Summary: A three-part “slice if life at Lancer” story.
Word Count: 4400
How It Looks (Scott)
Scott Lancer was in an unusually sour mood.
He hadn’t felt like this since he had arrived at his father’s ranch in California, some eight months ago, to find himself pitched headlong into a range-war and surely the oddest ‘family reunion’ ever. And he had really had neither the time nor the inclination since to revert to the bouts of self-pity and too much liquor that had been becoming rather too frequent back in now far-away Boston. But today he was feeling sorry for himself, and if he wanted to sit and wallow in self recrimination, jealousy and self-pity, then he damn well would.
True, they had made sure that he was settled comfortably on the veranda, with a pile of books and a cane, and Johnny, with one of his wickedly-amused grins, had loaded and leaned his Henry rifle against the chair. Then he and Murdoch had mounted their horses and ridden off together, leaving him to his own devices.
They were doing that a lot lately, it seemed. After a rocky start of suspicion and mistrust, it seemed as if Murdoch and Johnny were finally coming to grips with their relationship. They were, after all, two of a kind: tough, stubborn, hot-tempered and thoroughly at home out here in this hard, harsh, beautiful and dangerous land. At first, Scott had seemed to spend his life trying to stop them tearing each other apart — emotionally and physically — but lately, although they still argued fiercely at the drop of a hat, it seemed that the heat had gone out of it—indeed, that they almost enjoyed their fierce battles. Murdoch no longer watched and criticized, and Johnny no longer rode off for days at a time, leaving everyone wondering if this was the time when he might not come back. They hunted and fished — well, they sat by the water anyway; Scott didn’t think that fishing for pleasure was Johnny’s idea of a good time — and laughed together, and when Johnny was hurt or sick, his father agonized after him as if he had been a weakly baby and certainly not the physically toughest of young men that Scott had ever met in his life.
He did not imagine for one moment that Murdoch would have ridden off with HIM and left an injured Johnny sitting alone at the house.
OK, so his injuries were minor — certainly not life threatening — but he still hurt. A broken ankle wasn’t much of an injury, but it sure was painful. Cracked ribs were an almost every day occurrence, it seemed, out here and they were now well strapped up, but nonetheless they reminded him sharply of their existence every time he made the wrong sort of move. Although the bump on his head had left him badly stunned and he still had a nagging headache, he had only the mildest of concussion. He couldn’t even bang himself up properly, it seemed.
He hadn’t even managed to do all this in a seriously heroic fashion, either. He had not gone down in a blaze of glory. No flying bullets (or even flying fists), no ‘bad guys’ to outsmart, no lives to be saved. Oh no! All he could manage to do was get dragged from his horse by some stupid steer and then, to compound the humiliation, get the rope entangled around his arm so that he had been pulled along for a short while. Then he had rolled free. Straight over the edge of a steep cliff, to land in an ignominious heap at the bottom, collecting on the way a broken ankle, several cracked ribs and a bump on his head the size of Canada.
Johnny, no doubt, in the same situation would have simply swarmed back up the cliff and walked or ridden the two hours home, probably singing (if you could call that tuneless row he made singing) blithely all the way where he would have greeted and treated as a hero and watched over lovingly for a week.
Not that his cocksure and competent ‘little brother’ would have fallen over a cliff like that in the first place, of course. Someone might have pushed — or even dropped — him over it, but he certainly wouldn’t have allowed some cow to roll him over it.
He, Scott, had been compelled to sit at the bottom of the cliff and wait to be rescued. His one attempt at self-sufficiency had left him feeling sick and giddy and useless, so he had wriggled himself around until he could pull his revolver from his hip and fired three nicely spaced shots into the air. Then he had blacked out.
Quite the hero, huh!
He had awakened to find himself, to his unmitigated relief, back in his own bed, with his ankle clamped in a ten-ton plaster cast, his torso enwrapped with too-tight bandages and a splitting head-ache. True, he had been ‘fed and watered’ conscientiously for two days but no one, not even the doctor, had seemed to be unduly worried about his state of health and now, just two more days on, here he was, sitting here alone.
