The Accident by Lynne

Word Count 6,825

A Lancer AU Story #9

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It was the first day back at school for the Lancer boys, after the Christmas break, and the prospect didn’t exactly enthral either boy. However, surprisingly, of the two of them, Johnny was keener to go than Scott, but only because it was going to get him away from Teresa, for a few hours.

“That kid has driven me nuts,” he said to his older brother, as they saddled their horses, in readiness for the ride to school. “I’ve hardly been able to go to the outhouse without her being behind me.”

“Aw, stop complaining, Johnny,” said Scott. “She’s not that bad; in fact she’s kinda cute.”

“You can say that, cos she don’t bother you like she does me,” went on Johnny. “I’m the one she expects to play with her, morning, noon and night. Even when my friends come over, she hangs around, like a bad smell.”

“Well, they don’t seem to mind,” said Scott, recalling the day when he came home to find Charlie and Zack playing ball in the yard, with Teresa.

“That’s cos neither Zack nor Charlie have a younger brother or sister to bother them, at home, and so Teresa is a bit of a novelty, to them. But I havta live with her, all the time, and to me she’s just a pain.”

“That’s not strictly true, Johnny,” said Scott, leading Jupiter out of the barn. “Teresa lives with her father, in their own house, so she’s not in ours, all the time.”

“I know that, but Maria takes care of her when Paul is working with Papa and then she’s often at ours, so that Maria can look after our place, cook the dinner and mind Teresa, all at the same time. Even when us guys wanna go off with our rifles, she tries to come, too.”

Johnny and some of his friends, had received rifles at Christmas, and they were, naturally, eager to try them out.

“Well, you’re not supposed to be using your rifle, yet, unless Pa or me are with you, so don’t let Pa find out you’ve been using it, when you’re with your friends,” said Scott.

Johnny pulled himself up to his full height, which was still considerably less than his older brother.

“We know what we are doing, Scott; we ain’t babies, but having Teresa along means we can’t practise, in case she gets in the way.”

“In that case, I am glad that she is going along,” said Scott, as they mounted up. “If Teresa being there, stops you from disobeying Pa, then it’s all to the good.”

“Oh great, so does that mean I’ve gotta wait until she can use a rifle, too, before I can go hunting with my friends?”

Neither boy was aware that Teresa had been standing by the open barn door, as they were speaking, and she had heard every word of what they said. However, she didn’t hear the last part of the conversation, as Scott and Johnny were already on their way to school, when Scott spoke again. She was now convinced that all she had to do was learn how to shoot and then Johnny would not mind having her tagging along with him.

“I never said that you wouldn’t be allowed to use your rifle, ever, until Teresa could use one, too,” said Scott, as they rode under the archway. “But it is a good thing that by being around, she is preventing you from using yours, just yet. You have not had enough lessons from me and Pa to be able to use it, without supervision.”

“What’s there to learn?” said Johnny. “Aim and fire, that’s all there is to it.”

“By saying that, Johnny, you are just proving to me that you are not ready to use it, alone,” said Scott, using the rather patronising tone that he sometimes used, when addressing his little brother, and which infuriated Johnny.

“And just how am I proving that to you?” returned Johnny, who could feel his temper beginning to rise.

“Because there is so much more to owning and using a gun than just aiming and firing it,” went on Scott. “That is the end part, but before you get to it, you have got to prove that you have respect for your weapon and what it can do.”

“Huh!” retorted Johnny, who couldn’t think of a comeback, quick enough, that would pour cold water on his brother’s remarks.

Once at school, the boys went their separate ways and joined their own set of friends.

“What’s up with you?” asked Jimmy, taking in the look on Johnny’s face.

“Huh? Oh nothing,” said Johnny. “Just that smarmy big brother of mine, trying to tell me that he knows more about using a rifle than I do.”

To be honest, Jimmy thought that Scott was probably right, and he did know more than Johnny, being that he was fifteen to Johnny’s just twelve, but he decided not to upset his friend by saying so.

