Word count: 24,930
The air was crisp and the hillsides were layered with the colors of autumn in all its beauty. It was Mother Nature’s way of refreshing the earth with cool air and beautifying it, and putting an end to a long and hot summer that scorched the earth and to the heavy rains that did more damage then helped the valley below with flooding and rivers spreading wider than one would like and it cause traveling sometimes too difficult for many. As the youngest Lancer soon will find out..
Johnny Lancer was on his way home from Stockton after doing some last minute business for his father before winter set in. The trip was only supposed to take 2 week at the most. But things went well and he was done earlier than he expected, and instead of sticking around and having a little fun before it was time to leave for home, something inside told him he should leave now. So he sent a telegraph to Murdoch saying he was on his way home early and left the next morning. As he rode along he had a nagging feeling that something was wrong somewhere out there. And knowing how trouble always found him he’ll find out soon enough.
Johnny decided to go home by way of the hills, one reason was it was shorter and he also thought he could use a change in scenery, he always loved the fall and this was his opportunity to enjoy the beauty and fresh air that only the mountains and hills supply, there was always something appealing to him about the mountains. Once in the hills he found the perfect spot to stop for the night, it had a little spring and plenty of tall grass for Barranca to graze and rest. Barranca was snickering and enjoying the coolness of the fall air and Johnny was only could laugh at his noble friend as he pranced around as he ate.
“That’s the good boy,” Johnny said to his horse as he gently rubbed him down “ Enjoy, amigo, you earned it”
He then sat down in the grass and looked at the fall sky and said to his friend” It’s going to be a cold night” and with that he gather up fire wood and made camp. He sat by the fire listening to the night sounds around him as he was accustom to from his days of Madrid, the sound of leaves rustling in the trees, and sound of small animals running in the brush, the fire cracking as it burned. Sounds that could lull a man to sleep but not this one, Johnny ears were always open to other sounds that said danger. As he was drinking his coffee and chewing on some jerky when he heard it.
It was faint and he had a hard time figuring out witch direction it was coming from. The noise was in the distance but where, he got up and looked around and listened closer to the sound, and walked to where he thought it could be it was darker by this time and he thought he was hearing things. As he turn to go back he heard it again, this time it was clearer to him, with gun in his hand he went back to that spot and listen again ,and decided to get a little closer and the closer he got the clearer the sound and Johnny stopped as he now realized what he was hearing.
It was a baby, a baby crying in the woods. So his Madrid senses were now kicking in as he started to follow the sound with nothing but the moon to guild him. The further he went in the darker it got, and seeing was now getting impossible for him, and suddenly Johnny went sliding down a hidden slope that was alongside a narrow road he was walking along. It was a deep slope and the ground was still soft from the rains. He was finally stopped by something hard in his way. He sat there for a few minutes then getting up gingerly and limping a little he felt along the object and what he could see made his heart stop.
A wagon, it was turned over and smashed into pieces and Johnny figured it must have went over the side like he did.” Why was a wagon on that narrow road? “He thought to himself and as he looked closer he saw the owners of the wagon, dead and buried under the rubble, he bowed his head and let an sigh of grief. A man and woman lie there, and he don’t know how long they were like this, or why were they were even up here, that road was not meant for a wagon to pass on. There was nothing he could for them now, but wait till morning to bury them.
Then his mind went back to that sound which was no longer “The Baby, where is the baby?” He thought and now was calling out ”Is there anybody out there?” he said listening and said again ”Hello, I’m not going to hurt you! I’m here to help you! tell me where you are!” There was nothing for an few minutes then heard the cry of the baby again this time closer, and behind him now and Johnny let out a sigh of relief when he heard the cry, he headed to where it was coming from in the woods and after a few minutes he was stopped short by two sets of sad little eyes looking at him in the dark and holding the crying baby.
“Hello” Johnny said.
Johnny was looking at two sad faced little figures standing a few feet away from him, a little boy about six and his little sister about four. It was a miracle that they were even alive by the way the wagon looked. Then he figured they weren’t in the wagon when it went down. The baby was wrapped up in an blanket and was no longer crying, which worried him. As Johnny went closer to get a better look they’d took a few steps backward and turn to run away and Johnny called to them…
“Hey! I’m not going to hurt you!” Johnny said in a reassuring voice and continued, ” Come back here and let me help you! The sound of Johnny’s gentle voice had stopped them and they turned and slowly started to walk towards Johnny. Scared as they were they knew that Johnny was their only hope of surviving. As they got closer he asked,” Can I see the baby?”
The little boy who was holding the baby walked up slowly to Johnny and looked into Johnny’s blue eyes and handed the baby over to him. Johnny looked back at a pair of sad big brown eyes and it saddened him as he thought of the mother and father now lying dead over there. He gave the little boy a big smile as he took the baby from his small arms.
Johnny checked the infant out as closely as he could see in the dark and found the baby was sleeping and in good condition and he let a sigh out of relief. Wrapping the little infant boy back up in the blanket he took off his jacket and lay it on the ground and gently put the baby on top of it. Then he motioned for the other two to come to him. They hesitated for a few minutes then they moved closer towards him. The little boy first.
“Now, let’s see what we have here.” he said, as he gently looked the boy over and saw, with the help of the moon now peaking threw the trees, that he was ok, only a few scratches and the boy was dirty, but nothing else he could see was wrong with him.
“Well I think you will be ok,” he said as he rubbed the boy’s head gently. Then he waved the little girl over, she slowly came over to him and he started to take a look at her.
“Well now, let’s see here”, he said to her and smiled as he looked into her big brown eyes and she smiled back. He gently moved her long dark hair away from her face and checked for any cuts and bruises, When he found none and looked ok too, he said” Well, Sweetheart, You are doing fine” Then she started to shiver from the cold and he gently pulled her into his arms and tried to warm her up. He had to get them out of here. It was getting colder by the hour and they need to warm up.
“Ok! Now let’s get you out of here”, Johnny told them, and picked up the baby who was still sleeping. Now he was getting worried and thought to himself “When was the last time he had eaten? How was he going to feed him?” Those thoughts would have to wait until after he got them safely away from here and back to camp. He took the little girl’s hand and she held her brother’s and with the baby cradled secured in one arm, Johnny led them out of the woods.
He carried them one at a time up the slope grabbing at branches for support and slipping at times. But after a few trips he got them up ok, a little dirtier but they were now away from the wagon and their parents. Johnny stopped for a minute and just looked down at the crash site and shook his head in disbelief at the site below him, and knew he had to go back in the morning and do the task of burying them. He let out a big sigh and then he turned to the children and led them away.
At his camp site, Johnny watched the children sleep after he fed them what they could eat which was everything on the plate. That told him they were at least out there for a day or two. Now they were warm and fed and safe. Then he thought of the baby, he needed milk and other baby needs and that worried him. The only thing he could do was look in the wagon tomorrow for what he needed to take along with them, but for tonight all he could offer the infant was warm water to smooth his hunger and hold him to keep him warm.
Tomorrow was the beginning of an very long journey for Johnny and the children.
After a restless night, Johnny was up before daylight. He went about doing the unpleasant task of burying the parents of the children now in his care. As they slept he went back to the site of the crash and dug two graves and gently laid them inside . He said a few words over them, told them not to worry- that their children are safe, and he promised he’d look after them. After, he went searching for the belongings of the children and extra blankets that he could carry on Barranca. Mostly he was concerned about the baby’s needs.
He found some baby bottles and some cloths, but no milk; even so it would have been sour by now. He sighed heavily, gathered up what he could carry without having to come back and headed back to the children. He turned around one last time and said to them “Dios!, Why did you have to come this way, why?” He turned back and continued on back to the campsite. Johnny kept thinking “How is this going to turn out? where am I going to find food for the baby up here?” He told himself. “I’ll just have to take it one step at a time.” When he reached camp the sun was already up when he found two pair of eyes staring at him.
“Well morning, I bet you two are hungry” he said and smiled sweetly to them.” Come on over here and let’s get a better look at ya,” Johnny said in a cheerful voice, trying to make them feel more at ease with him. They hadn’t said a word since Johnny found them. He figured when they are ready to talk to him he’ll be right here. He washed their faces and hands, checked them over again, this time in the light of day, and still found just a few scarps, nothing else.
While they both ate breakfast, Johnny was caring for the baby. He poured warm water in the bottle and fed him, then checked him over again, and found this was a healthy baby. He hoped to keep him this way. All the time he was caring for the baby, he felt little eyes looking at him, and that put a smile on his face. Johnny gently lay the baby back down, got up, went back to children and said to them in a soft voice.
“I buried your Mama and Papa,” He paused and continued. “Now they are with God, do you understand that?” he asked and they both nodded. “Good, now you have to be brave and listen to me. OK?” He looked at their sad faces and continued to say, “I’m going to take of you. I won’t let nothing happened to you. Now hurry and finish up.” Johnny sat there drinking his coffee and watched them eat hardy, his mind was now on the task of getting them off this mountain.
He packed up camp and Barranca. ‘Well boy, we have our work cut out for us don’t we?” he said to his trusty horse and Barranca just nodded and shook his head at his master. Johnny smiled at his horse and gently patted him as he leaned his head against his golden neck. It was going to be a long trip home for them. He needed his friend more than ever with these children now in their care, his and Barranca’s.
After making up an Indian carrying rig for the baby he found some strapping in the wagon. He loaded the kids up on Barranca and said to him, “Now, you be gentle with them, boy, I need you to do this for me. ” He said while patting him on the neck, Barranca just nodded. Then Johnny strapped the carrier so that it would face his chest and put the baby into it. Johnny then closed his jacket around the little nino so that could snuggle up against him and stay warm.
With canteens filled and rations loaded, the children were set to go., Johnny slowly led them down the mountain. not knowing what’s head of them on this journey home. All he knew was that the first step, with God’s grace, would be finding food and milk for the baby. Somewhere there had to be someone living up here who that would have a goat or cow. As they made their way from the campsite, Johnny said a silent prayer for himself and the children.
Johnny walked along side Barranca. His vivid blues eyes were always on the look out for signs of people, or smoke coming from chimneys of cabins that could be somewhere up here… A half a day had gone by, and there were no signs yet of help being out there for them.
He didn’t know how much longer this little niño, who he had snuggled against his chest, could go without the milk he needed. The other two little ones who were riding Barranca also needed some proper nourishment. More then what this lone cowboy could offer them.
Another hour passed and Johnny, now getting desperate, thought to himsel “Dios, there’s got to someone up here. ” Then finally he smelled something coming from beyond a thick of trees ahead of them. It was smoke, and where there is smoke there just might to be a cabin. So he very carefully led Barranca with his passengers through the trees. After a few minutes of weaving through the trees, he came to a clearing. A big smile came a crossed his handsome face
A little log cabin stood in front of them.” Whoa boy,” he said as he halted Barranca. It was a sight for sore eyes. But he didn’t dare go any closer with the children; he didn’t want to endanger them not knowing what kind of reception they would get. So he yelled out to the cabin instead.
“Hello in the cabin.”
There was no response and he waited for a few minutes. He yelled again this he went a few steps closer. “Hello! Is there anybody there? I need help!” he said.
He knew somebody was in there. His eagle eyes spotted the curtains as moved a little. Just then, the cabin door opened slightly and the barrel of a shotgun poked through the crack of the door.
Johnny froze in place. He was in no position for any gunplay; not with a baby strapped to his chest.
“GO AWAY!” came a scruffy voice from inside the cabin.
“I need help! I have kids here. They need food and milk for the baby,” Johnny hollered back at the cabin then pointed to his chest and the little niño . “Don’t shoot,” he added.
After a few minutes, the door opened wider this time and out walked an old man. He had long hair and a full gray beard with a hint of black in it. He was still carrying his shotgun. He stopped a ways from the strangers standing before him. He looked at them for a few minutes before he spoke.
“What makes you think I can help ya?” he asked Johnny.
Johnny saw that there were a few goats over by the shed and he went to take a step closer. The old man raised up his shotgun higher and pointed at Johnny. ” Stay Right there!” the old man said as he held the gun on Johnny.
“Hey! Mister I have kids here. Now put that down,” Johnny demanded. ” All I ask is whether I can buy one of your goats for milk for the children.”
The old man stood there staring at them. Johnny needed that goat to take along on their trek home, to make sure he had fresh milk for the little ones.
“I don’t have any to sell,” he told Johnny. Then he lowered the gun, realizing that they were no threat to him.
Johnny just shook his head ” Come on, Mister!” he said to the old man, as he was pointing to the goats over by the shed. “I can see two of them right over there. Come on, what do you say?” he asked with a pleading voice.
“Well!” The old man replied, stroking his beard as he thought about his answer. He looked as Johnny, then at the children and back at Johnny again,’ Well, ok, but it will cost ya,” he finally said. Johnny let out a sigh of relief and nodded to the man.
The old man introduced himself as Isaiah, and welcomed them to come inside and sit a spell. Johnny gratefully accepted the invite, and after helping the children down from Barranca they all went inside. “What happened to ya all, and why are ya up here?” Isaiah asked Johnny as they entered the cabin.
Johnny explained to him how he found the children and their parents, and why he was up here in the first place. Johnny had been racking his brain as to why their parents would come this way. Isaiah just shook his head and stroked his beard at that thought also. Until the children decided to talk to him, Johnny would just have to wait for answers. His main concern right now was getting these little ones back home to Lancer.
Isaiah cooked up some grub for them. The kids ate hardy as Johnny fed some warm milk to the baby. After they were all fed and warmed up, it was time to be on their way.
