Word Count 6,835
Based on The High Riders my AR version.
#2 in The Appaloosa Series
He is not at all like I expected him to be.
At first, he was angry, like a storm waiting to break. When he fought with his brother I was so cross with him—well, with them both—Scott, after all, threw the first punch. Brothers fighting. Uhh los muchachos son estúpidos (the boys are stupid) and I told them both that.
But then what he said about Murdoch giving the keys of the road to his mother, him believing they had been thrown out…well, I just had to put him straight about that. I didn’t care about his gunfighter reputation. He was the Patron’s long lost son, the one I knew Murdoch had searched for. I wasn’t afraid of him.
Then he was shot off his horse. It took me back to Daddy being killed by Pardee, and Murdoch nearly dying of that bullet in his back. Just keep busy, I told myself, don’t think too much, keep busy with the nursing and keeping house. But oh my, he looked so young and close to death.
He is only three years older than me but has lived three lifetimes more than most of the men here at Lancer. When his fever was high he would cry out in Spanish. I have lived amongst it all my life in the care of Maria the housekeeper, so of course, I understand and speak Spanish.
Murdoch and Maria banned me from his room when he was at his worst, but what I did hear was enough to make me weep for him.
Once his fever broke he was, and still is, a terrible patient. Doesn’t, well, won’t take the laudanum; and the cussing about the willow bark tea! Now, I have lived on this ranch all my life, so as much as Daddy, Murdoch, and Maria tried to protect me, I have seen and heard the vaqueros…I told him that kind of language belongs in the bunkhouse and if his Pa heard him he was likely to get his mouth washed out with soap and water.
He actually blushed and got all shy, apologising in a genuine way for causing offence. Since then I like to think we’ve started to become friends.
I know Murdoch has told him and Scott to think of me as a sister. Maria gave me a strict talking to about not just walking into their rooms. I still get to see their underwear even if it is only to do laundry. I don’t think men give that a thought.
I know he has been getting out of bed and walking around. I found him in the corridor one day about to try to go down the stairs. Lord, he was so pale and trembling like a newborn foal. I helped him back to his bed and scolded him for being a fool, telling him he would mend faster if he did as he was told.
He got that sad look and hung his head down, his long black hair falling forward hiding his eyes, said he wasn’t used to being fussed over and in his line of work needed to mend quick.
I knew he meant gunfighting but simply said it would do him no harm to let his family fuss over him. He just shook his head. I can see he doesn’t know how to treat us here at Lancer as family, but he is a Lancer. He belongs here with us. We are his family. He is ours.
I fetched him some cold milk and fresh churros. They are a favourite of his; Maria and I soon spotted he had a sweet tooth. He can be so very polite with Maria and Cipriano’s wife Senora Elena. He calls Maria ‘mamacita’, which she loves. She nursed him as an infant and has decided to treat him as a young boy who needs loving and feeding up.
After he said sorry for being a tonto, he asked about me and how come I was his sister.
I realised Murdoch had told him little of his place at Lancer. Oh, typical of the man; he has told Johnny and Scott of all the acres and stock, the price of beef, the damage the high riders did, killing cattle and horses, burning barns and fields, tearing down fences, killing innocent people. But nothing of the people and their lives, the things they would know if they had always lived here.
Scott reads to him, I think because he would rather not say too much about his life in Boston. His grandfather is very rich and powerful. Scott has read the Pinkerton reports and is now aware of how different his own privileged upbringing was to Johnny’s childhood.
I kept him company while he was bedridden, telling him how my Daddy, Paul O’Brien, had come from Ireland as a boy to Boston and had met Murdoch and his first wife Catherine on the ship that brought them to California. How my Daddy told me what a bad sailor he was, so he jumped at the chance to be a cowboy. Johnny laughed at that, saying he had been on a ship once and being on a horse was way better. He doesn’t look at all dangerous when he relaxes and laughs like that.
I told him what I knew of how Scott’s mother had been on her way to San Francisco to have her baby in safety, but she died and Harlan Garrett, her father, took the baby to Boston and wouldn’t give him back.
