Memories of Time by Laraine

Word count 16,765

just wanted you to know this story revolves around a clock.  I got the idea from a distant childhood memory of mine, and although my memory wasn’t a clock, I thought it would make a “timely” backdrop for this story.  So if you want a story with a lot of action and “cowboy” stuff, don’t read this.  But if you want to read how Johnny continues to deal with his new family, and some thoughts on how Maria may have met the gambler, then this is for you.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy. . . . .and don’t worry about the “time.”      LVE

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PART ONE—FAMILY LIFE

Scott and Johnny Lancer were making their way back to the hacienda they shared with their father, Murdoch, and “sister,” Teresa, after eight days of being out on the range.  They were tired, sore, needed a bath and a shave, but most of all, they were hungry.  For one of Teresa’s delicious meals.  And desserts.

 “You know, little brother,” Scott commented, “I sure hope Teresa doesn’t think the only reason we like her is because of her cooking.  I don’t want her to think we take her for granted.”

 “Oh, Boston,” Johnny replied with his drawl, “I think she knows we like her because she’s… well because she’s Teresa.   Besides, she brings some. . .what does Murdoch call it?”

 “Feminine charm,” Scott replied.

 “Yeah, she brings feminine charm, whatever that means, to the ranch. That’s good, right?” Johnny questioned.

 “Yes, brother, it’s good.  Could you imagine the ranch if there wasn’t a female around, to keep it, you know, tidy and pretty?”

 Johnny thought about it, and frowned, just a little.  “Well, I hope she doesn’t go crazy with her redecorating, all the new stuff Murdoch let her buy.  I liked the house they way it was.”

 Scott agreed. “I did too, but Teresa felt it was time for a change, for new furniture and things, and I guess Murdoch thought so, too.  He told me he hadn’t thought a lot about the inside of the house this past  year, with us coming home and all, but they both feel new furnishings will be a fresh start for all of us.”

 Johnny sighed.  “I wish Murdoch would buy a new dining room table.  It still kind of bothers me to know that every time you sit down to a meal, that’s where he dug Pardee’s  slug out of me.”

 Scott was a little surprised.  “Really, I didn’t realize it bothered you, little brother.”

 “Yeah, well, it wasn’t you who was sprawled across the table in all his glory,” a rather embarrassed Johnny growled.

 Scott reassured his brother.  “I don’t even think about it, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.  Must be the fancy tablecloths Teresa keeps on it all the time.”

 Johnny frowned.  “Yeah, to hide the blood stains.”

 “Oh, Johnny. . .. .”

 Both brothers laughed as they dismounted their horses and walked into the house.  They were taken slightly aback when their eyes caught sight of the new furnishings adorning the great room that were delivered in their absence.  Two large couches, a smaller couch or loveseat, and two large, overstuffed chairs replaced the previous furnishings.  Various expensive knick-knacks adorned the new end tables and coffee table.  And  two golden candelabras on either side of the mantle complimented the picture of Scott and Johnny that Teresa had placed in a beautiful new gold and silver frame.  The picture had been given to Murdoch from his sons on their sixth-month anniversary of coming to Lancer, and it was Scott’s idea, much to Johnny’s chagrin, to have a professional picture taken of them for their father.  Teresa felt the special frame would be perfect with the golden candelabras, and for the other item she had planned for placement on the mantle—if Murdoch would give his blessing.

“Hey, where’s my couch?”  Johnny bellowed. 

“It’s out in the storage room,” Teresa replied.  “And what do you mean, your couch?” 

“Well,” Johnny explained, “that couch and me go back a long way. . .it was kind of molded to me, ya know?”  Johnny and “the couch” became good friends during his recovery from being shot by Pardee.  When he was finally allowed up and around, he took from sleeping in his bed to sleeping on the couch, and in the eight months he and Scott had been at Lancer, Johnny matter of factly let it be known that the couch was “his” property.

“Well, guys, how do you like the room?”  Teresa asked, expectantly.  

“I love it!” Scott exclaimed.  Actually, it was much more comfortable looking with the old furniture, he sighed to himself.  “Can I sit down?”  Scott asked. 

“No!  Not until you both have cleaned up.  And, no laying, sleeping, or eating on this furniture.  And no propping of feet up on the table, do you hear me, Johnny Madrid?”  Teresa always used the name Madrid when she wanted to get a point across to Johnny.

 “Yeah, I guess so.  But it’s sure gonna be uncomfortable sleeping on that hard floor,” Johnny whined.

 “Well, Johnny, if you’re that tired, then just go to bed,” Teresa scolded.  Then Teresa berated the two youngest Lancers for their total lack of knowledge in the fine art of interior decorating.  “And you, Scott Lancer, I thought would be much more appreciative of these fine furnishings, especially since they’re from Carter’s in San Francisco.”

With a look from their father, who had been chuckling throughout the entire conversation, the two Lancer sons figured they better stop teasing their “sister” and let her know they really did like her efforts and she really did have exquisite taste. 

After the teasing had stopped, both young men sat on the floor, not daring do dirty the new furniture.  “I think it’s great that Carter’s has moved this far west.  I knew they had stores in Chicago, but I didn’t know they were in St. Louis until I stopped there on my way here, and I just found out they were in San Francisco when we went there for our trip a few months ago,” Scott remarked. 

“Is Carter’s one of them ‘fancy’ stores?”  Johnny questioned. 

“Well, brother, it had it’s roots in Boston and New York.  My grandfather’s entire home is furnished with things from Carter’s.  It’s a very  nice store.” 

It’s one of them fancy stores, Johnny smirked to himself.

 .

Later that evening, the two youngest Lancer men, clean, shaven, and looking very handsome, joined Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly for dinner.  Jelly had become an integral part of the Lancer family.   Jelly loved Teresa for her sweetness, Murdoch for his gruffness, Scott for his patience and common sense,  and Johnny, well, he loved Johnny for special reasons known only to the two of them.  Johnny had often confided his innermost secrets to Jelly, secrets he felt he couldn’t share with Scott, even though they were close, and definitely couldn’t share with  Murdoch.  Ever.  But Jelly, being the neutral third party, listened to Johnny bear his heart out, and, although Jelly wasn’t an educated man, the old timer was able to give the young man his wisdom and experience on life, and acted as a sound board when Johnny felt the need to vent. 

 When dinner was over, Jelly approached Teresa.  “Did ya ask him yit?”

  “No, not yet Jelly,” Teresa responded.  “I would kind of like to wait until he’s alone, when Scott and Johnny have gone to bed.  They should turn in early tonight, they’re pretty tired after being gone all week.  When Murdoch’s in a mellow mood, I’ll ask him then.”

  “Well, jist lit me know if ya need my help ‘morrow,” Jelly told the young woman.

  “I will, Jelly, and thanks,” Teresa responded, as the old-timer left for his quarters on the ranch.

 Teresa was right.  After being gone for eight days, Scott and Johnny were tired, and decided to turn in early.  “Might as well go up to bed, seein’ there’s no place down here for a man to sleep anymore,” Johnny whined, still put off by his missing couch.

  Murdoch chided his youngest son.  “John, quit acting like a two-year old.   If that couch is that important to you, you can take up residence in the storage shed with it.”  Scott laughed, Teresa giggled, and Johnny, tired and annoyed at his father, stomped up to his room  to bed. 

 “Did he whine this much on the range?”  Murdoch asked his oldest son.

 “Oh no, Murdoch.  Johnny acted very mature while we were gone.  Acted like a ten-year old,” Scott teased.  “Well, I’m turnin’ in myself.  And Teresa, we really like what you’ve done with the place.  We love the furniture and everything.  And don’t worry.  We’ll make sure we don’t have any dust on us when we sit down on it.”  With a wink and a brotherly kiss for the pretty brown-eyed girl, Scott turned in.

 Murdoch chuckled to himself.  He loved the banter among his family; the teasing of his youngest son by his oldest, the teasing by both sons of the young lady he considered his daughter, and the way she scolded both boys and knew they would never scold back.  He even loved the whining of that youngest son of his.  It still amazed Murdoch how Johnny  could, at times, act like a two-year old; then when the need arose,  be a mature, level-headed adult beyond his years;  then, could act like a 16-year old with his head in the clouds.  

 His sons had been with him for eight months now, and the past six months had been the greatest of Murdoch Lancer’s life.  The first two months his sons were home had been difficult for everyone.   Protecting Lancer from Pardee; Johnny being shot and his long recovery; the signing of the partnership papers; and everyone adjusting to everyone else.  The vacation to San Francisco that Murdoch had treated his sons to had helped immensely; it took them away from the pressures of the ranch and allowed them to get to know one another, and to have some fun.  He remembered the night the three of them took in one of San Francisco’s popular saloons, and being with his two sons, Murdoch himself felt like a 20-year old.  The next morning, though, his aching head reminded him that he was, after all, almost 50, and he needed to act like the father of Scott and Johnny, not like their  brother.  But it had been fun.

 And there were still difficult times.  Murdoch and Johnny had gotten into it several times and Johnny had taken off, but had always returned.  But once Johnny realized that Murdoch would never stop him from leaving after an argument, Johnny curtailed his habit and learned to ride out the storm with his father.  Chalk one up for fatherhood, Murdoch chuckled.  And, Johnny had admitted to his father that although sometimes he liked being alone, he missed his new family and was glad when he returned.  He had even admitted to missing his Old Man.

And Murdoch thought a lot about Scott, too.  About how much he would miss his older, sensible son if he ever decided to return to Boston.  He knew that if Scott desired, he had a life in Boston, one of wealth and comfort.  And he knew that when the time came when Scott’s grandfather died, Scott would have some decisions to make.  But Murdoch’s oldest son had told him he loved it at Lancer and his new way of life was a challenge that he enjoyed.  And Murdoch knew that Scott was profusely protective of his younger brother.  “Someone has to watch out for that boy,” Scott had said to Murdoch many times the last eight months.  And Murdoch realized the bond between his mature oldest son and his free-spirited youngest son was strong, and strengthening every day.

As Murdoch pondered his thoughts about his sons, he sensed he was being watched—watched by a pair of big, brown eyes from the pretty dark-haired girl he loved so much.  His Teresa.  Not really his, but the love he felt for the girl was real and strong.  Murdoch had loved her father like a brother, and his death still tore him apart.  But the way she looked after him and the ranch, and the way she automatically accepted his sons, was still a marvel to the rancher.  

