Adjusting To Life At Lancer by Lynne

Word Count 15,769

A Lancer AU Story #2

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Chapter One

Scott was on Spring break from school and Johnny was enjoying having his brother with him, for much of the day. He missed Scott when his big brother was at school and although he was quite fond of Teresa, he found the six-year old’s demands on his time, quite wearing.

“All she wants to do is play Mamas and Papas, with her dollies,” explained Johnny, to Scott, as they took care of their horses. “I mean, as if I wanna do that. Wouldn’t be quite so bad if she was a boy, but even then, a six-year-old is a bit of a pain.”

Scott agreed with Johnny, but felt he had to stick up, a bit, for Teresa, as he knew that their father would expect him to.

“I have to play with her, too, you know, and she’s nine years younger than me. But her father is such a good foreman for Pa, so it’s the least we can do, to try and keep Teresa occupied, when Paul and Pa are working.”

“What happened to Teresa’s mother?” asked Johnny.

“She died, when Teresa was only very young,” said Scott. * “I do remember her, vaguely. She was very pretty, and as I didn’t have a mother, I know that she used to take care of me, too, when Pa and Paul were busy, although I also had Maria to watch out for me.”

“Didn’t my Mama look after you?” said Johnny.

“Well, a bit, I guess, but she wasn’t really here, that long, and so I didn’t spend that much time with her.”

Scott didn’t want to tell his little brother that his mother had never been that interested in him, in fact she hadn’t been that bothered with her own child, either. During her time at the ranch, she had been happy to let Maria and Murdoch take care of Johnny.

However, Johnny then said, “She wasn’t that keen on kids, not even me, when I was real little, so I reckon she wouldn’t have spent much time with anyone else’s children.”

“She must have thought something for you, Johnny, or else she wouldn’t have taken you with her, when she left. I was only here for about a year, with you and her. Pa didn’t get me back until after you’d been born.”

“No, I guess he didn’t, and then, just as we were becoming a family, Mama upped and left,” said Johnny, and Scott could hear the sadness in his little brother’s voice.

He placed his arm around Johnny and said, “Yes, it was a shame that she did that, but I suppose she had her reasons and so you shouldn’t judge her, too badly. And, at least you are back with us, now.”

Privately, Scott did think that it was wrong of Maria to have left his father and taken Johnny with her. However, he didn’t think he should say that to his little brother, as the boy did have some good memories of his mother and Scott didn’t feel he should destroy those, no matter what he may have thought of her.

“Let’s go in and eat, I’m starving,” said Johnny, shaking off Scott’s hand, along with the thoughts of his mother.

The two boys had been out for a ride and Scott had shown Johnny one of his favourite places on the ranch.

“I like to come up here when I want to be alone and take the time to think things through,” said Scott. “It’s nice and peaceful and you get a great view of the house and the land.”

“You sure do,” said Johnny, who was still rather in awe of how big the ranch was, seeing as he had only been back living there, for about six months. “I’ll havta find me a place like this, so that I can go to it when I want to think.”

“Well, you can use this place, if you want, but not if I’m already here,” said Scott.

“No, that wouldn’t be fair,” said Johnny. “This is your place and I bet you come here, sometimes, to get away from me, as well as to think.”

Scott laughed and nodded his head.

“Well, yes, I guess I do, sometimes. Not that I don’t want to be with you, but when you’re trying to sort out a particular problem, you don’t want anyone interrupting your train of thought.”

“That’s okay, Scott and I’m not upset by it,” said Johnny. “I like to be alone, too, now and again. And I could do with a place to get away from Teresa and her dolls.”

“Well, when you start school, you’ll be away from her, as she’s got another year at home, before she starts going,” said Scott.

“Yeah, and that’s about the only good thing that there is, about having to go to school,” said Johnny, who was rather nervous of the prospect of attending school, with his big brother, after the spring break.

“School’s okay,” said Scott. “I know that you haven’t been that much, but once you get there and make some friends, I bet you’ll love it.”

“Maybe,” said Johnny, but he didn’t sound that sure.

“Well, try not to worry about it, too much, as I’ll be there to help you learn the ropes,” said Scott.

The two boys entered the main room of the large, airy hacienda style house that was their home, calling for their father, as they did so.

“Hey, Pa, is it supper time, yet? We’re starving.”

Murdoch was sat at his desk and he smiled, as he looked up at his boys.

“You just have time to go and wash up,” said Murdoch. “Maria was asking me when you would be home, and I told her that your rumbling tummies would bring you back, before too long, and here you are.”

“Hi, Scott, hi Johnny,” said Teresa, coming out of the kitchen, to join them.

“Hi, Teresa,” said Scott.

“Hi, squirt,” said Johnny, heading for his room, in order to get ready for supper.

“Don’t call me squirt, it’s not nice,” said Teresa, but Johnny just grinned at her and carried on to his room.

“Doc, tell Johnny not to call me squirt, I don’t like it,” said Teresa, going over to Murdoch’s desk.

“Aw, he doesn’t mean anything by it, sweetheart,” said the rancher, lifting the little girl up on his lap. “It’s just a nickname he’s given you.”

“But a nickname’s s’posed to be somefing you like being called and I don’t like being called squirt,” said Teresa.

“All right, I’ll ask him not to call you it, anymore,” said Murdoch, giving the little girl a kiss, and then returning her to the floor. “Excuse me, but I need to wash up for supper.”

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When the family was all seated at the dining table, Murdoch brought up the subject of Johnny calling Teresa squirt.

“Please don’t call her that, Johnny, as she doesn’t like it.”

“It’s only a nickname and she is a squirt, so it fits her,” said Johnny, smiling at Scott, who winked at his little brother.

“Whether it fits her, or not, is not the point,” said Murdoch. “Teresa doesn’t like it and so I’d rather you didn’t call her that, anymore, okay?”

“Okay, don’t wanna upset little Miss Prissy Britches, do we?” said Johnny.

“I don’t like being called that, eivver,” said Teresa, looking like she was about to cry.

“John, that’s enough, now,” said Murdoch. “Teresa is only a little girl and you shouldn’t tease her.”

“She needs to toughen up, a bit,” said Johnny.

“John, Teresa is only six and she’s fine, when you leave her alone. Now, please mind what I say and stop it with the name calling.”

“Okay,” said Johnny, rolling his eyes and sighing. “I’ll be happy to leave her alone, as that means I don’t havta have her following me around. If I’m not allowed to give her a nickname, then I don’t wanna look after her, all the time, either.”

“You are not expected to look after her, all the time, Johnny,” said Murdoch. “In fact, it’s very rare that you are asked to look after her. But, sometimes, we do suggest that you play with her, and I will still expect you to do that. After all, Scott plays with you and he doesn’t give you a silly nickname, does he?”

“Nope, but then I ain’t a dumb ole girl, am I?”

At this remark, Teresa started to cry, and Murdoch became angry with his youngest son.

“Now, then, that is enough, John. There is no need for you to talk about Teresa, like that, and if you persist, then you are going to find sitting, mighty uncomfortable, young man. Let’s eat our meal and we’ll have no more of this nonsense.”

Johnny realised that he’d gone far enough and turned his attention to his food.

Murdoch changed the subject.

“We need to go into town, tomorrow, boys, to get you kitted out for school.”

“We’ve got a few more days before we go back, Pa, so there’s no hurry,” said Scott.

“Maybe not, son, but I have a rather busy schedule, ahead, and so tomorrow is the best day for me to take the time off and make the trip into town. You need some new pants and Johnny needs just about everything, he’s grown that much.”

“It’s all this great food that Maria cooks for me,” said Johnny, smiling at the cook, as she came into the room, carrying the dessert. “I ain’t ever eaten this good, not ever.”

Murdoch looked over at his youngest son and thought about the boy’s words. It was most probably true that Johnny had never eaten that well. For most of his life, he’d lived with his mother in a variety of boarding houses and sometimes, bordellos, and food was often scarce.

“Well, slow down and enjoy it, son,” said Murdoch. “No one’s going to take it away from you, so don’t eat so fast, you’ll give yourself indigestion.”

“Sorry, Papa,” said Johnny, and he did slow down, a bit.

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Chapter Two

After supper, the boys played checkers, for a while, and Johnny tried to remain polite when Teresa kept interrupting them, as he knew that his father was watching him. However, he was very relieved when Paul, Teresa’s father, told the little girl it was her bedtime.

“Night, Scott, Johnny,” she said, as she headed for her room.

“Night, Teresa,” said Scott.

“Night, sq, I mean Teresa,” said Johnny, casting an eye in Murdoch’s direction, to see if his father had caught him almost calling Teresa, squirt, again.

Murdoch didn’t appear to have noticed and so Johnny turned his attention back to the game of checkers.

However, it wasn’t long before Murdoch was telling Johnny that it was time for him to go to bed.

“Off you go, son, as we will have to be up early in the morning, if we are going into town.”

“I think I will turn in, too,” said Scott.

Both boys said goodnight to their father and went to their rooms, although Johnny didn’t stay in his, for long, as he wanted to talk to his brother.

“Hey, Scott, are you sure I’m gonna be all right at this school? I don’t reckon it’s really for me, brother. You know I have a problem taking orders and sitting still, and I sure don’t wanna mess things up for you.”