There was still a lot of daylight left and Johnny wanted to get further down the mountain.
As he was getting the kids ready to go, Isaiah went about to packing some extra rations for their journey. He didn’t even ask to be paid for them, and he gave Johnny the goat. It was the least he could do for the children.
Johnny and Isaiah shook hands and he thanked him for his help.
With the goat tied to his saddle and the kids ready to go, they were on their way again.
As Isaiah waved to them as they walked out of view, he said a prayer for these travelers to have a safe journey home.
It was very slow going, especially when he had to stop for the children’s needs. They could only ride for so long on horseback without stopping to rest. The Baby needed the most attention. Johnny ’s chore was to milk that goat every time it was time to feed the baby. He soon found out it was not an easy task.
While he walked along side Barranca, he talked to them. He told them about Lancer, about the cattle, the horses that ran wild on Lancer land. About the many streams to fish , the ponds to swim in on hot days.
He told them that there were lots of other children they would have fun playing with. All this time talking, he’d hoped they would start to open up and talk to him. When he would glance up at them, Johnny did notice a hint of it just might happen.
Another day went by, and the nights were now getting colder. As the two little ones slept, Johnny would softly walk over and put extra blankets on them and gently kiss their foreheads. Whispering to them a tender goodnight, he would look at them and smile a sad smile for these lost children.
As Johnny sat beside the campfire, he was softly humming a Spanish lullaby to the little niño he was cradling in his strong arms. Taking in the little features of him, he vowed that this little one, his brother and sister would have a good home if it were the last thing he did.
Johnny was just about to fall asleep with the baby cradled beside him, when he heard a faint cry coming over where the two older children were sleeping. He gently got up and went over there. It was the little girl. She was sitting there rocking back and forth crying.
It was the first sound he had heard out of her since he had found the children. He kneeled down next to her and asked softly, “What’s the matter, honey.” he brushed the hair away from her face, wiped her tears as they fell.
She looked up at Johnny and it saddened his heart when she said to him, ” I… I miss my mommy and daddy.”
He pulled her into his arms and gently cradled her saying, ” I know honey, I know.” He paused and added, ” Remember what I said before that they’re with God now?” He looked down at her and smiled into those sad brown eyes, as she nodded.” Well your Mama and Papa want you and your brother to be brave now. When we get to my home, I’ll find you a good family to live with. That’s what your folks would want for you, “he told her and she smiled up at him, wiping her tears.
“Lisa” she said to him . ” My name is Lisa”. Johnny just looked at her with a big grin on his face.
“Well, Lisa. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he replied and let out a hushed laugh.
“My name is Jeremy, ” the boy said as he sat up and now was now looking over at Lisa and Johnny.
Johnny just smiled and said,” Well, Jeremy, it’s a real pleasure to meet you too! What‘s your brother’s name?” He asked pointing over to the baby.
“Samuel” the little girl replied.
‘Well, come on over here Jeremy, sit by me and your sister” Johnny said to him.” I’m going to need all the help I can get to get you home to Lancer.” He told them as he wrapped his arms around them both. “So far it’s been smooth going. But it might get hard at times and if that happens I need you to do as I say.” He looked at them both and asked ,.” Can you do that for me?” They both nodded at him, then gave Johnny a hug.
They both yawned and he hustled them off to bed, making sure they were warm and settled in for the night. As he was walking away he heard Lisa say to her brother.
“I’m glad it was Johnny, who found us!”
“Me too, ” Jeremy replied, and they both fell asleep.
Johnny just stood there with a smile that would brighten up the sky on the darkest day. He was so grateful that they are starting to trust him. He just hoped he could get them home safely and find them a home.
He knew well enough what a home means to kids like them, orphaned at such a young age it saddened him. He would not let these kids go without. When he did find a home for them he’d make sure that they stayed together.
He now knew himself what it meant to have a brother. He’d never been happier than since he‘d found Scott. These kids needed each other in order to survive without their real parents
He went back over to Samuel, who was still sleeping and lay down beside him. He snuggled Samuel closer to him and kissed this little niño on the forehead and held his tiny hand in his. He softly whispered in Spanish into his little ear. “Dulces suenos mi pequeno, manana es otro dia, otro dia y mas cerca a casa.” Johnny closed his eyes and fell into a restless sleep.
As the night went on, Johnny had this nagging feeling again that something was not right. It brothered him so much that he woke after a few minutes. Looking over to see if the children were okay , he picked up the baby gently so he would not wake him. He went over the where Lisa and Jeremy were sleeping and lay down Samuel next to them.
As he kept an eye out, he still couldn’t get that question out of his head. “Why were they up here, on a trail not meant for a wagon to pass?” he thought to himself.
Were they running from someone? Was that why he had this feeling of danger? Whatever was out there he’d have to deal with it as it came. Right now he was to worn out from all the walking he had done today. Johnny took one last look at the children , then he fell into a deep sleep.
Danger was getting closer than he knew.
(Dulce suenos mi pequeno, manana es otro dia, otro dia y mas cerca a casa – Sweet dreams, little one, tomorrow is another day. Another day closer to home.)
“Damn blasted trees, ” Johnny said swearing to himself. His senses were screaming at him. He knew that somewhere out there was trouble. They were in the thick of the woods now and the trees made the perfect cover for an ambush.
Johnny had thought that he could get away from the harsh fall winds that were blowing even harder today. He would use the trees as wind barriers for the children. But now he wasn’t so sure. His senses were telling him this was not a good choice.
“Jeremy, I have to ask you something and I want you to think hard about your answer,” Johnny said to the boy. He wanted to be gentle about asking the question.
“Ok, Johnny!” Jeremy replied.
“Were your Mama and Papa running away from someone or people?” he asked, looking up at the boy on the horse beside him . Jeremy frowned. He appeared to be thinking hard about the answer?
“I’m not sure,” he said.
Johnny approached it a different way. “Were there people mad at your Mama or Papa?” He paused and continued. “Did your papa say anything about having to leave because someone was going to hurt him?” Johnny didn’t want to ask that question but felt he needed to.
Jeremy eyes lit up as he remembered something. “Yeah!” he replied. “My Papa came home and told Mama we had to move and fast.” His little voice had sadness in it now. “Papa said he didn’t care where we went as long as it was not in this town.”
Johnny sighed and looked at him “So you packed up all you could in your wagon and left.”
Jeremy just nodded. Johnny pulled Barranca to a stop, laid his hand on the boy’s knee and asked him. “What happened after that, and why were you up here?”
Jeremy looked into Johnny’s eyes and figured it was ok to tell him. “We were doing ok, till these bad men came after us. They chased us all over. Papa thought we could get away in the mountains.” Jeremy bowed his head and went quiet. By then his sister spoke up.
“Mama was getting scared. She was always fighting with Papa about getting off this mountain ” Lisa said. “Papa wouldn‘t listen to her. When we came to that little road, Mama really got scared. She made us to get off the wagon and take Samuel too,” Her little face told the rest of the story. Lisa just covered her eyes and started to cry.
Johnny grabbed her off Barranca and held her in his arms. She didn’t have to say anymore. He could only imagine the horror they both saw.
“Shhh! It’s okay honey. It’s ok,” he said, rocking her gently back and forth. Jeremy reached down and touched Johnny’s shoulder. He gave him a sad smile that said “Thank you for finding us”
Johnny decided they needed a break from the day’s journey and set up camp early for the night. Despite his nerves being on edge, the kids needed to eat and get some rest. He made dinner and fed little Samuel.
The two older kids were laughing at Johnny as he was trying to change a diaper. Even Johnny himself was getting a kick out of it, at the same time getting frustrated at the chore. This was one active baby he thought to himself.
Having successfully gotten Samuel taking care of, Johnny sat by the campfire with Jeremy and Lisa. The baby was finally fast asleep. He talked about how their Mama and Papa would be very proud of them. The sound of his sweet voice was so reassuring to them.
They were sharing a few laughs between them, When suddenly Johnny hushed them up.
“Shhh!” he told them as he put his finger to his lips. Both listened and stayed quiet as Johnny was reaching down for Samuel. “Jeremy, take your sister and brother and go hide over there behind those trees.” He pointed to the left side of him. “Don’t come out until I tell you to.” He handed Jeremy the baby and told them to go now.
Johnny looked out into the darkness, waiting for the unwelcome guest to show up. His hand was held loosely by his side, ready to use that gun if he needed to. The night was quiet as the wind had calm down.
Then Lisa screamed. He spun around to where he knew she was hidden.
As Johnny got up to go to her, something hit him hard from behind in the back of the head.
That was the last thing he remembered as the darkness took over.
“Johnny! Johnny! Please wake up. It’s me, Jeremy. Come on you have to wake up,” he pleaded with him as he kept pulling at his arm.
The darkness was slowly disappearing and he heard a little voice begging him to wake up. Johnny knew that voice, it was Jeremy’s. He was crying… something was wrong.
“I’m coming, Jeremy, hold on! I’m coming for you!” Johnny called out into the darkness, as he slowly fought his way to the light, to find the little boy who was calling for his help.
Johnny opened his eyes slowly, and found himself looking up at Jeremy’s face. He reached up and put his hand on the boy’s cheek and wiped away the tears.
Johnny tried to sit up, and fell right back when the pain in the back of his head stopped him cold.
He lay there for a few more minutes, before he tried getting up again. “Help me up,” he asked Jeremy. This time, with the boy’s help he was able to sit up. Leaning against a tree , he closed his eyes for a few minutes.
“What…what hit me?” he asked, while rubbing the back of his head, his eyes still shut.
“Me ” said the loud voice, coming from behind the boy. Johnny’s eyes flew open.
“Ok! Care to tell me why? Johnny asked, looking around. Then he realized that Lisa, and the baby weren’t with Jeremy. “Where… where’s the other two? Lisa and Samuel!” Panic was starting to kick in and Johnny went to reach for his gun. It was gone.
“We took your gun,” said the tall man standing beside Jeremy now. He had dark curly hair, and dark brown eyes, almost black. “The kids are over there, ” he replied to Johnny, pointing to a tree on the other side. “Safe and sound, but not for long if you don’t do as your told.”
Johnny’s eyes were still a little blurry, but he was able to see the children sitting by the tree. He also saw two more men standing by them holding rifles. “What do you want with me?” he asked the man, still rubbing his head wishing it would stop hurting.
“I need you to take us back to the wagon. The one these kids folks were driving,” He explained to Johnny, who was glaring at him now- a Madrid glare.
“NO! Mister, I’m not going back up that part of the mountain. I…I have to get those kids home,” Johnny told him as he started to get up.
“Stay down!” came from one of the other two men, who now made his way over to the tall man. He was shorter, and had long stringy red hair. “Your’re gonna show us where that wagon is,” he demanded. holding a rifle on Johnny.
A thought suddenly came to Johnny. “If they don’t know where the wagon was, then how did they know where to find him and the children?” Johnny closed his eyes, let out a sigh. Isaiah!
“How did you find us?” he had to ask. “And what’s so important in that wagon.” He figured that they must have followed the family’s wagon up here, and lost their trail. Then found Isaiah’s cabin, after they had left.
“Oh, you mean the Old man?” the tall man sneered, laughing. ” Well let’s say he didn’t want to give us any information.” he paused and added, “So we had to beat it out of him,” he said coldly, and Johnny felt nothing but rage building inside him…
“What’s in the wagon, is something their old man stole from us,” said the red haired man. ” We want it back, and you are gonna take us to it.” He was now shoving the rifle barrel into Johnny’s chest.
“I said NO!” Johnny replied harshly to him… The red haired man sat his rifle down , then grabbed Johnny by the coat and slugged him hard in the gut, causing him to loose his breath for a few minutes. as the children looked on.
“You leave him alone!” yelled Jeremy who was seated with his sister and brother now.
“Shut up kid!” said the third man. ” Hit him again, Jack,” he told the red haired man.
“NO!” screamed Lisa.
“Stop! Jack. Leave him,” said the tall man. Jack picked up the rifle and went back to where the children were. As he walked by, he gave them both an evil grin, causing Lisa to grab her brother and hold him tightly.
“Where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. ” My name is Harry. that over there,” pointing to the other man, “is Seth, and of course you met Jack.”
Johnny didn’t care who they were. He just wanted to get away from here and fast. When he finally got his breath back, Johnny thought he would try to buy some time while he thought of a way out of this.
“Look, why don’t I give you directions to the wagon and you let us go,” Johnny suggested to Harry. “What do you say?” he pointed over to the kids. “It’s getting colder by the day up here, I have to get them home .
At that moment, Samuel decided to make himself heard and started to cry. Jeremy was trying to hush him. But he was hungry, and Johnny saw this as a sign.
“I have to feed the baby!” he told Harry. “But first I have to milk that goat over there”, he said with a sly grin, while pointing to the little animal tied to the tree.
“Milk a goat?” Harry asked laughing. “You got to be joshing me?”
“No! No, I’m serious. I have to milk it,” Johnny explained to him.” He’s not going to stop crying until he eats,” he added. “Well, what’s it going to be?”
Harry thought about it while listening to Samuel cry. It was getting on his nerves, so he agreed to let Johnny get the milk for the baby. Then he can get on with this.
At gun point, Johnny walked slowly towards the goat. He leans over to grab the pail off the ground where it lay. As he kneeled down to pick it up, Johnny gave Jeremy a wink.
In a flash , Johnny spun around and hit Harry right in the face with the pail. Taken by surprise, Harry’s rifle dropped to the ground.
