Love Is Blind by Lynne

Word Count 23,737

A Lancer AU Story #4

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Chapter 1

Johnny had now been at school for almost three months, and while it wasn’t exactly his favourite place, he didn’t mind going as much as he’d feared he would, when he first started.

He’d made plenty of friends, too, and even discovered that he had more friends than he’d realised, when Matt had tried to frame him for stealing some marbles, and the boy had been forced to confess it was him, who had stolen them, when his friends sided with Johnny.* Some of them were not quite the kind of boys that maybe his father and his brother would have chosen for him to befriend. However, none of them were really bad, just a bit wild, at times.

Unfortunately, they often led Johnny into quite a lot of mischief, although, to be fair to the other boys, he went into it, willingly.

Murdoch tried to be tolerant of his younger son’s high spirits, realising that the boy was finding it hard to fit into a regular routine of school, chores, and homework. It was a completely alien life to the one he’d lived, prior to moving in with his father, just over a year, earlier. At times, Murdoch could tell that the walls were closing in on Johnny, and the boy just had to bust out and go and do something a bit wild that was completely without reason and had no structure to it.

Not that Murdoch condoned this behaviour and, if it warranted it, he would punish the boy for what he’d done. But he did try and understand, and be fairly lenient, without allowing Johnny to completely lose sight of the boundaries, which were set for his own safety.

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It was getting close to the end of the school year and all the children were looking forward to the summer break. At afternoon recess, Scott noticed that his little brother and some of his friends were huddled together, in a corner of the schoolyard.

“I wonder what our little brothers are plotting,” said Scott, to Frank Carter, whose younger brother, Charlie, had become a close friend to Johnny, just as Frank was to Scott.

“I’m not sure that I want to know,” said Frank. “As if I do, when Pa asks me what Charlie is up to, I will have to tell him. But, if I don’t know, then I can say so, and know that I am telling the truth. I mean, I don’t like to get Charlie into trouble, but I’ve never been good at telling lies and my Pa always knows when I am, so there’s no point me trying. Does Johnny ask you to lie to your Pa, for him?”

“Well, no, not exactly lie, but he does ask me not to say anything, sometimes. So, like you, I’d rather not know, and that way when I say nothing it’s because I really know nothing,” said Scott.

“Yeah, ignorance is bliss, and also means that my hide stays intact,” said Frank.

Scott laughed at his friend’s words, but felt the same. It was often a lot safer for his hide, if he stayed out of whatever his little brother was getting involved in. However, his love and concern for Johnny sometimes overrode his good sense, and then he ended up in the middle of trouble, which was not even of his making.

Johnny’s talk, with his friends, appeared to be over, and Scott decided that this was one of those times when he needed to intervene.

“Hey, brother,” he said, as Johnny walked past him.

“Hi, Scotty,” said Johnny, stopping, and returning to his brother’s side. “Did you want me for something?”

Johnny’s whole demeanour screamed out to Scott that the boy was plotting mischief.

“Yes, brother, I want to know what you and your cronies are up to.”

“Huh? I ain’t got no cronies, as far as I know.”

“Cronies is another word for friends, and you and yours were getting mighty cosy, over there in the corner of the yard, and I want to know what you were plotting.”

“Plotting, who me?” said Johnny, the picture of innocence.

“Yes, plotting, you,” said Scott. “Pa has this idea that as I am older than you, I should keep my eye on what you are doing, and lead you back to the path of righteousness, if you should be tempted to stray. And, judging by the amount of time that you and your friends spent in a huddle, talking and laughing, I reckon that you are about to definitely veer off that path.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk in such a strange way, brother,” said Johnny. “I don’t have a clue what you’re saying, half the time. Me and my buddies were just talking about what we’re gonna do in the summer break. Trouble with you, Scott, is that you have a suspicious mind. Makes you old before your time, being that suspicious,” and with a none too gentle pat to Scott’s back, Johnny continued on his way to the swing, which hung off the tree, in the schoolyard.

Scott looked over at Frank and said, “They’re up to no good,” and Frank had to agree.

Unfortunately, Scott was spot on and Johnny and his friends were planning some mischief.

At the beginning of the week, Johnny, Zack, Jimmy and Wes had been playing close to the cave that the boys used as a hang out, on the Lancer ranch. The cave was near to where the ranch bordered onto their neighbour’s property.  Mr Winslett was not a very friendly man, and he particularly disliked children. The boys were playing with a ball, and Wes kicked it, with rather excessive force, and it sailed past Johnny and went onto Mr Winslett’s land.

“Well done, Wes,” said Johnny. “All this land and you havta kick it onto old man Winslett’s place. He’ll bust a gut if he sees any of us going after it.”

“Then leave it, if you’re too chicken to go and get it,” said Wes.

“I can’t leave it, cos it belongs to Scott, and I ain’t too chicken, I just don’t wanna give that man another excuse to complain to Papa about me. Last time, he said I’d damaged his fence, and Papa promised me a spanking if he complained about me, again.”

“In that case, I’ll go and get it,” said Wes.

“No, it’s okay, I’ll go,” said Johnny, not wishing to have Wes call him a coward.

“We’ll both go,” said Wes.

The two boys climbed over the fence and, keeping down low, in case Mr Winslett was around, they headed over to where the ball had rolled to.

Just as the ball was within his grasp, Johnny heard a shout.

“Hey, boy, why are you trespassing on my land, again? I told you to stay away, else you’d get a butt full of buck shot,” and with that, the man took aim and shot at the boys.

Fortunately, he missed, but he did manage to puncture the ball.

Johnny and Wes ran off, and didn’t stop running, until they were back on Lancer land.

“Stupid man, he could’ve killed us,” said Wes, once he’d got his breath back.

“I’m gonna nail that man, good and proper, for what he’s done, to us, and to Scott’s ball,” said Johnny.

“How?” said Wes.

“I’m not sure, yet, but as soon as I come up with something, I’ll let you know,” said Johnny.

“Well, count me in, with whatever it is,” said Wes, who had been more shaken up than he wanted to admit, when Winslett shot at them.

It took Johnny a few days, but eventually he had an idea, and so he told his friends all about it, during recess, at school.

“We go out to the cave, after school, and we keep an eye out for when old man Winslett pays a visit to his outhouse. It’s built right on the bank of the river, so, once he’s in there, we head over, tie up the door, so he can’t get out, and shove it into the water.”

Wes, Zack and Jimmy were all for it, but Charlie wasn’t that sure.

“He might drown, Johnny.”

“Heck, no, he won’t,” said Johnny. “The water’s not that deep, this time of the year, and he’ll be able to get out, through the bottom.”

“Okay, I’m in,” said Charlie.

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Chapter 2

As soon as school was over, for the day, Johnny and his friends wanted to ride out to the cave, and execute their plan. Scott had other ideas, though.

“Johnny, come on, you know that Pa likes us to go home, straight after school.”

The older boy had a feeling that his brother was heading out for mischief, and wanted to prevent that from happening, so tried to persuade Johnny to go home, with him, but Johnny was determined to go with his friends.

“Papa don’t mind us going somewhere, first, just as long as he knows about it, Scott, so if you tell him I’m with my friends, he’ll be okay about it. Being that it’s so close to the end of the school year, I don’t have any homework, and I’ll be home in time to do my chores, before supper. See ya later, brother.”

Scott didn’t want to force the issue, and make Johnny look foolish in front of his friends, so he agreed to give their father Johnny’s message.

“Okay, but just you make sure you are back in time to do your chores, because I’m not covering for you.”

“I will be,” assured Johnny.

The boys rode off to the cave and took it in turns to look out for Winslett, visiting his outhouse.

The others played cards, as they waited; Johnny had taught them how to play poker.

It was Wes, who was watching, when Winslett came out of his cabin and headed for the outhouse.

“He’s just about to go in,” said Wes, as he joined the others. “And he’s gonna be in there a while, as he took the newspaper with him. So, now would be a good time to give him a dunking in that there river.”

Johnny started laughing, and agreed with Wes.

“Yeah, come on fellas, let’s do it.”

The boys climbed over the fence, separating Lancer land from Mr Winslett’s, and headed for the outhouse.

They all tried to be quiet, but the thought of their enemy, floating down the river, in such an unseemly manner, made it hard for them to stifle their giggles.

Johnny was the worst offender, and Wes whispered, “Shut it, Johnny, else he’ll hear us.”

Mr Winslett heard what the boy said, so he knew there was someone called Johnny, on his property, but he was not in a position to check it out.

So, he yelled, “Who’s there? Whoever you are, you’re trespassing, as you’re on my land.”

None of the boys answered, and Charlie and Zack ran a length of rope around the outhouse, and tied up the door, preventing Winslett from escaping.

As soon as the rope was in place, the boys started to push against the far wall, of the building, and, before long, they sent the outhouse down the bank, and into the river. It landed with a huge splash and, at first floated, but it soon began to take in water and then started to sink. The boys stayed around, long enough, to make sure that Winslett had managed to get out, then they all hightailed it, back over the fence, and didn’t stop running, until they were in their cave.

Johnny was laughing, so much, it took him a while to speak, but when he did, he said, “Did you see the look on his face, when he got outta there? Oh my, it was worth it, just for that look.”

“And did you hear the language he was using, when he found himself in the water?” said Wes. “It was enough to turn the air blue.”

“Yeah, I did,” said Zack. “If Jimmy or me used words like that, our Pa would wash our mouths out with soap.”

“Mine, too,” said Charlie.

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The boys stayed where they were, for a while, in case Winslett came looking for them, as he wasn’t likely to know about the cave, and so it was a good spot for them to hide out in. Their horses were tethered, well out of sight, too, but Winslett didn’t appear, as he was back at his house, getting into some dry clothes.

Unfortunately, for Johnny, it didn’t take much detective work, for Winslett to work out that the Johnny he’d heard being mentioned, was Johnny Lancer. All around the area where his outhouse had stood, Winslett found lots of boot prints and it was obvious by the size that they were children’s, not adults. He could also see that the footprints made in the muddy bank of the river, headed off to the Lancer boundary fence.

“Murdoch Lancer is gonna rue the day he ever brought that half breed kid of his to live at his place. Brats like that, born outta Mex whores, are always gonna end up bad, no matter how much you try ta civilise ‘em,” said Winslett, to himself.

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Before Johnny got back to the ranch, Winslett paid Murdoch a visit.

As soon as Murdoch opened the front door, Winslett barged in, demanding to know where Johnny was.

‘Uh, oh,’ thought Scott, who was sitting in the main room, reading a book. ‘What’s my little brother done, now?’

“He’s out playing with his friends, Mr Winslett, although I don’t know why you should be interested in the whereabouts of my son.”

“I am interested, because your son and his friends shoved my outhouse, into the river, when I was in it,” said Mr Winslett.

Scott manfully tried to hold in the laughter that was bubbling up inside of him, but failed, earning him a glare from his father and a lecture from Mr Winslett.

“Oh yeah, it’s real funny, isn’t it, young man? Pushing an old man into the river while he’s taking care of his personal needs. If you find it so amusing, no wonder your little brother did such a thing, to me. You probably put him up to it.”

“Excuse me, Mr Winslett, but there is no need for you to get angry with Scott. He shouldn’t have laughed at your misfortune, but you have to admit that it does sound rather funny,” said Murdoch. “As for Scott putting Johnny up to doing such a thing, I can assure you that he wouldn’t do that. In fact, I am surprised to hear you say that Johnny did it; are you sure it was him?”

“Your son has been hanging around my property, for several days, now. He has been in, to collect a ball, on more than one occasion, damaging the fence, as he did so, and I did come and talk to you, about it, but, it hasn’t stopped him, and he was over there, again, earlier in the week. They also come over and steal the fruit off my trees. And I know it was him, today, as I heard him laughing, just before I ended up in the river. His friend, Wes, told him to be quiet, and he actually said your son’s name.”

“Scott, did Johnny say where he was going, when you left him, after school?”

“No, Pa, he didn’t,” said Scott.

“I am very sorry that this happened to you, Mr Winslett, and if I find out that Johnny was responsible, you may rest assured that he will be severely punished. I agree with you, it was a very foolish thing to do, and it is a real blessing to see that you were not hurt, by the experience.”

Mr Winslett was slightly mollified by Murdoch’s words.

“Once you have spoken to your son, perhaps you can come and let me know the outcome?” said Mr Winslett, as he prepared to leave. “I am convinced that it was Johnny, but, of course, if it wasn’t, I need to know, so that I can track down the real culprit.”

“Don’t worry, you will be told,” said Murdoch. “And if it was Johnny, he will coming over to help you build a new outhouse.”

Once Mr Winslett had left, Murdoch asked Scott, again, if he knew where Johnny had gone.

“I told you, Pa, he didn’t say, just that he was going somewhere with his friends. I told him to be back in time to do his chores, and then he left.”

Scott was sure that Johnny was involved, but wasn’t going to say so, to his father.

“Well, we’ll just have to wait and see what he has to say for himself, once he gets home,” said Murdoch.

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Chapter 3

The boys took a while to stop laughing at the thought of Winslett, scrambling out of the outhouse, as it sank, but eventually they all managed to calm down and they started to leave. They all had chores waiting for them, at home.

Johnny was the last one to go, and he was still chuckling, as he rode into the Lancer yard, completely unaware of what was waiting for him.

He dismounted and headed off to the barn, with Scirocco, but was stopped in his tracks by his father’s voice, coming from the doorway of the house.

“John, get over here, now,” demanded Murdoch.

If the tone of Murdoch’s voice didn’t warn him he was in trouble, being addressed as ‘John’ did.

‘What’s got him all riled up?’ thought Johnny.

“Calm down, Pa,” said Scott, as Johnny walked towards the house. “Give him a chance to explain, it might not have been Johnny.”

“I’d like to believe you, Scott, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming,” said Murdoch.

