The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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EM

 

 

The Wreck

Part 1

Murdoch pulled the team of horses to a halt on the low bluff overlooking Hawk Meadow.  Down below he gazed at a scene he never grew tired of looking at.  Year in, and year out, great herds of Lancer cattle were moved from pasture to pasture to take advantage of Mother Nature’s bounty. Red and white cows with their young calves scurried to do the bidding of fast riding men on horseback.

The cattle complained at being rounded up and moved from their familiar grazing land, but move they did as they were no match for the sure footed cow ponies.

Murdoch pushed his hat father back on his head as he watched a flash of gold stalking a cow as she tried to make a swift getaway. With catlike grace the horse moved with the cow. A dance of sorts, as the horse stopped and turned with ease.  Finally the horse and cow were practically eyeball to eyeball.  The cow, with one last determined effort, charged to the left, but the cow pony was too quick.  With an amazing agility of bone and muscle, he spun and cut the cow off.  Another tense standoff was quickly resolved, when the cow bawled and returned to her place in the herd.

“Pure poetry.”

Murdoch glanced in surprise at his eldest son, “Yes I suppose it is.”

Scott was taken aback when he realized he spoken his thoughts out loud, but he was relieved to see that Murdoch had been thinking along those same lines.

“I guess we better get these supplies home.” Murdoch said as he lifted the lines, but his eyes were once more drawn to Johnny, and his horse of gold galloping after another cow.

*

As Barranca came even with the hip of the cow, she veered across his path. Johnny sat down in the saddle to try to prevent the wreck he knew was coming. He could feel Barranca using all his strength to keep from crashing into the animal. The horse sat down on his hind end but at the speed he was going, he was sliding as he desperately tried to stop in time.

Johnny grabbed hold of a chunk of Barranca’s mane to help himself balance, but he felt both of them going down. All too soon it was over and Johnny caught a brief glance of flying hooves, mane and leather before his world went dark.

*

The two men on the bluff were helpless to stop the accident playing out in front of them.

“Oh my God.” Scott cried in despair as he saw the horse go down with his brother nowhere to be seen.

Murdoch slapped the team into a run as they careened off the bluff.   The cow trail was not made for a wagon, as the springs protested, and the body swayed. Later Murdoch wondered if it was sheer determination or divine intervention that held his hand steady as he guided the team to his unmoving son.

Scott jumped off the buckboard before it stopped moving and ran to Johnny. His brother was unconscious. There was a cut on his forehead just above his eyebrow where it appeared one of Barranca’s sharp hooves clipped him. Scott quickly swiped away the blood to see that the cut wasn’t too deep, but he was sure it would require stitches. He folded his neckerchief  and pressed it against the cut to stem the flow of blood.

Murdoch came running with a canteen banging at his side. He dropped to his knees and opened the buttons of his shirt while Scott checked his brother’s head for more injuries.

“Anything?” Murdoch snapped.

“No. There’s nothing else I can see or feel.  What about there?”

Murdoch had just finished feeling along Johnny’s ribs. He shook his head. “It feels like one, maybe two may be broken. Cracked at the very least.”

As they finished their first inspection, Jose rode up along with Cipriano.  Scott was grateful for their help. “Jose, ride for the doctor. Have him meet us back at the house.”

“Si Senor.” Jose turned and galloped off heading for Green River.

“Cipriano, clear a space in the back of the wagon and we’ll head for home.”

“Si Patron.”

*

Johnny groaned as his world came back to him in a flash of light, crushing pain and nausea. He heard his father faintly say, “I think he’s coming around.”

“Easy Johnny.”

‘Scott? Is that you brother? You sound so far away!’ Johnny thought as he tried to regain his senses.

He blinked several times and tried to wipe his eyes.  He felt his hand being held down and just as he going to struggle, Scott’s soothing voice calmed him.

“Hold still Johnny. You took quite a fall and we’re not sure how bad it is.”

Murdoch carefully squeezed Johnny’s right knee. “Can you feel this son?”

“Yeah.”

Murdoch and Scott drew a breath of relief. Murdoch squeezed the other knee and Johnny yelped. “Sorry son. Sore?”

Johnny took a couple of deep breaths, “Yeah. I musta wrenched it. What happened?”

Murdoch and Scott glanced at each other quickly. Murdoch offered the canteen to Johnny. He took a sip and spit it out, then he took a swallow before handing it back.  “Feels like I ate all the dirt in the San Joaquin.”

“Close brother, real close. You fell off your horse. Don’t you remember?”

Johnny looked at him blankly and shook his head which was a mistake as the pain blasted him right between the eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut as his family looked on in concern.  “Just give me a minute.”

After another minute, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. “Barranca okay?”

The looks on their faces’ told him all he needed to know as he tried to sit up.  Catching sight of his horse brought tears to his eyes.  The palomino stood hunched over, sweat streaming off his hide, he held one hind leg up, and trembled in pain.

“I gotta go to him.” Johnny tried to scramble to his feet, but his battered body let him down as he crumbled back to the ground.

Cipriano returned from clearing space in the wagon. “The wagon is ready patron.”

“Gracias Cipriano. Help us get him in and then see what you can do for the horse.”

“Si  Patron.”

*

It was an excruciating few minutes before Johnny was settled into the back of the buckboard.  His head spun and he had to swallow several times to keep from losing his lunch.  He felt Scott’s hand on his arm and was comforted by his presence.

“Barranca?” Johnny asked for the fourth time.

Scott was worried there was an unseen head injury as Johnny seemed to be having a hard time remembering. Drawing on his patience, he answered, “He’s in good hands. Cipriano will do all he can for him.”  Johnny seemed to relax after that. He closed his eyes and his breathing was easier.

Murdoch clucked to the team and had the buckboard heading for home.  Johnny, with eyes closed, heard Scott assure Murdoch that he was sleeping.  He tried to rouse himself enough to tell them he wasn’t asleep, but couldn’t quite make it.

As he drifted to the edges of sleep, he jerked awake to the sound of a gunshot off in the distance. He felt Scott squeeze his arm in sympathy, and he turned his head away as tears streamed down his face.

 

Part 2

 

Scott and Murdoch waited with impatience for Doctor Jenkins to report on Johnny's condition.

`What's taking him so long?" Scott's frustration was showing in his voice.

Teresa came into the room just as Scott was venting his frustration.  "Doctor Jenkins will be down as soon as he can."  She handed him a glass of lemonade. She flashed him a smile, "You just need to be patient."

Both looked at Murdoch who had his back to them and seemed to be just staring out the window.

"Murdoch, here's some lemonade."

He glanced up like he just realized he wasn't the only one in the room, "Thank you darling."  She placed the glass on his desk and shrugged her shoulders as he turned to look back out the window without touching the glass.

Murdoch stood up suddenly, "They're bringing Barranca back."

Scott came to join Murdoch, "I don't believe it." Scott looked indecisive as he glanced toward the doorway leading to the stairs.  "I'm going to run out and check on him.  I'll be right back."

 

*

 

Scott ran his hand down Barranca's neck.  He could feel the dried salty sweat on his neck. He was resting the tip of his hind hoof on the ground, and was obviously still in pain but he could walk after a fashion.

Scott finished examining Barranca's hind leg and took note of the swelling and heat in the fetlock. "With rest, care and a bit of luck, I think he just might be alright."

"Si Senor.  He is very lame today, but in a few months, he should be sound."

"Thank you Cipriano.  Johnny will be relieved."

"How is Senior Johnny?"

`The doctor is still with him.  He's been pretty much out of it every since we got him in the wagon.  We'll let you know as soon as we can."

"Gracias Senior."

Scott gave Barranca a final pat as Cipriano led the limping horse to the barn.

 

*

 

Scott hurried back to the house and was disappointed there was no sign of the doctor yet.  "He's really lame, but I think he'll eventually be useable again. ` Scott shook his head and took a sip of his lemonade, "I was sure his leg was fractured from the way he went down."

Doctor Jenkins slowly walked into the living room, and the expression on his face had all of them gravely concerned.

Murdoch got to Sam first, "How is he Sam?" He motioned for the doctor to sit on the couch next to Teresa while he and Scott stood, both too concerned to sit.

Sam shook his head, "He's badly hurt Murdoch. That horse must have rolled on him.  He has a sprained knee that should heal quite well, and I stitched that cut above his eye.  I don't think it will leave much of a scar….maybe just a faint one anyway.  His eye is already swollen and turning very purple, but that's to be expected.

The older man took out a handkerchief and wiped his face while the family waited in greater trepidation.

Finally Scott had had enough, "I assume Doctor that you've given us the good news, so as my brother would say, `Let er buck', tell it all."

"I was getting to it!" Sam `s voice was on edge, but he made an effort to soften his voice as he continued, "He has two cracked ribs.  These will be very painful and other than keeping them bound, time will mend them. Time and rest."

"Keeping Johnny down will be the hardest part."  Scott smiled thinking, ` This isn't so bad.'

"There's more isn't there Sam?" Murdoch asked.

Sam sighed, "Yes, I'm afraid so.  Johnny has a concussion, and he's already experiencing periods of unconsciousness and memory loss."

"Memory loss?" Murdoch's tone was sharp as he towered over the doctor.

"Please, Murdoch. Scott.  Sit down so we can talk about this."

Scott had turned to leave the room, intent on checking on his brother, he spun on his heel and faced the doctor. "But he was perfectly fine when we brought him back to the house!  He seemed shook up but that is to be expected."

"Sit down son and hear Sam out."

"It's like that sometimes Scott.  Head injuries are very tricky. Symptoms can manifest days after the injury.  He has no memory of the accident or even what today is." Sam raised a hand as both the Lancer's started to protest.

"Hear me out.  He knows who he is; He knows who I am and he knows he's here at Lancer.  He hasn't forgotten any of you."

"Well, exactly what is the problem then?"  Teresa voiced what the two men were thinking.  "So what if Johnny can't remember the accident.  Maybe that's a good thing."

The silence in the room was only broken by the ticking of the old grandfather clock as each pondered her statement.  Finally Sam broke the silence.  "He may never remember, but for now, we need to let him recover from his injuries and ask questions as he needs to know the answers.  Don't tell him about the accident until he asks. Follow his lead."

