Satan’s Trickster by Mary Ann

Word count: 48,200

(Story completed in 1973)
Time frame – about 1 ½ years after the boys arrived at ranch. Scott 25 now, Johnny 22
Disclaimer: Not my guys, but wish they were, Miguel is all mine though. J
Thanks to Lori, my beta, for encouraging me to get this story typed up and her help editing it.

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Johnny Lancer was riding past the telegraph office when the owner came running out, calling to him.

“Mr. Lancer, Mr. Lancer, wait a minute.”

Turning the golden stallion towards the man, he stopped.  “What can I do for you?”

I’ve gotten a wire for you from San Francisco.”

“Really? Must be from Scott. What’s it say?”  As Johnny pulled the prancing stallion into a circle to get him to halt beside the man; pawing the ground Barranca gave in gracelessly.

“It says, ‘Have the stallion. Should be home in 8 days. Johnny, he’s a beauty. Signed ‘Scott Lancer.’” The red haired man handed Johnny the telegram.

“Thanks Mr. Bridges,” Johnny pocketed the note as he nudged the stallion around and into motion.  As he settled back for the almost 3 hour ride back to the Lancer Ranch, he again tried to puzzle out what had made his father, Murdoch Lancer, purchase this particular stallion. Several months ago he had received a letter from an old friend, “JJ” (Jack Jensen) who he had met when he first met Scott’s mother Catherine years ago, in Virginia. The letter told him of this black stallion he had just started training. The young stallion was a cross between a Morgan, a sturdy working horse, and an Arabian, a desert working horse. Old JJ said the Arab’s line of ancestors could be traced back almost 2 centuries and the Morgan back to the first Morgan stallion in the last century. The black color of the horse was rare, as Arabian sheiks never let a black horse out of their country.

Finally one day Murdoch had received a wire from JJ telling him the horse’s training was done and he was ready to sell him, not needing another stallion on his place. Within days Murdoch had wired the money to JJ and arrangements had been made to ship the horse with a couple of guards/grooms by steamship to San Francisco. With Murdoch unable to get away from Lancer, and Johnny unwilling to go, Scott was sent to the city to meet the ship and bring the horse back. Scott hadn’t minded he hadn’t been to a large city in a long time.

Johnny sighed, and nudged the stallion into a faster gait; he was glad that they had received the telegram as he was getting tired of running back and forth to town to see if there was word from Scott. The last few days were tiring. He smiled, Murdoch was acting as bad as his little son Miguel when he got a new toy. Thinking of his son he wondered if he’d be waiting for him at the arch, the gateway to the Lancer Ranch.

Since he had started going to town so often, Miguel had been meeting him at the arch on his little pony Sugar. Miguel was quite proud of his pony, a light chestnut mare that his Tio Scott had given to him shortly after he arrived. He would feed and brush her every morning and evening. Once in awhile he would do something to her, making her buck him off or bite him, then he would ‘punish’ her by not brushing her in the evening. But most of the time he would proudly ride her around the ranch, and if he could charm one of the cowboys into a horse race he would be thrilled because Sugar beat the bigger horse. He didn’t realize yet that the rider would purposely let him win. Miguel would sit on the ground in front of his pony and when he’d see Johnny coming would mount and race to greet him happily, always full of what had taken place during his absence.

This day Johnny reached the arch, but no Miguel raced to meet him. He wondered where his son was. As he rode the last two miles to the hacienda he kept a sharp look out in case Miguel was hiding. Less than a mile from the ranch buildings Johnny saw a small figure slowly trudging towards him. Kicking the stallion into a canter he was soon beside his small son Miguel.

“Daddy, daddy!” Miguel cried happily, reaching up to Johnny, “I thought you’d never come!”

With ease Johnny reached down, grasped Miguel by his hands and swung him up behind him.

“What happened to Sugar? Or are you walking today?” questioned Johnny.

Miguel wrapped his small arms around Johnny’s waist.

“Well daddy, I was riding Sugar. It’s a kinda pretty day today.”

“Alright hijo, what did you do to her this time?”

“Nothing, daddy. Really.”

“Miguel…” came the stern voice.

“Yes, daddy. I was riding Sugar without a saddle today, and she got mad at me for trying to make her hurry, and she bucked me off.”

“What were you doing to her Miguel?”

“I was hitting her with a big stick.” Miguel’s voice came quietly from behind Johnny’s back.

“Miguel! How many times do I have to tell you not to beat on her? And when did you start riding without a saddle?”

“I didn’t hit her hard, daddy.”

“If I hear that you’ve beat her with a stick again, I will use it on you. And that’s a promise!” He tried to look furious but the twitching of his lips gave him away, he could never beat his son, though sometimes he did threaten him, just to make sure he understood that what he had done was not acceptable.

“Yes, daddy,” came the small voiced answer.

“Now what happened to your saddle?”

“I was hurryin’ and didn’t take time.”

“Why were you hurrying?”

“Teresa wanted me to help her clean up my room, and I wanted to come see you. So I hurried.” came the answer as the ranch buildings came into sight.

“Miguel, what did I tell you about helping Teresa when she asks you for help?”

“To help her,” was the quiet answer.

“Alright. So when we get home you are going to go up and clean your room. Do you hear me?”

“Si papa.”

Johnny halted the stallion at the barn. Letting Miguel down he dismounted and stripped off the horse’s saddle, then turned him into the nearby corral. Picking up his saddle he carried it into the barn with Miguel trailing right behind him. In the aisle, near her stall stood the little chestnut pony. She raised her head and nickered happily when she saw them.

“Miguel, turn her into the little corral and give her some hay. You are not to ride her again until you clean that room,” Johnny said, trying to keep a smile from his lips. He could never be mad for long anyway at his five year old son.

“Yes, daddy,” Miguel picked up her dragging reins and led her out of the barn.

By the time Johnny had his saddle put up and was heading for the house he saw Miguel run into the house ahead of him. Smiling he shook his head; that kid, never a dull moment when he was around. He knew that Miguel’s room would be straightened within a matter of minutes, for Miguel loved to ride.

Entering the kitchen Johnny found Teresa stirring something good smelling in a large pot. Hearing him she turned, her pretty face flushed from the heat.

“Johnny, you’re home!”

Johnny looked around the room, then turned and looked behind him. Turning back to the now puzzled Teresa he teased, “Oh! I guess you’re talking to me!”

“Well who else is named Johnny? Not Murdoch or Scott who’s not here. By the way, any word from your big brother?” smiled Teresa.

“I think at last he’s finally gotten around to sending us a note.” He paused, pulling the telegram from his pocket, “said he’s got the stallion and should be home in 8 days. Says the horse is a beauty.” Johnny handed the slip of paper to her.

Reading the telegram, Teresa looked up at Johnny, “He sure says a lot in his messages.”

“Maybe he was in a hurry. What’s for supper?”

“O’Brian’s Irish stew, it’ll be ready in about 20 minutes, so you have enough time to clean up. Murdoch should be here in a few minutes.”

“Irish stew! For a Mexican? Oh great!” exclaimed Johnny.

“Well! If you don’t want any, you don’t have to eat it. I am sure I can give your share to someone else and you can just go hungry tonight because there isn’t anything else to eat. Besides I don’t think you want to ride back into town for a Mexican dinner!” Teresa said in a hurt voice turning back to the stove.

“I could eat at the bunkhouse with the hands,” teased Johnny, blue eyes twinkling with mischievous laughter.

“Yes. You can, they’re having beans and bacon tonight.”

“Oh well, I guess I could manage to eat your Irish stew. If it’s as peppery as you are it should be really pretty good.”

“Johnny Lancer! One of these days….” She turned, the large wooden spoon held as if she were going to throw it at him. But Johnny disappeared around the corner, his happy laughing trailing back to her. With a smile, Teresa turned once again back to the stove and the cooking stew.

Johnny had just sat down in the large living room after calling Miguel to clean up for dinner when Murdoch Lancer strode into the room. Johnny smiled up at his father as Murdoch turned towards him.

“Johnny. How was your trip to town?” Asked Murdoch as he sank into his armchair with a tired sigh.

“Hit it this time. Got the telegram from Scott just as I was leaving.” He passed the telegram to Murdoch, who quickly read the few words then let out a sigh of relief.

“I’m glad to hear he’s got the horse. Now they both need to get home in one piece. I can’t wait to see that horse.”

“Yeah, I know. Now I don’t have to ride to town again! You know Murdoch, this riding back and forth to town every day really gets to a person. It’s down right boring!”

“I’m sorry son, but I’ve been worried about that horse coming clear around the Horn and all, that’s a long ride for him, then a completely strange country and rider. I just hope Scott doesn’t have any trouble on the way home. I wish you could have gone with him.”

“Murdoch, Scott is a big boy now. He can take care of himself. Anyway the experience is good for him. Besides with Miguel here I want to spend as much time with him as I can for now,” replied Johnny, then he asked, “I never heard why the horse went by steamship, and not train?”

“JJ didn’t want to chance him getting stolen off the train, or along the way somewhere. He thought the steamship was the safest route to take, even though it was a lot longer.”

“Come and get it!” came the call from the dinning room.

There was the trample of little feet on the stairs as Miguel raced down. With a, “Hola abuelo” he was gone.

Murdoch smiled, “He’s going to be sure he’s going to get served. You’d think he was starving.”

Johnny laughed as they followed Miguel, “He’s always starving. I don’t think anyone or anything could fill him up. For all he eats he sure doesn’t seem to grow much.”

“Don’t worry about that, one day he will look you right in the eye and you’ll wonder when he grew up.”

“Will you two hurry up? Miguel will eat your food if you don’t!” Teresa called.

“Yes, we’re coming,” they said.

The days passed, slowly for Murdoch, but for Johnny it didn’t seem like there were enough hours in the day. He wished Scott was there to help him. Checking and repairing fences he didn’t mind, it was having to go over the books with Murdoch he hated. Each evening he took time before supper to play with Miguel if he could. Sometimes it was later. For a couple of days he tried to teach Miguel how to ride Sugar bareback. After Miguel’s fourth time falling off he gave up; Miguel’s legs were just too short yet to grip the fat pony’s sides. After a lot of persuasion he let Miguel ride with him as he slowly circled the corral without his saddle.

Then the pony picked up a bad habit. Johnny was showing Miguel how to pick up her feet and clean them, when she swung her head around and bit him in the back of the leg. Johnny promptly hit her on her nose. Then keeping a watchful eye on her, he continued the lesson. Minutes later he was bit again. Cautiously he lifted another foot, and when he was bit the third time and with Miguel bursting with laughter he gave up. He handed the knife to Miguel and told him to try it.

Miguel was laughing so hard that he ended up sitting on the ground. Johnny took one look at his son and headed for the house rubbing his bitten leg. Before entering the house he looked back at his son, Miguel was still on the ground, with the bright pony nuzzling his dark hair. Smiling he entered the house; he wished that Scott was there, then he could see how he got along with that devil of a pony. He wondered if Scott would get bitten too. He decided he’d have Scott also show Miguel how to clean Sugar’s feet. His mind made up he went to the kitchen to see when dinner was to be done.

A couple days later, just a little over 2 days before Scott’s expected arrival, the hot sunny day began to change. Johnny could feel the electricity in the air. The day turned still, even the birds were quiet. Johnny rode several miles, running cattle out of thickets, and chasing several out of ravines. The cattle could feel the storm brewing. When he reached the barn, hours later, the sky had turned a dull yellowish green color; the setting sun looked like a red circle of blood. As Johnny ran his hand through the golden stallion’s white mane to reassure him, it crackled and snapped. Barranca shied away from the crackling sound shaking his head.

Stabling the stallion Johnny headed for the house. He noticed that even the horses in the corrals were still, watching and listening for something they couldn’t understand, but could sense. Before entering the house, he stopped and looked around again; it was so still he could hear a rider coming long before he could see him.  Knowing it was Murdoch just from the horse’s gait he went inside.

Murdoch and Johnny were coming downstairs a little later talking about the brewing storm when they heard the front door open. Looking down they saw a dust covered Miguel come in. The door crashed shut behind him, as he marched into the living room and slumped into a chair. Murdoch and Johnny exchanged looks of puzzlement, and Johnny went over to his son. Crouching down Johnny could tell the little boy was trying hard not to cry.

“What happened hijo?” he asked gently.

Tears welled out of the brown eyes and rolled down Miguel’s cheeks. Johnny picked up his son and sat back down in the chair.

“What’s wrong?”

“That Sugar!” blurted out Miguel angrily.

“What happened this time Miguel?”

“She bucked me off for no reason. I was being good, daddy, really I was. We were only just playing with the calf that doesn’t have a momma. We got her in the corner of the corral and Sugar touched her on the neck then started to buck. I couldn’t stay on.” The tears were forgotten as he angrily told what had happened.

“Did you get hurt?”

“Yes. I fell on my back. But I’m alright now daddy,” answered Miguel.

“Did you punish her?”

“No daddy. Sugar ran to the gate and I was mad at her so I opened it and she ran into her stall. So I unsaddled her and left her there. But she didn’t have ta buck me off, even if she rubbed her nose on the calf.”

“Maybe something scared her.”

“No, she’s just mean today daddy. Why is she mean today?”

“Well, I think it’s the weather. It’s going to storm tonight or tomorrow, all the animals can sense it so they are nervous.” Johnny explained, not knowing if he could explain the electricity in the air to his son.

“Is it going to be a really bad storm, Daddy?” Miguel’s eyes were large, anger and tears forgotten.

“Well nino, by the looks of it, it probably will be.” 

“Daddy, can I sleep with you tonight so I won’t be skerd?”

Johnny laughed, “So that’s what you’ve been working up to! Alright hijo, I’ll let you sleep with me on one condition.”

“What Daddy, what condition?”

Johnny sat Miguel down on his feet, “On the condition that you get cleaned up for dinner fast. Now scoot!”

“Yippee,” yelled Miguel as he ran out of the room.

A couple of hours later the storm broke with bright flashes of lightning and loud crashes of thunder. Torrents of rain fell on the land. Johnny suddenly woke to a blinding pain in his right shoulder and head. For several minutes he writhed in pain. Finally the pain left; gasping for breath he lay back down beside his sleeping son, shaken over what had just happened, but not knowing what was going on. He lay awake for awhile staring out into the storm’s fury until he finally fell back to sleep. His last thought was for Scott, hoping he wasn’t out in this storm.

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Chapter 2

Scott pushed his heavy ash-blond hair from his eyes, pulled his hat onto his head and took a last look at the buildings of San Francisco that seemed to march up the hill. Market Street, he saw was already busy at this early hour. Wagons loaded down with merchandise made their way to and from the water front pulled by heavy draft horses. Several fine carriages were moving briskly towards the docks, either meeting one of the ships that was slowly coming into the busy harbor, or hauling passengers to catch a ship leaving. Horsemen rode up and down the steep hills, crowding the streets and greeting those they knew. Men in business suits were unlocking their offices getting ready for another day. Several women walked down towards some of the stores carrying baskets, colorful dresses swishing through the dust along the walks, their high pitched voices mingling with horses’ neighs and men calling to each other. The city was teeming with many different nationalities, each seeming to have their own language and it all was mingling around in the streets.

The blue of the water reflected in his eyes as he took his last look over the beautiful bay with the big pile of rocks in the middle of it. Boston was a more sophisticated city, more modern, not as wide open as San Francisco was. He had to stop comparing the two cities, each were similar in one way but different in many.

Turning, Scott left the hotel steps, carrying his bedroll and saddlebags as he walked around the 3 story building to the stables behind it. The stableman unlocked the stall door where the black stallion was safely stalled so no one could steal him. Scott looked at the shining black horse with long, wavy thick mane and tail. The only white to break all the blackness of him was a small white crescent shaped star between his wide placed eyes and a white stocking on his right foreleg halfway to his knee. Scott asked the man to saddle him and told him he would be back in a few minutes. He left the stable and made his way to the telegraph office a couple doors down from the hotel.

Minutes later he was back in the stable, his telegram sent to Murdoch and Johnny, knowing that Johnny would be the one waiting in town for it. Quickly he checked each of the horse’s feet noting that the new iron shoes were tight, then his cinch and saddlebags. Paying his bill and giving the stable hand a bit extra he thanked him for his care of the horse.

Leading the horse outside he gracefully mounted and they were off. Heading south out of the city, Scott took a last look at the beautiful harbor, sailing ships crowding docks, people hurrying from store to store, not seeing several women’s heads turn to watch the slim young man on the black stallion ride past.

Outside the city he let the horse have his head and they cantered southeast. Scott let the horse work out some of his energy, from being cooped up first on the steam ship, then the stall. He was pleased at how easily the stallion responded to the lightest touch of the reins. One day of rest seemed to have revived the horse. Jim Whitte, the head groom that came with the horse, had told Scott that the horse had taken the trip in stride, no problems except there was not enough room to properly exercise him. He had been so well mannered on the ship that the captain had let Jim bring him out of the hold on some of the calm days to be led around the ship’s deck. Then Jim told Scott the horse’s name was ‘Black Satan.’ Scott had promptly asked him why he was named Satan, of all names, for a horse that looked as gentle and well mannered as he did.

Jim had told him that before the horse was trained he was a hell raiser, attacking men and animals alike. No dog was safe around him. But once his training began, when he turned 2 years old, he had calmed down and turned into a very good riding horse. JJ had been impressed with the horse’s progress and had him working around cattle as the training went along. The horse had proved to be an excellent cow pony by the time they were finished with him. But Jim warned Scott to keep an eye on him, now that he was in a completely different environment from what he was used to. He might take it in stride as he did the boat trip, or he might explode. Jim thought though, that he did so well on the long trip that Scott would have no trouble with him. Scott hoped so.

Several days passed as Scott and Black Satan traveled south, the days sunny and warm. They made good time though Scott didn’t press the horse, letting him set his pace and resting several times during the day. The stallion gained back the weight that he had lost on the trip, with the abundant grass where they camped along small streams.

Thinking as he rode, he wondered what his little nephew was doing to terrorize the ranch. He smiled as he rode along, thinking of the day a few months ago that Johnny had traveled to Mexico without them knowing where he had gone. He had been gone almost a week; Scott had ridden the country looking for him, worried to death that something had happened to him. Something had. He came home with a small son whom no one had known about.

Johnny had been married several years ago; they found out that his wife had quickly gotten pregnant, and soon there was a baby, but she had disappeared. Johnny had received word from an outlaw friend that she had been found and to come fast. He wouldn’t talk about his trip and what had happened to her, though they did find out she was still alive. But the son had come home with Johnny. Miguel was not quite five years old when they arrived at the ranch. He was an instant hit with everyone, always underfoot or into something. He loved everyone and everything, but his daddy was his special person. If Johnny was anywhere near the hacienda there was sure to be Miguel. The little brown-eyed boy with the long dark hair did look like Johnny even without the brilliant blue eyes that Johnny had.

For his 5th birthday Scott had found a pony for him, much to Johnny’s chagrin, “Ponies are the worse kind of horse flesh on this earth,” he had told him when he had first spotted the pretty pony. But he accepted it when he saw how Miguel took to her. They had been inseparable for weeks. Miguel was one of the happiest little boys Scott had ever seen, and it seemed to be infectious. There was more laughing at the hacienda then there had ever been. Johnny laughed a lot more these days; he seemed content, thanks to the antics of Miguel.

One morning Scott rolled out of his bedroll and immediately felt the change in the air, even though the sun wasn’t up yet. The stallion grazed calmly, but every now and then lifted his head; with nose high he tested the air, not sure of something that he couldn’t see. By sun-up they were several miles from the night’s camp. To Scott the day seemed to pass slowly, the weather changing almost before his eyes. He knew they were in for a storm and he watched the sky change from the dull cloudless blue to a yellowish color; the sun took on the color of blood. The little breeze died away completely in the afternoon, and everything became silent.

As he rode the quietness of the land made him shiver; the stallion became restless throwing his head and prancing some. Scott watched for a side road or trail that might lead to a ranch or house; this was one storm he didn’t want to be caught out in.

Electricity crackled in the stallion’s thick mane, making him more nervous as sundown approached. Scott kept the prancing, dancing horse under tight control as he chomped at the bit in restlessness. As he looked around again Scott spotted a well traveled road leading off through the trees and up a hill. Turning the stallion he let him canter up the trail. In minutes they stopped in front of a white- washed house. Scott called out to see if anyone was home. Getting no reply he dismounted and looked at the small barn. Leading the nervous horse he walked to the barn door and went inside. There were three well made box stalls across the right wall, each large enough to hold 3 horses. The other side, more like an alley way, across from the stalls, was filled with hay and tack, harness and wagon wheels. Scott put the stallion in the middle stall, unsaddled him and put on his halter. He found several brushes and brushed the horse until he calmed down. Finally he left the stall, sliding the heavy plank across the opening. Throwing the horse an armload of hay he found a covered barrel of oats and gave him a measure of them.

Going outside Scott looked up the sky. The sun was almost totally gone but he could still see a little of the blood red orb. It looked like it was dripping blood as it set, as if the ground was soaking the blood out of it. It was so quiet in the clearing he could hear the horse eating his hay. He watched the sun disappear, throwing everything into silent eerie gray darkness. Back in the barn he found a lantern hanging from a nail beside the door, lighting it he spread his blankets in the soft hay, and sat down. Pulling his saddle bags to him he quickly ate a sparse meal. Checking on the stallion a bit later, he saw that he was resting, his head drooping and eyes closed. Looking outside at the silent yard a last time, he pulled the doors closed and putting out the lantern, lay down in the soft sweet smelling hay and went to sleep.

Scott slept peacefully for only a couple of hours before the stallion’s shrill, scared nickering woke him. He hadn’t heard the first of the storm, but waking he heard its fury. For a moment he lay in the dark as he tried to figure out where he was. The horse screamed suddenly and he quickly rose, remembering. Finding the lantern he lit it. Outside the barn thunder crashed mightily overhead. He ducked, then smiled tightly. Lightning flashed brilliantly through cracks in the barn boards and the down pour of rain. Wind shook the barn and made its way through the cracks too. Hooking the lantern on a nail closer to the horse’s stall he started to talk calmly to the frightened horse. Between the crashing thunder claps the horse stood still but when the noise of the thunder came he would whirl around the stall looking for a way to escape. After what seemed like hours the thunder seemed to pass and Scott breathed a sigh of relief. The horse stood quietly; sweat rolling off his glistening hide, white lather under the halter where it hugged his head. The wind still howled and the rain poured down, but for the moment the thunder and lightning were silent.

As Scott moved away from the stall, he paused and looked at the horse. From the corner of his eye he saw something long lying in the stall beneath the stallion’s feet. Moving back to the stall he looked closer and saw a 4 foot board lying in the straw, large rusty nails pointed invitingly upwards, waiting for an unsuspecting hoof to come down on it.

“What I don’t need now Satan, is for you to be lamed by that thing. Those nails are dangerous.” Looking at the stallion he added, “Guess I better blanket you too, you’re pretty wet and it’s getting colder.” Turning around Scott picked up his saddle blanket and went back to the stall.

Ducking under the plank he walked to the horse’s side, talking to him as he threw the blanket over the wet horse. Rubbing his head he turned to pick up the board. As he lifted it and moved to the stalls door, a sudden flash of lightning lit the barn, followed instantly by a loud clap of thunder that seemed to shake the barn. The barn doors flew open with a crash.

Scott dropped the board just as the stallion exploded, screaming in fright and wheeling around, first kicking out with iron shod rear feet, then lashing out with his forelegs, teeth snapping. The flying rear feet caught Scott in the left side; he threw his arms up to protect his face, and a forefoot caught his left arm snapping a bone like a twig. He was thrown back against the side of the stall, pain shooting through him. Glancing to his left he could see the stall door, the bar across it, swimming about 3 feet from him. He moved towards it thinking only of getting out of the stall. The stallion swerved again, his teeth closing like a vise over Scott’s right shoulder, sinking deeply into flesh and bone.

Scott cried out in pain, unable to move for a moment as the teeth sank deeper into his shoulder, grinding into bones. Blood spurted and the stallion suddenly let go, snorting and blowing in renewed fright at the taste and smell of blood. With a lurch Scott threw himself at the rail; falling, he started dragging himself under. The stallion moved again as fast as he could in the confined space; rushing around the stall, he didn’t see the legs he trampled over.

At last Scott was free of the stall, but not before the horse had stepped on him. His hip burned where a shod hoof had grazed it deeply. He could feel pain in his right leg, but it didn’t feel broken. He dragged himself a few more feet, thinking, “I need you Johnny,” as he collapsed in the aisle in front of the stalls.

The stallion at last wore out, gave in to defeat and stood quivering in the corner of his stall. The blanket on the ground in front of him, he dripped sweat and lather. He could barely see the man he had savaged in his fright and often nickered at the still figure. It continued to rain hard and the wind blew until the barn creaked in protest. Heavy gusts of wind blew rain into the barn through the opened doors that now hung at a crazy angle. At times the rain reached halfway through the barn and before long Scott was wet from it.

Once during the remainder of the night Scott woke. Rain was pelting him on the back and head. He lifted his head and looked over his shoulder out the doors into the downpour; glancing about the now quiet barn, he was unable to see anything in the darkness, the lantern long out. Looking back at the doors he started to laugh, thinking, ‘what if it flooded? The barn would be washed away and us too.’ He started to roll over, but pain stopped him as it shot through him from legs to shoulder. With a shudder and a lingering nicker ringing in his ears he passed out again.

*****

“Daddy I’m a skerd.” A loud voice said into Johnny’s ear.

“Oh Miguel, will you just go to sleep?” Johnny moaned as he rolled over, hearing the thunder crashing almost over head.

“Daddy how kin I go to sleep? I’m a skerd. I don’t like this noise. Why won’t it be quiet?” Miguel persisted in the darkness between lightning flashes.

Johnny pulled the little boy to him, “Miguel it’s only a storm. It’ll be over soon.”

“Yes daddy.”

Miguel lay still in his father’s arms. Every time the thunder crashed he jumped; soon he could tell that his father was asleep again and he slowly untangled himself from Johnny.

Outside the thunder still rolled across the sky, but it had gone farther away, only the lightning flashed closely. Finally out of bed Miguel pulled on his pants and carrying his boots slipped out of the room. In moments he was downstairs, sitting on the floor beside the front door he pulled on his boots.

“I’m coming Sugar, don’t be a skerd.”

With his nightshirt tucked in his pants he went out the door. The wind almost knocked him down and he had to fight to hold onto the heavy door. Finally he managed to get the door closed and started across to the barn. In seconds he was soaked to the skin, and his boots full of mud. Before he reached the safety of the barn he was blown down, and lost a boot in the clinging mud. He managed to save the boot and as soon as he was inside the barn he pulled the other one off.

Inside he found the lantern and carefully lit it. Slowly he walked down the aisle talking to the nervous horses. In this big barn there was stabled mostly the stallions that his father and Tio rode, along with his grandfather’s big sorrel gelding and Teresa’s speedy little gray mare, and his own Shetland Pony. He walked past the large box stalls until he came to his pony’s stall. Hanging up the lantern he pulled the stall door opened and entered. For a moment he didn’t see the pony, and then he spotted her lying in the straw watching him calmly.

“Oh Sugar! You’re not a skerd are you?” He knelt down in front of her and she rubbed her head against his chest, sniffing his wet clothes.