Jimmy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Does it matter?”

“No, I guess not, but he still can be a pain about it. I was telling him that I was almost glad to be coming back to school to get away from Teresa, cos she’s been bothering me all over the holiday, wanting me to do stuff with her. And that I couldn’t get in much practise with my rifle, because of her. And he said I wasn’t to use my rifle without him or Papa being with me, so it didn’t matter. But I told him I knew what I was doing and that’s when he said I didn’t know enough.”

“If he thinks like that, then maybe it’s time ta show him, jest how much we do know,” said Wes, who didn’t have a rifle of his own, but would ‘borrow’ his father’s, whenever the boys wanted to do some practising.

The idea of proving to Scott how good he was with his rifle, appealed to Johnny.

“Hey, that ain’t a bad idea, considering it came from you,” said Johnny, to his friend. “If we went out and got us a real good size deer, say, then Scott would havta eat his words.”

“I’m with you, Johnny, boy,” said Wes. “When shall we go?”

“No time like the present,” said Johnny.

“You mean right now, instead of school?” asked Zack.

“No, we’ll havta go to school, seeing as how we’re here, now, and Miss Carstairs has seen us. I meant after school, tonight. We all go home, drop off our books, collect our rifles and meet up at the cave, okay?”

“Okay by me,” said Wes, who knew that his father would still be out working for Murdoch, when he got home, and so he wouldn’t be missed.

Charlie wasn’t so sure.

“We’re expected to do chores straight after school, so I don’t know if I could get away.”

“We’ll join ya,” said Zack. “Won’t we, Jimmy?” and he looked over at his older brother.

Jimmy was fourteen and should have been in Miss Burgess’ class, with Scott. However, he hadn’t had much schooling, before coming to Morro Coyo, so was in with the younger children, including his little brother, Zack.

“I reckon so, as Pa won’t be back at the house when we get home.”

“Neither will mine,” said Johnny. “I’ve just gotta sneak away without Scott seeing me, or else he’ll make a fuss about it.”

“Or Teresa seeing you,” said Charlie, laughing.

“Yeah, or her,” said Johnny. “She is usually still having a nap when we get home from school, so if I go, quickly, I doubt if she will have woken up, before I leave.”

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Back at the house, Teresa was looking for an opportunity to take a rifle from the gun racks and go off to practise with it. Getting one was not as hard as she feared, as while Maria was washing the breakfast dishes, Teresa was left playing in the great room, with her toys.

Murdoch and Paul were out on the range, checking how the cattle were faring in the cooler weather, and so the room was empty.

The little girl walked over to the gun racks and was rather shocked at how big the rifles appeared to her. However, as she ran her eyes over the guns, she noticed a much smaller rifle right at the end of the rack. It was the first rifle, which Scott had owned, before getting his new one, for Christmas. Teresa knew that Scott no longer used the smaller gun, so decided to take it.

The six year old lifted the gun out of the rack and then wasn’t sure what to do with it. She knew the rifle would need bullets and so she opened the drawer where she knew they were kept, and put a box of them in the pocket of her dress.

She realised she would have to hide the rifle, until she had the chance to practise with it, and decided that the best place was in the barn. Teresa listened out to hear what Maria was doing and was relieved when she realised that the housekeeper was still busy in the kitchen. Before she had time to talk herself out of taking the rifle, she went out through the French windows and over to the barn. Once there, she went over to what she knew was an unused stall, and placed the rifle in the empty water bucket, which hung on the wall. As it was only a small rifle, it was not visible outside the bucket, so Teresa was confident that it would not be discovered. She dropped the box of bullets into the bucket, as well, and then ran back to the house, before Maria discovered that she was missing.

Teresa’s plan was to go out and practise with the rifle when she was supposed to be having her afternoon nap. And then, once Johnny got home from school, she could show him what a good shot she was.

For the rest of the morning, Teresa played with her toys and hoped that no one would notice that the rifle was gone from the rack. Fortunately for her, Murdoch didn’t return to the house until lunch time and he went straight to the kitchen to have something to eat. Paul was with him and he called for Teresa to join them.