Scott went over to his little brother and put his arm around him, as he led him to his bed.

“Sit down and we’ll talk about this, all right? There’s nothing to be scared of. School’s okay, and you’ll get to make lots of new friends.”

“Who said I was scared?” said Johnny, pulling away from Scott and sitting up, straighter, on the bed. “I never said I was scared. I just said I didn’t think it was for me.”

“All right, so you’re not scared, but you don’t want to go,” said Scott. “But Pa wants you to, and the law says you have to, and you know how Pa likes to live by the law?”

“Yeah, I know he does, but that don’t mean that I want to, does it? And I don’t wanna go to school.”

“Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to go, son,” said Murdoch, appearing in the doorway of Scott’s room, having come upstairs to see that the boys were settled down for the night. “As Scott says, it is the law, but, more importantly, I want you to go, as I feel that an education is necessary, if you want to make something of your life.”

“But all I wanna do is work on the ranch with you, Papa, and you can teach me all that I need to know, to do that, right here. I don’t need to go to no school to learn it.”

“It’s true that I can teach you a lot of things, Johnny, and I will do, but I can’t teach you everything. I just don’t have the time, what with running the ranch, and besides, you not only learn from the teacher, you also learn social skills, by mixing with other children. You don’t get to do that, here on the ranch.”

“I do,” said Johnny. “I get to mix with Teresa and Scott.”

“I know you do, but that’s not the same, because they are family,” said Murdoch. “Going to school means that you will mix with people from all walks of life. Anyway, that’s enough talk for tonight, you both should be in bed, by now.”

“Yes, sir,” said Scott, and he started to get undressed.

“Come on, Johnny, let’s go along to your room,” said Murdoch. “I’ll be back to say goodnight, Scott, once you are in bed.”

Murdoch led Johnny out of Scott’s room and into his own.

“Listen, son, I know you are anxious about going to school, but it will be fine, once you get there,” said Murdoch.

“So you and Scott keep telling me, but I’m not so sure and I’m the one who’s gotta go,” replied Johnny.

“Yes, I know you are, but like Scott says, it is the law, and you don’t want me to be in trouble, do you?”

“No, of course not, but I didn’t havta go, when I first came here to live.”

“Well, that was because there wasn’t a place for you, but now, the school has another teacher and so you can go. And you do need to get some education, Johnny. I know you can read and write, but apart from that, you didn’t really have the chance to learn much, when you were with your mother, did you? As you said, you moved around a lot, and so couldn’t attend school, on a regular basis.”

Johnny was struggling to get his nightshirt over his head, as he answered his father, and so his words were a bit muffled.

“Okay, I guess if it’s that important to you and Scott, then I’ll give it a go.”

Murdoch helped his son, by undoing the buttons on the nightshirt, and pulled it over Johnny’s head.

“Thank you, Johnny. It will make it a much better experience for you, if you go along with an open mind.”

“What do ya mean by that, Papa?” said Johnny, putting his arms through the sleeves of the shirt.

“I mean, that if you go to the school, prepared to give it your best shot, then you’re more likely to get something out of it, but if you go, thinking that you’re not going to like it, chances are you won’t.”

“Oh, I see,” said Johnny. “Well, I’ll try and like it. I mean, Scott goes and he don’t seem to mind, that much.”

“There you are, then, and you know you can trust your big brother, don’t you?”

Johnny smiled at the thought.

“Yeah, I guess I can, pretty much.”

Johnny climbed into bed and Murdoch leant over him, to give him a kiss goodnight.

“See you in the morning, son.”

“Papa, could you read to me, for a bit?”

“Of course I can, but let me go and say goodnight to Scott, first, as he might be asleep, by the time I’ve finished reading to you.”

“Okay, I’ll pick out a book.”

When Scott was younger, Murdoch had always read to the boy, before he went to sleep, and when Johnny arrived at the ranch, Murdoch started to do the same for him. Johnny tried to pretend that he wasn’t bothered, one way or another, but if Murdoch didn’t offer, then Johnny usually asked him to, as he loved falling asleep, listening to his father’s soothing voice.

By the time Murdoch returned, Johnny was back in bed and the book was on his nightstand. Murdoch picked it up, sat down in the rocking chair, and began to read to the boy.

After a while, Johnny’s even, rhythmic breathing told Murdoch that the boy was asleep, even before he looked up from the book and could see that he was. He placed the book back on the nightstand, marking the page that he’d got to, with a piece of paper, and he turned down the lamp, before tiptoeing out of the room.

Murdoch peeped in on Scott, who was also asleep. He had to remove the book, which was lying across his older son’s face, and repeated the same routine in Scott’s room that he had in Johnny’s.

Murdoch went downstairs, to find that Paul was there, with a fresh pot of coffee.

“Thought you might like one,” Paul said.

“Yes, please, although I don’t think it will be long before I turn in. I need all my energy to keep up with those two, when we go to town, tomorrow.”

“Actually, Murdoch, I was going to ask you if you could take Teresa with you, as well. As you know, I have a fairly long ride ahead of me, in the morning, to check out the fencing around the North Pasture, and Maria has got some notion about spring cleaning, and so looking after Teresa is going to be a bit difficult for her. She’s not the one complaining, you understand, but I know that if Teresa is left with Maria, without one of the boys to entertain her, she’s likely to become a bit of a handful.”

“Yes, of course she can come with us,” said Murdoch, although he knew that it might cause a problem with Johnny.

Since both Paul and Murdoch were raising their children by themselves, they liked to offer the other one help with child care, when they could. And they could also call on Maria to have the children, when both men had to be away from the ranch, at the same time.

“I just hope that Johnny is going to settle into school, okay,” continued Murdoch. “He still didn’t sound that happy about it, when he was talking to Scott, earlier this evening.”

“Well, if you can think back, that far, Murdoch, I doubt if you were that keen on school, at just eleven. I know I wasn’t,” said Paul.

Murdoch chuckled.

“No, I don’t suppose I was,” he said. “But Johnny has been through so much, already, and I don’t want to make him do something he hates, but he has to go to school, doesn’t he?”

“Well, yes, he does, now that there is a place for him. And being selfish about it, for a minute, it will make it a lot easier for me to convince Teresa that it’s a good idea, when her turn comes, if Johnny is already there. But, if you don’t send him, then she will probably say she doesn’t want to go, either.”

“I know he has to have some form of schooling, and I could get him a tutor, but I think he needs to go to school, to learn to be a child, again, and to make some friends.”

“I agree. That boy is far too self absorbed; he needs to be with other youngsters.”

The following morning, Scott was given the unenviable task of getting his little brother out of bed.

“Go and get him, Scott, or else we’ll never get to town in time to do all that we need to do,” said Murdoch.

“Yessir,” said Scott, and he dragged himself, reluctantly, away from the table.

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Chapter Three

As he entered his little brother’s room, all he could see was a mound of covers on the bed, but no sign of Johnny. Scott began to pull at the blankets, gradually revealing Johnny’s head and torso. The boy was curled up in a ball, and in response to Scott taking away his blankets, he just reached out with his hand and made a rather feeble grab at them.

“Gerroff,” was all he managed to say.

“Johnny, it’s me, Scott. Pa says you’re to come and have your breakfast, right now, or else we won’t have time to do all we need to do, in town.”

“Don’t wanna go to town, don’t wanna buy stuff for school,” said the younger boy.

“Well, I do, and Pa’s not going to be in a good mood to buy me stuff, if you’ve rubbed him up the wrong way, so please get out of bed and get dressed, before you make him mad.”

Johnny saw the sense of doing what Scott suggested, and he got out of bed, albeit reluctantly.

“I don’t know why you’re dragging your heels, this way,” continued Scott, as Johnny shrugged into his clothes. “You like having new things to wear, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, I do,” said Johnny, who still hadn’t got used to having new clothes bought for him, after years of wearing hand me downs. “But I don’t want ‘em, iffen it means I havta go to school.”

“Oh, Johnny, school isn’t that bad, really it isn’t,” said Scott.

Eventually, the younger boy made it down to the kitchen and sat at the table, in order to eat his breakfast.

“It’s about time you got down here, young man,” said Murdoch, in an angry tone. “You know we have to go into town, this morning.”

“Sorry, sir,” said Johnny, and he applied himself to the bowl of oatmeal, which Maria put in front of him.

“Hurry up with your breakfast, I’m going out to hitch up the team,” continued Murdoch, draining the last of his coffee.

“Can I ride Scirocco?” said Johnny.

“No, son, we’ll all go in the wagon,” said Murdoch. “No sense taking the horses, too. And you should say may I ride Scirocco, not can I.”

“But I was gonna go and see Wes, after we’d bin to town.”

“Not today, Johnny. I asked Maria to pack us up a picnic and I thought we could go and do a spot of fishing, on the way back from town.”

Johnny brightened up at the thought, as he loved spending time with just his father and brother, but then Murdoch spoilt it, by telling him that Teresa was going with them.

“Aw, Papa, why? She jest spoils everything and she can’t keep quiet, when we’re trying to fish.”