“Hi Papa, hi Scott,” said Johnny, with a big grin on his face. “Everything okay? Scott told you I was gonna be a bit late, didn’t he? But I’m here in time to do my chores, as I said I’d be.”

“What were you and your friends doing, this afternoon?” asked Murdoch, as Johnny walked past him, and into the house.

Scott tried, desperately, to telegraph warning signals to Johnny, but the boy either didn’t understand, or chose to ignore them.

“What did we do?” repeated Johnny. “Well, we played a few games of tag, were gonna toss a ball, around, unto we remembered that ole man Winslett bust it, for us, chatted about our plans for the summer break. I’m not sure what else.”

“Did you and your friends happen to go over onto Mr Winslett’s property?” continued Murdoch.

Johnny looked like he was considering the question.

“Onto Mr Winslett’s property, Papa? No, I don’t think so. There’s no need, Lancer’s big enough for us to play on.”

“Are you absolutely sure about that?” said Murdoch, coming to stand over the boy, who was sitting on the settee.

From behind his father, Scott was mouthing the words ‘He knows’ and, this time, Johnny took heed.

“Well, we might’ve just popped over there, mebbe,” said Johnny, squirming a bit, under the glare from his father.

“And just why might you have done that, son?” said Murdoch. “After all, as you just said, you have plenty of places to play on Lancer land.”

“Our ball went over there,” said Johnny, letting go of the breath he’d been holding in.

“Try again, John,” said Murdoch. “You’d already told me that Mr Winslett had shot at the ball and popped it, a few days ago, so you couldn’t have been going over there to get it, today.”

“Okay, Papa, enough of the games,” said Johnny. “What do you think I was doing, over there?”

“Well, according to Mr Winslett, who came by, a while ago, you and your friends tied up the door of his outhouse, while he was in there, and pushed it, and him, into the river. Now, I was not about to just accept his account, and punish you, until I got your side of things, so please will you tell me what you did, when you went on Mr Winslett’s land.”

Johnny jumped up, off the settee, nearly butting his father in the midriff, as he did so,

“Okay, so you know what I did. Yeah, we went over there and shoved that miserable ole man in the drink. He deserved it, always trying to cause trouble between me and you. All my friends and I wanna do, is have a little fun, and he’s always spying on us, and trying to catch us out, doing something wrong.”

Murdoch stepped back, to allow Johnny to stand up, properly.

“Johnny, Mr Winslett lives alone and just about makes a living out of his place. He’s bound to be protective of what he’s growing and of his fences, because he doesn’t have a lot of spare cash to be able to repair them, or plant new crops, anytime he feels like it. His only child, a daughter, is at school, back East, and all his money goes on supporting her. Before his wife died, she made him promise that the girl would get a good education, and he’s lived up to that promise. He’s not a very tolerant man, I’ll grant you, but he’s not a bad man, either. All he’s trying to do is make a living, just like the rest of us, and he’s not partial to having young boys running over his property, and why should he be? What you did to him was very cruel, as well as being dangerous, as he could’ve easily ended up stuck in the outhouse, and drowned.”

“I ain’t that dumb, Papa,” said Johnny. “I stayed around, until I saw him get outta the water.”

“Well, that’s something, I suppose,” said Murdoch, wiping his brow with his handkerchief. “At least you showed a bit of sense.”

“Thanks,” said Johnny, trying out a smile on his father, but soon losing it, when he saw the look on Murdoch’s face. “I guess you’re not too happy with me, right now, huh?”

“You guessed right, young man,” said Murdoch, sighing heavily. “Go on up to your room, please, and I will be along, very soon, to deal with you.”

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny.

As the boy walked past his brother, he patted Scott on the back.

“Cheer up, Scott, anyone would think it was you who was in trouble, instead of me.”

Scott did look as though he was the one who had messed up, and Murdoch smiled at him.

“Don’t go blaming yourself, Scott. Johnny’s old enough, now, to know the difference between right and wrong, and there was nothing you could’ve done, to stop him getting into this mess.”

“Well, Pa, I did sort of guess he was up to something, but I didn’t know what,” said Scott.

“And he wasn’t about to tell you, either, so there was nothing you could’ve done. As I said, Johnny has to learn to be responsible for making his own decisions and for facing up to the consequences, if he gets it wrong. He didn’t tell you, because he knew you would have tried to talk him out of it; am I right?”

“Yes, you are, Pa. I would have tried to do just that, but I suppose Johnny has to learn some things, the hard way.”

“Unfortunately, that is the case,” said Murdoch. “Now, if you will excuse me, son, I need to go and deal with your brother, and then I will send him out to join you, so that you can both get your chores done.”

“Okay, Pa,” said Scott, and he headed outside, not wishing to be around when his father punished his little brother.

‘Darn fool,’ he thought to himself, but that still didn’t stop him feeling sorry for Johnny, nor finding the stunt he pulled, rather amusing.

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Chapter 4

When Murdoch entered his room, Johnny was lying on his bed, and he made no attempt to stand up, in deference to his father’s arrival.

“Stand up, please, John,” said Murdoch, and the boy got to his feet, but took his time about it.

Johnny knew that his father was a fair and just man. His experiences of fathers, when living with his mother, had always been of harsh, rough men, who would beat him, as soon as look at him, but since living with Murdoch, he’d discovered that most fathers were not at all like that, and his, definitely wasn’t. But that still didn’t mean that he was happy to accept being punished by Murdoch, even though he knew, deep down, that he deserved it. But then, when did a child ever look forward to a punishment?

So, despite knowing all that he knew, about Murdoch’s style of parenting, he wasn’t prepared to be that co-operative.

“Look, Papa, it was only meant to be a bit of a joke. The man’s mean, pure and simple, and we thought that a ducking in the river might clear his thinking, a bit. We don’t do him no harm, not really, yet he looks at us, with pure venom in his eyes, especially me.”

“Why especially you?”

“Because of who and what my mother was,” said Johnny, hoping that Murdoch might not be so hard on him, if he thought that Winslett was against him, because he was of mixed race.

“Has he actually come out and said anything bad about your mother?” asked Murdoch.

Now, Johnny didn’t mind stretching the truth, a bit, but he found it really hard to lie, outright, to his father. He knew that if he said Winslett had made racial remarks, then Murdoch would tackle the man about it. But, then, when Winslett denied it, Johnny knew that his father would be extremely angry about him lying. And the truth was, that Winslett hadn’t said anything bad about Maria, to Johnny. It was just that Johnny was sure that the man felt that way about him.

“Well, no, he ain’t said anything, exactly, but I know he looks down his nose at me,” said Johnny, scuffing the carpet, with the toe of his boot.

“He looks down on all youngsters,” said Murdoch. “He just doesn’t like children, very much. You see, his wife died giving birth to their son, who also died, shortly after his mother. It left Winslett with an irrational hatred of little boys. He wanted a son, when his wife was expecting, for the second time, but when he lost his wife, he then felt that having a boy had been a bad thing to wish for, as if the child had been responsible for killing his mother. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s how he feels.”

“Good job you don’t feel like that, Papa, cos Scott’s mother died, having him.”

“Yes, she did, but she would have been the last person to expect me to turn against our child, because of it. These things happen and we just have to accept them. It’s a risk that all women take, when they have a baby, unfortunately. Anyway, we are losing the point, here. So, Mr Winslett didn’t make any bad remarks about your mother, is that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right, he didn’t actually say anything.”

“Okay, then, in that case, there wasn’t any justification for you doing what you did, to him, was there? All the man had done was to defend his property and tell me when you damaged his fence and stole some of his fruit.”

“He fired at me and Wes, and broke Scott’s ball,” said Johnny, indignantly.

“Yes, he did, but I did tell you that if the ball went on his land, you had to go to the house and ask him for it, not just sneak onto his place, and grab it, didn’t I?”

Johnny nodded.

“Uh, huh, you did, but it was only a few feet away from us, whereas if we’d gone to the house, first, it would’ve taken us ages to get it back.”

“I understand that, son, but the man had stated, in very strong terms, that you weren’t to go on his land, and so you were wrong to disobey.”

“I guess I was, but I still think he’s mean,” said Johnny, giving up in the face of the strong argument put to him, by his father.

“Whether you agree with him, or not, doesn’t matter, son,” said Murdoch. “He has every right to keep people off his land, if that is what he chooses to do, and you should respect that right. Now then, I think we have talked about this, enough. I promised you a spanking if you went onto Mr Winslett’s land, again, and, as you know, I never break a promise. But, as if going on his land wasn’t enough, you damaged his property and put his life at risk, while you were there. So, you have not only earned yourself a spanking, but you are going to have to give up some of your spare time, to go and help Mr Winslett, with his chores, as compensation for what you did. I will be speaking to Wes’ father and to Zack and Jimmy’s, and Charlie’s, too, as you rode off, from school, with them, so I assume they were also involved? It’s not fair if you have to work for Mr Winslett and they get away with it.”

“I might have left school with ‘em, but it don’t mean they were involved,” said Johnny, who didn’t want to appear to be a snitch.

“Well, I can just mention it to their fathers and ask them to check with their sons,” said Murdoch, who realised why Johnny was saying what he said. “However, I do know that Wes was there, as Mr Winslett heard his voice.”

“Yeah, I guess he was,” said Johnny.

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Murdoch sat down on the bed, and pulled Johnny towards him.

“I’m sorry about this, son, but I won’t have you disobeying me.”

He positioned the boy across his knees, and landed several, measured swats onto Johnny’s backside. It hurt, but Johnny had known much worse. However, somehow this spanking was a lot more painful, as it had come from his father, and despite his  pretence that such things didn’t bother him, he hated having his beloved Papa cross with him.

When Murdoch helped Johnny to his feet, the boy looked at his father and tried to maintain a ‘don’t care’ attitude, but Murdoch saw a lone tear snaking down Johnny’s face. However, he allowed Johnny to deal with his punishment, as he wanted to, and so didn’t mention the tear, nor did he try to hug the boy, even though he was aching to do so.

“Now, you stay here, and compose yourself, then go down and help Scott with the chores, please,” said Murdoch, rather brusquely. “And tomorrow, after school, I will ride over to Mr Winslett’s place, with you, and you can apologise, and then help him do some chores, to make it up to him.”

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny.

The boy allowed his father to leave, without saying any more. He did want to make it up with Murdoch, but his stubborn pride got in the way, and he was still a bit angry with Murdoch for spanking him.

‘Sure wish the Ole Man could’ve seen the funny side of it,’ he thought, as he washed his face, prior to joining Scott in the barn, in order to do his chores.

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Chapter 5

When Johnny joined Scott, the older boy just handed his brother a pitchfork, and said nothing about what had taken place up in Johnny’s room. He knew that the best way to get Johnny to open up, was to give the boy some space, and just wait until he was ready to talk.

After about ten minutes of rather angrily tossing hay around the stalls, Johnny looked up at Scott.

“Well, I bet you can guess what happened. Papa sure let me know how angry he was about what I’d done. I feel like my butt’s on fire.”

“There’s a bucket of water, over there,” said Scott. “Why don’t you go and sit in that, for a bit? That should cool you off.”

“Thanks a lot, I might just do that,” said Johnny. “I was hoping that Papa would find it as funny as I did, but our father ain’t got no sense of humour.”

“Oh, he has,” said Scott. “When Mr Winslett came over to tell Pa about it, I started laughing and although Pa warned me not to, he did say that it sounded quite funny. But, joking aside, he had promised you a pants warming, if you went onto Mr Winslett’s land, again, and so you knew that’s what he would do, if he found out.”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” said Johnny. “But I’m still glad I did it, cos the man deserved it, he’s pure mean.”

“Maybe he did, and maybe he is, but Pa’s the one to call the tune around here, and he’d rather you stayed  well away from Mr Winslett,” said Scott.

“I won’t be staying well away from him, for the next week, or so,” said Johnny, moodily. “Papa says I gotta help him with his chores, as comp something, or other.”

“That’s compensation, brother, and is something that people get awarded, usually in the form of money, if they suffer a wrong. As you haven’t got any money, Pa’s making you work for the man, instead.”

“Well, whatever it is, I sure hope I don’t havta do it, for too long, as we’ll soon be on summer break, and I don’t wanna spend it working for that miserable ole man.”

“No, I don’t suppose that you do,” said Scott. “Have you said sorry to Pa, yet?”

“Nope, I ain’t, and I kinda feel a bit bad about that, but I was just too mad with him, when we were upstairs,” said Johnny. “I will, though, soon.”

“Good, because I don’t like it when you two are at odds, with one another,” said Scott. “I become your go between, and that often means that both of you end up not liking me, that much, when all I am doing is passing on messages.”

“Sorry, brother, I’ll try not to do that, any more,” said Johnny.

.

The two boys finished their chores and returned to the house. As they did so, Scott reminded Johnny about apologising to Murdoch.

“All right, I will, don’t fret about it,” said Johnny.

Murdoch was sat at his desk, and he didn’t speak to them, but was obviously aware that the boys were in the house. He, too, was hoping that Johnny was going to go and talk to him, and clear the air, between them, before they all sat down, together, to eat supper.

The boy walked around the room, picking up ornaments and then putting them back down, again. Every now and then, he’d glance over at his father, but Murdoch gave no indication that he’d even realised Johnny was in the room.

Eventually, he perched on the edge of Murdoch’s desk, picked up a pencil and began tapping it on a pile of papers.

Finally, Murdoch said, “Did you want something, Johnny?”

“Huh?” said the boy.

“I said, did you want something, son?” repeated Murdoch.

“No, not really, well, not exactly, I just wanted to say sorry ‘bout what happened, before,” said Johnny.

“Apology accepted, son, but please do me a favour. Once you’ve finished helping Mr Winslett with any chores he may want you to do, just keep well clear of his place, okay?”

“Yes sir, I will,” said Johnny.

Murdoch stood up, and came round the desk, to where Johnny was sitting. He gave the boy a hug and ruffled his hair.

“Looks like you need a haircut, son.”