Sam stood up and picked up his hat and bag.  "Teresa, walk me out and I'll give instructions on the care of our patient while his brother and father go check on him."

 

*

 

Murdoch and Scott walked in silence up the stairs and quietly entered Johnny's room.  Scott sat in the chair by the bed and picked up his brother's hand while Murdoch hovered anxiously nearby.

Scott softly ran his fingers over the bruising under Johnny's swollen eye and watched anxiously as Johnny murmured.  Just as it seemed Johnny was going to awaken, he settled down and Murdoch pulled a chair over to begin a vigil.

It was an unspoken agreement between them that they would be there when he woke up. They just hoped it would be soon, as until they saw for themselves recognition in those blue eyes, neither would be able to relax enough to rest themselves.

 

 

Part 3

Teresa walked into Johnny’s room to see Murdoch, his head bent, just staring at his laced fingers resting in his lap.  Scott sat immobile staring at his brother as if he could will him to be better.

They both looked up at her and noted the forced smile on her face.  As she walked over to the window and closed the drapes a bit more where they had been gaping open, she assured them, “He’s going to be just fine.  We have to start thinking only good thoughts right now.”

Her firm tone surprised the men and they looked at each other ruefully. 

“What did Sam say, dear?” Murdoch asked.

“He said that the head injury is most likely a moderate concussion.  He couldn’t find any signs of bleeding inside his head, but probably there is at least some, based on his memory problems and slurred speech.”

“Slurred speech? He didn’t mention that.” Scott found himself squeezing Johnny’s hand, and he had to force himself to loosen his hold.

“He thinks it’s slight, and as long as it doesn’t get worse, Sam said it was to be expected.  We need to wake him every couple of hours for the next 24 hours and make sure he is not disoriented.  We’ll have to take shifts so you two should go down and get some supper. We can wake him in about an hour and a half.”

Both men looked unwilling to leave, but Teresa’s firm determination made them rise slowly to do her bidding.  They both knew Johnny was in capable hands and Teresa would call them if he awoke sooner.

As they started for the door, Murdoch stopped abruptly and asked, “What about medication?”

“Sam doesn’t want us to give him anything right now.  Giving him any medication when we don’t know how serious this is could just make it worse.  If he’s in a lot of pain, we can try to give him some willow bark tea, but only as a last resort until we know what we’re dealing with.  Maria’s started a broth pot and getting a poultice ready for his knee.  Other than that we just have to wait.”

“Thank you Teresa. I don’t know what we’d do without you.” Scott said as he gave her a squeeze on her arm. “I’ll be back up after I get something to eat.”

As the two men walked down the hall, Scott commented, “She’s something, isn’t she?”

“She’s quite a young lady, and I don’t know what I would have done without her after her father was killed and I was shot.” Murdoch let the rest of his thoughts go unspoken as he descended the stairs and mulled over Teresa’s report from Sam.

*

Johnny felt like he was in a warm cocoon.  He was floating in air surrounded by a darkness that felt comforting instead of threatening.  He relaxed as he embraced the silence as the coolness enveloped him.

He was vaguely aware of his surroundings, but his battered brain was having a hard time stringing thoughts together.  A deeper blackness beckoned, but flashes of gold kept bringing him back.

As he strained to focus on the bright light that kept flickering and drawing him nearer, he began to see shapes blurred and out of focus.

A feeling of dread washed over him as he caught a glimpse of a solid golden body rolling over him in a flash of flying hooves and legs, and his world turned upside down as he relived in dizzying slow motion the demise of his beloved horse.

The sound of a shot caused his eyes to pop open and he began struggling against the hands holding him down.

“Easy Johnny. You’re all right.” A feminine voice soothed.

‘Mama?’ His confused thoughts questioned.

“Murdoch!  Scott!  He’s waking up.” Teresa called from the doorway before rushing back to the bed to try to settle Johnny as he thrashed in confusion and pain.

*

”It’s alright brother. I’m here.” Scott spoke quietly trying to make sure his voice was reassuring even though he was scared at what he would find when he looked into Johnny’s eyes.  He prayed that he would see at least a spark of recognition, while at the same time he did his best to sooth his disoriented brother.

Murdoch hurried to the side of the bed and held Johnny’s right hand.  He found himself fingering the beaded bracelet his son wore and tried to reassure Johnny as he struggled back to consciousness.

“Easy son. You’re doing just fine.  I’ve got you.” He almost crooned.

Scott glanced at Murdoch and was grateful for his father’s help as in the few short months they’d been together they’d had very few times when they’d acted together as one in their quest to support this new family.  When Johnny had been shot, Scott had felt excluded by his father’s almost single minded approach to removing the bullet and standing watch over his very ill son.

Since then they had been like men in the dark feeling their way day by day as they tried to recreate some semblance of a family.  Scott and Johnny found themselves growing closer in spite of their differences.  They had different ways of thinking and of getting the job done, but each was beginning to appreciate the differences.

Scott had realized early that he and Murdoch thought alike on many issues and approached problems many times with the same mind.  Even though Scott was still learning many of the skills required of a rancher, he picked up the business of ranching very quickly.

As close as Murdoch and Scott had become, Murdoch and Johnny were another matter altogether.  They had their good days and their bad days.  Lately the good days out numbered the bad, but due to the past standing between them, they had a fragile hold on their relationship.  Someday, Scott hoped the two of them would bridge that gap, but for now, as long as they were each willing to hold on, that had to be enough.  Two peas in a pod, Scott surmised as he figured one reason they had so much trouble working out their differences is that they were so much alike.

Scott’s attention returned to Johnny as he saw him relax and open his eyes.  Johnny stared at Murdoch and confusion was written all over his face which made Scott’s hope plummet.

“Hello there son.  You gave us a real scare.”

Johnny looked from one to the other of them in silence and Scott’s worry increased as evidentially did Murdoch’s.

“Do you know who I am Johnny?” Murdoch asked gently.

Johnny licked his lips and replied, “Fa.ver?”

Murdoch grinned, “Yes, I’m your father. And who is this next to me?”

Johnny looked at Scott and this time there was no hesitation, “Scaw.” Johnny turned his head slightly to where Teresa was waiting with nervous anticipation, “Resa?”

Teresa rushed forward, tears glittering in her eyes. “Yes Johnny, it’s me.  Are you hungry? Maria has some broth ready.”

Johnny frowned, “No brof.”

Scott chuckled at the look of distaste on his brother’s face.  “Now we have to follow doctor’s orders.  Remember?” As he said it, Scott mentally slapped himself, as the teasing remark put a frown back on his brother’s face.

“Can’t member.” Johnny replied after a minute.

“It’s alright son.  Sam said you would have some problems remembering recent events.  It will all come back to you in time.  Don’t worry about it for now. Right now the only thing you need to do is rest and get well. All right?”

“Si. Rest.” Johnny closed his eyes as Murdoch and Scott gave each other a worried look.

 

Part 4

Scott rubbed his tired eyes as he stood and stretched his back out.  He worked his neck from side to side trying to work out the kinks that had been plaguing him for most of the night.

He glanced at Johnny who was still sleeping and walked over to the window. Looking through the ornate wrought iron bars, he saw that the men were saddled up and getting ready to start their chores.  A large part of him wished he was going with them. Out to the fresh air and wide open spaces he hadn’t even known he craved when he came to Lancer a few months ago.

As the men mounted up, he watched as they formed small groups and rode off in different directions and he knew the capable Segundo had given them their orders.  Cipriano also watched as the men left, and then he headed for the house to have his morning consultation with Murdoch.

“I wonder if Murdoch is even awake?’ he thought as he hadn’t seen Murdoch since 2 am when Scott relieved him.

Scott glanced back at the bed when he heard a slight noise from Johnny.  He watched him for a moment, but his brother just shifted a bit in the bed and then settled down.  His attention returned to the scene out the window as he watched three of the women who helped with household chores walk with heavy baskets toward the wash house.  At a ranch the size of Lancer, nearly every day was wash day.  If they weren’t taking care of the Lancer family’s washing, there was always enough for them to do taking care of the hired men and washing for their own family’s needs.

His thoughts drifted to some of the work he and Johnny were supposed to be doing this week.  Murdoch had been fuming over the loss of the fields Pardee had destroyed, but as  they were now entering summer, nothing could be done to replant until spring.  The cattle weren’t the problem. They could fend for themselves. It was the working horses and milk cow herd that needed to be fed hay through the winter.

Scott smiled very slightly as he remembered with pleasure his father’s praise when Scott suggested perhaps splitting the remuda into two.  If they ran half the herd into the south pasture to graze while the other half was working; they could rotate the herd weekly so they would only have to feed half of them at any given time.

Murdoch thought the idea a good one as they would have less men hired on during the winter.  Much of the ranch work over the winter involved maintenance. Checking fences and making sure the streams and rivers dotting the ranch were clear, would take up a lot of their time.  Murdoch assured his sons that between the heavy winter rains and the run off from the foothills, the streams and rivers which right now seemed so gentle and inviting, would be rolling swollen tributaries as it flowed off to the sea.

He wondered what the coming months would bring as he struggled with learning the skills of a ranch hand as well as a rancher.  His thoughts returned to Johnny; his brother. ‘Brother!’  The realization that he had a brother still caused him to smile when he was alone with his thoughts.  Never in a million years did he ever think he may have had a brother out there. 

Thinking back, he wondered why he’d never thought of it.  After all, he knew very little about the man that was his father. For some reason, he’d not once thought that his father had remarried and had children. He just assumed that as his father had expressed no interest in him, that he wasn’t interested in being a father…..to anyone. 

Since coming to Lancer many of his notions had been disturbed and some smashed all together.  Even though Murdoch never said; the fact that he wanted to be a father became crystal clear as the months went by.  Scott knew he may never know everything that had occurred at his birth and subsequent travel to Boston as an infant, but he knew Murdoch was happy his sons were with him now.  Not just as business partners, but as sons and he was just as determined to build a real family as they were.

Johnny stirred again and Scott returned to the bed.  His watched as Johnny’s eyelids twitched, but he didn’t awaken.  When he had awakened Johnny during the night, his brother had been disoriented for a few minutes, but as he talked to him, he became more alert.

Scott had been greatly relieved to note that the last time his brother had been awake, he’d been grouchy, but coherent. His speech had been much clearer, though peppered with a few cuss words that would have earned him a reprimand under better circumstances.

