A Life Worth Fighting For by Martha

An episode tag for The High Riders

Word count: 13,840

Chapter 1

Scott Lancer leaned back resting on the headboard of the bed, his fingers laced together behind his head and contemplated how woefully inadequate the English language had become. It was going on 11 o’clock, still early for him, but obviously late in this part of the world. He had been informed by his father that breakfast would be at sun-up. The last time Scott had seen the sun rise, he’d been returning home from a night’s carousing, not getting out of bed. He smiled slightly as he remembered that his new brother, Johnny, had appeared to be equally taken aback by the news. Clearly, Johnny was a night owl also.

The thought of his brother brought a slight scowl to Scott’s face as his mind went back to the issue of the failure of the English language. The word ‘interesting’ seemed too simple to encompass the day. ‘Novel?’ Not good enough. Certainly everything he’d experienced that day was new, but that wasn’t what he was looking for. ‘Cataclysmic?’ That came close. This certainly was a day that would bring him great changes, for good or bad. Scott sighed and decided that word would have to do.

Scott knew he would not sleep without trying to come to terms with the day, and he thought back on all the events leading up to having him sitting here on a strange bed in a strange room, both of which had been designated as his. The events of the day had started over a month ago in Boston. Looking back, Scott realized he was not proud of his life there. That might have been the reason he had agreed to come out here to Lancer; that and the fact that things were about to get a bit hot when the father of the young lady out of whose window he had just climbed when the Pinkerton agent found him got his hands on Scott. His grandfather might turn a blind eye to some of Scott’s ‘romantic’ escapades, but compromising a gently raised young lady was not likely to be among them. He hadn’t exactly compromised her, but she’d been willing and Scott was honest enough to know himself; he could have done so easily.

Scott had rapidly packed his valises and informed his grandfather over breakfast that he was leaving for California that afternoon. His grandfather had been livid, but had agreed, finally, when Scott had implied that it was just for a visit. Harlan was smart enough to realize that Scott was bored and starting to get into trouble, not uncommon in wealthy young men, especially those like Scott who had experienced so much during the war. A visit to the wilds of California might be just what was needed to send Scott back to Boston, ready to take his rightful place in society. Scott smiled as he remembered that theory when Harlan had capitulated.

The trip by rail had been tolerable. He had been more than fascinated by the newness of the country through which he’d traveled. He’d never seen such open spaces as the prairies through which the train chugged; the more intimate landscape of New England was so different. There, fields were bordered by hedges and stands of trees; here the grasses went on forever with no trees in sight. And then the plains had ended in a mountain range that took his breath away. Scott knew about the Rocky Mountains and had seen pictures of them, but in person they were so much more than he had imagined. The mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire were no more than hills in comparison. Coming out of the Rockies and crossing the plateau of Wyoming Scott had seen herds of buffalos and other wildlife that kept him glued to the window. In fact, he’d really slept very little on the train, only when it was too dark to see anything.

Crossing out of Nevada and winding through the Sierras, in and out of the train sheds built to protect trains from winter snows, Scott had started to get excited. Was that the word? No, apprehensive probably fit better. He’d just packed up to travel clear across the country on a whim, the $1000 offer notwithstanding. He didn’t even need the money. He remembered wondering, as the train steamed into Sacramento, what his father would be like, what it was he wanted from Scott. Nothing Scott had come up with then came close to the realities he’d learned of today.

Resting overnight in Sacramento, Scott had been less than happy at the early start he would have to make in the morning. Eight am was hardly an appropriate hour to begin a stagecoach journey to a town called Morro Coyo, whatever that meant, but looking at a map Scott had sighed, realizing that it was necessary if he was to arrive that day, and he sent off a telegram letting his father know when he would get there. Hopefully, his father would have the decency to send someone to pick him up, because Scott had no idea where to go from there.

Scott shifted uncomfortably as he thought of that stagecoach ride. Had they never heard of springs for the coaches? It was the most uncomfortable ride he had ever taken, even compared to the back of the wagon that had carried him to the Confederate prison camp. The coach was crowded and uncomfortable to be begin with, but then the driver had stopped to pick up one more passenger about ten miles before the end of the trip. As the coach lurched forward the new passenger had fallen onto Scott. The apology in a soft drawl had been properly given, and Scott had accepted it with rigid politeness. It was not the stranger’s fault that the driver seemed not to know how to handle the coach, after all. How odd, Scott mused, that this had been his introduction to his brother.

When they arrived in Morro Coyo, a collection of buildings that hardly deserved to be called a town, Scott alit and then supervised as the driver unloaded his luggage. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the latest passenger also seemed to be stopping here, though all he had for luggage was a saddle and the handgun the driver returned to him. So focused was Scott on the luggage that he failed to see the young girl who approached the coach and quietly asked, “Mr. Lancer?” At that he turned to see her standing there; she appeared to be about sixteen and was nicely, if a little rustically, dressed. When he answered, “That’s me” he was surprised to hear that soft drawl behind him answer also with a simple, “Yeah.”

Both Scott and the stranger, Johnny was his name, were equally taken aback when the girl, Teresa, explained that it was Mr. Lancer who had two, two wives and two sons. Scott had looked, really looked, at Johnny at that point and what he saw intrigued him. This half-brother looked to be part Mexican possibly; certainly his coloring was darker that Scott’s blondness, with dark hair that looked as though it needed cutting and startling blue eyes. Smiling inwardly, Scott had decided that this could be interesting, very interesting.

The ride back to Lancer had been a blur, traveling through country that was both wild and beautiful, though so different from the greenness of New England. Could he really be thinking of staying? Flanked by two men on horseback, Teresa had expertly driven the team of horses. He had sat next to her with his luggage and his brother in the back. Teresa had chattered on about Lancer, about his father, and had given them some information on why their father had suddenly decided to send for them after all these years. Scott had learned with surprise that his half-brother had not been raised on Lancer either and had been offered the same $1000 for an hour of his time. Judging by the look of him, Johnny needed that money far more than he did.

When Teresa stopped the wagon on a rise and showed them the hacienda in the valley below, it really hit Scott what he was seeing. That his father was wealthy he’d figured out. Few men could afford to give away $2000 for an hour of time to two sons. To own this much land solidified for Scott that his grandfather’s descriptions of a hardscrabble existence with few comforts must be far off from reality. Teresa was his father’s ward and she was both well dressed and well spoken. Johnny had stood up beside him and the two had stood there, shoulder to shoulder, each taking in the scene below them.

As they drove through the arch that announced their arrival at Lancer, Scott was touched by the apparent joy on the faces and in the voices of the men they passed. They had cheered as the wagon passed with the two young men in it. Clearly, Scott had thought, the situation here might be as dire as Teresa had described. It seems he and his brother were being viewed as saviors.

Scott and Johnny walked into the hacienda and through the door that led to the great room, according to Teresa. They were met by their father, a very tall, stern looking man, who was leaning on a cane. Scott had sensed, rather than seen, that his father seemed nervous about this meeting with his sons. Certainly his voice was gruff when he greeted them with one word only, “Drink?” Scott declined and their father turned to Johnny stating, rather than asking, that he must drink. Johnny’s response, “When I know the man I’m drinking with,” was clearly a challenge, as were his next words.

As Murdoch turned to pour himself a drink Scott heard his brother’s drawl, clearly provocative this time, “You got something to say, Old Man, say it.” Scott saw their father’s head snap up at that and he marched over to the desk and took out two envelopes and threw them on the desk, indicating to come and get them. Scott remembered watching Johnny stroll over and pick up one of them and then bait the ‘Old Man’ again when he indicated that he had every intention of counting the money. Scott smiled to himself as he recalled his decision to follow his brother’s example and respond to his father’s order he would do as he was told with, “Will I?” when ordered to come get his money. Johnny had turned at that and met Scott’s eye and they had shared a momentary bond.

