Word count 29,493
This is another of my AU Lancer stories, in which Scott is 15 and Johnny is 11.
Scott has been living at Lancer, since he was 5, when Murdoch went to Boston and collected him from his maternal grandfather Harlan Garrett, where he had been living since he was born. Johnny has been at the ranch for about a year. After his mother died, when he was 10, he lived alone, on the streets, until a Pinkerton agent, working for Murdoch, finally tracked him down, in a tiny town on the Mexican border, and brought him home to the father he hadn’t seen since he was 2.
Teresa is 6 and lives at Lancer with her father Paul.
Just over a week had passed by, since Johnny’s last bit of mischief. Murdoch discovered that Johnny and his friends had been drinking whisky, the night the boys slept out in the tree house*. Murdoch was very cross about this, and so now the boy was doing his darnedest to stay out of trouble. He hated to be on the wrong side of his beloved father, yet he still found it extremely difficult to stick to the rules, imposed by Murdoch. They weren’t particularly harsh rules, and they mostly centred on the boys telling their father where they were going, and what time they would be back, and only included restrictions that were imposed for their own safety. But Johnny had been used to being a free spirit during the eight years he’d lived with his mother, who was Murdoch’s second wife, and so he often forgot to abide by the rules, and this caused friction between him and his father.
The boy so wanted Murdoch’s love and approval, and he did already have it, but he still wasn’t totally convinced that he did, even after living at Lancer for just over a year. It had been a big adjustment for Johnny to make, coming to live with a father whom he had grown up, hating. Maria had poisoned the boy against his father, by telling him that Murdoch had been the one to end the marriage, and that he had made them leave Lancer, because he was ashamed to have a half breed for a son. None of this was true, but Maria had told Johnny these lies so that the boy wouldn’t think badly of her, for running off with another man, and taking Johnny away from his father. Johnny was the kind of boy who needed constant reassurance, and he needed this to be in the form of physical affection, that is, lots of hugs and kisses. Murdoch, being the reserved Scotsman that he was, wasn’t used to showing his love in such a demonstrative way. He did hug and kiss Scott, on occasions, but his older son took after his father, and he, too, was rather reserved. And, now that he was fifteen, Scott wasn’t that keen on being as physical with his affection, when shown to his father.
But Johnny just loved to give and receive hugs, and gradually, the two older Lancers were beginning to lose their reserved ways, and were able to respond to the young boy, who had certainly enriched their lives, since he’d arrived at the ranch.
It was a warm afternoon, and Johnny and his friend Wes, whose father worked for Murdoch, were at their favourite swimming hole, both as naked as the day they were born, enjoying the sensation of the cool water on their hot skin.
“This is the life, huh, Wes?” said Johnny, floating on his back, with his eyes almost completely shut, in order to blot out the strong sunshine, that was, almost directly, above him.
“Yeah, it sure is,” said Wes. “Though I can’t stay here, all afternoon. Pa told me it was about time I cleaned up the place, a bit.”
“I ain’t ever known your Pa to be bothered about things being tidy; that sounds more like my Pa,” said Johnny.
“Hell no, he don’t that often, but when it gets to this time in the month and he’s run outta whisky money, tidying up often means I find a few cents on the floor, or in one of his pockets, and that means he can buy more booze.”
“Oh, I mighta guessed there was an ulterior motive,” said Johnny.
“Pass that one by me agin, Johnny,” said Wes. “I didn’t quite understand what you said.”
“What? Do you mean the bit about it being an ulterior motive?” and Wes nodded. “Well, that means that it ain’t because your Pa wants the place clean, necessarily, he only wants you to tidy up, in the hope that you’ll find some money. It means doing something, but not for the most obvious reason.”
“Oh, I get ya,” said Wes. “What’s with you and all these fancy words, lately?”
“Scott’s been reading to me, and he said if I didn’t understand a word, I was to stop him, and we could look it up and then discuss it. That way, I would extend my vocabulary.”
“All sounds a bit la de da and fancy, iffen you ask me,” said Wes, although he was rather jealous of his friend having such a loving family to share things with.
Wes lived with his widowed father in a small cabin, which was one of several, provided by Murdoch, for any of his hands, who had a family. Mr Calhoun liked to drink, and he did so whenever he wasn’t working, and so this meant that Wes was often left alone, for hours on end. Murdoch couldn’t, in all honesty, say that Wes was really the kind of boy he would have chosen to be Johnny’s friend. However, as he was, Murdoch would often let Wes stay and eat a meal with them, as he knew that the boy would be going home to a cold cabin, with nothing in the larder.
“Okay, well we’ll head for home in about half an hour,” said Johnny. “That should give you enough time to tidy up, before your Pa gets back. Scott might be home, by then, too, and he said we’d practise our roping, together, when he got back from visiting Rebecca.”
Scott was already on his way home and if Johnny could have seen his older brother, he would’ve been really worried about him, as Scott looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
In fact, all that was bothering Scott was the news that Rebecca was going to San Francisco, with her mother, to visit her grandmother. She’d mentioned that this visit was likely, at the start of the summer break.
“Grandma hasn’t been that well, so Ma wants me to go with her, for a visit.”
Johnny was likely to laugh at his brother for being so bothered about something as trivial as a girl going away, as it didn’t mean that much to a boy of Johnny’s age. But it meant a great deal to Scott, as he was becoming very fond of the girl.
When Murdoch caught sight of Scott’s face, he was concerned.
“Whatever is the matter, son?”
“Sorry, sir, what did you say?”
Scott was so lost in his own thoughts that he failed to hear Murdoch’s question.
“I said, what’s the matter? You look terrible.”
“Oh, nothing’s the matter, I’m fine,” said Scott.
“Well, you don’t look fine,” and Murdoch went over to Scott and felt his forehead. “Mmm, you don’t appear to have a fever.”
Scott shrugged off his father’s hand.
“Honestly, Pa, I’m fine, just thinking, that’s all.”
“I hope you’re not thinking up more trouble for you and Johnny to get into,” said Murdoch, pasting a stern look on his face.
“What? Oh no, no trouble,” said Scott. “Erm, Pa, are you still planning on making that trip to San Francisco, and are you taking Johnny and me with you?”
“Yes, son, I am,” said Murdoch. “I was waiting to see if the pair of you could manage to stay out of trouble, for more than a couple days, before I made the final plans.”
Scott cheered up, at this news.
“Neither of us has been in any trouble, for ages, so does that mean we can go with you?”
“Well,” said Murdoch, teasing Scott, by prolonging the time it took him to answer. “I’m still not 100% sure that I can trust you to behave.”
“Oh, we will, Pa, really we will.”
“You can make that assurance for yourself, but I don’t think you can speak for Johnny,” said Murdoch, trying not to laugh, as poor Scott desperately tried to reassure his father that they would be on their best behaviour.
“I can speak for him, Pa. I will personally guarantee that he’ll behave, and if he doesn’t, I will suffer the consequences,” said Scott.
“There’s no need for that, son,” said Murdoch. “I have decided to take you both with me and we leave on Monday morning.”
“Oh, that’ll be great, thanks, Pa,” said Scott, giving his father a spontaneous hug, not something that Scott did, that often.
“You’re welcome, Scott,” said Murdoch, returning the hug, and relishing the brief closeness, with his eldest boy.
As soon as Johnny rode into the yard, Scott ran out of the house, to tell his brother the news about the trip.
“Hey, little brother. We’re going to San Francisco, with Pa, on Monday. Won’t that be great?”
Johnny wasn’t as keen as Scott was, about the trip.
“It’s only a big city, nothing to get that excited about,” said Johnny.
“Of course it is,” said Scott. “There are loads of things to see, there.”
“Like the ocean, for a start, and the theatres, art galleries, museums, all kinds of things.”
“Sounds a bit boring, if you ask me, well, apart from the ocean, that is,” said Johnny, as he groomed Scirocco.
“I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy, there, Johnny,” said Scott. “And please try and work up a bit more enthusiasm for the trip, when you talk to Pa about it, or else he might change his mind and decide not to take us with him, after all. I want to go, even if you don’t, but I doubt if he’ll take me, without you.”
“Okay, okay, calm down,” said Johnny. “I guess it will be fun.”
“Of course it will, Johnny, it will be fantastic.”
At the supper table, Murdoch brought up the trip and Johnny did as he’d promised Scott he would do, he sounded very enthusiastic about it.
“I’m sure it’ll be great, Papa, thanks for saying that me and Scott can go with you.”
“You’re welcome, son, and I think it will be good for the three of us to have a break, away from the ranch. I will have some business to attend to, but there will be time for some fun things, too. And your brother has made a promise, on behalf of both of you, that you are going to behave, while we are away. So, I hope that you are prepared to do so, and not make Scott out to be a liar.”
“Well, he had no right to make promises for me,” said Johnny, poking his tongue out at Scott. “But, I will try and stay outta trouble, cos when you’re mad with me, your hand can sure do some damage to my butt, Papa.”
“Johnny, please don’t stick your tongue out at me,” said Scott. “It’s very rude and is also extremely gross, when your mouth is full of food, as it is at the moment.”
“That’s enough, John,” said Murdoch. “And those manners had better improve when we are in San Francisco, as the St Francis is a very exclusive hotel and I don’t want you letting the family down.”
“Sorry, Papa,” said Johnny. “I will try and remember all the things you told me, about which fork to use and all that kinda stuff.”
“Just see that you do, and please keep your tongue in your mouth, especially when you are eating.”
“Yes, sir,” said Johnny.
Once supper was over, the two boys headed off for Scott’s room. Well, Scott headed for his room, and Johnny just followed him.
“What is it, little brother? Did you want to speak to me?”
“Yeah, I did. You told me this holiday in San Francisco was gonna be fun, but it don’t sound like much fun, what with Papa lecturing me about good manners and you talking about art galleries and museums. It sounds real dull to me.”
Scott was reluctant to tell Johnny the real reason why he wanted to go to San Francisco, as he was sure that if his little brother knew it was so that Scott could still see Rebecca, then Johnny would do all he could to make sure that the holiday didn’t happen.
“Oh, I’m sure I can find stuff that will appeal to you, Johnny,” said Scott.
“I hope you can,” said Johnny. “Papa will be attending some meetings and so I guess if you can’t find us stuff to do, then I’ll havta find things to keep myself amused, while he’s gone.”
“Just as long as you do find good things to do, and not things that’ll get us into trouble,” said Scott, rather wary of the gleam in Johnny’s eyes.
“Who, me? Find trouble?” said Johnny, looking rather shocked, at the thought. “As if I would.”
“Oh, don’t act the innocent with me, Johnny,” said Scott. “You can sniff out trouble, like a hound can sniff out a fox.”
“Thanks a lot; that sure don’t sound like a compliment, brother.”
“It wasn’t meant as one,” said Scott.
Johnny was about to get angry with Scott, but he could see that his brother was really keen to go on the visit to San Francisco, and so he calmed down, a bit.
“Okay, if this trip is that important to you, I will try and behave.”
“Thanks, brother, that’s all I’m asking of you,” said Scott.
Teresa wanted to go with them, to San Francisco, but Paul told her that it wasn’t possible and the boys were very relieved.
“This is a trip just for Murdoch and his boys, darling,” said Paul. “You and I will go on a holiday, when they get back.”
Teresa was slightly mollified when she knew that she, too, was going to go on a holiday, and so stopped pestering the boys.
“Phew,” said Johnny, when he and Scott were on their own, in Scott’s room. “I thought that if she moaned enough, Papa might agree to take her along.”
“No, I didn’t think he would, because he has got a couple of business meetings to go to, while we are in San Francisco, and he wouldn’t want to leave Teresa, without adult supervision, like he can us,” said Scott.
“That’s gonna be the best thing about this trip, you and me getting to go about town, alone,” said Johnny, flopping down on Scott’s bed.
“Don’t get too excited,” said Scott. “I bet Pa will issue us with about a zillion rules and restrictions before he leaves us. There will probably only be about two places we’ll be allowed to go to.”
“Just cos Papa don’t actually say we can go somewhere, don’t mean we havta do what he says,” said Johnny, stretching out on the bed.
“It depends on how much you want to keep your hide intact, little brother, and get your muddy boots off my bedcover, please,” said Scott.
Johnny didn’t respond to this request, quick enough, and so Scott pushed his feet off the bed, causing the boy to almost roll off the edge.
“Hey, Scott, go easy, you nearly had me on the floor, then.”
“Well, don’t put your boots on my bed. Everything I’ve got ends up getting messed up by you; you’re such an untidy slob, brother.”
“Thanks a lot and I ain’t no slob,” said Johnny, rising to a standing position, extremely quickly, and poking Scott in the chest. “It’s just that you’re too damned fussy. We oughta call you Miss Prissy Britches.”
Scott was annoyed, but decided it was better not to rise to the bait. Murdoch took a dim view of the brothers fighting, mainly because of the age gap between them, although as Scott said, even though four years separated them, Johnny was a much better fighter, having had more practise. Johnny was quite a bit shorter than Scott, but was stockier, and when the brothers had fought, his punches carried more weight than Scott’s did.
When Scott didn’t retaliate, Johnny poked him, again.
“What’s the matter, Scott? You too chicken to fight me?
“Don’t start with the poking, Johnny, you might regret it,” said Scott. “And no, I’m not chicken; I just don’t want to fight you.”
“Aw, come on, Scott, what are you scared of?”
“I’m not scared of anything, brother, but I don’t want to fight you over something as trifling as you putting your boots on my bed.”
Johnny danced around Scott, for a while, feigning punches, but eventually gave up, when he could see that his brother was not going to be drawn into a fight.
“Okay, I’ll drop it, this time, but don’t try and push me off the bed, again.”
“I won’t push you off the bed, if you don’t put your muddy boots on it, anymore.”
Johnny left the room, without saying anything else.
Scott carried on with what he’d gone to his room to do, that was sort out the clothes he wanted to take to San Francisco with him. He wanted to make sure he looked his best for when he ‘bumped’ into Rebecca.
As he was doing so, there was a knock on his door, and, when invited, Murdoch stepped inside.
“Has something happened between you and Johnny, son? Only he’s just come downstairs and when I asked him why he was looking so glum, he just about bit my head off. Naturally, I remonstrated with him, and whereas he would normally accept that and give me a grin by way of an apology, this time he ran outside, saying nothing.”
“Well, we did have a few words, but it was over nothing, and I thought it was resolved, but maybe it’s bothered him more than I realised,” said Scott. “Do you want me to go and have a word with him?”
“Might be best to leave him alone for a while,” said Murdoch. “Maybe that way he can get his head round whatever is bothering him, and then he will want to talk about it.”
“Okay,” said Scott. “I’m just sorting out my clothes for the holiday, and then I’ll be down to eat supper. I hope Johnny will be ready to talk by then.”
Johnny returned to the house, in time to eat supper, and seemed to have lost his bad temper. He’d been over to the barn and spent some time with Scirocco, something that always calmed him down, and he knew he’d been wrong in losing his temper with Scott.
As he made his way to his seat, he said, “Sorry, Scott, for trying to start a fight with you, and for being rude to you, Papa.”
Both his father and his brother accepted his apology and the meal proceeded with all the members of the family chatting, happily, to each other.
After the meal, Johnny asked Scott if he could have a private word with him.
“Of course you can, brother,” said Scott, smiling at the boy, who looked rather apprehensive about something.
In the privacy of Scott’s room, Johnny still took a while to actually reveal to Scott what was bothering him.
“It’s like this, Scott. I wanna go on this vacation with you and Papa, but I’m a bit scared.”
“What’s there to be scared about?” said Scott, who, as soon as he took a look at Johnny’s face, could see that this wasn’t something to make a joke about, as his little brother was obviously very worried.
“I don’t wanna let Papa down,” whispered Johnny, in a voice so quiet that Scott had to strain to hear what Johnny said.
“Let him down? How could you let him down?” asked Scott, not sure that he understood what Johnny meant.
“Well, you and Papa are used to eating in fancy restaurants and staying in posh hotels, but I ain’t, and I already get muddled up about which fork to use, here at home. I just don’t wanna get it wrong and have Papa wishing he’d left me at home.”
“I don’t think that Pa would ever think like that, Johnny, just because you used the wrong fork,” said Scott, sitting on the bed, next to his little brother, and putting his arm round him. “Pa likes us to have good manners, but he’s not that bothered about such things as forks. If you’re not sure, just look over at what I’m doing and follow me. The most important thing to remember is that if Pa has a business associate with him, you’re not to interrupt them. In fact, the only time you speak is if Pa or his friends ask you a direct question, okay?”
Johnny nodded, but he still looked rather worried, so Scott decided to have a quiet word with Murdoch, after Johnny went to bed.
‘I’m sure Pa will be able to reassure him,’ thought Scott.
“It’ll be fine, brother,” said Scott. “Don’t let such a tiny thing spoil the thought of the holiday for you.”