“Come on sweetheart, it’s lunch time,” said Paul.

Teresa was pleased to see her father and Doc, as she called Murdoch, and sat between them, happily eating her lunch, all thoughts of rifles temporarily forgotten.

When lunch was over, Murdoch and Paul prepared to leave, to go back to work.

Paul picked up Teresa, to give her a kiss, and said, “You go and have a nap now, darling, and Daddy will see you later. Be good for Maria.”

Teresa returned the kiss and told her father she would behave.

“Bye, Daddy and Doc,” she said, waving them off.

Maria told Teresa to wash up after her lunch and then suggested that she went for a nap. Teresa agreed and allowed Maria to take her upstairs to the spare room where she took her naps when staying in the Lancer ranch house. Maria tucked the little girl into bed and gave her a kiss.

“Sweet dreams, little one,” she said, and left the room.

Teresa waited for a while, to make sure that Maria had returned to the kitchen, and then she got out of bed and put her shoes back on. She had a bit of trouble with the buckles, but managed to do them up, reasonably well. She then opened the door and made her way down the stairs, as quietly as she could.

She was soon in the barn and she retrieved the rifle and the bullets from their hiding place. But then she hit her first problem.

When thinking up the plan to learn to use a rifle, Teresa hadn’t thought it through, properly. But now she realised that if she started shooting, this close to the house, Maria would soon hear her and come out and stop her.

‘I’ll have to go away from the house,’ she thought, and started walking.

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In the classroom, Johnny was impatiently waiting for the end of afternoon lessons. He was anxious to get home and collect his rifle so he could meet up with his friends and go hunting.

‘I’m gonna show that brother of mine just how well I can use my new rifle,’ thought Johnny. ‘When I come home with a deer, he’ll havta eat his words.’

As soon as Miss Carstairs dismissed the class, Johnny ran outside and saddled up Scirocco. Scott soon joined him, but by the time he did, Johnny was ready to leave.

“Hang on, little brother, I’m not ready to go, yet,” said Scott, as Johnny mounted up.

“Sorry, Scott, but I’m in a hurry,” said Johnny, and he rode off, without his brother.

Frank, Scott’s best friend, came over to talk to him.

“You’ve been deserted like I have, I see,” he said. “Charlie’s just ridden off, without me, too. Do you think our little brothers are up to something?”

Scott sighed.

“Very likely,” he said. “But with Miss Burgess setting us that really difficult homework, on the first day back, I’m afraid I haven’t got the time, or the inclination, to go chasing after him, just to try and save him from himself.”

Scott was keen on attending college, in Boston, and so knew that over the next two years he had to work very hard at his lessons, if he was to be considered for a college place.

“I know what you mean,” said Frank. “I think Pa was very glad to see us heading off for school, this morning. He said that the holidays were far too long, so I think he’s had enough of us. Therefore, if Charlie is getting into any mischief, he’s on his own, as I don’t want Pa’s anger aimed at me, too.”

“My feelings exactly,” said Scott.

The two boys finished saddling their horses and said goodbye to each other.

“See you tomorrow.”

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By the time Scott reached home, Johnny was about to leave, again. Scott dismounted and could see that Johnny had his rifle in his scabbard.

“So, despite what I said, this morning, you are still taking that rifle with you, when you go and meet up with your friends, I see.”

“Yeah, I am, do you wanna make something of it?” challenged Johnny, feeling more superior, as he was in the saddle and Scott was on foot.

“No, I don’t,” said Scott. “I’ve already told you how I feel about you using it. Pa said you weren’t to, unless he or I were with you. If you decide to disobey him, then you’re the one who will face the consequences, not me. And where are you going, now? You can’t possibly have done your chores, yet, and you’re not supposed to go anywhere until they are done.”

“Well maybe I’m just a mite bored with always doing things the way I’m supposed to,” said Johnny, and with that, he rode off.

