Word count 7,003
Disclaimer: They are not mine (except Truman and my invented characters) and I do not make moolah from these writings.
Many thanks to my One and ONLY beta, Lacy. You’re awesome, Mamacita!
Part A: The Letter from the Teacher
Truman Lancer came home from school one day with a letter to Murdoch from his teacher.
The boy walked to the hacienda after Manuel took Mickey for him and opened the big door. He slammed it closed and hollered, “hellooooo. I’m hooooooome!”
Murdoch walked in from the kitchen and scooped his youngest up and over his shoulder, surprising the child and making him squeal with delight.
“Hello, son. How was your day?”
“Do you have homework?”
“A little. I have a letter for you. All the kids got one-it’s not bad.”
“It better not be. What is it about?”
“Okay. Give it to me and go see Maria. She has a snack for you. Then it’s homework time.”
“Okay,” Truman said as Murdoch put the boy back on his feet.
Truman took his coat off, handed the letter to Murdoch and went to the kitchen.
“Hola, Mamacita! Como estas?” True greeted their family housekeeper.
“Muy bien, gracias nino. Et tu?”
Truman gave Maria a big hug and sat down at the table. Maria brought a mug of hot cocoa and a slice of chocolate cake.
“De nada, chico.”
Teresa came in with a basket of eggs and placed them on the table. She bent down and gave the boy an affectionate shoulder squeeze.
“Hello, Truman. How was school?”
“It’s fine…,” Truman started.
“But?” Teresa prompted.
“I finished my book, but the other kids in my reading group aren’t even halfway finished and I’m getting bored. History is really good, science is interesting, spelling is a pain, and math is getting a little bit harder. We’re doing fractions, now,” Truman explained.
“I see. Maybe you can find another book to read while the others catch up. I can help you with your spelling and I’m sure Scott will help you with fractions if you need it. Papa is good with history and Johnny knows a lot of natural science. Let us know you if you need help. How much homework do you have tonight?” Teresa asked.
“Okay. I have a spelling pre-test tomorrow, grammar exercises, Science words to learn and some math. We do history every two weeks and science in the other weeks, so we don’t have history until the week after next.”
“Do you think it will take you a long time to finish your homework?”
“If I use the dictionary for my science words and do my grammar, then I can take a break to do my chores and finish my math after supper. Then I can practice spelling,” Truman said, planning out loud.
“Sounds good to me. Get to it,” Teresa encouraged him.
“Okay. See ya later. Thanks for the snack, Mamacita. It was muy bueno.”
Maria smiled and hugged the youngest Lancer. After releasing him with a loving swat on his backside, she cleared the table. Truman giggled, gathered his schoolbooks, and raced to his room to start his lessons.
Truman finished his science and grammar lessons by five. He went to the barn to feed his boys and clean Mickey’s stall. Forty-five minutes later, he heard horses entering the homestead area and went outside in time to see his older brothers dismount and hand their horses off to Jose and Manuel.
“Hey, Scott n’ Johnny.”
“Hi, Truman,” Scott replied.
“Hey, lil cowboy,” Johnny called back.
The three Lancer boys met at the front porch and walked in together. As they took their coats off, Scott asked Truman about school.
“How was your day, True?” Scott asked.
“It was alright. Let’s get supper. I’m hungry.”
“Did you finish your lessons?” Scott persisted.
“Science and grammar are finished. I have math and spelling left to do.”
“Okay. We need to wash up for supper.”
“Did you feed the boys?” Johnny asked.
“Yup, an’ Mickey has a clean stall,” True replied.
“Good job, lil cowboy.”
Truman smiled as they made their way to the kitchen to wash for supper.
“Did you guys have a good day?” True asked.
“Yes. We cleared some streams, fixed some fence, moved the herd, and repaired the bridge over Cripple Creek,” Scott answered.
“The one that fell under the ice an’ snow last week?” True asked.
“Yeah. We sure missed you today. We coulda used your muscle to help us,” Johnny said.
Truman smiled. “I missed you guys, too. I’d rather work with you than hafta wait for the other kids to finish reading their books.”
“You finished another book?” Johnny asked, amazed.
“It wasn’t that long or hard. I really liked it, but the other kids read so slowly.”
“How’s math?” Scott asked as they walked to the dining room and took their seats.
“It’s fine. We’re doing fractions, now.”
“Have you finished your homework, Truman?” Murdoch asked.
“Just math an’ spelling left, Papa.”
