah, we got a poker game lined up, True. We’ve been saving for this all month,” Johnny replied.
“Well, be careful and I hope ya win and have fun,” True said.
“Thanks, little buddy,” Scott answered.
“Just remember that Papa expects you to be home before midnight and ya have to stay home next Saturday night,” True thoughtfully reminded his older brothers.
“We know what time we hafta be home, lil wise guy, but why do we hafta stay home next Saturday night?” Johnny asked.
Truman pouted. “Don’t you want to play with me anymore?” he asked petulantly.
“Oh, of course we do, True!” Johnny replied.
“Good, cause I’ll be back at school soon, and we won’t get to spend as much time together, `cept on the weekends,” True answered.
Scott kneeled in front of the little guy and gently grasped the boy’s elbows.
“Listen, little brother. We love spending time with you, but sometimes we want to do things with people our own age. Like you enjoy playing with your friends from school. You like playing with us and swimming and rough housing, right?”
“But,” Scott continued, “you also like playing with your toys and games with your young friends, don’t you?”
True thought about that, then nodded.
“Yeah. I guess I was just worried that you didn’t wanna play with me anymore cause I don’t play poker and I’m not allowed to go to the saloon.”
Johnny laughed and hugged the boy close.
“Scott’s right, True. We love being with you as much as you love being with us, but we also need to be with other big cowboys like you need to spend time with your young friends.”
“Okay. I get it. But, will you please stay home next week and play with me?” True asked.
“You bet, little buddy,” Scott replied.
Johnny nodded in agreement.
The brothers finished their late afternoon chores in companionable silence, then went to wash for supper. The meal was relaxed and jovial. The brothers each shared a funny part of their day.
Johnny had received a “kiss” from a calf he had freed from a bramble bush. Scott had been nudged by his horse a little more enthusiastically than he had expected when he had presented his loyal equine friend with an apple, and, as a result, Scott had ended up on his backside, looking a gifted horse in the mouth. Truman had been playing ball with Trevor after lunch and Dew Drop picked up the ball and waddled off with it.
When the meal was over, the family cleared the table and retired to the great room. After relaying their evening plans to Murdoch and giving their younger brother some extra attention, Johnny and Scott headed to town for a night of poker, beer, and good times with their friends.
Green River, 10:13p.m.
Johnny had cleaned out the other players in the game, including his own brother, and had decided to go for a stroll in the fresh air. He went to check on his and Scott’s horses and was happy to see that Barranca and Remmie were just fine, dozing while their human friends socialized.
When Johnny turned to go back to the saloon, he heard something in the alley. He walked towards it, but would not remember what happened next because he was hit on the head from behind and saw stars. Johnny did not lose consciousness, but he was certainly dazed.
Several hands grabbed Johnny and started pummeling him. He did his best to fight back, and landed a few lucky blows, but he was certainly outnumbered and overpowered.
Scott waited patiently for his brother’s return, but became anxious when Johnny did not return within fifteen minutes. He caught Val’s eye and motioned toward the door, indicating that they should go out. Val stood up to follow Scott into the fresh air.
“What’s up, Scott?”
“Johnny’s been gone too long. Let’s go find him,” Scott replied.
As they headed toward the horses, Val and Scott heard a moan in the alley. Scott grabbed the lantern hanging from the boardwalk post and walked into the alley with Val right behind him.
Johnny was laying partially on his side, one hand holding his ribs and the other on his head. Blood was pouring from a cut above his right eyebrow and his right eye was swollen and purple. There were multiple bruises and lacerations on his face and knuckles.
“Oh, my GOD! Val, it’s Johnny! Johnny, can you hear me?” Scott asked as he knelt next to his younger brother.
“Sc-cott?” Johnny moaned.
“I’m here, brother. What the hell happened?”
“G-got b-bushwacked. He’p me up, please.”
“No, stay still. I’ll get some more help,” Scott ordered.
“No, p’ease. Just you.”
“Just me and Val, then. Val is here, Johnny. Let us help you to Doc’s,” Scott gently instructed.
Scott and Val gently rolled Johnny to his back, eliciting a moan and a gasp from Johnny.
“Sorry, Johnny. Take a deep breath and try to relax.”
“H-hurts to breathe,” Johnny hissed.
“Okay. Let’s get you standing up and to Doc’s,” Val said.
“Slowly, Val,” Scott warned.
Scott and Val helped Johnny to his feet and supported him as they walked to Dr. Jenkins’ house. Johnny was limping and his face had gone white.
When they arrive at the doctor’s office, Sam let them in expeditiously and ushered the trio to his examination room. Scott and Val eased Johnny onto the table.
“What the devil happened to him?” Sam asked.
“He said he got bushwhacked. He also said it hurts to breathe and he was limping on the way over here,” Scott replied.
“Help me undress him so I can see what I’m dealing with,” Sam instructed.
Scott and Val nodded and relieved Johnny of his shirt, gun belt, boots, and pants. They left his modesty intact by not removing his drawers.
In the harsh, bright light, Johnny’s injuries looked worse. In addition to two cracked ribs, a deep laceration over his right eyebrow, and a swollen black eye, Johnny had also suffered a sprained ankle, a dislocated left shoulder, and multiple bruises and scrapes all over his face, torso, and knuckles. There was also a goose-egg sized lump on the back of his head that required a few stitches.
Once Johnny had his injuries tended by Sam, Scott and the doctor gently transported him to a back bedroom to rest and gather strength for the journey home the next day.
Val rode to the Lancer ranch to inform Murdoch of the incident in town. Needless to say, the patriarch was not happy to learn his son had been taken unawares and injured. He was very concerned about Johnny’s welfare and decided to go see him.
After telling Teresa about the incident and making sure she would listen for Truman during the night, Murdoch saddled Chief and rode to Green River with Val.
When they arrived at Sam’s, Val took care of the horses and Murdoch nodded his thanks before he entered the office quietly.
“Scott,” Murdoch whispered when he saw his oldest son resting on the couch.
“Huh? Murdoch? What’re you doing here?” Scott asked tiredly.
“I came to see you and Johnny. How are you? Where is he? Val told me what Johnny’s injuries are and that he would make a full-fledged investigation,” Murdoch explained.
“I’m okay. Just tired and angry,” Scott replied wearily.