“Aw, Papa, it’s okay, I don’t need a haircut,” said Johnny, pushing the hair out of his eyes.

“I think you do. If it gets much longer, you won’t be able to see what Miss Carstairs is writing on the board.”

“Well, maybe a bit off the front, but not a lot.”

Johnny liked to wear his hair a bit longer than most of the other boys, and Murdoch didn’t really mind, until it got to the point where it was hanging in his eyes.

“We’ll go and get it cut on Saturday,” said Murdoch.

“I could go tomorrow, after school,” said Johnny.

“No, you can’t, son, as we are paying a visit to Mr Winslett, as well you know.”

Of course, Johnny did know, but he was hoping that his father might have forgotten.

“Oh, yeah, so we are,” said Johnny. “Papa, do I havta go and work for him? I don’t like the man, he gives me the creeps.”

“Well, I think he is due some kind of compensation, for what you and your friends did to him, and as you don’t have any money you could give him, I think that working for him is the best arrangement.”

“You’ve got money, so you could give him some, and then I could do extra chores for you, to pay you back.”

“I think we should wait and see what he says he would prefer,” said Murdoch.

He didn’t want to force Johnny to go and work for the man, if the boy was genuinely uneasy in his company, but Johnny did need to make some kind of recompense, to the man, for what he’d done.

Johnny was satisfied with his father’s answer, as he was pretty sure that Mr Winslett would prefer to be given some cash, rather than having Johnny and his friends on his property.

The family enjoyed their supper and Johnny put up with a fair bit of teasing from Scott and Teresa, when Scott put a cushion on Johnny’s chair.

“I ain’t mad at you, Scott, about the cushion, I’m glad you put it there, my butt hurts.”

“And I hope that you will remember that feeling, the next time you think of doing something as foolish as what you did to Mr Winslett,” said Murdoch, but there was a twinkle in his eye, as he said it.

.

After supper, the boys played checkers, as neither of them had any homework. There was less than a week to go to the long summer break, and all that was on the minds of most of the children was what they were going to do, once school was out.

Johnny was really hoping that Mr Winslett wouldn’t expect him to be going over to his place, to work, throughout the summer break.

“Papa, will me and my friends be able to sleepover in the tree house, when we’re on holiday?” asked Johnny.

“Well, if your behaviour improves, then I should think that would be possible,” said Murdoch.

“Oh, good, it’ll be fun, sleeping out there, like having my own house.”

“Can I sleep out there, wiv you?” asked Teresa.

Johnny was about to say ‘no’, but Paul beat him to it.

“We’ve already talked about this, Teresa, and the answer is no. For a start, the tree house belongs to Johnny, not to you, and for another thing, you are too little to climb up that ladder. And anyway, as I already pointed out to you, tree houses are not for little girls, they are for boys. Little girls have their friends to stay over in the house, not outside.”

“But I wanna sleep outside,” said Teresa, getting that mulish look on her face that the whole family dreaded to see, as it usually meant a tantrum.

“Well, you can’t,” said Paul. “And it is not a matter open for discussion, my answer is final.”

Teresa began to cry, when she could see that her father was not going to back down, but it didn’t get her anywhere, except being sent to bed, fifteen minutes earlier than she normally went.

Johnny was really pleased that he hadn’t had to be the one to say that she couldn’t join him in the tree house, as he didn’t like to be the bad guy, but he really didn’t want her encroaching on his special place.

.

Chapter 6

All too soon, or so it seemed to Johnny, Murdoch said it was time that the boy went to bed.

“Aww, Papa, it’s still light, outside, it’s far too early to go to bed,” said Johnny.

“Now, you know, as well as I do, that it does stay lighter, longer, at this time of the year, but that still doesn’t change bedtime, young man, nor the fact that you have trouble getting up in time for school, each morning, as it is, without staying up even later.”

Johnny grinned at his father.

“Thought it was worth a try,” he said. “Night, all, see ya in the morning,” and he headed for the stairs.

“I’ll be up, shortly, to tuck you in,” said Murdoch.

Scott soon followed Johnny, up the stairs, as he was feeling tired, and so when Murdoch went up to say goodnight to Johnny, he popped in on Scott, too.

Johnny was glad that his Papa came in to tuck him up, as he wanted to make sure that all was well between them, now.

As Murdoch bent over the boy, to kiss him goodnight, Johnny said, “Thanks, Papa.”

“What are you thanking me for, son?” replied Murdoch.

“Oh, for just being my Pa, and for teaching me how to trust folk, again. I never thought I’d be able to, after what I saw, and suffered, when I was on my own, but you and Scott have made me see that there are still decent people left in the world. No matter what I do, and how mad I make you, you always forgive me, and you always come up and say ‘goodnight’ so I know that all is well, between us, before I go to sleep.”

Murdoch sat down on the bed and gently pushed the boy’s hair back from his face, before he spoke.

“That night your mother took you away from me, Johnny, will be forever etched on my mind.”

Johnny pushed himself up the bed and leaned against the pillows, always anxious to hear something about when he was a little boy, and living at Lancer.

“I wish I remembered it, Papa, but I don’t.”

“Well, part of it I wish I didn’t remember, quite so well,” said Murdoch.

“Why, Papa? I mean, apart from the fact that you wish Mama and me hadn’t gone, in the first place.”

“That night, you were being as only two year olds can be, at times,” said Murdoch. “You wouldn’t eat your supper, and when I tried to insist, you threw the bowl at me, covering me in food, and breaking the bowl. Naturally, I was cross about it, and I shouted at you, and made you cry, before leaving the room to go and get cleaned up. By the time I returned to the main room, Mamacita had taken you off to bed. Your mother said you were in a cranky mood, because you were teething, and so then I felt bad about shouting at you. I went to your room, to give you a cuddle, and make it up, with you, but you were already asleep. I stood, looking down on you, in your crib, for a long time, hoping that you might wake up, but you didn’t, and I didn’t want to disturb you, as I was pleased you were able to sleep, despite the pain in your gums. So, I bent down and kissed you on the forehead, but didn’t get to cuddle you. I went to bed, thinking that it would be the first thing I did, the following morning, but, when morning came, you and your mother were gone. So, now that I have you back, I am going to make sure, that, no matter what happens, you always go to bed knowing that I love you.”

Johnny could see that there were tears in Murdoch’s eyes, threatening to fall, and he reached up and wiped them away, with the back of his hand.

“I didn’t remember that, Papa, and I’m sorry you did, and that you’ve had to live with the thought that the last thing you said to me was said, in anger.”

“Well, it’s not your fault, son, but it has been hard, having that thought at the back of my mind, all this time. As it turned out, you did grow up, hating me, but not for that incident.”

“No, it was because of what Mama told me about you,” said Johnny. “I wish she hadn’t done it, but I guess I do understand why she did. She didn’t want me thinking badly of her, for leaving you and going off with that man. And she also didn’t want me to like my father, in case I decided, one day, to take off and find you. Because despite everything I went through, I do know that, deep down, she loved me, and she didn’t wanna lose me, to you.”

“And I can understand why she didn’t want to lose you,” said Murdoch, hugging the boy. “You can be very irritating, but life is never dull, with you around, son.”

Johnny laughed and said, “I’ll remind you of that, the next time I’m in trouble.”

“Cheeky,” said Murdoch. “Goodnight, son, I love you.”

“Night, Papa, I love you, too.”

.

The next morning, just as the boys were about to leave, Murdoch reminded Johnny about what they were doing, after school.

“It’s nearer to go to Mr Winslett’s place, if I meet you in town, son, so I’ll collect you from school, and we’ll go straight out there. Scott, you can come with us, or make your own way home.”

“Oh, I think I’ll come along, to give my little brother some moral support,” said Scott.

“I’ll be bringing Wes’ father along with me, as we know he was involved, and maybe Zack and Jimmy’s and Charlie’s, too, after I’ve spoken to them.”

“Okay, Papa, we’ll wait for you,” said Johnny, although he wasn’t happy about it.

As he and his brother rode to school, Johnny voiced his fears, to Scott.

“I hope my friends don’t think I snitched on ‘em, having Papa going round to their houses, and asking where they were, yesterday. I had to admit that Wes was there, cos Winslett heard him speak, but I didn’t tell him that Zack, Jimmy and Charlie were, too.”

“No, I know you didn’t,” said Scott. “It was me who told on them, because I told Pa who it was you rode off with, after school, yesterday. But then, when I did that, I didn’t know you were up to no good, although I did have an idea you were plotting something.”

Johnny brightened up, a bit.

“Yeah, it was you who told Papa, wasn’t it? Let’s hope they don’t get mad with you, then.”

“They have no reason to,” said Scott. “All I told Pa was that you, Charlie, Wes, Jimmy and Zack rode away from the school, together. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you all went to Mr Winslett’s, does it?”

“Well, no, it doesn’t, but we did,” said Johnny.

Just before they arrived at school, Wes caught up with them. By the look on his face, Johnny didn’t have to ask if Mr Winslett had visited his father, but Wes volunteered the information.

“Morning, Johnny, Scott,” said Wes. “Yeah, Winslett came and saw my Pa, last night, and told him what I’d done, just like I guess he did yours, Johnny boy, eh?”

“Yup, just like he did mine, and my Pa’s gonna go see Charlie’s and Zack and Jimmy’s Pas, this morning, to check if they were involved, too.”

“Didn’t you tell ole man Winslett that they were, then?”

“No, I don’t snitch, and I didn’t tell on you, neither, but Winslett recognised your voice, and you said my name, out loud, so thanks a lot, buddy.”

“Sorry, Johnny, guess my whispering was a mite louder than I thought it was,” said Wes, grinning at his friend.

Johnny grinned back, unable to stay mad at his pal.

“Well, I don’t like ta think of our friends being in trouble, but seeing as how we are, I do think it’s only fair that they havta come out to Winslett’s, too, and help us build him a new outhouse,” said Wes.

“Yeah, and that way, I guess it won’t take us too long, because if we do havta go out to his place, I sure hope it won’t be for long, cos that man gives me the creeps,” said Johnny.

“Yeah, he is a bit odd, isn’t he?”

“My Pa said he don’t like boys, cos his wife died giving birth to a son, who died, too, and so he thinks boys are cursed,” said Johnny.

“Like I said, he’s odd,” repeated Wes.

.

Chapter 7

When they got to school, Wes and Johnny sought out Zack, Jimmy and Charlie and warned them that Murdoch was going to be visiting their fathers.

“Sorry, but Scott told my Pa that when I left school, yesterday, I rode off with you guys, and ole man Winslett came and told my Pa that I was one of the boys who dunked him in the river, along with Wes, and so it don’t take a genius to work out that you three were possibly there, too.”

“So you and Wes got sprung, did ya?” said Jimmy.

“Yeah, all because of this one’s big mouth,” said Johnny, punching Wes on the arm. “When he told me to be quiet, not only did he mention my name, but he said it, loud enough, that it’s a wonder my Pa didn’t hear it, back at the house.”

“Anyway, Johnny’s Pa’s gonna be asking what time you guys got home, yesterday, and then your Pas will be asking you where you went, after school, so I reckon you’ll be joining Johnny and me, building a new outhouse for Winslett,” said Wes.

“Great, and there was me thinking we’d got away with it,” said Charlie.

“Well, you can always lie to your Pa and just say you went out for a ride, cos no one knows, for sure, that you were with me and Wes,” said Johnny.

“Yes, I could,” said Charlie. “But if my Pa found out I lied, he’d be real mad, and, anyway, it’s not fair that you and Wes have to work for Winslett, and I don’t.”

Jimmy and Zack were not quite so noble, as Charlie, and were hoping to lie their way out of trouble, with their Pa, so didn’t say anything.

Scott joined them and apologised for telling his father that they’d ridden off, with Johnny.

“I told him that, before I knew that Johnny had gotten into any mischief,” said Scott. “Pa just asked me who Johnny was with, and I didn’t see the harm of telling him.”

“That’s okay, Scott,” said Charlie. “As you say, you weren’t to know what we were planning to do.”

The bell rang and the children filed into the schoolhouse.

After the spanking he’d received, the day before, Johnny, wisely, decided to keep his head down at school, and so the day passed, without incident, for the boy.

Actually, he was finding out that he enjoyed learning, more than he thought he would, but that didn’t stop him trying to liven up the day, occasionally, with a prank, or two.

At the end of the day, Murdoch was waiting for him, and had already saddled Scirocco and Scott’s horse, Jupiter, for them.

Wes’ father had accompanied Murdoch, as he was going to escort Wes to the Winslett farm, but Zack, Jimmy and Charlie were surprised to see their fathers outside school, too.

Each father had a hurried conversation with their respective sons, and then, all of them, plus Scott and Frank, Charlie’s older brother, headed out to speak to Mr Winslett.

Zack and Jimmy tried to bluff their way out of it, but with their friends standing, close by, it was hard to maintain their innocence. Both boys knew, just as Charlie did, that they would be in for a tanning, once their fathers got them home.

Mr Winslett came out of his house, to greet them, as the party rode into his yard.

“So, you’ve rounded up all the culprits, have you, Lancer?” he said. “Good, that means I will have a new outhouse a lot quicker than I thought, and I am sure that my daughter will be pleased about that.”

Scott, who wasn’t paying much attention to what Mr Winslett was saying, seeing as how it didn’t affect him, suddenly noticed a movement on the porch, behind Winslett, and he saw it was a young woman.

“Gentlemen,” said Winslett. “Allow me to introduce my daughter, Isobel. She has come to spend the summer with her father, all the way from the fancy school I sent her to, back east.”

“And I think I might be staying for good,” said the young lady, in question. “I doubt that the school has much more it can teach me, and I would like to be able to spend some time with my father. I hardly know him, having spent so long away, at school, and most of my holidays, with my aunt.”

“How lovely for you, Mr Winslett, having your daughter here,” said Murdoch. “And yes, I am sure she would appreciate it if a new outhouse was installed, as quickly as possible. We have, as you say, rounded up all the culprits and they are ready to work. One of us fathers will stay with the boys, in order to ensure that they all do their fair share, so, where would you like them to start?”