“Good. What else did you have?” Murdoch inquired as he too his seat at the head of the table.
“Science and grammar.”
“Let me check it before bedtime.”
“Yes, Papa. What was in the letter?”
“We’ll talk about that after I’ve said the blessing.”
Once Teresa had taken her seat, Murdoch held his hands out. The family joined hands and bowed their heads for grace.
As the food was passed, Murdoch drilled Johnny and Scott about their accomplishments for the day. He was satisfied with their report.
“Now, then, Truman. The letter is about the Valentine’s Party at school. Miss May explained that you would be making a Valentine’s box next week and that every child was to get a Valentine card from everyone else, so no one would feel bad. She asked for family participation and/or donations.”
“I don’t understand what the big deal is about Valentine’s Day. What is Valentine?” Truman asked, somewhat disgruntled.
The wise, experienced adults of the Lancer family exchanged smiles. It seemed they needed another holiday education session with the youngest Lancer.
Part B: Educating Truman
After supper was finished, Truman went back to his room and brought his school books down. He handed his science and grammar exercises to Murdoch to be checked while he worked on his math under Scott’s supervision. While Scott checked the boy’s math practice, Teresa drilled Truman on his spelling words.
When Truman finished his spelling, he was called over by Murdoch to correct a grammar mistake.
“Good job, Son. When Scott finishes checking your math, you may put your books in the foyer and play until bedtime.”
“Okay, Papa. When are you going to tell me about Valentines?” Truman asked.
“It’s a little late to get into it now. Let me do a bit of research and we’ll talk about it tomorrow, after school. Deal?”
“Okay.” Truman shook his Papa’s hand and went to his toy box.
After half an hour of playing with his wooden horses, Truman started yawning. It wasn’t his bedtime, yet, but he’d had a busy day and he was tired.
Johnny noticed the boy rubbing his eyes sleepily. He was sitting on the hearth, braiding rawhide, and watching True play.
“True, put your horses away and I’ll take ya up to bed,” he quietly and kindly instructed the youngest Lancer.
“What time is it, Johnny?” True asked.
Johnny glanced at the clock and read it aloud. “It’s 8:05, lil cowboy.”
“It’s not 8:30, yet.”
“I know, but you’re sleepy. Come on, I’ll sit with ya for a few minutes. Go say good night to Scott, Teresa, and Papa.”
True sighed and nodded. He put his horses away, then went around and said his good nights.
“You’re going to bed already?” Murdoch asked.
“He’s really tired, Murdoch. I’m gonna take him up and sit with him a bit,” Johnny explained.
“Oh, okay. Well, good night, Son. Sweet dreams, Truman.”
Johnny took the boy by his hand and led him upstairs. Truman undressed and tossed his clothes into the laundry basket as Johnny rummaged for a clean nightshirt. Once one was found, Johnny slipped the blue flannel garment over the child’s head and held the sleeves out so True could put his arms through them. Johnny picked True up and hugged him close before settling the sleepy child on his bed. Truman pulled the covers down and crawled into bed. After Johnny pulled the blankets up, True clasped his hands and said his prayers. Johnny stretched out on the bed, on top of the covers, next to the boy and hummed a tune. Soon, Johnny heard the deep, slow breathing of a little boy, sound asleep.
The next day was business as usual. After breakfast, Truman was escorted to school by Walt. Since the incident that had happened the day before Thanksgiving, the family wasn’t taking any chances on Truman getting bushwhacked again. True was escorted to and from school everyday to ensure he was not caught unawares.
When Truman arrived home this afternoon, he raced into the kitchen, waving his spelling pre-test paper in the air.
“Papa! Teresa! Look!”
Maria and Teresa were in the kitchen gathering ingredients for that evening’s supper.
“Whoa, there, True! What do you have there?” Teresa asked as she caught the little whirlwind.
“My spelling pre-test. Where’s Papa? Where are the guys?”
“Papa and your brothers are working on the range. They’ll be home for supper. Let me see your paper, please.”
“Okay. Here,” Truman held his paper up so Teresa could see his grade.
“100! That’s super! Congratulations!”
“Muy bueno, nino!”
“Now, do you still have to take the test Friday?” Teresa asked.
“Nuh uh. I get to do what I want while the others take their test. I was the ONLY one to get all of them right. I get ta draw or read, anything I want Friday. Thank you for helping me with the spelling, Teresa”
“You’re very welcome, Truman. You get to share that good news at supper. How did you do in your other subjects?”