“I understand, but put your anger away for now and show me to Johnny’s room,” Murdoch instructed.
“Come on. This way,” Scott said.
Murdoch followed Scott to the room where Johnny was supposedly resting. When they arrived, however, a power struggle was in full force between the doctor and his disoriented patient.
Part J: Harlan’s Visit: Harlan’s Parting Gift
Murdoch rushed in and sat on the bed next to his anxious son. He reached out and touched Johnny’s arm and spoke to him softly.
“Johnny, it’s Murdoch. It’s alright, son. You’re safe here. Let go of Sam and relax. You’re not alone and you’re not with strangers,” Murdoch said softly.
The message apparently reached Johnny’s disoriented brain and he let go of Sam’s vest and sank into the bed, wincing when the bump on his head made contact with the pillows. He heaved a sigh and tried to take deep breaths to get his breathing under control.
“That’s it, son. Take it easy,” Murdoch crooned softly.
Scott and Sam were both impressed with Murdoch’s method. Johnny’s breathing finally evened out and he sighed as Murdoch bathed his face with a cool cloth.
“Go to sleep, Johnny. Get some rest. I’ll be here with you and we can take you home tomorrow and you can sleep in your own bed,” Murdoch said as he comforted the injured young man.
Johnny nodded and gave his father a small smile as he drifted to sleep.
The next morning, Johnny woke with excruciating pain in his shoulder. He gasped as he shifted his body, trying to find a more comfortable position.
Murdoch was startled out of his sleep in the chair. He was stiff all over, but could barely complain after looking at the pained expression on Johnny’s face.
“Johnny, what can I do for you?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure, son,” Murdoch said as he helped Johnny sit up a little and drink some water.
“Do you think you will feel up to riding home this afternoon or do you want to wait another day?” Murdoch asked Johnny.
“I wanna go home and see everyone. Do they know what hap’nd?” Johnny asked softly.
“I told Teresa last night, so everyone should know by now,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny chuckled a little, then hissed when his cracked ribs screamed their disapproval.
“Easy there. You rest a bit and we’ll figure out a way to get you home this afternoon, alright?” Murdoch said.
Johnny nodded and closed his eyes, drifted off to sleep with a soft sigh.
Murdoch smiled, happy he could comfort his son and ease the young man’s mind. He pulled the blankets up and smoothed them on Johnny’s chest, then gently rubbed his son’s head. Murdoch stood up stiffly and left the room, taking a moment, in the doorway, to look at Johnny again.
“How can we get him home without causing more pain, Sam?” Murdoch asked as he sat down for some breakfast.
“I could give him a dose of morphine, but I don’t know if he’ll accept that. We’ll have to ask him. I have an extra mattress you can put in the back of a wagon and wrap him up in blankets to cushion his body, but there will, more than likely, be some discomfort,” Sam answered.
“Well, I know he would rather be in his own bed, and I’m sure Teresa and Maria are anxious to have him home. I just can’t figure out why he was attacked,” Murdoch stated.
“I’m sure Val is doing his best to get some answers, Murdoch. I know it’s hard, but be patient and let the sheriff do his job,” said Sam.
Val knocked at the front door and entered soon after the conversation between Sam and Murdoch.
“Hey, Sam, Murdoch. How’s Johnny?”
“He’s hanging in there, Val. Any news?” Murdoch asked.
“Actually, yes. I did some talkin’ to some of the guys who were around the saloon last night. Some of the boys from the poker game had heard a couple of new ranch hands just hired at the Rolling S ranch say that an old man had paid them a lot to beat Johnny up. The hands were bragging how they were going to get the jump on him and that they were biding their time till Johnny came into town,” Val explained.
“Do we have names and what the old man looked like and why Johnny was to be attacked?” Murdoch snapped.
Murdoch had an idea of who the old man was, but until he was absolutely sure, he would not mention it to Scott.
“I’ve got a couple of names and I am going out to the Rolling S to talk to the hands and see if I can persuade them to spill their guts. Say `hey’ to Johnny for me and I’ll be back later,” Val said.
“Okay, Val. Thanks,” Murdoch replied.
Val nodded and left.
After breakfast, Murdoch returned to Johnny’s room with a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk. He knew Johnny didn’t really care for the hot cereal, but Sam had added some cinnamon to make it more palatable.
“Johnny, you need to eat something. Come on, wake up before the cereal gets cold,” Murdoch gently cajoled.
“Is it oatmeal? I hate that st-uff,” Johnny groaned as he came awake.
“I know it’s not your favorite, but Sam said it’s good for you and he put some cinnamon in it. Give it a try,” Murdoch urged.
Johnny sighed and nodded. Murdoch helped him sit up, then gathered the bowl and mug of milk and sat on the bed next to him. He handed the spoon to Johnny and held the bowl as Johnny fed himself.
Johnny was pleasantly surprised after the first spoonful. The cereal actually tasted pretty good and his stomach accepted it. Johnny managed to finish the entire meal and keep it down long enough to be digested.
Johnny slept for a few hours while Murdoch and Scott figured out how to get him home as comfortably as possible. Murdoch woke him up for lunch and let Johnny do as much for himself as possible. Johnny really appreciated that. It made him feel less of an invalid.
“How are you feeling, Johnny?” Murdoch asked kindly.
“Okay. I feel kinda rough. I wanna go home, but not lookin’ forward to the trip,” Johnny confessed.
“We’ll do our best to make it comfortable. Would you be willing to have a dose of morphine?” Murdoch asked.
“You know I hate that stuff.”
“Yes, but it can be a small dose, just enough to take the edge off and get you home without any more pain than necessary,” Murdoch said, trying to get Johnny to compromise.
“I’ll think about it,” Johnny replied as he settled into the pillows.
“Fair enough, son. Get some rest. I’ll be back later with Scott.”
“Where is Scott?”
“He’s been helping Val ask questions. We’ll find out who did this to you and why. Get some rest. I’ll be in the front room with Sam,” Murdoch instructed kindly.
Johnny nodded and sighed, then drifted off to sleep.
Lancer Ranch, Sunday afternoon
Truman Lancer was moping around the estancia. He had been told about the incident in Green River and was worried about Johnny. True needed reassurance that his brother would be alright. Even though Teresa and Maria had told him that Johnny was tough and would be fine, True wanted to see his brother himself.