“Neither Paul nor Maria are able to take care of her, this morning, and so I agreed to take her with us. Now, stop your fussing and eat your breakfast, please.”

Murdoch went out to the barn, to hitch up the wagon, and Johnny finished his oatmeal. As soon as it was all gone, he left the table and sought out his brother.

“We’ve gotta take Teresa with us,” he said. “And after we’ve bin into town, we’re gonna go fishing and have a picnic, so she’ll be wearing our ears off, all day. Why did Papa say she could come with us?”

“Probably because there wasn’t anyone else to look out for her,” said Scott. “It’ll be okay, because after she’s eaten her lunch, I bet she has a nap, and then you, me and Pa can fish.”

That thought cheered Johnny up, a little bit.

“Yeah, I guess she will, she usually does have a nap, doesn’t she?”

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The three children joined Murdoch in the yard. Scott helped Teresa up into the wagon, and got in, with her. Johnny sat up on the seat, next to his father. As soon as Teresa saw where Johnny was sitting, she wanted to sit with him, but Scott talked her out of it, by promising to tell her a story, if she stayed in the back of the wagon, with him. Johnny smiled his thanks to Scott, and then turned around so that he could talk to his father.

“So what kinda things are you gonna be buying for me, Papa?” asked the boy.

“Well, you need some new shirts, pants, and maybe some boots, as you seem to be having trouble getting those ones on your feet.”

“I havta stomp ‘em on, a bit, but once I’ve got my feet into them, properly, they’re okay,” said Johnny, not wanting his father to think he was becoming too much of an expense.

“Johnny, if you need some new boots, then the budget will run to getting you some,” said Murdoch, realising what the boy was doing. “If your boots are too tight, then your toes will get bent out of shape, and that will hurt you. We also need to get you some school supplies, pens, pencils, a writing tablet and a lunch pail, for starters.”

“Papa, do I really havta go to school? I’d much rather stay at home, with you.” Johnny tried, again, to talk Murdoch out of sending him.

“Yes, son, you do have to,” and Murdoch tried to soften the words, by smiling at Johnny and putting his arm around him.

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They were soon in town, and once Murdoch had taken care of a couple of things he had to do, he led the children over to the gents’ outfitters.

As Scott had said,  Johnny loved getting new clothes, after so many years of having to make do with cast offs and hand me downs, and so he was happy to spend the time choosing some more.

Scott, too, liked having new things, so the two boys were having fun, but Teresa soon became bored.

“Can’t we go do somefing else?” she whined. “I’m bored.”

“Not yet, we ain’t finished,” said Johnny. “Papa, can I have this shirt? It’s a real nice colour.”

Johnny held up the shirt, as Murdoch was over the far side of the store.

“Yes, son, that’s okay,” said Murdoch. “You need another three shirts, and two pairs of pants. I’ve found some boots, too. I think you should try them on.”

Scott made his choices quicker than Johnny, so he tried to keep Teresa amused, but she was getting grouchier by the minute. Her father tended to spoil her and she wasn’t used to going shopping and not getting anything for herself, but she had no need for any new clothes, at that time.

“I wanna new dress,” she said, stamping her foot.

“Not today, sweetheart,” said Murdoch. “Scott and Johnny are getting clothes for school and you’re not old enough to go, yet. We’ll go to the mercantile, next, and if you are good, I will buy you some candy.”

Johnny wanted to try all the clothes on, before Murdoch bought them, and so they were in the store for quite a while, but, eventually, he made his final choices, and they left with several packages. He did need the new boots, as his feet had grown, and he decided to keep them on.

“I need ta wear ‘em in, before school starts,” he said.

“Good idea,” said Scott. “New boots can sometimes pinch a bit, at first.”

“And concentrating on your school work will be a full time job, without having to worry about your feet hurting, too,” said Murdoch.

His father’s words were said in fun, but they made Johnny’s stomach do flip flops. Johnny was sure that he was going to find school work too hard and that he would let down Murdoch and Scott, by proving to be too stupid to learn anything. He was able to read and write, but not that well, and didn’t like the idea of having to stand up in a room full of children and show just how little he knew.

“Yeah, I guess it will,” said Johnny.

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The party now moved on to the mercantile, where the boys were going to buy their school supplies, and Murdoch had promised to get Teresa some candy, if she was good.

The little girl wasn’t going to let Murdoch forget about his promise, either.

“I was good, Doc, so don’t forget my candy, will ya?”

“No, I won’t,” said Murdoch, ruffling the little girl’s hair.

“Huh, don’t see why she deserves no candy, all she did was moan all the time, while we were getting our clothes,” muttered Johnny.

“What was that, Johnny?” said Murdoch, but Johnny decided not to share what he’d said with his father.

“Nothing, Papa.”

“Well, you and Scott pick out the things you need for school, please, and then, maybe, I’ll let you have some candy, too,” said Murdoch, suspecting that Johnny was annoyed about Teresa having candy, if he wasn’t getting any.

Johnny smiled at his father and followed Scott to the section in the store where the stationery was kept.

“Here you go, Johnny, this is what you will need,” said Scott, holding out a writing tablet, a pen and some pencils.

“Oh, thanks,” said Johnny, rather absentmindedly, as he was watching the way that Teresa was dancing around his father, demanding his attention. “Look at her, anyone would think that Papa was her Pa, the way she grabs all his attention. And it’ll be worse when I start school, cos she’ll have him all to herself every day.”

Scott could tell that Johnny was really upset and so didn’t tease him. Instead, he put an arm around his brother and spoke to him, quietly.

“No one is more important to our Pa than you and me are, brother, but he does have a soft spot for Teresa, too. But try not to be jealous of her, because if Pa finds out, it’ll make him sad  that he’s made you feel like that. He can show affection for her, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care for you.”

Johnny smiled at Scott.

“No, I guess it doesn’t, but she sure irritates me, sometimes. She likes to pretend she’s little Miss Innocent, but she gets up to lots of mischief, and then blames me.”

“Once you are at school all day, she won’t be able to do that,” said Scott, who knew that Teresa did, sometimes, blame Johnny for things she had done.

“That’s true, she won’t,” said Johnny, the realisation causing him to smile, widely. “Maybe then, Paul and Papa will find out what a little devil she can be.”

“I think they already know that,” said Scott. “After all, you have only lived with us, for a few months, so before you arrived she used to get into trouble. Of course, then she tried to blame me, but Pa knew the truth, and I’m sure he does when she tries to put the blame on you.”

“Yeah, I think he does, cos he never punishes me, iffen Teresa tells him it was me who did something.”

“There you are, then. You see, her plan doesn’t work.”

Just then, Murdoch called the boys over to join him and Teresa.

“If you’ve got what you need for school, why don’t you come over here and choose some candy, like Teresa is doing?”

Both boys needed no second bidding and went to their father’s side. Johnny showed Murdoch what he’d got for school, and Murdoch placed the things on the counter, along with his other purchases.

“Choose your candy, boys, and then we can head off for the picnic.”

Scott and Johnny didn’t take long to choose what they wanted, but Teresa was still dithering about her choices.

Finally, Johnny said, “If you don’t make up your mind, right now, then you don’t get any candy. The fish will have stopped biting, by the time we get there, at this rate.”

Teresa began to cry, as a result of what Johnny said.

“I want my candy,” she said, between sobs.

“You can have some, sweetheart,” said Murdoch, glaring at Johnny. “All Johnny meant was that he would like you to hurry up.”

Teresa did so and they were, eventually, on their way to the river.

   .                                             

 Chapter Four     

As they drove along, Murdoch spoke to Johnny. Scott and Teresa were, once again, sitting in the back of the wagon.

“There was no need to be so nasty to Teresa, son, she’s only a little girl.”

“Maybe she is, but she sure causes a lot of trouble,” said Johnny, mulishly. “This trip would’ve been much better without her tagging along.”

“Now then, that’s not a very nice to thing to say, John,” said Murdoch. “She likes to be with you and Scott, and she had to come with us, today, as there was no one at home to take care of her.”

“Oh, I know she did, but I kinda like having you all to myself, well, only sharing you with Scott, that is,” said Johnny, pushing his hat down over his eyes in an effort to avoid looking at his father.

Immediately, Murdoch felt bad about being cross with Johnny. The boy hadn’t been with his father for eight of his eleven years, and so he was bound to feel that the time he now got, was very precious to him.

Murdoch put his arm around the boy and drew him close.

“Sorry, Johnny, but you do know that I have to help Paul out with taking care of  Teresa, don’t you? I don’t do it, because I want to, necessarily, but because it means that Paul can give more of his time to helping me run the ranch, if I help him out with child care.”

“Yeah, I know that, Papa, but very soon I’m gonna be going to school and then I’ll have even less time to spend with you, than I do now.”

“I’ll tell you what, son. There’s still a few days left of the spring break, and so before you start school, if I manage to get all my work up to date, we’ll spend a whole day, just the two of us, doing whatever you want to do, okay?”

“That would be nice, Papa, but I’d like Scott to come with us, too, please.”

Murdoch dropped a kiss on the top of Johnny’s head, and gave him a hug.

“Okay, just the three of us, then.”

By the time they got to the spot by the river, where Murdoch had planned for them to stop, it was almost lunch time.