“Fine, thanks. We had a surprise test on our science words cause some kids weren’t doin’ their homework.”
“How did you do?” Teresa asked.
“I think I did fine, but it was at the end of the day, so we won’t get the papers till tomorrow.”
“I see. Well, here’s a cookie for our stellar spelling scholar. Do you have a lot of homework tonight?”
True cocked his head to the side in thoughtful repose.
“Thanks. I have Math, grammar, and….that’s all.”
“Very good. Have your snack and get your homework finished.”
“Yeah, then I do my chores and Papa said he’d tell me about Valentines.”
Teresa nodded and rubbed the boy’s back affectionately as he bit into his cookie.
When the boy finished his lessons, he brought his school books down and set them on Murdoch’s desk. He had his spelling paper in his pocket. After putting his coat, hat, and gloves on, he went outside to do his chores.
Crews started coming in and the ranch hands cleaned up for their supper. Some of the talk was a little too bawdy for the youngest Lancer’s ears and Jelly pounced on those who were using the inappropriate language.
“Sorry, Jelly. We didn’t know the tyke was outside,” Tim said.
“Wal, it don’t matter whether ya know if he’s out or not, does it? Ya gotta think before ya open yer trap cause he could be anywhere on the homestead. Got it?” Jelly fussed.
“Ya, I got it.”
“Good,” Jelly replied. He turned as he heard the boy call his name.
“Hey, Jelly!” Truman called.
“Hey, young’un. Doin’ yer chores?”
“Yep. What were y’all doin?”
“Cleaning out streams and workin’ on the bridge,” Jelly replied.
Truman nodded and looked toward the bunkhouse.
“If I ask you what a word means, will I get in trouble for saying the word?”
“What does the word start with?” Jelly asked.
“I think I know what word ya mean. It’s a dirty word for something that people who love each other do.”
“Is it a word that will get my mouth washed out with soap and my bottom spanked hard?”
“Yep,” Jelly replied.
“Then I won’t say it, but if I try to spell it, it’s not the same as sayin’ it, is it?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Is it f-u-k?” True asked.
“That’s how it sounds and that’s the word I thought ya meant.”
“Are you gonna tell Papa that the guys were sayin’ that word? Are they gonna get spanked?”
“I think they oughta get strapped, but I think yer Papa will just give them a major talkin’ to,” Jelly replied.
“Well, that’s not fair. If I say it and get spanked, they should, too.”
“I know, True, but they ain’t yer Papa’s boys.”
“Maybe Papa should send them home with a note to their Papas,” True suggested.
Jelly chuckled and pulled Truman close. “That thar’s a plumb good idea, True. Let’s go wash up fer supper. I see yer Papa and brothers comin’ under the arch.”
They went into the kitchen and washed for supper. When they entered the dining room, True took his paper out of his pocket, smoothed it out, and placed it on his Papa’s plate. Johnny, Scott, and Murdoch came in through the kitchen after washing up and took their seats. Truman and Jelly were already sitting in their seats.
“Hello, Truman. How was your day, Son?”
“Just fine, Papa.”
Murdoch did a double take as he sat and noticed the paper on his plate.
“My spelling pre-test, Papa.”
“Oh! You earned 100% on it! Very good!”
“Thanks,” True replied shyly.
“That means you don’t have to take the test on Friday, right?” Scott asked.
“Tell them the rest, True,” Teresa urged.
“I was the only one to get 100 and I get to read anything I want or draw while the others take their tests Friday,” Truman explained.
“That’s excellent, Son! I’m very proud of you!”
“Thanks, Papa. An’ guess what?”
“I finished my homework already, so you can tell me about Valentines.”
“That’s right. We’re going to sit down after supper and tell you all about it, okay?”
“A Lancer keeps their promises, right ?”
Supper conversation was light and cheerful. After the dishes were cleared, the family moved to the living room. Truman climbed onto the couch to sit between his brothers. Teresa sat in the red chair and Murdoch occupied his favorite armchair.
“Now then, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated since the Middle Ages. It is celebrated on February 14th, the traditional day when lovers express their love for each other, sending cards, candy, or presenting flowers. It’s named after two men, both Christian martyrs named Valentine,” Murdoch began.
“What’s a martyr? There were two of them named Valentine? Is Sheriff Crawford’s name Valentine?” Truman asked, giggling himself at this last question.
Johnny and Scott started laughing.