Scott looked up as Murdoch poked his head around the door. “Still asleep?”

“Yes sir.  He woke up about an hour ago.” Scott replied as he watched his slightly disheveled father ease himself into the room.

“How was he?” Murdoch questioned as he walked further into the room to Johnny’s bedside.

“He’s getting better, I think.  His speech is better and he was much more alert that the last time.”

Murdoch breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ll sit with him while you get washed up and Teresa’s got your breakfast ready.”

Scott ran a hand through his hair and grimaced at the sticky feeling.  He’d been bucking hay into the hay loft yesterday and it was hot work. He’d been relieved when Murdoch took him away from that chore to ride out to deliver more supplies to one of the fencing crews.

It left the work undone, but as they’d driven out, he’d secretly been looking forward to informing his brother that he could help him finish the chore. Scott had learned quickly how much he enjoyed a little brotherly one up man ship with the younger man.  It came naturally for both of them it seemed, and the back and forth teasing was a way to get to know each other.

“I should get back to that hay….” He grimaced as another group of sore muscles counted in.

“Not today son. You’ve been up half the night.  I’ve got Jose working with Manual today to finish that chore.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry Scott. There’s still plenty of work to do.  I want to go over some maps with you for an area that I want to get surveyed before we start fencing. That alone will keep you busy for the next couple of weeks.”

“Good enough.  I’ll see you in a little while then.”

*

Murdoch settled in the chair by the bed and watched as he saw the first signs that Johnny was  waking up. His long eye lashes fluttered a few times and then those ocean blue eyes popped open.

“Well, hello there.” Murdoch smiled.

Johnny closed his eyes, then opened them. “Hi.” He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and frowned as he carefully fingered the delicate stitches above his eyebrow. He started to raise himself higher on the pillows and stopped with a groan.

“Hurts?”

Johnny took a shallow breath and nodded. “Ribs?”

“Yes, son. You have two cracked ribs. You need to lay still so they’ll mend. Would you like some water?”

At Johnny’s nod, Murdoch carefully helped him raise enough to sip at the water and he watched with concern as Johnny closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing after such a simple movement took its toll on his battered body.

“Tired…” Johnny whispered.

“I know son. You took quite a spill yesterday.”

“What?” Johnny left the rest of his question go unsaid.

“What do you remember?” Murdoch asked gently.

Johnny thought for a moment but all he felt was dread. Finally he in an anguished voice he said, “Can’t….’member.”

Murdoch laid a gentle hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “It’s alright son. Don’t worry about it. It’s not important. The only important thing right now is for you to rest and get well.  Now why don’t you close your eyes for a bit while I go downstairs and let Teresa know you’re ready for some breakfast.”

“Kay….” Johnny closed his eyes and listened until he heard the door shut. He waited a moment longer before looking around to make sure he was alone.

He sighed as his thoughts merged with his dreams and he wasn’t sure which were real.  He knew that somewhere he remembered the accident, but he couldn’t bring the memory to his conscious thought.  It reminded him of when he had a word on the tip of his tongue and couldn’t quite bring it out.  He sighed in frustration as he threw the covers back and began feeling along his rib cage until he got to the tightly wound bandages.  He grimaced a bit as his fingers slid under and pressed. He felt a sharp pain, but was relieved to know that they didn’t hurt as bad as some he’d had.

He moved his legs a bit and realized he had a poultice on his knee. With a grimace he stretched his fingers down trying not to disturb his ribs and snagged the end of it. Dragging the smelly cloth out from under the sheets, he flung it into the corner of the room behind the door.  Not exactly what he had in mind, he thought with a frown. ‘Teresa ain’t gonna be too happy about that.’ He told himself.

‘Well Johnny boy, it’s now or never.’ He was pleased that while his speech may be a bit rough, his inner voice was crystal clear.  He threw the rest of the bedclothes off his body and stifled a groan as he raised himself up.  One hand supported his rib cage while the other pushed off the bed to get himself into a sitting position. He carefully lowered his good leg to the polished wooden floor, and slowly maneuvered until his other foot was tentatively resting on the floor.  He sat on the side of the bed and waited until his breathing returned to normal.  With the back on one arm, he wiped the seat off his forehead.  Taking as deep a breath as he could manage with the tight bandages, he stood up.  The pressure on his chest almost defeated him, but it began subsiding and then he was standing.

Just as he congratulated himself on his feat, he turned at the sound of his brother’s angry voice.

“What the devil do you think you’re doing?’  Scott strode over and quickly placed the tray on the side table.  He quickly took hold of Johnny’s arm and had him sitting on the side of the bed before he knew what had happened.

“Hey!” Johnny started protesting angrily.

“No. I don’t wasn’t to hear it Johnny.  You are getting back in that bed this instant.  Doctor Jenkins and Murdoch will have both our hides if they find out you’ve been out of bed, and I let you.  I don’t know about you, but I value my hide and plan on keeping it for many years to come.” By the time he stopped his tirade, Johnny was back in bed with the sheets neatly tucked under his chin.

Scott was tempted to continue his lecture, but the sweat on his brother’s pale face and his fast shallow breathing made him look more closely.  “Johnny, are you all right?”

Johnny raised his hand weakly.  “Give me a minute.”

Scott waited anxiously for that minute to pass, but was relieved when some color came back into Johnny’s face and he was breathing easier. Finally Johnny opened his eyes. “Sorry.” He tendered his apology.

Scott folded his arms across his chest, “It is not alright. Promise me you won’t get out of bed again until Sam say’s it alright.”

Johnny made a face and then lowered his eyes. He sighed, “Okay. I’ll stay in bed for a day or two.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Scott…”

“Don’t you Scott me.  Please Johnny. Just do as the doctor says.”

Once again that shallow sigh was accompanied by his soft agreement. “Alright. I promise.”

“Good. Now how about some breakfast.”

Scott helped Johnny sit up slightly and placed the tray over his lap. Johnny didn’t look too excited about the cooling oatmeal, but didn’t protest when Scott poured cream into the bowl and added some honey to sweeten it.

Johnny ate about half the bowl before he laid his spoon down. “I can’t….take it away.”

Scott lifted the tray off and offered Johnny a glass of water to wash everything down.  He eased his brother back flat into bed and waited while Johnny got himself settled. “Why don’t you take a little nap?” he suggested.

Johnny seemed to be drifting off to sleep and Scott silently read a book as he tried to make himself comfortable in the old padded chair by Johnny’s bed.  His concentration was interrupted when he looked up to see Johnny’s eyes open and filled with confusion.

What is it?’ Scott asked.

“What…who…what?” Johnny struggled to speak.

Scott dropped the book to the floor as he struggled to understand what his brother was trying to say. “Johnny what is it?”

“Ranca?”

Scott sat back in his chair and made sure his voice was calm.  “He’s going to be fine Johnny.  He wasn’t badly hurt in the accident.  He’s going to be lame for a month or so….”

Scott stopped abruptly as he saw the fear flash across his brother’s face, followed by a look of sheer panic.  Johnny began struggling to sit up.

 “Got to go to ‘im.” Johnny ground out as Scott struggled to hold his brother still.

"No! Barranca!” Johnny shouted as he struggled to get away from Scott.

Johnny’s breaths were coming in short gasps as Scott tried to calm him down. “He’s all right Johnny! He’s all right.”

“What the devil is doing on here? I could hear shouting from the kitchen.” Murdoch hurried over to the bed as he watched anxiously as Johnny suddenly went limp and just stared off toward the window.

“I don’t know.” Scott finally answered as he kept a wary gaze at his unresponsive brother.  I told him about Barranca…..”

“What did you do that for?” Murdoch interrupted. “Did you hear Sam tell us not to give him too much information until he was ready for it?” the anger in Murdoch’s voice was clear.

“Sir this is not the place or the time to discuss this. I suggest we let Johnny rest and go down stairs.”

Murdoch looked guilty when his gaze returned to Johnny who had for all intents been ignoring them. He just continued to stare out the window as if in a trance.

“It’s all right son. You just rest.  We’ll be back in a little while……and Johnny, do not get out of bed.” In spite of the words, Murdoch’s tone was full of fatherly concern.

Johnny didn’t acknowledge them as they left the room.

 

Part 5

Downstairs Scott was pacing restlessly.  “I don’t know what happened. One minute he seemed to be lucid. The next he was rambling and confused. I didn’t mean to upset him.”

Murdoch handed Scott a small whisky. “I know son. I’m sorry I snapped at you.  Did he  ask you about the accident?’

Scott started to answer in the affirmative when he realized that wasn’t true. He shook his head, “No. He asked about Barranca.  Maybe he wasn’t asking in relation to the accident.” Scott ran his hand through his hair, “I don’t know now exactly what he was asking.” His frustration was evident that he’d upset his brother and maybe set his recovery back.

“Sam will be here later today. You can tell him what happened, and maybe he can figure it out.”

“I sure hope so.  I felt….I feel so ….” Scott stopped as he grasped at words to describe his feelings .He wasn’t used to struggling for words as he had a vast vocabulary to choose from, but in this case he was left wanting.

Scott was grateful when Murdoch relieved him of the burden. “I know how you feel, son.  It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest.”  Murdoch walked over to his favorite easy chair and sank down, ignoring the groaning of the wood and ropes supporting his weight.

He held up a book in his hand for Scott to see.  It had gilt edging and gold lettering. He took it from his father’s hand, and raised his eyebrows as he opened it, and turned a few pages.  “A medical book?”

“I spent hours last night pouring over it.  I thought I would find something to reassure myself, but instead I ended up becoming more spooked.  There’s not a lot in there under concussion or head injuries…..but….”

Scott looked at him sharply, “But what?”

There was a small passage…” Murdoch pointed toward the book, “It’s bookmarked there.  It talks about some of the symptoms. Slurred speech, forgetfulness.…”

Scott turned to the page his father referenced, “Johnny has a couple of these symptoms, but not all of them.  It says here to watch for mood swings and personality changes.  He hasn’t been awake enough for us to notice mood swings, but he seems the same brother  I’ve come to know.   Scott sought to reassure them both, “He was even trying to get out of bed already.  Nothing’s changed.”