Scott realized how different things were out here when Johnny snorted in response to Scott’s plan to flush Pardee out and confront the enemy using simple, age old military tactics. His father seemed to understand just what Johnny meant, that it wasn’t that sort of fight, an indication that the two of them shared a bond that Scott didn’t have, an understanding of how life worked out here. Scott knew at that moment that he had every intention of finding out what this life was like. Suddenly Boston seemed to be the provincial town when compared to the openness of the west.

Murdoch’s offer to his sons for help in defending and protecting his empire was a third share of that empire. Scott had accepted quickly on impulse, which was unlike him, but before Johnny could accept the fire bell had sounded and the three had raced out to help prevent the fire from spreading. Only when it was contained had Johnny agreed to the deal, stating, “I hate to see my property go up in flames,” an interesting way of committing to the venture. He’d gotten a smile from Murdoch and a glance from Johnny when he’d corrected Johnny with, “Our property.” This was going to be an interesting partnership.

The lack of indoor plumbing had made a nice hot bath too much of an effort, so Scott settled for washing himself in his room and changing his clothes. Johnny also had made some effort; at least he looked freshly washed and was wearing a clean shirt. He’d gone down to dinner and was pleased to finally have that drink; it seemed his father poured a very good Scotch. Even Johnny had accepted some after he had ascertained that there was no tequila, whatever that was. When food was brought in they went to the table. Johnny immediately took the seat on the far side of the table with his back to the bookcase leaving Scott to sit beside Teresa.

The dinner surprised Scott. The food was not as elegant as he was used to, no fancy sauces, but the steak was tender and well prepared, the wine from Lancer’s own grapes was more than passable, and the chocolate cake was moist and rich. Conversation was, at best, stilted. Murdoch explained a little more about the problems encountered with the land pirates, but spoke more about the ranch or estancia as he called it. Clearly Scott thought, he’d have to learn Spanish if he was to survive out here. Scott shook his head as he recalled how lost he’d felt during the conversation; he obviously had a lot to learn. Johnny had been far more knowledgeable and asked a number of questions that showed that he had a good grasp of the problems Lancer was facing. Scott had grown more and more intrigued by his brother and wanted to know more.

As soon as dinner had ended, Murdoch had abruptly dismissed Teresa from the room. Scott remembered being immediately on alert; the rest of the conversation was likely to be more interesting as it was one that their father felt was not fitting for a young girl’s ears. Scott shook his head in wonder as he thought back to what he had learned. Murdoch had turned to Johnny as soon as he thought that Teresa was out of earshot and said, “How do you know Pardee? Have you ever worked with him? Is he as good as you say he is? Is he as good as you are reputed to be? Have you ever faced him?”

Scott thought his head must has snapped up when he heard those questions. Johnny had said Pardee was a gunfighter and a good one. Here was their father implying, what? That Johnny was a gunfighter also? That he might have worked with Pardee, or faced him in a gunfight? Scott remembered the chuckle he’d heard from across the table.

“Looks like Boston is a bit confused by your questions, Old Man,” Johnny said to his father, “Shall I tell him who I am, or do you want to?” When Murdoch indicated that the story was Johnny’s Scott learned a truth he was still having trouble coming to grips with.

“I ain’t been known as Johnny Lancer for a long time; I’m known as Johnny Madrid, pistolero, gun hawk, gunfighter, whatever you want to call it. Why don’t matter, but that’s the what. In answer to your questions, Old Man, I know Pardee from other places, other times. I’ve worked with him a couple of times, but not for long and never again. I don’t like his methods. He’s as good as I say he is, but is he as good as me? Doubt it, haven’t you heard I’m the fastest gun around? I’ve never faced him; stands to reason I haven’t, he’s still alive. Anything else you want to know, Boston?”

“Why would a man turn to being a gunfighter? Seems a risky sort of existence at best,” Scott managed to stammer out.

“I told you the why don’t matter and I ain’t going to discuss it. It is risky, but so is life. I’m good, very good, which is why I’m still alive. I’ve never shot a man in the back or resorted to bushwhacking. I don’t believe in any cause that makes a man do that. Any man I’ve killed I’ve looked in the eye first. Now if there are no further questions, I’m going to bed.” With that his brother had stalked off leaving him alone with his father.

“Did you know about his past, Sir, when you sent for him?” Scott asked his father.

Murdoch sat back and thought for a moment before answering, “I’d only come to know of it recently. I’d been looking for Johnny Lancer for years after his mother left with him and never found him. Pinkerton’s only uncovered the connection a couple of months ago and I told them to keep looking for him as Madrid. For better or for worse, he is my son and his place, if he wants it, is here. He’s young; I’m sure he can change. Does it upset you to know that your brother is a hired killer?”

Scott remembered pondering that question for only a very short time before he answered, “Yes and no. Of course, no man wants to think he is related to a killer. That goes against the grain. But I killed myself during the war and is that really that much different? But no, he seems to be a good man and I somehow doubt he took to gun fighting out of choice. I don’t know why he did, and he’s obviously not going to talk about it, yet, but I sense that it is not a life he enjoys. He doesn’t have the look of a killer. Half the time when I look at him I see nothing more than a young boy.”

“So do I and it’s my hope he can leave that life behind him,” Murdoch answered, “Now off to bed, sun rise and breakfast will come earlier than you think. Good night.” With that he rose and walked slowly up the stairs, his leg obviously bothering him.

So, Scott sat and continued to muse on the day. He did not know what to think of his father whose autocratic tone and bearing did not make him easy to like. And yet, his face had softened a few times, when he looked at Teresa who obviously loved him, and more recently, fleetingly, when he spoke of looking for Johnny. He’d have to reserve judgment about his father. Johnny was another story. For some reason the traces he saw of the young boy under the dangerous man appealed to him. He thought he would enjoy trying to fill in the details of his brother’s life. He was sure there was a story worth hearing there. Until then, he figured he’d have his hands full learning about this new land, this new way of life, this new family of his. With that Scott blew out the few remaining candles and settled back to try and get some sleep.

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Chapter 2

In spite of his good intentions to get up at sun rise for breakfast, or maybe because he had not fallen asleep when he had intended to, Scott slept through breakfast. He would just have to go without that day, he guessed. He was a little surprised his father had not wakened them at dawn. The martinet in him seemed to indicate that he would have. Interesting, but what did it mean? Did it mean that the Old Man, as Johnny called him, was not as stern as he wanted to appear?

As Scott unpacked his various valises and started to put things away brother Johnny wandered in through the open door, one arm through his shirt, hair still rumbled from sleep, and putting on his boots. It seemed that Scott was not the only one who hadn’t made it to breakfast. Was Johnny’s early entry into his bedroom an indication that he was as curious about his new brother as Scott was about him? Certainly Johnny spent time wandering around the room, picking things up and examining them. He seemed to miss nothing. Scott had wondered about the $20 gold piece on the table; did Johnny’s explanation indicate yet another custom of this new land that he had to learn? How many more would he stumble across over the next few weeks and months?

Before Scott could enlighten Johnny about his own military service, a sharing that he hoped would elicit more about his early life from Johnny, Teresa entered without knocking. Her statement about considering her a little sister was all well and good, but he could have been less dressed than he was. The grin on Johnny’s face told Scott that he, too, realized how near a miss that had been. Scott made a note to lock that door in the future.

His irritation at Teresa continued when she commented that he’d need new clothes for living around there. What was wrong with his clothes, he asked and then smiled at himself as he realized that they would, indeed, be very impractical for working on a ranch. He smiled even more at the image of himself dressed as Johnny did. New clothes, yes, but more in the lines of what his father wore. He didn’t think he could carry off Johnny’s style with any ease at all.