“RUN!” he hollered to the kids. The children ran for the trees– as fast as they could. with Samuel.
Johnny went for the rifle, He got to it just before Harry and together, they slid to the ground. Johnny kicked at Harry to get away from him.
Rolling to his left, Johnny got one shot off. It hit Seth in the chest and the man fell instantly.
On his feet now, Johnny got one more shot off and hits Jack in the shoulder. Jack went down, screaming like a girl.
Harry got to his feet and went for the gun on his hip. Just as he was aiming , Johnny hit him with the barrel of the rifle, throwing his aim off.
The shot went off, hitting Johnny in the left arm. He stumbled back and fell against a tree, the wind knocked out him for a few seconds. Then something shiny, laying there on a log, caught his eye… his Gun!
Lisa chose that moment to step out of the trees… just as Harry was aiming his gun at him. She screamed.
It was just the distraction he needed. Harry turned towards where she stood and Johnny took that split second to grab the gun on the log. He fired and Harry fell to the ground…dead.
Afterwards, Johnny let a sigh out. ‘It had to be this way’, he thought to himself. ‘I had no choice. They were not going to let us go.’
Now he had to explain it all to the children.
“Johnny! You’re hurt!” yelled Jeremy as he came running out from the trees. Reaching Johnny, he saw the blood on Johnny’s coat sleeve, gasped and covered his mouth in shock.
“It’s nothing bad, just a flesh wound,” Johnny told the boy, looking up and only now aware that Jeremy was not where he was supposed to be hiding. “Jeremy, I told you to stay put until I called for you.”
‘I know, Johnny. But…but the bad men are all dead .” Jeremy said to him, pointing to the bodies on the ground.
“Jeremy, come here!” Johnny said and then looking around. “Where’s your sister?”
“Over here!” Lisa called out as she was exiting the woods carrying Samuel. Jeremy walked over to her and took the baby into his arms.
“Come on over here you two and sit down.” They both obeyed and sat down next to Johnny. “I want to explain why I had to…to kill those men.” He looked into their eyes, hoping they would understand.
“Listen to me, okay? That man, Harry wasn’t going to let us go. He wanted to hurt you if I didn’t do what they said. Do you understand that?” They both nodded.
“But you didn’t let him…hurt us,” Jeremy said.
“No I didn‘t! I wasn’t going to take him back to where I found you either,” Johnny explained to them. ” And there was no way we could have gotten away.”
“I know you did it to protect us…just like papa would have,” Lisa said to Johnny as she reached over and gave him kiss on the cheek.
“That’s right, honey! Just like your Papa would have,” he replied as he brushed the hair away from her eyes and smiled at her.
“Now, what Johnny?” asked Jeremy.
“Well we can’t stay here. Help me pack up so we can move to another spot,” he told the children.
As they searched for another place to camp, Johnny couldn’t stop thinking about what was in the wagon that was so important that he had to kill three men because of it. That made him feel sick inside especially since he had done it when there were children around. But his main concern right now was the children. He thanked God that they didn’t seem to be badly affected by what they had seen—at least not that they were showing.
He also thought of Isaiah. Johnny wondered how badly they had to beat the old man to get answers out of him. That thought made his blood boil. The Madrid part of him was very glad he had killed them. Isaiah might be a scruffy old man, but he had a good heart and taken pity on them. Now the old man just might be dead because of them.
After finding another place to camp, and getting everything set up… again, Johnny was trying to milk the goat. It was was still a chore. This time it was harder because his arm hurt like the devil. He let Lisa feed the baby while he tended to his arm.
“That looks bad, Johnny.” Jeremy said, as he looked on while Johnny cleaned his wound.
“Nah! I had worst believe me,” he said to the boy. “This is just a flesh wound. It will heal as long as I keep it clean.” The graze was a deep one but it had stopped bleeding. He used his bandana as a bandage and the whiskey that Isaiah given him he poured over it to help keep the infection out.
“How much longer will it take to get off the mountains, Johnny?” asked Lisa.
“Oh, maybe by tomorrow night if there is no more surprises, ” Johnny replied with a big smile.
“Really!” Jeremy said wide-eyed. “That’s great. Then we can see your home…Lancer. How long will it take to get there?”
“Hopefully, not to long… depends on the weather. We got very lucky up here with the trees to help us with the cold winds. But, down there, we have rivers to cross. That might be something different altogether different,” he explained the children. They sat around him, staring at him with interest. with there eyes wide open in amazement as Johnny explained.
“Gee.! Can we do it, cross the river ok?” Lisa asked him.
“Sure we can but you have to listen to me, okay? I’m going to need your help to do so,” he said to them. ” Now off to bed with ya.” He followed them to where they had their bedrolls. Johnny tucked them in and kissed them goodnight.
“Night Johnny!” they both said at once.
“Night you two, now go to sleep,” he replied smiling.
He walked back over to where Samuel was, picked him up, and cradled him in his strong but gentle arms.
Sitting by the fire he was now wondering about the river. ‘How deep or wide is it,’ he thought. ‘How am I going to get these kids across it?’ He knew that the streams and the river would be high from the late summer rains.
Looking down at the little nino in his arms, he vowed to himself, ‘I’ll just have to figure it out as I go. These little kids need me to get them home… and I will.’
With Samuel safely cradled next to him, Johnny let the night sounds lull him to sleep.
Looking through the trees Johnny could see the flatlands in the near distance. It was as he had figured; they would be off this blasted mountain by night fall. He let out a sigh of relief knowing that he had gotten the kids down in one piece. They were very lucky to get out of that mess with their lives.
He couldn’t help but wonder what was in that wagon. What was so important that he had to kill three men because of it? And what of Isaiah? His heart was aching, not knowing if the old man was alive or dead. All he knew was whatever was in the wagon would have to stay buried with it along their parents. There was one more thing to worry about.
The rive…Johnny didn’t know how high it would be this time of year. But with all the rains and run offs from the hills, he had a pretty good idea though, and it could pose a big problem. He had to cross it to get home.
Well he would just have to figured it out when it came to it.
“Guess what Kids?” Johnny asked the children with a smile.
“What Johnny?” asked Jeremy.
“Well in a couple of hours we should be off the mountain, ” he explained.
“REALLY!” Lisa yelled with joy, bouncing up and down with excitement. Barranca shittered nervously, bucking and kicking, scaring them. Both of the children were screaming and hanging on for dear life while Johnny, very aware that he had a baby strapped to him, held tightly to the reins and tried to steady Barranca.
“Whoa boy! Whoa!” Johnny said to his friend trying to calm him down “That’s the boy, easy does it!” Barranca was starting to settle down, letting out little snorts and twisting his head, while listening to Johnny’s calming voice.
With Barranca calmed down, Johnny quickly checked out the kids. First he checked Samuel. Taking him out of the harness, Johnny looked him over. With a sigh of relief. he saw that he was still sleeping and had not been harmed. He gently laid him down.
He looked up. Jeremy and Lisa were still sitting on Barranca, but they were staring down at Johnny, panting and shaking.’ It’s a miracle they stayed on the horse,’ he thought to himself.
“Are you two ok?” Johnny asked Jeremy and Lisa, looking up at their flushed faces.
“We’re.. ok, Johnny,” Jeremy said gasping. “You ..ok Lisa?” he asked his sister.
She just nodded and started to cry. “I’m soo..rr..y Joh..nny,” she said sobbing.
Johnny reaches up and grabs her off of Barranca. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s okay. You didn’t mean to scare him.” he said, holding her in his arms. “Next time you have to be careful how you yell, Ok?” Wiping her tears away, he sat her back up on Barranca and, loading up Samuel again, he started down the hill.
As promised, they were now at the foot of the mountains and looking for a place to camp for the night. He found a nice spot by a grove of trees and running water. After setting up camp and getting the kids down for the night, Johnny took off his coat to check out his arm.
He very carefully peeled off the bandana he had used for a bandage. He cringed as the night air hit the now swollen and red wound. Johnny walked over to the waterfall to soak his arm in cold water to try to cool down the burning. After a few minutes of agonizing pain shooting up his arm as the cold water hit it, he dried it off and poured the last of the whiskey on it. Then he wrapped it back up.
Back at the campfire, he took one last glance at the children, tucking them in and seeing that Samuel was sleeping soundly. Johnny lay down beside him and stared up at the stars wondering what was going on at home.
Johnny thought of what his father would be saying right now. “Where in the hell is that brother of yours?” He could hear those words clearly as Murdoch hollered to Scott. Johnny chuckled, thinking to himself , ‘If you could only see me now, old man.’ That brought a smile to his face.
The long and tiring day was taking it toll on him. His feet hurt and his arm was throbbing. Johnny carefully set his gun by his right side, closed his eyes and fell into a restless sleep. Again he had that feeling of something was not right.
Up on the rocks, watching the sleeping group was a pair of green eyes.
The green eyes of the cougar watched its prey very closely as the small group slept. The cat wondered which one he should make his victim. There were small ones, and a big one… but which one? No matter, any one of them would make a nice meal, the cat thought with a crazed glare in his eyes.
He sat up there, perched on that rock, watching and waiting for the right moment to creep down and attack. When a sound distracted him from his potential meal. Looking over to where the sound came from for a few seconds, then turning back, he never noticed the one of its prey was missing.
The green-eyed cat let out a loud and painful scream as he fell off the rock and to the ground…taking its last breath.
Johnny’s knife was swift and accurate as it flew into the heart of the cat. He walked over to the dead feline, looking down at it and he pulled his knife out of its chest. Wiping the blood off with his coat sleeve and shaking his head with grief, he thought this was one beautiful animal and he hated to kill it.
Letting a sigh out he said quietly,. “What a waste!”
The sound of the cat’s scream had woken the children. Both Jeremy and Lisa jumped up from their beds onto their feet. Just as the cougar fell off the rocks above and landed only a few feet away from them, both, let out a scream of their own.
“Golly, Gee! Johnny! Where did he come from?” Jeremy asked, wide-eyed.
“He sure is pretty!” Lisa said rubbing her eyes.
“Pretty, but very deadly, Honey!” Johnny told her as Jeremy started to walk over to the cat.
“Jeremy! Stay away from it!” Johnny hollered to him to stop.
“Why, Johnny?” he looked at him puzzled. “He’s dead now. Isn’t he?”
“Yes! But I rather you stay over there with your sister. Besides you never know when an animal is playing possum, and might try to grab you,” Johnny explained. Then, going over to the cat and pushing it with his foot, showing Jeremy that it was dead for sure, he pulled it out of view as the boy looked on.
“Oh! Ok, I see,” the boy said as he walked back over to Lisa. “How did you know it was there?” he asked.
“It’s something I’ve learned,” Johnny replied. He had learned that at a very young age while he was on his own, and with no one to teach him. Johnny had had to learn a lot of things the hard way. and he hoped that these three little ones would not have to go through what he had.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Johnny and the kids huddled around the fire as dawn was coming over the horizon. None of them could get back to sleep, so they just sat there watching the sun come up.
“Isn’t that one of the prettiest sight you’ve very seen?” Johnny asked the kids.
“It sure is. We watched it a couple of times with Mama and Papa,” Lisa said. “When they got us up to early to get moving.” Johnny just nodded and they were all quiet for a few minutes.
Right on cue, little Samuel let everybody know he’s wake and very hungry. Johnny went over to the baby, picked him up and got a good whiff of a very solid diaper.
“PHEW!” Johnny said, wrinkling his nose at the smell coming from the baby. “What did you eat little one?” Laughing at the same time, he continued, “I reckon I’d better change ya, huh?
Johnny went to change Samuel’s diaper and was making all kinds of funny faces as he cleaned up the baby. As Jeremy and Lisa were taking turns trying to milk the goat, they were laughing their heads off at Johnny.
“Oh! You think this is funny, huh?” he yelled over to the kids smirking at him. “Well, I reckon next time it’s your turn!” Both of them just shook their heads, wide-eyed, and continued to milk the goat. Johnny smiled at them as finished up with Samuel.
After breakfast they packed up and headed out to the flatlands ahead of them. There would be no more hidden trails, no cats, no more thick trees for shelter; just flatlands with a few trees and streams along the way, until they got close to home and the hills of Lancer. But at least it would be warmer the further away they got from the mountains.
Johnny knew there was still a long ways to go. He had hoped that Murdoch would start to get worried and send someone to look for him, but that was wishful thinking on his part. Murdoch knew that Johnny could handle himself, but Johnny hoped he might get lucky and Murdoch might send someone looking. After all, Johnny should have been home two days ago.
The truth was that Johnny was now feeling the affects of the wound on his left arm. He ached and his arm felt like it was on fire. He hoped that he could get the kids home before he got too sick to finish their journey.
There it was…the river… big as day. Johnny cringed as he looked at it. It was higher and wider, just as he thought it would be. “Damn,” he said out loud. “How in blue blazes are we going to cross that?”
The late summer rains had caused the water level to rise over the riverbanks, making it difficult to even approach them without fear of stepping on soft ground and being pulled into its current. Many men had died that way and Johnny was not going to one of them, nor these children.
“Johnny, what are we going to do?” asked Jeremy.
“Well, I guess the only thing we can do is go up river,” he replied to the sad faced boy as he looked up at him. ‘Maybe we can find a low spot that will be safe to cross,’ he hoped.
“How long will that take, Johnny?” Lisa wondered.
“As long as it takes, honey,” he told her, reaching up and brushing a lone tear off her little face. “Don’t worry we’ll get across,” he reassured her with a smile.
