The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Buckskin

 

 

From Dust To Diamonds

The day had been disastrous. If it could go wrong, it did, so when it was time to call it quits, bed rolls were looking pretty good. The flames in the fire danced in a seductive gyration, sending sparks and tiny wisps of smoke climbing into the air. The orange and purple sunset washed the sky in dramatic colors turning darker by the minute, and stars blinked on, one by one. They sent a cheery greeting to those who took the time to notice, and the Lancer brothers did, since they had set great store with the comfort and friendly countenance of the night. It was peaceful and soothing, and it blanketed the two men in serenity. The sparkling of the stars always reminded Johnny of one particular lady's eyes, so black and bright, they never failed to take his breath away, and Johnny spent countless hours in this indulgence. It made her feel closer to him even though the miles between them dictated otherwise.

The coffee was ready, and both Scott and Johnny enjoyed a cup; it was hot and strong, comforting as they contemplated the horrendous day and were more than ready to put it behind them. Relieved it was now over, they gave in to the exhaustion as they settled down for the night.

A particularly loud pop in the fire exposed glowing red embers as Johnny watched and for a reason unknown to him another fire, deep from a memory, surfaced from long forgotten times. He remembered as a small boy watching his mother as she sat before the warmth of the flames in the tiny one-room shack they shared, brushing her long black hair. She then piled it high on her head securing it with an ornate comb.

The comb had jewels, no doubt made of glass, as there had been no money for real gems, but the stones, real or not, caught the light making her appear regal and elegant in Juanito’s young eyes. He had always been in awe of his mother’s beauty but then so had all the men, the men she brought home with her every night. The same men that took exception to a small boy there interrupting their night of play; the same men that often beat him for having the despised blue eyes of a mestizo or… for nothing at all. As a young boy, Johnny had witnessed horrifying and unspeakable acts of depravity, his mother degrading herself for money and in the end, having nothing to show for it; her life wasted by bad decisions and an unbalanced mind. A deadly combination as Johnny came to realize.

“Johnny? Are you alright?” Scott asked with a concerned frown.

He winced having been caught thinking about things long past and out of his control. His eyes rose to Scott's concerned face and he tried to brush it off with a small huff and a smile. Looking down into his coffee he watched the steam as it curled over the rim of the battered cup and gave his usual answer, “Yeah, ‘m fine.”

"You seemed deep in thought, and you looked troubled." Scott persisted having seen the gamut of emotions reflected by the flames of the fire in Johnny's eyes. Some of it appeared serious.

Johnny snorted. “No, I ain’t troubled... any more,” he said with a sigh.

“Care to talk about it? It might help to talk.” As Scott persisted, Johnny smiled.

“Don’t know why but was thinkin’ ‘bout my mother. Wondr'in’ what made her do the things she did, what made her like she was.” Johnny sighed softly. He'd thought about her many times, realizing from a small boy on that she had been troubled, sick and he also knew, no matter what happened, he would love her forever.

“It’s hard to figure some people, Johnny. Did she ever talk about her family?”

Johnny laughed out loud. “No, what she talked ‘bout most was either havin’ fun or doin’ without cuz there wasn’t enough money. She wasn’t one ta think much ‘bout anyone other than herself. Thinkin’ back on it, I wonder if there wasn’t somethin’ wrong with her,” Johnny said in low tones. Scott saw the pain in his brother’s eyes as he remembered the woman that gave him life. Then Johnny unexpectedly turned the conversation in another direction.

“Your grandfather ever tell you ‘bout your mother?” A curious grin appeared on Johnny's handsome face; he tipped his hat back on his head beginning to enjoy the talk. Scott was right. It did help to talk and to remember… some of it anyway.

"No, nothing. He never spoke of her other than damning Murdoch for taking her away. Regardless, I have no idea what she was like, how she spent her spare time. Did she play the piano?" Scott stopped there, but he could have named dozens of questions which he would like to be answered. He had often wondered who she was and what kind of person she’d grown into. He had no idea of who his mother was, and it had bothered him greatly.

"Murdoch said she could sing like an angel, but ya don't take after her none!" Johnny came back with a usual light-hearted remark and laughed. It was well known in the house that Scott could not carry a tune!

“I know virtually nothing about her. Did she have many friends, did she like horses or was she active in her church? What was her favorite food?” Scott’s eyes drifted to the mountains silhouetted against the darkening sky as if trying to see this woman suddenly walk out of the shadows and into their camp. Johnny hesitated at first, then decided to ask, risking possible unpleasant memories.

“Is there anyone back in Boston who could tell ya anything? Anyone that knew her?” Johnny asked the question under raised brows as he studied his brother's face.

“I guess James, the butler, would be the only one left. He’s been with the family for years.” And Scott would feel comfortable asking James as he and James had been close. James had recognized that, as a young boy, Scott needed more, much more, than Harlan was giving him. Money and privilege gave Scott connections in life that he wouldn’t have had otherwise, but it wasn’t everything, very far from it. James became Scott's friend and a mentor.

“Maybe James would even remember some of her friends. Who knows? Why do you ask, Johnny?”

“Well, you’re good ‘bout writin’ letters, write one an’ ask the questions ya wanna know. What ‘bout Murdoch? Ya ask him anything?” Scott, again, watched off into the night before he spoke, and then turned back to Johnny.