Once Scott had seen to his horse, he entered the house, to be met by Maria.

“Hello Scott, you come home with Johnny?”

“No, Maria, he left school before I did.”

“Where is he, then?”

“He was here, but now he’s gone again,” said Scott.

“He not do chores,” said Maria. “Papa will be cross.”

“Probably,” said Scott. “But that’s Johnny’s problem, not mine. I told him not to go, but he ignored me.”

“Go have snack, Scott, and then you do chores, okay?”

“Okay, I will, Maria, and don’t worry about Johnny, he’ll come back when he’s ready.”

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Little Teresa had walked a very long way and was almost at the cave where Johnny and his friends were planning to meet up. She decided that she was now far enough from the house and so sat down and tried to load the rifle. It was then that she hit her second problem; she wasn’t sure how to do so and her little fingers were not big enough, or strong enough, to enable her to open up the gun and put the bullets in.

‘How can I shoot if I can’t load the bullets?’ she thought to herself, and she started to cry.

After a while the little girl’s sobs began to subside and she fell asleep. She was very tired from her long walk, especially as she had missed her nap.

Johnny was the first one to reach the cave. He tethered Scirocco and removed his rifle from the scabbard. Every time he looked at the gleaming new gun, he felt the urge to smile, as he was so pleased with his wonderful gift. He loaded the rifle, set up a target, and fired off a few shots. His aim wasn’t bad, and he was quite pleased with the results.

As he began to reload the rifle, Zack and Jimmy arrived, soon followed by Charlie and Wes.

Johnny smiled up at his friends and continued to see to his gun.

“Hi guys, ready to do some hunting?”

“We sure are,” said Zack.

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Wes had brought his father’s rifle, Charlie had his brother Frank’s, Zack had Jimmy’s old one and Jimmy was sporting a new one. It was not as fancy as the one Scott had received for Christmas, but it was still a nice looking rifle.

“There are loads of tracks all around here,” said Johnny. “So I reckon a herd of deer has been through this way, fairly recently. If we head out that way, we just might be lucky,” and Johnny pointed to the direction in which he felt they should go.

“Okay, you’re the boss,” said Charlie. “Let’s go.”

The boys were all enjoying the adventure and none of them was really that bothered if they shot anything, or not. However, they hadn’t gone too far before Wes said he thought he could see something moving about in the bushes ahead of them.

To be honest, the boys were all making too much noise to actually be able to catch anything, but they did manage to wake up Teresa.

The little girl came to, with a jolt, and, at first, wondered where she was. Then she remembered what she’d been doing, before she fell asleep, and looked down at the rifle in her lap. She was sure that the noises she could hear was a wild animal coming to gobble her all up, just like the wolf in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and she was about to cry again. But then she decided to have one last try at loading the rifle. However, she couldn’t find the box of bullets and she began scrambling around, on the ground, hoping to find them. Eventually, she did locate the bullets, and she was just in the process of trying to load the rifle, when several shots rang out.

Her head went up, at the noise, and then she experienced a pain in her arm like no other she had ever known. One of the bullets had grazed her arm. It began to bleed, profusely, and the sight made the little girl scream out loud.

“Help, I’m gonna die!” she yelled, and then she began to cry.

The boys had all fired at what they thought was a deer, and were just about to go and investigate their kill. Then Johnny’s heart skipped a beat, as he heard the unmistakeable voice of Teresa.

“Madre dios, we’ve shot Teresa,” he said, and he ran over to where the cries were coming from.

The other boys followed and they soon formed a protective ring around Teresa, as Johnny tried to calm her down.

“Daddy, daddy,” the little girl cried.

“Ssh,” he said. “It’s okay, Johnny’s here, and I’ll get you back to your Daddy, real fast.”

“Johnny?” said Teresa, suddenly realising who was there. “I fought it was an aminal after me, but then I got shot,” and she began to cry, again.

“Anyone got a clean hanky?” asked Johnny, after searching his pockets and coming up with a rather grubby one, which had ink blots all over it.

