Word Count 5,911
Posted to Yahoo Groups in 2002
Minor revisions made November 2013
An hour after dinner on November 24 of 1870, Murdoch Lancer paused inside the arched doorway into the main living room of the hacienda. His sons, Scott and Johnny sat opposite each other at the far end of the long dining table–a checkerboard set up between them.
The scene warmed Murdoch’s heart. A year ago, he had given up all hope of having either of his son’s home after their having been taken from him as babies. All efforts to find Johnny had failed, and Scott had supposedly died in battle during the war with the Confederate states. But life had taken unexpected turns, and both sons had been restored to him.
Murdoch drank in the sight. Neither of his sons had known the other existed until a little over six months ago when they had arrived in Morro Coyo on the same stage. They had grown up on opposite sides of the country. It was good to see them where they belonged and enjoying each other’s company.
Pride welled up inside of Murdoch and he smiled. His sons were fine young men, a fact he had come to realize over the months since their homecoming.
A frown edged out the smile. Although Scott had seemed willing from the beginning to leave the past behind them, Johnny had been a different story. Murdoch had to admit that his troubles with his younger son had been partly his own fault for pushing the boy too hard. Why had he felt it was necessary? Was it because of Madrid’s reputation as a gunfighter? Or because Johnny reminded him so much of Maria that he was afraid the boy would ride away one day without a backward glance? Had fear made him want to get it over with to protect himself from the pain?
Murdoch remembered the day Johnny had ridden away with Wes. The plunge of a knife in his heart couldn’t have hurt any worse, and then he’d seen that same pain reflected in his son’s eyes a couple of days later when he had tried to protect the boy from the Strikers. That was when he’d begun to realize that the only way to avoid the agony of Johnny leaving was to give him a reason to stay.
Laughter drew Murdoch’s attention back to the present. The smile returned. Perhaps he had had a measure of success with Johnny. At least, he seemed more content now.
Murdoch indulged his thoughts a moment longer and then decided to join his sons. He took a step forward, but stopped when he heard Johnny speak his name. Quietly, he stepped back into the shadows of the hallway.
Johnny Lancer looked up from studying the checkerboard in front of him. “Any idea what’s up with Murdoch?”
“Why do you ask?” Scott frowned slightly as he met his brother’s eyes.
Johnny bit at his lip and shrugged. “Oh . . . I don’t know. I just thought he seemed . . . well, you know . . . too quiet. Like something was on his mind.”
“Now that you mentioned it, I did notice he didn’t have much to say during dinner and that he left the table rather abruptly.” The furrow in Scott’s brow deepened. “Maybe, it’s because Teresa’s father died a year ago, today. She wasn’t her normal self, either.”
“Yeah. Guess it would make it kind of hard to feel like celebrating, huh?” Johnny took a deep breath and let it out nosily
Scott sighed. “Yes, it would.” He picked up his wine glass, took a swallow, and set it down in its place off to one side of the game board. “Are you going to make your move, or are you waiting for Christmas?”
Johnny sat with his left elbow resting on the edge of the table. His chin was cupped in his hand and his fingers drummed against his cheek. He raised and lowered his eyebrows, picked up one of his checkers, and flashed a grin. With sharp taps against the checkerboard, he moved the black game piece in a zigzagging path and dropped it onto a square at the far edge. “Crown me!” he said and gathered up the red checkers he had jumped over.
Scott’s lower jaw sagged. “Just how did you manage that?”
Johnny bounced on the edge of his chair and laughed. “I think it’s called . . . skill, Boston.”
“Well, I think it’s called . . . cheating,” Scott replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Would I do that?” Johnny gave Scott a hurt look. “Would I?”
“Only if you thought you could get away with it.” Scott pointed at an empty black square on Johnny’s side of the board. “I had a man there. What happened to it?”
Johnny glared across the table and challenged his brother in a soft tone. “You sayin’ I took it?”
“Well, it couldn’t just disappear on its own, now, could it? So . . . somebody had to take it.” Scott took a quick glance around the room and turned his eyes back on Johnny. “Since, you and I are the only ones in here . . . and I didn’t take it . . . that just leaves you, Little Brother.”