“I’ll try not to, but I hate letting Papa down, and I know I ain’t all refined and dandified like you are, Scott.”
“Hey, less of the dandified, little brother, or I might have to teach you some manners.”
“Oh, yeah, you and whose army?” said Johnny, standing up, and squaring up to Scott.
The fight was mostly in fun, but it didn’t stop the two boys getting in a few hard punches, or from messing up Scott’s bedroom, as they danced around each other.
Murdoch, in the main room, downstairs, was aware of some noises coming from Scott’s room, but it wasn’t until the desk chair was knocked over, that he decided to go and investigate.
As he entered the room, Scott and Johnny were rolling around on the floor and neither of them realised that their father had arrived, until he shouted at them.
“What on earth is going on in here?”
Scott was the first to respond. He looked up, and smiled at his father, whilst managing to push his hand into Johnny’s chest, thus keeping the boy far enough away, so that none of his punches made contact.
“Oh, hi Pa. Nothing’s going on; this is just a bit of fun, isn’t it, brother?”
Johnny, who was still in fighting mode, took a few seconds to answer, but when, he, too, looked up at his father, and took in the stern expression, he gave Murdoch a rather lop sided grin.
“It’s okay, Papa, we ain’t hurting each other. Like Scotty said, it’s just a bit of fun.”
Murdoch noticed the black eye that Johnny was sporting and the trickle of blood that was running down the side of Scott’s lip, and wasn’t so sure about the fight being fun.
“Fun or not, you know I don’t like the two of you fighting,” said Murdoch, helping Johnny to his feet. “There are enough enemies outside the door without fighting each other. Brothers should love each other and watch out for each other.”
“Oh, we do all that, don’t we, Scott?” said Johnny, bending down to help Scott off the floor.
“Yes, we do, but, sometimes, we find it necessary to bang heads, too,” said Scott.
Murdoch shook his own head, but found himself thinking back to how he had been, as a boy. He was one of seven children and they had often fought, but if any one of them was being teased, or picked on, by a child, from outside the family, the Lancer children would close ranks and defend their wronged sibling, no matter what.
“Well, the next time you think it necessary, could you please do it, outside, so as to preserve the contents of the house,” and Murdoch pointed at the chair and at some books, which had been knocked onto the floor.
“Oh, sorry, Pa,” said Scott, rushing over to pick up the offending objects. “Nothing broken, though.”
“Maybe not, this time, but you might not be so lucky, next time, and if that is the case, then I’ll be doing some breaking, too.”
“What kind of breaking, Papa?” asked Johnny, who hadn’t understood his father’s words.
“Breaking of your backsides,” said Murdoch, softening his words, by planting a kiss on the top of Johnny’s head.
“Oh, I guess I don’t like the sound of that,” said Johnny, putting his hands behind his back.
“I didn’t think you would,” said Murdoch. “Once this room is tidy, again, please go downstairs and let Maria tend to your cuts and bruises.”
“We will, Pa,” said Scott, and Murdoch patted his older boy on the back, and then left the room.
“Phew,” said Johnny. “I thought Papa was gonna throw a fit, but he was okay about it, wasn’t he?”
“Well, he was a lot less bothered than I thought he would be,” said Scott. “But I don’t think we should make a habit of fighting, as he might not be that happy, next time. In fact, he might even say we can’t go with him, on Monday, if we’re going to keep on fighting.”
“Aw, that’s not the reason why you don’t want us fighting, big brother,” said Johnny. “You don’t want us fighting, cos I came close to whipping your ass, and you can’t stand the thought of being beaten by your much smaller, little brother.”
“That’s not it, at all, and you’re the one sporting the black eye, not me,” said Scott. “I was winning right up until Pa separated us.”
“No you weren’t,” said Johnny, looking ready to start fighting, again.
“Johnny, don’t start anything else, now, please,” said Scott, turning his back on Johnny, as he bent down to pick up the last of his books that had been knocked on to the floor.
Johnny couldn’t resist the target presented to him, and he kicked Scott on the backside, knocking the boy to the ground. But, before Scott could retaliate, Murdoch appeared in the room, again, and landed a hefty swat on Johnny’s bottom.
“I saw the way you attacked your brother, when he had his back to you, young man,” said Murdoch. “I’d already warned you about fighting, and I heard Scott saying the same thing, to you, as I came down the corridor, so why do you have to persist in defying me?”
“Sorry, Papa,” said Johnny, realising that, this time, he was in big trouble. “I wasn’t really gonna start another fight with Scott. It was just something I did, on the spur of the moment, cos Scott was bending down.”
“John, please don’t lie to me, when you’ve already been disobedient,” said Murdoch, sternly. “The bedroom door was open, and I heard Scott say that you weren’t to start anything else, and it was after that, when you kicked him.”
Johnny could hardly deny it when Murdoch had heard what had been said.
“Okay, he did say that before I kicked him, but a kick’s not the same as fighting,” said Johnny.
“Well, it sure as hell hurt like we were fighting,” said Scott, who was also angry with his little brother.
“No need to use such words, Scott, even though I know you feel you are justified, after what happened. John, I think you owe your brother an apology, and then you can finish the tidying up in here. After that, go and see Maria, as I instructed you to, and get yourself cleaned up. Then we will talk some more about this.”
“Sorry, Scott,” said Johnny, but he didn’t look at his brother; he just turned away and picked up the last of the books.
As he did so, he got another swat from Murdoch.
“When you apologise to someone, you look at them, and you sound as though you mean it,” said Murdoch. “Now, put those books on the shelf and then go to your room. I’ll come in and clean up your face and then you can go to bed. Maybe a good night’s sleep will improve your disposition. Go on, off you go.”
Johnny did as he was told, but as he was about to leave Scott’s room, he turned to face his brother.
“I am sorry, Scott, I just ain’t that good at saying it, you know?”
“I know, Johnny, and I accept your apology.”
Johnny carried on to his room, and Murdoch went downstairs, to fetch a bowl of warm water and some cloths to clean up Johnny’s face. He also brought up a bottle of arnica.
When he knocked on Johnny’s door, the boy was already in his nightshirt. Murdoch always marvelled at how much younger Johnny appeared to be, when he was ready for bed.
“Sit on your bed, son, and I’ll just clean you up, a bit. Scott didn’t manage to break the skin, but you will be sporting that shiner for a while.”
“What about Scott’s face? His lip was bleeding,” said Johnny.
“Scott has gone down to see Maria, and I am sure she will sort him out,” said Murdoch, as he dabbed at Johnny’s bruises.
“Papa, are you still gonna to take us to San Francisco with you? The fight wasn’t Scott’s fault, it was mine, and he really wants to go, even more than I do. So, if you don’t wanna let me go, then just take Scott. I mean, I’ll miss you both, lots, but I’ll be okay here, with Maria and Paul to take care of me.”
“I can’t say I am really looking forward to taking you away with me, not while you have that black eye, but you are still coming. I can’t expect Paul and Maria to accept responsibility for you, when you keep on getting into so much trouble. And I know that it was you who started the fight, but Scott is older and should know better.”
“I’m sure he does know better, but it’s hard to remember much when you’ve got someone bobbing about in front of you, jabbing you in the face,” said Johnny.
“I suppose it is,” said Murdoch, once again thinking back to his own childhood. “I don’t know what I am supposed to do with you, young man. What have I got to do to get you to mind me?”
As Murdoch was talking, Johnny scooted up the bed, to get closer to his father, and, eventually, he was able to slip onto his father’s lap. He leant back against Murdoch’s chest and listened to his father’s rhythmic heartbeat. He suddenly had a memory of doing exactly the same thing, when he was just a little boy, before his mother took him away from Lancer.
Johnny wasn’t sure that Murdoch really wanted an answer to his question, but he tried to give him one.
“Well, I guess you would say I deserved a spanking, but I’d havta disagree with you, Papa. I just need a bit more guidance, and then I’m sure I’ll remember not to fight with Scott. Maybe I could get Becky from school to make me one of them samplers you hang on the wall. It could say ‘Don’t fight with Scott’ on it. She really loves doing that kind of stuff. I could hang it above my bed, and look at it every day.”
Murdoch was doing his best to be firm with Johnny, but he was finding it to be a losing battle.
“And you think that would work, do you?”
“Oh yes,” said Johnny, nodding his head, vigorously. “Much, much more than a spanking would.”
“Well, in that case, I will ask Maria if she can make you one, shall I? And if you still can’t remember that you’re not supposed to fight with your brother, then I might have to try that spanking,” and, as he said that, he gently tapped the boy on the top of the leg, as he couldn’t reach his bottom, seeing as how Johnny was sitting on it.
“Sounds good to me, Papa.”
“Right, bedtime, I think.”
“Aw, Papa, it’s far too early. Can’t I stay up for a bit longer?”
“Well, you are to stay in your room, but you don’t have to go to bed, just yet,” said Murdoch. “I will ask Maria to bring your supper up to you, on a tray.”
Johnny knew that he wasn’t going to get Murdoch to allow him to go downstairs, so he reached up and planted a kiss on his father’s cheek.
When Murdoch left Johnny’s room, he found that Scott was just about to leave his, and head downstairs for supper.
“Is Johnny all right, sir?”
“Of course he is, son; you didn’t do that much damage to him.”
“I didn’t think I did, but I wasn’t sure if you might be doing some damage to him.”
It took Murdoch a couple of minutes to respond.
“Oh, I see what you mean. No, he’s not suffering from any damage inflicted by me. I just warned him to stop picking fights.”
“I think Johnny feels that life is a bit boring without the occasional fight to liven things up, and if he can’t find anyone else to fight, then he’ll make do with me.”
“You’re probably right, there, son. Come on, let’s go and eat.”
Supper was a less noisy affair than usual, seeing as how Johnny wasn’t at the table, and Scott missed his little brother’s exuberant chatter.
Murdoch did, too, and said as much when Scott mentioned it.
“Well, you were the one who wouldn’t let him eat with us,” said Scott, rather accusingly.
“Yes, I know I was, but I think it does him good to spend some time on his own, when he’s been disobedient. Gives him a chance to think things through and, hopefully it will dissuade him from doing the same thing, again, as he doesn’t like being alone.”
“Now that he lives with us, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being alone, as much as I thought I did,” said Scott. “I mean, I still like going up to my room and getting lost in a good book, but at times like this, meal times and the suchlike, I like having Johnny with us; he livens things up.”
“He certainly does,” said Murdoch. “And sometimes he makes things far too lively.”
Scott laughed, remembering some of those times.
“Yeah, he can, can’t he?”
“I just hope he has no plans to do so, while we are away.”
“Oh no, Pa, he’s promised to be good.”
“Well, let’s hope he keeps that promise,” said Murdoch.
“He’d better,” said Scott, through gritted teeth.
“Don’t look so fierce, Scott,” said Murdoch, laughing at his son. “I am sure Johnny will behave himself, but if he doesn’t, it won’t be your fault.”
“Do you want to bet on that?” muttered Scott.
“What makes you say that, son?” asked Murdoch.
“Because if he messes up while you’re at a meeting, you will blame me,” said Scott. “You’ll say I wasn’t keeping a close enough eye on him.”
“Well, if I have left you in charge of him, then, yes, I would expect you to bear some of the blame, if he gets into trouble. But not all of it, as he often gets into trouble while in my care, and I don’t blame myself, wholly, for that. If you’d rather not bear that responsibility, then you can both stay here and Paul and Maria can look after you, and then it won’t be your fault if he does something wrong.”
That was the last thing that Scott wanted to happen, so he rapidly backtracked.
“Oh no, Pa, I don’t mind looking out for him, not really.”
“Okay, that’s settled then,” said Murdoch.
As they were already talking about Johnny, Scott decided now was a good time to tell Murdoch that Johnny was a bit worried about the holiday.
“You know, before, when he seemed to be a bit distant with both you and me, Pa? Well, he did, eventually, tell me that it was because he was concerned about letting you down, when we were in San Francisco, in case he used the wrong fork, or didn’t behave just right. He said that you and I had been to fancy places, loads of times, but he hadn’t and he wasn’t sure how to react.”
“And were you able to put him straight on this, Scott, or do you think that I should talk to him, about it?”
“I think I managed to reassure him, but it wouldn’t hurt for you to say something, too.”
“Thanks for letting me know, son, and I will have a word with him.”
The next day was Sunday and the family, along with Paul and Teresa, were going to church. Scott was at the table, early, as he was anxious to go and see Rebecca, so that he could tell her the good news about them going to San Francisco the same time she was.
However, Johnny was still asleep when Scott stopped by his room, on the way downstairs, and all attempts by Scott, to wake him up, failed.
As he ate his breakfast, Scott was hoping that Johnny would join him, but he was to be unlucky.
“Pa, if Johnny doesn’t get down here, soon, we’re going to be late for church,” he said to his father.
Murdoch checked his pocket watch and said, “No, we won’t, son, we’ve got plenty of time. You were up earlier than usual this morning, that’s why you think it’s later than it is.”
“I know it’s still quite early, Pa, but there’s something I want to do, before we go into church and so I was hoping we could get there a little sooner than we normally do.”
“Well, if you’d explained that to Johnny, last night, then he might have got up, earlier, but if he didn’t know about it, then he wouldn’t, would he? I mean, Johnny loves his bed and isn’t likely to get out of it before he thinks he has to. I’ll go and get him, but what is it that you need to do, before church?”
“It’s a personal matter, Pa,” said Scott, blushing a little under the scrutiny from his father.
“Very well, son, I won’t pry. I’ll go and get that brother of yours out of his bed,” and Murdoch left the table.
“Do you want to talk to Becky?” asked Paul, aware of Scott’s interest in the girl.
“Yeah, I do, but I didn’t want to say so to Pa, cos then he’d go and tell Johnny that’s why I want to go to town, a bit earlier than we usually go. And, if he does that, I’ll have Johnny teasing me all the way to church, and that’s likely to end with me smacking him in the mouth to get him to shut up. And then Pa will get angry with me and he might even say we can’t go with him, tomorrow.”
“OK, my lips are sealed,” said Paul, and then he had to spend at least five minutes explaining to Teresa that his lips weren’t really stuck together and that it was just a figure of speech.
Murdoch entered his youngest’s bedroom, allowing the door to slam behind him, something that he usually shouted at the boys about, if they did it, but doing it to gain Johnny’s attention.
Without looking out of the covers that he was buried under, Johnny said, “If the ole man heard that, brother, then you’re likely to be riding to church on a sore butt.”
“And so are you, for your impudence,” said Murdoch, making Johnny jump.
His head appeared, with his thick, dark hair sticking up all over the place, and he said, “Oh, sorry, Papa, I thought it was Scott, not you.”
“Well, you were wrong, it is me and I want to see you out of that bed, by the time I count to five, or else,” said Murdoch. “One, two, three, four,” and before he said five, Johnny was standing on the rug next to his bed.
“See, I’m up, no need for any more counting, now, is there?” said the boy, smiling at his father.
“Come here,” said Murdoch, and he held out his arms for Johnny to run into them and be engulfed in a hug. “Good morning, imp.”
“Morning, Papa,” said Johnny, lifting up his face and giving his father a kiss.
This was one of the times of the day that Johnny loved most, when he could just be with his father and feel all the love that he knew Murdoch had for him, just flowing through his body.
“Come on, Johnny, time to get dressed,” said Murdoch, patting his son, gently, on the bottom. Scott, Teresa and Paul are ready and waiting to go to church.”
“They’re early birds, aren’t they? We’ve got plenty of time to get to town, before the service starts.”
“Well, yes we have, but Scott has an errand to run, before church, so wants to go in, early.”
“Wonder what he wants to do?” mused Johnny, as he removed his nightshirt and began searching for his clothes.
“Maria laid your church clothes out on the chair, last night, son, so no need to go rifling through all your drawers. And, as for what Scott wants to do, well, I think that is his business.”
“He usually tells me everything,” said Johnny, buttoning up his shirt. “Unless it’s to do with a gal, cos he knows I tease him about them. Bet he wants to talk to Becky.”
“If he does, then that’s fine, and I won’t have you teasing your brother, understood?”
Johnny was in the process of tying his string tie and didn’t answer Murdoch, as he was concentrating, very hard, on the job in hand.
“I said, is that understood?” repeated Murdoch.
“I can’t git this thing to look like yours, Papa. Help me out, please, and yeah, it’s understood.”
Murdoch pulled the boy around, to face him, and sorted out the tie.
“There you go, and please mind me on this one, Johnny. I don’t want you and Scott arguing all the way to church about Scott wanting to talk to Rebecca, and if you start something, then I will be the one finishing it.”
“Yes, sir,” said Johnny. “I guess you mean that you’ll stop the surrey, and?”
“And spank your bottom, young man, so behave,” said Murdoch, interrupting the boy.
“Gotcha,” said Johnny, and he finished getting dressed.