They had walked for nearly two hours and it was the same old story. No matter what he saw, it was still too high to risk crossing. He just wasn’t going to chance it with these little one. They were starting to get to him…deeply. They warmed his heart, like most children did. But these three were special to him.
It was getting late and the children needed to rest. So did he, but he pushed on to find a way to cross that blasted river, and go home…to Lancer.
Another hour passed and finally he found what he was looking for…a part or the river that was not so high. Something else caught his eye too that brought a smile to his face.
A river raft… and the ropes were still attached from bank to the other. He hoped that the raft would still hold the weight of a man, three little ones and a goat, as it pulled them across to the other side.
“Hey kids! Look there!” he said, pointing to the raft. “That there will take us across the river,” Johnny explained to them.
Both Jeremy and Lisa sat there and stared at the raft with sleepy eyes as they covered their mouths, yawning to try to stay awake.
Realizing that is was too late to try to cross it today; Johnny quickly looked around for a place to camp for tonight. He located a small grove of trees and made their way over there and began the same old routine as every other night. By this time, he was really getting the art of changing a diaper down just right. And the goat…there had been few times he wanted to shoot it.
It didn’t take long for the little ones to fall asleep. It was been a long day and everyone was plain tuckered out. Johnny thanked God every day that the children’s health was holding up. If they had gotten the sniffles, he would have made them drink some of Teresa’s tea. She had packed some for him. Now, he knew he just might be needing it instead.
The wound on his arm was now fully infected and his whole body was hot and chilled at the same time. Fever was setting in and it was making him even more determined to get home – and fast. But he knew that if he didn’t do something to clean out the infection now, he would be no shape to finish their journey home.
Taking his coat off gingerly and hissing at the pain that shot up his arm, Johnny carefully unwrapped the bandage that was now covered in dried blood and green pus that stuck to his arm as he pulled at it. Once it was off, he closed his eyes at the sight of his arm. It was a half size bigger and the wound was red hot and swollen with infection. He had only one choice.
Pulling his knife out from his boot and placing it over the fire, he hoped that the children would stay asleep. This was not something he wanted them to witness. He smiled at the thought of Sam Jenkins, the family doctor, or more so his doctor. ‘I can hear his voice now,’ he thought. ‘Son, this is going to hurt, so grin and bear with it!’
So with those words in mind, he brought the red-hot knife to his arm. Taking in a deep breath and blowing it out, and picking up a stick that he placed in his mouth, he said to himself, ‘let her buck.’ Johnny began to slowly cut into the inflamed wound.
Tears were filling his eyes as he bit down hard on the stick, so hard that his teeth were leaving indentations in the wood. Feeling faint from the sheer pain that was running through his body, Johnny fought the darkness that beckoned him to come to it. As the infection drained out he was getting weaker by the second and finally couldn’t take anymore.
Sitting there for a few minutes catching his breath, he began to clean up the wound. Then he grabbed a new shirt he bought from his saddlebags. He ripped it into strips with his teeth to use for bandages. When he was done and wiping the sweat from his pale face, Johnny laid down by the fire next to Samuel.
Lying there, looking up at the stars, he hoped his strength would hold up and get them across the river tomorrow. The cool night air cooled down his fevered face and he listened to the sound of the river as it flowed by.
Johnny was wishing that his father and brother would get worried enough and start to look for him.
As he fell asleep, his fevered thoughts were those of a child’s …Papa please find me.
Johnny stood there studying the river and its current. Nothing had changed since last night He had tested the raft and it did seemed sturdy enough to hold all of them. But the current was still moving too fast and that bothered him.
What bothered him too was the fact he was still feeling feverish and his body was stiff. His arm didn’t hurt as badly as it had last night but it was still not as strong as he would like it to be. He needed all his strength to pull them across on the raft.
He just wasn’t sure if he could do it. Frowning, a thought came to him.
He was going to have to ride Barranca across first; that he knew for sure. There was no room for him on the raft and in trying, he would make it impossible and endanger them all. Besides he would need Barranca’s help to pull the raft across safely.
With that idea tucked in his head, and with a heavy sigh, he turned too see two hungry faces staring at him.
“Breakfast coming up!” he told them and before he went to fetch some fire wood, he told them stay away from the river banks and stay put.
“Gee! Jeremy, it looks so big,” Lisa said to her brother as she stood there and stared it the river.
“Yeah! And we better do as Johnny said too, okay?” Lisa was paying no mind to her brother and started to walk down towards it. “LISA!” Jeremy hollered and went to pull her back, practically dragging her back to camp. “You dummy! Johnny said to stay away and we are gonna listen to him!” he scolded his sister.
“I just wanted to see it up close,” she said, trying to shake loose from her brother.
“Hey! What’s going on?” Johnny asked. He had heard them yelling when he was coming back with an arm full of kindling.
“Johnny! Lisa was going to close to the river,” he told him, pointing to his sister.
“I wasn’t going to get too close, Jeremy!” she said and kicked him in the shin.
“OUCH! That hurt.” he yelled and went to chase her, but she ran over to Johnny, hiding behind him. Jeremy ran over and started to chase her around Johnny.
Chuckling, Johnny said, “Hey you two stop that right now. I’m going to need your help when we get to crossing that river and I don’t need you fighting.” He couldn’t help but laugh, they were only being kids. It was the first sibling squabble and he was sure there would be more to come.
“We’re sorry, Johnny!’ they both said, looking down at their feet.
“That’s okay,’ he said. Smiling and shaking his head in amusement, he started the fire and as they ate, he explained what he wanted to do. They both had to really pay attention to what he told them.
Both of them nodded and then noticed that he was looking a little tired and pale. Little Lisa walked up to him and put her hand on his cheek.
“Johnny, you feel warm, are you feeling okay?” she asked, rubbing his cheek.
“I’ll be alright, honey,” Taking her little hand in his, he kissed it. “It’s nothing. We have to worry about that river now.” he said, trying to change the subject.
He didn’t want to worry them and started to clean up camp and get Barranca ready to cross over to the other side. Grabbing the supplies and laying them to the side, and then handing over Samuel to Jeremy, he was ready.
“ Now, I want you two to just stay back here, and no matter what happens you stay put,” he explained to them and asked, “Do you understand me?”
Both nodded and with that he took Barranca by the reins and led him over to the riverbank. Looking at it and looking at his trusted friend, he mounted. It was the first time he had mounted his horse since he found the kids and he hoped he would still be around to ride him, with the weaken state he was in right now, he wasn’t so sure.
“Okay, Amigo, let’s do this!” Wrapping the long extra rope he had found in the wagon around his shoulders, he gently kicked him to move on.
They both slowly waded into the cold flowing water, Barranca hesitated at first, but Johnny urged him on. “Come on, boy, you can do this, huh, for me?” Barranca snickered and shook his head and walked on in further. All the while, Johnny kept talking to his friend to keep him clam. “That’s the boy… good fella.”
The further they went, the faster the flow of the river got. Johnny held on to the reins tightly as he carefully guided Barranca along. By the time he reached the middle of the river, it was only up to his knees. With a sigh of relief, he patted Barranca on the neck. They both continued to cross it.
Reaching the bank, Johnny waved to the kids to let them know he had made it. Now he had to get back. Johnny had to do the only thing he could. Taking the rope he had brought along, he tied it around the pommel of his saddle and the other end to his waste. Leading him over to a spot, he told him to stay.
Rubbing his sore arm and trying to loosen it up, he hissed. It hurt like the devil now, but he had to do this. It was the only way back across. Taking off his gunbelt and coat and setting them by a tree, he took a deep breath and blew it out.
Wading into cold water, he grabbed the rope and used it as a lifeline as he started to cross over to the other side.
The rocks beneath him were sharp and slippery. He had to carefully take one step at a time, while hanging on to the rope. Johnny couldn’t afford to miss a step, or he would be swept away by the current of the river. His boots were full of water, which made every step difficult to take.
Seeing was difficult as the water splashed up into his face. He quickly wiped his face with his hand and then grabbing the rope again, hanging on for dear life.
By the time he had reached to middle of the river, it was up to his shoulders. His arm was now resisting his efforts to use it; he cringed at the throbbing pain he felt as the cold water pushed against it. He had to use all his power from his right arm just to hold on to the rope as he crossed over.
After what seemed like an eternity, he was finally on the other side. Johnny was barely able to crawl up the bank. He rolled onto his back from exhaustion, lying there for a few minutes to catch his breath, trying to warm up. He was freezing. Without his coat on, the cold water had chilled him to the bone.
After a few minutes he slowly got up, untied the rope around his waist and then brought it over to the raft and tied it to it. He made sure it was tight and as secure he could get it. Looking across to see if the other end was still tied to Barranca, he was satistied that it was.
Johnny quickly went over to the children and was glad to see they had done as they were told to and stayed put. As he got closer to them, he saw their little worried faces. Smiling down at them he said, “Hey, I told ya I would be back for you!”
Both just smiled and they ran up too him, wanting to give him a hug. “Whoa! Slow down, I’m all wet here.” He stopped them and asked, “How’s Samuel?”
“He’s ok, he’s sleeping,” Jeremy replied.
“Johnny, are you ok? You don’t look so good,” Lisa asked as she noticed him shivering uncontrollably.
“Sure, honey. The water was just very cold. I just to need to get dried off, and then we can get to crossing the river,” he explained to her.
Sitting by the fire and still trying to warm up, he thought about how he was going to do this. They were so small and he worried about Samuel. How was he going to get a baby across that? After thinking for a few minutes and looking up at the sky, he thought to himself ‘Well time’s a wasting here, got to do this and now,’ hoping his plan will work.
“Ok kids, let’s go for a ride!” he said, trying to be cheerful when he knew there was nothing funny about it.
They all headed down to the bank and he told them, “Now you have to do as I say, ok?
Both nodded, and they helped him load the supplies on the raft. Next he had them sit in the middle of it close together, and he had them both hold Samuel. That way he knew they were all together in one spot. With the children and the supplies aboard and, yes, that goat that was tied off to one the boards; it was time to push off and head on across.
” Okay kids, hang on! Here we go!” They both looked at him and closed their eyes, as Johnny pushed off from the riverbank.
With a whistle, he signaled to Barranca to start to move backwards to keep taut the rope he had tied to the raft. He just hoped that it would hold up as he pulled.
Johnny was pulling as much as he could on the other rope at the same time, mostly with his good arm, trying not to use his left as much as possible. The pain felt was affecting his strength.
“That a boy! Keep going, pull us across,” he said, as his trusted friend was doing all he could to bring them across.
The current was strong and it was rocking the raft up and down, splashing water up on to it and getting the kids wet. They held on tight to the baby, and to each other trying to be brave. Johnny looked down at their wet and scared faces.
“Hey, how are you two doing?” he asked
“We’re ok, I guess. How long will it be till we get there?’ Jeremy asked, wiping the water off his face with his shirtsleeve.
Johnny didn’t answer right away. He just tried to smile at the boy. The truth was that he was trying to hold on the ropes with all he had. His body was protesting, telling him he was losing his strength in both arms. ‘Come on hold on, Johnny boy,’ he thought to himself. ‘Got to get across, got to.’
“It won’t be much longer!” he finally answered the boy. Jeremy just nodded and cuddled his little brother closer to him, trying to keep him dry.
“I’m scared, Johnny!” Lisa said holding on tight to her brother, as the raft hit a bump.
“It’s okay honey. Just stay put both of you. Okay?” he told them in a reassuring voice.
They were more than half way across and Johnny was feeling relieved that they were almost there. At the same time, he was also getting weaker by the minute. But he kept up with the pulling as hard as he could, urging Barranca to pull even harder.
After a bumping ride and only a couple of things falling into the river, they were finally on the other side.
Barranca held steady as Johnny tied off the raft and began unloading it. First, he checked out Samuel to see if the little nino was okay. A smile came to his face when he saw that he had slept through it all. ‘Just like a baby,’ he said to himself. He grabbed his coat, and wrapped it around Samuel and gently laid him on the ground.
Helping the other two children off, he checked them over as well. They were wet and scared from the ordeal but they were doing fine. He was proud of them. They were little troopers. He took his saddle blanket and wrapped them both in it to warm them up.
Ather getting the supplies off, it was that pest of a goat’s turn. He went back on to the raft to untie the animal and it was resisting him by pulling backwards as Johnny was trying to get it loose.
Finally after a few minutes of struggling to free the beast, it gave way and the goat was free.
Just as the goat ran off the raft, the rope that had anchored it finally gave way and within seconds the unthinkable happened.
The kids watched in horror as the raft, with Johnny still aboard it, went up and down as the current had picked it up and smashed it into a big rock, throwing its passenger into the river.
Johnny was conscious and was desperately trying to grab on to anything he could – trees, branches, logs – anything. But just when something was within his reach he would be pulled away from it and dragged further on down the river, the current picking up speed as he went.
He was being pulled under and over, and over again; spitting out water and coughing at the same time, gasping for air. His left arm was of no use to him any more and his body was starting to feel the effects of the cold water. His muscles were stiffening up and he was being drained of his strength, what was left of it.
From the riverbanks, he could faintly hear the screams of the children as they were calling his name. They were running along side trying to follow him; running as fast as their little feet would allow them, but the flow of the river was too fast for them to keep up.
They had to watch in horror as he was being swept away from them. They both stood there, crying, then Jeremy realized he had to pull himself together. He had to be brave and take matters into his own little hands.
Wiping his tears he said to his sister, “Come on, we have to go back and get Johnny’s horse , and then we have to go find him. Okay?”
“Yeah!” Was all she said, and they ran back over to Barranca and Samuel.