Murdoch watched his older sons with a smirk on his face. He, too, had wondered what the sheriff’s full name was.
“All right, boys. We’re here to educate Truman, not make fun of the sheriff’s name,” Murdoch said.
Johnny and Scott pulled themselves together and calmed down.
“Shall we continue?” Murdoch asked.
“Thank you. Truman, a martyr is someone who dies for a cause, such as religion or beliefs. The person would rather die than be forced to go against their religion of belief,” Murdoch explained simply and patiently.
“Oh. Like Jesus?”
“Yes, like Jesus.”
“Oh. Okay. So what does these marters named Valentine have to do with love?” the boy asked.
“Mart-i-ers,” Murdoch said, correcting the child’s pronunciation. “There are many legends about them. The day became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love became widely practiced. Valentines are love notes that are exchanged between people who love each other romantically.”
“The mushy kind of love like kissing and getting married?” True asked.
The adults chuckled a bit.
“Yes, Truman, the mushy kind. But now, people give Valentines to their family members and their close friends. It doesn’t have to be “mushy” love,” Scott joined the conversation.
“In Mexico, we celebrated the Dia del amor y la amistad. Love and Friendship Day,” Johnny piped in.
“Many other countries have their own version of Valentine’s Day and celebrate it differently than we do,” Teresa added.
“So some people send gifts and notes to the people they love like a man and woman do, right?” Truman asked.
“Right,” replied Murdoch.
“And some people give notes, Valentines, to their family and good friends, right?”
“What if you love someone but they don’t know it and you don’t know if they want ya to love them?” Truman asked.
The other adults exchanged small smiles.
“What are you asking, Truman?” Teresa asked.
“Is it okay to give a note to someone you really like even if that person might not like you the same way or at all?”
“Well, sure. Maybe they’re thinkin’ the same way. Maybe they wanna give a note to someone they like a lot but think that person doesn’t like them. Ya don’t know till ya try,” Johnny said.
Truman sighed. “Sometimes, love is so confusing.”
This brought more smiles to the older Lancer family members.
“Do you have someone special in mind, True?” Scott asked.
The boy’s eyes opened wide. “Who said it was me?”
“Oh. Nobody. We just thought…,” Scott answered, then trailed off.
“Hmph. Well, don’t…Are we gonna donate something to the party? What do I make Valentines with?”
“We can donate some candy, okay? I’ll get some paper for you to make your notes tomorrow while you’re at school and you can work on them over the weekend,” Murdoch said.
“Okay. What time is it?”
“It’s 7:50. You may play for a little while. I’ll check your homework while you play.”
“Ok. Thanks. I put the books on your desk.”
“Good boy. I’m going to get some coffee. Would you like some hot cocoa?”
“Yes, please. Thanks, Papa.”
“Sure, son. I’ll be right back.”
As the Murdoch went to the kitchen, Truman took out his horses and settled on the floor with them. Scott and Johnny started a game of chess.
Murdoch returned with a tray. On it were four mugs, a pot of coffee, and a pot of hot cocoa.
By the time Truman had finished his hot cocoa, it was time for him to go to bed. He put his horses away and said his goodnights. Murdoch took the boy up and put him to bed.
When Murdoch returned, he noticed his older sons were grinning.
“What’s so funny, boys?” Murdoch asked.
“So, who do you think our little brother is in love with?” Scott asked.
“Don’t you dare tease Truman about this! He’s experiencing a lot of firsts with us and he deserves dignity and respect along with our love and support. Just let him talk to us when he’s comfortable, got it?” Murdoch warned.
“Yes, Sir,” Scott and Johnny replied humbly.
“Tomorrow, I’ll take your brother to school and buy the Valentine party supplies. You two need to help Jelly’s crew work on the bridge.”
“Okay,” Scott answered. Johnny nodded.
Part C: Is the Secret is Revealed?
Murdoch took Truman to school the next day and as they walked from the livery to the school house, they discussed what they would donate for the Valentine Party.
“How about some candy or maybe Maria and Teresa will bake some cookies for the class?” Murdoch suggested.
“Either one is good, I suppose,” True replied.
“We can ask this evening.”
“Will they be shaped like hearts and have frosting?” Truman asked.
“Possibly…Who is that little girl right there, sitting by herself on the swing?” Murdoch asked as they neared the school yard.
Truman looked up and saw the girl.
“The one in the blue dress?”
“That’s Sandra Halloway. She’s new.”
“Oh. What grade is she in?”