“Not exactly. He seems to have a difficult time talking about it.” Scott shrugged.

"Yeah, he'll tell ya what he can, but I guess it's hard for him, too. Hell, he lost four of us an' if he hasn't made peace with it, its prob’bly just diggin’ up a lotta hurt.” Johnny took another drink, the coffee warming from the inside felt good on this chilly, damp night.

“I guess I could start with James; I know that there are still many of Boston’s original families living there and with any luck maybe he could put me in touch with one or two, some that knew her well...” Johnny watched as the anticipation grew in the blue-gray eyes and truthfully Johnny began to feel relieved that the focus of their conversation was now off his mother.

Where he certainly did have feelings for the woman that bore him and did remember a few good times as she would sing to him on occasion and on a good day she would tell him stories and give hugs, he also knew that there was definite negativity that surrounded her. Maria, herself, was her main concern. Johnny had no idea about her family; did she grow up spoiled or was she poor and had nothing? Either way could explain her self-absorbed personality, her concern with no one but herself.

Catherine, on the other hand, did have everything that money could buy and from all known accounts had been kind, considerate and generous, the epitome of benevolence. Where Johnny had no one, other than Murdoch, to learn about his mother, he could and would be there for Scott to learn about his; to share in any grief and celebrate the joys. Johnny was secretly hoping that James would be able to remember someone who had known Catherine and would be willing to help Scott get to know his mother. Hoped this person would be willing to tell him things about her, things that Murdoch wouldn't think of or didn't know. Johnny smiled sadly; the only personal things Johnny knew about his mother was that she liked to drink, dance and she liked the company of men, lots of men.

The brothers spent much of the night talking, putting into words things they had wondered about all their lives, mostly thoughts about their mothers. Johnny finally begged off, telling Scott he was going to turn in. He rolled up in the blanket leaving Scott to ponder his questions with only the fire and distant howling of coyotes for company.

Scott, however, was wide awake. Leave it to Johnny to come up with a solution to an issue that had plagued Scott for years now. As he lay awake, he began to make a mental list of things that possibly James would be able to help with in regards to his mother. Before very long Scott dragged his saddlebags to his side, took out a paper and pencil and recorded the things he wanted to know about this woman he'd never met, soon having both sides of the paper filled and with more questions that begged to be written down. The energy was flowing through him; an excitement he'd never known, never thought about, until now. Until his wayward brother, the ex-gunfighter suggested he write a letter...

<><><><> 

“Boy, leave it ta you, Boston, ta have paper an’ pencil when you’re workin’ on the range!” Johnny laughed at his brother, teasing with good humor.

Scott took the paper out of his pocket and held it up for Johnny to see. “Well, it’s a good thing I did! Look! Both sides filled with things I want to know. I wrote most of the night!” Scott defended.

“Yeah, I know. I watched ya do it,” Johnny said in the soft, comforting tones.

<><><><> 

The supply list was left at Baldomero's store to be filled and, as was customary, Johnny and Scott waited at the saloon but not before they stopped to mail the letter to James that Scott had carefully written. Johnny watched knowing that Scott was counting off the days until he would have a response.

If he answers ya back right away, it’s gonna be a month an’ a half b’fore ya know anything. I wouldn’t get too anxious, Boston, the time’ll never go by!” Johnny laughed then suddenly stopped. “Hey, I know what‘ll make the time go by faster for ya! You can do my chores for me while I go up ta Salinas! See, I’m thinkin’ ‘bout ya all the time, Boston!”

<><><><> 

The Lancer men took their after-dinner libations out onto the patio, where the evening air was still warm from the day and the night was bright and beautiful. Once again, Johnny was reminded of shining black eyes that sparkled, making him want to be holding her, kissing her and loving her. Scott stood staring out over the grassy pasture as he leaned his elbows on the adobe wall that circled the small courtyard and Murdoch sat with his beloved Scotch in hand, sipping the amber liquid watching his boys. They are up to something, he thought, but didn’t ask, he waited them out, and not for long. Scott stood erect and faced him.

“Sir, I want to ask some questions about my mother. I don’t know anything about her other than she was a kind, good woman.”

Murdoch was taken aback. This wasn’t what he thought it would be. Clearly blindsided, Murdoch stammered and stuttered. "What exactly would you like to know, son?”

"Anything! Did she make any of her clothes? Did she like roses or daffodils, what kind of food did she like? Could she cook? Just anything!"



Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Are you going to want to know anything about your mother, too?” Murdoch appeared defensive, almost … afraid.

Johnny chuckled a bit. “Nope, I know the answers ta them questions already!” he replied to his shocked father with his boyish smile.

Turning back to Scott and calming himself, Murdoch tried to make sense out of the sudden questions about his mother, things that Murdoch struggled to keep buried. And, it was painful. “Scott, I don’t know, I, ah….. well, let me think. She liked all kinds of flowers, and I do remember her making baby clothes for you. Cooking was… a challenge for her…” He stopped talking, suddenly got out of his chair and quickly walked into the house where Scott, watching from the patio, saw Murdoch go to the sideboard and pour himself another drink, then turned and went upstairs.