Jeremy stood on a tree stump, loading Barranca up with a few things he thought that they would need. Barranca just shook his head in agreement. Somehow he knew something was wrong and obeyed the boy.
“That’s the good boy, Johnny needs you to help us to find him.” Jeremy told him and rubbed his neck. With everything ready to go, they set out to find Johnny, this time walking, and leading Barranca. Jeremy used the Indian baby carrier to carry Samuel – like Johnny did – only this time on his back. It was easier that way for a small boy or girl.
The current had picked up some more, still tossing Johnny around, when suddenly he was pushed into a big log that was sticking out along side of the bank. It hit him like someone kicked him in the cut, knocking the wind out him.
But he was able to hang on as he caught his breath and then, grabbing the small branches sticking out of it, he used them to pull himself along the log to reach dry land.
Slipping a few times, he still managed to make it to the side. Dragging himself slowly up the bank, drained of his strength, he couldn’t go any further and finally collapsed by a tree, face down in the dirt.
“Jeremy, where is he?” Lisa asked trying not to cry.
“I don’t, know Lisa! I don’t know!” he replied, “but we had better keep looking.”
Both of them were taking turns carrying Samuel as they searched for Johnny, calling his name as loudly as they could and straining their eyes trying to locate him in the river or on land.
They searched and searched until Lisa spotted something or someone lying under a tree.
“JEREMY!” she screamed, and pointed over at that direction. “I see something!”
Running as fast as they could, they realized it was Johnny. Their eyes had widened in fear at the sight of him lying there, not moving. When they finally reached him, they laid the baby down next to him and gently shoved him, urging him to wake up.
“Johnny! Wake up, please!” The boy pleaded, as the tears were filling his eyes.
“Do you…think…he’s dead?” Lisa asked, crying and wiping her face.
Before he had a chance to answer they heard a slight moan. Thier hearts jumped. Then he moved a little, their little hearts were beating fast as they both gently turned him over.
“Johnny? Can you hear me? Jeremy asked as he ran his hand over Johnny’s heated face.
The cool touch of a small gentle hand rubbing his face was urging him to wake up. Johnny’s eyes slowly fluttered open, only to shut again as the sun beamed down into them. They were burning from all the water and from the fever that was now invading his body even worse than before.
He shaded his eyes from the sunrays with his good hand and looked over at the children. He gave them a weak smile and tired to talk but the words would not come out. Closing his eyes, he was too weak to sit up and his arm was shooting hot pain through his whole body.
His last though was of the children, before the darkness won out and he passed out.
“He doesn’t look so good, Jeremy!” Lisa said as she leaned over and felt Johnny’s head. “He’s real hot. What are we going to do?”
Jeremy thought for a few minutes and then said to his sister. “We have to get him warmed up. I’ll be right back.” He ran to Barranca and took the blanket off of him and came back to cover Johnny up. “I…I need to start a fire.”
“You don’t know how! Do you?” she questioned her brother.
“I’d watched Johnny do it, so it shouldn’t be too hard,” he explained and looked around for small pieces of wood to use. Finding some he laid them in a pile and searched for some matches. Jeremy looked in Johnny’s saddlebags and finding only a few and carefully tired to strike one.
“OUCH!” he hollered as the match burned his finger, and he threw it down.
“Careful, try it a again,” she said frowning “We don’t have a whole lot of those!”
This time he did light it right and got the fire going. “See! I told ya I could,” he said, sticking his tongue at his sister.
“Show off! Now go milk that stupid goat. Samuel is getting hungry,” she demanded.
Having taken care of Samuel, they both sat by Johnny’s side and talked to him quietly as he slept. Wishing we would wake up and tell them what to do. The sun was going down and they were scared. And now they were lost again too.
Moving the baby down closer to Johnny, they both snuggled on each side of him and fell sleep.
“STAY AWAY FROM HIM!” hollered Jeremy as he grabbed Johnny’s gun and, very nervously pointed it at two Indians that stood in front them. The older one of the two went to kneel down to take a closer look at Johnny, who was still unconscious. He touched Johnny’s cheek and frowned at how high his fever was.
“Leave him alone, he‘s sick!” Lisa cried out, standing behind her brother.
Looking up at both of their scared little faces, he slowly got up and smiled at them. “I can see that, little one.”
Startling the children when he spoke to them, they jumped back at little. Their eyes widened with amazement that he spoke English.
“You…you speak English?” Jeremy asked and looked at him, confused. “You’re not going to hurt us? Are you?”
“No, little one I’m not going to hurt you,” he replied. “And yes I speak your tongue,” he said laughing. “I am called Running wolf and he is my son, Little Hawk,” he said, pointing the boy standing next him.
Still a little scared and not too sure what to believe, Jeremy looked at them. He studied their faces for a few minutes and, to him, they had seemed friendly. He also knew that his family needed help. And Johnny needed help. He decided that it was ok to trust them. They really had no choice.
“My name is Jeremy and this is my sister, Lisa,” he said, still holding the gun. “That’s our baby brother, Samuel.” He pointed over by the tree to where the baby lay.
“Can you help, Johnny? His arm is real bad.” she stated.
“I will try, but first you must put that weapon down,” he said, pointing to the gun in Jeremy’s hands.
Jeremy did as he was told. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Running Wolf smiled at him and turned his attention to Johnny. Kneeling down in front of him, he cut away his sleeve with his knife and removed the strips of cloth tha twere covered with dried blood and green from the infection. He shook his head at the sight of Johnny’s arm. The wound was red and swollen again.
“Can you help him, Father?’ asked Little hawk, who was no more than ten years old.
“He is very sick, my son. But I think I can,” he replied.
Running Wolf opened up his pouch, he had hanging from his left side, and took some herbs and leaves out. He placed them in a bowl, one of the children gave him, and crushed them together, then added water and mixed it up to a mush. It was ready to spread on Johnny’s arm. But first he had to reopen the wound to drain the affection out.
He carefully cut into the wound and poured water over it as the green puss oozed out. When it was done draining he cleaned it and then set about spreading the mixture on it. Finally he wrapped it up with clean strips of cloth. Then he gently laid his arm down and covered Johnny back up with the blanket, putting a cold cloth on his head.
Johnny was still unconscious while he did all this, and Running Wolf was grateful for that. Otherwise he could have not done what he had to do.
He also was looking Johnny’s features, realizing that he was of mixed blood, and wondered about the children.
“Is he your father?” asked Running Wolf.
“No. Our parents are dead,” he replied sadly. “Johnny found us and he was taking us to his home.”
“Do you know where his home is?” asked Little Hawk.
“Lancer,” Lisa answered.
Running Wolf’s eyes widened. He knew of that name. He was told of a big man with that name who had helped a teacher with her school for the Indians – a strong man who had fought to keep it open. Looking down at Johnny, thinking this must be his son – the half-breed they also called Madrid – he smiled.
He also knew that name very well, for Madrid was always a friend to the Indians, helping when he could to fight off the bandits who came to raid their villages. He had never seen Madrid before and he is pleased to be the one to help him and the children whom he was bringing to his home.
“We will help you get to this …Lancer,” he told the children.
With the help of his son, Running wolf made an Indian carrying bed and attached to Barranca. He picked up Johnny and gently laid him on it, covering him with a blanket and then lay the baby next to him. It would be easier to travel that way than carrying Samuel as they walked.
Besides Barranca, Running Wolf only had one horse between him and Little Hawk. He set the children on it, along with what they had left for supplies, which was not very much. Then he tied the goat to the Travois bed. With everything ready, and Johnny secured on the travois, Running Wolf started to lead the little group home.
As they were crossing over the flatlands, the children were getting to know their new friends a little better. Learning the ways of the Indians and how they did things made the time go a lot easier on them.
They were learning how to start a fire without matches – using sticks, and rocks; what kind of food you can find to eat, and what not to eat. Some ways were strange to them but it was also very interesting too. They were excited about all this and couldn’t wait to tell Johnny.
But they were worried about him. He still hasn’t woken up and it was scaring them. They had come to love Johnny; he was like a father figure to them. They wanted him to wake up so that they could talk to him, tell him that they were ok now, that he would be okay.
Running Wolf kept applying the herb mixture to Johnny‘s arm. It was slowly starting to heal, but his fever still was too high. In his feverish state, Johnny would mumble things in Spanish that made no sense to the kids, but the other two knew what he was saying, and it had saddened them.
As Running Wolf looked at Johnny’s face, he saw a face that was so young, yet so old. From the fevered words he had heard, he had come to understand that Johnny had had to grow up fast, and he came to admire the courage of this young man.
Most men of two worlds, as Running called him, did not make it very far in life if they did not choose the right path.
“Will Johnny be okay?” asked Lisa. She was kneeling down beside Johnny, stroking his head.
“He is a brave and strong man, is he not?” Running Wolf asked back.
“Yes he is very brave, and we love him!” she answered
“Then he will be okay, little one,” he told her. “Your love for him will bring him through this.
“His arm is looking better, but he’s still hot,” she said sadly.
“It will take time, but he is healing,” he explained to her, and added, “Go and eat.”
Lisa went to join the others by the fire. Jeremy was feeding Samuel while listening to Little Hawk tells stories of his people. One story was about a young gunman who came to them and had helped to fight off bandits who had come to raid and kill. He was brave and strong, fighting alongside the Indians, and he was always welcome in their village from that day on.
“Gee! What was his name?” asked Jeremy. “Did you ever meet him?”
“They called him Madrid. And no, I have never met this man. It was at another village,” he said, smiling.
“Wow! That’s sound like something that Johnny would do,” Lisa exclaimed.
Meanwhile, a pair of tired riders where looking worse for wear as they searched on. They had been riding for two days, searching and coming up empty. They had come to the river and found that it was still high and the current was fast. Not attempting to cross it at this time, they had set up camp by it instead.
Murdoch and Scott sat by the fire and staring into their cups of coffee; not saying much but just thinking of where to search next.
“Where could he be, Sir?” Scott asked his father, rubbing his eyes.
“I have no idea, Scott. Johnny should have been back days ago, according to his telegram.”
“Not unless something went wrong, preventing him coming home.”
Murdoch didn’t say a word, but nodded, knowing Scott just might be right. Trouble did have a way of finding his youngest son.
Rubbing his tired eyes some more, Scott looked over at the river and a thought came to him. Noticing how high it was, he thought to himself, ‘Maybe just maybe, Johnny went up river to cross it.’
“Sir, what if Johnny went up river to cross, I mean it is too high to risk crossing right here,” he explained.
“If he came this way, you could be right, Son,” he replied and then added, “We’ll head up river tomorrow but for now, we’d better get some sleep.”
Like all the other nights since before they had left Lancer, sleep did not come easy and, as Scott finally drifted off to sleep, he said quietly to himself, ‘we’re coming, little brother.’
They had ridden up river seeking a low spot where they would be able to cross, all the while still looking for any signs of Johnny, hoping he may have come this way and scanning the area for campfires and tracks of his horse, or horses. The thought had crossed their minds that he could have found trouble and was unable to get away.
Not finding anything, Scott and Murdoch traveled furthered on up. This was too big of an area to cover, and Murdoch had wished he should have brought more men with them, but they were needed back at Lancer. Winter was around the corner and they had to get ready for what might prove to be a long one.
After a couple of hours had gone by, and just when they were giving up hope of finding anything on this side, they were debating whether or not to cross over yet when Scott had spotted the smashed up raft. It was wedged between two dead trees, sticking out along the bank on this side of the river.
“Murdoch!” he yelled and pointed to the raft. They both dismounted and went down to riverbank to take a closer look at it. Their hearts skipped a beat when an image had come to them both. “You don’t think he…?”
Murdoch just closed his eyes and tried to shake that image out of his head. Not answering his son’s question, he got up and walked on over towards his horse.
“We’d better keep looking, son,” Murdoch said with a heavy sigh. They both mounted again and went further on up the riverside.
As they rode, their thoughts were running wild with all kinds of unanswered questions. Had he been on that raft? Is he hurt? Is he alive? Or is he being held against his will? These questions needed to be answered, and soon. This was taking way too long, and time was not on their side.
It was getting close to noon and the children needed to stop to rest, so Running Wolf found a good place to stop. It had a nice little grove of trees for shade, and small stream that supplied them with fresh water.
Jeremy would help gather firewood and would do anything he could to help his new friends. Then he would also milk that goat, and care his little brother. Jeremy even tried to copy Johnny’s Spanish lullaby he had sung to Samuel.
Lisa was helping Running Wolf with Johnny’s arm, the redness around the wound was a pink color now and the infection was slowly going away. His fever still lingered on, even though he was not as hot as he had been this morning.
“He is getting better, right, Running Wolf?” asked Lisa as she was cooling Johnny face with a damp cloth.
“Yes, he is, little one,” he replied with a smile for the girl. “It will still take some time, but he will heal,” he added.
“I wish he would wake up. I miss talking to him,” she said and bent down and kissed his forehead.
Just as she did that, Johnny moaned and moved a little. Blue eyes fluttered open slowly. He blinked a few times then rubbed them to clear his vision. Things were still a little fuzzy as he focused on a pair of little brown eyes staring at him.
“Johnny, you’re awake!” she said with a big smile on her face. “JEREMY! JOHNNY”S AWAKE!” she hollered to her brother and Jeremy came running over to where they were, and then stopped to stand next to Running Wolf.
“Hi there, honey,” Johnny said very weakly.