Johnny was aware that Scott was anxious to leave, so he didn’t take long over his breakfast.
“Okay, brother, I’m ready to go. You’ll have time to talk to Becky before we go into church, so no need to panic.”
“I’m not panicking, I just don’t like being late, that’s all,” said Scott, crossly. “Nothing to do with wanting to see Becky.”
Murdoch threw a warning glance at Johnny, and the boy was sensible enough to take heed.
They made their way out to the surrey, but before Johnny climbed aboard, Murdoch wiped off the milk moustache that the boy was wearing, with his handkerchief.
Johnny squirmed a bit, to try and get away from Murdoch’s ministrations, but his father held him firm.
“Up you go, now, son,” said Murdoch, once he’d finished. “You can ride to town, sitting next to me, and Scott can sit in the back with Paul and Teresa. That way I can keep an eye on you.”
Johnny wasn’t sure that he wanted to be that close to Murdoch, after the warning he’d received in the bedroom, but he wasn’t given a choice on where to sit.
“Yes, Papa,” said Johnny, trying to get comfortable on the rather hard seat.
They set off, at a brisk pace, and Teresa could be heard chattering away to her father and Scott, but Johnny never looked round at them, once. He kept his eyes on the road ahead, thinking that was the safest thing to do, if he was going to keep out of trouble and avoid riding home, feeling even more uncomfortable than he was, already.
“You know something, Papa,” he suddenly said.
“What’s that, son?” asked Murdoch, surprised to hear Johnny speak, as the boy had been so quiet, up until now.
“I think you should buy some cushions for this seat, as it’s sure danged hard on a fella’s behind.”
“I think it’s just that your behind could do with a little more padding, you are far too skinny.”
“Mamacita says I eat like a horse,” said Johnny.
“Maybe so, but as you are never still, except for when you are asleep, you must burn off all you eat,” said Murdoch.
“He’s not even still when he’s asleep, Pa,” said Scott. “I’ve slept in the same bed with him, and so have you, so you must know how restless he is?”
“Very true, Scott,” said Murdoch. “The last time we shared a bed, I ended up covered in bruises where he kicked me.”
“Sorry, Papa, I didn’t know I was doing that, cos I’m fast asleep.”
“Yes, and you’re the only one who does get any sleep. When we go to San Francisco, tomorrow, I hope that they provide us with three beds in our room.”
“I am sure they will, Murdoch,” said Paul. “The St Francis is one of the best hotels in the city.”
While he had Johnny’s undivided attention, Murdoch brought up the subject of Johnny’s fears about letting his father down, when they were in San Francisco.
“Scott told me how you were feeling, son, and there really isn’t any need for you to worry, you know. All I ask is that you conduct yourself in the proper manner, when we are in the dining room, or in a restaurant. That is, you sit quietly, and don’t comment on the other diners, remember your manners, when you are brought your meal, and that you eat without sharing the contents of your mouth, with the rest of us. And these are only the things I ask of you, at home.”
“I guess they are, Papa, but I might see someone real funny, sitting at another table and not be able to stop myself laughing about them.”
“Well, you will just have to try and restrain yourself,” said Murdoch.
“Okay, I’ll try,” said Johnny.
As soon as they arrived at the church, and before Murdoch had parked the surrey, Scott jumped out and headed off along the boardwalk.
“Scott, where are you going?” shouted Murdoch.
“Won’t be long, Pa,” was all the reply that his father received.
“He’s gone to find Becky,” said Johnny, sneeringly. “Probably wants to give her a kiss before we go away, tomorrow, and ask her to wait for him.”
“Anyone would think he was going away to war,” said Murdoch. “We’re only going on a short trip; we’ll be back in just over a week’s time.”
Johnny jumped down off the surrey and dropped to his knees.
“Oh Becky, my love,” he said, trying to do an impression of his brother’s voice, which had just started to break. “Will you wait for me, my darling? I will try not to be away for too long and I will write, every day.”
“Oh, Scotty, I’m going to miss you so terribly, terribly much,” Johnny was now speaking in a high pitched, squeaky voice, trying to sound like Becky.
Murdoch was rather amused by what Johnny had said, but not so impressed with the state of the boy’s trousers, when he stood up.
“Look at the knees of those pants, Johnny, and I want you to wear that suit to travel in, tomorrow.”
“It’s only a bit of dust, Papa, it’ll rub off,” said Johnny, and proceeded to try and clean them.
“That’s okay, Johnny, leave it. Now, let’s go and find your brother, as the service is about to start.”
Murdoch couldn’t find Scott and he was beginning to become rather annoyed.
“We will have to go in without him, but just wait until that boy shows himself. I will have plenty to say to him.”
As they entered the church, Johnny saw Becky’s family, and they, too, were looking around, hoping to see her enter the building. They could see that Scott wasn’t with Murdoch and Johnny, and a whispered conversation took place between Becky’s parents and Murdoch.
The vicar began the service, as he always did, with a hymn, and while they were singing it, Scott and Becky crept in, and joined their respective families. As Scott made his way along the pew, Murdoch grabbed him by the collar and made the boy stand the other side of him, away from Johnny.
“I’ll talk to you, later, young man,” whispered Murdoch.
It wasn’t possible for Johnny to comment on his brother’s tardiness, while the service was taking place, but he couldn’t resist looking over at Scott and making a sign as though his throat was being cut, and then pointing at their father. It was clear that he was telling Scott that he was in big trouble with Murdoch, and all Scott could do was nod, as he knew he was.
As soon as the service was over, and, for the first time in his life, Scott spent the entire time praying that the reverend would carry on talking for ever, Murdoch, still saying nothing, grabbed hold of the back of Scott’s neck and propelled him through the crowds of people, waiting to leave the church.
He paused, to shake hands with the vicar, and to thank him for his sermon, which had been about prodigal sons, rather prophetic, as it turned out, and then he carried on down the road, until he was away from prying eyes.
“I said it was all right for you to speak to Becky, before the service, but I didn’t say it was all right for you to jump off a moving wagon, in front of Teresa and Johnny, who are both influenced by seeing what you do, nor did I say it was all right for you to be late to the service. Rebecca’s parents were looking most anxious, and so was I. What on earth made you that late?”
“Erm, sorry, Pa, we were just talking, and I guess we lost track of the time,” was the only explanation that Scott could come up with.
“Is that the best you can do?” said Murdoch, and Scott nodded his head.
“Well, yes, sir, it is, because it’s the truth.”
“I bet they were kissing, more like,” said Johnny, who had just arrived with Teresa and Paul. “Becky’s folks wanna word with you, Papa.”
“That will be enough of that kind of talk, John, and thanks for the message. I will go and have a word with them. Paul, will you escort the boys to our carriage and wait there, for me? And you had better still be with Paul, when I get back, Scott, as this is not over with, yet.”
Murdoch strode off, back in the direction of the church, and Paul led the children to the surrey.
“Oh boy, Papa’s sure mad with you, Scott,” said Johnny, as they climbed aboard.
“Thanks for pointing out the obvious,” snapped Scott, not really angry with Johnny, but more with himself, for angering his father.
“Sorry, no need to bite my head off, I didn’t make you late for church.”
“Well, actually you did, little brother,” said Scott. “If you had got up, a bit quicker, this morning, then we could’ve got here a lot sooner and I would have had enough time to say all I wanted to say to Becky, and still be in church on time. So it is your fault.”
Johnny was really upset by Scott’s words, and was so close to tears, that he couldn’t say any more on the subject.
“Just calm down, now, boys,” said Paul, who was aware that Scott had hurt Johnny’s feelings. “No point trying to pass the blame around.”
Murdoch spent an awkward ten minutes with Becky’s parents. They were extremely angry with Scott and seemed determined to lay all the blame for the children being late, very firmly at Scott’s door. In fact, Mr Smith went as far as to say that Scott deserved a tanning, for leading his little girl astray, and Murdoch noticed that Becky said or did nothing to defend Scott. This actually worked in Scott’s favour, as Murdoch did feel that the children were jointly to blame, but he knew that Rebecca, who was an only child, was extremely spoilt by her family and so it followed that they would not blame her.
At the end of it, Murdoch apologised, on behalf of Scott, and said that the boy would be punished, but did not say how. This seemed to satisfy Mr and Mrs Smith, and they parted on reasonably amicable terms.
When Murdoch returned to the surrey, he climbed up next to Johnny and prepared to leave, without saying anything.
“Pa, what did Mr and Mrs Smith say?” asked Scott, very tentatively.
“We’ll discuss it when we get home,” said Murdoch, and they were soon on their way.
Once they arrived back at the ranch, Paul offered to take care of the team and Johnny decided to stay and help him. Teresa ran inside to ‘help’ Mamacita with the Sunday lunch.
“Come on Scott, we have things to discuss,” said Murdoch, when the boy seemed reluctant to get down off the surrey.
“Yes, sir,” said Scott, and with a cheery ‘Good luck’ from Johnny ringing in his ears, Scott went into the main room of the house, with his father.
Murdoch headed over to his desk and sat down, behind it.
“My, oh my, you look like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, son,” said Murdoch, as Scott trudged across the room and stopped, in front of the desk.
“Well, the weight of the world, in the form of your hand, is about to come crashing down on my backside, so that might explain my mood, sir,” said Scott.
“And who said I was going to tan you?” asked Murdoch.
Scott gulped. Had he now put the idea of a tanning, in his father’s mind, when it hadn’t been there, before?
“Oh, well, I just thought that was what you were going to do, sir, but it’s fine with me if you’re not.”
“When I was waiting for you to arrive at the church, I was planning on taking you out back and tanning you, there and then, but, luckily for you, I’ve had time to think things through, since then. I also spoke to Becky’s parents and I was rather dismayed that they were both blaming you, entirely, for the incident, and saying that Becky was the innocent in all of this. Now, I would have been happier if they had said you were both to blame, but it sounded as though they could not contemplate the idea that their little girl might have been a party to it. And that annoys me, as I think you both should share the blame. So, if Becky is not going to be in trouble for this, I am not prepared to give you a tanning, but rest assured that doesn’t mean I condone what you have done, and you had better not be late for church, ever again, as it is the height of bad manners to be tardy for the Lord. Do I make myself clear?”
“Oh yes, sir, you do, clear as crystal, Pa. If I’m late for the Lord, again, you will tan me good. Thanks, Pa, for being so understanding, this time. I think I best go and make up with Johnny, now, that is, if you are finished with me?”
“I am finished with you, but why do you need to make it up with Johnny? I didn’t know you had fallen out with him.”
“While you were talking to the Smith’s, he was trying to make conversation with me and because I was worried about what you were going to do to me, I snapped at him. He then said it wasn’t his fault I’d been late for church and I said it was, because he wouldn’t get up, this morning. I know, now, that was mean of me and it upset him, so I want to go and apologise to him.”
“I think that is a very good idea, son, as it wasn’t nice of you to blame him, but as you have already realised that, I will spare you the lecture. Off you go, get changed out of your suit and then go and talk to Johnny. Oh, and tell him to come inside and get changed, too, please.”
“I will, Pa, see you at lunch,” and Scott left the room a lot happier than when he went into it.
Scott was soon changed and he headed off to find his brother. He went into the barn, but there was no sign of Paul and Johnny in there and the horses which had pulled the surrey to town, were in their stalls, enjoying a feed.
Knowing how much Johnny liked to play hide and seek, Scott called out, a couple of times, and was sure he heard his little brother’s distinctive laugh, coming from somewhere close by.
“Come on Johnny, Papa wants you to get changed and, if you hurry, we can fit in a practise with our ropes, before lunch.”
The two boys enjoyed competing against each other, to see who was the best at roping. As long as they did not get too competitive, Murdoch didn’t mind, and it was a skill that they both needed to have if they were going to work on the ranch.
A few wisps of straw dropped down onto Scott’s head, from the hayloft, above him, and Scott reckoned that was where Johnny was hiding.
“Okay then, little brother, I’m just going to go back to the house and tell Pa that I can’t find you and that you must’ve gone off playing in your best suit, and I will tell Maria that you’ll not be around for lunch, so I can have your share of the ice cream she is making.”
A few more pieces of straw fell down and then Johnny’s head appeared, over the edge of the hayloft.
“I’m up here, but then you knew that all the time, didn’t ya, Scott?” said Johnny.
“I kinda guessed you were,” replied Scott. “Come on, little brother, before you break your dang fool neck.”
“Okay, I’m coming,” said Johnny, and the next minute, he was climbing down the ladder.
As he reached the ground, he looked over at Scott and said, “You look in pretty good shape for a guy whose just been in trouble with Papa. I was waiting here so that I could make you laugh by peeping down on you, when you ran in here, all upset, after Papa tanned you.”
”Well, there’s no need, because he didn’t tan me.”
“You lucky son of a gun,” said Johnny, punching his brother, none too gently, on the arm. “I could’ve sworn you were in for a hiding and I was wondering how you were gonna find it, travelling on that stagecoach tomorrow. Those seats are a mite hard.”
Scott chuckled and threw an arm around his little brother.
“I was wondering about that, too, but Pa was mad with Becky’s parents, more than with me, because they said it was all my fault and nothing to do with her, when we were late for church. And they wanted Pa to tan me, but she wasn’t getting punished, at all. Pa didn’t think that was fair, so he let me off. And, before we go inside, I just want to apologise for saying it was your fault that I was late for church. I was just worried about what Pa was going to do to me, and I took it out on you. Now, please come inside and get out of that suit, before Pa sees it. You have dirt on the knees and straw all over the back of the jacket. For your sake, I hope that Mamacita can clean it up, for tomorrow, as Pa wants us to travel in our suits.”
“That’s okay, brother, I knew you were a bit worried about Papa. And yeah, I know he wants us wearing ‘em, and I hate that, cos he’s gonna be telling us to sit up straight, all the way there, so we don’t get all creased up.”
“I hate it, too, but it’s what Pa wants, so I guess we’ll have to put up with it,” and Scott led Johnny into the house, via the kitchen door.
They stopped off in the kitchen and Johnny left his suit with Maria and then ran up to his room, to put on a pair of jeans and a checked shirt.
Teresa laughed at his remark, when Maria told him to remove the suit, so that she could clean it.
“But then I’ll only be in my drawers and shirt,” he said. “And Teresa’s here.”
“I seed you in your drawers before, Johnny, when we’ve gone swimming,” said Teresa, and Johnny had to admit that the girl had a point.
“Yeah, I guess you have,” he said, and he was soon ready to go outside, again, and practise roping with Scott.
After lunch, Mamacita expected the boys to be involved in sorting out what they wanted to take on the trip with them. Scott had already gone through his clothes and made some choices, but Johnny wasn’t that interested and so found the whole exercise rather boring.
One thing that he was insisting on taking along was his cuddly toy, known affectionately as Whatbit. This was a toy rabbit that Murdoch had purchased for Johnny, before he was born, and it had been the most important toy the little boy owned, when he’d been living at Lancer, as a baby. He used to take it to bed with him, every night, and Murdoch had been really upset to find it out in the yard, after Maria and Johnny left the ranch. Obviously, the little boy had dropped it, as Maria and her new lover spirited him away, and they either didn’t notice, or were too scared to come back for it, in case Murdoch heard them, and tried to stop them from taking his darling son away from him. He knew that Johnny would have spent many nights crying for Whatbit, which was his version of rabbit, and prayed that Maria had been able to buy him something else to try and ease the child’s pain over his loss of the precious toy.
Murdoch had never been able to throw Whatbit away, and it had remained in the closet of the little room, which Johnny used to sleep in, along with all the boy’s clothes and other toys, for several years
Eventually, Murdoch had agreed to get rid of all the clothes and the other toys, as he knew that if Johnny ever came back, the boy would be too big for them, but Whatbit stayed, just in case.
And, when Johnny did, finally, return to the ranch, he was really happy to discover that his father had kept Whatbit.
“Oh, Papa, I really missed Whatbit,” he said, cradling the old toy close to his chest. “When I realised I’d left him behind, I cried and cried for him, until my stepfather got really mad, and threatened to hit me, if I didn’t shut up. Mama tried to explain to him how important the toy was to me, but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t understand. She managed to get me another rabbit, but it was a white one and I’d never seen a white rabbit before, and it wasn’t the same. But I stopped crying for Whatbit, cos I was scared of my stepfather and I didn’t want him to hit me.”
Murdoch felt that his heart would break, as he listened to this sad tale from his little boy. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could threaten to hit a baby, who was still a couple of weeks short of his second birthday, just because he was upset about losing a toy.
Since returning to the ranch, Johnny had placed the rabbit in his bed, next to him, every night. Each morning, he’d returned it to the closet, hoping that no one knew he was sleeping with the toy, but one night Scott came in, to say goodnight, and Whatbit was already in the bed with Johnny.
The younger boy glared at his brother, daring him to laugh or make any kind of comment, but Scott said nothing, just got Johnny to follow him into his room. There, on Scott’s pillow, was a small knitted bear.
