Word Count 30,606
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.
Chapter 1: Awareness
Truman Lancer recuperated from his sprained ankle during spring break. He spent a lot of time thinking, drawing, playing, and practicing some math skills.
True was usually in the living room or the kitchen, supervised by either Murdoch or Maria and Teresa. His brothers or Murdoch would take True to see his animals a few times a day to get some fresh air and feed his boys and the rabbits.
One afternoon, Truman was sitting in the kitchen and looking at a calendar that Maria used to plan her menus.
“When did Johnny find me? How long have I been here?” the boy asked.
“It was mid-April, Truman. You’ve been here almost a whole year,” Maria replied.
“Wow! When did Papa adopt me?”
“I don’t know the exact date, chico. The judge said you were Patron’s son one day, your Papa signed the papers another day, and he received the final papers on another day. You have to ask him.”
“Okay, I will. What’s it called when you remember something that happened on the same date year after year?” True asked.
“Ay yi yi! So many questions, nino. Are you talking about your birthday?”
“Noooo…It’s something else. Mum and Dad remembered their wedding every year,” True replied.
“Oh! Anniversary, nino, that’s the word!”
“Si, Mamacita! Muchas gracias!”
“De nada. Bueno, nino. Are you hungry? You worked long time on drawings and thinking hard.”
“I could eat. Do you have cookies or churros?”
“Si, one of each, and milk?”
“Apple juice?” Truman countered.
“You don’t like milk?”
“I drink milk all the time. I want some juice, please.”
“Okay, for good manners, you have juice. Milk at supper, si?”
“Si, Mamacita. Gracias.”
Maria placed a plate with the snack on the table in front of Truman, then fixed a mug of apple juice and set it on the table. Truman gave her one of his best smiles and she kissed the top of his head.
Murdoch came in to check on his boy. He had been outside watching Johnny work with some horses. He smiled at Truman as he approached the table.
“How’s my big boy?” Murdoch asked, giving his son an affectionate pat on the back.
“Fine, Papa. Where ya been?” Truman asked.
“Outside with Johnny. He’s working with that new herd you helped him bring back last week,” Murdoch replied.
“Patron, su hijo is full of questions,” Maria reported.
“Oh? What kind of questions?”
“Papa, how long have I been here? When did I get adopted?”
“You’ve been here for almost a year and your adoption became final on June 19th.”
“When did the judge say I was your son?”
“Why all the questions, Truman?”
“I was just wondering about my anniversary.”
“Anniversary? That’s a good word! Let’s see, I have a journal from last year. Let’s go see what it says, okay?”
“Are you finished with your snack?”
“Okay. Wait here and finish. I’ll be right back.”
Murdoch went to the great room and rummaged in his desk drawer for his journal from last year. After flipping through the first fourth of the pages, he found the entry, dated ‘April 11, 1870.’
‘Johnny brought home a little boy he found today. The child was seriously wounded. We will take care of him for now and figure out what to do with him once he’s better.’
Murdoch marked that page and went to the late May section.
‘May 27, 1870. Judge Hayes proclaimed that Truman is now my son, legally. However, I still must sign the papers and wait for them to be registered and finalized.’
Murdoch continued to scan his journal until he found the entry he was looking for.
‘June 2, 1870. The adoption papers were drawn up and I signed them today. We must now send them to Sacramento to be registered and finalized.’
‘June 24, 1870. The adoption papers arrived by special courier. It’s about time! They were registered and finalized on the 19th of June.’
“That’s what I was looking for!” Murdoch exclaimed to himself.
He went back to the kitchen to answer his inquisitive son’s questions.
“Truman, I found your answers. Johnny brought you home last April on the 11th. Today is the 14th, so you have been with us a year. On May 27th, Judge Hayes ruled that you are my son. On June 2nd, I signed the adoption papers and they were sent to be finalized. They were finalized and registered on June 19th and I received them on June 24th.”
“Thank you, Papa. I’m confused, though.”
“About what, son?”
“Which day is my anniversary?”
“That’s a very good question. Which day do you want to be your anniversary?”
“I want it to be when I became an official Lancer. I guess that means when the papers were…um…finalized? Or when we got them back?” True asked.
“I would say when the papers were registered and finalized. It was written in the census book that you are now my son,” replied Murdoch.
“So it was legal and true on the 19th?” Truman asked.
“Yes, Truman, it was legal and true on the 19th.”
“So, it’s not too late to have an anniversary?”
Murdoch chuckled and smiled at his boy.
“No, it’s not too late. Is there something special you want to do that day?”
“Can we go see the Pacific Ocean and swim and play in the sand?” True asked eagerly.
“Well, I think that will be a good time for a short family vacation. We’ll talk more about it with your brothers and sister, okay? Let’s go see to your animals and make sure your brothers are working hard,” Murdoch suggested as he stood and lifted the boy.
“Where’s Teresa? I haven’t seen her since breakfast,” Truman stated.
“She’s helping Senora Elena today. She’ll be home for supper,” Maria replied.
“Oh. Gracias, Mamacita. Adios!”
Murdoch flung the child over his shoulder and carried him out to the barn. Truman giggled and waved to Maria.
Maria smiled at the nino and her patron. ‘He’s much happier and more relaxed since the nino came,’ Maria reflected. ‘What a blessing that boy is to all of us!’
Chapter 2: The Big Decision
Murdoch carried his boy outside to see his brother and visit with his animals. Truman fed Mickey and Trevor and checked on his rabbits, who were now housed in a special pen that Johnny and Jelly had built for Miracle and her little family. They were healthy and doing well.
The baby bunnies had been checked by Dr. Hildebrand when Murdoch had the veterinarian come to check on a heifer. The silly bovine had escaped the roundup and ran, bawling. She was finally found in the garden, munching on some carrots and had foundered herself on them.
Murdoch took Truman over to the corral to watch Johnny work with a young wild mustang. The boy knew to be quiet so the horses would not get spooked. He sat on the top rail with Murdoch behind him, watching carefully and supporting his back.
Johnny was able to talk to the horse and encourage it to accept a saddle. He wasn’t ready to mount the horse, yet, but would work with this spirited animal some more as it matured.
As the day grew late, crews began coming in to prepare for supper. Scott came in and put Remmie away, then left the stable when Miguel took over the care of his horse. Scott joined his father and brother at the corral railing.
“How are the horses looking?” Scott asked.
“Just fine, Son. They look like a sturdy, if spirited, group,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny took the saddle off the young Mustang and walked over to the corral railing where the rest of his family were gathered.
“They look good, Son. Real fine. You’re doing a great job,” Murdoch praised Johnny.
Johnny ducked his head and smiled. “Thanks, Murdoch,” he whispered.
Murdoch reached out and patted Johnny on the shoulder.
“Come on, boys. We have something important to discuss. Let’s get washed up and we’ll talk over supper.”
“Ok, Murdoch. Yes, Papa,” the boys replied, almost simultaneously.
Johnny picked up Truman, after vaulting over the corral fence, and gave the boy a ride on his shoulders to the estancia. The Lancer men chatted about their day as they washed and freshened up for the evening meal.
Once they were seated, and Teresa and Jelly had joined them, Murdoch said the blessing. The family dug in and filled their plates with beef brisket, vegetables, and biscuits.
“Now, Truman has been asking a lot of questions this afternoon. He wanted to know how long he has been here and when his official anniversary is. I say it is June 19th, when his adoption papers were finalized and registered in the census. What are your thoughts on the matter?” Murdoch asked his family.
“I think it’s the day I brought him home,” Johnny replied.
“I think it’s when the judge made his ruling,” Scott answered.
“I think it’s when Truman told us he wanted to be a Lancer,” Teresa stated.
“I think it’s when Boss signed them official papers,” Jelly put in his two cents’ worth.
“What do you think, True?” Johnny asked.
“Well…I understand why you all think the way you do, but Papa said Johnny brought me home April 11. Today is April 14, so I’ve been here a year and three days. That anniversary is gone, so we need to think about a real anniversary date,” Truman said,
“Wow, you’ve really been thinking hard about this, haven’t you?” Scott asked.
“Yes…it’s important,” the boy replied.
“Yes, it is important, Truman. You’ve made a very good point. What date would you like to be your anniversary?” Murdoch asked sincerely.
Truman was quiet as he contemplated the question and his options. The rest of the family waited patiently for his answer, continuing to eat and not pressing for a quick decision. Johnny had reminded the others, in Truman’s absence, that the boy needed time to think things through before he spoke about important issues. This was after Truman’s friend Toby had suddenly and tragically died.
“I agree with Papa. It should be June 19th, when I became a Lancer officially,” Truman said, revealing his decision.
“Then I will write it in my journal and on the calendar so we will celebrate every year, Son,” Murdoch said.
“Thank you, Papa.”
“You’re very welcome. Now, we must plan your special day. What would you like to do? “
“I told you, Papa.”
“I know, but I want you to tell the rest of the family about your idea,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh. I want to go see the Pacific Ocean and swim and play in the sand. I want all of us to go. Maybe we could have a nice dinner after a day at the seashore,” Truman said shyly.
“That’s a great idea, Truman,” Scott said.
“Yeah, lil cowboy. Haven’t you seen the Pacific, though?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, but I didn’t get to have fun and I didn’t have anyone ta share it with,” Truman replied.
“Truman, that is a wonderful idea,” Teresa praised the boy. “We could pack a lunch for a day at the shore.”
“Really?” Truman asked, excited now that his family agreed to his special day’s plan.
“Sure, Son. I’ll wire a hotel I know in San Diego. I hear they have wonderful shores down there. We could catch the train and stay a few days,” Murdoch answered enthusiastically.
“H-how many people can come?”
“How many did you want to come?”
“Eight?” Murdoch asked, surprised.
“Yes. You, Scott, Johnny, Teresa, Jelly, Maria, Cipriano, and myself.”
“That can get expensive, Son. And who would run the ranch while we’re gone if Cip comes?”
“Well, we’ll only be gone a week at the most, Murdoch. Can’t Frank and Charlie handle things for a few days? We could ask Val and Gabe to check in on them,” Scott interceded.
“I suppose they could. For a week.”
“And didn’t ol’ Henry Rudders tell you to use his cabin down there anytime?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, he did, Johnny. I’ll ride out to see him in the morning and ask if it’s available.”
“Great!” Truman said. “Thanks, Papa!”
Truman hopped down from his chair and climbed into Murdoch’s lap to hug his Papa fiercely.
“You are so very welcome, big boy!” Murdoch said as he hugged the youngster.
Chapter 3: Planning
Murdoch hugged the youngest Lancer tightly, the rest of family looking on with big grins on their faces. He tousled the boy’s hair, gave him a love pat on his behind and set the child on the floor with a pat on the back.
“Climb back into your seat and finish your supper, big boy.”
“Okay, Papa. What’s for dessert, Teresa?” True asked.
“I think Maria made a basket of churros this afternoon,” replied Teresa. “Eat your corn and green beans, True.”
True complied and was able to have two churros for dessert.
The Lancers finished their supper and helped clear the table. Truman carried the napkins and empty bread basket into the kitchen with a slight limp. He had followed Sam’s directions and rested the first five days after his accident. He was the only Lancer who ever followed Sam’s directions. As a result, the swelling in Truman’s ankle had reduced and the boy was able to walk around with only a slight limp, but he was advised by his family to stay off the ankle as much as possible.
Once the Lancers and Jelly assembled in the living room for their nightly family time, Murdoch picked up a pad of paper and pencil and wrote some plans and made a list of things that needed to be done before they could take their vacation. Since it was a couple of months away, Murdoch had time to talk with his ranch hands and decide who he wanted to leave in charge.
First things first, however. Truman still had a month and a half left of school. He was to start back the following Monday and would finish at the end of May.
Suddenly, there was a knocking at the door. Jelly got up and answered it. It was Sam, who had come to check on Truman’s ankle.
“Hey, Uncle Sam! I’m gonna have anniversary!”
“You’re going to have an anniversary? I wasn’t aware you’d gotten married. Who’s the lucky bride? Sandy? Laura?” Sam asked with a grin.
Truman put his hands on his hip and glared at Sam. The rest of the family were laughing at Sam’s joke, but True didn’t think it was very funny,
“Uncle Saaaaaaammmmmmm! I’m not old enough to get married! We’re talking about when I became a real Lancer,” Truman explained.
“Hmph,” the boy said as he sat on the ottoman and folded his arms in front of his chest.
“Truman, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Sam reassured the boy.
“Well, this is important to me.”
“I know it is. I’m sorry. I came to check on your ankle. How is it feeling?” Sam asked as he rubbed the boy’s shoulder.
“Spoken like a real Lancer,” Scott muttered.
Sam took the bindings off and examined the child’s ankle.
“It’s looking much better, Truman. Can you walk on it without too much pain?” Sam asked.
“Yes. It hurts some when I walk, but it’s better after I’ve rested it and when the bandage is on it,” True replied.
“Ok. I want you to continue to wear the bindings for support under your socks and you can wear your boots or shoes. You may return to school, but be careful during recess. I prefer if you sit and play marbles instead of running around, okay?” Sam asked if the child understood.
“Yes, Uncle Sam,” True replied.
He had forgiven the family doctor for teasing him. He realized Sam wasn’t trying to be mean, just funny.
“Do you forgive me?” Sam asked.
“Of course, Sam. I know you weren’t trying to be mean. Wanna hug?” True offered.
“I’d love one.”
True hugged Sam and everything was fine. When the clock signaled the hour of the youngest Lancer’s bedtime, Johnny stood up and lifted his little brother up and held him as the boy said his good nights to the rest of the family and Sam. Then he took Truman up and put the boy to bed, praising him for getting over his little snit and forgiving Sam.
Johnny returned to the family room and reported that True had fallen asleep rather quickly.
“Good. I was just telling Sam about your brother’s inquisitiveness and the questions he’d asked Maria. This is very important to Truman,” Murdoch said.
“Well, sure. It’s the beginning of a new life for him. He’ll never forget his parents and we certainly can’t replace them, but we are family, not only by adoption but by blood as well,” Scott spoke up.
“He seems to be doing better since Toby’s funeral. Has he had any new nightmares?” Sam asked.
“No, but he’s had a couple of days when he’s been cranky or clingy for no apparent reason. We were patient with him and encouraged him to do some relaxing activities, and that seemed to help,” Murdoch answered.
“That’s good. I feel he’s telling us, by asking about his anniversary and official adoption, that he has embraced this new life and wants to celebrate his rebirth as a Lancer. I think it’s very interesting that this awareness has surfaced around Easter,” Sam commented.
The Lancer family members nodded their heads in agreement.
“Well, we best be going to bed, Tomorrow’s a busy day. I need to go see Mr. Rudder. Sam, would you like to stay the night?” Murdoch asked.
“I think I will, thanks, but the horse needs to be bedded down,” Sam replied.
“I’ll take care of him, Sam,” Johnny volunteered.
“I’ll join you, Johnny,” Scott offered.
“Thank you, Johnny. Good night, boys,” Sam said.
“Goodnight, Sam. ‘Night, Sam,” Johnny and Scott replied.
The elder Lancer sons went out and took care of Sam’s horse and buggy, then said goodnight to their own horses.
While they were in the barn, the Lancer brothers talked about the upcoming cattle drive and subsequent vacation.
“Truman is quite a kid, huh?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, he is. I think he’s been great for all of us. It’s so sweet of him to want to include Jelly, Maria, and Cip. I’m surprised he hasn’t invited Sam or Val,” Scott replied.
“He has been a wonderful addition. I think he realizes that Sam is the only doctor for miles ‘round and that Val certainly can’t leave the town without a lawman there,” Johnny answered.
“You’re right,” Scott conceded.
“I know,” Johnny snickered.
Scott captured Johnny in a headlock and they laughed and wrestled as they made their way back to the estancia.
Chapter 4: Mother’s Day
Truman had returned to school the Monday after the spring holiday. Murdoch took him to school and spoke to Miss May about the boy’s injury, requesting that Truman not run around during recess. Miss May agreed and suggested that Simon and Paul might play marbles in the shade with him. Truman and Murdoch thought that was a good idea and Murdoch left his boy after a few quick words with him in private.
“Have a good day, Son. Johnny or Scott will come get you after school today.”
“Okay, Papa. Have a good day.”
Murdoch patted his boy on the back and left..
The school day progressed without unusual excitement until the last fifteen minutes. Miss May announced that she was planning a special event for Mother’s Day. The students would be making cards for their mothers and plant flowers in small pots for them as gifts, Each child was to bring in a small clay pot by Wednesday so they could start planting and the flowers would be in bloom by the time Mother’s Day arrived. There would also be a small tea party for the mothers at school on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day, when the children would present their flowers and cards to their mothers.
Truman bowed is head to hide his eyes, which were becoming moist. When the other announcements were over and the class had been dismissed, Truman was the first out of his seat and to the cloakroom to retrieve his lunch pail and hat. He limped down the steps as fast as he could, with his head still bowed, and passed Scott, who was waiting at the bottom of the steps.
“Truman! Hey! Wait up, there, little brother!”
Truman stopped and stood, waiting for Scott to catch up to him. The eldest Lancer son knelt in front of the boy and gently lifted the child’s chin. He was surprised to see tears running down the little boy’s cheeks.
“What’s wrong, little buddy?” Scott asked with great concern.
Truman’s bottom lip was trembling. He just shook his head in the negative and side stepped around Scott.
“Wait, Truman. What happened?”
True stopped walking and toed the dirt with his boot, but would not answer his brother.
“Will you tell me later?” Scott asked.
The boy nodded and grasped Scott’s offered hand. They walked to the oak tree, where Scott had secured the horses. True allowed Scott to lift him up to the saddle and handed his things to his older brother to be placed in his saddle bags. True usually insisted on using a nearby tree stump to mount Mickey, but today he just didn’t care. He had more important things on his mind.
The brothers rode quietly until they reached the crest, from which they could see a large portion of Lancer. Scott pulled up and stopped Remmie, dismounted and then ground tied his horse.
Truman stopped Mickey and sat still on his horse. Scott came around and gently pulled True from the saddle. They walked to the edge of the slope and sat down together. Truman sat close to his older brother and leaned against him when Scott put his arm around the boy.
“Why are you upset, Truman? Did someone hurt you? Did you have a bad day at school?”
“I had a good day until Miss May made her announcement.”
“When was that?”
“At the end of the day.”