The friendly response and slight grin from Johnny that his clothes just weren’t the style momentarily gave Scott hope that he and Johnny could bond as brothers, a hope that was dashed with Johnny’s next words in response to Scott’s irritated comment that he was planning to stay. Scott realized that he would have to learn to keep his reactions under more control; he suspected this new brother would easily find a way to get under his skin, if he allowed him to.

Johnny had been hesitant when he said, “What I got in mind is pretty much of a one man deal,” but the message was clear. Johnny did not consider this newcomer from Boston would be of any use in fighting off Pardee and his men, something Johnny clearly knew he could do. At that moment Scott knew he’d do anything to prove his brother wrong.

Scott’s first chance to prove Johnny wrong came very quickly. When Teresa had said Cipriano had cut out two horses for them, Scott had not realized that at least one of them would be unbroken. Obviously, Cipriano thought that a real man would want to break his own horse, so when Scott got out to the corral he was met by the sight of Johnny riding a beautiful palomino around as it bucked and tried to throw him. Johnny certainly could ride, there was no question of that and it was evident on the faces of the vaqueros gathered around the fence to see the Patron’s son break his horse, that they thought so too. Within minutes the horse was trotting around the corral and Johnny had brought him over to where Teresa and Scott sat. To Teresa glowing comment that breaking the horse was wonderful, Johnny had replied, “Well, that’s a good animal,” as he slid off the horse.

Johnny then pointed to a bay tied to the far fence and sounded a little smug as he said, “See that one over there? That one’s yours, Boston,” causing Scott to slide off the fence and mount the horse Johnny had just broken, over Johnny’s concerned protest. Scott set the horse at the fence at the end of the corral and sailed over it. Turning the horse he then had him jump a wagon and then back over the fence, coming to a stop in front of Johnny, inordinately pleased when he saw the impressed look on Johnny’s face and heard the compliment he gave him, “I’ll tell you one thing, Boston, you sure do know how to ride. You scared the pants off those cowhands.” Now maybe Johnny wouldn’t see him as totally useless in the fight against Pardee. That he had also impressed the vaqueros might prove to be useful too. Unfortunately, Johnny added, “That don’t make you ready for Day Pardee. You might end up with a bullet in your back.”

Johnny had taken off to Morro Coyo then, supposedly to break one of the twenty dollar gold pieces, though Scott was not convinced that was the only reason. Johnny seemed to be intent on putting into play whatever his one man deal was, and Scott was concerned. Scott turned when he hear Murdoch call his name. He had not been aware that their father had been watching; he’d obviously been up with the sun because it looked as though the man was just returning from somewhere.

“That was quite an impressive show you put on with that horse, Scott,” Murdoch said, “It’s obvious you know how to ride well.”

“I was in a cavalry unit during the war, Sir; I rode with General Sheridan,” was Scott’s reply, “I don’t think I could have broken that horse as easily as Johnny did, though. He’s a natural in the saddle.”

“Yes, he is; I watched him break the horse. I take it that he has chosen that one for his?” Murdoch said and then continued when Scott nodded, “What about you? We were not sure how well you rode, so Cipriano chose an already broken horse for you to consider. He’s a good mount, but if you want another, there are plenty more, broken and unbroken, to try.”

“I can see he had good lines, Sir. I’ll try him for a while and see how we suit. I’ve never actually broken a horse and this doesn’t seem an auspicious time to start.”

“Where had Johnny gone?” was Murdoch next remark.

“He says he’s gone to Morro Coyo to break one of the twenty dollar gold pieces, but I suspect he also wants to nose around and see what he can observe. I’ve noticed that nothing seems to get past that boy. He may be able to provide some very good intelligence for us on what is happening. What do you want from me for the rest of the day? I’d like to get a bit more of the lay of the land and then to discuss with you the merits and capabilities of the men who stayed. Knowing who can do what will be a big factor in coming up with a line of defense.”

“Why don’t you let Teresa take you into Morro Coyo; she mentioned that she thinks you need new clothes for living out here and we are unlikely to get any peace until you have them. That would be a good cover, also, to allow you to get your bearings and see what you can observe. You and Johnny can compare notes at dinner.”

And that was how Scott found himself going into town with Teresa, driving the buckboard this time and without the guard from the previous day. Though he was not armed there was a rifle under the seat, one he knew he knew how to use. It irked Scott a bit that no thought had been given to whether he needed a sidearm. Johnny, of course, wore his gun, but he would given his line of work. Was this yet another indication that his usefulness was an unknown factor? And yet, his father had sent for him. Interesting.

Teresa chattered all the way into town and Scott let her talk, only asking questions from time to time. She talked about her father and about the theft of the stallion that had led to his death and Murdoch’s injury. The problem had been going on for months it seemed. Scott wondered why, with Murdoch injured and nearly dying and Teresa’s father killed, Pardee hadn’t attacked then and finished the job. It would have been easy at that point, except that there were still too many men on the ranch, perhaps. It seems that Day Pardee knew something about strategy and had the patience for longer range planning. That was useful to know.

As they pulled into Morro Coyo, Scott took a closer look at the town and was still unimpressed with what he saw. It was a sleepy place in what he assumed was Mexican architecture. It certainly didn’t look like New England. The first thing Scott spotted when they entered the town was a group of men who suddenly got very quiet as they approached; the second thing was what he thought was the horse Johnny had just broken. Teresa wasn’t sure, but there was no sign of Johnny, so Scott let it go.

As they pulled up in front of what Teresa said was a shop called Baldemero’s, the only shop in town it would seem, an elderly man came out and greeted Teresa effusively. He got even more effusive when he understood who Scott was and what they wanted. Walking into the shop, Scott was almost impressed; it’s outside belied the inside, which was filled with what appeared to be rather well made apparel, along with everything else Scott could imagine.

Scott started by trying on some hats and Teresa disappeared in the back with Mr. Baldemero, cataloging for him everything she thought Scott would need, at the same time assuring Scott she would pick out some very nice things for him. She certainly seemed to enjoy shopping; she’d have fit right in with the girls he’d known in Boston. As he started to reach for another hat two men entered the store. One grabbed the hat Scott was reaching for and said he was looking at it and the other circled around to Scott’s other side. The first man elbowed Scott out of the way, immediately putting him on the alert. These men were part of the group he’d observed and Scott was sure they were connected with Pardee. Seems he’d found the enemy rather quickly.

Scott decided to challenge them a bit; he reached for another hat and tried to push the man out of his way when he stood in front of the mirror. Scott was now sure he was in for a fight, because the second man circled behind him, boxing him in between them. Rather than letting them make the first move, Scott went on the offensive, saying, “Where I come from there are two ways to settle this kind of a situation,” he said and then continued, “One is,” as he grasped his fist and used it as leverage to shove his elbow into the man behind him, knocking him into the stove. He turned quickly and swung at the other man, knocking him onto the counter and then had to turn and deal with the first man again.

The fight escalated when a third man joined the other two. Scott could hear Teresa in the background, screaming to stop it and someone threw a pot, which shattered over his head. Scott knew he was fighting a losing fight, three to one; his only hope was to acquit himself well enough not to get killed or seriously hurt. When he was thrown out into the street, he felt Teresa try to help him up. At that moment the three came out of the store. Scott felt a bit smug when he saw that all three were looking almost as bad as he felt. That would show them and his brother. Scott had not failed to see Johnny rise from the chair he had been sitting in when he was thrown out of the store. See, Little Brother, I can handle myself was his thought.