And he would do everything in his power to make sure Teresa was happy and well taken care of for the rest of her life.

 .

PART TWO—THE REQUEST

“Did you want something, dear?” Murdoch questioned Teresa. 

“Why do you say that, Murdoch?”  Teresa asked, as she pretended to crochet.

 “Well, you’ve been doing that same stitch for the last ten minutes,” Murdoch laughed.

 “Oh, I didn’t even think you  knew I was here, you were so lost in your thoughts.  They were good thoughts, I hope?” 

“Yes, Teresa, very good thoughts.  Now, what is it you want?”

Teresa knew that Murdoch could read her like a book.  And she was never afraid to ask Murdoch Lancer for anything.  But this request, as small as it was, had her a bit uneasy.

“I want to ask you something, a favor really.  I asked you once before, a long time ago, and you got mad at me.  So, please don’t scold me when I ask you again.”

Murdoch was truly puzzled.  He couldn’t remember a time when he ever raised his voice to Teresa, except maybe the time she got a little too close to her pony and almost got trampled.  But then, Paul O’Brien had raised his voice to his daughter as well, and Murdoch backed off. 

“What is it, dear?”

“Well,”  Teresa began, “ you know I’ve put a lot of work and a lot of thought into the new furnishings for the house.  But there is one thing that’s missing, that I want to place on the mantle.  Something that is already a part of Lancer, that was there a long time ago but has been stored away for a very long time.”

Murdoch looked at Teresa and had a feeling he knew what she wanted.  “It’s the clock, isn’t it?” he asked, a bit saddened.

 “Yes, Murdoch.  It’s so pretty, and it doesn’t deserve to be stored away with all the other stuff, including Johnny’s couch.   The last time I asked you if we could bring it out of storage, I was about 14, and you got really upset with me.  But Daddy explained that it had belonged to Scott’s mother, and that after she died and Scott was gone, you had it stored away.”

“Yes, dear, that’s true.  But I really don’t remember being angry at you, and if I was, it was because I was saddened and I didn’t want to be reminded of my loss.”  After a pause, Murdoch added, “I don’t even know if it still works.  It just stopped one day, and that’s when I had it put away.”

Teresa’s eyes brightened.  “Yes, it works Murdoch.  Jelly spent the last several days cleaning and oiling it, and it works like a charm.  Even the chimes sound beautiful.  And except for a few scratches, it shines like new.”

Murdoch laughed.  “I somehow have a feeling you and Jelly have been conspiring against me for a few weeks on this, am I right?”

Teresa giggled.  “Yes, you are.  I rediscovered the clock when I was looking for something else, actually, and since I had the new furnishings on order, I asked Jelly if he could fix it.. . . .and he did.  So, what about it?  Can I have Jelly bring the clock in tomorrow?  It would be a nice surprise for Scott.”

Murdoch thought about it for a few seconds.  “Well, that clock did bring Catherine and I a lot of happiness in our last months together.  And you’re right. . . . .I think Scott, as well as all of us, would enjoy it.  Sure, have Jelly bring it into the house tomorrow.”

“Oh, thank you Murdoch!”  Teresa gushed as she gave her guardian a great, big hug.  “It will compliment that nice picture of  Scott and Johnny on the mantle.  It’s such a good picture.”

“Yes,” Murdoch agreed.  “They do look good in it, don’t they?”  Teresa didn’t need to answer; she just noticed the pride in Murdoch’s eyes as he gazed at  the picture of his two boys.

PART THREE—SAGA OF THE CLOCK

As Teresa bounded happily up to bed, Murdoch let his thoughts wander to the story behind the clock.  When his first wife, Catherine, had announced she was going to have a baby, their first child, Murdoch was elated.  He wanted to buy something very special for her.  He knew she was used to the very best of everything; clothes, jewelry, and accessories, and that he couldn’t afford such luxuries on her, at least not at this time in their lives.  But the miniature grandfather clock she had admired back in Boston, and was refused her as a wedding present by her father, would be given to her by her husband for  this very special occasion. 

Murdoch obtained a loan from the local bank and ordered the clock from Carter’s, the finest furniture store in Boston.  He received confirmation that the order had been received and the clock would be on its way.  He didn’t tell Catherine about it.  Besides the fact it was to be a surprise, she would have scolded him for spending money they didn’t have for something that wasn’t necessary.

The clock finally arrived when Catherine was in her seventh month.  Murdoch was worried it wouldn’t arrive in time; he didn’t want his child to be three years old when the clock finally came.

Catherine’s reaction to her husband’s surprise was one that Murdoch never forgot.  The excited squeal, the laughter, and the tears of happiness from the pretty blonde mother-to-be were priceless.  And so were the next few weeks.

Murdoch would sit in his chair and admire his pretty wife; she would be sitting in the rocking chair Murdoch had made for her,  knitting something for the baby, the baby that moved so noticeably in its mother’s tummy.  It was so quiet and peaceful, except for the tick, tick, ticking of the beautiful new clock that adorned the mantle of the great room.  Murdoch noted the silence would soon be broken by the cries of a baby; Scott, if a boy, and Emily, if a girl.  But it would be cries that both parents were eagerly anticipating.  Murdoch had no way of knowing that this happiness would soon end and the silence that was so comforting now would be painful to his ears.

Three months later, Murdoch sat in his chair in the great room, with no wife, no child, and seemingly, no life.  His Catherine had died during childbirth, and the baby, his son Scott, was thousands of miles away with his wife’s father in Boston.   The only comfort Murdoch had was the tick, tick ticking of the clock.  As long as it told time, and as long as it ticked, Murdoch felt there was hope. . .in getting his son back.  And he would.  Soon.  But right now, all Murdoch Lancer wanted to do was grieve for what he should have, but for reasons only known to God, he didn’t have.. . .his wife and son, his family.

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of his youngest son, Johnny, as the younger man headed for the direction of the kitchen.

“Sorry Murdoch, I didn’t know you were still up, or I would’ve taken the back stairs.  Are you OK?”

Murdoch wistfully replied, “Yes, son.  Just reminiscing.  What are you doing up?”

Johnny grinned.  “I’m hungry, Teresa fixed a good dinner, but it just wasn’t enough.  I know we don’t have any cake, but I think there’s some cookies. . .”

“I swear Johnny,” his father laughed, “you were born hungry.”

“Probably,” Johnny chuckled.  “But, it’s good  know that if I’m hungry, there’s something for me to eat.  There were so many times when I was a kid I’d wake up hungry, go to sleep hungry, and still be hungry the next morning.  I guess that’s why I like to eat, it’s. . .kind of a luxury for me, I guess. . . .”  His voice trailed off.

“I’m sorry son, I meant no …..”

“It’s OK Murdoch, really.  Mama tried the best she could, but things never seemed to go right for her, and I don’t know why.  Oh, well, . . . .see you in the morning, Murdoch,” Johnny said, as he headed toward the kitchen, seemingly unmoved by his last thought.

But Murdoch was moved.  Which brought his mind to the second chapter  of the history of the clock.

When Murdoch Lancer brought his beautiful second wife, Maria, to Lancer, he had no idea how she would react.  The house was still filled with the furnishings from his late Boston-bred wife;  crystal, china, knick-knacks, and the clock.  His Mexican bride was from a totally different background, and her reaction to the home and its decor was one of awe.  He watched her as she carefully moved around the room, almost afraid of knocking something over.  He noticed as she would carefully pick up the knick knacks and examine them, almost  fondle them, as if to memorize their appearance and feel in her mind.  Murdoch had no way of knowing that in some 20-plus years,  their son would walk into this room for the first time since he was two, and do the exact same thing. . .a habit picked up from his mother.

 .

Murdoch told Maria that she could decorate the room in any way she desired; with her being Mexican, he felt she may want to add a Mexican flair to what was now her home.  But she had misgivings.  What about all the pretty things that belonged to his other wife?  He had no problems with storing them away, he had told her, and she was free to keep out whatever she wanted.  The only thing he asked was that the clock remain. It was the most important part of their home.

Maria happily agreed; she agreed the clock was very lovely and had no problem with it remaining on the mantle.  She did have most of the other furnishings put in storage though, but not out of meanness or disrespect to the first Mrs. Lancer; she was just afraid she would accidentally break one of the pieces that she knew meant so much to her husband.

The home had definitely taken on a new appearance and feeling with the arrival of the second Mrs. Lancer.   The home seemed more relaxed and welcoming with its Mexican rugs, artwork, and pottery; and at times, the clock seemed out of place with its majestic appearance and sound.  But Murdoch welcomed the change; the home, and his heart, were alive again in a way he thought was not possible only a year before.  And his new lease on life was further brightened when Maria told him he was going to be a daddy.  Murdoch’s impending fatherhood came a little sooner than was expected; but the child to be born of Murdoch and Maria Lancer was definitely wanted—and loved.

The arrival of John Ian Lancer was a joyous occasion at the Lancer hacienda.  Besides the fact the ranch was beginning to prosper, the arrival of his son, actually his second son- Murdoch couldn’t forget the first-provided both parents with a feeling of love and awe neither knew was possible.

From the time he was a few days old, Maria would sit in the rocking chair, the same chair Murdoch had made for  Catherine, and rock her baby.  Murdoch would be working on the range, and the house was so quiet, except for the tick, tick, ticking of the clock.  Maria began to understand why Murdoch liked the clock so much; besides being beautiful, it was very comforting, and the clock ticking and Maria’s gentle rocking made her baby very relaxed and content in her arms.  That clock would be a part of her son, Maria thought.  He would grow up aware of the clock’s presence in the house.  The clock’s sound and beauty would be an integral part of his life; much as the gentle heartbeat of Maria as she held baby Johnny close to her breasts.

When this little baby became a toddler, he was a handful.  He was early at everything; Johnny Lancer waked at nine months old.  He never crawled, he went from rolling straight to walking.  And his father could tell he was a smart one; at a year and a half he had already mastered some words,  and the fact that his mother spoke Spanish to him as well as English had this little boy already attempting a second language.