“What did Miss May say?” Scott asked.
“She said we were going to do some special things for Mother’s Day,” Truman said, with a sob in his voice.
“Ohh. I’m sorry, little buddy. I know it’s hard. What’s the class going to do?”
“Make cards for mothers and bring in a small pot by Wednesday to plant little flowers in. We’re having a tea party for the mothers the Friday before Mother’s Day and that’s when they’ll get their cards and flowers,” True replied, sniffling throughout the answer.
“Did you ever celebrate Mother’s Day with your mum?” Scott asked.
“Yes,” True whispered.
“I never had that chance. My mother died when I was born, so I never knew her. My grandfather raised me in Boston.”
“I know. Papa told me one time when I was sick. He told me a lot about you and Johnny. I was really hot and couldn’t sleep so Papa told me some stuff until I fell asleep,” Truman said.
“So you know Johnny’s mother is dead, too, right?”
“Yeah…is she in Heaven, too?”
“I think so, not sure which part she’s in, though,” Scott said.
“Is Teresa’s mom in Heaven?” True asked.
“No, she’s alive, but she travels a lot, so Teresa doesn’t get to see her often.”
“Do I hafta go to school the day they have the Mother’s Day party?”
“We’ll talk it over with Papa. Speaking of Papa, we best get back and start our chores. He’ll get worried. Do you have a lot of homework?”
“No. Just some math and I hafta write my spelling words three times each.”
“Okay. Are you ready to go?”
“I guess. Thanks for talkin and listenin’ to me, Scott. I love you.”
“Oh, True. I’m glad you talked to me. I love you, too.”
Scott hugged the boy close, then stood and lifted him. He walked back to the horses, carrying True and put him In the saddle.
As they rode to the estancia, True was once again quiet. When they arrived, Murdoch came out to meet them and gave Scott a concerned look after seeing his youngest boy’s red-rimmed eyes. Scott mouthed the word ‘later’ and dismounted. Murdoch stood close as Truman dismounted. One the boy was firmly on the ground, True turned and buried his face in Murdoch’s leg. Murdoch reached down and lifted the weeping child into his arms and held the boy close, rubbing his back and whispering to him.
“Scott, would you mind getting Truman’s school things and bringing them in, please?”
“Sure, sir. No problem.”
“Thanks. I’m taking him to his room. Please see that we’re not disturbed.”
Murdoch nodded and carried the still weeping child to his room and sat in the rocker with him.
Once True had calmed, Murdoch asked why he had been upset. Truman repeated his story about the party and Murdoch immediately understood the problem.
“Listen to me, big boy. I know you miss you mother very much and that is just fine. I know she can never be replaced, but do you think you could go to the party if Mamacita came? I know you are very close to Mamacita and I am sure she would be honored to come.”
“I-I think so. She would come for me?”
“Of course she would! She loves you so very much!”
“Papa? I’ve been thinking.”
“Scott, Johnny, Teresa, and I don’t have our Mama’s with us anymore. Scott said Teresa’s ma is still alive but travels a lot. I was wondering if we could do something for our mothers on Mother’s Day?”
“Would you like to plant a tree or light some candles, or talk and share something special about your mother?” Murdoch suggested.
“What if we lit some candles at the fountain and shared something we remember or something someone told us about our mothers?” Truman countered.
“Truman Oliver, that is a fantastic idea. Would you like to share it with the family at supper?”
“Yes. Do ya think they will like the idea, too?”
“I bet they’ll love it! Do you feel better, now?”
Murdoch sighed and held his boy close as he comforted the child.
“Do you have homework, big boy?”
“Why don’t you get it done, then you can go see to your animals before supper.”
Murdoch put his boy on his feet and ruffled the child’s hair. Truman followed Murdoch downstairs and settled at the kitchen table to do his homework. After he finished, he went outside to see to his animals.
The family convened at the dining room table. After the blessing and the passing of food, Murdoch cleared his throat to make an announcement.
“Truman has something he wants to ask you. Go ahead, son,” Murdoch prompted.
“I was wondering if you guys and Teresa would want to light candles at the fountain and share something about your mothers with me after it gets dark on Mother’s Day,” Truman asked, looking up at his family members, one by one.
Chapter 5: Mother’s Day, Part II
“I think that’s a great idea, True,” Scott said.
“Yeah, lil cowboy. We would love ta do that with ya,” Johnny agreed.
“Thanks! Teresa, do you wanna do it?” True asked.
“Well, True. Um, my mother isn’t…in Heaven,” Teresa replied.
“So, my mother isn’t dead and I don’t think I need to light a candle for her,” Teresa replied.
“Okay,” Truman said with a sigh. “Papa, may I please be excused?”
“You didn’t finish your supper, son.”
“I’m not hungry anymore.”
Murdoch stood up and lifted his young son from the table, then carried him outside.
“We’ll be back soon,” Murdoch told the others.
Outside, Murdoch was sitting on a wooden lounge chair, legs stretched out and his son tucked between them. The boy was leaning back on Murdoch’s chest and Murdoch’s arms were wrapped around the boy’s shoulders, making the child feel safe and loved.
Murdoch quietly told Truman the story of Teresa’s mother and explained why he felt Teresa was reluctant to participate in the brothers’ candlelight service. After their chat, Murdoch asked Truman if he would try to eat some more of his supper. Truman agreed and climbed off the chair when Murdoch released him. Murdoch sat up and pulled the boy towards him into a hug.
“Papa? Is Teresa mad at me?”
“Will Mamacita come to the party?”
“Have you asked her, yet?”
“I bet she will. You just have to ask her. I’m sure she would feel honored to go with you.”
“Okay,” True sighed as he nodded and rested his head on Murdoch’s shoulder.
Murdoch smiled and held his boy for a moment longer, cherishing the physical affection and contact they shared. Then, he stood up and took the boy by his hand and walked back into the house. Truman climbed up into his seat and began eating again. Johnny reached over and patted the boy on his back, then lightly ruffled Truman’s hair. Truman gave his brother a small smile of acknowledgement.
After supper, True sat in Johnny’s lap and watched as Scott and Johnny played chess. Murdoch read the paper and Teresa had retired to her room.
By the time eight-thirty approached, Truman was sound asleep in Johnny’s arms, making it difficult for Johnny to make his moves. Scott noticed this and called to Murdoch quietly.
“The little cowboy is asleep.”
Murdoch looked up and smiled. He put his paper down and stood up, then walked over and lifted the sleeping child from Johnny.
“Thank you, boys. I’ll take him up and put him to bed. He’s had a rough day today.”
“Yeah, the poor kid. I hope tomorrow is better for him. I’ll get him from school tomorrow,” Johnny volunteered.
“Okay, Johnny. See you two in a little bit.” Murdoch took the sleeping boy to his room and laid him on the bed, undressed him and slipped a nightshirt on the child before tucking him in and planting a gentle kiss on True’s head.
Murdoch went back downstairs and sat on the couch as his older sons finished their game.
“Boys, do you really intend to have the candlelight service with Truman? Did you really want to participate?” Murdoch asked.
“Of course. Yes, I do,” Johnny and Scott replied simultaneously.
“I think it will be good for us to share and if it helps Truman get through this any easier, I’m glad to help,” Scott said.
“Yeah, what Scott said. I can understand Teresa not wantin’ to do it, but I think she could still be there,” Johnny said.
“Well, I’m not going to force her, but I will ask her about it. True needs a lot of extra attention right now and I intend to see he gets what he needs. I’ll take him to school tomorrow and make sure he has his flower pot for the flowers. You’re going to pick him up, right, Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“Okay. I’m going to bed. Good night. Don’t stay up too late, boys.”
“Good night. We’ll be up soon,” Scott assured him.
“Night, Murdoch,” Johnny said.
Murdoch smiled and went upstairs, checking on his youngest before heading to his own room.
The next morning, Murdoch took Truman to school and quietly explained to Miss May that Truman would be inviting Maria to the Mother’s Day Tea. Miss May understood and thought it was a great idea for the mother figure to attend the party.
“Truman, I’m going to the store to get a pot for your flowers. Do you want to go with me or wait here?” Murdoch asked.
“I want to go with you.”
“Okay. Miss May, we’ll be back soon.”
“Okay, Mr. Lancer.”
Murdoch and Truman went to the store and Truman picked out a medium-sized cornflower blue planter pot. Murdoch paid for it and they returned to school before the bell was rung. The boy hugged Murdoch good-bye and went in with his pot. He wrote his name on the bottom of the pot and placed it on the floor along the side wall, under the window. True took his seat and the school day went smoothly. During recess, the children with pots planted their flowers and watered them, then set them in an area Miss May had designated for their Mother’s day Garden.
Johnny picked his brother up from school and they went for a swim. Scott found them cavorting in the swimming hole when he was riding to check on another work crew in the west range. Truman rose from the water and then Johnny’s head appeared. True was standing on his brother’s shoulders, giggling with delight. He jumped off Johnny’s shoulders, making a big splash as he entered the water curled into a ball. Johnny was laughing and got a mouthful of water. He spit it out then swam over to where True was now sitting on a shelf of slate. Both of them were dressed only in their drawers. Scott smiled as he watched Johnny pull himself out of the water and sit next to Truman, push his hair back, and put an arm around Truman’s shoulders. Scott couldn’t hear what Johnny was telling their little brother, but tenderness and love were evident in Johnny’s manner towards the child. Scott smiled and rode down the hill to see his brothers.
“Hey!” Scott greeted the two swimmers.
“Hi, Scott! Working hard? Wanna come for a swim?” True asked.
“Hi, True. Yes, ONE of us Lancer sons needs to work!” Scott replied.
“Hey! I did my work this morning! Now I am supervising my younger brother!” Johnny defended himself.
“And I did my work at school and I am supervising my older brother,” Truman said, making his own point.
Johnny and Scott laughed.
“I’ll see you guys at supper. Don’t forget your chores and homework, True!” Scott said.
“I don’t have any homework.”
“Why not?” Johnny asked.
“Miss May didn‘t give us any.”
“Oh, good for you,” Scott said. “See you later, brothers.”
“Bye, Scott. Later, Boston,” Johnny and True replied.
After a bit more swimming and some sunning to dry, Johnny and True dressed and went home to attend to their chores. Murdoch came out to meet them.
“What have you two been up to this afternoon?” Murdoch asked.
“Johnny and I went swimming, Papa.”
“I see. Your hair is still damp. Did you have a good time?”
“Yes, Papa. Johnny said I’m getting better at swimming.”
“Very good. You’ll be ready to swim in the Pacific when we go down there. Get your chores done, then clean up for supper.”
“Okay, Papa. Thanks, Johnny. I had fun with you,” Truman said.
“De nada. I had fun, too, lil cowboy. See ya at supper.”
“Okay.” Truman hugged his brother and Murdoch and ran off to attend to his chores.
Murdoch and Johnny chuckled at the boy’s enthusiasm and turned to go in the house.
“So, you two had a good time, huh? He seems pretty happy these days. Thanks for taking him swimming, Johnny. It seems like he really enjoys simple pleasures as long as he’s with his family.”
“We had a great time. You don’t have ta thank me for spending time with him. I need to get to my chores. We’ll see ya at supper.”
“Okay, Johnny. See you then.”
The family convened at the dining table for supper and enjoyed a meal of roast and potatoes.
As April morphed into May, the flowers grew and the school year was coming to an end. Truman had finally corralled his courage to ask Mamacita to come to the party. She was overwhelmed with pride and joy at being asked to accompany her nino to a party at his school. Once Maria had calmed and expressed her gratitude for the invitation, Truman relaxed.
The day arrived for the party and Truman was excited to have Mamacita come to his school. After the morning lessons were completed, the students put their books and tablets away and helped Miss May set up the food for the tea party. There were small sandwiches and sweets, tea for the adults and cider and lemonade for the children.
The pots of flowers had been brought in and were on display on the floor, in a row at the front of the classroom.
The elder women of the community had helped prepare the food and Claire provided some extra chairs and benches so everyone would have a place to sit.
Murdoch drove Maria to the school and reassured her that she looked wonderful and would be welcome. The other mothers began to arrive and the party started. Truman met Maria at the door and thanked Murdoch for bringing her.
“You’re very welcome, Son. I have some business to attend to, then I’ll be back to take you and Mamacita home.”
“Okay, Papa. See you later.”
“See you later. Enjoy the party.”
Truman grasped Maria’s hand and led her into the classroom and showed her his seat. Then, he went to fix a plate for her and went back for some iced tea. On his third trip, he fixed his own plate and a glass of lemonade. He sat with Maria and they talked. Truman pointed out the pictures he had drawn displayed on a section of the side wall that had been designated as an art exhibit.
Everybody had the opportunity to introduce their mother, say something nice about them and present the card and flower to their mothers. When it was Truman’s turn, he led Maria to the dais and smiled at her before he began his piece.
“Most of you know that my mother and father are in Heaven and that Murdoch Lancer adopted me. He doesn’t have a wife, but he has Maria. She takes care of all of us at Lancer and I call her my Mamacita. She takes good care of me and makes sure I eat right and have clean clothes and takes care of me when I am sick or hurt. The most important thing she does for me, though, is to love me. She always comforts me and hugs me when I need it. Please welcome her as she welcomed me when I first came. Te amo, Mamacita.”
“Te amo, nino.”
Truman smiled and gave Maria the card he had made for her and then retrieved the potted flowers and gave them to her.
“Oh, muchas gracias, nino. Thank you, Truman.”
“You’re welcome, Mamacita.”
The students and mothers clapped and True led Maria back to their seats. The other students had their chances to speak and the party continued as the mothers mingled with each other and the students made weekend plans with their friends. Mrs. Lane and Mrs. Carter and their children approached Truman and Maria and spoke with them.
At the end of the day, Miss May rang her small bell to gain everyone’s attention and thanked the mothers for coming and praised the children for their hard work.
Murdoch, Walt, and Frank appeared to help return the benches and chairs to Claire’s café, and the women who had prepared the food returned to help clean up.
Murdoch took Maria home in the surrey with Walt and Frank riding behind. Truman rode with Walt.
Maria shared her experience with Murdoch and told him how kind the other mothers had been to her and the nice things Truman had said to his classmates about her. Murdoch smiled, feeling proud of his boy.
The next day was Saturday. After morning chores and some work on the range, Johnny and Scott took Truman swimming before they, the older boys, went to town for a poker game with Val and some of the hands from Aggie’s ranch.
Mother’s Day arrived. After church, lunch, and a siesta, the Lancer men went for a ride.
After supper, as dusk settled over the ranch, the Lancer boys carried their candles out to the fountain. Truman had invited Teresa to join them, again, but she had declined gracefully. So, Scott placed his candle on the rim of the fountain and lit it. After a few minutes of companionable silence, he began to speak.
“I never knew my mother, Truman, but my Grandfather, his housekeepers, and Papa have all told me what a wonderful person she was. Grandfather told me that she had a strong will and set her mind to doing things her way. The housekeepers told me that she was very caring and involved herself in charitable causes. Papa told me how excited and adventurous she was and that she had a sharp mind.”
Johnny lit his candle and thought for a couple of minutes.
“I remember my mama. She had a smile that could light up a room. She was a free spirit, wild, wouldn’t settle down. She took care of me the best she could and loved me in her own way.”
Truman lit his candle with Johnny standing by to assist if necessary.
“My mum, that’s what Scotts call their mothers, was loving. Mum was very caring and taught me how to care about others and to treat people nicely. She taught me to read when I was three and we played games and cards. We had fun doing things together. I miss her.”
“I know you do, lil cowboy,” Johnny said as he lifted the boy into his arms and hugged him tight as the child wept quietly into his shoulder.
After Truman calmed and wiped his eyes, Scott took him from Johnny and hugged him tightly.
“There’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day. Is there a Brother’s Day?”
Scott and Johnny shared a smile.
“I don’t think so, little buddy.”
“Maybe we could have a Lancer Brothers Day,” the boy suggested.
“That’s a good idea, True. We’ll talk about it some more. It’s getting close to your bedtime and you have school tomorrow,” Johnny said.
“Okay. Thank you for doing this with me. I really ‘preciate it,” True said.
“We loved doing it with you, Truman. Do you want to do it every year?” Scott asked.
“Sure,” Johnny agreed.
“You’re welcome, Truman Lancer,” Scott replied.
True smiled and gave Scott another hug and held tight as his brother hugged him back.
“Blow out your candle, True,” Scott instructed the boy as Johnny blew out his candle.
True leaned down and blew his flame out, then Scott extinguished his candle. Johnny sprinkled water on the wicks to be sure they were out, then followed Scott indoors as he carried their younger brother.
Murdoch looked up as the boys entered the living room. He smiled at the caring and tenderness the older boys showed to Truman.
“Well, boys, how was your candlelight service?” Murdoch asked.
“It was nice,” Johnny said shyly.
“Very appropriate,” Scott replied.
“Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Enlightening?” Murdoch clarified.
“Good. How do you feel?”
Truman cocked his head to the side and thought a minute.
“Excellent. Are you ready for bed?”
“Yes, Papa. Can Johnny and Scott put me to bed, please?”
Murdoch looked to the boys, who both nodded vigorously.
“Sure. Let me give you a hug good night and say good night to Teresa, first.”
Murdoch took the boy from Scott and hugged him tight, then set him on the floor. True said good night to Teresa and hugged her. She returned the hug and planted a kiss on his head, then released him. Murdoch lifted him again and wished the boy a good night. Once True was back on his feet, he took Scott’s hand and the boys went upstairs. They chatted about the upcoming cattle drive and subsequent vacation as True prepared for bed. Johnny and Scott listened dutifully to the boy’s prayers and tucked him in lovingly.
Truman went to sleep with a bear in his arms and a smile on his face.
Chapter 6: School’s Out!
The last day of school had finally arrived. Truman had survived his first year of school with only a few negative incidents. The only homework the children were required to do for this final day was to bring their family members and a dish to share. There was going to be an awards ceremony and then a picnic. The children had cleaned out their desks the day before and taken all of their artwork and graded assignments home, as well.
The Lancers, Teresa, Jelly, and Mamacita arrived at the school with bowls of potato salad, a present for Miss May, and extra benches. The boys and Jelly rode their horses behind the wagon. The family was full of good cheer. They had taken this special day away from the ranch and the cattle drive preparations to celebrate with the youngest of the Lancers.