The sight of Johnny leaning almost insolently against the porch rail stiffened Scott’s backbone. He’d show his brother and to Teresa’s offer to help him to the buckboard, he replied, “I came to buy some clothes; some clothes I’ll buy.” He hoped Johnny heard what he said and noted the steel as he marched back into the store.

Teresa and Scott stopped at a stream on the way home so Scott could clean up a bit. They could see the hacienda across the stream, but Scott wanted to clean up there. Teresa had been very incensed that Johnny had not come to help Scott when she’d run out to get him. She’d talked of little else on the drive back and Scott had finally managed to turn her thoughts by commenting that Johnny might have been there to spy on Pardee and helping Scott would have blown his cover. He hoped that was true, because the thought that Johnny had joined Pardee was one that scared him, a lot.

The sight of Johnny riding up on his big palomino made Scott’s blood boil. No matter what he had said to Teresa, it hurt that his brother had not helped. Could he really trust him? Johnny’s words, “I told you to stay out of it, didn’t I?” in his slow drawl only added fuel to Scott’s fire. “Well, you did, anyway.” When Johnny pointed out the obvious bruise on Scott’s face, Scott snapped and threw his jacket on the ground. His punch to Johnny’s face knocked his brother off his feet and sent him tumbling toward the stream. Scott doubted that many men would have gotten under Johnny Madrid’s guard enough to land that blow. Johnny came up fighting, as much in response to the blow as to Scott’s words, “I just couldn’t resist thanking for your help,” with a contemptuous, “Brother,” thrown in for good measure.

It was the ‘Brother’ that stuck and Johnny was up and swinging at Scott, who for the second time that day, faced a fight. He suspected this one would be harder than the one against Pardee’s men and he was rather relieved to have Teresa get between them. He was not ready to test himself against his brother. Losing to Johnny now would destroy the impression he’d been trying to make that he was capable of holding his own. His apology went unanswered and his approach to his brother that they ought to be able to get along because they’d both come for the same reason got a reaction he had not expected. Instead of responding with composure, Johnny showed how much he’d been stung by lashing out at their father.

Scott heard the bitterness and longing in Johnny’s voice as he said, “Why do you think I came? For loyalty and love for Murdoch Lancer? You want to know what he did to my mother? He gave her the keys to the road one day and said what’s your hurry. And just a minute, don’t forget Buster here.”

It was Teresa who managed to stop Johnny from taking off, denying what he’d said. Her story was that Johnny’s mother had left on her own with a gambler. Scott saw the confused look on Johnny’s face. Something that Teresa had said had reached him, that the man was a gambler, perhaps? There was a trace of doubt on his face as he turned back and challenged the girl on where she’d heard the story. He became visibly agitated when she said it was from her father, not Murdoch.

Scott was impressed with the fiery way Teresa spoke to Johnny, getting him to stop and listen. She seemed to be determined to defend Murdoch. She told him Murdoch had called for his mother when he thought he was dying. “If you want to hate him because he’s stubborn or wrong headed lots of the time or proud, they’re faults; but don’t hate him for your mother, Johnny, because he loved her.” Scott did not miss the pain on his brother’s face as she spoke; a pain Scott thought came from the realization that he might have been wrong all these years.

Scott didn’t know what might have happened had they not heard the urgent cries from the direction of the hacienda, cries for Senor Murdoch. Something new was wrong; Pardee must have struck again. Johnny had taken off in that direction as Scott raced for the buckboard, slowing down only long enough for Teresa to climb in.

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Chapter 3

The commotion got louder as they rapidly approached the hacienda. The vaquero who had ridden in at a gallop calling for Murdoch, Cipriano and Isidro was clearly upset as he told Murdoch he’d seen smoke from Gaspar’s place and then collapsed against the Patron. Waiting only for Teresa to get down and Murdoch to take her place in the buckboard beside Scott, the men hurried to the house of Murdoch’s tenant, Gaspar.

What met them there sickened Scott. He’d seen worse in the war, but somehow this made his stomach churn more. These things happened in war, unfortunately, but this was not an act of war; this was outright senseless brutality. Part of the barn was still smoldering and Gaspar hung from a beam projecting from the loft, upside down by his feet, his throat slit. Scott’s jaw clenched in anger at the cruelty done to this innocent family.

Scott watched in silence as the vaqueros crossed themselves and he then looked over at Johnny, whose head was bent in sorrow and disgust. It was such a senseless act, done to upset the residents of Lancer. Johnny’s jaw was set in anger as he rode with the men to help cut Gaspar down. While they did that Murdoch called out for Gaspar’s wife, Maria, and entered the house, coming out a moment later with a look of anguish on his face, as he seemed to realize that this was done for his benefit.

Cipriano had gone to follow the trail Pardee and his men had made no effort to conceal. It was obvious they wanted to be followed. His report when he rode up that it led to the San Benito Mountains stirred Murdoch to action and he instructed Isidro to remain behind with one of the men to bury Gaspar and Maria and promised armed men would return. Scott thought for a moment that Johnny might stay as he stood and stared at the house over the back of his horse and then turned to watch Murdoch. The look of pain on his face was evident to Scott. Scott knew it mirrored his own pain at this senseless cruelty.

When they returned to the house, Murdoch quickly detailed the distribution of weapons to all the men and sent most of them back to Gaspar’s to complete the burial with orders to return as quickly as possible to defend the hacienda or to be ready for further action. It was evident to Scott from the looks on the faces around him that these men were ready to take on Pardee. The killing of one of their own was like a match to dry tinder. Murdoch, Scott, and Johnny went into the great room to talk briefly about what had happened.

“What did you learn in Morro Coyo, Johnny? Do you have any idea what Pardee is up to or where he is hiding? What do you think is his next move?” Scott started out immediately. Murdoch turned and watched his younger son as Johnny seemed to be struggling for words.

“What did I learn? Nothing much except that Pardee has a very unsavory bunch of men. You had the pleasure of meeting some of them. I’ve got no specific idea what he is up to, but it should be obvious. That attack and those killings were a clear warning to Murdoch that the pressure is on and the final attack is coming soon. We can expect an assault on the hacienda tomorrow or the day after,” Johnny replied and the anguish in his voice was clear to Scott. Brother Johnny, it seemed, did not approve of senseless killing.

“So,” Scott continued, “We know that the tracks led into the San Benito Mountains. Who knows those mountains, Murdoch? Can anyone help lead us through them and help us find where Pardee and his men are camped or might know of any hidden passes?”

“I believe Cipriano would be the best man to lead you there. I know he is very familiar with the entire area. What plan do you have in mind?” Murdoch replied, focusing all his attention on Scott.

“I plan to follow them into the mountains and find that camp. We could use the element of surprise and try and wipe them out there. I doubt they will be expecting us to go on the offensive,” Scott said, sounding every bit the soldier he had been.

Johnny spun around in disgust and snorted at Scott’s plan. “That’s a suicide mission. Of course Pardee is expecting something like that; it’s too easy. You will ride right into their hands. That or come upon a deserted camp because he’s posted lookouts who saw us ride out, so they’ve doubled back into Morro Coyo and are headed to an unprotected hacienda. It ain’t that kind of war, Boston, and military tactics like those won’t work,” he spat out.

Murdoch looked from one to the other, considering what each had said. Scott’s idea was right out of a military handbook. He could picture Julius Caesar using such a strategy, very successfully. But Johnny might be right; it might be walking into a trap, or worse. “What would you suggest, Johnny?”

“Hole up here; the walls are thick and we can set men around the perimeter and have a chance of defending this place. Make them come to us,” was Johnny’s reply.

“And if they don’t? What then? They could attack another outlying tenant and continue to do so and watch more men desert us when we fail to defend our own. They hold all the cards at the moment,” Murdoch replied, “I think we have to try Scott’s plan.”