Johnny watched their father hurry up the stairs. He turned to Scott and read the disappointment in his brother's eyes and felt the need to offer his support. “Guess it was too much for him ta think 'im ‘bout. He's had a  lotta loss in his life. But just maybe ya got them ol’ wheels unstuck, Scott. Ya asked some questions, let him think ‘bout it for a coupla days an’ see if he says anything. An’ maybe he’ll think a somethin’ that ya ain’t asked yet. He’s prob’bly been so hurt ‘bout it all that he’s blocked it outta his memory. Like ya told me the other night, it can be good ta talk ‘bout things. Maybe he needs this an’ just don’t know it.”

Johnny lacked the proper schooling, but in his own way, Johnny Madrid Lancer had a way about him, an intelligence to rival Scott and the ability to reason out what had until then, been a complicated, confusing issue. He certainly made Scott’s life a lot more interesting with his straightforward approach to things that, to some, appeared impassable but to Johnny the way had been clearly marked, as plain as day.

<><><><> 

The next few days passed with no repeat conversations of the one on the patio that night; however, Murdochwas quiet and kept mostly to himself as if preoccupied with something. He sat behind the massive desk, his sanctuary, and spent the days staring out the huge window. He startled at the soft voice behind him, and he turned the desk chair around with its comforting creak of leather to see Johnny standing before him wearing his smile that melted Murdoch’s heart every time he saw it. It never failed to amaze Murdoch how Johnny could wear those spurs and still walk without raising a sound.

“Ya alright, Murdoch? Ya been kinda quiet lately.”

The softness in Johnny’s voice told Murdoch that he was genuinely concerned and Murdoch was touched deep into his soul by this wild, impetuous son. Murdoch returned the smile. “Yes, son, I’m alright. It’s just that Scott’s questions the other night has given me a lot to think about. And I… well, to be honest with you, I’m having a difficult time finding the answers. The questions were so sudden and… it shocked me.”

Johnny saw the distress in his father’s eyes and wondered why. Remembering a person as sweet and kind as Catherine should bring thoughts of happiness and warmth, anyway, that’s what Johnny thought. But he held his tongue letting Murdoch continue when he was ready.

“All those memories I buried after she was gone and dredging them up now, after so many years brought back the hurt…" Murdoch stopped talking.



“Don’t think about the hurt…” Johnny said, but Murdoch turned cold hard eyes on his younger son.

Don’t think about the hurt?  What would you know about…” That was as far as Murdoch got, Johnny was ready for a return cold stare but... didn’t.

He quickly changed the stare to one that only his expressive eyes could deliver, a look that seemed to say of its own accord just maybe there’s another way. And the look penetrated Murdoch’s fog.

“What are you trying to tell me, Johnny?” he asked his son, suddenly hopeful.

“Just that, Murdoch. When you think 'bout Catherine, instead of lettin’ your self be hurt all over, think ‘bout how you felt when you were with her. ‘Bout all the good times. Sounds ta me that hearin’ all the nice things ‘bout her, she deserves a better memory than thinkin’ ‘bout all the bad. Make it a…. what’dya call it? …. A tribute instead of somethin’ that hurts. Hey, when I think of Mama, I try an' think of her singin' ta me an' tellin' me a story instead a thinkin’ all the bad that usually was happenin'. It helps a lot. Cuz there ain’t a thing ya can do ‘bout it now 'cept honor her memory an' stop lettin' the hurt wash away the good”

Johnny’s eyes locked onto Murdoch’s, held them steady and did not let go. And a light went on in Murdoch's brain. He stood in stunned silence for several seconds allowing this perfect sense to penetrate him and saturate his mind. Murdoch felt ashamed. First, for the self-pity he'd been wallowing in and secondly, because Johnny was absolutely right in his reasoning of celebrating Catherine instead of forgetting her memory.

The pain of loss would never go away, but the joy of remembering a loved one should never be forgotten. Murdoch looked at Johnny as if for the first time. His mind was clearer, and so were his thoughts. Murdoch stood, straighter than he had been only moments before and walked to face Johnny. The smile on his father’s face told volumes and Johnny was instantly glad that he’d taken the direct approach and possibly overstepped any bounds, but Murdoch put his hands on Johnny’s shoulders warmly, affectionately.

“Thank you, son!” Murdoch left Johnny in the great room, and he watched as his father’s back disappeared through the door. Murdoch went out to the barn to saddle his horse. He had a lot more thinking to do.

<><><><> 

Johnny did his best to keep Scott busy, keep him involved in conversation and made an extra attempt to get Scott into town for some ‘brother time'. Scott knew what Johnny was doing, and it endeared Johnny to him to know that he cared enough to want to ease the stress of waiting. Also, ease any tensions that possibly there wasn’t anyone around to take the time to write of long ago things. Johnny eased the ‘what if’ questions that had plagued Scott’s mind ever since he started this venture. And he didn't have the words to thank Johnny; there weren't words invented yet to let Johnny know just how much this meant to him.

<><><><> 

Bookwork had grown to be a hated enemy; it was tedious and time-consuming… and necessary. But it had to be done, so Scott sat at the desk to perform the dreaded task. He'd gotten to the point of wanting to be outside, watching the cattle, even mending fences rather than sitting here at the dreary chore. Alright, Scott, buckle down here. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will finish… The morning crawled by.