“I think it’s best if we eat first and then fish, after lunch,” said Murdoch.

Johnny was happy with this arrangement, as he was hoping that Teresa would take a nap, after she’d eaten. She did so, and so it meant that the boys and Murdoch could fish in peace.

Johnny wasn’t that patient a fisherman, but then he hadn’t had the years of practice that Scott and Murdoch had. Growing up in border towns, with a succession of ‘uncles’ passing through his life, meant that there hadn’t been anyone to teach him the best way to fish. But, he did enjoy it, and since returning to the ranch, he and Scott went fishing, quite a lot, so he was getting better at it.

Murdoch made sure that Teresa was warm and safe, in the back of the wagon, before going to the river’s edge, with the boys.

“I reckon she will sleep for a good hour, or more,” said Murdoch. “So that should give us enough time to catch our supper, shouldn’t it, boys?”

“Yes, it should,” said Scott.

“Shall we hold a contest, with a prize for the one who catches the most fish?” suggested Johnny.

“Sounds good, but what’s the prize going to be?” said Scott.

“How about loser does the winner’s chores for a week?” said Johnny.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, son,” said Murdoch. “Scott tends to do more chores than you do, and they are harder, because he’s older. How about the loser looking after the winner’s horse, for a week?”

“Okay,” said Johnny, although he was a bit upset to be told that he couldn’t do all of Scott’s chores, as he prided himself on being able to do anything his big brother could do.

The two boys began fishing in earnest, hoping to beat the other one. Murdoch fished, too, but he wasn’t taking part in the competition.

By the time Teresa woke up, the three of them had caught more than enough fish for supper. When it came to tallying up the boys’ total catch, Johnny was declared the winner, having caught one more fish than his brother.

“Hey, I beat ya, big brother,” said Johnny, with glee. “Jest make sure you take real good care of Scirocco, okay?”

“Oh, I will, little brother, don’t you worry about that,” said Scott, being a gracious loser.

Teresa was full of energy after her nap, and so the four of them played with a ball, for a while, before heading for home. She did make a bit of a fuss, when she failed to catch it, but Johnny put up with her tantrums, extremely well.

As they rode back to the ranch, Murdoch said to Johnny, “That wasn’t so bad, was it? Playing with Teresa, I mean.”

“No, I guess not, but I’m glad she slept while we were fishing.”

.

When they got back to the house, the boys went to show Mamacita their fish and the things that they bought in town.

“What a lovely catch, we will eat well tonight, boys, thank you. And won’t you two look handsome, when you go to school in your new clothes? Your Papa has been very generous, I hope you thanked him?”

“Of course we did, Mamacita,” said Johnny, giving her a hug.

“And, little one, did you play nicely with Teresa?”

“Yeah, ‘course I did,” said Johnny. “She had a nap and then we played ball with her, didn’t we, Scott?”

“Yes, we did, and Johnny was very kind to her,” said Scott.

“That is good to know, as that little girl loves you both, very much,” said Maria.

“I’d better go and take care of the horses,” said Scott, and he left the room.

“Are you not going with him, Johnny? To see to your horse?”

“No, ma’am. Scott and me had a bet on who would catch the most fish and I won. The prize was that the loser would take care of the winner’s horse, for a week.”

“Well, if you stay here in the kitchen, you can gut the fish for me. Or, if you’d rather not do that, then take yourself upstairs and tidy up your room. I went in to change the sheets, this morning, and I could hardly find the bed.”

“I’ll go tidy my room,” said Johnny, and he grabbed a cookie, before heading out of the door.

.

However, he didn’t go to his room, but decided to go and see what his father was doing.

Murdoch was sat at his huge desk, in front of the large window, which gave a lovely view of the ranch. Johnny perched on the edge of the desk, nibbling at his cookie, with his perfect, white teeth.

“Was Maria happy with the fish we caught?”

“Yeah, she sure was. Says they’ll make a real fine meal.”

Johnny continued to sit on the desk, and Murdoch turned his attention to bringing the ledger book up to date. The boy said nothing, for some considerable time, and, eventually, Murdoch spoke again.

“Haven’t you got any chores to do? I saw your brother heading for the barn.”

“Well, he’s gotta take care of my horse, as well as his own, hasn’t he? So, I don’t need to start my chores until he’s finished with the horses.”

“Didn’t Maria have anything for you to do?”

Before Johnny was able to answer his father, Maria came into the main room, carrying a cup of coffee for Murdoch.

“I told you to tidy up room, little one. Why are you sat there, instead of doing what you were told to do?”

Johnny jumped up, in order to remove himself from Maria’s presence, but the housekeeper was too quick for him, and she grabbed him by the arm and led him over to the door, swatting his bottom, as they went.

“Go do as you were told, little one, or no supper for you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Johnny, and he ran off to his room, laughing, as the swats hadn’t hurt him.

He had been tempted to plead for mercy, to his father, but knew that Murdoch would most likely side with Maria, as even the big rancher was in awe of the feisty cook.

.

Back in the days when Johnny had first been born, Maria had been the one who had cared for him, the most, as his mother was never that interested in looking after a tiny baby. She had been overjoyed when Murdoch finally managed to bring the boy home to Lancer, but despite loving him as much as Murdoch did, she, like his father, was not going to let the boy run wild, and believed in setting firm guidelines, which she insisted that both the boys, and Teresa, adhered to.

Murdoch watched the way that Maria dealt with Johnny and smiled, but said nothing. He knew that Johnny was feeling rather pleased with himself, for having beaten Scott at the fishing, and was glad that Maria was now putting him in his place, as he didn’t want the boy getting the idea he was above doing his chores.

“Sorry, Maria, I would’ve told him to go, but I didn’t know that you had given him anything to do, and he wasn’t about to tell me.”

“That’s all right, Senor Lancer, but that little one is very sneaky and if he can get out of chores, he will.”

.

Chapter Five    

When Johnny entered his room, he groaned out loud when he saw just how untidy it was. Not only was the floor strewn with his old clothes and other possessions, but he’d also dumped the new things down on the floor, too, adding to the chaos.

“This’ll take forever to tidy up,” he said out loud.

Suddenly he felt something tugging at his pant leg. Looking down, he saw it was Theresa.

“Hi, squirt, what do you want?”

“Don’t call me that,” said the little girl, stamping her foot. “I comed to see if you want me to help ya, but I’m not gonna if ya call me squirt.”

Johnny squatted down and tried to look contrite.

“Sorry, Teresa. Will ya help me? Cos Maria says it all hasta be done before supper, and it’s gonna take me ages to do it all.”

“’Kay, Johnny, I’ll help ya,” said the little girl, and she did.

In fact, Teresa ended up doing most of the work, with Johnny sat on the bed, supervising, and telling her where things should go.

The little girl began to get tired, but because she wanted to please Johnny, she carried on following his orders. By the time Maria called them to the table, Johnny’s room was pretty much tidied and Teresa was ready for bed. She sat at her place, but as she began to eat, her eyelids started to droop and she very nearly ended up with her face in a bowl of soup.

“Careful, little girl,” said Paul, gently nudging her awake. “Didn’t she have a nap today, Murdoch?”

“Yes, she did, straight after lunch, and she slept for about an hour and a half,” said Murdoch.

“I wonder why she is this tired, now, then?” said Paul.

“I tidied Johnny’s room,” said Teresa.

As Johnny had already accepted praise from Maria, who had checked on his room, before allowing the boy to have his supper, Teresa’s words made him sink down in his chair, hoping to become invisible.

“I thought I heard you telling Maria that you had been the one who tidied your room, Johnny,” said Murdoch.

“Well, I did, kinda,” said Johnny.

“What exactly does that mean?” demanded Murdoch.

“Teresa helped me, but I did it, too,” said Johnny.

“No, you didn’t,” said Teresa. “You sat on the bed and told me where to put fings, and that’s why I’m so tired.”

Teresa wasn’t meaning to get Johnny into trouble; she was just stating the truth, and explaining to her father why she was tired.

“Johnny, I am very disappointed in you,” said Murdoch. “It was wrong of you to get a little girl to tidy up your room, and even worse to lie about it and take the credit, yourself, for something you hadn’t done. I think you should go to your room and I will come and talk to you, about this, in a little while.”

“All this fuss just cos she’s such a squirt that she gets tired doing a bit of tidying up,” said Johnny, as he left the table, and headed for his room.

“Being rude is not going to improve the situation, Johnny,” said Murdoch. “Do as I say and go to your room, right now.”

As he reached the door, Johnny turned around and said, “I ain’t had my dessert, yet.”

“And you’re not getting any,” said Maria, who was also angry that the boy had lied to her. “I told you there would be no supper for you, if you did not tidy your room. You got supper, by lying, but now I know that you lied, you are not getting dessert.”

Once he realised that even his staunchest ally, Maria, was cross with him, Johnny didn’t say anymore, he just went to his room.

“I’m sorry about that, Paul,” said Murdoch. “It was very wrong of Johnny to make Teresa tidy up his room for him.”

“I didn’t mind, Doc, I like helping Johnny,” said the little girl.

“Helping is one thing, sweetheart, but Johnny made you do it all, and so that wasn’t helping,” said Murdoch.