Outside the rain pounded against the side of the barn.

“Sugar I have to go back. Boy is papa going to be mad at me, ‘cause I said you was a skerd! Now you be good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Rising Miguel left the stall closing it securely. Moments later the carefully blown out lantern was in its place and he was back outside, fighting against the wind, with his muddy boots clutched to his chest.

At last back in the house, he dropped his boots next to the door and quietly made his way upstairs. Shivering with cold he pulled off his wet clothes, wiping his feet and legs free of mud, and dumped them on the floor. In moments he had found another nightshirt and pulled it on over his wet head. Brushing his hands through his hair he got some of the water off, then he quietly snuck back to his father’s room and carefully crawled into bed.

Johnny rolled over and opened his eyes, “Why don’t you go to sleep?”

“I’m trying daddy.”

“Why are you so cold? Miguel! You’re wet! Where have you been?” exclaimed Johnny when he ruffled his son’s wet hair.

“No place,” mumbled Miguel.

“No place?” Johnny thought for a quick moment, then, “Miguel, did you go to the barn?”   

Slowly the dark haired head nodded.

“Miguel, I told you that the horses were alright, didn’t I?” 

“Yes daddy.” 

“Well what did you find? Was Sugar scared?” 

“No she was sleeping,” came the small voice. 

“Now will you believe what I tell you? What are you going to do now?” 

“I’m going to go to sleep.” 

“First you are going over there, get the towel and dry your head, you’re going to have the whole bed wet. Now get.” Johnny was glad for the darkness of the room; it hid the smile on his lips as he watched Miguel bound out of bed and move across the room. Lying back he thought of the storm and the odd pains he had earlier. He wondered where his brother was, what he was doing on this night. He didn’t have long to think about Scott, for moments later Miguel came rushing back to curl up in his arms, and finally they both slept.

.

Chapter 3

The sky cleared, the sun rose hot and bright in the clear sky. The wet ground soaked up the rays and steam rose skyward for awhile. It was a beautiful morning; the land sparkled bright and clean as the sun inched up. Dust was gone, the grass, trees and flowers seemed to stand taller, lifted from their burden of dust, and glad to have had a drink of the life giving rain water to help them stay alive until the next rain.

But the road was like a sea of almost impassable mud, and the two big draft horses were finding it hard to pull the loaded wagon through it. A teenaged boy of about 15 and a girl of 17 years old were walking on the side of the road urging the horses on, helping the horses by walking instead of adding their weight to the load.

Finally the girl looked up at the woman seated on the wagon seat.

Ma, we’ll never be able to get the wagon up the hill. The horses are already tired, and so am I!” she said pushing her long straight light blond hair out of her face as she paced along side the wagon.

“Yeah, mom. We’ll never get up the hill,” complained the reddish-blond haired boy.

“Keep going. When we reach the hill we’ll see how it is. We can leave the wagon and pack the supplies up if we have to. So don’t worry, just keep going, we’ll be home in a little while,” the woman answered, cracking the whip over the horses’ backs.

The girl looked helplessly at her brother and continued on.

Half an hour later the small party turned onto the road that led up the hill into the trees. The horses struggled to pull the wagon up the hill, muscles bunching as they pulled together; after several slips they quit halfway up. Tossing their heads and firmly planting their feet in the slippery mud, they refused to move.

The woman quickly set the brake, then holding onto the reins jumped down from the seat and ordered, “Get some rocks behind the wheels quick.” The two youths hurriedly found rocks and placed them so the wagon wouldn’t roll backwards.

“Lee, unhitch the horses, Lizzy, help me get some of the things we need unloaded. We’ll get something to pack the rest into and come back for it.”

“Do we have to haul everything up the hill mom?” the boy Lee complained as he unhooked the traces.

“Don’t get whiny with me George Lee, or you can do it all yourself!” stated the red headed woman.

Soon the three people were leading the horses up the rest of the hill, carrying some things while the horses packed sacks of goods that could be tied on them. Lee decided that they would have to make four more trips before everything would be in the house. He also decided that he would ride a horse back and forth before he walked that many times up and down the hill. He smiled at the thought.

As they reached the clearing around their house and barn the two horses suddenly threw up their heads, looking towards the barn. A loud ringing nicker echoed around the clearing from the barn. The horses nickered in reply and moved faster towards the barn. Putting her parcels down on the front porch, the woman signaled for the girl and boy to halt the horses; lifting the rifle she carried to her shoulder she cocked it.

“Who’s there?” she called.

The horse’s nicker was the only reply.

“Maybe they’re asleep,” remarked the girl as she too deposited things on the porch.

“Sleep? With all that racket from the horse’s? Ha!” snorted their mother.

“Here, hold Sam. I’ll sneak to the barn and check. Look, the doors are almost off!” Lee said handing the looped reins to his sister and dumping his load.

“Be careful, don’t take any chances,” his mother said as she handed the rifle to him.

Lizzy and her mother watched as Lee carefully made his way to the barn, then slowly to the doors. Suddenly he disappeared inside; in an instant he was back in the doorway waving frantically at them.

“Quick! Maw hurry there’s a man here, hurt bad!”

Handing more reins to her daughter the woman ran towards the barn; the girl dragged the horses behind her as she tried to keep up.

Inside she stopped, her eyes trying to adjust to the sudden darkness. Her son quickly found and lit the lantern. In the yellow glow she saw the bloodied form of a man lying in the aisle in front of the stalls. Glancing around her saw his blankets and saddle lying in the hay. A large black horse stood calmly gazing at her and her son. Finally she knelt down beside the unconscious figure and gently turned him over.

Sallie Marsh had seen many horse bites and she recognized the deep wound in the young man’s shoulder instantly. As she gently moved his arms, she found that his left one was broken cleanly between wrist and elbow. There was a wound on his hip from the torn pants and dried blood that she could see. She found a broken rib and possibly a couple of cracked ones high on his left side.

“Ma, what are we going to do with him?” asked the girl who stood beside her, gazing with interest at the man.

“First we have to get him to the house. Let’s see if we can pick him up. Be careful though.” The three of them finally lifted Scott Lancer and managed to half carry, half drag him to the house. Inside they placed him on Lizzy’s bed. Sally sent Lee to unload the horses and finish getting supplies. Lizzy was put to work heating water and tearing strips for bandages, as she cut off the rest of the man’s shirt.

She found that it took longer to clean the bite wound than it did to set his broken arm and bandage his ribs. The shoulder wound was very deep, and dirt, hay and cloth were deeply imbedded in it. After working steadily for almost an hour she thought that she had both sides of the wound thoroughly cleaned.

Lizzy, who had been helping, stated, “A little bit more and the horse would have bit clear through his shoulder.”

“He could easily have done it. I could see a bit of bone in there. He sliced through everything. A doctor needs to see this. I think he might trouble with his arm when this heals if it doesn’t heal properly,” Sallie worried.

“Wonder who he is. He is very nice looking.”

Sallie looked sharply at her daughter and saw a dreamy expression on her face.

“Lizzy, go help Lee finish with the supplies, I can finish here without your help,” she said sharply.

“Yes, Mom. Are you sure I can’t help you anymore?”

“Positive, now go.”

Lizzy left the room with a last longing look at the young man on the bed, as her mother turned and loosened his belt.

Finally Sallie rose from the bedside, and wiping her hands on a clean towel looked at the unconscious man. She had found a long deep cut across his left hip that might have been left by the horse’s iron clad hoof. She found that his legs were bruised in different places, from his thighs down, but no more broken bones. Picking up the torn bloody shirt and pants she wondered how long he had lain in the barn with the wind blowing rain in on him. With a shake of her head she turned and left the room to see to dinner and check on her children.

Scott turned his head slightly and slowly opened his eyes to darkness. He couldn’t see any light at all. Blinking he tried again to see something. He felt hot, so hot and he was scared, scared that he was blind, and dying from the intense heat. He remembered the stallion attacking him but nothing after crawling from the stall. With a jerk he tried to sit up, a painful mistake he quickly found out. With a cry of agony he dropped back down, as bright flashes of burning heat shot through him and his whole body seemed to explode into intense agony. Scott lay there trying to control the pain, as if he were waking from a bad dream.

For a long time Scott twisted in pain and fever. At times he felt something cool on his forehead, neck and chest. Several times he tried to get control of himself in order to open his eyes, but it was just too hard. At last the pain subsided somewhat and he relaxed a little. Tired, he opened his eyes slowly. It was light, he could see, even though everything was a blur. Nothing was clear. Closing his eyes he tried several more times. The last time there was a dark figure next to him in the light. “Johnny?” he whispered hoarsely. The figure didn’t move and for what felt like a long time his blue-gray pain-filled eyes were fixed on it.

Finally his vision started to clear and the fuzzy figure changed until it formed into a red-headed woman watching him with a concerned look on her face. His glance flashed around and he saw that he was in a small bedroom, the light coming from two windows to his left. He looked back at the woman.

“Where am I?” he asked hoarsely.

“You are on the Marsh farm. We found you hurt in our barn,” she answered in a quiet voice.

“Black Satan?”

“He’s alright, if that’s the stallion that is in the barn.”

“Yes.” He paused, trying to think as he felt pain wash through him again. He could see her as she rose and poured a cup of water for him.

“How…How long have I been here?” He asked as she lifted his head so he could drink. He felt his eyes start to close as he drank thirstily.

“It’s been 4 nights since the storm.”

“No! Can’t be! Have to get Satan home. Late…have to go…Supposed to be there. Johnny.” Scott said trying to explain, twisting trying to get up, in a moment he passed out on a cloud of pain and blackness.

Sallie placed a cool rag on the unconscious man’s head again. With a tired sigh she sat down in the chair again, wondering who he could be. They had seen the large circle L imprinted on his holster and saddle but that didn’t tell who he was. She vaguely remembered that there was a large ranch southeast of them, a couple of towns away, but she didn’t know if it was the correct one or not; she didn’t know its name anyway she reminded herself.

She sat back and closed her eyes; she had been setting up with the man every night, and then had been in and out to check on him during the day. She smiled. This was the first time that he had opened his eyes and talked; he was on the mend she hoped. She had sent Lee to John’s Crossing for some medicine and to ask the doctor to stop in, she hoped he would arrive soon.

“Maw, Lee’s home,” called Lizzy as she came into the house later that day.

“Good.” Sallie answered; rising and stretching she walked into the other room.

A few minutes later Lee rushed into the house, “Here’s the medicine mom. The Doctor wasn’t in so I left word for him to come out as soon as he could. He’s been out of town for 3 days.” Lee told her.

“Did you find out the name of that ranch east of Ironwood?”

“Yes I sure did!” His eyes glowed happily. “Do you know it’s the biggest ranch on the west coast? Or, anyway, around here!”

“Lee, stop rattling on, what’s its name?” cut in Lizzy.

“Lancer,” he glared at his sister, “It’s run by a Murdoch Lancer and he has 2 sons helping him. That’s all I could find out. They sometimes drive cattle or horses up this way.”

“Maybe he’s not from there,” added Lizzy happily.

“Don’t count on that. He’s probably one of the hands; he said something about getting the stallion to the ranch. Could be a ranch anywhere around here,” Sallie said thoughtfully.

“Well, I guess all we can do is wait until he wakes up and ask him who he is,” sighed Lizzy.

“Now that I have this medicine; and with the doctor coming we shouldn’t have too long to wait.” Their mother told them.

*****

“Boy that storm sure made a mess out of this stand of timber.” Johnny commented as he and Murdoch looked over a hillside of trees, many of which were down.

“Looks like I’m going to have to get some men up here cutting wood for a few days.”

“We’ll have our winter wood cut before summer’s over!” laughed Johnny.

“True,” answered Murdoch as he turned his horse away.

Johnny followed his father’s lead, “I hope Scott is home when we get there. I’m anxious to see that black stallion you bought.”

“So am I. But I’m a little worried; he should have been home 2 days ago,” Murdoch said as they headed for the house.

“Well with that storm he probably stayed over somewhere. It could have been worse where he was. Maybe he’ll be home today.”

“I hope so.”

They rode in silence for the next several miles. Both sunk in their own thoughts. Seeing the ranch buildings ahead of them Johnny thought, ‘Please be home big brother!’

Miguel saw them coming and kicking Sugar into a run came to meet them. With a might tug on the reins he pulled Sugar into a sliding halt in front of them.

“Daddy, you was supposed to take me with you today,” he accused.

“Next time you want to come with us, you’re going to have to get up when I call you. Not hours later.”

“Well daddy, you haveta pull me outa bed you know!”

“If you think I’m going to pull you out of bed all the time, you better think again.” Johnny retorted, winking at his father.

Miguel quickly changed the subject. “When is Tio Scott coming home?” he asked.

“Maybe he is there now.” Johnny said.

“No, he’s not. Maybe he doesn’t like us anymore, like momma.”

“Miguel, you know better than that,” his grandfather answered before Johnny could, shooting a glance at his son, “He probably will be home tomorrow.”

“Are you sure Grandpa?” brown eyes full of trust looked up at Murdoch, and he nodded at the little boy.

“Maybe,” Johnny said, then, “Why this sudden interest in your Uncle?”

“I want to show him my new trick, I just learned.”

“Gee, that’s nice! You want to show Scott but you won’t show it to your grandfather or father!”

“Oh, daddy! I’ll show you right now,” grinned his son.

“You wait right here.” Miguel pointed at them, and then kicked Sugar into a faster gait as Murdoch and Johnny halted their horses, wondering what was going to happen next.

Miguel rode a little ways from them, then dropped his hat on the ground. Going farther he turned the pony and headed her back at a trot towards his hat. Just before they reached his hat he pulled her into a walk, and when she got beside the hat she stopped and waited patiently while he grabbed it, almost hanging all the way off his saddle. Stuffing it onto his head he trotted Sugar towards his laughing father and grandfather.

“See. I’m getting really good at this!” he proudly said.

“Hijo, you’re about the best. Pretty soon you’ll be doing that on the run,” smiled Johnny fondly.

“Well I tried that yesterday daddy, but Sugar goes too fast and I don’t have time to get my hat.”

“If you keep practicing you’ll be real good at it soon,” commented Murdoch.

“I will Grandpa, I’m going to be the bestest rider you ever had,” promised Miguel.

“Let’s get home. I’m tired and hungry,” laughed Johnny.

“I’ll beat you!” Miguel kicked the pony into a canter and went flying off towards the barns. Johnny and Murdoch following a bit slower, discussing when to send the men to start cutting the trees.

Teresa had dinner ready for them when they arrived, and Miguel was waiting for them at the table by the time they had unsaddled and taken care of their horses.

The next 2 days passed uneventfully, Johnny working with several ranch hands, cutting and hauling trees out to where they could be cut into lengths, and then hauled the cut wood back to the hacienda. Scott hadn’t arrived and Johnny was getting worried. Murdoch was able to talk him into waiting one more day before leaving to look for Scott.

*****

Dr. Smith closed his medical bad and turned to Sallie.

“Well, he’s a strong young man. You set his arm and ribs like a professional, couldn’t have done better. His shoulder and hip are the worst, but I think they will heal all right in time…”

“Will he be able to use his arm?” she asked before he could go on.

“I think so. It’s a bad bite, cutting through the muscles like it did. It will take time, maybe a couple of months, to completely heal and then we will know. His hip will be pretty sore and he’ll be limping for awhile, until it is totally healed. I think he’ll be alright in a week to where he can be up and about. But keep an eye on his hip; that cut is pretty deep too and I don’t want it to get infected either.”

“Thank you Doctor Smith. I really appreciate this. I was worried about him. Now if I only knew who he is,” she sighed tiredly.

“I don’t recognize him from around here, but I’ll listen around and if someone is looking for him I’ll send them your way.”

“Fine, thank you so much. I’ll keep him quiet and give him the medicine you left.”

“Just be sure he gets lots of rest when he’s awake, and try not to let him wander around too much when he is up. If you need me, just send your boy, I should be home for the next few weeks.”

“I will. Thank you doctor,” Sallie said as she followed the doctor out the door.

‘Well mister, it’s up to you to get better now,’ she told the unconscious Scott, when she returned to the bed room.

.

Chapter 4

Two days passed before Scott finally came fully awake and saw that he wasn’t at home. As he looked about the room, he realized that his left forearm was bound up in a thick bandage, along with a tight bandage around his upper chest and right shoulder; and that there was a wide bandage across his hips too. He felt like something had run over him. As he lay there wondering what happened to him, the painful memory hit him and he cringed. He could feel the stallion’s hooves and teeth on him for several moments. With a gasp he pushed the thoughts away and looked around for his clothes, finally spotting them neatly laid out on the nearby chair, he recognized them as his spare ones from his saddlebags. Moving slowly and carefully, he sat up in the bed, weakness washing over him as he carefully moved his legs over the side of the bed. It seemed like every place on his body hurt, and for several minutes he sat there as the room whirled around his head. At last things settled down, the pain remaining a dull ache throughout him, but the colors in the room were finally back to normal, and the room itself ceasing its whirling and spinning motion. Carefully he reached for his pants with his right arm. In surprise he looked down and saw that it was bound to his chest and he was unable to move it. Reaching out with his left hand he finally was able to pull them into his lap. Sweat dripped into his eyes as he struggled to get the pants pulled over his bruised legs using his left hand. He stopped several times to rest before he finally had them on.

It seemed like hours had passed before he had his pants up and over his legs. Breathing hard, feeling pain shooting through his chest, shoulder and hip, Scott wondered if he could stand to finish pulling them up, and if they would go over the bandages around his hips and upper thigh. Moving slowly and carefully he finally rose and pulled them up as high as he could and managed to hook a couple of buttons, feeling his hip throb from the effort. Swaying as he stood there, he looked at his boots and socks on the floor beside the chair. His blue shirt, hung from the back of the chair too. With a little moan he looked at them helplessly; he knew there was no way he could get them on in the condition he was in.

“Hell with it.” he said out loud to the empty room. Slowly he turned and made his limping way to the door. For a long few moments he rested leaning against the wall beside the door before attempting to open it. Finally he got the door open and saw that the other room was empty, the front door open to the sunshine outside. Feeling weaker with each step he limped towards the open door, vaguely noticing a table, chairs and what looked like a large kitchen.

Sweat dripped off of him from the effort of the walk. As he passed through the open front door his legs gave way and he crumpled to the porch floor. Leaning against the door post he closed his eyes against the pain and weariness sweeping over him. In seconds he was asleep.

“Hey! What are you doing here?” An excited voice cut through his sleep and he slowly opened his tired blue-grey eyes, pain rushing through him.

The pretty blonde haired girl swam into view; Scott blinked his eyes to clear them.

“How did you get out here?” she asked again.

Scott looked around but saw no other person, “I walked out,” he answered as he licked his dry lips, looking up at her, his voice rough and hoarse.

“You’re too sick to be up! You’re supposed to get plenty of rest.”

“Have to get home.”

“You can’t! You’re in no condition to ride a horse!” she exclaimed, stamping a small foot, “Now get up and get back to bed.”

Scott wearily smiled up at her, “Do you think I’d still be sitting here if I could get up?”

“What’s wrong?” concern crossed her lovely face.

“Nothing much, I’m just too weak to move.”

“Oh.” She looked at him again, “Maybe I can help you up.”

“No! I don’t think so. Is there anyone else here?”

“Ma and Lee.”

“Well can you get them?”

She shook her head, a look of disappointment and concern crossing her face.

“I’ll go get them, they’re not far.”

“Thanks,” Scott smiled at her.

She smiled back, then gathered her long faded blue skirt in one hand and fled towards the woods.

Scott watched the girl disappear into the trees, a faint smile on his lips. She was a very pretty girl; he wondered who she was and where he was. Minutes later he saw the girl come back; beside her strode a striking red haired woman, her long wavy hair tied back from her face. Scott guessed her to be around 40 years old. A boy walked confidently beside her, reddish blond hair sticking to his sweaty freckled face, younger looking than the girl.

The woman stopped in front of him, her hands on her hips, her bright green eyes blazing, “What were you thinking coming out here? You could have busted everything open again!”

For a moment Scott was at a loss for words; the woman was beautiful he decided.

“Sorry. I didn’t think anyone was around and I had to see if Satan was alright,” he lamely answered.

“Men! That’s all they think about! A stallion that half kills them! See kids, he doesn’t care how he is!”

Scott smiled suddenly at her, his dry lips cracking; sheepishly she smiled back.

“Come on, let’s get him inside before he passes out.”

Together they helped Scott rise to his feet and he was soon in the house and returned to bed. His face blanched from the pain that suddenly hit him as he lay down. He glanced from one face to the other, as the woman poured a cup of water for him.

“Thank you.” he said as she held the cup to his lips.

“Don’t fret, we’d do it for most anyone,” she told him as he finished off the water.

Scott nodded his thanks, “I don’t know who you are or even where I am.”

“Oh I’m sorry. I’m Sallie Marsh; these are my children, Lizzy and George Lee. You are on my farm.” she quickly told him.

Scott glanced at the woman and her children, “I still have to thank you.” he said quietly.

“Alright, it’s accepted. Now just stay still. You are in no condition to be moving around, and I will need to check your bandages. We will get you something to eat if you like,” smiled Sallie warmly.

“My name is Scott Lancer, and I am starved.” he said as he lay back on the pillows.

“Scott Lancer! Are you from that Lancer Ranch down south?” Lee suddenly asked.

Scott moved carefully, trying to ease the pain in his shoulder, only to cause more pain somewhere else, but managed a tight smile that looked more like a grimace.

“Yes, I’m from the Lancer Ranch. I’ve got to get that stallion to them and let them know I am alright.”

“But you’re not all right and if you keep moving about you’re going to be worse!” Lizzy chimed in quietly.

“Can I do anything?” Lee asked excitedly, an idea forming in his head.

Sallie shook her head, then turned away pushing Lizzy towards the door, “We’ll get you some food. Watch him, he gets wild ideas sometimes.” Nodding towards Lee, she quickly left the room.

“What do you have in mind Lee?” Scott asked, fighting down the pain again.

“Well I could take the horse to the ranch for you. It would be easy.”

Scott thought in silence a few moments. “You could. But you can’t ride him. He’s dangerous. I don’t want you to end up like me.”

“He wouldn’t have to ride the stallion,” cut in Lizzy, coming back into the room just then with fresh bandages, “We have two horses; they’re both bigger and stronger than your horse. He could ride one and lead the stallion.”

“Yeah, I could,” Lee shot his sister a dangerous look for stealing his thought.

“That might work out all right; would be safer too. But you’d have to ask your mother first. She might not want you to go,” Scott told them as he tried once again to ease the pain flowing through him.

“She’ll let me go! I’ll ask her now,” Lee rushed out the door and a moment later they could hear his voice as he excitedly talked to his mother.

“Here I’ll help you,” Lizzy stepped to the bedside as Scott again moved around and grimaced in pain.

In moments Scott was laying a little more comfortably. “Thanks.”

“That’s alright. You shouldn’t be moving so much, the doctor said you need lots of rest to heal.”

“I know. Just wish my shoulder would stop hurting so much. I can’t feel my arm.”

“It will hurt for awhile, that horse really bit you badly.”

At that moment Sallie Marsh entered the room carrying a steaming bowl and cup. Lee was almost on her heels, a smile flickering across his face. Putting the bowl and cup on the small table beside the bed, Sallie carefully helped Scott to sit upright more, pillows piled behind his back; watching closely as his face twisted in pain. Finally he drew a shaky breath of relief, and she pulled the chair to the bedside and began to feed him.

“Do you think my son could handle the stallion?” she asked immediately.

“I think he could. How far are you from the ranch?” Scott replied between mouthfuls of the soup.

“I’m not sure. Is it near Ironwood?”

“It’s about 35 miles southeast of there. Are you close to Ironwood? I had figured another day or day and a half travel before this happened.”

“A day and a half would be closer. We are around 30 miles from Ironwood. I’ve only been there once, we usually go north, there’s a town only 6 miles from here.”

“Is there a telegraph office? It would really be easier to just send a telegram, and then someone could come and get me and the horse.”

“No, the town’s too small; we’re lucky to have a general store.”

“Don’t worry Mr. Lancer; I can take the horse for you. I’m not afraid of him,” Lee cut in.

“You don’t have to be afraid of him, just be mighty careful in storms,” Scott grimly stated, his eyes glazing at the memory of what happened.

“I will lead him. I won’t ride him at all,” Lee promised Scott and his mother looking back and forth at them.

“That would be the best way.” Sallie looked at her son considering.

“Yes, it would, if he rides another horse there shouldn’t be any problem with Satan.”

“How do I get there?”

Tiredly Scott gave him directions to the ranch. He finished as his eyes closed, “Tell them where I am.”

Sallie pulled the blanket up around him. Feeling his forehead she found that his fever had come up again. Telling Lizzy to put cool rags on his head she went out to see what her son was doing.

Lee was happily whistling as he dug through the cupboards, putting bread, apples, beans and other food items into a sack.

“I’ll be ready to leave in just a few minutes Mom.”

“Do you think you have enough food?”

“I think so. Maybe I’ll take some more bread.”

”Lee, I think you have enough to feed an army!” laughed Sallie.

“Oh Maw!”

“Give me that, you go saddle Sam. I’ll bring this out in a minute.”

Lizzy came to the door, “Ma, can I go help Lee? Mr. Lancer is asleep.”

“Go ahead. But you stay away from that stallion.”

“Yes mama,” drifted back to Sallie as Lizzy rushed out the door. Lizzy reached the barn as Lee led the bridled draft horse from the small corral, into the barn to be saddled.

“Lee, I have a way that we can make us rich!” Her eyes sparkled.

“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Lee asked as he handed the horse’s reins to her and moved over to where his saddle lay.

“Okay, you know how he described the entrance at the beginning of the ranch? That arch?” Lee nodded his head. “Well you just tie the horse there and leave him with a note.”

“Lizzy, he said it was a mile or so from the house, the arch was a landmark.” He threw the saddle blanket over the horse’s back.

“Oh right. Let me think a minute.” Lee finished saddling the big work horse before she smiled wickedly at him.

“If you ride all the rest of today and part of the night you will get there in the dark. Right?”

“I don’t know, I was going to stop for tonight.”

“Oh just listen!” she snapped at him, “The main thing is to get him there in the dark, go right up to a corral or the barn and tie him there where they will find him. I have this note ready; just tie it in the horse’s mane where it can be found.”

“What does it say?”

“Just that we have Scott Lancer, that he is still alive and that we want five thousand dollars for him.”

“How are we supposed to get the money, trade him?”

“A letter of directions will be left at the livery stable at John’s Crossing. We can figure out where to exchange him when you get back. We can trust Old John to not give us away; he can deliver the message to them. I told them only one man was to come; otherwise Lancer will be shot, but not really. How does that sound?”

“Good. Give me the note. I’ll tie him to the house to be sure they find him.”

“Here. Be sure they don’t see you. I’ll take Sam to the house for you before Mom comes looking for us. You get the stallion.” Handing the note to her brother she dug into her skirt pocket and pulled out a small string pouch, which she gave to her brother before she led the horse from the barn.

Moments later Sallie tied the food bag onto the saddle for Lee. “Ma, can I have a rifle to carry along? I have to camp out a couple of nights,” Lee asked as he led the stallion to Sam’s side.