Johnny was real quiet watching me with those oh so blue eyes of his. His fingers were constantly busy, tugging and picking at loose threads in the sheets or playing with the Indian bracelet he wears on his wrist. Maria mutters and tuts at those loose threads, so I asked him what he wanted to do to keep his fingers busy. I teased him, saying he could help me mend torn shirts or I could teach him how to knit. He threw his hands up in mock surrender saying that sure would ruin his reputation.
I told him how my Daddy and his father were close friends and how Daddy and I moved to live in the hacienda after my mother ran away. I know she did. Lancer is like a village, and gossip goes around the families and the bunkhouse, and the children hear it all. There are very few secrets, so the story of her death was never going to survive against the truth. I never spoke of it to Daddy; it hurt too much.
When Daddy was killed by Pardee, Murdoch put in place some paperwork to make me his ward, and that’s how come he and Scott are to think of me as a sister.
Johnny listened to my telling of my history of Lancer; he was so quiet and simply let me talk and ramble on, like I tend to do.
I felt sure he was starting to trust me, but he was unsure of Murdoch and Scott, who are both so buttoned down. Senor Cipriano and his wife Senora Elena have spent time with him and have spoken of his Mama.
Now thank the Lord he is on the mend. Doctor Jenkins said it was okay for him to leave his bed. Today he can sit outside and get the sun on his face.
A bullet in the back and a hard fall from my horse…had that happen before, but following so close after that spell in the Mexican prison sure left me weaker than I’d like. ‘Course they got laudanum into me and that don’t agree with me one bit; soon as I was awake I told ‘em and the Doctor no more.
Now I’m sat here on a bench in the courtyard with the sun on me. I like the quiet. It gives me time to think about what I have been told. Sure been told a lot since I got here.
I have this Boston dandy as a brother, I’m guessing I’m an even bigger shock to him than he was to me. Mind, I was careful not to show too much surprise. Madrid can’t afford to show that. My instincts tell me there is more to this gringo than meets the eye.
Then Murdoch Lancer. Always known of his name and that he was gringo, but to see how big he is…dios! Like a bear. All he had to say was that I have my mother’s temper. Well, that ain’t right. My mama’s temper was like a Texas thunderstorm—a wonder to behold and gone as quick as it came; then she was all sunshine and smile. I know I have a dangerous way about me and can use words like bullets to prod a man, but me mostly I can be a real quiet sort of a fella: slow to burn but difficult to put out. Then he says the past is the past, bad or good, right or wrong, it’s past and gone, and that ain’t right either. My past is with me all the time. Gotta keep a sharp lookout for it coming to give me a nudge or else I’ll be dead in a ditch with ants crawling over my eyeballs.
T’resa, a sorta sister, she’s real sweet and chatters away…reminds me of my prima Rosita, so I don’t mind having her as a sister. Sad, how her Papa got killed and her Mama ran away, but she got to be raised here. Worries me she was around during ol’ Day’s raids. She could have been in real bad trouble if things hadn’t worked out.
Seems like the housekeeper Maria helped me into this world and is a true mamacita, promising now I’m over the worst of my injuries and fever she’ll feed me good hot Mexican food. Never upset the cook—learnt that lesson a long time back, so I use my best manners on her.
Then there’s Senor Cipriano, a Mexican of the traditional kind, the estancia’s Segundo. That kinda took me by surprise, a Mexican Segundo on a gringo’s ranch. But then again, from what I saw before I got shot and have since been told is that most of the families and hands here are Mexican. A bigger surprise is his wife, the Senora Elena, was also at my birth and is my madrina (godmother.) Which makes her and Cipriano my Tia and Tio (aunt and uncle) and their four children my primos (cousins.)
Since being released from my bedroom I have taken the time to get to know the fellas in the bunkhouse and listen to their stories. I have visited with my Tio and Tia and their family. It was a comfort to eat such good Mexican food and be fussed over. It made me feel kinda like a small kid again when I overheard them say ‘he is ours’.
All this kin—half-brother, foster sister, Cipriano and his family, and Murdoch Lancer as my ol’ man—it’s enough to make my head spin.
Tio and Tia spent time at the bedside talking to me, telling me the truth of my Mama and her time here. Even though they know I’m Madrid and some of what I got up to in Mexico, they told me this is my home. I am the Patron’s son. It is my birth-right and my duty to take my rightful place.