“No need for that, Pa,” said Scott, suddenly finding his voice. “I’m sure you men all have much more important things to do. I’ll stay here, with Johnny and his friends, and make sure they all work.”

Frank could see why Scott was keen to stay, as, he, too, was enamoured of Isobel.

“I’ll stay, too, Pa,” said Frank. “And then I’ll bring Charlie home, once the work is done.”

The men all agreed to the older boys keeping an eye on the younger ones, and they soon left, after dishing out warnings that the boys were to go straight home, once they’d finished their work for Mr Winslett.

“No detours, now, sons,” said Fred Williams, to Zack and Jimmy. “You and me have a date in the barn.”

“As do you, with me, Charlie,” said Bill Carter, Frank and Charlie’s father.

“I’ll make sure they leave here, in time to get home for supper,” said Winslett, who wasn’t worried about the children missing a meal, but wasn’t prepared to feed them, at his expense.

Johnny still wasn’t happy about working for Mr Winslett, but at least he had all his friends with him, and, most importantly, his big brother, so things were better than they might have been.

Mr Winslett ordered the boys to dismount and led them into the barn, where he had begun to prepare the wood, to build the outhouse. Scott and Frank were left in the yard, not sure what to do, until Isobel called them over to the porch.

“Hi,” she said. “Nice to meet you, although I don’t, yet, know your names. Would you care to join me in some lemonade?”

Both boys took a couple of minutes to answer her, as neither of them had seen a girl quite like her, before. Although Isobel was only a year or so older than them, she seemed so self assured and completely unlike any of the girls, who attended school with the boys. All the time she’d spent in the east had paid off and she was beautifully turned out, with an intricate hairstyle, and a gown which showed off her trim figure, to perfection.

“Love to join you, Miss Isobel,” said Scott, who was the first to find his tongue. “I’m Scott Lancer, and my little brother was one of the boys who dunked your poor father, in the river, I fear. And this is Frank Carter, and his little brother, Charlie was also involved.”

As the boys moved onto the porch, Isobel leaned forward and whispered, conspiratorially, “Please don’t tell my father this, but actually I thought it was very funny what they did. Father can be a bit of an old stick in the mud, so he probably deserved it.”

Isobel was in her element, having two young men, to entertain. When her father had told her that the boys responsible for ruining the outhouse, were coming over, she had not been expecting them to bring along their older brothers.

‘Things are definitely looking up, around here,’ she thought.

Pete Winslett had been extremely surprised to find his daughter installed in the house, when he’d returned from telling Murdoch about Johnny’s involvement in destroying his outhouse.

“How come you’re here?” he said.

“Thanks, that’s not quite the welcome home I’d expected,” said Isobel. “Is it wrong for a daughter to want to come and see her father? It’s almost four years since I’ve been home.”

“Well, no, of course it’s not,” said Pete, hugging the girl. “It was just that I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I did send a letter, but knowing what the mail is like, I’ve probably got here, before it’s arrived,” said Isobel. “I came in on the afternoon stage, and hired a buggy, from the livery stable, in order to get out here. I’d forgotten just how far out of town you live, Father; it’s certainly remote.”

“Yes, it is, and it’s the way I like it,” said Pete.

“Well, I don’t think I would,” said Isobel. “I like company.”

“So do I,” said Pete. “My own.”

“Would you prefer it, if I left?” asked Isobel, looking rather put out.

“No, of course not,” said Pete. “It is lovely to see you, darling.”

.

Chapter 8

Pete soon had the boys working hard, but he decided it was best to stay with them, to ensure that they continued to do so, as he wanted the job finished, fast, especially now that Isobel was home.

Because he was watching them, all the time, the boys had no choice but to get on with the job.

“Oh boy, he’s a real slave driver, ain’t he?” said Jimmy, as he and Johnny dug a hole, over which the new outhouse was to be erected.

“Yeah, he sure is,” said Johnny, pausing to wipe the sweat from his face. “And look at my lucky big brother, sat there on the porch, sipping lemonade, with Winslett’s daughter. I thought he was gonna help us, when he said he was coming, too.”

“Well, you can’t blame him, Johnny,” said Jimmy. “After all, he didn’t tip Winslett into the river and if I had the choice of digging a hole, or sitting on a porch, with a pretty gal, I know what I’d choose.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” said Johnny, although, to be honest, at eleven, Johnny was still not that keen on girls, and tended to look at them as a sub species, whereas Jimmy, at fourteen, was much more interested in them.

“So, are you planning to stay here, for good, now, or is this just a visit?” asked Scott, to Isobel.

“I’m not really sure,” she said. “I’d like to stay, for good, but it will be up to my father. Do you live close by, Scott?”

“Yes, I do, in fact our ranch borders on your father’s farm, and I hope that you do get to stay, as I’d like to see more of you.”

“That would be nice, Scott. Do you go to the local school?”

“Yes, but I will be continuing my education, in Boston, when I am ready for college, as my grandfather lives there and wishes me to do so.”

“Which one of the boys, over there, is your brother?”

“The dark haired one, digging the hole,” said Scott.

“He doesn’t look anything like you,” said Isobel.

“No, I guess he doesn’t,” said Scott. “You see, we have the same father, but different mothers. My mother was from Boston and Johnny’s came from Mexico.”

“Oh, well, that would explain why he is so dark,” said Isobel.

Frank tried to change the subject, so that he could be part of the conversation, but Isobel had already decided that of the two boys, she liked Scott the best, and so she pretty much ignored the other boy.

Mr Winslett came over to the porch and spoke to the two boys.

“Your brothers and their friends have worked hard, but they’re not going to get the job finished, tonight. I think it’s time you took them home, but I want them back here, at the same time, tomorrow, understood?”

“Yes, Mr Winslett, we’ll make sure they come back, tomorrow,” said Frank.

“Okay, Mr Winslett,” said Scott. “We best get going; it’ll soon be supper time. Goodbye, Isobel, I hope to see you again.”

“Goodbye, Scott and I hope to see you, too.”

“Bye, Isobel,” said Frank.

The boys went over to where Johnny and Charlie were working and told them it was time to go home.

“Thank goodness,” said Johnny. “I’m exhausted. Thanks for all your help, big brother.”

“I never said I would help you, Johnny, but I couldn’t, anyway, with Mr Winslett watching you, all the time.”

“Oh, I thought it was because you preferred to talk to Isobel,” said Johnny.

“No, that wasn’t it, although I did like talking to her, but Mr Winslett knew I wasn’t involved, and so would’ve been mad if I’d helped you.”

“Yeah, I guess he would’ve been,” said Johnny. “But now we’ve gotta go home and do more chores.”

“Yes, we have, so we’d better get a move on,” said Scott, and soon the boys were on their way home.

“What did you find to say to that girl?” asked Johnny. “Jimmy was mighty interested and kept drawing my attention to her, and every time I looked over, you and her were talking up a storm.”

“Oh, nothing much, really,” said Scott. “I was just being polite, you know asking her what her plans were, if she was going back to school, or staying with her father.”

“And I bet you’re hoping she’s staying, aren’t you, brother? I’ve noticed you, looking at the girls at school, and even I can tell that Isobel is better looking than most of them.”

“Not better looking, necessarily, Johnny, just different, much more sophisticated and worldly wise,” said Scott, getting a rather dreamy look on his face, causing Johnny to make fake retching noises.

“Don’t do that, Johnny, it’s horrid,” said Scott.

“And so is watching you coming over all gaga about the lovely Isobel,” replied Johnny.

“You just don’t understand about these things, Johnny, you’re too young,” said Scott.

This remark really angered Johnny.

“Don’t use that line with me, brother. You know how much I hate it when you tell me I’m too young to understand. I understand only too well about men and women liking each other, because of the places I’ve lived in, for much of my life. But just because I know about such things, doesn’t mean that I like it. And I know how a woman can cause a fella all kinds of problems, so I don’t want you getting involved in all that grief.”

What Johnny was saying was the truth, as he did think that once men and women got involved with each other, it usually brought a lot of trouble. But there was another reason why he was unhappy at the thought of his brother liking a girl. He felt that if Scott started getting interested in Isobel, then he would have less time to spend with him. It had always been that way whenever his mother had gotten involved with a man, suddenly she never had the time for him, and was always sending him out to play.

When they reached home, the two boys set to and did their chores. By the time they were finished, Johnny was very glad that they didn’t have any homework, as all he wanted to do was eat his supper and go to bed.

Murdoch could see that his youngest was tired, and so didn’t ask too many questions about how the work had gone at the Winslett place.

However, Scott was more than happy to tell his father about it, although most of what he said concerned Isobel.

“She’s really pretty, Pa, but then you know that, because you saw her, didn’t you?”

“Well, yes, I did, briefly, but not that well, as she was on the porch. Is she home for good?”

“She says she wants to be, but that it’s up to her father, whether she stays, or not. I hope she does.”

“I don’t,” mumbled Johnny, but nobody heard him.

As soon as supper was over, Johnny excused himself and headed for bed.

“Night all,” he said.

“Has Johnny got to go back to the Winslett place, tomorrow, Scott?” asked Murdoch.

“Yes, he has, but as there was five of them doing the work, they should get it finished, tomorrow, so he won’t have to go again. I’ll go with him; we can go straight after school, like we did today, if you like?”

“Sounds like a good plan, son, you do that. And make sure that Wes goes along with you. I’ll tell his Pa that you’ll be keeping an eye on him.”

“Yes, sir, I will,” said Scott. “I think I’ll head up to bed, too. Goodnight, Pa.”

“Goodnight, Scott.”

The following day, as soon as school was over, the boys planned to head out to the Winslett place, again. Scott was keen to see Isobel, as was Frank, although he felt that he’d already lost out to Scott, as the girl seemed to prefer his friend’s company.

The reason that she had chosen Scott, over Frank, would have shocked both the boys, but probably not as much as her father was shocked, when he found out the real reason she’d come home.

Before the boys arrived at the farm, Isobel was trying to find the courage to tell her father, her news.

As they sat and ate the lunch she’d prepared, Isobel blurted out, “I have something to tell you, Father. It’s very important, so please hear me out, before you say anything.”

“Very well, child, I’m listening,” said Pete, who was aware that Isobel was acting rather ill at ease, but had put it down to her getting used to being home, again.

“Every now and then, our school would hold a dance, and we were allowed to invite pupils from the boys’ school, to come along. At one of these dances I met Henry and we quickly became really good friends. He attended another dance at the school and then Aunt Vicki allowed me to invite him to her house, for tea. From then on, we saw each other, as often as we could, sometimes at dances, but other times, we’d sneak out and meet. He told me that he loved me, Father, and that as soon as he finished school, this summer, he was going to marry me. I believed him; I really thought that I was going to get married, so when he wanted us to go further in our relationship, I agreed.

Anyway, I then found out I was expecting a baby, and, as soon as I could, I went to see him, and told him the news. I thought he’d be happy, after all we were going to be married, soon, but he was so cold and heartless. He even went as far as to ask me how I could be sure the baby was his, but I’d never been with anyone else, and he knew that. He said that he’d just seen me as someone to have a short fling with, before he went home and started working for his father, in the family business. He also said that he was marrying a girl from one of the wealthiest families in Boston, and that he’d never promised me marriage, but he did, Father, truly he did. I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell Aunt Vicki, as I knew how disappointed she’d be in me. She’s worked so hard to have me accepted at all the right places, and if this news became public, it would shatter people’s respect for her. So, I just told her that I was extremely homesick, and wanted to go home, for a while. All the way home, I’ve been wondering how I was going to tell you, and what we were going to do, about it. But then, yesterday, when those boys came out here, I had an idea. Scott, the boy who just accompanied his brother out here, came and sat with me, on the porch, and he was really friendly. It’s obvious he likes me, so maybe I can persuade him to marry me? Then, once we are married, I can tell him that I’m expecting and let him think that the baby is his. That’s why I chose him, over the other boy, as he is blond and blue eyed, like Henry was, so if the baby has the same colouring, everyone will just say that it takes after its father.”

Pete had done as Isobel asked, and remained silent, as she told him the story. Now that she’d stopped talking, he was still unable to speak, as he was speechless, from what he’d heard.

.

Chapter 9

It seemed to Isobel that it was an eternity, before her father spoke.

“Well, you’ve certainly given me something to think about, haven’t you, girl? I don’t think that this is the kind of education that your Mama was hoping you’d receive, when she had me promise I would send you back east, to go to school. You are barely seventeen years old and now you are going to have a baby. And you do realise that Scott is not even sixteen, yet? I can’t see Murdoch agreeing to a wedding.”

“No, I didn’t realise he was that young, but I still think I could convince him to marry me. After all, you only have me to leave this place to, and so my husband will one day own this spread. That might be enough to persuade him.”

Pete laughed.

“You’ve not been away that long, Isobel. Don’t you recall that Murdoch Lancer owns most of the land in this valley, and, as Scott is his eldest son, he will inherit most of it, I would imagine? So why would he be bothered about my few, measly acres?”

“Oh yes, I had forgotten that,” said Isobel. “Oh well, I shall have to think again, then.”

“You seem to be full of ideas, young lady, but one thing I don’t see you full of, is remorse. Do you really think that it is acceptable to come home, in this condition, with no plans to be married?”

“No, Father, I don’t, but I really didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Pete was upset about the news, but it didn’t change the fact that Isobel was his only child, and he loved her. He knew that he couldn’t turn his back on her, but he really hoped that a husband could be found, in time to make his grandchild legitimate.

“Of course you didn’t, darling, and where else should you be, but home, at a time like this?” and he gave the girl a hug.

Later that day, the boys arrived at the Winslett spread, and Pete soon had them working on the outhouse. Isobel was indoors, preparing the supper, and as she did so, she was thinking about her plan to make Scott her husband. She suddenly had an idea and wanted to share it, with her father, so she went outside to find him.

