Word Count 4,268
Disclaimer: The characters don’t belong to me, I just borrowed them.
Special thanks to Vicki for her help and encouragement. And to Raz and Carla for their additional input. Any errors are mine.
Short episode summary for ‘Measure of a Man’: Encouraged by a missing schoolteacher’s wife, Johnny, an untutored ex-gunfighter, takes over teaching school after she finds herself unable to keep control over two unruly boys. Through real world scenarios, Johnny is able to impress upon the boys the value of a good education. The true problem lies with the boys’ fathers who require more convincing.
Murdoch and Johnny returned home in time for supper. Over dinner, Murdoch described to Scott and Teresa the events of the past few days. Proudly, he explained how Johnny ended up teaching school. Although answering their questions and teasing remarks with good-natured quips of his own, Johnny remained fairly quiet, basking in his father’s approval.
As Maria brought the desert to the table, Teresa said with a beaming smile, “Look Johnny! We’re having APPLE pie in your honor.” This sally was met with laughter from the three men.
As Teresa was serving the pie, Johnny remembered the hand-made star the children had given him for being an “outstanding teacher.” Johnny reached into his pocket to get the testimonial. Before he could show his family the star, Scott asked with a smirk, “So, just how were you supposed to know if the right answers were given?” Immediately, quiet fell on the group.
Johnny glanced at Scott and then looked down at the table. “Catha taught me the lessons the night before,” Johnny replied softly.
Scott started laughing again, “Ah. So the teacher got some special tutoring.” Noticing the pained expression on his brother’s face, Scott added, “Sorry, brother. But the picture of you teaching school is so … so….”
“Well yes. NO!” Scott finally realized how mean-spirited his comments had sounded. “Johnny, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just hard to imagine, you know?”
Johnny sighed, “Yeah Scott, I know.” Turning to Murdoch, Johnny said, “If I’m going to start bustin’ those broncs first thing tomorrow, I had best turn in.” Johnny got up from the table and, bidding his family goodnight, left the room.
With growing concern, Scott watched Johnny walk away. He jumped when Teresa slammed the dessert plate on the table in front of him. Before he could say anything, she had turned away from him and stalked into the kitchen. Finally, he glanced at Murdoch who looked as if he would like to throttle him. For the first time since coming to Lancer, Scott was nervous in his father’s presence.
‘Now I see why Johnny gets so skittish. Facing down a half dozen desperadoes can’t be as bad as dealing with one angry Murdoch,’ Scott thought.
Several minutes passed as father and son stared at each other, the former afraid of saying too much and the latter not knowing what to say. Finally Scott couldn’ t take the silence any longer.
“You know I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
“Would you like to tell me exactly what you did mean? Why you found it necessary to belittle your brother?”
Scott flinched. “Murdoch! You can’t believe…! You know I wouldn’t…! I… I was just teasing him like we always do. I had no idea that he was so sensitive about his lack of formal education. He’s always kidding me about the things I learned at Harvard. Or to be more precise, the things I didn’t learn at school. He’s never seemed to mind that he didn’t have the opportunities that I did.”
Murdoch visibly relaxed as his anger ebbed. “Scott, I understand you didn’t intend to be unkind, but the fact is your remarks hurt Johnny. I admit I was amazed when I saw him teaching those kids. He was so good at it. You should have seen him. He seemed to know intuitively how to reach them.”
“I need to find him and apologize,” said Scott.
“It might be better if I talk to him first,” Murdoch suggested.
Scott objected. “But he and I have always been able to talk things out when he’s troubled!”
“True, but he’s usually upset with me,” Murdoch answered with a sad smile, as if even he recognized how painfully true the remark was.
“Guess you’re right.” Seeing Murdoch wince at the glib retort, Scott felt like kicking himself. For the second time that evening, his attempt at humor had hurt a loved one. Afraid of making matters worse, Scott continued, “Meanwhile, I’ll try to make my peace with Teresa.”
“Good luck. Yours may be the harder task,” said Murdoch with a grin. “For a moment, I thought you might end up wearing that pie on your head.”
Even without Murdoch’s assessment, the noises coming from the kitchen were a good indication as to how Teresa viewed the Scott’s remarks to Johnny. Scott watched as Teresa scraped the remains of the meal into a bucket. Although she did not acknowledge him, the vigor with which the fork hit the plate told Scott she was aware of his presence.