Sallie paused, looking at her son, then slowly said, “Yes, I guess you better have something.” She quickly hurried into the house. Minutes later she returned to them, a rifle in a scabbard in her hands. “Let’s get this hooked onto the saddle,” she said as she buckled the scabbard straps to the saddle.

“Here’s some shells and there are some more in here,” she said as she carefully packed the shell box in his bedroll.

Mounted at last, Lee took up the stallion’s lead rope. “I’ll be alright Mom; I’ll be back before you know I’m gone!”

“I know you will. Just be careful with that horse.”

”I will, don’t worry.” Lee turned his horse’s head and headed for the trail to the road. Sallie and Lizzie watched him disappear into the trees.

“Well let’s get back to work Lizzy. We still have some ground to finish breaking if we want to enlarge the garden,” Sallie said as she looked at the sun, then, “let’s have a bite of lunch first.”

Mother and daughter returned to the house. As Sallie got out bread and meat, Lizzie peeked in at the sleeping Scott, her eyes dancing as she looked at his bandaged arms and chest. She looked at the gaunt, but handsome face and thought, ‘you won’t get away from me!’

Before returning to work on the garden Sallie stopped a moment to check on Scott. Her thoughts were totally different then her daughter’s. ‘If anything happens to my son on account of you, I’ll kill you with my own hands.’

.

Chapter 5

“Murdoch, I’m going to look for Scott tomorrow. He’s way over due and you’re not going to keep me here one more day!”

Murdoch noted the concerned, stubborn look in Johnny’s flashing blue eyes. “All right, I was hoping that he’d be back by now, but it looks like I was wrong. I should go with you.”

“You know you can’t,” Johnny cut in. “I can go faster alone.”

“Can I go daddy?” Miguel, who had been quietly playing in front of the fireplace, spoke up.

“Sorry Miguel, not this time,” Johnny answered, distracted. “I’ll stop at all the towns along the way until I find someone who saw him.”

“What if he stayed clear of the towns?” Teresa asked looking up from her sewing.

“Then I’ll check every ranch and farm between here and San Francisco if I have to. Someone’s had to have seen him somewhere.”

“Why can’t I go daddy?” Miguel cut in again.

“Because I have to travel fast and I don’t have time to take care of you. If something happens, I don’t want you hurt.”

“But daddy, I could ride with you on Barranca. He won’t care at all.”

“Miguel, that’s enough! I can’t take you this time, it might be dangerous. It might be a long trip too.”

“But, daddy…”

“Miguel! Enough!” Johnny snapped, eyes stormy.

“I was only goin’ to ask if I could go for a ride wif’ Teresa,” sniffed Miguel as big tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Oh boy!” exclaimed Johnny, running a hand through his dark hair. “Yes, you can ride with Teresa.” Johnny rose from his chair and walked out of the room, heading for the stairs.

Miguel watched his father leave, then jumping up he ran to his grandfather and crawled up into his lap, “Why is daddy mad at me Grandpa?” he cried.

“Now Miguel,” Murdoch held the child close, “Your daddy’s not mad at you. He is just very worried about his brother Scott. Your uncle should have been home days ago; he could be hurt or lost somewhere. Your daddy’s going to be traveling very light and fast. He doesn’t have time to think of a little fellow like you; if you went along and something happened to you, your daddy would be very upset.” Murdoch explained to his grandson.

“Alright Grandpa, I’ll stay home and daddy can find Tio Scott. Will daddy be gone long?” Tears were forgotten.

“I don’t really know. Maybe only a day or two, but it could be a lot longer before he finds your Tio Scott. Just depends on where your uncle is and what has happened.”

“I’ll miss him. I wish Tio Scott was home. I want him to give me a ride on Ghost.”

Murdoch laughed, “He’ll be home soon. Now I think it’s time for you to head for bed, don’t you?”

“Yes grandpa. I’m all tired out,” Miguel hugged Murdoch, then shyly gave Teresa a quick kiss on her cheek. He ran towards the steps, then stopped and turned back towards them. “Teresa, can we go for a ride tomorrow?” he asked.

“Of course we can. Maybe we’ll pack a lunch and make a day of it. You can ride with me on Wind Song.”

“Oh YES! Wind Song is a good girl, she’ll let me ride her, and she is so fast too. Yippee!” Miguel turned and ran up the stairs, a very happy little boy.

Murdoch and Teresa smiled at each other. “I’m glad you’re taking him out. It’ll get his mind off Johnny and Scott, and get you out of the house for awhile too. Any idea where you’ll be going?”

“Not far. Maybe out to the rock pile. I think he would like to climb around on them, there’re so many it will keep him busy for a long time.”

“Teresa there are other rock piles he can climb on, you know you don’t have to go there.” Murdoch said gently, knowing this particular pile of rocks was where her father had been shot, helping protect the ranch’s horse herd from thieves.

“No it’s alright Murdoch. Don’t worry, I am long over that. I will be alright!” she smiled at him, knowing his love for her was what was making him worry over her.

“Well, I guess I will turn in. Seems like I haven’t slept in a week,” Murdoch said as he slowly rose from his comfortable chair, feeling his back muscles pull. He didn’t really think he could have gone with Johnny if he had to; lately his back was being a pain. ‘Getting too old’ he thought.

“You’re worrying too much about Scott. He’s all right. Probably just held up by that storm; Johnny will probably meet him on the road tomorrow.”

“He probably will. I hope so. See you in the morning. Good night Teresa.” Murdoch planted a kiss on her forehead, turned and slowly made his way to the stairs and up to his room.

Teresa sighed as she watched Murdoch leave; he was really tired, she thought. ‘Scott, I hope you get home tomorrow,’ she muttered to herself. Murdoch had enough things to worry about. After awhile she rose, blew out the lights and made her way to her bed.

*****

Johnny heard Miguel come up the stairs and go to his room. With a sigh he followed. He was sorry for having been short with his little son. Miguel had been through enough the past few years; he didn’t need his father snapping at him. He tucked Miguel in bed, exchanging secret words with him. Listening to Miguel’s prayers he laughed quietly at all the people and animals Miguel was blessing. Kissing him good night he turned down the lamp and went to his room thinking of how lucky he was to have Miguel with him.

Lying on his bed he thought of Miguel’s mother. He had met her over six years ago; he had been wounded from a gunfight and lost his horse. Hiding along a tiny stream he had fallen into a fevered sleep. Coolness had wakened him, but the pain had been too deep and he was unconscious before he could figure out what was happening. Waking the next day, he heard sounds and carefully opened his eyes, trying not to let whoever was there know he was awake. At first he didn’t see anyone in the tiny clearing, just what looked like a sack of food, clothes and a tiny smokeless fire burning. Then a willowy figure came towards him with a cup in her hand. He opened his eyes wider and took in the beautiful girl with the hazel-brown eyes who kneeled over him. A shy smile played across her lips when she saw he was awake. Her hip length blue-black hair hung loose around her, giving her the appearance of being clothed in a hair dress. She held the cup to his lips and told him to drink. He did, not taking his eyes off of her. When he finished she helped him sit up more and changed the bloody bandage that was tight around his left thigh. She worked effortlessly as he tried to think.

Finally when the bandage was changed he started asking her questions. Who she was; where they were, why…the list went on. She answered as best as she could, though she wasn’t sure where they were, other than in a bramble thicket. Her name was Isabella Rosa Marie Vasquez and she was about a year older than he thought he was. When he asked about her family, she turned away. They are no more, she had told him, and would say nothing else. As he healed over the next few days they talked more and got to know each other better; he also found that she was an excellent shot with the large pistol she carried in a holster strapped to her tiny waist.

Rosa wanted to leave Mexico but she hated the rurales and wanted them dead too; he finally found out they had been the ones who had killed her parents. She was hiding from them, afraid they were looking for her since she had escaped when they came to their hacienda to “talk” to her father. It had ended in blood shed, with her mother, father, 3 younger brothers all dead and several peon hands killed trying to protect their patron’s family. Rosa had hidden in the barn under a stack of hay. When they had set fire to the house she ran out the back of the barn and hid in a thicket behind the corral. Their horses and cows had been shot and the barn burned too. When they couldn’t find her they finally rode off. She had been able to get a few things from other outbuildings before the fire spread to them, then made her way from the ranch. A few days later she had stolen a horse and two weeks later she found Johnny. She was trying to get across the border before she was found, thinking she would be safer there for the time being.

They quickly became close friends, both young, alone, and fast with a gun. Once he was healed well enough to travel they had mounted the horse and got as far away from the thicket and stream as they could. He had gotten another horse and found a safe place for her to stay while he went on. But within a few weeks he was back, not really wanting to leave her with strangers, and she wasn’t very happy there either. They rode away together again, unaware that love was blossoming. They didn’t want to leave each other and before too long they were looking for a priest to marry them. Although the priest complained they were too young, Johnny had enough silver to make him change his mind. They had wed in a tiny town, with just the priest and an old man as witnesses. Johnny, afraid to give her the name of Madrid, had used his mother’s maiden name; at the time he still hated Lancer and didn’t recognize it as his real name. A month after that, she became pregnant; she would tease him mercilessly that they were way too young to be having a child, they had too much to do before they became parents. Johnny found a small abandoned cabin west of the Colorado River north of Mexico near the small town of Palo Verde. For weeks he tried to find work with a few of the ranchers within a day’s ride of the cabin, but no one trusted the blue-eyed young gunfighter. Rosa and he talked, and he ended up going farther trying to find work, but once a gunslinger always a gunslinger he found out. Jobs were few and far between, and though he worked at those jobs diligently, it seemed there was always someone who wanted to try to beat Johnny Madrid.

As Rosa’s time neared, Johnny rode home, once again wounded from a gunfight. He barely made it to the cabin and she again doctored him for days. He realized that this was no way for her to have to live, and with a baby coming, it was even worse. He never had enough money to give to her, and worse, he never knew if he would make it home alive from one day to the next.

When the baby came, he was able to get her to town to the doctor’s, and their little son was born screaming his lungs out. Rosa and Johnny loved him instantly, and Johnny swore he would find a safe place for them both and hang up his gun. He tried, but it only lasted a short while. One day an old friend from his past showed up at the cabin of the young family. Alvarez had heard about the hardships Johnny was having and had come to take them back to his home to help them; he had found out that Rosa was no longer being hunted. At his wits’ end the 17 year old packed his little family and they went to Alvarez’s home, more a hideout in the badlands than a real home, but they were safe for the time being. For several months Alvarez watched the little family he called his own, but before too long Johnny had to go; he felt useless and wanted to provide for his own, not have someone else do it for him. Alvarez, he knew, would take care of Rosa and Miguel, as he had done for Johnny when he had found him unconscious along the trail when he was about thirteen; he had taken the boy up on his white stallion and with his riders disappeared into the badlands. Johnny had woken to warmth for the first time since his mother was killed. Alvarez had treated him like a son and they became fast friends in a short time, Alvarez knew almost everything that happened within 400 miles of his home. Johnny left and it was almost a year before he could get back to the hide out home. He hadn’t heard anything about Rosa and baby Miguel and he longed to be with them again. His homecoming was one of the happiest days in his life, behind his marriage and Miguel’s birth. He was welcomed home with open arms. He had missed his son’s first steps and words. He just wanted to bury himself there with his family and never leave.

Johnny heard the grandfather clock boom out the hour; he needed to get to sleep, but memories kept washing over him. He’d stayed at Alvarez’ for a couple of months before someone came looking for him. To keep his family safe he left as quickly as he could. He didn’t want anyone to know about Rosa and Miguel; their lives would be in danger if it became known that Madrid had a family. As the next year passed his reputation grew; he would go to the hide out as often as he could, but it never seemed enough for him, and Rosa was changing in ways he didn’t know. Then one day he returned and found that Alvarez had been sick and Rosa had left with Miguel, disappearing from the hideout, but with a message to Alvarez and Johnny, that she would be back, she just needed to get away from there for awhile. Alvarez’ network of riders was already looking for her. Johnny left again, looking for Rosa as he tried to survive. A few months later he was caught by the Rurales and put in prison, to wait for the firing squad.

Rolling over he realized that coming to Lancer, finding that his father had really wanted him after all those missing years, and finding out that he had a brother that really cared for him, was another of the happiest times of his life. A short time ago he had received word that Alvarez needed to meet him, and he went to him immediately. Meeting near the border, Alvarez had handed him his son, telling him that Rosa had appeared in the dead of night a short time ago, waking him in his own bed with a gun in his face. She had handed the child over to him and told him to get Miguel to Johnny. Alvarez had stood holding Miguel as she told him to give up trying to find her; she had found some of the killers…  Alvarez had been shocked upon seeing her; she was thinner then ever, her eyes haunted in her ravished face, and she now wore two gun belts criss-crossed over her tiny hips. He didn’t know how she bore the weight of the loaded .45’s in the low holsters. He tried to get her to tell him where she was going, to get her to go to Johnny at the Lancer ranch, but as she stood looking at him and her son, she stated sadly, “I have no husband, just a son.” Miguel woke at her voice and looked around, and when Alvarez looked at the little boy in his arms she vanished. He roused the house but there was nothing to find, it was as if a spirit had appeared and disappeared. His riders once again were looking for her, but it was as if she never existed. Alvarez told Johnny he would let him know if they found anything, but he didn’t hold out much hope that they would find Rosa alive. Johnny was torn between wanting to look for her and taking his son home. Alvarez warned him of going into Mexico right then, there was a lot of unrest, and he didn’t want anything to happen to Johnny. He had enough men looking for Rosa without Johnny getting into trouble there. Johnny had to promise Alvarez he wouldn’t do anything until he heard from him again; reluctantly he had, and then took his son home to Lancer.

The clock boomed out the half hour. Johnny had felt badly that he had left without telling anyone of his trip; he knew Scott would be out looking for him, but he couldn’t take anyone with him, Alvarez had been like a father to him, and he wouldn’t betray him. Scott had been mad at him for a few days when he had returned, but not with Miguel, and Johnny was happy that they had all accepted his son without a lot of questions, though he knew he had to tell them soon. Thinking of his blond haired brother he fell asleep.

Johnny woke with a start and lay still, trying to figure out what had awakened him. Laying still he listened, all senses on alert. After several minutes he rolled over, the noise hadn’t been repeated, but the clock chimed out four times. Closing his eyes he tried to go back to sleep, but within a few minutes he gave up and rose, ‘Might as well get going,’ he muttered as he washed the sleep from his face. Quickly dressing he picked up his jacket and left his room, strapping on his gun belt. Downstairs he made himself a quick breakfast from leftover meat and bread. Coffee finally done he was drinking a quick cup when Teresa walked into the kitchen.

“I wondered who was making coffee at this time of the morning,” she said as she pushed her hands through her tousled hair.

“You want some?” Johnny asked lifting another cup.

“I guess so. Now that you’ve gotten me up,” she smiled as he poured, noticing his gun belt around his slim hips and a rifle propped against a chair.

“You expecting a war?”

Johnny sat her cup in front of her before answering, “No. But I’ll be ready for one if it comes to that.”

“You’re always ready!”

“Yep.” He drawled slowly, his blue eyes twinkling as he boldly looked her over.

“Johnny Lancer! You get that look off your face before I do!” Teresa exclaimed, feeling her face turn red.

“What look?” came the innocent reply, filled with teasing laughter.

“You know what look! Between you and Scott, I don’t know which of you is worse!” She pushed away from the table and moved to saddlebags draped over another chair. “I packed you some supplies for your trip.”

“Gee, thanks Teresa! I didn’t think you cared so much about me! Packing food so I won’t starve! And worried about my life too! I promise not to get into a war so you don’t have that to worry about,” Johnny teased as he pulled on his jacket.

Sitting down again, Teresa rested her chin on her clenched fist, trying to look mad at him as he got ready to leave; knowing that he was teasing her again and trying to figure out which brother was worse with their teasing.

Muttering to himself, Johnny shot her several puzzled glances. Finally, he slung the saddlebags over his shoulder, and taking his rifle in hand, he turned back to her, “Alright, I am ready to go. Are you going to give me a good luck kiss or what?”

Teresa looked up into his smiling, handsome, young face; a chill ran down her back as she rose, “Since you might be gone for a few days…” She reached up and holding his face between her hands, she pulled his face down and quickly planted a kiss on his forehead, releasing him before he could react.

Opening the back door she held it for him, “Have a safe trip and I hope you find Scott real fast.”

“Thanks! We’ll see you soon,” saluting her with his rifle he disappeared into the darkness.

Johnny walked around the corner of the house, and stopped dead. For a moment he stood stock still gazing at the black horse in surprise as the horse looked back at him. Suddenly the horse nickered and shook his head, rattling his halter.

“Hey! Ho boy, where did you come from at this time of the night?” Dropping the saddlebags and rifle he moved slowly to the horse talking softly to him. Grasping his halter he patted the black head.

“Easy big boy. Where is Scott? Are you the horse he went after? Where is he?” Johnny kept talking easily to the stallion as he quickly ran his hands over him feeling for cuts or something to tell him what had happened to his brother. Rubbing over the horse’s neck he felt something tied in the horse’s thick mane.

In a moment he had untied a small pouch. Patting the horse he moved to the front door. Inside he lit a lamp and pulled out a folded note.

“Damn it.” He said and turned towards the kitchen.

Teresa heard Johnny coming and turned from the sink; “I thought I’d gotten rid of…” she stopped, seeing the look on Johnny’s face, then the note and pouch. Johnny thrust the note into her hand as she reached his side.

“The writing is bad, can just make out Scott’s name…” he said.

Teresa struggled for several moments, trying to read the scrawled message, then remarked, “It says, ‘We have Scott Lancer, he’s alive now. Bring $5000 in exchange for him. 1 man only at John’s Crossing Livery Stable, owner has instructions. If more than 1 show, Lancer is dead.’” Teresa blanched, “Where did you get this Johnny?”

“The stallion is tied out front. That was tied in his mane. Get Murdoch, I’ll put the horse in the barn and saddle up.” Johnny said as he left the room.

Murdoch, with Teresa beside him, was outside when Johnny pulled Barranca to a halt in front of the house.

“We don’t have five thousand. I have to get a loan from the bank, but its Sunday. They didn’t say how soon they wanted the money,” Murdoch said worriedly.

Johnny dismounted and re-entered the house, “Don’t worry about the money. I’ll find Scott without it.” He had the gun cabinet opened and was reaching for a box of shells.

“Johnny how can you?” Teresa asked.

“Easy,” shooting a glance at his father, “they don’t know me, can’t tell I come from Lancer. They will expect a Lancer to come, not Madrid. I can be there before they know it. Seems like they think they have some time, unless the stable guy is in on it. I’ll watch and listen. Someone in that town will let something slip if Scott is anywhere near there.” Johnny explained as he shook shells into his hand, eyes dark with thought.

Murdoch nodded his head in agreement. “That’s true. They won’t expect us to react this fast. Maybe you will see them first. I should go with you.”

“Murdoch, you know you can’t. You can do without me for awhile, you have too much to do here and your back is bothering you again. Besides that they might know you, you’ve been here a long time, I haven’t.”

“I know! I know!” growled Murdoch. “Let us know what is happening if you can.”

“Don’t worry,” grinned Johnny, “I’ll send for help if I need it. John’s Crossing isn’t that far away. I’m leaving; don’t worry if it is longer than a week or so, it might take awhile to find out what is going on. Oh, and there is a black stallion down in the barn. He is a good looking horse, like Scott said. Give my love to Miguel.”

“Be careful Johnny,” Murdoch and Teresa said, following him outside and watching as he put the shells into the saddlebags.

“I will. See you in a week or so.” Johnny was mounted in a flash and he and the golden stallion were quickly swallowed by the darkness.

With a sigh, Murdoch said, “Let’s go look at that horse. I don’t think I could get back to sleep now.” Together they moved towards the dark shape of the barn.

.

Chapter 6

Scott moved restlessly, feeling hot. He was getting tired of lying in bed, but he knew he wasn’t well enough to be up yet. The day before he had sat up for a little while before weakness overcame him and he had to lie down again. He figured his little walk to the porch two days before hadn’t helped him too much. His bruised legs didn’t hurt as much as they had, though they were very colorful; but his left hip bothered him more it seemed. He felt embarrassed when Sallie checked and changed the bandages on his hip, but he knew she was watching for gangrene. He couldn’t take deep breaths without hurting; but Sallie said that the break in his arm was healing well.

It was his right shoulder that bothered him the most. It hurt like hell most of the time, and he still had no feeling in his arm and that scared him more, even though Sallie reassured him that it was only a temporary numbness which would be all right once the shoulder healed. He was sure it wasn’t infected as he watched her change the bandages, but he couldn’t understand why he had no feeling in his arm and hand. He was almost on the verge of panic every time she changed the bandages, willing for feeling of any kind in his arm or hand. Scott wished that the doctor would come back; he had some questions he’d like to ask him.

Shifting again uneasily Scott finally fell into a troubled sleep.

In the late afternoon, Lizzy stood at the foot of the hill trail leading up to the house. She had told her mother that she was going to pick the last blooming flowers for the house and Scott’s room. But that was only her cover to come down to watch for her brother’s return. Just as she picked the last of the flowers, she heard hoofbeats on the road. Watching, she finally saw the big chestnut workhorse trotting in her direction. She waved happily at the figure on its back.

“Well, how did it go?” she asked after their quick hello’s.

“Alright I guess. I got in there night before last and led him right up to the house and tied him up in front. That is sure a big ranch! I didn’t think I’d ever find the house! But no one saw me. What are we going to tell Mom?” Lee asked.

“Just tell her that the people were real nice and happy for the information; and that when Scott is ready to travel to let them know and they will come for him and repay us for our services to him. That’s all! It’s easy.”

“I don’t like to lie to Mom, but this once…Hey, when did you start calling him Scott?” inquired Lee.

Lizzy smiled, tossing her long hair back, “He is all mine now, and I’m going to keep him.”

“What if he doesn’t want you?”

“Don’t worry about anything. We better get up to the house. Ma will be wondering where I am.”

“What about the note to Old John? Have you delivered it yet?” asked Lee as he gave her a hand so she could mount behind him.

“No, I’ve almost got it finished. But we haven’t gone to town yet. I’ll make up an excuse so we can go tomorrow.”

“I just hope he doesn’t give us away,” Lee sighed with worry, it would be nice to have money to spend.

“He won’t because we will promise him some money. He will be happy to get it for doing nothing! Come on Sam; let’s get home,” Lizzy nudged the horse into motion, “Mom will be glad to see you’re home. She was worried after what happened to Scott.”

“Oh that stallion was really good. Didn’t have any problems with him, except he likes to move; doesn’t like to just walk. Poor Sam could hardly keep up with him, I had to tie him to the saddle to slow him down; my arm got tired of trying to hold him in. Wish I had a horse like him. He was beautiful.” Lee said dreamily.

“Yeah, he also attacks people. There’s Mom. Hey Mom! Look who I found!” hollered Lizzy as they came in sight of the house and saw their mother taking down the washing.

Sallie hugged her son when he dismounted, plying him with all sorts of questions about his trip. When he had answered her questions she let him go to take care of Sam. She promised Lee his favorite dinner.

An hour later, as Lizzy helped in the kitchen with the last of the dinner preparations, Sallie peeked into the bedroom and saw that Scott was awake, so she told Lee to go in and tell him of his trip.

Scott smiled at Lee as he entered the room. “Looks like you made it back in one piece.”

“Yep. It was alright. That horse of yours is something else,” Lee stated, his eyes shining. “He’s so beautiful, and he likes to move! He didn’t seem too happy having to walk or trot, he wanted to go faster.”

”That’s Satan! I’m glad he didn’t give you any trouble. Did you talk to my father?” Scott asked after a moment.

“Yes. He hopes you will be alright soon, and you’re to send word when you’re able to travel. He will send someone for you,” answered Lee as he moved about the room not looking at Scott directly.

“Thought he’d come,” Scott said softly, half to himself.

“Oh he was going to but I told him that you were in good hands here and you couldn’t travel anyway. And he said there was a lot of work to be done all of a sudden; I think he said something about that storm. But he is really happy that you are safe. He really likes the horse too and is glad you and he are alright.”

“You didn’t talk to anyone else?”

“No. He was the only one there. All the others had already ridden out; he was just leaving when I got there, had his horse ready to go. He took Satan to the barn himself. Said to tell you as soon as he can get away he will come up, unless you send word first.” Lee added nervously.

“Should be able to send them word in a couple of days.” Scott moved restlessly, wondering why Johnny hadn’t been with Murdoch.

“You’re looking better than before I left.”

“Thanks, I feel a little bit better, except for my hip and shoulder, and still no feeling in my arm.” Scott looked up at Lee and smiled, “Will you help me up? If I lay here one more minute I’m going to have bed sores.”

Lee laughed, relieved that the lies were done, and no more questions had to be answered. “I’ll help you, but I don’t think Mom will like it. You being up, that is.”

“Don’t worry about that, just help me up. My pants are there.”

Almost ten minutes later, Lee helped Scott through the bedroom door, supporting him with his arm around his waist. Sallie turned from the stove, a bowl of steaming potatoes in her hands. She stopped dead looking at her son and the white faced Scott.

“What are you doing up?” she asked angrily, placing the bowl on the table.

Scott smiled painfully, “Thought I’d join you for dinner. Had to stretch my legs before they think they can quit working.”

“For Pete’s sake! Lee, don’t just stand there; help him into a chair before he falls on his face!”

In seconds Scott was seated and he sighed in relief as he stretched his long legs under the table, ignoring the pains shooting through them. “It feels good to be up,” he remarked quietly.

“But you shouldn’t be up yet,” Lizzy said as she set a plate and silverware in front of him, concern on her face.

“I’ll be all right. I need to move around some.”

“Well the meal is ready; let’s eat while it is still hot!” Sallie told her children sitting down after pouring milk into glasses for her children and coffee for her and Scott.

Scott wouldn’t let anyone feed him; he struggled to eat by himself, using his left hand. It was a slow process with the heavily bandaged forearm hampering him. Finally Lizzy looked up, and seeing his struggle to eat, she quickly finished and moved to his side.

“Here I’ll help you,” she cut in, reaching for his fork.

“I can do it…”

“It will take you all night, let me help you.”

Scott finally nodded, “Alright. It is hard to eat this way.”

She quickly cut his meat and before long he had finished eating. Finishing his cup of coffee, Sallie made Lee help him back to his bed. With a sigh of relief he laid down and in a moment he was asleep.

“Mom, did you put something in his coffee? He sure went to sleep fast.” Lizzy asked as she helped clear the table.

“Yes I did. He needs the sleep and he’s a bit feverish. This won’t hurt him; he will just get a good night’s sleep, and not have to fight the pain he is in. I am worried about his shoulder and hip; I just hope they are healing properly.” Sallie put the small metal box of powdered drugs on a shelf above the stove, Lizzy watched closely.

“How much of that stuff do you use?”

“Just a pinch will knock out a man for several hours. Have to be careful though, get too much and he’d never wake again. There is a small measuring spoon in the can. I use half a spoon full. That is plenty.” Sallie answered as she washed the plates. “We need to get done and get the rest of the garden watered before bed tonight.”