Scott and Frank were sat on the porch, as they had been, the day before, and both stood up, when Isobel arrived.

“Hi, boys,” she said. “Have you seen my father? I need to speak to him.”

“Hello, Miss Isobel,” said Scott. “I think he’s in the barn.”

“Thanks, Scott. I’ll be back, soon, and I’ll get us some lemonade and come and join you, on the porch.”

Isobel ran into the barn and began speaking, as she did so.

“Father, you are right about Mr Lancer not giving permission for Scott to marry me, ordinarily, but what if I let him take advantage of me, then tell him about the baby? He’ll assume it’s his, and when you go and see Mr Lancer and tell him the news, you can insist that we marry, in order to protect your daughter’s reputation.”

Pete thought about this, for a while, and then said, “It just might work, but we’ll have to move, fast, or else it will soon become obvious that you are already expecting.”

“That’s okay by me, I can’t wait to become Mrs Scott Lancer,” said Isobel.

Unknown to Pete or his daughter, Johnny had just arrived back at the barn, as he needed some more planks of wood, and he heard Isobel saying that she wanted to be Scott’s wife. Johnny was already feeling a bit jealous, as his brother was so taken with Isobel that he had talked of nothing else, since meeting her, but it never occurred to him that Scott might get married.

‘I don’t think Papa would let him,’ thought Johnny, but he wasn’t that sure.

He wanted to go and talk to Scott about it, but, just then, Pete turned around and caught sight of him.

“What do you want, boy? You’re supposed to be working.”

“I need more planks, sir,” said Johnny.

“I’ll leave you to get on, Father,” said Isobel. “I’m going to get some lemonade for Scott, and go sit with him, on the porch.”

“You do that, Isobel,” said Pete, and then he turned his attention to Johnny.

“I’ll help you take out the planks, boy,” he said.

“Thank you, sir,” said Johnny.

Isobel soon had herself ensconced on the porch with Frank and Scott, and started asking them some questions about life in California.

“What do you do, around here, for fun? Is there theatre, or dances, to go to? It all seems rather dull, after Boston.”

“We have the occasional social, but for theatre we have to go to Sacramento,” said Scott. “I used to live in Boston, but it was when I was a baby, so I didn’t know much about the social life, then. However, I will be going back, again, to attend college, so maybe you can tell me some of the best places to visit.”

“I will be happy to do that, for you,” said Isobel, smiling at the young man.

After a while, Frank made his excuses and went to see how the boys were doing with the outhouse. He felt, very much, as if he was in the way, on the porch. Scott and Isobel were deeply engrossed in a conversation about the delights of Boston, and as Frank had never been there, he was unable to participate.

Johnny and the rest of the boys hated being at the Winslett place, but because they didn’t want to be made to go back, again, they worked hard, and well, on the outhouse. When Mr Winslett said it was time they were heading home, the job was finished.

“Hey, Miss Winslett, do you wanna be the first one to christen the outhouse?” yelled out Johnny, to Isobel.

The girl blushed, deeply embarrassed that Johnny should ask her such a question, and she just shook her head and darted into the house.

“No? Okay, I will, then,” said Johnny, and he ran inside, banging the door shut, behind him.

The other boys laughed, all except Scott, who was angry that Johnny had made Isobel run indoors, as he wanted to make a date to see her, again.

When Johnny emerged from ‘christening’ the new building, Scott ordered him to go and saddle up his horse, in preparation to ride home. He then went to speak to Mr Winslett.

“As you can see, sir, the outhouse is finished, and so I hope that it will be all right if I tell my father that the boys don’t have to come by, any more?”

“Yes, that’s fine, Scott,” said Pete. “But it doesn’t mean that your family has to go back to never visiting me. Now that Isobel is home, I am sure that she would like to see young people coming round. In fact, I have decided to throw a party on Saturday night, to let the neighbours get re-acquainted with my daughter. So, please spread the word, any one who would like to attend is welcome.”

“That’s a great idea,” said Scott, really pleased that he was going to get another chance to be in Isobel’s company. “I am sure that my father would love to come to the party, and I will pass on the message to as many of the neighbours as I can.”

As Johnny, Scott and Wes rode home, Johnny said, “All those people going to a party at the Winslett house. I hope the outhouse is up to it.”

“Well, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be,” said Scott, still feeling euphoric about the fact he was going to able to spend more time with Isobel. “You boys did a great job.”

“Well, I kinda think we did, but we only thought it was gonna be needed for two people, not a party load, and so I hope we dug it deep enough.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Wes. “Ole man Winslett seemed happy enough, so that means we’re finished with having to go over there, and before the summer break begins, too.”

Johnny cheered up, at that thought.

“Well, that’s because there was five of us doing the job, and not just you and me, as I thought it would be. So, now we can just enjoy the holiday.”

“Don’t wish to burst your bubble, boys, but I bet that our Pas will have plenty of chores lined up for us,” said Scott.

“We always have chores to do, Scott, but there’s still plenty of hours left in the day, once they’re done,” said Johnny, determined not to let Scott spoil his mood.

As soon as they arrived at the ranch, Scott went indoors to tell his father about the party. Murdoch was entertaining one of the neighbouring ranchers, so when Scott explained about the party, Mr Carter heard about it, too.

“Well, don’t that beat all?” said Mr Carter, Frank and Charlie’s father.  “As far as I am aware, Winslett has never hosted a party, in his life.”

“No, not since losing his wife, at least,” said Murdoch. “I gather, by your enthusiasm, Scott, you’d like us to go?”

“Yes, I sure would, Pa.”

“And Isobel being there just might be the reason, huh?”

“Well, I don’t want to go and spend the evening with Mr Winslett,” said Scott.

Murdoch laughed and slapped Scott on the back.

“No, I doubt if you do, and I really can’t blame you there, son. He’s not exactly endeared himself to his neighbours, has he? But maybe that little girl has managed to get through his gruff exterior.”

“You mean like I’ve managed to break through yours, Papa?” said Johnny, entering the room

“Yes, something like that,” said Murdoch, grabbing the boy in a headlock. “I assume that Mr Winslett must be happy with the work you’ve done, if he is inviting us to a party?”

“Yeah, he thought we done great,” said Johnny.

While he still had Johnny in the headlock, Murdoch said, “That is, he thought you did a great job, son. Your English grammar leaves a lot to be desired.”

“So does yours, Pa,” said Scott, teasing his father.

“No, it doesn’t, because I don’t use English grammar, as I’m Scottish,” said Murdoch.

“And I’m half Mexican, so maybe that’s why mine ain’t always right, either,” said Johnny.

Murdoch freed the boy and sent him on his way, with a swat to his seat.

“Go and do your chores,” he said.

“Go do your chores. That’s a parents answer to everything, whenever they are losing the argument,” said Scott, but made sure that he was out of reach of his father’s hand, when he did so.

“And you can do yours, too,” said Murdoch, but he was laughing.

“Those two certainly keep you on your toes, Murdoch,” said Bill.

“Yes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Murdoch and Bill were close friends and as a father, himself, Bill knew, only too well, what Murdoch had gone through, before finally getting both of his boys living with him, at Lancer.

“I’d better get home and see that my two are doing their chores, too,” said Bill. “If Scott and Johnny are back, then Frank and Charlie must be, as well. Bye, for now, Murdoch. I expect we will see you at the Winslett party, on Saturday?”

“Yes, it looks like we are going,” said Murdoch. “I don’t think that Scott would ever forgive me, if I said we weren’t.”

“And I think that my Frank is rather taken with the young lady, too, so I expect I will get the same reaction,” said Bill.

.

Chapter 10

Once Bill had left, Murdoch went over to the barn, to talk to Johnny about how the work had gone, at Mr Winslett’s place.

“Oh, fine, Papa. He seemed real happy with the result.”

“Good, and please let that be the last time that you have to do work for him, to make up for your bad behaviour,” said Murdoch.

“Well, I sure hope it is,” said Johnny. “I don’t aim ta go anywhere near his place, ever again.”

“We’re going on Saturday night, Johnny,” said Scott. “I told you. Pa said we can all go to the party.”

“I’d rather not go,” said Johnny. “I think I’ll stay here, with Mamacita.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to go to a party, Johnny?” asked Murdoch. “It should be fun, and I expect a lot of your friends will be going.”

“Parties ain’t my kinda thing,” said Johnny, effectively ending the conversation, by turning his back on his father, and carrying on with his chores.

“Of course, you don’t have to go, if you’d rather not,” said Murdoch. “But I would like you to come with me, so think about it, okay?”

Johnny said no more and so Murdoch returned to the house.

“Why don’t you want to go to the party?” asked Scott.

“I just said, parties ain’t my kind of thing,” said Johnny. “’Sides, I don’t wanna watch you drooling all over that gal.”

“Oh, come on, I’m not going to do that. Drooling over someone sounds really gross.”

“Well, you know what I mean. I could see you, when we were at old man Winslett’s place, sitting there on the porch with her, hanging on her every word.”

“She’s just got back from Boston, Johnny. She was able to tell me things about the place that will be useful when I go back there, to attend school.”

“That’s not gonna be for ages, yet. Things are likely to change, a lot, by the time you get out there.”

“Maybe, but I still think it has helped, talking to Isobel.”

“Well, you can talk to her, all night, on Saturday, I won’t be there to get in your way.”

“Is that what this is all about?” said Scott. “Do you think that’s how I feel about you? That you’re in my way? Well, I don’t feel like that, at all, and if that’s the only reason that you’re not coming to the party, then I hope you will change your mind.”

“No, it isn’t the only reason. I really don’t like parties, that much,” said Johnny.

“I still want you to come, little brother, please.”

Johnny could see that Scott genuinely wanted him to attend the party, and, as the boy didn’t like to let his brother down, he agreed.

“Okay, you win, I’ll come,” said Johnny.

“Good,” said Scott, and he returned to his chores, with renewed vigour.

When the boys returned to the house, after finishing their chores, Scott told Murdoch that Johnny had changed his mind about the party.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it, Johnny, as I think you will enjoy it, once you get there,” said Murdoch.

“I’ll enjoy it that much more, iffen I can have a new shirt to wear,” said Johnny.

“Okay, we’ll go and pick one out, after school, tomorrow. We can get your hair cut, at the same time. What about you, Scott, do you need a new shirt, too?”

“If you’re offering, Pa, then yes, I’d love one.”

“Course he would, he’s out to impress ole Isobel,” said Johnny, laughing.

Scott glared at Johnny, but said nothing.

“That’s enough, John,” said Murdoch. “If your brother likes a young lady, then that’s entirely his business, so no teasing, okay?”

Murdoch knew, as well as Scott did, that it was very likely Johnny would tease his brother, some more, but he hoped that he wouldn’t do so, quite as much, if he knew that his father disapproved.

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny, but he was trying not to laugh, as he did so.

“I think I’ll get a haircut, too,” said Scott, and as he said that, Johnny ran outside, as he couldn’t hold on to his laughter, any longer.

“If I catch up with you, boy, I’m going to whale the tar out of you,” shouted Scott, after Johnny, but he made no real attempt to chase the boy.

“Don’t let him know that he’s getting to you, son, and that way he’ll soon stop,” said Murdoch.

“Maybe he will, but I’m not banking on it,” said Scott. “I can’t help it, Pa, but Isobel’s a real beauty and I want to spend as much time with her, as I can, because I don’t know, yet, how long she is going to be staying here.”

“That’s all right, son, you don’t have to explain to me, but your little brother doesn’t quite see girls in the same light, as we do, and so he’s bound to rib you, a bit.”

Scott rolled his eyes and said, “I think that ‘just a bit’ is a bit of an understatement, Pa, but I will try and rise above it.”

“Yes, please do, as I don’t want you coming to blows, with Johnny, over this.”

“The very idea,” said Scott. “I wouldn’t hit him, but he can be mighty annoying, at times.”

“You won’t get an argument from me, on that one,” said Murdoch.

The next day was the last day of school, until after the summer break, and all the children were in high spirits. Miss Carstairs tried to maintain order, but she didn’t try that hard, as she understood why the children were acting the way they were.

However, Johnny and his friends went a bit too far, when, after recess, they brought some frogs into the classroom, and let them loose. The reaction of the children went from the delight of the younger boys, to the screams of most of the girls, but both reactions caused chaos.

“Who brought those creatures into the classroom?” demanded Miss Carstairs, when she had finally succeeded in removing all of them.

Nobody spoke.

“I’m waiting,” she said. “And if we have to wait, too long, we won’t have time for our party, to celebrate the end of the school year.”

Several of the children began muttering about the injustice of them all missing out on the party, just because a few, dumb boys brought in some frogs. Johnny felt bad about that, and so, he put his hand up, and admitted it was him.

“Thank you, John,” said Miss Carstairs. “Come and join me out here, by my desk. Now, will the rest of you, who were responsible, also own up, please?”

Again, no one spoke, and so Miss Carstairs said, “Will you please tell me who helped you to gather all those frogs and bring them into the classroom, John?”

“Sorry, ma’am, but I can’t snitch on my friends,” said Johnny.

“Well, I know that at least two more of you must have been involved, as it would have been impossible for just one of you to carry that many frogs in here. John, you go and stand in the corner, and if the other guilty boys haven’t owned up, by the time we are due to start the party, then I am afraid we won’t be having one.”

Johnny hoped that Zack and Jimmy would own up, as he really didn’t want to be responsible for the children missing out on their party, and as the frog invasion had been his idea, it would be his fault, if they missed it.

It was very boring, standing in the corner, facing the wall, and Johnny started thinking about Scott and Isobel. He still didn’t know if he should have told his brother about what he’d heard her and her father saying, that day, in the barn.

‘Scott’s too young to get married, and besides, I don’t want him to,’ he thought. ‘And I can’t believe he’d wanna get married, anyway, so maybe I should tell him that’s what’s on her mind, and then he won’t wanna see her, no more.’

