The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Marlene

 

 

Juanita Madrid

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Sitting in a room by herself was a little girl about10 years old. She had been sent to the Mission of Father Manuel after her mother and grandparents were killed. Before that, they had lived in a small village down by the border, mostly inhabited by families of Mexican and Apache descent. There they had lived quietly until the fateful day the Gringos (as her mother had called them) came. Then everything had changed. Life was turned upside down and nothing could ever be the same again.

The child knew she had a papa somewhere but had never met him. She hated it there at the mission but needed to find out where her papa was before she could leave. He was an important man her mother said. He helped their people in bad times and they had fallen in love when they were both just 15 years old. Forbidden to marry by her parents until she was seventeen and of age, the young people had finally decided it was not their time and, not long after, the boy had left.

All Juanita knew was his name - Johnny Madrid. She had never spoken to anyone about him but she heard the other children refer to him as a gunfighter; the best there ever was. It made Juanita glad inside to know her papa was the best and people feared him. She was very proud to be a Madrid and his daughter. Maybe, when she was grown, people would show her the respect the name of Madrid deserved.

Father Manuel came to fetch Juanita and the other children for morning prayers and then their school lessons. Juanita went quietly but did not participate. She just sat there with her head down, thinking only of her father and desperately wishing she could leave to find him. When, at long last, prayers were over and the children were ushered in to breakfast, Juanita, lost in her thoughts, didn't hear Father dismiss them. She remained in her place until Father Manuel came to her and asked, "Juanita, are you not hungry, child?"

Juanita , eyes fixed on the tiled floor, nodded vaguely. Father Manuel gently reached for her hand and led her to the refractory where he placed her with the others.

But when Juanita reached absently for her fork, her small hand closed around a feather which had been placed there instead. Immediately, all the other children laughed. Hearing the uproar, Father Manuel turned to see Juanita as she ran from the room. He went after her, finally catching up with the child as she raced to the safety of her bed.

"Juanita, the children were only having fun with you."

She gave no answer. Father Manuel raised her face to his with a kindly hand, his heart filled with concern to see the hurt and anger warring there.

"Tell me, chica, what is it?"

Her only reply was stony silence and she turned away from his hand.

"I want to help you. What can I do for you?" he asked softly.

Still nothing. Sadly, he left her there and went to his office. There, he flicked methodically through his papers until he found what he was looking for - his old friend's address. Richard would be able to help him, he was sure. He would know how to locate the child's father.

Father Manuel had met the Pinkerton agent years before when he was looking for Johnny Madrid and if anyone could help him deliver Juanita into her father's arms it was Richard. Manuel had faith in his old friend.

As the day wore on, Father Manuel as usual left the children in the care of the nuns, with instructions to coax Juanita outside for some fresh air if they could and to curb the other children's pranks and teasing. Manuel had an errand of his own. He set out for town to wire his friend and persuade him to come for a visit.

The telegraph man handed Father Manuel a piece of paper to write down his message..

Richard, must see you. Important issue to discuss. Please come. Father Manuel.

"Will you be waiting for a response, Father?" the man asked politely. It was not every day that the priest came into town to send a telegram and he was itching to see the reply.

"Yes, I will. I'll be at the general store, thank you."

An hour passed and Father Manuel returned to the telegraph office to see if there was a message for him.

"Hello, has there been any answer?" he asked the man behind the counter.

"Yes Father, there sure has. Here it is."

Father Manuel eagerly took the message and headed back to the mission.

As he approached, he could make out laundry strewn all over the place; hanging out of windows and fluttering in the trees. He heaved a heavy sigh, imagining that the children's games had got out of hand while the small convent of nuns were at their prayers in the chapel. He could not help laughing to himself at the high-jinks those women had to cope with. Whereas he enjoyed the company of youngsters, it seemed a hopeless task to get the nuns to mix willingly with the orphans.

Entering the mission, he summoned up a stern voice and boomed out, "What is going on here?"

Sister Theresa bustled forward, her face red. She was highly displeased. "This is all because of one little girl. If you ask me, she needs a good spanking!"

"Please, sister, I'm sure this isn't the work of just one child?" As he looked around, he saw wet slimy balls of paper sliding stickily down from the ceiling and walls. It was a terrible mess. "Just who is this child?" he asked the nun who still stood, trembling with rage.

Sister Maria stepped forwards with Juanita firmly in her grip. "This is the young lady who did all of this," she told him.

Father Manuel walked slowly up to Juanita and crouched before her to look her into her eyes. "Juanita, did you do all of this? Just you by yourself?"

Juanita nodded her head.

"Why?"

As ever, Manuel got the same answer he had been getting from the child since she had arrived... silence!

With a heavy sigh, he rose to his feet and looked gravely down at her. "Well, my child, you will clean this mess up then say two Hail Mary's and you will ask God for His forgiveness. Is that clear?" He spoke quietly but his voice was firm; he meant to be obeyed.

His only answer was a sullen stare...

 

 

Chapter 2

In the morning, the children were awakened early to start their day. They had only a very short time to wash and dress as they all had to be ready for morning prayers by six thirty sharp. After this, they had just an hour to eat breakfast and complete the morning chores. School always started promptly at nine and woe betide anyone not in their seat by then and sitting straight, ready to learn.

Part of Juanita's morning tasks was assisting Sister Maria with the breakfast dishes. The sister washed, Juanita dried and two other girls put them all away. Juanita hated doing chores and she detested the dishes most of all. The tedium of the work numbed her mind.

When the chores were done, the children all headed off to the little room which served as a classroom. Sister Theresa taught the younger grades while Sister Maria was in charge of the older children.

Juanita was not at all fond of school, mostly because it bored her. Blessed with an agile mind, she didn't need to study to excel and it took her mere minutes to finish lessons which occupied the other children for most of the morning. At ten years of age, Juanita was smarter than the nuns who taught her. Her favorite subject was arithmetic and the problems posed by Sister Theresa were far too easy. Hence, Juanita's work was done before everyone else and she sat idly with nothing to do. She tried to appear busy by starting that day's homework.

Suddenly, the girl sitting next to her yelled out, "Sister Theresa, Juanita is cheating off my paper!" Juanita gasped aloud as little Roselita made her accusation to the whole class. All eyes were fixed on Juanita with some of the boys in the back mumbling, “What else can you expect of an 'Apache bastard child'." The little children joined in, laughing and pointing at her, calling her names. Juanita's face grew brick red for her temper was getting the best of her.

All at once, she jumped up and ran from the room... right into Father Manuel. Juanita tried to veer around him but he snatched hold of her arm and, crooning soothing words, tried to calm her. All she could think to do to was get away and, with this thought propelling her on, she kicked him hard in the shins. Instantly, the priest let go of the struggling child and she ran for all she was worth outside, straight to the barn. There, she hid behind the horses. Angrier than she could ever remember, somehow she just could not bring herself to cry.

"They will pay, just like my papa made all the bad men pay."

Crouching there in the shadows, Juanita knew she needed a plan; something to get back at all those mean kids. She had forgotten Father Manuel and was not aware that he had recovered and was looking for her.

As he made his way into the barn, he heard the horse whinny at his approach. Manuel smiled and talked softly to the animal. "Pedro, it is only me. Are you glad to see me, old friend?"

As he talked, the priest spotted a small bare foot poking out from behind Pedro's leg.

"Juanita. Come here please."

Juanita peeked around the horse and very slowly inched her way towards Father Manuel.

"Juanita, why did you run from me?" he asked. He did not expect a reply, nor did he receive one. "You know I won't hurt you, don't you, child?"

Timidly, the girl shook her head. She kept her eyes cast down and scuffed her toes through the hay at her feet, her little arms wrapped around her chest. When Manuel gently raised her chin to look up at him, he took a sudden step back. The dark eyes staring at him were empty and stark; he saw no feeling there. They were cold as death. Only once before had he seen eyes like that but they had been blue instead of brown... and the boy behind them was her father, Johnny Madrid.

Father Manuel's heart went out to her. He put his arms out to bring her to him but Juanita didn't move into his embrace as he hoped. She stepped back; she was not about to let him in. Again, her mother's words rang in her head.

"You are a Madrid, my child. We take care of ourselves; we don't let strangers in to see our pain. This is not the Madrid way."

Juanita could not possibly know that her mother was wrong; that she was making her father out to be something so far removed from the real Johnny Madrid that this image bore no real resemblance to the boy she had loved. Juanita had her own picture of her papa - painted from all that she had been told about him by not only her mother, but also her grandparents and the children of the mission.

Father Manuel tried again. "Juanita, you are a sweet little girl. Why such a sad and empty face?"

This time, the Father received his answer. "I didn't cheat!"

He knew nothing of this and hardly cared. The child had spoken; she had, at last, communicated with him. After his immediate joy, he was taken aback to hear the angry words. "Who said that you cheated?”

"That girl, Roselita,” she blurted indignantly.

"I see... and did you explain to Sister Theresa that Roselita was mistaken?" he asked.

She shook her head again. "No, the others started laughing at me. Sister was angry and it made me angry so I ran," Juanita explained.

Father Manuel smiled. "Ah, I see. Then why don't we go see Sister Theresa and clear up this misunderstanding?" He took her hand and led her away from the barn. Juanita had a satisfied smirk on her face as she told the Father that it was Roselita who was actually the cheat.

 

 

Chapter 3

When Father Manuel and Juanita reached the classroom, the priest paused.

"Wait here, Juanita. I will only be a moment."

Juanita did as she was told, waiting with a hateful smirk on her little face. That Roselita had messed with the wrong girl and now she would pay.

Inside, Father Manuel approached the nun and whispered to her, "Sister, excuse me please, I would like a word with you."

"Yes of course, Father."

"Would you please bring Roselita to my office after class?"

"Of course, Father." Though puzzled, the sister did not question his instructions.

Manuel turned to leave but then had another thought. "Also, please bring with you the test that you gave the children this morning."

Father Manuel left the classroom and knelt down outside the door to ask Juanita whether she would like to go back to the class.

"No father, if you please, I would rather go to my room," Juanita replied.

"I'm sorry, Juanita," the priest shook his head. "I can't allow you to do that. These are still school hours and I do not want you to miss any more studying. I have a better idea - you and I will go to my office. It's nice and quiet there and you can study while I do my work. Would you like that?"

"Yes, Father, but my books are in there on my desk."

Manuel straightened with a smile. "You can go in quietly and retrieve them."

Juanita slipped silently into the classroom, trying to remain unnoticed but it was not to be.

Almost immediately, she walked into a boy from the back of the class who yelled out, "Look, the savage is back!"

Instantly, the other children were again laughing and pointing.

Outside in the corridor, Father Manuel waited. With rising dismay, he listened to the cruel taunts and laughter but realized there was one thing he was not hearing; something that he expected to hear and was bitterly disappointed when he did not. Neither Sister was quieting the class or reprimanding the children for their outburst or for the unkind teasing of the little girl. He could see this was a problem that, if not stopped, could and would easily get out of control; maybe with a child getting hurt badly . He sensed that Juanita could only control her temper for so long. Father Manuel felt for all the children in his care but Juanita was special to him; he was not entirely sure why this was. She didn't bother anyone, kept herself to herself and, knowing who her father was, he could not help but see the same traits in her... the same temper, the same strength. Manuel worried for her.

Juanita grabbed her books and left as speedily as she could. She knew the children would answer to her one day and she would bide her time until that day came. What she couldn't understand was their stupid prejudice. She was as much Mexican as they were but they only saw her Indian side. She was mighty glad she didn't have any gringo blood in her for that would be even worse she felt.

Escaping at last from the din of the classroom, she looked at Father Manuel who still waited there. He had a look of pity on his face which made Juanita start in surprise. "Father, I don't need or want your pity," she announced proudly, her chin held high. She flounced past him.

Manuel caught up to her, a gentle hand waylaying her. "My child, I am sorry about the children. They do not know any better. Here, wait, it is alright to let someone care for you... help you..."

Juanita stopped in her tracks and turn around, her face a haughty mask.

"Father, I know you have to take care of the children here, that's fine for them," she spoke almost pityingly. "But you don't need to take care of me or try to make up for what they say or do. I'm a Madrid! I will handle it as I've been taught. I can take care of myself."

"That's what I'm worried about, Juanita - just how do you plan on taking care of it?"

Juanita laughed harshly and Manuel heard the boy's laughter echo in the child before him; the boy he had known all those years ago. He wondered what of her mother she had inherited.

"Oh, Father you are so funny," the girl seemed to humor the adult. "I only meant that I was taught all about the gringos. I know they are the scum of the earth and never to trust one. Most of all, I know to stay away from them. And I have been doing.'

This was probably the longest speech Manuel had ever heard the girl give. He gaped after her as she turned and walked lightly on down the corridor to his office. It was not only the length of her speech but its content that worried the priest. Exactly what had Juanita's mother taught her? The child clearly did not trust anyone. More than ever, Father Manuel hoped his friend would be here soon. Locating Johnny was, in his eyes, Juanita's only chance for happiness.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

In the office, the Father and Juanita went on with their work quietly. He would look up once in a while and wonder just how he could help her. Why had her mother bred such hate into her sweet little girl? He understood well enough that the Indians were mistreated by the whites and even some of the Mexicans but Juanita was an innocent. She was too young to know anything but carefree happiness. It angered him to see an adult purposely feed hate into a child or mistreat them. The young were  a gift from God. They should be treated kindly and made to realise what precious gifts they were. This they could only learn from their parents and community. For most, these were their teachers; many did not have access to a school. He was glad he could have the responsibility to teach goodness and kindness to his children at the mission. It was important that they could live in harmony with their fellow man; that hatred and intolerance would have no place in their lives. Juanita was just like many of the other children - she had seen too much hurt and suffered pain so early on in life. Manuel knew something of her story, told to him by the so-called 'uncle' who brought her to the mission... and left her.

As time slipped by, Father Manuel realized he hadn't got much done. It was nearly the end of school and he had spent most of his time thinking about the little girl who sat across the room. Stiffly stretching his back, he got up. Suddenly, a knock at the door made them both jump then grin at the way they had both gasped aloud.

"Please come in," the Father called.

The heavy door opened and Sister Theresa walked in with Roselita. Juanita became very still and both girls regarded each other with hate-filled eyes.

"Sister Theresa, Roselita, welcome. We have a little situation to attend to. Please, be seated." Father Manuel graciously gestured to the vacant chairs. "Now, Rosilta," he turned to the young girl. "You have accused Juanita here of cheating from your work. Is that right?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, Father," Roselita answered as quietly as a mouse.

"Speak up, my child, you didn't have any trouble speaking up in class. What is it you said?" he encouraged.

Louder this time, Roselita answered, "Yes, Father."

"Much better! If you must accuse another person and you know you speak the truth, speak it with a loud clear voice," the Father told the trembling Roselita.

Juanita was stunned. She had thought Father Manuel believed her. What was he doing? She was tempted to interrupt and to angrily state her case but then something gave her pause and she chose instead to remain silent, watching carefully. Her grandfather had always told her, "Child, you may not always understand but watch and listen clearly for there is always a lesson to be learned."

Father Manuel smiled at the nun. "Sister, do you have the test from this morning?"

"Yes, I have it, Father, " replied Sister Theresa, handing him the sheet of rough paper.

"Thank you, sister. Roselita, please come sit at my desk."

Warily, Roselita stood up and, as she passed Juanita to get to the desk, she sneakily darted her out her foot to kick the girl. It was so sly and so quick that she thought no-one had seen her. However, both the nun and the priest had caught the crafty movement. They exchanged a knowing glance and Father Manuel sighed. This was unprovoked; there was no reason for her behavior.

"Come Roselita, take your seat and, while we wait, I would like you to take the test again."

"What! But I already took the test!" Roselita cried out indignantly.

"Well then, you should have no problem doing it a second time." Father Manuel smiled down at her but his expression brooked no argument.

All Roselita could do was give the priest a sick smile back. She was starting to feel positively ill. "Yes, Father, it should be no trouble," she gulped.

Nearly an hour later, Roselita was finally done, much to the relief of everyone present.

"Sister, will you please grade this now?" Father Manuel took the paper, strewn with scribbles and much-crossed-out answers, and passed it to the waiting nun.

Roselita angrily jumped up. "But wait! Doesn't she have to take it over too?" She threw an accusing glare at Juanita who scowled back.

"No Roselita," the Father's voice was firm. "That will not be necessary as Juanita has already completed the test here with me earlier."

In the heavy silence, they all sat there, waiting for Sister Theresa to finish correcting the paper and, all the time, the two girls stared at each other. Roselita had never seen eyes like Juanita's before; such cold, hard eyes and it scared her inside. There was no life inside this girl she thought.

As for Juanita, she knew that to keep anyone from knowing how scared she was inside she had to give them what her Mother called 'The Madrid stare'. She knew from others that she was very good at; it scared nearly everyone but those who knew her well, like her family.

Juanita's stare changed to one of eager curiosity as Sister Theresa rose and said, "Well, Juanita, I thought, and told the Father, that you had cheated in the test this morning. However, I see I had something to learn from you today for it appears you need to be challenged with your studies. You achieved a perfect score. I can see we will have to push you to even greater heights."

Juanita felt any jubilation wither inside at the fervent expression on the nun's face.

"You, on the other hand..." She turned to Roselita. "You didn't get any of the problems right. Perhaps, if you would spend more time studying than trying to hurt your classmates, you would've got these all right!"

Father Manuel bit back a smile and rose from his chair. "Sister, it looks to me like Juanita may go and Roselita will be doing extra chores and a few Hail Marys for her cheating and kicking Juanita," he said, pointedly looking at Roselita who blushed red under his gaze.

When it seemed that Roselita would protest and deny the kick, the father raised his hand to quiet her. "Child, do you think the Sister and I are blind for I cannot believe you would accuse us of making this up?" Though he spoke gently, there was no doubting that he was most displeased with the girl.

Shamefaced, she hung her head and replied, "No, Father."

"Then you will stay in the kitchen and complete your studies where the sisters can watch over you. You will then help with dinner after you say your Hail Marys -you may say three - and ask God for His forgiveness. And I hope I will not to see a repeat of this behavior from you. Is that understood, young lady?"

The girl nodded meekly, embarrassed to be reprimanded so in front of Juanita.

"Sister, please take Roselita to the chapel. Then, would you and Sister Maria come to see me? Juanita, you may go to your bed now and we will have a new set of lessons for you tomorrow." As he spoke, the Father crossed the room and opened the door for all to be excused.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Two hours later, Father Manuel opened his door again to admit the two nuns.

"Welcome, Sisters. Come in, come in. Let's get right to it for I know you are as busy as I am," he said, as he ushered them to their seats. "It came to my attention this afternoon, when I sent Juanita back into the classroom to gather her books, that one of the boys shouted something that was most inappropriate to her. This caused the other children to laugh and call out their own comments. Do you recall this?"

Sister Maria spoke up first. "Yes, Father, that is true."

"And you, Sister Theresa, is that how you saw it too?"

The nun squirmed. "Yes, Father, that is how I saw it also," she said weakly.

"Then I must tell you that I disagree with how you handled it."

"But, what did you want us to do, Father? The class was unruly and it was because of that Juanita girl coming in and distracting them," Sister Maria said.

"Sister! First of all, you should have control in your classroom. If not, we need to ask ourselves why. This is a serious matter and how you react is most important as the children will follow your example. Why is it you did not take charge of your children and tell them their behavior was unacceptable either in the class or outside it?" Father Manuel was very upset that two of his sisters had allowed this to happen. "And Sister Maria, your attitude to Juanita disturbs me greatly. You refer to her as 'that girl'? Tell me how is this helping the situation between Juanita and the other children?"

Sister Maria sat in shock, astounded that Father Manuel would question them so. They were just as important as he was here at the mission; their work was respected by all. She was just opening her prune-like mouth to protest when Sister Theresa spoke up.

"Father, I only have this to say for myself... I do not allow such behavior in my class. Each child must write a two hundred word essay on the wrongs of isolating and intimidating a single child. I did try to get them to stop but my voice was drowned out by their shouting. I think Juanita can only handle so much more of their jibes and I was going to ask you to assist me in finding an appropriate lesson that would suit Juanita's learning abilities. All of my children have been told t o go to confession to ask God for forgiveness for the way they treated a fellow student."

"Thank you Sister," Father Manuel smiled. "We need to come up with more than we have so far as we are failing Juanita and all our children.."

A sudden loud scream from the kitchen stopped them all in their tracks. Wasn't Roselita meant to be working there?

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The children were playing outside before supper. There were dirt hills to climb, wood to play with, (even though they weren't supposed to, the boys especially liked to build forts with it) some girls and young boys were playing tag, some were engrossed in hide n' seek.

Three children were not playing... Carlo, Roselita and Juanita. At last out of sight of the sisters, Carlo and Roselita had cornered Juanita by one of the woodpile forts where a few of the sticks stuck out and had dangerous points on them - one of the reasons the children were forbidden to play with them.

Carlo was taunting Juanita, calling her a savage, and Roselita was enjoying stoking the fire. At last, their teasing took a more aggressive turn. Roselita, still angry over the way the Father had taken the side of this Indian brat, slapped her face and viciously punched her in the gut. Gasping, Juanita lost her footing and stumbled to the gound. Carlo laughed and told her to get up.

Juanita had caught her breath again and came up alright but madder than a charging bull. She flew at the boy and punched him so hard that he fell backwards into one of the sharp pieces of wood. As it dug into his back, Roselita started screaming. The other children immediately turned and raced towards the three. Turning her fury on the shrieking girl, Juanita grabbed her arm, twisting it up behind her back and pinning her in agony. Juanita whispered into the whimpering girl's ear.

"This is how we Madrids take care of worthless scum like you!" Again, she twisted her arm until a sickening click told them all it was dislocated. "Now you have something to scream about, peon!" With that, Juanita let go of Roselita and faced the others who had gathered around. "No-one messes with a Madrid and gets away with it!"

Quivering with a mixture of anger and shock at what she had done, Juanita then walked away. She knew she would be in deep trouble with Father Manuel this time but she didn't care; she just wanted everyone to leave her alone. It was their fault not hers.

Heading for her room, she ran right into the Father and Sisters. Instantly, Sister Maria grabbed her roughly by her arm, saying, "What have you done now, you brat?"

Father Manuel didn't have time to stop and correct Sister Maria. He had to see what the children were screaming about. Racing to the group, he pushed his way through. What he saw made him sick. Roselita was writhing on the ground, her arm twisted at a strange angle to her body but that was not the worst of it. Carlo had a length of wood sticking out of his back and was not responding to his calls.

"Hurry Sisters, get something to stop the bleeding and send one of the children for some help!" Manuel fought down the panic that rose inside him for the closest real doctor was over twenty miles away.

The children were yelling that it was Juanita's fault; she did it just out of meanness.

Father Manuel and Sister Theresa tried to stop Carlo's bleeding with a wadded towel while Sister Maria tended to Roselita. The girl was sobbing loudly, insisting that Juanita had done this and that she hadn't done anything to provoke her. She had only tried to be her friend.

Sister Maria pursed her lips meanly. "Yes, I know. That Juanita is a child of the devil... like her father!"

Manuel heard this with utter astonishment. "Sister Maria, that is enough! Do I make myself clear?" He had enough on his hands and Sister Maria was not helping matters.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Father Manuel and the old janitor finally managed to get Carlo up into his bed. Sister Theresa hovered by his side. The children had been shooed inside and told to pray for all three children.

Manuel left the nun with Carlo and went to see how Roselita was. He found her with Sister Maria. She was laid on her bed, the older nun bending close and speaking softly to keep her mind from the pain. The Father quietly crossed the room and made his way over to the bed.

"Roselita, how are you feeling, my child?" he asked, as he gave her a smile.

"It hurts father, it hurts bad. Why did Juanita do this to us?"

"I'm sure this is a misunderstanding," he tried to calm her.

"Father, you know very well that child shouldn't be among these children. She is the devil's child and will harm them all!" Sister Maria said as she stood up to face Father Manuel.

"Sister, you are distraught. That is enough foolishness. Let me make myself clear... this is the last I wish to hear of such talk from you." He dropped his voice to a harsh whisper and moved away from the child on the bed. " I tend to think that if anyone does not belong here or around children it is you, Sister. I would like to see you in my office after the children have been taken care of." Too angry to risk saying anything more, the Father walked away in disgust.

Miss Cruz passed the priest on his way down the stairs and told him that the doctor was had been located in the village and was now with Carlo.

"Thank you, Miss Cruz, I will see if I can be of help."

"Hola, Miss Cruz...I will leave Roselita in your hands and go see what I can do to help," Sister Maria said as she rose from the child's bedside. "Adios, Roselita." With that, the Sister left.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

"Doctor, can you help him?" Manuel asked.

"It will be tricky but I think I can. Has he been awake at all, Father?' the doctor asked.

"Not that I know of . I will take your instruments and boil them to get them ready. Sister Theresa here will help you." Father Manuel hurried out.

As he went into the kitchen, Sister Maria was boiling some water for the doctor.

"Sister, you will take that up to the doctor after the instruments are sterilized and then join me in my office?"

"But I had planned on helping the doctor!"

"No, Sister Theresa will do that. I am sorry but you will be relieved of your duties as of right now - that also means teaching. Now, I will see you in my office and that will be the end of it." The Father put the instruments into the boiling water to sterilize them then left to search for Juanita. He knew just where to find her.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Meanwhile, Juanita had hidden in her favorite spot, knowing this would be the last time she might be able to visit Pedro. She loved him and didn't want to leave her only friend but, this time, she was afraid she would be taken to the rurales and she was afraid. All she wanted was for her papa to come and help her but she knew that he didn't even know she existed. Her mama never told him that she was carrying her. Juanita's grandmother had told her daughter that the boy would be in danger; others would be looking to hurt him and could use her or his child against him. And so, until he came back, it was to be a secret. Juanita had grown up living this secret with her mama and, every day of her life, her mama waited with her until her papa came back. Her grandpapa told his daughter that Johnny Madrid had forgotten about her and it was a good thing they hadn't married. He was wise man even if he was only Mexican and not an Apache but he knew her papa was young  ;- too young. He needed to be free to live life to its fullest and not be tied down with a wife and child, not for many years; he was not ready.

And that was how Juanita wanted to be - free as a bird; free to live and travel like her papa. It would be even better to be able to travel with her papa and she would do just what he told her and be the proper gunfighter's daughter as her mama had taught her how to be.

She was so caught up thinking of her parents that she didn't hear the Father come into the barn until she heard his voice. "Juanita? Are you there?"

Instantly, Juanita was mad at herself for letting her guard down and allowing the Father to come this close to her without her knowing. That was a big no-no for a gunfighter's daughter. Anyone could have sneaked up, grabbed her and used her against her papa.

"Yes! Father, I am here." Juanita came out from behind the horse. She had her little head down and her arms wrapped around her chest so tight the Father just had to smile. Oh, so much like her Papa as a boy.

"Juanita, would you please tell me what happened?" Father asked.

"Y..you want to know my side of it, father?" Juanita looked at him is a quizzical way. "Why?"

"Child, there is always more than one side to a story. There is the person who got hurt, there is the one who watched it happen and there is the one who wasn't hurt hurt but did the hurting. I believe you have something important to say about why you hurt the other children, is that not so?"

"Si," Juanita replied.

"Well, I'm waiting, young lady."

"Well, Sister Theresa wanted me to go out and get some fresh air so I did," Juanita told him.

"Yes, go on," Father Manuel encouraged her.

"I sat down to watch the kids play but Carlo and Roselita came up to me and started threatening me!"

"You did not want to play the games with the other children?" the Father asked.

"Oh, Father, NO! The other children wouldn't let me play. I'm a savage to them. Anyway, I'm a Madrid; we don't play stupid games," Juanita announced to his surprise.

He could only smile. He knew Juanita was covering for the hurt she felt at the other children not letting her play with them.

"Juanita, your papa sure liked to come and play the games with the children," Father Manuel told her.

"He did?" Juanita said, all excited that the priest knew her father. "What games did he like to play?" Juanita couldn't help herself.

"Hold on there, we are talking about you and what happened out in the yard, not your father!" Manuel smiled at her blatantly trying to change the subject. He said to himself, "Oh boy, wait until Johnny meets his twin!" He chuckled to himself. "And she cannot know how much they are alike."

"So Juanita, you want to tell me your side?"

"Yes Father. Roselita had brought Carlo over to me to teach me a lesson because she blamed me for getting her in trouble with you. Carlo was telling me I would be sorry then Roselita slapped my face. Carlo wanted me to turn the other cheek abut I wouldn't do that... so Roselita punched me in the stomach and Carlo started yelling at me to get up and calling me a savage. Father, I couldn't get up; she knocked the wind out of me! Well, Carlo reached down and started pulling me up only I  punched him as hard as I could. The next thing I saw was Carlo falling on the wood. I tried to grab him but Rosilta held on to my arm and tried to twist it. I guess I didn't think and turned the tables on her and twisted her arm until I heard a pop. Father I didn't mean for either one to get hurt. I was talking to God and asking him to forgive me when you came up. What will happen to me now?" Juanita was scared she was going to jail

"For now, nothing until I can get Roselita's and Carlo's version of what happened. I know you didn't intend to hurt anyone but when we don't use our heads things can get out of control," the Father explained to her.

He took Juanita's hand and they walked back into the mission but, before they reached it, a rider rode up..

"Well, I'll be..." said the Father.

"Father Manuel, do you know him?' Juanita asked.

"Yes, my child, I do and he might just know where your papa is!"

"I sure hope so! I want to see him more than anything in the world!". Juanita was looking at the priest, a grin just like her father's on her little face.

"Come and meet my friend with me. Hola, Richard," the Father called out.

"Hola, Father Manuel, and who's this beautiful lady you have with you?" Richard asked as he shook the Father's hand.

"My friend, you're in luck. This here is Juanita Madrid. Juanita, say hello to my friend, Richard."

Juanita held out her hand and shyly said, "Hola, senor, glad to meet you." Juanita turned on her most charming smile; the one that got her anything she wanted.

"Oh no, senorita, the pleasure is all mine." Richard shook her hand.

"Come, Richard... it's almost dinner time and I know you are tired and hungry."

"Father, where is everyone?' Richard asked, as he noticed there were no children outside playing.

"There was an accident this afternoon. Two of the children were hurt" he explained to Richard.

"Sorry to hear this. Did I come at a bad time?"

"Oh no, senor! Juanita piped up.

Both of them laughed. "If I didn't know better I would think someone is eager to find her papa," Father Manuel said.

Juanita just hung her head down and self-consciously went to put her arms around herself but was surprised when Richard seized them, making her look up.

Richard had a smile on his face. "Juanita, if I was looking for my papa and someone came along who might be able to help me find him, you better believe I would've said the same things!"

Juanita liked Richard and looked forward to knowing him better. She was more comfortable around adults than children her own age. Her grandpapa always said she was a little grown-up before her time. It made her smile, thinking of her grandpapa. How she missed her family.

As they entered the Mission, the doctor was there telling Sister Maria what he needed to take care of the children. Right away, the Father excused himself and informed the doctor that Sister Maria was on other duties and would not be taking care of the sick children.

"I'm sorry, Father. Sister Maria didn't tell me that." The doctor was uneasy.

"That's alright, do not concern yourself. Sister, why don't you go make up the guest room? It seems we have a guest." The Father looked directly at her and, though he smiled, his eyes were hard.

"As you wish." She went, thinking that they needed to call in the law to handle that girl for she knew Father Manuel would cover for her. It was obvious that he favored her.

The doctor was busy explaining to the Father that Roselita would be fine. He had fixed her arm andshe was to have light duties for six weeks. Carlo was another matter... it was so far a successful operation but it would be a slow healing. The piece of wood had luckily missed his vital organs but he was weak; they would have to watch for any infection. He wanted someone with him at all times.

As the doctor left, the Father made his way up to Roselita's room to talk with her. He sat at her bedside, a gentle presence.

"Roselita, how are you feeling now?" he asked her kindly.

"Much better, Father," Rosilta said but then she started to cry.

"Child, what is it?" he asked, though he suspected that he knew very well what troubled her.

"Father, I did something wrong but I can't tell you or I will be in trouble with Sister Maria and Carlo," Roselita cried even harder.

The priest looked at her and quietly said, "Who put you up to provoking Juanita?"

"I didn't want to do it, Father, honestly!"

"Yes, my child, I understand but we need to let the truth come out to stop further harm. Will you be willing to help me?" As he spoke, he looked up to see Miss Cruz approaching.

"It was Sister Maria and Carlo - they planned it! They wanted Juanita to be sent off, far away from here, where her father would never find her... in jail!" Roselita broke down in the Father's arms.

"What a heavy burden for such a little one to carry. You did right telling the truth." Miss Cruz knelt down and stroked her fingers through Roselita's black hair as she crooned to her.

Father Manuel got up and thanking the girl once more for her honesty, he asked Miss Cruz to have her write the whole story and to witness it. Then, angrier than he had ever felt in his whole life, he walked out. How a servant of God could turn on one of his children as Sister Maria had done... he was unable to find any answer. All he knew was that he had to put a stop to it.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As Father entered his office, he found both nuns arguing heatedly.

"Sister Theresa, I will handle this now. Please go sit with Carlo and tend to him. Thank you."

Father Manuel was tired of the trouble that had arisen over one small child.

"It seems, Sister Maria, you are out to cause great harm to not only Juanita but the other children as well. You scheme and plot to hurt an innocent child who has lost her whole family; the only family she has ever known. And, what is worse, I see no remorse in your heart for doing this. What do you say to excuse yourself?"

"I don't know what you are talking about, Father. I never harmed any one of the children!" the woman blustered, outraged by the accusation.

"It seems there is at least one child with an honest, god-fearing soul who told everything. She has let me know that Juanita was provoked into losing her temper." Father Manuel looked the woman directly in the eye and saw her immediately look guiltily away. He knew then with absolute certainty that Roselita was speaking the truth. He had hoped it would turn out to be untrue but, in his heart of hearts, had know the girl was not lying. Sister Maria was not fit to have the charge of children.

"I have sent my friend into town with a wire for your Mother Superior to have you reassigned and to let her know just what you have been up to here." It gave Manuel no pleasure to do this. His heart was heavy.

"I did not become a nun just to wait on you; I took my vows to help those that are in need!" Sister Maria cried bitterly.

"Then I think you had better take a hard look at yourself and see just who you are helping. I see the damage done here and it all comes back to you. I do not think you truly understand what your vows meant by helping others in need, especially children." Father Manuel turned and concentrated on his papers, dismissing Sister Maria.

As Sister Maria closed the door behind her, she mumbled under her breath, "We will see who leaves, me or you, Father."

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Later that evening, when all the children had been fed, prayers said and all tucked into bed, Father Manuel and Richard headed into the living room for an evening drink and some talk.

"Whiskey, Richard?"

"Please. I have to tell you, Johnny sure has beautiful kids! Little Juanita sure is pretty."

"Oh yes, she is going to drive not only the boys crazy but her papa as well!"

They both laughed, picturing Johnny trying to tame that wild child of his.

"I would love to be a fly on the wall when the boys start coming around," Richard laughed. "I would like to see them stare each other down. Don't know which one is more stubborn!"

As they laughed and talked amicably, they were unaware of one little girl listening to it all. She was waiting to see why Richard was here. She had an instinct it had something to do with her and her papa. Her heart was beating so fast she had to put her hand over it for fear that they would hear it.

"Father, I have good news. I found out Johnny is alive and well. He's living on the Lancer Ranch... one of the biggest spreads in San Joaquin Valley," Richard grinned.

"That's such good news! I want to hire you to take Juanita to him. Would you please do that for me, old friend? She is so lonely here and, every night, when I check on the children, I see her crying silent tears. She is so proud; so stubborn and proud - no-one is to know she is crying."

"I would be more than happy to do that for Johnny and Juanita, Father and, no, you may not hire me!" A ready smile lit up Richard's face. "It'd do my heart good to see that boy united with his child."

"Then it's all settled. Will you start out after breakfast? I will have Sister Theresa prepare Juanita."

Much later, Father Manuel retired to his room to read his bible before he settled for the night. He thanked the dear Lord for finding Juanita's father.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita headed back to bed but, when she turned the corner, Sister Maria was right there waiting in the gloom. She grabbed the child and pulled her up the stairs. Juanita could barely stay on her feet. All the way, the nun was telling her that she would never see her father for she was going to jail; the rurales would be there in the morning to take her away. Juanita was so frightened but stoutly refused to show it. Before she knew what was happening, she felt the woman shove her into a closet. "You will stay in here till I let you out. Go ahead and scream if you wish. No-one will hear you way up here in the attic!" Then darkness closed around her as the sister slammed the door closed and locked it.

Juanita listened to the sister walking away and fought to steady her breathing. She must use her head! Quickly, she pulled out her little knife but, finding it didn't fit into the lock, she tried a hair pin. There was a sudden click and the door swung free, light spilling around her.

"Yes!" Juanita whispered and she tiptoed out of the closet. She looked around for anyone watching her and, seeing no one, she inched her way down the stairs to the kitchen and over to the pantry. There, taking a sack, she filled it with as much food as she could carry then stole across the moonlit yard to Pedro.