Even Theresa seemed to have deserted him. Had he been his young brother now, she would have been trotting to and fro with trays of lemonade (or better yet a stiff whiskey), cookies and cake. Not that he wanted cookies and cake–but the attention would be…
“Here you are, Scott.” Theresa broke his surly reverie, appearing at his side, with a tray of lemonade and cookies (no cake — cake was reserved, it seemed, for his brother). Damn, why did she have to do that — put him in the wrong like that? “Lemonade — or would you prefer something stronger?” She was smiling teasingly at him. “Are you in pain?” she added, noting the drawn look.
“No, no–I’m fine.” He made an attempt at something like his brother’s insouciance in adversity, but even that didn’t sound quite right. “Just, um, thinking. Lemonade is just fine thanks.” He accepted a glass and took a glad gulp. It really wasn’t bad and he managed to dredge up a smile of thanks.
“Have you read all your books?” she asked. “Shall I get you something else to read?”
“No need, I haven’t even looked at them yet. I was just admiring the view and um, well…thinking.”
“Some thoughts!!” the girl said seriously.
“You looked as if you had all the worries in the world to deal with. Is something bothering you?”
Only you, he thought sourly then almost at once he felt ashamed of himself. It wasn’t her fault after all.
“Just thinking that the survey is going to get behind some,” he lied valiantly. As if it mattered whether he had a busted ankle. Any half-wit could do the precious survey after all. Theresa herself, in fact, could do it. Probably fit it in neatly between the cooking and the laundry and still have time to make herself a new dress.
“Well, I shall be in the kitchen. Just shout if you want me.” She patted his shoulder reassuringly and went her way. Johnny of course would have been invited — and assisted — INTO the kitchen and regaled with milk and cake and her cheery inconsequential chatter. Or she might even have just stayed chattering to him on the sunny veranda.
You hardly made her welcome, did you? his better self chided softly from the background.
So what! Johnny could be as surly as a bear and everyone would fall over themselves to charm HIM out of his bad temper.
All he got was “shout if you want me”. Well, he didn’t want her and he certainly wasn’t going to “shout”. It was her responsibility to check up on him. If she couldn’t be bothered to do her job, then he would manage without her.
He took another swallow of lemonade and reached out a hand for a cookie. The movement fetched a sharp stab of pain beneath the bandages about his torso. Why couldn’t she have left the damn plate where he could get at it without having to reach? Oh well — he didn’t really want a cookie anyway. He wished now that he had taken her up on her offer of ‘something stronger’. A bottle of whiskey or even wine would be a good companion right now. He set the glass of lemonade down sharply — and wished he hadn’t as his ribs ‘poked’ at him again. He couldn’t even sigh with frustration because that hurt too. He sat and felt sorry for himself some more; he must have dozed a bit because he opened his eyes some time later feeling as if he had been run over by a runaway train.
Dammit — he wanted that drink now! And no, he was NOT going to ‘shout’ for it. He fished for the cane he had been using and, taking in as much of a breath as he could, held it as he pushed himself to his feet.
It took a while to get back into the house, and by the time he had made it to the drink, his breath was coming in short painful gasps, his head was splitting, and his ankle was hurting so much that he was forced to find the nearest seat and collapse into it, clutching a glass and the bottle of whisky like a lifeline.
Common sense, somewhere in the back of his brain, told him that it was not a good idea to drink whiskey when he already had a headache but he was not in the mood for common sense today. He also had an idea that no one would be very pleased with him if they came home to find him good and drunk either, but then, who cared what any of them thought. None of them thought all that much of him anyway, so what difference would it make.
Depends On (Johnny)
Johnny Lancer was not feeling quite his customary sunny self as his horse loped along the trail alongside his father’s big powerful mount. They had been riding together for several hours now and he was beginning to wonder whether the strain of “handling” the ‘old man’ for so long in one hit might be beginning to tell.
