Sacrificed Dignity by Mary Whimsey

I just took the Lancer men out to play.  I own nothing.
I mean no disrespect to those who do and promise to return them in good condition. Mary Whimsey

Word count: 1,925

“A landed fish,” growled Murdoch Lancer.

Naked, Murdoch laid face down on the bed in his large chamber on the ground floor of the Lancer hacienda.  Behind him stood his old friend Dr. Sam Jenkins and a young colleague of Sam’s whose name had already flown out Murdoch’s head.  They were examining his back.

The gun shot wound he received in November had left him with a great deal of pain and a very unreliable left leg. Sam had done everything he could short of turning his old friend into a Laudanum addict to ease the pain.   He had hopes that this young doctor fresh from the east would know something new and more helpful to try.

Sam would have brought him sooner but only a fool would have traveled in the upper San Joaquin during the trouble with the land pirates.  Now less than a month since the short but decisive battle which ended the threat Sam had managed to lure the young doctor out of the relative comfort of Sacramento with the promise of a look at the real California. Milton Hendershot had recently started a practice in the capital.

Murdoch, a poor patient at the best of times, was suffering greatly from the indignity of being poked by a stranger not much older than his sons.  He was not enjoying being discussed even in medical terms with his backside exposed.

“What did you say?”  asked Sam Jenkins.

“I said I feel like a landed fish!” shouted Murdoch. “Ouch!”

“More like Melville’s Moby Dick, beached.”

Scott’s voice.

Murdoch twisted his neck and caught sight of his elder son leaning against the wall.  His arms crossed against his chest; long legs crossed at the ankles. His blue-gray eyes intently watching what the doctor was doing.

Murdoch’s first thought was to bellow an order that sent Scott out of the room. No father should be seen in such a ridiculous position by his son; particularly not a son he barely knew. As Murdoch drew breath he realized there had been amusement in Scott’s voice.  That what he said might almost be considered a joke.  A joke at his father’s expensive; not something Murdoch Lancer would normally tolerate.  But in his short acquaintance with his son he had seen nothing that would suggest that Scott had a sense of humor.  Intensely intelligent, extremely well educated and army trained everything Scott did or said had a purpose.  Murdoch had been surprised and deeply thankful that at twenty-four Scott displayed the temperament and the ability to take on a challenge like part ownership of the huge ranch.  His son was a greenhorn but a determined one.

Murdoch knew that next to Johnny most men would seem quiet and unemotional.  Johnny was young, chronologically if not in experience he was still a boy; and he had his mother’s quick temper.  They were constantly at loggerheads, he and his younger son.  Johnny was so angry at him and at the world. But Murdoch had seen Johnny laughing with Teresa; trading jokes with the younger vaqueros.  As exhausting as it could be to deal with him Murdoch felt Johnny was knowable; his feelings would show on his face; even the cold expression that Murdoch thought of as Johnny’s Madrid face told him much.

In Scott he had seen flashes of temper quickly reined in.  He had seen smugness on his son’s face that reminded him unpleasantly that Scott had been raised by Harlem Garrett.  But not humor, not even, he feared, genuine pleasure.

The younger doctor chuckled softly.  “You’ve read it, of course.”

“Several times,” responded Scott.  “It cured me of any desire to run off to sea.”

“Oh, dear me, yes,” laughed Hendershot as he pressed his strong fingers into the tender places of Murdoch’s left hip.  “Do you remember that scene in the crow’s nest?”

Murdoch gritted his teeth, determined not to make a sound; determined not to bring their attention back to him.  Scott was talking freely and easily about the book.  He named characters and nearly quoted passages.  His voice, normally so deep and stern, had grown lighter, younger. 

It was a conversation they could have had. Murdoch had read MOBY DICK twice.  He had been to sea; he’d worked his way across the Atlantic.  He had seen whales. Yes, there was much they might have spoken about if only one of them knew how to broach any subject that didn’t concern cattle, fencing, or brush filled streams. 

But they did not know how to share something as simple as their reactions to a book.  Scott called him, “Sir,” always as if still dealing with senior officers in the army.  Murdoch accepted the role given him, was comfortable in it.  It preserved the distance between them, their dignity.

“You know, Mr. Lancer, you seem very familiar to me.  Could we have met back east? Perhaps during the war?” asked Hendershot as he pulled Murdoch’s left leg out at a slight angle. “Sorry, sir, this will hurt a little I fear.”

Murdoch grunted with pain.

“I don’t know,” answered Scott slowly.  “I was with Sheridan in Mississippi and for a time in Virginia. Could we have crossed paths then?”

 “Unlikely.  My service was with Sherman in Georgia and South Carolina.”

They paused as if acknowledging all that remained unsaid but shared about their experiences.

Murdoch wished he could hear what they heard in the silence.  He knew that Scott had joined up at seventeen against the wishes of his grandfather but that Garrett had bought the boy a commission so that he would not be a common soldier. He knew the names of battles: Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and the Wilderness.  He had read accounts that chilled his soul and prayed that his son had not been in the thick of the fighting.  