One of the things that intrigued Murdoch and Maria was their little son’s fascination with the clock.  He would sit in front of the mantle and look up at it,  and seemingly carry on a conversation with it.  He would giggle, point, and try to tell his parents whatever it was he found so darn interesting about it.  Of course, Murdoch and Maria were puzzled; was it the golden pendulum that swung back and forth?  Or the ticking sound?  Or the Roman numerals?  They just couldn’t figure it out.  “Some day, when he is to be married, we will ask

him about the clock.  And he will probably say he has two silly parents,” Maria had said to Murdoch. 

While Murdoch was taken in with their son, he hadn’t noticed the restlessness in his young wife.  He was gone much of the day; and when he came home, Murdoch would be so tired all he would do is eat dinner and play with Johnny.  By the time the little boy was in bed, so was Murdoch, only to be up at the crack of dawn for another day of ranching.  And whenever he had free time, it would be spent with their child.   Murdoch would take his little Johnny riding on the range, and they would talk about future plans for the ranch.  They would take trips into town, where the blue-eyed youngster became the darling of Morro Coyo.  The little boy’s mother, however, wasn’t so welcome; many felt betrayed that such a fine man as Murdoch Lancer would have the audacity to marry a Mexican woman—to marry beneath him.  But their child, his child, to many, was not held accountable for who his mother was; at least, not at that time in young Johnny’s life.

Maria knew of the resentment towards her and of Murdoch’s seeming obsessiveness with their son.  While he truly loved his wife, his thoughts were on building the ranch into an empire, of having their son grow with the ranch, and always, to regain custody of his oldest son, his Scott, and have his two sons together, the way it should be.

As Murdoch reflected, he noticed he had been there for hours, reliving a past he really would just as soon forget.  And he noted the time.  3:10 a.m.  It was only the time.  But the time on his pocket watch  took Murdoch’s memory back to the night—the night that Maria left with his son, his life.  And the time she had gone—3:10 a.m.

Murdoch and his young wife had not spoken in days.  The unspeakable had happened days before at a line shack, and the sight of Maria had sickened Murdoch so much he wanted nothing to do with her.  Her tears and pleadings of the last days had turned on deaf ears.  Stubbornness, he realized now.  He had planned on “discussing” the matter with her, but it would be in his time.  But Maria’s patience had left.  The other man wanted her.  He made her feel like Murdoch had in their first year together:  like she was the sun, the moon, the earth, the whole world.  And he would accept her son as well.  

Before turning in that night, Murdoch went into Johnny’s room and gazed for hours at the sleeping little boy.  God, he loved him.  He memorized every detail of his little body; his face, hands and fingers, feet and toes, and everything in between.  He had no way of realizing that this memory would have to last him for 20 years, and that the next time he saw this little child, he would be a grown man.

He went to bed at 1:30 a.m., he remembers, and he thought she was asleep.  Murdoch Lancer had turned his back to his wife; he didn’t realize she was awake.  He was slightly startled by the knowledge his wife was up and stirring; but in that time between wakefulness and sleep, one usually pays no mind to such stirring.  He remembers wondering if he should ask her if she was all right, or if Johnny was all right, but he didn’t.  Instead, his two sleepy eyes looked at the clock beside  his bed—3:10 a.m.—and he brought the covers up around him content that he had a few more hours to sleep.

 .

Murdoch awoke four hours later, realizing he had overslept by at least an hour.  He dawdled while washing up and dressing.  He went to his son’s room and when Johnny wasn’t there, he figured Maria was already up with the child.   His shock over what he had witnessed at the line shack was subsiding, although he was still hurt and angry.  But, Murdoch decided this would be the day he would confront Maria with what happened, and hoped like hell he could find his way to forgive her, and to start anew.

But then, he spied the paper lying in the middle of his child’s bed.  Curiously, he picked it up and read it, and as he did so, the ground went from beneath him.  He broke into a cold sweat; his whole body shook, and a cry came from the large man that brought the household staff running to his child’s room.  She had left, with another man. . . . .and had taken the most precious thing in the world with her. . .his precious Johnny.

Days of searching with friends turned up dead ends.  They had been no more than four or five hours ahead; how could they just drop off the face of the earth?  With many leads to follow, Murdoch had left his friend, Paul O’Brien, in charge of the ranch, and had made a 5-month search for his family, with no result.  When he returned, a dejected Murdoch Lancer sat in his chair in the great room at his ranch, and cried.  He noted the silence of the room; there was no tick, tick, ticking of the beautiful clock.  When he looked at the time it had stopped,  he felt like death had hit him—the time the clock ceased to tick  was. . . . . 3:10.

At that time, when the clock ceased to work, Murdoch Lancer realized he would never get his Scott back.  And with a heavy heart, realized it would be a miracle if he ever saw Maria, or his Johnny, again.

 .

Murdoch shook his head and angrily stood up and walked around the room, bringing himself out of the trance he had been in most of the night.  How dare he, he said to himself.  He vowed after his boys returned he would put the past behind him.  After all, they were home now, wasn’t that all that mattered?  And he had told them to forget the past, too.  He told Scott to quit trying to figure out why he hadn’t written to him, or try to contact him.  And he told Johnny to quit trying to figure out why his mother left, and not to dwell on his troubles as a child.  And, specifically, to forget his past as a gunfighter.  But how could he expect his sons to forget when he couldn’t. 

Then he wondered if a silly clock, an inanimate object with no feeling or soul, could be this upsetting to him, whether it was wise to bring this object into his life again.  But he decided he could not hurt his Teresa; she had wanted the clock to be a part of the home for so long.  And she was right; it was Scott’s birthright and he should be able enjoy it as his mother had.

Murdoch had decided he would tell the story of the clock to Scott, Johnny, and Teresa tomorrow after dinner, but only Scott’s story.  The other story belonged to Murdoch’s second family, Maria and Johnny, but somehow, he didn’t feel that part should intrude on Scott’s story.  So, he made the decision then and there that the second part of the history of the clock would remain untold, to be locked inside of Murdoch’s heart—forever.

PART FOUR—THE DREAM

 Mama, where is my friend?  Where is my lady friend?

Juanito, who do you mean?  What lady friend do you mean?

The one that lives in the giant man’s house.  The golden lady.

Little One, I’m sorry, I do not know what you mean. . . .Don’t cry, let us try to find her. . . . . .

 .

Johnny Lancer awoke from his dream, hugging his pillow, tears rolling down his handsome, sleepy face.  It was that dream again; the one he had experienced so many times before.  Not a bad dream, more puzzling then anything.  And it would always end with his mother Maria hugging a young Johnny and wiping away his tears, and Johnny would awaken feeling very close to his mother, like she had actually visited him in his sleep.

He noticed it was almost dawn, almost the start of a new day at Lancer.   He spied one of the cookies he had taken to his room earlier, when he remembered his father’s presence downstairs in the great room in the middle of the night had spoiled his mission to try to remember something of the time, many years ago, when he lived at Lancer. 

After Scott and Johnny’s return to Lancer, the subsequent hectic weeks that followed “the battle,” as it had become known, and the signing of the partnership papers, the two Lancer sons began the task of learning ranch life and becoming a Lancer. 

It was difficult for both sons, but in different ways.  Scott had found it a challenge.  He excelled in learning the books and reviewing contracts, and his riding skills proved beneficial on the range.  Scott’s military training at taking and giving orders were invaluable, and his cool head and patience were a compliment to his father’s stubbornness and bullheadedness.

But Scott had problems with everyday ranch life.  He had never been around cattle, had never lassoed a horse, and he found it difficult conversing with many of the Mexican hands, since his knowledge of Spanish was limited to “Si” and “Gracias.”  Because of the language barrier, many of the hands found him to be stand-offish and were reluctant to take heed of his directions.  Plus the culture shock of the fine Boston theatre to the hoe-downs of  Morro Coyo  took some getting used to.

Johnny’s situation was just the opposite.  The Mexican hands loved him and protected him; they felt like he was one of them, and many an off-color story, relayed in excellent Spanish by Johnny and the hands, were shared.  He could ride, lasso, handle the cattle—although, as he told his father, “cattle are only good for eatin.” But most importantly, Johnny had proven himself with the bullet in the back he had taken to protect the empire known as Lancer.  Proven himself to everyone except his father, or so he thought.

While Scott worked on improving his relationship with the hands and learning some Spanish, he gained the approval and respect of Murdoch Lancer.   Johnny, however, always  felt like he let the Old Man down.  But the feeling wasn’t entirely Johnny’s fault.   The bond that Murdoch had formed with Johnny from his birth until he was taken away by Maria was still strong, on Murdoch’s part anyway.  And Murdoch still felt, and maybe even wanted,  Johnny to be the adorable two-year old he remembered and loved so much.   

During those first few weeks of the newly-forming relationship between father and youngest son, during the times they would be alone together, just chatting, Murdoch would often ask Johnny if he had any kind of memory of the ranch , or of him, from when he was a baby.  Johnny had always said he didn’t, and one day, annoyed at the Old Man’s persistence that he remember something, anything, Johnny blurted out, “Old Man, do you remember anything from when you were two years old?”  When Murdoch replied he didn’t, Johnny angrily asked him, “Then why do you expect me to?   I don’t remember anything until I was about four, and I don’t think you want to hear about that.  It had to do with my mother—and a man.”  Murdoch’s expression was one of shock, then sadness, but he never again pushed Johnny to try to remember something he couldn’t.  But Johnny had that feeling—he had let his father down.  If only he could remember something, anything, no matter how trite, it would make Murdoch happy, and maybe earn Johnny some respect from his Old Man.  If only Johnny realized what Murdoch Lancer felt for Johnny Madrid Lancer was not only respect, but strength, courage, and love.

But what Johnny didn’t realize was that the puzzling dream he often had about a golden lady that lived in a giant man’s house was a memory.  As well as other snippets of memories Johnny had; memories of a large window; a desk; and of riding on a train.  And always, a giant, with blue eyes and large, protective hands and arms, would be nearby, always watching, always waiting, always there.

PART FIVE—THE CLOCK

“Just a little to the right.  No.  The left.  OK, that’s perfect.  It looks great.”  Teresa’s verbal supervision of Jelly’s placement of the clock on the mantle was complete.  Both stood back and looked at it and admired it’s beauty; of the way it matched the candelabras Teresa had purchased, and the way the clock complimented the picture of a smiling Scott and Johnny Lancer.