Johnny hung his head, and scuffed the toe of his boot on the rug under his feet. “Do you really think that little of me? That I’d sink so low as to cheat my own brother in a game of checkers?”
“Johnny, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to . . . of course, I don’t think that little of you.” Scott seemed to stumble over his words. “What can I do to make it up to you?”
“Well.” Johnny, enjoying his brother’s discomfort, paused to draw in a deep breath. “You could . . . crown me.” He finished with a grin.
In a flash of movement, Scott lifted the game-board and sent it flying.
Checkers rained down on Johnny. While they scattered and rolled in every direction, the checkerboard thumped him lightly on the top the head, slid off to one side, and clattered against the table.
Johnny let out a gasp. “Scott! What’d ya do that for?”
Scott gazed with lifted brows at his brother. “I was crowning you. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
A feminine voice came from behind Johnny. “What I want to know is who’s going to pick up all those checkers?”
Johnny twisted to look at the dark-haired girl glowering at them from halfway across the room. He raised his hands in surrender. “Don’t look at me. Scott’s the one that dumped ’em all over the place.”
“Johnny told me to do it.”
Johnny glared at his brother. “I did no such thing. You got all huffy and threw the checkerboard at me. I bet I have a lump on my head by morning.” He ran his fingers through his hair and hunched his shoulders. “Ooh.”
Scott scowled back. “Stop being so melodramatic. I didn’t hurt you, in the least.”
Johnny let out a huff. “Boston, when’re ya gunna stop trying to impress me with them high-flutin’ words. And, I ain’t being one bit melo-what-ever-you-said. You just don’t know your own strength, that’s all.”
The stamp of a foot drew Johnny’s attention back toward Teresa. “Enough!” she said and shook her finger. “You’re acting like children. I don’t care who did what, but those checkers had best be picked up or neither one of you will be getting any desert.” She dropped her hands to her waist and pressed her lips together in a firm line while scowling first at Johnny and then at Scott.
The corners of Johnny’s mouth twitched. He shifted his eyes back toward his brother. “Sure is cute when she’s riled, ain’t she?”
Scott put a hand to his mouth, but it didn’t cover his smile or stop him from chuckling. “Little Brother, you are absolutely right.”
A short, gray-bearded man moved into view from behind Teresa. “Keep it up you, two,” Jelly Hoskins said. “I’d just as soon not hafta share that punkin pie with either one of ya. It looks good enough that I could eat the whole thing myself.”
Johnny scooted his chair around sideways. “What? And have a bellyache? Murdoch’d like that, now wouldn’t he? You too sick to do your share of the work, tomorrow. Bet this’d be the last time he’d invite you to Thanksgiving diner.”
“He’s right, Jelly,” Scott said. “Too much pie can be very detrimental to a person’s digestive system.”
Jelly lifted his chin and scowled at Scott. “And since when did you become a doctor?”
“Ever since he learned all them fancy words, he likes to throw at us,” Johnny said and flashed a devilish grin at his brother.
Teresa tapped her foot again. “Well, nobody’s having pie until those checkers are put away.”
Johnny looked over at his brother. “Come on, Scott, I’ll give ya a hand. The law has spoken. If we don’t hop-to in a hurry, she’s li’ble to let Jelly have more’n he can handle. You don’t wanna have to do his chores while he lays around all day, tomorrow, lookin’ puny, do ya?”
Teresa squared her shoulders and frowned.
Johnny tried to keep a straight face and appear serious, but his lips refused to stop trembling so he leaned over and picked up some of the fallen checkers.
With Scott’s help and a little from Jelly and Teresa, the checkers were soon retrieved from off the floor and under various pieces of furniture where they had rolled. They were dropped into a small tin box and, along with the checkerboard, placed on a bottom shelf of the long bookcase behind the dining table.
“Well, that’s done.” Johnny brushed his hands against each other as though they needed dusting. He glanced at Scott and Jelly and then flashed Teresa a cheerful grin. When she smiled back but didn’t move, he asked, “So . . . aren’t ya gunna go get the pie?”
Teresa shook her head. “Not before Murdoch gets here. There wouldn’t be any left.”