“Third, but she can’t read.”
“Why is she at school here? There are good schools for the deaf in Stockton and San Francisco,” Murdoch replied.
“Maybe she didn’t like the school where she was before.”
The school bell rang and the children picked up their books and lined up to go inside. Murdoch gave Truman a manly, yet affectionate, squeeze on the shoulders.
“Go on, son. Don’t be late and have a great day. I’ll send one of your brothers to get you after school.”
“Okay, Papa. Have a good day. Bye.”
Truman turned and went inside the school. Murdoch stood and watched until the door closed, then turned toward the mercantile to leave a list of supplies for the ranch, then went to Dr. Jenkins’ house to see if his friend was available for a cup of coffee.
When Johnny arrived in town to collect Truman from school, there was a fight going on in the yard in front of the school. Johnny searched the crowd watching the fight, hoping to see Truman as a spectator, and not as a participant. When he didn’t see the familiar face, he jogged closer to see the fight himself. He noticed a familiar shirt in the tangle of boys rolling around on the ground. Johnny reached down and pulled a tussling boy from the pile-up and set him aside with the order, “stay put!”
After the boys had been disentangled and were standing around Johnny, he looked at each in turn.
David McMillan was the oldest, biggest, and meanest of the fighters. He used to play with the Bailey boys. Now that they were in Reformatory school, David had taken over as the terror of the school. He had a bloody nose and a split lip, but was fine otherwise.
Simon Carter was one of the participants, too. He was sporting a shiner and a bruise on his right cheek. His arms were wrapped around his stomach and he was breathing hard.
The third and final participant was Truman. He had a bloody nose, a bruise under his left eye, and a split lip.
All three boys were filthy. Simon and Truman were looking at David with a mix of anger and apprehension.
Johnny sent the other kids home, declaring the show was over. He directed the three fighters to sit on the steps to the school house.
“What was the fight about?” Johnny asked.
When no answer was forthcoming, Johnny tried again.
“Okay, you can either tell me or tell the sheriff and risk getting into bigger trouble than ya already have. What’s it gonna be?”
Truman chanced a look at his big brother and even though Johnny didn’t have his mean face on, he still didn’t look happy with the three of them.
“Truman? Who threw the first punch?”
“I did,” the boy answered quietly.
“You did? Why?”
Truman sighed heavily.
“He was hurting the new girl.”
“I see. Why didn’t you get Miss May?”
“Didn’t have time, Johnny.”
“Hmm. Simon? How did you get into it?” Johnny asked the little blond boy.
Simon was Truman’s best buddy. He was at Lancer on the weekends so often that they started treating him as they did Truman. Simon was the sixth of twelve children, and his parents gave their blessing to the Lancers to treat the boy as their own when the child was visiting. Simon’s siblings included a set of triplets, who were three years old and a handful, and two sets of twins. One set was twelve year old boys and the other set was nine year old girls. The other siblings included a sister, 15 years of age, and three brothers, ages 1 month, 2 years, and 4 years old. Simon escaped to Lancer to get attention and get away from the chaos at his home.
“I jumped on David cause he was hurting True.”
Johnny nodded and gave David a disapproving glare.
“Why did you pick on the girl? Didn’t you learn manners at home? Do ya want to wind up where the Bailey boys are?” Johnny asked the bully.
“The girl is stupid. She talks with her hands and she can’t read. Her kind don’t belong here. She belongs with her own kind,” David said.
Johnny’s glare was turning into a Madrid stare. He turned to Simon and told the boy to go home. Then, he grabbed David by the scruff of the neck and escorted him to the jail. Truman gathered his things and followed Johnny meekly. The boy knew he was in trouble for fighting, but he hoped that Papa would go a little easier on him since he was trying to help the new girl.
When they reached the sheriff’s office, Johnny shoved David inside.
“Val! I got a present for ya!” Johnny called out.
Val came in the back door and glared at David.
“Hey, Johnny. What did he do, now?”
“Picking on a little deaf girl at the school. True and Simon got on him. They said he was hurtin’ her. Maybe you can let him cool off in here a while.”
Val nodded and led David to the jail cell. He prodded the boy into the cell and locked it. When he turned around, he spotted Truman standing next to the door with his head bowed. The sheriff walked over and raised the boy’s chin.
“You alright, True?”
“My face is a little sore, but not as sore as my bottom is gonna be when Papa finds out.”
Val and Johnny chuckled.
“Tell us what happened, lil cowboy,” Johnny instructed.