Scott rolled feverishly in his bed. He heard, he thought, the pounding of horse’s hooves, then voices, some loud, others soft. His door was softly closed against the noise in the other room. Then the pounding of hooves, he felt someone standing over him, then silence once again. He slept.

Slowly Scott woke to the sun-lit room. Looking at the window he figured it to be almost noon. The room felt like a furnace and he pushed the blankets down to his waist. He felt hot under the bandages that crossed his chest and shoulder, but could do nothing about it. The house was silent and he wondered where everyone was. He looked at the door that was still closed tightly, and wondered why he had slept so long; his head felt a little light but he passed it off to sleeping too long. He moved restlessly, wishing for a cool drink of water.

Suddenly, as if someone has been reading his mind, the door opened and Lizzy walked into the room. ‘She is a pretty girl, some lucky young man is going to snatch her before too long,’ he thought as she stopped beside the bed and smiled down at him, her long blond hair shimmering.

“You’re finally awake!” she exclaimed in a soft voice.

“Yes. I must have been awfully tired to sleep that long. Could I get a drink of water? I think my throat thinks it’s in a desert it’s so dry.”

“Sure you can. Just a minute,” she whirled around and disappeared.

In a minute she was back with a large glass of water. Holding his head up she held the cup for him as he drank thirstily.

“Thank you that tasted good.”

“I have some soup warming on the stove, I will get you some. Oh, Mom had to leave for a few days.” Lizzy paused as she started to leave.

“What? Why?”

“Her girlfriend got sick and is real bad. So Ma went to look after her. I told her to go, she didn’t want to leave you, but her friend is like a sister to her. Told her I can watch over you until she gets back. I hope you don’t mind, but I know how close she is to Jeanne.”

“I thought I heard horses and talking last night, I thought it was a dream. I’ll be all right soon, then I’ll be able to go and let you people get back to your own lives, not have to worry about me.”

“Oh Scott!” Lizzy dropped to the edge of the bed and grabbed his hand; holding it tightly she continued, “You’re no bother! It is nice to have a man around the house, even if he is hurt. You were an answer to my prayers; we needed you, we were getting into a rut and you have brought us out of it.” she gently brushed ash blond hair out of his eyes. “You are no bother at all; I don’t mind helping you, and taking care of you. Now just don’t fret about us! I’ll get you something to eat.”

Before an astonished Scott could reply she bent down and kissed him on the lips. In an instant she was out of the room. Scott lay there, surprised over what had just happened. ‘Oh God! I’ve got to get out of here!’ he moaned, ‘Why did Sallie leave her daughter here to take care of me? Where are you Johnny? I need your help!’

Lizzy re-entered the room, a steaming bowl of soup in her hands and a smile on her lovely face. “Here is some soup for you.” Setting the bowl down she helped Scott sit up, putting several pillows behind him. Then she carefully fed him as he tried to keep from looking at her.

“Where is your brother?” Scott asked between mouthfuls.

“He’s someplace around. He has lots of chores to do before supper.” she told him.

Scott finished in silence. When she at last rose to leave he asked her to open the window. Happily she did; then left the room. Scott looked at the window longingly; if only he could get around better, he’d leave through the opening. He heard her coming back and quickly closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep. He heard her stop next to the bed; a blanket was lightly laid over him. He felt her lightly brush his hair aside again, and then cool lips touched his in a quick kiss.

“I’ll be back later.” she whispered, then left the room quietly.

Scott listened to her footsteps until he heard the front door close. With a sigh he opened his eyes. ‘Johnny, please find me!’

*****

At that moment Johnny was dismounting in front of the livery stable in John’s Crossing. Tiredly he led the dusty gold stallion inside. A grey bearded old man met him in the aisle way.

“Good day sir. Put your pony up for you?” he asked in a friendly voice.

“Do you have a good strong stall?” Johnny peered into the dark depths of the barn.

“Strong stall? Yep, sure do, should hold anything, and it’s the only one in town,” he laughed. “Mighty fine horse you got there. Come on I’ll show it to you.” The man turned and led Johnny and Barranca farther into the large barn.

Within minutes the stallion was unsaddled and being rubbed down by Johnny with handfuls of straw, as he munched happily on a measure of oats and hay.

“You’re a stranger in these parts,” the man stated watching Johnny work over the horse.

“Yes. I’m kind of looking around for a job on a ranch.”

“As a cow puncher? Ha! The way you wear your gun tells me a different story.”

“I can shoot if need be,” replied Johnny.

“Yeah. I’ll bet you can. Name’s John Smith. Most people just call me Old John, since I’ve been here longer than most,” the old man held out his hand smiling.

“A Smith huh. A mighty lot of Smith’s in these parts,” Johnny commented, reaching to shake the proffered hand,

“Johnny Madrid.”

“Glad to make your acquaintance. Now as far as a job, I don’t rightly know if there is anyone hiring hands here-abouts. But I’ll keep my ears opened in case someone is looking.”

“Thanks. I’ll probably be here just a few days. Maybe look over the country.”

”Nice area around here. Plenty of land to spread out and live around here.”

“Any place to stay in this town?” Johnny asked as he stepped out of the stall.

“Well there’s a hotel of sorts, if you don’t mind sharing your bed with lice and other pesky little critters. If you want to sleep, I’d suggest my hay loft. You might have to share it with a drunk or two, but there’s plenty of room and hay up there, and no bugs!” Old John told him, pointing to a heavy ladder nailed to the wall beside the big barn’s doors.

Johnny pretended to think on that as he looked out the doors. He had no intention of staying anywhere else anyway; here was where he was to get the directions from, and this was the man who had them.

“Alright, I’ll take your hay loft. How much do I owe you?”

“Wal, I only charge for the horse, two bits a day, one day in advance.”

“Here you go. Any good place to eat around here?” Johnny asked counting out the money.

“Across over there,” Old John pointed, “the John’s Crossing Restaurant, Mabel is a fine cook and you get lots of food too.”

“How about a bath?”

“Well, he’s across the road from Mabel’s, offers bath, barber, dentistry and undertakin’, owns the store too. Rather use the creek out back though.”

“I’ll think about that,” laughed Johnny as he left the barn heading towards the restaurant.

About an hour later Johnny tiredly climbed the ladder to the hayloft and threw his saddlebags and blanket roll down in the sweet smelling hay. Moving to the loft opening, where hay was lifted up to the loft, he looked over the sleepy little town. He knew where everyone of the 23 buildings was situated and had picked out an escape route if he needed one. Turning, he spread his blankets near the opening and lay down, wondering where Scott could be hidden. After a few moments he fell asleep worrying about his brother and the feeling that he had to find him fast.

.

Chapter 7

Lee walked into Scott’s room and grinned at him, “Do you want to get up tonight? Or stay in bed and eat?”

“How about, just sit up for awhile,” responded Scott.

Within moments Scott was sitting up, pillows tucked behind him and a blanket thrown over his stretched out legs covering him from his waist down. He had seen his legs as he was moved; they were turning dark purple, red and yellow from the bruising. His hip had a pulling feeling as if it was starting to heal, but the strain of sitting up had caused it to send shooting pains through him.

He smiled tightly at Lee, “I don’t know which hurts worse, my hip or this damn shoulder.”

“You need the bandages changed; they haven’t been since Mom left.”

”Can you do it?”

Lee blanched, “NO!” then flushing almost as red as his hair and freckles he went on, “I…I mean…I don’t mind cleaning a deer or other animal, but when it comes to a person…I…just…I can’t do it.”

“That’s alright Lee. I’d do it myself, but I can’t with one arm bandaged and the other not working.”

”Well Lizzy can do it. She’s done it before with no problem.”

Now it was Scott’s turn to change colors as the red climbed into his gaunt cheeks, and he stammered, “Ah, no…no, it can wait. No hurry.”

Lee laughed, “What’s the matter Mr. Lancer? She has been helping Ma bandage you since we found you, even changing all the bandages by herself a couple of times for Mom.”

“That’s alright. It’s healing. I’ll be okay.”

Lizzy walked in at that moment carrying a tray of food. “What will be alright?”

“Nothing important…” Scott started to answer.

“His hip should be checked,” Lee cut in, a gleam in his eyes.

Scott shot him a dirty look as Lizzy pulled a chair closer to the bed. “Well there’s nothing to it. I’ll change the bandage when we get through here. You’ve been up a couple of times, it might have bled some. It’s time to change the bandages, and check your shoulder too,” she stated as she started to feed him.

“You don’t have to. It’s alright…”

“No. It has to be done. Don’t fret, there’s nothing to it. It will only take a few minutes too.”

“I…you…” Scott tried to talk.

“Just eat now. Then we’ll change the dressings,” Lizzy gave him another forkful of meat.

Lee grinned at Scott and left the room. Scott resigned himself to his fate and ate quickly, only wanting to get the ordeal over as fast as possible.

“Here drink your coffee and I’ll get the bandages and salve. I’ll do your shoulder first,” Lizzy handed him the cup and rose.

He gave it one last try, “Look I’m all right, you don’t have to change the bandages.”

“Yes I do. Mom said that they should be checked at least once a day. So don’t argue, just drink your coffee.” She pushed the long hair out of his face, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Scott drank part of the hot coffee in one gulp, wishing he was anywhere but there at that moment. He looked down at the bandage wrapped across his abdomen, and over his hip a few times, then once around his upper thigh. ‘Nope, no way is she going to change that bandage and re-wrap me!’

“Where is Lee?” he called out.

“Out in the barn, putting up the horses and settling them for the night,” Lizzy answered from the other room. “Why?”

“Why don’t you call him in for a couple of minutes, I want to ask him something,” Scott answered as she walked back into the room.

“I guess I could.”

A couple minutes later Lee came into the room, as Lizzy removed the bandages holding Scott’s right arm still and covering his shoulder. “It looks clean, and like it’s starting to heal. That horse sure bit deep; it’s a wonder he didn’t take your shoulder off,” she remarked as she put salve on both sides of the deep wound.

“Did you want me Mr. Lancer?” Lee asked, not looking at the man on the bed.

“Yes, have to ask you something. Please call me Scott; my father is Mr. Lancer, not me.” Scott shook his head; he was suddenly becoming very tired and his words sounded slurred to him. He looked up at Lizzy and her face seemed to float above him.

“I’ll have your shoulder bandaged in a minute, and then you can talk to Lee,” disjointed lips told him.

“Yes,” he muttered. Feeling dizzy, he put his left arm up to run shaky fingers across his face; he shook his head again in confusion.

The girl’s face moved crazily in front of him. “Lean back over the pillows some, that way it will be easier to get your hip done. You don’t have to sit up, it would be too hard. I’ll be right back; I have to get some clean water.”

Her face vanished to be replaced by another younger, sterner freckled face topped with reddish hair that seemed to swim above him too.

“What did you want me for Scott?” the face asked.

Scott shook his head hard, clearing it a little, “Don’t let her do my hip. I…mean…the cut…my hip…damn can’t think straight…” he took a deep breath and tried again, “She can get the bandage off but don’t let her re-do it…you wrap the bandage…I…the wound is so…low…you do it…not her!” Scott gave up and closed his eyes as his head spun out of control.

Lizzy came back into the room and looked at the half conscious Scott, then at her brother, “What did he want?”

Lee grinned, “Nothing much. He wants me to bandage, him not you. I think he’s embarrassed to think you are doing it.”

“Well for Pete’s sake! What nonsense. Who does he think he is? Some high and mighty king? HA! You get out there and get the chores done before it gets too dark. I’ll take care of this, I don’t want you passing out on me, and that is the worst looking cut I’ve ever seen. Now get.” She half pushed her brother out of the room.

“Hey Liz, did you give him something? He’s acting kind of funny,” Lee asked as she pushed him out.

“Yes. I gave him something to relax him while I did the bandages, and to help him sleep. Now get out of here so I can get done, I’ve got better things to do.” Lizzy firmly shut the door behind him and turned back to Scott.

Scott came fully awake from the sudden burning pain in his hip. With a groan he opened his eyes and looked at the girl beside him.

“What are you doing?” he asked through gritted teeth as waves of agony washed through his hip.

“Just stay still, I’m about done. This cut had to be cleaned out, it’s been bleeding, and the bandage was stuck to it. I’m sorry if I hurt you but all I have to clean it is some whiskey,” she told him as she poured a little more on the cut.

“Oh my God!” Scott moaned. He arched in agony as the fiery liquid burned into his hip a second time.

“Hold still. I’m done with that, just need to get this bandage on you now.”

Scott’s pain-filled eyes snapped opened, “Let Lee bandage me!”

Lizzy laughed as she placed a clean pad against his hip, “You must be joking, he’d pass out. Just stay still. Here hold this there,” she pressed Scott’s left hand over the pad on his hip. In a moment she was wrapping the bandage around and under his hips, the pillows under his back barely high enough to allow her to get her hand under him.

In silence Scott lay there. His head was spinning, and pain rolled through him as she expertly finished bandaging him. At last she was done and he smiled tightly at her, his face burning. “Thanks.”

“That’s alright. Here I’ll get those pillows out from under your back so you can lay flat again. The bandages should be alright for a day or two; I’ll re-check them tomorrow night though. I don’t like the looks of that cut, but your shoulder looks better.” She carefully helped him sit up-right, and then pulled the pillows from behind him. Placing one for his head she laid him back down. Before he could say anything to her he was asleep.

Hours later Scott woke and lay still, his eyes roaming around the dark room. There was someone else there; he could just make out a dim figure sitting near the bed. The room was hot and he felt sweat on his face and chest, his throat was dry and he wished for a drink of water. Turning his head he looked at the figure in the chair and wished he hadn’t woken up.

He carefully moved, trying to ease the throbbing pain in his shoulder. He sat up, forgetting his hip for a moment and hot agony shot through him. With a low moan he sank back onto the pillow. The dim figure was beside him instantly, a cool hand pressed against his chest.

“Scott, are you alright?” the girl’s voice asked in the thick darkness.

“Yes!” Scott gasped; his shoulder erupted in pain as she grabbed him, holding him still for a moment.

“Oh you are not. You’re drenched and shaking! I’ll get a towel and some water for you.”

‘Damn, damn,’ Scott muttered under his breath as she left.

Within moments Lizzy was back. Lighting the lamp she turned it low and looked at Scott in the dim light. She saw his handsome gaunt face twisted in pain, noting that he was wet with sweat, and his limp wet hair was stuck to his face. All the bandages looked wet too.

“Here’s some water,” she lifted his head and held the glass to his lips, “Drink it all, you need it.”

Scott drank deeply; the water was cool but had a slight bitter taste. He didn’t think of that, it just felt so good to have something cool to drink. When he finished the water, she laid him back down. Using the towel she dried his head and face.

“Can’t you leave that window open some? It’s so hot in here, feels like a furnace in this room.”

“I’ll open it some. Let me get you dry first so you won’t catch cold or something.”

As she dried his arms and chest he felt himself getting drowsy, and by the time she moved to open the window he was half asleep. He felt a slight breeze blow across his heated body, and then he was asleep, feeling nothing more.

Lizzy smiled down at the sleeping man; she had given him more of the drug so he should sleep well into the next day. She lightly ran her fingers over Scott’s face. ‘He needs a shave,’ she thought. Running her fingers through his hair she decided that she and Lee would go to town early the next day. She turned from Scott, blew out the lamp and left the room, wondering if her note for his so called ransom was enough for the Lancer rider that would be coming to the stable. She decided to re-check it again before she lay down for the night.

Early the next morning Lizzy checked Scott and saw that he was still deeply asleep. Waking her brother she had him hitch up the wagon, as she made them a quick breakfast. With the note safely in her pocket, she followed Lee out the door, carefully locking it behind her. As the wagon headed out of the yard the sun’s rays brightened the sky to the east. Thinking of the note she smiled at herself for her wonderful idea. She would pretend to be the go-between; the Lancers would have to leave the money with her and she would deliver it and get Scott released. She hummed happily as the wagon bounced towards town.

“Lee, we almost have it made! After they drop off the money, they won’t be able to find Scott or me for awhile. Tomorrow night we’ll take him up to that old cabin that we found last year and keep him there. When we are married you can come and live with us if you want to, or maybe we will go to that Lancer Ranch and live there with his family. Or…maybe we will buy our own place and you can could work for us; or buy the farm from Mom and just stay here. It’ll be nice to have all that money.”

”What if it doesn’t work?” Lee asked skeptically.

“What can go wrong? The Lancer’s want him back, they’ll pay. Just think of all that money!”

“All right. So what if they pay and all that, then he won’t marry you? What if he’s already married?”

“He’ll have to marry me; once he gets a little better I’ll make it so he has to. And he’s not married or he’d have told us or said something about a wife. Now just think happy thoughts and drive, we haven’t got all morning.”

Lizzy jumped down from the wagon when they stopped in front of the livery stable over an hour later.

“Stay put. It’ll only take me a couple minutes.”

“Hey, shouldn’t get something while we’re in town? You know someone will tell Maw we were here.”

“I guess we better. I’ll get something from the General Store. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” She headed into the barn, as Lee turned the horses away.

“John, John,” she called.

“Here I am Miss Liz. What are you doing in town so early?” Old John asked coming from the stall he’d been cleaning.

“Have to talk to you. Is there anyone around?”

“None that I know of. Now what’s on your mind?”

“Have you seen any strangers by the name of Lancer here?”

“No. Can’t say that I have. There is one stranger in town but that’s not his name. Looking for a job punching cows. Got here 2 days ago.”

“That wouldn’t be him; he’d have to get here maybe yesterday late or today. Anyway, want to make three hundred dollars?”

“Why I’d love to. But how?” Old John’s eyes lit up.

“Just deliver this note to Mr. Lancer when he gets here, and give him directions on how to get to the farm. But don’t tell him how you got this note, you understand?”

“Yes I do. But it doesn’t make any sense.”

“It doesn’t have to. You just deliver this to him and if things go right I’ll be back here with the money for you free and clear.”

“Just for just giving him this?” John took the note she handed him.

”That’s all! But it has to be a Lancer, or a man who can identify himself as a Lancer hand. Is that clear?”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll do just as you say. What if they never come?”

“Well, if they don’t come, we’re all out. Nothing. I’ve got to go. You just be sure that gets into the Lancers’ hands and everything will work out for us. I’ll see you later.” Lizzy turned and hurried out of the barn. Old John stood a moment with the note in his hand then turned towards his office at the back of the barn, thinking to find a safe hiding place for the note.

As soon as Old John left the barn, there was a rustle of hay in the loft; then a booted foot hit the ladder. Within minutes, Johnny Madrid Lancer was picking up his saddle and moving to the stallion’s stall, his bed roll and saddle bags over his shoulder, and was soon standing outside under a nearby tree, blue eyes scanning the town, the gold stallion standing quietly at his side, ready to be away from the confines of the barn.

Johnny had heard the wagon stop in front of the barn, almost below him, then the girl talking to the old man. Not wanting to show his hand or reveal his identity, he intended to follow the girl home. If he didn’t find Scott at her place he would find out from her where he was, one way or the other. He had a feeling that something bad had happened to Scott, and he hoped that he could find him quickly. He watched as a teenaged boy walked out of the General Store and climbed onto the wagon in front of it; a minute later a girl walked out the door behind him. Johnny smiled; no wonder Scott was hiding, she was a beauty with that long blond hair. She turned and waved at someone in the building then swiftly climbed up on the wagon. ‘Like a cat’ Johnny thought as she tossed her head and said something to the boy. With a snap of the reins they drove off. As soon as they turned past the last house Johnny lithely mounted and was after them.

As he followed the wagon he saw the direction they were going was the one he had planned to travel today. He knew there was a farm that he hadn’t gotten to the day before, having stopped at two ranches first. At the second ranch he had gotten directions to the farm, and found out that it was owned by a woman named Sallie Marsh and that she had two children, a girl and a boy. They had laughingly told him he could look for a job there but only if he liked being a dirt farmer, seems the woman grew vegetables and sold them in town. They had given him directions, but it had been late and he had decided to put off going to the farm until the next day. Deciding that the two on the wagon were the Marsh children and older then he had been led to believe, he kicked Barranca into a gallop and cut off into the trees. When he caught up with the wagon he slowed to a walk, and quietly passed them. As soon as he was out of earshot he urged the stallion into a faster gait. He almost passed the road to the farm; he came upon it so fast. Pulling Barranca to a sliding stop several yards beyond the trail, the horse spun quickly to his right and lunged for the trail up the hill. In moments they reached the top and slowed; Johnny rode, gun in hand, prepared for anything.

When Johnny saw the clearing he turned the golden stallion off into the trees again and slowly circled until he saw the house and barn. Holstering his gun he watched the clearing for a minute; it was still and quiet. Moving slowly to a spot directly behind the barn he stopped. Dismounting, he led the horse deeper into the trees so he couldn’t be seen or smelled by the other horses. Carefully he made his way back to the barn. Everything looked peaceful and quiet in the morning sunshine, only a few birds broke the silence as they sang in its light.

Entering the barn with gun drawn once again he quickly looked around. It was empty. In silence he checked it out; within minutes he had found Scott’s saddle and bridle covered with a feed sack and hidden in the hay. Digging a bit deeper he found his saddlebags and blanket roll, the Lancer brand standing out on both saddle and bags. As he re-hid everything his stomach muscles tightened, ‘What if Scott is dead?’ he asked himself. He shook the feeling off; he would have known the instant it happened. All his feelings and instincts were telling him now that Scott was probably hurt and needed help fast.

Johnny left the barn and ran across to the house. Trying the door he found it locked. ‘Who in this country locks their door? What are you hiding?’ Quicksilver thoughts flashed through his head as he circled the house, checking the windows and trying to see inside. The windows were also locked, and the only window he could see through a little was the front one, which showed the living room with kitchen and dining area. The other rooms had to be bedrooms from the kind of curtains that tightly covered them. He could see nothing inside from the other windows, and the only uncovered one was upstairs with no way to reach it. Circling around to the front of the house again he approached the front door, ‘I’ll just break in,’ he thought.

Suddenly he heard the rumble of the wagon returning. Turning he raced to the barn; as he entered he stopped and looked back. The heads of the two draft horses came into view, then the rest of them. He slipped deeper into the barn, then hid behind the pile of hay, deep in the darkness.

Lee pulled the horses to a halt in front of the barn. Lizzy swung down quickly, “I’ll go check our friend and make lunch. You get the horses unhitched and into the corral. After lunch you’ll have to water some. Then you can take some things up to the cabin.” she told her brother as she started towards the house.

“Why do I always get the dirty work?” mumbled Lee as he started unhitching the team. Johnny, hidden, smiled in anticipation.

.

Chapter 8

Johnny waited patiently all day for a chance to get into the house. He breathed a sigh of frustration as he watched. The girl, Lizzy, was never far from it. As the sun started to sink into the surrounding hills the boy walked to the barn, grabbed a saddle and bridle from a stall rail, then caught one of the draft horses in the corral; within minutes he was leading it to the front of the house.

Watching from the safety of the barn’s darkness, he saw the girl come out carrying a heavy gunny sack. Mounting, the boy quickly tied it to the saddle. With a few words he turned the horse and soon disappeared into the woods. Johnny smiled and left the barn by the small back door. Keeping the barn between him and the house he went quickly through the trees to where Barranca was hidden. The gold stallion nickered lowly and happily at him, pawing the ground as if accusing Johnny of mistreating him.

“Old son, you’re going to have sweet smelling hay and grain soon. And I’m going to find Boston!” Patting the horse on his neck, Johnny swiftly tightened the cinch and mounted. Circling around through the trees he found the trail to the road. Riding down a little ways so he couldn’t be seen, he dismounted and taking handfuls of dry dusty dirt, he quickly dusted the stallion completely on one side, saddle, bridle and all. Taking more dirt he did the same thing to himself, being sure his face had some too.

Leading the dusty horse he moved to where he could see the house, then tapped the stallion in a certain place. Barranca shook his beautiful head as if refusing the command; then he lowered it, his left foreleg came up, and he groaned.

Johnny scratched Barranca’s ears, “Let’s put on our show boy, and see what we can come up with.” He headed towards the house, the stallion following, limping so badly that he staggered.

Scott woke suddenly and looked wildly around the room, breathing hard in the heat. It was late afternoon, he decided, and wondered how he could have slept so long. He ached all over, and longed to get up to ease the pains shooting through him. He couldn’t hear anything from the other room so he carefully sat up, pulling the sheet over his hips and legs. The pain in his shoulder eased some as he sat upright, taking pressure off of it. He pushed the thought of his hip out of his mind; he didn’t want to really think about it. The room was stifling hot again, and his bandages all felt hot and tight. He wished someone would leave the window open and water where he could get to it.

Lizzy suddenly appeared in the doorway. Scott blinked his eyes; she had appeared so unexpectedly, ‘Well I was wishing for someone, wasn’t I?’ he asked himself.

“How do you feel Scott?”

“Hot! Can’t you leave that damn window open? What are you trying to do? Kill me?” he snarled at the girl.

“Well you don’t have to get so nasty about it!” She retorted and moved to raise the window some. Returning to the bedside she smiled at him, “How’s that?”

“It’s fine. Thanks. Sorry. I guess I’m just too hot in here,” he apologized.

She sat down beside him, “You don’t have to apologize. I should have left it opened but I don’t want you to get sicker than you already are.” She brushed his hair out of his face.

“I won’t catch cold or anything. I’d like to get up. Where’s Lee?” He turned his head away, trying to get her to stop touching him.

“Lee is doing chores. I could help you dress if you want to get up that bad. Then you can come into the other room.”

“No I can wait.”

“How does your shoulder feel?”

“Not too bad. But I still can’t move my arm or feel anything.”

“Don’t worry Scott, it will be all right. You know it takes time for wounds like this to heal. It could have been worse.”

“I know, I know. Any chance of getting something to drink, and eat? I am a bit hungry.” he half smiled.

“Of course! I’ll be right back.” she rose, then leaned quickly over him and kissed him. Turning she walked from the room.

Scott bit his lip trying not to say anything to the girl. He didn’t like her kiss and vowed she wouldn’t do it again.

After eating Scott lay back down and dozed as Lizzy worked in the other room. He heard Lee come in and say something about being ready to leave, then a horse leaving the house. In a half stupor he tried to gather his thoughts as to what was going on. He pushed himself to a sitting position just as Lizzy came into the room.

“Here Scott, I brought you some more water,” she held the glass to his lips as he drank thirstily. “Now that is better isn’t it?” she asked as she set the glass down, then sat down on the bed next to him.

Scott did feel better after drinking the cool water, but still couldn’t shake off the dizzy, tired feeling. Lizzy ran her fingers across his face and into his hair, her other hand behind his neck pulling him gently towards her, and she kissed him several times. He jerked away from her as best as he could.

“Lizzy… No…Not this way. Please let me…” she cut him off with another kiss as her arms went around his neck.

Scott managed to get his broken arm between them. With all his might he pushed her away, breaking the clasp around his neck.

“Stop it! Get out of here!” Scott said sharply, fighting to keep his eyes open.

Lizzy’s eyes blazed hatred at him, “I’ll fix you!” she yelled in fury, swinging her fist at him as hard as she could.

Scott ducked his head as she swung; her fist missed his face but smashed into his right shoulder as he ducked to the left. Pain that for a time had ceased erupted into an agony of hot fire in his shoulder. He moaned and half twisted away from her as he fell back upon the pillows. The drug mercifully worked and between it and the shock of the blow, he passed out.