“How well do we know him Scott.  We’ve only known him three months.  I don’t even know my own son well enough  to know if his personality changes!” Murdoch’s voice rose as his frustration became evident.

In shocked silence, they both considered the consequences if some of these dire circumstances should affect Johnny. They were unaware that Teresa had entered the room with Sam.

“Ah, Murdoch?  Sam is here to see Johnny.”

Sam walked further into the room and placed his well worn doctor’s bag on the sofa. He crossed his arms and glared at Murdoch who dropped his eyes, and then at Scott. “So Mister Lancer senior, and Mister Lancer junior, have decided to take up the medical profession?  And what conclusion have you come to?  Am I here just as a second opinion, or did I waste my time coming here all together?” Sarcasm dripped from every word.

Murdoch regained his composure and stood towering over the doctor, “Forewarned is forearmed, Sam.  We’ve got to know what we’re dealing with.”

Sam couldn’t miss the concern in his old friend’s eyes and he glanced at the worry lines around his eyes and mouth.  Murdoch’s eyes were bloodshot and the bags under his eyes were more pronounced.

Sam decided to go easy as he could see the strain they were under. “Fill me in on how he’s doing and I’ll go up and check on him.”

Scott stepped forward, “I woke him up several times during the night.  At first he was quite disoriented and he was slurring his words.  Toward morning he seemed more alert and he was able to talk to me.”

Sam nodded, “Has he been nauseous?”

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other before they each shook their head tentatively.  “No…He may have been, but he slept most of the time.  When he got out of bed this morning, he was definitely green around the gills.” Scott reported.

“He got up? Already?” Seeing the two men nod, Sam sighed and picked up his bag.  He couldn’t help but notice Scott’s suddenly slumped shoulders. “What?’

“Well, this morning I was talking to Johnny, and he said Barranca’s name. That’s his horse.” He added for Sam’s benefit and waited until Sam nodded that he understood.

“Johnny puts a lot of value on that animal, and well, I thought he was worried about him, so I told him that Barranca was going to be all right in good time.”

When Scott didn’t continue, Sam prodded, “What did he say?”

“He ah….well, he got very upset and tried to get out of bed again.  Murdoch and I had to restrain him and then he just went limp and wouldn’t respond to us. He finally went back to sleep.”

Sam pursed his mouth and decided to settle for the blunt truth, “I warned you not to give him too much information.  From now on let him lead the way.  Don’t jump to conclusions and assume you know what he’s saying or asking.  Give him time to voice his thoughts and then answer as simply as you can.” Sam couldn’t miss the dismay in Scott’s expression.

“Don’t worry Scott, you didn’t do any real harm.  Just remember that his brain is struggling to catch up.  I read through all the material I have on head injuries and I’ve treated quite a few of them since starting my practice. It’s too soon to know what the outcome will be, but I’m hopeful.” He picked up his bag, “I’ll go upstairs and check on him.  Teresa, why don’t you bring some scrambled eggs up in about half an hour.  He should be ready to eat by then.”

Teresa smiled brilliantly, happy to have something useful to do and practically skipped off to the kitchen.  Murdoch and Scott began following Sam as he started out of the room, only to be brought up short when Sam stopped suddenly.

“You two wait down here. I want to examine Johnny alone.” Sam waited until he was sure the men would stay behind before heading upstairs.

********

Sam opened the door on his first knock. His eyes narrowed as he saw the empty bed and his patient sitting by the window with his elbows on the little round table, head in his hands.

Johnny looked up briefly and groaned as Sam set his bag on the table in front of him  with a thump.

“Feeling better, are we?’ Sam’s sarcasm wasn’t lost on Johnny.

“Dios! Can’t ya talk softer Doc? My head’s feelin’ like its split in two.”

“Did it ever occur to you that if you had stayed in bed like you were told to, you wouldn’t be feeling this poorly?”

“Needed to get up.”

“Fine, you’ve been up, now let’s get you back to bed so I can look at you.” He reached down and steadied Johnny as he got to his feet, leaning heavily on the table. Sam didn’t miss the sweat popping out on his forehead and Johnny’s pale features.

The blanket that Johnny had wrapped around himself dropped to the floor, leaving him a little under dressed, as all he had on at the moment, were the bandages supporting his cracked ribs..

Sam smiled, as Johnny made an unsuccessful grab at the blanket, “Well…. I can get a good look at you just like this I think.”

Johnny glowered at him and started for the bed mostly under his own power, but with a steadying hand from Sam.

Johnny sat on the edge of the bed, as Sam dragged a chair over and sat in front of him.  Johnny managed to grab a corner of the sheet and place it over himself, so he felt slightly dressed.

Sam smiled to himself and decided not to bring up the fact that he’d seen all of Johnny a number of times in the few short months he’d been home.  ‘No need to distress the young man.’ He reasoned.

Sam examined Johnny’s knee.  It still had some swelling and a nice purple bruise, but he could see it was already on the mend.  “You’re knee is looking good.” The doctor said simply.

He then unwrapped the support bandages from Johnny’s chest and couldn’t help but notice that Johnny was in a lot of discomfort throughout the procedure. Johnny’s muffled gasp when he gently palpated the area confirmed his diagnosis. “Your ribs are going to take some time.”

At Johnny’s look of displeasure, he added. “It will give you a chance to acquaint yourself with your father’s extensive library.” At Johnny’s frown, he went on, “Don’t give me that look, boy.  It’ll do you good. Another frown, Sam noted. He decided he’d mention it to Murdoch as it would help Johnny’s recovery to be actively engaged. His brain needed to be stimulated in order to recover.

Sam settled Johnny back into bed. He helped him pull the bed sheets back into place and then settled back into bed. “How’s your head now?” he asked after giving Johnny a minute to adjust to his new position.

Johnny had his arm resting over his forehead. One blue eye opened, squinting at him. “Better.”

“Good.  Now I’m going to ask you a few questions so I can determine how you’re doing.  Have you had any double vision?”

Johnny placed his arm by his side and looked up at Sam. He began to shake his head and stopped the movement, as his head reminded him to hold still.  “No?  I…I’m not sure. I can’t remember.” Johnny added after a moment.

“How long has your head been hurting?”

“All the time, but sometimes it hurts more.”

“What about right now in comparison to a few minutes ago?

“It’s better.”

“Good.  I really think it was caused by getting out of bed too soon, so I’d advise you to remain in bed until I tell you that you can get up.” Sam’s voice took on a stern tone and Johnny failed to meet his eyes. His indigo blue eyes were looking everywhere but at his doctor.

“What happened this morning when you asked Scott about Barranca?”

Johnny’s eyes snapped up at Sam with that, and Sam felt a wave of concern that he was careful not to let show when he saw confusion written all over Johnny’s face.

“I….I don’t remember. I don’t remember!” Johnny said more loudly. “What’s wrong with me?”

Sam laid a hand on Johnny’s arm.  “It’s all right John. This is the result of your injury and it’s to be expected.  Don’t worry about it.” He soothed. “ It’s called short term memory loss.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means you can remember most things, like who you are and even what happened last week. You’re having trouble remembering recent events. There are things you can do to get better. The first thing is to get some food into you and then get some more rest.  Sleep is your friend and will help you heal faster.”

With those words, Teresa, with perfect timing, brought a tray in. “Hello Johnny. I brought you some breakfast.”

Sam nodded in approval when he saw a small helping of scrambled eggs, a small glass of milk, and a baked apple.

“I’ll go down and speak to your father while Teresa keeps you company while you eat breakfast.  I’ll be back in a couple of days to check on your ribs.  If you stay in bed, you just may be ready to sit in your chair by then. Understand?”

“Sure Doc.  I’ll mind it.”

Sam turned and couldn’t help the grin on his face as he left to Teresa fussing over her patient.

He squared his shoulders and walked downstairs to deliver the news to the two anxious Lancer men.  He knew it wasn’t going to be what they wanted to hear, but at least he now knew what they needed to do to help Johnny get better.

 

Part 6

Sam walked slowly down the staircase contemplating what he was going to say to Johnny’s family.  He couldn’t help but worry how his old friend was going to take the news.  He figured he could count on Murdoch to be supportive, but at the same time the man wasn’t well known by any stretch of the imagination, as one who had patience.  Patience was what they would all need now.

While the country doctor didn’t know his patient all that well, he already had a good idea, that where patience was concerned, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Sam stopped for a moment on the landing at the bottom of the stairs and collected his thoughts before making his way to the waiting family.

As he entered the room, Murdoch and Scott stood and took a couple steps toward him.  Murdoch spoke first, “How’s he doing Sam?”

Sam walked the rest of the way into the room and rested his bag on the end table before making himself comfortable in one of the blue wing chairs.  He kicked the fringe of the throw rug back into place where he had disturbed it as he sat down and motioned for Scott and Murdoch to take seats themselves.

Murdoch reluctantly sat as his desk while Scott sat on the couch.

“He’s better.  In fact I believe he will be feeling much better by tomorrow though of course those ribs won’t be completely healed for several weeks. He’ll need to take it extremely easy. Another fall or blow to either his head or chest could ….well there’s no easy way to say it, another blow could be fatal.”

There was dead silence in the room as each of the them contemplated the doctor’s stark warning.

Scott was the first to recover enough to reply, “We’ll wrap him in cotton wool if we have to, in order to protect him.”  His voice rang with clear determination and Sam saw the determined nod of agreement from Murdoch.

“What about his memory, Sam?” Murdoch asked after exchanging anxious glances with his son.

Sam settled further in the chair and pursed his lips in prelude to giving his diagnosis.  “The part of his brain that processes new information and stores it away for later, must have been injured in the accident.”  Sam stopped as he tried to decide just how to phrase it so Johnny’s family would understand what they were going to be dealing with, but he had a policy of answering questions directly so he plowed on.

“Johnny is going to experience a great deal of frustration by his inability to remember things, but there are some things he…..and all of you can help him with.”  He stopped at their expectant look.

“What things Sam?” Scott asked as he leaned forward.

“His brain has been injured, but it can repair itself.  We know so little about the workings of a man’s brain, but we do know it can heal itself from some types of trauma.”

Scott stood and crossed his arms, “And you believe Johnny has an injury that can what….?  Heal itself?”