The plans for the vacation were set and the Lancers and their guests would be on their way to San Diego two days after returning from the drive.
When they arrived at the school, the Lancer men and Jelly helped Maria and Teresa down, then unloaded the benches. Truman dismounted on his own and took the present out of the wagon and ran up the school steps. Johnny, Scott, and Jelly took the wagon and horses to the corral near the school and put the horses in the corral before joining the family in the school. Murdoch escorted Maria up the stairs as Scott gently took Teresa by the arm and walked up the steps with her. Johnny and Jelly brought up the rear.
The Lanes and Mrs. Carter were there all ready and more students and at least one of each of their parents were arriving steadily. Once all the children were present with their family members, the ceremony began.
“I’d like to welcome all of you to Green River Primary School’s Annual Awards Ceremony and Picnic. The children and I are so very pleased you were able to come and I am sure your special students appreciate you taking time to share this special day with them,” Miss May began.
“First, we will begin with the promotions. Please hold your applause until all the names for each grade have been called. Will the first graders please stand?”
The four first graders stood with big grins on their faces. Miss May called their names and they came forward, received their diplomas, and turned to face the class.
“Congratulations, you have been promoted to the second grade.”
The audience clapped and the new second graders went back to their seats.
The second graders were asked to stand and were called to the front. When Truman joined the others at the front, he looked at his family members and received a wink from his brothers. He returned the wink and smiled, knowing his family was proud of him. He was dressed in his suit, but Teresa had wisely packed a change of clothes for him so he could play during the picnic.
“Congratulations, you have been promoted to the third grade.”
The audience clapped and the children returned to their seats. The process continued until all of the grades had been promoted. The awards ceremony began, again starting with the first graders.
The categories were Academic Achievement in the five core subjects (Reading, Writing, Math, History, and Science), Overall Academic Achievement, Art, Most Improved, and Citizenship.
When the second graders received their awards, Simon received academic achievement in Science. Truman received academic achievement in History, Spelling, Art, Honorable Mention in Science, and Most Improved in Handwriting. The third graders received their awards next. Then the fourth graders.
The Lancers were concerned because Truman had not received any awards for Math, Reading, or Writing,
“Academic achievement in fourth grade Arithmetic goes to a second grader this year, Truman Lancer,” Miss May announced.
Truman smiled shyly as he approached the dais to receive his certificate and ribbon. The audience clapped. Mamacita and Teresa were dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs while Murdoch, Jelly, and True’s big brothers were beaming with pride.
The fifth graders were the last to receive their academic achievement awards.
“This year’s awards for academic achievement in fifth grade Reading and Writing go to Truman Lancer,” Miss May announced as the boy once again approached the dais.
“Thank you, Miss May,” True said quietly.
“You earned it, Truman,” she replied.
True started back to his seat but was stopped by Miss May.
“Truman, you might as well stay up here. I have another award.”
Truman blushed crimson. He was proud of himself, but he was also extremely shy in front of all of these people.
When Miss May finished the fifth grade awards, she announced the last award.
“This is Truman’s first year in a school. Obviously, he is very bright and his parents and the Lancers have been instrumental in his academic development. My final award is Overall Academic Achievement and it was earned by Truman Lancer. Congratulations, Truman. You did a magnificent job this year,” Miss May said as she hugged her star pupil.
Truman hugged her back, looking away from the clapping crowd. Once he got himself together, he was able to accept the certificate and a small blue velvet box. He opened the box and gasped at the contents. It was a small medal, in the shape of a star with a blue velvet ribbon fastened to the top. Engraved in the star were the words and date, “Outstanding Student, Truman S. Lancer, 1871-1872.”
“Thank you, Miss May,” Truman whispered shyly.
“You’re very welcome, Truman. You earned it. You may return to your seat.”
The boy stood still and gazed at the medal for a long time, rooted to that spot. Miss May gave Murdoch a visual cue to come get his boy. Murdoch grinned and approached Truman. He wrapped an arm around True’s shoulders and led him back to his desk. True sat as Murdoch went to stand next to his older sons.
“I would like to congratulate all of my students. You worked hard all year and did the very best you could. I am proud of each and every one of you. I have one other announcement to make. The Green River Community Center is sponsoring a song-writing contest to anyone aged six and over. There are several age groups and categories available. There are flyers with all of the pertinent information on the bench in the cloak room. Help yourself to one if you are interested. Now, it is time for our picnic, so let’s go out and have a wonderful time. There are games in the field, beyond the corral. They will start at 1:30. I’ll see you outside,” Miss May said as she dismissed the class and their families.
Most of the children ran out, screaming and laughing, with their parents and family members bringing up the rear. Truman was still sitting in his seat, gazing at his medal with a smile and tears of happiness flowing down his cheeks. His family approached cautiously, not sure how the boy was feeling.
“Truman? Are you alright, Son?” Murdoch asked with concern.
“Papa, look,” Truman whispered as he showed his medal to Murdoch.
“Yes, that is beautiful. We are very proud of you, Truman.”
“Thank you, Papa. I couldna done it without you! Do you think my mum and dad are watching from Heaven?”
“I’m sure of it,” Murdoch replied.
Murdoch hugged the boy close. Maria, Teresa, Jelly, and the boys all gathered around Truman to see his medal and praise him for his achievements. Maria wiped the tears off Truman’s cheeks.
“Truman, let me take your certificates and medal. You take this bag and go change your clothes so you can play,” Teresa instructed as she handed a small bag to him.
True handed his certificates and the box to Teresa and took the small bag and went to the outhouse to change. He neatly folded his suit and put it in the bag with his good shoes at the bottom. When he emerged, True was dressed in a blue calico shirt, black pants, and his boots. He carried the bag to the wagon and set it in the back, grabbed his hat, and went to find his family.
They had taken seats at a picnic table under the shade of the oak tree. True ran over and was immediately enveloped in a bear hug from his Papa.
“When can we get food? I’m hungry!” the boy exclaimed. This truth was enforced by a large growl coming from the child’s stomach.
Just as the family finished laughing, the bell was rung for people to line up and get their plates. The Lanes were in front of the Lancers and the Phillips were behind them. Once everyone had their plates and a mug of lemonade or iced tea, and were seated, Miss May said a blessing.
Everyone dug in after the blessing, socialized, and enjoyed themselves. After lunch and dessert, a game of baseball started in the field. The students played their families and won!
After baseball, there were other games, such as the potato sack race, egg race, three-legged races and wheel-barrow races. There were no prizes and no one really cared who won. They were out to have a good time and socialize, and that is exactly what they did. Several of the other parents had even come by to congratulate Truman on his success in his first year of school.
Families started going home around three-thirty. Truman was on the swing near their picnic table, being pushed alternately by Scott and Johnny, when Murdoch approached and suggested that they pack up and head home.
Johnny caught the swing and slowed it down, then True jumped off. The boys helped Jelly pack the wagon with the benches they had brought and then harnessed the team to the wagon. Scott and Johnny saddled the horses with Truman’s help. Murdoch helped Maria and Teresa into the wagon and then climbed aboard himself. The Lancers, with the boys and Jelly on horseback, left for home.
About a quarter mile into their journey, Johnny called a halt. Truman was trying to stay awake, but just couldn’t manage it. Jelly rode ahead to let Murdoch know what was going on. Murdoch, Teresa, and Maria turned and watched with amusement as Johnny lifted the sleepy boy and planted him in the saddle in front. Truman stirred, but Johnny soothed him and told him it was alright to sleep, so True drifted off with Johnny’s left arm holding him securely. Scott had been holding Mickey’s reins during the transfer and wrapped them around the pommel of his saddle.
The Lancers resumed their journey home. When they arrived, Frank, Cipriano, and Miguel came over to help with the wagon and horses. Scott dismounted and took Truman from Johnny, then carried the exhausted child up to his room.
When he returned, he reported that True was sound asleep and didn’t stir at all while his boots were removed.
“He’s exhausted,” Murdoch said. “It’s a good kind, though. What a great day!”
“Yeah, I’m so proud of him,” Johnny said.
“He sure accomplished a lot in his first year at school,” Teresa pointed out. “We should have his certificates framed.”
“I’ll get that taken care of. Are we having supper at six?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, but it will probably be a simple one. Soup and sandwiches, most likely,” Teresa replied.
“That will be fine. We’ll let Truman sleep for an hour or so more. Let’s go out and get our chores done,” Murdoch suggested.
An hour later, Truman woke and smiled. He rolled over and laid on his back with his hands clasped behind his head. He’d had a great day and a great year. He was looking forward to a wonderful summer and he couldn’t wait for the cattle drive and going to San Diego. The best part about the summer was that he would be able to spend a lot of time with his family.
A few minutes later, Murdoch came in and sat on the bed next to his youngest.
“Hey, big boy. You had quite a busy day, huh?”
“Yeah, Papa. It was a really good day. Thanks for coming to school with me.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We are so very proud of you!”
Truman lowered his eyes and smiled shyly. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome. I don’t think you realize how important you are to this family. You have really made a difference in all our lives, Son.”
“Thank you. You all have made a big difference in my life, too, Papa. If Johnny hadn’t found me, I wouldn’t be here. I love you and my big brothers and sister. I love Jelly, Mamacita Maria and Tio Cipriano, Uncle Sam, and Val. I know how lucky I am to have you as my new family,” Truman said sincerely.
“You are so special, son, and so smart, too! Come on, ready for supper?”
“I forgot to do my chores!”
“It’s ok. You were very tired and needed a siesta. Johnny and Scott fed your animals for you. Be sure to thank them.”
“I will, Papa. I love you.”
“I love you, too, big boy!”
Murdoch lifted his boy and hugged him tight before putting the child on his feet. True brushed his hair and picked up his boots, took Murdoch’s offered hand and walked downstairs with him.
Chapter 7A: The Cattle Drive, Part I: Getting Ready
Once school was out, Truman busied himself by helping his family prepare for the cattle drive. He enjoyed going into town with Murdoch and his older brothers for supplies and riding the range with them as well.
One afternoon, close to departure day, Murdoch instructed Truman to stay with his brothers at the ranch. He was going into town for supplies, but there was something special he was going to pick up. Due to the boy’s insatiable curiosity, it would be best if the child was left at home so the surprise would not be spoiled.
Truman was a bit put out that he was not allowed to accompany his Papa. He moped around the kitchen for a while before Maria and Teresa shooed him outside. He went to see his animals and groomed Mickey.
“Hey, True. Want to go out on the range to help us check the streams?” Johnny asked as he and Scott entered the barn.
Truman merely shrugged his shoulders.
“What’s wrong, little buddy?” Scott asked.
“Papa left me at home. He went ta town to get supplies and said I couldn’t go. I guess he got tired of me,” True said quietly.
“Oh, True! He ain’t tired of you. He loves you! He just had to make a quick trip and I bet he was going out to Henry Rudder’s place ta get the key to the cottage before Henry went up to Oregon. I bet they did a lotta talkin‘ and you woulda been bored,” Johnny said, hoping his explanation was plausible.
“I wanted ta go with,” the boy said grumpily.
“Well, you can’t always go with Papa. He has good reasons why you need to stay with us, sometimes. Let’s go check out those creeks, okay?” Scott suggested.
“I can’t,” True whined, as he kicked the stall door with the toe of his boot.
The older Lancer boys were worried about Truman. He wasn’t usually this whiny when he didn’t get his way. Scott felt the boy’s forehead for any evidence of illness that would explain his atypical behavior.
“Fever?” Johnny asked.
“No, he’s fine. Why can’t you go with us, True?” Scott asked.
“My saddle is broken and no one has fixed it yet. It’s the only saddle we have that fits me and the stirrup strap broke in two pieces when Jelly adjusted it yesterday,” True explained.
“Oh, I see. Well, why don’t you ride with me? Remmie won’t mind,” Scott suggested.
“Mickey’s gonna think I don’t love him anymore cause I’m not riding him,” Truman said, voicing his concern.
“Come here, lil cowboy. Let’s talk to Mickey and tell him what happened,” Johnny instructed.
True walked over to Johnny and they approached Mickey’s stall.
“Listen here, Mickey. Lil cowboy here has a broken saddle and it needs ta get fixed before he can ride ya again. He still loves ya and really wants to ride ya, but we don’t have any saddles that fit him, okay?” Johnny explained to the horse.
Mickey nickeredthen stuck his head over the stall door and nudged his small rider. True reached up and rubbed his horse’s nose lovingly.
“I’m sorry, Mickey. I really wanna ride ya and I love ya, but we don’t have a saddle that fits me. I slide around too much in the big saddles and Johnny and Papa said that isn’t safe, so I hafta use a smaller saddle. Johnny says I need one ta fit my backside properly. Hopefully, we’ll have the saddle fixed in time for the cattle drive. You wanna go, right?”
The horse nickered and nudged the boy’s chest again.
“I knew ya did. I’m gonna go out with Scott and Johnny, okay? I’ll come visit with a treat when we get back. I promise. Ya know a Lancer always keeps his promise,” True said, finishing his conversation with his beloved mustang. Mickey whinnied and snorted.
While True had been talking to Mickey, Johnny and Scott had saddled their horses and smiled at each other as they listened to their younger brother explain to his horse why he couldn’t be ridden.
“Ready, lil buddy?” Scott asked.
“Sure,” True said, restored to his usual good disposition.
They led the horses outside and Scott mounted his steed. Johnny lifted Truman and Scott took the boy and put him on the saddle in front of himself. Johnny mounted and the Lancer sons headed out for the south range. They spent the morning clearing watering holes and streams so the cattle that would be moved the next day would have plenty of water to drink in the heat of the summer.
The boys returned to the hacienda for lunch because it was halfway between the south and north pastures. They would be heading to the north pasture to check the fences for any damages.
After a lunch of fried chicken, lemonade, and cookies, the boys took off again and Truman rode with Johnny on Barranca. The boys repaired some sections and reset a few posts.
The boys made it home before Murdoch and completed their afternoon chores. Truman kept his promise and took an apple to Mickey. The horse chomped happily on the rare treat as Truman fed Trevor and added more hay and fresh water to Mickey’s manger and bucket. The boy also threw in a measure of oats, which made Mickey whinny with delight.
Scott came by the barn and ushered his younger brother to the estancia to wash for supper. Murdoch arrived shortly after and spoke to Johnny, who was in the tack room trying to repair Truman’s stirrup strap. The saddle Truman used had belonged to Cipriano’s boy, who outgrew it. It had been old and broken in when Truman started riding and carried the boy well during his first cattle drive, but it was irreparable now and would be used for helping green horses get used to a saddle.
“Hi, Son,” Murdoch greeted.
“Hey, Murdoch. Get everything ya needed in town?”
“Yes, and I have the key to Henry’s cottage.”
“True was quite upset that you didn’t take him with you,” Johnny said matter-of-factly.
“He didn’t cry, did he?” Murdoch asked.
“No, nothing that drastic. He was just moping around an‘ whiny. He told us that he thought you were tired of him,” Johnny said.
“Don’t worry. Scott an’ I told him that you love him and that you had things to do and sometimes it was best to leave him with us. He’s fine, now. Cleared streams and fixed fencing with us. He was really upset that he couldn’t ride Mickey because his saddle is broken. I’ve been trying ta fix it, but I can’t. “
“Well, thanks for talking to him and setting him straight. I’d like you to help me after supper. I have something to show you.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Come with me,” Murdoch said as he led Johnny to the buckboard parked outside the barn.
Murdoch lifted the awkwardly wrapped object and asked Johnny to grab the other, smaller packages from the wagon bed.
They walked into the barn and Murdoch placed his load on a bale of hay. He untied the string holding the cover on and unwrapped the surprise.
“Oh, wow! That is nice, Murdoch!” Johnny exclaimed as he examined the dark brown saddle.
It was perfect for Truman, just his size with a bit of growing room, but not too big. There was ornate embossing with the Lancer “L“ and True’s initials, TSL, on the apron. The stirrups were well-constructed with extra strength stitching.
“I figured he needed a new one and I ordered this at the end of April. It’s just good luck that it came in time for the drive.”
“Yeah, in the nick of time,” Johnny commented, holding up the broken stirrup strap of the old saddle.
Murdoch smiled and nodded his agreement.
“What else do we have here?” Johnny asked.
Murdoch smiled broadly and opened the package. There was a set of matching reins, bridle, and saddle bags, also with True’s initials and the Lancer “L” on them.
“You spared no expense, didja?”
“Well, I figured this would be a good investment. I also got him a new bedroll, chaps, jeans, and a new shirt. Do you think he’ll like them?”
“Oh, yes! You said you needed my help. What’s your plan?” Johnny asked.
“After supper, I need you to slip out here and saddle Mickey, with all his new gear. I’m going to suggest to Truman to come out and check on his animals before he settles in the living room for the evening. I’m going to take his new clothes in and hand them to Maria so she can lay them out on his bed while we have him out here.”
“Good plan,” Johnny remarked. “You can count on me.”
“I know, Son. Thank you.”
Johnny smiled shyly at his father and nodded his head. They went in to the estancia to wash for supper. When everyone was seated at the table, the blessing was said and everyone dug in.
“How was your day, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“It was fine. I went out with Johnny and Scott and helped clear watering holes and streams and then we fixed some fencing after lunch. I missed you, Papa. I wanted to go with you.”
“I know, son, and I missed you, too, but I had a lot to do and you would have gotten bored at Henry’s. It’s best that you stayed with your brothers.”
“Okay. My saddle is broken Papa. I can’t ride Mickey.”
“Jelly told me what happened, Well, maybe we can borrow a saddle for you to use for the drive. Eat your supper, then we’ll go out and tell your animals good night.”
“Do I hafta go to bed after supper?”
“No, Truman. You know you fall asleep before your bedtime, sometimes?”
“Well, I thought it would be best to go out and see your animals and use the outhouse before it got dark.”
Other ranch business was discussed during dinner. For dessert, there were churros. Truman ate a few. Johnny excused himself and left the table, going into the kitchen. A few minutes later, he returned, winked at Murdoch and sat down.
“Murdoch, Maria would like to see you in the kitchen. She has a quick question about tomorrow’s menu.
Murdoch stood and went to the kitchen.
“Patron, Senor Johnny asked me to take care of this package. How do you want it taken care of?”
“Please take it up and lay the clothes on True’s chair. He’ll see them when I bring him up to bed. If he’s asleep, he can see them in the morning,” Murdoch explained.