“Yes, I have,” said Charlie, handing over a brilliant white square of cloth to Johnny.

“Gee, thanks, Charlie. Wow, that’s real clean,” said Johnny, wrapping it around the wound on Teresa’s arm.

“I changed my pants before I came out and my mother gave me a clean hanky, too,” explained Charlie, looking rather embarrassed at the reaction his handkerchief had caused. “You know my Ma; she’s dead fussy about things like that.”

Johnny looked up at Charlie, as he pulled Teresa onto his knee and tried to console her.

“In this case, I’m real glad that she is,” he said. “That nice clean hanky should stop any infection getting into the wound. Could one of you fetch my horse? I wanna get Teresa home as soon as I can.”

The little girl had stopped crying, but was now whimpering in Johnny’s arms, and muttering over and over, ‘Daddy, where’s my Daddy?’

“He’s at home, Teresa, and we’ll have you there, with him, in no time,” said Johnny.

Jimmy brought over Scirocco and seeing that he was the oldest, and the biggest, of the boys, he lifted Teresa up to join Johnny in the saddle, once Johnny was mounted.

The other boys were soon all mounted, too, and without saying anything, they formed a line behind Johnny and followed him to the Lancer ranch house.

Back at the house, Maria had discovered that Teresa was missing, when she went to wake the little girl up from her nap.

“Teresa’s not here, Scott,” she said to the young man, who was sat at the table in the dining room, struggling with his homework.

“Are you sure?” said Scott, not alarmed, at first. “Maybe she’s gone out to the outhouse?”

“Not likely, Scott. You would have seen her, sat where you are, or I would, if she’d come through the kitchen.”

Scott knew that Maria had a point. The little girl couldn’t have got past them.

“If she’s not in her room and she hasn’t come past us, then that must mean that she went off, somewhere, before I sat here and you went into the kitchen.”

“Si,” said Maria, beginning to get upset. “She could be anywhere on the rancho. What shall we do?”

“I’ll just go and search the outbuildings, first,” said Scott, patting Maria on the arm. “Then, if I don’t find her, I’ll go over to the bunkhouse and organise a search party.”

“Very well, Scott, let’s hope she is just playing hide and seek.”

As Scott was about to leave the room, he noticed that the drawer where the ammunition was kept, was open. He reasoned that it could have been Johnny, when he went to get some bullets for his gun, but then he also noticed that his own first rifle was missing from the gun rack.

He briefly wondered if Johnny had taken it with him, in order to lend it to one of his friends. But then he cast his mind back to when Johnny left, and he didn’t recall seeing Johnny with a second rifle. In fact, if he had, he would have insisted that the boy return it to the rack. It was bad enough that Johnny was disobeying their father and going off with his own rifle, but he wasn’t going to let the boy use his, as well, even if it was an old one that he didn’t want any more.

Suddenly, Scott had a thought, which almost knocked him off his feet.

‘What if Teresa took the rifle? And then went looking for Johnny? Anything could happen with a six year old and a bunch of twelve year olds, messing about with firearms,’ he thought. ‘Damn, I should’ve gone after him, but I thought it was about time that he paid for his stupidity, instead of me always bailing him out with Pa. Most of the time he takes no notice of my advice and then, when he messes up, he expects me to make it all right, again.’

As he was thinking all of this, Scott was making a thorough search of the barn and all the outbuildings, hoping that he was going to come across Teresa. However, he had no such luck, and was just about to head for the bunkhouse, to get a search party organised, when Murdoch and Paul rode in.

“Hi, son,” said Murdoch, taking in Scott’s rather gloomy expression. “What’s the matter? Was the first day of school that bad?”

“What, sir?” said Scott, and then he quickly apologised. “Sorry, I mean pardon. I was miles away and didn’t hear you ride in. No, school was okay, it’s since I’ve got home that things have gone wrong.”

Murdoch immediately thought of Johnny.

“Where’s Johnny?”

Scott answered the only honest way he could.