To lighten the mood, Scott said cheerfully, “It’s no use, you know. Those patterns don’t come off.”
An increase in force was Teresa’s only response.
Belatedly, Scott decided the best approach would be a straightforward apology. “Teresa, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not me you need to be apologizing to, it’s Johnny.” Teresa walked passed him with her nose slightly tilted up. Scott followed her into the great room and helped her to remove the few remaining items from the table
“And I will. But I know that I’ve upset you and I hope you’ll forgive me.” Scott replied with sincerity only the harshest of critics could doubt.
Teresa gave him a long searching look. Shaking her head slightly, she returned to the kitchen and the task of scraping plates.
Setting his load on the counter beside her, Scott tried again. “Teresa…”
Teresa interrupted him. “Do you even know why I got mad?”
“Because I inadvertently hurt Johnny.”
“And not for the first time,” sniffed Teresa.
“Hey wait a minute!”
Tossing the fork and plate aside, Teresa turned to face Scott. “No, you wait minute! Scott, one of the first things I noticed about you was how refined and educated you are. I really like that.” Teresa blushed to Scott’s surprise and pleasure. “What I don’t like is when act as if you’re so much smarter than Johnny.”
Scott was too astounded to interrupt as she continued her diatribe. “I’ve heard you correct Johnny’s pronunciation when he’s reading the newspaper or his grammar when he doesn’t say something in a way that suits you. And sometimes it seems you use big words on purpose, knowing that Johnny won’t understand them. He doesn’t say anything but I know it bothers him.” By the time Teresa finished speaking, her tone reflected more sadness than anger.
Silence fell upon the kitchen. Reeling from Teresa’s accusation, Scott’s first reaction was to lash out. Only the knowledge that Teresa’s concern was genuine, albeit completely wrong-headed, stopped him. The fact that she could think such a thing hurt, but what worried him more was if Johnny really felt the same way. Taking a deep breath, Scott tried to counter Teresa’s claims.
“First of all, I’ve never thought of myself as being smarter than Johnny. Johnny’s one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met. I’ve learned a lot from him in the year we’ve been here. Secondly, if I’m guilty of the other things, it’s because I was lucky to have a chance for an education. What’s wrong with my wanting to share it with my brother? He has shared so much with me. Mentoring him is just a way of saying thanks.”
Teresa regarded Scott thoughtfully. Although she didn’t appear completely convinced, she no longer seemed ready to rip him to shreds. “But it’s different. Don’t you see? You asked for his help, didn’t you? Did he ask you for your… whatever you called it?”
“Well no, but the point is while my actions may have been misinterpreted, and if so, I’ll willingly accept the blame, it was never a case of my feeling superior,” replied Scott. “Now please, will you accept my apology?”
“I guess so. But if you really feel that way, why haven’t you ever asked him to play chess?” asked Teresa, as if unwilling to let Scott completely off the hook.
Teresa’s apparent non sequitur reminded Scott why he hated arguing with a woman. Instead of keeping to the point, they go off on a tangent. “Chess? What does chess have to do with anything?”
“You ask Murdoch to play chess. With Johnny, it’s always checkers. If you don’t think you’re so much smarter, why haven’t you ever asked him to play?”
“Teresa, he may not know how,” explained Scott patiently.
“So, ask him.”
“But if he doesn’t know…”
“You can teach him,” answered Teresa.
Women! “I thought you objected to my mentoring.”
Teresa looked at Scott earnestly. “Not if he’s interested in learning. If he doesn’t play, you could find out if he would like to learn. If he wants to, he’ll tell you and if he doesn’t want to, don’t push it.”
As if her simple instructions would solve everything, Teresa smiled at Scott for the first time since the incident at the table. With a quick kiss on his cheek, she gently shoved him towards the door. “I’ve got work to do. And you need to get out of my kitchen and find your brother.”
Despite Johnny announcing his intention of going to bed, Murdoch was not surprised to find his bedroom empty. Knowing Johnny often sought refuge with Barranca when upset, he headed towards the barn. Before reaching his destination, Murdoch saw his son leaning against the corral watching the new horses. “You’re not planning on starting tonight, are you?” Murdoch asked with a smile.
“Of course not. I ain’t that stupid.”