Scott should have felt gratified by his father’s response. It seems he had proved himself worthy enough of respect to be given the chance to take the lead in defending their lands. He didn’t feel gratified though; instead he felt apprehensive and a little unsure. What if Johnny was right? Should they attack the camp? As he turned and went to change clothes into more practical ones from his purchases that morning, he began to rethink the plan he had.

Johnny followed Scott into his bedroom and tried to continue the discussion, restating his concern that it was too easy and Pardee would have left the camp. Scott replied, “We can talk on the way while we are after them,” as he buckled on the gun belt Murdoch had given him. He had already formulated a slightly different plan, one that depended on Cipriano’s knowledge of the San Benitos. When Murdoch brought Cipriano into the room Scott questioned him on whether there was a pass they could use. Cipriano confirmed that one existed, but it was a steep, narrow one. When Scott turned and asked Johnny if he was ready, Johnny made one more appeal to Murdoch not to go through with this plan.

“Do you know what’s going to happen up there with a couple of cowhands and a tin soldier?” he asked Murdoch, his voice sharp with anger, “That sun will be coming down in about a half an hour and you’re going to be stumbling around there in the dark blowing each other’s heads off,” he continued, turning to instruct Scott.

Scott decided to leave it to Murdoch to make the final decision. He liked his new plan, but he understood Johnny’s concerns and was even willing to concede to him, if Murdoch instructed him to. Johnny threw his hat on the chair in anger when Murdoch decided for Scott, but Scott knew it was because Johnny perceived this would be a waste of men’s lives. For a gunfighter, he sure was reluctant to engage an enemy. Making one last attempt, Scott turned to Johnny as he prepared to walk out the door and asked if he was coming. Johnny’s downcast eyes and look of pain said what Scott needed to know and he left without his brother. He didn’t hear what Johnny revealed to Murdoch of his plan, to find Pardee.

Scott’s revised plan was not to attack the camp, assuming they found it, but to let Pardee see them riding into the mountains. To do this he instructed the men, all but himself and Cipriano, to ride together, but to stay behind them. He and Cipriano rode ahead and then cut off the trail, leaving the rest of the men to ride in the open, visible to Pardee’s lookout, assuming there was one. Scott just hoped that Pardee wouldn’t decide to ambush them from the rocks on either side of the trail. If that happened all this would be in vain, and Pardee was likely to have won. He just hoped that Johnny and Murdoch and the few men left behind would be successful in that case.

Scott climbed an outcropping of rock and was able to watch Pardee and his men head out in the direction of Morro Coyo. He let out a sigh of gratitude to Johnny for raising enough doubts in his mind to make him change his plan of attack and called to the men below to hold up. Having seen what he wanted, he and the Lancer men set out to return to the hacienda via Cipriano’s pass.

As day was breaking Scott and his men rode onto the hacienda ground. Scott was in full charge, assigning men to their stations. “I want men on the roof, there, there,” pointing as he spoke, “The front portico, some in back of the house and on the patio. Let’s go.” That the vaqueros, tired from riding all night, instantly did what they were instructed, was reassuring to Scott; he had at least gained their respect, it seemed. Now, how about Johnny’s? Would he acknowledge that Scott’s plan had worked, so far? They were back to defend Lancer as he had argued for.

Scott enjoyed telling Murdoch of the success of his altered plan, but his pleasure was short lived when Murdoch told him that Johnny was gone. He felt deflated and suddenly tired when Murdoch answered, “What difference,” to Scott’s query of where. Had all his planning been in vain? Johnny wasn’t there to appreciate it, and the thought that he had joined Pardee turned Scott’s stomach. To have found and then lost a brother so quickly made him wonder if this was even worthwhile.

Murdoch, Teresa and Scott stood in the great room waiting as the day lightened, waiting for the attack that they all knew would be coming. Yesterday’s warning would be followed up on today. Scott was sure of that. And they were ready for it, if the men were as good as Murdoch had said they were. But where was Johnny, Scott kept wondering. His brother had said clearly he did not like to see his property burned; his look of pain and anger at Gaspar’s seemed to indicate that he did not agree with Pardee’s methods and he had said clearly that first night that he would never work with Pardee again; what had Murdoch said to him that had driven him off the ranch and away from this fight?

Suddenly Scott was pulled from his reverie by shots and the sounding of the alarm bell. Pulling the heavy drape from the window behind Murdoch’s desk he looked out and saw men riding pell-mell down the slope, one man in the lead. They were still way too far off for the shots to be effective and Lancer’s men got rapidly into position, ready to return fire when Pardee’s men were in range.

The leader was pulling ahead and jumped an outer fence as Scott and the men prepared to fire at him, only to be stopped when Murdoch shouted out that it was Johnny as he cleared the second fence. Scott knew he was right; it was his brother riding hell bent for leather to the ranch, Pardee and his men chasing after him. It was Johnny they were firing at, not the men at the hacienda, and Johnny was returning the fire. Scott held his breath as he watched his brother quickly closing the distance, while two of the vaqueros ran out to try and give him covering fire. Teresa cried out as they watched Johnny get shot and fall from his horse, lying motionless on the ground.

Scott saw Murdoch close his eyes, a look of intense pain on his face. As Scott rushed down to help his brother he was stopped by the anguish in Murdoch’s voice as he said, “It’s no use. I don’t understand what that boy was trying to do.” Scott didn’t have the time to explain to Murdoch what he thought Johnny’s ‘one man deal’ was. Not now, they had a battle to fight, one Scott was more determined than ever to win. He had to win it for Johnny. He could not let his brother’s death be in vain.

So, he set his teeth and went to aim and fire, aim and fire automatically, his mind shut to everything but the need to kill as many of Pardee’s men as he could. He was so intent on what he was doing that he missed the movement from the still form on the ground until he heard Murdoch call out, “Look at that. Look it’s your brother,” which drew Scott and Teresa, who was loading another rifle for Murdoch, to the gate to see Johnny sitting on the ground firing his gun.

Scott knew he had to go out and protect his brother; Johnny was in a vulnerable position in the middle of a lawn. If Scott could get him over to the live oak tree he could protect him. Shooting as he went, Scott covered the ground between the protection of the walls and his exposed brother. One of the vaqueros joined him and together they pulled Johnny so his back rested against the tree. No time to assess his wound, Scott knelt beside him and kept shooting.

Johnny was the one who spotted Pardee and warned Scott who was able to get off a shot and kill him. At that the rest of Pardee’s men lost heart. They quickly started a retreat to their horses and took off, with the Lancer men continuing to fire at them. Scott gave chase, stepping over bodies to continue firing, his anger at the men who had nearly killed his brother getting the better of his common sense that it was over.

As the last of Pardee’s men rode off, Scott returned to Johnny who was struggling to get to his feet. Looking down on his brother, he smiled in relief that Johnny looked as though he would make it. What he saw in his brother’s eyes made his breath stop. There was the look of respect he’d wanted to see, and Johnny’s words in his soft drawl, “That was good shooting,” confirmed it. His brother did respect him, but now, somehow, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that his brother was alive and there was a look of understanding in his eyes. No words were really needed as Scott looked at Johnny and saw the smile on his face and the relief in his eyes, relief that Scott knew was mirrored in his own eyes.

Johnny was determined to walk back to the hacienda on his own. Scott knew it was foolish and doubted that he’d make it, but he understood the pride and determination behind Johnny’s need, so he let him try, walking near enough to catch his brother when he started to fall.

.