It was Cip who I asked where my gun was and he understood my need. There was loud words ‘tween him and the ol’ man when Murdoch found me sitting up in that bed cleaning it. Dios, my life depends on that Colt. It looks after me and I look after it.
So here I am sitting in the sun shelling peas for mamacita. My payment will be chicken pozole with lotsa chillies. Well, I’ve hired out for not much more.
I can hear that sweet girl T’resa; she’s round the corner hanging out laundry and singing to herself. I sigh and close my eyes, letting my fingers shell the peas. Tell myself I need to sort out my thoughts and feelings, specially ‘bout Murdoch and Scott. Do I need or want these two strangers as a father and brother? Is Murdoch Lancer really going to come through on his offer of a third of all his land to me, his half-Mexican pistolero son? Is this really mine?
The sudden silence then a sob has me up, my back protesting at my suddenness.
A wise man once said to be careful what you wish for, as it may come true. I’ve wished for the last seventeen years for Johnny to be back with me here at Lancer. But now, I have to face the reality of a young, dangerous gunfighter in my home. He nearly died. I was numb; he looked so young laying there. I dug the bullet out of his back while Scott and Cipriano held him down. Even unconscious, the boy struggled until we got laudanum into him.
Reality crashed down when I found him sitting in bed cleaning his gun. He waved it in my face, making it clear it would stay with him even when I demanded he hand it over, that he had no need for a gunfighter’s gun, now he is back where he belongs as my son Johnny Lancer.
I worry for the safety of us all, especially Teresa and Maria, under the same roof or being in the same room with him. I had a very difficult and loud conversation with Cipriano, Elena and Maria. They made it clear their belief that Johnny was no danger to them or Teresa. Senora Elena stated if I didn’t want my boy in the hacienda he would be welcome in their home. My bluff was called, and then I had to explain who he was to Scott. I let him read the Pinkerton reports. Scott was shocked he had a brother he knew nothing of and a notorious border town gunfighter at that. Scott, though, said we should give him the opportunity to prove he had returned for more than the $1000. After all, he is ours.
I am usually so confident and certain my way is the only way, calling the tune everyone has to dance to. But ever since I found I was wrong about that other boy in West Texas I sometimes find I doubt myself. Now I am asking if I can trust the Pinkertons: is this Johnny Madrid really my son? Do I want him as mine?
Now, Scott, this is a son I could be proud to claim as mine.
Educated, cultured, a war hero…he and I share a love of literature, a good scotch or brandy. I can take him to the Cattleman’s Association meetings to meet my neighbours and fellow cattlemen without fear of embarrassment.
We avoid conversations about Harlan Garrett. Scott may have lived most of his life with that old goat and had a privileged upbringing with the finest education and chances in life, but he is mine.
I have shown him the ledgers and he actually complimented me on my bookkeeping. I was surprisingly flattered.
Once Johnny had recovered from the worst of the fever that had burned so fiercely, he became so sullen, dropping his head to hide his face. He has a habit of hugging himself. Even with Scott he is withdrawn, and where that damn gunfighter’s gun is concerned he is downright hostile.
The boy would watch me when I came to his room with those startlingly blue eyes; they remind me of my own brother Ian. He seems as if he is waiting for me to say or do something. I don’t know what he is thinking. I don’t know what to make of him or what he wants or expects from me.
Sam Jenkins has declared he can leave his bedroom. I can only hope his mood improves.
I was warned I was coming to a wild dangerous land and how right that was. I was also warned Murdoch Lancer was an uneducated dreamer living in a hovel. How wrong that was.
No sooner a fight over a hat, of all things, in a strange emporium then a fight with this boy who is apparently a younger brother; then fighting off the high riders. So much happened in such a short time.
Johnny is a famous gunfighter. Stories have been written about him in penny dreadfuls (or dime novels, as they are called out west). He didn’t have a high opinion of Murdoch or me, his attitude being insolent even when being offered the money and the chance of a partnership in this impressive ranch. The boy surprised me; he spotted immediately there was no signature on the partnership papers, and understood the arms, legs, and guts rules of being a mercenary. So his gun is not easily bought, I think.
He treated my plan to deal with the high riders with contempt. He refused to follow orders on tracking them, instead going off by himself and getting shot off his horse as a consequence.