True decided to go for a ride. He went out and saddled Mickey with Walt’s help.
“Where ya goin’, True?” Walt asked.
“Just for a ride to clear my head,” True replied. He had heard his brother, Scott, use that expression and thought it was a good one.
“Okay. Which direction?” Walt persisted.
“Northeast, to the little fishing pond. Maybe I`ll go see Simon.”
“Be home in time for supper.”
True mounted and rode off at an easy canter. He didn’t want Walt to get suspicious. Once True could no longer see the ranch, he urged Mickey into a gallop and rode to town. He desperately wanted to see Johnny.
True arrived at the doctor’s house and dismounted swiftly, tied Mickey’s reins to the rail, and stepped onto the boardwalk. He had been so bold and courageous, coming to town on his own, but he was now quite nervous.
True opened the door to the office and walked in. The bell tinkled at the top of the door and Sam came to see who needed his assistance. Sam smiled warmly at the youngest Lancer and wordlessly ushered the boy to the room where Johnny was sleeping. Sam knew True wouldn’t risk getting into trouble for just anybody. He knew the boy was there to see his injured big brother.
Sam watched fondly as Truman gently climbed onto the bed next to Johnny and began to rub his brother’s head tenderly. Johnny’s eyes fluttered open and when he saw Truman, he smiled at the loving boy.
“Hey, True. How did you get here?”
“I’m just about eight. I’m a big boy.”
“Anyone know you’re riding today?”
“Walt. I told him I was going to the small fishing pond in the Northeast part of the ranch. It’s the truth, I did go by the pond….I just…kept going.”
Johnny grinned at the boy and patted him on the leg.
The tinkle of the doorbell was heard, so Sam left the brothers and went to see who had come to the office.
“How are you feeling, Johnny? When can you come home? Who hurt you and why?” True asked.
“I’m doing okay. Kinda sore. I’ll be home later today. I don’t know who hurt me or why, but Val and Scott are talking to people `round town. Thanks for coming to see me. That was real brotherly of ya, lil cowboy, but you better get back to the ranch before you get in trouble.”
“Too late,” the voice of paternal authority stated from the doorway.
Murdoch had gone for a short walk to stretch his legs. When he had returned to Sam’s and saw Mickey tied out front, he was alarmed and annoyed. Sam had confirmed that the youngest Lancer was, indeed, in the house, and that he had come to see Johnny.
True’s eyes opened wide. He looked at Johnny and said, “ut oh.” Johnny grinned and winked at the boy. True relaxed some, knowing Johnny would do his best to talk his Papa out of punishing him for coming to see Johnny.
“What are you doing here, young man?” Murdoch asked as he entered the room and sat in the chair on the other side of the bed.
“I came to see Johnny, Papa. I was worried `bout him and I missed him. I miss you and Scott, too,” the boy replied softly.
“I understand that, son, but you could have gotten hurt, riding to town by yourself,” Murdoch replied with concern.
“I’m a good rider, Papa. I was careful.”
“Yes, you are a good rider and I am sure you were careful, but, son, there are people in this world who would hurt a little boy on his own, just for the heck of it.”
“I already know that, Papa.”
Murdoch sighed. “Yes, I know you know that, so why did you ride to town by yourself when you know that’s against the rules?”
“I needed to,” the boy replied as he grasped Johnny’s hand.
“No, son. You could have asked one of the men to ride with you.”
“They were too busy.”
“Playing poker or sleeping.”
“I see. Well, we’ll talk about it later. Go into Sam’s front room so I can talk to Johnny for a few minutes.”
“Yes, Papa. See you later Johnny. Glad you’re gonna be okay,” True said as he gently kissed his brother on the head.
“See ya later, lil cowboy. Thanks for the visit. We can talk when I get home, okay?” Johnny asked.
“Okay. Bye, Johnny. Listen to Doc Sam. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Skedaddle.”
As Truman climbed off the bed, Johnny patted his back. True turned and smiled, then left the room.
“Don’t be too hard on him, Murdoch.”
“Johnny, he has rules to keep him safe. He broke a rule and he needs to have consequences. They won’t be harsh or unfair. Have you thought about the morphine?”
“Yeah. I’ll take a small dose. It’s a smaller price to pay to be home with family than what True’s gonna pay for coming to see me,” Johnny muttered.
Murdoch smiled. “Don’t worry about True. He’ll be fine. I’m going to find Scott and get a wagon lined up and prepared to take you home.”
“Okay. Do you know where my clothes are?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, and I’ll be back to help you dress. Stay in that bed until I return. Got it?”
Johnny yawned and dozed off. Murdoch left and spoke to Sam about Johnny’s decision. Sam was somewhat surprised. He figured that Johnny hadn’t decided for sure until True’s visit.
As Murdoch walked to the front door, he spotted his youngest sitting in a chair with a forlorn expression. He walked over to the boy.
“Truman, you did a very nice, brave thing by coming to see your brother on your own. You know the rules about riding by yourself, though, don’t you?”
“Yes, Papa,” True whispered.
“You know I have rules to keep you safe because it would make me very sad if anything happened to you, and when you break them, it puts you in danger. So, you have to learn that when you break a rule, you have to be punished to remind you, right?” Murdoch asked. He was not yelling or speaking harshly to his youngest son, but he was serious.
“Yes,” Truman replied. His eyes were beginning to water and his lower lip was trembling.
Murdoch gathered the small boy into his arms and hugged him.
“D-do you f-forgive m-me, Papa?”
“Oh, of course I forgive you. What you did was out of love and concern for your brother. I know you weren’t defying the rules just to see if you could get away with it, but you still broke the rules. We’ll discuss it later. I need to find Scott. You wait here. Understand?”
“Yes, Papa. Can I go back to Johnny?”
“No, he went back to sleep. Stay in here.”
“Good boy,” Murdoch praised as he hugged his boy one more time before leaving to track down his oldest son.
Part K: Harlan’s Visit: Consequences
Murdoch and Scott made Johnny as comfortable as possible in the back of the wagon. Sam had given Johnny a very small dose of morphine before he was assisted into the wagon. There were a few moans, gasps, and hisses expressed, but it was not as painful as it could have been.