Turning his head towards Jeremy, his eyes widened in confusion at the sight of Jeremy standing next to an Indian. It startled him and he went to get up, but fell back as the pain shot up his arm when he tried to use it to raise himself. Johnny tried to speak, but the words escaped him.
“It’s ok, Johnny,” Jeremy said, seeing the surprised look on his face. “He’s a friend. He helped us when you was real sick,” he explained. “He’s helping us get home, too.”
Johnny just stared at Running wolf for a few minutes and then closed his eyes. He was too weak to even think straight at the moment. Lying there with his eyes still shut, he licked his lips. They were dry and cracked from the fever. His head hurt and he had never felt so helpless as this in a long time.
Suddenly his eyes flew open when he felt a pair of strong hands lifting his head up.
“You must drink.”
Johnny was studying Running Wolf while he was cleaning his wound and applying the mixture of herbs to it. He had recognized the tribe he was from by the markings on his beads around his neck. They were same colors and markings as on the bracelet he wore on his own wrist. He gently rubbed the beads of his bracelet as it brought back fond memories.
He was also wondering why these two were out here, so far from their tribe and alone. They had always had traveled in groups. It was safer that way. Something must have had happened.
“You are healing very well, Madrid.” Running Wolf said and smiled at him.
“You know who I am?” Johnny asked, surprised he knew of him. He had never met Running Wolf before this.
“Yes, I know of you and how you helped the Indian people,” he answered and added, “The little ones told me of your other name,” he said and looked into Johnny’s eyes. “Do not worry they do not know you are also Madrid,” he said to assure him, after Johnny had frowned. “You are a man of two worlds and I can see you choose the one you wish to live in – yes?”
“Yes, I have found my family, and have never been happier,” Johnny explained, and then needed to know. “May I ask you something?”
“Yes, what is it you wish to know?”
“How come you’re both are out here, far from your village?” Johnny asked in a soft voice. “Has something happened?”
“We are what’s left of my village,” he said grimly. “The bandits came again and destroyed the village. They murdered my people while they slept.” He stopped for a few seconds, and then continued, ” Little Hawk and I were coming home from a hunt, when we found…” he couldn’t finish and he went quiet.
“So you were looking for the rest of your people when you found us?” Johnny asked with a heavy heart. He had come to admire and respect these people. They are a proud people, but were still very wary of the white man. So they had spread out in hopes to better their chances of survival.
“Yes,” was all Running said, with a sad expression on his face.
“If I can help in any way, please ask,” Johnny told him, and laid back down as his strength was wearing down. He closed his eyes.
“You must rest now. I will take care of the little ones for you,” Running Wolf said and got up. Just as he went to leave, he heard Johnny say softly as he drifted off too sleep, “I know you will.”
He smiled at the young man lying there.
“Is Johnny asleep?” Jeremy asked as he walked up to him.
“Yes, and will sleep for some time. Come we must be moving now. We cannot stay here. It is too open. We must find a better place before the night is upon us,” he explained and pointing to the sun that was setting over the horizon.
So, the little group was on their way again while Johnny slept. They still had a ways to go before they reached the hills of Lancer.
Running Wolf was worried about one more thing though…the bandits. They were still out there somewhere, and he had hoped that they would not cross their path any time soon.
The day was dragging on as Murdoch and Scott searched further up river. Murdoch’s back was screaming at him. The long hours in the saddle were taking their toll of him. But he was determined to keep on searching for his son. There were only a few more hours left of daylight and wanted to get as much territory covered as possible.
Scott was getting very disgusted at coming up empty handed. His eyes were red and sore from rubbing them too much, from the lack of sleep and the dust from the trail. He was just about to call it quits for the day and suggest they make camp early when he saw something shinny ahead lying in the ground by a tree.
He brought his horse to a stop and jumped off a little too hastily, almost falling face first to the ground, but he was able to catch himself. Steadying himself, he then quickly went to get a closer look. His heart was beating fast as he had recognized the item lying there.
Scott’s hand shook as he reached down and picked it up. His eyes finally had some hope in them again as he looked at the round item in his hand.
“Murdoch!” he called to his father. Murdoch urged his horse to move faster.
Dismounting and walking stiffly over to where Scott was standing, he noticed a smile on his son’s face and this gave him a glimmer of hope. “What is it? What did you find?” he asked anxiously.
Scott stared at the shiny item for a few more seconds before he looked up at his father and handed it to him. It was a silver Concho.
“It’s Johnny’s, I know it,” Scott said as he looked at his father’s face.
“Yes, it is. It’s your brothers!” he exclaimed and held it tightly in his hand.
Having found the concho, Scott quickly started to look for anything more that could lead him to Johnny. Searching carefully, he spotted some drag marks in the ground.
“Look here, over here,” he called to his father and pointed to the ground. “It looks like someone was dragging something, maybe a litter? And by the direction they’re going, I’d I say they’re headed back the way we came,” Scott explained to his father.
Murdoch was quiet and paced back and forth for a few minutes, thinking. “Well we can’t do any more today. Let’s camp here and then get a early start in the morning,” he said. “And let’s hope the tracks do lead to home.”
“What do you think we’ll find when we do meet up with whoever is pulling that travois?” Scott asked, with a worried voice.
“Johnny alive, that’s what I hope we find,” he answered strongly. “He just might be the one who is pulling it.”
“I hope you’re right, Sir” Scott wished and then added, “I’ll go get the fire wood,” and left to set up camp.
“You do that, and I’ll see to the horses.”
They sat there and stared into the fire, both lost in their own thoughts. The days had been long and hard as they had searched, but now they finally had some hope – a direction in which they could go and search without blinders on.
Someone was hurt – that they knew for sure…but who?
Murdoch was holding the concho and tenderly feeling the design of it with his fingers, ‘Johnny loves these buttons,‘ he thought to himself.
As he laid down by the fire, a very tired father closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that they would find his son alive so he would be able to give this back to him.
Running Wolf was scanning the horizon for any signs of dust clouds the would that might indicate riders; riders he would rather not deal with right now, not with four children and a sick man. They would not had a chance, not with this kind of bandits – the kind who would stop at nothing to get what they want.
There was another thing that bothered him, and it could prove to be just as deadly.
The signs of winter were showing up as the days went on. Fall was now in full swing, and soon the cover of the trees would be gone. Even though they did not get the snow in these parts, they did get the cold. And without the cover of the trees to break the cold winds that blew it would be almost impossible to find shelter.
He hoped to get Johnny and the children home, and then to find his own people before winter had fully set in. He had heard of a tribe in these parts that lived in the hills further away from Lancer. The only thing now was, when he did find them, would the tribe take them in and accept them as tribal members?
That too was preying on his mind, and he was quiet most of the time as they traveled.
“Your pa sure does look unhappy, Little hawk.” Jeremy said to his new friend.
“He is worried about finding our people,” Little Hawk replied.
“I’m sorry lost your home. I sure hope you find your people,” Jeremy said sadly. “I know how it if feels too lose your home.” He paused and looked at his sister. “Thanks to Johnny, we are going to a new home…his home for now,” he finished.
“He promised to find us a new mama and papa too, so we can stay together,” Lisa added and smiled down at Johnny, as they walked alongside the carrying bed.
“And I will,” Johnny said as he opened his eyes. He had been awake for a little bit, but had kept his eyes shut. He was listening to the kids talk and it had warmed his heart.
“I know you will, Johnny,” Lisa said and then bent over and touched his face. “Your fever is almost gone. That’s great!”
“Yeah and I feel a little better too, thanks to all of you.” He looked up at the sky and wondered something. “How long has it been since you found me?” he asked.
“Two suns” Said Little Hawk.
“That means two days,” Jeremy said smiling. “Little Hawk has been teaching me stuff.”
“I can see that,” Johnny said. “It is good to know these things. These are good people to learn from, Jeremy, and to have as friends.”
Running Wolf heard what Johnny had said and smiled, but that smile soon turned to a frown as his eagle eyes had noticed a cloud of dust in the far distance. Quickly he scanned the area for a place to run and hide. He spotted a grove of trees to the left of them and quickly turned Barranca to head towards them.
Johnny was startled by the sudden change in movement and direction of the carrying bed. He twisted around to see what was going on. He looked up at Running Wolf, and the expression on the man’s face had him worried. Looking back in the other direction he also saw the cloud of dust and turned back towards the children.
“Little Hawk, help the kids up on your horse!” he said hurriedly, “and make a run for those trees. Hurry!“ Johnny handed over Samuel to him.
The kids looked down at Johnny and were now very confused. “Johnny?”
“It will be ok, now do what Little Hawk tells ya! Okay?” Both nodded. “Now get, all of you. GO!” he said and they took off, leaving Johnny and Running Wolf behind.
As they hurried along themselves, Johnny was looking for his gun and yelled to Running Wolf, “Where’s my gun?”
“It’s in your saddlebag,” he replied and stopped. “Can you use it?” he asked as he took it out and gave it to Johnny, who checked to see if was still useable after being in the water.
“Yes, now get going!” and Running Wolf urged Barranca on as Johnny kept an eye on that cloud of dust that was getting closer by the minute.
The children had made it to the trees okay and hid in the thick of them. From where they were, they could see both Johnny and Running Wolf, slowly coming into view.
“Come on! You can make it!” said Lisa. “Come on hurry!” She had tears in his eyes.
“They will, I just know it!” Jeremy said trying to comfort his sister, while Little Hawk look on too and still held Samuel.
The trees were right before them and Running Wolf urged Barranca to move faster, almost shaking Johnny off as he held on for dear life. With his gun in hand, he kept a eye on the cloud of dust as they finally had made it to the trees.
Locating the children, they all laid low and stayed quiet as possible – and waited.
Meanwhile, three riders were following the tracks of the travois in the direction the group was headed. Murdoch and Scott had run into Cipriano after a very worried Jelly and Teresa had sent him to find them and help in the search for Johnny. They were very happy to see their friend. They could use his gun and his tracking skills right about now.
Look, Senor Murdoch. The tracks, they are still going towards Lancer,” Cipriano said.
“Good! let’s hope they keep going that way,” Murdoch said
“Sir, why don’t we send Cipriano up ahead and see if he can find anything else out?” Scott suggested to his father.
“I was thinking the same thing. Yes, Cipriano, up ahead and see what you can find out,” Murdoch ordered and added, “but if there is any sign of trouble you get right back here! I don’t need you to be a hero,” he said knowing how much Cip cared for the Johnny.
“Si, Senor!” Cipriano took off at a fast pace, keeping an eye on the tracks as he went.
“You think it’s Johnny who’s hurt, don’t you?” Scott asked as he looked at his father’s troubled face.
“Yes, I do,” he replied with a heavy sigh, as a bad feeling came over him. “Your brother does have a knack of getting into things; and getting hurt.”
Scott just nodded and smiled at that. His father was right. Johnny did have the ability to find trouble or trouble always found him.
A few hours had passed and both were getting worried. They had not seen or heard from Cipriano. Murdoch knew he would have come back if he had found something out, but it was taking too long.
“Look!” Scott yelled.
Looking at the lone rider coming up fast, they could see it was Cipriano.
“SENOR…SENOR MURDOCH!” He was shouting out to top of his lungs. Pulling his horse to a stop, he said…”I have found them!”
“Cipriano, now slow down and tell us! Who did you find? Where are they?” Murdoch asked the winded man. His heart skipped a beat as he waited for the answers to his questions.
Taking a few seconds to calm himself and to catch his breath, Cipriano told them what he had found, but it was not good news.
“I followed the tracks as you said, Senor!’ he said frowning, and paused to take a deep breath. Letting it out, he continued, “And what I see, Senor! I come back to you fast as I could! It is not good.”
“Cipriano, what did you see?” Scott asked, desperately, “Spill it man! Was it Johnny you saw? And how faraway are they?”
“No, Senor Scott, I did not see Juanito. But the tracks from the travois lead there, to the trees,” he answered and pointed to the trees in the distance.
“Trees?” asked a very nervous father.
“Si, they are a few miles ahead of us, hiding in the trees,” he answered, looking at the anxious faces of his patrons.
“Hiding from what? From who?” Murdoch demanded answers.
“Bandits, Senor. They do not know they are in the trees, when I come to find you,” he said with an anxious voice. “If these banditos find Juanito, and if he is hurt, Senor…” He couldn’t finish what he was going to say. He just sat there, with worry for his friend plainly written in his face, not knowing what was really going on over there.
Both of the Lancer men froze, but their hearts were beating fast in their chests at Cipriano words. They knew what those murderers could do to the wounded and sick.
“How do you know they didn’t see them?” asked Scott.
“I stayed back to watch and see. They do not know they are there, yet. So I come to get you. We must hurry,” he urged them and, with that, they all took off at a gallop, hearts racing as fast as their horses were taking them. They had to get there as fast as they could.
Hiding in the trees, being still and as quiet as possible, the little group watched as the bandits dismounted. It had looked like they were going to set up camp.
“What are we going to do, father?” asked Little Hawk in a hushed voice.
“We stay low and quiet as the deer, my son,” he said.
The children were huddled around Johnny, scared and trying to keep from crying. He too was scared, not for himself but for the children and his new-found friends. They were now in grave danger. He didn’t want any harm to come to them, so he made up his mind.
“Running Wolf,” he called very softly and waved him over to him.
Crawling as quietly as possible, Running Wolf made his way to Johnny. “What is it, my friend?”
“I want you to take the children and go further into the trees and find a way out,” Johnny explained. “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on them, hold them off if need be.”
“No, my friend, I will not leave you to those bandits,” Running Wolf said sternly.