“Yer right, Teresa, it sure is might pretty.  I think Murdoch ‘ll be pleased with his decision to bring it out of storage.  Heck, if he don’t want it, ‘ll keep it m’self.”

Teresa agreed, and added, “I think Scott will like it, too.  I can’t wait to see his reaction when he gets back from town.”

Murdoch entered the great room from outside where he had just returned from the south range.  He spotted the clock and smiled.  One of his wistful smiles.  “Teresa, darling, you did good.  I’ve been a fool not to have let you have that clock years ago.  Is there anything else in that old shed that might find a new life here in the house?”

“I don’t know, Murdoch.  I’ll have to check.  What time do you expect Scott and Johnny back from town?”

“They should be back anytime.  Let’s not say anything to them and see if they notice the clock.”

Murdoch had sent his two sons to town to get themselves haircuts and to purchase any personal items they might need.  He knew they would still be tired after being gone for over a week, so he let them have an extra day to sleep in, then sent them to town for a little breather before returning to ranch work the next day. 

The  brothers returned  just before dinner and were in good spirits.  Both entered the great room, and hesitating, sat on the floor.  Teresa laughed.

“You two don’t have to sit on the floor.  You’re a lot cleaner then you were this time yesterday.”

“You mean we can sit down?  On the couch?  On the chairs?” Scott teased.

“Oh Boston, ain’t we the lucky ones, we get to sit our behinds on this nice, new, clean furniture,” Johnny teased back.

“Yeah, little brother. Oh, be sure you don’t eat any chocolate cake,” Scott laughed.

Teresa faked some anger.  “OK, Scott and John.  That’s enough.  If you don’t behave yourselves, the both of you will be out in the storage shed.  With Johnny’s couch.”

“Oh, my wonderful couch.  Did you have to remind me?”  Johnny sighed. 

It was then that the timepiece on the mantle chimed six times, signaling the Lancer family that it was time for dinner.

“Is that new?” Scott and Johnny asked simultaneously.

“Do you like it?” Teresa asked, excitedly.

“It’s beautiful,” Scott answered, as he admired the craftsmanship of the clock.  “It’s similar to the one Grandfather has on his mantle.  Except that his hasn’t worked for years.  But it was always my mother’s favorite piece, so he just kept it on the mantle.”

Murdoch smiled.  “Well Scott, this clock was also your mother’s favorite.  Let’s sit down to dinner, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Murdoch relayed the story of the clock to Scott, Johnny, Teresa, and Jelly, who once again managed to join his family for dinner.  The only detail Murdoch changed was of the clock’s placement in storage.  He simply said that it ceased to work, he couldn’t get it fixed, and had stored it away for safekeeping.  He neglected the part about his broken heart as he banished the clock to the storage room, angry at it as it ceased to work, thus ending his hopes of ever having his children back in his home.

Murdoch had told his oldest son that the clock was now his to be passed on to his wife and children, hopefully for years to come.

 .

As Johnny listened to the story of the clock, he was touched.  But he was also a little envious.  He had watched his father as he spoke of Catherine Garrett Lancer, and he could feel the love and respect his father felt for his first wife.  Much the way he could feel Murdoch’s feeling toward Scott, one of love and respect.

Murdoch had rarely spoken of Catherine or Maria to his sons,  unless they had dared to ask him something about them, or their relationship with their father.  But Murdoch’s reaction when he did speak of Catherine Lancer was always warm, loving, and thoughtful.  But when he mentioned Maria Lancer, even to Johnny, it was often with anger, regret, and even hatred, at least in Johnny’s eyes.  And Johnny wondered if his father had actually ever loved his mother, or if he had married her because it was the proper thing to do.  After all, Murdoch and Maria had performed their matrimonial duties and created one John Ian Lancer before their vows were taken.  It was a secret Johnny found out quite by accident during his first few months at Lancer.  A secret that even the Old Man didn’t know he knew.

“Johnny?  Are you with us, Boy?” came Scott’s joking manner to his lost-in-thought brother. 

“What?  Did you want something, Scott?” Johnny questioned, aware he had no idea of the topic of conversation of the last several minutes among his family.  They’re probably still talking about that stupid clock, Johnny managed to surmise.  But they weren’t.  And as Johnny joked with his older brother about whatever Scott was joking to him about, Johnny wondered how he could sometimes be so envious of the man that was his brother; his brother that he loved so damn much.

PART SIX—HOME SWEET HOME

Murdoch Lancer received the two telegrams a few hours apart.  The first telegram was from Edward Foster of Broken Arrow.  Murdoch had sent Johnny to Mr. Foster’s well-known horse ranch, a two-day ride from Lancer, to negotiate the deal on some horses Mr. Foster wanted to purchase.   The negotiations had been difficult and had been going on for months.  Mr. Foster was a stubborn gentleman and knowledgeable regarding horses, and he knew what he wanted.  And what he wanted Murdoch Lancer wasn’t willing to give.  Enter Johnny.  Murdoch took a chance with his youngest son, and figured if there was anyone who could charm Foster into accepting his offer, it would be the youngest Lancer son.  Besides, with Johnny’s own knowledge and love for horses,  the Lancer patriarch knew this would be the perfect opportunity to let his son shine, and help him to realize that his whole being was special, one that deserved love and respect.

And Murdoch’s gamble paid off.  Foster’s telegram did nothing but rave about Johnny Lancer.  About what a fine young man he was, about how he helped around the ranch,  and how his love for horses was obvious.  Mr. Foster had stated in the telegram that if Murdoch ever considered giving Johnny up for adoption, to send him his way—he and the Mrs. would be glad to claim him as their son.  Oh, yeah, the contract was signed to the satisfaction of both seller and buyer.

Murdoch’s heart jumped right out of his chest.  He excitedly showed the telegram to Scott and Teresa, and already Teresa was planning a special dinner for Johnny upon his return.  Murdoch had written ‘GOOD JOB, JOHNNY’ on the telegram and placed it on his desk, and he would be sure to show it to Johnny as soon as he returned home.

 .

Then the second telegram arrived a few hours later—from Johnny in Grand Junction, a days ride from Lancer.  It read:  “Murdoch-Hi.  Could you please wire some money to me in Grand Junction, care of the Grand Junction Hotel? STOP.   I’m a little under the weather and plan on staying over a few days. STOP.  Nothing serious, just caught a bug. STOP.  Thanx—Johnny.  STOP.”

Murdoch and Scott immediately went into town and of course, wired the money.  Did Johnny need either or both of them to ride to Grand Junction?  If so, they were on their way.  Johnny wired back no.  He had seen a doctor and was given some medicine to calm his stomach.  Besides, the manager of the hotel had a lovely daughter named Rosemary who “promised” to keep an eye on him.  And, he would wire them when he left.  And don’t worry.

Don’t worry, Murdoch snorted.  I’ve done nothing but worry about that kid since he was born.

Johnny spent the remainder of the day and that night sleeping, and the next day, Rosemary made sure he stayed in bed and gave him hot soup, tea, and the latest issue of the Grand Junction News to read.   Johnny took a liking to Rosemary, and she to him, and the two young people decided they would like to continue their relationship, even though the distance might cause a problem.

On the third day, Johnny wired Murdoch advising  he was on his way home, and should arrive late in the evening.  But Rosemary and her father insisted he stay beyond breakfast, which turned into lunch, so Johnny never started for home until mid-day.  Because he still wasn’t feeling up to speed, and the fact he didn’t push Barranca, the ride home took longer then he liked, and it was past midnight when a tired Johnny Lancer arrived home.

This was one of the few times Johnny let one of the hands take care of Barranca upon his return, and as he walked into the hacienda, he felt a coziness as he noticed two lanterns were left on  as if waiting for him.  He removed his boots and took the paperwork from the Foster deal from his saddlebag, which remained open on the couch, and placed the paperwork on Murdoch’s desk; then, he removed his jacket and draped it over the chair of the desk.  As he did so, he noticed the telegrams he had sent; they had been handled a lot, as if the recipient was anxious of what they contained.  Then he noticed the telegram from Mr. Foster, with Murdoch’s handwritten note, ‘GOOD JOB, JOHNNY’ and a smile crossed the tired former gunfighter’s face.  Hmmm, what a nice thing for Mr. Foster to say, Johnny thought. And what a nice thing for the Old Man to think—about me.

Johnny knew where he wanted to be.  In bed.  But the couch looked mighty inviting, and a lot closer, so he decided he would rest there, for a few minutes anyway.  If Teresa finds out I’m laying on her couch, she’ll kill me, Johnny chuckled to himself.  But at that time, he didn’t really care.  He thoughtfully took one of the quilts and placed it over the couch before laying on it.  He got comfortable, and began to relax.

Within a minute or so, he sensed the presence of someone looking over him, and he knew who it was.  He opened his eyes and saw the giant silhouette of his father in the dimly-lit room.  “Hi Old Man,” Johnny laughed.  “It’s good to see you.” 

“Are you all right, Son?  Your brother and I were ready to send the cavalry out after you,” Murdoch laughed, but his concern was real.

In his soft drawl, Johnny responded.  “Yeah, I’m fine.  I’ll tell you I don’t know what the hell I caught, but it sure wasn’t fun.  I’m feelin’a might better, but I’m still kind of achy. . .and chilled.  Murdoch, could you hand me the quilt over there please?”

Murdoch reached over to the other couch and retrieved the quilt, which he thoughtfully placed over his son.  “Will you be sleeping here or are you going up to bed?”  Murdoch asked, mock sarcasm in  his voice.

“I think I might lay here for awhile before turnin’ in.  I just hope Teresa doesn’t know I’ve been laying on her new couch,” Johnny stated, a bit annoyed.

“Well son, if she has any problems with that, she’ll have to deal with me,” Murdoch advised.

Hmmmm. . .the Old Man taking my side over Teresa.  That’s a  first, Johnny gladly thought.   Then Johnny said to Murdoch, “Oh, the paperwork from Foster is on your desk.”

“Good, I’ll look it over in the morning,” Murdoch replied.  “I understand you made quite an impression with the. .difficult Mr. Foster.”

“I don’t know why you had such a problem with him, Murdoch.  He’s really a nice guy, for someone old, anyway,” Johnny stated,  quite serious in his opinion.