I truly thought he was dead. However, he moved and my instinct for not leaving a fallen comrade behind kicked in. I ran out to him. It was my shot that killed Pardee. That has gone a little way for me to earn respect from the workforce.
Johnny nearly did die of the wound and the fever that followed. He spoke in Spanish during the fever, a language I am not familiar with. French and German yes, Spanish no, a pity as I have to depend on Murdoch or Cipriano to translate. My brother is only nineteen years of age, but his body bears scars—old bullet and knife wounds and evidence of recent ill-treatment. At one point Murdoch had to leave the room and get a drink. He just shook his head when I asked what Johnny was shouting about and drank some more of the good scotch he has in his drinks cabinet.
When the patient awoke, weak and in pain, he refused laudanum point blank. Luckily Doctor Sam Jenkins can handle both Murdoch and Johnny, at least up to a point, so an uneasy truce was put in place.
Johnny is silent and watchful, reminding me of a caged wildcat I saw in the zoo. Johnny Madrid is without a doubt a dangerous young man.
Murdoch had paid the Pinkertons to trace the boy, and I have read their reports. I am not sure how truthful some of it is. His early years are a matter of guesswork and unsubstantiated sightings. Once identified as Madrid the reports are no more than a combination of recounted dime novel stories and newspaper articles. It seems the Pinkertons did contact him more than once; he obviously didn’t want to come to Lancer until he was bought by bribe from a firing squad. I am frankly amazed that Murdoch Lancer, who from examining his ranch ledgers is a clearheaded successful and even ruthless businessman, can believe half of what is in the reports.
I wonder if there is a Pinkerton report on the life of Scott Lancer. That would be an interesting read.
I have been put in the care of the Segundo Cipriano Ortez and his eldest son Manuel, who is a little older than I am. They can speak English and are patient with my attempts at being a cowboy. I can see what needs doing, all the repairs to fences and buildings, but actually working with cattle and the western style of riding is different to the skills which I am an expert at.
Murdoch had warned me the days start early, but good grief—before sunrise! I am used to long leisurely evenings and slow starts to the day. Still, it has pleased me to find a good library here, although the newspapers are so very out of date.
I find the relationship between Murdoch and the workforce odd. Oh, there is respect. He is addressed as Patron, but the housekeeper and Mr and Mrs Ortez have been unafraid to voice their opinions about Johnny, who they call Juanito and who they have declared is one of theirs. Even my lack of Spanish didn’t stop me from understanding their feelings.
And Johnny, once awake, has charmed the females who have cared for him. I watched how he ducked his head and spoke quietly and respectfully with Cipriano Ortez. It seems Cipriano and his wife think of themselves as Johnny’s Uncle and Aunt. Teresa, this young almost sister, is certainly under his spell, although I am aware she also laps up my conversations about life back east.
I kept him company during the time he was laid up, trying to engage him in conversation. He calls me Boston to annoy me, I am sure. As Murdoch and I are unsure of even the basics of his ability to read and write, I read to him. I decided The Three Musketeers would perhaps appeal. He closes his eyes and after a while feigns sleep.
He dislikes being fussed over and is happy in his own company. Now he is released from the bedroom I am curious to see what will happen between him and Murdoch.
I ignored the pain in my back as I took in the sight of T’resa on her knees, clutching a shirt, her body shaking. My instincts tell me there was no danger, just a girl in pain. I holstered my gun and knelt by her, putting my arm around her shoulders.
She was silently sobbing into the shirt, so I spoke soft and low as I would to a wounded creature. I asked if she needed mamacita, thinking maybe it was a girl problem. No, she says and tells me it was her Papa’s shirt and holds it out. It looks just like a gringo work shirt to me, but what do I know?
She looks at me, her big brown eyes full of tears, full of the pain of loss. I understand and still remember that pain when I lost Mama and Papi. She says she misses him and cries. I tell her it’s okay to cry, it helps to wash away some of the pain.