Sam met Scott’s challenge head on as he locked eyes with the doubting young man.  A part of him wanted to stand to enforce his medical knowledge, but common sense told him to stay calm.  He crossed his legs and settled back into the chair.

“Yes, Scott. I do believe that. In fact there are a number of things that will help.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading since the accident.  There have been quite a few studies done back east showing that anything that stimulates the brain will help it work toward recovery.  Depending on the seriousness of the injury, full recovery may be impossible, but different parts of the brain have been found to take over some of the functions. Johnny has a good chance of benefiting from brain stimulation.”

Murdoch had been watching the interchange been his son and the doctor and stepped into the conversation.  “What kind of stimulation?”

“Just about anything.  Music, reading a book, doing arithmetic, playing chess or card games. Anything which causes the brain to think and learn. They’ve even found that some patients were helped by drawing.”

Scott paced a couple of steps away and then turned back to face his father and the doctor.  “You say these studies have taken place in the east?” He waited for Sam’s nod, “Then I think we need to take Johnny back east.  He needs to be seen by the best.”

“Scott….” Murdoch drew out his son’s name as he finally stood.

Sam stood up himself, “Actually that’s not a bad idea, but I believe now is not the time to make that decision.  Johnny needs time to recover and it’s very important that he’s around familiar people and places.  He needs to have a familiar routine. Right now a trip back east could slow his recovery.”

Both Scott and Murdoch exchanged looks and then sat once again which allowed the doctor to relax. “For now, you need to be supportive of his efforts to regain his short term memory.  I’m going to give him some exercises to do daily where he will concentrate on remembering.  He needs you all to remind him to do his exercises and have patience with him if he forgets and gets frustrated.”

“We’ll do everything we can to help.” Murdoch vowed.

“It may take time.” Sam warned.

“We’ll give him all the time he needs.” Scott added before asking, “So what do we do?”

“It’s not so much what you’re going to do, Scott.  It’s more what Johnny needs to do.  Every morning, give him a simple phrase, like, ‘Tonight I am eating chicken for supper.”  He will need to say that six or seven times right away.  For the first hour, ask him what he is having for supper about every 15 minutes.  If he can’t remember, tell him what the phrase is and make sure he repeats it, then ask him again in 15 minutes.  Once he can remember the phrase, praise him and encourage him, but don’t overdo it.” Sam warned.

As he remembers, allow more time to go by, ask him twice an hour. Anytime he forgets, start from the beginning. This is where it will be hardest on him and all of you. This is where you all…” Sam stopped and looked at both members of the family starting with the youngest and letting his gaze linger on the oldest before continuing. “Need patience. Don’t allow yourselves to become frustrated or discouraged when Johnny is.  You are here to support him and encourage him. “

“What else can we do Sam?” Scott inquired

“Read to him, and encourage him to read. Talk to him. Engage him in conversation. Anything to keep his mind working and active. Play games with him. I know you play cribbage, Murdoch.  Play with Johnny.  Adding the cards is an ideal activity. Teach him if he doesn’t know how.”

Sam stood and waited while they all got up as well.  “I’m going back upstairs now and I’ll give this same information to Johnny.  Give him the rest of the day to rest, but starting tomorrow…..” The doctor looked at Murdoch and Scott, “ Starting tomorrow, he’ll be counting on you to help him recover.”

*********

Scott made his way upstairs.  The last couple of hours hadn’t gone well as they started following Sam’s instructions that morning.  Johnny woke up in a bad mood and things had gone down hill from there. 

Scott was grateful that Murdoch had allowed him to start working with Johnny, as he feared by now his father would be losing his temper.

Scott paused briefly outside the door to gather his thoughts and with resolve, he stepped into the room.

“I ain’t gonna do them exercises anymore, if that’s what you’re here for.” Were the first words he heard from his out of sort brother.

Scott allowed a small smile to grace his lips, “I think we may be seeing some sign of progress Johnny.  You remembered about the exercises.” He folded his arms and waited while Johnny thought about that.

The look on his brother’s face almost made Scott laugh. He’d gone from glowering to frowning to contemplating his brother’s words in the space of a minute. “You sayin’ I remembered somethin’?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying brother.  You remember we are doing these exercises.” Scott knew he made his point when one dark eyebrow rose.

“Well, you won’t let me forget cause that’s all ya been talkin’ about all morning.”

“That just goes to show, repetition does work. Now since you know it does work, let’s get back to our phrase of the day.  We’re having chicken for dinner.” Scott stated. When his brother just glared at him once more, he added, “Repeat the phrase Johnny.  It’s the only way you’ll remember it.”

“I just don’t see how repeating that we’re gonna have chicken for supper is somethin’ I need to remember!”

“That’s beside the point.  Just remembering will stimulate your brain. Now come on, say it.”

Johnny cocked his head, and by the welcome sparkle in his eye, Scott braced himself for his brother’s next move. “My brother can soak his head in the horse trough.” Johnny enunciated clearly.  “That is my phrase of the day.”

 

Part 7

Johnny wiggled in his chair and tried to get more comfortable.  He’d lost interest in the game of checkers he was playing with his father several moves before.  His last move brought a frown from the old man as it had been lackluster in thought to the eventual outcome of the game.

“Probably thinks he’s wastin’ his time.’ Johnny grouched to himself. The old man has better things to do than to play a game of checkers with a son who can’t be much use to him. Johnny’s dark mood got darker as he chewed his lip and stared at the black and red checkers until they blurred in front of him.

“Your move, son.”

Johnny squirmed again and made a quick move.  Just as his hand left the piece, he realized he had put himself in a position for Murdoch to win the game.  A part of him knew he should be concerned. That competitive streak was nudging at him, but the exhausted part of his brain was stronger, and he just didn’t care.

Murdoch sat back in his chair and appraised his son.  He had been concerned for the last several moves that Johnny’s energy seemed to be flagging before his eyes.  He knew that he was still recovering his strength, but today Johnny seemed to have less stamina than yesterday, and that was a big concern.

“Tired?” Murdoch asked, as Johnny squirmed in his chair once again.

“No, just tryin’ to get comfortable.” Johnny sighed as he found a bearable position.  It had been a week since his accident and his ribs were on the mend.  Overall he felt better, but it seemed he just didn’t have any energy, and no matter how many times he’d been told he was better, he just didn’t feel all that much better. The memory problems were frustrating him and being treated like a child at times by his family set his teeth on edge until he felt he’d scream.  He smiled slightly at the irony.  If he screamed, then he’d be behaving like the child they seemed to sometimes think he was. Then at least they’d have a reason to treat him like he couldn’t even dress himself properly.

He glanced at Murdoch and didn’t miss the look of concern on his father’s face. Desperately trying to find something to distract him, he asked. “Where’s Scott?”

Johnny felt a cold hand squeeze his heart when he saw his father‘s lips tightening slightly, before those blue/grey eyes met his.  “I asked that before, didn’t I?”

“Ah…..yes.” Murdoch rubbed his check, “Scott went into town for supplies.”

Johnny shook his head in frustration.  He pushed himself out of the chair using the chair arms for leverage. “I ain’t getting’ better!”

“Sure you are Johnny. Every day I see improvement.” Murdoch tried to reassure his son.  Over the last couple of days, Johnny’s fits of temper had been a constant reminder of what he’d gone through with Maria.  In the three and a half months Johnny had been home, they’d had some pretty heated arguments. They would flash like fire and then be over leaving them feeling more than a little scorched.

These bouts were more concerning as they would happen over the slightest little thing. Just yesterday, Johnny practically had a temper tantrum when he couldn’t get his shirt buttoned correctly and he’d ended up ripping all the buttons off his shirt in a fit of temper.

Murdoch was looking forward to discussing this with Sam when he went into town tomorrow.  He felt a wave of disloyalty as he realized he was looking forward to getting away from the ranch for the day. He quickly corrected that…..away from his troubled son for the day. He shook himself mentally and brought his thoughts to the moment at hand.

He knew Johnny was improving, but the boy was getting frustrated by how long it was taking. It was time to head off Johnny’s rising head of steam.

“Sam said it could take some time, but you are improving every day.” Murdoch waited for Johnny to respond and was growing more concerned when he just stood there with his head bowed, and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Murdoch replaced Johnny’s ill moved checker, “Come on son, let’s continue. Think about your move and try again.”

Johnny looked at him this time and Murdoch was hit by the look of hurt and anger in his son’s expressive eyes. Johnny took one stride back to the table and swept the checkers and board off onto the floor with one move. “No!” he yelled as the pieces rolled onto the wood floor.   Johnny turned on his heel and stomped off.

“John!” Murdoch’s voice rang with authority. “Stop right there.” He waited until Johnny complied. “Come back here and clean this mess up.” There was no question that Murdoch meant to be obeyed and Johnny’s temper cooled a bit as he walked back to the table.

“Sorry.” He muttered as he quickly picked up the board and all the pieces. He stacked them into the wooden box and closed the lid with a snap. When he was done, he risked a glance at his father.

“Put it back on the shelf and I’d suggest you go upstairs to your room to rest. Scott will be home in a couple of hours and we’ll have an early dinner.”

*********

Johnny walked aimlessly around his room.  He ran his finger over the top of his dresser and idly noted that it was smudged with dirt. He rubbed it clean on his leg and smoothed the dirt smudge away on the weave of his trousers.

He was angry with himself for his behavior downstairs and he couldn’t work out what made him act like that. ‘Throwing a temper tantrum!’ He scolded himself.  He even knew he was doing it, but he’d been powerless to stop himself. ‘What must Murdoch be thinking?’ Not only does he have to take time away from running the ranch, he has to see his son act like a two year old.

Johnny sank onto the bed and rested his head in his hands as he hoped the vision of his most recent behavior would be one he forgot quickly. ‘Just my luck, this’ll be the one I remember.’ He groused.  

With a groan he lay back in bed and draped an arm over his eyes. He felt like pulling the covers over his head to block out the images in his mind as he’d done as a child, and in despair, sank into a restless sleep.

*********

“Tough day?” Scott asked as he walked into the living room to find Murdoch pouring himself a drink.

Murdoch gave his elder son a half smile and nodded, “You could say that.  How did everything go today?  Did the Baldemero’s have everything on the list?”