“I don’t know, Pa.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

Before Scott could answer, Paul spoke up.

“And where’s Teresa? She usually comes running out to greet me, as soon as I get home.”

“I don’t know that, either, Paul,” said Scott.

Murdoch grabbed hold of Scott’s arm and gave the boy a slight shake.

“What’s the matter with you, son? What do you mean when you say you don’t know where Johnny and Teresa are?”

Scott was annoyed by his father’s rather strong grip on his arm, and tried to break free.

“It means just what it sounds like it means. I don’t know where either of them are. Johnny rode on ahead of me, after school, and by the time I got home, he was just about to leave, again. He said that he and his friends were going to go and practise with their rifles.”

“And didn’t you tell him that he wasn’t allowed to do that, without me or you, in attendance?”

“Of course I did,” said Scott, getting angrier. “It’s not my fault that he won’t do as he’s told and despite what you think, I can’t always manage to persuade him not to do something. I told him that he wasn’t allowed to use the rifle, on his own, and I told him he had to stay and do his chores and homework, before he went off with his friends. But he just ignored me and went, anyway. I had lots of homework to do and so couldn’t afford the time to go after him, so I reckoned he’d just have to face the consequences of disobeying you.”

“And what about Teresa?” said Paul, as Maria came out to join them.

It was the housekeeper who answered him.

“We don’t know, Senor Paul. I put little girl down for her nap, as usual. Went up to get her, about twenty minutes ago, and she not there. Scott and I have been searching for her.”

“And I was just about to organise a search party when you got back,” said Scott, rubbing his arm and giving his father a rather stern glare.

“I best go and do that, then,” said Paul. “If it’s all right with you, Murdoch?”

“Of course it is, Paul. There should be quite a few hands back by now, so take as many as you want, and that way they can cover a greater area. If Maria hasn’t seen Teresa since she went for her nap, she could have travelled quite a long way, so we need plenty of men.”

Before Paul headed over to the bunkhouse, Scott felt he should tell him and Murdoch about the rifle.

“My old rifle is missing from the gun rack, Pa. Now Johnny might have taken it, when he took his, but I only saw him with his own rifle, so I think that Teresa may have taken it.”

“Why would a six year old take a rifle with her?” said Paul.

“Well, I don’t know, for sure, that she has, but Johnny and I were talking about Teresa and rifles, this morning. And if she’d overheard us, it might have given her the idea.”

“It sounds like there is a lot more of this story to come,” said Murdoch. “However, finding Teresa is the most important thing, at the moment, so I would suggest that you go and organise the search party, Paul. I will try and get to the bottom of all of this.”

But before either of them could move off the porch, Johnny came riding in, with Teresa sat in front of him. The other boys had accompanied their friend, as none of them knew which one was responsible for shooting Teresa, and so they all felt guilty.

Teresa wasn’t crying, when they stopped, but as soon as she saw her father, the tears began to flow again.

“Daddy, I got shot,” she sobbed, and she just about fell off Scirocco, and into his arms.

The boys all dismounted and stood around in the yard, as Paul took Teresa into the house, with Maria following them.

Murdoch was extremely shocked by Teresa’s words and it took him a few minutes to recover, sufficiently, to speak.

“It would appear that a lot has been going on, and I aim to find out exactly what has happened, so I think it would be a good idea if you boys all returned to your own homes.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jimmy, but before he mounted his horse, he spoke to Murdoch.

“It was an accident, the little girl gettin’ shot an’ all, Mr Lancer, and the truth is none of us knows which of us is the guilty party, as we all shot, more or less, at the same time. So, you could say, we are all responsible and we are all very sorry, too. I just wanted you ta know that, in case ya put the blame all on Johnny. See ya tomorrow, Johnny, bye.”

The boys all mounted up and were soon on their way home. They all felt very sorry for what had happened to Teresa, and they especially felt sorry for Johnny, as they could see that his father was extremely cross with him. But then they began to think about their own hides, as they also knew that their fathers were going to be angry when they heard about Teresa’s accident.