Truman was instructed to sit in the wagon with Johnny and talk to his brother as they rode home. Scott rode his horse behind the wagon, leading Mickey and Barranca.
True was morose because he knew he was going to be punished for disobeying the safety rule and fibbing to Walt. Johnny tried to talk to the boy and let him know that after he was disciplined, everything would be fine. True wasn’t sure his bottom would be so fine, but didn’t voice that opinion.
“True, lil cowboy, you broke a rule and ya hafta accept the consequences. You know that. You also fibbed to Walt, didn’t you?” Johnny asked.
True nodded and sniffled.
“Why take the risk, True?”
“I wanted to come see you. I had to see if you were okay. I was worried about you!” True exclaimed earnestly.
“I know, and I appreciate that, but you put yourself in danger, and that’s not acceptable, lil cowboy.”
True nodded despondently.
“Papa wouldn’t punish you if he didn’t care and you know he will not be too harsh,” Johnny reminded True.
The rest of the trip was completed in silence. Johnny was thinking of his brother and True was pondering his impending sentencing.
When they arrived at the estancia, True was instructed to go to his room. The boy walked to the front door as if he was going to the gallows. Johnny watched with a mixture of pride, amusement, and sorrow as the little guy obeyed.
After Johnny was settled comfortably on the couch, Murdoch started towards the front stairs. Scott went outside to take care of their horses.
“Please don’t be too hard on him.”
“I’ll be fair, Johnny.”
Murdoch resumed his ascent to the upper floor. He walked into Truman’s room and found his youngest sitting on his bed and hugging Mr. Bear tightly.
Murdoch lifted the boy and carried him to the rocking chair, where he sat and placed Truman on his knee.
“Now, then, young man. You know why you are going to be disciplined, right?”
“Yes, Papa. I broke a rule that was supposed to keep me safe and I told Walt a fib.”
“That’s right. Why do you get punished when you disobey?”
“To learn right from wrong.”
“Exactly, and you know if I didn’t love you so very much and didn’t care, I wouldn’t bother disciplining you, right?”
“Yes, Papa. If you didn’t love me or care about me, you wouldn’t have asked the judge to make me your son.”
“Right. Now, hop down and get ready for bed,” Murdoch instructed as he set Truman on his feet.
“Am I getting a spanking? Am I going to miss supper?”
“Yes, you are getting a spanking, but you will not miss supper. However, you will have supper up here in your room, by yourself, without dessert.”
“Will I be punished tomorrow, too?”
“No, tomorrow is a new day and you will have a fresh beginning. Do you understand?”
“Good. Get busy, now.”
Truman placed his bear on the bed and undressed. After he had placed his dirty clothes in his laundry basket and put on a fresh nightshirt, his papa took him by his hand and led him over to the desk chair. Murdoch pulled the armless chair into the middle of the room and sat down, then placed Truman over his knees and rolled the hem of the nightshirt up to the middle of the boy’s back, exposing his bottom in just his drawers.
“Eight swats, son. Prepare yourself.”
Murdoch spanked the boy at a slow, even pace. True never cried out, but moaned a bit. When Murdoch set True on his feet and turned the boy to face him, there were huge tears flowing down Truman’s cheeks.
“Compose yourself and I will be back with your supper,” Murdoch kindly instructed the weeping lad.
True nodded and wiped his eyes with the back of one hand as he rubbed his sore bottom with the other and Murdoch left. When Murdoch returned, carrying his son’s supper on a tray, the boy had calmed and was sniffling.
“I’m sorry, Papa.”
Murdoch placed the tray on the desk top and knelt in front of Truman.
“I know you are, son, and I appreciate your apology. Let’s have no more of this foolishness, alright?” Murdoch asked as he hugged the child close, reassuring the boy that he had paid his dues and was forgiven.
Truman nodded and stood next to his desk to eat his meal. Murdoch left him alone and went back to the great room to check on Johnny.
“How’s the kid?” Johnny asked.
“He’s fine. He’s eating dinner, then going to bed,” Murdoch replied.
“Is he upset?”
“He cried a bit, but he apologized for using bad judgment and I reassured him. Everything will be fine tomorrow, Johnny. No need to worry,” Murdoch replied.
“I know, but he’s still a little guy.”
“Who made a big mistake and accepted the consequences. Let it go, Johnny. How are you? Ready for supper?” Murdoch asked.
“I could eat. Where’s Scott?” Johnny asked.
“Right here, little brother,” Scott replied as he entered the room.
“Hi, son. Horses bedded down?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, sir. Where is my other little brother?” Scott asked.
“He’s been disciplined and is in his room. I’m going to check on him in a little while,” Murdoch replied.
“Would it be okay if I talk to him?” Scott asked.
“Sure, son. I’m sure he would like to have a visit from you,” Murdoch answered.
“Give him a hug from me, Scott, will ya?” Johnny asked.
“Sure, Johnny,” Scott replied as he walked up the steps.
“Why was I ambushed?”
Murdoch stood stock still, holding Johnny’s supper tray. He had been caught off guard by Johnny’s candid and unexpected question. He tried to buy time by clearing his throat, setting the tray down, and fussing over Johnny’s blanket.
“Stop, Murdoch. Why did this happen?” Johnny demanded.
Murdoch stood up and stared at Johnny. He heaved a deep sigh and settled into the armchair, facing Johnny.
“I…have an idea, Johnny. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but I believe it was Harlan,” Murdoch replied hesitantly.
“Is there proof?” Johnny asked softly.
“Val and Scott have been talking to some of the people from the poker game and they said a few hands from the Rolling S were drunk and bragging about how they took out the famous Johnny Madrid with a beer mug. I’m sorry Johnny. Val and Scott took a picture of Harlan out to the Rolling S and showed it to the men and they said he was the one who hired them to hurt you,” Murdoch answered morosely. “They are in jail, now, awaiting trial.”
Johnny nodded. “Why does he hate me so much? Why do I care?” Johnny asked aloud, not really expecting an answer.
“I don’t know, Johnny. I suspect he is extremely jealous of Scott’s close relationship with you and Truman. I think you care because of Scott.”
“Harlan’s gonna get away with it, isn’t he?” Johnny asked bitterly.
“I don’t know, Johnny. I’m going to talk to Mr. Randall tomorrow to see what we can do.”