Maria went upstairs to carry out her assignment. Murdoch returned to the dining room.
After supper, the family stood and stretched.
“Are you ready to go see your animals, Truman?”
“I think Johnny and I will join you to say goodnight to Remmie and Barranca,” Scott said.
“Okay,” Murdoch replied.
The sun was down, but there was some residual daylight left to light their way. Murdoch had his boy’s hand as the older boys walked in front. When they arrived in the barn, Scott smiled widely at the sight he beheld.
Moments later, a gasp and sob were heard.
“Mickey! Where did you get that beautiful saddle?” Truman asked as he ran towards his horse and examined the tack. The boy gasped in surprise again when he spotted his initials and the Lancer “L.” He fingered the intricate embossing, then explored the bridle, reins, saddlebags and the new bedroll.
“It’s beautiful! Where did it come from?” True asked.
“Colorado, Son. I’m glad you like it. Do you want to sit and try it out?” Murdoch asked.
Johnny helped True get his foot in the stirrup and the boy pulled himself up. Once he was settled, Johnny adjusted the stirrups to the boy’s height and placed his little feet in the stirrups. Then, Johnny untied the reins.
“How does it feel, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Here, lil cowboy, ride out to the hacienda,” Johnny said as he handed the reins to the boy.
True took the reins and rode Mickey outside and around the compound. He rode to the French doors and called to Teresa. Teresa and Maria came out and admired the boy’s new tack. Jelly came from his room and grinned at True as he rode around.
“That saddle is jist perfect for you, young’un! Good timing, boss!”
“Thanks, Jelly,” Murdoch said. “It’s getting dark, son. You may ride more tomorrow, but it’s time to put Mickey to bed.”
True rode back into the barn and dismounted independently. Johnny took the reins as Scott and True unsaddled Mickey. Once the horse had been stalled and groomed, True said his good-nights to his animals.
He ran to Murdoch and hugged his Papa something fierce. Murdoch lifted his son and held him close.
“Thank you so very much, Papa! I love it and I’ll take good care of it!”
“I know you will and you’re very welcome. You earned that saddle, Son. You worked hard in school, you’re a very good boy, and you needed a new saddle.”
“Thank you for everything, Papa!”
“You’re welcome, Son. Let’s go in.”
The family trooped back into the house and began talking about the saddle.
Chapter 7B: The Cattle Drive, Part II: The Drive
Truman had fallen asleep in Murdoch’s lap, therefore he had not seen his new clothes until the next morning. When the boy woke and saw the new outfit, he grinned in delight. The jeans were dark gray and the shirt was medium blue with horseshoes embroidered in silver thread on the button hole band. Truman tried on the pants and discovered they were a little long, but when he pulled his boots on, the jeans fit fine. The boy slipped into the new shirt and buttoned it up. Next, he pulled his belt through the loops and buckled it. Finally, True finished his outfit with the chaps, a bandana, and his little work gloves, which he tucked into his belt. After brushing his recently trimmed hair, Truman went down to the kitchen to greet his family.
“Hey there, cowboy!” Murdoch greeted his son. Murdoch was the only one in the kitchen until Maria came in from gathering more eggs a few minutes later.
“Hey, Papa. Thank you for the new clothes. They feel good.”
“They look good. Are you going to ride with your brothers today? They’re going to the east range to clear streams before we go on the cattle drive,” Murdoch explained.
“Sure. Where are they?”
“In the stable. Have some breakfast and I’ll go tell them to wait for you,” Murdoch instructed.
True sat down and had his breakfast while Murdoch went to find his older sons.
True and his brothers had a great time together that day. After clearing streams, the boys took a break and went swimming.
Truman had a few days to break in his new saddle before the day arrived for them to leave. Mickey was happy to be out of the stall.
The Drive Begins
At five-thirty in the morning, Murdoch came in and woke his youngest.
“Come on, big boy. Time to rise and shine,” Murdoch called softly.
“Mmmmmmmm. Nooooooo. Wannna sleeeeeeeep,” the little guy moaned.
Murdoch chuckled and lifted the sleepy child out of his bed.
“Come on, True. Get dressed. We need to have breakfast and get going,” Murdoch said as he helped his son out of his nightshirt and into the clothes he had set out the night before. His other ranching clothes had been packed in his new saddlebags.
Once the child was dressed, Murdoch helped him make his bed. True grabbed Mr. Bear and was about to put the beloved stuffed friend into his saddle bags when Murdoch stopped him.
“Truman, leave Mr. Bear at home, son.”
“Why? He needs to come.”
“What if he fell out or something happened to him? You would be very sad. It’s best to leave him here. Teresa will take good care of him,” Murdoch assured his sensitive young son.
The boy sighed heavily and his shoulders slumped. He hugged his bear tight before resignedly putting it back on his bed.
“That was very good, big boy. I’m proud of you,” Murdoch praised the child as they made their way down to the kitchen.
“I didn’t wanna do it,” True replied, grumpily.
“I know, son, but doing the right thing is not always pleasant. Mr. Bear will wait patiently for you to come home. Guess what?”
“You can take him to San Diego,” Murdoch replied.
True stopped and thought about it, then cheered up considerably.
“Okay. Thanks, Papa.”
“You’re welcome, son.”
They were now in the kitchen with the other members of the family.
“Mornin’, lil cowboy,” Johnny greeted.
“Hey, Johnny n’ Scott.”
“You ready for the big drive, little buddy?” Scott asked.
“Yeah,” the little guy replied as he sat down and started eating his eggs and hash browns.
Maria placed a mug of milk on the table for the child and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“De nada, nino. You listen to your Papa and hermanos, si? Be careful…If anything happens to the nino, you big boys will be in muy malo trouble, si?” Maria warned the older Lancers, shaking her wooden spoon at them.
Johnny and Scott exchanged grins with their father and each other.
“Si, Maria. We’ll be careful with Truman,” Murdoch assured Maria.
“We’ll be careful, Mamacita. Te amo,” True replied.
“Oh, te amo, nino, te amo.”
The older Lancers smiled at the youngest as he reassured their mother figure.
The time finally arrived for the men of the family to head out. Teresa and Maria fussed as the youngest picked up his saddle bags and carried them out, picking up his hat and spring coat on the way. True hugged his Mamacita and sister one last time. They had followed the Lancers out to say their good-byes. However, while hugging Teresa, True whispered his request for her to look after Mr. Bear for him. Teresa promised she would look after the stuffed toy, thus putting True’s mind at ease.
Johnny helped Truman with his saddle bags and coat and tied them down as the child pulled his gloves on. The new bedroll was already secured, as were his lasso and canteen. Johnny gave the boy a boost to mount Mickey, and handed the reins to Truman.
“You’re welcome, lil cowboy,” Johnny replied with a grin.
Once everyone was ready, they covered their ears as Johnny gave his famous piercing whistle to begin the drive. The drovers started out with the steers ahead of them. Once they passed through the arch, the herd spread out and the drovers took their positions on the perimeter of the herd. Jelly was driving the chuck wagon behind the herd.
The elder Lancer sons started out leading the herd and Murdoch was riding drag with his youngster. During the morning, Murdoch went after and caught two strays with his lasso. Truman followed to keep an eye on the steers and point them out if they started to stray again. Once the steers were folded back into the herd, Murdoch nodded at his youngest as the boy rode with him back to their position. True was doing just fine and having the time of his life.
Jelly drove the wagon ahead when a scout rode back and reported that he had found a good place to rest the herd and set up for lunch. Johnny came back and rode drag with True as Murdoch rode forward. The Lancers and their drovers had planned this rotation during one of their pre-drive meetings. True would always be paired with either Murdoch, Johnny, Scott, Walter, Charlie, or Frank.
When they made it to the resting pasture where Jelly had set up lunch, Johnny helped True take care of Mickey and led the boy to the water to refill his canteen.
“How ya feeling, True?” Johnny asked.
“Good. A little tired and hungry, but good. I’m having fun,” the boy answered with a big smile.
“That’s great, True. Papa told me what a great job you did when you helped him spot those two strays and got them back into the herd.”
“Yeah. He’s really proud of you.”
“I was a little scared. I’m glad Papa was there to go after them,” True replied honestly.
Johnny smiled and patted the boy on the back.
“You’re doing just fine, lil cowboy. You’ve grown so much since your first drive. Remember that?”
“Yeah. I spent a lotta time with Jelly in the wagon.”
“Yeah, but you kept him straight, right?” Johnny asked, chuckling.
“I did my best, Johnny.”
“You always do, True. That’s one thing I really like about ya,” Johnny praised him.
“Thanks, Johnny,” True replied shyly.
The dinner bell rang and drovers lined up to get their grub and the Lancers stood at the end of the line. Once everyone had a dish, Murdoch said an impromptu blessing, asking for guidance and safety for all during the drive. The Lancers and drovers spread out and ate. The drovers who were on patrol came in for lunch after a new team rode out to guard the herd. After a short siesta, the drovers and Lancers saddled up and roused the herd. Once everyone was moving again, Scott traded places with Johnny and rode drag with Truman. The boy would be able to try out different jobs, except night watch, during his second cattle drive.
The herd went twenty miles that first day. After supper, Scott sat with his family and read The Count of Monte Cristo. Truman fell asleep before eight o’clock. His bedroll was placed between Johnny and Murdoch. Johnny smiled at the little sleepyhead and reached over to tuck the blankets around the youngster.
All of the drovers were on their best behavior around the little tyke. Not only did they really like Truman, but Jelly had threatened to take a strap to anyone who mistreated the boy or used bawdy language in his presence.
Over the next few days, True worked both sides of the herd, paired with his brothers, and led it while being paired with Murdoch.
When they finally reached Stockton, Truman helped tally the steers as they were led into the pens and chutes. As soon as the stock was loaded into the train car and Murdoch was paid, the drovers lined up to receive their pay. About half of them elected to bank a portion of their pay so they wouldn’t lose all of it in a high stakes poker game, as some were known to do. Johnny only took a third of his pay and Scott followed his brother’s lead. Truman received his pay last. He and Murdoch discussed how much he could take and how much he was expected to save. Therefore, Truman received a fifth of his pay, enough to purchase some marbles, a small set of soldiers, some pencils, and a small bag of candy. He still had two dollars left after he completed his shopping and gave it to Murdoch to hold for him.
Jarrod Barkley ran into Murdoch at the bank and invited the Lancers to stay with his family for the weekend and Murdoch took their friends up on the offer. Johnny and Scott were happy to hear that they would not have to pay to sleep on a lumpy hotel bed. Murdoch had a discussion with his youngest, reminding him that he didn’t have to initiate conversations with Nick but that he did have to be polite to all of the hosts at the Barkley home. The boy promised to be on his best behavior. Murdoch left Jelly and Frank in charge of the other drovers, who stayed in town.
Murdoch and the boys arrived at the stately home of their old friends about an hour before supper. Truman was very tired and yawned continuously. When the Barkley’s ranch hands took care of their horses, the Lancers were escorted to the front door of the house. Johnny and Scott each had their saddlebags and rifles, and Johnny was carrying Truman’s bags and Scott had Murdoch’s. Murdoch was carrying Truman.
Once they had been greeted by their hostesses and hosts, Murdoch took his youngest upstairs and put him to bed for a siesta before dinner.
The Lancers enjoyed their weekend with their good friends and were able to relax after the long, hot drive. It rained all day Saturday, and Johnny was quite antsy, but Scott, Murdoch, and Truman did not seem to mind being confined to the house. Each of the elder Lancers perused the extensive collection of tomes in the library and found a book to read. Truman amused himself with his new soldiers and marbles, by drawing pictures, and listening to his brothers and the Barkley boys engage in friendly banter. Johnny eventually settled down and was able to relax.
Monday morning came quickly and it was time for the Lancers to head back to town to pick up Jelly and round up their drovers for the trip home, Two days after their arrival at home, the Lancers would be leaving for their trip to San Diego. Murdoch needed a couple of days to review responsibilities with Frank and Walt and the Lancer males needed to have their clothes washed for the trip south.
The trip home was uneventful, thankfully. It went much faster, of course, since they didn’t have five hundred head of cattle to drive.
When the family arrived at the Lancer estancia, Teresa and Maria rushed out to welcome Murdoch and the boys home. They were very pleased to hear that the trip went well and that the boys were home safe and sound. Once he was released from hugs, True dashed up the stairs and into his room, smiling with relief once he hugged Mr. Bear.
Chapter 8: Going South
The Lancers had returned from the cattle drive safe and sound. Now, they were preparing to go on their vacation. Maria and Teresa were working hard washing clothes and planning the menu for meals at the beach front cottage. Henry Rudders had assured them that they could find what they needed at the mercantile in town so they would not have to bring their own staples.
The Lancer boys spent their time on horseback, checking the ranges, fixing fences, clearing streams, and driving the remainder of the herd from one pasture to another. They would go swimming in the late afternoon and be home in time for evening chores and supper.
The night before their departure, Truman was wound up and couldn’t settle to sleep. He kept coming down the stairs to ask if one thing or another had been taken care of or if he could have some water or juice or milk.
Murdoch had been patient at first and indulged the boy by answering his questions, reassuring him, and pouring a mug of milk for him. His patience was wearing thin, now. He was very tired from taking care of last minute details and making sure his men knew what was expected of them while the family was away. Johnny sensed that the boy was going to get into trouble if he didn’t go to bed, but he also understood his brother’s excitement. Johnny took it upon himself to intervene and scooped the boy up and carried him back to his room.
Johnny set True on his bed and sat down next to him.
“What’s going on, lil cowboy?”
“I just can’t sleep, Johnny. I don’t mean to be bad, I just have so much going on in my head,” True replied.
“You’re not being bad, True.”
“Papa was getting mad.”
“I know, but I’ll talk to him. Papa is tired from working hard to get ready for the trip. What can I do to help you sleep?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me what’s going on in your head.”
“How long is the ride to Cross Creek? How long is the train ride? Are we changing trains? Will there be a lot of people there? Will we all get to sit together? Do Jelly, Cip, and Mamacita really wanta go with us? What’s the weather gonna be like?”
Johnny took a deep breath and started answering the youngster’s questions.
“The ride to Cross Creek is a couple of hours by stage. The train ride is about six hours, with a change in Stockton. The station might be crowded, so you need to stay close and not wander off. We will do our best to sit together, but if we can’t, we’ll at least be in the same train car. Jelly, Cip, and Mamacita are excited about this trip and they feel very special that you invited them to come. The weather is usually warm and sunny, but sometimes cool and breezy.”
“Okay. Thanks, Johnny.”
“You’re welcome, True. Get under the covers and roll onto your tummy. I’ll rub yer back so you can sleep,” Johnny kindly instructed the boy.
True did as he was told and just a few minutes after Johnny began rubbing his back, the child drifted off to sleep. Johnny stayed a few more minutes to be sure the little guy was indeed sound asleep.
When Johnny returned to the living room, Murdoch looked up inquisitively. Johnny smiled and nodded.
“He’s asleep, Murdoch. He said he was sorry for being bad, but he had a lot going on in his head.”
“He wasn’t being bad. I should have had more patience with him.”
“I told him he wasn’t bad and that you were just tired. He just wanted some answers to his questions. That boy has never been bad,” Johnny stated.
“That’s the truth!” Scott said.
“Well, we best be getting to bed. We have a big day ahead. Thank you, Johnny, for your help. I really appreciate you stepping in like that,” Murdoch said.
“De nada. I like being a big brother. Good night,” Johnny replied.
“Good night, boys,” Murdoch replied, giving each a pat on the back.
The next morning was a whirlwind of activity. Truman didn’t need anyone to wake him up this special morning. He hopped out of his bed, made it, and stuffed his nightshirt into his clothes bag and Mr. Bear went into his other bag, the one he would keep with him on the train. This small bag was full of stuff that would keep the youngster occupied on the long train trip. A few books, marbles, a couple of horses, two sketch pads (one half full), pencils, cards, soldiers, and Mr. Bear.
Murdoch had suggested to Truman, too, that he bring a bag of toys so he wouldn’t get bored on the train or at the cottage if the weather turned foul and they couldn’t go out. Truman had liked the idea and took the small carrier bag Murdoch had brought from the attic and filled it.
True trudged down the hall, hauling his two bags. Scott came out of his room, carrying his one bag, and spotted his little brother struggling with his two bags. Scott walked up behind the boy and took one of the bags from him. True looked up and grinned at Scott.
“No problem, little buddy. Excited?”
“Let’s get some breakfast.”
They went down the front steps and put their bags in the foyer before going to the kitchen. Johnny was already there, digging into his eggs and pancakes, as his brothers sat down. Plates were immediately placed in front of the new arrivals. Murdoch showed up and smiled at his boys as he took his place.
“Everyone all packed and ready?”
“Yes, Papa. Yes, Murdoch. Yeah,” the boys replied.
Jelly came in and joined the family at the table.
When everyone had eaten and made last minute trips for forgotten items or to the outhouse, the family loaded the buckboard and rode to town. Walt drove them and received more instructions from Murdoch.
The family made it to Cross Creek with a half hour to spare. Murdoch purchased a paper and some peppermint and licorice sticks.
When the stage arrived, Johnny and Scott helped pass the bags up top. Johnny tried to get Truman to let him put his other bag up top, but the boy refused. Murdoch stepped in and allowed True to keep his bag with him in the stage.
The family climbed in and found their seats rather quickly. True started out between Johnny and Scott, but ended up in Murdoch’s lap. He chattered excitedly for the first hour of the trip in the stage and dozed for the next hour.
When they arrived in Cross Creek, they had an hour before they had to board the train. Murdoch went to the station and purchased the tickets, then met the family at a café for lunch.
After lunch, the Lancers walked over to the train station to board the train. The station was crowded, so Scott took his little brother by the hand so he wouldn’t get separated and lost. True had his bag of toys and Johnny had the boy’s clothing bag. They found a nearly empty car and settled into it. Four of them were in booth seats on one side, the kind that faced each other and had a table between them, and the other four adults of the Lancer party settled in booth seats across the narrow aisle. Truman had claimed the window seat across from Johnny. Scott sat next to Johnny and Murdoch settled next to his youngest.
Across the aisle, Teresa and Maria sat across from each other with a tablet on the table between them. They were busy making plans before the train started to move. Cipriano and Jelly were next to the window, across from each other, and started a game of gin.