It was almost time for the party to start and, still, Jimmy and Zack hadn’t owned up. Johnny risked angering Miss Carstairs, by turning around and looking over at his two partners in crime.

‘Tell her it was you,’ he mouthed at them.

They both understood what Johnny said, and the two brothers looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and then stood up.

Jimmy said, “Excuse me, Miss Carstairs, but it was me and Zack who helped Johnny.”

The boys hadn’t spoken up, earlier, because they were hoping that Miss Carstairs wouldn’t carry out her threat and cancel the party, but Johnny was convinced she would, and didn’t want the whole class to suffer, for his prank.

“Thank you, boys, for speaking up,” said Miss Carstairs. “Please come over here and stand by the side of my desk. Johnny, you come and join them, please. The rest of the class may put their books away, and then go into the cloakroom and bring in the food and the decorations, for the party.”

As the other children did the teacher’s bidding, Miss Carstairs turned her attention to the three miscreants, who were standing by her desk.

“Right, boys, you have a choice of punishment. You can receive three swats, on the palm of your hand, from my ruler, or, you can go into Miss Burgess’ class, after her children come in here, and do some work, instead of attending the party. What’s it to be?”

As Johnny wasn’t a fan of parties, he chose to miss it, but Zack and Jimmy wanted to go, so they took the swats.

Scott was surprised to see his little brother entering his classroom, just as they were leaving it.

“What’s going on?” he said.

“Played a prank, so Miss Carstairs said I can’t go to the party. Gotta write an essay, instead. See ya later, brother,” said Johnny.

Scott had no chance to comment, so he just patted Johnny on the back, and headed into Miss Carstairs room.

.

Chapter 11

Johnny sat down and stared at the piece of paper, which Miss Carstairs had handed him. The thought of writing an essay about why he should not play pranks in the classroom, filled him with dread, and he began to wish he’d taken the swats, instead.

After a while, he did think of something to write, although he knew it wasn’t really as much as the teacher would expect from him, but it was all he could come up with.

He then sat back in the chair and looked around the room, quite proud to see a sample of Scott’s work, hanging on the wall.

Johnny’s stomach started rumbling and he realised that it was lunch time. Instead of bringing their usual lunch to school with them, the children had been asked to bring in some food for them all to share, at the party. Mamacita had provided a veritable feast for the boys to take with them, but it was all laid out in the other room.

‘Great,’ he thought. ‘I’m not gonna get anything to eat.’

In the other classroom, the children were playing games and having a great time.

Scott had spoken to Zack and Jimmy and found out about the prank. The brothers told Scott that it was Johnny’s idea to bring the frogs into school.

“We’ve been collecting ‘em, out at our place, for a while, now,” said Zack.

“Why were you two allowed to go to the party, and Johnny wasn’t? Was it because it was his idea?”

“Oh no, Scott,” said Jimmy. “Johnny had the choice, same as we did. Three whacks on the palm, from Miss Carstairs’ ruler, or miss the party.”

“We chose the whacks, cos we don’t get to go to parties, that often,” said Zack. “And, besides, that Miss Carstairs don’t hit that hard, cos she’s only a little bitty thing. Johnny chose to miss the party.”

When it was time to eat, Scott thought about Johnny, and approached the teachers, to see if he could take some food to his brother.

“Of course you can, Scott,” said Miss Burgess. “Miss Carstairs had no intention of starving the boy, did you?”

“No, of course I didn’t,” said Miss Carstairs.

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Scott, and he soon had a plate, piled high with food.

He went next door and his little brother was very pleased to see him, and the food.

“Thanks, Scott, I thought I wasn’t gonna get fed, until we went home.”

“I spoke to Zack and Jimmy and they told me what you did,” said Scott. “I was surprised to hear that you chose to miss the party, rather than have Miss Carstairs whack you, with her ruler. Zack said it didn’t hurt, much, as she’s only a little thing.”

“I wasn’t worried about it hurting,” said Johnny. “I just wasn’t bothered about going to the party.”

“Oh, well, you’re not missing much, as it’s a bit babyish, to tell you the truth,” said Scott. “I don’t think it’ll go on for much longer, we usually get dismissed early, on the last day of school.”

“Well, it won’t make any difference if we do get out early, cos we’ve gotta wait for Papa,” said Johnny.

“Yes, we have, but he might remember that we often finish early, and so get here sooner, rather than later.”

“Hope so, I’ve had my fill of this place,” said Johnny.

“Has it really been that bad?” asked Scott, concerned to hear his brother speak like that.

“Well, no, I guess it ain’t been that bad, but I’d much prefer to be doing other things, rather than going to school.”

“I think that most of us feel like that, Johnny, but, as school’s go, this one’s okay. I best get back to the party, now, little brother.”

“Do you havta? Can’t you stay here, with me?”

“If I do that, then it’s not like you’re being punished, is it?” said Scott, but he wasn’t that keen to leave Johnny, who was looking pretty miserable. “Okay, I’ll stay, until someone comes to find me.”

“Thanks, brother,” said Johnny.

The younger boy decided that this was a good time to bring up the subject of Isobel, and what he’d overheard, out at the Winslett place.

“Scott, when we were at the Winslett farm, the other day, I heard something that I think you oughta know about. I had to go over to the barn, to fetch some more wood, and as I got close to the door, I could hear Isobel talking to her Pa.”

“You shouldn’t have been eavesdropping, Johnny,” said Scott.

“Maybe not, but I’m glad I did, as I heard Isobel tell her father that she couldn’t wait to be Mrs Scott Lancer. You ain’t gonna marry her, are you, Scott?”

“Marry her? Heck, no, I’m not even sixteen, yet, I’m far too young to get married,” said Scott. “You must’ve misheard what she was saying, Johnny.”

“I don’t know how you can mishear something like that, Scott. I reckon that the Winslett’s are out to trap you into marriage. They know that Papa is worth a lot and ole man Winslett wants a rich man for his daughter to marry.”

“Well, even if you’re right, and even if I was willing, Pa wouldn’t allow me to get married, so they’ll have to wait a long time,” said Scott. “Don’t worry about it, sounds like a young girl’s fancy, to me, you know, just dreaming of what might be, one day, out loud.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” said Johnny.

Scott wasn’t missed, until the party was almost over. Miss Burgess went to fetch him.

“It’s taken you a very long time to deliver just one plate of food, Scott,” she said.

“Sorry, ma’am, but Johnny and I got talking and I just forgot the time,” said Scott.

“Well, off you go, back to the party,” said the teacher. “Your brother was in here, as a punishment, and you being with him, rather negates that, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am, I guess it does,” said Scott. “See you later, little brother.”

“See ya, Scott.”

Eventually, the party was over and Johnny was allowed to return to his classroom, to collect his belongings. He left the essay he had written, on Miss Carstairs’ desk, and hoped she wouldn’t read it, until after the class had been dismissed.

His luck was in, as she sent them home, without mentioning the essay.

“I am sure you will all have a wonderful summer break, and will return refreshed and ready to learn, when school starts, again,” said Miss Carstairs. “And for those who are leaving us, may I wish you all the best, when you join Miss Burgess’ class. Now, off you go, and take care.”

Johnny ran outside, and was pleased to see that Murdoch was already waiting for them. He went over to his father and smiled up at him.

“Hi Papa, that’s the end of school, for a couple of months, so I’m free to do what I want, yippee!”

“I’ve got plenty of chores for you to do,” said Murdoch. “So you won’t be that free.”

“Aw, come on, Papa, be a sport. I’ve been working hard, I need a break.”

“Oh, you poor old thing,” said Murdoch, tickling the boy.

“Stoppit, Papa, I need to use the outhouse, before we go into town.”

“Well, go and do so, then, and I’ll wait here, for your brother,” said Murdoch.

As he waited for Johnny, Scott came over to join Murdoch.

“Hi Pa, has Johnny come out, yet?”

“Yes, he’s gone to use the outhouse. Was the party good?”

“It was okay, but I think I’m getting a bit old for a children’s party.”

“Well, did Johnny enjoy it?”

“Erm, I’m not sure, Pa,” said Scott, unwilling to tell their father that Johnny hadn’t attended the party.

Murdoch decided to wait and ask Johnny about the party, but before the boy returned, Miss Carstairs came over to talk to him.

“Good afternoon, Mr Lancer, where’s Johnny?”

“Good afternoon, Miss Carstairs. He’s using the outhouse; did you want him for something?”

“Well, yes, I did. Do you mind if I wait with you?”

“No, of course I don’t,” said Murdoch.

As Johnny made his way back to his father, he could see that Miss Carstairs was standing with him.

‘Uh, oh, wonder what she wants,’ he thought.

“I’m ready to go,” said Johnny, as he reached Murdoch.

“In a minute, son,” said Murdoch. “Miss Carstairs wants a word with you.”

“What do you want, ma’am?” asked Johnny.

“I wanted to know how you thought that this could be considered to be an essay?” and she held up the writing Johnny had done, instead of going to the party.

“What is it, Miss Carstairs?” asked Murdoch.

“Your son was in trouble, this morning, Mr Lancer. He, and two of his friends, brought several frogs into the classroom and let them go. As a punishment, I wouldn’t allow Johnny to go to the party, and he was supposed to write me an essay on why it’s not a good idea to play pranks, in class. This is all he wrote.”

She handed the paper to Murdoch and he read it out loud.

‘I shouldn’t play pranks in class, cos iffen I get caught, Miss Carstairs throws a hissy fit, and either won’t let me go to the party, or whacks me with a ruler.’

“It might be the truth, but it’s not quite what I wanted,” said Miss Carstairs. “You are very lucky, young man, that this is the last day of school, because if it wasn’t, you would be taking this home, and adding some more to it, tonight. However, as it is the last day, I will let it go, this time, but don’t get the idea that you can get away with such shoddy work, in the future.”

“Sorry, Miss Carstairs,” said Johnny, trying to keep the smile off his face.

“This is not a laughing matter,” said Murdoch, sternly. “I am sorry, too, Miss Carstairs, that my son has been giving you such a hard time, and I will try and instil some better manners in him, during the break from school.”

“Thank you, Mr Lancer,” said Miss Carstairs. “On the whole, I think that Johnny has adapted to school, very well, but there are obviously still some rough edges that need smoothing off.”

“I will do my best to remove them,” said Murdoch. “Come on, boys, we have a fair few things to do, in town.”

.

Chapter 12

As the boys walked over to where their horses were waiting, Scott said, “You sure like to skate on thin ice, little brother. You might have gotten away with it, with Miss Carstairs, but Pa looks ready to bust right out of his vest.”

Johnny let go of the laughter he’d been trying to hold in.

“Well, I didn’t know what else to write, Scott.”

“My guess will be, that by the end of this holiday, Pa will make sure you do know what to write,” said Scott.

“Yeah, probably,” said Johnny, sobering up, at the thought.

Murdoch said nothing more about the incident, at school, while they were in town. First stop was the barber’s and all three Lancers had a haircut.

“Only take a bit off the front,” said a rather nervous Johnny, as he sat in the chair.

“All right, boy, you’ve already told me that, about a hundred times,” said Frank, the barber. “I won’t take off much, I promise.”

Johnny wanted to believe the barber, but was still on edge, the whole time he was in the chair.

Once he was finished, though, he had to admit that it looked all right.

“Sit down, over there, and wait for me,” said Murdoch, who sat in the chair that Johnny had just vacated.

Scott’s hair was being cut by the other barber, Russ.

“Unlike my little brother, I would like some taken off all of my hair, not just the front,” said Scott.

“Will do,” said Russ.

Johnny soon got bored, waiting for his father and brother to finish having their hair cut.

“Hey, Papa, can I go and have a look round the stores while I’m waiting for you?”

“No, Johnny, you may not,” said Murdoch. “After the trouble you’ve been in, today, I’d rather keep you where I can see you.”

Johnny sighed, deeply, but stayed put.

Once the haircuts were done, Murdoch paid the bill and then they headed for the outfitters.

“Seeing as how this is a special occasion, with Mr Winslett actually hosting a party, I think we all should have a new shirt,” said Murdoch. “Come on, Johnny, stop lagging behind us; let’s get inside and start choosing.”

“I’m okay, Papa, I don‘t really need a new shirt,” said Johnny.

“But you were the one who said you did need one,” said Murdoch, surprised by his son’s change of heart.

“Yeah, I know I did, but that was before I messed up, in school. I don’t guess I deserve one, now.”

“I’ll be the one who decides whether or not you deserve something, son, and I think you need a new shirt to wear to the party,” said Murdoch. “And we’ll talk about what happened at school, when we get home.”

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny, and he followed Scott, into the store.

They all chose a new shirt, although Scott took longer to decide than the other two did, as he wanted to be sure and get the right one, in which to impress Isobel.

“What do you think about this one?” he said, coming out of the changing room, in the fifth one he’d tried on.

“It’s nice, but then so were the last four,” said Johnny.

“But is this one better than the last one?” persisted Scott.

“I dunno, Scott, my shirt choosing senses have gone numb, after all the ones you’ve tried on. Ask Papa.”

“Well, Pa, what do you think?”

“I already told you, Scott, I liked the second one that you tried on, the best.”

Scott went back into the changing and picked up the second one. He brought it out, into the store and looked at it, again.

“Yes, I guess it is a good choice for me, brings out the colour of my eyes. Okay, I’ll have this one.”

“Finally,” said Johnny.

“No need to be so bad tempered, Johnny,” said Scott. “When it’s you wanting to impress a lady, I will remind you of this day.”

“I won’t ever be that bothered about impressing anyone, least of all a silly girl, like Isobel,” said Johnny.

“Oh, I bet you will, and she’s not a silly girl,” said Scott. “Actually, Isobel’s quite bright, must be the result of going to that posh school.”

“Silly or bright, I just ain’t bothered about her, and I don’t understand why you are, either.”