While Murdoch and Johnny had their discussion, Johnny had eaten his supper, though he didn’t really enjoy it. He was beginning to feel all the bruises since the morphine was wearing off and the pain was interfering with his normally insatiable appetite.
“Are you finished playing with your peas, Johnny?” Murdoch asked kindly.
“Are you finished eating your dinner, son?”
“Oh, um, yeah. Thanks,” Johnny said as he drained his milk and set the mug on the tray before Murdoch lifted it off his lap.
“Are you ready to go to bed? Do you want to attempt the stairs or sleep in a room down here?” Murdoch asked solicitously.
“I want to sleep in my own bed.”
“Okay. When Scott comes down, I’ll ask him to help get you upstairs.”
Murdoch nodded and gently patted Johnny’s uninjured arm. Johnny gave his father an appreciative, yet small smile and relaxed into the sofa cushions, drifting to sleep as he tried to escape the soreness.
Part L: Harlan’s Visit: Resolutions
Johnny rested as ordered, which was a miracle itself. After two days spent in bed, he started feeling better. Truman visited his big brother often and helped as much as he was able. The boy brought things, such as lemonade and playing cards, to him . He kept Johnny company, which prevented Johnny from becoming bored and impatient.
Johnny talked to the youngster about the reasons Murdoch had safety rules and how important it was that they were followed. He also reminded True how important it was not to fib to people. Johnny was very kind, but also serious during these discussions. Truman promised he would do his best to follow the rules and not tell fibs anymore. Johnny assured the youngster that he was forgiven.
One afternoon, the two younger Lancer sons were sitting on the veranda together, having another discussion. Johnny was stretched out on a chaise lounge, facing the corrals and True was sitting in a chair, which also faced the corrals. There was a small table between them.
“Will I be…will Papa…oh, what’s the word?”
“What are you trying to say, lil cowboy?”
“Will Papa believe me again?”
“I bet he will, True. You have to earn his trust, though.”
“How do you think, True?”
“By telling the truth, even when I make a mistake or break a rule?”
“That’s good. What else?”
“Scott said that I hafta follow the rules and do as I’m told.”
“Yeah. Scott’s right `bout that.”
“He came to talk to me after I got my spankin’ from Papa and we talked. He told me a lot of the same things you’re telling me now. He also gave me a hug from you. Thanks.”
Johnny grinned and nodded. “De nada. Come here an’ let me give you a hug for real,” Johnny instructed the boy.
True embraced Johnny on his good side and relished the hug his brother gave him in return.
After they separated True looked into Johnny’s eyes and smiled.
“Scott gave me a hug from him, too.”
“That was good.”
“Yeah. I want to be good, Johnny. I just get upset when everyone thinks I’m too little to do things on my own. I need to show people I’m a big boy.”
Johnny sighed and smiled, remembering how he had wanted to prove he was big enough when he was a boy.
“Sit here, True.”
Johnny patted the side of the chaise lounge and scooted to the left to make room for the boy. True sat next to his brother and leaned back. He waited patiently for Johnny to start talking. Johnny wrapped his right arm around the boy’s shoulders and sighed.
“We know you’re a big boy, True, but you’re still very young. You’re growin’ fast and you can do things now you couldn’t when you first came here. But you know what? Teresa is nineteen and she’s not allowed to go into town by herself. No matter how old you are or how big you become, you’ll still have safety rules to follow.”
Johnny’s voice was soft but held on to the firmness to ensure that the boy listened to him.
“Do you and Scott have safety rules to follow?” the boy asked curiously, looking up at his brother’s face in anticipation.
“Yeah, we do. You know how we work in groups?”
“That’s a safety rule.”
“You don’t always work in groups. Papa sends you out by yourself sometimes.”
“Only when he really must. And you know the signal in case you’re in danger or need help?”
“Three shots in the air?”
“Yeah. That’s another safety rule.”
“I don’t have a gun, Johnny.”
“I know, True, but that’s a safety rule, too. If anyone must work on his own, he has to have a gun and enough bullets to make the signal. You don’t go anywhere on this ranch by yourself without telling someone where you’re going.”
“Cause I don’t have a gun and if you know where I was playin’ and I didn’t come back on time, you’d know where to start looking for me, right?”
“Right, lil cowboy. That’s very good.”
“So, if I fib and go somewhere I didn’t say, I could get really hurt or die?”
“Yeah, cause we would look in the place you told us, first. If you’re bleeding somewhere else, we’ll have to look for you, and you could die before we find you.”
“Oh. Wow,” the boy said softly with sudden comprehension.
Johnny ruffled the boy’s hair and hugged him close, then urged him to go do his chores. True smiled at his brother and thanked him for the talk, then ran towards the barn.
Murdoch came out the front door and sat in the chair vacated by his youngest. He had heard the entire conversation through the open French doors. He did not want to startle Johnny by coming out the open doors, so he had made a grand entrance.
“That was a very enlightening conversation you just had with your little brother. You did a good job, Johnny.”
“Thanks, Murdoch. He’s a smart lil guy who just wants to be a big guy and do big guy things.”
Johnny shifted on the lounge, biting back a moan. His ribs and shoulder were aching something awful. He was glad True had gone to do his chores without argument because Johnny wasn’t sure how long he could have kept up the charade of being “fine.”
“Yes, I know. He’s growing up fast. I want him to enjoy what’s left of his childhood. You gave him good advice about earning my trust again. Thanks for your help.”
“You know you don’t have to thank me for spendin’ time with True. I love that kid.”
“I know. We all love him. He’s at the age, though, where he’s really going to start testing his limits. It’s good that he already has a good sense of right and wrong and fairness,” Murdoch stated.
“Yeah. He knows he did wrong and he hates disappointing you.”
“I think his heart ruled his brain this time around. That’s not always bad, but he needs to learn to use good sense,” Murdoch said.
Murdoch looked closely at Johnny’s face and noticed the perspiration that had broken out on his brow.
“Come on, son, let me help you inside. I think a bit of a rest in your room before supper will help,” Murdoch gently insisted.
Johnny allowed Murdoch to pull him up and guide him into the house. They moved slowly up the stairs. Murdoch was there with a guiding hand, but not overbearing. He gently steered the weary young man into his room.