“Well, school was dismissed and we went to the yard to play. Sandra sits on the swing to wait for her brother to get her. He’s in Mr. Peabody’s class. He was late. Someone said he was late cause he was getting punished. Simon and I were waiting for Johnny on the see-saw. David came out and walked over to Sandra and pushed her off the swing. I ran over and told him he should leave her alone. She wasn’t hurting anyone. He’s mad at her. She pointed him out to Miss May when he threw a piece of chalk at the chalk board. Sandra doesn’t know the rules about tattling. David got in big trouble, so he was mad at Sandra. Well, after I told him he should leave her alone, he shoved me to the ground, then turned and lifted Sandra off the ground by her hair. That wasn’t right, so I punched him in the….um…”
“A sensitive spot?” Val asked.
Johnny turned away so his brother couldn’t see the smirk. It was a serious situation, fighting, but he was secretly proud of his little brother for standing up for a little girl who was out of her element.
“What happened next?” Val asked.
“He punched me and then Simon jumped on his back. We got him on the ground and took turns hitting and getting hit. Then Johnny broke it up,” True answered.
“Okay. Well, I’ll send Andy to watch after David while I go talk to his pa. Are Sandra and Simon okay?” Val asked.
“Simon’s okay. He’s roughed up about the same as True, here. Nothing serious that I could tell. I don‘t know what Sandra looks like,” Johnny replied.
“Her brother came to get her right when I punched David. They took off. Her brother is deaf, too,” Truman answered.
“Well, just the same, I think I’ll ask Doc to go out and take a look at Sandra and Simon to be sure,” Val said.
Johnny nodded. “Okay. We’ll keep an eye on Truman, make sure nothing gets worse. You tell me if you start hurtin’ worse, okay?”
“I will, Johnny.”
“Okay. Thanks, Val. See ya later.”
“See ya, Johnny, True.”
“Bye, Val,” True answered.
When Johnny and Truman arrived at the ranch, Murdoch was displeased at the state of his youngest boy’s face and clothes. After Truman was sent to wash and do his lessons, Johnny gave Murdoch some background information about the altercation between the boys.
“Murdoch, I know Truman knows he needs to be punished for fightin’, but please go easy on ‘im. He was just tryin’ to help that lil girl. You should have heard the pride in David’s voice when he was sayin’ all those mean things about the girl. He said them right in front of True, too. And, Truman didn’t throw the first punch till after he tried ta talk to David and after the kid shoved Truman and pulled the girl’s hair.”
“I am proud of him for defending the girl and not throwing the first punch right away, but he does need some punishment. I’ll put serious thought into it. I won’t go too hard on him, but he does need to remember not to fight whenever something goes wrong,” Murdoch replied.
Johnny nodded. Murdoch was not unreasonable, and Johnny felt his father was a fair man, so he let the subject drop and went to complete his chores.
After supper, Murdoch escorted his boy to his room and sat down for a man-to-little-man chat.
“Truman, while I am proud of you for helping Sandra, you still need to be punished for fighting. Do you understand?”
“Now, since you have a few bruises on your face and I understand you tried to talk to David, I’m going to go easier on you than I normally would. You know that fighting is not the way to solve all problems and you don’t usually fight. I am just going to give you five swats to remind you to try harder next time. Try harder to get an adult to help when someone is hurting someone else. You don’t have to solve everyone else’s problems, understand?”
“Yes, Papa. I’m sorry.”
“I know. You are a very good, noble boy, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, Papa.”
Murdoch nodded, turned his small son to the side and gave him five, quick swats on his backside. Not too hard, but firm enough to let the message sink in.
When Murdoch finished, he took the boy into his arms and hugged him close.
“All finished. Everything is fine, now. Come on down and play a little while before bed.”
“Really. Come on, Son. I’m proud of you.”
Truman smiled and nodded. They went down together and had a pleasant evening with the rest of the family.
During the weekend, Simon came over and the two boys worked together to make their Valentine cards for their classmates.
“Are you gonna make one for David?” Simon asked.
“I don’t know. I think we’re supposed to. I think I’ll make a plain one and save it. If he shows up for school, I’ll give it to him. If he doesn’t, I’ll burn it,” Truman replied.
“Did you get a whuppin’ for fighting?”
“I got spanked. Did you?”
“No.” Simon sighed. “They didn’t even notice.”
“I’m sorry,” Truman replied.