Truman opened his bag and pulled out a horse, his sketch pad and some pencils. He set the horse parallel to the window so it appeared to be running. He drew the scenery and then the “running” horse. Johnny watched this process with interest. Truman was full of surprises and Johnny loved discovering new things about this boy, who was now his little brother.
Scott and Murdoch played some cards and dealt Johnny in after a few rounds. When True tired of drawing, he put his things away and took out a book and began to read. He fell asleep with his head on the table while reading. Murdoch put his cards down, took the book out of True’s hands and put it back in the bag, then pulled the boy down so the child’s head rested in his lap. Murdoch picked up his cards and the older Lancers resumed their game.
Truman slept for about two hours and was wakened by a growling in his stomach.
“Papa, I’m hungry.”
“So I heard,” Murdoch replied with a chuckle. “Sit up and I’ll see what Mamacita packed in her bag.”
“Okay.” True sat up and looked at his brothers, who were playing cards.
Murdoch returned with a small canteen of lemonade and two cookies for his boy.
“You’re welcome, son.”
“Did you sleep, Papa?”
“No, I read the paper.”
“Yes, my boy?”
“Is the ocean cold?”
“It can be, why?”
“Well, you know our swimming holes at home?”
“Yes,” Murdoch replied, waiting patiently for Truman to make his point.
“You know that Johnny, Scott, and I wear just our drawers to swim? What do we wear in the ocean to swim?”
“Yes, I know that. You can wear your drawers, but I think Teresa packed those old overalls you can wear, too. I know you’re modest around Teresa and Mamacita and you might not want to run around in drawers in front of them.”
“That’s a good idea. What will Johnny and Scott and you wear to swim?”
“Your brothers will probably wear their old jeans and I have some old pants I brought to swim in.”
“You’ll swim with me?” True asked.
“Sure I will. We’ll have a good time. There are some rules to discuss, but we’ll wait till everyone is awake so there won’t be any misunderstanding, all right?”
“Yes, Papa. Are they rules to keep us safe ?”
Murdoch ruffled the boy’s hair and hugged him.
The conductor came through the car and checked their tickets. Murdoch had everyone’s ticket and pointed out who was in the Lancer party. The conductor thanked him and moved on. When he returned, he had a special engineer’s cap for Truman and gave it to the astonished boy.
“Here you go, son,” the conductor said to True as he handed the cap to him.
“Th-thank you!” Truman replied.
“You’re welcome. You have very nice manners, young man, and you are very well behaved. I was through here at the beginning of the journey and a little while ago and I noticed how nicely you entertained yourself. I wish all boys were as nice as you,” the conductor praised True.
The boy blushed and thanked the conductor again.
Scott and Johnny looked up when the conductor returned and smiled proudly at True as the conductor praised their younger brother.
“Where are you headed, young man?” the conductor asked.
“To San Diego. We’re going to see the Pacific Ocean and celebrate,” True spoke up.
“Really? Celebrate what?”
“My anniversary. I was adopted and it was official on June 19th, so we’re taking a holiday to the shore.”
“Very good. Well, I hope you have a wonderful time and that the weather stays pleasant during your stay.”
“Thank you, sir. And thank you again for the cap. That was really nice of you.”
“You’re very welcome young man. I hope to see you on your return journey.”
Truman smiled and nodded. The conductor nodded and went back to his duties.
“Wow, True. Ya did a great job talking to the conductor,” Johnny praised the child.
“Thanks, Johnny. I never expected ta get a cap. That was real nice of him.”
“Yes, it was, little buddy. The conductor is right, though. You have been very good on this trip,” Scott said.
“Yes, he has,” Teresa agreed. “Scoot over, Scott,” she requested.
“Yes, ma’am!” Scott replied. Johnny and True snickered and giggled.
“Hi, Truman. Having fun?” Teresa asked.
“Yes. Did you see my cap?”
“Oh, that’s nice! Are you going to stop wearing your cowboy hat?” Teresa asked.
“No! I’m a cowboy! I’ll wear my cap when I play, though. I can be an engineer for Hallowe‘en.”
Murdoch and the others nodded and smiled at the boy’s declaration.
The conductor came back and announced that they would be stopping in Stockton in a half hour. The Lancers straightened up their areas and True put his toys and Mr. Bear back in his bag. The rest of the train ride to Stockton was spent talking about dinner plans and how to get to the cottage.
Chapter 9: Getting There is Half the Fun, Right ?
When they arrived in Stockton, Scott took Truman by the hand and helped the boy down the steps. Johnny had his bag and True’s clothing bag. Murdoch had his bag and Truman’s toy bag. Once Maria and Teresa had been assisted off the train, and Truman had been placed under their supervision, Murdoch, Scott and Johnny helped Cipriano and Jelly unload the rest of the group’s luggage. They had to move quickly to get their things off the train so others could board for the trip back to Cross Creek.
The train heading to San Diego would be arriving in a half hour and leaving thirty minutes after its arrival. This time table gave the Lancer party an hour to grab a snack and use the outhouse if necessary.
They all decided to go to the café and have coffee and cookies, then use the available facilities before the last long leg of their trip. Murdoch took his youngest boy by the hand and led the way to Donovan’s Café. They found a large table and sat down, ordered coffee, lemonade, and cookies.
When the Lancers finished their snack, they used the facilities and then walked back to the train station. Truman was holding Johnny’s hand this time and once they settled on some benches at the station, the child started asking questions.
“What kinds of fish live in the Pacific Ocean?”
“All kinds, True. Ugly ones and pretty ones, big ones and little ones, slippery fish and prickly fish, and fish you can eat and fish that will eat you,” Johnny answered, tickling the child.
The boy giggled, pushed Johnny’s hands away, and continued the inquisition.
“I saw a picture of a really big animal in the sea and it had a hole on top of its head. What is that ?“
“That’s a whale, True.”
“What do whales eat? How do they breathe?”
“Whales are mammals. They have lungs and blowholes. They come up for air and then blow out the water. They can stay underwater for a long time before they have to come up again,” Johnny replied.
“What’s the biggest whale? Are there different kinds of whales?” True asked.
Scott was enjoying listening to this question and answer session between his younger brothers. He decided that he would try to find a book about fish and sea mammals to satisfy Truman’s thirst for knowledge.
Murdoch was finding the conversation between his boys an enlightening experience. He didn’t realize how much Johnny knew. He knew the young man had not received a lot of formal education, so it came as somewhat of a surprise that Johnny possessed quite a bit of information about ocean life.
“The blue whale is the largest mammal on earth, Truman. Dolphins and porpoise are types of whales. Whales don’t eat people,” Johnny continued.
“Whales don’t eat people? What about Jonah and the whale?” Truman asked.
Johnny was now stumped. Thankfully, the “all aboard” was called and the Lancers moved quickly to find seats. Once settled in a car, Truman resumed his questions.
“Well what, little buddy?” Scott responded.
“Johnny said whales don’t eat people. But the whale ate Jonah.”
“The whale didn’t eat Jonah, True. Jonah didn’t die. He sat in the belly of the whale after the whale saved him from the storm caused by God’s anger. You see, God had told Jonah to deliver a message to the Ninevites, but Jonah didn’t want to. He went on a boat to Spain to hide from God and God got mad and made the storm come. The whale swallowed Jonah. Jonah was saved from drowning and prayed to God. When the whale spit him out on dry land, Jonah went and did as God had told him to do in the first place,” Scott said, finishing the story.
“Oh. Do whales come close to the shore?” True asked.
“Some whales beach themselves and die, but most whales stay in very deep water,” Scott answered patiently.
“What does ‘beach themselves’ mean?”
“They swim close to shore and the waves bring them up on the beach and the whales get too hot and dry out and die.”
“Why do they do that ?”
“The whales might be sick and too weak to fight the current,” Scott answered.
“Well, what other fishes are in the ocean?” the inquisitive child asked.
Johnny and Scott sighed and smiled at each other. Murdoch smirked at his older boys’ attempts at answering his youngest boy’s plethora of questions.
“All kinds, little buddy. Maybe we’ll see some when we get to the ocean,” Scott said. “I might be able to find the book, Moby Dick, and read it to you.”
“What’s moby dick?” True asked.
“It was a whale in a story by Herman Melville. It was published in 1851,” Scott replied. “Melville was a friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne.”
“Who is that?” the child asked.
Johnny chuckled at Scott, who was now trapped in their younger brother’s labyrinth of curiosity.
“He wrote several books and stories, such as The Scarlet Letter , The House of the Seven Gables , The Marble Faun, Twice-Told Tales, The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales, The Life of Franklin Pierce, The Whole History of Grandfather’s Chair, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, Tanglewood Tales, and The Celestial Railroad,” Scott answered.
“What is that wonder book about?” True asked.
“It is a re-writing of some of the most famous of the ancient Greek myths in a volume for children,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh! That sounds good,” Truman replied, while yawning.
“Come on, my curious boy. Lie down and rest a bit. Give your big brothers a break,” Murdoch instructed his youngest kindly as he pulled the boy down to rest his head on his Papa’s lap.
“Mmm…okay. When we will we get there?” True asked drowsily.
“Soon, son. You rest and we’ll be there before you know it,” Murdoch replied.
“Kay, Papa,” the child said just seconds before falling asleep.
Murdoch smiled down at the child and rubbed his head tenderly.
“Is he asleep?” Scott asked.
“Phew! So many questions,” Scott said.
“You should be used to it by now,” Murdoch commented, smiling.
“Yeah, Boston,” Johnny said, while jabbing his brother in the ribs with his elbow.
Scott swatted his pesky brother with his hat.
“Boys!” Murdoch hissed quietly. “Be quiet before you wake Truman.”
Johnny and Scott straightened up quickly and began a quiet game of poker. They didn’t mind answering Truman’s questions, but when the boy got on a roll, it could turn into an exhausting event.
The family had a quiet, comfortable ride to San Diego. When the conductor came through to check tickets and let the passengers know that they would be arriving in San Diego within the hour, he smiled down at the sleeping boy.
“What a nice, well-behaved boy you have, sir,” the man commented.
“Thank you,” Murdoch responded.
“How old is he?”
“He’s seven and a half.”
“I noticed how well he minds you and he hasn’t caused a ruckus. There’s an older boy a few cars ahead who was arguing with his parents about something.”
“This little one gets whiny when he’s overtired, but we do our best to see that he doesn’t get to that point,” Murdoch replied.
The conductor nodded, smiled, and was on his way.
“That’s the second conductor who’s said how nice True is,” Johnny pointed out.
“Well, it’s good to know that others notice how good he is. Let’s start cleaning our area so we’ll be ready to get off and catch a cab. I think it might still be light by the time we get to the cottage,” Murdoch said.
“What about supper?” Johnny asked.
“We’ll get supplies in town before we go to the cottage,” Murdoch replied.
They made it to San Diego by five forty-five. Murdoch woke Truman and the family disembarked the train and walked to the center of town. There was so much to see. Truman was holding Murdoch’s hand and looking all around him with his mouth open in wonder and awe.
The Lancers made their way to a large open-air market. Cipriano and Jelly took the ladies’ bags so they could shop. Once the fruits and vegetables were purchased, they went to the mercantile for staple supplies.
The family hailed a cab and were driven out to Henry’s cottage. Once the dust covers had been taken off the furniture and windows were opened to get rid of the musty, stifling air, Teresa and Maria began dinner preparations. The men carried the luggage to the rooms. Johnny and Truman would be sharing one room and Murdoch and Scott would occupy the room across the hall.
Down the hall, there were two more bedrooms, each with two beds like the other rooms. Teresa and Maria would be sharing one room while Jelly and Cipriano would have the other room. There was a bath house on the backside of the cottage, and there was a roomy living area with a cozy fireplace and large windows through which you could see the Pacific Ocean. The kitchen was large with a door that opened to a porch overlooking the beach.
After a hearty but simple supper of chicken and dumplings and salad, the tired family retired to their beds, looking forward to a few days of relaxation, togetherness, and fun.
Johnny put his little brother to bed, then changed his clothes and was asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow.
Chapter 10: Fun in the Sun
The Lancers woke to the smell of ocean air, eggs, coffee, and bacon. True woke and jumped out of bed. He climbed onto Johnny’s bed and straddled his older brother’s stomach. Johnny was still asleep. True let his fingertips dance lightly on his Johnny’s chest, tickling him. Johnny swatted at the boy’s hands in his sleep. True lifted his hands, thus missing the contact. He reached up and squeezed Johnny’s nose closed. When the older Lancer brother opened his mouth to breathe, Truman let go of his nose. The boy leaned over and let his hair tickle Johnny’s face.
Suddenly, Johnny grabbed Truman’s arms and the boy screamed. Scott, Murdoch and Jelly came running. By the time they arrived in the doorway, Truman was wrapped in one of his brother’s arms and was being mercilessly tickled by Johnny’s free hand. The little boy was giggling and laughing.
“Johnny,” the boy gasped. “I…gotta…peeeeee.”
Johnny sat up, swung the youngster off the bed and onto his feet, and gave him a playful swat, one that actually stung a little.
Truman squealed as he ran out the door. Scott, Murdoch and Jelly had moved out of the doorway so Truman could make it to the bath house in time. Jelly chuckled and went back to the kitchen, leaving the Lancer men alone.
“What on earth was going on before the scream?” Murdoch asked, amused.
“YOUR son was sittin’ on my stomach, ticklin’ ME, holdin’ my nose, shaking his hair on my face…,” Johnny began.
“In other words, tormenting his older brother, huh?” Scott asked, smirking.
“Yeah,” Johnny confirmed with a grin.
“Well, you got justice, son. Come on and have breakfast. We’ll go out on the beach afterwards,” Murdoch said.
“Okay, I’ll be right out,” Johnny replied.
Truman ran back into the room, giggling, and hopped onto Johnny’s bed again. He hugged his big brother and received a hug in return.
Murdoch smiled at his two younger sons. Scott chuckled then went over to join his brothers.
“It’s not fair to covet our brother, Johnny. Come here, lil whirlwind,” Scott said as he picked up the youngster and hugged him. Truman smiled. He was so happy and he felt loved.
“What’s today, Scott?”
“June 18th. Tomorrow is your big day.”
“Great! What are we going to do today?” True asked.
“Let’s get you dressed little buddy, and we’ll talk about it at breakfast, alright?”
“Sure,” Truman agreed. The boy looked over at Murdoch and smiled. “Hey, Papa!”
Murdoch walked over and took his youngest from Scott and hugged him close. He had enjoyed watching the three boys interact. He figured Scott and Johnny would have been best friends if they had grown up together at Lancer. He was sad they didn’t share their youth, but he figured that with Truman they could all share in the boy’s childhood and become even closer, if that was possible. Better late than never, Murdoch thought.
“Are you happy, Truman?”
“Very happy, Papa,” the boy said as he laid his head on Murdoch’s shoulder.
“Good. Come on, big boy. Time to get dressed. We’ll get your clothes and go to my room so Johnny can have some privacy,” Murdoch said as he rummaged in the drawer and pulled a shirt and overalls out for the boy.
Murdoch gave Truman one last squeeze and set him down, gave the clothing to True and ushered him out.
Scott stayed with Johnny a minute.
“What a great kid.” Scott commented.
“Yeah. Get outta here. I need ta get dressed. See ya at breakfast.”
“See you there, Johnny.”
Scott left and Johnny closed the door after him. Johnny began his daily ritual, then dressed in a soft white shirt and old black jeans. The family convened at the breakfast table and enjoyed a lively meal together.
After breakfast, the men gathered an old quilt and some towels together as Teresa and Maria cleaned the kitchen and fixed a picnic basket. Jelly and the young men went outside and set up a place on the beach for the family to sit. They spread the quilt and found some small rocks to hold the quilt down. Murdoch brought Truman out and joined them on the quilt. Soon, Teresa and Maria joined the rest of the family outside with the picnic basket. Once everyone was seated, Murdoch went over some safety rules. He said them more for Truman’s sake than the other adults’ benefit. They had common sense and knew that the boy was not allowed to swim alone or go near the water without someone close by.
Murdoch stood and invited the youngster to come to the ocean with him. True stood and walked, hand in hand, with Murdoch. They stopped at the water’s edge, allowing Truman to watch the waves come in and go out. As they stepped into the water, Murdoch felt the boy’s hand tighten around his own.
“It’s alright, son. I won’t let go of you.”
“I know, Papa.”
A few seagulls flew over them, calling out. True looked up and shielded his eyes with his hand.
“What are those birds called?”
“They are seagulls, Truman,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny and Scott, sans shirts, joined their brother and father at the water’s edge. Scott took Truman’s other hand and when a wave came in, he and Murdoch lifted the boy out of the water and set him down again when it had passed. They did that a few times before Truman asked to go in further.
“Okay. I’ll stay right here and catch you if a big ol’ wave knocks ya down,” Johnny assured the boy.
True laughed and waded further in with his brothers and Murdoch close by. Jelly and the others watched with smiles on their faces. They were happy to see the boy having a good time.
A big wave did, indeed, come and knocked the boy under water. He came up sputtering, but insisted he was fine. Johnny and Scott moved closer to the child for safety’s sake.
After the boys waded and swam in the shallow part of the water for a while, Teresa called them out for lunch. Murdoch had already returned to the quilt and was enjoying watching his boys play in the water.
Johnny carried Truman out of the water because every time True tried to walk against the current, he was knocked down by a wave.
The family enjoyed sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade. After lunch, Truman stretched out on a towel and took a siesta. Murdoch read a book while Scott and Johnny went swimming. Teresa and Maria took a stroll down the beach while Jelly and Cipriano played gin.
True woke up, looked towards the water, and grinned at his brothers, who were splashing each other. The boy looked around and saw Murdoch reading a book.
“Can I go back in the water?”
Murdoch looked up and saw his older boys playing like children, then looked at the youngest and smiled at the eager look on True’s face.
“Sure, son. Let’s go in and play with your brothers.”
Murdoch stood up and stretched. He took Truman by the hand and they went into the water and started splashing Scott and Johnny.
When Teresa and Maria returned from their walk, they packed up and went inside to clean up and start supper. When the Lancer guys finished playing in the water, they sat on the sand. Truman started playing in the sand and buried his brothers’ feet. Murdoch smiled as he watched his youngest play and wondered if the mercantile had a small bucket and spade he could get for Truman to play with.
Teresa came out and called to Murdoch.
“Supper will be ready in forty-five minutes. You guys have time for baths if you come in now.”