As Pedro heard her enter the barn, he neighed eagerly for her. Juanita walked up to him, speaking soft Spanish words to him. The horse just nudged her chest and Juanita told him that he would have to be the one to take her to her papa and it would have to be tonight for, in the morning, she would be in jail.

Pedro nodded as if he understood her. Juanita grabbed his halter and led him to a stack of hay bales which she then climbed and threw the sack over the horse's back, jumping on. Never had she been so happy her grandpapa insisted she learn to ride bare-back as her grandmother's people did. In fact, she preferred riding that way.

Out of the barn and into the night, heading north, Juanita rode. She knew that, by morning, they would discover her gone, maybe sooner if the Father did his nightly rounds, checking on them all. Juanita wanted to be across the border before daybreak and she nudged the horse into a gentle trot, speeding off into the night.

 

 

Chapter 4

As the next day dawned, Sister Theresa went up to the girls' dorm to wake them up. When she got there, she looked around at all the beds lined up in a row against the wall, each with their own little chest at the foot. This was mostly for their few extra clothes and any personal items the children had been given on special occasions.

As she looked over to where Juanita should be sleeping, all she saw was an empty bed which had not been slept in. Sister Theresa walked over to the girl in the bed next to Juanita's and woke her. The child woke up, rubbing her eyes and yawning then she looked at the Sister.

"Yes, Sister Theresa?" little Sophie asked..

"Sophie, when was the last time you saw Juanita?"

"She left to use the outhouse, Sister... last night before bed," came the answer.

Sister Theresa looked around the room and yelled for the girls to wake up.

As they came awake, the worried nun asked them when they last saw Juanita. Each little girl said the same thing - last night. Then Rosalita cried, "Juanita's bed wasn't slept in!" 

"Yes, sweetheart, I know," Sister Theresa said. "Don't worry, we will find her."

The sister left the girls with a reminder that they should hurry. Breakfast was in 30 minutes. She went to seek out Father Manuel who was waking up the boys. She found him talking to Carlo.

"Excuse me, Father, may I speak with you please?"

"Yes Sister, I'll be right there. Thank you, Carlo, you've been a great he lp," Fat her Manuel told him. "Yes, Sister Theresa, what is it?" Father looked at her with a frown on his face for he knew something more had happened and prayed Sister Maria wasn't the cause.

"Father, it seems Juanita's bed was not slept in and the last time anyone saw her was at bed time."

"What do you mean? Didn't she go to bed with the rest of the girls?" Father asked.

"No, Father, she left to go to the outhouse and never came back. I'm worried about her."

"Yes, I understand. I will go see if she went into the barn and perhaps fell asleep," Manuel said.

"The barn, Father?" Sister Theresa asked with an amused look on her face.

"Oh yes," he chuckled. "It seems our little one has taken to Pedro."

"Oh, I see! Well, I'll go get the children ready for breakfast and prayers." The sister left to help the girls.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

 

Meanwhile, Sister Maria was sneaking up the back stairs to the attic to fetch Juanita. She wanted to get her out of the mission and to a friend who she believed would get rid of her. The twisted woman could not see straight; she thought Juanita was the cause of all her problems; just like her father the last time he was here.

As she reached the tiny closet, she found the door had been opened and Juanita was gone.

"Oh No!" Sister Maria gasped and clutched her bony hand to her bosom. If anyone found Juanita or she got to Father Manuel before she could recapture her... Sister Maria knew perfectly well that she would be in more trouble than she had dreamed possible. Being reassigned by the Mother Superior paled into insignificance.

The plump nun turned and hurried off down the stairs as fast as her stout legs could carry her, looking for Juanita.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Father Manuel came down the stairs and ran into Richard

"Buenos dias, Father! Great morning!"

"Hola, Richard. Yes, a beautiful day." Father walked past him to the front door.

"Wait, Father, what's the rush?" Richard asked, puzzled.

"I'm sorry, Richard. Come with me and I'll explain."

As they walked, the Father explained to Richard, all about Juanita not being in her bed this morning or not seen since last night at bedtime.

"This isn't good, Father. Do you think she is with Pedro?"

"That's what I'm hoping," the Father said.

As they reached the barn, they opened the doors and adjusted their eyes to the dim light. Father looked to see Pedro in his stall, only to find it empty.

"Oh no! I do hope Juanita hasn't done anything foolish. Surely, she can't have taken off alone to find Johnny?" Father was beside himself.

"She wouldn't know the way, would she?" Richard asked uncertainly.

"I'm afraid Juanita is too smart for her own good. She also has instincts like her father.

Yes, she will find a way. All we can do is look around the mission for her but I think it will be useless.

You pack up and come to my office. I have an envelope to give you before you leave." Father hurried out of the barn and back to the house.

"Wait! Father, where am I going?" Richard hurried to keep up with Father Manuel.

"You, my friend, will be going after her to make sure she gets to Lancer," Father said as he opened the back door and bumped into Sister Maria who was barging through.

"Sister Maria, where are you going in such a hurry? Breakfast hasn't even finished," Father asked her.

"Um, I w....w....was just going to visit the outhouse, Father Manuel," the sister stuttered, her face a bright red.

"Well, come right back. It seems Juanita has run off and I would like to speak to you when you are done with your duties. About an hour and half?" Father and Richard continued on to the office.

"Just what I don't need right now," Sister Maria seethed.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As all the children and Sister Theresa searched for Juanita, the two men were in the office, arranging for Richard to get on the road right away.

"Richard, in this envelope is Juanita's only inheritance left to her by her mother. See to it that it is given to Johnny, and only Johnny!" Father Manuel was most insistent.

"I will, you know you can count on me," Richard said.

"Yes, my friend, that is why I chose you. There is also a letter for Johnny in there. Forgive me, I can't help worrying. I just don't like the idea of Juanita out there on her own," he sighed.

"Don't worry, I'll find her and make sure she reaches Lancer... and Johnny." Richard took the envelope and hid it in his coat pocket. Then, clasping his old friend by the shoulder, he quickly said his goodbyes and left the mission.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita had just crossed the border. She dismounted and was trying to send Pedro back into the river to return to the Mission for now she would be taking the next part of her journey on foot.

 

 

Chapter 5

Juanita started walking towards a small village. She was tired; it seemed she had been walking and carrying her bag for hours.

As she rounded a bend in the track, she couldn't believe her luck. There, hanging on a clothes line, were just what she needed - a boy's pair of pants and shirt. Juanita found herself looking around as she made her way over to them. Grabbing them off the line, she ran as fast as she could. Finding a quiet place behind an outbuilding, she hastened to remove her dress and underclothes. No sense in wearing the lacy drawers and camisole- they wouldn't fit under the pants and shirt anyway.

Juanita came out from behind the building and, as luck would have it, noticed a young boy about her own age who was sitting nearby. He took off his hat to wipe his brow and laid it down on the grass beside him.

Juanita was quicker than a striking rattler! She pounced on the hat and raced back behind the building before anyone could see her. It was a perfect fit but she had to use her quick mind to disguise it so the boy would not recognise it. Always keeping in mind that her goal was getting to her papa, the child could not afford to be careless. Nothing must get in her way. She tore a piece of her shirt and weaved it around the band of the hat then looked down at herself. "Dang, I still look like a girl with my hair so darn long! Wish my knife was sharp enough to cut it," Juanita told herself. "Well, I'll have to pin it up."

When Juanita was satisfied, she came out from behind the little stone building and mingled easily into the crowd, happy with herself that she had made it this far. As the day continued, her luck seemed to keep getting better. She could hardly believe it. Juanita's smile stretched from ear to ear. "Of course, mama always told me I was lucky like my papa."

At last, there ahead of her was a train with all kinds of grains of wheat and hay - all going to California. Good fortune had smiled on her again. Juanita knew she simply had to get on board somehow.

She walked around the train, blending in with all the other people who bustled along and stood talking in little huddles. At last, her keen eyes saw just what she was looking for... an open car full of straw. She glanced around and, seeing that no-one was paying any attention to her, she threw her sack up into the car. Then she jumped quickly in after it.

Juanita took a deep breath and tried to calm her jangling nerves, slowly backing up to the very end of the car where it was darkest. There, she hid behind the bales, pressing herself into the corner... and just waited.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita must have fallen asleep for the next thing she realised was the train had started to move. She stretched and sat back against the soft hay. She was free and she was on her way to meet her papa. The child enjoyed the ride, ate and slept when she felt tired of watching the endless shrubs and clouds flying by. Her food supply was running low so she ate only a little for it had to last to the end of her journey and Juanita knew she still had a long way to go.

When she started feeling cramped up, Juanita risked standing behind the bales, hoping they would hide her. She was surprised to find that she could stand easily and keep her balance. Intrigued, she chanced a sneaky peep around the bales, congratulating herself that she was safely aboard and no-one else was in the car with her. However, when she peeked around the bales, she found two Mexican men, sitting with their legs hanging out of the door and it was nightfall.

Juanita eased quietly back into her corner and stayed as still as she could. It was a surprise to her that someone else had thought to jump on the same train car as her. She was worried now. Were they likely to find her? With this thought in mind, she carefully took out her little pocket knife and somehow the weight of it in her palm reassured her.

Little did she know a pocket knife isn't much protection.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

For two days and nights Juanita stayed huddled at the back of the in train car. She was itching to move. Staying in one place for so long wasn't easy for the girl and she longed to be out of the car and off of this train. She couldn't believe anyone could sit this long without moving. She also had been compelled to use the corner when nature called and the odour was beginning to turn her stomach. She was dreading that either of the two men would smell it and that scared her.

Juanita worried needlessly. The two men, sitting so close to the open door, couldn't smell anything but the cool fresh air. Seasoned train-jumpers, they sat that way on purpose.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The next time Juanita woke, the train was coming to a stop - where she didn't know only that it had to be California. She was delighted to be able to get out at last but knew she would have to be just as careful getting off the train as she had been getting onto it. She had come so far. She did not want to be caught now.

The child watched the two men jump off before the train made a complete stop. Yes, that was the way. She also inched along to the door of the train and looked out. They may have slowed down but, even so, to the little girl they seemed to be going very fast. Juanita didn't know if she could jump. She muttered a little prayer to God to protect her until she found her papa then, screwing up her courage, threw herself into the air.

 

 

Chapter 6

Juanita's sack tumbled down the small hill with her right behind it. When, at last, she came to a stop and looked up, she saw a man yelling out of one of the back train cars. Terrified that she had been seen, she crouched, ready to run but he was not looking at her. He was waving angrily at the two men who had shared the car with her for the last few days; this gave Juanita enough time to stand up and act as if she had been walking. She was tramping along trying to keep the noise and the wind from the train at her back as she climbed up the hill and waited for the train to pass by her.

As she walked across the train tracks and looked around at the station, she saw people everywhere; some waiting to meet relatives from the train, men with wagons waited to pick up the hay and grains they would deliver to there next destination, children running around their parents' legs playfully.

Juanita could hear laughter, along with voices screaming this and yelling that all around, adults and children chatted with one another but no one paid attention to her.

She knew she must find out where she was. She walked around the station for a while then went into the small building where most of the people were standing around, either talking or looking at the schedule or buying tickets for their journeys.

Juanita strolled up to the schedule and saw a sign which stated that she was in San Francisco. There were times and destinations to where the trains would go next. Then, at the side of this, there was a map. She walked over to study this and looked to see what was the closest stop to where she needed to go - the San Joaquin Valley. But her face fell when she realized this map did not show the valley she was looking for. She would have to be brave and ask the man at the ticket counter for a train that might take her nearby, as close as she could get.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita waited in line anxiously as people shoved her this way and that. Finally, she was pushed out of the way by a fat man and his son who barged ahead of her in the procession. Seeing red, the little girl glared.

"Everyone stop!" she howled as loud as she could. People close by looked at her in surprise. They watched the angry, little boy with the haunting eyes as he marched furiously up to the counter and demanded, "How close does this train get to the San Joaquin Valley?"

The man in the ticket office was amused at the glare the child gave him. This little fella meant business and no mistake!

"Well, sonny, this train only goes as far as Cross Creek. From there, you have to take a stage to Morro Coyo," he answered with a smile on his face.

Juanita rewarded him with a, "Thank you kindly, sir." Then she turned and walked outside.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita knew she didn't have enough money and couldn't afford a ticket for the train, or pay for a room in a hotel and she had to be on that train, she had to come up with a plan

She sat alone, her face filled with sorrow.

Just as she was thinking she should get up and find a place to hide and form a plan to get on that train, an older couple walked up to her.

The lady spoke first, "Oh, sweetheart, why so sad? It's a beautiful day. You should be out playing with your friends!" The lady looked kindly at Juanita.

"Yes, ma'am but, you see, I don't live here. My papa is waiting for me in Cross Creek to take me to my new home. My grandpa gave me the fare but some older boys jumped me and took all my money from me." Juanita looked so pitiful that the older couple couldn't help but feel sorry for her.

The man asked her if she had a place to stay for the train would not be leaving until the morning. Juanita replied in the sorriest voice she could manage.

"No sir."

In her mind though, she was thinking what foolish gringos they were - falling for the oldest tricks. But she wasn't complaining.

The man left and went back into the building as the lady took Juanita's hand and walked her over to a bench right outside the door. "What is your name?"

Juanita looked sorrowfully up at her and said, "Johnny, ma'am."

"Well, Johnny, we will get you to your father safely. It's not right for a child your age to travel alone."

Juanita thanked the lady profusely and told her how her papa would be very pleased that she had found such nice people to travel with. In truth, Juanita was thanking her lucky stars that these old people were so gullible. She gave the lady a sweet smile that no-one could resist.

The man returned after a few minutes and took his wife's hand. Together, they walked Juanita to the nearby hotel and booked a room for the night. As they settled into the room, the old gentleman showed Juanita her bed which was in a tiny alcove. Juanita thanked him and asked him what should she call them.

"We are the Brennan's. I'm Joe and my wife's name is Elizabeth. Tell you what, son, why don't you clean up and change and we can go down for a bite of dinner?"

He was about to leave when he noticed the boy's crestfallen look.

Juanita glanced sadly at her clothes and explained that this was all she had. Those same boys had run off with her suitcase. Just as she had hoped, her sad little tale did the trick - Joe kindly told her to clean up while he went out to buy some fresh clothes for her. A wicked gleam lit Juanita's eye. She felt no guilt for her lies; if the old people were foolish enough to swallow her story, that was their own fault. Life was hard and you had to be just as hard to survive i t.

When the old man had gone, Juanita went into the cubby hole where she was to sleep and pulled the curtain closed. She had been lucky that she had not had to take her hat off but she knew it would be expected of her at dinner. She had to do something fast in order to look like a boy. The only thing she could come up with was to cut her long beautiful hair.

She crossed to the bed. Though her room was so small, this bed was bigger than the one her mother or grandparents had back home. She threw herself down on it. It was soft and Juanita wriggled into the squashy comforter. Sitting up at last, she saw a small dresser with a mirror right above it. Knowing she couldn't see herself in the mirror while standing on the floor, she looked around to find a chair or a stool that she could drag over.

At last, she had everything together. Juanita poured some water over her hair into the bowl then she took her pocket knife out of her boot and, grasping a long length of black hair, started to saw away at it.

It hurt as the knife was dull but she didn't have time to worry about that. Mr. Brennan would soon be back with her new clothes. As she cut, her thoughts went back to the times she would sit in front of her mother at night as she brushed 100 strokes down her long shining locks. Before Juanita knew it, tears had started flowing down her cheeks. Her hair was ebony black and softer than silk. It shimmered and caught the light so that it looked almost blue in places. It curled so naturally (like her father's had. It had always made her happy to hear her mother tell her how she had her father's hair.)

Juanita was snapped out of her thoughts as she heard Mr. Brennan enter the hotel room, asking where everyone was.

"I'm almost ready!" Juanita cried out, the pool of hair all over the floor at her feet and her face stained with tears. She became instantly angry with herself, remembering again her mother's words, 'Madrid's do not cry'. She would bring shame to her papa, acting like such a baby. So, she splashed water over her face and ran her fingers through the shaggy short ends of her hair. Then she used the towel in her hand to sweep up the black strands and put them under the bed. Now she was ready.

Together, they walked down into the hotel restaurant to order dinner, chatting amicably and making plans for their morning wake up call.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

When they had all finished their meal, the elderly couple insisted on a stroll around the city.

Juanita hated it. How could anyone live in this constant noise and crowd? She loved the open spaces of the countryside with all the quiet a person could want. The Brennan's wanted to take her to see the free show down by the park. They loved this city and visited here often.

To get out of this, Juanita pretended to feel sick, telling them she had probably eaten something that didn't agree with her. She asked if she could just go back to the hotel and go to bed. The kindly couple of course agreed and they wandered back to the hotel. Joe was even saying that it was perhaps better to retire early as they would have an early start the next morning and needed to be at the train by six o' clock.

Though she had got her way and her schemes and lies were working, Juanita still felt anxious. She was not safe yet and would not rest until she was in her papa's arms.

 

 

Chapter 7

The next morning after breakfast was done, the Brennan's and Juanita left for the train station to find that there was already a large crowd of people standing around waiting to board the train.

Joe grabbed both his wife's and Juanita's hands so they would not get separated as they made their way through the crowd.

They made their way onto the train and found their seats, Joe settling Juanita in a window seat.

Once the train got underway, Juanita was so nervous she couldn't sit still. She was getting closer to her papa and she wanted to scream it to the whole train. Eventually, Joe had to scold her, "Johnny, sit still! You're like a cat trying to catch a mouse," he smiled.

Juanita grinned and said, "I'm just so excited to see my papa."

"I know, son, but jumping around won't make it any quicker."

Juanita was trying to act more like a grown up but knew she was slipping so she decided to put her Madrid face on, the one that didn't give away her feelings.

But after only a few more minutes, Juanita had to jump up to go down to the end of the car where she could stand out on the backboard of the train. She loved it there, watching the scenery whipping by and the wind ruffling her short hair. How she wished she hadn't cut it. But Juanita knew that, if the Brennan's knew she was a girl, they wouldn't have let her come out here. They would never have left her alone but she was sure they would have taken her to the local sheriff to find out where she had come from. Somehow, a boy traveling alone was more acceptable.

The door opened and a man reached out and grabbed Juanita by the collar of her shirt.

"Who let you come out here? Don't they know it's dangerous?" he asked her

"I'm alright. I'm not going to jump off, y'know!" Juanita was annoyed that he interrupted her thoughts.

"Doesn't matter! Can't you see the sign above the door? It says 'no children past this door'," he persisted.

"I don't give a damn what it says!" Juanita was now very angry and her eyes showed it.

The man took a firm hold of her collar and headed back into the train car with Juanita screaming bloody murder at him.

"Get your dirty, rotten hands off me, you son of jackass!" she spat as she kicked and punched at the man.

"Does anyone know whose boy this is?"

"Yes, he is with us," Mr. Brennan spoke up in surprise.

"Well, mister, he doesn't belong outside the train. He could fall so keep him in here with you!" the man snapped as he tossed Juanita into Joe's arms and carried on down the aisle.

"Johnny, please sit down and behave yourself," Mrs. Brennan said.

'I wasn't doing anything wrong. He just wanted to act like he's something an' all he's… he's a jackass!" Juanita let her know she wasn't very happy being back in her seat..

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The lunch was now being served and everyone had beef sandwiches with bottles of lemonade. Juanita was never one to turn down food, in fact she could pack it in like any growing boy. Both her mother and later Father Manuel wondered if she had hollow legs! But one thing she couldn't stand was beef. She hated the taste of it and how chewy it was.

So she refused the sandwich and only tasted the lemonade for she wasn't fond of that either, preferring milk. Ever the kind-hearted gentleman, Mr. Brennan asked if they had milk for her but pressed her to eat her sandwich. Sighing, she only pretended to, spitting half-chewed mouthfuls out into her napkin when he wasn't looking. When her sandwich was gone, she was allowed two sugar cookies with her milk.

When the lunch was over, Juanita found herself getting restless again. She wanted to get up and at least walk up and down the aisle. As she got up to go, Mr. Brennan took her arm to ask her where she thought she was going. Juanita regarded him stonily.

"I'm going for a walk down the aisle so take your hand off me," she stated with a low unfeeling voice. Mr. Brennan let go of her arm in shock and stared hard at the ‘boy'. It was almost as if this wasn't the same child they had talked to and shared their room with.

"Just who are you?" Mr. Brennan asked him.

Juanita looked at him and said, "Madrid, Juan Madrid." She had once heard someone say that her papa said his name like that. It sounded impressive so she tried it.

"Well, I don't care who you say you are, I paid for your ticket and you will mind me, young man. Do I make myself clear?" Joe was very unimpressed with his young charge's attitude.

"I hear ya' but, as I said, I'm just going to walk down the aisle a couple of times. I can't sit in that seat any longer without climbing the walls and screaming!" Juanita insisted rudely.

"Very well, but please don't get in the way," Joe told her.

Across the aisle sat a young boy and his sister, both watching Juanita as she left her seat. The boy leaned closer and asked her if she really knew Johnny Madrid. Juanita answered of course she did. "He's my papa!" the pride in her voice was unmistakable.

"He's a killer!" the boy announced.

Juanita looked at him with disgust and immediately smacked him in the mouth, yelling, "You take that back! My papa's no killer; he helps those in need!"

Juanita tugged the boy out into the aisle and launched herself on top of him, punching and slapping at him. She was madder than mad. No-one was going to call her papa a killer and walk away on their own two feet as far as she was concerned. This boy had to be taught a lesson Madrid style!

Joe jumped up at the same time as the boy's mother. His sister had started crying, and with the conductor and Joe trying to pull the children apart, the whole car was in total uproar. People had risen from their seats to get a better view of the fracas. Juanita was cussing and kicking, swinging her little arms. Finally, Joe got control of her and sat her down in the seat beside him.

"You calm down right now, y'hear? I've had about enough of you!"

Joe and his wife were shocked and angry. How could this little boy, who they reached out to help in his hour of need, be so disrespectful to them? Yet, to Juanita, she was only standing up for her family. She had been taught that family came first and that meant her papa.

"Juan, we will be stopping overnight and I expect you to apologize to us and to that boy and his mother. If you want to continue on with us, you will behave yourself. Do I make myself clear?" Joe demanded.

"I should've figured you'd take that gringo boy's side! He called my papa a killer and he isn't! All I did was teach him a lesson for lying." Juanita was still seeing red and wasn't about to apologize anytime soon. She stubbornly turned her head to watch the countryside out the window go by fast.

At the next stop, as they made their way off the train, the conductor asked to speak to Joe.

"Sir, perhaps you might consider one of our private cars so that you and your family can have some space for the boy. He seems a little on edge."

Joe just nodded his head then thanked the man.

Before heading to the hotel to book them a room, Joe rented a small private car for the rest of the way to Cross Creek, hoping Juan would behave himself. He wanted the child to have the chance to simmer down; his temper had erupted from nowhere! However, Joe was a firm believer in good manners and he still expected an apology from him. That boy was skating on thin ice from here on, and if he didn't toe the line, Joe was determined he would know about it.

 

 

Chapter 8

Elizabeth woke Juanita the next morning. The child had been sound asleep having had a late night. She had eventually given her apology to Joe, along with the boy and his mother. In all honesty, it hadn't been much of an apology. Juanita had muttered sullenly, fixing the boy with a scowl. He had been scared enough to accept the mumbled words and immediately asked his mother if they could leave. Juanita had smirked at him. "That should fix him for now," she thought to herself.

As Juanita washed up and got ready to go down for breakfast, she was on her best behavior for she knew she had crossed a line with Mr. Brennan. The girl sulked as she fastened the buttons of her shirt. He wasn't as nice as he had seemed at first; he had threatened to whup her! Juanita felt that he was crossing a line too! "Who does he think he is?" Juanita was grumbling to herself as she pulled on her pants. "He isn't my papa. He can't touch me; only my papa can." Juanita was working herself up into a tizzy and she guessed she should calm down and just keep her nose clean during breakfast. So she counted to ten like her grandma had taught her then took a deep breath. She would push aside all thoughts of last night and start the day on the right foot.

"Buenos Dias, senor y senora Brennan, it is un hermoso día, si?" Juanita said cheerfully as she walked in.

Mr. and Mrs. Brennan looked at her and smiled, relieved to have the nice little boy back again. Mrs. Brennan said, "I'm sorry, we don't speak Spanish, Johnny."

"Oh, that's okay, I just said good morning it is a beautiful day, yes?" Juanita was happy to translate for them.

"Is it Johnny? Are you going to behave yourself today?" asked Mr. Brennan sternly.

"Si senor, I will," Juanita told him as they headed down to breakfast.

Mr. Brennan found their small private car and ushered them in, silently hoping this would help Johnny to finally settle and stay out of trouble. They took their seats and Mr. Brennan made himself comfortable to read the paper he had picked up as they left the hotel. Mrs. Brennan soon became engrossed in the sweater she was knitting. With nothing much to do, Juanita looked around the car.

There were deep red curtains at the window, a small table next to Joe's chair Joe with his coffee cup on it. Juanita was pleased that they served them something to drink and some pastries.

She eyed the chocolate one longingly and hoped her papa knew how to make chocolate cake like her mama had done. Juanita adored chocolate and sat back remembering her mother's baking - chocolate churros, one of her favorites, sprang into her mind... with chocolate sauce... mmm. This was getting Juanita hungry again and she dared to ask if she could please have another pastry. Mr. Brennan, impressed with the boy's good manners today, readily gave his permission.

"Gracias," Juanita said politely and picked out another chocolate one.

Joe Brennan smiled behind his newspaper. It was amazing what the threat of a spanking could do for a child's attitude.

It was only going to take half a day to reach Cross Creek and Juanita asked Mr. Brennan if he had any paper and a pen so that she could write to them when she got settled. Elizabeth beamed at this idea. Truly, the boy had completely changed. His poor behavior yesterday must have been down to tiredness or maybe he had been worried about his pa. She smiled encouragingly at her husband who searched the drawer of the table he was at and found a few sheets of writing paper, a quill and a small bottle of ink. Joe wrote down their address and blew softly on it so that the wet ink would not smear.

"Here, Johnny, be careful. The ink may still be a little wet," Joe smiled as Juanita took it and laid it out on the couch where she sat.

At the last moment, Juanita had remembered something very important that her grandfather had told her about her papa. He always paid his way and owed no one. She must make sure she paid the old couple back for all they had done for her. She was sure they must have spent fifty dollars at least. Juanita chewed her lip, deep in thought. How was she to pay back even half of that sum? Maybe her papa could help her pay them back. As soon as she had the thought, she knew it was not rig ht. It wasn't her papa they were being helpful to; it was her responsibility and she must be the one to make restitution. So, for the rest of the trip, Juanita thought long and hard on how she could pay them back the money they had spent on her.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The train lurched and rattled as it came to a stop. The Brennan's and Juanita collected their things together and waited until they came to a complete stop before they moved to get off.

"Johnny is your pa here? Do you see him?" Joe Brennan asked, his eyes scanning the milling crowd.

Of course, Juanita wasn't expecting her papa to be there. What is more, she had no idea what he even looked like. Keen to get off and knowing the truth would delay her, she had to lie. She pointed suddenly into the crowd and told Joe that she had seen him go into the station. Then, before the elderly couple could decide to go with her to meet her father, she ran off and was swallowed up in the busy throng of passengers.

Much to Joe and Elizabeth's consternation, Juanita was long gone. Elizabeth urged her husband to go find Johnny and his pa but Joe told her they would probably have left already and they would never be able to catch them. Anxiously, he picked up their luggage and they headed for the hotel to rest until it was time for their next train. With a wait of over an hour, they decided to have a bite to eat and headed to a small cafe nearby. Both hoped they might catch sight of the little boy with his father; maybe they would pass the cafe while they ate their meal, but they knew it was a vain hope indeed.

While the Brennan's sat sadly in the window of the cafe, hoping against hope to catch sight of their little friend, Juanita had made her way over to the stage depot. She waited until the coast was clear and hopped into the small wooden luggage box on the back of the stage. The driver was busy securing the luggage on top and didn't spot one small child squeezing into the box.

Juanita felt cramped but safe in her little hideout. She heard the stage coach driver (someone called him Willie) speaking to another man and saying that the stage would be leaving in just a few minutes and should take about two hours to get to Morro Coyo. Juanita grinned to herself. She was nearly there! She listened carefully. The two men were still talking; perhaps she could find out more. Willie called the man 'Scott Lancer'. Juanita wondered if he was anything to do with that Lancer ranch. Shuffling to get more comfortable, she dismissed the idea. She would just have to wait and see.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The ride was rough and Juanita felt she had been shaken until her bones rattled. She couldn't wait to stretch her legs; her back ached and her arms were numb. The stage sure hadn't missed one pothole or rock along the road to Juanita's mind. Grumpily, she decided she would have fired the man doing the driving. It was a wonder they hadn't tipped over when they made that last corner into Morro Coyo.

At long last, they stopped and now all Juanita had to do was wait for the other passengers to get off and the driver to leave. Then she could sneak out and blend in with the people. She shouldn't have any problem... if luck was still on her side.

The minutes dragged by endlessly, but at last, Juanita, felt it was safe to open the lid of her tiny cramped box. She peeked her head out, and seeing no one, decided to take her chance.

Unfortunately, for Juanita, two men were watching the stage and spotted the little stowaway. A passenger had waylaid Willie and the two were discussing the next stage. In the middle of their conversation, a little boy squeezed out of the box and started to stretch.

Juanita felt good and a smile lit up her face. She indulged in a slow stretch, which felt so good. Suddenly, all hell seemed to break loose.

Willie yelled, "Hold it right there!" as he turned towards the boy. Everyone whipped around, watching the stagecoach to see what Willie was shouting about. The man next to him went one way as Willie went the other.

Juanita was fast on her feet and was able to fly past them both as they crashed into each other in their efforts to grab her. Down they both went in an untidy heap of thrashing limbs. Somehow, Willie had got a bloody nose and was making one hell of a fuss but Juanita knew better than to stop. She went to dash forward again but there was a pair of long legs in her way.

Juanita ducked down, heading desperately for the tiny gap between these legs. She almost made it too but hands grabbed her by the waist, and all at once, she felt herself being lifted off the ground.

Suddenly, the man howled and dropped her, seizing hold of his right inner thigh. Willie stared at the tall man and both froze in shock. The kid had taken a big bite out of Scott Lancer's thigh, and they could see through a small rip in his pants that the skin had been broken too.

Realizing he was now bleeding did not make Mr. Scott Lancer very happy at all but he gritted his teeth against the pain and yelled, "Where did that boy go to?"

Two ladies were standing near and pointed over to the saloon. Scott and Willie both headed after the little villain and were surprised at what they discovered inside.

 

 

Chapter 9

Scott couldn't believe his eyes. There, at the far corner table facing the door sat the boy, calmly drinking a bottle of sarsaparilla. Scott looked at the bartender and asked, "When did you start serving kids, Hank?"

"I ain't, but he told me he's Johnny Madrid's kid," Hank answered.

Scott approached the boy and asked him what his name was.

Juanita gave him one of her smiles and replied, "I'm Johnny Madrid!" Then she carried on drinking her sarsaparilla and did her best to ignore him.

"Oh, you ain't no Madrid so stop the act and let's talk about the fare you owe me for that ride ya got," Willie demanded impatiently.

More than anything, Scott was amused. He took in the cool cocky look on the boy's face and realized that he'd seen that very same expression on his brother. Scott moved closer to the boy and again asked his name. "Tell me again, son. What is your name is?"

Juanita stared Scott square in the eye and answered, "If it's any of your business, gringo, it's Madrid, Johnny Madrid!" She followed up her sass with a smirk that surely was pure Johnny. Scott and Willie both recognized it and were really taken aback by it.

A murmur of voices had begun behind Scott and Willie. "Looks like Johnny's got himself a kid!" a man laughed. Others men joined in too, throwing around more teasing comments, "Boy, wait 'til Johnny gets a load of this kid!" said one of the men in the saloon, then he laughed heartily.

This reaction wasn't sitting well with Juanita, whose smile had turned into a dark glare. The child was obviously unhappy to be the butt of their unfriendly jokes, and Scott saw her eyes flash with temper so he asked the kid to follow him outside.

"No," Juanita refused.

Willie looked at Scott and muttered, "Maybe you should go get Johnny?"

Scott shook his head and stared the child down. "I know Johnny personally," he said softly. "See, he's my brother."

Scott was not sure what reaction he had expected to this news, but it certainly wasn't the one he got. Juanita jumped up, her bottle of sarsaparilla skimming across the table, and spat, "Hell no, he ain't! My papa wouldn't have anything to do with the likes of you, gringo!" With that, she marched past the astonished men and stomped outside, making her way over to the livery stable, she was going to ask for directions to the Lancer place then head directly there as quickly as she could.

As Scott went to follow her, Willie put his hand on his arm. "Hey Scott, seeing as he thinks he's a Lancer kid how about paying me his fare for the stage?"

With a wry smile, Scott took out his wallet and handed Willie the money telling himself his brother would be paying him back for all the trouble he'd endured. Happy to have his cash Willie had get going as he was now powerful late getting the stage going.

Scott strolled over to Smith the liveryman to find out what the boy was doing.

"Hey Scott, this here boy is looking for Lancer, says his pa is working there," Smith told him, a puzzled look on his face.

"Hello, Smith! Yes, that's what I hear. This boy claims to be related to Johnny," Scott said pleasantly enough. He was not about to share every detail of the boy's incredible story. Rumors would be rife as it was.

"I'm his son, mister and when I find him, I'm going to have him shoot you for laying your hands on me!" Juanita cried. She was not at all sure about this tall blond gringo. He spoke softly enough, but his eyes told her he had not yet forgotten about the chunk she had bitten out of his leg. Her stomach was feeling uneasy and she tried to cover her fear with bravado and temper.

"Whoa there! You think Johnny just goes around shooting people for nothing or that he would kill for you?" Scott found it hard to believe that the boy could possibly think this.

"Now listen up, if you behave yourself and keep a civil tongue in your head, I'll be happy to take you to Johnny."

Juanita's eyes narrowed suspiciously, "You're lying. I don't think you even know my papa."

Scott didn't much appreciate being called a liar by this little pup. Hands on his hips, he began,

"Well, son..."

"I ain't your son so don't you ever call me that again!"

Scott had heard enough. He grabbed Juanita and threw her over his shoulder, apologized to Smith and took off for his horse.

Tossing Juanita over his saddle, Scott climbed up on his horse and headed out of town.

Now that she had just about gotten over the shock, Juanita began yelling at the top of her lungs for Scott to put her down... or else! "Just you wait 'til my papa gets his hands on you!"

She was screaming so loud that a crowd gathered outside the saloon to see what was making all the noise. Soon the sound of their laughter drowned out her yells and brought out other people so that as Scott rode out of town, the street on both sides were lined with laughing townsfolk.

Scott almost forgot about the pain in his thigh until he got up into the saddle, but his leg was damn sore and he let out a little grunt.

"I can hardly wait to see what Johnny may do to you if you are his son, once he finds out all about your exploits in town," Scott was telling Juanita, "That is if I don't whup you myself before we get home, and mind you, I haven't exactly ruled that out after the way you're behaving, and if you keep it up long enough one of us surely will," he told her. Scott smiled to think of his little brother's face when he got a look at this kid and then heard him talk. Then he  thought of Murdoch and Teresa. "Oh boy, what has Johnny gotten into now?"

Juanita was still yelling that no one would dare lay a hand on her unless it was her papá. No one had the right to tell her what to do except her him.

Scott had just about had enough of this little one's yelling and kicking. He was going to make Johnny pay big time for this one. When the little monster pinched hard at the soft skin at the back of his knee, Scott saw red. Without a second thought, he raised his hand and smacked Juanita on her rear end good and proper. The child squealed and her kicking and wriggling increased. Scott growled at her to stop or else he would do it again, but the horse had a more definite answer. It reared up and started bucking. Scott was an excellent rider and tried to keep the horse from throwing them both, but Juanita's kicking was now at panic level.

Despite all his horseman ship skills Scott felt himself leave the saddle. The child across his lap flew into the air with him and they both landed with a big crash and rolled right down a narrow hill.

 

 

Chapter 10

Juanita's eyes flickered open and she peered around. The man was lying on the ground, very still, a few feet away from her. She stiffly clambered to her feet and stumbled over to him, crouching down at his side. Then she shook him. "Senor, wake up, please wake up!" Juanita's voice quavered as she swallowed back the rising panic.

Scott turned his head and murmured as he came to and tried to get his bearings. He opened his eyes. He heard a little voice telling him to shake himself; encouraging him and, as he was able to focus more and more, Juanita stood and looked around for the horse. What she saw nearby frightened her even more than the fall.

A few feet away was a rattler, just ready to reach out and strike at Scott. Juanita reacted on instinct, flinging her little knife at the serpent's head. She was astounded when the blade struck true and the rattles on the snake's tail were silenced.

Scott gaped at the child then said, "Good boy, but you sure took an awful risk!"