Once all the boys had left, Murdoch spoke again.

“Scott, would you please tend to your brother’s horse for him, as well as mine and Paul’s?”

“No need for that, Papa, I can do it,” said Johnny.

“I am well aware that you can do it, Johnny, but on this occasion I don’t want you to, as I wish to talk with you. inside the house, NOW.”

“But Papa,” said Johnny, desperate to put off the impending chat. “A good rancher should always take care of his mount, before he does anything else.”

“That is so, son, but not when his father wants to talk to him. Inside, RIGHT NOW,” yelled Murdoch. “Scott, the horses, please,” and Scott just nodded, grabbed the reins, and headed for the barn.

As soon as they entered the house, Murdoch headed for the kitchen, to see how Teresa was.

He was extremely relieved to find that the little girl had only sustained a slight cut, where the bullet had grazed her arm, but it hadn’t penetrated it.

“Thank goodness for that,” he said. “When she said she’d been shot, I didn’t know what to think.”

“Me neither,” said Paul, cradling his little girl in his arms, as he sat at the large kitchen table. “The wound is very clean and should heal, without leaving a scar, but it could’ve been so much worse,” and Paul glared at Johnny, as he said this.

“Before the boys left, they admitted that it could have been any one of them who actually hit her,” said Murdoch. “The thing is that they all fired at the same time, so they don’t know who was the guilty one.”

“Why on earth were you shooting at a little girl?” demanded Paul, of Johnny.

“We didn’t know it was Teresa,” said Johnny. “We didn’t even know she was in the area. We thought we were shooting at a deer.”

“I think you had better start, right from the beginning,” said Murdoch, sitting down in the chair next to Paul and Teresa.

Johnny remained standing, as he explained how the friends had decided to go off, after school, and practise with their rifles.

“Even though you knew you had been forbidden to take your rifle out, unless Scott or I was with you?” asked Murdoch.

“Yes, sir, even though I knew that,” said Johnny. “You see, Scott was telling me that I didn’t know how to use a rifle yet, and I wanted to prove to him that I did.”

“So you did that, by shooting a six year old child, did you?” said Murdoch.

“Well, yes sir, although I don’t really know if it was me who did that. But that wasn’t the plan. We were gonna try and shoot a deer, just to prove to Scott and Frank that we knew what we were doing. We honestly didn’t know that Teresa was out there.”

“Okay, sweetheart, your turn,” said Paul to Teresa. “Why were you out there, instead of in your bed, having a nap?”

“I like to play wiv Johnny, but he says I’m a baby and I can’t play the fings he likes to do,” said Teresa. “I heard him talking to Scott, and he said if I could shoot a wifle I could play wiv him. So, after Maria put me to bed, I tooked Scott’s old wifle and some bullets and went out to learn how to shoot. I walked a long way, cos I didn’t want Maria to hear the bangs, but when I stopped I couldn’t get the bullets in the wifle.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation that Johnny found himself in, this remark made him laugh.

“I see nothing to laugh about, John,” snapped Murdoch. “In case you haven’t realised, yet, you are in big trouble, young man.”

Teresa chose to ignore Johnny’s laughter and carried on.

“I sat on the ground and started to cry, cos I couldn’t use the wifle, and so I knew Johnny wouldn’t play wiv me. Then I heard a noise and fought it was an aminal coming to eat me, so I tried again, to put the bullets in the wifle, but I still couldn’t do it. Then there were lots of bangs and my arm was hurting and bleeding, and I cried lots, and Johnny comed and put Charlie’s hanky over the blood. Then he brought me home. Can I go to bed now? I’m very sleepy.”

“Daddy is going to take you home now, darling, and yes, you can go to bed, if you want to, although you haven’t had supper yet. And then, in the morning, we are going to have a long talk about you and guns. I have told you, time and time again, that you mustn’t touch them, haven’t I? So, it was very naughty of you to take Scott’s rifle out of the rack.”