Murdoch couldn’t help but laugh, as Mr. Foster was two years younger than himself.  That boy does have a way of getting under my skin, he thought, quite lovingly.

“Do you need anything before I go up to bed, John?”

“No,” Johnny tiredly replied.  “I’m just really  glad to be home.  See you in the morning, Murdoch.”

“Sleep well, Johnny,  I’m. . . . glad you’re home, too,” Murdoch responded, as he turned and made his way up the stairway to his room.

Johnny felt good.  He was warm.  And safe.  And cozy.  And as he drifted toward sleep, the gentle tick, tick, ticking of the clock hypnotized him, and Catherine’s Clock, as he had secretly named it, was the last thing in Johnny Lancer’s consciousness before he settled into a contented sleep.

PART SEVEN—MEMORIES FOUND

The gentle ticking of the clock may have lulled Johnny Lancer to sleep, but three hours later, the chiming of the clock calling the dawn of a new day abruptly woke the young man.  Annoyed, he briefly considered throwing one of the couch pillows at it, but with his aim he would of hit it and probably broken it, and would have been banished from the Lancer family forever. 

But he realized he was awake and decided a hot cup of tea sounded good.  His friend Rosemary had given him an herbal tea while he was in Grand Junction, and he remembered Teresa had the same tea in the kitchen.   And although he didn’t consider himself a “tea person,” he had to admit to liking it when he wasn’t feeling well. 

When the tea was made, Johnny returned to the couch and wrapped the quilt around him.  He sipped the hot liquid and realized how quiet it was, except for the ticking of Catherine’s Clock.  As he sat with his eyes closed, he listened to the rhythmic ticking of the clock and thought how much it sounded like a heartbeat.  His mother’s heartbeat.  He could remember, when he was a small boy, lying with his mother, close to her breast, and hearing the beating of her heart; so strong, so comforting, and how it would lull him to sleep.  Those times, however, had been few and far between.  When one of her men were around, a young Johnny would stay out of sight  and would  hate the man who was in the bed with his mother, feeling her warmth and feeling her heartbeat.  That was his place, her little boy’s place, not theirs.  As he tried to understand why his mother sought out the company of such men, his thoughts turned to Murdoch–his father.  The only decent man she had, and she left him, Johnny thought sadly.

As his eyes opened, they were automatically set on the clock.  As the darkness faded away and the light from the new day slowly inched its way into the great room, shadows of orange and gold spread throughout the room.  The light from the approaching day made its way to the clock, and Johnny stared at its beauty, thinking that someone as beautiful as Catherine Garrett Lancer undoubtedly was could claim something this beautiful as hers. 

Then Johnny considered his mother.  Did Murdoch Lancer have a story to tell him?  Did he buy her anything special when he found out she was going to have a baby?  His baby?  Or was the fact he agreed to  marry the young, pregnant,  Mexican woman his “gift” to her.  To have the young, well-respected, and up and coming rancher Murdoch Lancer honor her by taking her as his wife. 

Johnny had to stop these thoughts.  He was finally coming to terms about his mother leaving his father, about what tore his parents, hell, his family, apart.  And while he loved his mother, always did and always would, he was beginning to have real thoughts about his old man as well.  It was hard at first.  The Old Man’s gruffness didn’t make things easy, for Johnny or Scott.  But deep in his mind, Johnny could remember his father’s presence while recovering  from Pardee’s bullet, and how, deep down, he knew his father did love him.  And Johnny could actually feel love, yes love, growing for the man he had hated for so long.  And really, for no reason other than his mother’s seemingly unhappiness with her life at Lancer.    

Johnny dozed off for a few minutes, then awakened quickly, his eyes gazing at the clock.  He took a sip of tea; it was lukewarm now and he decided he would make his way up to bed.  With one last look at the clock, it was 5:45 a.m., his eyes noticed a design in the middle of the face of the clock surrounding the hands that he hadn’t noticed before.  With a lock of awe, he recognized an old friend.  It was her—his Golden Lady.  “Well, I’ll be damned!” Johnny said to himself, out loud.  “It was the clock the whole time.”  He studied the face of the beautiful clock; how many times had he looked at it in the week or so before he left on his trip?  Looked at it yes, for the time.  But really looked at it, no.  Not until now, when he was tired and the light had shone on it a certain way.  Yes, you really had to look at it, but the design in the middle of the clock face was gold, and if you used your imagination, it resembled a lady’s profile, like a cameo pin that Johnny had often seen Teresa, and other ladies, wear.  He remembered his mother even had a similar pin, and he never really liked it much.  But it did remind him of the golden lady in the picture in the giant man’s house.  No wonder his mother never knew what her little boy was talking about, for it wasn’t a picture at all, it was a clock face with a design that to a child, looked like a lady.  And then he thought of the giant man.  Johnny knew of only one “giant” man—his 6’5” father.  And the giant man’s house?  Why, the hacienda at Lancer, of course.

Johnny was finally making sense of the dream he had throughout his life.  And realized that the dream was, probably, a memory of his very early life at Lancer.  With his mother. . .and his father, the Giant Man.  He remembered the clock, and realized pictures he had always had in his mind of a large window was that of  the window in his father’s study.  And the  memory of a desk?  Why of course, Murdoch’s “famous” desk.  He spends more time sitting at that desk looking over his kingdom then he does anything else, Johnny thought, amused.  The only thing he couldn’t put a finger on was riding on a train.  “Maybe I’ll ask Murdoch about that,” he thought out loud. 

He suddenly felt very warm, as though he finally had something he could share of his early life with his father.  But would it be enough?  After all, they were only fragments of memories, no earth-shattering revelation or anything like that.  Just little snippets, and for some reason, the design on a beautiful clock that to a small child looked like a lady was the thing he remembered most of his life at Lancer.  And to think, it was Catherine’s Clock that he remembered. 

Could Catherine’s gentle spirit be helping her son’s younger brother make some sense of things?   As if to say that maybe, she loved him too?  Johnny, quit thinking like that.  It’s just a clock.  I’ll talk to Murdoch about it. . .someday.  But right now, I just want to go to bed.

And at that thought, Johnny Lancer made his way to his room, having an answer to at least one of the many questions he had about his mother, his father, and his early life at Lancer.

PART EIGHT—BROTHERLY TALKS

Scott Lancer sat in the chair next to his brother’s bed and watched him sleep.  He had done it before, when he helped take care of Johnny after he was shot helping to save their ranch.  But this sleep was better.  His brother looked peaceful, and content, and happy.  Scott thought about the bond that had developed between the two of them the past months, and wondered how he got along in life without his brother, his kid brother at that, at his side.  Not only his brother, but his playful tormenter, his protector, his friend.  And he thought about how much he had missed him this past week, and how the ranch wasn’t the same.  And about how even Murdoch, the one man that could make Johnny as nervous as a cat, seemed sort of  lost without his youngest child around. 

Scott thought about the time, early on in their relationship, when he asked Johnny how he could find it in his heart to love his mother.  Especially when he learned that because of her, the life Johnny was meant to have evaded him, and instead, the life he was dealt was one of poverty, hunger, anger, and hate.   In that early moment of their brotherhood, this one time, Johnny had lashed out at his brother.  “Scott, you don’t know nothin’ about mothers ‘cause yours died, and I’m sorry for that.  But I knew mine.  She might of done some stupid things, hell, we all have.  But my mother was kind and gentle. . . and beautiful.  And when I did wrong, she let me know it.  And she said I was the best thing to ever happen to her.  And it’s not her fault I turned into a hired gun, that was my doin.’  I was old enough to make other choices, but that’s the one I chose.  And I don’t think she’d be happy in my choice.  So, don’t blame her for my life.  I don’t.  Hell, I don’t even blame Murdoch anymore.  It just happened.  So if you’ve got a problem with that, well, I guess you ain’t really my brother, are you?”  At that moment, Scott knew Johnny was right.  He didn’t, couldn’t know about a mother’s love.  Couldn’t understand about the bond between a mother and child, or mother and son.  And at that moment, Scott envied his brother.  Despite his life, Johnny understood about the special bond between mother and son, for he had had it.  And Scott hadn’t.

Johnny shifted in his sleep, sighed blissfully, and opened his sleepy eyes to the sight of his brother.   As Scott began to pour a cup of coffee for Johnny, and offer him some of the remaining biscuits from breakfast, Johnny remarked, “You been watchin’ me sleep all mornin’ Boston?” 

Scott laughed.  “No, I’ve just been here a few minutes.  I was here a few other times, though, but you were really out of it.  I just thought you might like some coffee and biscuits in bed, that’s all.”

“To what do I owe this privilege?”  Johnny questioned, as he sat up and drank the hot coffee  offered to him by Scott.

“Well, I missed you, little brother.  And you did good on that trip, so I thought I’d spoil you a little.  You feeling better?  Murdoch said you were still a little sick last night.”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do.  After some coffee and biscuits and a hot bath, I should feel dandy,” Johnny cheerfully replied.

“Teresa’ s fixing you your favorite dinner. . .roast beef and potatoes.  Hope you feel like eating.”

“I sure do.  Especially my favorite meal.”  After a pause, Johnny asked “Murdoch’s not mad at me for sleepin’ in, is he?  It must be way past noon by now.”

“No, he’s the one that told me to leave you alone and let you sleep.  And it’s after two, and Sunday,” Scott stated.

“Oh yeah, I forgot about today bein’ Sunday.  Guess I was more tired than I thought.  I got up here around six this morning.  Probably would’ve slept all night on the couch, but that clock woke me up around five.”  Johnny gasped and quickly asked, “Does Teresa know I slept on the couch last night?”

Scott laughed.  “No.  Murdoch folded up the quilt you laid over the couch before she came down this morning.  He destroyed the evidence.”

Johnny laughed too.  “Good.  I really didn’t feel like dealing with Miss Teresa today.”

After a few more minutes of bantering between the two Lancer siblings, Scott decided to head downstairs and give  Johnny a chance to bathe and get ready for dinner, since after all, the coffee and biscuits were just a snack before the main meal.

But before Scott could leave, Johnny called to him.  “Hey Boston, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, little brother.  What is it?  Anything wrong?”

“No,” Johnny chuckled.  “I was just wonderin’ something.  Do you remember anything, from when you were real young, I mean.  Like two years old, maybe?”