So I let her talk about how she kept busy caring for Murdoch and worrying about the high riders, and how now the danger has passed it is all coming back. How her Daddy is in her dreams and remembering him in the places he used to be, how she expects to see him. She looks so sad, looking away towards the barns and corrals
I don’t talk about myself too much…well, hardly at all. Too much is at stake, living like I do with the threat of death stalking Madrid; but I try to find words to offer her some comfort. I stay close to her and say I understand how she can imagine her father being around, cos I guess until now she hasn’t really had the time to think about him being gone, and now she doesn’t have to be so brave. I take my arm from around her and worry at the beads to take my own pain away.
Seems I may have said something right cos she gives herself a bit of a shake and straightens her shoulders and dries her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt I give her my bandana and tell her to blow her nose.
I tell her she can tell me all about him if it’ll help any.
She is still holding on to that damp shirt, so I help her stand up and smile, saying we best get this laundry hanging up else mamacita will be chasing us with her wooden spoon. That seemed to work cos we do it together while she tells of how her father was in charge of the ranch’s horse breeding and training, and how important the Appaloosa stallion that Pardee stole was to him.
She takes me to that big ol’ desk and shows me the breed record book her Daddy kept. Seems how the Appaloosa was used on the same mare that produced the palomino I’ve claimed as mine. There may be a foal out there that is his half brother or sister. That makes me smile. My palomino is gonna be a mighty fine horse; I can’t wait for the doctor to give me the all clear to get back in the saddle. I’m calling him Barranca and him and me, we’re gonna be compadres.
I was already putting two an’ two together when I first heard the name Paul O’Brien and now an Appaloosa stallion. I know of the Appaloosa sold by my Tio Joe Madison to a Paul O’Brien going to California. Hell, it was me who caught that stallion and did the first gentling in Mexico before sending him to Tio for JJ to take over breaking before selling.
California is a big place and there can always be more’n one person going by a name. Just look at my Mama and her sobrina, both Marias, and me an’ JJ, both Juanito, and all of us at times using the family name Mannerino or Madison.
I now know the truth: a Paul O’Brien from Lancer bought the Appaloosa from Joe Madison. T’resa showed me the ranch books where it’s all written down. But it wasn’t her Papa who did the trading; it must have been Murdoch Lancer. JJ told me of the man. Big as a bear, he said, and more interested in the family than the stallion.
Seeing Daddy’s shirt was a shock. It must have been lost amongst work put to one side when we were so short of help because of people leaving to escape the high riders. Johnny was so kind and understanding, letting me cry and talk about Daddy.
He helped me with the laundry and I helped him finish shelling the peas for Maria and then I showed him the Breed record book Daddy kept with all the various bills of sale. I have heard Murdoch and Scott wondering how much education Johnny has had, but he read Daddy’s records just fine.
He asked where Daddy bought the Appaloosa, and I told him from what I could remember a cowboy had fetched him from somewhere in Texas, but Daddy hadn’t been there himself. It was a couple of years ago and a lot has happened since so I was a bit uncertain about the details. Johnny just nodded and said he reckoned he would have got along with Daddy as he has a lot of time for folks with an eye for a good horse.
We were talking about what was likely to have happened to the stallion. I thought he had probably hightailed it up to the black mesa, but Johnny thought it likely one of the highriders who got away had claimed it as payment due. That’s when Murdoch found us at his desk. He looked angry, asking what we were doing, so I explained I was showing Johnny my Daddy’s horse breeding records. Murdoch went pale and I asked if his back was playing up and did he need anything. I could feel Johnny was real still and tense next to me but he didn’t say anything, at least not while I was there.
Johnny was missing for the evening meal. He told Maria he was eating with Cipriano and his family.
Johnny was quiet for the next few days, drifting around the hacienda and the outbuildings, getting acquainted with the vaqueros and their families, and spending time grooming Barranca. He can drift about so silently it takes you by surprise when he is suddenly there with a little smile, his blue eyes twinkling, asking if there are any milk and cookies.
Sam Jenkins came by and told Johnny he could ride: no galloping, no jumping, and no chasing wild horses, or herding cattle until he said so.
Tomorrow we all go into Green River. The partnership papers are to be signed.
At last, Johnny is out of his room. I have doubts he will follow Sam’s orders. He has made it clear he is not good at taking orders.