“Not your fault my folks got too many kids. That’s why I come here. I’m not invisible here.”
Murdoch heard this conversation. He had come inside to change his pants after slipping in the mud. He was passing the bedroom where the boys were working on their project and stopped to listen to Simon’s confession.
Murdoch knocked and walked into the room.
“Hello, Papa Lancer,” Simon replied.
“Hey, Papa. Why are you in? I thought you were on the range with Scott n’ Johnny.”
“I was, but slipped and had to change. How are those Valentines coming?”
“Fine. I’m almost finished.”
“Me, too, Papa Lancer,” Simon answered.
Murdoch smiled at the boys. He looked down and saw an elaborately decorated red heart in Truman’s pile and picked it up.
“This is very nice, Truman.”
It said ‘To Sandra from Truman Lancer.’
Truman was quiet for a minute, hoping his Papa didn’t read it out loud.
“Thank you, Papa.”
Murdoch smiled and put the heart back in the pile without another word about it. Truman sighed with relief.
“You’re welcome. Are you staying for supper, Simon?”
“If you’ll have me.”
“You know you’re always welcome.”
Simon grinned. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. When you boys are finished with this, go out and get some fresh air. I think it will be raining tomorrow.”
“Is it okay to invite a girl over to play?”
“Of course, Truman. Laura comes over all the time to play.”
“Yeah, but she just shows up. You said it’s not polite to tell someone to leave unless they’re being rude an’ Laura isn’t rude,” Truman replied.
“Showing up uninvited is rude,” Murdoch countered.
“I guess so, but she doesn’t mean to be rude. She just walks an talks with me an before we know it we’re here, so we decide to play.”
“Oh, I see. Well, you may invite your friends over to play anytime as long as you check with me before hand and it’s okay with their parents. Sometimes, we may have other plans for the afternoon and your friends’ parents may have plans, so it’s best to get their permission.”
“OKay, Papa. Thanks.”
Murdoch smiled and nodded, patted the boys’ backs and left.
“Are you finished, Simon?”
“Yeah. Let’s let the glue dry while we play.”
“Good idea. Wanna go explore or ride?”
The boys stomped down the stairs, donned their outerwear, then went outside to get Trevor. They told Jelly where they were going, and went to the stream behind the hacienda to play.
Part D: Valentine’s Day
Truman gathered his Valentines and put them in a bag to take to school. On Monday, the students had decorated boxes for the Valentine exchange and the boxes were now proudly displayed on their desks.
Murdoch drove Truman to school in the surrey so the cookies Maria had baked for the party would not get tossed about. She had carefully packed them into a picnic basket and Jelly had tied the basket to the back of the surrey.
Once they arrived at school, Truman walked into school with his bag and Murdoch carried the basket in and placed it on the table at the front of the school with the other goodies donated by the parents of the other students.
“Thank you, Papa. Have a good day. I’ll see you this afternoon?” True asked.
“You have a good day, too, Son. I’ll come get you after school. Don’t eat too many sweets, now.”
“Okay,” Truman said as he took his seat in the second row as Murdoch left.
After morning lessons and lunch were finished, the students put their books and tablets in their desks and placed the Valentines they had made for their classmates in each other’s boxes. A few of the mothers who lived in town came to school to help organize and serve the treats so Miss May could enjoy the party with her students.
When all the students had a plateful of goodies and a cup of cider, they were seated at their desks and ate while they talked and visited with their friends. Miss May walked around, chatting with her students and sharing laughs.
Truman looked up and smiled when Miss May came over to his desk. He and Simon had been talking about their weekend plans, their favorite sweets, and David McMillan’s fall from grace.
David had been released to his father’s custody and the boys bet David had wished to stay a guest in Val’s jail after the boy’s father had finished wearing the boy’s bottom out with his strap. David had been suspended from school for two days following the playground fracas. He was at school the day of the party, but the bully was quite subdued and on his best behavior.
Miss May bent down and whispered something in Truman’s ear. The boy smiled shyly and nodded.
“What’d she say, True?” Simon asked with unbridled curiosity.
“It’s a secret. I need to go talk to Sandra. Wanna come?” True asked.
“She’s deaf. She can’t talk,” Simon said.
“She talks with her hands. It’s called sign language,” Truman explained.
“Do you know this sign language?”
“Yeah, but it’s been a while since I needed to use it. Let’s see if I remember.”
“Where did you learn it? “
“From a friend. He could hear, but couldn’t talk. Wanta come with me?”