“It was wrong of Johnny, but Teresa was a willing helper, so please don’t be too hard on him,” said Paul.

Murdoch smiled at his foreman.

“That boy of mine is very lucky, having so many people willing to stand up for him.”

“That’s because he isn’t really bad, Pa, he just gets a bit carried away with his schemes, sometimes,” said Scott.

“Yes, he does, and he’s got to start learning to use that brain for good things, rather than bad,” said Murdoch.

“Well, he’ll learn that at school,” said Scott. “He hasn’t had the chances that I’ve had; he’s had to live by his wits, just to survive.”

“I know he has, son, and I’m not planning to be that hard on him, but he does need to learn that some things are not allowed, and lying is one of them.”

Murdoch finished his meal, and then rose from the table, in order to go and talk to his youngest son.

As he entered the boy’s room, he found Johnny standing by the window. The boy was obviously miles away, in his head, and he jumped when Murdoch cleared his throat, just behind him.

“Oh, sorry Papa, didn’t hear ya come in.”

“Obviously not, but you should have been expecting me. I told you that I would be coming to talk to you.”

“Yeah, I know, but I didn’t know when. You hadn’t finished your supper, when you sent me to my room, and you still had your dessert to have. I guess you had your dessert, didn’t you?”

Murdoch knew that this was a dig at him, for not allowing the boy to have his dessert.

“Yes, I did have my dessert, but then I hadn’t been telling lies, like you had. Maria told you to tidy up your room, and that you wouldn’t have any supper if you didn’t do it. Then she asked you if you had done it, and you said you had, even though it wasn’t you, but Teresa who tidied it up. So, you got your supper under false pretences, didn’t you? And when you were found out, I think it was perfectly reasonable to deny you your dessert.”

“Well, I don’t. Starving a child is pure mean, if you ask me,” said Johnny, crossing his arms and glaring at his father.

“You are hardly being starved, son,” said Murdoch. “But, if you are that keen on having your dessert, then we can change the punishment, if you like. I’ll give you a spanking, instead, and then you can have your dessert. How do you feel about that?”

Johnny didn’t have to ponder on that question, for too long.

“No, it’s okay, Papa, I’ll do without dessert. As you said, it’s not like I’m starving to death, I did have a lovely fish supper.”

“I had a feeling you might see it like that,” said Murdoch, the corners of his mouth beginning to turn up, as he watched his son’s reaction to the idea of getting a spanking. “Now then, I want you to go and apologise to Maria, for lying to her, and then say you are sorry to Teresa, for making her tidy up your room. And then, you are to come back to your room and go to bed. And I sincerely hope you won’t try lying to us, again, as next time I won’t be that lenient, understood?”

“Yes, sir, understood,” said Johnny. “And I am sorry for lying, as I know you don’t like us to.”

Murdoch pulled the boy into a hug.

“No, I don’t. There should never be lies between people who love each other. Now, off you go and make your apologies,” and Murdoch sent the boy on his way, with a light swat to his backside.

Maria and Teresa accepted Johnny’s apology, with good grace, and then the boy returned to his room, as Murdoch had instructed him to.

Scott went in to say goodnight to him, and to find out what Murdoch had said to him, about his behaviour.

“Aw, he was okay, really, although when I complained about missing dessert, he said I could have it, but he’d give me a spanking for my punishment, instead. Rather wisely, I decided to go without the dessert.”

Scott laughed and said, “Good decision, brother. Well, I best say goodnight, as Pa said I wasn’t to stay in here for too long, as being sent to bed, early, is also part of your punishment. ‘Night, little brother.”

“’Night, Scott.”

 .                                                         

Chapter Six

The following day, Johnny was determined to spend some time with Scott, without Teresa tagging along behind them. As the two boys did their chores, Johnny suggested that they went off for a ride.

“Sounds good to me, little brother, but you best check that it’s okay with Pa, first,” said Scott. “You know how he likes us to let him know where we are going, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know he does, and I was gonna let him know, but I don’t want him telling us to take Teresa with us.”

“He won’t, if we say we are going for a ride, as she wouldn’t be able to keep up. Besides, I was planning on meeting up with some of my friends, later, so we’ll be doing stuff that she can’t do.”

Johnny was a bit upset to hear that Scott’s friends were going to be with them, but he didn’t let Scott know he was. He understood that Scott liked to be with his friends, but he got the feeling that they didn’t always want an eleven year old hanging out with them. Scott never made him feel as if he was in the way, but some of his friends did.

“Where did you plan to meet ‘em?”

“At the cave,” said Scott.

This was a place that Scott had already introduced Johnny to. It was quite a large cave situated in a rocky outcrop, in a fairly remote part of the ranch, and Scott used it as a place for him and his friends to meet up and spend time together, away from the prying ears and eyes of their parents. Scott was happy for Johnny to use it, too, and said that once the boy made a few friends, he could take them there.

So far, apart from a couple of the children of workers on the ranch, Johnny hadn’t really made any friends, but Scott was sure that would change, once Johnny was attending school. Johnny wasn’t so sure, as he rather liked his own company and didn’t exactly make much of an effort to find any friends to be close to.

“I’ll go tell Papa where we’re going, while you finish cleaning out my horse’s stall,” said Johnny, rather enjoying having his older brother taking care of his horse for him.

Johnny ran over to the house and with the typical energy of a young boy, burst into the main room, like a mini whirlwind, yelling for his father, at the top of his voice.

“PAPA, where are you?”

“I’m here, Johnny, and there is really no need for you to yell like that,” said Murdoch, coming through the door, which led to the kitchen, with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“Sorry, I was just coming ta tell ya that Scott and me are going out for a ride, if that’s okay?”

“That’s Scott and I, son, and yes, that’s okay, but just remember to be back in time for evening chores, before supper.”

“We will, see ya,” and Johnny was out the door, as fast as he’d come in.

Murdoch chuckled to himself, as he returned to his desk, and the mountain of paperwork, which was always waiting for him. He loved seeing the enthusiasm and joy on his youngest’s face, it was such a lovely change from the quiet, withdrawn boy that Johnny had been, when he’d first arrived at Lancer.

“Papa said it was okay, as long as ……..

“We are home in time to do our chores,” finished Scott, and Johnny nodded.

“Yeah, that’s what he said, all right. You know him pretty well, doncha?”

“Yes, I guess I do,” said Scott, as he saddled his horse.

.

The boys rode off; unaware that Teresa was watching them. The little girl had just learned how to saddle her pony and she ran into the barn, to do so, and was soon following the boys, although she was a good way behind them, seeing as she was only on a small pony, rather than a horse, as they were.

It took a while before Murdoch and Maria noticed that Teresa was gone, as they both thought she was with the other one.

Maria entered the main room, with a fresh pot of coffee for Murdoch, who needed a lot of help when doing the books, and a glass of milk and some cookies for Teresa. She asked Murdoch where Teresa was.

“Teresa? I thought she was with you, in the kitchen,” said Murdoch.

“But I thought she was with you,” said Maria.

“Oh, she’s probably hiding somewhere, you know how she likes to play hide and go seek?” said Murdoch.

“Maybe,” said Maria, but after half an hour of extensive searching of the house, both of them began to worry.

“I’ll check the barn,” said Murdoch, and he was soon back with the news that the little girl’s pony was missing, too.

“Madre dios, where can she be?” said Maria.

“She might have gone with the boys?” suggested Murdoch.

“She might have done, but they would have said if they were taking her with them, and after yesterday, I think that Johnny was rather hoping for some time away from Teresa. If she has gone, it will be that she is following them, not that she is with them.

And on that little pony, she may never catch up with them, and so could be at the mercy of anyone, or anything,” said Maria, nearly in tears.

“Now, don’t you worry,” said Murdoch, patting her hand. “She might only be little, but she’s lived here all her life and she knows her way around, pretty much.”

“She knows the main roads, but if the boys have gone off on a ride, they could have gone anywhere.”

“I’ll go and look for her, and if Paul gets back, before I do, just tell him, as gently as you can, what’s happened,” said Murdoch.

Meanwhile, Teresa was riding around, completely lost, as she had no idea where the boys had gone, or how to get back home.

Actually, she wasn’t that far from where the boys were, but she didn’t know that, and neither did they know that she was close by, not having seen her leave the ranch.

Suddenly, from out of the bushes, at the side of the road, a mountain lion appeared, running right across the path of her horse. The little pony reared up, in fright, and Teresa was thrown from his back, banging her head, as she fell to the ground. The pony ran off, but, fortunately for Teresa, the lion was on the trail of a stray calf, and didn’t stick around to investigate the inert little body, lying on the ground.

Scott, Johnny and some of the boys from school were playing a rowdy game of tag and Johnny was enjoying himself, a lot more than he’d thought he would. The main reason was because a couple of the older boys had brought their younger brothers along with them, and so there were boys closer in age to him, and not just the older ones he’d expected to be there. Scott had asked them to do this, so that Johnny could meet some of the children he would be going to school; with. Up until now, Johnny hadn’t been keen on meeting these boys, as they were already at school and he was afraid of feeling even more of an outsider, but now he knew he was going to school, too, things were different. There was also two boys with them, who, like Johnny, hadn’t had much schooling, and they were going to be starting the same time as him. The older one, who was called Jimmy, was fourteen, and the younger one, Zack, was eleven. They had moved to the valley about a year earlier, but because of the shortage of teachers, had not been able to attend school, as yet.