Lizzy backed away, shaking her aching hand. She stood there for several long minutes watching the white faced, unconscious Scott. As she watched him she noticed a small dark red stain on the shoulder bandage. In fascination she watched as it grew larger. Suddenly she was drawn away, someone was yelling outside the house. She hurried from the room, closing the door tightly behind her.

At the front door she peeked out as again a voice called out, “Hello the house…” She saw a young man wearing a bright reddish colored shirt, his hat hung down his back, his dark hair and face covered with dust as was most of the rest of him. The gold horse he led was limping badly and he too was covered in dust.

Opening the door, she stepped out as the man neared the house.

“Something wrong?”

“Yes, ma’am. We sort of had a little accident down the road apiece. We were movin’ along pretty good and old Barranca here stepped in a hole. That ended our ride.”

“Is he hurt bad?”

“I’m not sure. I think he twisted his leg when he fell, as you can see he’s not able to get around very good.” Johnny told her, pointing to the horse’s leg.

“What can I do about his leg?” she asked still looking them over.

Johnny thought, ‘I’d like to wring your neck girl!’ but answered, “Well, if it won’t put you out too much, I’d like to stay a day or two, until his leg is healed enough to get back to town.”

“I guess you can stay,” Lizzy said suddenly, “There’s an extra stall in the barn; I’ll show you. My name is Liz Marsh; this is the Marsh Farm.” She led him towards the barn, the stallion limping badly behind them.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’m Johnny Madrid. I’m looking for a ranch job in these parts, but seems like no one needs any extra hands. I was getting ready to move on when this happened. Now I’ve got to wait a while longer. If I don’t get a job soon I’ll be eating snake meat.”

Lizzy laughed, “I’m sure you will find something soon. Whatever made you come here to look for work?” She pointed to a stall in the barn.

“I’m working my way towards San Francisco. I hope to find work before I get there otherwise I’ll head east or north from there and see what I find. You don’t need help here do you?” He looked over at her hopefully as he unsaddled Barranca.

“Sorry. Not really. We don’t have any animals to really care for. Just a garden and we do most of the work there.”

“Wood cut, or something like that? I can’t pay for my stay here any other way.” Johnny lied.

“When my brother gets back I’ll ask him. He takes care of things like that. Are you hungry?”

“I’m about starved. Haven’t had anything all day,” came the truthful answer.

“When you’re finished with him come to the house and I’ll fix you something. I’m sorry, but we don’t have any extra room in the house. I’ll get you some blankets and you can make yourself comfortable here.”

“I’m used to sleeping in the hay. It’s like a second home to me.”

“Good. I’ll go get something ready for you to eat.” She left the barn in a rush.

Johnny looked after her; she was very pretty and soft spoken. But there was something about her that he didn’t trust; maybe it was her eyes. He shrugged; he’d have a look through the house as soon as he dared. Looking around he found the grain bin and gave Barranca a measure of oats and some hay. After brushing the stallion down good he brushed himself off as best as he could, then headed for the house, a small smile on his lips.

Reaching the house, Lizzy hurried into Scott’s room. He hadn’t moved and the blood stain on his shoulder had grown larger. She didn’t have time to change the bandage with the stranger there, but quickly gathered fresh bandages, salve and a basin of water and placed them on the bedside table. Closing the door firmly again she hurried to prepare a meal for Johnny.

Johnny knocked at the door just as she was putting his food on a plate. She called for him to come in, then told him to have a seat.

“That sure smells good,” Johnny commented as he sat down at the table.

“I hope you like it, meat is just left over but everything else is from our garden and fresh.” She placed a heaping plate of food in front of him. As he started eating she poured a cup of coffee for them both.

“Nice house you’ve got here.”

“Dad built it all himself. Took him almost two years to get it done. Then a few years later he died. I think in a gunfight somewhere. They told us that anyway, but we really aren’t sure if it was true. Pa was a man who stayed away from guns, so I don’t know.”

“Too bad. How many are there in your family?”

”Just Maw, Lee and me. But we do fine without anyone else.”

“Is your Mom sick?”

”No. A close friend of hers is, and she went to help her. She should be home in a day or two. Lee should be here shortly. It’s getting dark. I better get his supper going, he eats like a horse.” She finished her coffee and rose.

“It’s going to be a bit dark tonight until the moon rises later. This food was great. Thank you, it was really good and hit the spot,” Johnny pushed back his empty plate and picked up the coffee cup.

“More coffee?”

“Sure. Thanks.”

“Tell me about yourself. What have you done before now?”

“Nothing much. I like to move around and see the country. I get a job punching cows when I need the money, then I look for greener pastures, never in one place too long.”

“You look more like what I’d call a gunslinger to me.”

Johnny touched his holster, “I can do that too, but I’m normally a peaceful man and would rather stick to cows.  I won’t back down from a fight, but cowpunching is safer!”

“I guess it would be.” Lizzy glanced at the door.

“Horse coming,” Johnny remarked.

“It’s Lee. I knew he’d be here soon.” She crossed over to the front door, looking out.

Johnny looked quickly about the room. There was only one door that was closed so he couldn’t see into it. He knew it would be the first place he checked later.

Opening the front door, Lizzy let her brother in. She quickly introduced Lee to Johnny, as they shook hands. For a bit there was small talk as the boy ate his dinner.

Johnny noticed that now and then Lizzy would glance at the closed door across the room, a worried look crossing her face for an instant. The more she glanced that way the more he knew he had to get in there. At last he rose and excused himself, telling them he wanted to check his horse’s leg before turning in. Lee followed him to the barn and watched gravely as Johnny pretended to work on the stallion.

“Well that’s all I can do for him tonight.” Johnny rose and left the stall.

“He sure is pretty Mr. Madrid. And very well mannered too.”

“He better be! I put a lot of hours in with him,” laughed the dark haired young man.

“One of these days I’m going to raise a colt, just for myself. I better let you alone, you look tired. Thanks for letting me watch you treating him; it’s interesting to learn so much.”

“That’s okay Lee. Tomorrow I’ll teach you a few more things about horses’ legs.”

“You will? Gee thanks. I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.” Lee left whistling a nameless tune.

“Good night kid.” ‘I’ll teach you how fast a horse can move tomorrow if I find my brother.’ Johnny thought as he quickly made a bed in the hay, then blew out the lantern. Moving back to the doorway he watched the house to be sure someone wasn’t watching the barn. In a moment he ran across the yard to the corner of the house. Silently he made his way around the house until he came to a lit window. The curtain was drawn across it, but the window stood opened to the night air. Carefully he pushed the curtain back slightly and saw Lizzy sitting on the edge of a bed, her brother standing back a ways, pale faced.

“Get out of here before you faint. I don’t need that.” Lizzy told him. Lee left the room and Johnny shifted slightly, trying to see better.

He could only see part of the figure on the bed, not their head or face. He saw the bloody bandages as Lizzy dropped them into a basin. She worked quickly and quietly for several minutes. Johnny kept hoping she would move so he could see who she was working on. At last she finished and washed off her hands.

Johnny watched as she bent over the figure and said, “Now you just sleep. Tomorrow you’re going for a ride, and then you will be safe darling. Just sleep.” She kissed the person, then turned the lamp down low, picked up the soiled bandages and basin, and left the room.

As Johnny settled down to wait until Lizzy and Lee went to bed, he wondered if it really could be Scott in that room. She treated the injured person as if he were her husband or boyfriend. Johnny pondered this for awhile, then stiffened as someone re-entered the bed room silently. He watched as Lizzy, dressed in a long nightgown, went to the bed once again.

Sitting down beside Scott she brushed her hand through his hair. She kissed him on unresisting lips and held his face in her hands for a moment. “Tomorrow we are moving you. Then tomorrow night you will be mine forever, whether you want it that way or not,” she whispered into his ear.

Scott stirred in his drugged sleep, then gasped as pain shot through his unconsciousness, twisting his face into a grimace of pain.

“It’s all right sweetheart, be still, you will be fine soon.” She put her head next to his and held him close a moment until he stopped moving again. She kissed him again then rose, watching him as she smiled in anticipation. Finally she left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Johnny waited a few minutes then quickly circled the house, checking the other windows for any lights and seeing that all were dark, except for in the sick room. Moments later he was back at the lit window. Quietly he raised the window as far as he could. In an instant he was inside. Without looking at the person on the bed he crossed to the door and listened. The house was draped in silence. He turned to the bed and looked down.

Johnny froze. He had expected to find his brother there, but it was still a shock to see him. What he could see from where he stood was lots of bandages and a very pale gaunt face even under the tan Scott had. Stepping quietly he paused beside the bed, looking at his brother.

“Damn it Boston, what happened?” Johnny pulled the blankets off of Scott as saw his shoulder and chest were swathed in bandages, right arm tied down, more bandages across his abdomen and hip. “Big Brother, what happened to you? What did they do to you?”

Suddenly he froze; he heard a movement in the other room. Glancing around the room he saw there was no place to hide. Silently he moved to the window and out of it. Pressing himself against the wall he waited.

Inside the bedroom door opened slowly, cautiously. For an instant Johnny wondered who it was. Then Lee stepped into the feeble light, closing the door quietly behind him. As he moved to the bedside, Johnny’s gun flashed into his hand, the muzzle pointed at Lee through the curtain.

Lee stood looking down at Scott, a long sharp knife held in his hand. He raised his hand to caress the long bladed knife. In a harsh whisper he told Scott, “I ought to kill you, you know. Liz will do worse to you and your family. All she wants is power and money and a man to do her bidding. And do you realize what she’s going to do when she gets you up to the cabin tomorrow? You’ll have to marry her, that’s what. Then she will use you to get everything she wants. I could just finish you now, she will be mad but only you will suffer. Not really, you can’t feel much can you?” Lee turned and paced around the small room, not knowing that a gun was following his every move.

“Scott, can’t you see what she’s doing? She can drug you anytime she wants to and you can’t lift a finger to stop her. I wish you’d have died before we found you in the barn. I wish that horse would have killed you! If you survive the trip tomorrow to the cabin, Scott, I will end it for you. I promise, no matter what she says or does.”

Stroking the knife once more, Lee stood over Scott, then turned and quietly made his way out of the room.

.

Chapter 9

When the door closed behind Lee, Johnny slid his gun into his holster. ‘That’s it Big Brother, I’m getting you outta here now, as fast as I can.’

Johnny glanced quickly into the room, then headed for the barn. Within minutes he had the stallion saddled and led him out of the stall. Before going out the door he looked to where Scott’s tack was hidden. He hated to leave it behind, but there was no way to carry it and Scott. Looking around the barn for a better hiding place, he found nothing. With a sigh he buried it deeper in the hay near the barn wall, hoping it would be there when they came back for it. Turning, he led Barranca from the barn.

Circling through the trees he moved to the back of the house. Tying Barranca to a tree close to the side of the house he made his way back to the window, wondering how he was going to get Scott out.

Inside the bedroom Johnny carefully put Scott’s pants on him, noting the bruises on his legs, and the wrapped hip, then his socks and boots. Carefully he sat Scott up and tried to get his shirt on him. The bandages made it almost impossible. He finally tore the sleeve open to get it over his forearm; finding that his right arm was bandaged to his chest he just slipped the shirt over his shoulder and buttoned it shut as best as he could. When he had finished, he laid him back down for a moment, rubbing his shoulder; he suddenly remembered the bad pains he had during the night of the storm. Looking down at Scott he finally figured out where it had come from. A little shaken, he slipped Scott’s gun belt over his left shoulder, arranging it so the gun was under his arm with the butt facing forward, in case he needed it fast.

Opening the bedroom door he glanced around the other room and made up his mind, they’d have to go that way.  Silently he made his way across the room and opened the front door. Entering the bedroom he quietly closed the door behind him. Crossing to the bed, he blew out the lamp and slid his arm under Scott’s shoulders. Scott moaned from pain and tried to move away from him.

“Scott, Scott, wake up,” Johnny whispered in his ear, “Come on Brother, I need your help. Wake up,” Johnny rubbed his face and whispered to him again.

Scott moaned, then opened drugged blue-grey eyes. He stiffened when he realized he was being held up. Then the voice was whispering in his ear again; “Who? What?” he asked confused. A hand covered his mouth.

“Scott, not so loud. It’s me, Boston. We have to get out of here now. I need you awake. Understand?”

“’Kay…” Scott nodded his head and the hand came away. He put his broken arm around Johnny’s neck and pulled him towards him, whispering in Johnny’s ear as his head came down.

“Brother am I glad to see you. I’ll try to help you, but I have a hard time keeping awake. I hurt, shoulder and hip. Go fast…”

Johnny’s hand tightened an instant on his left shoulder in answer. With Johnny’s help Scott was soon on his feet, teeth clamped on his lip to keep from crying out. Making their way out of the bedroom they quietly crossed the main floor. Just as they reached the front door, a wave of weakness washed over Scott, he stumbled, lurching sideways. His right shoulder slammed into the door frame. Intense agony shot through him in a wave of fire and his knees started to buckle, he gasped trying to keep from moaning out loud.

Johnny held tightly onto Scott as they crossed the room; so far so good, the door was suddenly right there, but he felt Scott stumble just as they reached it. Scott lurched into the frame and Johnny felt him start to go down. Over the slight noise he heard Scott’s gasp of pain. Tightening his hold on him he rushed Scott out of the house, half carrying him.

Scott fought to stay on his feet, stumbling constantly. He could hardly see from the waves of pain in his shoulder and now hip. At last they stopped; Scott heard the low nicker of a horse.

“Come on Scott. Just another minute. Don’t pass out on me now. You have to get on Barranca. Come on, get that foot into the stirrup,” Johnny helped him to the horses side and grabbed the stirrup for him.

Scott reached for the saddle horn with his left hand. All he could do was hang on as Johnny half held him up, then his left foot found the stirrup and he was shoved upwards.

“Going Johnny…” Scott said waves of pain shooting through his hip as Johnny pushed him up onto Barranca. He was unconscious as Johnny pushed his right leg over Barranca’s back.

Johnny steadied Scott so he wouldn’t fall and mounted behind him. Holding Scott around the waist with his left arm he gathered the reins and headed around the front of the house, the fastest way to the trail.

They were halfway across the yard when a scream rang out. Surprised, Johnny almost pulled to a halt; as the stallion slowed a shot rang out, then several more. Johnny touched his heels to the horse’s sides and he broke into a lope. In seconds they had reached the trail, then Johnny gasped as something white hot lanced through his side just above his gun belt. He felt it plow its way below his lowest rib and out. Scott jerked, and his grip tightened around his brother. His side went numb as the horse headed onto the dim trail.

Behind him he could hear the girl screaming for a horse. The trees closed about them and Barranca slowed a little for the steep trail. Reaching the road Johnny turned the stallion south and let him run. The horse ran smoothly along the moonlit road; alternating between a run and a lope they covered several miles.

As the moonlight started to disappear, Johnny turned the horse from the road, riding deep into a heavy stand of trees along a creek. His side was on fire now; though the bleeding had stopped, he was feeling dizzy from the loss of blood and needed to rest. Finding a small open area barely 12 foot square he halted the stallion. As he slid off he wondered how Scott was doing; he hadn’t moved much, other to fold over the horse’s neck when they were running. He was alive he knew, he could feel his steady heart beat where his arm had encircled him. Shaking his arm a minute to get the circulation going, he glanced around the little clearing. It would have to do. Carefully he pulled Scott from the saddle and let him lay in the tall grass. Quickly stripping the saddle from the horse he grabbed the saddle blanket and bed roll, teeth clenched in pain.

Moments later he had a small fire going, giving off enough light that he could work by. He covered Scott with the saddle blanket and let him lay where he was for now. Pulling off his shirt he looked at his wound. The bullet had plowed into his back, just an inch and a half to the side and it would have missed him totally, entering just below his last rib and out in front. Feeling his back he found the entrance hole and washed it, then washed the exit hole, he was happy they weren’t too big. Tearing his shirt into strips he made a pad and quickly bandaged himself.

Drinking some water he felt a little better and moved to Scott’s side. Taking the blanket off of him he checked the bandages on him. He found the left side of his pants dark with blood, more seeping slowly down his leg. The hip wound had opened, and had bled quite a bit. He didn’t have enough shirts left to re-bandage all of Scott’s wounds; he had to get him to a doctor. As he started to cover Scott again he remembered Scott jerking when he had been hit. Carefully he turned Scott over and quickly examined his back. He found a hole then another one in Scott’s back about three inches apart. Checking it closer he figured that the bullet that hit him had gone through and struck Scott in the back also. The bullet, by the looks of it had had enough power to bounce off of one of Scott’s ribs and come out again. Cleaning the wound Johnny made another pad and bandaged the holes in Scott’s back. It didn’t look bad and he thought it would heal fast. Carefully he rolled Scott onto the blanket then put out the fire, and lying down beside his brother, he covered them with the other blanket. In moments he was asleep.

Johnny woke slowly feeling hot and as though someone was watching him. Slowly he opened heavy eyelids, rolling his head to the side. His dark blue eyes met Scott’s blue-grey ones. Both brothers smiled at each other. Scott, very pale with his face twisted in pain, looked happily at his dark-haired brother in the half light.

“Where did you come from? How’d I get here?”

“I came from the ranch a few days ago to find you. I finally did. But I wasn’t sure if you wanted to leave that pretty little blonde back there. She was very good looking.”

“Yeah. Good looking, but I think all she had on her mind was to get married and to me. I’m glad you came when you did.”

Slowly Johnny rose, gritting his teeth against the pulling pain in his right side. Scott noticed his pale face, “What’s wrong Johnny? What happened? I remember some shooting, were you hit?”

“It’s just a small scratch, don’t worry. How do you feel?”

A pause, then, “Wish I was dead,” he mumbled. Johnny’s head shot up. “My hip and shoulder hurt like hell. Something in my back hurts too. How did you get me out of there? I kind of remember seeing you and leaving the room, not much more after hitting that door. Except the shots. Are you all right?” Scott looked at Johnny again, concerned.

“They opened fire on us. I got hit in the side just as we reached the trees. The bullet went through me and hit you in the back. We’re both all right, no big holes. But don’t ask for the bullet, it bounced off your rib and is gone. Now you can relax, okay?” Johnny grinned down at Scott, as he pulled his saddle bag from the ground.

“I guess so.”

“We have to get out of here in case they come looking for us. We have to find some food too; I didn’t have time to go through their pantry. I don’t know about you but I am getting hungry.” He reached into his saddle bags and dug out a small cup, then filled it in the creek.

“I guess I am too. I can’t remember when I last ate. But one thing…You’re going to have to go without me,” Scott told him gravely.

“What do you mean by that?” Johnny demanded, his eyes blazing.

Scott shifted a little, grimacing in pain, “You can see the condition I’m in. I can’t travel like this. My hip is opened again and every time I move it starts bleeding. My shoulder too. I don’t know why they won’t heal…” Scott paused; Johnny knelt beside him and held his head up, giving him a drink of water.

“What is it?” Johnny asked as he rose and caught Barranca, leading him closer to Scott’s side.

“Just remembered something; I don’t know when…Yesterday afternoon I think… Lizzy came in and…well I told her to get out, she did but she hit me in the shoulder first. I’m sure it was a bloody mess, it’s been bleeding again. I can’t move my arm or hand…”

“Let me look Scott. I didn’t know your shoulder was bleeding,” Johnny knelt back down and pulled the blanket off his brother. He turned a little pale.

“Mess isn’t it?” Scott said seeing Johnny’s face; he turned his head away so he couldn’t see his brother. “I’ve lost a lot of blood from there and from my hip too.”

Johnny gazed at Scott’s shirt with the heavy bandage under it. The light blue shirt was stained red all across his right shoulder and part ways down his arm, chest and he figured his back too. Looking at Scott’s hip, he knew it had bled some during the night, but didn’t realize how much. He shook his head slowly, quietly asking,

“How did this happen? What happened to you?”

“Didn’t Murdoch tell you? Lee said he talked to Murdoch.”

“No one talked to any of us. All we did was find the stallion tied in front of the house one morning days ago.”

“What?” Scott jerked his head back to look at Johnny. “He told me that Murdoch would send someone to get me as soon as I let him know I was able to travel and that Murdoch might come sooner too; he said that things were very busy after the storm.”

“Look Scott, I got up early to come looking for you. I found Black Satan tied in front of the house with a note that you were alive but if we didn’t deliver five thousand dollars we’d never see you again. More instructions were to be at the livery stable. I got to town before they had time to let the liveryman in on it. I followed them and found you. Now how did you get into this condition?”

Scott listened in shocked disbelief to what Johnny said, then mumbled more to himself, ‘She wanted me so bad she did that? She knew I’d never stay there once I was better.’

“That’s why I got you out of there. She and her brother were going to move you today to some cabin. She would have fixed it so that you’d of had to marry her. Her brother wasn’t going to let that happen. He almost killed you last night before I got you out of there. He said she was drugging you, and could do it anytime she wanted to. That you wouldn’t have been able to stop her.” Johnny shrugged. “Now how’d you get this way?”

“I should have known, I wondered why no one came. Remember that storm? I found their place just as it broke. No one was there so I put Satan in one of the stalls…” Scott went on, telling Johnny briefly what had happened during the nightmare storm. Finishing, he said, “The way I feel now he should have just killed me.” he stated flatly.

“Did a doctor see you?”

“I guess. Mrs. Marsh said one did, and not to worry about my arm, it would heal slowly. I wonder what kind of drugs she was using on me. Maybe that’s why I won’t heal.”

“I don’t know but I have to get you out of here and to a doctor, fast!” Johnny rose to his feet.

Scott struggled to sit up, his face blanching from the effort. “Johnny, I’m telling you, I will bleed to death if I have to ride, or move too much,” he sank back down, “I don’t think I can stand the pain, it’s so bad now. Go on without me and get help. You’re in no condition to carry me around or hold me on a horse either.” Scott shook his head, “Just leave me here, I’ll be safe for now.”

Grabbing the blanket Johnny put it on the stallion’s back, then swung the saddle in place. Looking down at Scott, he told him, “I’m going to get you to a doctor, if it kills both of us. I can bandage you up, I’ve still got a shirt and yours to use, and when those are gone I’ll use the blanket. So just get prepared for a ride, we’re leaving in a few minutes.”

Turning his head from Johnny, Scott half smiled; ‘He’s as stubborn as I am.’ He rolled a bit to get off the blanket he was lying on.

“Time to get up,” Johnny told him in minutes, the blanket tied behind the saddle over the saddle bags.

“No guarantee that I won’t pass out,” grinned Scott as Johnny helped him stand up.

“Sorry Little Broth…” Scott mumbled minutes later as he slumped forward over Barranca’s neck, losing consciousness.

“At least you’re up there,” Johnny muttered to no one as he held his breath against the pain in his side. Slowly he moved to the horse’s head and untied him, patting him on the neck he moved to mount. A thought ran through his head and he dropped the reins; untying his rope he cut two short lengths. Quickly he tied Scott’s legs to the stirrup fenders. Scott’s hip, he saw, was already slowly bleeding.

Moments later he swung up behind Scott, and turned the stallion towards the road and home once again.

The day passed slowly for Johnny. They traveled the road not seeing anyone. Several times Scott woke but after a few minutes would drift off again. Johnny fought the pain in his side trying to stay awake and alert.

The sun was sinking below the horizon and Johnny started looking harder for a ranch or place to spend the night. He couldn’t remember any ranches along this stretch of road, but thought he had seen a barn somewhere around the area. Just as the last of the light faded he spotted a barn top in the trees. Minutes later they halted in front of the dilapidated barn, a small cabin was to the side, but its roof was mostly gone. He figured they were around fifteen miles from Ironwood, with luck they would be at the doctor’s by the next evening, if not sooner. Now they needed food, water and warmth.

Inside the barn Johnny found a high pile of hay; he figured someone might have been using it for winter storage before it was abandoned. He led Barranca inside, then untied Scott and dragged him off the horse, laying him in the hay. Unsaddling Barranca, he covered Scott and quickly brushed the stallion down with a handful of hay. Hunger drove him to the shell of the cabin.

Looking around the building he noticed that someone had recently used it; there were ashes in the center of it. Glancing around the room he saw something on the windowsill under the boarded up window. Moving closer he found a tin of peaches, jar of tomatoes and another jar with what looked like jerky in it. It wasn’t much but it would have to do them until they reached town.

Scott was stirring when he returned to the barn. He quickly opened the tomatoes then jar of jerky, they smelled good. Scott woke; his pain filled eyes looked wildly around until he saw the dim shape of his brother.

“Where are we?”

“About 6 hours from Ironwood. How do you feel?”

“Not too good. You?”

“Little stiff and sore, but I’ll make it;” ‘with a pain in my side I wish wasn’t there,’ he added under his breath.

“Here I have a little food for you. I’ll help you sit up.”

“Not hungry, just thirsty,” Scott told him.

“Well you need something. Here is some juice from these tomatoes. Drink. I need the jar.” Johnny helped Scott to sit up a little, pushing hay behind his back, and then pressed the jar against his lips. Scott drank a little then turned his head away.

“You have some,” he said between gritted teeth.

Johnny drank, then with his knife he got a tomato out and forced Scott to eat it. He forced a second one on Scott before his brother refused anymore and turned away. Johnny finished the tomatoes then told Scott he was going for water. Before leaving he smoothed out the hay so Scott could lie down. Then leading Barranca, he left the barn.

Scott was half asleep when he heard Johnny return laughing happily. The stallion followed him in, going to the edge of the hay and eating.

“Look what I found! A bucket! It’s not the best but it hold’s water.” He sat the crooked bucket down near Scott. “Now I just need a light.” But he couldn’t find anything that even resembled a light, so he found a piece of wood and quickly made a torch and lit it. With the torch he moved to Scott’s side.

“I have to try to bandage your hip. I’ll rinse your jeans out too. They’re getting pretty stiff from all the blood. I’ll use my last shirt for this.” He told Scott, who could only nod in response.

He had to soak Scott’s jeans loose from the bandages before he could start; the wound had bled and dried so many times it took awhile. Once the jeans were off he cut the bandage from around Scott. He carefully washed the open wound. Scott had passed out sometime before so he worked quickly. Tearing his shirt into strips he made the bandage, then he had to tear more from Scott’s shirt to make a heavier pad, covering the wound he bound the pad in place.

When he had finished he carried Scott’s levis out to the creek he had found and washed them as best  he could, using a rock to break up the dried blood. Wringing them out he returned to the barn and laid them over a board to dry. Checking the stallion he tied him where he could eat and moved back to Scott’s side. For a minute he wondered if he should try to change the shoulder bandage while he was out, but decided against it. The bandage was pretty bloody but he didn’t think the blanket would make a good bandage. What was left from their shirts they needed to protect them from the sun the next day. He took the torch and dunked it in the creek, then made his way back into the barn. Taking a piece of jerky he carried a blanket to where Scott lay and threw it over the both of them. Eating the jerky he laid down against Scott and was soon asleep.

.