Once Johnny was seated on his bed, Murdoch eased his boots off. Due to Johnny’s cracked ribs, it would have been too painful for him to bend down and remove his own boots. Murdoch lifted Johnny’s legs onto the bed gently, and covered him with a lightweight afghan.
Johnny was asleep before Murdoch made it to the door. Murdoch smiled at his sleeping son, then closed the door quietly as he entered the hallway.
Truman came dashing up the stairs to find Johnny and ran right into Murdoch.
“Shhh, son. Come with me,” Murdoch instructed as he led the boy down to the kitchen.
Murdoch sat in a chair and pulled his youngest onto his lap.
“Where’s Johnny, Papa? Is he okay?” asked the alarmed child. When True had left the barn after completing his chores, he’d noticed Johnny wasn’t on the lounge chair anymore and had raced inside to see if his bother needed his help.
“Johnny’s fine, Truman. He’s resting before supper. He needed to get some more sleep to help his bones heal,” Murdoch explained patiently.
“Sleep makes bones heal?” True asked, amazed.
“Yes. Have you finished your evening chores?”
“Yes, Papa, I have. Jelly checked me, too.”
“That’s good, son. Go play for a little while. I’ll come get you to wash up before supper.”
Murdoch hugged the boy, then set him on his feet and patted his shoulder. True hugged Murdoch, then trotted to the great room and pulled his soldiers and train from the toy box and played quietly.
2 Weeks later
Johnny was back at work, doing light chores around the homestead. His left arm was still in a sling, but he was able to help Jelly straighten the tack room and do easy odd jobs.
The trial of Mitchell Crayden, Butch Mallory, Hank Michaels, and Craig Noble had begun. Although the the men had been paid by Harlan Garrett to ambush and pummel Johnny Madrid, it was Johnny Lancer that paid the price. Now they would have to pay the price for letting greed rule their good sense.
The jury had already been selected and the trial was ready to proceed. The elder Lancer men rode into town Monday morning and put their steeds up at the livery. Murdoch and Scott flanked Johnny. They had their coats and ties on, but Johnny was dressed comfortably in his black pants and embroidered white shirt. His arm, at Sam’s insistence, was still in a black sling. Sam, Dale Peterson, and Charles Lane met the Lancers at the front door to the courthouse in a show of moral support.
Johnny smiled at their friends appreciatively and walked into the courtroom with confidence. He took his place behind the prosecutor’s table and settled onto the bench as comfortably as possible. Murdoch sat on Johnny’s left and Scott sat to his right. Sam and the others were behind the Lancers on the next row.
Truman was not at the trial. He had been left at home with instructions to mind Maria and Cipriano and not to leave the homestead.
Part M: Harlan’s Visit: Resolutions, Part 2
When Val entered with the accused, he looked for Johnny. He wanted to speak to him before the trial began, but was too busy making sure the four men in cuffs behaved themselves. Once the criminals were settled at the defendants’ table with their court-appointed lawyer, Val walked over to the plaintiff’s side and asked Johnny how he was doing.
The Lancer men were in the first row of seats behind the prosecutor’s table. Murdoch was on the aisle, to the left of Johnny. Johnny was in the middle and Scott sat composed on his younger brother’s right side.
“Everything’s fine, Val. I hope this is over fast,” Johnny replied.
“It should be cut and dry, Johnny. I heard there are reliable witnesses on our side,” Val said.
Val nodded and checked his pocket watch, then called the courtroom to order. The gallery was packed with the Lancers’ friends and supporters and other townspeople. Curiously enough, the owner of the Rocking S Ranch was not present in the courtroom.
The door from the judge’s chambers opened and Val ordered all in the courtroom to stand, then he introduced the judge.
“Hear ye, hear ye. All rise. The honorable Judge Wilfred C. Hayes, residing.”
As soon as Judge Hayes was seated, Val instructed the litigants and spectators to take their seats. Johnny winced as his arm was jarred when he reclaimed his seat on the hard bench.
“You okay, Brother?” Scott asked with concern.
“Yeah, I’ll live,” Johnny responded in his usually flippant manner.
“Okay,” Scott sighed.
“I’m fine, Scott. Just bumped my arm is all,” Johnny implored.
Scott nodded and gave Johnny a reassuring smile. Johnny grinned back.
“Mr. Randall, are you ready to begin with your opening statement?” Judge Hayes addressed the prosecutor.
Mr. Randall stood and answered in the affirmative.
“Yes, your Honor.”
Randall walked the jury through the events leading up to the trial. He explained the actions of Harlan Garrett and how he had schemed to get retribution against Johnny Lancer for “stealing” his precious grandson. Randall outlined the plan to have Johnny taken by surprise and beaten to “teach him a lesson.” He concluded his opening statement with the earnest plea to find the defendants guilty.
When Randall finished, he took his seat and sat back, ready to listen to Mr. Hughes’ opening statement.
Hughes tried to place the blame on Johnny, claiming his clients thought he had cheated at cards to win the sizeable pot. They decided Johnny needed to be brought down a peg. He stated that his clients were in town to merely have a good time and they were not out to cause trouble, but defended themselves against Johnny when he wouldn’t let them leave with what little money they had left. Hughes’ then stated that Johnny had gone after the men to get them back into the game.
Johnny leaned towards Randall, who was sitting at the prosecutor’s table and hissed, “That’s not true!”
“Shh, Johnny. I know. Let them dig a deeper hole for themselves. Just relax, okay?” Randall advised after he turned around to face Johnny.
Scott reached out and grasped Johnny’s arm firmly, but with care. “Take it easy, Johnny. Don’t let them goad you doing something you’ll regret,” Scott counseled earnestly.
Johnny sighed and glared at the defendants’ table, then settled back against the bench. His arm was hurting, but he didn’t want to show it, so he fidgeted to cover for his discomfort.
Murdoch placed a hand over Johnny’s frenetic one and leaned over surreptitiously to enquire about Johnny’s well-being. “Are you alright, John?”
“Fine,” Johnny replied through clenched teeth.
“Do you want to take a break?” Randall asked solicitously. He had noticed Johnny’s wince and fidgety behavior.
“No, I want to get this over with,” Johnny replied firmly.
“We’ll get it finished as soon as possible, Johnny. Hang in there,” Randall replied with sympathy.
Johnny nodded once and resumed watching the court proceedings.