“Okay, Teresa. We’re coming,” Murdoch answered. “Come on, boys. It’s time to wash for supper,” Murdoch informed his sons.
“Do we hafta go in now?” True asked.
“Yes, Son. Come on, now. We have four more days to play. Tomorrow is your special day and you get to plan it during supper. Let’s go get cleaned up.”
“Okay. Johnny and Scott have to sleep out here, though,” True said, giggling.
“Why?” Murdoch asked with a smirk.
“Cause I buried their feet.”
Murdoch laughed at the expressions of dismay on his older boys’ faces.
“What? What about supper?” Johnny asked.
“We’ll bring it to ya on a tray,” the boy replied, laughing.
Johnny growled then burst from the sand and started chasing the youngster. Truman ran around, giggling and squealing, trying to stay out of Johnny’s reach. He wasn’t watching where he was going, and was caught by Scott, who had escaped his sand trap. Scott tossed the squirming youngster over his shoulder and carried him to the door of the bath house. Cip and Jelly helped Murdoch fold the towels and quilt and carried them in.
The boys rinsed the sand from their feet and legs before entering the bath house. Johnny helped True with his bath water while Scott went to retrieve clean clothes for the boy.
Once all the guys were bathed and dressed, they convened in the living room and relaxed until they were called for supper.
Chapter 11: Truman’s Day
While the Lancers and their guests ate dinner, Truman and Murdoch talked about Truman’s big day.
“What would you like to do tomorrow, son?” Murdoch asked.
“Play like we did today and maybe go have some food from the ocean for supper,” Truman replied.
“You want some seafood?” Scott asked.
“Yeah. We’re here at the ocean…why isn’t food from the ocean called ‘ocean food’ and not seafood? “ True asked.
“Seafood sounds better,” Murdoch replied.
The boy thought about that, then nodded. “Yeah, it does sound better. Do you like seafood, Papa?”
“I like some, such as crabs and oysters,” Murdoch replied.
“Scott, do you like seafood?” True asked.
“I like lobster and…,” Scott began.
“What’s lob-stuh?” Truman asked, pronouncing it as Scott had.
Johnny sputtered his coffee as he tried to control his laughter. The others had chuckled at True’s mimicry of Scott’s accent.
“Johnny? Are you okay?” Murdoch asked.
When Johnny had stopped coughing he nodded his head and wiped his mouth.
“What’s so funny?” Truman asked.
“You are, True,” Scott replied, smiling.
“Well, what, son?” Murdoch asked.
“What’s a lob-stuh?” the boy asked again. Johnny grinned and shook his head.
“Lob-STER,” Murdoch corrected the child, then glared at Johnny.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“It’s a fish with a shell and claws to protect it,” Scott replied.
“Oh,” True replied.
“So, you want to play tomorrow, then go out to dinner for seafood?” Murdoch asked, clarifying True’s plans.
“Yes, Papa. Maybe we could play in the morning and after lunch, then go ta town before supper and look around. I have five dollars and I wanna go to the store,” True replied.
“Well, that sounds like a plan. Where did you get the five dollars?” Murdoch said.
“Three dollars from my Easter basket and the two dollars left over from the cattle drive,” the boy answered.
“Okay,” Murdoch replied.
“You only got two dollars for ridin’ drag in the cattle drive?” Johnny asked.
“No, I got more. Papa let me have five dollars to spend, but I only spent three, so I have two left over and I never spent my Easter money, so two plus three is five,” True replied.
“Very good, little buddy. I’m glad you saved some money to spend here,” Scott praised the boy.
“Me, too, Scott.”
Scott smiled and patted his younger brother on the back.
The family finished supper and helped clear the table. They relaxed in the family room and watched the sunset. Scott and Johnny played chess while Cip and Jelly settled for a game of checkers. Maria and Teresa baked a cake for Truman’s anniversary. Murdoch had the youngster in his lap and they were reading Aesop’s Fables.
Truman fell asleep in Murdoch’s lap shortly before eight, so Murdoch put the child to bed.
The next morning, the family was up and ready for more time together on the beach.
Since Murdoch had some things to take care of so True’s plans would work out, the older Lancer sons took care of the youngest. They tossed the boy into the air and caught him just as he hit the water. Truman loved this and laughed the whole time, asking to go higher. Johnny and Scott also pulled him up and over the big waves and swam with the lad out to a sand bar, where the guys found a few starfish and some sand dollars. They let the starfish go after True held each one and examined the creatures. True kept two sand dollars. The boys found some shells in the shallow water that no longer had creatures living in them.
True also enjoyed looking into the clear water and watching schools of fish swim this way and that frenetically.
Johnny and Scott stood close by and watched their little brother enjoy his time in the water. Murdoch came out from the cottage after he returned from his errand and joined his sons.
“Hello. How are things?”
“Wonderful, Murdoch,” Scott replied.
“We’re havin’ a great time,” Johnny answered.
“Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Look at the fish, Papa. There’s a whole lot of them,” the boy answered.
“Where ya been, Papa?”
“Oh, I went to town to make arrangements for dinner. Have you been keeping an eye on your brothers ?”
“Yes, we’ve been having fun. There’s a sand pit out there with starfish and sand dollars.”
“It’s a sand bar, True,” Scott corrected the youngster.
“Are you boys ready for lunch?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes!” True answered.
“Sure am,” Johnny replied.
“Certainly, Murdoch,” Scott answered.
So the family went inside and had lunch, then relaxed while their food settled. They all went out and played in the surf for another hour before it was time to go inside and wash up for their afternoon and supper in town.
Murdoch helped Truman prepare his bath and stepped out to give the child some privacy. He returned when his youngest called for him.
“Are you finished?”
“Almost. My shoulders and face feel hot and they‘re red. I need help getting the salt out of my hair,” the boy replied.
“Your face and shoulders feel hot and are red because you have a bit of a sunburn. Does it hurt?”
“A little bit.”
“Mamacita has some aloe. I’ll get some after I help you wash your hair, okay?”
“You’re welcome, big boy.”
After Murdoch and Truman worked together to get the salt out of the boy’s hair, Murdoch lifted his son out of the tub and helped him dry off. Murdoch went to get the aloe and brought it back, then rubbed it into the boy’s cheeks, shoulders, and the back of his neck.
“Tomorrow, I want you to wear a shirt under your overalls and a hat to protect your face. You don’t have to wear the hat in the water, but you need to when you’re playing in the sand.“
”Yes, Papa. That aloe stuff feels good and cool. Thanks for putting it on me.”
“You’re very welcome, son. You sit there and let the aloe soak in and dry while I empty the tub, then you can get dressed and send Johnny in for his bath.”
Truman sat for a few minutes with the towel wrapped about his waist. When the aloe had soaked into his affected skin, True dressed in a crisp, clean blue shirt and black pants, dark socks, and his boots. He raced into the cottage to get Johnny.
Once everyone was ready, they loaded into the rented surrey and Murdoch drove them to town. They stopped at the livery and walked through town, looking in shop windows and enjoying the ambience of the busy town.
Truman found a store that had toys and dragged Johnny in with him. The little boy was in awe of all the things he saw. He found a blue kite with a dolphin painted on it and asked how much it cost.
“It’s a dollar-fifty, lil cowboy. The string is twenty-five cents. Do you like the kite?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah! Will you get it down for me, please?” True asked.
“Sure. Here you go,” Johnny answered as he took the kite down. He picked up a spool of string and handed that to the boy, “I’ll carry the kite, okay?”
“You’re welcome. Is there anything else you want to look at?” Johnny asked.
“I want to look around. Where is everybody else?” True asked.
“Papa and Scott went into a bookstore, Jelly and Cip, are wandering around outside, and Teresa and Mamacita found a shop with material and sewin’ stuff.”
“Oh, okay. Will Papa find us in time for supper?”
“Yeah, lil brother. They know where we are,” Johnny answered with a grin.
Truman wandered around and found a pail and small spade for fifty cents and showed the items to Johnny.
“I can use these at the beach, Johnny!” True said excitedly.
“Ya sure can. I’ll carry them while you look some more.”
True gave Johnny a big smile and continued browsing. He found a ball and a set of tangrams with its own book of puzzles. They were fifty cents each.
“Let’s see what ya got here, True,” Johnny said as he placed the items on the counter. “The kite and string are a dollar and seventy-five cents, the bucket and spade together are fifty cents. What’s the total so far?”
“Hmmmmmm…two dollars and twenty five cents.”
“Very good. The tangrams and the ball are each fifty cents. What’s fifty cents and fifty cents?”
“Right. So, what’s two dollars and twenty-five cents and another dollar?” Johnny asked.
“Um..three dollars and twenty five cents.”
“Right. Is this all you want in the store?” Johnny asked.
“I think so. Is there a store that sells drawing stuff?”
“Yes, there is, young man. Colby’s Art Emporium is two stores down. When you walk out of this store, turn right and you’ll find it,” the store clerk said. The clerk was a man about thirty years of age, with ginger colored hair, twinkling hazel eyes and a kind smile.
“Thanks, mister,” True said politely.
“You’re welcome, young man. Are you ready to pay?” The clerk asked.
Truman took his money pouch from his pocket and dumped the contents on the counter. He laboriously counted out the correct amount and slid the coins to the clerk with a shy smile.
“How much is left, True?”
The boy counted the remainder of his money and replied, “a dollar and seventy-five cents.” True put the money back in his pouch and put it in his pocket.
“Do you have money at home?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, and I have some in the bank, too. Why?”
“Okay. Because I’d loan ya some if you needed me to, and you could pay me back when we get home. The clerk is going to wrap up your toys, then we can go to the art store.”
“Thanks, Johnny! I wanna find something to put color in my pictures without havin’ to paint them.”
“Ask the gentleman who works there. His name is Mr. Warren. He’ll help you find a small set of soft pastels. He’ll know exactly what you need,” the toy store clerk instructed.
“Okay, thank you, sir,” True said. “Why is Mr. Warren in Mr. Colby’s store?”
The clerk chuckled and Johnny grinned.
“Mr. Warren works for Mr. Colby.”
“Oh, okay. Thanks for telling me.”
“You’re very welcome young man. You are very well-behaved and polite.”
Truman smiled and blushed.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“Thank you, mister. You’ve been really nice to my brother here. We appreciate your help,” Johnny said.
“Anytime, young man. Enjoy your evening.”
“Thanks. You, too!” True said.
The clerk smiled as Johnny and True left
The two Lancer boys walked to the bookstore and Johnny peeked in to tell Scott and Murdoch where he and Truman were going to be. After receiving acknowledgement from Scott, the two younger sons went to the art store. Truman asked Mr. Warren about the soft pastels and the clerk showed a beginner’s set to Truman. It cost two dollars.
“Johnny? Could I please borrow twenty-five cents?”
Johnny grinned, nodded, and dug in his pocket for the correct change as Truman pulled his pouch out of his pocket and dumped the remainder of his money on the counter.
Mr. Warren took the money and wrapped the set and handed the package to Truman with a smile.
“Now, listen young man. You need to put a piece of paper over your finished drawing to let it set before you put it with other pictures and you can blend the colors with your fingers. Experiment with the pastels and enjoy them,” Mr. Warren kindly instructed.
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Truman replied.
“You’re very welcome.”
Murdoch came into the store to get his sons.
“Are you ready for supper?”
“Yes, Papa. I finished my shopping and I owe Johnny twenty-five cents,” True replied.
Murdoch smiled and said, “I’m sure he was happy to loan the money to you. What did you buy?”
“A kite, a ball, some pastels for my pictures, a pail and spade, and a set of tangrams.”
“All of that for only five dollars and twenty-five cents?”
“You’re a good shopper!”
“I counted the money myself, too!”
“Excellent. We need to go to supper, now. What do you say to the clerk?”
“Thank you, Mr. Warren. Have a nice evening,” the boy said politely.
“You, too, young man. Good evening,” Mr. Warren replied.
The Lancers left and rounded up the rest of their group, then headed to the restaurant, where Murdoch had made reservations when he was in town that morning. The owner of the restaurant was a personal friend of Murdoch’s and was pleased that the Lancers were dining in his establishment this evening to celebrate a special occasion. He had made it clear that all of the members in the Lancer party were to be treated like royalty and with the utmost respect.
“This way, please.”
The maitre’d guided them to a table with a view of the Pacific. The sun was beginning to set and the colors in the sky were glorious. Orange and pink hues permeated the sky.
“Papa! It’s beautiful!”
“It sure is, Truman.”
“The perfect ending to a perfect day,” True said with a smile.
The rest of the group smiled at the youngest as he gazed out the window with a look of awe on his face.
“Have a seat, son,” Murdoch instructed the boy.
True sat across from Murdoch, between Teresa and Johnny. Jelly was next to Johnny. Scott was across from Teresa. Maria was across from Johnny and Cip was across from Jelly. A menu was placed in front of each person and water glasses were filled. Drink orders were taken, then the family was on their own for a few minutes to peruse their menus.
“I don’t know what to get, Papa.”
“I talked to Mr. McHenry this morning and he said he would have his kitchen staff fix a small sampler plate for you so you can try a variety of seafood. Would you like that, or order from the menu?” Murdoch asked.
“I’d like to try the sampler plate, thanks,” True replied.
“Good boy. I think I’m going to have the oysters and clams. Scott?” Murdoch asked.
“I’ll have the lobSTER,” Scott said, pronouncing the word as Murdoch had so nobody at the table would get the giggles.
“I think I’ll have crab cakes,” she replied.
“Good choice, darling.”
Maria and Cip had cod and haddock and Jelly settled on sea bass.
The waiter returned with baskets of biscuits and butter and took their orders. He knew about the special arrangements made for Truman and informed Murdoch that the child’s dinner would be fixed accordingly.
After Truman ate a biscuit, he wanted to wander and look at the fish tanks in the front lobby. Johnny took the youngster by the hand and they walked around, looking at all of the paraphernalia. The restaurant had a nautical theme with a fake lighthouse on the roof. There were nets, crab and lobster cages, and riggings hanging on the walls and from the ceilings to decorate the large dining room. There were paintings of ships, mermaids, and ocean animals adorning the walls. There was even a ship’s wheel at the front of the restaurant and some pirate artifacts in a glass case opposite the fish tanks. Inside the tanks were live lobsters.
“What are those, Johnny?”
“Lobstahs,” Johnny replied with a grin.
Truman looked at his brother and giggled.
“Is that what Scott’s gonna eat?”
“They sure are ugly!”
“Yup,” Johnny answered, chuckling.
“Will Scott get hurt eating that thing?”
“No, the lobster will die once it’s cooked. Then he can’t pinch Scott when he’s eating.”
“How do you know that lobster is a boy lobster?” True asked.
“I have no idea, True.”
“Johnny, Truman, come on. The food is being set on the table,” Scott said. Murdoch had sent him to find the younger Lancer boys.
“Okay,” Johnny replied. He took True’s hand and they walked back to the table.
Once they were seated, their plates appeared in front of them. True watched as Scott’s lobster was placed in front of his brother.
“Mister?” True addressed the waiter.
“Yes, young man?”
“Is Scott’s lobster a boy or a girl?”
Murdoch blushed as Johnny and Scott smirked. Teresa and the others tried to keep their laughter under control.
“Um..I believe it’s a boy,” the waiter asked.
“How can you tell?” Truman persisted in his questioning.
“I’ll ask one of the chefs for you,” the embarrassed young man answered.
“Okay, thank you.”
The waiter finished at their table and took his leave as soon as he was able. He did indeed ask one of the chefs about the lobster that was served to Scott.
The chef told him that it depended on a few factors, but the easiest way to tell was by the width of the tail. Female lobsters’ tails are wider to hold their eggs.
The waiter thanked the chef and returned to the Lancers’ table. He asked them how they were enjoying their food and then surreptitiously looked at the tail of Scott’s lobster.
“Young man,” he began, addressing Truman. “This is a boy lobster because the girl lobster has a wider tail.”
“Why do girl lobsters have bigger tails?” Truman asked.
“Lobsters are crustaceans and they lay eggs like fish do. The girl lobster’s tail has to be wider to hold her eggs,” the waiter finished.
“Thank you for telling me that. The shrimp is really good, but the oysters are slimy,” True reported.
“I agree. Do you like the clams and haddock?” the waiter asked.
“Yes, sir, but I like catfish the most.”
“Catfish are a freshwater fish, like trout and salmon. Have you tried the tuna?”
“Yes, sir. It’s good, but I really like the shrimp.”
“Very good, young man.” The waiter directed his next question to Murdoch. “Will your party be having dessert, sir?”
“No, we have dessert at our accommodations, but thank you. I’d like the bill, please.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. It has been my pleasure to serve you and your party,” the waiter said as he handed Murdoch the bill.
The meals had been pricey, but since they were not having to pay for the use of Henry’s cottage, it was not a burden and Murdoch was happy to celebrate this very important event for his boy and the rest of his family. Murdoch left a generous tip for their kind and helpful waiter.
Johnny and Scott gathered the packages while Teresa took Truman by the hand. On the way out, Truman showed Teresa the tank of lobsters and tried to pick out the girls from the boys.
“I don’t think there are any girls in the tank, Teresa,” True said.
“That’s okay. Let’s get back to the cottage for dessert.”
“What’s for dessert?”
“Do you have my pastels and toys?”
“Yeah, True. I have ‘em,” Johnny replied.
The family walked out of the restaurant after Murdoch had spoken to Mr. McHenry and paid his compliments. They walked back to the livery to reclaim their rented surrey and team. Everyone climbed aboard and settled for the short ride back to the cottage.
When they arrived, they went to their rooms to put packages away and bring out presents for Truman. They reconvened at the big table in the kitchen. Murdoch directed Truman to sit at the head of the table and they waited patiently as Maria and Teresa came over to the table with a chocolate cake that had one candle in it.
The words on the cake said, “Happy Anniversary, Truman! One Year as a Lancer!”
The Lancer brand was also on the cake. Truman grinned and waited patiently as Murdoch lit the candle. True made a wish and blew out the candle, then everyone yelled “Happy anniversary, Truman!”
“Thanks,” the boy said, shyly.
Truman cut the first slice of the cake, with assistance, and waited to eat it until the others were served. Teresa brought him some milk and then they all ate the cake.
“Thank you for this day. It was very special,” True said to everyone as they finished their cake.
“You’re very welcome, son.”
“You’re a great kid, True, and we love ya,” Johnny said.