Chapter 10

The morning sun rose bright and hot in a clear blue sky the next morning. Johnny woke to the low nicker of Barranca. Moving stiffly he sat up and ran his hands through his hair, wishing for a bath. He looked at Scott who was still sleeping beside him. He hoped they could get to town before his hip bled anymore; he knew that Scott couldn’t stand much more blood loss. As he checked the bandages he thought of Scott’s worries over the lack of feeling in his right arm, knowing it was bothering his brother a great deal. Johnny didn’t want to think of what Scott would do if he never regained the use of his arm.  He shook his head; he had to believe it would heal properly and be all right.

Rising, he led the horse to water and re-filled the battered bucket. When he returned he found Scott awake, ‘He looks bad,’ he thought looking at his brother’s gaunt pale face, dark bruise-like circles under his eyes.

“How’s it going Boston?” he asked as he moved to Scott’s side.

“Well I guess I didn’t bleed to death last night, but my hip bled some, wrecked your fancy bandage,” Scott answered with a small smile.

Setting the bucket down near Scott, he knelt in the hay beside him. Scott struggled to sit up; Johnny moved to help him but stopped seeing the look on his face. Finally Scott was sitting upright, his head hanging down in exhaustion, sweat rolling off him.

“No use Johnny. You better leave me and go for help, come back for me later. I won’t go anyplace.”

Johnny worked the can of peaches open, then passed it to Scott. Scott drank some of the juice then passed it back to him, his hand shaking.

“Look brother, I won’t leave you here alone. That girl is probably looking for you, if she came across you, where do you think you’d be? It ain’t gonna be home that’s for sure. So you’re just going to have to trust me to get you into town and to the doctor. I could make a travois but if we had to run, well it won’t work.” Johnny handed Scott a piece of jerky to chew on.

Scott ate in silence for a few minutes, then looked at Johnny, “You’re always right aren’t you? I guess we’d better hurry up or I’ll never get to that doctor alive.”

Johnny laughed, “Yes you will. You’re too stubborn to die to spite a wisp of a girl. We’ll leave in a few minutes.”

Soon Scott was once more in his jeans and boots and Barranca was saddled. Johnny led the horse to Scott’s side. “I’m glad it’s not cold out,” grinned Scott as Johnny bent to help him up.

“Sorry about that. But with so many bandages on you, I don’t think the sun will bother you too much. I didn’t have any more shirts, and this last piece I might need later on for you.” Johnny bantered back.

“I hope not! You’ll have a sun burnt back. Let’s go,” Scott gritted his teeth and stood up carefully with Johnny’s help.

In moments Johnny had Scott up on the golden horse.

“You all right?” Johnny asked, looking worriedly up at Scott as he tied his legs again to the stirrup leather.

“K…Wish it…wasn’t so…damn painful,” Scott gasped.

Mounting behind Scott, Johnny nudged the horse out of the barn. Scott drooped in the saddle, trying hard not to pass out from the intense pain washing through his hip and shoulder as the horse moved from the barn and turned towards the road. He could feel his hip starting to bleed again.

They rode in silence for awhile. Suddenly Barranca threw up his head and looked back over his shoulder, his nostrils quivering. Johnny halted and listened, keeping the horse silent. In a moment he heard the pounding of two horses. Nudging the stallion into a walk, he looked back over his shoulder and watched for the horses to come into view. Suddenly he saw them, two large chestnut draft horses; he could see the flying hair of the one rider and heard her shout.

“Hang on Scott. She’s here.” He kicked the stallion and they broke into a run. Within minutes they had left the draft horses behind and Johnny slowed Barranca to a slower gait. Scott was slumped over the horse’s neck, having passed out after a few minutes of the pounding run. Johnny lifted him so he could lean back against him and held him close.

Off and on during the morning hours Johnny saw the draft horses in the distance. Barranca easily out-distanced them when they came too close. Scott woke a couple of times for short periods, but soon passed out again. His hip bled every time they went faster than a walk; Johnny could tell that he was weakening fast. He wished he was at the doctors, but they were still miles away.

In the afternoon Johnny pulled off the road several times to avoid meeting a horseman or wagon. He didn’t want them to know they were there and tell the kids following them how far from them they were. Once when he pulled into some trees he spotted a small stream and turned towards it. Dismounting, he let Barranca drink, then he did.

Scott stirred, then woke; looking at Johnny he asked, “Where are we?”

”Not too far from town now. Another hour and you’ll be in bed. Want some water?”

Scott nodded weakly, pushing himself upright. Johnny pulled the cup from his saddlebags and filled it with water. Johnny handed the cup to Scott, who drank deeply, then handed the cup back to him with a shaking hand.

“Thanks,” he said quietly.”

“Feel better?”

“No. I feel…sort of…drained. Empty. Not counting the pain. I…think I’m worse. Feel like…I should be dead.” Scott smiled crookedly at him, blue-grey eyes dull as he looked down at Johnny.

“You’re not going to die, I won’t let you! Long way away from that anyway. You just hang on; we’ll be to town before you know it.” A chill passed over Johnny from Scott’s words.

“I’m hanging on, just for you Little Brother…” grinned Scott. Johnny saw his left hand tighten on the saddle horn; already his knuckles were white from the effort.

As Johnny walked around the horse to mount Scott drooped farther over the saddle horn.

“Is my hip…still bleeding?”

Johnny looked at Scott’s hip and winced at the sight as he jumped up behind him. From Scott’s waist down to his mid-calf, the pant leg was encased in dried blood, with more seeping slowly down, making its way towards his boot.

Before Johnny could answer him Scott’s eyes closed and he lay forward on the stallion’s neck. Gathering the reins he gripped his brother and turned back towards the road. He wished they were already in town.

In the late afternoon, after dodging the draft horses several more times, Johnny passed the shot-up sign naming Ironwood as the town he was approaching. He breathed a sigh of relief and said to his unconscious brother, “We’re almost there Boston. Just a few more minutes, then help.” As they moved towards the town in the distance he worried a few moments, hoping the doctor was home. He turned Barranca off the road into the trees not wanting to ride through the middle of town and have everyone staring at them.

Ten minutes later he broke out of the trees by the corral behind the doctor’s house. The doctors grey mare stood in the shade of a tree.

”He’s home Scott. We’re in luck!” Johnny exclaimed as they moved around the corral to the back door of the house. Dismounting, he pounded on the door and called out.

The door was flung open and Dr. Sam Jenkins looked at him in surprise, “Johnny what are you doing…” He spotted Scott on the gold horse, “What happened to Scott?”

Johnny was cutting the ropes that bound Scott’s legs to the saddle, “What are you doing here? Who’s in Morro Coyo? Scott’s bad off, he needs help right away. His left hip won’t stop bleeding,” Johnny pried Scott’s hand from the saddle horn. With the doctor’s help they carried him into the house and laid him on the examining table.

Johnny cut away Scott’s pants while Sam got his instruments ready and washed up. In moments he was working on Scott; Johnny sank into a chair and watched. Minutes passed as the doctor worked in silence. Then shaking his head, he turned to Johnny.

“This is a bad cut, its deep. There’s no safe way to stitch it all up safely, and if I could make it work, he’d have to be tied down in bed with the leg and hip immobilized for a month.” He ran his bloody hand over his head, looking at Johnny, “The only way to close it is to cauterize it. It’s the only way to stop the bleeding. A vein has been nicked; other than that, I can’t really find any other reason why it’s not healing. Cauterizing it is the fastest and safest way to close it for good.”

Johnny’s face turned white, but looking at his brother he knew it was the only way. He slowly nodded, “I was afraid of that, but wasn’t sure. What can I do to help?”

“Get a fire going in that stove over there; I’ll get the rest of these bandages off and see what else is needed.”

Johnny built a fire as the doctor again worked on Scott. He cut the bandages off his chest and shoulder and cleaning the wound he said, “Johnny, tell me what happened to him. This wound looks like a bad horse bite. It’s to the bone in the back.”

Quickly Johnny related to the doctor what Scott had told him of the horse grabbing him, kicking and trampling him. At the end he said, “Scott said something a couple of times about not having any feeling in his arm and hand. I know he can’t move it at all, his left arm and hand are all right though.”

“How long ago did this happen?” Sam asked as he stitched up the wound.

“During that storm we had. What was it? Ten, twelve days ago? How about his arm?”

“Here, hold him up a little while I bandage this shoulder. It’s a bad wound, but it’s clean, and if it heals properly it should be alright, and he will be fine. Otherwise… Before you take him home I’ll tie his arm to his chest again. He needs to keep from moving it for at least another week. There has been too much movement to get the healing process working. Now I’ll check these ribs. Here stick this in that fire to get it hot. When it’s white we’ll fix this hip.” Sam handed Johnny a slender instrument that looked like a short branding iron, about a foot and a half long with a wood handle on one end and a curved point on the other, almost like a fish hook. Johnny shuddered as he took the wooden handle and carried it to the fire.

The doctor grinned tightly at him, “It’s not that bad Johnny. It will hurt Scott; I won’t lie to you, but only for a few moments. But it is the only way to help him now. It is safe and fast. I don’t use it unless I have to, which isn’t too often. I hate to have to use it on Scott, but we don’t want him to bleed to death do we?”

Johnny looked at the heavy pad the doctor had put on the hip wound; it was already almost completely soaked in blood. “It’s the only way. He’s too weak now as it is; will he be alright after using this thing?”

“Well, I haven’t lost a patient yet. It will only take a moment. Here, hold him up again so I can wrap his ribs again. They are healing nicely. Now for this arm.”

Minutes later Scott’s broken arm was re-bandaged; Sam had found it was a clean break of the smaller bone in his arm and was healing well. And then the iron was ready for use.

“All right Johnny, you’re going to have to hold him down for me. The easiest way is for you to get up on the table and sit on his legs. Put your hands on his good shoulder and over here. That’s right. That will keep him from moving too much. Now we’re ready. Just hang on, he’ll probably yell too, so don’t be surprised.”

White faced, Johnny watched as Sam lifted the white hot iron out of the fire and carried it to Scott’s side.

“Ready? Here goes,” Sam answered to Johnny’s nod.

Johnny watched for an instant, as the iron descended to Scott’s hip, but no more. He felt Scott convulse under him and agonized screams echoed through the room. Johnny held him down, smelling burned flesh and blood, then Scott went limp, and the doctor said heavily,

“It’s done.”

Johnny felt himself getting sick and jumped off the table and fled out the door. What little food was in his stomach came up. Leaning against the house afterwards he breathed deeply of the fresh evening air, tears rolling down his face for a few minutes.

He had seen many men killed in many different ways, and he had done his share of killing too. He had branded hundreds of calves, smelt the burning hair and flesh of them, but never a man’s, especially his own brother’s. He had buried a man that had been burned to death, but it hadn’t affected him the way what was just done to Scott had.

‘It had to be done. It was the only way. He will be alright now.’ He told himself several times, swiping the tears away.

Several minutes later the doctor came outside, and placing a hand on Johnny’s slumped shoulder he said kindly, “I know how you feel Johnny. I was that way the first time I had to do this to a man. But the wound is closed, we did a good job; he’ll have a limp for awhile but it will completely heal now. It’s clean and the bleeding is finally stopped.”

“Thanks Doc… Now all we have to worry about is his arm moving.” Johnny replied shakily.

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes. I found a bullet hole in his back and got it cleaned and bandaged, it will be fine. I see you have a bandage too, let’s take a look at it.”

“I’m alright Doc. It’s nothing.”

“Come on, that’s a makeshift bandage and you need a decent one on it.” Taking Johnny’s arm he led him back into the house.

In the examining room, the doctor pushed him onto a chair. “I’ll get this done then we’ll get Scott into a bed,” he said as Johnny took off the remains of his shirt. Sam quickly cut the bandage off, and checking the wound, cleaned it out.

“I better get Scott home.” Johnny winced from the pain in his side as the doctor put several stitches in, then smoothed salve over them.

“Sorry about that. I don’t think it’s a good idea to move Scott right now. He has lost a lot of blood and I want to keep an eye on him for a couple of days to be sure there aren’t any complications. And make sure he drinks lots of fluids”

“I’ll stay then too.”

Doctor Jenkins smiled, “You’re in luck. It seems there are several empty beds here. I’ll be finished in a minute; we’ll get Scott into a room, then you can take care of your horse. There’s an extra stall in the barn. I’ll fix us something to eat; you both look underfed, though Scott will have to wake up first.”

A half hour later Johnny was seated at the small kitchen table eating a thick steak with the doctor. While they ate Johnny asked him again how he came to be in Ironwood instead of Morro Coyo. Sam explained that Dr. Mills had an emergency out of town and needed someone here for a few days. Since it had been pretty quiet in Morro Coyo he decided a little different scenery would do him good, so he came here two days ago to fill in for his friend. He expected Dr. Mills back by the end of the week.

“This is different scenery for sure,” grinned Johnny, taking more potatoes.

“Yep. The only thing that doesn’t change is you Lancer’s seem to be able to find me anywhere I go! I wonder if I went fishing if you’d find me?”

“Probably! We seem to need you quite often don’t we?” Johnny chuckled, “What would you do without us? I think your business would dry up don’t you?”

Sam laughed, “Yes it would. I’d probably have to move to a big city to make up for no Lancer business!”

After their dinner Johnny helped Sam clean up the dishes, then the doctor had to leave on a call. He left instructions for Johnny in case Scott woke up and then was gone.

Left alone Johnny wandered about the silent house. Going outside he checked on Barranca, giving him another arm load of hay and making sure he had plenty of water to drink. Closing the barn doors he looked at the dark sky and decide to try to get some sleep; it had been a long two days and he was worn out. In the room he was sharing with Scott he sat beside Scott’s bed for several minutes. Finally he turned the lamp down low, and pulling off boots and the borrowed shirt he crawled into bed, falling asleep almost before his head touched the pillow.

.

Chapter 11

Several hours passed silently. Johnny slept unknowing that he was half listening for anything from the other bed. But he was deep enough asleep that he didn’t wake until something hard and cold was pressed into the side of his head. He turned his head trying to get away from the cold spot, and then came fully awake with the distinct click of a gun being cocked. His right hand gripped his gun as he rolled away from the gun against his head.

“No. Don’t do that Madrid. Let it go,” a soft voice told him coldly as the gun barrel pressed harder against his temple.

Releasing his gun he looked up at the disheveled girl standing over him in the dim light. He saw the boy standing near the door, the rifle in his hands pointed at him.

“What do you want?”

“You know who I want. I’m going to back up, you are going to get up slowly, get dressed then get him out and put him on that horse of yours.” As the girl backed away, the gun left his temple and was now pointed unerringly at his chest.

Sitting up slowly, Johnny looked across at Scott, who was stirring a little.

“You know he’ll never make it back to your place alive.”

“He’ll make it. You’re just stalling for time.” she coldly retorted.

“Look Liz, look at him good. He’s been unconscious since this morning. He’s lost so much blood, if he makes it through the next couple of days he might have a chance.” Johnny tried to reason with her.

“If he dies, I’ll have you.”

”I’m married, so I won’t fit in with your scheme,” smiled Johnny tightly, his eyes changing.

“Look Madrid, I’m taking him; if he dies, he dies. Tough for him. I didn’t get the money, so I’m taking him.”

“Lizzy…” cut in Lee who had been watching Scott, “he does look bad.”

“If he is moved he’ll die for sure,” Johnny used the opening to try to convince them.

Scott could hear voices reaching through dreams filled with pain. He tried hard to open his eyes; he knew they were talking about him. He recognized Lizzy’s voice, then Lee’s, then his brother’s. He struggled more to wake, finally managing to open his eyes. Pain seemed to roll over him from shoulder to hip, but not as intense as it had been earlier. Looking around he saw the boy and girl standing near the foot of his bed, Johnny stood beside him, his hands half raised.

“Johnny…” he whispered, surprised at how weak his voice was. No one heard him. He tried again, trying harder to speak.

“Johnny.” That time Johnny heard him and dropped to his knees beside him.

“Take it easy Scott, you’ll be all right, you’re safe here.”

“No…Let them take me…Can’t help me any…I hurt…Go home…”he struggled to make himself coherent and heard.

Johnny placed his hand on his good shoulder, “You’re not going anywhere. I won’t let you. They can’t have you!”

“She’ll kill you…I’m already dead…let me…go…” Scott drifted off before he could say anymore.

Johnny acting on impulse, hoping for surprise, said loudly, “Scott, Scott! You can’t die!” he reached for Scott’s wrist pretending to feel for a pulse. He looked desperately at the girl and her brother.

“He can’t die!” He told them furiously as he kept feeling for Scott’s pulse. He dropped Scott’s arm and quickly placed his head on his chest. He heard the dull thudding of Scott’s heartbeat, and prayed Scott wouldn’t move. Listening for a few moments longer he slowly raised his head and looked at the girl. Deliberately he rose to his feet and let anger and hated flow through him. In the quiet, deadly ‘Madrid’ voice he said, “All right. Now because of you and your fancy ideas he is dead.” He let his voice rise a little higher, “Now you have a man’s death on your hands. What are you going to do about that, Miss Lizzy?”

In shocked surprise Lizzy shook her head, “He just passed out. He isn’t dead. He can’t die.”

“Well take a look at him now; he sure as hell isn’t alive now is he?” Johnny told her bitterly, eyes dark and flashing with fury.

“But he was just talking. People don’t die that fast,” she insisted.

“He’s dead and you’re the cause of it!”

“I didn’t cause this! That horse hurt him; he’s the one who did the damage.”

“The horse only hurt him; you’re the one who was holding him. I had to take him away from you, and because I had to do that, he bled to death. Besides it was you who shot him in the back. You, kid, go get the sheriff and have him send for Scott’s family. He will want to talk to you both too, I am sure.”

Lee, his face pale with fright, turned even whiter at the mention of the sheriff and Scott’s family. He looked desperately at his sister.

Lizzy, getting over her surprise lifted her gun, pointing it at Johnny’s chest. He lifted his arms a bit.

“Lee, give me that rifle.” Brother and sister quickly exchanged weapons, and she pointed the rifle at Johnny’s stomach.

“Now, no one is going to tell the sheriff or Scott’s family, and Mr. Madrid, you’re coming with us.”

Johnny gave a harsh laugh, “In his place? I told you I’m married, but I’m not worth that five thousand you want, dead or alive. You get some other man to play with you. One who doesn’t know about the blood on your hands, innocent blood at that!”

“Turn around. Put your hands behind your back,” Lizzy said lifting the rifle.

Johnny saw the bitter hatred in her eyes and knowing he could escape her any time he did as she bid. Turning he put his hands behind his back; looking down into Scott’s face he muttered under his breath, ‘Please Scott, don’t move for a few more minutes. I’ll see you in a couple of days.’ He heard the girl move behind him; the hair on his neck rose and instinct warned him almost too late. He jerked his head to the side. The rifle barrel didn’t land where she had aimed, but still connected with the right side of his head.

Johnny felt himself falling to the side as pain engulfed him. Again the barrel smashed into his head and the last thing he saw was Scott’s pale face near him, then blackness swallowed him.

Lee grabbed his screaming sister as she swung the rifle back again. Holding her tightly for a moment he waited until she calmed down. His sick eyes looked at the body of Johnny Madrid lying across the body of Scott Lancer. He could see the blood on Johnny’s head slowly staining the sheet over Scott.

“Lizzy you killed him. We have to get out of here. They’re both dead!” he told her, shaking visibly.

“Let me go. I’m all right now.” Lee turned her loose and she walked over and looked down at Johnny, “Too bad about him. Let’s get out of here before the doctor comes back and finds us with them.”

Blowing out the lamp they left the house and mounted the draft horses tied behind the house. In moments they had disappeared in the darkness and silence settled over the area.

The tired doctor pulled his grey mare to a halt beside the barn; a welcome nicker came from the barn as he unhitched her in the silent early morning. The sun hadn’t come up yet and he hoped that he would have time to get a couple hours sleep before anything came up.

“Get in there girl,” he said as the mare stopped at the corral gate looking at the barn. He shoved her shoulder and she walked in. He slipped her bridle, and closing the gate behind him, tossed the bridle into the buggy. Picking up his black bag, he headed for the house with a sigh, thinking of sleep.

As he reached the door he heard the thunder of hooves and rattle of a wagon out in front. He hoped it would move past, but a booming voice called out, “Doc, Doc, wake up. We need you.” He heard the wagon stop in front of the house.

Dr. Jenkins smiled to himself as he tiredly trotted around the house.

“Murdoch, you’d wake the dead! And I’m almost the dead! What is wrong?” he said as he rounded the house and saw Murdoch Lancer climbing slowly down from the wagon.

“Glad you’re up. Got a couple of hands that had a crash and a rough tumble down a steep bank, I tried to set Jake’s ribs but I think one nicked his lung or something. Clay’s leg is broken, shattered. We tried to immobilize it. But it’s too complicated for me to fix. We decided to get them to a doctor, and…Steve, how are they doing?”

“Morning Doc. They’re both still alive,” grinned Steve Bennett as he rose stiffly from the piled hay in the back of the wagon, looking down at the two men lying in there. “Jake’s been bleeding some more though.”

“Morning, Steve. Let’s get them inside. I don’t know where I’m going to put them though. I already have a houseful of your men, Murdoch.”

Murdoch looked in puzzlement at his friend as they carefully lifted Jake from the wagon.

“What do you mean? My men?”

“I mean I’ve got Scott and Johnny in there already.”

“What! What happened to them?”

“Just calm down. You can go see them in a couple of minutes; I need this man inside first.”

Carefully they carried Jake into the house and placed him on the examining table that Scott had occupied hours earlier.

“Go on and see Johnny. I’ll get to work here and call you when I’m ready for Clay.”

“Where are they?” Steve asked.

“Down and to the left, second door. Surprised Johnny isn’t out here already.” Sam pointed over his shoulder as he bent over Jake.

Steve followed Murdoch to the bedroom door and entered just behind him. The both froze in their tracks at what lay on the bed in front of them. Before Murdoch could react, Steve yelled, “Doc, come quick.”

By the time Sam got there they had the lamp lit and were lifting Johnny off of Scott, having to unlock Scott’s hand from around Johnny’s shoulder, where he had been holding Johnny tightly.

“What happened?” Murdoch looked dazedly from one son to the other. Johnny’s head was bloody and there was blood on the chest bandage and sheet that covered Scott.

”I don’t know; only they will be able to answer that. Steve, get me a basin of water and there’s some bandages by Jake. Grab that brown bottle by Jake too. Murdoch check Scott, be sure he isn’t bleeding anywhere.” Sam ordered the two men as he bent over Johnny.

Carefully the doctor checked out Johnny’s head. “Someone hit him pretty hard. He’ll need a few stitches. Has a concussion too. Let me check Scott,” he pushed Murdoch out of his way and pulled the sheet down to reveal the bandaged hip.

Murdoch looked in shock at the bandages and bruises that were still changing color on Scott’s legs. “What in the world happened to him?” he asked as Sam came back into the room with basin and bandages.

“Horse attacked him from what Johnny told me. He is all right, nothing tore open. Blood on him is from Johnny.” The doctor turned back to Johnny and quickly started cleaning the head wound. Murdoch and Steve Bennett exchanged confused looks, then Murdoch’s eyes swung back to Johnny.

“Scott will be all right; he’s asleep and hopefully doesn’t know what happened to Johnny. He doesn’t need any more trauma for now. I need to get my needle and thread.” He quickly went out the door and was back before the other two could say anything.

“We found Johnny lying across Scott; Scott was hanging onto him, he must have heard something,” Murdoch told the doctor when he returned.

“We’ll have to wait then.” Within minutes Doc Sam finished with the stitches in Johnny’s head and skillfully wrapped it. “We have to try to wake Johnny in a little while if he doesn’t wake up soon on his own. Now I have to get back to Jake,” Sam told them and was gone, carrying the basin of bloody water.

Murdoch looked helplessly at his sons then at Steve, “Now what in hell is going on? What happened?”

“Wish I could answer that for you Murdoch, but I can’t. Doc worked on Scott, we might find out something more from him.”

“Go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute,” Murdoch told him, then looked at the two young men, both looking like death warmed over. For several minutes he stood between the beds and watched the slow rise and fall of their chests. ‘They’re alive,’ he told himself over and over. Finally he left, going to the examining room.

As Sam worked over Jake he told Murdoch and Steve what Johnny had told him of the horse attack and what condition Scott was in when he arrived the night before; he also told them what he had to do to stop the bleeding.

“What about his arm? Will he be able to use it?” Murdoch asked, looking a bit sick from what Sam had told them about Scott’s hip.

“Like I told Johnny, it should heal all right, but it will take time. Maybe a month or more before we know for sure one way or the other. Just have to wait and see.”

“When can they be moved?”

“You’re as bad as your sons! I don’t want either of them moved for several days, especially Scott. He lost a lot of blood, and the shock of closing his hip wound…He’s not going anywhere until I can see him up and about. Johnny, with that concussion, needs to stay put for a few days too. Once he wakes he’ll probably have a massive headache. I want them both eating and drinking before they go anywhere too.” he told them in no uncertain words. “Now, Jake is done, let’s move him into the other room and get Clay in here.”

Once Jake was moved and Clay brought in, Murdoch went back to his sons’ room and sat tiredly in a chair in the corner. He eyes watched first Johnny, whose dark hair stuck out from the white bandage, making his face seem even paler under his tan. Murdoch wished he would open his eyes. Glancing to Scott he wondered where he had been when he was hurt so badly. He wished he could talk to him too. His heart constricted as he thought how close he had come close to losing both sons in one day. Taking a deep breath again he told himself, ‘They’re alive. They will be alright!’

Scott stirred restlessly in his sleep and Murdoch moved to his side; feeling his forehead, he went after a basin of water and a cloth. Scott was warmer then he should be. As he bathed his son’s face he watched him closely. Scott was thinner than when he had last seen him, his face gaunt and pale with eyes that were ringed with what looked like purple bruises. Murdoch gripped Scott’s left hand loosely in his and tried to talk to him, though all that came out was a hoarse whisper. He contented himself with holding his son’s hand and replacing the cloth when it warmed as Scott turned his head back and forth in his sleep.

.

Chapter 12

Scott stirred again, his face twisted in pain, then anger; he moved around as if he was fighting something. Murdoch tried to soothe him as he moved and thrashed about in a fever-driven dream.

Scott pulled at the blanket covering him, wet with sweat. He dreamed of a long never-ending ride with Johnny telling him it would end soon, but knowing it would be too late; he could see his leg turning red from his blood. Suddenly he was lying somewhere as agony ripped through his hip so badly he was screaming, trying to make it stop. Just as fast the horror changed; the girl was there laughing and shooting and hitting Johnny with a gun. Johnny fell across him, blood pouring from the dark head that lay on his chest. He grabbed Johnny and held him as close as he could, willing him not to die, knowing he was already dead. Johnny’s blood flowed over him, soaking him. The girl laughed harder, then disappeared. He couldn’t move, pinned down by Johnny’s body, all he could do was hold onto his brother as best he could. He didn’t want to live without him, Johnny was his anchor. He tried again to fight the pain he was in, but now it was the pain and agony of Johnny’s loss. Johnny couldn’t be dead; he was…he had to do something…confused thoughts and dreams washed through him. But the most over-riding thought was that Johnny was dead.

With an anguished cry he opened his eyes. Wildly he looked around, not knowing where he was, not able to see anything but a blur for several minutes, then he heard a familiar voice talking to him, as a cool cloth was placed on his forehead.