“My mother made that for me and it was amongst her possessions, when my grandfather took me to Boston, after my mother died. I’ve kept it ever since, as it’s the only thing she made for me, at least the only thing I know about. So I’m glad you’ve also got something that you had as a baby.”
From then on, Johnny kept the rabbit on his bed, all the time, and he didn’t mind if anyone saw it, especially as he found out, once he made friends at school, and visited other people’s homes, that many of them had special toys that they still took to bed.
“As long as I have Whatbit with me, I don’t much care about anything else that I take,” Johnny said to Maria. “A few shirts, a few pairs of pants, a couple of nightshirts, and some under drawers and socks, are all I need.”
Maria gave up trying to get any more input from the boy and had a word with Murdoch, as she needed to know what type of activities they were likely to be doing, while they were away, to be able to decide what clothes the boy would need.
Murdoch gave her some help and she was soon able to pack a case for the boy.
“I will leave it open, here on the floor of your room, Juanito, and then you can put Whatbit in it, in the morning, before you go.”
“Thanks, Mamacita,” said Johnny, and he gave her a hug.
Murdoch suggested that the two boys went to bed a bit earlier than usual.
“It’s going to be long day for you, tomorrow, with all the travelling we are going to be doing, and so I think that an early night is a good idea.”
Johnny equated being sent to bed, early, as a punishment, and so wasn’t that keen on going, but Scott didn’t mind.
“Cheer up, Johnny, Pa’s not cross with you, he just wants you to be ready to cope with a full day of travelling, tomorrow,” said Scott, as they headed up the stairs.
“Okay, I guess Papa’s right, an early night is a good idea.”
“Of course I’m right, I’m always right, I’m your father,” said Murdoch, laughing, as he came up the stairs behind them. “I’ll be coming in to tuck you up, in a few minutes, boys, just got to go and put something in my suitcase, so I don’t forget it.”
“What is it, Pa?” said Scott.
“Oh, it’s just the rough contract for the cattle deal I am going to be negotiating for, while we are in San Francisco.”
Scott and Johnny were soon ready for bed. Scott had made no secret of the fact that he was excited about the trip, but now Johnny was getting excited, too. When his father came in, to say goodnight, the boy was looking nowhere near ready to go to sleep.
Murdoch straightened Johnny’s bed covers, and then sat down on the bed.
“All packed for the morning?”
“Except for Whatbit, and I’ll put him in before I come down for breakfast,” said Johnny, patting the little brown rabbit that was lying on the pillow, next to him.
“Try and get some sleep, now, son,” and Murdoch bent over and gave Johnny a kiss.
“It’s gonna be great fun going on a vacation, with you and Scott, Papa. We’ve never done that, before.”
“No, we haven’t, and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Murdoch, standing up, in preparation for leaving the room. “Goodnight, God bless, Johnny.”
“Night, Papa, love ya,” said Johnny.
“Love you too, son.”
The morning soon came round and, for the first time that Scott could remember, Johnny was up and dressed, without having to be called at least three times.
“Morning, big brother,” he said, as he arrived at the breakfast table in the kitchen. “Morning, Mamacita.”
“Good morning, Johnny,” said Scott, and Maria echoed his words.
“Where’s Papa?” asked Johnny.
“Pa’s already eaten and he’s just making sure that he’s got everything he needs for the journey,” said Scott.
Unknown to either of the boys, Murdoch had put together a bag of things to keep the boys amused on the journey. He put it into a small carpet bag, which he was going to keep in the stage, with him, rather than let it be put on the rack on the top, with the larger cases. The carpet bag contained a change of clothes for the boys and some food. There was also a nightshirt for each of them, as they would be staying one night at a way station.
Paul was going to drive them into town, to catch the stage and Teresa went along with him.
Maria waved them off, with a fair amount of hugs administered to Johnny and Scott, and plenty of instructions given to Murdoch, on how he was to ensure that the boys always had plenty to eat and to see that they washed and changed their clothes, regularly.
“Don’t worry, Maria, I will treat them as if they were my own,” said Murdoch, smiling at the woman who did, in fact, love his boys almost as much as he did.
Maria ignored Murdoch’s teasing and said, “And you boys be good for your Papa, else Mamacita will be after you, with wooden spoon.”
“Sure thing, Mamacita, bye,” yelled Johnny.
“Goodbye, Maria,” said Scott. “We’ll be good, don’t worry.”
The stage, for once, arrived on time and Johnny almost caused them to miss it, as he’d decided he needed to pay a visit to the outhouse, before their journey began.
“Scott, go hurry your brother along,” said Murdoch, who was supervising the loading of their luggage.
“Yes, sir,” said Scott, reluctantly, as he would have preferred to stay and talk to Rebecca, who was also waiting to board the stage, with her mother.
This was an added bonus, as Scott and Rebecca hadn’t realised they would be travelling on the same stagecoach. Inside his vest pocket, Scott had the piece of paper on which Rebecca had written her grandmother’s address.
Scott got to the outhouse and hammered on the door.
“What’re you doing in there? You must’ve totally drained your bladder, by now. Put it away, button it up and get out here, now. The coach is about to go and Pa’s ready to bust out of his vest, cos you’re missing, and we haven’t even left our home town, yet.”
“What’s all the yelling for, Scott? I just bin to get me a drink, got you one too,” said Johnny, appearing from round the corner, and offering Scott the bottle of sarsaparilla.
“I thought you were in there,” said Scott, pointing at the outhouse.
“No, young man, I am,” said Becky’s mother, as she opened the outhouse door.
“Oh, pardon me, ma’am, I thought my little brother was in there,” said Scott, his face burning with the thought that he’d yelled at Becky’s mother and about such personal and intimate things as her bathroom habits.
Scott just grabbed hold of Johnny’s hand and dragged him back to the stage, but he knew there was going to be no escape if Mrs Smith decided to confront him about what he said, seeing as how they were going to be sharing the coach.
The boys made it to their seats about thirty seconds before Murdoch was about to go and search for them.
“It’s about time,” he growled. Then he spied the bottles of sarsaparilla. “If you needed to visit the outhouse in the short time from when we left home, to getting to town, is it a good idea to fill up, again, on drink?”
“I’m okay, Pa, I didn’t need to go, he did,” said Scott.
“Yeah, and now I’ve been, I’m thirsty,” said Johnny, draining the last remaining drops from the bottle and making a slurping noise, as he did so.
Mrs Smith was now in her seat and she winced at the sound.
“I do hope that your boys are going to displaying some better manners on this journey, Mr Lancer. I noticed that John is sporting a black eye, so has obviously been taking part in some back alley brawl. Plus, I have just had an encounter with Scott, at the, er, facilities, and now I return to hear your youngest making noises that I cannot begin to describe.”
Before Murdoch could reply, Johnny said, “Sorry, ma’am, but it’s the only way to get the last bit outta the bottle,” and then he burped, loudly, and laughed.
Mrs Smith looked like she was going to faint, especially when Johnny went on to comment, “Better out than in, my Mama always used to say.”
Mrs Smith hadn’t been in the area, that long, and so hadn’t known Johnny’s mother, but she’d heard that Maria was Mexican and had a rather devil may care attitude to most things.
“From what I’ve heard about your mother, I am not surprised to hear you say that she condoned such behaviour,” she said.
Johnny was not completely sure that he understood everything that Mrs Smith said, but he did understand that she was being less than complimentary about his mother.
Murdoch, too, was not happy to hear what the woman was saying, but also had to admit that Johnny’s manners did leave a lot to be desired.
“My Mama was a fine woman,” said Johnny. “And there’s nothing wrong with burping; we all do it, even you, I guess.”
“John, that’s enough,” said Murdoch. “Yes, we all do it, but not all of us do it in public. There are lots of things that everyone does, but we don’t necessarily want to share them with others, and they don’t want to see or hear it, either. And yes, your mother was a fine woman, son. I apologise, Mrs Smith, if my sons have been bothering you. I will try and ensure that they behave themselves, a bit better, for the rest of the journey.”
“Thank you, Mr Lancer, I would appreciate that.”
Scott stole a glance at Becky and winked at her, and she smiled at him. Johnny noticed the gesture and groaned, as he was now sure that this holiday was not going to be the fun time he’d hoped for, not now that Becky was also going to be in San Francisco.
After the initial excitement of setting off, the journey soon became boring for Johnny, especially as Scott was taking no notice of him, whatsoever, and was giving all his attention to Rebecca.
Murdoch opened the carpet bag and took out the games he had packed for the boys, but Scott would only play, if Becky did, and Johnny refused to play, if she did, so no one played.
Eventually, the early start, coupled with the swaying of the coach and the fact that he had nothing to do, began to have a soporific effect on Johnny, and he felt his eyes closing. He leaned over and rested his head on his father’s chest and Murdoch placed a protective arm around his son.
Scott could see that Johnny would soon be asleep and so he suggested to Becky that he moved across to the other side of the coach and sat next to her.
“That way, Johnny can stretch out on the seat next to Pa,” he said, making it sound like the move was only for his little brother’s benefit, and not so that he could sit closer to Rebecca.
“That’s all right with me, Scott,” said Becky. “Do you mind, Mama?”
“No, Rebecca, I don’t mind, not if it means that we won’t have to listen to young Johnny complaining that he is bored, every five minutes.”
Scott changed seats and Johnny stretched his legs out on the part of the seat just vacated by his brother. Within minutes the young boy was asleep, with his father gently rubbing his back.
“I am sorry if John was disturbing you, Mrs Smith,” said Murdoch, softly, once Johnny was asleep. “But he is only a young boy and coach travelling can become tedious to the most seasoned traveller, and he is not used to being cooped up, in this way.”
“He’s not that young, Mr Lancer, and, like I said at the depot, he really needs to learn better manners,” said Mrs Smith, sharply, so Murdoch decided not to try and engage her in any further conversation. He picked up the book that he had started earlier, and buried himself in it, until they reached the way station where they were going to stop the night.
Scott and Rebecca, in contrast, found plenty to talk about and were making plans for meeting up, once they were in San Francisco.
“As you know, I am visiting my grandmother and so I can’t be going out, all the time, but she is getting to be rather elderly and Mama says she has a nap, in the daytime, so maybe I will be able to slip out then,” whispered Becky, although her mother had her eyes closed, and appeared to be asleep, and Murdoch was engrossed in his book, so neither parent was listening to what she was saying.
“Fortunately, her house isn’t that far from our hotel, so I will be able to come by and see if you are free,” said Scott, also keeping his voice low. “Only snag is that I might have to bring Johnny along with me, if you are free when Pa is at a meeting.”
“Can’t you find him something to do, so he won’t want to be hanging around with us, all the time?” said Becky.
“Well, I might be able to, but he’s likely to get into trouble, if I leave him alone, for any length of time. You know what he’s like?”
“Yes, unfortunately, I do,” said Becky, who had been the victim of several of Johnny’s pranks, when they were at school.
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Scott, as he didn’t want Becky going off the idea of spending time with him, so was prepared to forget the promises he’d made to his father, about keeping Johnny out of trouble, just to spend time with a girl.
As they drove into the yard of the way station, the driver pulled the horses to a stop and, as the coach drew to a halt, Johnny woke up.
He was rather embarrassed to find himself stretched out across his father’s lap.
“Where are we?” he said, once he was awake enough to speak.
“At the way station where we are going to spend the night,” said Murdoch, helping Johnny to sit up.
“Do we get supper here? I’m starving,” said Johnny.
“Yes, son, we do,” said Murdoch. “Scott, please take this bag for me, while I help your little brother out of the coach.”
“I can get out by myself,” said Johnny, although, when he tried to, he found that his legs felt like rubber and he was glad to have his father to lean on.
“Yes, sir,” said Scott, rather reluctantly, as he wanted to help Becky descend from the stage.
However, by the time he’d put the bag down on the front porch of the way station, and returned to the coach, the driver had already helped her and her mother.
“Which bags do you need, ma’am,” asked the driver, of Mrs Smith.
“Just that one small one, please,” she replied. “I packed that one specifically for the overnight stop.”
The party of travellers entered the way station and took in their surroundings. The place was fairly basic, but at least it was clean. There were two bedrooms off the main living area; one was offered to Mrs Smith and Rebecca and the other one to Murdoch and the boys. The driver was going to bunk down in the living room, along with the man who ran the way station, Fred Bartlett.
Murdoch led Johnny into their room and was pleased to find that there was a jug of warm water available.
“Wash up, son, it’ll help to wake you up and make you feel ready to eat.”
“I’m ready to eat, right now, but I could do with cleaning up,” said Johnny. “Riding on stagecoaches makes you dusty.”
“Yes, it sure does,” said Murdoch. “I shall be doing the same, myself, once you have finished.”
Scott then entered the room and pointed out that there was only one bed, but it was a large one.
“It’s only for one night, boys, so we’ll manage,” said Murdoch. “Maybe we can sleep top to tail? Scott and I with our heads at one end and Johnny with his at the other end, that way we might be able to avoid Johnny’s arms and legs, when he starts thrashing about.”
“Yes, that might work, Pa,” said Scott, and Johnny agreed, as he didn’t want to hurt his father and his brother, but seemed unable to sleep and stay still, at the same time.
Once all three of them had washed up, they returned to the main room, to find that Mr Bartlett had set out a surprisingly good meal. There was stew, containing carrot and potato chunks, as well as the meat, and some biscuits, which melted in the mouth.
Johnny couldn’t get enough of the biscuits, until Murdoch told him to slow down.
“You are not the only one who is hungry, son.”
“Thank you for saying something, Mr Lancer,” said Mrs Smith. “I may not be a big eater, but I would like to have some of the meal.”
“You’ve had some, ma’am, in fact you’ve had as many biscuits as me,” said Johnny.
“How do you know? Have you been counting them?”
“As a matter of fact, I have, ma’am, cos I was trying to be fair, and not have more than my share, so I was keeping count. Papa’s had three, Scott’s had two, the driver’s had three, Becky’s had two, I’ve had four, and so have you. I asked Scott and he don’t want no more, neither does Papa, nor the driver, nor Becky. There’s two left, so if I have another one, there’s still one for you, if you want another one, and if you don’t, I’ll have it.”
“Well, I do want another one, and I think you are a very impudent boy,” said Mrs Smith.
Johnny wasn’t too sure what impudent meant, so he didn’t comment on that, just on the biscuits.
“Okay, one for you, one for me,” he said, and put one on his plate, handing the other one to Mrs Smith.
“I don’t want it now you’ve had your dirty fingers on it,” she said, recoiling from the biscuit, as if it was likely to jump off the plate and bite her.
“All right,” said Johnny, completely unfazed by her reaction. “If you don’t want it, I’ll have it,” and he popped the biscuit in his mouth, after using it to soak up some of the gravy on his plate.
Mrs Smith said nothing more to Johnny, but turned to her daughter and said, “If you think you are having anything to do with Scott Lancer, you can think again. I don’t care if he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the area; I am not having you associating with anyone who is related to that boy.”
When Scott heard Mrs Smith utter these words, he glared across the table at his little brother and if looks could have killed, well, Johnny would have been dead, in an instant.
“Thanks a lot, little brother,” shouted Scott. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this display at the table wasn’t a deliberate attempt, on your part, to get Becky’s mother to forbid her from seeing me. You just hate the thought of me having a girlfriend, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t,” said Johnny. “I couldn’t care less if you wanna make a fool of yourself over some dangfool girl. Come on, Mrs Smith, loosen up a bit. Scott’s a nice guy and he just wants to take your Becky out to a dance, now and again, and escort her to the church picnic. None of that should make any difference to him being related to me.”
“Please don’t make any hasty decisions, Mrs Smith,” chimed in Murdoch. “I agree with you that Johnny’s manners have not been of the best, but as he says, that shouldn’t make any difference to how you feel about Scott.”
Becky’s reaction to her mother’s words was to burst into tears.
“Oh, Mama, please let me see Scott. I really like him, and it’s only like you and Aunt Margaret. You like Papa, but you hate his sister, yet it didn’t stop you going out with him, just because Aunt Margaret was his sister, did it?”
“I will discuss it with your father, once we return home,” said Mrs Smith, sidestepping the issue. “There won’t be any chance for you to see Scott, while we are in San Francisco, anyway, as we are here to visit your ailing grandmother, not for socialising. Now, come along, Rebecca. I think it is time we retired for the night. We still have a long way to travel, tomorrow.”
As Mrs Smith and Rebecca left the table, Murdoch said, “John, please apologise to Mrs Smith for your bad manners.”
“Sorry, ma’am, guess I should’ve offered you the plate, with the biscuit on it, instead of picking it up and handing it to you, but my fingers ain’t dirty, cos I washed up before we sat down to eat.”
“As I said on the stage, earlier today, you need a course in basic manners, young man,” said Mrs Smith.
“Goodnight, Mrs Smith, Rebecca,” said Scott, still angry with his brother.
