Lost Son by LaJuan

Word Count 2,720

He had been so delighted when he heard the news. She had been nauseated and cranky for the last month and Murdoch had secretly visited Dr. Sam Jenkins in town to explore the possibility of another child with Maria. Sam confirmed that it was possible, now that Johnny was walking, weaned from the breast and older. Murdoch had agreed to sweet talk his young wife into seeing the kindly doctor for an exam.

It took some doing and he had to pamper Maria into his bidding. That wonderful day came when he stood on the boardwalk outside the doctor’s office and smelled the heady scent of pine trees lining the porch railings. He looked up at the overcast sky and felt the tang of winter mist against his face. Inside, he felt the sunshine and the warm, fragrant breeze of a spring day. He was going to be a father again!

A tinge of regret went through his brain as he thought of Scott, his elder son. Scott was in Boston, spirited away by his grandfather, after Murdoch’s first wife had died in childbirth. Since that day, a day that Murdoch regretted, Scott lived without much knowledge of his father or his father’s love. Vowing that one day he would retrieve his missing son, Scott, and have his family together, Murdoch turned back into the doctor’s office to help his second wife, Maria, out to the buggy.

His younger son, Johnny, the image of Maria with Murdoch’s eyes, tagged behind them, scuffing his worn play boots in the dirt. His father waited, but looked on with horror when the child came up to the bored horse tethered to the buggy. Without fear, Johnny reached up and brushed his hand on the underside of the horse’s belly. With curiosity, the mare swung her head back and down to check out the child. She shoved her head into his shoulder and pushed the boy down into the dusty road. Johnny giggled.

Murdoch hurriedly picked Johnny up and deposited him beside his mother on the seat. Waving to Sam, Murdoch clucked to get the horse started on their journey home. Silent tears dripped down Maria’s face. Her husband quietly reached out and placed his giant hand across her small clenched fist, slowly petting her hand.

Over the next months he had many opportunities to sooth Maria’s irritation over her unexpected pregnancy. As her belly expanded, so did his excitement, and so did her temper. Her hormones loosen her tongue and Murdoch was a favorite target. Some days he had to escape and his growing ranch’s need for his attention was a ready excuse. Lately, Maria had acquired a need to clean the hacienda from top to bottom and she had enlisted the ranch ladies to aid her. Murdoch rode out that morning intent on staying out of her way.

There was comfort under the sweeping limbs of the old tree, shading him from the fierce sun. A dry breeze played with the leaves, ruffling them and his hair. It cooled the skin where sweat dribbled down his forehead on its journey to his chin. Reaching up with the hand that held his felt hat, he wiped the moisture with the sleeve of his work shirt. Placing the hat back on his head, he pulled it down to shield his eyes. As he gazed out over the valley to the distant mountains, his thoughts turned to his sons. His big gelding stepped sideways causing him to shift in the saddle and settle deeper. The sudden creaking of the leather was in discordance to the cicadas and the lowing of the cows.

He loosened the reins to allow the horse to reach for the succulent grass below them, and his attention was caught by the cloud of dust coming his way. One of his vaqueros was racing up the hill with little regard to safety. The man waved his sombrero as he shouted, “Patron, Patron! Come quickly!”

“Slow down, Jose. You’re going too fast!” Murdoch growled, with some irritation.

He ignored Murdoch’s order and when he came to a stop, Jose allowed the words to spill from his mouth. “The Senora. She fell down the stairs and does not move. We took her to your bedroom. The women sent for the doctor and I come for you.”

Murdoch’s face blanched and he whispered, “Maria.” His next thought was of his son. “Johnny? Who has Johnny?”

“Your hijo, Juanito, is being watched by my woman. Por favor, Patron, hurry.”

Ever practical, even in times of stress, Murdoch saw to it that Jose would stay, finish rounding up the strays, and drive them to the east pasture with the other crew. Then he turned his attention and his horse to the emergency at his hacienda.

He cut the usual two hour long trip from the north pasture into half and dismounted on a run. Tossing the reins to one of the men milling around, he ran through the heavy wooden front door and into the darken, cooler region of the great room. He turned and took the steps up the stairway two at a time sounding like a herd of elephants shaking the staircase and was halted on the landing by the doctor hurrying down the hallway.