As the boys ran around, trying to avoid being tagged, by Scott, who was ‘it’, they were surprised to see Teresa’s little pony run into the clearing, by the cave.

“Hey, lookkee here,” said Zack. “This is a mighty cute little horse, wonder who it belongs to?”

“It’s Teresa’s,” said Johnny, drawing Scott’s attention away from the game and over to the pony.

“So it is,” said Scott. “How did he get all the way up here?”

“I bet she followed us,” said Johnny, angrily. “Honestly, I could cheerfully wring that little girl’s neck; she hasta go and spoil everything.”

“Hold on a minute, Johnny,” said Scott. “She shouldn’t have followed us, no, but if the pony’s running loose, then she must be on foot and, possibly, in trouble.”

“Serves her right, iffen she is,” said Johnny, refusing to calm down. “I suppose you’re now gonna say we havta go and look for her, so that means an end to our game? And then we’ll havta take her home; and I bet the Old Man will blame us for her running off.”

“We will have to go and look for her, brother, as she might be hurt, or at the very least, frightened. And Pa won’t blame us; he’ll know that we didn’t make her come after us. Come on, let’s start looking for her.”

The other boys offered to help and they were soon mounted up.

“We’ll split up into pairs and that way we can cover more ground,” said Scott. “All meet back here, in an hour, and if you find her, shoot your rifle, once in the air.”

The older boys all had hunting rifles with them, and so they divided themselves up, with a younger boy accompanying an older one. Scott and Johnny went off together and luck proved to be on their side, as it wasn’t long until they found her.

When Johnny saw Teresa, lying on the ground, so pale and still, all his anger melted away, and he jumped down off his horse and knelt beside her.

He took hold of her hand and began talking to her.

“It’s all right, darlin’, Johnny and Scott are here and we’ll take care of you, won’t we, Scott?”

As the younger boy lifted his head up, to address his brother, Scott could see that Johnny’s eyes were filled with unshed tears. He quickly dismounted and joined Johnny at Teresa’s side.

“Of course we will,” he said, as he began to gently check out her body, for any signs of injury.

As he put his hand under the back of her head, he felt something sticky, and when he removed his hand, it was smeared with blood.

“She’s taken a nasty blow to the back of her head, Johnny,” he said. “We need to get her home, but I’m scared to move her, in case I make the injury worse.”

“I’ll go fire the rifle, to let the other boys know we’ve found her,” said Johnny, not sure what else he could do to help the little girl, whom he feared was going to die.

“Okay, you do that,” said Scott, still sitting by Teresa’s side.

.                                                       

Chapter Seven

Just as Johnny fired the rifle, Murdoch appeared. Seeing his youngest with a rifle in his hand, he was about to remonstrate with him, until he saw Scott and Teresa, on the ground.

“I was just letting the other guys know that we’d found her, Papa,” said Johnny, knowing that Murdoch might be angry, seeing him firing a rifle. He’d told the boy he could have one for his twelfth birthday, and not before, and Johnny was only just eleven.

“That’s all right, son,” said Murdoch, joining Scott by the side of the still unconscious little girl. “What happened to her?”

“We don’t really know, Pa,” said Scott. “We were playing up at the cave and, suddenly Teresa’s pony came into the clearing, without her.”

“So we all mounted up and set out to find her,” said Johnny, coming to stand next to his father. “Is, is she gonna die, Papa? Cos if she does, it’ll be my fault.”

Murdoch did as Scott had done, and checked over the girl. As he was doing so, she began to come round. She moaned, a few times, and then opened her eyes.

“Hi, Doc, what happened to the big cat?”

Murdoch held the little girl in his arms and looked up at Johnny.

“Well, I think that answers your question, son, she isn’t going to die, but I don’t see why her accident is your fault.”

“Cos when I saw her pony and knew she’d followed us, I wanted to wring her neck,” said Johnny, keeping his eyes down and not looking at his father. “I was mad cos she’d spoilt our day out, but when I saw her lying on the ground, I was upset that she was hurt, and afraid that I’d made the accident happen, by wishing that something bad had happened to her. I didn’t really mean it; I’d hate it if she was hurt, bad.”

Murdoch knew that Johnny’s words were sincere, and so decided not to comment on the fact that the boy had been wishing Teresa harm, before he’d known what had happened to her.

By now, Teresa was struggling to sit up.

“You didn’t make me fall off my pony, Johnny. It was a big cat that did that. It ran in front of us and scared him. Prince reared up and I fell off and banged my head. I’m okay, Doc, can I get up, now?”

“Just take it easy, sweetheart,” said Murdoch. “I’ll get up on my horse and then Scott can help you to get up with me.”

“I can ride Prince home, Doc, I’m okay,” said the little girl.

“Do as Papa says, Teresa,” insisted Johnny. “You might have concussion and if ya try and ride alone, ya might fall off, again.”

“What’s concussion, Johnny?” asked Teresa.

The boy reddened, as he had to admit that he didn’t know.

“I ain’t that sure, but I know you can get it, after hurting your head, and it can make you dizzy.”

“Johnny’s right,” said Scott. “Here, let me help you up, and you can ride home with Doc. Johnny and I will bring Prince along.”

The little girl stopped protesting and allowed Scott to lift her up onto Murdoch’s horse.

“Are you boys coming back with us, now?” said Murdoch.

Johnny looked at Scott, before answering.

“Is it okay if we stay here, for a bit longer, Papa? We were playing a real good game and I’ve met some boys, my age, who I’ll be going to school with.”

“Yes, you may stay, but if you’re going to, then I think I ought to take Prince home, just in case he was hurt by that cat.”

“Okay, I’ll go and get him,” said Johnny, mounting Scirocco.

“It’s all right, son, lead the way and I’ll follow you and then I can pick him up.”

Scott also mounted up and they headed for the cave, where they found the other boys waiting for them. They were all pleased to see that Teresa was all right, and they handed over her pony to Murdoch, and waved them off.

“Didn’t you wanna go back with your Pa, just to make sure Teresa was all right?” said Zack, to Johnny.

“No, Papa said it was okay for us to stay and he wouldn’t have said that, if she was hurt real bad,” said Johnny. “Come on Scott, let’s get on with the game, you’re still ‘it’.”

.

The rest of the day went off well, and by the time they were riding home, Johnny was feeling a lot more confident about going to school.

“That Zack was a real nice boy and he ain’t had any more schooling than me, so I won’t be the only one who don’t know much. His brother was nice, too, did you like him, Scott?”

“I didn’t really talk to him, that much,” said Scott, who was secretly rather worried that Zack and Jimmy might not be the kind of people Murdoch wanted his boys to be friends with. Some of the things they had been saying, led Scott to believe that they were not a very honest family. However, he felt that it was a bit soon to make such a judgment and so was prepared to get to know them better, before saying anything to Johnny.

“And, of course ole Wes will be going to school, too,” continued Johnny. “He told me that his Pa reckons he could do with a bit of learning being pushed into that empty space between his ears.”

Wes was one of the few boys, in the area, whom Johnny had befriended, but he was a bit of a troublemaker, and if Johnny was ever in strife with Murdoch, it usually meant that he’d been up to something with Wes.

“Frank Carter’s little brother, Charlie, seemed like a nice kid,” said Scott, mentioning another one of the boys who had been at the cave.

“Yeah, he was all right, I guess, but a mite serious for me,” said Johnny. “I like having a bit of fun.”

“Don’t we all? But, remember, you are going to school to learn things, not to mess around. Pa won’t take kindly to you causing trouble in the schoolroom.”

“I know, Scott, but we ain’t doing lessons, all the time, are we? And I just think that Wes and Zack look like two fellers who wanna have a good time.”

Scott decided to say no more, but he was rather worried that his little brother might not be taking the whole concept of school, seriously enough.

.

When they got home, the two boys were very relieved to find that Teresa didn’t seem to be any the worse for her fall. In fact, Paul was finding it really hard to get through to her that she had been wrong, riding off alone, like she had.

“Now please mind me on this, little girl,” he said. “You are not to leave the yard, without getting the permission of me, Murdoch, or Maria, understood? You were very lucky that the mountain lion didn’t eat you. It’s very dangerous for a girl, as young as you, to go wandering off, by herself, and if you do it again, I will have to give you a paddling.”

Teresa looked over at her father, and placed her hands on her bottom.

“I wouldn’t like it if you did that, Daddy.”

“Well, just make sure that you do as you are told, and then I won’t have to, will I?”

“No, sir, you sure won’t, but if Johnny and Scott had taken me wiv them, I wouldn’t have gone out alone.”

Johnny waited, with bated breath, to see how Paul was going to handle this.

“Johnny and Scott are a lot older than you and they like to go off and do things, without you being with them, sometimes. You can’t expect to always be with them, darling. After all, they will be going to school, in a few days, and you are not old enough to go there, yet, and you are also not old enough to go riding with them. You’ll just have to be patient and wait until you are a bit older and then you will be able to do more things with them.”