“Goodnight,” said Mrs Smith, and Becky just accompanied her mother to bed, saying nothing, as she was still upset.
Once the Lancer family found themselves alone, Scott said, “Well, that’s that. I might just as well resign myself to being a bachelor, for the rest of my life, because every time I meet a girl I like, you mess it up for me.”
“What do you mean, every time? How many girls have you been interested in?” said Johnny.
“I liked Isobel and you stopped me from spending any time with her,” said Scott.
“Good job I did, as she was just out to catch herself a rich husband; she didn’t really love you,” said Johnny. *
“So says you,” said Scott, although Johnny was speaking the truth. “But never mind her. You’ve certainly made it impossible for me to see Becky, haven’t you?”
“If I have, then it’s for the best, brother. She’s spoilt and stuck up; you can do better than that.”
“I’ll thank you to leave it to me to decide whom I want to see,” said Scott, sounding very haughty, as he was very angry.
“That’s enough, boys,” said Murdoch. “Johnny, come over here, please.”
Johnny glanced over at his father’s face, to try and gauge just how angry Murdoch was with him, and was relieved to see that his father didn’t look too cross.
He walked across the room and stood in front of Murdoch, who was sitting in one of the armchairs, which were placed by the fire.
“Son, I am going to ask you a question, and I want a straight, and honest, answer. Did you set out to make Mrs Smith dislike you, so that she wouldn’t allow Scott to see Becky?”
Johnny looked straight into Murdoch’s eyes and said, “No sir, of course I didn’t. I know my manners were bad, on the stage, oh, and at the supper table, too, but it weren’t deliberate. It was just like I said, before we came away, I ain’t that sure about how to behave.”
Murdoch could see, by the way that Johnny was looking at him, that the boy was telling the truth.
“If you weren’t sure, then you should’ve watched me,” said Scott, calming down, a bit, as he could tell, too, that Johnny wasn’t lying. “That’s what I told you to do, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, you did, but you never hadta pass nothing to Mrs Smith, nor did you need to belch, after your drink, and, anyway, I always say ‘better out than in’ when I do that and you and Papa usually laugh at me.”
Scott and Murdoch knew that Johnny spoke the truth, so couldn’t argue with the boy.
However, Murdoch said, “Yes, we have laughed, when it’s only been us that you have done it in front of, but I have also said that it’s not something you do, in mixed company, haven’t I? And regarding the passing of food, you do know better than to do so with your fingers. Maria and I have often told you to pass the plate, not just the food, haven’t we?”
“Yeah, I guess so, but I just got a bit confused with Mrs Smith glaring at me, like she was. She sure is a miserable old lady.”
“John, there’s no need to talk about her, like that,” said Murdoch, holding on to the boy and shaking him, slightly. “Mrs Smith is probably younger than I am and if she seems a little distracted, it’s probably because her mother is ill. So, please will you make every effort, for the rest of this journey, to behave yourself, in front of her? And don’t worry, Scott, by the time we get home, all this is most likely to be forgotten and I’m sure you will be able to see Rebecca, again.”
Murdoch wasn’t aware that Scott was hoping to see Rebecca while they were both in San Francisco, and Scott didn’t feel the need to tell him.
“I hope you’re right, Pa,” was all he said.
Murdoch decided that they, too, went to bed, as the next day was going to be another long one of travelling.
“Come on, boys, let’s turn in,” he said, and neither boy objected to that idea.
They slept the way Murdoch had suggested, with Johnny one end of the bed and Scott and Murdoch, the other end. It wasn’t ideal, but at least they all managed to get a fair amount of sleep.
Johnny cuddled Whatbit, pleased that Murdoch had transferred the cuddly toy from his main suitcase, to the smaller travelling bag.
The following morning, it took Murdoch a while to wake up Johnny.
“Come on, son, or else the stage is going to be leaving, without us.”
“I wish it would,” said Johnny. “Then we could get the next one that comes through, here, and we wouldn’t havta travel with Mrs Smith and Rebecca, no more,” and Johnny buried his head under the covers.
“But I am anxious to get to San Francisco and conduct my business, young man, and I don’t want to have to wait for the next stage, so will you please get up?”
“Yes, get up, Johnny, now, or else I’m holding Whatbit hostage, until you do,” said Scott, and he grabbed the rabbit off the bed.
That got Johnny moving and he leapt out of the bed and chased after Scott, who was running around the room, with the toy held above his head, so that Johnny couldn’t reach it.
“Give him back to me, Scott, or else you’re gonna be sorry,” said Johnny, his temper rising.
“Scott, that’s enough,” shouted Murdoch. “Give the rabbit back to Johnny, right now. You know how much it means to him, and that was cruel of you to snatch it away, like that.”
Scott reluctantly handed Whatbit back to Johnny, who placed the toy, gently in their overnight bag.
“It was just a bit of fun, Pa, and it got him out of bed, didn’t it?” said Scott.
“Maybe it did, but I still say that wasn’t a nice thing to do,” said Murdoch. “Have you put all your things in the bag?”
“Yes sir, and I’m sorry for taking Whatbit, Johnny, but I don’t want us missing that stage. It’s important to the ranch that Pa gets to his meeting, so that means it should be important to you, as well.”
“Go and have some breakfast, then,” said Murdoch. “And Johnny, please hurry up and get dressed.”
“Well, we all know why you wanna be on that stage and it’s nothing to do with Papa’s business, is it, Scott? You wanna carry on travelling with Rebecca. All I can say about her, is that girls grow up to be like their mothers, so you have been warned, big brother.”
Scott was about to reply, but Murdoch pointed to the door and Scot, very sensibly, kept his opinions to himself, and left the room.
Once Scott was gone, Murdoch spoke to Johnny, as the boy washed up and dressed.
“John, I am getting very tired of the way you keep sniping at your brother, over his relationship with Rebecca. I understand why you don’t want him to have a girlfriend. I went through the same feelings with my siblings and I know it feels like you are being replaced in your brother’s affection, but it’s different what he feels for Rebecca, to what he feels for you. Relationships with girls, especially when you are only fifteen, can change almost weekly, but you will always be Scott’s little brother and he will always love you.”
Johnny listened to his father’s words and had to admit that they made sense.
“I guess you’re right, Papa. I mean Scott liked that Isobel, but he soon got over it, when she went off with Jake, and we were okay with each other, afterwards. But I guess I’ll never understand how a fella can let a gal mess with his head, like that.”
Murdoch pulled Johnny into a hug.
“Don’t worry, son, you’ll learn, one day.”
Johnny made it to the breakfast table, just in time to get the last of the bacon and biscuits, and he washed it down with a large glass of milk. Then he paid a quick visit to the outhouse, before it was time to board the stage.
“Come on boys, time to go,” said Murdoch, and Johnny entered the coach and sat next to Murdoch.
Before Scott alighted, he helped Rebecca to her seat, as his father had done for Mrs Smith.
Johnny had taken heed of Murdoch’s words and agreed to play cards with Scott and Rebecca, although Mrs Smith wouldn’t allow it to be for money.
“I don’t approve of gambling, at any age,” she said. “But I certainly don’t approve of it amongst children,” and she sniffed, disdainfully, in the direction of Murdoch, daring him to contradict her.
“I don’t allow my children to gamble, either,” said Murdoch, failing to notice how Scott bristled, when his father called him a child, in front of Becky.
To make it easier to play the game, the three youngsters sat on one side of the coach and Murdoch moved across, to join Mrs Smith.
“I am sorry to hear that your mother is ailing, Mrs Smith. This must be a difficult time for you.”
“Thank you, Mr Lancer,” she replied. “Yes, it is difficult and my husband was unable to accompany me, because he hasn’t been in his job, that long, and so wasn’t entitled to any leave.”
“Well, if I can assist you in any way, while you are in San Francisco, please don’t hesitate to call on me. The boys and I will be staying at the St Francis. I do have a bit of business to attend to, and have promised the boys some trips out, but I will always be returning to the hotel in order to sleep, so will get your message, eventually.”
“That is very kind of you, Mr Lancer. Your offer is much appreciated, but, hopefully, I won’t have any need to call on you. And I do have to insist that Scott doesn’t try and spend any time with Rebecca, until we are back at home, and I have been able to talk to her father about it.”
“Scott won’t have any time for socialising with your daughter, ma’am, as when I am at my meetings he will be looking out for his little brother, and when I am with them, we shall be going out, together. Since Johnny came to live with us, we haven’t had the chance to take a vacation, and so this is the first time we have gotten away, as a family. I am really looking forward to escorting my sons around some of my favourite parts of San Francisco.”
“I am sure you will, Mr Lancer,” said Mrs Smith. “Now, if you will excuse me, I a going to take a little nap, as I woke up with a headache, this morning.”
“Sorry to hear that, Mrs Smith and I hope that it soon goes away.”
For the rest of the journey, Murdoch and Mrs Smith hardly spoke at all, but her body language proved to Murdoch that she did not wish to have anything to do with the Lancer family. This thought saddened Murdoch, as he knew how much Scott liked Rebecca, and he hated the thought of his son being rebuffed in this way, but he was sure it was going to happen.
For all her talk of discussing things with her husband, first, Murdoch was sure that it was Mrs Smith who wore the pants in their household, and Mr Smith would say whatever his wife told him to, when it came to Becky and Scott seeing each other.
Murdoch decided not to voice this opinion, for now, as Scott and Rebecca were enjoying their card game and he didn’t want to upset them. And, there was always the chance, even though it was a faint one, that Mr Smith might allow them to go out with each other, despite his wife’s objections.
Eventually, after what seemed like forever to Johnny, they finally arrived in San Francisco.
Murdoch and Scott helped Mrs Smith and Rebecca down from the stage and saw to it that all their baggage was stowed away in the buggy, which had been sent to collect them.
“Thank you, Mr Lancer,” said Mrs Smith. “Come along, Rebecca, your grandmother will be waiting on us, and it isn’t good for her to get overly excited.”
“Coming, Mama,” said Becky. “See you tomorrow, Scott,” she whispered, as she took her leave of him.
Scott just nodded and then stood waving until the buggy disappeared from view.
By then, Murdoch had secured a driver and his buggy to take them to their hotel, and he and Johnny had loaded up their luggage.
“Hey, Scott, get a move on. She’s gone, now, thank goodness, and we’re in San Francisco, whoopee,” said Johnny, marvelling at how big the place was.
Murdoch smiled at his youngest boy.
“I said you would find it all rather different to Morro Coyo, didn’t I, son?” he said.
“It sure is, and yet Morro Coyo seems big to me, after some of the one horse towns I’ve lived in,” replied Johnny.
Scott had been to San Francisco several times, before, and so was not as impressed as his brother was, but he did like the city, and he could understand Johnny’s enthusiasm.
“There’s plenty to see, little brother, so we’ll have lots of fun.”
They soon arrived at the St Francis Hotel, in Powell Street, and Murdoch was delighted with the rooms. They had two bedrooms, a twin bedded one for the boys and a king sized one for him. There was also a sitting room, and a bathroom just along the corridor.
“This is really something,” said Johnny, marvelling at the opulence of the place.
“I often stay here,” said Murdoch. “It’s in a pretty central position and they always treat me well. Let’s get washed up and then go down to the dining room, to eat. I don’t know about you boys, but I am starving.”
“Me, too,” said Johnny, and he made for the door, hoping to skip the washing up part.
“Back here, young man,” said Murdoch. “I said we needed to wash up, first.”
The room was on the third floor and they had taken the rising room, (elevator) to get to it. Johnny was fascinated by this and wanted to go back and ride in it, again, but Murdoch wouldn’t let him go, until he was clean and tidy.
“I’m fine, Papa, quit your fussing,” said Johnny, as Murdoch attempted to tie the boy’s tie, again.
“I told you that this place is very fussy about the way its clientele dress when going into the dining room, son, and I want you to make a good first impression,” said Murdoch.
“You may as well hold still and let Pa fuss, Johnny, cos you’re not getting out of this room, until he’s satisfied that you look okay,” said Scott. “And the rising room’s not going anywhere.”
“Yes, it is, it’s going up to the higher floors and then down to the lobby and I could be riding in it,” said Johnny, still squirming.
“There, you look fine,” said Murdoch, finally satisfied that the boy was looking his best.
Scott didn’t escape from Murdoch’s attention, either, even though he protested.
“Johnny might have trouble with his tie, but I don’t, Pa.”
“Not as much, maybe, but you don’t always get it right,” said Murdoch. “Right, let’s go; we all look perfect.”
Scott was not happy about his father’s remark, as he rather prided himself on being a pretty snappy dresser, but he was hungry and so, sensibly didn’t make a fuss about what Murdoch had said.
Johnny dashed on ahead of the other two, so that he could be the one to call the rising room.
“Come on, it’ll be here in a minute,” he yelled at them.
“If we don’t take Johnny anywhere else, I think he’ll be happy just to ride up and down in the elevator.”
Murdoch joined in with Scott’s laughter.
“I think you may be right.”
The dining room was a very grand place, and as they waited in the entrance, to be taken to a table, even Johnny stopped chattering so that he could take in the splendour of the room.
“Wow,” he whispered. “This is some fancy place, Papa. I’ve never seen such a big room, anywhere, before.”
“Yes, it is pretty impressive,” said Murdoch.
Just then, a superbly suited waiter came over to them.
“Your table is ready, please follow me,” he said.
Once they were seated, Scott leaned over towards Murdoch and said, “I really like that guy’s suit, Pa. Wonder who is tailor is?”
“All the waiters are wearing the same style, son, so I would imagine that the hotel get them for them, from the same place.”
“Probably, but I’d really like one like it.”
“Why would you, Scott?” asked Johnny. “If you had a suit like that, folks would think you were working in the hotel.”
“I wouldn’t wear it, here,” said Scott. “But I bet Becky would like me to wear it when I take her out, at home.”
“If you’re that keen, I will ask the manager which tailor he uses,” said Murdoch.
“Thanks, Pa,” said Scott, and then they got down to the serious business of ordering a meal.
By the time they finished eating, it was too late to do any sightseeing, even though Johnny wanted to.
“Not tonight, son,” said Murdoch. “We’ll get a good night’s sleep and then we can start exploring, tomorrow.”
Johnny was a bit disappointed, but after another trip in the rising room, his good mood returned.
“Thanks ever so much for bringing us here, Papa,” he said, as he was undressing in the room he was going to share with Scott. “It’s the fanciest place I’ve ever set foot in, that’s for sure.”
His mood suddenly changed, again, and he said, in a small voice, “Did I get it all right at dinner? You know, the right forks and stuff?”
“You were the perfect gentleman, Johnny,” said Murdoch, giving the boy a hug.
Once the boys were in bed, Murdoch said goodnight, and briefly outlined the plans for the next day.
“I have a meeting straight after breakfast, but as long as you stay together, I will trust you two to go and do some exploring, without me. I know that you know your way around, Scott, and so as long as I have your assurance that you will stay away from the areas that you know to be out of bounds, then you’re free to explore. I will expect you to return to the hotel in time to join me for lunch and then in the afternoon we can go somewhere together, maybe to visit Woodward’s Gardens, eh, Johnny?”
Before leaving on their trip, Murdoch had talked to both the boys about some of the attractions they might see, and Woodward’s Gardens was one of them. It was on the west side of Mission Street and had many interesting exhibits, from around the world, plus a Zoological park.
“Sounds good, Papa, night,” said Johnny.
Murdoch was ready to leave, the following morning, before either of the boys was up. However, he didn’t rush them and said they could stay in bed, a while longer.
“You can either have breakfast in the dining room, here, or get something to eat when you go out,” he said. “I have left some money on the dresser, in my room. Be good and I will see you, back here at 12.30, for lunch, okay?”
“Okay, Pa, we’ll see you later and I trust that the meeting goes off well,” said Scott.
“Thanks, Scott,” said Murdoch, and before he left, he leaned over Johnny’s bed, and ruffled his hair. “Behave, and do as Scott tells you.”
“Bye, Papa, I will,” said Johnny.
As soon as Murdoch left the room, Scott turned to face Johnny and said, “I’m planning to see Becky today and I’d rather see her on my own, so you can either stay here, in the hotel, until I get back, or go and do some exploring on your own. But if you do, you’re not to go to the waterfront, nor to the Chinese quarter, or anywhere near the Barbary Coast, understood?”
“Thanks a lot,” shouted Johnny, getting out of bed. “The first day we are here and you’re planning to leave me and go off with Becky. I knew you were plotting something when we were on the stage. Her mother’s said she can’t see you, until we get home and she talks to Becky’s Pa, so how do you think you’re gonna get to see her?”
“Becky said that her grandmother takes several naps, during the day, and she’ll come out to see me when the old lady is sleeping. I won’t be gone, long, Johnny, but when we get home, her Pa’s not likely to let us see each other, and so it’ll be even harder to meet up. Please help me out, here, and don’t tell Pa what I’m doing.”