“Murdoch, let’s go back down and get you a drink.”

“But, Sam, I have to see Maria.” Murdoch replied as he tried to sidestep the small man in his pathway.

“Not now, friend. You’re going to need that drink.” He grabbed onto Murdoch’s shoulder and attempted to turn around the giant of a man. “She’s miscarrying the baby. I have the ladies with her and they’ll watch her while I talk to you.”

Murdoch’s California tan left him as his skin blanched white. He swayed and grabbed onto the banister as he turned and lowered his bulk down to sit on the step. Sam shifted his hold to the railing as he sat down beside the rancher. “I’m sorry, Murdoch.”

Glancing over to the doctor, Murdoch softly whispered, “Is there any hope the baby will live?”

“Maybe. I won’t know for sure until she delivers and that can take several hours. Come on, friend. You’ve got a wait before you and I need to get back to your wife. Let’s go into the great room. I’ll send one of the ladies down to you with a change of clothes, so you can clean up.” He turned toward the door leading to the kitchen and called out to the cook. “Christina, can you bring Murdoch some of your soup and roast beef? Just take the tray to his desk, and … bring two empty glasses.”

A dark head appeared in the doorway and glance up at the stair landing. “Si, un momento.” She disappeared back into her domain and they heard the noises of a tray being loaded.

With coaxing, Sam moved Murdoch from the stairs to his desk with the magnificent view of the Lancer spread. Sitting down was easy for the rancher, as his legs felt like rubber. Eating would be harder. Under the watchful eye of the doctor, he took a sip of the soup and a bite of the beef. This was followed by a hefty dose of whiskey. As long as the man was nearby, Murdoch worked on his meal, but the moment Sam went back upstairs, the rancher shoved the tray aside and started his pacing. His stomach was churning and even the thought of more whiskey was upsetting to his disposition. He was losing a son … or a daughter.

For hours, he kept up his walking, only stopping to go out to the horse trough to wash up when his clean clothes were placed in his hands. To keep from wearing a rut in his flooring, he finally sat down, draped his hands across his knees, and tried to relax. It was a failed attempt and he jumped up and headed to the stairs when he heard his wife’s screams, followed by the faint, weak cries of a baby. He was met at his bedroom door by two vaquero wives who planted their bodies between him and the entrance. The door was cracked and he could hear Sam talking soothingly to Maria, but she was agitated and her steadily rising voice rapidly degenerated into a steady undulating scream of terror and anger. The door was slammed shut by another female who had notice the rancher trying to peer into the room over the heads of the amazon women.

His anger snapped and he glared at the guardian females. “What’s going on in there? What’s wrong with my wife?”

The smallest of the two was the spokesman. “Patron, the doctor…the doctor needs you to stay here. He will come out to talk to you, but first he must take care of your wife. Por favor, Patron. Do as he ask.”

Murdoch knew his place was to wait until he was summoned into the bedroom, but it didn’t make it easy and he didn’t like it. With a tightening of his lips, he swerved away and took to walking the long hallway leading back to the stairs. The vibration of his pacing could be felt through the flooring. The screams of his wife died down and slid into a soft whimper. Then there was silence in the bedroom and Sam opened and closed the door quietly. Sweat was pouring down the face of the doctor and he reached into his pocket for his handkerchief. Wiping his face, he reached out and grabbed Murdoch’s bicep. “Come on friend. Let’s go talk.”

He guided Murdoch into the guest room and into a chair by the window.  As the evening breeze picked up the curtains and softly bathed the rancher’s face, Sam took a seat on the bed facing Murdoch and said the words he dreaded to say.

“The baby died shortly after birth, Murdoch, but Maria will be okay.  She’s had a rough time of it and a major shock, so I’ve given her something to keep her sleeping for the night. From how you look, you need some sleep, too.”

Murdoch glanced up from viewing his clenched fists in his lap. His face was pale and he was sweating. “What was it, Sam, boy or girl?” He waited for the answer and his concern climbed when he got no answer. “Sam?”

It was Sam’s turn to look up at Murdoch after the man had jumped up from his chair to tower over him. With sadness in his eyes, he responded. “You had a son, Murdoch. The baby was a boy and deformed. I’m just so sorry.”