“Johnny’s dead!” he cried out, struggling to sit up.

Murdoch held Scott down as he tried to rise. Scott kept saying over and over, “Johnny’s dead. Johnny’s dead.” Tears flowed down his pale cheeks. Murdoch held him tighter and talked to him.

Exhausted, Scott stopped trying to rise; he kept looking up at Murdoch, not really seeing him. He trembled with grief, repeating the two words over and over. All he kept seeing was Johnny’s body lying over his, Johnny’s head cradled on his chest as he held him. Finally he realized that his father was still talking to him, someone else had appeared in the room but he couldn’t think who it was.

“Murdoch, Murdoch…Johnny’s dead,” he moaned as tears rolled out of his anguished blue-grey eyes, “He’s dead. Because of me, he’s dead. She killed him…The blood…” He shuddered, “She just kept on. Johnny’s dead. I am too…”

“Scott, Scott! Listen to me!” Murdoch gripped his good shoulder hard, forcing Scott to look up at him. He became silent for a moment, his wild blue-grey eyes watching Murdoch.

“Scott, Johnny is all right! No, listen to me!” Murdoch ordered as Scott tried to talk, “Johnny was hurt, but he is all right. He is in the other bed. Look you can see him, over there. He is all right!”

Scott glanced across to the bed beside his; he could see Johnny with his head bandaged lying there. He watched him for several long minutes, then looked back at his father.

“He’s alive? The blood…” he shuddered as he touched his chest with his left hand, clutching the blood soaked bandage as he looked again towards Johnny. Weariness overcame him and he looked again at Murdoch, “He’s…”

“He is all right son. You both will be fine and home in a few days. I promise you,” Murdoch told him gripping his shoulder.

Scott smiled tiredly at Murdoch, “Home. Johnny’s all right. I’m so tired.” His eyes fluttered closed.

Steve stepped to Murdoch’s side, “Poor kid, he must have been awake and seen something. Wonder who this ‘she’ is he was talking about.”

“I don’t know. We are going to have to wait until one of them wakes up to tell us. Scott is feverish; I hope we can keep the fever down. I’m glad he’s sleeping again though.”

The doctor walked in at that moment, “I heard Scott, but couldn’t come.” He bent over Scott and checked him.

“He’s asleep, thought Johnny was dead. He said something about a ‘she’ killing him. Doesn’t make sense.”

“I need to change this bandage. When they both wake up they will tell you what happened. When I get this changed, we’ll get some breakfast. I know I can use a pot of coffee right now.” Sam said as he quickly cut off Scott’s bandage, and checked the wound in his shoulder. “Still looks good, it didn’t open. Hold him up Murdoch while I wrap this around him. Steve, get out to the kitchen and get that coffee pot going.” Orders rolled out.

Doc Sam woke Johnny after the three men had breakfast. Johnny had tiredly looked up at the men standing around his bed. He gave them a crooked smile, then rolled away from them and went back to sleep. Sam nodded and pronounced that he should be fine; he’d wake him again later in the day.

In the afternoon, Murdoch sent Steve home with Clay and Jake lying in the deeply piled hay. He had given Steve instructions for things that needed to be done on the ranch for the next few days; and a message for Teresa.  As the wagon left, both men were awake and talking about their horses crashing as they chased the cow that caused their problems as the wagon left. Murdoch stayed in town, getting a room at the hotel and spending most of his time wandering back and forth to the doctor’s office.

Sam woke Johnny up several more times during the day and night. On the second day he noted that his eyes looked clearer and Johnny asked for water, telling Sam his head felt like a drummer was pounding on it. Drinking deeply, Johnny then laid back and went to sleep. Sam was happy with the response and told Murdoch that Johnny was finally sleeping normally. He figured another day before Johnny would be awake and raring to go. He also reported to Murdoch that Scott’s hip and shoulder seemed to be starting to heal.

Teresa rode in that day also, and spent several hours in the boys’ room talking quietly to Murdoch. As the afternoon waned Murdoch sent her back home, giving her instructions on what to tell Miguel so he wouldn’t be alarmed over what had happened to his father. He told her that he figured they would be home in three more days if all went well, and asked her to have someone bring the wagon back for them.

That same evening Scott woke and found Murdoch asleep in the chair beside his bed. He smiled at the sight of the big man slumped in the small chair and wondered if Murdoch would have a sore neck when he awakened. He then said, “Murdoch,” surprised how weak his voice sounded, but the man heard and was beside him in a moment.

“Son, I’m happy to see you finally awake. How do you feel?” Murdoch offered him some water and he drank deeply.

“Feel like a herd of horses ran over me,” he smiled bitterly, “but better then I did yesterday. I think it was yesterday when we got here?” Blue-grey eyes met light blue ones.

”You’ve been here three nights now. What happened?”

Haltingly at first, Scott told Murdoch about the trip coming home, finding shelter in the barn and what the stallion did. He left out a lot about the people who had found and cared for him. Murdoch wondered what he was not telling him; he could tell by the look on Scott’s face there was more to the story then what he was being told. But he didn’t push; he knew that Scott would tell him in his own time if he wanted to. Scott asked how things were at the ranch and they talked for several minutes. Scott kept shooting glances across at Johnny, until finally he asked, “Is he really all right?”

Murdoch answered, “Yes, he is fine. He had a concussion, but Sam said that he was better and that he could go home soon. You too once you are up to it.”

At that minute Sam appeared in the doorway, a steaming bowl of broth in his hands. “I heard talking and knew one of you boys was awake; I want you to drink all of this. You need to eat if you want to get home one of these days.” He handed the bowl to Murdoch and helped Scott sit up, asking, “How do you feel?”

Scott told him he felt better and then drank the broth holding it awkwardly in his left hand after taking it from his father. Finishing it, he smiled at Sam, “Thanks, that tasted real good, didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Sam smiled back at him as he helped him lay down again. “There is a pot on the stove and every time you wake up I want you to eat,” he told Scott, looking over at Murdoch. “The more you eat the better I will like it.”

“Yes, Sir.” Scott said as he closed his eyes and fell into a light sleep. The two men left, turning the lamp low.

Later during the night Scott lay awake trying to ease the dull throbbing in his shoulder and hip. He heard Johnny stir and a moment later a low moan.

“Come on Little Brother, wake up.” Scott said, looking across at Johnny.

“My head…” Johnny moaned, squeezing his eyes tightly together.

“Lay still for a few minutes, it’ll be alright.”

“Yeah, I know. Whatever happened last night? I sure don’t like your girlfriends.”

“Last night? Johnny it’s been three nights, I think…” Scott paused, thinking a moment.

“Three! That girl of yours sure packs a wallop!” teased Johnny. Feeling a bit better, he gingerly touched his head.

“She’s NOT my girl. I told you a dozen times.” Scott replied crossly.

“Oh yes she is! She came after you, clear into this room. She wanted you mighty bad.”

“She’s not mine. So forget it!”

“What’s the matter Boston? You ought to be happy to have a gal that will follow you all over, and beat your brother’s brains in for you too. She really loves you!”

“Hell with you and her!” Scott turned away from his grinning brother and closed his eyes.

“Boy are you touchy!” Johnny grumbled but reached across and placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder, taking comfort that he was well enough to argue with him. After a couple of minutes he felt Scott relax into sleep. He squeezed the shoulder lightly and slowly sat up. Carefully he rose from the bed and pulled on his pants and left the room. In the kitchen he found bread and meat and poured himself a cup of coffee.

Dr. Jenkins found him there several minutes later. “Johnny, what are you doing out here?”

“What does it look like? I’m eating. I think you’re trying to starve your patients.” He smiled as he took another bite of the sandwich he had made.

Sam laughed, “Well, sounds like nothing is wrong with your head. How does it feel?”

Johnny tipped his head to one side, “Not bad now, the drummer is finally gone. How’s Scott?”

“He’s coming around. He sat up today and started to eat some. Tomorrow we’ll see if he can walk, maybe then he can go home. Once he gets up I know I won’t be able to keep him down, just like you.”

“Good.”

“Now I want you to get back to bed. You had a concussion and I want you to take it easy for at least another day. Murdoch will be here in the morning to see you. He’ll be glad to see you awake.”

“I want to check on Barranca first.”

“No, he is fine. You get back to bed or you will be here longer!” Sam pointed his finger at him.

Without anymore ideas to delay going back to bed, Johnny made his way to the bedroom and his bed. Finding out that Murdoch had spent the past few days in town kind of surprised him, but he was anxious to get home to Miguel.

Doc came in and checked Scott, then looked at him, “Get some sleep,” he told him and left the room. After several minutes he fell asleep.

Morning came, and the sun rose with sunbeams touching first the wall then the figures on the beds through the opened windows. Johnny woke with a start and sat up. He could hear voices in another part of the house. Rising, he looked over at Scott as he threw on pants and a shirt. Grabbing his boots he left the room to meet his father.

Murdoch saw him and moved over to him, giving him a quick hug with happiness. Holding him at arm’s length he looked him over closely. Johnny ducked his head at the show of affection, not used to receiving it from his father.

“Son it’s good to see you. You and Scott have had me worried for days!” Relief showed on his face and in his light blue eyes.

“I’m too tough to kill,” grinned Johnny shyly.

“Do you want to tell us what happened to you?” Murdoch asked as Johnny sat down and began pulling on socks and boots.

“Oh it was nothing. Scott’s girlfriend was mad at me because I told her he was dead. I think she hit me with her rifle.”

“Scott’s girlfriend?” Murdoch looked at him in surprise.

“He didn’t tell you about her?”

“No! Nothing about some girl!”

”Well, that’s the best part; I’ll let him tell you about her though.”

“I don’t think he really likes her,” Murdoch remarked, a little puzzled, remembering the morning Scott had first woke. “He was upset, because he thought you were dead. Something about blood all over. Your head was bloody and he was holding you on his chest; you were unconscious when we found you.”

“He must have woke while I was out, or seen her. You’ll have to ask him. I am hungry, is there anything in this house to eat?” Johnny rose and made his way to the kitchen. Finding a hot pot of coffee, he poured a cup and moved to the table where there was a covered plate of biscuits and jelly. Sitting down, he grabbed one just as Dr. Jenkins walked into the room.

Doc Sam quickly grabbed some eggs and bacon, saying, “Good Morning Johnny. I’ll have you some breakfast in a minute.” Johnny smiled his thanks at their friend, “I was just going to ask Murdoch if he’d throw something together. But I don’t know if he is that good a cook.” Johnny smiled across the table at his father.

“Thanks! I can cook too… I guess I better get the full story from Scott on what happened to him and you. Feel up to the ride home? Steve or someone is bringing the wagon so you and Scott can rest on the way.” Murdoch asked pouring himself another cup of coffee.

“I’m ready any time. I need to get Barranca, he’s in the barn.” He ate another biscuit covered in jelly.

“Yes I know.” Doc cut in as he set a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Johnny. “Old Betsy isn’t going to be the same!”

“He didn’t breed her did he?” Johnny asked hurriedly.

“No. She’s too old for that, but she is sure trying to baby him. Crazy old mare. She’ll be lost without him,” laughed the doctor at the thought of his soon to be sad horse.

“Well I have a couple of patients to check on. If Scott gets up you can leave this afternoon; I already bandaged his arm to his chest for now. Leave it alone until you get home, even one night wouldn’t hurt. I’ll try to get back before you leave. If I don’t, I’ll see you in two days, when I get back to Morro Coyo. Johnny you take it easy for another couple of days, and Scott at least until I can see him again. Murdoch, you have those arm exercises I gave you for Scott?” At Murdoch’s nod, the doctor shook hands with both men and took his leave.

Johnny headed for the bedroom with Murdoch behind him.

Scott was awake and sitting on the edge of the bed looking around for his pants when they entered.

“Son how would you like to go home today?” smiled Murdoch as he watched Scott grab his pants.

“When are we leaving?”

“Boy is he ever awake!” exclaimed Johnny smiling at his brother.

“I am. When are we going?” Scott asked again as he slid his leg into the pant leg.

“As soon as Steve gets here with the wagon. Johnny, why don’t you help Scott and I’ll go get my things at the hotel. Scott, eat something, maybe by the time you finish Steve will be here.”

“Sure,” Johnny nodded as Murdoch turned to the door, then left.

Scott managed to get his pants on and Johnny helped him into a shirt, having to button it over his right arm that was bandaged to his chest. Soon Scott was dressed and ready.

“What happened to my other clothes?” Scott asked as he limped slowly out the door, Johnny’s hand on his arm to steady him if needed.

“You mean the pants that were so full of blood we had to cut them off you? Or the shirt I used as some bandages?”

“Oh. I forgot. Well nice to have new clothes then,” he smiled at Johnny as they entered the kitchen.

“Yeah, Murdoch got us both some new clothes.” He motioned to his new salmon colored shirt. Scott sank into a chair with a sigh of relief, looking up at Johnny with a grin.

“You look ridiculous with that bandage on.”

“It’s your fault you know. That girl of yours.” Johnny teased, and then stopped seeing Scott’s face change.

”That damn girl,” snarled Scott; with a lurch he rose to his feet and staggered out of the room as fast as he could go, limping badly.

Taken aback at the reaction his words had gotten, Johnny followed Scott quickly. ‘Stupid, that was really stupid Johnny!’ he told himself.

Scott made it to the front door under sheer will power; he felt weak but anger held him up. He threw the door opened and rushed outside, and ran right into Steve Bennett who had just reached the door. Both men crashed to the porch.

Steve reacted instantly and holding Scott he twisted trying to cushion the fall. He heard a cry of pain from Scott’s clenched lips as Scott hit the porch on his right side, his shoulder hitting the floorboards.

Johnny was there instantly and with Steve’s help they got the white faced Scott up and back into the house. Carefully they set him in an armchair.

“Get some water,” Johnny ordered Steve as he quickly unbuttoned Scott’s shirt to check his shoulder.

“I’m all right now,” Scott said after taking a drink of water, “Did it bust open again?”

“No. I can’t see anything. Doc bandaged it real good. How do you feel?” Johnny asked, concern written all over his face as he looked closely at Scott.

“I’m all right. Just a little pain here and there,” he lied. His shoulder felt like someone had pounded on it with an ax and his hip burned from the strain of moving too fast. He hoped his hip hadn’t opened. “I’ll just rest here until we’re ready to leave.

Steve eyed him closely, “I’m sorry Scott. You came out so fast I didn’t have time to do anything.”

”It wasn’t your fault; I knew that you were coming. I’m sorry.” Scott answered tightly.

“Johnny, why don’t you help me outside, then we can get Scott into the wagon and comfortable.” Steve said, catching Johnny’s eye and nodding towards the door.

“Be right there. Are you sure you’re alright Scott? I need to get you something to eat too.”

“Go on. I want to get home sometime today. I’m not hungry.”

Outside Steve turned to Johnny, “He’s hurting. Maybe I better see if I can find the doctor.”

“Here comes Murdoch, maybe Doc left something with him for Scott.”

When Murdoch reached them they quickly told him what happened. Murdoch took a small brown bottle from his saddle bag and handed it to Johnny.

“Get some water or coffee and put three drops of this in it. It’s laudanum, it will ease the pain. I have some things for the wounds too. Let’s get going, then we can get him into his own bed.”

Johnny finally persuaded Scott to drink the drugged coffee, then helped him out to the wagon. As he laid down in the hay he fell asleep. Johnny went around the house to the barn and soon the gold stallion was tied behind the wagon. Murdoch and Steve climbed up to the seat and Johnny sat in the hay beside Scott, his hand resting on Scott’s shoulder as the wagon lurched into motion for the trip home.

Hours later the wagon stopped in front of the white hacienda, the sun well started on its downward swing. Scott had wakened and had been talking a little to the others; he breathed a sigh of relief when the wagon came to a halt. Miguel was there to greet them when they pulled into the yard, bouncing from foot to foot with suppressed energy and excitement.

Johnny jumped out of the wagon and Miguel barreled into his arms, almost knocking him over. Laughing, he held his son and tried to hear what the excited boy was saying, English and Spanish words tripping over each other as Miguel told him about riding with Teresa, Sugar and everything else that had happened since he went after Tio Scott. Hugging him close he told him, “Nino, we have to get your Tio in the house. He needs to get to bed so he can rest and get better.”

Miguel followed Johnny as Murdoch and Steve helped Scott into the house. He proudly carried his Grandfather’s saddle bags into the house for him. Teresa met them and welcomed them home again. Soon Scott was lying in his bed, tired but happy to be there. Teresa came in with a bowl of soup for him. Johnny took Miguel out of his room knowing the little boy would keep Scott talking for hours if he didn’t. He knew Scott needed a good nights sleep before Miguel’s onslaught.

That night the house settled down into welcoming silence. Miguel was asleep in Johnny’s bed; Johnny was in Scott’s room for awhile quietly watching his brother sleep, happy that he was alive and home. Scott stirred, then glanced around the dark room. He knew without being able to see in the dark that Johnny was there beside him.

“Little Brother, I am fine. Go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said quietly into the comforting darkness.

He felt Johnny rise, then grip his left shoulder, “If you need anything just call. I’m glad you’re home Brother.” He heard Johnny move across the room, then the door opened and closed behind him. Scott smiled in the dark, ‘I’m glad to be home too brother,’ he thought as sleep over came him.

.

Chapter 13

The next day Miguel was allowed in to see Scott, and spent most of the day with his uncle telling him about everything that had happened while he had been gone. Scott, when asked, told Miguel a little about San Francisco, the tall ships that were anchored in the harbor, and the steep hills that the city was built on. In the afternoon Johnny came in and hauled his son out for a ride, to give Scott some peace and quiet.

The days passed slowly. Johnny was back helping with ranch chores, but he made sure that he wasn’t too far away in case he was needed at the house. Miguel dogged his heels. He was like a little shadow whenever Johnny was working in the corrals or around the barn, happy to be with his father.

Black Satan, it turned out, was an excellent cow horse. He could cut the orneriest cow out of a herd and move her wherever she needed to go. Johnny rode him several times and was impressed with the horse’s skills working cattle. He could turn on a dime, and as Murdoch joked, leave some change. And he could move from a stand still into a dead run in two strides; he was fast on his feet and could match Barranca stride for stride in a run. Johnny was as impressed as his father was with the horse. Murdoch was already trying to decide what mares to breed to him to in order to get the cow horses they needed and some extra’s to sell.

One day a week after they had returned home, Scott decided he had to get out of the house and go for a ride. He was getting very unhappy following the doctor’s orders to take it easy and was going crazy sitting around doing nothing; the forced inactivity was eating away at him. Going to the barn early in the morning, he struggled to get KC saddled and bridled. His ribs and arm were almost healed, and though he still walked with a bad limp, his hip seemed to be almost completely healed as well. He still couldn’t move his right arm and even with the exercises Sam had given him there was still no feeling in it at all. Sam told him his shoulder was healing but still had to use a sling to hold it in place. By the time he finished saddling his horse he was sweating, and was standing in the aisle leaning against him, when Johnny entered the barn. Murdoch had told Johnny to keep an eye on his brother since it was his first time back on a horse. Johnny backed out the door and coughed as he re-entered the barn to find Scott standing beside KC looking towards Johnny, a tight smile on his face.

“Guess Murdoch sent you to watch out for me.”

“Well he mentioned that I should take Satan out for a little bit; so I thought I’d ride along with you. You don’t mind do you?”

“Glad for the company,” Scott put his foot in the stirrup and lithely mounted. “Well?” he asked looking down at Johnny as he gathered the reins in his hand.

“Be ready in a minute,” Johnny grabbed Satan’s bridle off its hook and went into his stall. Minutes later he led the black stallion out of the barn to where Scott sat waiting. Johnny mounted and they made their way out of the barn yard and headed to the south.

“Murdoch asked if I’d check the south pasture while we are out. Wants to make sure there’s enough grass for the cows when we move them next month. How come you’re not riding the Ghost?”

”Sure. It’s a nice day for a ride. I didn’t think I could keep Ghost from running; he needs a good run and I’m not up to it yet,” Scott answered, looking up at the clear early morning sky.

They rode in companionable silence for awhile, then the black stallion started dancing and pulling at the bit. Johnny held him with an iron hand for awhile. Finally he looked across at Scott, who was smiling crookedly at the horses antics.

“Looks like he wants to run. Do you mind if I let him go? We’ll just go to those trees and wait for you,” he asked, pointing at a clump of trees a half mile ahead.

“Go on, I’ll catch up.”

Johnny released the stallion. Half rearing, Satan took off, his tail flying like a black shining banner behind him; mane whipping up almost into Johnny’s face, as he joyously flew into a run. Scott kicked KC into an easy rocking canter and slowly followed them. Johnny was waiting by the trees when he pulled up.

“Sam isn’t going to be happy with you for that!” he told Scott as they turned their horses along the southern trail once again.

“Well he won’t hear it from me. Anyway, KC has the easiest canter on the ranch; I could ride for hours without it bothering me,” commented Scott as he rubbed his hand along the blood bay horse’s neck; then kicked KC back into the canter.

“I won’t tell him either!” laughed Johnny as he followed, Scott grinning at him as the black moved easily into place beside him.

It was late morning when they reached the southern pasture. They slowly made their way through it, crossing the stream that cut it almost in half. They found that the grass was more than lush enough to feed the cattle for at least a month.

Circling around, they crossed the stream and then stopped to let the horses drink before heading back. Suddenly both horses threw up their heads and looked towards the south. Satan screamed out a challenge and turned in that direction, pawing the ground, ears flat on his head, tail swishing angrily.

Johnny’s hand fell to his pistol as Scott reached for his rifle and dragged it across the pommel of his saddle. He knew, though, there was no way he could hold both the rife and the horse if there was any shooting. Grim-faced he turned to face whatever was coming their way, hoping there wouldn’t be any gunplay.

Slowly a rider came towards them, his hand raised. Johnny froze; he knew that glowing white horse with his black clad rider. He quickly told Scott, “It’s all right, I know him. Stay here, I’ll be back.”

Scott let his rifle slide back into the scabbard as he watched the black canter towards the big white stallion. Johnny pulled up several yards from the other rider as the stallions eyed each other, both held under firm control. Scott couldn’t hear what they were saying, and the conversation went on for some time. He saw Johnny’s shoulders slump, his head nodding to the other man. Finally the white stallion was turned and horse and rider rode quickly away. Scott watched Johnny who still sat on the black, head and shoulders bowed. Finally he kicked KC into motion and rode to his brother’s side. As he reached him, Johnny turned his face away, but not before Scott saw how pale he was and the tears on his cheeks. He quickly glanced down, pretending he hadn’t seen anything.

”Are you alright Johnny?” he asked gently.

“Si… I will be all right.”

Looking in the direction the rider had gone, Scott asked, “Who was that? Do we know him?”

“An old friend of mine. He was coming to find me.”

Scott was quiet; knowing that Johnny was struggling with something and he would tell him if he wanted him to know. Scott knew that whatever it was, it hadn’t been good news for Johnny and he wished he could ease the pain he could feel radiating from his brother.

Finally Scott turned his horse, “Lets get out of this sun, I think I need to rest a bit and there’s shade by the stream.”

Johnny followed Scott’s lead, still very quiet; for once the black stallion willingly walked along beside the bay, sensing his master’s mood. Reaching the stream Scott halted under a willow beside the water. Slowly he dismounted; dropping KC’s reins he moved to Johnny’s side and placing his hand on his knee, looked up at him.

“Is there anything I can do to help you, Little Brother?” he softly asked.

Johnny looked at him, anguish written on his face, his bright blue eyes dull as he looked down at Scott. Slowly he slid from the saddle and stood next to the horse, fidgeting with the reins. Scott put his left arm around the younger man’s shoulders and hugged him to his chest. Johnny’s arms crept around him, and for several minutes the two brothers stood silently together. Finally Johnny stepped out of the embrace and looked at his brother.

“That was Alvarez. He was looking for Rosa, Miguel’s mother. She is dead.” His voice broke for an instant, and he gulped a shaky breath as Scott led him to the stream bank and eased himself down on a boulder, pulling Johnny with him. Scott looked at him, waiting, sorrow showing in his blue-grey eyes, his hand gripping Johnny’s arm.

“She turned into a gunslinger and disappeared; we couldn’t find her. Alvarez’s army of men couldn’t find her until ten days ago. The rurales’ had her trapped in a small canyon. She’d killed many of them; they had sent for more men. Alvarez’s men got there too late to save her. The rurales’ dragged her body out and hung her. She was already dead.” He lowered his head into shaking hands. “I had to leave Alvarez to keep others from finding out about her and Miguel, to keep them safe. The rurales’ got me instead; that’s one reason why I was in prison when the Pinkerton man found me almost a month later. When Alvarez sent for me, when I brought Miguel home, he was still looking for her. He wouldn’t let me come to help, said I had to be with Miguel and to stay at Lancer. I don’t even know what she called herself after she disappeared. Other than she told Alvarez she had no husband, I don’t know anything more about her.”

Scott again placed his arm around Johnny’s shoulders, giving him what comfort he could, not saying anything; he was just there for him, giving him all the love and support he could through his presence and touch.

After awhile Johnny straightened and looked at Scott, “I married Rosa six years ago. I haven’t seen or heard from her in several years, all I know is what Alvarez has been able to tell me. She did give me my son, and he is alive and safe. I never wanted this to happen to her. She had changed a lot the last time I saw her. I think she was still grieving for her family and since Miguel and I were safe she went after the rurales, for revenge. I should have been there to help her.”

“If you were with her, you and Miguel would also be dead now. You have a chance to raise your son instead. She must have loved you both very much since she sent Miguel to be with you. She must have known then what she was doing would end this way.” Scott said quietly, squeezing Johnny lightly.

“You have to think of Miguel now. He is such a wonderful little boy; he needs you to be there for him. He has a chance to grow up like we didn’t, with a loving father and his family. At least he knew she loved him; she was there for Miguel, even if it was only for a short time. I would have liked to have met the woman who could get you to marry her!” Scott said, trying to lighten Johnny’s mood.

“She was a beautiful girl. The first time I saw her, I almost thought she was wearing a hair dress; her black hair was so long it hung down her like one. I think I fell in love with her that day, but didn’t know it then. It took us longer to figure that out… What am I going to do Scott?” Johnny turned to his brother.

Scott was at a loss for words. He thought several long minutes, and then said gently, “She would want you to go on. Raise Miguel as best as you can. Give him a loving home, do the best you can for him. I think she’d want you to remember the good times with her and tell Miguel about them. Don’t forget her, but go on. She loved you enough to give you Miguel, but her heart was also with her family…” he stopped, not sure what else to say.

Johnny sat quietly for several minutes, then nodded his head, “Yes, I have Miguel. He won’t ever have to run for his life or turn into a gunfighter like his father did. I loved Rosa, but the Rosa I knew left long ago. I think I always knew she wouldn’t be happy having to live with her family killed the way they were.” His bright blue eyes met his brother’s blue-grey ones, “Thanks for being here. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t with me today.”

His eyes narrowed suddenly, as if seeing Scott for the first time since Alvarez left an hour ago, and noting his brother’s drawn face. “You need to get home, you aren’t looking so good. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Just a little tired I think; haven’t ridden for awhile.” Scott replied as he turned away and rose from the boulder. Johnny followed his limping stride to the horses and stood by while he mounted. It wasn’t as graceful as it had been earlier that day, but Scott made it into the saddle and picked up the reins.