“Come on, Teresa. Ya said we could have it when the checkers were picked up. Besides, who knows how long Murdoch’ll be. We might all starve by then.” Johnny puckered his eyebrows and poked his lower lip out.
“Oh, grow up, Johnny,” Teresa said. “You’re acting like a two-year old.”
Scott’s face broke into a smile and he chuckled.
Johnny sent him a warning glare that only made Scott laugh harder with Jelly and Teresa joining him.
“All right! You’ve had your fun,” Johnny said. He stalked over to a big, soft chair by the fireplace and slumped into it. “So what do ya suggest we do until the old man shows up . . . twiddle our thumbs?”
Teresa sat down at one end of the sofa that was opposite Johnny. “I know what we can do?”
“What?” Johnny eyed her suspiciously.
“We can each tell about our favorite Thanksgiving.” Looking Johnny in the eye, she added, “And today doesn’t count.”
Johnny picked at one of the concho buttons on the side of his calzoneras. “Who goes first?” He hoped it wouldn’t be him. What would he say?
Teresa looked toward the fireplace where Scott and Jelly now stood. “You will. Won’t you, Jelly?”
Jelly scowled. “Why does it hafta be me? Why not let Scott? He’s the oldest Lancer here. I’m just a guest.”
Scott placed a hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “That’s just it, Jelly. As a guest, you should go first.”
“See? Scott agrees.” Teresa patted the cushion beside her. “Come on, Jelly. Sit down and tell us a story.”
As Jelly grumpily settled onto the cushion at the other end of the sofa, Johnny let out a sigh of relief. At least, she hadn’t call on him first.
Jelly hummed and hawed. With a little prodding from Teresa, he started in with a tale about the time that he’d spent with his sister in Arizona some ten years back. He rambled on about stuffed turkey with all the trimmings, children squabbling over the drumstick, and him eating until his belly wouldn’t hold another bite.
Johnny let his mind drift back a few weeks to when he had been taken in by a group of boys after a bullet had grazed him. He couldn’t help smiling at the memory of the mismatched kids claiming they all shared the same pa. When Jelly had arrived later that night, the boys had flocked around the old man like they belonged to him.
It hadn’t taken long to figure out that the boys were orphans with no one else to take care of them. Even though Jelly had shown up with Teresa’s pearls, Johnny couldn’t dislike the old man. Jelly’s heart was in the right place even if his way of caring for the boys was wrong.
Things had all worked out, and Johnny was glad his father had kept Jelly out of jail. Even if he was a bit cantankerous, at time, Johnny liked the old man and hoped he would stay on. Murdoch could use a friend and the two seemed to like each other a lot more than they let on.
“And that was the best Thanksgiving I ever had,” Jelly said, his words pulling Johnny thoughts back to the present.
Teresa laid a hand on Jelly’s arm. “That was a wonderful story.”
Jelly turned a bit red and huffed, “Weren’t nothin’.” He loudly cleared his throat and looked at Scott, who had settled into the chair near Teresa’s end of the sofa. “Guess, you’re next.”
Scott glanced around like he was hoping someone would offer to take his place. When no one did, he squared his shoulders and started his story. “I think my favorite Thanksgiving was five years ago. It was my first after the war ended. Maybe, that is why it was so special to me.”
Johnny noticed the far-off look in his brother’s eyes as Scott described the holiday in Boston. He could almost see the elegant table, the feast fit for a king, and Scott’s grandfather carving the turkey. And he could feel how happy his brother had been to be home again–lifting his wine-filled glass as he toasted his grandfather and their dinner guests.
A stab of fear ran through Johnny. Could Scott be homesick for Boston? Would he want to go back to the gentle life he’d known before coming to California?
Johnny tried to shake off the feeling brought on by those questions. He didn’t want Scott to leave. They were just getting to know each other. He couldn’t lose his brother, now. He needed him.
With an inward shudder, Johnny pulled his mind back to what Scott was saying. He didn’t want to think about how he felt about his brother or about how empty life would seem with him.
Scott finished his story and Teresa asked Johnny to go next.
“No, you go first,” he said, his insides churning. To his relief, she didn’t argue.