“Johnny, no one thinks you’re stupid. Scott was just teasing and carried it too far. He feels bad about offending you.” Murdoch stood next to his son and studied his profile.
“What’s there to be offended about? He was right. Without Catha telling me the answers the night before, I wouldn’t have known nuthin’,” Johnny replied harshly.
As Johnny slumped against the corral, Murdoch could almost see the anger draining from him. There was something else in Johnny’s voice that gave Murdoch a niggling sense of worry, but he pushed it to the back of his mind as Johnny softly added, “Todd and Turk figured it out, you know. Todd asked me a question from a few lessons ahead.”
“What happened?” Murdoch asked curious as to how his son had handled being put on the spot by a couple of kids.
“I talked my way out of it. But I’d have given anything to have been able to do the problem right there.”
The wistfulness in Johnny’s voice pierced Murdoch’s heart. Once again he cursed Maria for what she had cost their son. Pushing his anger aside, Murdoch returned his attention to Johnny. “Is that what you want? A chance for more schooling?”
Johnny snorted at the question. “If I said yeah, what would you suggest? That we ride into Green River tomorrow and see Miss Adams? I’m sure she would be real happy to have me in her classroom.”
Murdoch couldn’t help but grin at the ludicrous idea. “That’s not quite what I had in mind. What I meant is that in a city like San Francisco you could get an education. With the aid of a tutor and by working hard, you could eventually even go to college.”
For the first time since Murdoch joined him, Johnny turned to face his father. “That would mean leaving Lancer!”
Murdoch felt a pang of sadness at the thought of being separated from Johnny again. “Well yes, for a while anyway. It wouldn’t be forever,” Murdoch answered with a heartiness he did not feel.
Johnny remained quiet, his attention fixed on removing a small splinter from the rail against which he was leaning. Finally in a voice hardly more than a whisper, he asked, “Is that what you want?”
Murdoch was puzzled by Johnny’s reaction to his suggestion. He expected Johnny to either be intrigued by the prospect or more likely, scoff at the idea. Instead, Johnny sounded hurt. ‘Good Lord. Anyone would think I was sending him away.’ No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Murdoch knew it was exactly what his son was thinking. Instead of helping Johnny, he had succeeded in making the boy believe that he was ashamed of him.
Determined to dispel any such notions, Murdoch replied forcefully. “Of course not. But this isn’t about what I want. It’s about what you want. What you deserve to have.” Murdoch paused searching for the right words. “Johnny, no man could be prouder of his sons than I am of you and Scott. You’re both fine men with your own unique strengths and personalities. I’m not trying to change you. It’s just…”
“If I want the moon, you’ll find a way to get it for me?” Johnny finished with a soft laugh. With only the light from said moon, Murdoch managed to see the gratitude in Johnny’s smile reflected in his son’s eyes. “No, Murdoch. That ain’t what I’m after. It would be different if I wanted to be something…”
“You are something!” Murdoch interrupted heatedly. To himself, he added ‘Something very special.’
Johnny grinned. “No. I mean like a teacher or accountant. I don’t. Being a top-hand for Lancer is good enough for me. I was thinking though. It would be good to be able to do them word problems like what Catha showed me. And the stuff about King Frederick seemed real interesting. Maybe I’ll ask Teresa if she has any old schoolbooks I could borrow.”
Murdoch smiled ruefully. Leave it to Johnny to sort out his problems, his way. “You do that. If she doesn’t have what you’re looking for, let me know. I need to go to Sacramento next month, I’m sure I can find whatever you want in the stores there.”
Nodding his thanks, Johnny turned back to the corral. Murdoch remembered his thought from earlier. Although loath to break the companionable silence, he decided there probably wouldn’t be a better time to approach what could be another touchy subject. He owed it to Johnny to at least mention his concern.
“Johnny, there is something else I want to talk with you about.” Murdoch watched his son stiffen defensively before resuming his customary slouch. Undeterred Murdoch remarked, “Ben and Catha are good folks. Make a nice couple.”
Murdoch saw the bewildered glance that Johnny shot his way. However, having gone too far to let the matter drop, he continued. “I suppose with Ben missing and the worry over the school, she needed someone strong to lean on. I was…”
“We didn’t do anything wrong if that’s what you’re askin’!” said Johnny facing his father with eyes blazing.