“And that brings us back to what I said, before; you’re too young to understand, yet, what it is that makes men find women, attractive.”

“And you do, Granddad, do you?” said Johnny, rather sneeringly.

“Oh, very funny,” said Scott, pushing past Johnny, as they prepared to leave the store.

“That’s enough, John,” said Murdoch, rather concerned that his two boys, who were normally so close, seemed almost ready to come to blows. “I think it’s nice that Scott wants to make an effort for the hostess of the party. It’s only polite to look your best when you have been invited out.”

“Thank you, Pa,” said Scott.

Johnny just glared, in Scott’s direction, and made his way out on to the boardwalk.

Before Scott could follow him, Murdoch grabbed hold of his arm and pulled the boy towards him.

“Go easy on him, Scott. I know he’s giving you a hard time, about Isobel, but he’s just jealous.”

“Jealous? Why? He doesn’t like her for himself, does he? She’s seventeen and he’s only eleven; she’s not about to be interested in Johnny.”

“No son, he’s not after Isobel for himself, but he’s jealous of the time that you are spending, pursuing her. He hasn’t had a big brother, all that long, and he’s not ready to share you, yet.”

“Aw, Pa, I didn’t realise, but I can’t spend the rest of my life never having other friends, can I?”

“No, of course you can’t, son, and I’m not suggesting that you should. I’m just explaining why Johnny is being so negative about your friendship with Isobel.”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind me being friends with Frank and Jimmy.”

“No, he doesn’t, because when you see Frank and Jimmy, Johnny often goes along with you, as he’s friends with them, too. But when you’re sparking a young lady, you don’t want your little brother around, do you? And Johnny knows that. He’s told us that the best times with his mother, were when she wasn’t involved with a man. And that whenever she was, she didn’t have much time for him, so I suppose he thinks that you will be the same.”

“I don’t want him thinking like that, Pa,” said Scott, really upset to discover that he may have hurt his little brother, albeit inadvertently. “I’ll talk to him, and see if I can make him understand that I can see Isobel and still spend time with him.”

Murdoch put his arm around Scott and gave the boy an affectionate squeeze.

“Thanks, Scott, I knew you would understand. Come on, let’s go join Johnny.”

The family rode home, and Scott resolved to talk to Johnny, as they saw to their horses. However, Murdoch beat him to it, as he wanted to talk to Johnny, too, so he asked Scott to take care of Scirocco, for Johnny.

“I won’t keep him long, Scott, and then he will be out to help you with the chores.”

“Okay, Pa,” said Scott, and he smiled at Johnny, but got no response from his little brother.

Scott guessed that Murdoch was going to talk to Johnny about his behaviour in school, that day, so was happy to stay well clear of the house. He hated it when Murdoch was cross with Johnny, even more than he did when his father was angry with him. Johnny always looked so young and vulnerable, if Murdoch had occasion to shout at him, and while Scott knew that their father wasn’t being cruel or unreasonable, he still didn’t like it, when Johnny was in trouble.

Johnny walked into the house and flopped down on the settee, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. His anger with Scott, about seeing Isobel, made him less bothered about Murdoch being angry with him.

Murdoch followed him and said, “Come over to my desk, son, I want to talk to you.”

Johnny sighed and hauled himself up, off the settee, taking as long as he possibly could to walk the short distance to his father’s desk.

“This insolence, on your part, is not going to make things any easier for you, John,” said Murdoch, who was not impressed by Johnny’s attitude.

“I really don’t know what ya mean, Papa,” he said. “What did you want to say to me?”

Murdoch chose to ignore the boy’s rather sullen response.

“I wanted to tell you that I was very disappointed about the way you behaved in school, this morning. Bringing those frogs into the classroom was a foolish thing to do, and a very disrespectful way to treat your teacher, especially when she was throwing a party for you all. I quite understand why she refused to let you go, and the second part of her punishment, for you to write an essay, was fair, too. However, you chose not to do it, and that was wrong of you, John. Now, Miss Carstairs was prepared to let you off from doing that essay, but I’m not, as it was part of your punishment and so I think you should write it. So, this evening, after supper, you are to do the essay, again, and this time I want it to be at least a page long. Then, when you return to school, after the summer break, you can give it to Miss Carstairs.”

“Aw, Papa, I don’t wanna write essays, when I’m on holiday. If the teacher’s not bothered, why are you?”

“I’m bothered, because whenever you are given a task to do, I want you to, always, do it, to the best of your ability, and I don’t think you did, with that essay.”

“Well, can’t I leave it ‘til we’re about to go back to school?”

“No, you are to do it, tonight, while the whole incident is still fresh in your mind. And then, once it’s done, it won’t be hanging over the rest of the holiday, will it?”

“I guess not,” said Johnny. “Okay, I’ll write it, tonight. And Papa, I’m sorry for getting in trouble, but it was funny seeing all the gals running away from them frogs.”

Murdoch smiled, even though he felt he should remain firm.

“I don’t expect the girls thought it was very funny. Now, off you go and help Scott with the chores.”

“Yes, sir,” said Johnny, and he gave his father a hug, before running off to find Scott.

.

Chapter 13

Scott was in the barn, still seeing to the horses, and he was surprised that Johnny joined him, as quickly as he did.

“What did Pa have to say to you?” asked Scott.

“Oh, he said I gotta write a proper essay for Miss Carstairs and I gotta do it, tonight,” said Johnny. “Don’t know why, she didn’t say I had to do it, but I guess Papa has his reasons.”

“Probably hopes that it will make you stop and think, before you decide to fill the classroom up with more creatures,” said Scott. “Actually, I think you got off pretty light. I thought he was going to be tougher on you than that.”

“Mmm, so did I,” said Johnny. “So, writing an essay ain’t that bad, I guess, but I can think of better things to do, on the first night of the summer break.”

“Oh, it won’t take you long,” said Scott.

“No, I guess not,” said Johnny, and he set to, grooming his horse.

Before they went back inside, Scott brought up the subject of Isobel.

“Johnny, just because I want to spend some time with a girl, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be with you. I think there are enough hours in the day, especially now that we are out of school, for me to spend time with both of you, so there’s no need for you to be jealous when I want to see her.”

“Who says I’m jealous? Who says I even care?” said Johnny. “You can do what you like, I ain’t your keeper.”

“Pa seemed to think that you were a bit upset about me seeing Isobel, but if he’s got that wrong, then I’m sorry I mentioned it. I just wanted you to know that I love you, little brother, very much.”

Johnny turned away from Scott, without saying anything, but if Scott could’ve seen his younger brother’s face, he would have seen the tears in his eyes, caused by his big brother’s words.

After supper, Johnny, with Murdoch keeping a close eye on him, set to, and wrote the essay, again. This time, he managed to write a page, just about, but it was enough to satisfy his father.

“That’s much better,” said Murdoch, when he read it. “And I hope that you believe the sentiments that you wrote here. That it was mean to scare the girls, like you did, and to spoil the day, when Miss Carstairs was throwing a party for the class.”

“Of course I do, Papa,” said Johnny, but Murdoch couldn’t see what Scott could see, that Johnny had his fingers crossed, behind his back, as he said it.

“Right, then, the rest of the evening is yours to do with what you want, well, up to nine o’clock, anyway,” said Murdoch.

“Oh, good,” said Johnny. “Scott, what about a game, or two, of checkers?”

“As long as you don’t mind being thrashed, little brother,” said Scott.

“Don’t you be so sure that you’re gonna win,” replied Johnny, going over to the drawer where they kept the checkers and the board.

The boys were soon involved in a game, and although Teresa tried to distract them, neither of them was prepared to give up playing, in order to have a tea party, with her dolls.

Eventually, Paul said it was time for her to go to bed, and both the boys were relieved. Neither of them was that fond of having to spend time with the child, who was the daughter of their father’s foreman, but as her mother had died, some time ago, Maria kept an eye on her, when Paul was working, so she spent a lot of time in their house.

After three games, in which Scott won two and Johnny one, Murdoch told the younger boy it was time for bed.

“Do I havta go, now?” said Johnny, sounding rather whiny, not something he did, often, but a sure indicator that he was tired. “There’s no school in the morning.”

“No, there isn’t, son, but we are going to the party, at the Winslett’s, and so it will be a late night, tomorrow, plus there are plenty of chores, with your name on, to do, in the morning, and you need your sleep, so, off you go,” said Murdoch.

“But I wanna play one more game and beat Scott,” persisted Johnny.

“Who says you’d beat me?” said Scott, smiling at his little brother. “We can play again, tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” said Johnny, when he realised that Scott wasn’t going to support him, against their father. “Night,” and he headed off to bed.

“I’ll be up, shortly, to tuck you in,” said Murdoch.

Once Johnny was out of sight, Murdoch looked over at Scott.

“Thanks for backing me, there, son. I could see a battle about to begin, as he wasn’t keen on going to bed, was he?”

“That’s okay, Pa,” said Scott. “He was tired and losing concentration on the last game, so another one wasn’t a good idea, as he hates losing. Trouble with Johnny, is that he doesn’t know when to give in, gracefully.”

“No, he doesn’t, but then, at eleven, you weren’t that gracious about losing, either,” said Murdoch.

“I don’t suppose I was,” admitted Scott.

Murdoch gave Johnny enough time to get ready for bed, and then went up to read the boy a story and say goodnight.

Johnny was nearly asleep by the time Murdoch arrived in his son’s bedroom.

“Do you want me to read to you?” asked Murdoch, sitting on the bed and gently rubbing Johnny’s back.

“Mmm, yes please, Papa,” said Johnny, but, after less than two pages, he was asleep.

“So much for not being tired,” whispered Murdoch, as he leant over and planted a kiss on the top of Johnny’s head. “Night, night, God bless, sleepyhead.”

When Murdoch returned to the main room, Scott said, “That didn’t take long.”

Murdoch chuckled.

“He was nearly asleep, when I got there.”

“Thought he might have been,” said Scott. “And I’m going to bed, now, too. I need a lot of sleep to keep up with my little brother, and I want to look my best, for the party. Goodnight, Pa.”

“Goodnight, son, God bless,” said Murdoch.

Just as he was reluctant to go to bed, the night before, Johnny was reluctant to get out of it, the following morning.

“Come on, Johnny,” said Teresa, who had offered to go and wake him up. “Daddy and Doc say there’s lots of work to be done, before we go to the party.”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll be down in a minute,” said Johnny, never coming out from under his covers.

Teresa returned downstairs, and told Murdoch what Johnny had said.

“Did you actually see Johnny, Teresa?” asked Scott.

“Nope, he just talked to me through his covers,” said the six year old.

“I’ll go, Pa,” said Scott, knowing that Johnny had no intention of getting out of bed, but had just said he would, to make Teresa go away.

“Thank you, Scott,” said Murdoch.

.

Chapter 14

Scott entered his little brother’s room, and went over to the side of the bed.

“If you don’t get out, by the time I’ve counted to five, then I’m going to tip you out,” said Scott. “One, two, three, four, four and a half, five.”

There was still no sign of Johnny, so Scott grabbed hold of the covers, and pulled them upwards, tipping Johnny onto the floor.

“Ow, that hurt, damnit,” said Johnny. “Just wait ‘til I get hold of you, big brother.”

“I’m not bothered about you getting hold of me, little brother, but if you carry on using language like that, you should be worried about Pa getting a hold of you,” said Scott.

“He ain’t here,” said Johnny, unravelling himself from the tangle of covers, in which he was lying. “And if he was, he’d understand why I cursed, after you threw me on the floor. You might have done me some permanent damage.”

“You landed on your head, little brother, so it’s not likely,” said Scott, laughing.

“Oh, you are so funny, I don’t think,” snapped Johnny. “Now, will you please leave the room, so I can get dressed.”

“I’m not falling for that one,” said Scott. “I’m staying right here, until you have washed up and got dressed.”

“I never get any privacy around here,” grumbled Johnny, but he did as Scott told him, and was soon dressed. “What’s the big rush, for, anyway?”

“Pa wants all the chores to be done, this morning, so that we can all have a bath and get ready for the party, this afternoon,” said Scott.

“A bath? Why do I havta take a bath? I ain’t dirty,” said Johnny.

“Pa wants us all looking our best, for tonight,” said Scott.

“If I’d known it was gonna involve bathing, I would never have agreed to go,” said Johnny.

“Oh, don’t be such a grumpy Gus, little brother, the party will be fun,” said Scott. “Come on, let’s go have some breakfast.”

Johnny’s mood didn’t lift, that much, all day, despite Scott’s best efforts to cheer him up.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have insisted that he came to the party, after all,” said Scott, to Murdoch, as they waited for the boy to finish his bath. “He’s been in a bad mood, all day. I don’t want him going to the Winslett house and making everyone else miserable.”

“I don’t think Johnny would do that, son, but if it looks likely, I promise that I’ll take him outside and tan his hide for him, and if he still won’t mind me, I will bring him home, early, and you can stay with Paul and Teresa, and come back with them.”

“Oh, Pa, I don’t want you doing that to him, but I also don’t want him spoiling things for Isobel and me, before we even go out on a proper date.”

By the time Johnny joined them in the main room of the house, it seemed as though he’d managed to throw out his bad mood, with the bath water. He was wearing his new shirt, the haircut meant that his hair no longer covered part of his face, and he looked really smart.

“My, oh my,” said Murdoch. “Don’t we all look handsome?”

“Yeah, I guess we do,” said Johnny, looking at his brother and his father. “We scrub up rather well, don’t we?”

Scott laughed.

“So the bath wasn’t such a bad idea, after all, then?”

“No, I guess not,” said Johnny. “In fact, I feel ready for some fun.”

“Well, just make sure that whatever type of fun you decide to get into, it is something that I will think is fun, too, not something I will disapprove of, okay?” said Murdoch.

Johnny saluted his father.

“Yes, sir.”

The three of them went outside to find that Paul and Teresa were already sat in the surrey, ready to go.