Soon Teresa was setting a sandwich and a glass of lemonade at his elbow. Shortly afterward he heard the scrape of rowels on the tile floor and knew his brother was here for the midday meal. Totaling the last column of figures on the page Scott looked up to see Johnny standing in the doorway watching, a slight grin twisting his lips. Johnny threw his hat on a chair and sauntered slowly over to the desk, thumbs hooked over his belt as he looked at the books and the mind-numbing numbers.

He pointed to the columns and with a huff murmured “Not too bad” then met Scott’s eyes.

“Ya been busy, Boston?” Johnny asked.

Now it was Scott’s turn to huff. “All morning!” he said with a smile.

"Too busy for this?" And reaching into his jacket, Johnny withdrew an envelope for Scott… from Boston. Johnny laughed as Scott took the envelope, looking at the writing as if afraid to read it. Scott’s hands slightly shook.

“Well, go on, Scott, ya been waitin’ for this! Read it!” Johnny coaxed.

“It’s from James!” Scott whispered as he tore the envelope open and began to read. Johnny turned to let his brother have his privacy when Scott halted him. Johnny turned around, and Scott waved him into the chair across from the desk.

"I want you to stay, Johnny. You are the reason this whole thing was started, and I want you to share with me. Who knows, if it's not good news I won't have to chase you down to beat the tar out of you!" Scott teased in good humor, nervous good humor.

Dear Mister Scott,

I must say that your letter arrived causing me a shock! And I would be most delighted to share what I know of Miss Catherine, albeit, without letting Mr. Garrett in on any communications.

Upon receiving your request, I took the liberty of contacting one Mrs. Constance Emerson who was a very dear friend of Miss Catherine's for many, many years. I sent a note asking to see her and received an answer within the hour. She took time to see me that very afternoon after she found out the reason why I wanted to speak with her. And, I must say, she is thrilled to the point of becoming faint at answering your questions. She said she would begin immediately recording everything that she remembered, and you are to write specific requests of things you would like to know. The idea of corresponding with the son of her dearly departed friend brought her to tears, but they were tears of joy, and tears that I was honored to share.

I will give this my very best effort to relate the things that I remember and describe to you the beautiful young woman that I knew. What I can tell you at this moment is that she was the kindest and most considerate young lady I have ever been privileged to know. I am going to think long and hard and will relate to you the person that I remembered. Please be patient to give me the time to put together an accurate account of this extraordinary young lady.

I cannot tell you how good it is to hear from you. I wish you and your family well!

With best regards,

James McConnell

A separate piece of paper fluttered to the desktop with the name and address of Constance Emerson. Scott picked it up and stared at it, not moving.

“Well, what’cha waitin’ for, Boston? Write that letter! Good thing Murdoch has a lot of paper layin’ around. I gotta feelin’ that he’s gonna hafta get more! Tell’ya what, Scott, how ‘bout I take this job over an’ you go write up that list a questions?” Johnny said with a wide grin.

Scott was utterly shocked. “You’re volunteering to do the books?” Scott said in disbelief.

Johnny shrugged and moved around the desk. "Yeah, well, you took on a lotta my chores when Holly was here, seems like I can help ya out a time or two. Get outta here before I change my mind! ‘Sides, ya got most of it done, anyway.” Johnny smiled warmly at his brother and could have sworn that he saw questions swirling in Scott's head.

Scott took the letter, clutching it tightly in his hand and left Johnny sitting at the desk shaking his head at the damn, stupid books!

<><><><> 

Murdoch knocked on Scott's door; the light tapping interrupted the carefully worded questions of a son asking about the mother he’d never known.

“Come in,” Scott called softly, knowing it was his father. Murdoch opened the door, entered the room and watched as Scott sat with pen in hand hovering over a stack of paper.

“Son, I’d like to talk to you, about your Mother.” Murdoch appeared nervous but also as if he wanted, maybe needed to talk. Smiling, Scott indicated another chair and Murdoch sat.

“Son, first I want to apologize for storming out the other night when you asked about your Mother. I came to realize, with a little help from your brother, that all these years, instead of treasuring what I had with your Mother, I allowed the grief of losing her to overshadow the joy that we shared when we were together. Johnny said to celebrate her memory instead of forgetting it. And he was absolutely right! And until he said the words, I had no idea that was what I’d been doing all these years. I guess I thought I was shielding myself from any more pain. So, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I will answer any and all questions you have if I can."

Suddenly Scott was inundated with information, or shortly would be, as soon as the letters to James and Catherine’s friend, Constance Emerson, would be answered and mailed. Now with the willingness of his father, he would finally get to know the woman that was his mother, tonight. And it was thanks to his wild, ex-gunfighter brother that cherished and personal details would finally be shared.

Scott and Murdoch talked for over an hour with Scott filling in the details how the whole thing got started, Johnny staring into the fire and suddenly reminded of his mother. Murdoch quickly realized that where Johnny did know the woman his mother was later in her life, he didn't know the woman his mother was when she was well, when she was happy and a good wife and mother; he made a mental note to rectify that mistake, too. And as he sat with Scott, Murdoch remembered something else, in the attic. There was a chore he would look into when he was done talking with Scott.

<><><><> 

“Well, Scott seems ta be a mighty popular fella ‘round here, iffn ya ask me! First a letter yesterday now anothern taday!" Jelly groused as he set the envelope on the table. Johnny and Scott were on their way to the house for the midday meal having made repairs on the barn roof all morning. The letter sat at his place at the table. Soon the boisterous and rowdy commotion filled the kitchen and settled to a dull roar as the two brothers joked and jostled to see who could get to the table first. If one had not known their ages, one would have thought they were twelve-year-olds at the behavior.