“You go ahead. I’ll wait and watch.”
“Chicken?” Truman challenged his friend.
“No. I just want to sit an watch.”
“Okay. I’ll be back. Save my plate, okay?”
Truman went to the table at the front and picked up one of the cookies Maria had made. He placed it on a napkin and walked over to Sandra, who was sitting by herself at the back of the classroom.
“Hi,” Truman signed.
Sandra smiled shyly. She signed back to him.
Truman offered the cookie to Sandra.
When she took it gently, Truman signed, “Maria made them. She cooks for us.”
Sandra took a bite and smiled. She broke the cookie in half and offered the other half to Truman. The two youngsters stood together and ate the shared cookie. When the treat had been consumed, Truman signed his name.
Sandra fingerspelled her name, then used the abbreviated sign for her name, which is the letter ‘s’ shaken near her head. She explained that it meant her hair was sandy colored.
Across the room, Miss May watched as Truman reached out to the new student. She was proud of this student who first came as a frightened little boy. He had come out of his shell and showed his true gregarious, polite, and caring self.
Miss May clapped to obtain the students’ attention.
“It’s time to clean up and prepare for dismissal. Let’s thank the mothers who came to help us enjoy the party and I’d like to thank all of you who brought goodies to share.”
Truman signed the teacher’s message to Sandra. Sandra signed that she preferred to be called ‘Sandy.’
The students moved about, cleaning up their messes and gathering their books and boxes. Murdoch came in to pick up the basket and take Truman home.
“Hello, Truman. Did you have a good day?”
“Yes. Did you?”
“Yes, we accomplished a lot today. We’re having a little family party after dinner. Do you have any homework?”
“I just need to bring my reading book home and finish a chapter. We also got our science papers back.”
“How did you do?”
“I got a B+.”
“Very good. Bring it home and we’ll look it over.”
“OK. Papa, I want you to meet someone.”
Murdoch followed Truman to the back of the room.
“Papa, this is my new friend, Sandy,” True said. He signed the words as he talked. “Sandy, this is my Papa, Murdoch Lancer.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sandy,” Murdoch said as he shook the young student’s hand firmly, but gently.
Truman signed what Murdoch said.
Sandy responded likewise and True interpreted for her.
“Papa, Sandy can read and she likes to go riding.”
“Really? That’s great. Would you like to invite her and Simon over to go riding Saturday afternoon?” Murdoch asked.
“Sure. Go ahead.”
Truman grinned and asked Sandy to come over and go riding Saturday afternoon. Sandy said that she would have to ask permission, but that she would like to come. True nodded his understanding, then turned to ask Simon. Simon agreed to come, too. He knew his parents wouldn’t even notice.
“Do you want a ride home, Simon?” Murdoch asked.
“Come on, Simon. Let’s give True and Sandy some time to say good-bye. We’ll wait for you outside, Truman.”
“Okay, Papa. We’ll be out soon.”
Murdoch and Simon went outside. Truman helped Sandy with her coat and books, then gathered his things and walked outside to the swing where Sandy waited for her brother to walk her home. When they reached the swing, they signed their good-byes. Murdoch watched with amusement as Truman leaned forward and gave Sandy a little peck on the cheek. Sandy ducked her head and smiled shyly.
Thankfully, Simon’s attention was held elsewhere.
Truman was waving good-bye to Sandy as her brother, William, arrived to walk her home. He didn’t see the kiss, either. That was a good thing because William was a much bigger boy than David, who DID see the kiss. That’s a story for another time, though.
Valentine’s Day evening, the Lancers had a wonderful time together. They exchanged home made cards and small token gifts. Truman received two more horses from his Papa.
Truman had drawn special pictures for each person to accompany the heart-shaped cards he had made for them.
The family dived into a scrumptious meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and chocolate cake.
After supper, the family gathered to share stories of past loves. They kept the tales G-rated for the boy’s benefit. Truman spoke up and told his family about Sandy. They were happy for the boy and proud of him for reaching out to the new student.
That weekend, Sandy and Simon came to visit. Scott and Johnny took the children for a ride up to Black Mesa to see the wild horses. Truman acted as interpreter and teacher to his brothers and Simon. He taught them some basic signs and relayed information from Sandy.
The small group made their way back to the hacienda. They had pink cheeks from the cold wind and happily consumed coffee and hot cocoa with leftover cake.
The three children formed a close bond and were often seen together.
More Truman adventures to come. Stay tuned!
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