“Come on, you slowpokes,” said Teresa, who was really excited about going to a grown up party and was very happy that her father had bought her a new dress for the occasion.

“Do you like my new dress?” she asked Scott and Johnny, as they climbed aboard the surrey.

“You look lovely,” said Scott, always prepared to give Teresa a compliment, as he knew that it kept her happy.

“Erm, not bad, I guess,” said Johnny, who was not that interested in what the little girl was wearing.

“It’s better than not bad,” said Teresa. “It’s lovely.”

“Okay, it’s lovely,” said Johnny, aware that Murdoch was looking at him, and urging him to be nice to the little girl.

“Fank you,” said Teresa. “And your new shirt looks nice, too.”

Johnny just nodded at Teresa and took his usual seat, next to his father, who was going to be driving the team.

“Right, everybody ready? Good, then off we go,” said Murdoch.

.

Chapter 15

As soon as they arrived at the Winslett farm, Scott made a beeline for Isobel, who was on the porch, dressed in a very simple, but pretty, muslin dress and wearing a fetching bonnet, with which to protect her face from the sun.

“Scott, how lovely to see you,” she said, holding out her hand, so that Scott could kiss it.

“And it’s lovely seeing you, again, Isobel,” said Scott. “You look radiant. Would you care to take a walk with me?”

“I would prefer to dance,” said Isobel, indicating that they should go over to the barn, from where strains of music could be heard, filtering out into the yard.

“Come on, then, that would be great,” said Scott.

Scott and Isobel were soon enjoying the dancing and Murdoch went into the house, where, in the main, the older people were congregating. The younger children were playing in the yard, and Mr Winslett had strung up some lanterns, so that, even when it started to get dark, they could still play outside, if they wanted to.

Johnny and Teresa sought out some of their friends and started playing a game of tag.

“Where’s Scott?” asked Jimmy.

“Dancing with Isobel,” said Johnny, pulling a goofy face, as he said her name. “That’s all he’s thought about doing, since we got the invitation to this dumb party.”

“Well, she is real pretty,” said Jimmy.

Johnny punched his friend on the arm.

“Oh no, not you, too? What’s the matter with you all, she’s just a gal.”

“But what a gal,” said Jimmy, and it was a thought that most of the boys, over the age of thirteen and under twenty, were also thinking, as they watched Isobel glide around the room, with Scott.

In fact, once the dance came to an end, there was quite a queue waiting to partner Isobel, but she turned them all down, in favour of Scott.

After a few more dances, Isobel whispered in Scott’s ear, “How about that walk, now? I don’t know about you, but I am hot and need a breath of fresh air.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Scott, and the two went out into the yard.

There were quite a few children out there, so Isobel suggested that they walked some distance away from the others.

“I want to talk to you, Scott, and it’s difficult with all these little ones around.”

Johnny heard her refer to him and his friends, as little ones, and decided that he disliked even more than he had, before.

“Who does she think she is, calling us little ones?” he said to Zack and Charlie.

“Well, she is seventeen and we are only eleven and ten, so I suppose to her we are little ones,” said Charlie, not that bothered about what the girl called him.

“Well, I don’t like it,” said Johnny.

Scott and Isobel walked some way from the main area where the party was being held, and they sat down on a fallen tree trunk. Isobel reached out and held Scott’s hand.

“You know, Scott, from the first day I saw you, when you brought your little brother over, to build us a new outhouse, I really liked you. Have you been out with many girls?”

“I liked you, too,” said Scott. “And no, I haven’t been out with that many people. The girls around here are all so immature, and I thought that, before I met you. But, now I have met you, I know I was right to think of them as being very young and silly. You are so much more sophisticated, it must be going to a school, back east, that’s made you that way.”

“I suppose it has, and I also think it’s because you spent your early years in Boston, that you recognise and like to court a more mature woman.”

“Maybe that is so, but Pa has always said I have an old head on young shoulders,” said Scott.

“Well, I certainly don’t feel that I am cradle snatching, being here with you,” said Isobel, gently stroking Scott’s cheek, and causing pleasant shivers to run down his back.

“Good, I’m glad to hear that,” said Scott. “But please stop stroking my cheek, or else I might not be able to contain myself and continue to behave like the proper gentleman my father expects me to be.”

“And what if I was to tell you that I don’t want you to act like a proper gentleman, and I don’t want to be a proper lady, either?” said Isobel, continuing to stroke his cheek, but to also run her other hand up the inside of his thigh.

“I really don’t think you should do that, Isobel,” said Scott, trying, desperately, to remain a gentleman.

“But you like it, don’t you, darling,” said Isobel, whispering into his ear, and allowing him to smell her very alluring perfume, at close quarters.

“Yes, I do, but that’s not the point,” stammered Scott. “We really shouldn’t be doing this.”

Isobel stopped stroking Scott’s cheek and took hold of his hand, again. She placed his hand onto the front of her dress.

“If you just open those buttons, there, you will be able to caress my breasts,” she said. “And if I open these buttons,” she said, with her hand at the top of Scott’s trousers, “then I will be able to touch your…..”

Before she could say anymore, Teresa appeared next to them.

“Hi, Scott, can I play wiv you? Cos Johnny won’t let me play wiv him and his fwends and I’m bored.”

Never before was Scott so relieved to see Teresa.

“Go away, little girl,” said Isobel. “Scott and I are busy.”

“Oh, don’t say that to her,” said Scott. “You’ll make her cry. Of course you can play with us, Teresa. I have to let her, Isobel, as her father works for my father and they are really good friends, and if I don’t, then she will tell on me, and might say what she saw us doing.”

“We weren’t doing anything, yet,” snapped Isobel. “But we could be, if you get rid of her.”

“Don’t you think I want to?” said Scott, although, to be honest, he was happy for Teresa to stay with them, as he was scared about getting carried away. He knew that Murdoch would be extremely angry with him, if he did so, and he was sure that Mr Winslett was the kind of a man who would take a horsewhip to him, if he did anything to Isobel.

Teresa said, “What game can we play, Scott?”

Before he could answer her, Isobel said, “How about hide and go seek? You go and hide and Scott will come and find you, okay?”

“’Kay,” said Teresa, and she ran off, and was soon out of sight.

“That wasn’t such a good idea, Isobel,” said Scott. “It’s getting dark and she might get lost.”

“That’s what I’m hoping she does,” said Isobel. “And while she’s missing, you and I can start having some fun,” and she began undoing the buttons on his pants.

Scott was torn between having some fun with Isobel, and checking on Teresa, and Isobel was winning, especially when she slipped her hand inside his pants, but then they faced another interruption.

Scott heard Paul calling, “Teresa, where are you, sweetheart?”

“Ignore him,” said Isobel. “He’ll find her, by himself.”

“He’s coming this way,” said Scott, and he removed Isobel’s hand, and quickly did up the buttons on his pants.

“Hi, Paul, I was just going to look for Teresa, she said she was going to hide and she wanted me to find her.”

“Oh, hello, Scott, Isobel,” said a rather distracted Paul. “I thought she was with Johnny, but he went off with his friends and left her. You shouldn’t have let her go off, to hide, all alone, Scott; it’s getting dark, she’s likely to be lost.”

“I’m sure she won’t be far away, Paul. I’ll go get Pa and Johnny to help us look for her. Excuse me, Isobel, I’ll try and get back to you, real soon,” and the boy took off, to find his father.

.

Chapter 16

Murdoch was with Johnny, and judging by the look on Johnny’s face, their father was cross with him.

“Hi, Pa, Paul wants us to help him find Teresa,” said Scott.

“I was just about to do so, but first I had to have words with your little brother,” said Murdoch. “Teresa was playing with him, but then he decided to go off with his friends and he wouldn’t let her go with him, and now she is lost. I have just finished telling him that it was very irresponsible to just leave her, like that. If he didn’t want to take her with him, he should have taken her to Paul.”

“I doubt if she’s gone far, Pa,” said Scott. “She doesn’t like the dark.”

“That’s true, so let’s hope she’s stayed fairly close to the yard,” said Murdoch.

“She’ll be all right, don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Johnny, who was cross that his father had taken him away from his friends, when Paul had told him that Teresa was missing.

“The fuss, young man, is because she is only six years old and we don’t know where she is,” said Murdoch, and he accompanied his words, with a swat to Johnny’s bottom, making the boy very glad that they were well away from where his friends were playing, as he didn’t want them to see his father smacking him.

“Ouch, Papa, that hurt,” said Johnny, moving away from his father’s side.

“It was meant to,” said Murdoch. “Now, let’s go and look for Teresa. You two go that way, behind the barn, and I will go and look beyond the house. And you two stay together, I don’t want to lose either of you, as well as Teresa.”

“Yes, Pa, we will,” said Scott, and he dragged his brother away, before the boy had a chance to say anymore.

“Why did you do that, Scott? I wanted to tell Papa that I’m not likely to get lost, like some dumb girl,” said Johnny, twisting free of his brother’s grasp.

“That’s why I dragged you away,” said Scott. “If you’d said anymore, Pa would’ve added a few more swats to the one he just gave you, and I didn’t think you’d want that to happen.”

“No, I guess I wouldn’t, thanks, Scott,” said Johnny. “Let’s go see if we can find Teresa, then, shall we?”

“I reckon she’s going to be over there,” said Scott, pointing in the direction to where he’d been, with Isobel. “I was over there, earlier, and she came by.”

“Well, why didn’t you keep her with you, then?” asked Johnny. “That way she wouldn’t be lost, now, and Papa wouldn’t be mad with me.”

“I didn’t know that Pa would get mad with you, because she was missing,” said Scott. “She came and found me, when I was with Isobel, so we sent her off to hide.”

“Oh, I see, you got rid of her, too, so that you and Isobel could explore each other’s tonsils, did ya?” said Johnny. “Well, in that case, you deserve one of those swats Papa was handing out, as I got one for not letting her stay with me.”

Scott blushed, although Johnny couldn’t see it, in the fading light.

“Yes, I guess I do,” he said. “Anyway, let’s see if we can find her,” and the two boys headed off.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find the little girl, but she was cross with Scott for not coming to find her, sooner.

“I’ve been hiding behind this bush, and my legs are hurting, cos I’ve bin all squished up, for ages,” she said, when Scott and Johnny found her.

“Sorry,” said Scott. “It was just too good a hiding place and I couldn’t see you.”

“Liar,” whispered Johnny. “You never even looked for her.”

They took her back to her father and then Scott went to look for Isobel. When he finally found her, she was sat on the porch with another one of the guests, Jake Pritchard, the eldest son of a rancher, who owned a spread just north of town.

“Hi, Isobel,” said Scott, but she didn’t answer, immediately.

She carried on talking to Jake, and then, just as Scott was about to leave, she said, “Oh, hello Scott. Do you know Jake? He has some fascinating stories to tell, about going on cattle drives, with his father.”

Jake was the same age as Isobel, and worked on his father’s ranch, full time. Isobel knew that Scott hadn’t been on a cattle drive, yet, as he’d told her that his father wouldn’t let him take the time off school, to go on one, so he was going to have to wait until he left school.

“Scott wouldn’t be able to contribute to what you’ve been telling me about, Jake, as he’s still in school and hasn’t been on a drive, yet. But then, you’re so much older, and that also means you are more in tune with what a woman like me, needs, aren’t you, Jake?”

“I hope I am,” said Jake, who was a boy of rather limited intelligence. He had found Isobel’s very forward approach, rather overwhelming, although he hadn’t really minded that she had made all the first moves, as he was not good at knowing what to say, to attract a girl.

“Erm, Teresa’s been found, now, so I thought we could carry on from where we left off,” said Scott.

“Sorry, Scott, but I’ve found a man who knows where his priorities lie, with me,” said Isobel, putting her arm around Jake.

Scott wasn’t the sort to hang around, when it was patently obvious that he wasn’t wanted, so he walked away, and went and found some of his friends, instead.

“Looks like Isobel’s made her choice, and it’s not either of us,” said Frank, to Scott.

“I was getting on, real fine, with her, until Teresa went missing and I had to go and help find her,” said Scott, not wishing to lose face, in front of his friend. “But, if she’s that fickle, then she’s not worth bothering with. How about going to ask Marie and Rebecca to dance with us? They look so much better, in their party dresses, and with their hair loose, than they do in what they wear to school, don’t they?”

Frank followed his friend’s gaze, and had to agree that the two girls in question, did look mighty fine.

“I’m game, if you are, which one do you want to ask?”

“I’ll ask Rebecca, so you ask Marie,” said Scott, and the two friends headed off to do just that.

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Epilogue

It was just over four weeks later that it was announced, in church, that Jake and Isobel were to be married. Jake had succumbed to Isobel’s suggestions that they should go further than just kissing, and so when she told him she was expecting a baby, he accepted that it was his, and agreed to marry her. His father was not as wealthy as Murdoch, but their ranch was a lot bigger than the Winslett place, so Pete was happy that his daughter had made a good marriage. The baby, when he arrived, was blonde haired, as Jake was, and the fact that he was born, only six months after the wedding, was explained by telling people that he was born early.

If Jake ever suspected that baby Joshua wasn’t his, he never voiced his doubts to anyone, and he and Isobel seemed happy enough, together.

Pete was transformed, after the birth of his grandson. He suddenly saw that little boys could be adorable, and although he never exactly welcomed Johnny and his friends, with open arms, he was, at least, civil to them, and allowed them to collect their ball, if it landed on his farm.

Scott felt that he’d had a lucky escape, as he was nowhere near ready for marriage, and it was obvious, even without Scott knowing about the baby, that Isobel was looking for a husband, when she turned her charms on him.

Johnny was just glad to have his brother back, so resisted saying ‘I told you so’ about Isobel and her marriage plans, and the two boys enjoyed their summer break, from school. (Cue for another story, I think?)

THE END

To: Summer Mischief

* From my story And So to School – A Lancer AU Story

Lancer lives on!
Lynne
March 28th 2007

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Want to Comment: Email Lynne

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