I went into to kitchen to check with Maria and was relieved to hear he has stayed at the hacienda. He is surprisingly tolerant of Maria mothering him. I wonder how he was treated in his childhood. Maria, my wife and his mother, did love him as a baby. I used to worry she was spoiling him and I was determined Lancer would have a son who was tough enough to work alongside me.
I went through to the great room with a coffee to find Johnny and Teresa close together at my desk, heads down, studying papers.
My heart leapt. My first thought being ‘not the Pinkerton reports’. They are not suitable reading for Teresa. My voice, loud and demanding even to my ears, asked what was going on.
Teresa looked up smiling, saying she was showing Johnny the horse breeding studbook her father kept, and wondering what has happened to the Appaloosa. Memories of that other Johnny flashed through my mind—a talented, good-natured boy who for a short while I thought was mine.
It was the attempt to get the Appaloosa back from Pardee that got Paul killed and me carrying this bad back for the rest of eternity. Good riddance to it.
Johnny was looking at me with the insolent face he wore on that first day. His eyes seemed almost black. I’ve no clue as to what was on in his mind. He was trying to read me, so I kept my face set in that scowl that is permanently on me. I sipped my coffee wishing it was scotch.
That evening he was missing from the evening meal. Apparently, he had told Maria he was eating with Cipriano and his family. There was no reason for me to be angry but I found myself annoyed. Teresa pointed out they are his relatives so it’s only right he gets to know them. I snorted, thinking he should try to get to know his immediate family. He is ours.
The next few days went quietly. I felt like I was waiting for either of these boys, my sons, to confront me about their mothers, or the reasons neither grew up with me as their father. I had made it plain the past was done and gone; maybe they had taken me at my word. But the past has come back to me with a vengeance, keeping me awake at night with memories I worked hard at burying.
Scott is out with Cipriano’s eldest most days, getting to know his way around the land, learning the basic skills required. I have always led by example and I expect my sons to do the same. They will do their share of fence-mending, moving cattle, and clearing watercourses. Soon there will be the cattle drive and that can be a dangerous place for a greenhorn. Scott, however, is good with the books and understands without too much direction what is expected to keep these up to date.
Johnny drifts around the hacienda and outbuildings, spending time grooming the palomino he has called Barranca. He has also got to know the men in the bunkhouse and the families that call Lancer home.
Sam came by and told Johnny he could ride, but no galloping, no jumping fences, no rounding up wild horses or herding cattle, to take it slowly; light duties only. Sam tells me he has told Johnny he can ride out to explore the land. I worry he will simply ride away.
The next day I announced at the breakfast table we are all to go into Green River to sign the partnership papers. Lancer will no longer just be mine. It will be ours.
The doctor has come by; said I could get back in the saddle, looked me in the eye and used my short name John as if he knew I’d do too much too soon, and told me to take some time, ride the land, get to know it as its mine. I was born to it.
I don’t give anyone too much credit, so when the ol’ man announced the partnership papers were to be signed I kept my gunfighter face on. Boston though, he looked like the cat that had landed in a dish of cream.
I always thought myself fit, but I ache in places I didn’t know I had places.
There is no indoor plumbing for bathing. If I am to stay as a partner that will be an essential requirement. If necessary my $1000 will pay for it.
I find myself soaking in a huge wooden tub in a bathhouse to ease the various aches and bruises, studying the calluses starting to appear on my hands despite wearing gloves.
Murdoch Lancer is a hard taskmaster. There is no let up on the arms, legs, and guts he expects in repairing the damage inflicted by the high riders. I understand perfectly the business requires cattle to go to market; it seems he expects me to go on a cattle drive. How my life has changed.
There is an air of underlying trouble between Murdoch and Johnny. They watch each other with suspicion…then Johnny ducks his head to hide those bright blue eyes of his and hugs himself. He watches me, but I have trained myself since childhood to present a polite and unthreatening personality to the world. I am beginning to suspect he sees through it.
Breakfast at Lancer is a shock; we eat in the kitchen. It is not what a Boston gentleman is used to at all. The housekeeper and Teresa cook and serve up food. I am usually half asleep through it. Now Johnny is on his feet he is the same, with Maria coaxing him to eat and not just drink coffee. I have a feeling she will continue to mother him even when he is fully fit.
The evening meals, however, are more civilised, with Teresa sitting with us men at the formal long table. Maria usually serves, sometimes with various girls who are presumably in training helping.