Scott looked a little puzzled.  “Well, I don’t know about two.  I remember my birthday party when I was five, you know, the one that Murdoch met me at.  Funny thing, though.  I don’t remember meeting him, but I do remember the cake and presents, and that for once, I actually had some fun. . .as a kid.”

Now Johnny looked puzzled.  “I thought you had all kinds of fun as a kid.”

“Yeah, a five-year old going on twenty,” Scott said, sarcastically. 

“But do you remember anything before that?”  Johnny asked, expectantly.

“Well. . . .I do remember my great-grandfather, he died in a fire just before I turned three.  And although my memory of him is very fuzzy, I do remember he had a white beard, and SPIN used to tell me I called him Santa, much to my grandfather’s displeasure.  But from what she told me, Pappy, as he was known, loved it when I called him Santa.  So yeah, I guess I do have a vague memory of my very young childhood.  Why do you want to know?”  Scott finally questioned. 

Johnny considered whether he should tell Scott about his newly found memories, especially since he didn’t understand them himself, and that the object that triggered them was Scott’s mother’s clock.  But he decided to relay a little bit of information to his brother.  “Well, I think I might remember something from when I lived here when I was little.  I always had a feeling about the window in Murdoch’s study, and the great room, like I was there before.”

“Déjà vu,” Scott remarked.

“Huh?”  asked his confused little brother.

“Nothing,” Scott laughed.  “So you think you remember living here as a kid?  I always wondered if there was anything you remembered.”

Johnny continued.  “Thing is, none of  my memories make sense.  They’re  kind of jumbled, like a dream.  And I’d like to tell Murdoch, but I just don’t know what I would tell him, just that I have a feeling, but nothing makes sense.”

Scott advised, “If you let Murdoch know what you remember, maybe he can fill in the gaps.  Or at least, help make a little sense of it.  Are they good memories, I hope?”

Johnny sighed.  “Yeah, I think they are.  Boston, don’t tell Murdoch about this.  I want to tell him in my own time, in my own way.  If I ever decide to.”

“OK brother,  I won’t say anything.”  Another don’t tell Murdoch story, Scott mused.  “Now go clean up for dinner.  We’ve missed you this past week.”

As Scott left Johnny’s room, the younger Lancer son realized that he would know the right time to tell Murdoch, his father, about his memories.  Scott was right, maybe Murdoch could help Johnny make sense of the pieces of memories he had.

PART NINE—KEEPING WATCH

Through the next several weeks, life went on as usual with the Lancer family.  Besides the daily business of running an empire, there were always the simple, everyday happenings that made being a Lancer interesting.

Scott and Johnny went into town to celebrate the birthday of one of the Lancer hands, and both sons returned home, late at night, a little drunk (and happy), much to their Old Man’s displeasure.  Then, a few nights later, a friend of Murdoch’s from a nearby town stopped in for a visit, and Murdoch took him to dinner in town.  The Old Man returned to the ranch, late at night, a little drunk (and happy), much to his sons displeasure (and teasing).  

Teresa left for a week to visit her mother in San Francisco, leaving the hacienda to the three Lancer men, and Jelly.  The four of them had a lot of tidying up to do before the “Boss Lady,” as Johnny sometimes called her, returned home. 

Scott received one of his wonderful letters from his Grandfather, threatening him not only with bodily harm, but total disinheritance if he didn’t return to Boston. . .AT ONCE.  When will he learn I’m happy here and I don’t want to go back to Boston? Scott sighed and sought out his brother for another one of their famous ‘Don’t tell Murdoch’ talks the two of them so often  shared.

Johnny fell in and out of love.  His long-distance relationship with Rosemary fizzled out almost as soon as it began, but Murdoch became concerned when he saw his youngest son looking at wedding rings in a jewelry store catalogue he borrowed  from a friend. 

“Murdoch, I didn’t know wedding rings were so expensive,” Johnny had said.

 “Whose getting married?”  Murdoch questioned.  

“Abigail and I are talking about it,” Johnny said non-chalently.

 “Who the heck is Abigail?  And what happened to Rosemary?” Murdoch asked, exasperated. 

 “Well, we met last week, and this is it, Murdoch.  We really love each other.”

 Murdoch looked at his youngest son and realized this is one of the times he was acting like a 16 year old.  “Johnny, you don’t marry someone you’ve only known for a week.”

 Johnny looked at his Old Man.  “Well, you did. . .you married my mother, and how long did you know her?  A day?” sarcasm in Johnny’s attitude.

 Murdoch replied, “Well you see where that relationship went.  Except for you, nothing good came out of it.”

 Johnny just rolled his eyes.  It wasn’t anger on  either man’s part; just sarcastic humor, the kind father and youngest son often shared. 

And Jelly. . .well, Jelly was just always around, offering his often unwanted advice to the Lancer family.  But they wouldn’t have him any other way.

And through all these happenings, Catherine’s Clock kept watch on her family, assuring they were on time for meals and chiming her musical cue that it was time to turn in for a well-deserved rest after their always busy days.  She also shared her majestic beauty with each member of the family, who had  their own thoughts and secrets not so much with the clock, but with the spirit of the lady whose very being had made the present day Lancer family possible:  Catherine Garrett Lancer. 

PART TEN—OF FATHER AND SON

Saturday morning, and everyone had their own plans for the day.  Scott was going to town with Teresa, he to help a friend inventory supplies, she to meet her girlfriends for a day of shopping and “girl talk.”  They would both return home later in the day.  Murdoch and Johnny were going to stay at the ranch to catch up on some small projects that there wasn’t time to work on during the busy week.   After a pleasant morning, father and son completed their tasks and decided to have lunch—courtesy of Murdoch. 

One thing that Murdoch shared with his youngest son was their love of  Mexican food, and they never missed an opportunity while traveling to stop off at some little cantina for a good Mexican meal, or while at home to cook up some Mexican dish.  Early in their relationship, Murdoch had cooked up a dish for his son, and told Johnny that Maria had taught him to make it.  It was a beginning for them. 

It was during lunch that Johnny decided this would be the perfect time to talk to his father about his memories and to tell him what he remembered about Catherine’s Clock.  Murdoch could sense Johnny wanted to speak to him; he just wasn’t sure what was going on inside his son’s head.

“Something on your mind, son?”  Murdoch asked, curiously.

“Ah, Murdoch,” Johnny drawled, “what makes you think that?”

“Because I’m beginning to learn to read you, and I can tell when you want to talk about something, but you’re just not sure how to go about it.”

Johnny grinned that irresistible grin, sapphire eyes sparkling. “Well yeah, Murdoch, I do.  But it’s a good thing, I think.”

“You’re not still getting married, are you?”  Murdoch asked, dryly.

“Oh no, Murdoch.  That was last week.  Abby and I decided to slow down a little.  But she’s still might pretty,” Johnny said, glowingly.

“Well,” Murdoch replied, “I would like to have her to at least one dinner here at Lancer before she’s my daughter-in-law.”  Both men laughed.  “So,” Murdoch continued, “what’s this ‘good thing’ you want to talk about?”

Johnny took a deep breath, and felt a bit nervous and excited at the same time.  “Remember when I first came to Lancer, and you wondered if there was anything I remembered about living here when I was little, and I said I didn’t remember anything?”

Murdoch nodded that he did.

“Well,” Johnny advised, “I lied.  It wasn’t really a lie though, it’s hard to explain.  I always sensed something about this place, especially the big window in the study, and. . .your desk.  Like I’d been there before.”

Murdoch laughed.  “You used to sit in front of the window and look out.  Especially when the sun shone through, I think you liked the warmth.  And you used to take great pleasure in spinning my chair around, and hiding under the desk.  Whenever your mother and I couldn’t find you, we’d know to look under the desk, and there you’d be, happily playing, or sleeping contentedly.” 

Johnny noted the dreamy look in his Old Man’s eyes and voice, and he noticed, for the first time, a softness to his father, the gruff exterior temporarily leaving him as he thought about his son as a toddler.

“And there’s something else I remember.  It’s always been with me, I just didn’t know what the heck it was.  All my life, I’ve had a memory of a picture of a lady that looked like one of them Cameo pins, you know like Teresa and other ladies wear?  But my lady was golden, and lived in a giant man’s house.  And I used to ask my mother what happened to the picture of the lady, and I can honestly say she had no idea what I was talking about.  But to this day, I’ve had dreams about that picture. . . . .and I finally found it.  It was here, at Lancer,  all along.  In the giant man’s house. . .”

Murdoch intercepted his son’s thoughts.  “Was I the giant man?”

Johnny laughed.  “Yeah, you were.  Hell Murdoch, you’re a giant to me now.  How do you think you were to a two-year old?” 

Both father and son laughed.  “And what was the picture, Johnny?”  Murdoch asked, a bit puzzled.

“It wasn’t a picture.  It was. . .the clock.  The one you bought for Scott’s mother,” Johnny said thoughtfully.  Then he continued, “ If you look at it a certain way, the design on the face of the clock surrounding the hands  sort of look like a lady’s profile, like one of them Cameo pins.  At least to me, anyway.”

A glow came over Murdoch’s face and a smile as if  he finally had an answer to some long buried question.  “So that was it all along.  I remember once thinking it looked like a person.  But being an adult, I didn’t think anything of it.  But in a child’s eyes. . . . . “

Johnny was puzzled.  “But I thought you put the clock in storage after Catherine. . .died.”

“Well, Johnny, after Catherine died and Scott was taken, I spent a lot of time in the great room, and the only friend I had was that clock.  It’s ticking sound relaxed me and gave me hope that I’d get Scott back soon.  Anyway, when I brought your mother to Lancer, she liked the clock too.  And you were absolutely fascinated by it, although we couldn’t figure out why.  You would sit on the floor and laugh at it, babble and point at it, and as adults, your mother and I couldn’t figure out what intrigued you so about it.   But I guess you could see, as a child, what an adult couldn’t. . .your imagination was working, even then.  Anyway, the clock stopped working one day, and I put it in storage.”  Murdoch again  left out the part about banishing the clock to the storage room; he felt no need for either of his sons to know that detail.

“There’s something else I remember, too,” Johnny said, concentration showing on his handsome face.  “Murdoch, did we, you, Mama and me, ever go anywhere on a train?”

Murdoch took a deep breath.  “Yes son, the three of us took a little trip to Sacramento, shortly after you turned two.  Do you remember that, Johnny?”