“But I had to learn how to use one, so Johnny would play wiv me, Daddy,” insisted Teresa, the tears about to fall, again, when she realised her daddy was cross with her.

“I never said that,” said Johnny. “I never said I would play with her, if she could use a rifle.”

Johnny was desperately trying to recall what he had actually said, that morning. He couldn’t remember, exactly, but he was sure he didn’t say that if Teresa could use a rifle, then he would play with her.

“Where did she get the idea from, then?” asked Murdoch.

“Scott and me were talking about rifles, while we were saddling up, this morning, and if she was listening in, she must’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. That’s what happens when you eavesdrop, ain’t it, Papa? You told me not to do it, for that very reason.”

“Yes, I did, John, and that is probably what did happen, as I can’t believe that you would have said you would play with Teresa, if she could shoot a rifle. It must have been that she misunderstood what you did say. And, I suppose, you can’t really be held responsible for the fact that she was eavesdropping on your conversation, when you didn’t know she was there. But, you are responsible for disobeying me and taking your rifle out, and discharging it, when you were not with Scott or me. We had a long talk about the rules, when you got the rifle, and that was the main one. And if you hadn’t disobeyed it, then there is no way that Teresa could have got shot. I know that your friends’ parents have issued the same rules as I have, so they were in the wrong, too; a fact that I am sure their fathers will draw their attention to, once the news of this accident gets out.”

As Teresa was almost asleep, she could neither verify or deny what Murdoch had said about her misunderstanding what she’d heard. But Paul seemed satisfied with the explanation, although he was, naturally, very upset about what had happened.

He stood up, with Teresa in his arms and said, “I think I will get this little one to bed, Murdoch. And, tomorrow, I will talk to her, some more, about the dangers of playing with guns, as I trust you will, to Johnny?”

“I certainly will, Paul, and I am sure that it goes without saying that you know how sorry I am about all of this? And if Johnny isn’t sorry, now, rest assured that he will be, very soon.”

Johnny gulped at what Murdoch said, as he was sure it meant that he was in for a few painful moments over his father’s knee.

And he wasn’t wrong, as that was where he did end up, after Murdoch had finished lecturing him on the need to obey his father’s orders.

“Not only did you break the rules by taking the rifle out with you, but you also disobeyed me by not doing your chores or your homework, before going off to join up with your friends. You have been told these things, often enough, and so you cannot use ignorance as an excuse. And by breaking the rules, you could have very easily caused Teresa’s death. Have you thought about that?”

Johnny nodded.

“Of course I’ve thought about it, Papa. I’ve thought about nothing else, since it happened. I know I am always moaning about her, but I never wanted anything bad to happen to Teresa. It was more than stupid, it was just plain dumb, for us to go off, like we did, and start shooting at something moving in the bushes, without knowing, for certain, what it was.”

Murdoch pulled Johnny towards him and gave him a hug, as he could tell that the boy was upset.

“I know that Teresa getting shot was not part of your plan, son, it was just an unfortunate accident, but one that wouldn’t have happened, if only you had stuck to the rules. That is why I make them, rules, that is, as they are necessary to keep things running smoothly around here. We all have to abide by some; no one is completely free to just do as they like, unless they want to live entirely alone and have no one to care about, and no one to care about them.”

“I know that, Papa, and I’ve already tried living that way and I didn’t like it,” said Johnny. “So I guess I will really try and stick to the rules, in future.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Murdoch, giving his boy a kiss.

Later, Johnny sought out his brother and apologised for behaving as he had.

“You were right, Scott,” he said. “I don’t know everything there is to know about using a rifle, yet, and, until I do, I won’t try and use it, unless you or Papa are with me.”

“I’m pleased to hear that, little brother,” said Scott. “I don’t know all there is to know, either, but right now, at least, I do know more about guns, than you do.”

Little did Scott know how profound those words were going to become, when, sometime in the future, his little brother became Johnny Madrid.

THE END

To: Compassion is Colour Blind

Lancer lives on!
Lynne
January 20th2008

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