Lancer Ranch, 11:34 am
Truman was following Cipriano around the homestead, helping him with small chores and fixing things here and there.
“You are being very good and helpful, chico. I will tell your Papa what a good boy you have been,” Cip praised Truman.
“Gracias Tio Cip. I’m trying to be good. I don’t like disappointing Papa, but sometimes I need to try things on my own.”
“Si, chico, but you must accept the consequences when you do wrong, right?”
“You are getting big, but you are still young. Don’t wish to grow up too fast. Enjoy being a little boy while you can. Understand?”
“Si, Tio. Gracias.”
“De nada, chico. Muy bien,” Cip replied with a smile and a light cuff on the back of True’s head.
True grinned and tried to land a light-hearted smack on Cip’s protruding belly, but the Segundo side-stepped swiftly, turned, and smacked the boy’s bottom. True squealed and giggled. The large man and little boy chased each other around the courtyard, laughing and trying to land a light kick or swat where they could.
Johnny and Scott often played with their little brother in this manner and True loved it. Cip and little Truman Lancer were still playing when Teresa came out and rang the bell for lunch. Cip picked up the boy and tossed him over his shoulder as he walked toward the back door of the kitchen.
Green River, 11:45 am
The Lancers were at the café, having lunch during the recess. The morning’s proceedings had gone better than they expected and the prosecution was presenting a strong case. The defense’s case, however, was weak as a drowned kitten. The witnesses’ testimony for the defense had more holes in them than a slab of Swiss cheese. All of the witnesses for the prosecution, including Johnny, had shown a strong, united, and convincing front.
The judge had called a break for lunch at eleven-thirty and dismissed the defendants, then the jurors, before allowing the spectators and others to leave.
“I sure hope True is minding Cip and Maria,” Murdoch stated.
“He’s fine, Murdoch. I bet he’s having a great time following Cip around,” Johnny said.
Murdoch was having broiled rainbow trout and assorted vegetables. Johnny was dining on fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Scott was enjoying potato soup and a corned beef on rye sandwich.
“Well, if I get a good report on him, I might take him fishing for an afternoon before school starts,” Murdoch mused.
“That would be nice. Are we invited, too, `Papa’ ? ” Johnny asked with a grin.
“Are you going to fish like everybody else or pump them full of lead to the point where there’s only skin and bones left?” Murdoch asked.
Scott laughed and grinned.
“Can we leave Scott at home?” Johnny asked.
“Noooooooo. You need to learn patience, Johnny,” Murdoch gently admonished.
“Patience? I’m as patient as…who’s that patient guy in the bible, Scott?”
“Yeah! I’m as patient as Job,” Johnny declared.
“Not when it comes to fishing, son,” Murdoch said, smirking.
Johnny sighed in exasperation. “Okay. I promise I will hold the stupid stick with the string and hook on it and keep putting bait on it after the fish eat it and leave me high and dry,” Johnny muttered.
Scott and Murdoch snickered.
“You’re both welcome to come along, of course. Just try your best to fish the conventional way, okay, Johnny?” Murdoch requested.
“Yeah, yeah. Okay,” Johnny said with a grin.
“Well, we better head back for the afternoon’s proceedings,” Murdoch stated.
“Yeah, okay,” Johnny replied as he pushed himself up from the table.
Scott was close by with a supportive hand if Johnny needed it. Murdoch tossed some bills on the table to take care of the meal and tip, then the Lancers left the café and headed back to the courthouse.
Part N: Harlan’s Visit: Epilogue
The afternoon dragged on. The jury had been out for two hours. Johnny was becoming exceedingly restless and left the courthouse to walk off his pent up energy. Scott went with him `to keep him company,’ as the eldest Lancer son claimed.
“To babysit me, ya mean,” muttered Johnny.
“To keep you safe, little brother,” Scott corrected Johnny.
The Lancer sons returned to the courthouse in time to hear the news that the jury was ready to disclose their verdict.
The jury started coming in as Scott and Johnny settled into their seats. Once all the members had returned, the judge addressed the foreperson.
“Have you reached a verdict?”
“Yes, your honor,” the man replied, fidgeting with the paper that had the jury’s decision.
Val took the paper from the foreperson and handed it to Judge Hayes. The judge read it, nodded, and returned the paper to Val, who in turn gave it back to the foreperson.
“The defendants will stand during the reading of the verdict,” the judge ordered.
The four defendants, still in handcuffs and ankle chains, rose awkwardly from their seats to stand before the judge and hear their fate.
The foreperson, a stout man with thinning, mousy brown hair, wire-rimmed spectacles, a long pointed nose, and pouty lips opened the paper and cleared his throat self-importantly, causing his three extra chins to wiggle.
Johnny stifled a chuckle with a pretentious cough. Murdoch glared him into silence and Scott smirked, trying not to laugh at Johnny.
“On the count of assault and battery, the court finds all four defendants guilty,” the man announced.
Instant cheering rose from the gallery. The Lancers were pleased with the jury’s decision. They hoped the sentence would be a fair and just one.
“Since we’re all here now, let’s not postpone the sentencing. Jury foreperson, does the jury have a recommendation for the sentence?” the judge asked.
“We do, your honor. Due to the extent of the brutality inflicted on John Lancer, we recommend ten to fifteen years at San Quentin Correctional Facility to each of the defendants,” the foreperson replied.
The men in chains paled visibly and the youngest, a lad of only eighteen years, collapsed into his seat. He could be in his thirties by the time he was released.
The Lancers, especially Johnny, felt that justice had been served. After the prisoners had been taken back to Val’s jail to await transfer to San Quentin, the jury was thanked and dismissed and the court was cleared.
Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch walked toward the livery to reclaim their surrey and horses. Scott was in front with Murdoch to his right. Johnny ambled behind them at his own pace. On their way, Chris Mullins, a telegraph assistant, caught up to them and delivered a telegram to Scott. Scott tipped the young man and opened his message as they resumed their way to the livery.
Suddenly, Scott stopped walking. Johnny ran into his brother and gasped in pain as his sore shoulder bumped into Scott’s shoulder blade. Murdoch reached out and grasped Johnny by his good arm and supported him until he caught his breath.
Scott’s face had turned pale, too.
“What is it, Scott?” Murdoch asked, concerned.