It was true that they did get along a lot better now than they had in the beginning but that was mainly because he had stayed as far away from his crusty ‘old man’ as he could for as long as he could and whenever he could. When he couldn’t, well…he was getting real good at minding his tongue and his temper these days, and sometimes — just sometimes — Murdoch Lancer could make a real good companion, especially when away from his precious ranch.
Today, however, they hadn’t been away from the place. They had ridden out to the westernmost edge of the range to check out a fallen path. Quite why it needed the two of them, he couldn’t imagine. But that’s where they had gone and he had dutifully “listened” to his sire’s very DULL (and thorough) lecture on the rock formations and the soil and how they caused the problems with the falling trails. He sounded just like one of those boring books on the subject that Scott (who seemed to find this sort of thing interesting) kept finding and sometimes read pieces aloud from.
Johnny, wondering if the ‘old man’ was, in fact, mistaking him for Scott, had nodded and “uh-huh’d” in what he had hoped were all the appropriate places, whilst in reality his mind was on his injured brother back at home and the possibilities perhaps of a good brisk gallop on the way back home to him and what might be for supper.
Then, as they were out that way, they had checked out a couple of water-courses that had been a minor cause for concern. Johnny had automatically noted in his head what needed doing there. He might not be all that interested in soil and rocks but he knew all there was to know about the importance of water. He was actually quite pleased to find that when Murdoch shared his views on the subject — they more or less tallied — but he had learned to say little when the rancher got to “tune calling” and got away with a few more intelligent sounding “uh-huhs”. This seemed to please the ‘old man’, who was being positively ‘chippy’ with him today.
Ah well — keep nodding, keep smiling and look intelligent, Johnny-boy. Another hour now, and we’ll be back at the house.
He still wasn’t quite sure what, though — if there was one — was the point of this jolly jaunt.
He had expected that Murdoch would have wanted to stay put at home and keep an eye on Scott, who was looking a bit battered and fragile after his nasty fall of a few days ago.
Johnny had been positively scared when they had finally found his unconscious brother at the bottom of that gully. He had indeed thought for a couple of alarming moments that Scott was dead, so limp and lifeless had he looked, but in fact, it had all looked a lot worse than it was, although he still thought that Scott looked as if he had been run down by a train. Had to be at least a weeks worth of ‘bed’ there, he had thought.
But no! Scott had been allowed, even encouraged, out of his ‘sickbed’ as soon as possible, and even out onto the veranda and left there in peace and solitude.
Had it been him now! Well, there was no way the old man would trust HIM on his own at home if he had so much a sticking plaster over a graze. Oh no! He’d be there, at his desk most likely, pretending to be at his apparently never-ending bookwork but watching him like a hawk, keeping him tied to the couch — if he was even allowed down the stairs — badgering him to stop fidgeting, reminding him of what Sam had said (Sam said far too much sometimes, in Johnny’s private opinion) and bothering him to take medicine every five minutes or threatening him with prolonged periods of inactivity if he dared to stir so much as an unauthorized finger.
Sometimes he wondered how on earth his father (and the doctor) thought he had managed to survive for as long as he had on his own without all their never-ending fuss fuss fuss, but he was learning even to put up with all that. Anyway, he thought rather smugly, it had been a fair few months now since he had been hurt or sick, so no one had had any excuse to ‘hover’ over him.
Perhaps next time, though (if there was a next time, of course), he might try to point out that Scott seemed to be able to manage on his own for an hour or two, so why couldn’t he? He grinned inwardly, cheering himself up with the thought that he knew already the answer to that one.
Scott was sensible enough to stay put and rest. But then it was easy for him. All he needed was some book or other and he could entertain himself for hours. Johnny didn’t mind a book — for about ten minutes or so and as long as the print wasn’t too close together and didn’t contain too many long words. Pictures were good too. Trouble was, there didn’t seem to be many books like that – well, not at Lancer anyway.
“What mischief are you planning, young man?” His father’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I know that look, so whatever it is, forget it.”