Juanita hung her head and wrapped her arms around herself. Confusing emotions coursed through her. She had just possibly saved the life of this man and yet he was a gringo, supposedly her enemy and the enemy of her people, but she could not feel sorry that she had saved him. She was unsure how she should feel so she avoided the man's blue eyes and told him that she was sorry and that she hadn't taken the time to think. “I just reacted as my abuelo taught me. He always said, when it  ;comes to wild animals, especially rattlers, you could die while you're taking time to think about it. You have to act quickly an' that's all I did. It was only to stop you from being bitten, senor!”

Scott couldn't help noticing how fast and accurate the boy had been and was heartily glad that the boy's grandfather had taken the time to teach him, whatever the reason; he was well aware that this little one had probably just saved his life. He smiled.

"Well, thank you, Johnny. I think I owe you a huge debt," Scott watched the boy shrug and avoid his eye, clearly uncomfortable with the praise and he scrambled unsteadily to his feet.

"Careful, you might have hit your head. Do you feel dizzy?" Juanita let him know that she was worried about him.

"Thank you again, Johnny, but I'm okay. Just give me some time to get my bearings."

"Mister, do you know where we are? Why did your horse rear up and toss us off like that? Is he not a very good horse?" Juanita glanced up at Scott, hoping he had all the answers.

"Well, I would have to say that snake was one big reason, but don't worry, we're on Lancer land now. All we have to do is walk that way." Scott put his hand on Juanita's skinny shoulders for his support, and to comfort the kid.

"Mister, are you really my papa's brother?" Juanita asked.

"Yes, I'm Johnny's brother.”

"I was told my papa was Mexican, like me," Juanita looked up in confusion at Scott as they were walking.

"We had two different mothers. Johnny is half Mexican," he explained. "Now, how about you come clean with me?" Scott was looking at her seriously.

"Clean? What are you talking about, mister? I have been honest with you."

'My brother never mentioned having a wife, let alone a child somewhere out there, so why don't you tell me the truth? Why are you claiming that you're Johnny's kid?" Scott suspected the kid's story was not entirely true.

"Because I am! My papa and mama never married because they were too young and my abuelo wouldn't allow it. He said that if my papa came back when he was nineteen, my mama could marry him then."

Scott spotted his horse, grazing in one of the fields close by, so he told Juanita to be quiet and started walking over to the horse with Juanita right behind him.

At the hacienda, Murdoch and Johnny were discussing the creek clogging up and how it needed to be cleared so that the flow of water could get down to the west fields.

"I'm tellin' you, Murdoch, there's beavers up there. Let me take Jeff and go up there, we can trap them," Johnny was saying as the French doors opened with a loud bang.

"What the ..?" Murdoch didn't manage another word as a young boy came running into the great room. Johnny and Murdoch both stood up to find out what all the commotion was. Johnny couldn't have been more astonished as the small boy threw his skinny arms around his legs and hugged him tight as though his life depended upon it.

"Papa, I've been looking all over for you!" the child cried out, tears shining on the little face.

Johnny was so shocked, he was unable to even think about disentangling himself from the child as he stared over at Murdoch in disbelief. Murdoch was rooted to the spot by the unexpected display. Scott stood by the doorway into the room with a look of amusement pasted on his face in the form of a big smile.

"Well, little brother, meet your son, Johnny Madrid Jr." Scott couldn't keep his laughter under control. "Johnny, meet your father, Johnny Lancer."

Johnny at last wriggled out of the boy's arms and took a good look at him. What he saw astounded him. As he looked at the boy, he felt as though he was staring into the face of his mother. “It can't be," Johnny breathed quietly.

Murdoch at last found his voice and asked, "Son, is there something you forgot to tell us?" He too could see the startling resemblance to his second wife; the likeness was uncanny.

"Don't you remember my mama?" Juanita looked at Johnny with pleading in her eyes.

"This is a rare thing indeed. I don't think I've ever seen you at a loss for words, Johnny," Scott grinned.

Johnny glared at Scott for he knew his brother had pegged him right; he didn't know what to say or do or think.

"Johnny, how about we all sit down and start at the beginning?" Murdoch suggested.

"Sounds like a good idea, Murdoch. Do you have any idea where the beginning is?" Johnny didn't know whether to laugh or get angry.

Ever the practical father, Murdoch eyed the child and then looked to his older son. "Scott, why don't you go and get some milk and cookies for young Johnny before we start?"

"Brother, you want some milk and cookies like Murdoch suggested?" Scott couldn't resist teasing Johnny. He'd had a hellish day himself at the hands of this little one and he owed his brother at least a little teasing as payback.

"I don't think Murdoch meant me," Johnny bit back.

"You can all call me Juan if it will be easier," Juanita told them. For reasons she couldn't quite explain, she wasn't ready to let them know she was a girl.

"I thought you preferred sarsaparilla," Scott smiled at Juanita.

"Milk will be just fine, senor," Juanita said, her dark gaze never leaving the bewildered face of her father.

"So, Juan, why don't you start with where you came from?" Murdoch said as he sat down in the chair beside her.

Juanita ignored Murdoch and looked only at her papa, asking him, "Do you remember Fighting Dove?"

Johnny stared at Juanita. "Fighting Dove," he muttered.

"You couldn't have forgotten her! Weren't you ever going back for her?" Juanita couldn't believe how vague her father looked. She had always believed her papa had loved her mama and could never forget her. To think that, all this time, he hadn't been thinking of her after all... Juanita's heart was crushed.

She jumped to her feet and started pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. Feeling tears threatening to fall, she blinked hard, her tiny hands balled into angry fists. Her mama had loved this man with all her heart. Surely, he could not have betrayed that love so easily. All her young life, she had been taught how to be her papa's hija, even as far as to hate gringos like those who he lived with now.

Johnny stood up and went to her, putting his hands on her shoulders to stop her. Then, going down on his knee, he looked steadily at Juanita.

"No, Juan I didn't forget your mama. I'm sorry it looked that way; it's just that I haven't spoken her name in so long... years." Johnny's eyes were blue pools of sadness for he knew he should have gone back if only he could. "Juan, I want to tell you that I loved your mama, I loved her very much, but we were way too young to be together. Your abuelo knew this; he forbade us to marry." Johnny told Juanita just how things were without mincing his words.

Murdoch listened quietly as his son explained. This was more than he had known about Johnny. He realized his son must have been very young indeed when he had met the child's mother, "Son, how old were you when you met... was it Fighting Dove?" Murdoch asked.

"It's none of your affair, gringo!" Juanita, angry and on the verge of shaming herself by crying, gave Murdoch one of her glares.

"Hey! There ain't no call for that! Now, you apologize to Murdoch right now!" Johnny was stunned to hear the way the boy spoke to an adult.

"No, I won't! He has nothing to do with us! He's a gringo!" Juanita knew she was being exceptionally rude and, if her papa's face was anything to go by, she might well be in trouble, but she couldn't help herself, she had made a long and hard journey to reach him and now... he seemed to have forgotten all he had shared with her mama, and even worse he lived with gringos. How could he? Was everything she had been told about him all make believe?

"Juan, Murdoch is my father and your abuelo. You will show him respect, as you will all the adults around here. Do you understand me?" Johnny put as much authority in his voice as he could muster.

Juanita pointed rudely to Murdoch. "He will have to earn my respect; they all will! I have to earn their respect, don't I so why should I treat them any different?" Juanita pouted stubbornly scowling at the two men. Johnny and Murdoch looked at each other, unsure whether to be amused or to call the little tyke on his obstinate attitude.

"Juan, around here, I call the tune," Murdoch told her, his eyes twinkling though his voice was stern.

It was perhaps the wrong thing to say to the child in her current mood and Juanita let it be known to Murdoch that only her papa called her tune and nobody else, no matter how big they were.

Murdoch rose from his chair, privately thinking that this was going to be real interesting. Seeing Johnny's sudden look of panic, Murdoch smiled and said, "He's your wolf cub, Johnny... you tame him!" With that, Murdoch turned away toward the kitchen to see what was taking Scott so long.

Murdoch expected to find Scott there, but instead he found only Maria.

"Where are Scott and Teresa?" he asked.

"That boy out there bit Señor Scott and Teresa has gone to get him some bandages and ointment,” Maria told Murdoch angrily.

"Did Scott tell you who the boy claims to be?"

"Sí, Juanito's hijo," Maria said.

Murdoch could read the doubt on his housekeeper's face. She was not willing to believe so readily, but then, she had not seen the boy either. Murdoch was still shaken over the resemblance to Maria. It was almost impossible not to believe the child's story once you had seen him. He climbed the back stairs to check on Scott; he wanted to see if he needed Sam to look at him. A bite could turn nasty and a human bite was just as dangerous as one from a wild animal.

Johnny entered the kitchen with Juan and introduced him to Maria, who angrily let Johnny know just what the boy had done to his brother, disapproval written all over her face. Maria had no problem with tattling on the boy.

Johnny needed to sit down and have a good drink of Tequila. He had only been a father for a few minutes to this boy and already he was expected to deal with his son's misbehavior.

He turned sternly to the child. "Juan, is this true?"

"Sí, I did it! He should be shot for how he treated me!" Juanita said adamantly as she faced her papa.

Johnny sat down at the table and drew the child to him, looking steadily into his eyes. "Well, tell me, Juan... who should do the shooting? You?"

"No, Papa, you!"

"Is that so?" Johnny looked at the boy, trying to read his expression. When he spoke, his voice was gentle but serious. "Let me tell you something, young man, no one is shooting anyone. Now, what makes you think Scott should be shot or that I'd just up and shoot anyone?" Johnny didn't find this amusing at all; he felt he had to stop the kid right away before he threatened to have him shoot everyone on the ranch. Not only that, Johnny wanted to make sure his son knew that what he used to do wasn't something of which he was very proud. "Taking someone's life is easy, Juan, but it's not something you can be sorry about later or solve by bringing them back to life afterwards either. Do you understand, it's final and you can't make amends after someone's dead. Killing a man takes a piece of your soul every time." Johnny was hoping he was getting his point across to the boy.

“Mama and abuelo told me that I'm to be proud of you, Papa, for all the good you've done for our people. I'm very proud to call myself Madrid. It could never change the way I feel for you.” Juanita let Johnny know by her body language that no one could persuade her to feel differently, not even him.

"It's Lancer, not Madrid. I'm a rancher now and I want you to understand that you are not to go threatening anyone, telling them I'll shoot em, not ever! You do and I might have to blister your behind, you understand?" Johnny put on his strongest stern voice.

"Sí, I understand, Papa." Juanita looked down then wrapped her arms across her chest. Maria smiled at the similarities between Johnny and the boy.

"I'm glad we sorted that out, Juan. Now are you hungry?" Johnny asked.

"Sí papá muy!"

"¡Eh, Mamacita! ¿ nos podrías hacer algo de comer? (Little Mama, could you fix us something to eat?)" Johnny turned his winning smile onto Maria.

"Sí Juanito, pequeño diablo, (Yes Juanito, little devil)" Maria scolded, using the pet name she reserved only for him.

As Johnny and Juanita sat eating their sandwiches, Johnny asked where her other clothes were.

"I lost them on the way here."

"You didn't come all this way alone?" It had just dawned on Johnny that Scott hadn't mentioned any escort or companion that had brought the boy to him.

"Sí Papa, I ran away from the orphanage. There was a very mean nun there that locked me in a closet and was going to hand me over to the rurales and put me in jail!" Juanita watched her papa closely, waiting for the shock and sympathy she was hoping for.

"What orphanage were you at?" Johnny said, worried that they would be looking for the child and he should let them know where he had run off to.

"It was a mission, it does not matter anymore. I'm here now," Juanita mumbled through a mouthful of ham.

"Don't talk with your mouth full and it does so matter!"

Juanita only shrugged her shoulders as if to say she didn't care.

Scott, upstairs in his room, was refusing to remove his pants and allow Teresa to check the bite wound. The young women was growing more exasperated by the second, calling him a baby and telling him she had seen men in their drawers before.

"Not me, you haven't!"

Murdoch, hearing the argument, sent Teresa down to help Maria while he tended to Scott. Murdoch patched him up while Scott told him the tale of how he'd run into Juan at the stage depot and everything that transpired in town. Murdoch didn't find it half as amusing as Scott did; he was more worried about the talk in town. Their neighbors mostly accepted Johnny nowadays and the last thing he wanted was a whiff of scandal or any wild rumors to stir things up again.

Scott was astounded at his father's attitude. He had assumed Murdoch would be more worried about the boy. "I can't believe you, sir. That youngster came all this way on his own and all you can think about is what the town is saying about the Lancer name? Please, tell me I have it all wrong, because I refuse to believe that a scandal is your main concern.”

"Scott, it's not that simple. Yes, I'm happy that little Juan has found Johnny but we'd be naive to think that gossip won't affect their relationship and the way the boy is perceived by the whole community. If his wild antics have started the rumors flying about town, it'll only create difficulties for both Johnny and Juan... and for us too." Murdoch tried to explain his thinking.

"He even called me a gringo and he expects me to earn his respect. The child doesn't seem to appreciate that I'm his grandfather. He seems... very wild and outspoken for one so young." Murdoch was obviously very worried for his family and the child.

"Okay, sir, I understand you're not happy about this but he is your grandson and Johnny's son." Scott tried to explain how he felt about the whole situation. "He's also my nephew. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'll be helping Johnny anyway I can and I daresay it won't be easy, not for any of us, but... what choice is there?" Scott got up and walked over to his window, looking out at the figures of Johnny and Juan at the corral with Barranca.

"The boy has been brought up to mistrust whites. You expect things to just slot into place... even if he hates you for being a gringo?" Murdoch asked.

"In time, yes, but I don't think he really hates gringos. He could've left me out there when my horse bucked us off or let a rattler bite me. Instead, he saved me and worried about me," Scott told a surprised Murdoch. "Murdoch, he was scared and I'm sure he only does what his mother and grandparents taught him to survive and, if that makes him dislike whites right now, then so be it." Scott was tired but he wanted to get back downstairs to be with Johnny and Juan.

"So, how's your leg feeling now, son?" Murdoch asked.

"I could have done without the bite but I can forget about that now, Murdoch. All I want right now is to make Juan feel at home. We have to do it... for Johnny."

Scott walked over to the door and opened it as he turned to his father. "Gossip and rumors... what do they matter to us, Murdoch? Lancer takes care of its own, isn't that right?"

Murdoch smiled softly and crossed to his son, a hand resting on the tall young man's shoulder. "That's right, son."

Teresa was anxious to meet this little boy of Johnny's but, as she entered the kitchen and looked around, she saw that they were no longer there. Maria had gone out to the garden to pick some herbs for dinner and Johnny and Juan were nowhere in sight. Teresa headed through the great room and, seeing that it too was empty and knowing Johnny, she realized they must be outside. Finding them at the corral, Teresa called out, "Hey, Johnny, who you got there?" She approached with a smile on her face.

"Hey Teresa, meet my son, Juan," Johnny said with a big smile for her.

"Well, hi Juan!" Teresa reached her hand out in greeting, "It's my pleasure to meet you!"

Juanita stared at her coldly. "Well, it ain't mine!" Before Johnny could say anything at all, she turned rudely away and ran to the barn.

Johnny stared after his son, anguish written all over his face. "Sorry, Teresa. I don't know what's wrong with him," Johnny said as he put his hand reassuringly on her arm. "I'll catch ya' later," Johnny headed purposefully toward the barn.

 

 

Chapter 11

At dinner that night, Johnny told Murdoch that he ought to go to town the next day to pick up anything that Juan might need. The boy had no spare clothes and would need everything new. Murdoch hesitated, finally mentioning that there had been a little problem in town that day and it might be wiser to send Scott to town instead.

"Papa can take me," Juanita announced. "I want papa to take me, not Tio!" Juanita turned to Scott with pleading eyes.

"Well, if that's the case, Juan, I think your papa should know what happened in town, don't you?"

Scott gave the child a smile to put him at ease; yes, there had been trouble but it didn't mean they were going to be angry with him. Juanita relaxed and nodded her head in agreement but avoided her papa's eye, knowing he wasn't going to be happy.

"Well, is someone going to tell me?" Johnny looked curiously first at Scott then Juan.

"Oh papa, it wasn't nothing bad!" Juanita gulped, looking at Scott.

"I wouldn't say that," Murdoch disagreed sternly. He didn't wish to frighten the boy but felt that

Johnny should know exactly what Juan had been up to and the gossip which may now be swarming across town.

Juanita jumped up, scared of the big man who was her grandfather, and went to hide behind Johnny.

"Now, Murdoch, it's nothing we can't handle. Right, Juan?" Scott tried to peer behind Johnny to see Juanita but she remained where she was, unwilling to show herself.

"Come here, Juan." Johnny eased Juanita around to face him. "Now, what are Scott and Murdoch talking about? Are you going to tell me?" Johnny fixed his child with as stern an expression as he could but his voice was soft. He had no wish to frighten the boy.

Juanita spoke timidly. "Papa, I didn't have no money to take the stage, so I hided in the luggage box in the back but the gringo driver caught me when I got out." Juanita's arms were wrapped tightly around her as her head hung low so that Johnny couldn't see her eyes.

"Is that right? Well, first off, I don't want you saying gringo no more, y'understand?" Johnny lifted up Juanita's head with a gentle finger so that he could look into the fearful little face. When the child nodded, he carried on. "Okay, then that's settled. What else happened in town?"

"I ran away from the man and I ran into Tio but I didn't know he was my Tio then so I don't think you can be too mad at me," Juanita told Johnny with a worried look on her face, hoping not to get into trouble once her papa learned what she did to him.

"Go on." Johnny was nodding his head as if to say he understood.

"I ran between his legs..."

At this, Scott chuckled. "That's not all you did and you know it," he said, amused at the way the boy was trying to worm his way out of any potential punishment.

"I'm getting there!" Juanita turned and gave Scott an angry look.

"Look at me, Juan. Now, just tell me what happened." Johnny knew darn well that the boy was stalling. He had been in the same position many times himself.

"I took a bite... inside his leg!" Juanita knew she wasn't in her papa's good graces right now and that it might be going to get a lot worse. She really hoped that a spanking wasn't what Johnny had in mind.

Johnny looked at his brother and asked, "You okay, Scott?"

"Yes, it wasn't very pleasant but it wasn't that bad." Scott smiled as if to say he had forgiven Juanita for it.

"It could've been a lot worse. Young man, you ever bite anyone again and you won't be able to sit down for a week!" Murdoch thought the child could do with learning a little respect for his elders.

"Aw Murdoch, there's no need to get all hot and bothered about it," Scott murmured.

"Well, Juan, then what happened?" Johnny wanted to get everything out in the open so he could deal with it.

"Tio dropped me so I ran into the only building I saw in front of me which was the saloon." Juanita tried to look down but Johnny wasn't letting go of her chin.

"Is that so? Do you think you belong in a saloon?" Johnny wasn't happy at all with the way this tale was going; in fact, he could see he was going to have his work cut out with the kid. Johnny hated disrespectful young 'uns and he was darn sure his own son wasn't going to behave like that. He was also not enjoying Scott sitting across from him with a smirk on his face.

"Papa, I ran to a table in the back, in a corner, then the bartender told me to go but I told him no and that I was your son."

Scott interrupted here. "To be more specific, Juan said he belonged to Johnny Madrid, not Lancer."

This didn't sit well with Johnny and he told his son under no circumstances was he to ever say that again. "You didn't threaten him I'd shoot him too?" he asked.

Murdoch got up from his chair to better see the boy's face. "Is he going to be threatening all our neighbors as well?" Murdoch needed Johnny to realize that the boy needed a father and some discipline.

"No Murdoch, he won't be threatening anyone else, isn't that right, Juan?" Johnny pressed.

"Si Papa," Juanita replied. Her little body was trembling and all she wanted to do was hug her papa to make sure everything was okay. But she knew there was more to tell and Johnny would have to know about what the men said in the saloon and out on the streets. So, she did the only thing she could; she stood tall and told Johnny all about what was said after Scott and Willie came in, how Scott had paid Willie and then had to put her over his horse because she wouldn't behave. "Tio also had to give me a smack to stop me from fighting him," she whispered, very afraid that this would be the final nail in the coffin for her. "I told him I was sorry though! But I guess the worst thing was that all the folks in town was left talking about you having a son you didn't know about or that maybe you was hiding me all this time. I'm sorry, Papa."

Johnny had heard enough. Sighing, he told Juan he would be having a few choice words with him and there would be a set of rules to be followed. Then he sent the kid up to his own room as Teresa hadn't finished making up the room for his son yet.

"Johnny, I'm almost done with the room next to yours for Juan," Teresa spoke up after the child had sloped upstairs. "I'd also be able to help pick out clothes for him tomorrow." Teresa was excited about being able to help Johnny with the boy.

"I appreciate that, Teresa but, if I'm to pick up supplies, I'm afraid there wouldn't be any room for you," Johnny informed her.

Teresa was disappointed but knew Johnny was right; the supplies would take up the back of the wagon and there was only room for two on the seat in front. "Okay Johnny, I'll go finish up with Juan's room. Oh... could you pick up a few things for me when you go?" Teresa asked.

"Sure, just make a list!" Johnny rose from the table and headed over to the sideboard. After this strange day, all he wanted was a good stiff drink.

"Well, son, what are you going to do?" asked Murdoch.

"Do?" Johnny knocked back his whisky.

"About the town; the gossip. Johnny, the Lancer ranch is a huge concern in this region and we have our place in the community. There's no way we can avoid everyone wanting to find out all about this." Murdoch was surprised at how unconcerned Johnny seemed to be and he hoped the young man understood that, pretty soon, he would be the sole topic of conversation in these parts.

"Murdoch, what do you want me to do? People are going to talk, let them! It's nobody's business but mine and I've got nothing to hide or be ashamed of." Johnny was seeing red but tried to keep his temper and get it under control. He knew very well that Murdoch was worried about him - having a child out of wedlock and a part Apache child at that.

He understood that his father might be worrying about how this would affect the ranch too. The Lancer name didn't need anything to tarnish it or that could well affect their reputation and their dealings with others. To Johnny, this was nonsense though; if having an ex-gunfighter in the family hadn't done the damage already, the arrival of a small boy sure wouldn't.

"Listen, Murdoch. I know you're worried, I understand that. But people around here have accepted me and I'm sure, if we don't fan the fire so to speak, it'll all die down in a couple of weeks." Johnny was in no mood to argue. It had been a long day and he was tired. All he wanted to do was go to bed. "I'm heading up to talk to Juan and get him settled. I'll be going into town in the morning so any supplies you want picked up, make me a list and I'll sort it." With that, Johnny went up to talk to Juan and try to finally get some sleep.

 

 

Chapter 12

Juanita sat in her room and looked over the rules her papa had given her. She knew she was already breaking the first one by not telling him who or what she really was. She only hoped he would understand that it was hard for her to tell him that she was really a girl. Juanita guessed the best thing for her to do was come clean and tell him the truth but knew in her heart that her papa would just buy her dresses and insist that she stick to girly pastimes and chores which she would detest. Besides, she couldn't do anything really useful wearing dumb dresses. Juanita sighed and continued looking over the list Johnny had left with her.

1) no telling lies

2) no disrespecting your elders

3) no disobedience

 

Breaking the first three rules was sure to earn her a spanking her papa had sternly told her. Then there were the rules for keeping safe around the ranch which she laughed at for each one was mostly common sense:

1) always tell someone where you are going

2) no going past the boundaries I set up

3) no going off riding alone

4) if wild horses are in the corral, stay away from them

5) obey and listen to your abuelo

 

Well, she would try her best with her abuelo but she couldn't promise her papa on that one. As Juanita was putting the list back on her dresser, she heard a knock on her door and called, "Come in!"

"Well, you ready for breakfast?" Johnny smiled as he walked in.

"Si Papa, I'm ready," Juanita replied as she walked over to Johnny. Together, hand and hand, they went down the stairs.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

In the kitchen, Murdoch and Scott sat at the table talking about the day's schedule for the ranch.

"Murdoch, the fences in the north pasture need mending before we drive the cattle over there," Scott was saying as he took another sip of his coffee.

Having finished his plate of eggs and ham with potatoes, Murdoch looked up when Johnny and

Juanita came in. "Good morning, son... Juan." Murdoch greeted them kindly.

"Morning!" Johnny and Juanita said in unison.

As they took their seats, Teresa set a plate in front of them, each piled high with food. Johnny looked at the child's plate and grinned. "Teresa, where you think he's supposed to put all of this?" He gestured to Juanita's plate.

"After last night and seeing him pack it away, I figured he had a hollow leg like his father's!" Teresa laughed, the brightest smile on her face.

"In that case, honey, you won't have to worry about cooking."

"Why's that, Johnny?" Teresa was teasing her brother who smirked in return.

"Because there won't be any food left to cook!" Johnny chuckled, watching his boy closely and doing his best to put him at ease.

Both Murdoch and Scott gave Johnny an odd look then Murdoch chipped in, "In that case son, you might have to take up another job to feed the both of you!"

This got them all laughing, all except Juanita who was looking at her papa with a worried expression on her face. "Do you have to go away to work, Papa, like Grandpa said?" she asked timidly.

"No miel, Murdoch was teasing me," Johnny assured his worried son.

Murdoch immediately reassured Juanita that there would always be plenty of food at Lancer; there was no need to worry.

"We'd better get going. Teresa, you have your list for me?" Johnny asked as he wiped his mouth on his napkin then stood up to go put his gun and hat on. Juanita followed him, asking her papa if she could get a hat like his.

"I'm sure we can find something for you," Johnny told her with a gentle smile.

Teresa came out to the foyer with her list, handing it to Johnny with a smile of her face. Juanita didn't like this at all. She felt that this Teresa person was flirting with her papa and she wasn't going to let the young woman spoil everything. She had struggled and worked hard to find Johnny and she wasn't about to share him.

Murdoch and Scott followed Johnny and Juanita into the foyer to pick up their hats and gun belts, ready to start the day on the range.

"Son, you sure you don't want Scott to go with you?" Murdoch asked. He was worried that Johnny might lose his temper if things got out of hand.

"Thanks, Murdoch, but no. I reckon we can handle it ourselves, right Juan?" Johnny looked down at his son with a wide smile on his face. Juanita couldn't help smiling back even if she still felt guilty about lying to her papa.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As Johnny and Juanita drove to town, Juanita felt now was a good time to ask her papa about Teresa. "Papa, what is Miss Teresa to you?" Juanita remembered to call her Miss like her papa had told her.

"Well now, Juan, Teresa is like a sister to me and to your Uncle Scott. Why do you ask?"

"I think Miss Teresa thinks kinda different about you than a brother, Papa. I think she wants to get in your pants!" Juanita's face was serious as she looked earnestly at Johnny.

"Now, wait just one minute, young man! Where did you learn to talk like that?" Johnny was not pleased at all at what Juanita had said; in fact, he was downright shocked.

"Papa, I was just telling you what I saw ­ she didn't act like your sister, not to me!" Juanita backtracked hastily. From the way Johnny was looking at her, she knew she had said something wrong. The tone of his voice made the short hair stand up on the back of her neck.

Johnny's blue eyes bored into her. "I asked you a question, Juan, I expect you to answer it." He wasn't letting his son change the subject and get away with that kind of rudeness.

"I heard some of the boys at the mission say that." Juanita hung her head and wrapped her arms around herself, hoping that her father was not really mad at her.

"Boy, you listen and listen good ­ I don't want you to talk like that, not ever! Do you even have any idea what that means?" Johnny was sure hoping he didn't!

"Si, one of the boys at the mission told me." Juanita smirked to recall that one boy who told her that he wanted to get in one of the sister's pants. When Juanita had asked what he meant, he had laughed out loud and told her that it meant... "Fucking."

Juanita knew that word was a very bad word. Her mama had told her so but her papa had asked so she felt she had to explain.

Johnny sucked in a sharp breath and, reining the wagon to a halt, turned to his son, a warning glint in his blue eyes. "Don't you ever let me hear that come out of your mouth again, young man, y'hear? Or you'll find yourself over my knee!"

Johnny was very worried about what else his son had picked up from those kids, knowing himself how older boys liked to talk. He sure didn't want his son talking trash like that; he wanted to raise him better than that.

"Si Papa, lo siento," Juanita whispered, looking up at Johnny.

Johnny sighed and, flicking the reins to set off again, nodded his head. This father stuff was one thing after another.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As they drove into Morro Coyo, people were just starting to come out on the streets; Senor Baldomero was just opening up his store when they rode past.

"I think we'll go put in our list for supplies then, while they're being taken care of, we'll go over to Senor Baldomero's store and pick out some clothes for you," Johnny told Juanita what he was thinking.

They left the wagon down at the mercantile where the shop keeper was already gathering their supplies in readiness for Johnny to help load them up when he got back. As the two walked down the street, Johnny took Juanita's hand just in case there should be any trouble; he wanted to be able to get the boy away quickly. Ladies were standing outside the dress shop, whispering and pointing to them. Johnny and Juanita walked with their heads held high and looked straight ahead.

Men, women and children were now starting to crowd the board walks as they made their way over to Senor Baldomero's. An older boy, followed by two younger boys, pushed off from the side of the store, trying to block Juanita's way. However, one look from Johnny made them slink back to their place by the wall. Juanita smirked at them and, as they passed the three, she turned her head and rudely stuck out her tongue. The boys sure didn't like that but knew they would have to bide their time to get the sassy little devil on his own.

Walking into Baldomero's took Juanita's breath away. She had never seen a place like this. There was a large round table with all kinds of men's hats piled on it, a mirror overhead so they could check their reflections before purchasing. Behind that was a rack with all kinds of coats, and vests were on another rack nearby. She gazed up at Johnny who was greeting Senor Baldomero and introducing her as his son.

Now, Juanita knew, was the time to correct her papa and to finally be honest but she just couldn't bring herself to speak out. She sure didn't want to embarrass her papa yet... this was hardly the place to make him angry either. Juanita gulped. She didn't really like the idea of being turned over her papa's knee right there in the store and she was pretty certain he would be mad enough to do it. Knowing this and deciding he would be just as embarrassed or angry with her after he had bought her the clothes she wanted, Juanita figured it was worth the risk. She knew exactly which kind of clothes she wanted and not the ones she knew Johnny would buy her instead. Juanita was not one for dresses and bows and, whenever she could, had pleaded with her mama to be allowed to wear pants.

"How can I help you today, Juanito?" Senor Baldomero asked Johnny with a big smile on his face.

"Well, I'm here to buy some gear for Juan, here. Could you please show me where the boys' clothes are?" Johnny asked him politely, flashing a dazzling smile at Senora Baldomero who was stacking jars behind the counter.

"How old is your son?" he asked Johnny.

"Ten."

"Then over here in this area you'll find all that you need." Senor Baldomero pointed to one side of the store.

As Johnny and Juanita started to look over the clothing, Johnny tried to make a mental list of all he would need to buy.

1) a few shirts

2) a couple pairs of pants

3) at least a week's supply of socks, underwear and a couple of night shirts.

4) a good coat and a slicker for the rain...

To Johnny, this is enough to be going on with.

As they were looking through the shirts, Juanita found one that was her favorite color ­ orange. It had dark brown embroidery around the collar and the cuffs. She asked Johnny if she could have that one. Johnny liked it also and chuckled about what Scott would say when he saw the bright color. Then they picked out a nice green one and a smarter white one for special occasions. Rifling through the stacks of pants, Johnny took a pair and held it in front of Juanita to see if they would fit.

This was all new for Johnny; buying clothes for a youngster. Finally taking pity on the young man, Senora Baldomero had to tell Johnny that, like the adults, the children could use the tiny fitting room. So Johnny took Juanita over there and pushed her in, telling her to try the pants on and show him how they looked. The pants, a brown pair, fitted perfectly so Johnny picked out another two pairs, one black and a pair of blue jeans ­ something new just in. Johnny liked how tough the material felt and the stitching on the seams. He would have to ask Teresa how hard­wearing they were. Johnny knew as a child he went through pants all the time; drove his mother crazy trying to keep up with him.

Johnny had picked out two nightshirts, three pairs of long johns, seven pairs of white socks... the mound of clothing was rapidly growing. Johnny looked at Juanita's boots and decided on a new pair for her.

With all their purchases made, they left the store to go back for the other supplies. When Johnny and Juanita arrived in front of the mercantile, a man from the Triple W ranch stepped out suddenly and blocked Johnny's path. With a nasty leer, the man began to goad Johnny, saying that he was good at getting his women all hot and bothered but, when they came back pregnant, he turned tail and left them. The cowboy jabbed his finger at Juanita, hard enough to push her back.

Johnny wasn't going to listen to the fool, let alone permit him to hurt his son. Blue eyes narrowed coldly, he spoke sharply to the boy, never taking his gaze off the cowboy. "Juan, go into the store!" The man had other ideas. His arm shot out and grabbed her. He meant no actual harm to the child but was enjoying his joke too much to quit just yet.

He wasn't to enjoy what happened next. Before the man had even had a chance to react, Johnny's fist punched him hard in the gut, causing him to double over and gasp like a pair of bellows.

Johnny grasped Juanita's hand and walked calmly past, giving the wheezing man a push hard enough to send him crashing to the boards. A few of his friends came out of the mercantile to ask him what happened as they helped him up.

"Tim, you okay?"

"That damn half ­breed; knocked me down," Tim panted as he brushed the dust off his pants. "Just wait 'til I get him alone!" With that, Tim turned and limped away to his horse.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Johnny and Juanita entered the mercantile to see if the order was ready to load. Johnny pointed Juanita over to look at the toys in a small corner of the place and Juanita dutifully went across to investigate. As she pored over the collection, she found a bag of marbles. Her abuelo had taught her how to play and she had to leave hers behind. So she picked up the bag along with a box of dominoes and some paper and pencils.

"Papa, I will need supplies for school. Should we get them now or later?" Juanita enjoyed school if the work was challenging enough. She had been looking forward to discovering what Father Manuel and Sister Theresa had planned for her new lessons.

Johnny joined her, looking at her little collection, and asked Juanita what she thought she would need.

"I need a slate, chalk, paper, pot of ink and pen!"

Then she found a reading book called 'Huckleberry Finn' which took her fancy. Johnny smiled to himself. This little one seemed like he was going to be a keen reader; it might be something Scott could help with.

After all the purchases were made and the wagon filled with all the supplies, Johnny was about to leave until Juanita asked him if they had got everything Miss Teresa had put on her list. Johnny checked the list over and found he had forgotten two of the items. He left Juanita in the wagon and went back in to pick up the last few things and then they headed back to Lancer.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

At Lancer, a visitor was telling Murdoch all about his granddaughter and Murdoch wasn't too pleased to discover Juanita had been lying to them all and posing as a boy. Right now, Johnny was buying her new clothes that she couldn't even wear. Murdoch was pacing back and forth as Scott walked in for lunch.

The man sitting by Murdoch's big desk introduced himself to Scott as Richard. He explained why he was there and all about Juan actually being Juanita.

Scott didn't condone her lying to his brother or to them yet he saw some humor in it. To his mind, little Juanita was someone to be reckoned with. Scott told Richard about how he had first met up with the 'boy' in Morro Coyo and all Richard could do was laugh.

"Yes, that's Juanita alright!"

What puzzled Richard was how they did not know Juanita was a girl with that beautiful long hair.

Scott refilled Richard's glass of whiskey and helped himself to one. He looked at Murdoch, showing the whiskey, and Murdoch nodded to say he would join them. As the three of them talked, the door opened with a load bang and Johnny and Juanita came in, laughing at some silly joke Juanita had told. A chuckling Juanita turned her head and froze..

 

 

Chapter 13

Richard rose from his chair and grinned at Juanita as she stood there frozen to the spot, giving him the best possible Madrid look she could. Both Murdoch and Scott were shaken by the child's narrowed eyes and hard lips; it was the same look they had seen on Johnny from time to time when he was portraying Johnny Madrid.

"Hello Juanita, it's good to see you again!" Richard's amused voice let her know he was well aware of what she had been up to. "What did you do to all that beautiful long hair?"

Suddenly, Juanita figured it would be wise to be somewhere else - anywhere else, and tried to dash away but a hand stopped her.

"So, who are you - Juan or is it Juanita?" Johnny turned her to face him.

Juanita hung her head and wrapped her arms around herself, focusing hard on the wooden floor as she toed her boot along a crack. Johnny was not about to accept this silence. He gently but firmly lifted her chin to look at him, eye to eye, and he waited expectantly for an answer.

"Johnny, what are you going to do?" Murdoch was a good father and had learned a lot over the last two years with his sons. He knew little Juanita was due a reckoning but, the shock having worn off, was starting to see the funny side too. There was no denying, however, that Johnny needed to show this little one exactly who was boss.

"I ain't sure yet!" Johnny grasped Juanita's hand, marching toward the hall. They climbed the stairs, Juanita having to jog to keep up with Johnny's furious strides. As they made it to Juanita's room, Johnny opened the door and motioned the girl ahead of him. She slipped hesitantly inside, turning carefully to keep her rear end as far away from him as possible. Johnny followed her into the room and shut the door, tossing the packages down on the bed. Then, fixing her with a look, beckoned Juanita over to him. The child walked slowly over and stood in front of her papa.