“My grandfather has decided to take an extended trip to Europe. It seems that the Pinkerton’s have been asking a lot of questions about a large sum of money that he can’t, or won’t, account for,” Scott replied with a mixture of disgust and disappointment.
“So he gets away with paying off those guys for beating the tar outta me,” Johnny grumbled.
“No, son, he’ll pay. Eventually, he’ll pay,” Murdoch assured Johnny.
Johnny looked at Scott and felt bad for his brother and the soured relationship between Harlan and Scott.
Murdoch gently guided Johnny and Scott towards the livery where Scott and Murdoch hitched the team to the surrey. Scott unobtrusively supported Johnny as his brother boarded the surrey, then he climbed up to sit with Johnny. Murdoch was in the driver’s seat and the Lancers made their way home.
By the time Murdoch drove the surrey to the front door of the estancia, Johnny was dozing with his chin resting on his chest. Scott gently patted Johnny’s cheek to wake him, but it was Truman’s exuberant greeting that jarred Johnny back to full awareness.
“Papa! Papa! Johnny! Scott! You’re home!” the tyke exclaimed as he ran to the surrey from the barn.
Johnny sat bolt upright and grimaced at the pain in his shoulder.
Murdoch climbed down and caught the little whirlwind. He lifted Truman into his arms and hugged his youngest boy.
“Hey, big boy. Have you been good today?”
“Yes, Papa. Tio Cip and I had a good day.”
“Very good,” Murdoch praised him.
“What happened at court? Are the bad guys who hurt Johnny in big trouble?” True asked.
“Yes, the bad guys are going to jail for a long time. Are your chores finished?”
“Good. Go say hello to your brothers. Johnny is going to rest before supper,” Murdoch instructed as he set the boy on his feet.
As Murdoch and Truman talked, Scott had helped Johnny from the surrey and steered him towards the porch. Scott was on Johnny’s left side as they made their way to the front door. True ran over and stood on the right side of Johnny, wrapped his little arm around Johnny’s leg and smiled up at his brave big brother.
That smile was good medicine for Johnny and he returned the smile as he wrapped an arm around his little brother.
Murdoch watched his sons with pride.
“How are you, Johnny?” True asked solicitously.
“Much better, now. Thanks, lil cowboy.”
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re home. I missed you today.”
“I missed you, too, True. What did you do today?” Johnny asked.
The Lancer brothers talked as they made their way into the house. Scott started to guide Johnny towards the stairs, but Johnny headed for the couch. Scott relented and assisted his brother to the soft furniture and helped him get comfortable. Truman pulled Johnny’s boots off, then helped Scott cover their brother with a light blanket. Johnny was soon resting comfortably on the couch, with a glass of lemonade in his hand. Maria had bustled in with the glass and fussed over her Juanito.
Truman was not pleased because he had wanted to share his day with his brothers, but understood that Johnny was still healing. Scott took the youngest Lancer by the hand and started to pull him away from the couch to give Johnny a chance to rest. Truman held up a hand, silently asking Scott to stop for a moment. When Scott let go of his hand, True stepped to Johnny’s side and gently planted a kiss on Johnny’s head. Johnny smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. Truman smiled and joined Scott at the end of the couch. Scott patted his back and they walked outside to rejoin Murdoch.
Cipriano was talking to Murdoch and smiled at Truman as the boy approached them.
“El chico was muy bueno, Patron. A big help,” Cip told Murdoch, praising Truman’s good behavior.
Murdoch turned and smiled at the boy, then picked him up and hugged him, patting True on the back.
“Si, Cip. He is a good boy. Muchas gracias,” Murdoch replied.
“De nada, Patron. I will take care of the team and the surrey,” Cip replied.
“Good. Thanks, Cip,” Murdoch said as he patted his Segundo on the shoulder as the man took charge of the team.
Murdoch turned to Scott, with Truman still in his arms, and smiled at him.
“How is Johnny? Is he in bed?” Murdoch asked.
“No, but he’s resting,” Scott replied.
“Scott and I tucked Johnny in on the couch and Maria brought him some lemonade and fussed over him,” True piped up.
“Well, I’m sure Johnny is grateful your tender loving care. I appreciate your good behavior while I was in town. I’m proud of you, big boy,” Murdoch said, praising the youngster.
“Thanks. Tio Cip told me to enjoy being young while I could and not try to grow up so fast,” True relayed the sage counsel.
“That sounds like good advice to me, young man,” Murdoch agreed.
“Me, too,” agreed True.
“I agree,” Scott added.
Murdoch hugged the boy close, then put him down and gently squeezed True’s shoulder.
“Go see if you can help Teresa or Maria, alright?” Murdoch instructed.
“Okay, Papa. I’m glad you’re home,” the boy said as he hugged Murdoch’s legs, then trotted off to the kitchen before Murdoch could reply.
“I hope things will get back to normal, now,” Scott said with a heavy sigh.
“I do, too, son…,” Murdoch said.
He wanted to say something about Harlan, but he was at a loss for words. He placed a reassuring hand on Scott’s shoulder and squeezed gently.
“I guess Grandfather can be considered a fugitive now. I never thought he would stoop this low. I’m sorry for the grief and pain he’s caused you and Johnny and Truman,” Scott said softly.
“He’s a grown man, son. You are not responsible for his actions or his attitude.”
“I guess not. He’s escaped jail time,” Scott pointed out.
“Maybe, but he’s not really free, is he? I mean, he had to leave his beloved Boston to escape an indictment. As soon as he returns, he’ll be arrested and interrogated. So, is he truly free?” Murdoch asked, making Scott think.
“Yes, you’re right, Murdoch. Being a fugitive is not being free. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate your support.”
Murdoch gave Scott’s arm a gentle squeeze and they started walking inside.
“We have a big party to plan,” Murdoch started.
“Johnny doesn’t like parties.”
“It’s Truman’s party. He’ll be eight years old. My, my. He’s growing like a weed,” Murdoch replied.
Scott chuckled. “Yeah, he sure is. Even though he tests his limits, sometimes, he’s a great kid.”
“He really is. Let’s go wash up and check on your brothers before supper.”
Scott nodded and the two Lancer men walked into the estancia in easy camaraderie.
The End…until True’s next adventure!
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Boonie directly.