“Yeah, lil buddy. We’re glad you’re our little brother,” Scott replied.
Maria, Cip, Jelly, and Teresa all nodded in agreement.
“We have a few small gifts for you, big boy,” Murdoch said.
Murdoch gave his son a small package. Truman opened it and smiled, then looked at his Papa with confusion.
“They’re cuff links, son. They have the Lancer brand on one side and your initials on the other side. You wear them with fancy suits on special occasions.”
“Like a big guy?” True asked.
“Yes, like a big guy.”
“Thank you!” the boy replied as he hugged Murdoch.
“You’re very welcome, son.”
Scott gave Truman a book about sea life and a copy of Moby Dick. Truman thanked Scott profusely. Teresa gave Truman a shirt, Johnny gave him some spurs, Maria gave him a new pair of calzone pants, and Jelly and Cipriano gave the boy a custom made belt buckle with the Lancer brand and True’s initials in the brand circle.
Truman was delighted with his gifts and he was moved by the love and generosity demonstrated towards him. He thanked everyone and gave each a big hug.
Murdoch could tell that his youngest was exhausted to the point of being overtired, so he decided it was time to put the boy to bed. He called Truman to him and spoke to the boy gently and quietly.
“Son, you’ve had a very big, and busy day, and it’s time for you to say good night so you can go to sleep and be ready for more play time tomorrow. Say good night and I’ll take you to bed,” Murdoch gently instructed his boy.
“Okay, Papa. I’m tired.”
True went around and gave everyone a good night hug, then took Murdoch’s proffered hand. Murdoch took True to his room, lit the lamp and helped his sleepy boy get ready for bed. Once True was in his nightshirt, he said his prayers and hugged Murdoch.
“Thank you for letting us come here and play. Thanks for today and for adoptin’ me. I love you all and I’m grateful for everything,” True said. He had been thinking hard about what he wanted to say to his Papa and he was happy he had found the right words.
“You’re so very welcome. You are a wonderful young man and we are grateful to have you as a member of this family. Good night, big boy. I love you.”
“Good night, Papa. I love you, too.”
Murdoch tucked in his boy, planted a gentle kiss on his forehead, and lowered the wick. He left quietly and entered the family room with a big smile on his face.
Chapter 12: Truman the Imp
The next morning, the youngest Lancer crept into the room Murdoch and Scott were sharing. They were both still sleeping, snoring like grizzly bears. True grinned and tiptoed to his brother’s bedside. Scott was on his back, with one arm across his stomach and the other laying on top of the blanket, by his side. Truman was just tall enough so he could lay his head on his brother’s chest if he had been so inclined. Scott was bare-chested and the blankets were just below his sternum, thus there were soft and curly chest hairs visible.
True’s eyes had a mischievous twinkle as he blew across Scott’s chest. Scott moved his hand up to his chest and shivered a little. The boy put a hand over his mouth to keep himself from laughing. He walked his fingers lightly up Scott’s arm and across the shoulder until the little fingers reached Scott’s adam’s apple. There, the impish child tickled his brother. When Scott reached up to rid himself of the nuisance, Truman removed his fingers and stuck one in his brother’s ear. Scott swatted at the pest in his ear and rolled to his side, with his back towards Truman. The child stuck his finger in his mouth, then ran it down Scott’s spine from his shoulder blades to his lower back.
Scott yelped, jumped out of bed, and had to scramble for the covers to protect his modesty. The yelp woke Murdoch and he turned to see what the commotion was. What he saw surprised and amused him. There was his eldest boy, blushing from his neck to the roots of his burnished blond hair, standing against the wall and holding blankets around his waist. Scott was panting and glaring at something on the floor next to Murdoch’s bed. Murdoch expected to see a small rodent scurrying for cover. What he saw instead, was a small boy in his nightshirt, rolling on the floor and laughing so hard that there was no noise except an occasional gasp for breath.
Murdoch started laughing. It began as a low rumble from deep inside and erupted like a volcano into a loud guffaw.
“What’s wrong, Scott? Did your little brother wake you up?” Murdoch asked, chuckling.
“I-I’m going to get that little rascal,” Scott said as he started to move towards the dresser.
When Scott reached for the drawer, he dropped one end of the blanket protecting his modesty. He picked it up quickly and said, “as soon as I get dressed, YOUR son is going to be in major trouble.”
Murdoch was now out of his bed and had lifted the still laughing boy to his feet. Murdoch sat on the edge of the bed and pulled his youngest son onto his knee.
“Oh, Scott. He didn’t hurt you. He’s just being a typical little brother. Johnny would have done the same thing if you two had the opportunity to grow up together,” Murdoch stated.
The wind went out of Scott’s sails. He grinned in spite of himself and nodded his agreement.
“Well, could you two please excuse me while I get dressed?” Scott asked.
“Sure, Scott. Let’s go, little imp. You need to get dressed, too,” Murdoch said.
“Okay, Papa. Good morning, Scott,” Truman said with a giggle.
“Good morning and good-bye, lil brother!”
Murdoch had pulled his robe on and slid his feet into his slippers. He took Truman by the hand and left the room, pulling the door closed behind them.
They went into the room Johnny and True were sharing and discovered Johnny was not there.
“Where’s Johnny?” Murdoch asked.
“He was here when I came to your room,” True answered.
“So, you gave Johnny a break and came to wake Scott, huh?”
“Well, I couldn’t let Scott feel left out, now could I ?” True asked innocently.
Murdoch laughed out loud at that and tickled his youngest.
“Get dressed and wear a shirt today. I’ll go ask if Johnny is around,” Murdoch instructed.
True put an older, faded calico shirt on and then his overalls. He brushed his hair and picked up his new pail and spade, the kite, and string, and headed out to the dining room.
“Good morning, everybody!” the boy called out.
“Good morning, Truman!” the others greeted the exuberant youngster.
“Where’s Johnny?” True asked.
“On the beach, drawing,” Teresa replied.
“Oh, okay. I can’t wait to go fly my kite and play with my pail and spade,” Truman stated enthusiastically.
“Well, right now, you’re going to have breakfast, son,” Murdoch instructed as he entered the room.
Murdoch was now dressed in an old shirt and gray trousers with patches on the knees.
“Okay, Papa. Mamacita, eggs and sausage, por favor?”
“Si, chico. Biscuits, too.”
“Muy bien, gracias,” Truman replied graciously.
He received a peck on the cheek for his good manners and a plate was placed in front of him. He tucked in and cleaned his plate.
“Can we have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow? Please?” the boy asked.
“Si, chico. Put your dishes in the sink, por favor.”
True took his dishes to the sink and rinsed them, then took his toys out to the beach. He found Johnny, who was sitting on a towel and drawing the beach, including the lighthouse on the peninsula a mile up the beach. True sat next to his brother and watched quietly as Johnny sketched the scenery.
“That’s a nice picture, Johnny. Are you going to put it in your room at home?” True asked.
“Thanks, lil cowboy. I might put it up, yeah, so I can remember what a great time I had here with you and the rest of the family. Are you having a good time?”
“Yeah, I’m having a great time!”
“Good. Do you want ta fly your kite?”
“Yeah. Will you help me? Is there enough wind?”
“There’s plenty of wind and I’ll help ya. Where’re Scott and Papa?”
Truman snickered. “They’re inside.”
Johnny gave the little guy a sidelong glance.
“What kind of mischief have you already gotten into today?” Johnny asked, grinning.
“I woke Scott,” True replied, grinning.
“TIckling, mostly. Didja know he sleeps nekkid?”
Johnny laughed out loud. “How do you know that?”
“I peeked under the covers to see what he was wearin’ when he rolled over and I didn’t see any drawers on him,” True replied, giggling.
Johnny laughed and put an arm around the youngster’s shoulders.
“Let’s go fly that kite,” Johnny suggested.
Johnny put his pencils back into their case and closed his sketchbook, then put the materials on the back porch of the cottage. He helped Truman tie the string onto the kite and then they went to the beach. As Truman unwound the string, Johnny walked backwards while holding the kite. When True nodded, Johnny let the kite go and smiled as the wind lifted the kite almost immediately. He watched the boy fly his kite.
The rest of the family slowly made their way out to the beach and they enjoyed watching the youngest fly his kite.
When the wind died down, True reeled in his kite and Jelly took it inside for him. True thanked Jelly and began playing with his pail and spade, making sandcastles and burying his family’s feet in the sand. He had his hat on, shielding his face from the harsh rays of the sun.
Johnny picked up his drawing materials and began sketching pictures of his family enjoying themselves on the beach. Most of the scenes included Truman. Johnny did a great job of catching the expressions on the boy’s face as he played.
After a picnic lunch and a short siesta, True asked to go into the water. His brothers and Murdoch went in with him and they exhausted themselves by playing in the surf.
The Lancer men came out of the water and dropped to the blanket that had been spread out. They rested for an hour and talked about the beach and sea creatures they had already encountered. Johnny spotted a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water beyond the sand bar and they all enjoyed watching the dolphins show off.
“May I look for shells in the shallow part of the water?”
“Sure, Truman. I’ll come with you and help,” Murdoch replied.
Truman and Murdoch walked down to the edge of the water and stood still, hand in hand, and watched the waves. Johnny quickly sketched this precious moment in time and planned to give the picture to Murdoch for Father’s Day.
True had rolled his pants legs up to his knees so they wouldn’t get soaked again. As Murdoch and True waded into the shallow water and peered in to find shells, they failed to notice the milky white blobs with stringy bottoms drift in their direction.
Chapter 13: Did You Know That Jellyfish Sting?
Murdoch was about to pick up a horse conch shell when Truman started screaming bloody murder. He was a few feet away from Murdoch and he was trying to kick something off his right leg and hopping around on his left leg. True finally fell into the water, swallowing a mouthful of it. Murdoch, Johnny, and Scott went to his rescue immediately and pulled the child out. Murdoch turned Truman upside down over his knee and firmly patted the boy on his back to help him expel the sea water.
As soon as True vomited the water, he began screaming and sobbing. Murdoch turned the child upright and held him close. Johnny and Scott examined the boy’s legs and found a red rash around True’s right leg from the back of the knee to the top of his foot, just under the ankle.
“What it is, son? Did you get bitten by something?” Murdoch asked.
“I think he got stung, Murdoch. There’s a rash here on his leg,” Scott stated.
“Didja see what stung you, True?” Johnny asked.
The boy nodded. He was still sobbing, but he was able to answer questions.
“I-I-it was a wh-whitish b-blob with st-stringy things on the b-bottom. Th-they were a-around m-m-my leg. It hurts!” Truman yelled.
“I know, baby, and we’re gonna do everything we can to make you feel better. I think it was a jellyfish. Scott, go get some white vinegar from Maria. Johnny, take True’s pail and get some salt water, not fresh water, and we’ll rinse his leg with it, and be careful.”
Scott and Johnny nodded and went to do their father’s bidding to help their little brother. Murdoch held his youngest close and whispered reassurances to the traumatized child.
Johnny returned with the bucket and rinsed the boy’s leg as Murdoch held it out and True wept. Scott returned with the bottle of vinegar and the rest of the family behind him. He took the cap off the bottle and poured it over the affected areas of the leg.
Truman was calming down, now, but still wept. He laid his head on Murdoch’s shoulder and closed his eyes. Johnny rubbed his brother’s back during the rinsing process.
“Oh, the poor nino. What happened?” Maria asked.
“He was stung by a jellyfish, Maria,” Murdoch replied.
“Didja rinse it with salt water ta get rid of the poison?” Jelly asked.
“Yes, Jelly,” Johnny answered.
“We should put a baking soda paste on the area and wrap it in a towel,” Teresa suggested.
“Were there any tentacles left on his leg?” Cipriano asked.
“No,” Scott answered.
“Well, let’s get this little one inside and into dry clothes, then we can get that paste on his leg and he can rest,” Murdoch suggested.
“When can I go back in the water?”
“How are you feeling, son?”
“It still hurts but not as bad as before,” True replied.
“Well, that’s good. Rest here on the blanket for a little while, then. We’ll check for jellyfish before you go back,” Murdoch suggested.
Murdoch planted a kiss on his youngest’s head and then set the child on the blanket. True started sorting the shells that Johnny dumped out of his pail when he went to get the water.
Murdoch put a hat on the boy so he wouldn’t get sunburned and sat next to him.
Johnny and Scott smiled at their little brother’s resiliency. They joined Murdoch and True on the blanket and allowed True to bury their feet in the sand and then made a sand castle with him.
Maria and Teresa went inside to prepare supper and Jelly and Cip started playing cards. Murdoch sat with his youngest as the child played quietly in the sand.
About an hour later, True was ready to go back into the water. He looked up and saw Murdoch standing in the shallow water with Scott and Johnny.
“Papa!” True called.
Murdoch heard his youngest and went to the boy to see what he needed.
“Hi, son. How do you feel?”
“My leg itches. I wanna go back in the water. Are there any more of those blobs that sting in there?”
“That blob is a jellyfish. I haven’t seen any since your brothers and I have been standing at the water’s edge.”
“Oh. I don’t like those fish.”
“I don’t either. I don’t like any fish that hurt my boys.”
“Well what, Truman?”
“Can we go back in the water?”
“Sure, big boy. Let’s go.”
Murdoch stood up and when True stood up, he took the boy’s hand and they walked to the water together. They joined Scott and Johnny and swam out to the sandbar together. The pod of dolphins had returned and were showing off again about a mile out from the sandbar.
The water came up to Truman’s waist when he stood on the highest part of the sand bar. He crouched in the water and dug for sand dollars. When he found one, he straightened up and showed it to Murdoch.
“Look, Papa. Another sand dollar. Is a sand dollar a creature? Were they ever used for money? Are they worth a real dollar?” The boy asked.
The Lancer men smiled at the boy. They really enjoyed his inquisitiveness.
“I don’t know, son. I guess we’ll have to ask somebody.”
“Do you think pirates used sand dollars to buy their rum and parrots?” True asked.
Scott laughed and Murdoch gave his boy a gentle squeeze. Johnny grinned and ruffled the boy’s wet hair.
“How do you know about pirates and rum, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Jelly told me stories about Black Bart,” True answered.
“Oh, I see. Well, we’ll have to ask the pirate expert about the sand dollars. You may keep that one. We’ll see if Mamacita has a jar or something to put your other shells in,” Murdoch said.
“Oh, good! We found some nice shells, didn’t we, Papa? I wonder what their names are.”
Mamacita came out and called the Lancers in to wash for supper. Jelly and Cipriano had already gone in and cleaned up.
Johnny put True on his back for the swim back to shore. Murdoch carried the sand dollar for his boy. He and Scott swam behind Johnny and Truman.
Once they reached shore, True ran to the blanket and put the shells in his bucket, then picked up his spade, hat, and ball. Scott and Johnny folded the big blanket while Murdoch folded the towels.
The Lancers trudged through the sand to the porch and rinsed their feet in the bucket of water provided for that purpose. Johnny took True to their room and they gathered clean clothes to take to the bath house.
After baths, three adult Lancers, dressed in comfortable ranch clothes, and one little Lancer, dressed in khaki overalls and a green calico shirt, joined the others at the table.
The Lancer family enjoyed a simple supper and talked about the beach and what a great time they were having. They had one more day to enjoy the beach and their stay in the spacious cottage.
Chapter 14: Last Day at the Beach
True woke very early on the last day of the Lancers’ vacation in San Diego. He lifted his head and looked at the other bed. There was a large mass under the covers and a sprout of unruly silky black hair provided a stark contrast to the bright white pillowcase on which it rested. Truman grinned. He knew that the lump under the blankets was his big brother Johnny. The boy slipped out of bed with Mr. Bear clutched safely in his left hand. He tip-toed to the side of Johnny’s bed and lifted the covers gently to get a peek at his brother to see if he was still asleep or just playing possum. Johnny was curled on his left side, dressed in cut off long johns, and still sleeping deeply.
True decided to be a nice little brother and laid the corner of the blanket back onto the bed. He slipped out the door and wandered to the room where his Papa and Scott slept.
The boy crept into their room and looked at Scott with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. He was remembering the unique wake-up he had given to Scott the previous morning. The boy grinned, then looked at his Papa. Murdoch was sleeping on the right side of his bed. There was plenty of room for a small boy of seven and a half and his bear to climb in and snuggle. That is just what little Truman Lancer did. He climbed up onto the bed and slipped under the covers, scooting close to Murdoch’s side. The boy laid his head on Murdoch’s shoulder and dozed off to sleep.
A couple of hours later, Murdoch woke, slowly becoming aware that there was an unexpected weight on his chest. He looked down and smiled when he saw the face of his youngest son, innocent and peaceful in deep slumber.
Murdoch heard the floorboards creak and looked up to see his two older sons with smiles on their faces.
“Johnny, why is it that you and I get our noses squeezed, our necks tickled, and have cold, wet fingers trailed down our spines or stuck in our ears to wake us up and Murdoch gets a warm body snuggling up to him, in blissful slumber?” Scott asked.
Before Johnny could reply, Murdoch whispered, “because your little brother knows who provides for him.”
Johnny grinned and nodded his agreement to Murdoch’s answer. Scott chuckled and had to agree that the little tyke was shrewd. Johnny and Scott exchanged wicked grins and pounced on the bed simultaneously. Scott yanked the covers off the child and Johnny started tickling the boy’s feet while Scott tickled the boy’s neck and ribs. The boy started screaming immediately. When he realized his brothers were the ones tormenting him, he began laughing and calling for Murdoch to save him.
“Oh, no, Truman Oliver. You had creative ways of waking them up, now it’s their turn to wake you up!”
“But Papa, I’m awake! They can stop now!”
The adult Lancers laughed at that quip. Johnny scooped the youngster up and tossed him over his shoulder, giving Scott an ample target. Scott took advantage of the opportunity and gave the boy a few swats on his backside.
“Papaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!! I never swatted THEM!”
“Okay, okay, that’s enough, boys,” Murdoch said, refereeing his sons’ tickling and swatting.
As soon as Johnny put Truman on the bed, the little boy picked up the pillow, stood on the bed, and swatted Johnny first, then Scott. Both of the older Lancer sons had turned to go to the kitchen and were surprised when they were attacked from behind.
When they both turned around, True was still standing on the bed with an innocent expression and the pillow that had been the child’s instrument was held behind him.
Murdoch tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t.