“It’s hard to say which Thanksgiving was the best. They’ve all been wonderful as far back as I can remember.” Teresa tipped her head back and gazed at the ceiling. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet with a hint of sadness. “I . . . I guess it would have to be last year.”
As Teresa talked about the celebration with Murdoch and her father the previous year, her eyes watered and she blinked. The tears spilled over and ran down her cheeks, and Johnny wished he could wipe them away along with all the hurt that he knew she had to be feeling.
A moment later, Teresa stopped in mid-sentence and sobbed.
Johnny made a move to go to her, but Jelly reached out and drew the weeping girl in his arms. “There, there,” he said as he gently patted her back.
When the sobs finally let up, Teresa spoke between sniffles. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to . . . to ruin everything for everybody.”
“You didn’t ruin anything for us,” Scott replied.
Teresa sniffed again. “But I’m acting like a baby.”
Johnny’s heart broke for the girl that he had come to think of as a sister–her pain, his pain. He knew what is was like to lose someone you loved and how much time it took for the hurt to go away. A year wasn’t nearly enough.
Scott cleared his throat. “Johnny, why don’t you tell us your most memorable Thanksgiving.”
Johnny licked his lips. He wanted to run, but Teresa’s pleading eyes held him in his chair. He took a deep breath and shrugged. “Not much to tell.”
“Its not how much you have to say that matters,” Scott said. “What’s important is that you share something.”
Johnny saw no way out of telling about the only Thanksgiving Day he could remember. “Four years ago, I was between jobs.” He hesitated, wondering what kind of work they would assume he’d been doing.
Everyone waited in silence, so Johnny continued. “I ran out of food on the trail. It was in desert country, and I couldn’t even find a jackrabbit to shoot. Well, I come across this old man and rode into his camp. I sure was hopin’ he’d share a meal with me.”
Johnny let out a soft chuckle. “Only, it turned out he didn’t have much. Beans for one person and a little hardtack.”
Again Johnny paused, a grizzled face coming to mind. He drew in a slow breath. “He was a nice old man. Insisted I eat half of his grub. After we’d finished up, he dug a can of peaches out of his saddlebag. Said he was savin’ ’em for a special day.”
“I remember askin’ him, what made that day different from any other. He sort of snorted and said it was Thanksgiving Day.” Johnny paused and looked down. “I asked him what he had to be thankful for.”
“And what’d he say,” Teresa asked.
“Because I’m alive. I figured he must be half loco. I mean, it didn’t look to me like he was doin’ much livin’.”
More memories flooded into Johnny’s mind, and he grew quiet as he relived a moment in time from earlier that year when he had been seconds away from dying.
Johnny lifted his chin and glanced around at his family. “Guess I know, now, how that old man felt.”
A lump clogged Johnny’s throat and his eyes threatened to leak. He looked down and blinked. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be crying like a baby, too.
Johnny cleared his throat, fingered the silver buttons on the outside seam of his left pant leg, and muttered, “That’s all I got ta say.”
From his place in the entry hall, Murdoch Lancer brushed a tear from his eye. His family had missed out on so much in the past. But for the grace of God, this day might never have been. Scott could have died in the war, and the Pinkerton agent could have been too late to save Johnny.
Murdoch shuddered. He could have died along side of Teresa’s father and never have had the chance to get to know his boys. Instead, they were home. Teresa had become like a daughter, and he might have gained a new friend in Jelly.
Tipping his head back and looking upward, Murdoch mouthed a quick prayer of gratitude for the blessing of having his family with him. He hesitated a moment longer before joining the others in the living room. They were certain to ask him to relate his own favorite Thanksgiving, and he wasn’t sure what he should say.
Talking about either of his son’s mothers was out of the question. Murdoch knew that wouldn’t be fair to the other son. And he couldn’t tell about the times shared with Teresa and her father. That would make her cry again.
Murdoch could see only one choice. He quietly moved back to his bedroom door and opened it. After closing it loudly enough to be heard from the main room of the house, he strode back to the arched doorway and entered the living room.
At the sound of footstep, Johnny Lancer looked toward the doorway into the entry hall. His shoulders relaxed as he watched his father join the rest of the family gathered around the fireplace. “Murdoch. You’re just in time. Now, Teresa can bring out the pie.”