"I'm waiting for an answer, it's just you and me now," Johnny's voice was quiet but there was no mistaking the fact that he was not at all impressed. Juanita bravely looked Johnny straight in the eye and told him that she was Juanita Madrid and that she had to disguise herself as a boy for her long trek to Morro Coyo. Johnny listened to what she had to say, not saying a word. This was making Juanita more nervous, waiting for her papa to say something.

"Papa, lo siento," Juanita whispered.

Johnny nodded his head; he knew she was sorry and he could see the sense in her reasons - a boy of ten travelling alone was dangerous enough but a little girl? He didn't like to dwell on everything that could have happened to her before she had made it to Lancer. Now this is where his temper flared, that still didn't explain why she hadn't come clean once she was safe. "Why didn't you tell us when you got here that you were my daughter?"

"I don't know."

Johnny wasn't swallowing that. "No, there's a reason and I want to know right now. Why?" He was getting angrier the more Juanita stalled. Finally Johnny set her on the bed by his side and looked her in the eye. "Honey, you either answer me right now or I ain't got no choice - I'm gonna have to give you a spanking. We already talked about this. Remember those rules."

"I told you, Papa," she protested, hoping to wriggle out of the spanking he had in mind for her.

"No, that won't do. When we first met, why did you tell me your name was Juan Madrid?"

"Ah, but I didn't tell you that, Papa! Tio did!"

Johnny was not at all happy with the crafty gleam in those big brown eyes. This young lady was about to find out what kind of papa she had found herself! He tipped Juanita smartly over his lap and gave her a few hard swats to her rear end. It hurt as her papa wasn't holding anything back but, staring in shock at the rug, she refused to cry for she was a Madrid.

Johnny raised her up to stand before him. She was avoiding his eye, rubbing madly at her stinging behind. Doing his best to hide a smile, Johnny studied his daughter and a thought came to him. "Did you think I wouldn't want you because you're a girl?"

Juanita realized this could save her from further punishment and nodded her head miserably, trying to seem as sad as she could. Johnny instantly took her into his arms and gave her a big hug.

"Juanita is it?" he asked her with a smile.

"Si Papa."

"Well, it looks like we bought the wrong clothes for you. They'll have to go back."

"Oh no, Papa, por favor, may I keep them?" Juanita was pleading with Johnny to be able to keep her shirts and pants.

"I don't think so, honey, you'd be a lot prettier in a dress. You're a young lady," Johnny told her.

"No, Papa, that's why I didn't tell you! I knew you would make me wear dresses and learn to sew and do all that girlie stuff and I hate that kinda thing! I ain't doing it!"

Johnny gasped angrily, on the point of pulling her back across his knee, but he wasn't the only one whose temper was simmering; Juanita could feel herself getting mad. She had lied to her papa, broken his rules and even taken a spanking to make sure she got those clothes. Now Johnny was going to take her orange shirt away? Her temper rose and she started shaking uncontrollably.

This alarmed Johnny and he again took her into his arms, patting her back and whispering that it was okay, that things would work out if she just calmed down. Juanita let Johnny soothe her. She didn't want to come over as a brat to her papa so she just relaxed in his arms. Johnny then told her the damage had been done but that she could keep her new clothes. Before the child could feel too satisfied with herself, he stressed that she would be getting some dresses for school and church. Juanita agreed, a sorrowful look on her face, and asked if he was still mad at her.

Johnny had a vague feeling his daughter was scamming him and he watched her carefully. "No honey, all's forgiven... but you're to apologize to Murdoch, Scott, Teresa and Maria for deceiving them."

Juanita agreed and, with Johnny's help, put away her new clothes and they went back downstairs hand in hand.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

In the great room, Murdoch was talking to Richard about the ranch. Scott asked Richard how he knew Johnny and Juanita.

"I met Johnny when he was Johnny Madrid, in a saloon down in Nogales. This was while I was looking for Johnny Lancer," Richard explained. "I never realized the Johnny I knew was your Johnny. Over the years, we became friends."

Murdoch and Scott couldn't have been more surprised. Murdoch's expression became pained; to realize now that Johnny could have been home a lot sooner had Richard only known. Richard shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He understood how Murdoch and Scott would feel, learning that Johnny had survived alone for so many more years than necessary. He apologized but explained that, by the time he found out, Johnny was long gone.

It was at this point that Johnny and Juanita walked into the room. Murdoch looked to his younger son. "Well?"

"Murdoch, Scott, Juanita would like to apologize," Johnny announced.

Juanita approached Murdoch then told him she was sorry for hiding the fact she was a girl. The men smiled, realizing Johnny must have laid down the law with the little girl. As for Juanita, she still didn't understand what all the fuss was about; no harm was done to anyone. However, she knew not to question the grown-ups. One spanking was enough for now.

"Father Manuel and Sister Theresa are very worried about you," Richard informed her.

“Is Sister Maria still there?"

To her surprise, Richard told her that two rurales officers were caught talking to Sister Maria on the morning of his departure.

"Sister Maria locked me in a closet in the attic and she was going to hand me over to them, telling them that I tried to kill the boy, Carlo. But I used my hair pin to pick the lock and I left before Sister Maria found out."

"Juanita, you are now safe here with your family. Sister Maria can't hurt you anymore," Richard was happy to tell her.

"Richard, why don't you stay a few days and visit?" Johnny asked him. "I think it'd make Juanita happy to have an old friend around too."

"Oh please stay, Señor Richard!" Juanita so hoped he would.

The man smiled. "I think I will but I need to wire Father Manuel and let him know Juanita is home safe," Richard stated. "Also Johnny, we need to talk about some things the Father has sent for you."

"Then it's all sorted. I'll let Teresa know we are going to have a guest for a few days," Murdoch said as they all got up to go eat lunch.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

After lunch, as they still sat comfortably around the table, Juanita asked her papa if they could go riding that afternoon.

"Maybe later," Johnny grinned. "But I want you to get up and help Teresa clean off the table then help with the dishes."

Juanita wasn't happy with this, realising that already her status as a girl was changing the way she was treated, but she got up and did as she was told.

Meanwhile, Richard and Johnny went into the living room while Murdoch went to talk to some of the hands who had just come in from the range. Scott went back to work, checking the fences in the south pasture.

"Johnny, this envelope was left with Father Manuel. It's the only thing from Juanita's mother. It's her inheritance and I'm sure you will want to hold onto it until Juanita needs it." Richard handed over one of two envelopes that Father Manuel had entrusted to him to give to Johnny.

Curious, Johnny opened the envelope and whistled at the wad of bank notes in it. He shook his head, wondering where Fighting Dove got that kind of money.

"This here is a letter Father Manuel wrote you to maybe help you with Juanita and there's something in there about her schooling. Seems Juanita is very smart, enough that any grade at the mission wasn't challenging enough for her. She was bored and didn't have to study to get the top scores." Richard handed him the other envelope.

"I'll have to have Scott take a look at this, he'll know more about that than I would," Johnny smiled.

As they talked, a sound from the kitchen startled them. A loud crash like a dish being smashed made Johnny get up.

Suddenly, Juanita ran in and hid behind Johnny's legs, crying out, "Papa, don't let her hit me! It was an accident!"

Teresa appeared with a broken dish in her hands and an angry frown on her face, asking where that little troublemaker was.

"Teresa, take it easy; it's just a dish!" Johnny attempted to calm her down while trying to stop his daughter from squeezing her nails into him.

"Johnny, you know very well this is one of Murdoch's favorite dishes. It was something your mother gave him," Teresa cried out.

"It slipped!"

"Juanita, you know very well that isn't so..."

"It did! My hands were wet! I couldn't help it! Honest Papa, it was an accident!" Juanita's big brown eyes implored her father.

Johnny couldn't believe Murdoch would be that upset over a dish and told Teresa this. The young woman pursed her lips with disapproval and, eyeing Juanita suspiciously, she set the broken pieces on the sideboard. Teresa strongly suspected that again Juanita was not being brought to face up to what she had done.

 

Chapter 14

When Murdoch and Scott rode in after a long day's work, they spotted Juanita, sitting by herself on the porch, as they dismounted then handed their horses over to one of the hands who was waiting by the hitching post for them. Murdoch looked at the little girl then asked, "Juanita, where's your papa?"

Juanita squinted up at Murdoch and Scott, smiling as she looked at her Tio. "Papa and Richard are inside, talking. They want Tio Scott to look over some important stuff but I don't know what it is."

Scott reached out and playfully messed up her short hair then walked into the house with Murdoch following.

"Hey brother, just the man we need to talk to!" Johnny stood up to get another cup of coffee, offering more to Richard who put his hand over his cup. Johnny put the pot down as Murdoch approached, asking what all this was about.

"Boy, Murdoch, all this school stuff is confusing, even to Richard who went to Princeton University," Johnny told him.

Murdoch smiled at Johnny's confused face then, patting Johnny on the back, said, "Is that so? I'm sure you two will figure it out but, if not, Scott isn't doing anything important; he might be able to lend you a hand." Murdoch smiled at Scott's stunned face. He knew darn well his son had wanted to take a bath before dinner.

"Um, Murdoch," Scott began but Johnny, well aware that their father was teasing his older brother, piped up with, "What, Boston, this too hard for you and that Harvard education?"

Scott watched Murdoch walk past him with his clean clothes that Teresa had just handed to him, heading to the bath house. "You two planned this, I just know it!" Scott groaned, shaking his head and any thoughts of that deep refreshing bath slipping away.

Richard and Johnny chuckled. It was always good to see Murdoch outsmart either of his boys. Just then, Juanita came in and tripped over to her father, climbing onto his lap. She wanted to go riding all afternoon but Johnny had told her she would have to wait until they were done with their business. Juanita had found it all dreadfully dull so had tried to keep herself busy and out of her papa's way. Now, however, her patience had run out and she just wanted to be with him. Johnny let her sit on his lap for a while. Scott had gone upstairs to wash and change, knowing it would be a while before Murdoch was finished in the bath house.

Richard asked Juanita if she was happy at Lancer.

"Si, I love being here with my papa," she told him.

Johnny explained that he hadn't had the time to show Juanita around the ranch yet. "We've been too busy getting to know the rules and each other," Johnny told him.

"And how is it going with the rest of the family?" Richard inquired.

To both his and Johnny's surprise, Juanita said that she loved her tio and Maria.

Richard asked, "How about your grandpa and Teresa?"

"Oh, they're alright, not too crazy about them though. Fact is, I'm not sure about my grandpa," Juanita admitted.

"Why's that, honey?" Johnny asked.

"Because." She scrambled off Johnny's lap and went to see if Maria was in the kitchen.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

"Hola, Maria!" Juanita called out, spotting the housekeeper near the stove.

"Hola, Juanita, you come to help?" Maria was smiling at her. Having known her for only this short time, she had learned that the girl didn't want anything to do with cooking or housework.

"Ugh! No, just came to say hello. I'm waiting for my papa to be finished." Maria laughed and told her, "You are going to be trouble for your papa, I think."

Juanita snickered. "Who, Me?" Setting off for the back door at a run, she bumped into Teresa. "Get out the way!" Juanita rudely pushed at her and barged past then ran off smiling to herself. She was resenting Teresa more and more, especially after she made sure Murdoch had seen his broken dish. And she had overheard her telling Papa to give her a talk about respecting other people's things even though it was really an accident. The dish was too big for her hands but it did get her out of drying dishes and Juanita guessed she should be happy about that part. Finally, arriving at the tree, she started to climb.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

After a while, Scott reappeared, walking over to the side bar to pour himself a drink then he asked what they were trying to do. Richard explained that Father Manuel had realized Juanita wasn't being challenged enough in her schoolwork so, after he and Sister Teresa had done some test with her, had found there wasn't much they could do for her for she was far above average intelligence and was easily able to do their highest grade lessons.

"What was their highest grade?" Scott asked.

"According to the Father, it was eighth grade," Richard informed him.

"Schools around here only go up to eighth, I believe," Johnny told them.

Scott agreed. At one time, he had been partial to the local school teacher but had cooled things off after he found out she had a beau in another state. She had eventually accepted this fellow's proposal of marriage and moved away to join him. "Well then, brother, we need to find out just how much she knows and go from there," Scott told Johnny.

"Scott, she's too young not to be in school." Johnny was worried about Juanita falling behind. He wanted her to get a good education.

"You can always send her away to one of the more exclusive seminaries that will teach her to be a lady," Scott smiled at the look on Johnny's face.

"I ain't going to none of them fancy schools, Tio. I ain't leaving my papa!" Juanita said with panic in her voice. She ran to Johnny and threw her arms around his neck, pleading with him not to send her away.

Johnny loosened her grip then had her face him. "First, young lady, we don't eavesdrop on others... especially your papa!"

Scott and Richard both had to turn their heads so Juanita wouldn't see them trying to bite back their laughter at Johnny's comment.

"Secondly, with the smarts you have, I don't want to hear you talking like some brat that don't know no better!" Johnny looked her in the eyes and made sure she was listening to him.

"But Papa, you say words like that all the time! You don't talk proper!" Juanita was hoping that her papa would let her off with a warning and not launch into a lecture... or worse.

"I didn't get as much education as you will and you ain't me either! You been helping in the kitchen?"

"No sir. Maria didn't have anything for me to do." Juanita was avoiding Johnny's eye, he noticed.

"Well, you either sit here quiet or go read that book we bought the other day."

So, sighing, Juanita went to get her book to read and try to stay out of their way again. Boy, Papa was sure taking a long time to get his business done. Juanita wasn't one to sit still for long and she was getting impatient. She thought maybe she would go read in the barn; dinner would be ready soon and she was starving.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Murdoch came out of the bath house all clean and refreshed, hungry for dinner to be ready. As he got to the door, he ran into Juanita. "Whoooo, child, where are you going in such a hurry? Dinner will be ready soon!"

"Si, my papa knows where I am!" Juanita yelled at him, turning her back to him and trying to ignore him.

When she reached the barn, Barranca neighed, knowing who it was. Juanita loved Barranca and wanted a horse just like him. Papa had told her he would see and that was good enough for her. For now, she could spoil Barranca she thought.

"Hola, Barranca, how you doing? Here's an apple I snitched from the barrel for you!"

Barranca took the apple and started nipping at it as Juanita scratched him behind his ears like she had seen Johnny do. She wished her papa would let her sleep in the barn but he said that no little girls should be sleeping with the horses.

"I bet if I was a boy, Papa would let me sleep in the barn," Juanita told Barranca grumpily. All she got from him in reply was a munch from the apple. Juanita sat next to Barranca's stall and opened her book at where she had ended the night before. She began to read to Barranca.

Inside, Johnny, Scott and Richard had made a decision. Scott would wire his friend, an ex-teacher at Harvard, about a new test he had read of in the Boston Times. A man named Alfred Binet had developed a formula to test one's intelligence. It was decided to obtain a copy of it and test Juanita with it. Johnny was kind of leery about it; he couldn't understand how a test could tell him how smart his daughter really was. He knew from the little he had already seen of her that she was smart enough to wangle her way out of trouble! He had to smile at that but this newfangled test was another modern innovation and he wondered if it was trustworthy. After all, this was his daughter. He didn't want to see her become a guinea pig for someone's experiments but Scott convinced him it was the best solution to their problem so he agreed. Come morning, they would all go into Green River. Scott and Richard could send their wires while Johnny took Juanita and Teresa to the dressmaker's to have his daughter fitted for some really pretty little outfits.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Teresa asked Juanita to help set the table so the child helped with the silverware and Teresa placed the dishes and plates on the table. Teresa nudged her aside a little to get past her only, instead squeezing past Juanita, she got her foot hooked on the chair leg and went down hard with two plates in her hands. Juanita jumped at the sound of the plates hitting the floor. Teresa put her hands out to catch herself but she slipped and the heel of her hand came down right onto a sharp fragment of plate. Blood started oozing instantly from the cut. Murdoch grabbed a towel from the kitchen and Maria followed him to the dining room to see what she could do. Johnny and Scott helped Teresa up as Juanita bent to retrieve the broken pieces.

"No honey, leave them. I don't want you to get cut as well," Johnny warned.

Juanita looked at her papa and tried to tell him that she would be careful but Johnny firmly shook his head. With a long-suffering sigh to show her displeasure, Juanita stepped back and let Murdoch take care of the broken pieces while Maria took Teresa into the kitchen to deal with her hand. The cut was deep but, luckily, it didn't need stitches. Juanita hoped Teresa didn't blame her; she had moved as the girl tried to inch around her, knowing it was a tight squeeze and she might fall. Juanita craftily made sure no one was looking and smiled.

When everything was cleaned up and Teresa taken care of, they sat down to a dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, corn bread, gravy, with creamed corn and carrots. Murdoch carved up the roast and put some on everyone's plate but Juanita's who didn't offer her plate to Murdoch. Johnny noticed this and selected a piece to put on her plate.

"I don't like beef," she whined.

This caused everyone to stop and stare at her.

"Well, young lady, this is a cattle ranch; we eat a lot of beef and you're going to have to learn to like it," Murdoch told her.

She looked at her papa, hoping he wouldn't make her eat it. "So, what do you think you're going to eat?" Johnny asked her. He couldn't believe his daughter would turn her nose up at such good food.

"I can eat everything on the table, Papa, but not the meat," Juanita smiled as she reached for the corn.

"Well then, I want you to be sure to eat enough to fill you up," Johnny smiled at her as he helped her spoon out the corn then proceeded to spoon the rest of the food onto her plate.

As they ate, Scott discussed what had to be done in town tomorrow with Murdoch, as Johnny asked Teresa if she would come with him and Juanita to help pick out some dresses for her. This didn't please Juanita one bit; that Teresa was always trying to butt in between her and her papa so she spoke up, "No, Papa, just us, please. We don't need her!"

That's enough, young lady," Johnny told her sternly.

She knew when her papa used that tone of voice it was a bad thing but he had added 'young lady' and that meant she was in trouble. Worried that any more missteps that day might mean another spanking from Papa, she hastily apologized to Teresa and the rest of the table. Now, she thought to herself, she had to come up with a plan to stop Teresa from going and it needed to be a good one.

 

 

Chapter 15

Johnny sent Teresa and Juanita over to the dress shop while he went to the bank in Green River. He wanted to deposit Juanita's money safely as soon as he got to town; it was a large sum of money and Johnny didn't feel comfortable carrying that much about with him. Richard and Scott went to take care of the wires they wanted to send. They had all agreed to meet at the little cafe which had just opened up in town.

As Teresa and Juanita walked in the door of the dress shop a bell above the door rang to announce their arrival.

"Hi Teresa, is this Johnny's little girl we've been hearing about?" Susie called out to Teresa.

With that, all the ladies present instantly stopped what they were doing and gaped at Juanita, whispering in a far from polite manner. Juanita couldn't have cared less about these old biddies; she wasn't scared of these ladies. In fact, she could think of a few better names for them that she was sure would get her mouth washed out with soap if her papa heard her. But, annoyed and reckless, she decided she was going to show them just how she felt.

One of the ladies walked up to Teresa and Juanita then meanly pointed her finger hard at the little girl. She had a nasty sneer on her prim face. "Your father, young lady, is nothing but a whore, going around getting women pregnant and then abandoning them. How many other children does he have out there waiting to turn up on Murdoch Lancer's doorstep?"

The woman had hardly finished her spiteful jibe when Juanita let fly with one of her punches, right in the lady's ample middle. "My Papa isn't no whore! You take that back, you old witch!"

Juanita was so mad she could spit. Teresa tried to grab her arm to haul her away from the lady but the kid was having none of it. "What's the matter, lady? You jealous 'cos you never been with a man?" Juanita had completely lost her temper.

A shocked gasp came from the group of women and one came forward to instruct Teresa to get that little heathen out of town. In utter disgust, another lady with a little girl in tow tried to leave the shop only to be prevented by a high-button boot sailing from the other side of the shop, thrown by Juanita. It hit the woman in the head causing both her and the child to land on the floor. All hell broke loose; another customer yelling for Teresa to take that child back where she came f rom.

Teresa couldn't believe how quickly things had gotten out of hand and was very upset to hear them talking about a child like this, especially Johnny's daughter. She had done nothing wrong... well, not until they turned on her. Before Teresa knew what was happening, a fight had broken out. Punches were flying (mostly from Juanita herself) as bolts of material were upset and spools of thread were being thrown at each other by the little girls.

Sammie, the daughter of the bank manager, socked Juanita in the eye. Juanita fought back wildly, letting the other girl have it right in the mouth and managing to break her two front teeth. Sammie ran to her mother as the battered ladies spilled out into the street just as Johnny was coming out of the bank.

Johnny gaped astounded to see Teresa attempting to drag a hissing and spitting Juanita off one of her friends while also shoving away a rather plump woman who was waving a basket somewhat dangerously in her direction. Other men were trying to calm the ladies; some were even holding their wives and girlfriends back, stopping them from diving back into the shrieking throng.

As Johnny rushed over, the same old lady who had accused him so spitefully, spotted him and began to shriek, "How many other children do you have out there?" Then she muttered under her breath, "Male whore!"

Johnny froze in surprise at the venom in her words. Suddenly, Scott was by his side, asking him where Juanita was. "I don't know, Scott, but Teresa is over there an' it looks like she's got a bloody nose! Can you take her outta here? Get her over to Sam's. I'll go find Juanita."

Scott was joined by Richard and, together, they helped Teresa up, calling to Johnny that they'd meet up at Sam's. Johnny gave Scott a nod of his head and darted quickly around the ladies. Just as Johnny made it to the dressmaker's door, he heard Val's voice, briskly telling everyone to break it up and go home. Johnny smiled in relief. Leave it up to old Val to come after the fight was already over and done.

Johnny flew into the shop, looking around in horror at the fabrics flung all over the floor. He called out for Juanita.

"I'm over here, Papa!"

Johnny started picking his way over to her but tripped on something solid hidden under the rubble. He lost his footing and found himself sitting on the floor, holding a box full of spools of thread. Loud laughter came from the corner and, when he looked to see who was laughing fit to bust, he found Juanita. She was pointing at him with tears of delighted laughter rolling down her face. Johnny saw that her eye was already swollen. Boy, that was going to be a real shiner. He beckoned her to come  over to him then reached out his hand to let her help him up.

"Oh Papa, you look funny sitting in the middle of the mess!" Juanita looked up at him with a twinkle in her one good eye.

"Let me see your eye." Johnny held her head gently in his hand and turned her sideways to get a good look at her eye. He touched it lightly and got an "Ouch Papa!" for doing so. "Well come on, let's have Sam take a look."

Johnny took her hand and then scooped her into his arms to carry her over all the stuff on the floor. They headed outside where some of the ladies were still arguing with each other until they came out. The crowd fell silent, eyeing the pair with unsmiling faces. As they passed by, there was a soft muttering and Johnny caught a few words - 'bad seed' and 'whore'. He cringed and grit his teeth, struggling to remain silent, for he didn't want his daughter hearing such talk

Juanita, however, had heard and though she didn't fully understand the words, she knew those old hags were insulting her father. She squeezed his hand, wanting him to know everything was alright.

As they entered the doctor's office, Scott and Richard were already sitting in chairs, waiting for Sam to come out from examining Teresa.

"Hey Scott, Sam still with Teresa?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah, seems she's just a little bruised and bloody. Sam's just cleaning her up. I think she took a whack in the face with an umbrella by all accounts!"

Juanita wisely hid her smirk.

"Looks like you're going to have only one eye working, Juanita," Richard said.

Juanita was sitting on her papa's lap and didn't want to get down. She had many questions to ask him, mostly why the ladies were calling him that name - whore and just what was a male whore anyway? She had never heard of that. She knew a little about whores as they were in the cantinas down in her village but she thought that only girls could be whores. This was confusing her and she wanted her papa to reassure her that everything would be alright.

Just then, the door opened and Sam Jenkins came out of the surgery with Teresa behind him.

"Well, boys, looks like Teresa is going to have to rest for a while. I'll be out in a couple of days to see how she's doing."

"Who's going to cook if Miss Teresa can't, Papa?"

This made everyone laugh, knowing the little girl was only worried about her stomach. Juanita blinked in surprise at their smiles; she had been serious.

"Miel, you can help Maria cook and do the house cleaning 'til Teresa is able to do it again," Johnny tickled her.

"Papa, no. I don't want to!" Juanita was not enjoying being volunteered by her papa.

"Johnny, this must be the little girl I've been hearing about?" Sam had a big smile on his face.

"Sam, this here is my daughter, Juanita. Juanita, say howdy to Dr. Sam," Johnny introduced them

"Howdy, Dr. Sam." Juanita held out her hand to Sam who took it and shook it solemnly.

"Shall we take a look at her eye?" Sam asked Johnny who nodded and went to put Juanita down on the floor to go with Sam. But Juanita wanted her papa to come with her.

"Juanita, you go on with Sam. I'll be right here when you come back."

With Johnny's encouragement, Juanita went off with the kindly doctor.

Juanita sat still while Sam took a good look at her eye. He asked her how she came by it but didn't expect the answer he received.

"Teresa punched me in the eye," Juanita told him.

"So, it was an accident then?" Sam sure couldn't see Teresa punching a little girl, not for any reason.

"No, not really. Teresa hasn't liked me from the first moment we met." Juanita was eager to tell him.

Sam eyed the child but said nothing. He had known Teresa all her life and, just meeting this child, knew Johnny was going to have his hands full.

"That's odd. Teresa told me, after the first punch which I believe you threw, she didn't see you at all, not even when they were all outside. So... you want to tell me the truth or should I go ask your daddy to come back here?" Sam let her know in No! uncertain terms that she wasn't going to get away with blaming Teresa. Sam knew perfectly well how Johnny felt about lying.

Juanita's stomach rolled nervously but she lifted her chin, unable to back out of the lie now. "Go ahead and get my papa if you like. Teresa did hit me!" She gave Sam a dirty look that would have killed him if it could.

This took Sam off guard. One minute she was a sweet little girl; within seconds she had turned into a little bundle of stubborn fury. Sam wished his friend a lot of patience with this young one.

While Sam tended to Juanita, Teresa told the others what had happened in the dress shop. Johnny was blaming himself but Teresa let him know that he had nothing to do with it.

"It was all that old Miss Truman who started it, Johnny. She just wanted to draw attention to herself as usual. Miss Truman is never happy unless she's the center of attention and everyone is listening to her. She's just a mean old biddy; we all know that, so don't be going on blaming yourself." Teresa wasn't happy that Juanita had been greeted that way by the so-called ladies of Green River.

"Murdoch was so worried about the folks in Morro Coyo; never thought about Green River," Scott said, shaking his head. "I cannot believe grown ladies acting like spiteful children."

As they talked, the door opened and out ran Juanita, right into Johnny's arms.

"Whoa, chica, where's the fire?" Johnny asked her, laughing.

"Oh Papa, there isn't a fire but I sure am hungry!" Juanita said as she rubbed her tummy.

"Johnny, you think this little one ever thinks about anything else but her stomach?" Scott laughed at his brother as he pretended to eat Juanita up.

"Well, Sam is she going to be alright?" Johnny smiled at Sam, giving him a wink.

"Yes, I think she'll be fine in time. It doesn't look like her eye received any lasting damage though I expect it'll turn all the colors of the rainbow before it's healed. Before you all go, I'd like to see you, Johnny... in private."

"Why don't you all go get a table at the cafe? I'll be right over," Johnny told Scott as he followed Sam into his surgery.

Sam shut the door and started right away. "Johnny, I think you should know that Juanita is blaming Teresa for giving her the black eye." Sam watched the shock appear on Johnny's face. "Yet Sammie, another patient of mine, told me a different version of events - that she was the one who gave Juanita the punch in the eye." Sam didn't enjoy being the one to tell Johnny how his daughter was lying but he knew the young man would want to know. "Also, Juanita said that Teresa has been after her  ever since she came to live at Lancer. None of this is true, is it?" Sam asked Johnny.

Johnny's face was grim. "No, it's sure not and that young lady is going to be answering to me about it!" Johnny was furious with his daughter and was going to get to the bottom of it. "Sam, can I use this room for the next few minutes? Would you mind?" Johnny asked.

Sam had a pretty shrewd idea what Johnny had in mind for the room and tossed him the key. "Sure, just lock up for me. I have rounds to make so you won't be disturbed," Sam said as he walked into the other room to grab his bag.

Johnny left Sam's office, heading for the cafe. Val met up with him in the street. "Seems your little one sure knows how to cause a fracas!" Val said as he shook his head, laughter glinting in his dark eyes.

"It ain't funny, Val. Not now, huh?" Johnny didn't know what to think. His little girl had started the fight and now was blaming Teresa for her injury. Teresa! Who had never hurt her and had gone out of her way to be welcoming. This wasn't settling in Johnny's stomach too well. He stepped angrily up to the boardwalk, heading to the cafe. "Val, you got something you want to tell me or are you hoping' to catch the show?" Johnny turned on his friend in exasperation.

"No, amigo, just wanted you to know Miss Truman started this and, from what I can gather, you got some hard questions coming your way and I, for one, would love to see how you answer them." Val stepped quickly out of Johnny's reach and started laughing. "See ya' later, kid!" Val knew better than to stick around when Johnny was in that mood. He didn't envy that little lady any... no siree!

Johnny opened the cafe door and looked in, finding his family sitting at one of the round tables. As he walked calmly over, the waitress approached, asking him if he wanted a cup of coffee.

"No, thank you, Tiphany. Maybe later."

Johnny reached the table and very quietly told Juanita to come with him. The girl didn't like the look on her papa's face so she took her time obeying him. Johnny watched her, getting angrier by the second. Then, loud enough for the nearby tables to hear, said, "I said come here now!"

This frightened Juanita as she hadn't seen her papa this angry. Scott and Teresa both knew that look and both of them started talking at once.

"Johnny, what's wrong?" Scott stood and went to put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. Johnny reassured his brother, his voice soft but serious. "It's alright, Scott. I just need to deliver a little fatherly guidance to my daughter."

Juanita was at last standing by Johnny. He grabbed her hand and marched right out of the cafe into the street, heading over to the Doctor's office. There, he opened the door and ushered the worried little girl into the building. Juanita had stopped wondering why her papa had brought her over here; she had a pretty good idea and her stomach churned.

"Papa, did I do something wrong?" Juanita had wrapped her arms around herself, looking at the wooden floor of the waiting room and not daring to meet the angry glint in his eyes.

Johnny didn't say a word but pointed her to the back room then followed after her.

"Papa, you're scaring me!" Juanita had never seen her papa this mad before, not even when he spanked her for not admitting she was a girl.

Johnny folded his arms and looked sternly down at his daughter. Boy, she was a little devil! Asking had she done anything wrong and playing the innocent! Johnny reckoned this little one could do with a healthy dose of Lancer medicine for what ailed her. "Juanita, who punched you in the eye?" he asked her very sternly. He spoke softly so he didn't scare his little girl.

Juanita gulped and hung her head. "Papa, I told Doc Sam that it was Miss Teresa... but it wasn't; she helped me." Juanita knew then that Sam had told her papa what she said about blaming Teresa. The child started edging backwards so that she was further from her papa's reach for she knew the game was up.

Johnny walked closer to her. "So, I'll ask you again... who punched you?"

"I was fighting another girl my age. She did it." Juanita looked at her feet and wrapped her arms tighter around her chest. Johnny let out a sharp sigh and walked over to a nearby chair, sitting on it and looking expectantly across at her while he rolled up the sleeve of his shirt. He crooked a finger to beckon her to him.

Juanita, as much as she didn't really want to go to her papa, did as she was told. She suspected that, if she tried to avoid him, he would just chase her down and things would go a lot worse for her. Johnny said nothing but patted his legs. Juanita bent over her papa's knee and took her just dues as her father saw fit. She gritted her teeth and blinked hard; she didn't want to shame herself by bawling like a baby, no matter how much it hurt.

When it was over, he set Juanita on her feet again and turned her to face him. "I think you know what I expect you to do."

Juanita nodded her head then turned to walk out of the room. Johnny then asked why she blamed Teresa. "Because I don't like her," was all she said. "I'll do what you want me to but it will not make me like her anymore than I do now," Juanita, said angrily. She knew she had only herself to blame for the spanking she had received but she would not cry - something Johnny had noticed also.

He watched his daughter as they locked up and headed back to the cafe. He knew darn well he'd lit a fire on her rear end; any other kid would have at least shed a few tears. He wanted to find out what was going on in the little head but wisely decided to leave it for now. They needed to get home or they'd be late for dinner.

As they ate dinner, Teresa retold the story of what took place at the dress shop, leaving out the bad things that were said about Johnny. Juanita thought her papa could handle what the old biddies had said about him so came right out and told everyone what was said about her papa. Then, carried away with her story, put her foot in her mouth by blurting, "I told that old lady she needed to get a good lay with a man!" Juanita was sparkling with pride.

Murdoch was beside himself with shock and embarrassment. In front of Teresa and their company! He glared at his youngest. "Johnny, what are you going to do about this?" Murdoch got up and poured himself a double.

"Murdoch, I already did it!" Johnny wasn't at all happy with what his daughter said but he just couldn't keep blistering her rear end. After all, it didn't seem to be helping any; she didn't seem to care about changing her attitude to avoid getting whupped. He had laid down the law so she knew darn well that breaking the first three rules was a spankable offence and yet she kept right on breaking them! Johnny also knew very well that she had earned every stinging swat but the last thing he int ended to do was wear himself out dusting her britches if it didn't alter her behavior. This was going to be one of those puzzles he might need to ask Richard or Scott about.

That night, as Johnny came up to tuck Juanita in, she asked him if they could talk. Johnny naturally agreed, assuring her that whatever was troubling her, they could always talk.

"Well, Papa I need to ask you something. It's been puzzling me all day."

"Well, get it said, chica!" Johnny pulled the covers up to her chest and sat next to her on the edge of the bed, waiting for her to ask her question.

"Papa, are you a whore and what is a male whore?" Juanita asked him.

Johnny was shocked and cringed inside at her questions, wondering just how he was supposed to answer.

 

 

Chapter 16

"Papa, can you answer my question?" Juanita wanted to know that what those ladies had said about her papa was wrong. When she thought of a whore, she didn't see her papa as one.

"Juanita, I wish with all my heart you hadn't heard what those... ladies said about me." Johnny was quiet, his arms wrapped around himself and wishing he didn't have to explain this to his daughter so soon. She was only ten years old; not old enough for this kind of talk. He felt so uncomfortable, letting his daughter know about his sex life.

"I have dated a few ladies but I'm a single man." Johnny fumbled with the words, trying to think how to phrase it so that Juanita would understand. "See, honey, I..."

Johnny got no further before his daughter spoke up. "Papa, I know what a whore is; they are the ladies that live and work in the brothels in our village and in Green River at the bordello there. They also work in saloons, don't they?" Juanita was trying to make this as easy on her father as she could.

"Now, how do you know that? It wasn't from the older boys at the mission?" This worried Johnny. Where was she getting her information?

"No Papa, when I lived with mama and my abuelos, we talked about all kinds of things and that was one of them. If ever I had a question or wanted to know about something, all I had to do was ask one of them and we would have a talk about it. Mama wanted me to know the facts before the other children of the village could tell me the wrong thing," Juanita told him as she sat up against the backboard of her bed.

"I can believe it! Your mama did love to try an' shock me with some of her comments." Johnny had a smile on his lips as he shook his head, remembering how outgoing Fighting Dove had been. Her parents had seemed just as open and forthcoming with what they knew and he should have guessed they would be the same way with Juanita.

"Juanita, I know your grandpa Murdoch isn't going to like me talking about this but, no honey, I'm not a whore... and I've never heard of a man being called that before." Johnny cringed inside to have to say that to her but, if she was anything like her mother, she would ask around till she got a satisfactory answer. "But you hear me out, young lady, you do not talk about this in front of the family. It isn't acceptable, especially in mixed company. And besides, Murdoch will have my hide!"

Johnny had to smile when Juanita agreed with him about Murdoch having his hide. "Will he blister you like you did me?" Juanita chuckled in delight at the image of her papa over the big man's knee.

"Now hold on there! Don't you go getting any ideas in that pretty little head of yours!" Johnny tickled her back down under her covers. "Well, I answered your question so that's an end to it. Don't be going around asking about it anymore." Johnny wagged his finger warningly at her and let her know it was to remain between them.

"Papa, why didn't you ever come back for us?" Juanita wanted to know this. "Did you not want us when you got older?" Juanita was puzzled and hoped her papa had the answers.

"Miel, I loved your mother as I've never loved another and I didn't know about you or I would never have left. I got involved in... something that didn't work out. But, in time, I landed here. I never forgot about your mother but, before I was able to come back and let her know I was settled, you showed up and now I'm sorry to say it's too late for us. Not for you and me though."

"How did you two meet? I know about you saving our people but when did you have time to be with mama?" Juanita loved the way her mama had told it and she never got tired of hearing how they met but she wasn't going to let her papa know she had heard the tale a hundred times, if not more.