Scott walked further into the room and placed his work gloves into his hat before leaving it on the end table. “Almost.” He accepted a glass of whisky from Murdoch’s outstretched hand. “They only had half the salt we needed, but Senor Baldemero assured me he was getting another shipment in next week.”

Murdoch nodded and went back to his desk and sat in his comfortable and well worn leather chair. “Good.  In this heat the cattle are going through it faster than usual. Tomorrow we’ll split it up and have it dropped off by the three main water holes. We’ll restock when the next supply comes in and we better tell him to order double the amount next time as I think we’ll go through another ton before winter.”

Scott raised his glass in agreement for a moment before taking a sip.  He savored the taste of his father’s fine whisky and settled in the chair in front of the desk.  He waited a moment while Murdoch took another healthy swallow and it was obvious to Scott that his father needed the fortification.

Broaching the subject cautiously he asked, “How did it go today?”

Murdoch ran one large hand over his face and grimaced, “Not real well.  He got upset during a simple game of checkers and tossed the whole board on the floor.” He took another swallow, “I didn’t handle it very well.  I practically scolded him like a child and then sent him to his room.”

“How did he react to that, Sir?” Scott asked cautiously.

“He didn’t say a word. He just went to his room.”

“I’ll go up and check on him. The way things have been going, he may not even remember the incident.” Scott said with a grimace.

“He’s still asleep. I checked on him about fifteen minutes ago.  Let him rest. If he doesn’t come down for dinner in an hour, we’ll wake him up.”

Scott nodded and drained his glace.  “Since we have an hour before dinner, I think I’ll get cleaned up and changed then.”

*********

Johnny tossed and turned restlessly as images flashed through his mind.  He settled as a familiar scene played out.

 //“Wake up hijo. The day is young and it’s too beautiful to miss.” He heard his mother’s voice calling him from a long way away and he could smell the wonderful aroma from his mother’s kitchen.

His stepfather’s deeper voice could be heard as he struggled out of bed and splashed water on his face.  The hard packed floor was cool to his bare feet, and he glanced out the window to see a rooster running across the yard toward a noisy flock of hens.  He smiled as they scattered and flew up on the fence to avoid that mean ol’ bird.

“Serve him right’ Johnny thought as he rubbed the back of his hand where the cock had pecked him when he got too close.

“Juanito!  Come to breakfast now.”

“Coming Mama.” He called as he pulled up his loose fitting pants and buttoned his shirt. He ran a hand through his curly black hair and pushed aside the colorful material that separated his sleeping area from the rest of the house.

His stepfather was seated at the head of the table eating his customary large breakfast, and gave his step son a glance as the boy slipped onto his chair.  “You get your chores done without your Mama nagging at you today, hear?”

“Si Papa.” Johnny said as he began to eat.

Maria gave him a loving squeeze on the shoulder as she went by and sat between her two men.

Johnny sighed with happiness as his stepfather filled them in on the progress of the horses he was training for their patron.//

“Johnny.” Another loud knock on the door woke him abruptly from his deep sleep.

“Yeah. I’m awake.”

Scott opened the door and looked in to find his brother wiping the sleep from his eyes and looking disoriented. “Are you alright?”

Johnny blinked a couple of times before answering, “Yeah Scott, I’m alright. What time is it?”

“It’s almost six o’clock.” Scott answered

“In the morning?”

Scott smiled, “No brother. It’s almost time for supper. You haven’t been sleeping that long.”

“Okay I’ll be right down.”

Alone once again, Johnny felt sadness as he remembered his dream that seemed so real. How he missed them and not a day went by that he didn’t think of his mother and step father. The man had given him so much. He’d treated him like a real son. Taught him and guided him. How things would have been so much different if they’d survived. But…if they had, would he have this chance now to build a life with his father and brother?

Not wanting to go there with his thoughts, he got out of bed and threw water on his face. He straightened out his clothes. Buttoned his shirt properly and tucked the tails into his pants. With a quick glance in the mirror, he ran a hand through his curly black hair before leaving his room.

 

Part 8

Scott watched with growing concern as Johnny slowly paced the living room.  He seemed to be walking aimlessly at first glance, but with careful study, Scott noticed that his path around the room didn’t deviate by even inches.  His brother paced to the fireplace, then around the couch, over to the bookcase and back to their father’s desk. Each step measured.

He’d spent most of the morning trying to keep Johnny occupied.  He’d been grateful when Teresa called them to lunch and had lingered over the simple meal as long as he could.  Johnny’s restlessness evident as he played with the salt and pepper shaker until Scott knew he’d better find something for his brother to do.  He’d hopefully suggested that Johnny go upstairs and take a nap after lunch, but the flash of anger and defiance on his brother’s face as he curtly told him he wasn’t tired, caused the older man to back off.

They’d already played numerous hands of cribbage, until Johnny put the game away without a word. Scott tried to get him interested in a book, choosing one that he knew was full of drawings which normally would have occupied his attention, but today found Johnny casually flipping the pages until he snapped it shut and replaced it on the book shelf.

Johnny then sat for about a half an hour resting his head on the back of the couch. His eyes were closed and Scott hoped he was sleeping. In spite if his earlier claim, he knew his brother was tired.

Johnny awoke with a start when Walt opened the French doors to give Scott an update on the progress of the fencing crew, and his brother had been pacing ever since.

Scott was trying to concentrate on his book, but after reading the same paragraph for the third time, closed it with a thump and set it on the end table.  He stood and took two steps into Johnny’s path effectively bringing his brother to a halt. “I’m going out to check on the crew working on the east side.  If you start on the books now, you’ll have them all up to date by the time Murdoch gets home from town.”

‘There it is.’ Scott thought to himself. That look of defiance he’d been seeing more and more over the last couple of days. He waited to see which way his brother would go.  He had been surprised when Murdoch had told him of Johnny’s temper tantrum yesterday, but from what he witnessed today, he could see his brother was building up to another one.  He figured if he gave him some time, he might be able to work himself out of this mood. ‘I better warn Teresa.’ Scott thought as he saw Johnny give him the slightest nod and side step by him to walk over to Murdoch’s desk.

“I’ll see you in a bit. Teresa’s in the kitchen if you need anything.”

He watched Johnny, head bowed as he opened the ranch ledgers, and caught his brother’s mumbled reply.  He couldn’t quite make out all the words but caught, “Don’t need nothin’” along with something else he figured he was better off not knowing.

************

Murdoch walked out of the bank and took a deep breath of fresh air.  It was a rare  summer day, with a nice breeze blowing from the west that was keeping the valley cool. They’d had many dry scorching days for most of July, so this respite was appreciated indeed.

He stepped off the boardwalk to cross the main street in Green River, happy to see that Doctor Jenkin’s buggy had returned to the hitching rail outside his office.  Long strides had him at the doctors office in a matter of minutes, and he opened the door to the tinkling of the bell that rang to alert the doctor he had a visitor.

“Sam?”

“Back here.” The doctor called.  “That you Murdoch?”

“Sure is.”

“I’ll be right out. Make yourself comfortable.” Sam called from behind the closed door leading to his living quarters. “Anything wrong?”

“No….well I just wanted to talk to you about Johnny.”

Sam came back in shrugging on his dark lightweight coat, “I was just getting cleaned up and was getting ready to head for the café for lunch. Would you like to join me?”

“I already had lunch, but a cup of coffee and some of Clara’s apricot cobbler would go down real well.”

*********

Sam wiped his mouth with the red checked napkin. Clara poured both men another cup of coffee and smiled at them as she cleared the table.  “From what you’ve told me Murdoch, Johnny’s behavior is just about what I would expect.  He’s feeling frustrated and he’s acting out those frustrations.”

“I know Sam. I just felt bad that I treated him like a child.  I should have handled it some other way.”

“Nonsense.  You insisted he deal with the result of his tantrum and that is what will help him remember.  It is up to his family to allow him to deal with the consequences of his actions.  When he starts to get out of control, he needs someone to help him rein in. If no one does, he’ll feel even more out of control.”

“You’re not telling me to treat him like a child, Sam?” Murdoch’s voice was clearly doubtful.

“No not at all, but retraining him, and helping him remember is not at all unlike raising a child.  It doesn’t mean you need to treat him like a child, but he does need help coping with his frustration and dealing with the consequences if he gets out of hand.  I bet Johnny will remember picking up those checker pieces, and it may even surprise him to realize that made a lasting impression on him.”  The doctor blew on his coffee to cool it and added, “No Murdoch. I’d say you handled Johnny just right yesterday.  Just don’t lose your patience with him.”

Murdoch headed for home after his talk with the doctor feeling much better, and more hopeful than he had for the last several days.  He was going to make a sincere effort to stay calm and have patience with Johnny to help his son recover from his accident.

***********

Johnny rubbed his forehead hoping to sooth the nagging headache.  He’d been working on the books for an hour. Meticulously entering the figures on the invoices from the lumber mill, the hardware store, and Baldemeros in Morro Coyo.  He was amazed by the amount of supplies the ranch went through.  Three sacks of cornmeal so far this month. Still he wouldn’t want to cut back on Maria’s tortillas, so the cost was well worth it in his book.

He casually flipped through the stack of awaiting invoices and compared them to the completed ones.  He was only about a third of the way done and he was beyond bored.  With a sigh, he reached for the next one in the stack and held it up to try to read the scraggly figures. ‘We shoulda make them write neater if they want to get paid.’ He mused as he wrote down what he thought the figure was.

He looked up as he heard the sound of horses in the yard.  His curiosity urged him to rise and look out the French doors.  Three hands were laughing and seemed to Johnny to be having a good time as they trotted toward the Lancer arch on their way back out on the range.

With a sigh he started to turn back to the desk, when an impulse came over him.  As he walked through the doors to the patio, he couldn’t understand why this was the first time he’d thought of it.  He looked right, and then left and saw no one who would object to him leaving the house.

As he walked toward the barn, his heart beat faster and faster.  He tried to walk as smoothly as possible to keep from jarring his healing ribs and sore leg.  He froze for a moment as he placed a hand on the barn door.

In the distance he heard Teresa giving Old Charlie instructions for enlarging the hen house. He looked back at the house and decided to go on with his mission. He stepped into the cool, dark barn and held his breath.  As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he could make out a light colored horse in the far stall.