“Wait a minute, Johnny. Aren’t you forgetting something?” Scott Lancer spoke as he stood and motioned for Murdoch to take his chair.
“What? We’re all here, ain’t we?” Johnny asked as Scott squeezed in next to Teresa, who had moved to the middle of the sofa while Jelly had been comforting her earlier.
Scott settled back and folded his arms. “Don’t you think Murdoch should share his favorite Thanksgiving?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Johnny said. He didn’t particularly care to hear how his father had celebrated the holiday in the past. Not that he resented Murdoch’s memories. He just didn’t want to be reminded of all he had missed by not being there.
Johnny caught his father eyeing him and quickly looked down. Why was Murdoch looking at him that way–kind of sad like?
When Murdoch didn’t speak right away, Johnny shifted and spoke with a hint of sarcasm. “So . . . you gunna tell us about your best turkey day?”
Murdoch cleared his throat. “I’m not sure that I have a favorite Thanksgiving,” he said, his deep voice unusually quiet. “They’ve all been special in one way or another. However . . . there is one that sticks out in my mind at the moment. It was a few days after I arrived in Boston from Inverness. I had found lodging with an elderly couple who ran a little shop down by the docks. The room was small and two meals a day were included in the rent. The food was simple–porridge for breakfast and fish with beans or potatoes and a slice of bread for the evening meal. I remember that day in particular, because after supper Mrs. Barlow brought out a pie made from dried apples. It was quite tart. Sugar was a luxury to be used sparingly.”
While his father talked, Johnny felt a growing sense of respect. It had never occurred to him that his old man could have been poor at one time. Although he knew that Scott’s family hadn’t approved of Murdoch, he had thought it was because of him being Scottish.
Johnny glanced around the large, well-furnished room and, in his mind, traveled out across the hundred, thousand acres that made up the Lancer ranch. His old man had done all right to start out with nothing and end up with one of the biggest ranches in the state. No wonder he wanted to call the tune and pushed hard at time. It had taken him years to build a spread that size.
Scott’s voice broke into Johnny’s thoughts. “That must have been a very difficult time for you–coming to a strange country, having to meet new people, and learn their customs.”
“Yes, it was, but I have no regrets about leaving Scotland. There was no future for me there.”
“I guess that’s because it was here, Sir.”
For a moment, the only sound was the steady ticking of the grandfather clock on the far side of the room. Johnny wondered if it was because Scott’s words had reminded everyone that none of them would have a future at Lancer if Murdoch hadn’t taken the risk of coming to a new land.
The clock chimed and Teresa got to her feet. “I think I’ll go get the pie.”
“I’ll help you,” Scott said, also rising. He glanced around at the other men as he continued speaking. “If you’ll excuse us, we’ll be right back.”
“Looks like the fire could use another chunk o’ wood. Guess I’ll go fetch one,” Jelly said as Scott and Teresa left for the kitchen.
Johnny sat in silence, wishing he’d been the first to think of stoking the fire. After a little while, he glanced at his father and, again, noticed a touch of sadness on his face. He couldn’t help wondering if Murdoch was missing his homeland. “You ever wish you’d gone back?” he asked.
Murdoch lifted his chin and looked Johnny in the eyes. “Back where, Son?”
“No . . . no I haven’t.”
“Why not? Don’t you ever miss it? I mean . . . it was your home. You grew up there.” As he waited for an answer, Johnny wondered if he’d want to go back to where he grew up or to being Johnny Madrid. Deep inside, he knew the answer was no.
Murdoch let out a sigh and spoke slowly. “Oh, I suppose I miss it at times, but I don’t have any real desire to go back. Everything I want is here.”
“The ranch?” Johnny asked, remembering his father saying he loved the land more than anything God had created.
“Much more than the ranch, Johnny. My life, my home . . . my family are all here.”
Johnny felt a lump form in his throat. He blinked and looked away, wishing he could find some excuse escape before his eyes started to leak.
At that moment, Jelly came in with an armload of wood. Scott and Teresa were right behind him.