Johnny wasn’t happy about Scott going off and leaving him, but he could see how much it meant to his brother.
“I won’t snitch on you, Scott, but please don’t be gone, too long. It won’t be half as much fun, looking round the city on my own, as it would be if you were with me.”
“I won’t be long, I promise,” said Scott. “And thanks for saying that you won’t snitch, shall we spit and shake on it?”
“Sure,” said Johnny, and the two boys did just that.
They got dressed, quickly, and went along to the dining room for breakfast.
Johnny said, “If we eat in there, it goes on the bill, and that means we can keep Papa’s money to buy other things.”
Without Murdoch being there, to keep them in check, the boys were soon making each other laugh, by their rather silly descriptions of the other diners.
“Look at that man over at the far table,” said Johnny. “I reckon he’s up to no good. He keeps glancing round the room and then hiding behind his paper, like he don’t wanna be seen.”
“Maybe he’s here to spy on someone,” said Scott, and so then the two of them spent some considerable time discussing that idea.
“I reckon that couple across there, have just got married,” went on Johnny. “They’ve got that goofy expression on their faces and they keep looking at each other and grinning.”
“Aw, that’s cute,” said Scott, thinking about Becky.
“No it’s not,” said Johnny. “It makes me wanna lose my breakfast. Come on, let’s get outta here.”
The two boys made their way outside the hotel and walked a short way down the road, together.
“There’s plenty of large clocks around, so you’ll know when it’s midday, Johnny,” said Scott. “When it is, go back to the hotel and I’ll meet you there.”
“Midday? That means you’re gonna be away all morning, and you said it would only be for a little while.”
“Okay, okay,” said Scott. “I’ll come back at ten thirty, then, all right?”
“Hasta be, I guess, cos I know you ain’t gonna change your mind about going.”
Before Johnny could say anymore, Scott ran off.
Johnny wasn’t sure where to go, as he did not know the layout of the city, at all, so he just began to walk. Wherever he looked, he was overwhelmed by the size and grandeur of the buildings; he’d never been in a city this big, before.
After a while, he came upon a church, St Francis of Assisi, on Vallejo Street, and he suddenly felt the urge to go in and say a prayer for his deceased mother.
Ever since moving to Lancer, he’d not been to a Catholic church, as it wasn’t Murdoch and Scott’s religion, and so he’d attended the same church as they did. Not that Murdoch would’ve minded him going to the Catholic Church, as most of the workers on the ranch went to it, but Johnny preferred to attend with his family.
When living with his mother, he had very rarely gone to church, anyway, so could hardly be called a devout Catholic, and, as far as he was concerned, one church was as good as any other.
However, Maria always referred to herself as a Catholic and so, for her sake, he decided to go into the church.
As he entered, he was struck by the coolness, after the warm sun, which had been beating down on him, out on the sidewalk. He removed his hat, as soon as he went through the front door, and he paused, once he was facing the altar, and made the sign of the cross. He then sat down on one of the pews, bowed his head and said his prayer for Maria. He found himself talking to her, as though she was there, and he was just telling her what he’d been doing since he last saw her.
“Papa’s not like you said he was, Mama, in fact he’s real nice to me, and he ain’t ashamed that I’m his son. And he never wanted either of us to go, like you said he did. But he did explain to me why you said all those things, and so I now know it was just cos you were frightened that if I knew the truth, I wouldn’t have stayed with you, I’d have gone back to him. And maybe I would’ve, cos I sure didn’t like some of those men you took up with, Mama. But then, I don’t think I could’ve left you, cos if I had, then you wouldn’t have looked after yourself properly and you’d probably have died much sooner than you did. Trouble was, Mama, you always put your faith in the wrong kinda man. You should’ve stayed with Papa, he really loved you, you know?
I’m here in San Francisco with my big brother, Scott. Do you remember him? No one would think we were brothers; he’s tall and kinda skinny and has fair hair and blue/grey eyes, and well, you know what I look like, and it sure ain’t like that, but we’re real good friends, as well as being brothers. Although, right at this moment, I ain’t as fond of him, as I usually am, cos he’s gone off with a gal he’s gone all gaga over. Reminds me of how it used to be, whenever you got yourself a new man, Mama. You’d often forget that you had a son; for a while, anyway. Scott and me were supposed to be exploring the city, together, but he’s more interested in exploring Becky. Papa says it’s his age and I’ll be the same, one day, but I don’t think I will be; I ain’t that stupid. Anyway, I best get going, as I’m meeting him, later, and as I made a heck of a fuss about him coming back, I best be there when he does. I love you, Mama.”
Johnny headed out of the church, blinking, a bit, as his eyes adjusted, again, to the bright sunlight.
At first, he wasn’t too sure of the way back to the hotel, and he went in the wrong direction, but, eventually, he found himself heading the right way and he was back at the hotel before Scott was.
Scott arrived as the clock in the lobby was chiming the half hour.
“See? I told you I’d be back,” he said. “Where do you want to go, now? We’ve got a couple of hours before Pa gets back.”
“Let’s go and check out Fisherman’s Wharf,” said Johnny. “We can watch the boats returning with their catch.”
“Okay, sounds like fun,” said Scott, and so that’s what they did.
As they looked out on the water, Johnny turned to Scott and said, “Have you ever thought about going to sea?”
“No, not really, although I used to like taking a boat out, whenever Pa and I were on holiday, close to water, but I’m only talking about a little rowing boat.”
“I’ve never been in a boat,” said Johnny.
“Well, in that case, little brother, we need to rectify that, so I’ll suggest it to Pa, and I’m sure he’ll take us.”
That’ll be great,” said Johnny.
The boys spent the rest of the time watching the fishing boats unload their catch and trying to guess where some of the larger ships had come from.
All too soon, according to Johnny, it was time to return to the hotel and meet Murdoch for lunch.
“I’m sure we can come back, another time,” said Scott, as he led his brother away from the dockside.
Murdoch was relieved to see the boys waiting for him, at the hotel, as he had been rather wary of leaving them on their own, in a big city.
“Hi, boys,” he said. “Have you had fun?”
Both boys nodded, but gave Murdoch no indication as to what they had been doing, but he was too full of his own news to be that concerned about their lack of chatter.
“Well, I had a good morning,” he said, as they sat down at a table in the dining room. “Mr Fellowes is really keen on taking our beef and so, after the meeting tomorrow, his wife is going to join us for lunch and then I am sure he will be ready to sign the contract. Therefore, I want the two of you, in this dining room, tomorrow, at one o’clock sharp, to join us for the meal, and I want you wearing your best clothes.”
Johnny groaned at this news. Mr and Mrs Fellowes had visited the ranch, a few weeks earlier, to check over the stock, and this visit to San Francisco was, hopefully, going to be the conclusion to a hard fought, but very lucrative, deal.
“It’s only for the meal, son, you can get changed straight after, before we go out. I thought we’d go to Woodward’s Gardens this afternoon, if you’d like to, that is?”
That news caused Johnny to cheer up.
“I’d like to go there, Papa, but could we do that tomorrow, cos this afternoon I’d like to go to the waterfront.”
“Has Mr Fellowes agreed the price, Pa?” asked Scott, who was now getting to the age where he was showing more interest in the business side of the ranch.
“Not quite, but we’re very close to concluding the deal and I am pretty certain I am going to get what I wanted. So, where did you two get to, this morning?”
“Oh, here and there,” said Scott. “We went down to the waterfront to watch the boats coming in with their catch, didn’t we, Johnny?”
“Yeah, brother, we did,” said Johnny. “And we saw some bigger ships that had sailed all across from the other side of the world.”
“Like the one I came out to America on,” said Murdoch. “Although I sailed into New York, first, not to here.”
“That must have been so exciting,” said Johnny, his blue eyes sparkling at the thought of such an adventure.
“Well, it was a mixture of exciting and scary, to tell you the truth,” said Murdoch. “I wasn’t that much older than Scott and I’d left all my family behind in Scotland, although some of them did follow me, at a later date. I had no idea of what I was going to do, once I got here. All I had was a pocketful of dreams about making it big.”
“And you did, Papa,” said Johnny.
“Yes, I did, but it didn’t happen, overnight. It took an awful lot of blood, sweat and tears, before I became successful. Now, then, what are we having to eat, boys?”
The two youngsters applied themselves to the menu, but it took them a while to decide, as there was so much to choose from. Johnny, in particular, changed his mind, several times, before he finally settled on what he wanted.
After lunch, Johnny asked if they could go down to the seashore, again, and, rather shyly, for him, put in his request to go out in a boat.
“What kind of boat, son? A rowing boat, or a larger one? If you mean a rowing boat, we can hire one, now, and go out, for a while, but if you mean a larger one, then we’ll have to book a trip.”
“Just a rowing boat, please, like you and Scott did,” said Johnny.
“I told Johnny about the time we went in a boat, Pa, and he wanted to try it,” said Scott.
“That’s fine, Scott, and, as I said, we can go now, as we can hire one from over there,” and Murdoch pointed to where a man had several small row boats tied up to a jetty.
Murdoch paid the man and the three of them were soon in a boat. Scott wanted to row, so Murdoch sat at the stern, Johnny at the prow and Scott in the middle.
However, after he’d been rowing for about thirty minutes, Scott was getting tired and so Murdoch took over. This involved them changing places, which caused the boat to rock rather alarmingly, and Johnny held onto the sides, fearing that he might be tipped out.
“Hey, be careful, Papa, I ain’t dressed for swimming.”
Murdoch rocked the boat, a bit more, but was careful not to actually put Johnny in any danger, although Johnny didn’t know that.
“Help, I’m gonna fall in.”
Murdoch grabbed hold of Johnny and gave him a hug.
“It’s okay, son, I was just teasing you, I wouldn’t let you fall in, really I wouldn’t.”
When Johnny first came to live with his father, one of the things that Murdoch wanted to be sure of was that Johnny could swim, as there were quite a few lakes and streams on the ranch. Johnny already knew how, but had improved his technique, considerably, since having the opportunity to swim much more frequently, than he ever had, before.
“If you two don’t both sit down, now, then I’m the one likely to go overboard and I don’t want to, any more than Johnny does,” said Scott.
Murdoch and Johnny both started laughing at the aggrieved look on Scott’s face, as he said this.
“Sorry, Scott,” they said, and they quickly sat down.
After that, Murdoch did some pretty energetic rowing and they travelled out a fair way across the bay. The sun was sparkling on the sea and there was a bit of a breeze, which made it all the more pleasant. The boys trailed their fingers into the water, and occasionally splashed each other, also managing to splash Murdoch, as he was sat in between them.
Johnny really enjoyed the whole experience and, as they headed back towards the shore, he asked to have a go at rowing.
“All right, son, you may have a go.”
Once more, Murdoch stood up and, this time, swapped places with Johnny. After a couple of false starts, the boy found his rhythm and did a good job of steering the boat closer to the jetty. However, Murdoch took over for the last part of the trip, as Johnny wasn’t that confident about bringing the boat alongside the jetty, without damaging it.
As Johnny jumped out of the boat, onto the jetty, he thanked the boat owner.
“That was great, thanks a lot,” he said, a broad grin on his face.
“Glad you enjoyed yourself, son,” said the man.
The family headed back to the hotel, as it was almost dinner time, and Johnny chattered on about the boat trip, all the way.
“Do you think we’ll be able to do that, again, before we go home?”
“Don’t see why not,” said Murdoch, pleased to see that Johnny was having such a good time.
The next morning, the boys were up early enough to have breakfast with Murdoch, before he went off to conclude his business with Mr Fellowes.
“Now don’t forget, boys, I want you here, in this dining room, dressed in your suits, at one o’clock, okay?”
Johnny sighed deeply, but caught the look that Murdoch gave him, and so smiled, disarmingly.
“Yes, sir, we’ll be here, won’t we, Scott?”
Murdoch’s older boy was daydreaming about Becky and so didn’t realise, at first, that Johnny had spoken to him.
Johnny kicked his brother on the shin, under the table.
“Ow, what was that for?” demanded Scott.
“I was talking to you and you weren’t listening, so I kicked you, to wake you up,” said Johnny.
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I just told Papa that we’d be here at one o’clock,” said Johnny.
“Yes, well we will,” said Scott, smiling at their father.
“Very well, boys,” said Murdoch. “I best get going and I’ll see you later. Look out for your little brother, Scott, won’t you?”
“Sure thing, Pa,” said Scott. “Bye.”
Once again, almost as soon as Murdoch had left, Scott said, “I’m going to go and see Becky, again, Johnny. She told me, yesterday, that the doctor is calling round, this morning, to discuss her grandmother’s condition with her mother, and so she will be able to slip out while that is going on. This will be the last time I will be able to see her, until we get back home, as Pa will have finished his business, today. And I’m not that sure I will be able to see her, at all, once we get home, except for at school, as her mother really doesn’t like us Lancers.”
“Doesn’t like me, you mean,” said Johnny.
Even though it was true, Scott couldn’t bring himself to agree with this statement.
“She doesn’t like anyone, Johnny, and she sure doesn’t think I’m good enough for her darling daughter.”
“She’d think you were, if you were Papa’s only son,” said Johnny. “But he went on to have me, and that means you’re not such a good catch, after all. If he’d done what a lot of men would’ve done; just slept with my Mama and then pretended he didn’t know her, once she was having me, Mrs Smith probably wouldn’t mind that, too much, either. Her own husband might have done that, a time or two. But Papa married Mama and told the world that I was his son, and that don’t sit well with the likes of Mrs Smith.”
Scott couldn’t bring himself to lie, outright, to Johnny, and he knew that his little brother was far too cute to accept it, even if he could, so he didn’t try to.
Instead he just said, “That might be the way Mrs Smith is thinking, but that doesn’t mean Becky feels the same way. She’s a real nice girl and I’m sure you’d soon see that, if you just tried to get to know her.”
“I tried, when she started at the school, but she didn’t wanna know me. Anyway, if you’re gonna meet her, then I’m coming with you, cos I don’t wanna be left on my own, again.”
“Oh, Johnny, I won’t be gone for long, and then we’ll have the rest of the holiday to do stuff together. We’ll be with each other, so much, you’ll be sick of the sight of me.”
“I know we’ll have the rest of the holiday, but Papa will be with us, then, and I was looking forward to me and you exploring the city, together,” said Johnny. “Just let me tag along, I’ll stay out of the way, and then, once you’ve seen her, we can go off and do something together, before we havta be back here, to meet Papa and his guests.”
“Okay,” said Scott. “But you are to stay well away from us, because I don’t want you listening in to what we are saying to each other.”
“I won’t, I promise,” said Johnny.
The boys finished their breakfast and then set off for Becky’s grandmother’s house.
Becky came scurrying out, through the back gate of the property, rather fearfully looking behind her, as she walked away.
“I didn’t expect you to come this close to the house, and why have you got him with you?” she said, pointing at Johnny.
“Sorry, Becky, but I thought I should get fairly close, otherwise you wouldn’t know, for certain, that I was waiting for you,” said Scott. “And I have to say that you look really pretty today.”
She accepted the compliment, with a toss of her head, as if she expected no less.
“Of course I knew you would be waiting for me, no boy has ever let me down,” she said. “And you didn’t answer my question about HIM.”
“As I told you, my father expects me to keep an eye out for Johnny, when he’s at his business meetings,” said Scott, and he sounded rather nervous, thought Johnny, although he didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that his big brother might be scared of a soppy girl. “I wasn’t sure how long you’d be able to get away, for, so I thought it best if I brought Johnny along, then, when you have to go home, he’s already with me and I don’t have to go searching for him.”
“But I wanted us to be on our own, Scotty,” said Becky, in what Johnny considered to be an irritating, babyish voice, but Scott obviously liked it, as he smiled at her.
“It will be like being alone, as Johnny will stay well away from us, won’t you, Johnny?”
Johnny just nodded, and moved a bit further away from them.
“See? It’ll be fine,” said Scott. “Come on, let’s go for a walk. There’s a small park just a few blocks from here. We can sit and watch the world go by.”
“Sounds rather boring, if you ask me,” said Becky, pouting, a look that did nothing to improve her looks. “I’ve risked a lot to get out here and be with you. I thought we would do more than go and sit in a park.”
“Let’s get there, first, and then we can talk about what to do, next,” said Scott, although to be honest, he didn’t have a clue about what they could do. He’d only thought as far as meeting up with her. “If we stay this close to your grandmother’s house, for too long, we may be spotted.”
“All right, but I don’t really want to sit in a park, all day,” she said, with her nose in the air.
“Well, that’s okay,” said Johnny. “Cos we weren’t planning on staying with you, all day, were we, Scott?”
“See, I told you he would stand too close,” said Becky. “He’s going to be listening to everything we say, all the time. Oh, he’s insufferable, Scott, make him go away.”