"Let me see... when I rode into the village, there wasn't anyone around; it was like a ghost town."

Johnny got this far-away look in his eye as he thought back to that time again. He remembered how the people were all hiding behind their closed doors, thinking he was one of the banditos who had been attacking the village. "When I rode up to the cantina, I was met by an older man. He came out, telling me they had no more to give and to tell my boss they had already taken everything, even their women."

"Oh Papa, what did you do?" Juanita listened closely to him for she loved to hear him talk; it was so soothing to her that she struggled to keep her eyes open.

'The old man, who turned out to be your abuelo, was ready to fight me if he had to," Johnny chuckled at the memory. "But I told him I was hired to help the villagers. This amused the old man but he welcomed me into the cantina and that's where I first saw your mama. She came out with a drink for me then went back and fixed me one heck of a plate of food. I told them I had to take care of my horse first but your abuelo made me sit while he took great care of my horse. Now, I didn't like anyone messing with my things, especially my horse, but even with my 'dead stare' your abuelo wasn't afraid of me," Johnny kind of laughed at that.

"You mean the Madrid Stare, Papa? That's what mama called it. I can do it just like you too. Mama says she sees you in me, especially when I get mad or stare her down but it never scared her either." Juanita was happy to tell her papa.

"Don't you try it on me!" Johnny smiled. "Now, how about we finish this another day? It's nine o'clock and time for my chica to be asleep." Johnny bent down and kissed Juanita on the forehead. As he got up to walk to the door, Juanita asked him if they could go out to find her a wild horse the next day.

"We'll see. Right now, you haven't shown me that you've earned it. I also have other plans for you after you help Maria with breakfast and housecleaning, young lady! Now, goodnight."

Johnny left the room and left the door open a little in case she needed him during the night.

He walked into the great room, over to the sidebar and poured himself a drink then sat down on the couch next to Scott.

"You look tired brother. Hard day?" Scott looked at Johnny with concern in his eyes.

"Everything go well with Juanita?" Murdoch wanted to know. "You did explain to her that there are some things we don't discuss in front of mixed company?" Murdoch stressed to Johnny that he needed to control his daughter before something happened.

"Like what, Murdoch? Juanita isn't hurting anyone here. She has questions and just wanted answers... like you do. According to Teresa, it wasn't Juanita that started this morning's fracas!" Johnny was tired of the whole thing and just wanted to let it rest. "I'm tired so I'm heading up to bed." Johnny got up, placed his glass on the table and went up to bed.

"I think Johnny has a good handle on Juanita, wouldn't you say, Richard?" Scott was trying to make Murdoch see he was worrying unnecessarily.

"Like Teresa said, this Miss Truman was the one who approached them and started calling Johnny names and pointing her bony finger at Juanita. I'm surprised the kid let her keep the finger!" Richard said, making Murdoch more unhappy.

"That's what I mean; she gets upset and someone gets hurt!" Murdoch got up for another drink.

"Murdoch, you're overreacting. Johnny can handle Juanita. Is there a chance, sir, that you're upset because she only listens to Johnny and not to anyone else? Maybe you feel the need to take control to make up for Johnny and me not being raised here." Scott was getting upset with Murdoch's attitude to the way Johnny was handling his daughter. "You do realize this was a shock to Johnny and he's new to being a father? Let's give him some room. Sure, he's going to make some mistakes but I'm sure you did too with Johnny when he was small." Scott rose to his feet and said goodnight to his father and Richard, as he went up to bed.

Murdoch and Richard weren't too far behind Scott. It had been a long tiring day for all of them and the morning would be here soon enough.

The household was still and silent, when a little girl started crying out in her sleep. "No mama, por favor, vuelve a mí, no te mueras (Please come back to me, don't die)." Over and over, she repeated this as she tossed and turned in the bed.

Johnny heard movement in her room followed by a loud bang. Thinking his daughter had fallen off the bed, he got up to check on her. When he opened the door, he found her bed empty, the covers and sheets rumpled and half hanging off the bed. He could hear something coming from underneath so he crept silently over and bent down to look under it. Johnny could see her, wrapped up in some of the sheet, up by the head board. He softly called out to her as he reached under to pull her  to him. As he touched her arm, Juanita screamed and started kicking at him, desperate to get away from him.

This brought in Murdoch and Scott. When they reached the door, they saw Johnny on his knees, trying to get something out from under the bed. Murdoch walked over to the other side of the bed, also getting down on his knees to help Johnny get Juanita out.

"Johnny, keep talking to her and I'll try to reach her," Murdoch told him softly.

As Johnny tried to coax his daughter to him, she opened her eyes. She looked at him but it was as if she could not see his face. There was a wild, frightened light in her eyes that scared Johnny. He saw Murdoch reach her but, when he tried to pull her to him, she screamed and started kicking him, yelling, "Let me go, gringo, please don't kill me!" The more Murdoch tried to calm her, the more she struggled..

"Murdoch, she's having a nightmare," Johnny said in a worried voice.

Then Murdoch yelled out. Juanita's foot had kicked him hard in the face and chest. She flung herself over to Johnny's side of the bed so that he was at last able to reach her and pull her to him. He hugged her tightly and cooed sweet words to her as he rubbed her back soothingly. Scott helped Murdoch up and took him out to see to his face. There was so much blood that he needed to make sure it wasn't serious enough to call the doctor.

Johnny stood up with Juanita and put her in her bed, turning to pour her a glass of water. "Drink it up, miel," Johnny told her. When she was done, Johnny put the glass on the side table by her bed. Then he sat down next to her and opened his arms. She crawled to him and he raised her up and put her on his lap. "Now can you tell Papa, did you have a bad dream?" Johnny asked her as he ran his hand over her head.

"Si, Papa, it was a very bad dream," Juanita told him in such a low voice he had to strain to hear her.

"Can you tell me about it?" Johnny wanted her to know he was there and no-one was going to hurt her.

"No, Papa, I'm scared he will hurt me," she said and buried her face into his chest. "Papa, make him leave us alone, por favor!" She was shaking uncontrollably.

Johnny didn't know what to do so he just held her close and rocked her like a tiny baby.

Just then, Scott came in to see if he could be of some help. .

"Where's Murdoch?" Johnny asked.

"He's with Teresa. He's not too bad; it looked worse than it was." Scott was more worried about Juanita; he saw her shaking. "I'll send for Sam." Scott was already halfway down the stairs.

After what seemed like hours, but was really only about five minutes, Juanita started to settle down, exhausted in Johnny's arms.

"Papa, I was scared they're going to come back for me," Juanita said.

Johnny eased her away from his chest to look at her. "What a sorry sight we make, you with your black eye and me without my shirt on!" He smiled at her.

"How about you tell Papa about the man coming after you and why?" Johnny needed to get her to open up to him; to make her understand that he and the family wouldn't let anyone hurt her. As he positioned Juanita more comfortably on his lap so that he could look at her and yet make her feel safe, Johnny handed her a little horse he had bought in Spanish Wells while he had been out. She played with it, and he asked her if it had a name.

"Si Papa, I call him Curro." She glanced shyly up at him. "Papa, I want to tell you about my dream but I'm afraid." She looked up into Johnny's eyes, pleading with him to help her.

"Tell you what let's lie down and talk about it then." Johnny lifted her up and settled her down on her bed but she jumped off and ran out the door with Johnny following. She ran into his room and jumped on his bed, squirming under his covers, waiting for him.

"Hey, what is wrong with your bed?" Johnny asked her with a smirk on his face and hands on his hips, trying to act the stern father.

"The man is in there," Juanita told him.

Johnny sighed and scooted her over, lying down beside her.

"Mama, my abuelos and me, we were all in the house when it happened. A band of gringo banditos came into the village, shooting anyone in their path. Mama grabbed me up and opened the big basket by her bed and she put me in there and told me not to come out, no matter what happened and not to make a sound. I was so scared, my heart was pounding so loud I thought they would hear me.

They came into our little shack and grabbed mama, granpapa, and grandmama and they were laughing. The one big man started kissing mama and tearing her clothes, while his friends cut grandpapa's throat and scalped him. The blood was shooting out of his neck, I saw it. The big man had grey hair, almost white, and he was licking his lips. He started biting my mama on her chest. Mama was screaming and crying but I couldn't help her, Papa!" she gulped as tears started rolling down her face.

Johnny felt sick to his stomach knowing what his daughter had gone through. The tears streamed down his face though he was hardly aware of them.

"Then the man took his pants down and two men held mama and grandmama down. They were naked and the men did what you told me never to say again, remember Papa?" Juanita so wanted her papa to say something but all Johnny could do was nod his head. He swallowed hard, trying to find his voice again.

"I know, baby, it's okay. You don't have to say any more if you don't want to." Johnny had a good idea what his little girl had witnessed. He was just thankful they hadn't found her.

"The big man with the grey hair wore a vest and white shirt like your papa and he looked a lot like him." Tears just spilled from her brown eyes; she couldn't stop them and, even though she knew Madrids didn't cry, she didn't want to stop. She simply had to cry and her papa was crying with her.

Papa, they cut them up," she whispered. "Their necks, their breasts - they cut them!"

Johnny tried to hush her and tell her it was okay; she didn't have to go on. He knew very well what men like that did to the women they came across and it made him sick to his stomach. To think that his baby girl saw all this...

"They scalped mama and grandmama too and I saw one of the men drink their blood! Oh Papa, make it stop! I keep seeing it... in every gringo I see, it comes back to me. I try to push it out but Grandpa looks just like that man and his voice is loud like his!"

Johnny clutched his little girl to him and kissed her dark, shaggy hair. He held her close, wishing he could wipe away every painful memory, every nightmare image. That she could have witnessed such horror - it tore him apart.

They stayed like this long into the night until, at last, worn out from tears and heartbreak, sleep took them both.

At Johnny's door stood not only Murdoch, but Teresa and Maria. They had heard it all, standing in the shadowy darkness. The horror of what this little girl had seen shook them all to the core.

Murdoch gently made sure they were both covered with the warm blankets and silently left the room, closing the door. The three went downstairs to the great room where Murdoch headed straight to the whiskey decanter for a much-needed drink. Maria went to put on a fresh pot of coffee, knowing it was going to be a long night for the family. Teresa stayed close to Murdoch to comfort him if he needed her. But there was no comforting the big man.

He stared bleakly into his whiskey as he realized why his own granddaughter couldn't look at him and why she hated white people. She didn't trust them and who could possibly blame her after all that she had seen that night? Murdoch had seen many injustices and episodes of violence in his long life but even he did not think he could have borne such atrocities to his loved ones. That the child was still sane was a wonder to him. His eyes moist, he prayed with all his soul that he could help  Juanita.

Richard had been in the great room when they came down and now he wanted to be somewhere else; he didn't want to be in the family's way, knowing they would have much to go through in order to help Juanita. "I'll be leaving in the morning," Richard told Murdoch and Teresa as he quietly went up to his room.

The front door opened to admit Scott and Doc Jenkins. The sight which greeted them was Maria comforting Teresa. Both had been weeping. Murdoch gestured to the whiskey decanter to Scott and Sam, but both declined. Murdoch shook his head, still deeply affected by Juanita's revelation.

"You might just want one when I tell you everything."

"Murdoch, where are Johnny and Juanita?" Scott asked.

"They are sleeping, Scott, and we're going to let them. I think it'd be the best medicine for what ails them. Sam, can you stay the night? Johnny might want you to look at Juanita and he might need some advice," Murdoch told them.

"What happened here, Murdoch?" Scott was worried about his family. One brief glance had told him that things were very wrong here; Teresa had not yet said anything or moved from Maria's arms. Just the fact that Johnny and Juanita were asleep and everyone was worried about them alarmed both Sam and Scott.

"Maria, would you take Teresa to her room and stay with her until she falls asleep?" Murdoch quietly asked.

"Si Patron, I will stay with her." Maria took Teresa gently by her elbow and led her off to her room.

"Sam, Scott, I think you had both better sit down. I'm going to tell you everything."

Murdoch took a seat in the corner chair and, long into the night, told them Juanita's story. By the end, all three were angry and deeply shaken. Juanita was really going to need them to get through this. Their biggest concern was how much she would accept from them.

"No wonder she doesn't like gringos, as she calls us!" Scott felt sick. He wanted to vent the anger building inside but knew that, in the morning, they would have to be there for Johnny and Juanita; there would be no time for recriminations and useless regrets. Scott couldn't wait to talk to his brother, he knew Johnny would be hurting deeply about this.

 

 

Chapter 17

After a long night, Murdoch finally fell asleep on the couch, wracking his brain to think of a way to help his son. Scott and Sam had retired long before but they too didn't get much sleep. Sam knew he was no expert in what Johnny or Juanita would need. He would talk to Johnny about a friend of his who may be able to help Juanita more than he could.

Scott, on the other hand, knew he wanted to help Johnny and he would when the time came. To him, Johnny needed his own father but this might prove problematic with Juanita being so afraid of the big man. There were going to be troubled times ahead he knew.

Johnny woke up to Juanita's head lying on his chest. His arm curved gently around her. As he lay there, watching her sleep, he wondered how he was going to let his family know the whole sad story of his daughter's past. Murdoch would probably frown on him for letting Juanita sleep in his bed but, as far as Johnny was concerned, that was something his father would have to come to terms with. Juanita was his daughter and he would do what he felt was needed. Though he knew this was something  ;he had to limit if he was to help his daughter to stay the independent little girl who had traveled so many miles to find him.

As he lay thinking, two big brown eyes were watching him and, when he felt a little tickle, he smiled. Looking down, he saw the biggest smile on his daughter's face.

"Morning, miel," Johnny said as he moved his arm to sit up. Juanita said good morning to her papa and moved to let him get up then sat up herself.

"Papa, what are we going to do today?" Juanita wanted to know what he had planned for her.

"Well first, my little chica has to get up, wash and dress and go down to help Maria with breakfast and house cleaning!" Johnny tapped her nose with his finger to remind her of the chores they had discussed. He wanted to keep things as normal as possible for Juanita. Then he had to try to explain to Murdoch about why Juanita was avoiding him. After that, he wanted to see if Sam had any thoughts on how he could best help her. Most of all, he was going to make sure that whenever Juanita needed to talk about her mother and grandparents, she could do so without referring to Murdoch as 'the man'; the last thing he wanted was for his father to be upset too.

Johnny sent Juanita to her room to get ready and, without a second thought, Juanita skipped off. However, the moment she was alone, she froze.

Johnny finished getting himself ready then went to see if the child was ready to go down with him. What he found was Juanita frozen on the floor, curled up in a tight ball, trembling all over. He crossed to her slowly, saying her name softly but she did not respond. So he picked her up to lie her on the bed.

When Juanita realized someone was there with her she panicked. At first, she thought it was the man and struggled to get free of his arms, kicking and yelling, "No!"

Johnny kept talking to her, letting her know it was him; no one was going to hurt her, he wouldn't let them. The more he talked, the more she calmed down. Once she was settled enough to know where she was and who had hold of her, she began asking why her papa had her in his arms. This puzzled her.

"Papa, why are you holding onto me? You told me to get ready for breakfast," Juanita asked him.

Johnny didn't know what to say; it was as if she had no memory of the state she had just been in. He put her down, with a concerned look, telling her to get washed up while he got her clothes. More than ever, he needed to talk to Sam. This was serious and Johnny knew he was out of his depth.

Right on cue, Sam poked his head round the door to ask if everything was alright.

"If you have the time, Sam, I'd like to talk to you after breakfast?" Johnny asked.

"Yes, Johnny, I have time. Morning, Juanita," Sam called.

"Morning, Dr. Sam," Juanita sang as she continued to wash her face. "Papa and me will be right down, right Papa?"

"Si, miel." Johnny gave Sam a troubled look. Sam nodded his head.

When Sam had left to go down to breakfast, Johnny went into Juanita's wardrobe for her clothes. He had to shake his head; how she had managed it he didn't know but there were only pants and shirts, not one dress to be seen.

"Juanita, ya want to wear the blue or green shirt?" Johnny looked at her as she was wriggling into her pants and socks.

"The orange one, Papa!" Juanita grinned as she knew what he was up to. Juanita always had the orange one on and her papa was sick of seeing her in it.

"Naw, let's try the green one today!" Johnny tossed her the shirt then turned around so that she could put it on.

"Papa, I need my boots from under my bed. Please can you hand them to me?" Juanita didn't want her papa to know she was scared of looking under her bed and the very idea of reaching her hand under there made her tremble all over.

Johnny helped her with her boots and off they went, Juanita running through the hall with Johnny calling after her to walk. When they made it to the banister, Johnny lifted Juanita on to slide down it. He watched her land very quietly on two feet then he slid down it too. The two of them were laughing as they entered the kitchen.

Johnny told Maria that Juanita would be helping out while Teresa was laid up. "Just let her know what needs doing," he said as he poured himself a cup of coffee and some milk for the little girl.

Juanita asked Maria if she could hunt for the eggs so Maria handed her the little basket and Juanita trotted out the door.

Teresa wandered in, ready to help with breakfast, but Johnny told her she wasn't to do any work until Sam told her it was okay.

"Johnny, I'm alright and you can't expect Juanita to help after last night!"

"Just what do you know about last night?" Johnny looked first at Teresa then Maria. Both had angry expressions.

"We all know about Juanita witnessing her family's murder, Johnny," Sam spoke up.

"How come? I mean, I was the only one in the room with her." Johnny wasn't upset; more curious about how they had found out.

"Last night, Murdoch, Maria and I came up to see if you needed any help. Finding you weren't in Juanita's room, we went looking for you both. We came to your room just as Juanita was telling her story and we couldn't pull ourselves away. We didn't intend to eavesdrop but... oh Johnny, how awful for her!" Teresa was still shaken by the horrors the child had described and hoped he wasn't upset with them for listening.

"I guess I'm just glad you all know and I don't have to tell it all again," was all Johnny could think to say. There was, however, something he did want to make clear to them all and he wished Murdoch and Scott were there to tell everyone at once. "For now, until I figure everything out, I want Juanita treated like y'all been treating her; I want to keep things as normal as possible."

"Yes, I think that's wise," Sam agreed.

Maria and Teresa nodded silently just as Juanita came bouncing in with the basket full of eggs.

"Chica, don't you be breaking those eggs now!" Maria took the basket from her before she could damage any.

"Oh Maria, I wouldn't do that - even though they have to be broken to cook them." Juanita was putting on an apron Teresa had handed to her. "Miss Teresa. why are you up? Papa said you're not to do anything 'til Dr Sam says so!" Juanita asked. "You need Grandpapa to blister you for not minding him?" Juanita's face was a picture of innocence.

Maria, Sam, Johnny and Murdoch, who had just come in to hear the little one's sassy comment, all laughed at the idea of Teresa getting a blistering. Teresa didn't find it so funny and sat down next to Sam. Juanita hid a secret smile. She would have had to think of a way to move her had she sat by her papa.

"Morning, Murdoch, how did you sleep?" Sam asked.

It was obvious that Murdoch was still in the clothes from last night and looked unusually disheveled

"Not well, Sam. Not well at all." Murdoch poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down next to Johnny at the head of the table.

Juanita heard his voice and, though she didn't want to worry her papa, deep inside it scared her. She took a deep breath and told herself that Murdoch wasn't the bad man; he was her grandpapa who would never hurt her. That's what her papa had told her and she believed anything he said.

"Murdoch, looks like you could use a comb through your hair!" Johnny smiled up at him

"Papa, Grandpapa could also use a wash and some new clean clothes!" Juanita told everyone at the table as she placed the plate of eggs in front of Johnny.

"You're one smart cookie, sweetheart. But I don't know if I'm brave enough to tell grandpa Murdoch that he smells!" Johnny laughed at the look on his father's face.

Juanita, being almost as smart alec'ish as her papa, came out with, "Papa, is that something we should talk about in front of Miss Teresa or Maria? We might shock them!"

"Juanita," Johnny's voice held a warning tone. "That wasn't called for but, yes, we can say that in mixed company." He hugged her then gave her behind a pat to send her back to work.

Murdoch was speechless. He had expected both Johnny and Juanita to be anxious or upset this morning; anything but this cheerful. With Juanita out of earshot, Johnny repeated what he had told the others; how he wanted things to be with his daughter.

Murdoch asked if this was wise, hoping that he didn't seem to be doubting his son's ability to do what was best for his child. He was worried, not only about Johnny, but also the little girl. His heart went out to her.

"Murdoch, I believe Johnny is doing the best thing for her. It doesn't mean she won't have bad memories or dreams; even break down at times. I think she needs to talk about it. We shouldn't encourage her to lock her emotions inside. She needs to talk about her family." Sam looked at Murdoch then Johnny to make sure he was getting his point across.

All of them nodded their heads in understanding as Scott came in, asking what they all were agreeing to. "I want to know just what my family is up to before I agree with you all," he smiled, sitting down while Maria poured him a cup of coffee.

"We're just agreeing to keep things normal around here, brother," Johnny said to Scott as he reached for the same bacon piece Scott was reaching for. Scott lost to Johnny but Juanita came over with a fresh plate of bacon for her tio.

"Morning Tio, here - have some fresh, hot bacon. Papa can have that old cold piece!" Juanita laughed at the look on her papa's and tio's faces.

"I knew I was her favorite!" Scott took a couple of pieces of hot bacon.

When Breakfast was finished, Johnny left Juanita in Maria's care then went looking for Sam to see if he had anything that could help Juanita.

"Well Sam, what's your take on it?" Johnny came into the great room with Sam following him. Taking a seat on the couch, he regarded the older man who came to sit beside him.

"All I can say is I think you're doing the right thing, keeping her in as normal a routine as possible. Now, this isn't to say she won't need to talk about it some more. Try to give her something to focus on," Sam told Johnny.

"How am I to know when she needs to talk or not? I'm not sure I know if I'm doing harm or if I should be pressing her to open up more. Then there's the matter of Murdoch, sounding and looking somehow like the leader of the bandits who she remembers!" Johnny was so confused; he wished he knew how to handle it.

"Johnny, I have a friend who deals with this kind of thing and is more of an expert than I could even pretend to be. He specialists in helping children who have suffered some kind of trauma; maybe come from violent homes or circumstances similar to Juanita's. I could wire him to see if he would be willing to come and help Juanita." Sam lightly touched Johnny's hand, wishing he could help more.

"I'd be obliged if you would, Sam."

"And you, how are you handling all of this?" Sam was concerned about Johnny too. With all he had gone through in his own past to now have this extra responsibility put upon him, he worried Johnny would be feeling the strain.

"I ain't sure. You know, she looks just like my mama... but everyone says she acts more like me!" Johnny smiled but it didn't reach his eyes. "I'm going on my gut feelings, dealing with her how I think best but, when it comes to Murdoch and her, I don't know if I'll be making the right decisions."

"Do you have any thoughts on what you might do?"

"Only thing I have is, I don't want Murdoch thinking he has to leave when Juanita is around. I want to make sure she knows Murdoch isn't the man who killed her family. Want her to see Murdoch as a man who wouldn't hurt her and will always be there for her. That's what I want, Sam but, in all honesty, I don't know how I'm gonna get it."Johnny had his head on his hands wishing Sam had all the answers but knowing full well he didn't.

"If it helps, I think you're on the right track with not wanting to cause a rift between them. Wanting to bring them closer just might take a little time. Things may have to come naturally for them... and natural can be slow but that's not necessarily a bad thing." Sam felt for his friend wanting to be able to do more for him. "Johnny, if you need to talk, you know where I am."

"Thanks, Sam. Can I let you know about your friend? I don't know if Juanita will talk to a stranger right now." Johnny got up and Sam knew their talk was over for now.

Johnny told Sam he was going to go look for Murdoch; he needed to talk to him. Sam told Johnny that both Murdoch and Scott had gone up to the north ridge. Some cattle had broken through the fence up there and some were stuck in the gully.

"Do you want me to speak to Juanita?"

Sam didn't get an answer; Johnny had already left the house, heading towards the barn.

 

 

Chapter 18

Johnny rode out to find Murdoch up on the north ridge and finally spied him down in the gully, trying to help push one of cows out. Bert was pulling it, using a rope tied to his saddle horn on the horse. Johnny couldn't believe Murdoch was down there so he jumped off Barranca and headed down to help out. After about five attempts, pushing and falling, (very dangerous if the beast backed up on the person, trampling them) they managed to shift the cow out. Johnny asked Murdoch just what he thoug ht he was doing. His father looked at him, telling him he wasn't too old to get down and push a cow. Johnny just shook his head then helped Murdoch out of the gully.

Over and over, Johnny, Scott and the ranch hands (under Murdoch's supervision) continued to get one cow after another out of that gully. It was slow going. The men were tired and muddy and, after working for over seven hours, Murdoch at last called it quits. It was getting time for supper; the evening was turning dusk by the time the men stopped for the night. It was going to take a couple of days to get all the cattle out of the gully so Murdoch left Scott with five other men to stay and watch them overnight. Scott wasn't happy but he knew Johnny was needed up at the house to be with Juanita so he took the first shift to go back to the bunk house for some chow, and dry clothes. Murdoch and Johnny waited until they came back.

This gave Johnny a chance to talk to Murdoch about Juanita. As they sat next to each other on a log by the fire Johnny had built, he picked up a small stick and played with the flames.

"Murdoch, I'm just going to get it said... I don't want you avoiding Juanita, or her you," Johnny said with his head down, not wanting to look into his father's eyes.

"Listen son, Juanita is going to need all of us more than ever now. She has a good father who will be able to guide her through this... with help from his old man." Murdoch smiled as Johnny looked up at him and softly said, "Yeah?" Then he broke up with a big smile for Murdoch.

"Did you get to talk to Sam before you came out here?" Murdoch wanted to know.

"Yeah, he told me I'm on the right track, wanting everything to stay as normal as can be. He said to be there if Juanita breaks down. Now that's the part I'm not sure I'm doing right."

"Seeing you last night, son, makes me believe you're doing just fine! Mind you, there will be a time your old man might be needed to help." Murdoch let Johnny know he wasn't going anywhere; if he needed him to talk to, he was going to be right there for him. The whole family would help pull Juanita through.

"You know the hard thing is, Murdoch, I keep seeing her walking over her mother's body... and her grandparents. No-one should have to go through that - their own parent's blood, especially a child." Johnny was quiet. Murdoch reached over and gently put his hand on Johnny's arm for support.

"Has Juanita said any more about the village? Is she the only one who survived?"

"No, I didn't want her to say any more than she had to. Sam knows someone, another doctor, who deals with kids who have had traumatic events in their lives. I asked him to wire this man; see if he can give me some advice," Johnny explained.

"And, for now, everything is to be as normal as possible." It was a good feeling, knowing he had a family to help him with his daughter. Johnny couldn't be in a happier mood. He shook his head. If he got any happier, his daughter just might end up with her own horse after all!

"You know Murdoch, that little scamp still don't own a dress," Johnny laughed as he looked at the stunned expression on Murdoch's face.

"Now, how she get away with that? Wasn't her pa watching her?" Murdoch laughed with Johnny as they both got up. Riders were approaching.

"Hey Scott, Hank, Bert!"

"Johnny, Juanita told me she's still waiting to see what the two of you are going to be doing," Scott told him as he walked up to Barranca.

"That's right! I forgot I told her I had something for us to do," Johnny replied as he turned Barranca around to head on back.

Murdoch rode up to Johnny and asked what he had in mind for them. Johnny just glanced back with a straight face and told him he was going to have her clean the hen house and stalls. Then he laughed and galloped ahead of his father.

Murdoch chuckled to himself, wondering what Juanita's reaction would be when she found that out. Johnny was going to have a little trouble with that little one. Juanita had been telling Maria that morning about how she and her papa were going out looking for her a horse today. The child was in for a big surprise. Murdoch finally caught up to Johnny as he slowed Barranca down some.

"Son, you do know Juanita thinks you two are going out looking for her horse today, don't you?"

"Murdoch, I told her she has to earn her own horse, seeing there's plenty for her to ride right there in the barn for now." Johnny let Murdoch know he wasn't going to spoil Juanita just because of what she had been through. "You know, if we don't hurry, I'm afraid that little tyke might just eat all the food, with the way she puts in!" Johnny loved the look on Murdoch's face as they both galloped off.

As Murdoch and Johnny rode up, Juanita was there waiting for her papa.

"Papa, can I help with Barranca, por favor?" Juanita walked with Johnny, holding on to Barranca's reins with him.

"Sure, let's get him settled for his dinner than we can wash up and eat." Johnny smiled at his little girl, happy to see her.

"Grandpa, come on, let's get your horse down too!" Juanita's gaze was directed at Murdoch's knees for it still bothered her to look at his face but she had promised herself she would try to look at him.

"Well now, I think that's a good idea, missy." Murdoch, like Johnny, was taken aback at the little girl's sudden friendliness

Papa, Dr. Sam told me to tell you he was going to wire his friend for you. What friend is he talking about?" Juanita looked at Johnny to see if he would tell her.

"Well, that's for Papa to know!" Johnny tapped her nose with a grin then started removing Barranca's gear.

"Is the doctor still here, Juanita?" Murdoch asked.

"No, he left after we had a long chat together. I like him, even though he's a... oops! Lo siento, Papa. I almost forgot!"

Juanita sneaked a peek up at Johnny, who had a stern look on his face, causing Murdoch to burst out laughing. This caused Juanita to start too and, by the time all three left to go wash up for dinner, they had a case of the giggles.

As they entered the house, Murdoch and Johnny headed upstairs to get clean clothes to go to the bath house. Juanita went to set the table as she had promised Maria.

When they sat down for dinner, Juanita told them she had met a Mexican girl down by the pond who was close to her age. She wanted to know if her papa knew who she was. Johnny told her that he didn't know all the children who lived on Lancer, but most of them. "What was her name?" he asked.

"Bonita is her name, Papa. Do you know who she is, grandpa?" Juanita hoped her family knew of her and that her father would give her permission to be her friend.

"Yes Juanita, I do know her. She is Senor Garcia's daughter and, if I'm right, she has to be about your age," Murdoch told his granddaughter.

Oh Papa, can I be her friend, por favor?" Juanita looked at Johnny with pleading eyes that made Johnny laugh.

"Miel, of course you can. There are many young girls on the ranch your age. I'm hoping you make lots of friends."

"I can't wait to go see her tomorrow... or can I go after dinner, Papa?"

For the family, it was wonderful to see how happy she was but Johnny had to tell her that meeting her new friend would have to wait; there were things he wanted her to do after dinner.

"What's that, Papa?" Juanita couldn't wait for after dinner; she wanted to know right then.

"Finish up first then we'll talk," Johnny said as he pointed to Juanita's plate, still half-full of food.

"Si, can I have a hint?" Juanita turned her irresistible smile on her papa.

Everyone at the table just laughed as Johnny was ready to cave in to his daughter's smile.

"Well son, go ahead tell her; we know you want to!" Murdoch couldn't help but laugh.

"It can wait. Now eat, young lady!" Johnny handed her the fork that she had dropped in all her excitement.

Once dinner had finished, Johnny and Juanita went outside to the corral to talk. He told her that, on top of helping Maria out for the time being, she also was responsible for cleaning the hen house and mucking out the stalls.

"Papa, then will I be able to get my own horse?" Juanita was hoping he would say yes.

"Si," Johnny said. "Only then." He made it quite clear.

"Now, how about a ride with your old man?" Johnny started walking to the barn.

"Oh yes!" Juanita cried as she ran to catch up with him. "Papa, do you know every inch of Lancer now?"

"Sure do."

"Then where can we see the wild horses?" Juanita loved to go with her grandpapa to watch the wild horses near her village. She missed those times. It made her feel so sad, thinking about her family who were now gone. "Papa, do you think mama can miss me even if she's dead?"

"I believe your mama is always with you, sweetheart, as long as you have her in your heart" Johnny told her, taken aback by her question. "Would you like to stop and talk some, miel?"

"I just want to rid, with you for now. Maybe later." Juanita didn't want this moment to end yet.

Johnny was enjoying showing Juanita the land that made up their home, just as much as Juanita was enjoying seeing it all and knowing that now this was her home too. Someday, she would be out here moving the cattle around, cleaning the ponds and water holes and, best of all, she would be sleeping under the stars of Lancer.

Juanita wasn't worried about getting to know the land; she was good at finding her way and following the sun and moon. Her favorite was sleeping under the stars. She had done that a lot with her mother's people when she visited them.

"Papa, can we sleep out under the stars tonight?" She hoped he would agree but, knowing they didn't have supplies with them, suspected he might say no. Though it couldn't hurt to ask, her mama always told her.

"Not tonight, chica, another time. We'll plan for it," Johnny told her. "How about we stop by the lake and give our horses a break?"

Juanita followed him, and let her horse join Barranca in the shallow water before she jumped off. Then, taking off her boots and socks on the bank, she ran right into the water laughing and whooping.

Johnny watched her with a wide smile and decided to join her, taking off his boots and socks then jumping right in. They had splashed and chased each other until they both fell onto the ground, tired out from laughing so hard.

"Muchas gracias, Papa" Juanita said as she laid on her stomach next to Johnny, who was relaxing and trying to catch his breath.

"De nada, miel." Johnny had enjoyed it as much as his daughter. It had been a while since he and Scott had been able to get away and just enjoy the day... swimming and goofing off.

"Papa, is it alright if we talk now?"

"Sure, what you want to talk about?" Johnny sat up to put his boots back on and Juanita followed his lead.

”Well, I wanted to ask you if it's alright if we talked about mama?”

“Sure, whatever you want,” Johnny reassured her.

“I miss her so much that it hurts inside and sometimes I want to cry. But mama told me Madrids don't ever cry so I don't.” Juanita looked at Johnny as she sat up, folding her legs to sit Indian style.

Johnny sat up across from her. “Now, that just isn't right, sweetheart. Madrid is only a name a person goes by; it doesn't mean you can't cry. In fact, it's good for a person to cry now and then,” he told her.

“You mean mama lied to me?”

“No... she didn't lie. It's just what she believed in at the time. I was a young mean kid, full of anger when I meant your mother. I had a reputation that, at the time, I was proud of. I'm not proud of it now like I was then. Now, it really ain't me. It was I lived in the dark all those years... until I came home to Lancer. Now I feel like I've stepped into the light... and left that darker place behind me.” Johnny tried to explain to her

“Papa, so everything mama and grandpapa taught me is nothing but a lie. All of it wasn't what you were at all.” Juanita was hurt and angry. She stood up and walked over to the edge of the pond. Johnny followed, worried for her.

”No, sweetheart, what they told you they believed in their minds was the truth. That's really what they thought of the Johnny Madrid who rode into their village and helped them. That Johnny Madrid they got to know is just what I was back then, like I told you - hard, angry, mean. Your mama took a lot of that out of me just by loving me and giving me a chance to be myself. I didn't like killing anyone. Remember I told you it takes a piece of your soul every time you kill a  ;man. Do you understand, miel?” Johnny put his hands on her shoulders and turned her gently to face him. He took his hand and lifted her chin up to look at him eye to eye.

“No Papa, she lied! You proved it over and over!” Juanita yelled and ran from Johnny

Johnny ran after her as she made toward her horse, trying to get away from him. He reached out and caught her, as she tried to grab the reins.

“Juanita, you listen to me! Your mother loved you and did all she could for you. I'm sure it was hard to raise you in that village and she did her best!” Johnny gave her a hug, even though Juanita tried to push away from it.

“They told me I could be anything I wanted to be and I always wanted to be like you -all Madrid!”

"Now, see here, no daughter of mine is going to be a gunfighter!" Johnny stressed his

 

 

Chapter 19

Juanita started laughing as she told her papa, "I don't want to be a gunfighter, Papa. Why would you think that?"

"Now just a minute, you said you want to be Madrid like me!" Johnny was confused.

'Yes, but I don't mean I want to be a gunfighter!” she grinned at his relief. “I just meant that I don't want to be stuck in no house, cooking, cleaning and sewing.” She shuddered and pulled a face. “I want to be out in the fresh air, working with the cattle and riding the range like you, Papa," Juanita explained.

Johnny's relief was pretty short-lived; he lifted his eyebrows in surprise and shook his head. "Nope, no daughter of mine is going be out there, working in all weathers with no dumb cows; my daughter is going to wear pretty dresses and learn to be a proper lady," he told her.

Juanita crinkled up her little face and tried a different tack. "Well, that's all well and good for Johnny Lancer's daughter, Papa, but remember I'm Johnny Madrid's daughter and I was raised to believe that, with a good education, I can be anyone I want to be. I want to be able to learn how to do everything so that I can run this ranch someday. Who's to say you or Tio Scott will have any boys? Maybe all you'll get is girls then who will take over for you? If you bring me up just to cook and sew, why – I'll be no use to you at all!" Juanita stood with her hands on her hips looking down on Johnny, just as determined as her father.

"First of all, your name is going to be Lancer now, not Madrid, you hear me, young lady?” Johnny's voice was soft but there was no mistaking his seriousness. He was not angry with her but he meant for her to mind him and this was a lesson she needed to learn right from the start. “Second, you are not going to be no cowpoke, out there with all the boys, learning bad manners and how to spit and cuss; you are going to be a lady like Teresa." Johnny was trying to put his foot d own but the look on his daughter's face was telling him he had his work cut out.