He saw the letter immediately and ripped it open, reading aloud.

My Dear Scott,

I cannot believe that I am writing to dear Catherine’s son! Oh, how proud she would be!

Scott’s voice cracked but quickly pulled it in control and continued.

James has recounted the events of your life of the last several years. Surviving that dreadful war then suddenly finding your home, your true home complete with a brother that I know is worthy of you! But you do not want to hear the prattlings of an old woman so I will be about the task at hand, and an honor it will be as Catherine was the most beautiful person, inside and out, and her son deserves to know the person she was.

I know in my heart that she is smiling down on you and guiding you with her gentle hand. She was my best friend when we were girls, and I probably knew her better than anyone. I will be more than happy to answer any and all questions with honesty and the dignity that she deserves. In the meantime I will record memories from our years as close friends; things that I think a person would like and need to know about their mother.

Oh, dear! I am so anxious to be about this delightful odyssey as Catherine was such a dear, sweet friend and can tell you this with certainty that she was thrilled beyond dreams to find herself expecting a child. She was so happy in her marriage and knowing a child was on the way made all her wishes come true.

When I am done with this precious task, you will know your Mother as I knew her. Whatever you want to know, I will share if I possibly can.

Your friend,

Constance (Bunny) Emerson, nee Worthington

P.S. Catherine used to call me Bunny. I haven’t thought about that in years!

Scott finished reading the letter finding himself hardly able to wait for the subsequent missives regarding this woman he’d not had the honor of knowing but thanks to people that cared deeply perhaps Scott would know her now. He would get to know all the things he had wondered about, her likes, dislikes, what she did with her time and perhaps even personal thoughts she had. The answers were a long time in coming, and suddenly Scott's heart felt near to bursting with an emotion that he'd never before felt; an emotion without a name. Sweet, warm contentment enveloped him; could it be a divine ‘hug' sent from Heaven? Is this what a mother’s embrace felt like? It would seem that Scott would finally get some answers. And sooner than anyone thought.

<><><><> 

Dinner was served at the designated time and typically delicious. They sat at the table with their usual conversations and laughing. But there was a special something in the air, a gossamer haze of significant occasion, something momentous and tangible. Assuming it stemmed from the communications Scott was receiving regarding his mother and the willingness of those to share, the notable energy within the hacienda was attributed to that fact. But as dinner progressed they all began to feel the change. It was as if the excitement felt by children on Christmas Eve were on an adult level. Murdoch could only smile. The next hour would hopefully live on in their memories for the rest of their lives and, as Johnny had said, to celebrate not grieve, the loved ones that had passed.

“Well, if we are done here, why don’t we go into the great room? There are a few things I’d like to say.” With that announcement, Murdoch rose from his chair and left the room.

Johnny and Scott sat for a moment, looking at each other, wondering what their father was up to and the only way they would find out was to follow. They entered the great room to find Murdoch wrestling with two trunks. He sat one in front of each chair and directed the boys to their places.

“I have been doing a lot of thinking these last couple weeks and, after someone convinced me,” Murdoch’s gaze went to Johnny’s, holding him with a look of gratitude and much warmth, “to change the way that I’ve been dealing with some personal issues, I remembered that these trunks were in the attic. I have to warn you that I don't know what's there. It may be good, but it could very possibly be painful. But these trunks belonged to your mothers, and now they are yours. You can open them now or in private, but they are part of your past. Do with them what you feel is the right thing for you.”

He sat and watched his sons. Each of them, eyes fixed on the trunk sitting before them, sat stunned. Scott’s eyes were wide and full of expectation, but Johnny’s eyes were hooded, is that apprehension I see behind those dark and stormy eyes? Murdoch wondered. But he waited, watching what the boys would do. Teresa discretely left the room, thinking it a very private matter. Scott reached for the latch on the trunk before him and slowly lifted the lid. A thick canvas that had been carefully packed over the top for protection prevented the view, and with a deep breath, Scott pulled it aside.

The first item Scott saw was a beautiful dress folded with care, once white but now slightly yellowed with age. It was adorned with delicate lace around the high neck and speckled with seed pearls, simple in design but elegant and refined. With shaking fingers, Scott touched his mother's wedding dress. Carefully he pulled it out of the trunk, and as Murdoch saw the gown for the first time in nearly twenty-eight years, his breath caught in his throat, and he fought for control over emotions he’d long kept buried. She had been beautiful in that dress! Murdoch knew there would never be a more beautiful bride than the woman that had joined him there at the altar in the front of the church and as he watched his son, he could feel the love of Catherine Garrett Lancer in the room wrapping them all with the grace and dignity that was her.

The trunk held items of clothing, mostly, but there was a shawl with matching handbag, delicately woven ivory material decorated with tiny light pink flowers and a small pearl center, each piece fringed with an inch of fine tassels. Again, elegant in design, and no doubt very costly. Further down in the trunk was an ornate box, mother of pearl covered much of the exterior and intertwined silver and gold threads veiled the lid. Scott held the box with hands that were now perspiring. Drying his palms on his thighs, he slowly opened the box to reveal pieces of jewelry, some costly and valuable. But to Scott, each piece was priceless merely because they had belonged to her. Scott sat staring into the box then finally raised his eyes to meet those of his father’s.