“Here comes the pie,” Scott said.
Johnny nearly leapt out of his chair. “You sure took your sweet time, Boston.”
“Just teaching you a little patience, Brother,” Scott said without slowing his stride.
Johnny gave his brother a cool glare and tagged along beside him.
Scott laid the plates and utensils on the end of the dining table and moved to one side. Teresa arrived with the pie. Murdoch and Jelly, who was now shed of the wood, were close behind her.
Once everyone was seated, Teresa cut the pumpkin pie into six pieces and dished up a piece for each of them.
Johnny wasted no time digging into his, and soon his plate was clean. He licked the crumbs from his lips and muttered. “Good pie.”
Scott slid his fork under the last bite on his plate and raised it with a nod at Teresa. “Absolutely delicious.”
“Never, had none better,” Jelly said, followed by Murdoch’s, “Neither have I.”
Teresa’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink and her eyes seemed to sparkle. “There’s still one piece left.” She pointed at the pie plate. “Somebody might as well clean it up.”
“I will.” Scott’s words echoed Johnny’s as they lifted their plates at the same time.
Johnny frowned at his brother. “It’s mine, Boston. I spoke for it first.”
“Not so, Brother. I did,” Scott said with a firm shake of his head followed by a jab of one thumb at his chest.
“Why can’t you just share it?” Teresa pulled the pie dish closer and picked up the knife. “Here, I’ll cut it for you.”
Once Teresa had the pie cut and lifted out the first piece, Johnny moved his plate out of reach. “I’ll take the other one.”
Scott scowled from across the table. “What’s wrong with that one?”
“So?” Scott lifted his chin higher and motioned with his hand as he spoke. “Why should I take the smaller one? I’m the older brother here. Besides, Teresa offered that one to you first.”
Teresa spoke sharply. “Do you two have to argue about everything? You’re worse than children.”
“Johnny’s the one who’s being childish.”
“Oh, yeah?” Johnny glared back at Scott. “Then why don’t you take the smaller piece?”
Scott’s eyes never wavered. “How about, we flip for it?”
“Okay, you’re on.” Johnny set his plate down, fished a coin out of the small pocket on the inside of the waistband of his pants, and held it up. “Heads I win.”
Scott stretched his arm out over the table. “Mind if I have a look at that coin, first?”
“Why? It’s just a two-bit piece.” Johnny cocked his head to one side. “Whatcha need to see it for? Don’t you trust me?”
“If the coin is what you say it is, why would you care if I look at it?”
“Scott, I can’t believe–.”
“Boys, that’s enough,” Murdoch said. “I know a better way to settle this.”
Johnny looked at his father who sat at the head of the table. “You do?”
“Yes, I do.” Murdoch shifted his gaze from one son to the other. “May I show you?”
“By all means, do,” Scott said. He turned his head back toward Johnny. “That is all right with you, isn’t it?”
“Fine by me,” Johnny replied, sitting back to see what would happen next. His jaw sagged as Murdoch took the dish from Teresa and put the smaller piece of pie on his plate. Then he put the larger one on Jelly’s plate.
“There, now there’s nothing for you to argue over,” Murdoch said.
Johnny scowled at his brother. “Well, I hope you’re satisfied. If you hadn’t made such a fuss, we’d o’ had that last piece.”
“Me?” Scott tapped his chest and swept his hand out toward Johnny. “You’re the one that refused to take the half that was offered to you.”
“Boss,” Jelly said. “Looks like ya was wrong about those two not havin’ anything to argue about.”
Murdoch chuckled. “Yes, it does, but I accomplished one good thing.”
“What?” Jelly’s brow puckered as he looked Murdoch.
Murdoch cut off the tip of his pie with his fork and lifted it to his mouth. He glanced at his sons and then turned back to Jelly. “I got the last piece of pie for us without our having to fight for it.”
Johnny looked over at his brother. “Scott, ya get the feelin’ our old man was dealin’ off the bottom of the deck?”
“Yes, I do,” Scott said and glanced at their father. “I had no idea he could be so devious.”