"No! Papa, my name is Madrid and I'm proud of it as I am of you - Johnny Madrid-Lancer! You got to choose your name and I'm darn well choosing mine!" Juanita stamped her little foot, her temper simmering. "Mama always told me I could be anyone I wanted. She had grandpapa teach me how to ride bareback, throw a rope, work with leather... and I got experience rounding up cattle with him too, right before he was killed. I'd be a really good cowboy!"

Juanita stomped off toward her horse and mounted up as Johnny just stood there watching her. It was all so sudden; Johnny wasn't prepared for her outburst. He had met some pretty feisty kids in his time but this one took the prize! He mounted Barranca and fixed Juanita with as fatherly a glare as he could.

“Chica, you came a long way to be with me and, now that you are, you will mind what I say.”

"Then I'll move on!" Juanita yelled at him as she dug her heels into her horse's side and galloped away toward the house with Johnny right behind her.

Both father and daughter raced back to the barn but Johnny made it there first, passing Barranca over to a hand and waiting for Juanita.

As she rode up, she jumped off her horse while it was still moving just to prove to her papa that she could do anything she wanted. Johnny didn't like this one bit. She was being deliberately defiant and playing with fire. He aimed to put a stop to it right away.

"Come here, now!"

Juanita walked up to her father. As nervous as she felt, she wasn't going to back down to him, no matter what he did. Juanita knew she could be as stubborn as her papa; many times she had heard it from those who knew him well.

"Well?" Juanita sassed, knowing he was close to losing his temper and she was walking on thin ice with him. But this was important to her; she had no intention of backing down.

Johnny's eyes narrowed at her tone. "Watch how you talk to me, young lady. Remember I'm the one who will be taking you to task.” He took in the sullen pout and the obvious sulk and he didn't like it.

“Now don't you get any notion that you're taking off on your own. If you try it, I'll bring you right back again, over my horse because I can promise you there won't be no way you'll be able to sit a saddle! And another thing - don't you ever jump off've a moving horse like that again." Johnny was putting his foot down for the second time that day yet it didn't look like Juanita cared.

"You march yourself up to your room and fetch a clean nightgown then come straight over to the bath house!" There was no way Johnny was going to put up with disrespect from a ten year old.

Juanita stamped her foot and, as she turned to follow his instructions, Johnny gave her a far from gentle swat to her bottom.

"Ouch!" Juanita yelled. She turned her head furiously, on the point of throwing him some more sass. Johnny stood there with a smirk on his face, just daring her.

As Juanita went in the door, Murdoch was coming out. "Looks like you're having a bit of trouble there," he said. "Anything I can do to help?"

"Sure Murdoch, tell me how I got me a stubborn, ornery, hard-headed girl with one heck of a temper... who wants to be a vaquero!" Johnny took his off hat and swiped Murdoch in the stomach with it as he passed him, going off to the bathhouse to get the tub ready for his daughter.

Scott arrived just as Johnny was walking away, shaking his head. Scott strolled over to Murdoch. "Did I hear Johnny right; Juanita wants to be a cowboy?"

Murdoch nodded his head and watched Johnny head off around the side of the house. Scott smiled as he watched Johnny too then a tiny figure ran past them, a white nightgown waving in the air.

"Murdoch, you want to bet she gets her way?" Scott smirked and they both started laughing as they headed back in the house.

In the bathhouse, Johnny got down the small tub. Then he checked the water tank, ensuring there was enough wood under it, for Juanita's bath. Once he had everything set up, he started filling the tub with warm water, adding a little of Teresa's precious lavender oil. He had heard that the scent had a soothing effect and, right now, he'd try anything to calm his daughter down.

Juanita slammed the door against the wall as she stamped in then, using her foot to close it, gave it a wild kick to bang it shut behind her. She was still angry at her papa and, no matter what he said or did, she was going to make sure she got her own way.

"You keep that up and I may have to do something about it that you won't like. You're going to have a rough night sleeping with your bottom on fire!" Johnny had taken quite enough of Juanita's behaviour and he wasn't going to put up with any more sass or disrespect. "Now get in the tub; it's almost time for bed!"

Juanita eyed her father and started getting undressed. Johnny left the room, telling her he'd be back in thirty minutes to walk her back to the house.

"I can get back to the house on my own! Don't you worry about me!" Juanita yelled through the door at Johnny as she sank into the tub. Outside, Johnny turned and shook his head. This was going to be a long night.

Johnny entered the house to find Murdoch holding out a shot of whiskey for him.

"Thanks, I need that!" Johnny reached for the glass and flopped into the blue chair.

“How is it going with Juanita, son?” Murdoch knew Johnny was going to have a hard time, getting the little hellion under control. He had to put a stop to her nonsense right now. Murdoch chewed his lip in thought; the last thing he wanted was to tell Johnny what to do but, unless the boy put his foot down, he was afraid Juanita was going to walk all over him.

Johnny knocked back his whiskey and poured himself another one, sitting down wearily. “I'm going to take Teresa along with Juanita to Spanish Wells in the morning so that we can get some proper dresses for her. Maybe she'll start acting more like a sweet little girl when she looks like one.”

Murdoch knew this was the first step but frowned at his son. “Did you let Teresa know this, Johnny? I thought she had plans to get together with some of her friends to prepare for the church social this Sunday.”

“I forgot about the social!” Johnny got up again and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Murdoch asked.

“First to go get Juanita then, after I get her bedded down, out to the barn to see if Scott needs a hand.”

Scott's horse tripped in to a hole in the ground, making Scott having to bring the horse home to exchange horses, and decided to stay. Knowing there were plenty men at the gully till he got back in the morning.

As he got closer to the bath house, he heard a sweet young voice singing away. It made him stop and smile; the melody took him back in time to when his mother would sing to him as she made dinner. It was a rare happy memory. There had been times when his step father would be home and, after dinner, they would sit by the fire and all sing together.

When the singing suddenly stopped, Johnny was jolted out of his daydreams and knocked on the door to see if Juanita was ready to go back to the house.

“Juanita, you done?”

“You can come in, I'm dressed!”

Johnny opened the door. “Ready to go?” She was wearing her nightgown, her short black hair damp and curling against her neck. He looked around the room to make sure she had picked up after herself.

“Si, let's go. Oh Papa... lo siento... for the argument, but it proves to me mama lie to me just like I though she did” Juanita said, as she passed him on their way to the house.

“Well, I hope you put that idea right out of your head. Little girls don't belong out there, riding herd with the cows!” Johnny caught up to her and put his hand gently on her shoulder.

“Only to the peons who don't know any better, Papa!” Before her father could react to her remark,

Juanita took off running into the house, her sturdy little legs carrying her through the great room and up the stairs to her room. When she opened her door, Juanita stopped in surprise. All the clothes she had left on her bed were gone. She turned then started running down the back steps to the kitchen to see if Maria knew where her belongings were. She ran smack into Johnny.

“Whoa!”Johnny reached out to catch her. “Where you think you're going? It's bedtime!”

“But all my things are gone! I was going to ask Maria if she knew where they were,” Juanita tried to get around Johnny. She was half afraid that all her lovely shirts and pants had been taken back after all.

Johnny spun her around and marched her down the corridor to another room. This new one was opposite Scott's room, and kiddie-cornered to his own.

“This is your new room, miel. I think you'll like this one better.” Johnny opened the door and let Juanita walk in before him.

The little girl looked around. It was a much bigger room with a larger window which faced out over a spectacular view of Lancer. She could see the cattle grazing on the hills and the horses down below them in the corral. The room itself was much more feminine with soft floral paper on the walls and frilled ruffles to the drapes and the bed. There was a wicker bedside chair too, decorated with a plump cushion with a single button in its middle, giving it the look of a fat blue donut.

“Oh Papa, this is wonderful, muchas gracias. I love it!” Juanita ran over and launched herself into her papa's arms, giving him a big hug and kissing him warmly on the cheek.

Johnny was over whelmed by how much Juanita had changed in just a few short minutes, though it made him relieved to see her in such a happy mood after her wayward behavior before.

“Well, I'm glad. But you are the one responsible for keeping it clean and picked up. I don't want to catch Maria or Teresa in here doing your chores,” Johnny told her. “Now chica, let's see just how willing you are to earn yourself that horse.”

Johnny walked her over to the big bed so that she could get in. Once she was snuggled under the covers, Johnny sat beside her and smiled. Blue eyes locked onto brown.

“Y'know, if you'd carried on with that temper tantrum, pushing me like you were, you'd have wound up over my knee!” He shook a stern finger and fixed her with a look. “Much as I don't like to do it, I'll paddle your behind when you don't behave.”

As Johnny went to blow out the oil lamp, he first kissed his daughter on the forehead and told her to get a good night's rest for the day ahead.

Juanita snuggled down and went right to sleep not knowing what her papa had in store for her after her morning chores.

Johnny left the door ajar in case Juanita had another bad dream; he wanted to be there right away if she needed him. He headed down the stairs and out to the barn.

“Hey brother, what ya' doing?” Johnny wandered over to the stall with the injured horse in it. Scott was tending to it, using a technique he had seen in the cavalry.

“I'm trying this poultice we used in the war,” Scott informed Johnny.

“Yeah? Is it working any?”

“It seems to be.” Scott reached for some clean bandages to put around the leg of the horse. “How'd it come out with Juanita? I didn't hear any squealing so I'm guessing you didn't have to spank her?” Scott asked Johnny.

Johnny grinned at his brother and shook his head. “Naw... maybe I should've but...” He chuckled softly, his hands on his hips. “Boy, Scott, she is one hell of a handful! One minute she's a boy, then she's a girl and now she wants to be a cowboy, out with the cattle!” Johnny had to smile; he could see a lot of himself in his daughter. He had been a wayward little cuss as a child too. \

All Scott could so is smile as he put bandages around the poultice.

 

 

Chapter 20/21

Juanita started to stir as she woke up to one of the most beautiful days she had seen since she had been at Lancer.

The sun shone through her curtains, making her want to throw them wide open to welcome the day. Sitting up, Juanita stretched to get her circulation pumping then she got out of her warm bed and walked across to open the curtain. It was the most beautiful sight in the world to her. The cattle grazed on the distant hills, making her dwell on the dream she had held onto for as long as she could remember.

How hard her mama and grandpapa had worked to help her learn how to rope, round up stray cattle and how long it had taken to get the rope to do what she wanted. Remembering the first time she tagged a heifer all on her own, how all the vaqueros had clapped, telling her she did good. Her smile stretched from ear to ear but then faded when she remembered how her papa said she could not work with the herd. He didn't understand why a girl would want to be out there with the cattle instead of looking pretty in her dress, cooking and sewing for her husband. Not that Juanita didn't see herself married with children eventually but, until then, she wanted the chance to live her dream.

Today was the first day, she promised herself, that she would put her dream aside until she came of age. Then, if she really had to, she could leave Lancer and her family to fulfill it. That, however, would be a last resort; now that she had found him, there was no way she would willingly part from her papa. If he wanted a young girl clothed in pretty dresses then she would do it for she didn't like see him with a frown on his face; his smile was the best and made her feel  happy and safe.

Juanita left the window and walked over to get ready for a busy day. She was determined that everything would go smoothly without any trouble... and no spankings! Her papa spanked hard and she could still feel a slight soreness.

She left her room, humming a song her mama had sung to her many times which made her happy. She was one very happy girl looking forward to what the day had in store for her.

“Buenos días,” she called to Maria as she entered the kitchen, grabbing the basket to gather the eggs.

“Buenos dias, nina!” Maria called over to her from peeling the potatoes that were to be served with breakfast. “How did you sleep?” Maria knew that she had a bad night. Johnny had found her tucked behind the couch when he went to investigate the noise he had heard downstairs. Maria was surprised to see Juanita up so early for Johnny had told her a couple of hours ago he had only just got the little girl back into bed and not to expect her down to help that morning; he wanted her to sleep a little more if possible.

“I always sleep well,” Juanita told her as she left the kitchen, heading toward the hen house.

Maria just looked at her with concern, telling Juanita that she knew all about last night.

As Juanita left, Murdoch came down the stairs, watching her run out the door. “Buenos dias, Maria," Murdoch said as he helped himself to a cup of hot steaming coffee, made just like he like it – strong.

“Buenos dias,” Maria replied as she started to cook the potatoes and prepared the biscuits to put in the oven.

Murdoch picked up the paper that was lying on the table, noticing an article in it about some auction down in Stockton. He sat down and started to read it, finding out just when and where it was to be and whether there was enough time for him or one of his sons to get there.

Juanita came back in, swinging the eggs lightly for the last time she swung them too high, one of them fell out onto the dirt. She had covered it up so no-one would know. “Here are the eggs, Maria. I'll set the table now then I want to get my chores done before breakfast. Morning Grandpa!” Juanita said it all in one breath.

“Why the rush, honey?” Murdoch asked her, knowing that she still couldn't bring herself to look him in the eye, not that he was worried about it and was thankful she was at least talking to him now. Sam had told him it would take time and he had all the time in the world for her.

“No hurry, Grandpa! I just wanted to get my chores done early so that I can enjoy this beautiful day outside instead of being cooped up in the house today,” Juanita told him as she started to get the silverware out of the drawer.

“Yes, it's too beautiful a day to have to stay in doing chores all day,” Murdoch agreed with her. “I think your papa also has some plans for the two of you today.”

“Really, Grandpa? Do you know what it is?” She was excited now wanting to know all that her grandpa knew .

“Not really, honey. Your papa didn't tell me much; only that you two are going to Spanish Wells.”

“Where is Spanish Wells at? Are there only Spanish people that live there? How did it get its name?” Juanita was asking all kinds of questions, trying to find out all she could about the towns around Lancer.

“Slow down!” Murdoch laughed at how eager she was to learn things. “No, not only Spanish people live there; lots of others also live there. It's an hour or so from here, bigger than Morro Coyo. The Spanish owned it before America did.” Murdoch tried to tell the inquisitive girl who couldn't wait till her father came downstairs to find out why they were going there.

“I'm going to go do my chores now. The table is all set,” Juanita said, leaving Maria and Murdoch alone and heading out to clean the hen house first.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita wanted to make the hen house super clean so that, each day, it wouldn't be that hard. She was still working on it when her papa came out to fetch her to breakfast.

“Hey there, you're going to have that hen house shining so that the hens will go blind looking for the door!” Johnny came up on her as she was sweeping some of the old straw out of the door.

“Hi Papa! Is breakfast ready yet?” Juanita had to admit she was starving and all this work had only made her more hungry.

“Yeah, it 's ready. Go wash up then come on and eat,” Johnny told her, reaching out to hold the fencing around the hen house open so that she could squeeze out without letting any of chickens escape.

“I'll go wash up at the pump, Papa, then I'll be right in!” She ran over and pumped the handle up and down. When the water started coming out, Juanita let it run into the bucket, grabbing a bar of soap that Teresa kept out there for the boys to wash up with before they came in. Juanita got it wet and made lots of lather on the cloth her papa handed to her. Washing her face and neck then, lastly, her hands made her clean enough to sit down for breakfast with her family.

As they entered the back door into the kitchen, Juanita found her tio along with her grandpa, already helping themselves to the food.

“Hey, any left for us poor working people?” Juanita looked right at Scott as she said it, with a big smile on her face.

“Well, I see you are in a cheerful mood this morning. Is there a special reason?” Scott asked her.

“Nope. Just a beautiful day and I'd hate to waste it being gloomy,” Juanita said as she took her place next to Johnny, who was dishing out eggs to her plate. “Papa, would you please put some ham on my plate?" She passed Johnny her plate so that she didn't have to reach over him.

“Juanita, after you finish mucking the stalls, we are going into Spanish Wells,” Johnny announced.

“Si Papa, why?” Juanita tried to figure out why he was taking her there and not to a closer town like Morro Coyo. Johnny wasn't giving anything away so she sat back to finish eating. To her, it didn't really matter why they were going there. That she got to spend some more time with her papa before he headed out on the range to go to work - that was the most important thing.

“I'm heading into Green River to see if I got an answer to my wire yet, then I'll be heading back over to see how they are doing with the cattle," Scott let Murdoch know where he would be in case he had some other plans for him.

“Alright son, hope they got all the cattle out of the gully and started on fixing that fence.”

As breakfast finished up, Maria (with Juanita's help) cleared the dishes away and the men got up, setting off to get the day started.

Maria let Juanita go to get the stalls done, knowing she was looking forward to seeing what her papa had up his sleeve this time.

“Has she mentioned last night to you?" Johnny asked Maria for only those two knew about her bad dream ending down in the great room.

"No, she has not. She told me she slept well last night, Juanito,” Maria's concern showed in her eyes.

“Si, I'm going to head over to see Sam later today if I don't hear anything more about his friend coming. I'm afraid of these nightmares not going away or getting worse."

“You are going to buy her the dresses today, si?”

“That's right! About time that little lady started looking and acting the part,” Johnny drained the last of his coffee and headed out toward the great room to gather his jacket, hat and gun belt before heading out the door.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Out in the barn, Juanita was chattering away to Barranca as she cleaned the stables around him. “I know you want your stall clean too, boy but Papa told me he had to move ya'. He doesn't want me and you to have no accidents. And I don't want you accidentally nipping at me either!” Juanita laughed as she walked over to scratch him around the ears.

“Chica, you almost done in there or are you going to sit around talking and spoiling my horse all day?” Johnny asked with a smile on his face.

As he leaned against the barn door watching her, he noticed the great job she was doing with stalls. Johnny hated to admit it. In fact, he was having his doubts about what Juanita wanted. He didn't really think it was proper for a girl to be out working with cows. They were the most stupid animal he had ever had to deal with. He wanted more for her than that. What was her mother doing letting her believe she could be a vaquero? As keen and feisty as she was, that was no substitute for strength and the work of a cowboy was tough.

“Papa, if you move Barranca, I can do his stall and then I'll be all done!” Juanita jolted him, come back from his thoughts and he moved to saddle up Barranca and another horse called Jackson which his daughter enjoyed riding.

"Alright, you take care of that and I'll get these two ready.”

After another half hour, Juanita was done, washed up and ready to go.

As they rode along, Juanita kept asking Johnny questions about his childhood, his mama and even Madrid. Johnny did his best to answer but, when it came to discussing Madrid, he was careful to only reveal what he wanted her to know. He tried to let her know that those days weren't something he was proud of and didn't want her looking up to him as some kind of hero. He knew how her little village thought of him after he helped them defeat the bandits who were stealing the little they had.

“Papa, you are my hero though... because you are my papa!”

“Is that so?” Johnny had a warm feeling that he never felt before; he was his little girl's hero - only because he was her papa. This made him happy inside; knowing his daughter looked up to him and hoping he didn't mess it up.

“Papa, is there any way I can earn some money?” Juanita asked him.

“Now, why do you need money? Anything you want, within reason, I'll get it for you.” Johnny was a little worried about what she wanted the money for.

“Well Papa, I met a sweet old man and lady who helped me get from San Francisco to Cross Creek.

They was kind enough to pay for my tickets and hotel room. Papa, they even bought me the clothes I had on when I got here. I have their address so I can write them and I need to pay them back. Mama taught me that a Madrid always pays their own way. And Papa, I want to pay them back because they were so kind to me.” Juanita wanted him to know it was her responsibility, not his.

“Let me think about it,” Johnny told her. “How about I help you pay them back too?”

“Would that be right, Papa, seeing it was me who they helped, not you?”

“Sure they helped me, honey!”

“How? You never met them.”

“Well, that's easy... they helped you on your way to finding me, honey. And I would like to thank them for that.”

As the two rode into Spanish Wells, they traveled down the middle of the street until they came to the dressmaker's.

“I guess this is when I have to start wearing dresses, huh Papa?” Juanita asked morosely, as she dismounted.

“It's about time, chica,” Johnny told her in his stern papa voice, making sure she knew he wasn't changing his mind.

“Si Papa, I guess so if you say, but on the weekends too?” Juanita looked sideways up at him.

“I'll think about it,” was all Johnny would allow as they walked up the boardwalk to the door.

He pushed open the door to a bell which announced them.

“Hi Johnny, never thought I'd see you come in here on your own. I see you brought your girl with you. Kind of young for you, isn't she?” Lilly-Sue smiled at them.

“Oh, but this is my special girl,” Johnny said with a big smile on his face. “Sorry, Lilly-Sue, I'm taken!” Johnny stood behind Juanita, his hands gently on her shoulders, as Juanita watched the interactions between her papa and this lady.

“Lilly-Sue, meet my daughter, Juanita,” Johnny said with pride. "Juanita, this is Lilly-Sue who owns and runs the dress shop here."

“Hello Juanita.” Lilly-Sue held out her hand to the wary child. “It's good to meet you.”

“Hello ma'am, it's nice to meet you.” Juanita shook her hand then looked up to see if Johnny approved of her manners. She was trying very hard.

“Well Juanita, what is it you're looking for?” Lilly-Sue addressed her instead of Johnny, making Juanita feel grown up. She looked up at her papa who only nodded his head, encouraging her to go ahead and tell her.

So Juanita let Lilly-Sue know she was looking for school dresses and a couple of outfits for church.

The two ladies went over to the rack to see if any of the dresses there would be suitable. Johnny followed and, finding a chair over by a dressing room, sat down to wait. He was prepared to let Juanita pick out what she wanted but he would have the final say in the matter.

“Don't you worry about him, Juanita. Just pick some real nice ones that your papa can't say no to!”

Lilly-Sue looked over at Johnny with a smirk on her face. He knew, no matter what they picked out, he was going to be buying them and he shook his finger at Lilly-Sue with a smile. Johnny knew when he was beaten, especially in ladies' fashions - something he knew nothing about.

Juanita went through the dresses and found four that she really liked and wouldn't mind wearing. Lilly had her put them up on the counter so her father could look them over then Juanita asked Johnny to come help her make up her mind about a red and blue dress which reminded her of papa's red shirt and blue shirt.

Juanita had to drag Johnny over to look at it and the two ladies enjoyed his confusion.

Johnny knew he was being teased by them so he played along. It was nice to see Juanita having a good time and accepting Lilly-Sue's help. Johnny looked at the dress and liked it but wanted to see each and every dress on his daughter before he would pay for them.

Lilly-Sue showed Juanita to the dressing rooms so she could try them on and, each time, Juanita came out and twirled around for her papa to see just how pretty she looked. Johnny approved of each garment, checking to make sure they were suitable for such a young girl.

Lilly-Sue knew this and sneaked into the dressing room with a dress that she knew Johnny wouldn't approve. With Juanita playing along, she put it on then sashayed out to show her papa, keeping a straight face all along. Lilly-Sue knew she would bust up laughing if she went out there so she stood behind the curtain, peeking out with her hand across her mouth to stifle her giggles.

Juanita came out very slowly, wiggling her hips provocatively but, when she saw the look on her papa's face, she knew he was angry and they had gone too far. She started laughing out of nervousness, backing away before he could reach for her. Oh no, she had tried so hard to be good! Surely her papa wasn't going to get all stern with her again? When Lilly-Sue saw Johnny's reaction, she came out to let him know it had only been a joke which had now backfired on them.

Juanita right away apologized to her papa, not wanting to spoil the fun they had been having. “Papa, we didn't mean to make you mad!” She looked to the older lady for help.

“Listen, Johnny it was my doing, not Juanita's. We've been having a good time and wanted to tease you some. Now get over it, hmm? You have one smart girl here who wouldn't be caught dead in that dress, especially not out in public!” Lilly-Sue also believed that Johnny was upset but, the more she talked, the more Johnny started to smile. It was then that Lilly-Sue knew he had turned their teasing back on them.

“Juanita, your daddy is evil; he was teasing us all along!” Lilly-Sue lightly slapped Johnny on the arm. “How could you do that to your sweet daughter, Johnny Lancer?” Lilly-Sue was trying not to join in his laughter, determined not to let Johnny get away with turning the tables on them.

“Aw, come here Juanita, are you mad at your old man?” Johnny hugged her to let her know once and for all that he wasn't mad at her.

“I thought you were mad at first, Papa, but I saw the look in your eye that told me you were fooling us.” Juanita hugged him back and asked if he liked all her choices. Johnny told her he was pleased with them all but she would need some pretty shoes or girl's boots to go with them.

“I can wear my cowboy boots, Papa. I can shine them up! Please, not shoes!” Juanita loved her boots and taking them away was like taking her away who she was.

“We'll leave it for now but you've got to have proper boots to wear with your dresses, honey. No cowboy boots. Now, how about some lunch?”

“Yes, I'm starving,” Juanita told him.

“When aren't you?” Johnny chuckled and mussed her short curly hair.

“Miss Lilly-Sue, you want to join us? Is that okay, Papa?” Juanita asked eagerly.

“Sure sweetie. Lilly-Sue, why don't you take your lunch with us? It's about that time, ain't it?”

“Why, thank you. Just let me grab my bonnet and close up here,” Lilly-Sue told them.

Within minutes, the three of them were heading down to the small restaurant across the street.

As they entered the restaurant, they spied a table near the back window which was empty so they headed over. Johnny held their seats for both Lilly-Sue and Juanita. The waitress came over, asking what they wanted to drink and, hearing Juanita choose milk, all three opted for the same.

As they waited for their milk, they glanced over the menus and, again, all agreed the special sounded perfect - roast chicken with mashed potatoes, green beans and a side plate of bread and butter. When the waitress had taken their orders, Lilly-Sue asked Juanita how she liked living in California with her new family.

"I love it here, especially at Lancer; the open space, the stars at night are like millions of lights twinkling in the sky. But most of all, I like being able to get on a horse and go out riding; that's the best - being out with all the cattle and horses and watching them."

“Well, it seems you're in the right place for that, sure enough. Maybe your daddy here will let you go out with him sometime?” Lilly-Sue told her, watching Johnny's face for his reaction.

“Oh no, I don't think so, Miss Lilly Sue. My papa is dead against me being out there with the cattle,” Juanita told her with a smile on her face.

Johnny listened, saying nothing but cringing inside, knowing he was being set up by the child and the woman. When they waited expectantly, he had no choice but to defend his decision.

“I'm afraid that's right. No girl of mine is going to be out there, mixing with cowpokes and learning things a lady don't need to know. And don't think for a moment you two are pulling the wool over my eyes; I see just fine what you're doing an' it won't work on me!” Johnny looked right at Juanita when he said this.

This time, it was Juanita's turn to cringe, knowing her papa meant business and that she was walking on thin ice by pursuing this conversation.

“Miss Lilly-Sue, how long have you had a dress shop?” Juanita knew to change the subject real fast, especially with the glint in her father's eye.

“Oh, about two years now I would say. I came out here from Texas to start up my own. My family were in the finance business; my daddy was a banker,” Lilly-Sue told them.

“So, you enjoy it?” Juanita wanted to know.

“Very much. To be able to help a lady the way I do is very rewarding for me.” At the child's puzzled look, Lilly-Sue explained, "I have the power to boost a girl's confidence; bring her dreams to life; chase away the blues and even help her bring romance into her life. That's a pretty amazing thing to do for anyone."

“You sure did real good with this little chica," Johnny fondly mussed his daughter's short curly hair. "I didn't think she'd be so agreeable to trying on the dresses as she was.”

“Is that so?" The woman also had a glint in her eye; a hint of temper that took Johnny by surprise.

"Maybe that's because you're like every other father out there? Fathers who seem to have very antiquated views on what girls should be. Clothes don't make a girl into a lady, Mr Lancer; it's how she behaves and the way she treats others - that's what counts, not whether she's wearing the required amount of petticoats beneath her skirt!”

“Hey, wait a minute” Johnny gently protested, raising his hands in surrender.

At that moment, the waitress brought their order. And not a moment too soon for Johnny. He was feeling as though they were ganging up on him - and he didn't like it one bit.

Juanita glanced at the two adults warily. There was no way she was getting into this conversation so she dug in to her food, hoping they wouldn't drag her into it, especially as she knew her papa wasn't looking too happy about the way things were going.

Johnny eyed his daughter as she munched quietly at her chicken. He was wondering exactly what she was going to say next. Juanita surprised him, however, and didn't add a word to what Lilly-Sue was saying... but that didn't stop the woman from venting her displeasure. She seemed suddenly very angry and Johnny guessed it had less to do with him than some feud with her own father.

“My pa was just like you, Johnny; he wanted me to stay home, find a nice man to marry and have a whole passel of babies so he could enjoy being a grandpa. But I had other plans; I wanted more, at least for a while, and so I left. I felt like he gave me no choice. We didn't talk after I'd gone. I tried; I wrote letters but they came back unopened. He was mad at me and he sure wasn't going to forgive me until I went home and apologized." Her eyes clouded over and  she concentrated hard on her glass of milk. "But you see, sad thing is... I found out last month that he died... at home, in his sleep. And now it's too late. What a waste; chances thrown away and gone for good. I'd... I'd take it all back, if I could. So I'd be very careful with this little one.” Lilly-Sue was gently letting Johnny know that a daughter was a precious gift for any man and too easy to lose if they didn't at least try to listen.

Juanita knew what she was saying but had made herself a promise to do what her papa wanted. However, behind his back, she would practice what she wanted to do and, when she was of age and if she still hadn't managed to change his mind, she would leave Lancer and make her own way in the world of cowboys. She wasn't happy about her plan to deceive him but she knew that it was the only way she could keep from being unhappy and please her papa at the same time. Right then, all she wanted was to spend time with him; she honestly felt no need of anyone else. Most of all, she wanted to learn from him. Juanita believed her papa knew everything there was to know about being a true cowboy so it was him, and only him, that she wanted to learn from. And, even though she knew he would be going back to work the next day, she was going to enjoy her time with him today so there would be no more dangerous chat about becoming a cowboy from her.

After lunch, Johnny and Juanita walked Lilly-Sue back over to the dress shop where the woman whispered into Johnny's ear, “Don't let her get away from you, Johnny. Don't be stubborn. Look in her eyes; she's ready to bolt!” Then, she stepped back to open her door and went inside.

Johnny was stunned at what she had said. He looked sharply over at Juanita to see if he could read her but all he saw was a little girl with a smile on her lips. But her eyes - they were dull; the shine and merriment was gone and this worried him. He decided he would have to talk to Murdoch about it that evening when the child was in bed. All this was hitting him hard and, in truth, he was feeling out of his depth. The constant nightmares and dealing with the distraught child had drained him. More than anything, he felt he could think more clearly if he could get some sleep. Waking up to a Juanita who didn't even seem to remember the nightly terrors scared Johnny more than he could say. He was going to have to ride over to Sam's and talk to him about when his friend would be arriving.

“Papa, are you coming?” Juanita was mounting her horse when she realized he wasn't behind her.

“Be right there, miel!” Johnny was jolted out of his thoughts and walked over to Barranca. As they headed out of town, he asked Juanita somewhat sternly about the conversation at lunch. Juanita played the innocent, knowing her papa wasn't at all happy with the way he had been berated by Lilly-Sue.

“I didn't know she was going to say anything, Papa, really I didn't,” Juanita told him.

“You better be telling me the truth, young lady,” Johnny said in a tone Juanita had come to know all too well. She knew better than to lie, especially after the last spanking she had received. She sure didn't know how strong her papa was until that one - nope, she wasn't ever going to lie to him again!

“I'm telling you the truth, Papa! Miss Lilly-Sue asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. We was talking when she was helping me in the dressing room and so I told her the truth about... well... you know. She guessed right off that you were making me wear the dresses and be a proper lady and I told her she was right, that's all. I didn't say nothing else, honest!” Juanita's voice was flat; without emotion.

Johnny's eyes narrowed; he had heard that tone before in his own voice.

“Well, let's get home and see if Scott needs any help with them horses we caught,” Johnny tried to brighten his little girl's mood. It brought a smile to her lips but her dark eyes remained closed to him. Johnny swore under his breath. She had been having a great time in town until that lunch and the subject of 'proper ladies' came up. Damn it!

“Papa, can we race back?” Juanita looked at him. In a split second, her mood had changed again; she was a puzzle! Now she challenged him with an evil grin on her face. Oh, was he in for one heck of a ride with this little one, he knew.

Laughing, he said, “Go!”

And off they went, shrill shrieks of laughter and whoops of excitement echoed all around them.

Halfway back to Lancer, they slowed down to a walk to cool off their mounts and to catch their breath. As they laughed, Juanita told Johnny how much fun it was. He agreed; they both had a good time together and it was what was needed. He would just have to be careful not to mention cattle or 'proper ladies'.

Riding into the Lancer yard, they saw Scott being flung off a bucking horse. Both Johnny and Juanita held their breath until he scrambled back up, brushing the dust off his pants. Both dismounted fast and ran over to make sure he was alright. A hand came up to Johnny to take Barranca and the horse Juanita had been riding.

Juanita ran over to retrieve her packages from her saddlebags then went into the house to her room, tossing them down on her bed. Suddenly unable to pretend any longer, she laid on her bed and cried stormily. She didn't care what her mama had told her about Madrids never crying; she was so unhappy and yet so very happy at the same time and she couldn't understand it at all. There wasn't anyone to talk to like she could with her mama and grandpapa. Here, everything was different; there were so  many things that were expected of you as a female and things only men or boys got to do. It was so unfair! Juanita didn't know what to do. Going to her papa wasn't any use, she knew what he expected of her, but Juanita wasn't sure she could pull it off. How she wished her mama was here right now. This only made it worse, thinking about her family that she missed and who had believed in her implicitly. The poor confused little girl cried herself to sleep, almost wishing she would never wake up again.

Johnny was enjoying breaking the horses with his brother, it was work he loved and the time flew by as they whooped and hollered at each other, being bucked off or managing to stay on longer each time. Before either of them knew it, it was time to wash up for dinner. With fifty horses and only twenty broken, both Scott and Johnny knew what tomorrow would hold for them unless Murdoch had other plans.

As they all sat down to dinner, one person was missing from her place. Everyone stared at Johnny, until Murdoch spoke up, “Son, where's Juanita?”

“Oh, I'll go get her!”

Johnny knocked on her door but got no answer so he turned the knob and peeked in. Juanita was sprawled across her bed, sleeping soundly. Johnny walked over to her and called her name. He got no response so he pushed gently on her shoulder. Still, she didn't respond. This wasn't normal for her; usually she jumped right up when he called her. Worried, he called louder and shook her until she woke up drowsily, not knowing where she was. This concerned Johnny and he looked at her. Her eyes were puffy and red so he knew she had been crying. So he asked if she had had a nightmare again.

“No Papa, I'm alright.” Juanita was coming to now and realized she was in her own room and it must be dinner time from the way the low sun dipped behind the distant trees. “I'll be right down, Papa, just let me get washed up.” She scooted off the bed and over to her wash bowl, picking up the water pitcher and pouring water into the bowl.

“Miel, you want me to wait?' Johnny asked her.

“No Papa, I'm ten years old. I can do it myself... thank you anyway,” Juanita added that last part, trying hard to sound how proper ladies talk.

“I'll see you downstairs then,” Johnny said as he left her room.

Juanita washed up and changed into one of the dresses, knowing that it would make her papa happy and would probably please her grandpa and tio as well. She took a deep breath and told herself, “You're a Madrid; you can do this!” and walked into the dining room. She took her place and apologized for over-sleeping and being late. From the looks on their faces, she had guessed right! This pleased them all, they showed genuine delight at the change in her. Murdoch was very happy to see Johnny was turning into a fine father for her. Scott, on the other hand, saw how Juanita wouldn't look up at them as she spoke, but rather played with her napkin on her lap until they all had filled their plates and were chatting easily.

Dinner went by quickly. The talk around the table was of the ranch and Juanita added to the conversation by telling them about buying the dresses and how nice Miss Lilly-Sue was.

“Miss Lilly Sue talked to me and not Papa after we said our hello's, just like I was important or something!”

After dinner, the men retired to the living room as Teresa and Juanita got up to clear the table and tidy the kitchen before joining them. Johnny and Juanita got into a game of chess. Scott was reading, Teresa was sewing and Murdoch was working on some contracts but all three stopped to watch them play.

Scott had learned how to play chess at a young age and neither he nor Murdoch had ever seen anyone play the game like these two. There were no strategies to their game. Chess was a game of strategies and deep thought on every move but neither Johnny nor Juanita took long to think.

After two games, Johnny told Juanita it was time for bed. She tried to talk him into one more game but he wasn't having it. So the girl rose obediently to her feet and wished everyone good night then hugged Johnny who smiled and told her he'd be right up to tuck her in.

Juanita got as far as the third step then suddenly turned around and dashed back into the room, right over to Murdoch. She threw her arms about his neck and kissed his cheek, whispering that she loved him. If Murdoch noticed that, despite her spontaneous hug, she still avoided looking in his eye, he said nothing. The child darted away again and up to her room. Meanwhile, everyone down in the great room was amazed at what had just happened. Johnny, his blue eyes shining, was the first to speak.

“Did I just see what I think I saw?”

“I saw it too... I think! “ Scott said.

Murdoch simply smiled at them.

