Measured by Margaret P.

by Margaret P.

With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr

“Do you think they’ll do okay?” Johnny drew level with Murdoch again as Barranca made it up the slope, leaving the stream behind them. Riding cross country wasn’t as easy as going by the main roads, but it would shave an hour off their journey home, and they were both eager to get back to Lancer.

“They’ll make it work.” Murdoch looked over, relieved that there didn’t seem to be any underlying meaning in the question. Catha Cameron was an attractive young woman, not too much older than Johnny; it was a good job her husband, Ben, reappeared when he did. “Are you thinking of going back some time to help?”

Johnny chuckled. “No, I’m no teacher. Some of those kids have more schooling than me.”

“That didn’t stop you from doing a good job. You’ve got that shiny star in your pocket to prove it.”

“I just did what Catha told me the night before, and sorted out a ruckus or two.”

“Well, I’m proud of you.”

Johnny smiled and looked away.

Murdoch smiled and kept his eyes on the hills ahead. No one could have been more surprised than he was when he accidentally eavesdropped on Johnny giving lessons. Those kids really were learning from him. Who’d have thought a young man with Johnny’s background could teach? Well, Catha obviously; she saw his potential. Maybe that was the real measure of a good teacher: not just an ability to explain things, but to recognize hidden talent and draw it out into the open. Murdoch wished he had the knack. “Now you’ve helped him get started, I’m sure Ben will turn that school into something special. He’s got a good woman at his side, and he’s determined to prove he’s his father’s son.”

 “Where’d you say his old man used to teach?”

“Cattle towns mostly. He liked the challenge.”

“I reckon I had some schooling from a guy called Cameron once. He was all right.”

Murdoch nodded. He’d wondered if Johnny would remember. It had been so long ago; part of the past Murdoch hesitated even now to stir up. He glanced over. Almost every day Johnny surprised him in some way—in some good way. Perhaps it was time to surprise him. “He taught you how to use a dictionary and tell the time.”

“Whoa, how do you know that?” Johnny reined Barranca to a halt.

Murdoch stopped too, his eyes finding a place of safety on the saddle horn. “Because he told me.”

“So the teacher I remember was Ben’s pa?”

Murdoch raised his eyes. “In Abilene. As usual I got there too late.” He swallowed. Talking about his search for Johnny still twisted his insides into knots. “I hung around for a time working as a deputy for Joe Barker, and met George Cameron while I was there. He told me about you, but you never came back.” Not that Murdoch saw. All he’d seen was Thurston Cole, and he’d blown it by trying to get his hands on the gambler instead of leaving the saloon to see if Maria and Johnny were nearby. If he’d only used his brains.

“Well, shoot.” Johnny lifted his hat and scratched his head before urging Barranca to a walk again. “That stuff came in handy too.”

“George said he guessed you wouldn’t be at his school long so he taught you something practical.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I didn’t know if you’d want reminding about those days.”

Johnny pondered that for a moment. “How about you?”

“Not much, Johnny. I’d rather look forward than back, but I’ll always be grateful to George Cameron for the little learning he gave you.” Murdoch forced a smile. It was irrational, but a feeling of hopelessness still plagued him whenever he thought of those times. Taking a deep breath, he tried to sound more cheerful. “I know you made good use of my dictionary when you first came home.”

“Noticed that, did you?” Johnny ducked his head—looking a little embarrassed but nothing like he would have been when he first used the dictionary to help him with the bookkeeping. Thinking about it now, Murdoch hadn’t seen him use it for some time. “I’d have probably ridden out that first month without it. No way was I going to admit I couldn’t read all those invoices.”

Murdoch laughed. “I would have helped, you know. I was just waiting for some sign from you that it was safe to offer.” God, they’d been as bad as each other in those days. He was so glad the early awkwardness was behind them.

Johnny took his gold fob watch out of his pocket and rubbed a thumb over the engraved surface. It was a family heirloom; his great grandfather on Murdoch’s mother’s side had made it as his apprentice piece more than eighty years ago. “If it wasn’t for Cameron I wouldn’t have been able to read this watch.”  Now that would have been bad; then the gift might only have caused more embarrassment and argument. For years the watch had reminded Murdoch that he had a home and people who loved him to go back to if he wanted; he’d given it to Johnny under the pretence of him needing to know the time, but really hoping it would remind him of the same thing. Thankfully, when it mattered most it had worked its magic; the watch had led Johnny back to Lancer. It was priceless to Murdoch—as were the efforts of the teacher who taught Johnny how to use it.

“There’s the boundary.” Murdoch pointed ahead to where a wooden sign with Lancer painted on it was nailed to an oak tree. “We’ll be back in time for supper.”

“When the big hand’s on twelve and the little hand is on six.” Johnny grinned. He snapped the lid shut and dropped the watch back in his pocket. “Race you.”

Father and son spurred their horses towards home, and this time wild horses couldn’t stop them.

~end~

2017

Notes:

1. This story stems from The Measure of a Man, Lancer Series 1, Episode 25, Chase a Wild Horse, Series 1, Episode 3, and from my story From Highlands to Homecoming, 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Measured by Margaret P.

  1. I was watching Measure of a Man this morning. Decided to read the Episode Tags. I love your story giving the connection between Johnny and Ben’s father. Well done.

    Like

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