“I was thinking about books, I’ll have you know.” Johnny was chockfull of righteous indignation
“Books?” Murdoch slowed his horse back to a jog in astonishment. “What sort of books would make you grin like…” He broke off, thinking that he could indeed think of that ‘sort of book’, although he couldn’t imagine where his younger son could possibly have gotten his hands on them.
Johnny reined his own mount back alongside the slower moving horse and gave him a knowing grin. “Yeah,” he admitted, almost bashfully, “I have seen a coupla books like that, but I wasn’t thinking ‘a them. I was thinking about the books on the shelves at home.”
Johnny laughed inwardly at the tone of surprise in his father’s voice.
The hard trail swung away to the north and the path to the south turned soft and rutted, but alongside it there was a tempting sweep of lush green open pastureland. Just in the direction they needed to be going, Johnny thought longingly. He was fed up with this jig-jogging along, trying to make polite conversation. His mouth twitched into another mischievous grin
“That old nag of yours up for a race?” Johnny challenged, daringly casting a bright-eyed glance over his father’s precious favorite mount. The animal was an easy- paced, calm, good natured creature, but was, in truth, very far from being either ‘old’ or a ‘nag’ and was possessed, too, of an impressive turn of speed.
“Why you cheeky…” Murdoch began, laughingly—but Johnny was gone.
With a whoop and a holler, Johnny set spurs to his mount’s sides and was away across the inviting green fields, his hat bouncing off his head and down his shoulders, his hair caught back in the wind of his own making, his bright shirt rippling in the storm of the rapid movement.
Half a second later, he knew that his father was racing after him. He could hear the big horse closing in on him at a ground eating gallop and soon they were racing, side by side, towards the big white house they could now see in the near distance.
Where you stand (Murdoch)
Murdoch Lancer was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. He was feeling decidedly tired, both physically and emotionally. There was, he had discovered, a lot more to this fatherhood business than he had ever imagined and sometimes it was just downright exhausting.
It had been quite a day, all in all, and he knew that that last mad galloping race home with Johnny had not been at all the thing for a middle-aged man with a bullet lodged permanently in his back to indulge in. But it had been fun — something that had been sadly missing for far too long in his life — and he didn’t think that Johnny had realized that he had allowed the younger man on the smaller horse to win.
It had been a good day altogether, with his younger son. The boy — he really MUST stop calling him that, he told himself sternly, even in his head. Johnny was not very old, but sadly, he had not been a boy for a long time now.
The young man, then, had seemed quite interested in and intelligent about the geological problems along the westernmost trail, and though his attention had waned a bit over the problems with the watercourses, he had been fairly polite about it.
He could not expect that either of his sons could exactly understand the feeling in his heart when he found himself, finally, riding their range together. He had dreamed and hoped of it for so many years, and even now, it still seemed slightly unreal sometimes that his boys were finally home. He was sure that they neither of them had any idea what a thrill it gave him to have them alongside him, either separately or together, and he had no idea how to tell them, much as he wanted to. But Johnny had seemed comfortable with him today, he thought contentedly.
Stretching his sore back muscles, he levered himself out of his chair and his eye fell on the whisky bottle on the table. The sight of it brought a smile to his eyes and a chuckle to his throat. Now what a business THAT had been. He and Johnny had ridden out, leaving Scott happily ensconced on the veranda and expecting to find him comfortably settled somewhere, when they got back. Scott, the sensible one of the family. Not the man you would expect to trigger such a hoo-ha — even inadvertently.
Murdoch swung the bottle gently by its neck, remembering.
He had not been there when Scott had taken his, by all accounts, somewhat spectacular nose-dive over the edge of Yellow Bluff but he had heard all about it.
He had realized that Scott was feeling rather foolish over the incident and that Johnny was slightly inclined to tease him over it. This was one of the reasons he had taken Johnny off with him today, so that Scott might get some peace and quiet for a while. Johnny could be an exhausting and exasperating tease and Scott had been looking rather white and wan and fragile. His older son looked liked he might benefit from a day of peaceful solitude, so Murdoch had asked Theresa to keep an eye on him but to leave him alone as much as possible.