“You should never turn your backs on your little brother, you know. Especially when he has pillows at his disposal and revenge on his mind,” Murdoch warned the older Lancer sons.
They laughed and jumped on the bed, shaking and jostling its inhabitants.
“Alright, boys. You’re making me seasick. Go get breakfast so Truman and I can get dressed.”
Johnny and Scott laughed and nodded, tweaked the boy’s nose and tousled Truman’s hair, then left.
Truman and Murdoch laughed. It took a few minutes for them to calm down and get their breathing under control.
“That was fun, Papa.”
“Yeah, it was, big boy. Did you have a good sleep?”
“Uh huh. I like snuggling. I felt safe. Until you let my big brothers tickle me!”
“That’s good. How’s your leg?” Murdoch asked.
“A lot better, thanks. When can we go swimming?” True asked.
“As soon as we have breakfast, and get dressed.”
“Okay!” Truman jumped off the bed and went to get dressed and make his bed.
The family met in the kitchen and sat down to a breakfast of pancakes, syrup, fruit, sausage and eggs.
“What was all that screaming we heard?” Teresa asked.
“Johnny and I were paying Truman back for the kind ways in which he woke us this week,” Scott replied with a grin.
“Oh. Well, he’s lucky he didn’t sneak into OUR room or Jelly and Cip’s,” Teresa said.
“Why?” True asked brazenly.
“Are you really brave enough to find out, little one?” Cip asked.
“I’m not scared of them!” True declared.
“You should be, True! Sleeping women are VERY scary when they are woken up unexpectedly,” Scott advised.
“Oh, yeah?” True asked.
“Yeah!” Jelly and Cip replied.
Truman laughed heartily, shook his head, and continued to eat his breakfast.
By the time the family had gathered their beach paraphernalia and were ready to spend their last day on the beach, their breakfast had settled in their stomachs and it was safe to swim.
As soon as Truman dumped his toys on the blanket, he took off for the water with Scott in hot pursuit. Johnny was close behind and the boys laughed as they ran into the water. They spent a lot of time jumping the waves and swimming around. They swam to the sand bar and back, then Johnny and Scott helped True find some more shells.
Murdoch, Jelly, and Cip joined them in the shallow water and watched the Lancer sons swim and play. Maria and Teresa came to the water’s edge to join in the merriment. Truman jumped over the waves and laughed with pure joy. A few times, he was knocked down by a wave bigger than he was or a wave larger and stronger than he expected. The tenacious youngster rose from the water and grinned as he prepared to battle another wave. The family had as much fun watching True as the boy had jumping around in the water.
After a while, it became apparent that Truman was wearing himself out. He was getting knocked down by waves he had previously jumped without too much effort and he was slower rising after landing in the water time and again. Scott, who was closest to the boy, lifted him from the water and held him for a minute so the child could catch his breath.
“Are you alright, Truman?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, I’m ok,” True replied, rubbing his eyes and trying to stifle a yawn.
“Why don’t we go sit on the blanket for awhile and have a snack? Later, you can go back in the water to play some more. I’ll build a sand castle with you or play ball for a bit. What do you think?” Scott suggested.
“Okay. I am kinda getting tired. I was havin’ fun, though.”
Scott chuckled. “I saw that you were having fun.”
Scott hugged the boy close and walked to the blanket, set Truman on it and sat down next to the boy. They started playing in the sand and before Scott knew it, True’s head was in his lap and the child was sound asleep.
“Scott, True is sound asleep,“ Johnny said with a smile.
“Yes, he’s worn himself out. Hand a towel to me to keep the sun off him.”
Johnny handed a towel to Scott and helped him spread it over the boy. True slept for an hour and a half. Not all of that time was with his head in Scott’s lap. Johnny and Murdoch had worked together to gently move Truman off Scott’s lap and to the middle of the blanket.
When the boy woke, Maria and Teresa were unpacking the picnic basket. The family enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches, cole slaw, and cookies with lemonade. True played in the sand for a while after lunch while Murdoch read and Scott and Johnny played chess.
When Johnny and Scott finished their game, they invited Truman to play in the water with them. True put his pail and spade off to the side and went into the ocean with his brothers. They swam and played. Johnny threw True into the air and caught him as his feet hit the water. The boy laughed joyfully. Scott put the boy on his shoulders and let him jump into the water and Johnny stood close by for the boy’s safety.
Murdoch smiled as he watched his sons play. He was proud of his older sons and how well they interacted with Truman and looked after the boy. Murdoch felt so happy. He joined his sons in the water and the Lancer guys had a great time swimming and playing together.
After they played in the water, Murdoch helped Truman fly his kite. They played ball and built a sand castle. The Lancers played the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes in the water, and sometimes on the beach. Scott picked up True by his arms and twirled the boy around, with the child’s legs airborne. When Scott stopped, they were both dizzy and fell into the sand. Truman stood up and went to get his pail. The boy dumped sand on Scott’s legs and torso, burying his big brother in the sand.
Maria came out to let them know that dinner would be on the table at six sharp and that they had time for baths. Murdoch helped Truman and Johnny dig Scott out. They went into the water to wash as much of the sand off as they could. True gathered his shells and toys and carried them to the cottage. Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny brought the blankets and towels in. They washed their feet, then brought in the beach stuff. True took his toys to his room and gathered clean clothes for his bath.
After baths had been taken and supper had been consumed, the family took a walk along the beach and watched the sun set.
“Thanks so much for bringing me here. I had a great time!” True said.
“You’re very welcome, son. I had a great time playing in the ocean with you and looking for seashells, too.”
“Yeah, that was fun!” True exclaimed as he leaned against Murdoch’s leg and sighed happily.
Murdoch reached down and rubbed his youngest’s head.
“Are you disappointed that our vacation is over?” Murdoch asked.
“Kinda. I had a great time, but I miss my animals and my friends. Could we come back next year?” True asked.
“We’ll see. We might decide to go somewhere else.”
“Okay,” True replied through a yawn.
“Come on, big boy. You are a sleepy one. The sun is down and it’s time for you to go to bed, too,” Murdoch said as he picked up the child and held him close.
“Mm hmmm,” True replied.
Johnny and Scott stood by and listened. They smiled at the interaction between their father and younger brother. They’d had a great time at the beach, too, and would discuss the trip with the family during the train ride home. Right now, it was time to pack up and go to bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Chapter 15: All Good Things Must Come to an End: Going Home
The Lancers had packed most everything the night before. True had an outfit laid out for him to put on when he woke the next morning. When he was roused by Johnny, the boy rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
“Come on, lil cowboy. It’s time to get back to ranch life.”
“Don’t wanna leave beach,” the child mumbled.
“I know, True, but we have to go home and see Mickey and Trevor, the rabbits, and Simon. We can come back sometime,” Johnny replied as he gently extricated his younger brother from the bed.
“Yeah, I miss them. I guess we do need to go home. Didja have fun, Johnny?” True asked as he laid his head on Johnny’s shoulder.
“I sure did. Did you?” Johnny asked as he patted the boy on his back, then set him on the floor to get dressed.
“What did you like best, True?”
“Playing in the water with you, Papa, and Scott. What was your favorite part?”
“The same, and playing in the sand with you,” Johnny replied.
The brothers talked as True got dressed in his khaki overalls and blue calico shirt. He stuffed his nightshirt in his clothing bag and closed it up. True checked that he had all of his toys in his other bag and then put Mr. Bear in it.
Scott had carefully dismantled the kite and put it in his bigger bag. Mamacita had provided a mason jar for the boy’s treasures from the sea. She had it wrapped in a shawl and packed it securely in her bag.
Johnny grabbed True’s clothing bag and carried it to the wagon they had rented for the trip to town. True took a good look around to be sure nothing was left behind and then picked up his other bag and carried it to the wagon. Once all the bags had been secured, the family sat down to breakfast.
After breakfast, the family went back to the beach to say good-bye, as True had requested. The boy was very pleased when he spotted dolphins frolicking just beyond the sandbar.
When it was time to leave, True bowed his head and heaved a deep sigh. Scott took the boy by his hand and led him to the wagon. Scott lifted is brother onto the wagon and caught sight of the boy’s sad face and watched with sympathy as a lone tear rolled down True’s cheek. Scott wiped the tear away and smiled at his little brother.
“Hey, now, little buddy. We’ll come back again. We had a great time, didn’t we? We’ll have more great times, too. Your swimming has really improved and we’ll go swimming when we get home.”
True sniffled and nodded. “Okay, Scott.”
“Good boy! Get settled so we can be on our way, alright?” Scott said as he gave the boy a pat on the back.
True nodded and sat down next to Maria. She wrapped an arm around the child and hugged him close.
When the family reached town, Scott, Johnny, and Murdoch unloaded the luggage at the train station, then Jelly and Cip took the wagon back to the livery and turned it in to the owner.
They had an hour before it was time to board the train, so Johnny and Scott decided to amble down to the book store and toy store. Scott wanted to find some books to satisfy Truman’s curiosity about pirates and sea shells and Johnny was looking for a new game to occupy the boy’s time on the train. Scott found a couple of books with lots of pictures and showed them to Johnny, who nodded in approval. They made their purchase and walked to the toy store.
The kind clerk remembered Johnny from the night he was in town with the family. The man enquired about Truman and listened carefully when the young man asked about a game for his younger brother to play on the train.
“This game is called mancala and it was played in ancient Egypt and Asia. It’s played with a simple wooden board and flat stones. Mancala is easy to learn and fun to play. I could tell that the youngster is intelligent, so I think he will enjoy this. There is a paper with instructions in the bag,” the clerk explained.
“This is great, thanks!” Johnny said enthusiastically.
“You’re very welcome and I hope you and your family return for another visit,” the man said.
“If our little brother has any say in it, I’m sure we’ll be back,” Scott replied.
“Very good. Shall I wrap this up?”
“Yes, please,” Scott replied.
Johnny paid for the game and they left the store and made it back to the station with ten minutes to spare. Murdoch and Truman were strolling around the station, so the older Lancer sons were able to stuff their purchases in their bags surreptitiously.
The train arrived, passengers disembarked, and the “all aboard” was called. The Lancers and their guests boarded the train and settled in lush, velvet seats. The booths they occupied had tables and were situated back to back.
Murdoch had ushered his youngest into the seat first and sat down next to the boy. True peered out the window and watched the activity on the platform. The passengers felt a jerk, then heard the whistle as the train began to move.
Within an hour, True was playing with his tangrams and making all kinds of pictures and designs.
After he woke from a short doze, the boy was presented with the new game. True was thrilled with the surprise and thanked his brothers profusely. He played numerous times with Johnny and Scott and shared the game with Cip and Jelly. While the older gentlemen played, Scott gave the books to Truman. The boy was delighted and graciously thanked Scott for the thoughtfulness.
Murdoch smiled at the interaction and praised his sons for their thoughtfulness and generosity.
“We enjoy spoiling True, Murdoch, especially when he is appreciative,” Scott replied.
Truman blushed and smiled. Murdoch put an arm around the boy’s shoulders and pulled him close for a hug.
The conductor came through and checked their tickets. He wasn’t the same conductor they had on the trip down, but he was just as nice.
“Hello, young man. Are you going on a trip or returning?” the man asked.
“I’m going home. We went to the beach,” True replied.
“Oh! Did you have a good time?”
“Yes, sir. We saw dolphins and swam in the ocean.”
“Well, it sounds like you did have fun. Back to everyday chores, though, right?”
“What a nice boy you have, sir,” the conductor addressed Johnny.
Scott and Murdoch chuckled, as did the other adults. Johnny and True were confused.
“He’s my brother,” True clarified for the man. “He’s my papa,” True said, pointing to Murdoch.
“Oh. Who is this?” the man asked, indicating Scott.
“He’s my other brother.”
“I see. Well, I hope you have a safe trip home and that you come ride the train again.”
The conductor nodded at the family, then went about his business.
True looked at Johnny and grinned. “The conductor thought you were my papa! That’s funny! You’re only 15 years older than me,” True said.
“I know. Scott isn’t much older, either,” Johnny replied.
“I think I like you guys better as brothers,” True stated. “You’ll make good papas someday, but you’ll always be my big brothers.”
“That’s nice, True,” Scott said.
True smiled and bowed is head shyly.
Lunch was served from Maria’s basket. Afterwards, the family settled into their seats and pursued quiet activities. Truman had stretched out on the seat and was sleeping with his head on Murdoch’s lap as the patriarch read the paper and Johnny and Scott were talked about the trip and played poker.
As the train pulled into Stockton, Murdoch woke his youngest and helped the boy put his books and Mr. Bear back into his bag. The child rubbed his eyes and stretched while the others straightened up their spaces.
“Where’s the game, Jelly?” True asked.
“Right here, young’un,” Jelly replied as he handed the game, in it’s storage bag, back to the boy.
“Thanks, Jelly. Are all the pieces here?”
“Okay.” True put the game in his bag and then gazed out the window as the train pulled into the station.
The family departed the train and waited for the next one that would take them to Cross Creek. From there, they would take the stage back to Green River where Walt and Frank would meet them with a wagon and the boys’ horses.
The train finally arrived and the family found seats quickly. Truman sat next to Johnny and Scott sat next to Murdoch.
Once the train started moving, Johnny put True in his lap and they looked through the book about pirates. There were a lot of legends and facts that fascinated Truman and Johnny found the information quite interesting, too.
Murdoch and Scott watched the younger Lancer sons’ interaction and exchanged smiles. It warmed their hearts to witness the obvious love and tenderness that Johnny bestowed on the youngest Lancer.
The trip to Cross Creek was a relatively short one. The family talked about the wonderful time they’d had at the beach and about upcoming events in the towns near Lancer.
They arrived at Cross Creek at three in the afternoon and hurried to get to the stage. They made it in time for the three-thirty departure and climbed in after the luggage had been secured in the rack.
Truman sat on Scott’s lap for the ride home. Since he was so light, it wasn’t a burden and it made the others more comfortable, giving them more room to stretch out. Since the shotgun rider had broken his leg, Johnny volunteered to ride up top with Amos, the regular driver.
The movement of the stage rocked the little boy to sleep and he dozed the entire ride back to Green River. When they arrived, Frank and Walt were waiting with a wagon and the boys’ horses.
Johnny tossed the luggage to Jelly and Cipriano while the others climbed out of the stage. Scott had to wake True.
“Hey, little buddy. Wake up. We’re in Green River.
“Wake up, True. We’re almost home.”
The boy sat up and hopped off Scott’s lap. When he stood at the door, Johnny was there to help him down. After all of the luggage was off the rack, Johnny climbed down gracefully and helped the ladies out of the stage. Now, he was there for Truman.
“Come on, lil cowboy. It’s time ta get home.”
“Okay.” True jumped into his brother’s arms and was caught, then set on the boardwalk.
Johnny took the boy’s hand and they walked over to the wagon. True gasped in surprise when he saw his beloved horse.
True broke away from Johnny’s grasp and ran to see Mickey.
“Hey, Mickey! How ya been? I missed you, but we had a lotta fun at the beach. We swam in the ocean, found sea shells, went out to dinner, I flew a kite, and I got stung by a jellyfish. It hurt, but Papa and Johnny and the others took care of me and made it better,” True said, chattering to his equine friend. The horse nuzzled his small rider affectionately and nickered as the boy talked.
The family watched True talk to his horse excitedly with amused smiles. Johnny gave the boy a lift to reach his stirrup, then went to mount Barranca after a few quiet words with the palomino. Scott shook his head and grinned. ‘My two younger brothers are crazy about their horses.’
The Lancers had a nice ride home. Murdoch listened to Walt as he filled the boss in on the goings on at the ranch while the family had been away. Johnny and Scott told Frank about their trip and Truman contributed to the discussion his brothers were having when he could get a word in edgewise.
When they arrived at the estancia, Trevor ran out to see his boy. True dismounted and welcomed his friend with open arms and giggled with delight when Trevor ‘kissed’ him with his tongue.
“Hey, Trevor! You been good? Keeping everyone in line? I sure missed ya. You would have had fun swimming in the water with us. We had a good time, but I’m glad I’m home, now. Have you been fed? How are Miracle and the babies?”
True walked to the barn to check on his other animals and was delighted to see that the young rabbits had grown and put on some more weight. He fed the rabbits, then made sure Trevor was well fed. He went back to get Mickey and brought him into the barn and began to bed the horse down for the night. The saddle was much heavier than True and the weight unbalanced him as the boy pulled the tack off his horse. He fell back into the side of the stall under the weight.
Luckily, Johnny and Scott were coming into the barn, then, and heard their brother yell. They rushed over to Mickey’s stall and Johnny took the saddle from Truman as Scott helped the boy up.
“Hey, are you okay, True?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, I just bumped into the wall.”
“Did you bump your head?” Johnny asked, after he had put the saddle away and returned to kneel next to the boy.
“No. I’m okay.”
“That saddle is too heavy for you to take off, True,” Scott said.
“I know, I was just taking care of Mickey and forgot. I was just…um…I don’t know what you call it,” True said.
“You were busy and doing things automatically, huh?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Well, you’re okay, then? Let us help ya get the rest of the tack off, then you can give Mickey a rub down, okay?” Johnny suggested.
“Okay, Thanks, Johnny and Scott. I’m okay.”
“You’re welcome, lil cowboy,” Johnny said as he patted the boy on his back.
Scott smiled and tousled the boy’s hair as they finished removing Mickey’s tack. True took the brush and groomed the horse.
Once the boy’s animals had been taken care of, Truman joined his brothers as they went to the house for supper. The meal was light and simple. Everyone was tired and planned to turn in once it was finished. True was trying hard to stay awake during the meal, but nearly fell asleep in his soup. If Johnny hadn’t caught him, True would have. Since he was finished, Johnny rose from his chair and lifted the boy into his arms.
“Say good night, True,” Johnny instructed the child.
“Good night, everyone. Love you,” True said, complying with his brother’s instruction.
Murdoch rose and gave the boy a kiss on his head and said good night to the boy. The others said their good nights, then Johnny took him to bed, helped True change his clothes and tucked him in. True was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Johnny returned to the living room and reported that the boy was sound asleep and he was ready to turn in himself. The family agreed. After a small discussion about the trip and chores to be done the next day, the family went to bed.
Upstairs, little Truman Lancer was asleep with a smile on his face. He was dreaming about the great trip he’d had with his family and he was so happy to be a Lancer.
The End…for now.
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