“Do you remember any of these pieces?” and handed the precious box to Murdoch. The patriarch looked carefully at them, fingering one or two of the jewels and with a bittersweet smile, he handed them back to Scott.

“Yes, most of them. I remember her wearing them on many occasions.”

Scott emptied the trunk with one last item. It was a book of sonnets. He opened the cover to find an inscription: To my dear friend Catherine, may you read these and think of me! Your ‘sister’ Bunny. Scott would have to write to Mrs. Emerson and tell her about this book! Scott’s trunk now empty, so he began to repack his mother's things to take upstairs and re-examine everything later when he was alone.

Murdoch watched Johnny; he could tell his younger son was perhaps unsettled at best.

“This doesn’t mean that you have to open yours now, Johnny. Take your time.” Murdoch spoke softly.

Johnny looked at the trunk not quite sure as to his thoughts. First wondering if he could bear seeing things that belonged to his mother, then volleying from the other side what the hell, can’t be any worse‘n any other thing regardin’ her. Johnny stood and blew out a deep breath. He wandered over to the sideboard and poured himself a generous shot of tequila. This ‘old friend' had given him strength before, and Johnny had a feeling that he would need it now. Draining his glass, he refilled it to the top and returned to his seat.



 

“Can’t be any worse’n what I already know…” he softly murmured. Opening the trunk he encountered the same heavy protective canvas and slowly pulling it aside began to reacquaint himself to the person that was his mother through her last few belongings.

On the top was a large, full, red and black shawl with long black fringe. In his mind Johnny could see her twirling on the dance floor with this magnificent piece around her shoulders, letting it slide seductively off to the side revealing her creamy smooth skin. Shaking the thought away he picked up the next article. It was a surprisingly modest dress, cream color with tiny, multi-colored beads sewn around the neckline and down the front. Murdoch's memory flashed seeing Maria walking outside, bare feet in the cool, wet grass as she watched Johnny playing on a blanket. The sight was so cherished, so unbelievably treasured that he couldn't help a small gasp. Both Johnny and Scott looked over to him, was it worry he saw in their eyes?

“I’m fine, boys, it just brought back a memory I’d forgotten. Go on, Johnny,” he urged.

Putting the dress aside, Johnny continued revealing the contents of the trunk. A beautiful Spanish mantilla, black with silver and gold accents had been wrapped carefully and again, Johnny could picture this elegant piece adorning his mother's hair, sparkling in the candlelight as she moved her head. There were several more items of clothing, and then, as in Scott's trunk, Johnny pulled out a box, this one smaller but exquisitely ornate and finely made. It was solid silver and delicately carved. Upon opening it, Johnny saw the red velvet lining still intact, but the box was empty. No doubt, whatever Maria had kept in it had been taken with her when she left that cold night five days after Christmas.

The trunk was almost empty, only two items left. An object wrapped in canvas was the next thing that Johnny touched. Picking it up Johnny carefully peeled the covering away, and now it was his turn to gasp. It was like a physical punch to the belly. There in his hands was a framed picture, an accurate pencil drawing of Maria as a young mother holding her baby boy, Johnny. The artist had captured the essence of the figures, and their faces jumped from the paper to stare Johnny down. This is what she was like... before! Johnny’s heart hammered wildly against his ribs, and now it was he that fought for control of his emotions.



She was as beautiful as he remembered and the drawing captured her exquisite features and radiant smile, for she truly was happy holding the little cherub with the curly mane of thick, dark hair and captivating laugh bursting out of the sweet, innocent face! Scott leaned over to see the picture and Murdoch watched as Scott’s face told the story of something so precious and dear, something that had been buried too long and was in desperate need of freedom. Johnny raised his eyes to Murdoch and handed him the picture. Again, memories too long suppressed raised up almost as if to challenge him. Why have you hidden us away for so long? They seemed to say. And Murdoch felt guilty.

Finally, the last item Johnny took from the trunk was, of all things, a journal. Murdoch had no idea that Maria kept a record of any time in her life. He was as surprised as Johnny was. Johnny held the book in his hands, staring at the cover not sure if he wanted to read any of the entries.

Both Scott and Murdoch saw the reluctance, or maybe it was anxiety or dread. But this may take time to digest, to even accept but it could explain a few things, too. Johnny would have to be the one to decide what to do, how to handle it.

“Murdoch, I….” Johnny halted, not able to finish his thought. He’d pulled the emotions together but not his thoughts. Murdoch waited a few minutes before he spoke.

“I can’t imagine what this means, to either of you. For a long, long time I tried to forget and packed these things away; put them where I wasn’t reminded. Johnny, you were right. I should never have tried to forget but celebrate the good times. It definitely would have eased the hurt. But now, these are yours. They belong to you, and you may do with them what you will." Murdoch smiled at the two grown men sitting in front of him. His sons, the sons that looked so much like their mothers. And he was proud.

<><><><> 

The first packet of papers came from Mrs. Emerson two weeks later. It could not be called a letter and neither a book, but close to it.

My Dearest Scott,

What an utterly incredible journey I have had in recording things I remember of Catherine! This has been a positive delight as I have been writing for nearly a solid week and I suppose it is silly but the more I think to write, the more memories pop into my head. I will continue to put them on paper and see that they are sent to you.