His gaze drifted to a well worn Bible sitting on a small table by his favorite chair.  Catherine’s Bible.  Between its pages were many mementoes including two yellowing telegrams. June 1, 1864  S taken alive at Wilderness.  All being done to secure release.   April 30, 1865 S free, ill, alive.  Garrett had kept his promise to inform Murdoch Lancer of critical events in the life of his son.  It was the Pinkerton agents who gave him facts; Libby Prison, honorable discharge, matriculated at Harvard.

“Mr. Lancer,” Hendershot said addressing Murdoch. “I have several suggestions but what this leg needs most is proper exercise.  You should walk for an hour at least twice a day.  Stay off horses and out of carriages for several weeks.  Try your best to keep the leg moving; even when you sit you should try to keep flexing the foot.”

“And how do I run my ranch without riding a horse?”  growled Murdoch.

“Don’t worry, doctor.  He’ll obey your orders,” said Scott in his normal commanding voice.  “All we have to do is tell Teresa what you’ve said.”

Sam Jenkins laughed.  “You’ve got that right.  That little girl can shame this big man into anything.”

Murdoch knew Scott was not there to embarrass his father.  Only to learn what the doctor’s orders were because the return of Murdoch Lancer’s mobility would be good for the ranch.  And the ranch was what Scott cared about; Murdoch has seen keen interest in Scott’s face the moment he had suggested that if they helped to save the ranch from the mercenaries threatening it he would give each of his sons a third interest. Already on that first day Scott wanted the land.  Why Murdoch didn’t know.  Perhaps it was just the opportunity it represented.  Harlem Garrett’s grandson would know a great deal about not missing opportunities to make money. 

Murdoch dare not acknowledge his hope that it was the land itself that interested Scott anymore than he could acknowledge how deeply he wanted to be called something other than the polite “sir”. He would not risk making himself vulnerable to those hopes.

“I’m going to massage your back, Mr. Lancer.  It may hurt but anything we can do to keep your muscles loose will help in the long run,” said the younger doctor as he began to knead the tight muscles of Murdoch’s lower back.  “Dr. Jenkins told me you haven’t been out here long.  You sound like you might be from Boston.”

“I am,” responded Scott quickly.  “You?”


“Beautiful country up that way. Where did you train?” asked Scott. His voice betrayed his interest in discovering if he and the doctor had met before. “I was at Harvard after the war.”

“I went to Williams and then to Yale for medical school.  That was before I joined up.  I thought I would be of more use as a doctor than a soldier.  But,” the doctor drew the word out as if he were thinking, then went on with satisfaction in his voice. His hands stopped moving over his patient’s back. “Of course, Harvard.  You played for the Nine.”

“Yes,” acknowledge Scott, his voice full of surprise.  “How did–”

“I saw you play against Williams the summer of ’68.  My younger brother was the catcher for Williams.”

“Andy Hendershot!” Scott almost shouted with excitement. Murdoch heard the slap of Scott’s hand against his leg. “I should have recognized the name.”

“He would certainly recognize yours.  You took three hits away from him that day.  And got at least that many of your own.”

“That was a good game.”

Murdoch had never heard his son’s voice so full of simple happiness.  It was the voice of a very young man speaking of a very good memory. 

“How is Andy?” asked Scott eagerly.  “He would be finished at Williams by now.”

“Finished last June.  He was supposed to start medical school in September but he has this crazy notion that he can make a living playing baseball.  He’s hooked up with a bunch of fellows in New York trying to put together a league. Our father is not amused.”

Scott laughed; a real laugh.  The first Murdoch had ever heard from him.

Suddenly he was thankful to be facedown on the bed.  He would not want to have to explain the tears in his eyes.

Baseball.  They were talking about baseball; that game he had read about that had become so popular in the east since the war.  It was suppose to be something like rounders, a game Murdoch had played in Scotland as a boy. His son was a baseball player and from the sound of it a good one. It was a detail of Scott’s life; something that didn’t show up in the impersonal account of the detectives. It was something a father would know about his son.

 Murdoch felt as if a gold nugget had fallen into his hand. To learn this small detail, to hear his son laugh was more than worth the sacrifice of his dignity.

“Well, if anyone can make it pay it’s Andy.  He’s a hell of a player.  I’ve seen him stop balls any other catcher would have let go without making a try for. We played together in a game out on the cape, that must have been two summers ago.  Who is he working with?”

The two young men spoke of famous players, teams they’d seen compete, fields they’d visited and games they had played.

 Murdoch had been forgotten.  Sam Jenkins felt badly for his old friend laying there like a beached whale. He looked ludicrous, something a dignified man like Murdoch Lancer never was.


“Sam,” said Murdoch softly but sharply.  “Let them be.  I’m very comfortable.”


~ end ~


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