Wishing he had never started this conversation, Murdoch replied, “It wasn’t. I think I know you better than that, John. It’s just that Catha is very pretty, and with her needing your help, it would be easy to start feeling…” Murdoch’s voice trailed off.
Johnny, understanding his father’s concern, relaxed and even managed a small smile. “She is and I did. But I’m okay. Even without Ben in the picture, I guess I knew she wasn’t the one. Ya know what I mean?”
Murdoch nodded his head. “I think so. I didn’t mean to pry. I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“I …I will be.” Johnny returned his attention to the splinter he had been worrying with earlier. In a mild voice, Johnny added, “But as long as we’re discussin’ matters of the heart, how’s things with the Widow Johnson?”
It was Murdoch turn to be indignant. “What in the world are you talking about, boy? Emily and I are merely friends.”
Looking at Murdoch, Johnny fought hard to stifle a laugh. “Well, I don’t know but you two looked mighty cozy at that barn dance in town last month. Just wonderin’ if I should be getting’ used to the idea of a step-mother.” Johnny pushed away from the corral and started towards the house.
Murdoch glaring at his son’s back replied testily, “What you should be getting is to bed. You have those horses to break in the morning. Remember?” Johnny’s laughter drifted back to the older man. In spite of himself, he started to smile and shaking his head, hurried to catch up with his unrepentant son.
Johnny waited at the French doors for his father to catch up with him. He could see Scott standing by the fireplace looking as if he’d lost his last friend. While bothered by Scott’s distress, he still was hurt by how easily Scott had joked about the very thing that had troubled him the most when Catha proposed him teaching school. Although the rational part of his brain told him Scott had no way of knowing how embarrassed he had been by his own ignorance, another part kept repeating that Scott should have known.
Deep in thought, Johnny was startled when his father grasped his shoulder.
“Go on in, Son. You and your brother need to talk this out,” said Murdoch.
Johnny shrugged off his father’s hand and walked over to one of the pillars that lined the front entrance of the house. Leaning his shoulder against the stone, Johnny quietly remarked, “Maybe, it would be better to forget all about it. You said Scott was only teasing. I guess I can take a joke as well as anyone.”
The lack of conviction in Johnny’s voice forced Murdoch into action. Grasping Johnny’s shoulder once again, he propelled the young man towards the door. “No, Johnny. Scott’s words hurt you and ignoring that hurt is only going to cause it to fester. Give him a chance to apologize. I don’t want this thing to drive a wedge between the two of you.” Releasing Johnny in front of the door, Murdoch gave him a reassuring smile and walked away towards the garden.
At the sound of the door opening, Scott looked up expecting to see Murdoch. He had hoped to be able to talk with the older man concerning Johnny’s mood, especially in view of Teresa’s comments. However, that was not to be. Johnny was here now and Scott could only hope to apologize without inserting his foot into his mouth again.
“Johnny, I was just heading to your room. I want to talk to you.” His not entirely truthful statement caused a prick of conscience. However, he couldn’t tell his brother that he was hoping to avoid him for a little longer while he figured out what to say.
“Yeah. Well, I didn’t make it up there yet,” replied Johnny as he walked over to his father’s desk and started to fiddle with a paperweight.
Scott read the tension in his younger brother’s voice and actions. Deciding the sooner he made his apology the better, Scott said, “Johnny, I was completely out of line tonight. I hope you will forgive me.”
Without looking at his brother, Johnny sighed. “Scott, forget it. You were right, more right than I was ready to admit.”
For the first time tonight, Scott understood. Johnny wasn’t merely upset about his brother seeming to doubt his intellect. Scott’s words also had reiterated Johnny’s own self-doubts.
“No, Johnny. I won’t forget it. What I said hurt you. It’s no excuse, but I was only joking. Just like you do to me when you tell me to speak English instead of that highfalutin college talk…”
At first, Scott wasn’t sure he heard the mumbled words correctly. Puzzled he questioned Johnny, “What’s easier?”
Given the long pause that followed, Scott was sure Johnny would not answer the question. Johnny returned the paperweight to the desk and walked over to the fireplace. With his back to his brother, Johnny finally said, “It’s easier to joke about you usin’ big words than to admit I ain’t got the slightest idea what some of ’em mean.”