I have been in touch with James and our chats have been most enlightening, exchanging stories and remembrances.  I want to thank you for this opportunity to share parts of my life that I had forgotten. It seems like yesterday that I said goodbye to her as she left for the wilds of California with her beloved Murdoch. I shall never forget that day as I watched them drive away in the carriage, but she was so happy, and I could not let her see my sadness at her leaving.

I have found some letters that she sent to me while she traveled west and I think I would like for you to have them, read what she wrote so you can know her thoughts. I have packed a few other things that I think should find a new home with you.

Again, this has been a venture that I will treasure for as long as I live, the chance to ‘visit’ with my dear friend and remember her again!

Your friend,

Bunny

Scott spent the whole evening after dinner reading the pages of script written in Bunny's hand, offering them to Murdoch. At first, he declined, but at a second prompting he took the pages and read with anxious anticipation. Johnny sat silently for a while not wanting to interrupt the sanctity of the moment then finally walked quietly from the room and out the patio door.

He had watched his brother’s face as he read the pages written about his mother and could tell this was exactly what Scott had wanted to know. He'd seen how Scott's eyes twinkled and sometimes welled with moisture and was happy for him. So then, why was Johnny having such a hard time reading his mother's journal? He couldn't put a finger on his apprehensions, he just… could not read it, yet.

<><><><> 

Two days later a box arrived from James in Boston, and with a repeat of the packet of papers from Bunny. Scott sat in the great room with Murdoch and read the note James had written. Telling Harlan that he had seen a rat and chased it into the attic, James told Old Man Garrett that the attic was in ‘dreadful need of cleaning. But knowing there were still things of Catherine's stored in the dark corners of the dusty third floor, James located them and selected the choice pieces to pack up and send on to Scott.

Johnny was beginning to think a lot of James. He went out of his way to see to it that Scott would know his mother as Harlan obviously didn’t think it necessary and even went so far as to fabricate a story of scampering rats in the attic and send Scott his mother's things and without Harlan's knowledge. Yup, this James fella is alright! Johnny thought.

Johnny again watched his brother as Scott opened the package and pulled out things from a time long past. This box contained possessions had belonged to his mother as a child. Item after item had been carefully packed and even after so many years, they were in pristine condition. A confirmation dress, Catherine’s Bible she’d received at confirmation, another box containing jewelry designed for a young girl, a porcelain doll of great expense, a journal; Do I want to know her thoughts as a young girl? Scott wondered. And several other items were packed in the crate. Scott was getting familiar with Catherine and with each subsequent box and letter Scott received, Johnny felt peace come over him, a feeling of peace for Scott and as close of brothers that they were, it was somehow peace for him, too. He watched as Scott would carefully, tenderly open and unpack the precious memories that signified his mother’s life, the life of a kind and caring woman taken too soon and Johnny felt a warmth of which only a mother would be capable of bestowing on her son. Johnny felt Catherine’s love, this incredible and sacred Mother’s love.

<><><><> 

Why he chose that moment, he didn't know, but Johnny took the stairs quietly, again, leaving Scott and Murdoch to enjoy the newest delivery and went to his room. The trunk containing his mother’s things was on the floor in a corner. Johnny had thrown an Indian blanket that he’d purchased from Val over the trunk, if he wanted to be reminded, he would take the blanket off, if he didn’t want to see it, the blanket would cover and block it from sight. He reached for the multi-colored mantle and pulled it aside, then slowly opened the trunk. There, on top of everything was the book, written by Maria, Johnny’s headstrong, wild and defiant mother.

 What would he find written in his mother's words? The pencil drawing of her and Johnny indeed told of a young woman that Johnny was not familiar with; maybe this would not be the dreaded task he'd been expecting. He took the book, went down the back stairs and onto the patio where the light filtered from inside the great room was enough to read by. Settling in a chair but first gazing up at the Heavens, Johnny steeled himself for what may be a mistake. Taking a deep breath, he opened the book and began to read.

The first entry was dated May 3. I cannot believe my eyes! I am here at Lancer with my new husband, and I am expecting a baby! Oh, how happy I am. I will begin to make baby clothes for the niño; I hope it will be a boy!

Johnny read another passage, relieved that it was starting relatively painless.

May 5- I am sewing for the niño. A boy would make me so happy- a son to take care of me in my old age!

May 23- I do not feel so well today. I think I will rest. I do not want to do anything.

May 31- I am still sick. Every day I feel worse.

June 7- I am feeling better. But I am getting bored. There is nothing to do here but work. Maybe I will buy the niño clothes instead of making them. It is too hard to do.

Most of Maria's writings began with 'I'. Was this a sign of what was to come? Many of the entries Johnny skipped over and later would go back to read them, each one, closely. He paused as he heard Scott and Murdoch sharing a laugh in the great room reading more of Bunny’s stories. Apparently, Catherine had brought a cake over to the Pastor, and as she served him a piece as they sat on the front porch, a bee landed on the forkful that he was putting into his mouth. He was stung on the lip and couldn't speak for a week as his tongue swelled to the size of a small potato! The Pastor politely refused anything that Catherine made after the incident. Johnny smiled a bit, feeling happy for Scott as he listened to their laughter as they envisioned poor Catherine’s complete embarrassment.

