The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Barb A

 

 

FGiving Over

An episode tag for The High Riders

 

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part” 
xxxxxxThe Waiting by Tom Petty

It piqued his curiosity, that small bit of paper. He’d turned it over and over in his hand. A talisman, whose dog-eared edges kept him company across a thousand miles of open land, “The Pinkerton Agency” written in a bold scrawl across the top, “We Never Sleep” it haughtily proclaimed. He still had that card, now firmly ensconced in his bedside drawer.

His first acquaintance with the west had been from the window of a train, but long before the snow-covered Rockies and that bone-jarring stagecoach ride into Morro Coyo, his sense of adventure had stirred. Would his father even recognize him? Father? He stifled a laugh even now at his optimism.  

Apparently, his father never saw him unless he bumped right into him. And rightly so, with his brother--his brother!--still recovering from a bullet wound. So he went at Cipriano like a green recruit intent on his first battle. And while patient and kind enough, the Segundo rarely discoursed on any ranching lore. Still, he was perceptive enough to know Cipriano kept an eye on him, and that gave him a small measure of comfort.

He returned to the hacienda one afternoon from a disastrous attempt to dislodge a well and goodly jammed stream, when a cowhand approached him with a message.

“The boss wants you to meet the boys at the bunkhouse.”

He shook his head--arms, legs and guts again. Day Pardee, although quite dead, was still making his presence known at the ranch. The outlaw had butchered a few cattle while scattering the rest to the hills, and Murdoch had tasked him with rounding up the errant cows together. Ordinarily, he would have chosen his own men, but he was at a disadvantage here. He let them wait until he took care of his horse, then hobbled around to the house.

The cowboys were haphazardly arranged around the building. Some leaning or sitting, others standing with legs braced far apart. He knew a few from the time they rode together after Pardee. They all looked similar to him--lithe of form, thin hips and bow-legged. But coming closer, he amended that thought--they looked nothing alike. Except, perhaps, their expressions. As a one, they were a sullen, closed off bunch.

He would wager if he turned around and looked to the house, he’d see Murdoch laughing behind the curtain in his study.

“So you’re the Lancer outfit,” he said bluntly.

Most greeted him with a word or nod of the head.

“Let’s get an understanding here, I haven’t been out here long and I’m probably the last man to tackle this job. But my father has seen to it I should. He wants to give me one third of this ranch…I won’t have it unless I deserve it. And that means making a go at ranching, from the bottom up.”

Their expressions didn’t change, for the most part they were still and blank. He couldn’t tell what they thought, but they certainly weren’t impressed.

“You have the rest of the day off. Be ready to go early tomorrow morning.”  Before limping away, he surmised his first order had been received with something akin to surprise--and welcome. Most of the men had whooped and hollered then thundered towards the corral in search of mounts.

He went in search of his new brother.

He found him just as he’d left him yesterday, lying flat on his back in bed, fighting off the last vestiges of fever.  

Johnny greeted him soundly. “You look dragged out.”

“I’m fine.”

“You and I need to play poker sometime--you can’t lie worth shit.”

Scott shrugged and pointed towards the bed. “Then let me have one of those pillows to sit on.” He took the flat pillow his brother offered and looked at the hard-backed chair beside the bed. “On second thought, maybe I’ll just stand.” Leaning against the wall beside the window, he casually lifted up the curtain and looked outside. “Son of a bitch…”

“I didn’t think you knew any words like that, Scott.”

“Oh, I know plenty. I’m just careful where I say them.”

“What’s going on out there?” asked Johnny.

“Can you get up?”

His brother gave him a quick look of disdain and dangled one leg over the side of the bed, then looked quickly to the closed door before swinging the other out.

Scott’s eyebrow went up. “Nice nightgown, brother.”

“It oughta be, ain’t it yours?” Johnny asked, lifting heavily off the bed.

“Good try, but no.”

“Wasn’t my idea,” Johnny grumbled back, “but with Teresa runnin’ in and out, Murdoch said it was for the best. I wonder who he lifted it from.” He shuffled to the window and peered out. “What am I looking for?”

“That idiot, right there by the corral. His name is Houston. Watch what happens when he goes up to the sorrel. I’ve told him twice now you can’t approach her from the left, she’s blind in that eye.”

They both watched the skittish mare flare up and swing her head around, effectively coldcocking the unfortunate cowboy.

Johnny winced and gave a low whistle. 

“I may not have sat in a saddle any longer than it takes to get from Beacon Street to Boston Commons these last few years, but I do know horses.”

Scott pointed to his left. “And see that man coming around the side of the barn? His name is Walt. He’s a slick cowboy, but more than that, if anyone’s in trouble they call on him. He’s the peacemaker of the outfit.”

Johnny looked thoughtful. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Have you done much ranching work?”

“Here and there. Maybe a little on the side when things were tight.” Johnny shrugged and a hand waved vaguely in the air. “A long time ago.”

Scott drew himself up to his full height. “Me either,” he hesitated, “so I figure we’re the odd men out here, regardless of Murdoch being our father. You tell me about him and I’ll tell you about the ranch until you’re on your feet. Who’s who--that type of thing. Deal?”

Johnny stole another quick look out the window and stuck out his hand. “Deal.” Sweat popped out on his forehead and he wavered a bit.

“You know, you don’t look so good…”

Heavy footsteps thudded down the hallway. Two heads swiveled towards the door.

“Sounds like the old man. Heard enough of those boot heels the last few days.”

The door swung open and Murdoch’s voice boomed out. “Scott! I didn’t hear you come in.” A fraction of a second later, he turned to Johnny. “What are you doing out of bed?”

His brother was hustled back to bed, complaining, and the covers pulled up. Murdoch turned his sights back to him.

His eyes were full of questions and--concern? Murdoch was a big man in a small room. He moved to the side just as his father was raising a hand to touch his shoulder. It wavered, missing substance, then dropped back down.  

He smiled a bit, trying to fend off the awkwardness of the moment. “I wanted to see how Johnny was doing, Sir. But I need to get going and gather my gear. We’re leaving in the morning. Besides, I believe there’s a small matter at the corral that needs my attention.”

Johnny propped up on one elbow. “Leaving?”

“It seems we have some lost cattle to find.” He nodded to his brother and closed the door, feeling Murdoch’s eyes boring into him as he left the room.

*****

It all started out smoothly enough. Murdoch had even come out to seen them off, in a fashion, standing silent on the portico with Cipriano. The area they ventured into was increasingly rugged. It was a part of Lancer he’d never seen before, a wild, unbroken land full of canyons and crags. By sundown, they were far away from the main house and just making camp.

It was from here each day they would ride out and herd whatever cattle they could find back again. After the first day had ended, a few new blisters and a sore shoulder had been added to his repertoire of complaints.

He’d been determined to keep an accurate accounting of the bruises, bumps and sprains he received, but eventually gave up due to the list’s enormity. Moreover, he hadn’t been this saddle sore since his years spent day after day in the confines of a McClellan saddle. There weren’t too many nights in those early days of the rebellion he didn’t groan into his cot. Just like now. 

It was this part he hated--the waiting--the time between being new and competent. He’d never been any good at it, either at Harvard or in the cavalry. His quartermaster once told him he just had to give over, that it took a couple of years to produce a seasoned trooper, but it would come eventually. Well, he’d made it, barely. But would he make it here? That was the question.  

 

~end~
11/08

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