“Murdoch, what did you do to my daughter?” Johnny asked him.

“I just let her come to me... and I made sure she knew I loved her, son,” was all Murdoch told him as he got up and called it a night.

Johnny put the chess game away then headed upstairs himself, knowing tomorrow was his first full working day since Juanita had arrived. Also, if he could fit it in, he needed to ride into town to see Sam.

Johnny went into Juanita's room and found her in bed waiting for him.

“Tomorrow I'll be going out to work, honey and you're to mind Murdoch and Teresa while I'm gone,” he told her.

“Si Papa, can I go riding with my friend, Bonita?” Juanita wanted her papa's permission.

“Sure, but you stay inside the boundaries I set for you, remember?” Johnny told her sternly as he tucked her in and gave her a kiss on her forehead.

“Si Papa, I will” Juanita told Johnny as he blew out her lamp and headed for the door.

The next morning, Juanita found only Maria in the kitchen when she came down to help with the breakfast. She was enjoying being with Maria, just the two of them, before Teresa joined them. Juanita wasn't responsible for Teresa's chores now that she was rested and able to do her own but she still enjoyed collecting the eggs and setting the table. After breakfast, Juanita helped clean the table and then went to do her outside tasks. Today, she wanted to get done early so that she could go riding all  afternoon.

“Hola Maria!” Juanita called as she gathered the basket and went out for the eggs.

By the time she came back, Murdoch, Johnny and Scott were slowly filing into the kitchen. Juanita enthusiastically kissed her papa good morning. Scott and Murdoch teased her about their kisses so she cheerily complied, affectionately pecking each on the cheek. Scott demanded two, since he hadn't received one the night before, but Juanita refused as Johnny told Scott that only special people got a goodnight kiss.

Breakfast over, Juanita already found herself lonely for her papa so Teresa stepped in and attempted to reassure her - before she knew it Johnny would be home and he would probably get so lonesome for her that he just might come checking on her before supper time. This made Juanita feel better and she fixed a smile on her little face and headed out to finish her chores.

Juanita met up with Bonita down by the big tree that they liked to climb. Juanita had worn her dress to make her papa happy so Bonita suggested that she shouldn't climb. Juanita just laughed at her, saying that it wouldn't be her fault if she messed up her pretty new clothes; it would be her papa's. Bonita wasn't too sure about that. She knew perfectly well how displeased her parents would be if she spoiled any new outfit by climbing trees and she was worried Señor Johnny would not approve. Her new friend could get into a lot of trouble; parents were funny about things like that. Juanita told her she was being silly and up she went, daring Bonita to follow.

They played there for a while, then decided to go riding. Juanita went in to let her grandpa know what they were going to do. She sneakily hid the rip in her dress, where she had caught it on a rough limb, telling Murdoch she would remember the boundaries her papa had set for her. Murdoch let her go, reminding her to be home by dinner time and making sure the two little girls took sandwiches with them to have a picnic.

Off the two of them went... right into trouble; something that Juanita knew she shouldn't do. Bonita, too, knew she would catch it if her father found out what they were up to but their papas weren't around; they thought it would be alright just this once.

There was a small group of heifers, wandering slowly with their babies, so the two girls cut out a small handful of calves from their mothers and drove them down the hill to a quiet place where they could be sure to keep them together.

Juanita and Bonita played at cowboys, rounding the calves up, roping them and practicing hog-tying them like Juanita had seen at the rodeo her grandpapa once took her to. They were having a great time, laughing and taking turns; having so much fun that neither one saw that they were soon going to be in deep trouble.

Sitting up on the hilltop, looking down on them, were not only their disgruntled fathers but Scott and two other hands.

Johnny was fit to be tied; his temper flared at what he saw. Scott tried to calm him down but, the more he watched them, the angrier he became. Señor Garcia was very upset and deeply ashamed that his daughter would so disgrace him in front the two young patrons. Meaning to catch his daughter and show her how displeased he was, he started down the hill at full pelt. Johnny was right behind him.

“Come on, boys, let's get those calves back to their mamas!” Scott told the men. He knew his brother was going to be occupied for a while and that his niece and her friend wouldn't be able to sit after their fathers had done.

Juanita had just jumped off her moving horse to catch a calf, fighting it over on its side to tie the legs together. Once she was done, she placed her foot on it and stood up triumphantly. She beamed from ear to ear but then her eyes grew wide and the smile slipped.

Bonita didn't notice or hear the approaching horses. She yelled at Juanita that she was fast and how amazing she was. However, the words of congratulation died on her lips when she saw her friend's face.

Juanita dashed to untie the calf but her papa was faster. He held her firmly by the upper arm, and ground out, “Qué crees que estás haciendo?” (What do you think you're doing).

Juanita was too shaken up to try to answer him.

“I asked you a question, chica!” Johnny had a firm grip on her arm and was unintentionally hurting her.

“Papa, I meant no harm!” Juanita had never seen this kind of anger in him before and there was more - his eyes were icy blue and there was a hint of fear. It scared her. She looked for her tio but he was deliberately hanging back, not paying attention to them.

Johnny released her long enough to take his belt off. Juanita trembled inside, knowing she had overstepped the mark and her papa meant business. She darted a glance over at Bonita who was pinned to her father's side and was looking just as frightened. Both little girls knew they were in very hot water.

“Papa, lo siento!” Juanita squeaked as Johnny doubled the leather strap in his hand.

“You're gonna be! I told you before, no daughter of mine will be out tangling with no cows!” Johnny dragged her over to a nearby rock and, sitting down, put her over his lap and, scuffing her skirts up so all that protected her was her thin cotton drawers, spanked her hard enough to get his message through.

Juanita cried out with each whack, asking for her papa to stop; it hurt, she wouldn't do it again. But Johnny wasn't taking any chances for he knew there would be a next time if he didn't lay down the law now. He wasn't afraid to make an impression with his belt this time. His daughter had to be taught obedience and he knew darn well his step-father had whomped him plenty whenever he had needed it and to teach him some manners. Little Juanita sorely needed it right now and Johnny was done  being tested.

After Johnny was done, he let Juanita up and, putting his belt back on, walked over to Scott and told him he was taking Juanita home. Scott nodded then looked over at his niece. She was all dirty, her dress ripped in at least three places and tears streaming down her cheeks. Scott knew Johnny had things under control so he waved the men on and they left.

Señor Garcia apologized to Johnny over and over again, feeling his daughter had disgraced him. Johnny told him not to worry; he was sure his daughter had been the ring leader.

“Just take Bonita home,” Johnny told him then walked over to Jackson, Juanita's horse, and took up the reins. Walking over to Barranca, he curtly told Juanita to come to him. She moved slowly over to her papa, not knowing what he was going to do. She was still crying and sniffling . Johnny picked her up and plunked her on Barranca, not too gently - he made sure she felt it. Then he climbed up behind her and they headed back to the house.

On the way, Juanita wondered if she ought to talk to her papa but Johnny wasn't saying anything so they rode along in silence. As for Johnny - he was going to make sure Juanita knew who was in charge and when he told her 'no', it meant just that.

Johnny didn't take it easy going home; Barranca loped steadily and he heard the little girl gasp repeatedly when her sore rear end bumped against the saddle. He didn't enjoy punishing his daughter like this but he saw no other way to get through to her. Aside from the fact that she had disobeyed him, she needed to learn that cows were big, dumb, potentially dangerous animals and working with them was no job for a ten year old girl.

When they rode up to the main door, Murdoch came out, looking confused at the obviously unhappy pair.

“Johnny, what's going on here?” Murdoch asked him.

“Well Murdoch, it seems my daughter thought her old man was joking around with her. That or she has bad habit of ignoring me!” Johnny ground out as he jumped down and lifted Juanita to the ground. She moved immediately to go into the house but Johnny stopped her with a word. “Hey! Where you think you're going, young lady?” He didn't even look at her as he said it.

“Up to my room to change, Papa,” Juanita gulped as she took a few stumbling steps, backing away from him.

“I see you have a handle on this, John so I'll leave you to it,” Murdoch said as he passed Johnny and headed toward the smithy.

“Papa, I am sorry,” Juanita mumbled again.

“Sure you're sorry, chica, for being caught, not for what you were doing. Do you know what kinda stress you put on them cows and the calves, parting them from their mothers like you did?” Johnny asked her as he took hold of her hand, heading toward the bath house.

“I'll have Teresa bring you some clean clothes then, after you're done here, you are to go up to your room for the rest of the day. And don't think I didn't notice them rips in your new dress! We're going to talk about that later too!” Johnny let her know as he took the tub down and made sure there was plenty of hot water for her. After he had it all done, he ordered Juanita to undress and get in while he left to talk to Teresa.

Johnny let Teresa know that Juanita was to stay in her room for the rest of the day and that he would be back in time for dinner. Teresa went up and collected some clean clothes for Juanita and took them out to the bathhouse. But, when the older girl saw Juanita's backside, she was taken aback for there were a couple of vivid welts striped across it.

“Did Johnny do that to you?” Teresa asked the subdued little girl as she got out of the tub to dry off.

“Si, Papa done whupped me good,” Juanita hung her head.

“With what?” Teresa frowned. “A rope?” She was upset and, knowing Johnny as she did, could hardly believe that he had been so harsh with a little girl.

“It's alright, Miss Teresa. Papa whupped me with his belt. It hurts some but I'm alright,” Juanita said quietly as she tried to pull her pants on over her red bottom.

She wasn't fooling Teresa; she could see the pain on her face and she made up her mind she was going to have a few words with Johnny about using his belt on her. A spanking was one thing but, to Teresa, he had gone too far.

Juanita finished dressing and started to clean up the bathhouse. Teresa stopped her at once and told her she would clean up herself but Juanita refused, explaining that it was her chore and, though she was thankful, it was best that she did it. Teresa nodded and understood, going back into the house to start dinner.

Juanita went straight to her room and put on one of her nightshirts as the pants were chafing her too much. She lay down on her bed with the tail of her nightshirt up over her sore bottom to expose it to the air. As soft as the cotton was, even that hurt too much against her welted skin.

Then she cried herself to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 22

Johnny went back to work, leaving Juanita with Murdoch and Teresa. He caught up with Scott and the other men, still pulling cattle out of the gully. Thankfully, they were almost done then they would start work on fixing the fence. Scott strolled over to Johnny as he was getting off Barranca. “You alright, brother? You want to talk?”

“Yeah, Scott I'm alright. All I want to do is get this fence mended. Then I have to take a ride into town,” Johnny told him as he put his gloves on. Walking past Scott, he yelled out to Henry to help Joe drag out the steer he was tangling with. Johnny just wanted to get these stupid cows where they belonged then get the fence done. He figured he'd leave the rest up to Scott and go talk to Sam. More than anything, he needed to see when his doctor friend would be in town.

Scott went back to work, keeping an eye on Johnny. He could read his brother pretty well and knew he was feeling bad about what happened. If he gave him time, Johnny would want to talk about it. He would be ready to listen when that time came.

Scott helped Henry and Frank get one of the last three steers out and, just as they got it up on the bank, Johnny came up to give them a hand.

Seeing they were on the last of the cows, Johnny took Pete over to the equipment in the wagon to get started on the fence. As they worked, Johnny kept thinking about what he wanted to ask Sam. Then his thoughts drifted to Juanita and how she looked so much like his mother yet she didn't act like her; she was so much like him. When he was young and really wanted something, nothing held him back from getting his way. Juanita was no different from that little boy he had been back then.  Johnny knew, if he didn't do something about Juanita, he just might lose her as his mother lost him when he took off to catch a wild horse he had seen once when he was out playing. Johnny was so deep in thought, he didn't realize Scott was talking to him.

“Johnny, watch out!” Scott yelled as a fence post started coming down towards him.

Johnny looked up just in time and neatly dodged to one side. “Thanks brother, almost didn't see it.”

“Johnny, you seem to be a mile away,” Scott said as he walked over with his canteen, taking a drink then offering some to his younger brother.

“Scott, can you handle the rest? I need to take a trip to town.”

“Sure, going to talk to Sam?”

“Yeah. Thanks... I owe you one.” Johnny headed over to Barranca, untying his bandana then lifting his canteen off the saddle horn. Johnny screwed off the lid then poured the water over the bandana, getting it nice and wet. He capped up the canteen and replaced it on the saddle horn, took the cloth and wiped the sweat off his neck then washed his face. After he was done washing up, he poured some of the water over his head, cooling himself off. Mounting Barranca, he called out to Scott to say he would see him at dinner then he headed to Green River.

Johnny rode down the middle of the street and, as a few of the town folks called out to him, he returned their greetings with a smile or a brief touch to the brim of his hat. He spotted Sam walking across the street from the livery stables, on his way back to his office after making his rounds. He saw Johnny in front of his office and called out to him.

“Johnny, hold up!”

“Sam, you're just the man I'm looking for.” Johnny went to meet him. As they walked, Johnny let Sam know what had been going on with his little girl. Sam got out his keys and opened up the office. He always kept it locked as he had powerful drugs inside and he didn't want anyone to interfere with his vital medicines.

“Well, it seems Juanita's nightmares are becoming serious if she isn't remembering them afterwards. I don't mind telling you that I'm worried about it. Johnny, you want me to ride out and check on her?” Sam talked as he started a pot of coffee.

“I wondered just when is your friend coming... if he is?” Johnny asked.

“He'll be here at the end of the week - Saturday,” Sam told him. “So, if you want me to talk to Juanita until then, seeing you have five more days 'til he arrives, I'll be happy to. I find her very interesting, very interesting indeed.” Sam smiled at Johnny and gestured for him to sit down.

“You know Sam, it's like a whirlwind at night with her nightmares yet, in the morning, she don't remember a thing,” Johnny told him.

“What kind of mood does she wake up in? Gloomy, sleepy...?”

“I know what you're asking, Sam, but Juanita comes down in a cheerful mood like she had a full night's sleep. And all she really got is a couple of hours!” Johnny frowned, the anxiety written clearly on his face.

“I think you look like you need a few more hours yourself, Johnny. How's it affecting your work?” Sam was very concerned about the way Johnny was looking - tired and drawn.

“I'm holding on, Sam. It's Juanita I'm worried about. Scott heard from an old professor of his about Juanita's schooling and I'd like to get her in school as soon as it starts again. I thought maybe keeping her mind busy during the day might help to keep her asleep at night. Though I wanted to focus on getting her through this first.” Johnny took a sip of coffee as Sam got up to get some more for himself.

“I got to get going, Sam. Will you stop by tomorrow and talk to Juanita?” Johnny rose hopefully from his chair and grabbed his hat.

“I'll stop by after my rounds," the kindly doctor reassured the young man. "It was good to see you. You try to get some rest, y'hear?” Sam followed him to the door. “Say howdy to the family,” Sam added as Johnny stepped down to untie Barranca. Sam watched him mount up and waved as he headed down the street.

Before Johnny headed home, he went over to see if there was any mail for Lancer.

“Hi Buddy, any mail for us?” Johnny asked the man at the window of the telegraph office.

“Sure Johnny, there's a letter for little Juanita here too!” Buddy informed him.

“Thanks, I'll see ya' later!” Johnny took the mail then headed over for a quick beer before he left town.

He checked the envelope, looking for a return address to see just who was writing his daughter. There was none; just the name of a small town in Mexico. He tucked the envelope in his shirt to give to Juanita later. Once he was finished with his beer, Johnny got up and, tossing a coin at the bar keeper, headed home.

As Johnny rode home, he thought of all that had happened; of what he was going to say to Juanita about her actions. Johnny didn't even know now how he felt about it all. Sure, he had been unhappy with his daughter's disobedience and had played the angry papa, dishing out some very necessary discipline. But how should he act going forwards? He felt, more than anything, that he needed to ask Murdoch his opinion on everything.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Meanwhile at Lancer, Teresa was still upset with Johnny and, having told Murdoch all about the welts she had seen on Juanita's behind, pushed him to speak with Johnny about how hard he had whupped the girl. Murdoch tried to explain to Teresa that Johnny had it under control and he was not about to tell him how to discipline his own child. Therein lay disaster and Murdoch wisely realised this. The easiest way to rile his son would be to presume to act the perfect father with him and Murdoch was not about to make that mistake.

“Teresa, calm down. Juanita is not the first child to be spanked with a belt by an angry father and I can tell you she won't be the last! Now, I know you care about her; we all do. But Johnny's doing a great job with her so far. I want you to put this behind you and let Johnny alone. You must allow him to raise his daughter the way he sees fit.”

Murdoch had listened to enough of this. The young woman had been going on and on about how Johnny had spanked Juanita with his belt and Murdoch was so fed up with it, he was on the verge of promising Teresa a spanking too if she said anymore. This brought a smile to his face. Boy, would his granddaughter love to see that!

Juanita woke up and realized she was in her nightgown. She went to move off the bed but yelped at how much her bottom hurt. She remembered why and moved carefully and slowly over to the window.

Juanita saw Scott, walking over to two of the hands who were arguing over something but she couldn't make out what they were saying. Scott caught up with them, telling them that they were to settle it peacefully. No-one was harmed and the work was done. Both men apologized to each other then to Scott who just let them go with a nod of the head. As he started over to the water pump to wash up, Teresa came out.

“Where's Johnny?” she asked with her hands on her hips, a towel dangling from one hand.

“He went into town."

“Did you hear what he did to Juanita? He used a belt and left welts on her!” Teresa was still steaming.

Scott eased his aching back and avoided her eye as he chose his words carefully. He didn't want to get into an argument with Teresa but he felt Johnny had done the right thing. Moreover, he was Juanita's father and did not have to discuss the way he chose to discipline his child with anyone - Teresa included.

“Listen honey, it's not as bad as all that. Juanita knew what she was doing when she chose to ignore Johnny and disobey him. He did the right thing as far as I'm concerned; I would've given her more!” Scott continued walking towards the door.

“You can't be serious, Scott Lancer!” Teresa couldn't believe her big brother.

“Teresa, I think you should drop it. It's Johnny's business and the last thing he needs right now is you all over him about this.” Scott opened the door and walked in, immediately looking for his father.

“Hi!” Scott called out to Murdoch who was going over the books.

“Son, did you and Johnny get all the cattle out of the gully and the fence repaired?” Murdoch smiled but he was all business as usual.

“Yes, Johnny will be here for dinner,” Scott told him.

“He isn't with you?” Murdoch asked with a worried look.

“He went into town to talk to Sam.” This was all the information Scott was willing to offer; the rest was up to Johnny he felt.

Teresa gave each man a dirty look then went on into the kitchen to finish dinner.

"Teresa sure is up in arms about Johnny punishing Juanita,” Scott told Murdoch.

“I know. I hope she leaves Johnny alone; he's got enough on his plate right now,” Murdoch frowned and reached for the coffee pot to refresh his cup.

"She isn't happy with him, that's for sure. But, right now, I can't think on it any more. All I know is I have time for a good hot bath before Johnny gets here!” Scott started towards the hall that led to the stairs.

Murdoch smiled. He knew full well that his older son was trying to get into the bathhouse before Johnny. Ever the mischief-maker, Johnny liked to use up all the hot water so that Scott had to be satisfied with a lukewarm tub. It was their own little game. Murdoch felt rich to have both his sons home and now one of them had given him a beautiful granddaughter. As Murdoch sat there, thinking of all his good fortune, Johnny came barging through the door.

“Hey Murdoch, Scott home yet?” Johnny called out as he made his way over to the desk, depositing the mail then crossing to pour himself a drink.

“Did I hear my name?” Scott came down into the great room with his clean clothes tucked under one arm, making sure Johnny saw he was going to the bathhouse.

"I guess you beat me this time, brother,” Johnny sang out.

Scott grinned then his expression became more serious. "Johnny, I think you should watch out for Teresa. It seems she isn't too pleased with the way you handled Juanita,” Scott told him as he made his way across the great room over to the French doors. He turned and winked at Johnny then walked out.

“Son, did you see Sam? What did he have to say?” Murdoch was very worried over Johnny being up every night with his granddaughter.

"Yeah, his friend will be out this coming Saturday. Sam is going to stop by tomorrow to have a talk with Juanita,” Johnny told his father as he pensively took a sip of his drink.

While Johnny and Murdoch talked downstairs, Juanita was sneaking out her bedroom door and down the hall to Teresa's prize-winning aloe plant. She knew the inside of the leaf was capable of easing the sting of welts and sores so she broke off three large leaves then went back into her room.

Taking out her pocket knife, Juanita sliced open each leaf and scraped out the gloop onto her bandana. She did this until she had every bit of it then she took her nightgown off so that she wouldn't get any stains on it. Taking the bandana in her right hand, she clambered up onto her chair which she had positioned by her mirror. Then, turning as much as she could to see in the mirror, she gently placed the bandana on her bottom and let the aloe soak into her reddened skin. She closed  ;her eyes as the heat seemed to rise out of her skin and, gradually, it felt better. Juanita then threw the bandana into the laundry basket and turned, gripping the back of the chair, to get down. Naked, she laid on her stomach on the bed to watch the distant sun going down.

Juanita knew it was almost time for dinner and she was starving. She hadn't eaten any of the sandwiches they took with them. She wondered if her papa was going to come up to see her or if she was going to be able to have any dinner that night. She had been sent to bed a few times before, while living with her mama, but she had never been punished this way and she didn't know what to expect. This worried her some.

When the aloe had almost dried, Juanita got back up and quickly put her nightgown on. She didn't want anyone to come in and find out what she had been doing. She was fairly sure she wasn't going anywhere the way her papa had talked to her; she was to stay in her room for the rest of the day. She bit her lip and worried about her friend. She wondered if Bonita had been whupped too. Her papa had also been very angry and she hoped the girl wouldn't blame her for getting them both into trouble. She would have to apologize to Bonita the next time she was allowed to play with her... if there was a next time.

Down in the great room, Murdoch and Johnny were talking about the harm Juanita could have done; not only to herself, but to the cows.

"Murdoch, I don't know what I'm going to do if she keeps this cowboy thing up,” Johnny poured another drink and sat down on the couch.

Murdoch rose from his desk and got himself a drink of his fine Scottish Whiskey. “Y'know Johnny, there are lots of little things around a ranch that you could have Juanita do so that she feels she is a part of the ranch.”

“Murdoch, she's a girl! It's dangerous out there. I can't let her out with the hands either; she might pick up something she shouldn't - bad habits an' cussing. What's wrong with her sewing and doing girls' work? Teresa doesn't mind,” Johnny pointed out.

“First of all son, your daughter isn't Teresa! Second, didn't you tell me Juanita's grandfather, and mother raised her to work as a cowhand? Think Johnny, your daughter isn't just any girl; she's yours and, if she wants something badly enough, I don't see anything, including you, getting in her way. Unless you intend to blister her every time she goes against your wishes and I wouldn't recommend it; Teresa will be all over you!” Murdoch chuckled. “Listen Johnny, I know how you feel; I wouldn't want Teresa out there with the vaqueros either, but what if you were with Juanita and you could give her little jobs that won't put her in harm's way? That way, you'd have more control over her, could make sure she was safe?” Murdoch was trying to make Johnny see that he had the power to oversee everything while granting the little girl a part of her dream.

“Murdoch, I don't know.” Johnny stared into his glass as he thought about what Murdoch was suggesting. He knew he would feel better knowing what she was up to than he would if he had to be called home because she got into more trouble and had been hurt.

“I'll give it some thought,” Johnny told Murdoch. “Right now, I'm going to wash up for dinner and ask Maria to send a plate up to my little troublemaker!” Johnny placed his glass on the sideboard then started for the kitchen.

“Aren't you going up to see her?” Murdoch was surprised that Johnny would not be talking to her.

“Nope, let her think on what she's done. Maybe if I give her some alone time, she'll understand just how much she's done wrong.” Johnny smiled and left to go to the kitchen.

“Hola Maria, mi amor!” Johnny called out.

“Hola Juanito,” Maria answered Johnny as she stirred the soup that was to be served at dinner.

“Johnny Lancer! How could you abuse that poor little girl?” Teresa marched in from the garden with a handful of freshly cut herbs for dinner. She flung them on the counter and walked over to Johnny with her hands on her hips, demanding an answer from her brother.

“Now listen Teresa, Juanita is my daughter and, when she does wrong, I'll punish her as I see fit. That's all I'm going to say about it!” Johnny walked over, selected a stick of celery and took a bite. "Maria, would you mind taking a tray up to Juanita for me?”

“Si Juanito.” Maria slapped his hand as he tried to reach for a cookie.

Johnny walked up the backstairs to get cleaned up for dinner. He paused across from Juanita's room, the urge to go check on her was strong but he wasn't going to give in to it. He wanted to put some space between them for a while. Maybe, withholding the one thing she seemed to crave - him - would be the most effective punishment of all.

Juanita heard her papa stop at her door. She held her breath, wondering if he was going to come in or not. Then she heard him go on to his room. She felt so bad that her papa wouldn't even come in to see her. She really had messed up this time and it looked like her papa hadn't forgiven her yet. Juanita stood at her window, looking out over Lancer, her favorite view. She would accept her punishment just like a Madrid and show her papa that she respected him. Juanita was raised to believe that she could do whatever she wanted. But here, her papa called the tune. It was just new for her to have someone disagree with her, especially her papa. She had not imagined that he would be so opposed to her wishes and it was tough for the headstrong little girl to accept. She was going to give it her all and do her very best to obey for seeing her papa that angry had really scared her.

Johnny finished getting ready for dinner and went the opposite way down the front steps to the great room. As he entered, Murdoch and Scott were discussing the day's work. Johnny joined in, letting Murdoch know just how many cows didn't make it out from the gully. Scott asked Johnny if Teresa had caught up with him yet.

“Yes Scott, she did,” Johnny told them as he sat next to his brother on the couch.

“I told her to leave you be!” Murdoch was angry that Teresa had gone against his wishes. The girl may think she was grown but, if she continued to ignore him, she was in for a short sharp shock.

“It's alright, Murdoch. She's only worried about Juanita. I let her know that she's my kid though and I'll handle her the way I think is right.”

At that moment, Teresa walked into the room to set the table. Smiling, Johnny got up to help her, standing in for his absent daughter.

“You don't have to do that Johnny,” Teresa told him.

“It's alright, honey. I like to help out now and then,” he replied with a smile that reached his eyes.

Teresa gave Johnny a small smile in return.

Before bringing the food out to the table, Maria made a tray and took it up to Juanita. She knocked on the door and Juanita called out to come in. Maria entered, laying the tray on the dresser. Then she turned and looked gravely at the little girl who lay across the bed in her white nightgown. Maria did not mince her words; she let Juanita know she had upset her papa and should be ashamed of herself. She had been punished and had deserved it.

“Now you eat up, niña, and start behaving yourself so your papa can be proud of you. Don't you go disobeying your papa no more!” Maria took the child's laundry and she made her way back to the kitchen.

Juanita walked over to the dresser then tried to sit down to eat but jumped right back up with a squeak. The aloe had helped but her bottom was still paining her something awful. Juanita settled for eating standing up; she was so hungry she really didn't care. After she was done eating, she placed her tray outside her door then went over to her shelf where the books she had collected since being at Lancer were stacked. Her papa had picked up another one only the other day when he was in town. Juanita hung her head. He was very good to her and she had been nothing but trouble to him. Sighing, she walked over to her bed and laid down, opening the book and starting to read.

Downstairs, the men had retired to the great room while Teresa and Maria cleared the table, leaving them to talk about the next day and all the work that needed to be done. Johnny wanted to stay close by the house in case Sam wanted to speak to him too so he would be taking a few men with him to finish working with the wild horses, while Scott took a crew up on the west side mesa to check and fix any of the fences there. They would also check for missing cows. As the hour got late, Scott said goodnight and retired to his room to read his new book. Johnny went out to the barn to make sure Barranca was settled for the night. Murdoch and Teresa headed off to bed.

Murdoch stopped in front of Juanita's room, slowly opening the door to check on his granddaughter and finding her laying across her bed. He quietly went over and closed her book, making sure her marker was tucked in, keeping her place. Then he gently lifted her and placed her covers over her. Smiling softly, Murdoch then planted a kiss on her forehead. As he went to blow out the light, he looked up to see Johnny in the doorway.

“Mind if I do that, Murdoch?” Johnny entered the room and crept over to the side of the bed and, trading places with his father, gave his daughter a kiss then blew out the light. Then both he and Murdoch left her room, Johnny pausing and looking back once more at his sleeping little girl. He didn't close her door completely; he left it ajar as he always did. He bade goodnight to Murdoch and headed off to his room.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As the night went on, everyone in the Lancer household slept peacefully, except one little girl who tossed and turned in the throes of a terrible nightmare. As she tossed her head, she moaned, “No!”

The more she struggled, the louder she became. Something in her nightmare made her sit up suddenly and scream. This brought the whole family running. What Johnny saw as he entered the room was Juanita staring wildly around her, as she stood trembling on her bed. He reached over to her and tried to draw her into his arms but Juanita reacted with a kick to his face. Johnny was able to see it coming and ducked as he grabbed her. Juanita was cussing at him in Spanish as she thumped and kicked at him. Johnny kept talking to her quietly, soothingly, and smoothing her hair down as he tried in vain to get her to settle. Feeling helpless, Murdoch and Scott watched Johnny try to calm her down.

Scott softly called out from the door, “Should I get Sam, Johnny?” It was all he could think to do.

“No Scott, I'll get her settled; no need to get Sam all the way out here in the middle of the night,”

Johnny told him, just as Juanita hooked her fingers and ran them down Johnny's face as hard as she could. Johnny cried out in pain and instantly let go of her. This gave Juanita the chance to scoot under her bed to hide from the bandito she saw in Johnny. Both Murdoch and Scott went to Johnny's aid while Teresa tried to coax Juanita out from under the bed.

“I'm alright! Where's Juanita?” Johnny pushed Murdoch and Scott away from him, looking around for the child. Teresa called out to him that she had Juanita but no-one could see them. Johnny lurched to the bed and sank to his knees to look under it. He smiled thankfully as he saw Juanita was safely in Teresa's arms.

“Miel, can you come to Papa now?” Johnny asked quietly. Juanita was awake, looking at him in shock as though she wasn't too sure of him. Teresa eased Juanita out of her arms and into Johnny's so he could pull her out from under the bed. Juanita wasn't too sure but the more Teresa told her it was alright; he was her papa, the more she inched forward until Johnny had her. Juanita's room was a mess. And, when Johnny stood with her in his arms, she quietly asked what had happened. He told  her she had had another nightmare and was looking for someone, tearing the room apart. At this, Juanita started crying, saying she remembered now.

“Si Papa, I was looking for my amiga's body! All I could find was her head!” the little girl sobbed.

Scott assisted Teresa to her feet. As they started making their way out of the room, Johnny looked at Teresa, mouthing the words, “Thank You” to her. Murdoch told him he would be awake if he needed him. Johnny nodded then asked Juanita, whose head was lying on his chest as she cried, if she wanted to tell him about her nightmare.

“Si Papa, but it was so terrible, I don't think I can!” Juanita looked up to him.

“Well, how about we start by just talking... about anything you want and see where it leads?”

“Alright but, Papa, can I go lay on my bed? My bottom still smarts,” Juanita looked at Johnny with a grimace, letting him know she wasn't comfortable on his lap. Johnny let her up to go lie on her bed and he sat next to her.

“Papa, have you ever seen a lot of blood before?”

“Yes I have. Why? Is that what you saw?”

“Si Papa, all over me. I looked around the shack and it was on the walls, floor, all the furniture. I couldn't get away from it. I walked outside to go to the river to wash and I fell over someone's body. It had no arms or legs so I looked up and saw so many people lying on the street. Some were grouped together, some were spread around. Papa, there were body parts of some of the children... all over. Why, Papa? Why would they do that to the children?” Juanita looked up at Johnny as if he knew the answer.

“I wish you didn't have to see the evil of this world, miel. There are some wicked men out there and all I can do is try to protect you from them.” Johnny was at a loss; unsure what to say to her. He just wished Sam's friend could be here sooner.

“Papa, I walked all over the bodies and looked into every shack that was left standing. Most were burning. I didn't know what to do. I was the only one alive so I just kept walking 'til I found some water and... just sat down there.” Juanita started crying again, utterly grief-stricken, so Johnny pulled her to him, telling her it was all done; she was safe now.

As Juanita cried, she let Johnny know who found her. “A farmer from the next village found me. He knew who I was and took me to my grandpapa's brother. He took me in until his wife told him to send me away. She said she couldn't handle me. I just stared; I didn't talk then, Papa - I could only stare.” Juanita broke down again as she laid her head on his chest.

“Can you tell me how you got to the mission?” Johnny looked down at her, torn apart by her sobbing and the dreadful story which was unfolding.

“Si, it was my uncle who took me. Even though his wife didn't want him to and told him to just send me on my way, he would not let me go alone. Papa, every time I close my eyes, I see the blood. I just can't get all of it off me or off the bodies of my friends and my family!”

Johnny soothed her, crooning that it was alright; nothing would hurt her anymore, he wouldn't let it... that the blood was gone now. This didn't help Juanita. She cried and cried, inconsolable. This was not like the other nights; somehow, this was different. Johnny was lost; unable to decide what to do so he just did what his instincts told him. He let her cry herself to sleep in his arms.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Meanwhile, the rest of the family went down to the kitchen to talk about how they could be of help. This was getting to be a nightly battle for both Johnny and Juanita, and it could not go on like this. Scott pointed out that it was the first time Juanita had let someone else go to her by letting Teresa under the bed with her. It had been Teresa who was able to get her out from under it, to Johnny's arms.

“That is a beginning at least,” Murdoch sighed.

“Yes, but I feel so helpless for Johnny. It's taking a toll on him,” Scott said quietly. “I'm afraid he's going to get hurt more than he did tonight, the way she fights him while she's in her nightmare.”

“I'm sure Johnny will let us know if he needs us.” It was the only thing Murdoch could come up with.

“That's okay, Murdoch, but, the way I see it, only Scott or I can help until Juanita stops seeing you as the leader of the bandits,” Teresa was afraid to remind them.

“Yes, you're right, darling. I haven't forgotten how Juanita sees me in her dreams; that's why I stay back,” Murdoch told her as she sat down on the chair after fetching them all some coffee.

“It's seems quiet up there. Do you think they are talking?” Scott looked up to the ceiling as he spoke.

“Either that or they fell asleep,” Teresa added.

“Well, I think we'd better all get back to bed. The morning comes early around here.” Murdoch rose to go back up to bed.

“I'm right behind you, sir!” Scott stood and picked up the cups to take them through to the sink.

“Oh, leave them, Scott. I'll get them,” Teresa told him.

“No need, I'm heading that way.” Scott placed the cups in the sink then headed up the back stairs.

Before either man finally went to bed, they looked in on Johnny and Juanita. They found them asleep. Murdoch went in and made sure they were both covered up then blew out the lamp. He headed to his room, leaving the door ajar.

“I think they'll sleep 'til the morning. Seeing there's nothing we can do, I'm going to bed.” Murdoch patted Scott on the back as he passed him.

“I guess you're right, sir. I just wish they didn't have to go through this every night,” Scott said as he turned the knob on his door and went in.

The next morning, everyone slept late. When she entered the kitchen and discovered the family still abed, Maria knew that Juanita had another nightmare... and it must have been a bad one to disturb the entire household. Maria worried about her and her boy, Juanito. He was a good papa to her but she had noticed how tired he looked lately. As Maria prepared the pancake mix for breakfast, she heard tiny feet behind her and knew it was Juanita. Without turning, Maria wished her a good morning in Spanish.

“Morning Maria, may I help?” Juanita asked as she gave Maria a hug. This surprised the good lady for Juanita had never embraced her before.

“Si, after you go get the eggs, you can get the slab of pork. I will teach you how to cut it for bacon!” Maria was still speaking when Juanita seized the basket and ran to get the eggs.

The next to come down was Murdoch. He stopped to check on Johnny and Juanita on his way to the stairs and, when he found his granddaughter gone, went looking for her.

“Morning, Maria. Have you seen Juanita this morning?” Murdoch asked as he took a cup from the tray Maria had set up by the coffee pot.

“Si, she is collecting the eggs,” Maria said and, at that very moment, Juanita walked in swinging the eggs gently.

Hearing what her grandpa asked Maria, Juanita came in the door, singing, “Here I am Grandpa!” Her face lit up with the biggest smile for him and, more importantly, she looked him right in the eye.

Both Murdoch and Maria saw it and Murdoch couldn't prevent the grin from spreading on his face.

Juanita put the eggs on the counter and ran to give her grandpa a big hug. Scott, Johnny and Teresa, who were just coming through the door, witnessed this with amazement. Johnny didn't know what had happened, only that it was a huge breakthrough for the two. It made his heart glad.

“Well, I'd never believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes! How about you two?" Johnny asked

Scott and Teresa as he poured the coffee for all three of them. Making their way to the table, Juanita waited until her papa put his coffee cup down then gave him a big hug and told him thank you.

“What you thanking me for?” Johnny smiled at her. He saw her answering smile but her eyes were very tired too. He would make sure she took a nap that afternoon.

“Just for being my papa and loving me,” Juanita told him. Then she danced around the table as she went to dish out hugs to everyone.