Chapter 4

The rest of the day passed in a blur for Scott. There were wounded to be tended to, especially Johnny; Pardee’s men to be seen to and turned into what law there was; the dead to be cared for; and Scott knew they had to be sure that the rest of Pardee’s men really had gone and not just gone to regroup for another attack. While Murdoch took over seeing to the wounded, sending Cipriano to get the doctor and also to watch out for any signs of Pardee’s men, Scott organized the remaining men to track Pardee’s men and maintain a lookout in the bell tower.

The reports came back slowly as the men returned that there was no sign of Pardee’s men in any of the nearby towns or in the San Benito Mountains. As the men returned, Scott sent some to get a few hours’ sleep, the older men first. They would relieve those on watch who would then get some sleep. Scott had no intention of being caught unprepared.

The doctor reported that Johnny’s injury was not life threatening; the bullet had passed through his left shoulder, missing bones and arteries. He’d lost a fair amount of blood, so he would be weak, but, barring an infection, he should recover well. The fall from his horse had knocked Johnny out for a brief time, but the doctor did not even think he had a concussion, just said he’d have a headache for a day or two. Other than that, there had been only two of their men killed and the remaining injured men were not that seriously hurt either.

It was a tired trio that sat down to dinner that night, Teresa, Murdoch and himself. Maria, their housekeeper was sitting with Johnny as he ate his dinner upstairs. Again Murdoch asked what Scott thought Johnny was doing leading the charge down the hill.

“Yesterday morning,” Scott started and then stopped. Was it really only the third day he’d been at Lancer? It seemed so much longer. He restarted, “Johnny told me that what he had planned was pretty much of a one man deal. I thought at the time that he just didn’t trust me to know what to do, so he was taking the burden on himself. I still think that, though I hope his opinion of me has changed. He hasn’t said, but I think he was trying to draw them out into the open before they could get organized so we could cut them down more easily. He was taking a huge chance, even though it worked. He could have been killed, as we thought he had been.” With that Scott stopped speaking, too affected to continue.

Murdoch slowly started to shake his head, back and forth. “I thought I’d driven him away after you left. I told him I didn’t know what I thought of him when he told me he was going to find Pardee. I wish I could take those words back now. In hindsight I agree that he meant to find Pardee to draw him out in the open, as you seem to suspect. The fool, he could have been killed. Nothing would have made that worth it.”

Scott sat staring into his wine glass and felt all the nervous energy that was keeping him going slowly drain away. It had been a long day, following a long night and he knew he was beyond tired. He’d intended to stay up and watch over Johnny, but he wasn’t sure he would make it. His head came up as he heard his father quietly say to him, “Go get some sleep, Son. You can sit with Johnny tomorrow. You’ll be of more help to him when you are rested. Tonight I claim a father’s privilege of watching over my son.”

With that Scott slowly stood up and said good night to Murdoch and Teresa and walked as slowly up the stairs. He did stop in Johnny’s room and looked down on his sleeping brother. He looked so young with his unruly hair tumbled over his face. At rest he was the boy Scott saw in him, not the gunfighter he knew him to be. “Good night, brother,” Scott whispered, “Sleep well. We have all the time in the world to get to know each other now, I promise.” At that Scott crept back out of the room and into his own. Though he hadn’t expected to be able to sleep that night, he was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

The following morning Scott began to discover things about his new brother. The first was that Johnny was nearly impossible to keep down. He was ready to get up that morning and it took the combined efforts of Murdoch and Scott, and some threats from Maria and a large wooden spoon, to make him see reason and agree, grumbling, to stay in bed, but just for the day.

The second thing Scott learned was that Johnny did not talk. The fight with Pardee was over, and Johnny was not inclined to relive it by discussing it. He was also not inclined to tell Scott anything about his prior life, though he did ask questions about Scott’s upbringing. Scott was soon frustrated that Johnny did not seem to think that getting to know each other was a mutual undertaking, but he slowly realized that Johnny’s survival might have depended on his ability to listen and digest information while holding his own business and opinions close.

The third thing Scott learned was that late at night Johnny did talk. That they were still both creatures of the night, rather than ranchers who rose early, meant that it was Scott who sat with Johnny that night. Johnny had developed a fever and was restless, so Scott intended to sit up all night if he had to, to care for this brother he was starting to care for so much.

Perhaps it was that night usually brought more intimacy to any situation, perhaps it was the fever that helped lower Johnny’s defenses, but he did seem willing to answer the questions Scott started to put to him again. So, when Scott asked what Johnny’s one man deal was, he got an answer.

“Look, Boston, I knew Pardee, knew how he thought. You might have been in the army, but Pardee wasn’t, so he didn’t think the same way you do. I wanted to get close to him so I could be there when he tried to take Lancer. That’s why I couldn’t help you in Morro Coyo that day. I’m sorry about that, but it would have ruined everything if I had. You did seem to handle the situation though,” he said, a grin spreading over his face.

“Yeah, I figured that out, eventually. I was torn between that thought and the thought that you might have decided to join Pardee. The first idea made more sense, though you might want to smooth things over with Teresa. She was ready to kill you in Morro Coyo. Took all my powers of persuasion to convince her that you were trying to gather intelligence for us. She did lay into you pretty thoroughly though, didn’t she?” he continued and smiled at the memory of Teresa confronting Johnny, “Oh, and while I’m at it, sorry for the crack at your jaw, don’t know what came over me.”

“That’s okay, Scott, just don’t try it again. You won’t be so lucky next time. Yeah, Teresa is quite something. I wonder if what she said about my mother is true; in a way it makes more sense than the story I’ve heard all my life. Guess I’ll have to think about that some. If Murdoch had kicked her out, why would he have gone to all the trouble to find me? Why would he offer me a third of all this?” Johnny mused and then drifted to sleep.

When Scott went to settle the pillow so Johnny could sleep more easily he learned the fourth new thing about his brother when his hand touched the gun under the pillow. Scott drew in his breath at the thought that Johnny felt he had to sleep with his gun near to hand like that. He slowly exhaled as the implications of it hit him; Johnny’s life before Lancer had been so uncertain he couldn’t afford to sleep without a gun. For the second night in a row Scott found himself making a promise to this younger brother, “Johnny I promise that the time will come when you will feel safe enough to sleep without that gun. I intend to see to that as your older brother.” With that Scott settled into a chair and spent the rest of the night dozing and protecting his brother’s sleep.

The following morning when Maria brought up Johnny’s breakfast Scott learned another thing about Johnny; was that the fifth thing he wondered, counting backing his mind. Johnny was still, obviously, feeling feverish, but he flat out refused the willow bark tea Maria had brought. He complained that it was too bitter and only agreed to drink it after she had put four spoonfuls of honey in it. After gulping it down quickly, Johnny reached for and ate the sweet roll that Maria had placed on his breakfast tray. So, brother Johnny had a sweet tooth. Interesting. That was hardly the image of a professional gun fighter. Maria shooed Scott downstairs to the kitchen for his breakfast while she saw to Johnny.

Walking into the kitchen Scott was drawn by the smells of coffee, bacon and bread. His heart was warmed by the kiss on his cheek from Teresa and Murdoch’s friendly greeting. Teresa set a plate in front of Scott and poured him a cup of steaming coffee. Scott had not normally been one who ate a large breakfast in Boston; most days he didn’t even appear until closer to lunch, but he found he was hungry and dug into his food. Must be the fresh air, he thought.

While Scott ate Murdoch questioned him about how Johnny had passed the night and scowled when he heard that Johnny’s fever, though not high, had not gone away. “He’ll be spending today in bed again, whether he likes it or not,” Murdoch pronounced and Scott did not doubt him. Murdoch went on to say, “I want you to ride out with Cipriano today and start getting a feel for this ranch. I’ll make sure Johnny stays down.” Though Scott would have preferred to continue getting to know Johnny, he knew Murdoch was right. It was time for him to start to learn the new life he had chosen. So, his fifth day at Lancer, Scott spent riding over the ranch and seeing for himself the vast herds of cattle and acres that comprised his new patrimony.