He and Johnny had arrived back home and had, of course, immediately noticed that Scott was no longer on the veranda. Nothing about that to alarm anyone, but to be greeted by a tear-stained, almost hysterical Theresa and a self-importantly alarmed Jelly, to be told that Scott had “disappeared again” had been a bit of a surprise.
“He can’t have gone far,” Johnny had protested, reasonably enough “He’s more or less on one leg and there’s no way he could have gotten into a saddle. Have you checked his room?”
“Of COURSE I’ve checked his room,” Theresa had stormed at him tearfully. “I checked ALL the rooms, and he’s nowhere in the house.”
“I’ve had all the out-buildings searched as well, Boss,” Jelly had added, in his best and somewhat officious ‘I’m in charge’ manner. “He jest ain’t no-where to be found.”
It was of course, Johnny who had found his brother. Completely fortuitously. His sharp eyes had spotted the ferrule of the cane where in fact, no cane should be, and following this clue, he had discovered the missing Scott. His shout of triumph ought to have awakened the dead –but not Scott. There he was, dead to the world, sound asleep in the big blue arm chair that had been placed facing a little recess in the book shelves near the drinks cabinet, where some of the books Scott most liked to read were kept. It was a large chair and anyone slumped in it would be pretty much invisible from most of the room. In their panic, neither Theresa nor Jelly had thought to look there.
At first it looked as if his older son had uncharacteristically drunk himself into a stupor because he was clutching a whisky bottle to his chest. However, further investigation had shown that the bottle had not even been opened and that if Scott HAD been drinking anything, it must have been from some secret supply of his own, because every drop of liquor in the room was accounted for and there was no way that Scott could have made it to the wine cellar and back.
It was all a bit of a mystery as to why the young man was so very deeply asleep. Johnny had, not very seriously, forwarded the notion that he may have been drugged, and then Theresa had tentatively admitted that she had been lacing Scott’s drinks with laudanum for the past couple of days due to the pain of his ankle. When Murdoch investigated this further, he found that the laudanum bottle she had been using was the extra powerful stuff that had been brewed for his own large frame when he had been laid up with Pardee’s damn bullet in his back.
Its effects on the much smaller, slighter Scott had been slightly devastating and three days worth of the stuff, topped up by the latest dose in the lemonade she had served him earlier in the afternoon, had, so it appeared, just knocked him right out. Murdoch had scooped the sublimely unconscious young man into his arms and carried him up to bed, hoping that he would simply sleep it off. Theresa had been mortified and Johnny, whilst a little concerned for his brother, had thought that it was all very funny.
Replacing the whisky back in its appointed place, Murdoch made for the stairs. Johnny had said his goodnight about an hour ago, and on being left alone, Murdoch had let the fire in the hearth burn itself down to mere embers and the big room now was beginning to feel slightly chilly and empty.
He peered quietly in on Theresa, sound asleep now, her face still slightly flushed with the tears she had shed earlier but peacefully resting.
Johnny had removed his gunbelt and boots and had fallen asleep on top of his covers, as he so often did. Murdoch took the folded comforter from the bottom of the bed and very carefully spread it over his younger son. Not even to himself would he admit how he loved these little moments, and resisting the urge to push Johnny’s rather overlong dark ‘flop’ of hair from his face (such a movement would bring the young man awake and alert instantly), he simply stood there for a moment, watching his ‘boy’ sleep, safe and sound at last under his own roof.
Satisfied that all was well here, he then opened the door of Scott’s room, to be greeted by a low, genteel, rumbling snore. Unconscious men didn’t snore. Scott was sleeping naturally, thank goodness.
Another cause for satisfaction here. His older son, fast asleep in his family home, finally where he too belonged. He wondered what Scott might have to say for himself if challenged on the snoring.
Laughing softly, Murdoch backed quietly out of the room and made his own way, contentedly, to his own bed.
For tonight at least, all was well here in his California stronghold—and tomorrow would bring — who knew what?
No prizes—but who recognizes the title’s quotation?