Johnny was mounted in a flash and they turned the horses towards home. As they rode slowly along Johnny told Scott how he had met Rosa and how they had lived during the time they were together. As the hacienda came into view, he looked across at his brother and shook his head, “I don’t know what to tell Miguel!”

“Tell him the truth. Just leave out how she was killed. I don’t think he would understand, and it might frighten him. Keep it simple but truthful. When he’s a little older you can explain it in more detail to him,” answered Scott as he looked back at him.

“When did you get so smart Big Brother?” Johnny smiled crookedly.

”Big brothers are supposed to be smart so they can help little brothers,” laughed Scott.

“Wonder if we can get some food. It’s been one hell of a long day.” Johnny looked towards the kitchen door as they rode towards the barn.

Scott chuckled as they stopped at the barn door. For a moment he sat still, thinking he really did over do it today. Slowly he slid from the horse, not seeing Johnny beside him in case he was needed. Inside the barn Scott unsaddled his horse and turned him into his stall; he wanted to brush him but he was fast running out of energy, so he just gave him a measure of grain and turned towards the barn door. Johnny caught up with him as he stepped outside and they made their way across the yard to the huge white house.

“I guess I need to talk to Murdoch too.”

”It might be a nice gesture, so he won’t be so shocked in case Miguel says something.”

They entered the kitchen and soon had a cup of coffee and a sandwich. A short time later Scott went to his room to lay down and Johnny went in search of his son, finding instead his father just coming in the front door. He motioned to Murdoch and they entered the front room. Johnny poured Murdoch a shot of whiskey and himself tequila. As they sipped their drinks Johnny told his father about Rosa and answered most of his questions. Murdoch at last rose and when Johnny stood up as well he wrapped his son in his arms and held him for a minute, telling him, “Son, I love you. No matter what happened it sounds like Rosa did too. I am happy you and Miguel are here; he has a safe loving home here with us.”

A little uncomfortable, Johnny thanked his father as Murdoch released him.

Leaving Murdoch, Johnny went in search of his son and found him with his pony in the back of the house near Teresa’s garden. Taking him in his arms he sat down under a tree and quietly told him that his mother was gone, gently answering the questions the little boy asked him. When they were talked out Johnny just sat with his son wrapped in his arms, holding him gently and telling him he’d never let him go. Miguel sat quietly, his tears drying from the breeze. Miguel looked up at Johnny, and placing one hand on each side of Johnny’s face he said, “I love you daddy. I want to be with you always. And Grandpa and Tio Scott and Teresa and everybody here. Can we stay here forever?”

Johnny laughed and hugged him tightly for a moment. “We will stay here forever and ever if you want. Now I think it’s almost time to get cleaned up for dinner. You better go put up Sugar.”

Miguel kissed Johnny on the cheek and jumped off his lap. Within seconds he was mounted on the pony and tearing off towards the barn. Johnny shook his head and headed for the house, happy that was over for now, and that Miguel seemed to accept the loss of the mother whom he hadn’t seen for many months. Once inside he went upstairs to check on Scott and found him asleep on his bed. He rested his hand on Scott’s shoulder and thought how grateful he was that Scott was his brother. Deciding to let Scott sleep, he turned and went to his room to clean up.

The days seemed to creep by. Johnny kept busy, with Miguel once again dogging his steps when he worked near the ranch buildings. Seeing the little boy happy made everyone glad that he had been able to accept Rosa’s death as only a child could.

Scott worked at his arm exercises every day, but despaired that he would ever be able to use that arm again. As the days grew into one week and then another he learned to use his left hand for eating, and made himself learn to use his pistol left handed. It was hard to hit anything at first, but he practiced daily a of couple miles from the house until he could hit the target at which he was aiming. He wasn’t as comfortable with the pistol as he was with his rifle, so he started working with the rifle; bracing his arm on his hip he taught himself to cock it by twirling it end over end. Once he got over dropping it when he cocked it he was able to hit the target 8 times out of 10.

Scott rode out almost every day alone; he’d go practice, then ride around for hours, checking fences and the cattle and horses as he tried to figure out what he was going to do if his arm remained useless. It bothered him more and more, so much so that he started to avoid Johnny and Murdoch, knowing they would be worrying for him and not wanting to see the sympathy he was sure was on their faces. He didn’t know that half the time Johnny was following him to be sure he was all right and that he would return home. He would stay out until dinner was well over, then just grab a little something as he passed through the kitchen, his appetite gone. As the days passed he decided that he had to go back to the Marsh farm …he didn’t know for sure what he would do when he got there, just that he had to go.

One day he returned just after the sun had disappeared below the hills and saw the doctor’s buggy in the front of the house. Putting up his horse he moved slowly to the house. Inside he nodded silently to Murdoch, Johnny and Miguel. Glancing at the doctor he said, “Did you come to see me?”

“Yes Scott, I did.” Sam told him as he looked at the thin young man, surprised at how gaunt he looked.

“We can go to my room.” Scott turned on his heel and limped into the hall, then up the stairs.

“I’ll be back shortly,” Sam downed his drink as he rose, then followed Scott upstairs.

“What’s wrong wif Tio Scott daddy?” Miguel turned to his father as the room fell silent.

“I think he is just worried about his arm. He will be all right.”

“He don’t like me anymore does he daddy?”

“Why do you say that?” Johnny asked his son.

“Well he nebber talks to me anymore.”

“Oh hijo, he does love you! You know he doesn’t feel good. His hip is still bothering him some that’s why he is limping. And his shoulder is still sore. We just have to give him some time to get better.”

“I guess so daddy.”

Minutes later Johnny said, “Hey Muchacho, I think I smell cookies in the kitchen. Why don’t you go see if Teresa made some?”

“Oh boy! Cookies!” Miguel jumped up and ran for the kitchen. Johnny and Murdoch laughed as they watched the little boy dash from the room.

“Teresa’s cookies can sure steal kids away. I wonder how Scott’s”…Johnny didn’t get to finish. They heard footsteps on the stairs. In a moment Scott appeared, hurrying past the doorway, his face a frozen mask of despair. Tucked under his left arm was his rifle. The front door slammed behind him before either Murdoch or Johnny could say anything to him. Johnny rose and watched from the window as Scott, in a limping trot, rushed into the barn. He looked back as they heard footsteps on the stairs again.

Dr. Jenkins walked into the room and Murdoch turned to him, “Sam, what happened?”

Sam wiped his forehead then answered, “Well, his shoulder is almost completely healed, but his arm is still not moving. I told him with the trauma to his shoulder and all the muscles that it could take more time to get feeling back into his arm. It’s been over five weeks, if there isn’t any feeling by next week, there might never be any.”

“No wonder he took off like a bullet,” Johnny was looking out the window again. He stiffened as Scott appeared in the barn doorway on his grey stallion. Ghost was dragged to a sliding halt just outside the door, the stallion pivoting on his back legs in a tight circle. Scott glanced towards the hacienda for an instant, as if saying good bye, the grey horse rearing and screaming in anger. Scott jerked him down and turned him towards the road to town. The big grey stallion leaped into a wild run.

Johnny turned from the window and ran to the rack by the front door. Grabbed his gun belt and rifle, he stuffed his hat on his head, saying to Murdoch and the doctor;

“I’m going after him. He might do anything right now. He’s never treated that stallion the way he just did. We’ll see you – later.”

He ran from the house, buckling on his gun belt as he moved. Within minutes after Scott had left, Johnny was after him, the golden stallion running as fast as he’d ever run.

.

Chapter 14

Scott let the big grey stallion run full out for many miles. When the horse started tripping, he finally realized what he had been doing and slowed the stallion to a walk. The horse moved with head lowered, white mane sticking wetly to his neck, his sleek grey sides heaving for air. Sweat and lather rolled off his belly in great white globs. Scott rubbed the wet neck and spoke quietly to him as they moved slowly along the darkening road. He talked to Ghost as he tried to figure out what he was going to do when he got to the Marsh farm. He told the horse he wasn’t sure what the future held for him since his arm wouldn’t work.

Before too long the grey’s ears were twitching back and forth listening to Scott as he talked to him; his breathing eased back to normal and he loudly blew through his nose to let the world know he was ready for anything. His head came up higher and he began to step lightly along the road again. When Scott nudged him he broke into an easy canter, and snorted loudly to the world as if daring anyone to cross him.

Scott smiled; he felt he could almost read the horse’s mind and he wished the horse could help him with his ghosts. He settled deeper into the saddle knowing they’d ride for several more hours.

Johnny, following behind, pulled Barranca into an easy gait after a couple of miles; he figured he’d catch Scott sooner or later. The way Scott was pushing his horse Johnny knew he would have to stop and rest the Ghost before too long.

In the inky darkness Scott realized he was near Ironwood. Not wanting to go through the town itself he by-passed it, circling around it in the dark. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found the road again; heading north in the dark he followed the dim ribbon of road. The stallion was tired and Scott knew that they had to stop to rest; the horse had been running, walking and cantering for many hours and neither one of them would be able to keep this pace much longer.

A couple more miles had fallen behind them when the stallion threw his head up higher and looked off to the side of the road. Scott could barely make out a noise that sounded like a stream or creek. Turning the horse towards the sound, they pushed their way through some brush and trees and came across a small stream. Halting, Scott slowly slid off Ghost, feeling as if every bone in his body was rebelling against the movement. He stiffly unsaddled the horse, then rubbed him down with a handful of leaves, pulling some twigs out of his snow white mane and tail. Leading the Ghost to the stream he let him drink, then ground tied him in the grass and returned to his saddle. Laying down he drew the saddle blanket over him and with his head pillowed on his saddle he relaxed. He was tired and sore; he hadn’t ridden this hard or long for over a month, and within minutes he was asleep.

Johnny rode through Ironwood, figuring that Scott would avoid it. He paused by the livery stable, and then decided to stop and get some grain for Barranca. The stableman was helpful, and in minutes he had a small sack of grain and some jerky. He was mad at himself for rushing off so fast, forgetting his saddle bags and extra food. He figured he would be pretty hungry soon.

As he left the town behind him he wondered how far Scott had gone. Gauging his horse’s strength, he decided to ride for a few more hours before stopping, hoping that he would pass Scott along the way. He was certain now that his brother was headed for the Marsh farm; he hoped that somehow he could stop him before he got there.

A tiny slice of the moon lit the sky as it moved towards the horizon. The ribbon of road had disappeared into the trees again as Johnny finally looked for a place to rest. Finding a grassy spot off the road just beyond the brush he stopped. Unsaddling Barranca, he gave him a handful of grain and tied him so he could eat. Dropping to the ground, he stretched out and was asleep almost before his head met the saddle.

Scott woke with a start. The sun was shining through the trees that arched above him, bright enough to almost blind him. With an oath he rose and saddled Ghost; it took him awhile, as he was still stiff from so much riding, and his arm in the sling made the process that much slower. He was thankful the stallion stood quiet while he fumbled through the saddling. Soon he was mounted and they were heading north again, his mind churning; he still couldn’t think of what to say to Mrs. Marsh. He finally decided to just tell her what her children had done and hope she could handle the truth about them. He nudged the stallion into a gallop; no matter what, he had to talk to the woman.

Late afternoon found Johnny at the foot of the trail leading up to the Marsh farm. He figured he had made good time, and thought Scott might only be a short distance behind him. For several minutes he sat quietly on Barranca. With a shake of his head he turned the stallion into the trees lining the trial. They made their way up the hill, under the cover of the thick trees. Soon he could see the clearing with the house, barn and corral. At first he didn’t see any people around and wondered if they were even at home, then he spotted the two draft horses and changed his mind. Working his way around the buildings he found a spot near the barn, opposite from the corral and the draft horses. Under the tree cover he waited, standing silently beside the gold stallion.

A bit later a woman with striking red hair walked from the woods to the right of him, heading for the house; a large basket in her arms had green things sticking out from it. Moments later the boy and girl came after her, also carrying baskets, of vegetables, he figured. He watched as they moved into the house. Soon smoke was coming out of the chimney.

It was dusk before Johnny saw the ghostly figure of the grey and white stallion break from the trees and glide, it seemed, towards the house. He could see Scott’s rifle lying across the saddle horn in front of him. Rising he mounted and prepared to ride in if it looked like Scott needed him.

Scott pulled the stallion to a halt in front of the house and called out. In a moment the door opened and Sallie Marsh stepped out onto the porch, a warm welcoming smile on her lips.

“Mr. Lancer, it’s so nice to see you again. The children said that you had been taken home and were doing fine. I’m glad to see that! I wish I had been here to meet them. Would you like to join us for dinner? You are welcome to stay, too.”

“No, thank you ma’am. So they told you I’d been taken home? I’ve got a few things to say to you, then I’ll leave.”

“Well at least step down and relax, I have some lemonade made. You look much better than the last time I saw you,” she told him puzzled, by his hostility towards her.

“No. I’ll stay here. If I get off I won’t be able to mount again.” He paused, not sure how to tell this nice woman about what her children had done.

“What is it that you have to come all this way to talk to me about? You could have sent a note.”

“Ha,” laughed Scott harshly, “I can’t write. I don’t have the use of my arm. But that’s not what I came for. I want to know why you let your children send a ransom note to my family.”

“What? Mr. Lancer, what are you talking about?”

“When Lee took the stallion to my home he didn’t see or talk to anyone there. He tied the horse in front of the house with a note demanding five thousand dollars in trade for me. My brother followed him here; another note appeared at the stables in town with directions as to where to leave the money if I was to be released alive. My brother came here and found me. You still have my tack in your barn.”

“What are you talking about? My children wouldn’t do such a thing! You must be hallucinating. They don’t lie, either,” she snapped back at him.

“What happened to their father?” Scott asked, gazing at her from blazing blue-grey eyes.

“What’s that got to do with my children?”

“Seems they told my brother that he died in a gunfight, but he stayed away from guns. Was he a gunfighter?”

For a moment she looked at Scott in shock, “They said that?”

At his nod her lips pressed together, “He died in an institution. He had some problems; he heard voices that told him to do things that weren’t right. He built our house, then tried to burn it down. There were other things he did too; the doctors insisted something was wrong with him and that he needed more care than what he could get out here. He died two years ago…they told me he went crazy…” her voice died away and she looked up at Scott in shock, “The children didn’t know this.”

“Something is wrong with them. When we left here, they, or Lizzy, shot at us, wounding us both. They followed us to Ironwood; my brother played a trick on them making them think I was dead. Your daughter clubbed my brother over the head with a rifle barrel; he’s lucky to be alive! I am too; no thanks to them for chasing us for miles, I almost died trying to get away from them.”

Scott paused, seeing the woman’s face change from confusion and anger to horror. He glanced down, then back at her, wanting to get this finished and go home.

“It seems your daughter wanted me badly enough to follow us, and to kill to get to me. Once you were gone, she kept me drugged, and was going to take me to some cabin. When my brother showed up, he got me out of here. He barely arrived in time; another day and I would have been hidden someplace that only Lee and Lizzy know about.” Scott sheathed his rifle and gathered the reins in his hand.

“I…Mr.…Scott…Can it be…Mr. Lancer this is a shock to me. I had no idea…I can’t believe this…I…I…Lizzy and Lee…” she stuttered in shocked surprise, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry Mrs. Marsh, but you had better watch your daughter closely, especially around men. She seems almost possessed or something. They both need a doctor. Lee seems nice, but he follows Lizzy’s orders, does whatever she tells him to do… I’m leaving and hope that I will be fine, eventually. But if my brother had died, Lizzy would be in jail for murder and Lee as an accomplice.”

Scott tiredly turned the stallion and they moved slowly across the yard towards the trail. Scott’s head hung down in exhaustion; he could hear the woman sobbing behind him. He was exhausted both in body and spirit. He hadn’t enjoyed talking to the woman about her children, but knew she needed to know. ‘Poor woman’ he thought. He felt bad telling her what had happened; he almost wished he hadn’t done it. He shook his head and almost pulled the horse to a halt to go back to her, ‘No, its over,’ he told himself and kept riding towards the trail. Once he reached the trees he glanced back and saw her sitting on the porch step, head bowed, hands over her face. Grimly he turned away.

Johnny had been able to hear most of the conversation; he had closely watched the reaction of the woman as Scott talked. He was as surprised as Scott was at hearing about her husband. When Scott had put his rifle away, he started to back Barranca away from the clearing; he’d catch up with Scott on the trail down the hill or at the bottom. A flash of something near the trailhead caught his eye and he stopped, eyes searching the brush and trees to see what it was. He didn’t see anything more, so he continued to back Barranca away.

Scott was almost half way down the steep trail when he heard a noise; he tried to stop Ghost just as a gun went off almost beside him. The stallion screamed, half rearing, then leaping forward he fell heavily to his side and rolled over. Scott was taken completely by surprise and went down with the horse; out of pure luck the frantic stallion didn’t roll over him. A hoof grazed his head and he blacked out. The grey stallion heaved to his feet and stood shaking in the trail, the dragging reins ground tying him there.

At the sound of the gunshot Johnny, who was near the back of the barn, whirled Barranca around and cut back through the trees and across the clearing towards the trail. The woman was running as fast as she could and looked up as he flashed by, fear written across her face. Lee ran from the house and followed them.

The golden stallion hit the trail at a running slide. Johnny fought to keep him on his feet as they plunged down the dark path. Ahead he saw the ghostly form of the grey stallion; near him another figure rose. For an instant he thought it was Scott, but a gun swung in his direction and opened fire. Lizzy pulled the trigger as fast as she could as Johnny swung the stallion into the trees. He could hear the woman screaming “Lizzy” behind him. The gun fell silent and he cut back onto the trail. The girl’s figure was above another one lying on the ground, the gun pointing down at the unprotected head.

“You’re dead!” she screamed as she cocked the revolver again.

Johnny hit her in a flying leap from the back of Barranca; the gun discharged harmlessly in the air as he drove her to the ground. She screamed hysterically as she fought to get away from Johnny. He wrestled the gun from her hand and threw it into the brush. Swinging his hand around, he slapped her across the face and she fell to the ground, sobbing.

Turning, Johnny knelt down beside Scott. Running his hands quickly over him he saw that he was breathing and could find no broken bones. His hand came away from Scott’s head bloody. Bending low he could just barely make out the gash in the ash blond hair. Pulling off his neckerchief he carefully wrapped it around Scott’s head.

The woman had finally reached them. She glanced at her daughter, then went to kneel at Johnny’s side.

“Is…he…all right?” she gasped, out of breath.

”He’ll be okay I think.”

“Oh God…I’m sorry…I don’t know…what has…happened to Lizzy. I just don’t know.” She cried.

Johnny felt Scott stir under his hand and pressed down on him to keep him still.

“For one thing, if I was you I’d get her to a doctor or someone who can help her. She is lucky she is a girl or she’d be dead right now.”

“Thank you,” Sallie whispered through her tears. “I’m Sallie Marsh. I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but I am thankful you were here to help Scott.”

“I’m Johnny Lancer, Scott’s brother. I followed him.”

“I am so sorry for all that has happened to your family. And now Scott is hurt again because of us. Please bring him up to the house where he can be cared for.”

Johnny felt Scott jerk and pressed down harder; he knew he was awake and listening, and that Mrs. Marsh couldn’t see him well in the thickening darkness.

“No. He will be alright in a few minutes and we’ll go home. You better get your daughter home though,” he replied.

“Thank you. I’m sorry; I didn’t know anything of what happened to you and your brother. But now I do and I will seek help for Lizzy. Thank you for not hurting her.” She rose and turned towards her daughter. A few moments later, the woman walked slowly up the trail, holding her daughter, and with her son following behind.

Johnny waited until he could no longer hear them before releasing Scott.

“How’s your head?”

“I’m fine. I almost had a heart attack when she offered to take me to the house.” He shuddered in the dark as Johnny helped him to his feet.

“I know. But you didn’t have to worry; I wouldn’t let them take you.”

When Scott’s head cleared he looked at Johnny through the darkness, “Hey, where did you come from?”

“Like I told her, I followed you. I passed you last night when you stopped. The way you took off on the Ghost I knew you’d have to stop somewhere. I knew where you were heading, too.”

“Ghost! I hope he is all right. He went down so fast and hard I didn’t have time to think. I’m lucky he didn’t roll over me when he fell; just got kicked in the head.”

“The Grey Ghost is standing over there by Barranca, he seems okay. When we get somewhere lighter we can check him over better. I don’t want to stay here all night; let’s get away from here.”

Scott agreed and they moved to the horses. Scott quickly ran his hands over Ghost but could only find a shallow gash on the horses right hip; it slowly oozed blood, but didn’t seem to be life-threatening. They mounted up and made their way down the rest of the dark trail and out onto the road, then nudging the stallions into a canter, they headed south towards home.

.

Chapter 15

An hour later they pulled off the road into the trees; locating the small creek they made camp for the night. Scott gratefully lay down. That kick to the head had given him a headache that started when they had hit the road and was still pounding in his head. Within minutes he was asleep, his head pillowed on his saddle. Johnny lay beside him, happy that all Scott had was a headache. Within moments he, too, was asleep.

The next morning Scott rose before Johnny and went to the little creek for water. His head still hurt as he unwrapped Johnny’s neckerchief and dunked it in the cool water. Lifting the dripping cloth from the creek, he reached with his right hand to wring it out. He froze in surprise and looked at his right arm and hand. He had moved them several inches. He dropped the cloth and for several minutes concentrated on rubbing his right arm and hand with his left; he could feel the rubbing. He tried to make a fist, and finally did. His arm and hand were weak, but he could move them. Grabbing the neckerchief he dunked it in the creek again and moved over to where Johnny was sleeping. As quietly as possible he knelt beside his brother and, taking the dripping cloth, he opened it slowly and dropped it onto Johnny’s face.

Johnny exploded into action; half rising, he grabbed the wet cloth with one hand and his gun with the other. It was a rude awakening and he wasn’t going to let it pass. When he saw Scott kneeling beside him and laughing at him, he grabbed for him, his gun sliding back into its holster. Together they rolled on the ground; Johnny easily cuffing Scott and Scott laughing harder as he twisted away. They wrestled around for several minutes, until finally Johnny was able to pin Scott to the ground; he hadn’t realized how strong his wiry thin brother was. Holding the laughing Scott down, he grumbled, “I ought to stuff this thing down your throat. My luck though, you’d probably swallow it and never buy me another one.”

Scott, willing all the power he could into his right arm and hand, reached up and grabbed Johnny behind his neck, trying to throw him off balance.

His arm wasn’t strong enough, and soon Johnny had his arm pinned to the ground, a happy smile on his face.

“So that’s why you’re fighting with me! You’ve got the use of your arm back!”

“And am I happy about that!” laughed Scott joyfully.

Johnny released him and rose, reaching a hand down to help Scott up.

“I’m glad for you, now I don’t have to worry about you and what crazy things you might want to do next!” he threw the wet neckerchief at Scott’s head.

Scott snatched it out of the air. “All I want to do is get home! Well, eat too; I forgot to get supplies for this trip.” Scott said as he brushed grass and dirt out of his hair and off his clothes, and then wrapped the wet cloth around his aching head.

“I have some jerky…here,” Johnny tossed him a piece as he finished brushing off too. Reaching for his saddle, he said, “Let’s get out of here.”

”Just have to check the Ghost to be sure he is all right then we can go.” Scott moved to the grey stallion’s side; both horses stood idly as if watching the crazy antics of their riders.

Within minutes Scott determined that Ghost was fine; the bloody graze was clean and already starting to heal. Minutes later the two brothers were on their way south, heading home.

******

Miguel spotted the grey and gold stallions before anyone else late the next day. Running excitedly into the house he yelled, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home. An Tio Scott too!”

By the time Scott and Johnny reached the hacienda, Murdoch, Teresa and Miguel were waiting for them.

Miguel ran to the golden stallion’s side, his hands on his hips as he looked up at his father, “Daddy I’m mad at you. You was posta take me wif you this time!”

“I’m sorry hijo. I had to leave in a hurry,” Johnny told him as he dismounted.

“Tio Scott, did he really leave fast?” Miguel turned to Scott who had dismounted.

“Yes, he had to leave fast. He came after me and I’m glad he did.”

“Well I’m not happy. Daddy you shoulda telled me,” Miguel insisted.

“Well your Uncle Scott needed more help than you did at the time.”

Miguel looked from Johnny to Scott, asking seriously, “Did you really need help Tio Scott?”

“I did. And if your daddy hadn’t been there I might have been dead.”

”Oh!” Miguel’s brown eyes got large, “Daddy saved your life?”

“He sure did.”

”O-kay. Daddy, you was good,” he said, throwing himself into Johnny’s arms and happily hugging his father.

“How are you Scott?” Murdoch asked standing beside his older son.

“I’m fine,” grinned Scott slowly, “Took a bad fall, but in the end it turned out good. I’ve got feeling in my right arm and can move it and my hand.”

“Oh Scott! That’s wonderful,” Teresa exclaimed throwing, her arms around Scott’s neck happily.

“Yeah, it is. But Johnny saved my life.”

“Scott it wasn’t anything.”

Teresa turned to Johnny, “I’d hug you too, but you have your arms full.”

“Oh, that is easily fixed,” he quickly put Miguel down. Laughing, Teresa hugged Johnny.

Murdoch and Scott were smiling, and then laughed as Miguel grabbed Teresa by a leg and started tugging.

“My turn, my turn. I want some too. My turn. Come on! My turn.”

Teresa released Johnny and grabbed the little boy up; swinging him in a circle she whispered into his ear and they laughed. Turning towards the house she said, as they left, “Dinner will be ready shortly. You both look like you need a good meal! It’ll be ready by the time you get in the house.” She and Miguel disappeared into the house, with Miguel whispering in her ear as they left.

“Well, what happened?” Murdoch asked his sons.

“Oh it wasn’t anything, Murdoch.” Scott replied, gathering Ghost’s reins.

“Naw, nothing at all. In fact it was kind of boring,” Johnny added, nodding knowingly to Scott as they led their stallions towards the barn.

“A little fast riding, meeting this beautiful red-haired woman and coming home. Nothing exciting,” Scott said.

Murdoch looked from one to the other as they walked slowly to the barn, a puzzled look on his face, “Nothing? You’ve been gone three days and nothing happened?”

“Nope. Nothing at all.” Came the reply from both sons at once as they disappeared into the large barn, grins crossing their faces.

.

Two Years Later

Sallie Marsh sat down on the front step. The letter from The Ladies Institute in San Francisco fluttered in her hand from the brisk breeze blowing around the clearing. She looked around the small farm, tears in her eyes. ‘How am I going to tell Lee that his sister is dead? What will it do to him? He has been doing so well working on the Michael’s ranch.” She said to the wind. Fear and sorrow fought in her heart. Lizzy had been living at the Institute for almost two years, and a week ago had tried to escape, falling to her death from a fourth floor window that she had somehow gotten opened. Lee had finally gotten his dream of working on a cattle ranch nearby and was doing very well, she just hoped this news wouldn’t cause him to break; he had been so close to his sister…

.

~end~…. Or?

.

Comments:  We don’t have this author’s current email address. If you leave a comment below, if she reconnects with the fandom, then she will see how much her work is appreciated.

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