Johnny breathed a sigh of relief when he realised that Paul didn’t expect him and Scott to always take Teresa with them.

‘By the time she’s old enough, hopefully she won’t wanna hang around with us,’ he thought.

The next few days seemed to fly by, far too fast, for Johnny’s liking. The day he was going to start school, was almost upon him.

But, before that day arrived, Murdoch had promised the boys that they could spend a whole day with him, doing whatever they wanted to do.

The boys decided they wanted to go hunting.

“I know I ain’t allowed to use a rifle, yet, Papa, but I can still watch and learn, from you and Scott,” said Johnny, when Murdoch queried his choice of things to do. “And we won’t be hunting all the time. We can go swimming as well, and maybe fishing, too.”

“Yes, we can and I think it will be even more fun, if we camp out, overnight,” said Murdoch. “What do you think about that?”

“It’s a great idea,” said Scott, and Johnny agreed, although his experiences of sleeping out were not as much fun as those of Scott’s and his father. He’d slept out when he didn’t have anywhere else to go, and it usually meant a cold night, with a hungry belly.

“We have a tent,” explained Scott. “But if the weather is warm, we just sleep in our bedrolls, under the stars.”

“And we build up a nice big fire and cook some steak and eggs, don’t we, Scott?” said Murdoch, and Scott nodded.


”And then Pa tells ghost stories,” said Scott. “Or we sing silly songs that he makes up.”

.

Chapter Eight

Johnny was really looking forward to the trip and the night before they were leaving, he was so excited that he couldn’t stop asking questions and running to and from his bedroom, as he kept thinking of things that he couldn’t bear to be parted from.

“You don’t really mean to take all that lot with you, do you, little brother?” asked Scott, leaning on the door frame of Johnny’s room. “We’re only going to be away for one night.”

Johnny looked up from the bed, on which he was sitting, and grinned at Scott.

“I guess I have got rather a lot of stuff, haven’t I? I’ll cut it down, I promise.”

“Well, whatever you take has to fit into your saddlebags, as we only put the tent and the food supplies on the pack horse.”

“Okay, I’ll make sure it all fits.”

Johnny was still in awe of how much he now owned, after spending most of his life never having enough, of anything, and was reluctant to leave any of it behind. Scott realised this, and so spoke to him, kindly.

“Whatever you leave behind, will still be here when we get back, of that you have my word,” said Scott.

 .                                                 

Before sorting out his things, Johnny returned to the main room, again, to talk to his father.

“What kind of stories do you tell, on these hunting trips?”

“Oh, ones about my life in Scotland, before I came to America, and about my journey out here, and then, maybe, the odd ghost story, too.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost, Papa?”

“Yes, I have, but even if I hadn’t, I’ve heard enough strange tales to make me believe that there are such things.”

“When I was on my own, I was more worried about the living than the dead,” said Johnny. “I used to sometimes sleep in a graveyard, cos I knew that a lot of people stayed away from such places, at night, and I figured I was less likely to get robbed, if I slept there.”

Once more, as Johnny was telling him this story, Murdoch felt his stomach constrict, as it always did, when he thought of his young son being all alone, at such a tender age.

“Well, I think you will find camping out with me and your brother, a lot more fun than a night in a cemetery, son,” said Murdoch. “Now, then, young man, it’s time you were in bed, as I want us to get an early start in the morning.”

“Okay, I’ll go to bed, but I don’t reckon I’ll sleep, as I’m far too excited. ‘Night, Papa.”

“’Night son, I’ll be up, shortly, to tuck you in.”

Scott decided to turn in, as well, but before he did so, he went to help Johnny put away the things he wasn’t going to take with him.

“While we’re on the trip, do you think Papa will let me have a go with a rifle?” said Johnny, to his brother.

“He might do, but I wouldn’t bank on it,” said Scott. “He didn’t let me have one, until I was twelve, because he said that I wasn’t big enough, before then, to handle one. I hate to say this, but you’re not as big as I was, at eleven, so I doubt if he’ll let you. He didn’t look too happy when he saw you with mine, the day Teresa fell off Prince, did he?”

“No, I guess he didn’t,” said Johnny. “Don’t look so worried, brother. I’m not gonna spoil the trip, by keeping on to Papa about me using a gun. I’ll ask him, once, and if he says ‘no’ then I won’t ask again.”

“Okay, fair enough, but just make sure you stick to what you’ve just said. I don’t want to have the day spoiled with Pa being angry and you sulking.”

“I promise I won’t make him mad,” said Johnny, and they both went to bed.

Scott had no trouble getting Johnny out of bed, the following morning, as the youngster was the first one to make it to the breakfast table.

“Morning, son,” said Murdoch. “I hope you continue to get up, this early, when you start school.”

Johnny’s answer to this was to roll his eyes and give his father his most disarming grin.

Scott soon joined them and the three Lancers had almost finished their breakfast, by the time that Teresa and Paul came down.

“Good morning, Paul, morning Teresa,” said Murdoch. “Things should run pretty smoothly while we’re gone, Paul. Nothing major to be done, and we’ll be home by mid morning, tomorrow.”

“I am sure everything will be fine, Murdoch,” said his friend and foreman. “In fact, things will probably run even smoother, than usual, without your boys around to cause havoc.”

Paul grinned as he said this, softening his words, and neither boy took offence.

“Okay, boys, let’s go,” said Murdoch, and neither of them needed any second bidding.

“Bye Paul, bye Teresa, bye Mamacita,” said Scott, and Johnny echoed his words.

“See ya tomorrow.”

.

Lancer was such a huge ranch that they didn’t need to leave it, to be far enough from the house to need to camp out. As they rode along, Murdoch talked more about the ranch and explained to Johnny how he gradually increased his land holdings, as he became more successful.

“I have purchased more land, since you lived here with your mother, but I doubt if you have many memories of what the ranch was like, all that time ago.”

Johnny shook his head, sadly.

“Nope, I didn’t recognise any of it, when I came back. But then, I was barely two when I left. Scott has taken me to a lot of it, but I know I still haven’t explored it all.”

“The place we are going to camp at, is one you haven’t been to, yet,” went on Murdoch. “But I think you will love it. Scott and I do, don’t we, son?”

“Yes, Pa, we do,” said Scott, smiling at his father.

The weather was being kind, it was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining, although there was still a slight chill in the air, but there was definitely the promise of a fine day.

When they finally arrived at the campsite, it didn’t take Murdoch long to erect the tent. As he did so, the boys took care of the horses and collected some wood for a fire.

They were close to the river and Johnny suggested that they went for a swim.

“I don’t think it’s really warm enough, yet, son, at least it’s not for me.”

“Aw, come on, Pa, it’ll be fun,” said Scott, beginning to remove his clothes.

“It’ll be cold,” said Murdoch, but when both the boys pleaded with him, he gave in, and joined them in the water.

“Ooh! I told you it would be cold,” said Murdoch, shivering in the shallows.

“Once you start swimming, it’s fine,” said Scott, and so Murdoch took the plunge and immersed himself in the water.

Scott was right, once they began to swim, they soon warmed up, and they all enjoyed themselves, playing tag and having races.

When it was time to get out of the water, the cold air hit their naked skin, but they soon took care of that by wrapping themselves up in blankets and heating up and eating some of the stew that Maria had prepared for their lunch.

“We’ll catch something for supper, maybe a rabbit, or some fish,” said Murdoch.

Johnny offered to set a snare for a rabbit, as this was something he knew how to do from when he was living on his own.

“Thanks, son,” said Murdoch, and he praised Johnny for the expert way in which he set the snare.

“I don’t know if there will be much in the way of game around here, boys, that is, a deer for the table, but I wouldn’t mind seeing if we can get rid of some of those coyotes that have been bothering the herd.”

“Maybe I could get in some practice with the rifle, Papa?” said Johnny.

“No, not yet, son. I’d rather wait until you are a little bit older,” said Murdoch. “Rest assured, I will teach you, but in about a year, or so, from now.”

“Aw, I reckon I could shoot, pretty well, already,” said Johnny.

“John, I said ‘no’ and you should know me, well enough, by now, to know that once I say it, I mean it,” said Murdoch.

Scott cast a warning look, in Johnny’s direction, and the boy said nothing more, on the subject, but he was still very keen to use a rifle.

Later on, that afternoon, they set out to scout the area and see what game they could find. As Murdoch had said, there weren’t any deer, but they did manage to spot some coyote and Murdoch and Scott killed one each.

“They are a real nuisance and our cattle will be up here, shortly, enjoying this new grass,” said Murdoch.

Watching his father and brother using their rifles, only made Johnny all the more determined to use one, too.

As they were heading back to camp, Scott noticed some deer tracks.

“Hey look, Pa, maybe there is a deer to be bagged, after all.”

“It might have just been passing through, and be miles from here, by now,” said Murdoch.

“True, but it could also be just over the next rise,” said Scott.

“It could be, but it’s getting a bit late to track it, now,” said Murdoch. “We need to return to camp and see if Johnny’s snare has caught us our supper, because, if not, we need to do a spot of fishing, before we can eat.”

The snare had caught a big, fat rabbit, and Scott soon had it skinned and cooking over the fire.