For the second night in a row it was Scott who settled into the chair by Johnny’s bed. Johnny seemed to be glad to see him and greeted him with a smile. “Glad it’s you, Boston, there was no getting around the Old Man today. No way he was letting me out of bed. You look beat, what have you been up to today?”

With that Scott described to Johnny the hours in the saddle and the vastness of the land. “Johnny, Teresa wasn’t kidding the other day when she stopped the wagon. This place goes on forever, as near as I can see. Murdoch had Cipriano show me around. Before this I’d only seen gentle cows grazing in fields. The beasts out here look wild by comparison,” he started and stopped when Johnny started to laugh.

“What you saw back there were dairy cows, I bet. They are different from the beef cattle here. Wait until you have to rope, tie, clip, and brand a half wild bull calf. You’ll know then what I’m talking about,” was Johnny’s reply.

“Am I to assume that you have done such things in your misspent youth?” Scott asked though he figured he already knew the answer. Brother Johnny was more than a gunfighter, another new thing he’d learned.

“Yeah, I’ve worked on a cattle ranch or two, does that surprise you? I prefer breaking and handling horses, but I do know one end of a steer from the other,” Johnny replied.

“It seems I am learning all sorts of new things about you, Brother,” Scott replied, “Anything else I need to know?”

Scott was surprised that Johnny picked up their conversation from the day before. “Why didn’t you attack Pardee’s camp as you’d planned to, Scott? That was a good decision, by the way; he and his men would have slaughtered you.”

“Yeah, I got the idea that was what you thought, and if you must know it was because I listened to you. I changed my plan to one of reconnaissance pretty quickly, even before I left the house. If you thought it was so important that we make a stand here, who was I to argue with the expert? I had the men ride out in the open while Cipriano and I hid on an outcropping of rock. You were right, Pardee did have a lookout and when he saw our men he must have reported to Pardee that they had lured us away because Cipriano and I saw Pardee and his men take off in the direction of Morro Coyo so we doubled back by way of Cipriano’s pass and got here just before day break. What made you do such a foolish thing? You didn’t know we were back here,” Scott replied and then held his breath that Johnny would answer him.

“Murdoch and I exchanged words when you left and I took off to find Pardee. He didn’t seem to know what to think about me and I was in no mood to enlighten him. Man, he can piss me off. I guess I was hoping that I had planted the seed in your mind that this was where you needed to be; it seems it worked, too. I knew that Pardee was smart enough to have a plan to attack the hacienda from all sides. If I could just have him chase me with his men all from the same side I figured there was more of a chance that even the few men I knew were left here could defend the place well enough,” Johnny related quietly.

“How did you manage to get him to chase you like that,” Scott asked, intrigued by the story.

Johnny started to chuckle at his recollection of his rather crude method. “All I could think to do was tell him it was my land and I wanted him off it. Boston, you should have seen the look on his face when he said, ‘You’re not a Lancer,’ but I think he believed me. I had to shoot his man, but I just nicked him, enough to make him mad and start yelling at his men to follow me. Boy am I glad that horse is so fast and that you’d demonstrated how well he can jump. If I’d killed Pardee there his men might not have attacked, but they would have all gone for me. I liked the odds better the way I played it,” Johnny concluded.

At that Scott shook his head, “Just don’t ever try a foolish stunt like that again. Murdoch aged ten years when he saw you fall, and so did I. Johnny, if it helps you figure things out, it was real pain I saw on his face when Murdoch saw you fall. It was as though all his actions were in vain at that moment. Everything he had wanted seemed to die when he thought you’d died. Remember, I am a total stranger to him. He knew you as a baby and he still sees his little boy in you.”

“You may be right, Boston, I hadn’t thought of it that way. He’s not as tough as he wants us to think, is he?” Johnny asked and grinned when Scott agreed with him, “We can have some fun with that, don’t you think?’

So, Scott learned one more thing about his new brother. Johnny had a sense of humor and a bit of a devil in him. He was obviously looking forward to teasing their father and Scott thought back on that first day and Johnny challenging Murdoch. It must have been his way of getting the measure of the man. Johnny would figure out very fast how to get to Murdoch without going too far, and Scott intended to enjoy every moment of it. With that Johnny sent Scott out to sleep in his own bed stating that his fever was nearly gone and he didn’t need a nursemaid all night. Satisfied that it was so, Scott said good night and went to bed.

.

Chapter 5

Johnny had insisted on getting up the following day, but did agree to stay around the house. He spent time with his new horse, though not riding it. Murdoch refused to let him with the arm still in a sling and, for some reason that was unclear to Scott, Johnny was inclined to humor the old man. That Johnny was still recovering was evident; he barely made it through dinner.

The following day, Sunday, Scott accompanied Murdoch and Teresa to church. Not an overly religious man, especially because of some of his experiences during the war, Scott felt the need, nonetheless, to give thanks for the outcome of Pardee’s raid. Johnny did not go with them, and Scott realized with a jolt that he was probably Catholic. He wondered idly if Johnny ever went to church. Instead he watched his brother sitting in the sun as the rest of them drove into town.

Scott realized in some shock that it was the end of their first week at Lancer. In some ways it felt as though he’d been there for years. He enjoyed having a little sister who seemed determined to love him, he was learning to rethink all that his grandfather had told him about his father and to respect the man, but mostly he was happy with the developing friendship with Johnny. They continued to talk some every night in the privacy of Johnny’s room and Scott suspected that Johnny told him things he hadn’t shared with many others, if any. Once that door was opened, it seems, Johnny was willing to share with Scott.

They talked over what Johnny had learned about his departure from Lancer. He told Scott some of what his mother had said and admitted to Scott that even to him it now sounded like justification. Together they looked at Murdoch’s search for Johnny, his offer of a third of the ranch, and his pain when Johnny was shot. Scott was pleased to see that Johnny seemed to be starting to believe his father had loved him, something Scott thought would be important in helping Johnny settle in to life at Lancer. He only wished he knew why his father had never made an effort to contact him in Boston. Admittedly Scott knew that Murdoch knew he was well cared for, compared to Johnny, but it would be nice to think his father had cared enough to contact him. If Murdoch really meant the past was in the past, he might never know.

That night Teresa insisted that they have an especially good meal and the roast she served was excellent. Murdoch chose a very good red wine to go with it and toasted his two sons, saying, “This marks the end of the first week my sons have been with me here at Lancer. You two will never really understand how important it is to me that you are both here beside me now. I’ve waited a long time for this,” and he raised his glass in salute to Scott and Johnny. The rest of the evening passed with Murdoch starting to explain the workings of the ranch. Clearly, Scott thought, it was far more complex than he’d imagined. When Murdoch noticed Johnny could barely stay awake, he sent them off to bed and stated that the next day their formal education would begin.

Scott was getting used to rising early, especially since he was also retiring early and he promised to get Johnny up for breakfast. Johnny swore he would not eat another meal from a tray balanced on his lap, but Scott was pleasantly surprised that Johnny was up and dressed when he knocked on the door. Together they made their appearance in the kitchen to eat with Teresa and Murdoch.

Murdoch made good his promise to start going over the workings of the ranch. He had already set the remaining men to mending fences and getting the ranch back in order. Several of his former vaqueros had returned, timidly hoping to be able to work for Lancer again and Murdoch had rehired them. He explained that it was easier to take on men who already knew their way around the ranch and what was expected of them. Murdoch did not blame them for having left; Pardee had made it very uncomfortable for them. Murdoch had rewarded those who stayed with a bonus, an action that both Scott and Johnny approved of.