Johnny’s appetite is something we find astonishing. I have seen and experienced starvation, and this boy shows those signs. He eats without pause, although vegetables are usually ignored. On the first night he ate with us we had a chocolate dessert. I swear I saw the boy he would have been as he enjoyed it. Having finished his portion before anyone else, he started to play with his spoon, twirling it between his fingers. He saw me watching and pointed the spoon at my dish asking if I was done. When I said yes, he reached over, took my dish and proceeded to finish it off. My face must have been a picture.
Murdoch had been watching. He opened his mouth as if to remonstrate at the lack of manners, but he simply told Johnny if he was still hungry Maria could fetch more out to him. The boy looked up, cream around his mouth. He looked ten years old and said he didn’t want to give her unnecessary work, collected up the used dishes, and took them into the kitchen. We three just sat there in silence looking at each other.
Murdoch had said he didn’t understand him and to be honest, neither do I.
I keep correcting him about my name, sure he calls me Boston to provoke me, just like he calls Murdoch ol’ man. It’s the tone of his voice; he can say ‘sure ol’ man’ and make it an insult. The more we try to get him to talk about himself, the more he retreats into being insolent.
He is so quiet and listens as Murdoch and I discuss politics, books or history. Then one night I was telling Teresa about my travels through Europe and Great Britain.
Johnny had seemed uninterested until he looked me in the eye and with a straight face said, “You been to Madrid, Boston?” I was taken by surprise. Was he making a joke on the play on words? Teresa laughed out loud as she understood the reference.
I replied that my name is Scott; Boston is where I lived and yes, I had been to Madrid in Spain. While I had his attention I asked how he had come to use the name Madrid, not expecting a reply.
He played with a fork in his fingers and drawled in that slow cowboy accent he sometimes uses that when he was a little kid, he heard about Spanish bullfighters and how the best came from Madrid. He looked up at Murdoch and said he would have liked to have been one. I could tell Murdoch was holding his breath, hearing of something of the childhood of his younger son. Johnny was smiling at the memory, I suppose, then asked me what I had wanted to be when I was a kid. I smiled back at him, telling him a pirate captain sailing the seven seas.
He went on to ask what I thought of France. I began telling Teresa about Paris—how very fashionable the city was, when he interrupted to ask what I thought of the people. I told him I had found them sophisticated and cultured. He took me again by surprise by exclaiming the ones he had come across were nothing but murderous thieving banditos. It was Murdoch who explained to me that the French were, for a time, fighting in Mexico. He looked over to Johnny, asking if he had come across them.
Johnny had put his head down and began to worry at the beads on his wrist and we all waited; eventually he told us that he had been in the army, the Mexican army, but hadn’t taken to following orders so left. There was so much unsaid in the few words he used, I could see Murdoch showing distress, but with a gentleness in his voice asked how old he would have been. Johnny looked up saying he was just a kid, but still and all didn’t see why the French felt they could just come and take what wasn’t theirs.
He looked at me and with a change of subject that was breath-taking grinned and said, “So Scott, you go to Scotland where our ol’ man here hails from?” Another joke on the play on words. The boy is smart, much smarter than I had so far given him credit for. I had to say no and looked at Murdoch, hoping he would tell us something of his life in Scotland, but he kept quiet and the moment passed.
Unfortunately, that evening meal and conversation were not the normal course of events. The normal conversations seemed to always come back to Murdoch calling his tune, especially with Johnny and the wearing of his gun in the house. The shouting one night resulted in Johnny storming out of the house and Murdoch drinking a larger than usual glass of his best scotch.
I went in search of Johnny, expecting him to ride off his mad in the dark. He was in the barn grooming that palomino of his, speaking quietly to it.
I managed to talk to him, asking why he felt it necessary to wear his gun all the time, to even sleep with it under his pillow. He answered that he always needed to be ready, that there was always going to be someone wanting to take his reputation. It was then I realised that some of the times he was missing, he would have been practising his gunfighter skills. As he walked out he looked at me saying gunfighters don’t just retire. They die.
The next day Sam Jenkins gave him the all clear and the day after Murdoch announced we are to sign the partnership papers. So Lancer is to be ours.
TBC in His
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