Focusing on his book again, he skimmed ahead, and an entry caught his eye.

Nov 2- The niño is moving all of the time. He is very strong, and I think he will go on to do great things. I cannot wait to hold him in my arms.

Nov 20- I cannot sleep. The niño is restless and is kicking again. I hope he is born early. It is very hard carrying him. I am so tired.

Dec 9- I am so very tired! This niño is trying to get out! He is so active. I think he is running already! I feel like a melon, will I ever be pretty again?

Dec23- He is here! A boy! I am so happy! I will hold him all night, hold him close and he will know how much I love him!

Johnny reread this entry. Maria was happy and was a good mother, at first. She seemed to enjoy taking her beautiful baby out to play, take him to see the horses that he loved to be around, waving his little arms trying to get to them. There were entries about Murdoch taking Johnny for rides on the horse and the niño crying when it was time to go in the hacienda. Another entry caught his eye. Johnny was three months shy of his second birthday.

Sept 23- Juanito sick with fever. Murdoch is tending to him. I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to do it anymore….

Oct7- I want to dress up and go into town! I want time for myself. Murdoch doesn’t understand. I want to have fun again! I am tired of ranch life. I want parties and music!

The last entry in the journal was written one week after Johnny turned two. It was three days after Christmas.

Dec 28- I met a man today…

And that’s where Johnny stopped reading. He knew that two days later, Murdoch woke to find Maria gone and had taken him with her. Thinking about what he'd learned he could tell her mental state had been questionable, even erratic at times. Maybe he wouldn’t read the whole journal. But she did appear to be happy after Johnny had been born, for a while anyway. And that was a comfort.

The door opened as Johnny sat still holding his mother's book. Murdoch took the chair beside his son and looked into Johnny’s face but couldn’t read anything there.

“Did you read it?” Murdoch asked softly.

Johnny sighed. “Some of it,” he responded in a whispered tone, it sounded a bit sad.

“I’m sorry, Johnny.”

Johnny turned to face his father. “Sorry for what?”

“Sorry that it wasn’t something better.”

“No, it’s alright. The things she wrote kinda says it all," he uttered a small laugh. "Kinda puts it ta rest. Now I know, an' it's alright. It's a good thing ta find out ‘bout Scott's mother, too. Been fun watchin' Scott, sharin' all the excitement, seein' things through his eyes is somethin' that I'll never forget. Catherine seemed like a really good person." Johnny smiled his Johnny Madrid Lancer smile, and Murdoch couldn't help but be proud of his younger son. The son that started this whole thing and the son that lost the most.

"She was a good person, and I'll tell you one thing, Johnny, she is thankful right now, this minute, that you are Scott's brother. She would have loved you." Murdoch said these words from his heart and Johnny smiled again.

“Well, that’s good, ‘cuz I kinda like her, too!” Johnny held his mother’s journal in his hand as he sat relaxed in the chair. Murdoch’s attention was riveted on Johnny, anxious at the thoughts in the wild, possibly unsettled mind. Then, as Johnny started to speak, he suddenly stopped as a small paper fell from between the pages and onto his lap. It had been folded and was a bit tattered, yellowed around the edges, but there was writing on them, so Johnny slowly opened it and began to read the words written so long ago. It was a short letter written to him.

My Dearest, Sweet Juanito,                                                                   Dec 24

I cannot believe you are finally here! I could not help myself and held you all night, finding that I could not bear to put you in your cradle. Watching as you slept in my arms, your perfect little face, so handsome and strong, I know you will grow to be a great man and do wonderful things. As you struggled to come into this world, I knew that you would be a fighter. How you battled to be out and free of the confines that held you for the months that I carried you! But you are here now, and I cannot tell you how happy I am and the love that I already feel for you, my son, my sweet, perfect son!

Johnny stopped reading and took a ragged breath, closing his eyes momentarily. Murdoch watched, not knowing if this was good or bad but ready to lend support whatever the outcome.

Gathering his thoughts and pulling his emotions together, Johnny continued reading the letter from his mother.

I hope to be a good mother, a mother that you will be proud of, will love and honor as I will always love you. God has given me the greatest gift of my life, my beautiful baby boy, Juanito!

Your loving Mother

Johnny drew in a deep breath. What had happened to his mother that she became disillusioned with her life and her husband? Johnny couldn't figure but just knowing that she'd started happy, was content for a while being a mother to him, and according to the journal and Murdoch, a nurturing mother left him warm inside. It was a comfort to know that. His Mother did start out loving him and her husband. Johnny had to wonder about the demons that plagued her but was thankful to know the beginning of his story rather than just his mother's tragic end. But, he had found out a few critical pieces to their puzzle, and he was alright with that.

<><><><> 

Both family stories turned bittersweet. Where Catherine had wealth and privilege, loved and was loved by her husband and had a beautiful baby boy, she grew weak and died. Maria had started out loving the husband that loved her, and she too had a beautiful baby boy, but she became restless as she was robbed of a rational mind and thought resulting in an untimely death, a death that robbed Johnny not only a mother but stole his childhood away from him.

Both women left this life, leaving the man that loved them and leaving behind the sons that desperately needed them. Life was unfair, but they would cope; they had coped, and they had each other, and their life was now good.

 

 

~ end ~

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