Scott asked Murdoch about Gaspar’s place and what would happen to it. “Gaspar was a tenant farmer,” Murdoch explained, “He wasn’t like the vaqueros, but held the land from me in return for two days a week of work and working during the spring round up and fall cattle drive. I have ten tenants like that. One of the days they work is Sunday, thereby allowing the regular vaqueros to have the day off. The remaining days are spread across the week.”

“That seems like a very good arrangement, Sir,” Scott answered, impressed with the logic behind the plan, which obviously worked well, “What will happen to Gaspar’s place? Will you be able to get another tenant?”

“In fact, I already have one,” Murdoch responded, “Gaspar’s nephew, Sergio, one of the men who stayed, approached me on Saturday. He has a wife and son and a second child on the way. He wants to move up from being a vaquero and said he would like to fix the place up and be able to care for his aunt and uncle’s graves. He’s a hard worker so I agreed. The house itself isn’t damaged and the barn only minimally so. If he can live with the memory of what happened there to his family, I want him to have the chance.”

It was Johnny who answered softly, “He will think it’s an honor to keep his uncle’s memory alive by living there. If he has a second son, he will name him Gaspar.”

Murdoch went over the financial arrangements for the ranch. Like most ranchers, he ran a tight operation. All his income depended on the sale of his cattle in the fall. He had to make enough money then to carry Lancer through the rest of the year.

As a business it was fairly self sufficient, needing only a few supplies that could not be raised or produced on the property. Scott found out he would be learning to deal with cattle, but also overseeing growing alfalfa and hay to feed the stock and the gardens and orchards that supplied the fruits and vegetables for what was over 200 people at its peak, counting the families. He glanced at Johnny who had already shown his understanding of the operation by asking about where the cattle were pastured and how often the herds were moved. Murdoch answered that and went on to talk about the various areas on the ranch used for grazing. Johnny’s answers indicated that he knew where they were, because he asked about the water available in each location. It seems brother Johnny had kept his eyes open when he’d gone into Morro Coyo.

There was more discussion of cattle and crops and where Murdoch drove the herd to market. Johnny and Murdoch continued the conversation while Scott remained largely silent. He, again, came to the realization that there was more to Johnny than a gunfighter; something he thought their father was realizing also with relief.

The final area Murdoch touched on that of money for each of them. At that Scott paid attention and Johnny also sat up some. “The thousand dollars you each got is yours to save or spend as you see fit. You will also need an income for work performed around here. As my sons and co-owners, you will share in the profits of the ranch. You will each have access to the bank account I have for day-to-day ranch business, and to the one where the ranch savings reside. We’ll set that up when we go into town to sign the agreement dividing Lancer among the three of us. For your own expenses I propose to pay you what I pay each of the vaqueros to start with. You both have a lot to learn and until you have learned it, that seems fair to me. That amounts to a dollar a day to start. Any problems with that?”

Both Johnny and Scott agreed to the arrangement, which did seem to be generous to Scott, given how unsure he was feeling about himself again. He sure hoped Johnny would be willing and patient enough to show him the ropes around here. Johnny’s smile and nod when he glanced at him gave Scott the eerie feeling that he’d just read Scott’s mind, and was reassuring his brother that he’d have his back. Scott found that idea very comforting.

The following day Johnny was finally released from having to stay around the house and the two of them took off together. Scott showed Johnny around, much as Cipriano had done for him, and Johnny reciprocated by pointing out to Scott all the things Scott had missed on that tour, things like signs that there was water nearby and the tracks and scat of a mountain lion. Scott was impressed that nothing seemed to get past Johnny, even to the fawns he pointed out to his brother. Johnny seemed to be enjoying himself riding on his beautiful palomino with the wind in his hair. His whole face showed his pleasure and it was contagious. The horse Cipriano had chosen for Scott was a good one and Scott was able to keep up with Johnny with ease. They discovered in each other a love of riding fast for the sheer joy of it.

At dinner that night, after Johnny and Scott had reported what they had seen to Murdoch and Johnny had asked some more questions on the flow rates of some of the streams on the ranch, Murdoch announced that they would all go into town on the following day to sign the final papers and add Scott and Johnny to the bank accounts. When that was settled, Scott had one question that had been bothering him.

“Sir, you and Johnny seem to focus on water and streams a lot. Why is that? Is there a problem there?” he asked looking from Murdoch to Johnny. It was Johnny who answered.

“Have you noticed the colors of the hills around here, Boston?” he asked and when Scott acknowledged that they did seem to be browner than he was used to, but he’d assumed that this was a result of Pardee’s raids, he continued, “No, that’s the color they always are out here. We get rain for only a few months of the year, usually November to February or March up here. So it’s important to know that we have water year round, even when it’s not rained for months, and where that water is. That’s one reason the herds are moved during the year,” he explained.

“Lancer is fairly lucky, we have several lakes that are fed by snow melt from as far away as the Sierras, coming down the rivers that run from there. We are able to keep that water in lakes and holding ponds for use in the summer when it is dry,” Murdoch explained, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. It was a shock to me and your mother when we first came out and saw the land turn brown by April those first two years. But now I love it. We don’t get the spectacular fall colors of Boston or Scotland, the changes are more subtle, but we do get changes.”

The following morning with Murdoch and Teresa in the carriage and Johnny and Scott following on horseback, they made their way into Green River, a larger town than Morro Coyo and one with a lawyer and the bank.

The lawyer, Mr. Randall, seemed to be a pleasant enough man and had the document all ready for signatures. Scott signed first and could not keep the smile off his face as he saw the three names under the signature lines, Scott Lancer, Murdoch Lancer and John Lancer. Teresa was grinning happily and even Murdoch looked happy. Johnny, however, had his arms crossed in front of himself and was chewing on the stampede ties of his hat, signs Scott now recognized as nervousness. He seemed to be actually hiding behind Teresa and the look of his face was a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

After he had signed, Murdoch said, “Oh, Mr. Randall, I, um, I should have told you; that last name should read John Madrid, not Lancer,” as he looked up at Johnny. Scott read his gesture for what it was, an apology to Johnny for doubting him. Murdoch was willing to let Johnny be who he was. Johnny looked from the lawyer who was starting to change the document, to his father and back again. Murdoch stared right at Johnny, hoping he would understand, Scott thought, but ended up dropping his eyes under Johnny’s return stare.

Johnny’s response took Scott’s breath away, a simple, “No, Let it stand,” as he reached for the pen to sign his name. The smile on Murdoch’s face as he exchanged glances with Scott told Scott that Johnny’s simple gesture of accepting the apology and offering a gesture of his own meant the world to Murdoch. To Scott it also meant that Johnny had worked through what had happened to him all those years ago and accepted that Murdoch had wanted him.

That night Scott sat on his bed again, hands laced behind his head and thought back to the first night at Lancer. Was it only ten days ago? He had been searching for a word then that had eluded him to describe the events of that day. He had settled on cataclysmic and he hadn’t been far wrong. Certainly the events of the last ten days had changed his world completely. Scott smiled as he realized that the word he’d been looking for that night had not even crossed his mind. How could it have? The word he’d been searching for was ‘family’. That simple word had changed him completely. He had a family and he knew it made him complete.

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~ end ~

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2 thoughts on “A Life Worth Fighting For by Martha

  1. I really enjoyed your retelling of the beginning of Lancer. The Scott perspective felt true and honest. The handling of Johnny made him seem both tough and very young. Thank you for this.

    Like

  2. I really loved this. Scott’s perspective was spot on. I loved watching the relationships bud through his eyes.

    Like

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