“Listen to me, I know for a fact that they know about Madrid. If they find you here with me, they will hurt or kill you, just for the pure pleasure of making me suffer,” Johnny told him grimly.
“But you are not well enough to fight them!” Running Wolf told him with great concern.
“It’s a chance I will have to take. Now will you go and leave me?” he begged and added, “Take Barranca with you.” Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes. Then opening them, he sadly looked into Running Wolf’s eyes, not saying another word too him.
Running Wolf let out a sigh of defeat. He knew there would be no changing his friend’s mind, so he quietly untied the carrying bed and laid it down gently.
“Hey, you two. Come here,” Johnny called quietly to the children. “I want you two listen to Running Wolf and do as he tells you, okay?”
“What are you going to do, Johnny?” asked Lisa.
“I’m going to stay here and watch the bad guys while Running Wolf takes you out of here,” he explained to them, his voice breaking as he spoke.
“Johnny, no!” Jeremy pleaded a little too loudly.
“Shh!” Johnny said, putting his hand on his mouth. “You have to be quiet… and do as he says.” Johnny looked at their sad little faces and it broke his heart. “Hey now, I will be ok. Now go.… go on.”
They both nodded and went quickly over to Running Wolf. With the baby cradled next to his chest, the Indian led the little ones further into the trees as quietly as they could; trying not to draw attention to Johnny as they weaved through the trees.
Jeremy and Lisa both looked back and waved to Johnny, as he did to them. Hoping they would see their surrogate father again, they turned and followed Running Wolf.
With a heavy heart, Johnny looked away from the view of the group and turned his attention on the bandits. Keeping a careful eye on the band of men in front of him, he hoped that they would stay there. It would give Running wolf time to get the children to safety.
He thought to himself, ‘If Madrid can hold them off, then so be it.’
Chapter Twenty One
Running Wolf led the children through the maze of trees, seeking a way out of the thick woods. With hopes of finding help fast if possible, but where would he find anybody out here? There were no towns close by, that he knew of and even if there were, who would help an Indian with three white children? Were the questions he was asking himself.
But he had no choice in the matter; he had to find someone that would help, and to get them to come back with him to help his friend. He had admired Johnny’s courage for staying behind to insure their safety at the same time he thought it was foolish of him to do so.
With those thoughts running through his head, he hurried everyone along as quietly as possible, keeping the baby hushed as he carried him. The children were being little troopers, even though they were scared and worried about Johnny, but they did as they’re told.
Scanning the area around him, Running Wolf finally found a clearing in the trees.
Lying low, still, and with gun in hand, Johnny eyes were fixed on the bandits, watching every move they made. He had to be ready, just in case they thought about venturing into the trees for some reason. He could hear some of what they were saying, and it had saddened him. These were the ones who had destroyed Running Wolf’s village.
After some time had passed, the bandit had decided to make camp for the night, much to Johnny’s dismay. Thinking now he was an easy target if he didn’t do something. Johnny had thought it over, and the only thing that had came to mind. He would have to wait until dark and crawl his way out, or deeper into the trees too hide
So he waited.
Making their way out of the trees into the clearing, Running Wolf quickly looked around as to which way they should go. Should he go back the way they came? Or should they go the way the bandits had come from? The choice was easy, he had decided to head in the direction they came from.
Putting the children on Barranca and mounting his own horse they headed out at a slow gallop at first until they got further away from the woods. Once they were far enough he told the kids to hang on, as they had picked up speed.
At the same time, Murdoch, Scott and Cip were heading towards the direction of the little group, hoping to find Johnny alive. They had to slow down to rest their mounts, not to push them; they didn’t need to lose a horse out here, not now.
“How much further is it, Cip?” asked Scott.
“Not much, Senor, Scott!” he replied
Murdoch was quiet and didn’t say much as they rode. He was worried about his son, not knowing what shape he was in, or if this was a wild goose chase and it wasn’t Johnny they were going to find but someone else. He knew he was being selfish, thinking that, but this was his youngest son that was missing and like any other father, he was scared.
“Sir.” Scott said, breaking his father out of his spell. “How are we going to handle this when we get there?”
“I have no idea, son! It depends of how many they are, there is only the three of us,” he answered. “We’ll have to play it by ear, and hope that your brother is alive,” he added.
Scott nodded and his own heart was heavy with worry for his brother. “I hope so too.”
After a few minutes, Cipriano, had to look twice at what he was seeing. Recognizing a certain Golden horse, he smiled.
“Senor, Murdoch! It is Barranca!” He said pointing to the small group heading in their direction.
“Yes! It is!” he said and took off at a gallop, with Scott and Cipriano right behind him.
Running Wolf had seen the three riders and was relieved to see others out here, smiling, he had hoped they were friendly, and then the slowed down to a trot. The children also had seen them, and big smiles were now on their little faces too.
“Do you see them, I sure hope they can help us?” asked Jeremy.
“Yes, little one, I hope so too!” he replied. And continued to go forward, as the riders were coming closer to them.
Soon they were all meeting up with each other, as Murdoch brought his horse to a stop, fr when he had seen who was riding his son’s horse. And then his eyes widened with fear soon as he seen the two Indians with the children. He cautiously went forward.
“Hello, my name is Murdoch Lancer.” he said adding “And that’s my son’s horse”
Running wolf just smile and asked. “You are Madrid’s father?”
“Yes, I’m am, and this is his brother!” he said pointing to his blond hair son.
Running Wolf looked at Scott, puzzled but had no time to think as to why Madrid and this one was different. He had to get help to his friend.
“I’m am called Running Wolf, and these are the children your son was helping.” he said.
“You said was helping? Where is my brother?” Scott wanted to know.
Pointing back to the direction of the trees, he said. “He is in great danger!”
Chapter Twenty Two
Night was just about upon them as they had reached the end of the woods that Running Wolf and the children had come from. Cipriano had stayed behind with the kids, taking them to a nearby clump of tall bushes and had been instructed not to start a fire. They didn’t want to chance the bandits spotting a fire in the distance and coming to investigate.
The three of them had then left to help Johnny, each saying a silent prayer that they would get to him in time and hoping that they could avoid the bandits altogether.
Reaching their destination, they quietly and quickly weaved through the trees with Running Wolf leading them to where he had left Johnny. It took a while to get to the spot and, when they had arrived there, Johnny was not to be found. With their hearts now in their throats, they all frantically looked for him.
“Where is he?” Murdoch asked in hushed voice, dreading the thought that his son might now be in the hands of those bandits.
“I will find him. Do not worry,” said Running wolf. He scanned the area for anything that would tell him what could have had happened to Johnny. Looking closely at the ground, he spotted some drag marks leading deeper into the trees and away from the bandits.
Pointing to the marks on the ground, he motioned for them to follow him. Then, having followed the drag marks for a few minutes, they noticed they led to a small ditch. With caution they made their way over to it. Peering down into the ditch, their eyes widened when they saw a body lying there, covered up with leaves.
“Johnny?’ Scott asked, looking up at his father, who was just staring at the body.
Scott and Running Wolf quickly went down into the ditch and carefully removed the leaves off Johnny. He was lying on his right side with his gun still in his hand. Scott put two fingers to his brother’s neck, checking for a pulse. With a sigh of relief, he looked up at his father and nodded.
Not waiting until dark, Johnny had wanted to get as far away as possible. He had waited until the bandits were busy setting up camp to make his move. Still too weak to walk without being heard, he had crawled using his good arm and legs until he found this ditch. He was grateful. He didn’t know how much further he could have gone. Dragging himself in and covering himself up with some branches and leaves, he had passed out.
“Johnny,” Scott said softly in his ear. “Come on, Brother, you have to wake up”
A few moments went by and then vivid blues eyes fluttered open. Focusing on his brother’s face, Johnny asked weakly, “What kept ya?”
“Well, Brother, you are a very hard person to keep track of,” Scott replied with a smile.
Murdoch let out a sigh of relief when he heard his son’s voice, even as weak as it was. He was grateful that they had gotten to him before the bandits did, but he knew that they were still in danger and motioned to Running Wolf.
“Come on, we must leave this place,” said Running Wolf whispered to Scott. “Help me lift your brother.”
Having pulled Johnny out of the ditch, Scott carefully slipped his hands under his brother’s armpits while Running Wolf took hold of his legs. Being careful of his injured arm, they carried Johnny through the trees. They moved him as quickly as possible, all the while trying not to draw unwelcome attention to themselves.
Meanwhile, the small children were getting scared and huddled close to each other for comfort. It was dark now and with no fire to warm them, they had covered up with blankets trying to keep warm, and waited. Not being able to see made this night even harder to take.
Cipriano was standing guard on the out side of the brush, straining his eyes to look out into the dark, listening for sounds that could mean danger or for friendly voices that meant they had found his friend. He had hoped they had by now. He was also listening to the children and the baby, and did check on them now and then, giving words of comfort.
Little Samuel was getting upset and hungry. They had had to leave the goat back in the clearing when they first headed into the woods. It would have slowed them down and would have given them away with its noise. So all they had was water to feed the baby. It was not helping anymore and keeping him quiet was getting difficult.
“Do you think they found Johnny?” Lisa asked her brother.
“I sure hope so. I want to go home, Johnny’s home,” Jeremy said, rocking the baby. “Shh, Samuel, we’ll get you some milk soon,” he said to his little brother.
“Do not worry. Your friend is a good man,” said Little Hawk and continued, “The Great Spirit will protect him.”
“You mean God?” Lisa asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Your God, will be with him.” He smiled at the girl who smiled back, comforted.
“He’s your God, too, Little Hawk,” Jeremy told his new friend.
“Yes, I know this, and our God will protect your friend,” he said again, and then looked up at the sky, adding, “The Great Spirit comes to us in many ways and we worship him in our way as you do in yours. But he is all our God.” He tried to give words of comfort to the younger children and, at the same time, he explained the Indian ways a little more to them.
They waited and talked some more to make the time go faster, hoping the grown ups would get back soon. Cipriano heard a noise and hushed the kids. He peered out into the dark, trying to see what was out there. Then a familiar voice called to him, softly.
“Senor Scott, is that you?” he asked.
“Yes, Cip, it’s us,” Scott answered as they came into view of the group.
The kids eyes widened with joy as they watched Johnny being helped off of Murdoch’s horse and carried over to him. Both gave him a hug as Murdoch and Scott looked on.
“Hi kids,” Johnny said weakly and gave them a smile.
“Johnny! We were so worried that we would never see you again!” Jeremy exclaimed.
“Well, I’m here now, thanks to all of you,” he said looking up at his father, his brother and his friends. Hearing Samuel fuss and cry he asked, “What’s wrong with Samuel?”
He’s hunger, and we have no milk for him,” Lisa said a little upset. “We had to leave the goat behind, remember?”
“You mean this one?” Running Wolf said and held up the rope to the goat.
Unnoticed to the group, that blasted goat had somehow, for some reason, had followed them into the trees where Running Wolf had found her by the edge of the woods.Her rope was tangled up in a branch where she had stayed, gnawing on some twigs.
“Well, I guess we’d better get busy and milk that stupid goat,” she said and looked at her brother for help.
As morning came, Cipriano relayed that the coast was clear. He had done some scouting and found that the bandits had gone. They could go home…home to Lancer.
Chapter Twenty Three
It was slow going home as each rider had a child with him. Running Wolf and Little Hawk both shared their horse, while Murdoch had both Lisa and the baby and Cip had Jeremy. Scott had his hands full too – with his brother who was bound and determined to ride even though he was still weak.
Johnny had been gone far too long and he wanted to get home, so he insisted on riding his own horse. Barranca sensed his amigo was not ready to ride, so he was easy with him as they rode on. He stopped when he felt that Johnny might be slipping off, only to be commanded to move on by the gentle nudge from Johnny’s spurs.
Scott was riding next to him, keeping a close eye on Johnny to make sure he stayed in the saddle. A few times he had to grab his brother to stop him from slipping out of the side. He held on to him, waiting until he got his balance again.
“Johnny, you’re almost done in. Why don’t we stop for the night?” Scott had suggested. “You need to rest, Brother. Look at yourself. You can hardly keep your eyes open,” he tried to reason with his stubborn sibling.
“No. Scott, I want to go home, now!’ Johnny said with determination “I can make it. Just stay be my side, okay?” he added and gave his brother a look that said there was no changing his mind.
“I’m right here for you, Brother,” Scott answered and smiled at Johnny, putting his hand on Johnny’s shoulder to steady him.
Johnny smiled back and then nudged Barranca to move on.
This went on for the rest of the day and, by the day’s end, they were sitting up on the hill over-looking their land. Johnny sat there, tired and hurting, but happy to be finally home. He made a vow to himself, to not to take a trip like this for a long while. He had had enough. This adventure was all he could handle for now.
“There is it kids…Lancer!” he said proudly and looked over at them. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Golly gee, Johnny, it sure is,” Jeremy said with a big smile.
“Is it all yours?” asked Lisa.
Chuckling he said, “Well, only a third of it, Honey. But yes it’s mine, too,” he told her.
Running Wolf and Little Hawk just stared at the land before them, amazed at it’s beauty. The sun was setting, enhancing the splendor of the land even more.
Murdoch smiled and said to the group, “Let’s go home.”
Passing under the Lancer arch, they could hear the ranch hands whooping and hollering as they came closer to the house. Happy that their comrade had been found alive and was back home where he belonged. Men ran in from everywhere to get a closer view of the group, jumping onto fences and waving their hats in the air.