“We’ll get up, at first light, and see if we can get that deer, before we head back,” said Murdoch. “Maria would be really pleased to have it hanging in the storehouse.”

They all enjoyed their supper, and, once the dishes had been washed, and the temperature began to drop, they got inside their bedrolls, in the tent.

“This has gotta be one of the best things we’ve ever done, since I came home,” said Johnny, snuggling up next to his father.

“I agree, Johnny, and we’ll be able to have many more trips like this, especially now that the warmer weather is on its way,” said Scott.

“Okay, boys, what’s it to be? Songs, or a story?” said Murdoch.

“A story,” said the boys, together.

.                                                     

Chapter Nine

Murdoch began to tell them a tale that he’d been told, on his voyage over from Scotland.

“I became friendly with one of the sailors, who crewed the ship, and he told me the extraordinary tale of a ghost ship, which had been sighted, on more than one occasion, in the particular stretch of the ocean that we were travelling across, at that time. He said he’d seen it, and he always got the shivers when they were in that part of the world. Now, at the time, I was a very impressionable young man, and so I was more than ready to believe this story, so, for the next few nights, I hardly slept, but kept my eyes peeled for a sight of this ship.”

“And did you see it, Papa?” asked Johnny.

“Yes, I did, and it was an incredible sight,” said Murdoch. “It looked just like an ordinary ship, until we got closer to it, and then you realised that you could see right through it. And the people on board had wide staring eyes that never blinked and seemed to look right into your very soul, it was really quite spooky. And then, to make it even worse, there were the sounds of people screaming out for their lives to be saved and what sounded like cannon fire and lots of smoke filled the air. But the weirdest thing was that not everyone on our ship could see it. The old sailor told me that it was only people who had an open mind about such things as ghosts who could see it.”

“Did it scare you, Pa?” asked Scott.

“No, not really, but it upset me when I heard those poor souls crying out and begging for their lives. It appears it was a merchant ship, from hundreds of years ago, and it had been set upon by pirates.”

“Let’s sing some songs before we settle down to sleep,” said Scott, lightening the mood.

Murdoch started them off with some songs from his childhood, in Scotland, and then Scott sang a couple from his early childhood, in Boston. Johnny didn’t really know many songs, except the ones sung in border town saloons, and they were rather risqué, so he didn’t sing any of them to his father, but he and Scott made up little rhymes and they all had a good time, before sleep overtook them.

.

Johnny woke up, with a start. At first, he wasn’t sure where he was, but as his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he could just make out the forms of his father and brother, sleeping either side of him. He tried to go back to sleep, as he knew that it was really too early to get up, but he soon became aware that his bladder was full to bursting point.

He managed to ease himself out of his bedroll and slide down to the end of the tent, without disturbing Murdoch and Scott. He put on his boots, which were by the opening of the tent, and made his way to the nearest bush. Once he’d relieved himself, he felt much better, and he had a look around. It was still early, but beginning to get light. He noticed that there were some more deer tracks, close to the tent.

‘It must still be around here, if it made those tracks after we went to bed,’ thought Johnny. ‘If I managed to shoot it, then Papa would see how good I was with a gun, and then he’d surely let me have one.’

Johnny crept back to the tent, and helped himself to Scott’s rifle. He then set off, following the tracks of the deer.

The boy became so absorbed in looking out for the tracks that he failed to see how far he’d travelled from the camp. Dawn broke and still he hadn’t caught sight of the deer.

‘It looks like Papa was right, that deer’s probably miles away,’ thought Johnny.

He was just about to turn around and head back to the camp, when a low growl caught his attention. It was a mother bear and her cub, and the mother was warning Johnny to stay away from her baby.

“Nice bear, I’m not gonna hurt you, or your baby,” said the boy, backing away from the angry animal.

As he walked backwards, Johnny trod on a fairly large branch that had blown down from a tree. It made a loud cracking noise, as he stepped on it, and it scared the bear, who began to charge at Johnny.

In his haste to get away, Johnny tripped over and as he did so, he discharged the gun. The bullet missed the bear, but was enough to scare it off, and he was very relieved to see it disappearing into the bushes.

“Phew, that was close,” he said, out loud. “I didn’t reckon I was gonna get away from her, with my hide intact.”

“Well, the bear might not have got your hide, young man, but I most certainly will,” said a voice, behind him.

It was his father and his brother, and both of them were looking extremely mad.

“Just what possessed you to come out here, with your brother’s rifle, after I had forbidden you to use one?” demanded Murdoch, of Johnny.

Johnny scrambled to his feet and handed the rifle to Scott.

“I got up for a pee, and I saw more tracks for the deer, so thought I’d go after it,” said Johnny. “I reckoned that if I shot a deer, you would let me have my own rifle.”

“But instead of that, you very nearly became the main course for an angry Momma bear,” said Scott. “Sometimes, brother, you do the dumbest things.”

“Scott, will you please return to the camp, and get a fire going, for breakfast,” said Murdoch. “Your brother and I will be along, shortly, but first we need to have a little discussion.”

“Yes, sir,” said Scott, trying to ignore the pleading look in Johnny’s eyes. As much as he loved his little brother and always wanted to protect him, Scott knew that there was no point in trying to talk Murdoch out of punishing Johnny. The boy had disobeyed, plain and simple, and Murdoch had a swift, and painful way, of dealing with disobedience.

.

When Murdoch and Johnny made it back to camp, Scott had the eggs, beans and coffee ready for them. Neither of them said anything, but the redness of Johnny’s eyes indicated that he had been crying, and he kept rubbing at his backside.

Scott offered them some breakfast and Johnny took the plate, mumbled his thanks, and retreated to the far side of the clearing, to eat it, standing up.

Murdoch sat down next to Scott, on a fallen tree, which they were using as a bench, and began to eat his meal.

“This is very good, Scott, thank you, son,” he said.

“You’re welcome, Pa,” said Scott. “Is Johnny okay? It must have been a heck of a shock when that bear charged at him.”

“Yes, I imagine it was,” said Murdoch. “But maybe the shock will stay with him and he will remember it, the next time he thinks about disobeying me. After breakfast, I will remind him that he owes you an apology, for taking your rifle, without permission.”

“I’m sure he is sorry, Pa; just look at him, he looks like he has the cares of the world on his shoulders.”

Murdoch sneaked a peek at Johnny and agreed with Scott.

“I agree, he does, but I am not going to be taken in by that look. He needs to know what his boundaries are, and what the consequences will be, when he oversteps them. And don’t you start with the reproachful looks, either. I wasn’t that hard on him, but he has to learn to mind me.”

“Oh, I know he does, Pa, but when I think about all that he’s been through, I just feel so sorry for him.”

“And so do I, but I wouldn’t be doing Johnny any favours, if I spoilt him, just because of his past. We all have to live together, and he has to abide by the rules, just as you and Teresa have to.”

“I know you are right, Pa, but that doesn’t stop me feeling sorry for him.”

“I know it doesn’t, son, and I am pleased that you like to look out for your little brother. I am sure there will be many more times, in the future, when he will be glad of having you on his side, especially in the next few weeks, as he adjusts to life at school.”

“Yes, that is certainly going to be a challenge,” said Scott. “For all of us.”

Johnny apologised to Scott, for taking his rifle, and, once they had tidied up, after breakfast, they all had another look for the deer, but it eluded them.

Eventually, Murdoch said it was time they went back to the house.

“I have a lot of paperwork to do, before I attend a meeting in town, in the morning, so we really must head for home.”

As Scott was putting the tent on the back of the pack horse, Johnny asked to speak to his father, in private.

“I’m sorry for what I did, taking the rifle an’ all, I guess it was pretty dumb of me.”

“Yes, it was, and things could’ve ended up a lot worse, if you had, say, injured that bear, as she would’ve charged at you, again, of that I have no doubt. You were extremely fortunate to only end up with a sore bottom. When I think you are ready, I will teach you to use a rifle, but not until I say so, okay?”

“Okay, Papa, I’ll try and be patient.”

Despite getting in trouble, over the rifle, when they got back to the house, both boys declared that they’d had a great time.

“I can’t wait until we can go hunting, again,” said Johnny.

“Well, I expect we can, when you are next on holiday from school,” said Murdoch.

Johnny groaned, at the mention of school, but decided now wasn’t the time to try and talk his father out of sending him.

‘After what I did, on our trip, he’s probably wishing the school was back east,’ he thought.

“Scott’s gotta take care of my horse, so I think I will go and have a short rest before supper,” said Johnny.

“All right, son,” said Murdoch, who realised that Johnny was probably wanting to take the weight off his backside, after having to sit in the saddle, for a few hours.

As Murdoch sat at his desk, bringing his paperwork up to date, he thought about his youngest son and knew that the years ahead were likely to be quite a challenge, considering that Johnny was so stubborn and impulsive. But, the alternative, not having the boy in his life, was even harder to contemplate, so Murdoch was resigned to gaining a few more grey hairs, and felt that they were a very small price to pay for having his youngest son, home again.

THE END

To: And So To School

Lancer lives on!
Lynne
February 15th 2007

* As told in the episode Angel Day and Her Sunshine Girls

Want to Comment: Email Lynne

.

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