“Well, not exactly.   I mean, I remember being on a train, looking out the window and everything going by very fast.  And I remember being held by somebody really big, with large arms. . . .and blue eyes.”  And softly he added, “The giant man.  You.”

Murdoch nodded affectionately. 

Johnny continued.  “But whenever I asked her about it, she said I’d never been on a train, that I must have been thinking of a stagecoach.  And when I was older, I got kinda mad at her and told her I knew the difference between a stagecoach and a train.”  Johnny chuckled at that memory.  “But it’s all really jumbled.  Do you know what I’m talking about Murdoch?”

Murdoch could see the look on Johnny’s face and in his eyes; the look of wanting an answer to his jumbled childhood memories.  And while Murdoch had been hoping his youngest son would reveal some sort of memory, the Sacramento trip was certainly not the one he would of hoped for.

So, Murdoch told Johnny about the trip they had made to Sacramento.  It was a business/pleasure trip, and was supposed to be just Murdoch and Maria.    But neither parent could bear the thought of being away from their blue-eyed whirlwind, so Johnny was taken along, with the Senoria Cipriano as his babysitter.   The business part of the trip was completed, and the rest of the trip Murdoch devoted to his wife and son.  He told Johnny about the circus that was in town, and how much mother and son loved it.  

“But Murdoch, did you two have any time alone?” Johnny asked, one eyebrow raised and a devilish grin on his face.  “I mean, I wasn’t along the whole time, was I?”

Murdoch, amused at his son’s question, simply replied, “No son.  You stayed in the room with the Senoria, and your mother and I  had our time after you were safely tucked in for the night.”

Johnny sighed a relived sigh.  “That’s good. I didn’t want to think I intruded on your, well, you know. . . “  Johnny blushed.

An uncomfortable silence came upon Murdoch, and Johnny felt that something happened on that trip that was unpleasant for Murdoch.  He pondered whether to go on further with the conversation if it would make Murdoch uncomfortable.  After all, many times a conversation between father and youngest son had undoubtedly led to something in Johnny’s past, and the former gunfighter would clam up.  And Johnny always silently thanked his father for not pushing the issue. 

But Murdoch saw the look in Johnny’s face, and decided that he, as Johnny’s father, had the responsibility of allowing his son some knowledge as to the relationship between his parents.  After all, even though both men were adults, Murdoch was the father and Johnny still the child, and Murdoch realized he had to be man enough to confide in his son.  And he hoped that someday, with trust and maturity, Johnny would be able to return the confidence about his past to his father.

Murdoch took a deep sigh and relayed to Johnny what had happened in Sacramento. 

“On the last day of our trip, I ran into some acquaintances who wanted me to join them for a beer.  Your mother wanted to do some shopping, so she told me to go ahead.  You were napping and the Senoria stayed with you for the afternoon.  We were all going to meet for an early dinner before preparing to leave the next morning.

Apparently, while your mother was walking down the street, she was threatened by some local riff-raff.  She was a young, pretty Mexican girl walking alone in Sacramento, and they cornered her in an alley.  From what I understand, her temper was able to keep them at bay for awhile, but when two more ganged up on her, she knew she was in trouble.  From what I was told, a lot of people, a lot of the local men folk, just stood and watched.  No one would help her.” Murdoch clenched his fists, and Johnny felt scared. . . .and angry.  He didn’t like to think of his mama in this situation.

“No one would help her except. . . . .him.”  Murdoch’s pronunciation of the word “him” caught Johnny by surprise.

“Who?”  Johnny questioned.

“The gambler,” Murdoch replied, glumly.  “No one would help your mother except for him.  He saved your mother’s honor that day and became her hero.  While I. . . .I sat in the saloon with a bunch of men I would never see again and drank beer.”

“But, she was OK?  They didn’t. . . .” Johnny didn’t finish his question.

“She was fine, Johnny.  Scared and shook up, but no, no one touched her.”

“It wasn’t your fault.  You didn’t know that would happen.  If you would’a been there, you would’a taken care of them too,” Johnny said, defending his father.

Murdoch continued his story.  “When I found out what he had done, I invited him to dinner with us.  He was so charming, and handsome.  I knew he was a gambler, but I didn’t care.  He had been there for Maria when I wasn’t.  He had a way about him, he even held you on his lap.  To your credit though, you started to fuss when he held you.”

Johnny smirked at that comment.

“About a month later, I noticed him in town.  Said he was just passin’ through.  I bought him a drink to be friendly.  The thought crossed my mind that it was odd he would show up in a small town like Morro Coyo, but. . . . .I put any thoughts out of my mind.”

Murdoch became very quiet and still, and Johnny realized he had never seen his father like this.  This must be so hard for him. . . maybe I should tell him to stop.  But, I want to know. . . . .Johnny said to himself.  God help me, but I want to know.

“I had no way of knowing they had been in contact with each other during that month.  He had finally left town, or so I thought.  It wasn’t until two months later I caught the two of them, together. . . . . .”

“Together?”  Johnny asked, sullenly.

Murdoch just shook his head.

“They were. . . . .” Johnny stopped in mid-sentence.

“Yes,” came a quiet, remorseful reply from the Giant Man.

God, he caught them together.  My father found my mother, his wife, making love to another man.   How awful it must have been for you, Papa, Johnny thought sadly to himself.

“Where, and how?”  Johnny wanted to know.

Murdoch couldn’t go on.  “That’s another story, for another time.  I can’t go there now,” Murdoch simply told his son.   Johnny nodded that he understood.

A long silence overtook the kitchen, where they had been talking for hours.  Suddenly, a small smile came over Johnny’s face.  “But the rest of the trip. . . . . .we did have fun, didn’t we, Murdoch?”

Murdoch gently smiled.  “Yes, son.  It had been a great trip, up to that time.  I remember the night before.  It was the last time your mother and I. . . . . . ., well, it was a wonderful night.  One that I’ve always treasured, and always will.”

Thank you, Murdoch, for sharing that with me.  It helps me to understand things, about her, you, and me.  Maybe someday, I can begin to tell you some of my secrets.  Someday, I hope. . . . .Johnny sighed  to himself.

The moment was  broken by the chiming of  Catherine’s Clock, which  brought both father and son back to the present.  The present—where they were together, a family, with Scott and Teresa.  And wasn’t that all that mattered, really.

“Well, look at the time.  Scott and Teresa will be home soon, and we haven’t even cleaned up from lunch yet,” Murdoch said, trying to lighten the mood.  He looked lovingly at his youngest son.  “Are you all right son?  I know that probably wasn’t easy for you to hear.”

Johnny responded slowly.  “Yeah, I’m OK.  I know that wasn’t easy for you to talk about, either.”

“No, it wasn’t.  But it’s about time I did.  It’s about time I talked about a lot of things.  With you.  And Scott,” Murdoch said, a decisive tone to his voice.  “Now, let’s get something together for dinner.  Let’s surprise Teresa and prepare dinner for her for a change.”

“Sounds good to me,” Johnny said, trying to sound enthused, but Murdoch knew his son was upset at what he had been told.   Still, they managed to surprise Teresa and Scott with a delicious dinner.

PART ELEVEN–REALIZATIONS

2:00 a.m.  Johnny crept down the steps into the great room and looked around.  No one was there.  He wanted to be alone with his thoughts, and didn’t want to take a chance of intruding on Murdoch, like he had done that night months ago. 

This was the time Johnny would often reflect on the events of his life, especially the last few,  beginning with his rescue from the firing squad, to the battle with Pardee, to the realization that he had. . . .a family.   These middle of the night reflections used to be frequent after his arrival at Lancer, but as the months went by, they became less and less.  Except on a night like tonight, when so much was going through his mind he couldn’t sleep.  He used to enjoy the absolute quietness, the stillness of night.  But now, as he reflected on things, the silence was broken by Catherine’s Clock, ticking her encouragement through the night, and he realized what his father had learned many years before—just how comforting the ticking of the clock, or was it Catherine’s gentle spirit, really was.

He thought about his father like he never had before.  About how, as a young man, he had a dream, left his family and home and crossed the dangerous Atlantic to pursue that dream.  And how he and Catherine found each other; and how Catherine  had loved the tall Scotsman and left the comfort of her home, and probably alienated her father, by following her man on his dream.  And how their love had created Scott.   And how her untimely death had left the door open for Murdoch to fall in love again.  With Maria.  And how their love had created him.  Johnny was sure now; his father had  loved his mother.  And Johnny couldn’t begin to imagine how it must feel for a person to lose two wives, and two sons.  To seem to not be able to hold onto anything.  But Murdoch Lancer had held onto something.  Lancer.  It was his.  And when all was said and done, the  Old Man was willing to share it with the two most important people in the world to him—his sons.  Johnny realized this now.  His Old Man might be gruff, and bullheaded, and tough on everybody, especially Johnny, but when it came right down to it, Johnny knew his father would put his life on the line for his sons.  Just as Johnny would put his life on the line for his family.  All of them.  

And that,  Johnny Madrid Lancer realized,  was what family, and love, was about.

PART TWELVE—THE GIFT

Scott and Teresa waited anxiously for Johnny’s return from town.  The youngest Lancer son had been sent, on purpose, to town to pick up unneeded supplies so he would be gone for the day.  A delivery was expected at Lancer, and his brother and sister didn’t want the gunfighter turned rancher around, since it was kind of a surprise for him.

“Do you think he’ll  like it?” Teresa asked, anxiously.

“He might be a little overwhelmed,” Scott replied.  “He made that comment to me month’s ago, and it might have been off the cuff, but yeah, I think he’ll like it.  We needed one anyway.  I like it.”

“And so do I,” Teresa commented. 

Jelly bounded into the house.  “He’s coming! He’s jist come through the gate!”

“OK, Teresa, we’ve got a plan.  Go get Johnny when he comes through the door,” Scott said.

Johnny bounded off of Barranca, and was puzzled when one of the hands insisted he enter the house immediately.  Johnny became concerned; he thought someone might be sick or injured.  He entered the house quickly and deliberately, concern etched on his handsome face.  Teresa ran up to him and placed her arms around his neck, and gave him a sisterly kiss.

“What’s goin’ on?”  Johnny asked, curiously. 