“Hey boy what are you doing back there? Johnny asked as he started past Barranca’s empty stall.  The horse turned toward him and nickered a low breathy greeting as Johnny froze when he realized it was just Teresa’s gray mare.

He turned back to Barranca’s stall. The straw on the floor was pale yellow; neatly laid down. No horse had been in it lately. His vision blurred and he held a hand to the side of his head as a crushing pain caused him to drop to his knees.  He held his head with both hands and rocked back and forth as wave after wave of pain coursed through him. 

He closed his eyes tightly as the pain began to recede and the dreams that had haunted him on several nights recently came to life before his eyes. Golden legs flashing and a crushing weight descended on him always followed by a shot that usually woke him. This time he lay on that fresh bed of straw curled up as a tidal wave of sorrow swept over him and this day he was helpless to fight it off.

 

Part 9

Murdoch rode into the yard on his bald faced sorrel gelding.  He’d enjoyed the ride on this smooth gaited horse more than he had over the past several months, so he was feeling optimistic that the injury he’d sustained from Pardee’s bullet was finally healing.

He smiled when he glanced to his left as he passed the corral filled with fat weanling calves.  In another week, he’d have Scott take them to the south pasture for the rest of summer. Now that they were weaned from their mother’s, the strong fence would keep them from getting back to them. His thoughts turned toward his younger son as he’d had his accident when driving the herd in so they could separate those calves.

He glanced toward the house and sent a quick prayer that today had gone better for his son.  Sam was so sure that Johnny was on the road to recovery, but those niggling doubts were starting to creep back.  He shook his head as he reined his gelding toward the barn and dismounted.

He started to lead the gelding inside when he heard Teresa’s strident shout.

“Murdoch!  Murdoch!”

He turned to see her running toward him. She was dressed in pants and a work shirt. Her long hair streamed behind her as she ran to him.

As she slid to a stop in front of him, he steadied her with both hands on her slim shoulders. “Whoa there.  What’s going on?”

“Murdoch….It’s Johnny.  I can’t find him anywhere.” Teresa’s eyes were filled with tears, and Murdoch carefully pulled a couple of strands of hair from her face.

“He has to be here somewhere. How long ago did he go missing?”

“I….I don’t know exactly.  I was in the kitchen, then I went out back to the smokehouse. Maybe an hour.” The  tears escaped, “I’m so sorry Murdoch.”

“Teresa…..It’s not your fault….”

“Scott put me in charge of him.  He said to keep an eye on him….”

“You know how nervy Johnny’s been.  It was only a matter of time before he got out of the house. Now have you got anyone looking for him?”

Teresa took two big breaths of air and wiped the tears away. Murdoch’s strong presence was just what she needed to get herself  under control. “When I realized he was missing, I checked the house and garden right away. Then I got Miguel to check all the barns….and nothing.”

“Where’s Miguel now?”

“He took a horse and he’s riding in a circle around the house and barns looking for him.”

“Good.  I’ll go join him as soon as I get a fresh horse. If I unsaddle him, would you take care of him for me?”

“Of course.” Teresa replied firmly and the two of them led the horse into the barn.

********

Scott rode back to the ranch at a leisurely pace.  He’d enjoyed his afternoon of working with the men.  An ironic smile graced his lips as he realized that four or five months ago, the thought of stringing sharp uncooperative barbed wire had never even crossed his mind.  Now he was admitting to himself, he’d enjoyed it. There was some satisfaction with bending that contrary stuff to his will. Pulling it tight until it sang and then nailing it to the posts with sharp staples. He shook his head with the simplicity of it all and sighed in contentment as he made his way to the stock pond behind the house.

What he saw made him smile and he urged Trooper to a trot. “How’s he doing, Cipriano?” He nodded toward Johnny’s palomino.

“Hola, Senor Scott.” Cipriano’s teeth flashed under his salt and pepper mustache. “He is doing much better. He likes the water. I think he wants to swim.”

“Well standing in the cool water is going to help, but swimming? I don’t know.”

“When he is better, maybe we will see if he likes it. Some horses do, and it will strengthen him without straining his leg. Comprende?”

Scott thought about it for a moment and realized it made sense, but he couldn’t see how they’d get the horse to swim. “Let’s see how he does over the next week, and then we’ll see. Need any help getting him back?”

“No senor.  The golden one and me will take it real slow.”

“Alright. I’ll see you in a while.” Scott turned Trooper and started back toward the house at a trot. Barranca’s whinny of protest at being left behind, made Scott smile. ‘That horse is going to make it……just like his owner.’ He mused.

********

Murdoch led his horse into its stall. His mind was on his younger son and trying to think of all the places he could have gone in an hour on foot. ‘On foot and in his condition.’ He thought grimly.

He lifted the stirrup and undid the latigo strap holding the cinch tight. Taking hold of the heavy saddle under the pommel and at the skirt, he pulled it off the horse’s damp back. “All right darling, he’s all yours.” He stepped around his gelding and started for the door, when he glanced at the empty stall where his son’s injured horse was stabled.

He dropped his saddle with a thud, “Johnny….”

Murdoch knelt at Johnny’s side and felt the side of his neck. Relieved by the steady pulse, he glanced up at Teresa.

“Is he….Is he alright?” She asked. “I can’t believe Miguel missed him.”

He tried to smile to reassure her. “I think he’s just sleeping darling. He’s pretty far back in the stall so I can see how Miguel missed him.” He moved to block his son from his ward’s view. She was trying unsuccessfully to see around Murdoch’s bulk. “Run on to the house and turn down his bed. I’ll bring him right along.”

Teresa opened her mouth to argue, but changed her mind, instead turning on her heel and heading toward the house.

Murdoch turned back to Johnny and shook his head. “Son…you’re going to be the death of me yet.” He muttered as he pulled out his handkerchief. He dipped a corner of it into Barranca’s water bucket and carefully wiped the evidence of tears from Johnny’s face.  He knew instinctively that Johnny wouldn’t want anyone to see him like this.  Just as he completed the job, Johnny’s thick eyelashes fluttered and his eyes opened. Blue eyes filled with confusion and fear at first.

“Johnny?” Murdoch spoke gently.

Johnny struggled to sit up and take in his surroundings at the same time.  Murdoch helped him scoot back until he was supported by the stall wall. Johnny rubbed his forehead in show circles.

“Do you have a headache son?” Murdoch couldn’t keep the sharp sound of concern from his voice.

“A little. Not as bad as…..” Johnny stopped as he took in his surroundings and the memory came back.

Murdoch tried to see Johnny’s expression, but his son’s bowed head was keeping his feelings a secret. “Did you have a headache earlier?” He figured his guess was correct when Johnny looked at him suddenly.

“Yeah…a bad one. But Murdoch…..I remembered….I remember the accident.” Now Johnny’s eyes were full of need and reassurance. Murdoch was compelled by some instinct to reassure his son. A wave of protectiveness came over him and he sat next to Johnny leaning against the stall wall and laid one long arm around his son’s shoulders for the first time in a long time.

Johnny leaned into him just slightly and Murdoch closed his eyes for a moment as he allowed himself to indulge in feelings he hadn’t felt for years.  He looked down on the top of his son’s dark head and his insides rolled as he had to fight back his own tears. Tears of loss and despair that he’d swallowed over the years at his wife’s betrayal and the loss of his son.

He felt Johnny shudder. “Don’t you see son? You are beginning to remember. I know the accident was a bad one, but the fact that you remembered, means you are getting better.”

Johnny looked at him, and Murdoch had to fight to keep himself from looking away at those blue eyes filled with trust and hope. “You really think so?”

“I know so. Now let’s get you back into the house, before I can’t get up on my own.” He groaned and his knees cracked as he got himself to his feet. He held a large work worn hand out to Johnny, and Murdoch saw it again just before Johnny took his hand. ‘Trust and hope’ he thought. ‘My son trusts me!’  Now the flutter in his stomach was replaced by his singing heart as he helped his son to his feet and the two of them headed off toward the house.

 

Part 10

The last week had gone by slowly for Johnny even though he improved in leaps and bounds.  His short term memory seemed to be improving daily as he found he could retain more and more information.  He was glad his family was no longer insisting he practice the phrases that had earlier been so hard for him to remember.  He now found he could remember most things without too much trouble.

Once in a while he’d forget something, but it was usually when he wasn’t paying attention.  Johnny smiled as he recalled Murdoch’s instructions for today.  He made sure he had his son’s full attention.  Johnny didn’t even resent it when his father insisted he repeat them to make sure he would retain the information.

They’d had a few battles earlier when he didn’t want to follow his father or brother’s instructions, but he had to admit, repeating something seemed to be the key to remembering it.

He looked out the window and sighed as he watched Sam drive away.  The doctor had been pleased by his progress and had said he could ride a gentle horse by the end of the week at a walk if he wanted to.

A large part of him itched to get back on a horse, but knowing the horse he really wanted to ride was gone, he didn’t feel the enthusiasm that he’d expected on hearing the doctor’s report.

He turned back to buttoning his shirt after the doctor’s though examination of his ribs.  He took a deep breath and was rewarded by only a slight soreness. It would be good to get back to work, though he knew he would be given fairly light duty for a while. Sam had been very clear. No lifting or anything too strenuous. He could start riding at a walk, but nothing faster for two weeks.

‘Two whole weeks!’ Johnny thought with dismay.  He hadn’t gone that slow since he was five years old when his stepfather had lifted him up on his first pony, and he’d been led around.  ‘Scott’ll probably want to lead me around with a neck rope on Teresa’s old pony.’ The image of something so ridiculous brought a smile to his lips.

He went back to the window and stared out. In the distance he could just make out the herd of ranch horses grazing.  They were a mixture of colors, but for the most part the majority of the horses were bay and chestnut.

Before the accident, he’d been working a pretty young mare. She’d been showing a lot of grit and determination.  She was quick as a cat and was eager to please. Johnny had been thinking of training her as a second horse for him to ride when he needed to rest Barranca.

Now that option was gone as he found out the mare had been sold to Agatha Conway as a cutting horse.  He knew the mare would be treated well over there, but he still felt bad to lose her. With a sigh he left his room and headed toward the stairway leading to the kitchen.