The Lancer men waved their hats back at them, thanking them for the welcome home while the children looked on at the surroundings. Their eyes bugged out at how big the house and everything around it was. Both smiled at each other. They couldn’t wait to get there and to run and play again.
Running out the barn to see what all the commotion was about, Jelly was stopped in his tracks by the sight of a familiar golden horse coming up the path. A smile crossed his gray bearded face and he turned to run to the house yelling at the top of his voice, ‘TERESA! TERESA!”
“Jelly! What is it? What’s wrong?’ She said, running out the door.
“They’re back! And they have Johnny with them,” he told her, trying to catch his breath.
She looked past the old handyman’s shoulders and a big smile graced her face as she saw her foster brother riding up on Barranca.
She waved and called to him, “JOHNNY!” and he waved back to her and then swayed a little in the saddle. Her smile turned into a frown and she noticed how pale he was. She looked beyond him to see the children and her eyes widened at the sight of the Indians also with them.
“Jelly?” she asked the old handy man.
“Beats me, honey,” he answered her silent question, shrugging his shoulders.
Pulling their mounts to a stop in front of the house, Murdoch motioned for a few hands to come and help with the children. With the children taken care of, Teresa and Murdoch watched with concern as Scott went to his brother to help him off his horse.
“Easy, Johnny, I have you,” he said as Johnny slowly dismounted.
“I got it, Scott,” Johnny said and then wobbled a little when he got down, a little out of breath.
“Sure you do, Brother,” Scott remarked and grabbed him around the waist. He helped him to the hitching post letting him lean against it for a few minutes so that he could catch his breath. Once Johnny was breathing a little easier, he started to move on again but found he was still a little wobbly.
“Come on, let’s get you inside,” Jelly said and he and Scott helped Johnny to the door. “Boy, it looks like you sure had your hands full,” Jelly commented. “Can’t go nowhere without getting yourself in a heap of trouble, now can ya?”
“Guess not, Jelly,” Johnny replied with a grin.
Before he entered the house though, Johnny stopped them from going any further. He turned to his new friends and said, “Are you coming?”
Running Wolf and his son followed the Lancers into the house and, right away, they were overwhelmed by the size of the Great Room. They had never seen or been in such a place as this. Standing there by the hallway, afraid to move any further in, their eyes were taking in all the details of the room.
“Come, please sit down,” Teresa said to them, a little hesitant at first. But they did follow her to where Johnny was laying on the couch. Smiling down at Johnny as they walked by him, they both took a seat close by the couch.
Watching and listening to everybody talk and fuss over Johnny, it warmed Running Wolf’s heart. He hoped that, one day soon, he too would find his people and start over in his new life as Johnny had.
“We are pleased that you are home and are now safe with your family, Madrid,” Running Wolf told him.
Johnny smiled, “Please, call me ‘Johnny’.”
Chapter Twenty Four
The last few days had had gone by faster than Johnny would have liked. He was enjoying the company of his new friends and he tried desperately to get Running Wolf to stay longer, but failed. He even tried to convince them to stay at Lancer for the winter, as his guest; his thank you for saving his life and the children’s. In the spring, they could go and find their tribe. He would even help them.
The truth was that he was worried about their safety; about their getting caught out there by themselves. With those bandits still lurking about, and the fact that winter would be upon them soon, he dreaded what might become of them.
“No, my friend. I cannot stay much longer,” Running Wolf had told Johnny.
“Are you sure?” Johnny asked. “You are more than welcome to stay here for the winter”
“I know you mean well, but we do not fit in – here in this grand house,” he explained and added, “We must go and find our people, before the snows come.”
Admitting defeat, Johnny said, “Okay, but will you please accept some food and supplies to get you by?”
“That, my friend, I will be happy to except from you,” Running Wolf said smiling. “How is your wound?” he asked, noticing that Johnny rubbed it, off and on.
“It’s doing good. Thanks to you and that concoction you put on it,” Johnny replied with a chuckle. “Sam was impressed. He wants to know what it’s made of.”
“AH! That is an Indian secret!” Running Wolf declared, laughing with his friend.
With that Johnny bid a sad farewell to his friends as he watched them both leave. The children had said goodbye to Little Hawk and gave Running Wolf a hug, telling them they would never be forgotten. They had learned a lot on this adventure. Tears fell down their little cheeks as they both waved goodbye.
Johnny, too, would, never forget them, not for as long as he lived. He had always found the Indians to be loyal people to their friends and family. He knew that, in Running Wolf and Little Hawk, he had friends for life. And one day they would meet again, hopefully under happier conditions.
But now, Johnny thoughts were on the children. It had him worried. ‘Where am I going to find them a home this late in the year?’ he asked himself.
Teresa loved taking care of the children while Johnny rested up, especially little Samuel.
She got up with him during the night, cuddling him and singing to him. Sometimes she wouldn’t give him up to others who wanted to hold him, not without letting them know that they had a fight on their hands. But Johnny won out most of the time, Samuel always wanted him when he was around.
Maria also took turns at being a mama to the kids. She washed them and dressed them in the new cloths that Johnny had bought for them.
Johnny was very protective of them, making sure they were safe around the ranch when they played. He told them not to play in certain areas, where they could get hurt.
But, most of the time, they just wanted to be around him. They loved his stories and the way he made them feel, safer then they had felt in a long time.
His family was not surprised by the way the kids had come to love Johnny, and he them. But once they found a home for the children and it was time to leave, they all knew it would be very hard for Johnny and the children to say goodbye to each other.
Murdoch had put word out that there were three children who needed a home to the families of the local ranches and towns. It had been a week and so far no one had spoken up. If he did not hear anything within the next week or so, then the children would have to stay the winter. Then he had voiced an idea that did not set well with his youngest son.
“NO! No orphanage!” Johnny yelled shaking his head. “NO! I will not let those kids go to a place like that!” he insisted sternly.
“But…” Scott began.
“No ‘buts’, Scott. I’ve been in a orphanage…a few of them, and I will not expose them to that kind of life. You don’t know what kind of things goes on in there. No way!” he demanded, trying to shake the memories that had come back to him.
“Johnny! They have to go somewhere,” Murdoch said to his stubborn son. “If we don’t find a home for them…”
“They can stay the winter,” he continued. “But after that they…” He stopped then, looking at his son’s face. “I know you love them, but you have to think of what’s right for them.”
“I am thinking of them. That’s why I don’t want them to go to any damn ORPHANAGE!” he yelled and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
“What are we going to do?” Scott asked his father. “It’s obvious he loves them more the we thought.“ Murdoch was looking at the door. His heart ached for Johnny.
“Yes I can see that but, no matter what he says, Johnny will have to let them go,” Murdoch replied and let a out a heavy sigh.
“It will not be easy on him or the children. You can see how they are with him?” Scott told him.
Outside, Johnny sat under the stars, looking up. He knew his father was right. They needed a home. But it was tearing him up inside. He loved those little ones with all his heart and, no matter how long it took, he would find a home for them – a good home, just as he had promised. He Hadn’t brought them this far to put them in a orphanage.
He vowed, right then and there under the stars, he would not let them take those children way from him, not until he was ready to let them go.
Chapter Twenty Five.
Over the next few weeks, Johnny went from town to town, farm to farm, seeking a home for the children; pleading their case to families – families with a few or no children of their own. He had even offered to help with money if they would give these three little ones a home but, so far, no one was willing to take them in.
Heartbroken that he had failed to keep his promise to the children, he decided to call it day and go home. Johnny didn’t know where else to look. He was at his wits end.
If he had his way they would stay at Lancer.
He never could get enough of holding Samuel. It warmed his heart to look down at that little face and touch his soft skin. There were many nights when he would rock him and sing Spanish lullabies to the little niño. Thinking to himself, ‘If they could only see me now. Me, Johnny Madrid, singing to a baby’. It brought a smile to his face, and then a frown.
He knew they needed a real home; more then three bachelors and one young girl could give them.
But where? ‘There has to be someone out there who would take them in,’ he thought again, bringing Barranca to a halt in front of the house.
“How did it go?” asked Teresa as she came from around the side of the house, holding Samuel.
“Nothing yet,” he said sadly, bending down and giving the little niño a kiss on the forehead.
“Don’t give up, Johnny. You will find them a home. I know you will,” she said.
“Where, Teresa? I’ve looked everywhere!” he told her closing his eyes and rubbing them. Then, looking again at the baby with loving eyes, touching his little face gently with his strong hand, he added “And I’m not sending them to no orphanage, and that’s final!” He sighed and walked into the house.
Teresa stood there, her heart breaking for her brother. She didn’t know how to help him. He was loosing sleep, leaving early in the morning and getting back late, missing meals or just too tired to eat. And when he wasn’t out looking, he would spend most of his time with the children. He didn’t want to loose any time with them, now that he was well enough to enjoy them.
With a heavy sigh, she whispered, “Come on Samuel, let’s get you changed,” and followed her brother into the house.
“Johnny! Teresa! I have some good news,” proclaimed Murdoch as the two walked into the Great Room.
“Good news? What are you talking about?” Johnny asked tiredly, still rubbing his eyes.
Seeing his son was in need of some hot coffee, he poured Johnny a cup and walked over and handed it to him. Johnny sat in the big chair, letting the comfort of it ease his tired back. He looked up at his father, waiting for Murdoch to answer his question.
” I’d sent a telegram to Jarred Barkley and asked if he knew of any families around there who would be interested in adopting the children,” Murdoch explained.
“And he wired back, saying there’s a couple who have no children of their own and are very willing to take them in!” he said cheerfully.
“That’s great news, Murdoch!” Teresa exclaimed, smiling. She looked down at Johnny. “Did you hear that, Johnny?”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard it,” he answered, his head down and stared into the cup of coffee. “So, what now? Does he know this couple? Are they well-off? Are they young or old?”
“Jarred said they are a decent young couple and well to do, if that eases your mind,” Murdoch told him. “Johnny, the children will have a good home. Jarred wouldn’t tell us this if he thought they were not right for the children,” Murdoch assured his troubled son.
“I know, I know…but…” He paused and asked, “How soon?”
Murdoch couldn’t bear to look his son in the eye when he answered him so, turning away he said, “They leave tomorrow.” He closed his eyes and waited for the explosion.
“TOMORROW!” Johnny hollered. “Why tomorrow?” He stood up, almost forgetting he had a cup of coffee in his hand. Setting it down – hard, he came face to face with his father – blues eyes glaring at grey eyes. “Tell me why? Why the hurry?
“Because the adoption papers are being drawn up as we speak, Johnny,” Murdoch explained. ” Besides, the sooner they start their new life, the better.”
Johnny pulled his eyes away from his father and paced back and forth. Thinking, This was too sudden. He wasn’t prepared for this news, wasn’t prepared to say goodbye. His heart was beating so fast it was hurting, and breaking at the same time. “Where are they now?” he finally asked.
“Upstairs, with Maria, packing,” Murdoch answered with a heavy heart. He knew that this was going to hard on his son, but there was nothing he could do for him. The children had a home to go to now.
Johnny went up to the children’s room and stopped by the door, not knowing what to say. How could he say goodbye to them? They had been through a lot together and now, just like that, he would have to let them go. But he knew it was for the best.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and walked in.
“Hi kids!” He greeted then with a forced smile. “I heard the good news.”
Maria left the room so he could be alone with them. She knew this would be hard on her niño. When she had left, they ran to him and jumped into his arms, crying.
“Hey! Now, what’s wrong?” Johnny asked, cuddling them both in his strong arms.
“We… don’t… want to… go,” cried Jeremy. “We… want to… stay here with …you!” the little boy answered, hugging Johnny tightly.
“I know… I know, but you have to,” Johnny said gently, pulling Jeremy and Lisa from him. “Mr. Barkley has found you a good home where you all can stay together,” Johnny explained. “Isn’t that what we wanted?”
“Yeah,” said Lisa, sniffing and wiping her nose. “But we will miss you.”
“And I’ll miss you too, more then you know. But this is for the best. Do you understand?”
“If you say so, Johnny,” Jeremy replied. “Will you come to visit us?” he asked.
“Every chance I get. I promise. Come here,” he said and gave them a hug and a kiss on their wet cheeks. “Now let’s get finished packing so we can get some supper. I’m starved.” Johnny was determined to be cheerful for the kids’ sake, while fighting back his own tears.
They stood in the train station, waiting for the noon train but also wishing it would be delayed, just to give them more time together. Jeremy and Lisa both clung to Johnny, not wanting to let go, while Teresa cuddled the baby. Tears streamed down her face as she held him close to her chest. The look on his sister’s face was making it harder for Johnny to say goodbye.
Murdoch and Scott both stood by with mixed emotions. They, too, would miss the children, for they had a way of making a dull ranch come alive. But, then again, they knew these kids also needed a sound home -a mother and father, who could devote more time to them than they could.
A woman had met them there, Jarred had hired her to escort the children to Stockton. She was a middle-aged woman, well-mannered. Johnny had checked her over carefully and was satisfied with her.
The sound of the train coming and pulling into the station meant the final step of their journey. With heavy hearts, it was time to say goodbye.
“Okay, kids, you listen to the nice lady and do what she says. Do you hear me?” he said to them and they nodded. He gave them a big hug just as the train came to a stop. He looked at their sad faces and his heart broke into more pieces than it was already was. “Hey now, it will be okay. Now, let’s you on the train.” Both just nodded.
Helping the children and the woman get aboard, they all waved goodbye to them as the trained pulled away. With saddened but relieved hearts they turned to leave – all but one.
Johnny stood there, watching until the train was out of sight, as tears fell freely down his cheeks.
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