As they continued to walk towards the park, Scott slowed his pace and caught up to Johnny. He grabbed hold of his little brother’s arm, none too gently, and glared at him.
“I thought we had a deal, little brother. You said you would stay away from Becky and me, and now you’re so close, you can hear everything we say. A guy wants some privacy when talking to his girl, so hang back, a bit more, will you?”
“I am keeping well back,” complained Johnny, trying to break free of Scott’s iron like grip. “It’s just that she don’t walk that fast and I keep catching up with you.”
“Why don’t you just send him away, all together?” suggested Becky.
“I’ve already told you why, Becky,” said Scott, letting go of Johnny and walking over to where the girl was standing.
“Just because your father wants to be responsible for his half breed offspring, doesn’t mean that you have to be, too. It’s certainly not going to do your standing in the community any good at all, if you keep proclaiming you are related to him, and as for getting into a decent college, well, forget it. Papa said that his old school wouldn’t take you, and his was one of the best, back east,” said Becky.
Scott didn’t like what Becky had said, and was glad that Johnny didn’t appear to have heard her. He was beginning to fear that Becky was not going to be prepared to make the effort to see him, unless she got things her way, so he returned to Johnny, drew him to one side and spoke to him, again.
“Johnny, just clear off, for a bit, will you? Becky and me want to talk to each other, so go for a walk, by yourself, and I’ll meet you at the entrance to this park, in about an hour.”
“How will I know when an hour’s gone by?” said Johnny.
“Listen out for the clocks chiming. There’s plenty around here. It’s just been ten, so when it chimes eleven, come to this park entrance, and we’ll be here. That’ll give us time to walk Becky home, get back to the hotel and get changed for the lunch date.”
“It’s boring going off on your own,” said Johnny, kicking at the stones on the ground, as he spoke. “I promise to stay back, a bit more, okay? She won’t even see me. I can pretend I’m practising my tracking skills.”
“Okay, but if she sees you, then you’re to go off on your own.”
“All right,” said Johnny, and he made to leave, by walking off the pathway, and into some bushes.
“There, he’s gone now,” said Scott, to Becky, and she seemed satisfied, as she
didn’t resist, when he held her arm and led her along the path.
Neither of the boys realised it, but they were being followed. Two youngsters, probably around the same age as Scott, had seen the brothers when they’d gone down to the waterfront, the day before, and had followed them back to their hotel.
“Must come from a good family,” said one, to the other.
“You can say that again,” said the other one. “Only the rich can afford to stay at that hotel. So, what do ya reckon?”
The other boy, who was called Robbie, was a couple of months younger than his friend, Sam, but when it came to thinking up money making schemes, Robbie was far superior to his slightly older friend. The two boys had been friends for about three years, since they’d both run away from their respective homes, and found themselves living on the streets, in San Francisco. Their quick wits had kept them, so far, from getting into any major trouble, but it was just a matter of time, before they did.
“I reckon we have two choices, my friend,” said Robbie. “We can either snatch that little one and sell him on to Shanghai Bill, cos I know, for a fact, he’s looking for a cabin boy for that clipper that’s almost ready to sail. Or, we can still snatch him, and see if we can get his father to pay over a nice fat ransom for him.”
So the two boys had decided to be outside the St Francis, the following morning, to follow Scott and Johnny, and that is what they did.
Robbie and Sam began to expand on their plan, when they saw that Scott and Johnny had now been joined by a girl.
“And what about the other boy and that cute little filly?” said Sam, rather lasciviously. “I can think of a few things I’d like to do with her.”
“The two boys are brothers,” said Robbie, ignoring his friend’s lewd comments. “If we are going to hold the boy to ransom, then we need the other boy to take the note to his father.”
“But she’s not related to ‘em,” continued Sam. “She wasn’t with them at the hotel, yesterday. And she might make us a few dollars if we sold her to the white slave traffickers.”
“Or she could go with the younger boy, to Shanghai Bill, as he’s always on the look out for young girls to provide entertainment on his ships.”
Sam cackled, revealing dirty, nicotine stained teeth, making him look older than he really was.
“That’s a good idea, Robbie, but can I break her in, so to speak, afore she goes?”
“Don’t see why not,” said Robbie.
Scott and Becky continued walking through the park, until they came to a bench, in a rather secluded spot, and Scott suggested that they sat down on it, for a while.
“Good idea,” said Becky. “And then, maybe, you can tell me what else we are going to do, today.”
Scott still had no idea what else they could do, and the main reason why he wanted to sit down was because he was trying to keep track of Johnny’s whereabouts, not because he wanted to talk about things to do with Becky. In fact, if he was being honest, she was beginning to get on his nerves. All she wanted to talk about was all the things that her parents bought her, and how much more she had than anyone else in the school.
As they sat on the bench, she started off, again, telling him about how many new dresses her mother was going to get her, while they were in San Francisco, and he found himself switching off, and thinking about Johnny, instead.
Every now and again, he’d caught a brief glimpse of his brother, as he ran through the bushes, alongside the path, in the park, but, for the last few minutes, he hadn’t seen him, at all, and he was getting rather worried.
As he was scanning the bushes, he suddenly caught sight of Johnny, but his joy was short-lived, when he realised that there were two bigger boys creeping up on his little brother. When he saw that they had actually grabbed him, he jumped up off the bench, knocking Becky to the ground.
She screamed and then shouted, “What on earth are you doing, Scott Lancer? Papa brought me this dress back from his last trip to Sacramento and now it’s all dirty. Why did you knock me off the bench?”
“Sorry, but no time to explain,” said Scott. “Someone’s just grabbed Johnny.”
“So what? Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say,” said Becky. “Now, stop fussing about that half breed and help me up.”
“Johnny is my brother, not a half breed, he’s my brother, do you hear me?” shouted Scott. “I couldn’t care less about your dress; I’m going to help my brother.”
“Well, if that’s how you feel, and that son of a saloon girl is more important to you, than me, don’t bother coming round to my house, anymore.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” said Scott, as he plunged through the bushes, in pursuit of Johnny and the two boys, who abducted him.
When the boys jumped him, Johnny was completely taken by surprise, as he was intent on keeping Scott in his view.
“What on earth are you two doing?” said Johnny, as the boys grabbed him.
“We’re taking you to Shanghai Bill, as Captain Olson needs a cabin boy, real quick, and you’ll do fine,” said Robbie.
“But if your Pa agrees to pay us more than Shanghai Bill will, then we’ll hand you over to him, instead,” said Sam.
“I ain’t gonna be no cabin boy, I’m gonna be a wrangler on my Pa’s ranch,” said Johnny, struggling to get free of the two boys, who were both holding onto him.
The young boy didn’t really stand much chance of getting away from the two, much older, boys, but he put up a good show, and managed to land several hard kicks on their shins.
In response, Sam removed his gun from his holster and hit Johnny over the head with the butt end of it. If Robbie hadn’t been holding onto Johnny, the boy would have fallen to the ground, as the blow knocked him out, cold.
“Nice on, Sam, now we’ve gotta carry him,” said Robbie, hoisting Johnny over his shoulder. “I’ll head for the warehouse; you stay and give the note to the brother, and tell him what I said. If you wanna go after the girl, that’s up to you, but make sure you get back to the warehouse by the agreed time.”
“Okay, Robbie, get going, as the brother’s getting close,” said Sam.
By the time Scott got to the place where he’d last seen Johnny, there was no sign of him or of Robbie, but Sam was still there.
“Are you looking for something, or should I say someone?” said Sam.
“What if I am?” said Scott. “What’s it to you?” although he suspected that this boy was one of the ones he’d caught sight of, with Johnny.
“If your name is Scott Lancer, then I have something for you,” and he handed Scott the note. “We have your little brother and we’re gonna sell him to one of the captains looking for extra crew members, down on the docks. He’ll make a great cabin boy, and once he’s on a ship, there’s a good chance you’ll never see him again. If you don’t want that to happen, take this note to your Pa and tell him to do exactly as it says.”
“What’s to stop me from making you my prisoner and forcing your friend to do a trade, you for my brother?” said Scott.
“If I don’t return to my friend, within a certain amount of time, he won’t wait for your Pa’s reply to the note; he’ll just take your brother straight to the sea captain,” said Sam. “And the other thing that will stop you is that I am wearing a gun and you ain’t.”
“Okay, I’ll take the note to my Pa and I’ll get you your money, but if you hurt my little brother, gun or no gun, I’ll still come after you,” said Scott. “Where will we find you?”
“It’s all in the note and you don’t have much time, as the ship will be sailing on the noon tide, so you best get going,” said Sam. “Oh, and if you’re tired of that cute gal you were with, I’d be happy to take her off your hands; she’s a real looker. Bring her along with ya when you come with the answer to our demands.”
Sam ran off, leaving Scott with the note. He headed back to the bench, where he’d been sitting with Becky. She was still there, trying to brush some of the dirt off her dress.
“Did you have a change of heart, Scott? Did you finally realise that you wanted to be with me, rather than chasing after Johnny? Well, you can forget it, I’m not about to take you back.”
“Oh shut up, Becky,” said Scott, as he sat down on the bench and opened the letter.
After Sam had gone, Scott suddenly realised that he didn’t know where his father was, and so there was no way that he could get the message to him, before noon.
“How dare you be so rude?” said Becky, before sitting down next to him on the bench, and beginning to cry.
“Please, Becky, for once in your life, try thinking of someone else, instead of just you. My brother has been kidnapped and I don’t have any way of raising the money to stop him being shanghaied.”
Becky was so shocked over the way that Scott spoke to her that she actually did start to put her mind to Scott’s dilemma.
“Why would anyone kidnap him?”
“Seems there’s a big shortage of sailors for all the ships that sail out of here, and so if they can’t get volunteers, they steal people and force them to be sailors. Johnny’s been taken to be a cabin boy, but if Pa hands over $5,000 we can have him back.”
“Well, your father will pay that to get Johnny back, won’t he? For some strange reason, he thinks a lot of him. That was obvious from how he treated him when we were on the stage.”
“Of course my Pa would pay it, but he won’t be back from his meeting in time to get the money from the bank, and I don’t know where he went,” said Scott, looking the picture of misery.
Becky could tell that Scott was genuinely concerned about his little brother and it made her feel rather bad over what she’d said about Johnny.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” she said.
Scott suddenly thought about what Sam had said about Becky.
“Maybe there is, but it might be a bit risky,” said Scott.
“Risky? I don’t like the sound of that.”
“One of the kidnappers, when he gave me the note, asked me to take you along, when I go to get Johnny back. He said he thought you were very good looking. Now, if you come with me, you might be able to distract them, while I rescue Johnny.”
The idea appealed to Becky’s vanity, that her good looks could help save a boy from a life of slavery, even if it was a boy whom she didn’t really like.
“All right, I’ll come with you,” she said.
The note gave the address of what turned out to be an abandoned warehouse, and Becky and Scott set out to find it. While both of them knew San Francisco fairly well, neither were that familiar with the industrial part of the city, and so it took them a while.
As they walked along, Scott was trying to formulate some kind of a plan, in his mind. He didn’t own a hand gun, but knew that his father’s was in their rooms at the hotel, as Murdoch didn’t often wear it when in San Francisco, but brought it along to wear on the journey.
“I think we’d better go to the hotel, so I can pick up Pa’s gun,” he said to Becky. “I also need to prepare an envelope, containing a few real dollars and then pad it out with newspaper, to make it look like it contains five thousand dollars. I need it to fool the kidnappers just long enough so I can get Johnny away from them.”
Becky was rather impressed with Scott’s plan, but was also still fairly angry with him over her dress being spoiled, and by him choosing his brother over her, so she didn’t tell him so.
In truth, she was jealous of what Scott and Johnny had, together. Being an only child meant that she had much more than most, in the way of material things, but she didn’t know what it was like to have a sibling to be close to, something that was worth a lot more than fancy gifts and pretty dresses.
At the hotel, Scott collected his father’s gun and a box of ammunition from Murdoch’s room. He cleaned the gun and made sure it was loaded, and then put all the paper money he could find in an envelope. As he did these things, Becky tore up some sheets of newspaper, to add to the money.
When everything was ready, they left the hotel and carried on walking to the warehouse. However, as they got nearer, Scott decided that it might help their escape if they had some form of transport. So they hailed a passing hansom cab, and gave the address of the warehouse.
“Are ya sure ya got that right, young sir?” said the cabby. “That place is due ta be pulled down, no one’s using it, as fer as I know.”
“Yes, sir, that’s where we have to go, and I would like you to wait for us, as we won’t be long,” said Scott, hoping that he sounded adult enough, for the cab driver to treat his request seriously.
“I’ll wait fer ya, never fear,” said the cabby.
Scott asked the man to stop before they actually got to the warehouse, as he didn’t want the kidnappers to be alarmed at the sight of a cab.
“I’m not sure how long we’ll be, but please wait for us, and I will make it worth your while,” said Scott.
The cabby repeated that he would wait, and as they walked towards the warehouse, Scott transferred some of the money from the envelope to his pocket.
“We’ll need it to pay the cabby,” he explained to Becky.
As they walked up to the door of the warehouse, Scott hoped that Becky wouldn’t be able to tell how nervous he was. Since Johnny had been kidnapped, Scott had taken charge and while he had things to do, he was able to keep his nerves at bay. But now that they were so close to where Johnny was being held, Scott was suddenly filled with dread that his plan would fall apart and his brother might get hurt, or be sent away to work on a ship, and that he would never see him again.
Before he knocked on the door, he took a couple of deep breaths.
His knock was answered almost immediately, by Sam.
“I’m pleased to see that you took our threat seriously, Lancer, and got here in time, but why isn’t your father with you? Surely he would have wanted to come to get his boy back?”
“My father has sufficient faith in me to conclude our business, but before I hand over the money I want to see my brother.”
“Of course you do, please come in,” said Sam. “And I am very pleased that you have brought your young lady along. I think that her and I could have some fun together.”
Scott was glad to see that Becky was able to play her part.
“I am not his young lady,” she said, rather haughtily. “I did like him, but then I decided he wasn’t the man I thought he was, so I am looking for someone with a bit more going for him, a man of action would be nice. Someone who seizes the moment and makes things happen.”
“Well, you just might have found him, in me,” said Sam, and Becky looked suitably impressed.
As they entered the warehouse, it was rather hard to make out anything, at first, as there was only one lamp burning, but as they got used to the dimness, Scott was able to make out a cot in the far corner of the room, and he could see that Johnny was lying on it.
“What’s the matter with him? Why is he lying down?” said Scott.
“He fought us when we captured him and I had to knock him out, to get him here,” said Sam. “But he’s all right, now. He came to, just after we arrived. He’s only lying down because we tied him to the bed, to stop him from trying to escape. Robbie, untie him, his father’s paying up.”
Robbie was a bit reluctant to untie Johnny, as the boy had badly bruised his leg, when he’d tried to stop them from kidnapping him, but he realised that he couldn’t expect to get his hands on the money, if he didn’t let Johnny go.
In the meantime, Sam had taken Becky to another part of the warehouse and was talking to her about all the things he planned to do with his share of the five thousand dollars.
“That ain’t the only money I’ve got, ya know,” he said. “Robbie and me have done several deals with the sea captains, who come to San Francisco, and we’ve made some pretty serious money.”
Becky was doing a very good job, making Sam believe that she was interested in him, and she pretended to be really impressed by what he said.
“So what, exactly, do you intend to spend that money on, Sam,” she said. “I hope that some of it might come my way, as I like to have a good time.”
“Heck, that’s what I hoped you would say,” said Sam, and he placed his gun down on the table, so that he could put his arms around Becky.
She wasn’t too happy about him doing so, but she knew she had to stay in character, until they were able to leave, so she pretended to be enjoying it.
Robbie untied Johnny and removed the bandana, which had been placed around his mouth.
“He wouldn’t shut up, so we gagged him,” explained Robbie, to Scott.
As soon as the gag was removed, Johnny started talking.
“Gee, am I glad to see you, brother, but I thought Papa would be with you, too? Have you got the money? I sure didn’t fancy the idea of being a cabin boy, and this guy, here, said I’d never see you and Papa again. Can we get outta here, now?”
Scott was obviously really pleased to see that Johnny didn’t appear to be suffering any ill effects from his experience of being kidnapped.
“Does he always talk this much?” said Robbie.
“Not always, but most of the time, he does,” replied Scott. “In fact, I did think, but only for a brief moment, of letting you keep him, cos he can be a bit annoying at times, but Pa wanted him back.”
Robbie laughed at this, especially when he saw the look on Johnny’s face, when he heard Scott’s words.
“Come on, then, little brother, let’s go,” said Scott. “Becky, are you coming with us, or staying here?”
“I’m coming with you,” said Becky. “But only so that I can go and collect my things. Sam and I are going on a trip, aren’t we, Sam?”
“We sure are,” said Sam, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Robbie said, “And where do I fit in with this trip, partner?”