Scott could hear Teresa’s voice reverberating inside his head. ‘…sometimes it seems you use big words on purpose knowing that Johnny won’t understand them.’ Dear God! Was Teresa right? Desperate to make amends, Scott hurriedly apologized. “Johnny, I really am sorry. I won’t…”
Scott was taken aback by the intensity in Johnny’s command. Before he could say anything, Johnny continued in an even voice. “Don’t say you won’t use those ‘highfalutin’ words anymore. Those words come as natural to you as drawin’ a gun does to me. I ain’t askin’ or even wantin’ you to change. Just don’t expect me to either.” With a wry grin, Johnny added, “Besides if I had my druthers, I’d rather you talk up to me than to think you needed to talk down to my level.”
“Johnny, I don’t want to change you,” said Scott surprised by how true those words had become. “In all the things that matter, nobody could ask for a better man … let alone a better brother.”
“Yeah, well, what say we forget the whole thing and see if there’s any of Teresa’s pie left?”
“Sure. Hey, it’s still fairly early, how about a game of cards, or chess, or checkers?” asked Scott as nonchalantly as he could.
Johnny stopped on the way to the kitchen. “Chess?” he questioned, his surprise obvious.
“Or cards or checkers. Whichever you prefer.”
With a pleased look, Johnny grinned. “Chess, it is!”
Later when Murdoch entered the great room, he was relieved to see his two sons bent over the chessboard. Apparently, peace had been restored.
Murdoch sat on the sofa next to Scott and began to study the board. Several minutes passed in silence as the players made their moves. To Murdoch, it appeared as if Johnny was very familiar with the game.
While waiting for Scott to make his next move, Johnny looked up from the floor where he sat and said “Hey Murdoch, you said you were going to Sacramento next month. Can I go with you?”
“Johnny, you just got back from a trip,” objected Scott as he moved his chess piece. “Your move.”
“Yeah, but as soon as I got to the county seat, Murdoch sent me back to Ben’s with the injunction. I didn’t get to go to the livestock show or nothin’.”
Murdoch noticed Johnny’s voice trailed off as if loath to say anything which might cause a repeat of the evening’s earlier unpleasantness. He also saw Scott realized the same thing. Murdoch answered Johnny. “If your brother doesn’t mind taking care of your chores, you can come.”
Quickly, Johnny took his turn while looking at Scott pleadingly. “How about it, Boston?”
No sooner did Johnny make his move than Murdoch saw he had just lost the game. By the way Scott stiffened, he knew that Scott had seen it too. After the events of the evening, Murdoch wondered what Scott would do. Would he throw the game to spare Johnny’s feelings?
Scott slowly reached his hand towards the chessboard. “Sure Johnny. I don’t mind and … uh, checkmate,” said Scott apologetically.
Johnny cheerfully congratulated his brother, “Good game, Boston, and thanks.”
If his younger boy was upset by the outcome, Murdoch couldn’t see any sign of it. On the contrary, he seemed extremely pleased as he jumped to his feet and announced his intention of retiring for the night.
Murdoch got up from the couch and poured a couple of brandies. Handing one to Scott, Murdoch sat in his favorite chair by the fireplace. He watched his son put away the chess set.
Scott broke the silence. “Johnny is a good player. If he hadn’t been so busy thinking about the trip, he probably wouldn’t have made that bad move. But he didn’t seem to mind losing the game.”
Murdoch tried to hide a grin. “No, he didn’t seem to mind in the least.”
“Murdoch?” Scott asked.
“Son, let’s just say you both played good games, just not necessarily the same one.”
Murdoch watched in amusement as several expressions including suspicion crossed Scott’s face. “Are you suggesting Johnny knew I would feel guilty about winning and used that to make me agreeable about the trip?”
“Well, Scott, you were playing chess with him. Did it seem to you he planned his moves, or were all his moves as off-hand as that last one appeared?”
Downing his brandy, Scott jumped from the couch and headed to the door. Expecting a rather noisy confrontation, Murdoch was surprised when Scott turned around and returned to the couch.
“What was that, son?”
“Nothing. Just thinking about something Teresa said earlier. I guess Johnny deserves to win this round.”
Although he had no idea to what Scott was referring, Murdoch was proud of his son’s willingness to take the high road. “Good for you, Scott. He’s had a rough few days. Let him have his victory.”
“Yes. I concur, sir.” Scott looked reflectively into the fire. A grin appeared on his face. “Besides I can always get even later,” he laughed.
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