“Hi, Johnny.  How was your day?”  Teresa queried.  Then, “I have something to show you.  Close your eyes and follow me.” 

“Teresa, what are you doing?  I feel stupid,” Johnny whined.  And it was a comical, albeit, cute sight; Teresa leading Johnny by the arms, his eyes closed, arms out in front as to not run into anything.

It brought back a forgotten memory to Murdoch; a time when as a toddler, Johnny would, for whatever reason, find joy in walking around the great room with his eyes closed.  And what was more amazing, the Old Man remembered, the child would never run into anything.  He must have had a sixth sense even then, Murdoch thought, affectionately.  Laughter from his family brought him back to the present.

“OK, sit down,” Teresa ordered.  Johnny was pushed into the dining room chair, where he sat, eyes closed, puzzled, and a bit embarrassed.

“This isn’t funny, Miss Teresa,” Johnny said, a bit annoyed.

“OK, open your eyes,” Teresa commanded.

Johnny opened his sapphire eyes and saw Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, and Jelly smiling at him.  They look like the cat who swallowed the canary, Johnny thought, a bit annoyed.  “What are you people up to?”  Johnny questioned, exasperation in his voice.

“Look down at the table,” Scott said.

Johnny looked down and saw a new, shiny, mahogany dining room table.  “It’s. . .a new dining room table,” Johnny observed.  “Its’ quite nice.  New chairs, too, huh?  I thought it felt different when I sat down.”  He was very puzzled.  “So. . .what’s going on?”

Scott explained.  “Well, Johnny-Boy, I knew you weren’t exactly fond of the other table, after your little episode  when Murdoch removed Pardee’s slug from you, so we thought you might appreciate a new table.  Besides, the old one had had its use long ago.”

Johnny was taken aback.  “Boston, I wasn’t serious when I think I mentioned that to you, a long time ago. . .about, you know. . . .” then he whispered, “being embarrassed about. . . “

Murdoch interjected.  “Well, son, Scott’s right.  It was time for a new table, and I have to admit that it did remind me of when I removed Pardee’s bullet from you. . . and .I’d rather not be reminded of that awful day any more than I have to.”  The Old Man sounded regretful over the whole incident.

“I really don’t remember much of what happened after I got shot,  but what I do remember isn’t pleasant,” Johnny advised.

“Johnny, I have something else for you, too,” Murdoch said to his son, as he presented him with a gift-wrapped box. 

Now Johnny was more confused then ever.  “It’s not my birthday or anything. . . . ., God, do y’all know something I don’t?  Am I in trouble?  Did I do something?”  Johnny questioned, exasperated.

Everyone laughed.  “Jist open the box, young’n,” Jelly ordered. 

Johnny carefully opened the box and inside was a beautiful crystal horse, similar to Barranca.  The crystal horse was in a full gallop, and looked free-spirited, much like Johnny himself.

“It’s. . . .beautiful,” Johnny was able to say.  He was totally surprised.  And humbled.  And like his mother years before, he examined it, very carefully, and almost seemed to fondle it in his mind.  Then he put it down.  “Delicate things  like this scare me. . . .I’m afraid I’ll break it,”  he said.  Just like his mother.

“But what’s the occasion?”

Murdoch explained.  “Well, son, I got to thinking about the clock that belonged to Scott’s mother and the story behind it.  And I thought that you should have something of your mothers for you to keep, or hand down to your family someday.  After our talk the other day, I remembered about the crystal horse.  I had bought it for her when we were in Sacramento.  I thought it was so like her—free-spirited.  I gave it to her when we got back home and she really liked it.  She placed it on the mantle, right next to the clock.”  Then, to himself, Murdoch said softly, “I don’t know why she didn’t take it with her, when she left. . . . . .”

After a silence, Johnny spoke quietly to his father.  “She was afraid she’d break it, I would think.  She was kind of clumsy sometimes, you know.”

Murdoch chuckled.  “Yeah, I remember.”

Johnny continued.  “She never forgot it though.  I remember, she used to look at pretty things through store windows, and one time she saw a horse similar to that, made from crystal, and she told me she used to have one like it.  When I asked her where it was, she got kind of sad, and never answered me.”

Jelly broke the silence that overtook the room.  “Well, young’in, where do ya plan on puttin’ your purdy horse statue?”

Johnny looked up, a puzzled look on his face as he was deep in thought and didn’t quite catch Jelly’s question.  “Oh, the horse.  I don’t know, if it was on the mantle once before, maybe it would like nice there again.  This horse is too proud to be stored away in a box.  Scott, if you wouldn’t mind. . . .maybe I could put it next to the clock?”  Johnny asked, almost child-like.

“Little Brother, I would be honored to have that beautiful crystal horse next to the clock.  Sort of brings our mothers together, don’t you think?”  Scott had a slight tear in his eyes, but Johnny’s sapphire eyes, by this time, were very teary, and he struggled to keep his emotions in tow.

“I tell you what,” Johnny stated.  “You people are gonna make me an old softie.  If someone would’ve told me a year ago I’d be sitting in front of my family getting weepy over a crystal horse and a clock, I would’ve told them they were crazy.  But I do want y’all to know that y’all are very special to me.  All my life, all I ever wanted was to be normal, to have a family like everyone else.  Someone I could care for, and would care for me.  I had my mother, but she’s been gone. . . . .a long time.  And I know sometimes I can be pain in the butt, but I’m still learning about this family thing, ya know?”

By now there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but the biggest sob came from Jelly, the “adopted” family member.  “Johnny, I know hows ya feel, son . . .y’all are special to me too. . . .”

Everyone laughed.

Johnny asked Teresa if she would please put the crystal horse on the mantle.  Her tiny, delicate hands gently lifted it as she walked over to the mantle.   “I think it would look nice if I put the picture of you and Scott in between  the clock and the horse, what do you think?” she inquired. 

“I think that’s a fine idea, Teresa,” Murdoch replied.  Scott and Johnny nodded their agreement.

“Now, the house is complete,” Teresa said, matter of fact.  “Now, if you gentlemen can wait for a few minutes, I’ll set our new table for dinner.”  And at that, Scott and Johnny rose and went to help their sister prepare for dinner.

When the family sat down to dinner at the beautiful new mahogany table, Murdoch was missing.  Unbeknownst to his family, the Old Man had retreated to the barn, where he had a good cry.  But a happy cry.  Johnny wasn’t the only one who was turning into an old softie.  Although it was hard for anyone to notice, the gruffness that had been a part of Murdoch Lancer for so long was beginning to diminish.  The void in his heart had been filled by his sons.  He used to feel that if he at least had one of them back home, the emptiness he felt would be filled.  But he realized that it took both of his sons to make him feel complete.  For each son was unique, like their mothers.  And Murdoch had loved both of his wives.  He still did.  And always would.

PART THIRTEEN—THE TOAST

Murdoch returned to the house where his family sat, waiting to eat.  He walked to his study and brought back to the dining room one of his best bottles of wine.  Teresa retrieved five wineglasses (one for Jelly, too) and Murdoch poured the wine into each glass.

Just as Johnny raised the glass to his lips and began to drink, Murdoch’s words made him quickly lower the glass and spit out the wine he was ready to swallow into his glass.   The Old Man chuckled at his son’s charming etiquette.

Murdoch began.  “I feel it’s time that I make a toast, so please indulge me.  I would like to toast my good friend, Jelly Hoskins.  A truer, more loyal friend you couldn’t find.  And I would like to toast the beautiful  Miss Teresa O’Brien.  A better “daughter” you couldn’t ask for.  And to my eldest son,  my Scott.  To his kindness, patience, common sense, and wit.  You, like your lovely mother, have brought some class and elegance to Lancer.   And my wish for you is a future full of love with a beautiful wife. . .and lots of blonde-haired Lancer’s running around.”  Everyone laughed as they raised their glasses.

I shoulda figured he’d forget me, Johnny grumbled to himself.

But Murdoch continued, as he eyed his youngest.  “And to my youngest.  My Johnny.   My free-spirit.  You, my son, have always had a special place in my heart.  I have to be reminded you’re not that two-year old whirlwind that was the true “ boss” of Lancer all those years ago.   And my wish for you is that you have the future you deserve.  A wife who will cherish you forever,  be true to you, and that you be the same to her.  And . . .lots of little ‘Johnny’s’ running around.” 

Johnny understood the part about being true.  He nodded his understanding as he and Murdoch raised their glasses to each other, then to the others as they joined in. 

Johnny was ready to eat when Murdoch began toasting, again.  Boy, the Old Man’s on a roll. . . .doesn’t he know I’m starving??!!

“There are two other people I want to toast.  Then, Johnny, we can eat,” Murdoch chuckled as he eyed his starving youngest son.

“To my beautiful Catherine.  The Queen of Lancer.  Her grace was only felt for a short time, but the impact she had on my life is unending.  And the gift she gave to me, my son Scott, at the cost of her own life, is the most precious  anyone could give.

“And to my exotic flower, my Maria.  The girl who brought spark and feeling back into my life.  Who made me feel alive again when I thought I never would.  The good times we shared were magical. . . . I only wished I could have been what, perhaps, she wanted me to be.  And for the gift she gave to me, my son Johnny, continues to put spark and life back into my soul.

May they find the happiness they both deserve.  And may they know that their sons are together, as brothers, and they are young, and strong.  And happy.  Now. . . .let’s eat.”

And as the glasses were raised one last time, Catherine’s Clock chimed her gentle acknowledgement that as long as she ticked, as long as she chimed, as long as she told the time, she would keep a watch on her family.  All of them.

Johnny looked to the direction of the clock and the crystal horse.  He winked.  And smiled.  Thanks, Catherine, you’re a fine lady, he thought as he eyed the clock.  And thank you too, Mama.  I love you, he thought as he looked lovingly at the crystal horse.

And beneath the mantle stood the spirits of Catherine and Maria, content that the family they both loved was  together at last.  And happy.  All of them.

And the clock continues to chime. . . . . . . . . .

The Timely End
July 2003

This story is dedicated to the wonderful actors who brought the Lancer characters to life.  But particularly, to James Stacy, whose brilliant portrayal of the tough, kind, and vulnerable Johnny Madrid Lancer brought a young teen-age girl a lot of joy some 30 years ago.  And that joy continues through my stories. . . . . . . . .Thanks Jim!

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