“Ain’t nothin’ devious about yer pa,” Jelly said, his chin rising. “He was just tryin’ to keep you boys from squabblin’ . . . which I might add is nigh impossible. Instead o’ badmouthin’ him, you should be grateful he didn’t turn ya over his knee and tan yer britches.
A vision of Murdoch taking a strap to Scott’s backside flashed through Johnny’s mind, and he barely stifled a snort as he ducked his head. Hearing a strangled cough coming from Scott, he knew his brother was seeing a similar picture.
“And he could do it, too,” Teresa said with a flash of her brown eyes before turning her head towards her guardian. “Couldn’t you, Murdoch?”
Murdoch smiled at Teresa. “I’m sure I could, but I know a better way to handle these boys without having to exert myself.”
“And what might that be?” Jelly asked, voicing the same question that had came to Johnny’s mind.
“Work,” Murdoch replied, “and lots of it.”
One question after another tumbled out of Johnny’s mouth. “Work? Lots of it? What? When?”
Murdoch set his fork down and rubbed his chin. “Well . . . to begin with, the line shack over by Black Mesa needs the roof repaired. Walt told me about it yesterday when he came in from checking on the heifers. He, also, said that Calf Gulch had some brush wash into it a couple of days ago during that last storm. It’ll have to be cleared right away, and the fences all need to be checked once more before winter. I figure it’ll take you boys about . . ..”
“A week to get all that done, if we’re lucky,” Johnny said.
Murdoch nodded, his mouth quirking. “At least. Of course, if you went out and loaded the wagon with the supplies you’ll need, you wouldn’t have to get up quite so early in the morning. You need to be out of here by daylight.”
Johnny puckered his eyebrows. “How come you never said anything about all of this work earlier?”
“I hated to spoil your day,” Murdoch said picking up his fork again.
“So why tell us now?” Johnny asked.
“I thought you two might like an excuse to leave the table so you won’t have to watch Jelly and me eat the last of this pie.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind of you, Sir.” Scott spoke with a hint of sarcasm.
“I thought that would please you,” Murcoch said in a similar tone.
Johnny stood and shoved his chair back. “Come on, Scott. He just wants us out of here so he won’t have to feel guilty about eatin’ in front of us.” He halfway grinned. “We might as well oblige him. Wouldn’t wanna make our old man feel bad, now would we?”
“No, we wouldn’t.” Scott smiled at their father and rose to his feet. “If you’ll excuse us, we have a ranch to take care of.”
As Johnny led the way toward the entry hall, he heard Murdoch laugh and say, “I think, those boys might make ranchers, after all.”
Later that evening, soft light danced from the flickering flames of the fire as Murdoch Lancer sat leaning back in his chair and gazing into the fireplace while reflecting on the happenings of the day. A quiet footstep behind him caught his attention, and he looked to see who was there. “Teresa, you should be in bed,” he gently chided.
“So should you,” she said, settling onto the stool beside him. She laid her head against her folded arms as she rested them on the arm of his chair.
Tenderly, Murdoch stroked the hair of the girl he had come to think of as a daughter. “You missed your daddy today, didn’t you?”
“Yes . . . but so did you.”
Murdoch sighed. “Yes, I did. Somehow, it didn’t seem like Thanksgiving without him.”
“I know. It’s so hard to believe that he’s been gone for a whole year.” Teresa raised her head and looked at Murdoch. “But it was good day, wasn’t it? We had Scott and Johnny with us . . . and Jelly, too.”
Murdoch’s mind flashed back over the first Thanksgiving he’d spent with either of his sons. To have them both there made it all the more special.
“Yes, Teresa, it was a good day.” Murdoch smiled lovingly at his ward. “We certainly do have much to be grateful for.”
In 2002, when I first thought of writing a Thanksgiving story, I wanted the Lancer family’s first Thanksgiving Day, which would have been in 1870, to fall on the same day that Teresa’s father would have died on in the year before. However, I didn’t want his death to be before Thanksgiving Day in 1869 or less than four or five days after it.
On the Internet, I found that Thanksgiving Day was officially observed on November 18 in 1869 and on November 24 in 1870. This was a stroke of luck for me, which made it possible to set November 24, 1869 (six days after Thanksgiving) as the date of Paul O’Brien death.