“Well, I wasn’t planning on having you coming with us, Robbie, but when we get back, we can do some more deals, together, okay?”
“So what do I do, in the meantime? Sit around twiddling my thumbs?”
“No, you can do the same as me. Find yourself a gal and go have some fun,” said Sam.
While the two kidnappers were arguing amongst themselves, Becky, Scott and Johnny were gradually making their way towards the door of the warehouse. Unknown to Sam, Becky had picked up his gun, and it was now hidden in her purse. She really wasn’t sure she would be able to use it, but at least her having it, meant that Sam couldn’t use it, either.
“Well, I can’t say it’s been nice knowing you, but it’s certainly been an experience,” said Scott, as they reached the door. “Your money’s on the table, goodbye,” and he opened the door and the three of them fled.
They were soon back at the cab and they jumped inside.
“Take us back to the St Francis, please,” said Scott. “Oh, and we need to drop the young lady off at Filbert Street.”
“Yes, sir,” said the cabby, and they soon put some considerable distance between them and the warehouse.
“Phew, that was a close call, brother,” said Johnny, as they drove along the road. “I thought I was gonna be on a ship bound for China, before you even realised what had happened to me.”
“That might have been the case if you hadn’t been so bad at tracking,” said Scott. “I could see you, all the time we were in the park, up until when those two idiots captured you, and then I knew there was something wrong, and I came looking. So, they offered me the chance to buy you back for five thousand dollars, instead of selling you to their friend, the sea captain.”
“Five thousand dollars? And Papa gave it to you, to get me back?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” said Scott, and he went on to explain how the envelope was mainly filled with newspaper clippings and just a few dollar bills. “You see, Pa wasn’t at the hotel when I got there and I didn’t know where he was. The kidnappers wanted the money by noon, so Becky and I cooked up that little scheme to get you back. She pretended to like Sam, so she could keep him busy, and make them less likely to want to count the money, before we got away.”
“Thanks, Becky,” said Johnny, rather shyly. “It was good of you to help Scott that way.”
“That’s all right, Johnny, I rather enjoyed it,” she said. “And I’m sorry for what I said about you, before. I was only repeating my mother’s words, but now I’ve gotten to know you both, I know that she was wrong. And I really envy the special relationship that you and Scot have. I always thought that I was better off not having brothers or sisters, but I now wish I’d had at least one.”
“Anytime you want one, you are welcome to have Johnny,” said Scott, but he was smiling when he said it.
“And that’s why you went to so much trouble to get him back, because you want to offload him on me,” said Becky. “Sorry, Scott, but that’s not a very convincing argument.”
They stopped to drop Becky off, close to her grandmother’s house.
“I hope you won’t get into too much trouble, for sneaking out like you did,” said Scott.
“Oh, I won’t; if Mama starts yelling, I’ll start crying and then she’ll forgive me. However, I don’t think I’ll tell her that I’ve been with you, as I’m still hoping to persuade her and Papa to let me see you, once we’re back home.”
“I don’t mind seeing you, as a friend, Rebecca, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to go out together,” said Scott. “Your folks are never going to accept Johnny, and until they can, I really don’t want to spend time in their company.”
“Fair enough, Scott, and I don’t blame you. I’m going to do all that I can to try and get them to change their minds about the way they feel about Johnny. Bye for now,” and Becky alighted from the cab.
“She wasn’t as bad as I thought she was,” said Johnny. “I’m sorry that the colour of my skin has stopped you having her as a girlfriend.”
“It’s her parents’ prejudices that have done that, not you, Johnny.”
By the time they arrived at the St Francis, it was nearly one forty-five, and so they were very late for their lunch date with Murdoch and Mr and Mrs Fellowes. They were also rather dirty and not wearing their best clothes, as Murdoch had instructed them to.
“Do you think we should go upstairs and get changed before we go into the dining room?” said Johnny, as they entered the lobby.
“Maybe,” said Scott, but they didn’t get the chance, as Murdoch was walking towards them, and he didn’t look happy.
“Where on earth have you two been? I told you to be here at one o’clock. And look at the state of you. Why couldn’t you co-operate, just this one time, with me? It was important to me that this luncheon went off well, but you had to mess it up, didn’t you? Get upstairs and wash up, then come back down and make your apologies to Mr and Mrs Fellowes. And then you can return to the room and wait for me, there.”
“What about lunch, Papa? I’m starving,” said Johnny, surprising Scott, who hadn’t expected Johnny to want to eat much, after the ordeal he’d just been through.
“If you were that bothered about eating, then you should have got here on time,” said Murdoch, sharply. “You are not having any lunch; maybe an afternoon with empty stomachs will cause you to be more punctual, in future.”
“Ah, Papa, that ain’t fair, we couldn’t help being late.”
“We will discuss it, later,” said Murdoch. “Go and wash up, then come down and apologise.”
“But, Papa,” began Johnny, but he didn’t get any further, as Murdoch raised his hand, to silence him.
“Do as you are told, John, NOW.”
“Yes, sir,” said Scott, and he grabbed Johnny by the arm and led him over to the elevator.
Even a ride in the rising room wasn’t able to lift Johnny’s mood.
“I nearly get shanghaied and now Papa won’t even let me have a meal,” he said, as they arrived at their floor.
“Pa doesn’t know what happened to you, does he? He just thinks we were messing about and didn’t come back when we should’ve done.”
“Well, in that case we should tell him and then he’ll let us eat,” grumbled Johnny.
“He’ll let you eat, but he’ll probably kill me,” said Scott. “After all, you only got shanghaied, because I was off with Becky, instead of looking out for you.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that bit,” said Johnny. “In that case we won’t tell him.”
“Sorry, Johnny, but I’m sure he’ll let us have dinner, so we won’t have to go without, for too long.”
“I guess so.”
The boys quickly cleaned up and Scott returned his father’s gun to Murdoch’s room. He hadn’t had to use it, but it had made him feel safer, having it with him. They then returned to the lobby and made their way to the dining room.
“Ah, there they are,” said Mrs Fellowes. “You boys have caused your father a lot of distress, so I hope you are suitably chastened. He’s been really worried about you and although we came here for a celebration meal, he wasn’t able to enjoy it, as all the time he was looking out for you.”
“We are very sorry, ma’am,” said Scott. “We just got caught up in what we were doing and lost track of the time. I am pleased to hear that the meal was a celebration; that must mean that Pa and Mr Fellowes were able to agree a price for the cattle.”
“Yes, young man, we did,” said Mr Fellowes.
Johnny hadn’t said anything, until he was prompted to, by a dig in the ribs, from Scott.
“I’m sorry that we weren’t here, when we should’ve been. Like Scott said, we got held up.”
“And I am sorry that we didn’t get to enjoy your company, along with the meal, but I am pleased to see you that you are both safe and well,” said Mr Fellowes.
“Thank you, sir, we’re fine,” said Scott.
“Right, boys, please go back to your room, now,” said Murdoch. “I will be up to talk to you, shortly.”
It seemed like an eternity to Johnny, who was nervous about what Murdoch was going to say, but it was barely more than twenty minutes, before their father came upstairs to join the boys.
“Well, that’s my business all concluded, so now I can relax and enjoy what’s left of the holiday. I just saw Mr and Mrs Fellowes into a cab; Mrs Fellowes was very worried about you, boys, and she remarked that you looked rather pale, Johnny. And when she mentioned it, I had to agree with her, you do. Did something happen while you were gone?”
“No, not really, Papa. I guess I just look pale cos I’m so hungry.”
Murdoch knew that the boy was saying this to try and make him feel guilty about not letting them have some lunch, but he wasn’t about to back down.
“Well, as I said, downstairs, maybe being hungry for a while will make you think twice about being late back, the next time you are tempted to do so.”
Just then, Johnny turned around and Murdoch caught sight of the back of his head. He could see that the boy’s hair was sticking to his head.
“Come here, a minute, please, Johnny,” said Murdoch.
Johnny did as he was told, and when Murdoch examined his head he could see that it was dried blood, which was sticking his hair to his head.
“What did you do to your head, son?”
In all the excitement of getting away, Johnny had forgotten about the blow to the head that Sam had given him.
“Oh, it’s nothing Papa, I just banged it.”
“That’s a mighty big lump to be considered as nothing,” said Murdoch. “Come over to the dresser and I will clean it up for you.”
Murdoch did so, and he was quite alarmed by the size of the gash in Johnny’s head.
“That looks more like someone hit you, than you just banged it.”
“Does it need stitching?”
“No, son, it’s not that deep, fortunately.”
Murdoch deftly cleaned out the wound and then declared that he thought Johnny should have a lie down.
“I ain’t no baby, I don’t need a nap,” he said, in disgust.
“I didn’t say that you did, son, but that is a bad wound and I think you need to take it easy, this afternoon.”
“But I thought we were going to the Woodward’s Gardens.”
“We can go another day,” said Murdoch, in a voice that demanded obedience.
“Yes, sir,” said Johnny, and although he was far from happy about being confined to the room, he did have a slight headache.
Once Johnny was tucked up in bed, Murdoch went and joined Scott in the living room of their suite.
As Murdoch entered the room, Scott stood up.
“Is Johnny all right, sir?”
“Yes, son, so don’t fret,” said Murdoch, thinking that the reason for Scott being so jumpy, was because he was worried about his brother. “Did you see him bang his head?”
Ever since they returned from the warehouse, Scott had been wrestling with his conscience, over whether or not he should tell Murdoch about what had happened. On the one hand, he knew that his father would say that he needed to know about something as serious as Johnny being kidnapped. But, on the other hand, Scott was scared to tell his father that it had happened, as then he would have to confess that he wasn’t taking care of Johnny, as he was supposed to have been, but was courting a girl, instead. And, what’s more it was a girl whom he’d been told to stay away from.
“Erm, no sir, not really,” said Scott. “I think I’ll go and sit with him, for a while, if that’s okay?”
“Of course it is, son,” said Murdoch. “While you do that, I’ll just go down to the lobby and order some sandwiches, as I think Johnny might be hungry when he wakes up, and you look rather pale, too. Perhaps it was a mistake, on my part, to deprive you two of your lunch. After all, you are both growing boys.”
“Thanks, Pa, but we deserved to go without, as we were late back.”
“Well, I’m sure that you didn’t do that, on purpose. I know I was angry, at first, but now that I’ve calmed down, a bit, I do accept that it wasn’t deliberate.”
Murdoch headed off to the lobby and Scott went into the bedroom to check on Johnny. Despite saying that he didn’t need a nap, Johnny was fast asleep. Scott decided to stay in the room, for a while, and pulled a chair up, close to Johnny’s bed.
As his little brother slept, Scott relived the events of the past few hours, and he realised how lucky they both were to have got out of that warehouse, with only a bump on Johnny’s head.
He looked over at Johnny and a huge lump appeared in his throat.
“You could’ve been killed, little brother, and all because I wanted to spend a couple of hours with some silly girl. That wasn’t just selfish of me, it was plain stupid. Pa told me to keep an eye on you, and what did I do? I left you, all alone, in a strange city. I’m really sorry, Johnny, and I promise I will never do anything like that, to you, again.”
As he sat there, Scott made the decision to tell his father exactly how Johnny had been hurt, and, as soon as Murdoch returned to their room, he did just that.
He also told him what Becky had said about Johnny, but how she changed her mind and offered to help, when Johnny was kidnapped.
“I couldn’t have gotten Johnny away from those ruffians, without her help, Pa. And she did apologise to Johnny for what she’d said about him, and admitted that all she was doing was repeating what she’d heard her mother saying about people like Johnny.”
“People like Johnny?”
“You know, those with mixed blood,” said Scott. “She finally realised that it made absolutely no difference to me that Johnny and I were half brothers and that his mother was Mexican, and that it didn’t matter to you, neither. We are a family and a strong one, in fact a lot stronger than hers is, even though hers is more what you would call a conventional one. I told her that even if her father does give us permission to see each other, once we get back home, I only want to be her friend, not her boyfriend. I couldn’t trust myself to hold my tongue, if her parents started spouting their racial prejudices, in my presence, and that would only cause her embarrassment and, possibly, trouble. I really am sorry for disobeying you and going off with Becky, when I should’ve stayed with Johnny. Oh, and if you haven’t already ordered it, then please don’t, as I have no need for that suit, now.”
Murdoch could tell that Scott was close to tears and he knew that it was genuine remorse for not being able to protect Johnny from being hurt.
He stood behind the chair, which the boy was sitting on, and gently massaged Scott’s shoulders. It took him a while to regain his own composure, after listening to what his boys had been through. He knew that he had come very close to losing Johnny, and possibly, Scott, too.
“I hope this has taught you a valuable lesson, son. In future, please do as I ask you to, as it is very often the case that I know best.”
“Yes, Pa, I know you do, but sometimes I get carried away by the sight of a pretty girl, and I don’t know what it is, but I just start thinking that I’m the one who knows best. Have you ever had that feeling?”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Murdoch smiled.
“Yes, son, I have, but you really should try and ignore it, especially while you are the age you are, and still living under my roof and by my rules, because it could lead you into all kinds of trouble. Now, I want you to take this as your very last warning. In future, if you disobey one of my direct orders, I can assure you that you will find the consequences very uncomfortable. Do I make myself clear?”
“As crystal, Pa,” replied Scott.
“And I think that you should make every effort to make it up to Johnny, for the way you just abandoned him, in a strange place. Despite your promises to me that you would look out for him, as long as I agreed to bring you on this trip, you ended up leaving him alone, not once, but twice. I am sure that when we get home, there will be plenty of extra chores, with your name on them, which will keep you close to home, for the rest of the summer holiday.”
“Yes, sir,” said Scott.
Just then, Johnny woke up and his first words were, “I’m hungry.”
He didn’t appear to have suffered any ill effects from his head having made contact with the handle of Sam’s gun, and, by the next day, was more than ready to resume their holiday. The Lancer family thoroughly enjoyed the rest of their stay and the icing on the cake was when they heard from the police that Sam and Robbie had been arrested for attempting to shanghai two cowboys, who were enjoying themselves in a waterfront saloon, at the end of a long cattle drive. Murdoch had gone to the police and reported what happened to Johnny, and the boys were able to give the officer in charge a pretty good description of the two young men.
Murdoch also paid a visit to Mrs Smith and told her of Rebecca’s involvement in foiling Johnny’s kidnappers. He took the boys with him, as he wanted them to be present to hear what he had to say, first hand. Although he offered praise to the girl, for her help in saving Johnny, he also spoke, quite strongly, to Mrs Smith, about her part in the whole affair.
“My part?” she said. “What did I do?”
“You are raising your child to be just as much a racist, as you are,” said Murdoch. “All those remarks that Rebecca made about Johnny and his mother had obviously come out of your mouth; no child would think up such things, alone. And by saying them to Scott and making him think that the only way she would go out with him, was by shunning his brother, he very nearly did so. Luckily, he saw sense before it was too late. And I refrained from commenting on what you said, when we were on the stage, mainly because I didn’t want to put a strain on the atmosphere, any more than there already was, when we had to travel in such close proximity. But I fully intended to come and talk to you about it, before we returned home. I am very proud of both of my sons, and I loved both of their mothers, too. I would never deny that John was my flesh and blood, just because of his mother’s background. And there was absolutely no need for you to say the things that you did, especially as you were hiding behind the fact that you were a woman, and so you knew that I couldn’t take you outside and give you the thrashing you deserved, for what you said, as I would have done, had you been a man.”
Mrs Smith was too stunned to speak and so Murdoch and the boys took their leave, before she found her voice, again.
Both boys were very proud of what their father had said, and Scott apologised, once again, to Johnny, for treating him as he had.
“I promise I will never to that to you again, Johnny,” he said. “No girl will ever be as important as you are, to me.”
Johnny smiled at his brother. He had already forgiven Scott, but his mischievous side could see the advantages to, occasionally, reminding his big brother about what he’d done.
“I do forgive you, Scott. I just hope that I soon stop having these nightmares I’ve been getting. Maybe if you spend a lot of time doing stuff with me, during the day, I’ll be so tired, by the time we go to bed, I won’t have the nightmares.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” said Scott, and he made sure that for the rest of the holiday, he devised plenty of fun things for him and his little brother to do, together, and with their father.
When they all returned home, Mr Smith refused to allow Rebecca to go out with Scott, but Scott wasn’t that upset, as he’d decided to stay away from women, from then on. And, anyway, Murdoch had imposed his own ban on Scott from seeing Rebecca, as he didn’t think she was a suitable companion for his son.
Not that anyone believed that Scott would stay away from girls, forever, and they were right, as it didn’t last any longer than the rest of the school holidays. When they went back to school, there was a new student in the class, named Mary Matthews, and within a week, Scott believed he was in love. But, he never let his feelings for a girl get in the way of his love for his little brother, in the same way, again.
Lancer lives on!
July 20th 2007
* In my story, Summer Mischief
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