*********

Scott poured Murdoch a drink of whisky.  “So how long do you think we’ll be able to keep Johnny down to a walk?” Scott took a sip of his drink and allowed a slight smile to grace his lips.

Murdoch sat back in his leather desk chair and shook his head.  “It’s not going to be easy.  Once he’s back up on a horse, he’s going to push it I’m sure.”

“You know…..” Scott scratched his cheek as he thought  about  the suggestion he was going to make.  “Barranca could be ready for some slow walking in a week or so.  Cipriano has been swimming him in the stock pond and he is recovering quickly. Maybe allowing Johnny to ride him will help them both to recover.”

Murdoch thought on that idea for a moment.  “That horse hasn’t been ridden for weeks Scott. He can be pretty high strung.  I’m not sure I want Johnny up on him so soon after his injury. You know what Sam said could happen if he falls and hits his head again. I don’t think a horse like Barranca is what Sam had in mind when he said slow and gentle.”

Scott took another sip of his drink.  “I just think it would be good for both of them sir.”

Murdoch looked at his older son and considered his words.  He knew that Scott could read Johnny better than he could at this point so if his son was sure about this, he would give it some thought.

“How about a compromise?  We have Johnny ride Teresa’s old mount for a week, and if all goes well, he can start riding Barranca.  In the mean time, I want you or Cipriano to ride that Palomino to make sure he’s not too fresh when Johnny gets on him.”

“Thank you sir.  I think this will help Johnny a lot.  He’s still depressed even though he’s doing so much better.”

**********

Johnny was thankful the kitchen was empty at the moment, but he could hear Teresa and Maria in the pantry discussing supper.  He grabbed a biscuit and an apple as he walked through and headed out toward the barn.

As he got closer to the old white washed structure, he felt a lump in his throat that he tried to swallow.  He stopped about five feet from the door and felt the sweat pop out on this forehead. He shook his head in disgust for his weakness.  ‘I got to get over this. I’ve lost horses before. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ He mentally chastised himself.

Forcing himself to place one foot in front of the other, he entered the barn.  He could swear his heart was trying to jump out of his chest, it was beating so hard. He walked slowly over to Barranca’s stall and forced himself to look in.

Once again it was empty, but there was ample evidence that a horse had recently occupied Barranca’s stall. Johnny felt a flash of anger at the thought that another horse had been in Baranca’s stall. As the white hot anger settled, he felt dizzy for just a moment as his breathing increased along with his heart ate.  He forced himself to let go of the door latch and with a resounding bang, he slammed the door shut.

His anger dissipated with the bang of the door, and he stepped back as the stall door bounced open again from the force of his anger.  He watched it until it settled closed, and he realized his anger was all but gone. He shook his head, ‘How stupid is that?’ He asked himself.  ‘Of course we need to use this stall. We can’t hold it open as a….a what?’ He asked himself. ‘A monument to a horse? No….. not just any horse…..Barranca. Still …the ranch work needed to go on.’ By the time he’d gone through all of his anguished thoughts, he realized he felt better. With a deep breath, he took hold of a leather halter with a rope lead attached and headed out of the barn toward the pasture.

Johnny stood at the gate gazing at the grazing horses in the distance. He rested his arm over the top of the wooden gate and rested his chin on his arm as he contemplated the herd.  ‘I might as well pick one or two and see if one of ‘em would make a good mount. Can’t hurt anyway to get some ground work done, since I can’t do more than walk for a few days.’

He opened the gate and entered the pasture, and began walking toward the grazing herd.

********

Murdoch stood looking out the window. He took in the grazing horse and sighed. He started to turn back to his desk when he caught sight of someone walking through the pasture.

He turned and with long strides headed for the French doors, “Scott….”

Scott looked up as he saw Murdoch head for the door, and the stained sound of his father’s voice, had him up from the couch and following, wondering what was going on.

They both came to a sudden opened mouth stop as they realized at the same time, it was Johnny heading through the pasture toward the herd.

“What does that boy think he’s doing?” Murdoch questioned with irritation in his voice as he started toward the pasture with long strides. Scott was right on his heels when he heard his father mutter, “If he thinks he’s going to ride one of those horses, he’s got another think coming. I’ll tan his hide if he gets up on a horse. Johnny!” He called.

Scott hoped against all hope that his brother would hear and heed their father’s call, but either Johnny didn’t hear or ignored him, because he kept walking toward the herd.

By now, Murdoch and Scott were through the gait.  Scott started to trot by Murdoch to go after his brother, but Murdoch’s long arm held him back. “No Scott. We don’t want to spook the herd.”

By now, Johnny was right on the perimeter. He was crouched down in the grass, and the horses were turning to look at him. They could hear several snorts as the horses announced a stranger in their midst.

Murdoch and Scott kept up their measured pace and their eyes were locked on Johnny. Neither of them wanted to make undo noise or commotion, as the herd milled around Johnny who was now walking in between horses.

*********

Johnny spoke quietly to the horses.  He noted their twitching ears, as they tried to identify if he was a threat to their safety, and he tried to reassure them. One thing he didn’t feel up to, was trying to chase them down if they decided to take off.

His eyes scanned the horses looking for….. what?  That look that would tell Johnny he’d found a horse that he could count on.  Most of the herd wouldn’t meet his eye. They shifted around nervously. His eyes kept being drawn to a couple horses on the far side of the herd with Barranca’s golden color. He found himself turning away from them. The pain was too great and he knew he could never replace his palomino with another one.

Turning back to the darker horses, he moved closer to one.  This was a young colt. He was growthy, so Johnny figured him to be maybe three years old. A little young for ranch work, but maybe he could start this fellow, and ride one of the other more seasoned cow ponies, until this guy grew up some more.  He noted the fine neck, long and set on just right.  He had a short back and well developed hind quarters. His cannon bones were short and thick, and he had big knees and hocks.

With a slow movement, he kept his hand with the halter behind his back, but he brought out his right hand and offered the blood bay the apple.  He was not at all sure if the horse even knew what it was.

He was pretty sure the horse had been handled some as he was branded, and had been gelded, so he must have been raised here on the ranch rather than caught wild. He spoke softly and the colt took a step toward him. His ears flicked as he listened to Johnny’s gentle words coaxing him forward.

The colt reached out to sniff the apple, but didn’t take a bite. Johnny realized the horse had no idea what to do with the apple, so he took a bite out of it, and offered a small piece to the colt.

Once again the young horse stretched his neck out to sniff the fruit. He snuffled a snort through his nostrils, wetly spraying Johnny’s hand, before taking the apple delicately between his velvety lips.

The big muscles in his jaw rippled as the horse chewed the piece of apple. As he swallowed, he took two steps closer. Johnny chuckled as he bit off another piece, “Liked that, did you boy?” He handed the now eager horse another price of the fruit.

Johnny’s attention had been so focused on the colt, he hadn’t noticed that the herd had moved away as his father and brother approached.

He carefully reached his hand forward to gently rub the colt between the eyes.

“Johnny!” Murdoch said a little too loudly.

Johnny jumped at the sound of his father’s voice, and the colt shied away with a start. Johnny turned in surprise and irritation at the interruption.

He faced his father and brother with a look of disgust as the herd streamed by them in fear.

“What’d do that for? Couldn’t ya see I almost had him?”

“Son, you’re not ready for this.”

“I wasn’t gonna ride him. I was just gonna……”

Johnny stopped, opened mouthed, as a palomino limped by after the running herd. “Ba….”His voice failed him as he stepped around his family, he couldn’t believe his eyes and for a moment wondered if they were playing a trick on him. He whistled, and his heart almost stopped when the palomino turned toward him and nickered a welcome in return.

“Barranca…..I can’t believe it’s you.” Johnny ran toward his horse before Murdoch could caution him to go slow.

Murdoch and Scott couldn’t help the huge grins that broke out on their faces at seeing the unadulterated joy on Johnny’s face. They watched as Johnny threw his arms around Barranca’s neck, and the horse pressed his muzzle into Johnny’s back which made Scott think the horse was hugging Johnny back.

They stood back as the two friends greeted each other. Before long Johnny was running his hand over Barranca checking out his healing leg.

Johnny fed the horse the rest of the apple and tugged on his mane, leading him toward his family. “Let’s go home Barranca.”

**********

Two Months Later

Johnny sat on Barranca’s back and ran his hand down the golden neck.  He’d brushed him until he shimmered like a newly minted gold coin. He’d been riding Barranca at a walk for weeks and just now he’d demonstrated to the satisfaction of his father and brother that the horse was sound at a trot and canter.

Johnny himself had been back at light work for over a month and he’d been riding a well trained cow horse, but in his spare time he’d been helping Barranca get better, and get back into shape.

He knew he was ready, even if his family was still being over protective. They didn’t know that he’d been riding Barranca up and down hills and putting in miles at a slow walk and trot to increase the palomino’s stamina and strength. They’d even taken some short gallops this week, and Johnny knew he was ready.

He backed Barranca a few steps, and turned him neatly on his hind quarters, “I’m gonna take a ride now….See ya.” With that he urged Barranca into a lope, and as they cleared the Lancer arch, they raced across the pasture at a gallop.

Johnny’s hat flew off his head and was bouncing lightly on his back, held there by the storm straps. Barranca’s mane flew in his face as he picked up speed, and Johnny whooped as Barranca’s ears flicked forward, then back as he stretched his neck out to run.

********

Murdoch couldn’t help the silly smile on his face as he watched his son take off on the palomino.  It had been way too long, and the sight of the two of them together brought a lump to his throat.  He was happy for his son, for himself, and for their family. He was grateful that both of them had recovered, and he hoped that he never would again be witness to that kind of a wreck again.

He glanced at Scott and noticed that same silly smile on his son’s face. “I guess I better follow after them…..just in case…..”

Murdoch laughed outright and slapped Scott on the back. “Good luck catching them….and Scott….try to get back by dark won’t you?”

Scott just grinned, “I’m not guaranteeing anything sir…..They may be all the way to the Sierra Nevada’s by the time I catch up to them.”

Murdoch laughed and watched with pride as Scott mounted his own horse and headed at a more controlled pace after his brother. A sense of utter contentment came over the Lancer patriarch as he watched until his two sons were just specks as they disappeared into the distance. ‘As it should be. The two Lancer brother’s together…..as it should be.’

 

~end~
October 2005

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