“I want to see my child.” Murdoch said, with firm conviction in his voice as he walked to the door.

“Noooo.” Sam jumped up and tried to stop the giant rancher, but Murdoch shook him off like a dog shedding water. Opening the door, he spied a woman hurrying down the hallway with a blanket wrapped bundle in her arms. Stepping out to bar her way, he gave her an icy glare.

“I’ll take my child now.”

She was afraid of him, but she knew what she needed to do. The Senora had screamed out to take the monster away and would not want to see the child again and it must be buried. She tried to duck around his outstretched arms, but he wrapped them around her and gently pried the bundle away from her.

Murdoch was aware of what was happening, he had heard of this custom of burying the deformed and never speaking of the children again. Regardless, he needed to see his child.

He quietly carried the baby back into the guest room and lowered his body back into the chair by the window. His attention was so intense on the child in his arms, he wasn’t aware of his audience at the door.  Slowly and with great gentleness, he unwrapped the tiny boy and gazed upon it’s face.

His son favored Johnny with its dark thatch of fine black hair and facial features, but that was where the similarities stopped. The child had a clef palate, shorten arms, web hands and feet and probably some internal deformities from the look of his misshapen chest. He gently stroked the baby’s cheek as his gaze traveled outside of the windows to the distant hills and mountains. He told it of its name, Michael, and of the Lancer ranch and the heritage he would have had with his two older brothers. Finally, his voice grew quiet and he stared out the window as his hand absently twined his son’s hair between two fingers.

Figuring that this had gone long enough, Sam, with the woman distracting Murdoch, came up and injected the rancher with his syringe. As the numbing medicine took affect, the rancher slump over the misshapen child and Sam intoned, “It’s time to sleep, my friend.” The woman retrieved the baby, wrapped it in the blanket and left. She summoned her husband to aid Sam in putting Murdoch to bed in the guest room.

.

Maria recovered quickly from the childbirth and Murdoch took solace working his land, but there was a stillness, a quietness between them. Johnny was a blessing to him, and he took every opportunity to interact with his son. He dreamed every night for months, but this night it was a different dream.

There was comfort under the sweeping limbs of the old tree, shading him from the fierce sun. A dry breeze played with the leaves, ruffling them and his hair. It cooled the skin where sweat dribbled down his forehead on its journey to his chin. Reaching up with the hand that held his felt hat, he wiped the moisture with the sleeve of his work shirt. Placing the hat back on his head, he pulled it down to shield his eyes. As he gazed out over the valley to the distant mountains, his thoughts turned to his sons. His big gelding stepped sideways causing him to shift in the saddle and settle deeper. The sudden creaking of the leather was in discordance to the cicadas and the lowing of the cows.

He loosened the reins to allow the horse to reach for the succulent grass below them, and his attention was caught by the cloud of dust coming his way. One of his vaqueros was racing up the hill with little regard to safety. The man waved his sombrero as he shouted, “Patron, Patron! Come quickly!”

“What is it, Jose?”

“The Senora has left with another man and she has taken your hijo.”

“Noooooo.” He screamed out and bolted up in his bed. It was still dark, the dark of just before dawn. He was sweating and his heart was racing. Reaching over for Maria, he felt the coldness of sheets long devoid of her body heat. He fumbled around on the night stand for a match to light the lamp and finally succeeded in getting it lit. He looked around the emptiness and his eyes fell on the open armoire and the emptiness of clothes on her side. He scanned around the room to discover her personal items were gone, the brush, comb, her mirror were all missing, as well as the carpetbag.

Pulling the covers off his body, he threw his legs over the edge and stood up. Rapidly, he raced down the hallway to his son’s bedroom. It was dark in the room and he quickly lit the lamp, but just as it was before, it was again. The bed was empty and Johnny was gone.

He absently picked up a little wooden horse haphazardly dropped on the floor and sat down on his son’s bed. His mind was numb and all he could think of was three. First Scott, then Michael, now Johnny. Three lost sons. As he sat and watched the sun rise out of the window declaring another day, he made a vow. He couldn’t find Michael, the Lord had him, but he knew where Scott was and he would find Johnny. He would bring his lost sons home, no matter how long it’d take. Many, many, many years later, he made good on that vow, for Murdoch was a man of his word.



~end~

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