“Why, thank you, ma'am!” Johnny laughed as Juanita went to get the pork.

“Here, let me help you.” Teresa went to take the pork from her.

“I can do it, Miss Teresa. Maria is going to teach me how to cut it.”

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Breakfast went smoothly that morning. The talk was of the ranch and of Sam's impending visit. Johnny reminded Juanita that he wanted her to stay around the house because Sam was going to want to talk to her.

Later, Johnny was over at the corral, watching Brett riding one of the unbroken horses but his mind was on Juanita. Looking around, he had seen that the hen house was clean so he figured she was in the barn and went to check on her. He found her cleaning the stalls. When he came in, Juanita asked him where Jackson was for he wasn't in his stall. Johnny told her he was in the pasture with the other horses and that was where he would be all that day. His face was serious when he explained that she was forbidden to ride for a week, even with him.

This fanned her temper for, as far as she was concerned, she had paid the price for her misdeeds.

“That's not fair and you know it, Papa! I did my punishment!” Juanita's eyes had a deep dark fire in them and she scowled fiercely. Johnny wasn't happy to see his little daughter losing her temper with him.

“That'll be enough, chica. I'm telling you, you're not to ride this week and I mean it. Now, cool down and finish here. You can just get that look off your face; I told you before never to look at me like that!”

Juanita was attempting to try her 'Madrid stare' on him and Johnny didn't like it one bit. He wasn't going to stand for her disrespect and, by the stern look in his blue eyes, Juanita knew it. It didn't mean she had to like it though. She felt he was being unfair and it made her irritable and cross enough to be reckless.

“You hear me?” Johnny pressed, his voice soft but firm.

“Si, I heard you, loud and clear! In fact, I think the whole ranch did!” Juanita started sweeping the floor of the stall, turning her back petulantly on her father. Johnny put his hands on her shoulders then turned her to face him.

“You want try that again, young lady, and, this time, try some respect for your papa?” Johnny wasn't going to let go of her until she apologized properly to him.

“Si, Papa, lo siento. Pero me haces así...” Juanita started to say. (He made her so..)

Johnny stopped her before she said too much. This wasn't going to be an easy day, he had guessed as much when he saw Juanita up so early after such an interrupted night.

“After you are done here, I want you to go take a nap before Sam arrives. I don't want you in a disagreeable mood this afternoon, do you understand?” Johnny looked her in the eye and reminded her who was the boss.

“Si, Papa,” Juanita agreed as she turned to finish sweeping the stall.

“And don't take it out on the innocent broom!” Johnny laughed as he walked back out to the corral.

Once Juanita was done, she looked over to see her papa on a wild horse this time and rushed over to watch . In all the excitement, she totally forgot about her nap. When Johnny was bucked off the horse, Juanita ran over to him without fear of the wild horse in there with them. When she reached Johnny, she cried, “Oh Papa, are you alright?” She tried to help him up. Johnny looked down at her as he stood and brushed the dust off his pants, disapproval on his face.

“What do you think you're doing in here?” Johnny held her gently on her arm and walked over to the fence, letting her crawl through to the other side. Juanita had to think fast, knowing her papa was upset with her again.

“I just finished the stalls, Papa and I was going to the house to take my nap.” She folded her arms around herself and stared uncertainly at her boot as it made scuffmarks in the dirt.

“And?” Johnny asked. “Look at me, miel.”

“Papa, I saw you on the horse and just wanted to watch you. Then, when you fell, I just had to make sure you were alright. Seems all I'm doing today is apologizing to you, Papa. I am sorry... I'm not going to get another spanking... am I?” Juanita looked up at him, her eyes dark with sorrow. Johnny couldn't help but pull her into a hug.

“Naw, no spanking, honey; not this time. It's alright but you remember it's dangerous to go in there with a wild horse loose... and you know it, don't you?” Johnny smiled down at her.

"Si, Papa. Grandpapa had taught me that. It seems I do need a nap when I'm not thinking straight!” She stood on her tippy-toes to give Johnny a kiss then waved as she went into the house.

Juanita only made it as far as the couch where she fell asleep. Teresa came in to dust and found her there so she took one of the blankets from the closet and put it over her, then went on with her chores.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Four hours later, Sam pulled up to the house, to be greeted by the sight of Johnny being thrown by a horse, very close to the fence. Murdoch was also watching Johnny, not taking his eyes off him until he stood and let him know he was alright. Sam walked over to the corral.

“Hello Murdoch, that was some spill Johnny just took! Good to see he doesn't need me,” Sam said as he came up to stand next to Murdoch to watch Johnny try to break the horse he was on.

“Hi Sam!”

“I thought I would see Juanita out here watching too,” Sam said. “She didn't get in trouble again, did she?” he added with a chuckle.

“No Sam, she isn't in any more trouble that I know of today but she had a bad night last night. Johnny sent her in to take a nap.”

Johnny wandered over. “Hi Doc, ready for some lunch with us?” Johnny had a smile for Sam. Sam's quick eyes took in the scratches down Johnny's face that Juanita had given him and the bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. “You sure you should be trying to break horses?” he asked Johnny.

“Sure Doc, nothing wrong with me!” Johnny told him as the three of them walked to the house.

Murdoch opened the door and let the others go ahead of him.

“Thanks Murdoch,” Johnny smiled at his father as he passed.

Everything was quiet.

“I guess my kid's still asleep. I don't hear no talking a mile a minute going on,” Johnny laughed as he hung his hat on the rack.

Just as they were going through the great room to the kitchen, Teresa came out and greeted them, telling Johnny that Juanita was sleeping on the couch. “Should I wake her for lunch, you think?” Teresa knew she needed a good rest and didn't want to disturb her.

“I'll wake her, Teresa,” Johnny said as he walked over to the couch.

Seeing his daughter sleeping, he held his breath at how much she resembled his mother. He just couldn't believe he had fathered such a beautiful child who, when asleep, looked like an angel yet, when awake, was a holy terror... like he himself had been when he wanted something bad enough. Johnny smiled as he got on his knees to wake his daughter.

“Hey sleepy head, time to wake up for lunch!” Johnny smoothed his fingertips lightly over her face and Juanita stirred at his touch. She raised her hand to swat his fingers away from her face, thinking it was a fly. Johnny laughed as he moved his hand and she missed him. This went on for a few seconds before Juanita opened her eyes to see the very best thing - her papa's smile. It lit up his whole face, especially his eyes. Those eyes, so blue and sparkly, made her know he had forgive n her for all the trouble she had gotten in that week. Juanita raised her hand to her papa's scratched face.

“Oh Papa, I'm sorry for hurting you.” Juanita sat up and stretched. Johnny helped her up and told her he had looked worse; not to worry about it. Together, they made their way to the kitchen, both of them by now ravenously hungry. As they took their seats, Sam asked Juanita how she was feeling.

“I'm fine, Doctor Sam; I'm always fine,” he said with a smile on her face and she rolled her eyes.

Murdoch hid a smile; many a time he had heard her papa say the same thing.

“Is that so? Seems to me I've heard that before from someone who should be teaching you not to mess with me,” Sam said, laughing. Murdoch, Teresa and even Maria grinned. They had heard it a few times themselves.

“Now, wait just one second... she didn't get it from me!” Johnny looked so innocent which made them all laugh harder.

After lunch, Sam and Juanita went to sit outside under the apple tree (her favorite spot in the garden) on a bench Murdoch had put there for her. Here, Juanita felt relaxed enough to talk to Sam about her nightmares but, first, she wanted to know about his friend.

 

 

Chapter 23

"What's that in your hand, Juanita?”

“It's a letter my papa brought home from town. I haven't read it yet.” Juanita was nervous and she had dug this out of her pocket to fiddle with during their conversation.

Sam noticed so he started to talk.

“What would you like to know about my friend?” he asked.

“What's his name and why is he coming? Because of me?” Juanita asked.

“His name is Kyle Busch. I asked him to come here to see you.”

“Would my papa be able to be with me when I talk to him?”

“I can't answer that. It would be up to Kyle.” Sam watched her as he spoke.

“Well, I sure hope he lets my papa stay with me. When will he be here?” Juanita wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at her boot, drawing lines in the dirt.

“He'll be here on the afternoon stage on Saturday,” Sam informed her.

“That's two more days from today. Is he going to stay here at Lancer or in town?”

Sam thought about it then said, “He'll stay with me until things have been sorted out.”

Sam and Juanita talked for another hour until she let it be known it was time for her to go and help with dinner. As Juanita said goodbye, Johnny came up behind her. When he put his hand on her shoulder, she jumped.

“Papa, don't do that! You scared me!” Juanita looked up at Johnny with a very stern face.

Johnny looked at her face and started laughing which made her even more annoyed but, when he turned her around to face the doctor, Sam started laughing just as hard as Johnny.

“Stop laughing, Papa! You did scare me.”

“We ain't laughing at you, miel. It's your face - you have dirt across your lip and it makes you look like you have a mustache!” Johnny told her, as Juanita put her fingers up to her face and scrubbed at it. “Here, take this.” Johnny took out his bandana and told her to go wash it off.

While Juanita went to wash her face, Johnny asked Sam how their little talk had gone.

“All she wanted to talk about is my friend, Kyle. How are she and Teresa getting along these days? Better?”

Johnny nodded. “Yeah, it's a lot calmer with them two. For a while there, I felt like I was in the middle of two battling females!” Johnny smiled

“She told me her mother taught her everything she needed to know about sewing and cleaning. She said now it's up to you to teach her what she needs to know about running Lancer... now that her grandpa isn't able to. Now, that is one thing I'm sorry to say is in her heart; just as it is her papa's and grandpa Lancer's!” Sam laughed at Johnny's expression as they made their way to the door to the kitchen.

Inside, Maria was telling Juanita to go up and finish cleaning her room. Her back to the door, Juanita had no idea that Johnny was behind her or she would not have made her next mistake.

“No!” she refused adamantly and folded her arms with a scowl. Instantly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. As she tried to run, the hand tightened its grip and wasn't about to let go. Juanita suspected she knew exactly whose hand this was and the child swallowed hard. Then, she took a deep breath and mumbled, “Lo siento, Maria.”

“Yeah, you better say you're sorry, young lady. An' I better not hear you yelling or refusing to obey Maria or any of the adults around here when they ask you to do something. Now, go do as you were told!” Johnny let Juanita know that he meant business with a firm pat to her bottom. Juanita obeyed but looked at her papa with a deep frown which made Maria, Sam and Murdoch, who had just walked in, smile at the battle of wills which still went on between the young father and his wayward little daughter.

“Son, I haven't seen so many different expressions on your face since you've been here. It seems we could've used Juanita when you first arrived.” Murdoch smiled as he poured three cups of coffee. He placed one in front of both Sam and Johnny and they all sat down. “How'd the talk go, Sam?”

“Seems to me, Murdoch you had that self same look on your face a few times when dealing with a certain son,” Sam laughed as he pointed to Johnny.

“Who? Not me!” Johnny looked as innocent as he could, causing Maria to raise her eyebrows and shake a warning finger at Johnny as they all laughed.

“Yes you, son. Even as a little one, you were always trying to talk back and, the older you got, the more you had to have the last word. You inherited that famous Lancer stubbornness and your temper was well-known around the ranch.” Murdoch was enjoying telling Johnny this.

“Funny Murdoch, funny. But if I inherited my temper and stubbornness from the Lancer side of the family, what does that say about you, Grandpa?” Johnny accepted another cup of coffee from his father with a sassy smirk.

Murdoch simply smiled and resumed the conversation. “So Sam, the little talk?”

“It went just the way Juanita wanted it to. You know that girl is very clever at changing the subject without you realizing it.” Sam looked studied his coffee cup, thinking back to the way the child had avoided any awkward questions.

“Weren't you supposed to ask her the questions?” Murdoch pressed.

“That's how it was supposed to be but your granddaughter has a way of turning the tables. She switches the subject to whatever she feels comfortable with,” Sam said with a shake of his head.

“Tell me Sam, did you get anything out of my granddaughter about her nightmares?”

“Not really, Murdoch. We mostly talked about...”

Johnny sighed. “How she wants to be a vaquero?”

“That and how much she loves Johnny Lancer; how happy she is that he isn't the man her mother told her about. Then she let me know her name is going to be Madrid-Lancer from now on. She is going to take the good and bad of her father because she loves both.” Sam could tell that both Murdoch and Johnny were surprised by this revelation. He finished his coffee, thinking it would be best to leave them to take in everything he had said.

“Doctor Sam, will you be staying for dinner?” Maria called across from where she was kneading some dough.

“A very tempting offer but I really have to get back. Mrs Storm had her triplets yesterday and I told her I would come by again today and check on them.”

“How are she and the babies doing?” Murdoch asked.

“She was lucky, Murdoch. The babies are all small but they're thriving. I'm still a little worried about their lungs not being fully developed.”

“Are they breathing alright?” Johnny asked him.

“Yes but, being a month early, I want to make sure they aren't having any delayed problems. And Mrs Storm thinks she should already be up and cleaning, running after the other little ones of her brood. I'll have some ladies go over and give her a hand, if she lets them.” Sam got up from his chair to go. Murdoch and Johnny followed him out to the great room.

“Hi Sam, Juanita finally had enough of Johnny?” Scott joked as he came in the front door.

“No Scott, she didn't,” Johnny retorted.

“I thought she would've wised up by now and realized her uncle was much kinder and wiser than her ol' man! Not to mention more handsome!” Scott ducked Johnny's playful swing as the brothers tussled each other all the way over to the side bar where Scott poured himself a drink.

“Pour me one, brother,” Johnny said.

Scott handed Johnny his drink, letting Murdoch know everything was done so they shouldn't have any problems moving the cows to the Southern pastures. Murdoch was happy to hear this. As they said their goodbyes to Sam, Juanita ran into the room to give a card she had made to the doctor to pass on to Mrs Storm.

“What's this ?” Sam asked her.

“Just a well-wish card I made.”

“That was nice of you. I'm sure Mrs Storm will like it.” Sam put his hat on and collected his bag, heading out to his buggy.

“See you all at the church social this Sunday,” Sam called out as he started down the road.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

That night, after Juanita was tucked into bed, Johnny headed back downstairs to finish his chess game with Scott, who was trying to figure out how his brother could so easily place his pieces around the board, with seemingly so little thought and planning, and still manage to checkmate within a few moves. Ever mischievous, Johnny got to the bottom of the stairs and hid there, quietly watching Scott and trying to keep from laughing.

It amazed Johnny how Scott saw the game - as if each game had to be planned out like a battleground, when it was all so clear and simple to him. Murdoch looked up from his book and spied Johnny watching Scott. He gave his naughty younger son one of his looks that clearly told he knew what he was up to.

“You're as bad as your daughter sometimes,” Murdoch stated as he went back to reading.

This made Johnny come out of hiding. “Aw Murdoch, you ruin all the fun!” Johnny laughed at Scott's bewildered look. “What? I was just watching to see if you were going to cheat,” Johnny played the innocent as well as he could without breaking out laughing.

"How do you do it?” Scott asked Johnny as he sat down.

“You move yet?”

“If you were watching, then you know I didn't!” Scott said, offended.

“Scott, you might as well just make your move; you know Johnny has you.” Murdoch chuckled at his sons, remembering how he and his own brother would sit for hours every night over a good game of chess.

“I don't give up that easy, sir,” Scott looked back at the board, ignoring the laughter around him.

“Johnny, I was thinking... how about you take Juanita with you tomorrow and let her help you clean out the creek up by the eastern mesa. I know that would cheer her up; doing something with you. In fact, there's that little shack up there - spend the night. I'm sure she is feeling nervous about Doctor Busch coming.” Murdoch tried to point out to Johnny that this would be a great way to keep her out of trouble, having heard that she was planning on going to look for wild horses with her friend.

“I don't know, Murdoch. It can be dangerous if the river is running high.” Johnny wasn't too keen.

"Yeah, that's a good idea and we get us a free babysitter for Johnny!” Scott grinned.

“Now Scott.”

“You two think you're funny? Just keep it up.” Johnny got up, calling it a night. “Just might be a way to keep her happy. I'll think about it.” He said his good nights and headed up the stairs.

As he opened her door a little, Johnny noticed his daughter wasn't in her bed. The covers were half off the bed and he darted over to find her on the floor, wide awake and staring up at the ceiling. Johnny called her name as he bent down to help her up.

“I'm alright, Papa. I wanted to sleep on the floor and look up at the stars like I was camping out under them. You know what, Papa?”

“What?” Johnny helped her up and they sat on the side of her bed.

“I sure miss sleeping out under the stars with my grand-papa. We liked to do it at least a couple of times a month.”

Before Johnny could stop himself, he was telling Juanita about going up to the shack and clearing the creek.

“Really Papa? On the true?” Juanita was so excited about going and working with her father.

“On the true! Now, you get back in bed and we'll sleep under the stars tomorrow night. Alright?” He helped pick up her covers and got her tucked in again. He gave her the usual kiss on the forehead but, as he bent to kiss her, Juanita grabbed him around the next and gave him the biggest hug she could.

“Te amo, Papa. Muchas gracias!" She gave him a big kiss on his cheek.

“Get some sleep. I'll be waking you up earlier than normal.” Johnny blew out her lamp and headed for the door.

“Papa! What about my chores?”

“Don't worry about them. They'll keep for a couple of days. We won't be leaving 'til after breakfast anyway.” Before Juanita could say anything more, Johnny went out into the hall, running into Scott who was standing there with a smile on his face.

“So, you're going to take Juanita? I knew you were going to cave, brother.” He put his arm around Johnny's shoulders as he opened his brother's door and helped him in. Johnny tried to bat his arm off but Scott wasn't giving an inch.

“I can get to bed by myself. Been doing it for a long time now.” Johnny kept trying to get away from Scott. “What you think you're doing? I can undress myself too!” Johnny objected as Scott started to unbutton Johnny's shirt. “Hey! You're not my kind, Scott!”

“That's good, brother because you're not mine either! Just showing a little brotherly concern, boy. You've been looking plum worn out over the last few days and now... a camping trip with Juanita? You need all the help you can get!” That said, Scott left Johnny to undress himself as he went to his chest of drawers and took out a nightshirt, tossing it at Johnny who didn't even try to catch it. As it hit the floor, Scott reminded Johnny his daughter might come in at any time during the night and he would be wise to cover up.

“I'm covered, Scott. Don't you worry yourself. She ain't seen me naked yet and she ain't about to. For gosh sake's, she's my kid!” Johnny picked up the nightshirt and flung it back at Scott with a grin. It hit the door and slid to the floor as Scott dashed from the room with a chuckle.

He fell to sleep with a smile on his face, thinking how lucky he was - a family and a daughter who loved him unconditionally. Johnny didn't think he could ever feel this happy and content again in his life. The last time he felt like this had been when he was young. His mother, taking him at an early age, loved him until he became around 6 years old and could go out to work in the fields. The gambler she had left with stayed with them for about three years until he was eventually caught cheating and killed. This left Johnny and his mother alone for a few years. Hard times, but Johnny brought in what he could while his mother cleaned a wealthy Don's hacienda so she didn't have to work the cantinas. Then she had married one of the ranch hands.

Johnny liked his step-father. He was strict but he loved Johnny and taught him how to care for animals as well as for those less fortunate than them. The day he died, in a stampede caused by a careless gunshot, his mother began working again. They were allowed to stay at the ranch. When his mother got so sick, Johnny tried to take care of her and work but he was just a boy of 8 who did the best he could. The day she died, Johnny wasn't there. He came home to find her dead.  It was the saddest day of Johnny's young life. He couldn't cry; he was too numb to feel anything. He went to the foreman, a friend, to tell him. He let the Don know and the good man arranged for a funeral for Maria.

The funeral was small - just Johnny, the Don and Mike, the foreman. Maria was so beautiful, most of the ladies on the ranch were envious of her, choosing not to socialise with her. Johnny never understood why they had treated his mother like that but, when he would ask, his mother never bad-mouthed them. She would always say, “Oh Juanito, I'm too busy to stop and talk.” She would give him one of her special burritos of cinnamon with a glass of milk and hope that her son would ask her no more questions.

The Don had Mike take Johnny to the local mission where he encountered Father Manuel for the first time. He had become a good friend over years. It was at this mission that Johnny came into contact with the likes of Sister Maria who knew whose son Johnny was. Johnny did his best to obey the rules but, as he later told Father Manuel, he wasn't born to be tied down; he was not one to spit and polish when told. Following orders did not come easily to young Johnny. It was one of the hardest things Murdoch had to get used to when Johnny came home. Both men were always glad that Scott was able to help them work out their differences so that, now, things were good between them.

As Johnny lay there, he heard someone creeping past his room to the backstairs. The footsteps, he knew, were too light to be anyone's but Juanita's. He got up and put his pants on quickly then opened his door to see her already halfway down the stairs. Johnny went to the head of the stairs and called softly to her, “Where you think you're going?”

Juanita turned around at the sound of her father's voice. “I can't sleep, Papa. I'm all rounded up! I can't lie still so I'm going downstairs.” Juanita looked up at Johnny who came down to her.

“Well, I guess that's my fault for telling you too soon what I was planning. How about we go have some warm milk?” Johnny took her hand.

As Johnny got the pan and milk, he couldn't help but notice how Juanita couldn't keep still. Her fingers kept tapping the top of the table and her foot was kicking the chair next to her. “Chica, calm down. Looks like you have to use the outhouse!” Johnny laughed at her.

“I can't help it, Papa. I'm just so excited about going with you!” Juanita tried to stop but she was far too het up.

Johnny lit the stove then poured some milk into the pan, placing it on the heat. He strolled over to the cupboards to fetch two glasses for them. Once the milk was lukewarm, Johnny poured some into each glass and handed one to Juanita as he sat down. “Well, this should make you sleepy so drink up!”

They sat there in silence for a minute, drinking then Juanita asked him if her grandma ever made him warm milk. Johnny told her it was something that his mother would do for him whenever he couldn't sleep. Juanita was enjoying the milk and before she knew it, she couldn't keep her eyes open. Johnny sent her up to bed while he cleaned the dishes.

Juanita climbed into her bed and was out almost before her head hit the pillow. Johnny came up and checked her then he went on to bed himself, not looking forward to having to get back up in only a few hours.

Morning came and, true to his word, Johnny went to wake Juanita. He met up with Murdoch in the hall. “You're up early,” Johnny said.

“I didn't want to miss you two.” Murdoch continued down the hall as Johnny walked into Juanita's room.

“Hey, sleepy head, time to get up!” Johnny shook Juanita's shoulder gently and pushed her covers away from her.

“It's time already?” Juanita sat up, rubbing her eyes as Johnny walked over and poured water from the pitcher into the bowl for her.

“Come on, lets get a move on! You're wasting daylight,” Johnny told her as he left to get ready himself.

Juanita called out softly, so as not to wake the whole house, “The sun ain't even out yet, Papa!”

She walked to her dresser, picking up the wash cloth, and started to wash up. Once she had dressed, she got out her saddlebags and started to pack what she would be needing. Johnny had told her they were going to spend the next three days up there, working during the day then enjoying the night stars together.

Entering the kitchen, Johnny got himself some coffee and sat down to enjoy it. The deep aroma of a good strong cup of coffee was just what he needed to wake himself up. As the two men sipped their coffee, Juanita stood on the steps watching them with a smile on her face.

“Morning Grandpa, what you doing up so early?” She kissed both Murdoch and Johnny

“Good morning to you, sunshine! You're in a good mood today.” Murdoch looked over at Johnny.

Juanita went over to the pantry to get out the flour to start making some pancakes. “Papa, are you going to get the supplies ready for us or should I?”

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

It was later than Johnny would have liked to set off but he knew they would still make it up to the north end before the late afternoon so he wasn't rushing Juanita who kept thinking of things they needed. Scott stood outside by the corral with Johnny and their father, watching the cattle when Juanita snuck up to him and yelled, "Hold up!" She made them all jump which made her laugh. “I scared you all, even my papa!”

They were all teasing her when two cows, agitated by the noise, broke through the fence. Before anyone could react, all twenty head were streaming out of the corral. Juanita didn't think; she just reacted on instinct.

Barranca was the closest horse so she grabbed his reins as she jumped onto the fence then onto Barranca's back. This stunned the men who gaped as Juanita took off. Scott was the first to react and joined her as they rounded up the cows to bring them to the west side corral.

Johnny caught up to them, watching his little girl closely. Juanita did as she had been taught; she rounded up the strays and moved them into the bigger group being herded by Scott and another hand who had joined them. As they approached the fence, Juanita stayed where she was and stood her ground. Here, she was able to keep an eye out for any of the cows trying to escape and she could move them back in but the dangerous part of getting them all in the tiny opening was left to the men.

Murdoch came up right behind Johnny as the two of them watched Juanita. Johnny just couldn't believe what he was seeing. Murdoch jolted him from his thoughts when he said, “She knows what she's doing, Johnny!”

“Huh? Oh sorry, Murdoch... I was watching her.” Johnny moved to give Scott and the other man any help he could. Juanita didn't take her eyes off the cows until they were all safely in the corral and the gate locked. Then she nodded proudly to her grandpa who had ridden up next to her.

“You did a fine job, sweetheart!” He touched her arm.

“Gracias, Grandpa!” Juanita moved to Johnny as came up to her.

“You think I can have my horse back, chica?”

“Naw, I kind of like your horse; he's stronger and faster than Jackson!” Juanita was having fun with Johnny. He looked strange on any other horse than Barranca.

She jumped down and handed Barranca's reins over to Johnny then they headed back to the yard to finish packing up the horses.

As they rode off on their trip, Johnny let Juanita know he was pleased with how she had rounded up the cattle... and on Barranca. Johnny knew how his horse wasn't one to take orders from just anyone.

“You know Barranca isn't one to let just anyone ride him, let alone tell him what to do, but you handled yourself real good, honey. I'm proud of you.”

“Gracias Papa. Barranca is the kind of horse I want to own. I didn't have to tell him hardly anything, he just knew what was expected of him and did it. You trained him well. You think we could spend some time looking for wild horses?” Juanita was hoping Johnny would say yes.

“We'll see. Depends on how much work we have and how long it takes.”

They rode on in comfortable silence for neither one of them wanted to spoil the day. Yet it had surprised Juanita her papa wasn't angry about her taking his horse or doing what she did. But she wasn't going to question it. The time flew by and, before they knew it, the shack was in sight.

“It doesn't look like much, Papa.” Juanita was surprised to see a fallen tree lying across the shack. “We aren't sleeping in that, are we?” Juanita stopped Jackson, swinging her leg over his head and jumping down. Johnny was right behind her.

“I guess not. Seems we'll be working more than relaxing.” Johnny was walking around, surveying the damage to the shack.

“That's alright, Papa. Grandpa sent us up here to get things in order so I guess we'll be staying for a while.” This made Juanita a little happier for she wasn't looking forward to going back.

“We'll check out what needs to be done here and clean the creek like we came to do, then we'll be back for the doctor to see you,” Johnny reminded his daughter that he hadn't forgotten.

“Papa, I'll be alright here with you. I can see Doctor Busch when we get back.” Juanita wasn't looking forward to talking to a stranger, friend or no friend of Doctor Sam's.

They started getting unpacked as Johnny made a camp for them while Juanita took the horses over to a shady place with plenty of grass near the river. Coming back to the little camp, she found Johnny setting up some lunch so she sat down to wait until he gave her a plate of beans with some leftover pancakes to soak up the juices. As they ate, neither one was aware that someone was watching them.

“I got her just where I need her.” A man stepped out from his hiding place in a little camp up in the hills where he could keep a watch on their every move.

“You know who her old man is? Johnny Madrid! It won't be that easy.” A big fat man told his leader.

“I'm not worried about him. He's been out of the business for a while now. He can't be that fast anymore. It's the girl I don't trust.” The leader let his two companions know.

“Come on, Bruce, she's a kid! What harm can she do us?” Stanley was an average man who wasn't too thrilled about kidnapping and killing a kid but Bruce was his brother and he knew better than to question him. Brother or not, he could wind up dead.

“Don't let that kid fool ya; she's one hard, deadly little bitch. Her grandfather taught her well!” Bruce took the tin mug of coffee Tim handed him.

“We'll take our time. They'll be here for few days so we'll let them think everything is hunkydory.” Bruce grinned nastily. "Let 'em have their sweet little picnic and camp-out. Now, here's what we're going to do..."

 

 

Chapter 24

The next morning, after their first night camping out, Johnny thought it would be fun for Juanita if they went riding for a while before working. So they ate breakfast, did up the dishes and headed out.

“Papa, shouldn't we be working?” Juanita felt guilty about not doing the job before taking off to have some fun.

“It's alright. I know where some horses run at this time. I wanted to show you.”

“Then lets go!” Juanita dug her heels into Jackson a little, giving him his head. Johnny had to do the same to Barranca to catch up.

“Hold on there! We'll get there in time,” he laughed at how eager she was.

Together they rode to a hill overlooking the east side of Lancer. About fifty wild horses were running across the fields at top speed with a beautiful black stallion leading them. Juanita was in awe.

“Oh Papa, I've seen wild horses before but not as beautiful as this!”

“Well, you see one ya want?”

“You mean I can have any one?”

“That's what I said, just point it out and I'll go catch it for ya!”

“I can catch my own horse, Papa” Juanita was taking a stand.

“Nope. If you want one, I'll be the one to catch it. You better hurry -here they come.”

As the horses passed them, Juanita saw one which didn't look like it belonged. It wasn't the kind you would normally see running wild.

“Papa, look! That horse isn't supposed to be there - the brown one with the white mane and tail!” Juanita pointed it out to Johnny. “I want that one!”

Johnny noticed the one she pointed out and went down to catch it, knowing it might belong to a neighboring rancher. As he started racing after the horse, he saw Juanita was chasing them too. He didn't have time to worry about her right at that moment; he would deal with her when he had done. Johnny got his rope out and twirled it above his head. He was gaining speed. As he approached the horse, he threw the lasso over its neck and pulled back. While he fought to control the horse, Juanita  had all the others herded over to one side. By the time Johnny had a strong hold on the horse, he looked up and was surprised that she hadn't tried to rope the horse as well but had instead controlled the rest of the herd. To Johnny, she did an excellent job and he was going to make a point of telling her. He didn't want to make the same mistake Murdoch had made with him when he first came home to Lancer.

“Juanita, let them go and come on over here,” Johnny yelled across to her.

She nodded obediently and let them go on their way, riding over to her father.

“Oh Papa, how graceful you are! Just like an eagle swooping out of the sky to catch his prey!”

“You think?” Johnny chuckled at his daughter's fanciful description of him. “Juanita, I think we may have a problem here. This looks like it's one of our neighbors from the Conway ranch.”

“Oh, you think Mrs. Conway would sell him to me? I have some money saved from paying the Brennan's back.” Juanita was trying not to sound too disappointed about the horse or to seem like a brat.

“Well, how about we hold on to it and, after we finish the creek, take it back and ask?” Johnny hated to see his little chica hurting but was impressed that she was trying to swallow her disappointment and be strong.

“Sounds like a good plan.” Juanita turned her horse around and took off toward the camp with Johnny following. When they pulled up, Johnny tied the captive horse to a tree then took care of Barranca as Juanita dealt with Jackson. Then they went to work on the creek.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Back at Lancer, a buggy drew up to the main door and Murdoch came out to greet the visitor.

“Hello Bruce. Teresa will be ready shortly. Come on in and have a glass of lemonade.” He shook Bruce's hand, smiling.

Murdoch led the way into the great room. “Teresa tells me you two are going on a picnic. Nice day for it!” Murdoch wanted to find out more about Bruce. He knew Teresa had only met him a few days ago in town when she was helping with the church social.

Murdoch started the conversation with, “Where are you from?”

“Oh, originally from Texas but I've been working for a big ranch in Mexico. You might know the man... Senor Delgado.” Bruce was sweating bullets but tried to hide it from Murdoch.

“Relax! I'm not going to bite you... but I would like to know more about you.” Murdoch was amused at the fellow's nervousness. He well remembered that first meeting with a young lady's father and could sympathies.

“I'm relaxed. What else would you like to know?” Bruce asked him. “My life story?”

“No that won't be necessary. You here on business?”

“Yes, I'm here on business for Senor Delgado.”

“ I see. Well, if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know,” Murdoch offered pleasantly.

“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. I'll be sure to call on you.”

At that point, Teresa came into the room holding a picnic basket on her left arm and dressed in a blue shirt and knee-length navy skirt with riding boots that disappeared above the hem line.

“You look beautiful, Teresa!” Both Bruce and Murdoch spoke at the same time.

Teresa smiled and graciously thanked them both. “We'd better get going if you are going to have a tour of Lancer, Bruce.”

“It was nice to meet you, Mr. Lancer.” Bruce shook Murdoch's hand then followed Teresa out to the buggy. Murdoch wave good bye to them and walked back inside to finish working on the books.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Stanley and Tim were getting nervous about the plan to nab the kid. Neither one felt easy about sitting around just watching Johnny and his brat. And they sure weren't crazy about what Bruce expected them to do and, with him off on a picnic with that O'Brien gal, they were getting antsy.

“I don't know about you, Stan but I'm going down there and get that kid!” Tim got up from his hiding place and moved over to his saddle. Picking it up, he moved to his horse, throwing it onto his back.

“Bruce won't like that; he wants us to stick to the plan.” Stanley knew the man wouldn't like it if anything went wrong. He would kill them without a second thought.

“Well, I'm not staying here one more night. I'm sick of jerky and shivering on the cold hard ground all night. You're either in or out but I wouldn't want to be around when Bruce gets back!” Tim laughed and took off down the hill.

Stanley knew Tim was right so he quickly saddled up and joined his partner. As they drew closer to the campsite, they left their horses in the brush, creeping quietly up to the edge of the trees and watching. They were in luck. Juanita was alone, petting the horse that they had brought back to camp. Tim told Stanley to remove his bandana and get ready to cover her mouth with it. He would use his to blindfold her so she couldn't identify them.

Whispering, Stanley asked where Madrid was.

Tim hissed back, “ Don't worry about Madrid. Let's just get the kid and get out of here!”

“You don't think Madrid won't try to stop us? You are as crazy as Bruce!” Stanley spat.

“Just come on! We'll deal with Madrid if we come across him.” Crouching, Tim started to move slowly and quietly, crabbing his way over to the little girl.

Being taught to keep an ear out for danger, Juanita's instincts were on high alert. When she heard a twig snap, she froze. “Papa?” she called out. Not getting an answer, Juanita turned around and was taken by surprise as Tim grabbed her. Stanley made to stuff the bandana into her mouth before she could scream. It was a struggle as Juanita wasn't giving in easily and they had neglected to bring anything to tie her hands. Thus, she was able to jab Tim in the eye. Cussing viciously, he let go for a second before Stanley grabbed her again, taking the bandana from Tim's hands and using it to secure her hands behind her. Just then, they heard Johnny call out to her. They carted her easily across the campsite and into some bushes where they were hidden.

“You make a sound or try anything, your old man is dead!” Tim whispered to her.

Juanita knew that her father was going to be bushwhacked no matter what she did. Staying silent wasn't going to help him; it would just be playing into their hands. She lashed out with a kick at Stanley who yelped.

Johnny stopped in his tracks and looked over to where the sound came from. He moved toward the trees behind the horse. As he walked, slowly he undid the strap to his holster, drawing his gun. As he got closer to them, Juanita struggled with her captors. A shot rang out and Johnny went down.

"Now look what ya did, kid! You killed your old man!” He tossed Juanita over his shoulder and walked out.

As they neared Johnny's lifeless body sprawled on the ground, Tim stepped over him so that Juanita could see his eyes wide open as if he was looking up at her. Papa! No! She whimpered, losing all hope. Nobody would know where she was or who had taken her.

Tim threw Juanita over her own horse then ordered Stanley to find some rope and tie her down. Stanley searched the campsite and took the rope from one of the saddles they had used as a pillow. Returning to the child, he undid her hands from behind her and retied them together in front of her, hanging down the horse's flanks. Then he tossed the rope under the horse's belly. When Stanley came around the horse, Juanita started kicking both her feet so that he would have to fight to get both of her legs tied down. This only made Tim more angry than he was. He walked over to Juanita and pulled her by the hair so that he could see her face. Then he callously punched her, knocking her out so that, finally, she was still.

“Now get her tied down and lets move!”

“I'm going as fast as I can. Did you have to hit her?”

“You want to lose to a kid?”

Stanley got Juanita tied down and was just heading for his horse when a shot rang out and he hit the dirt. Tim didn't wait around to see if Stanley was dead or not; he grabbed Jackson's reins and got out of there as fast as he could.

Johnny tried to turn over so he could get up but a wave of dizziness hit him like a sledgehammer. He fell back, about to lose what little was in his stomach. He heaved helplessly, the bitter taste of bile in his mouth, then crawled feebly over to the canteen. He was hit and knew he had to stop the bleeding. Reaching for one of the saddle bags, he drew out a shirt. It was one of his daughter's. Johnny's bit his lip to hold back the anguished groan, his eyes swimming. But he told  himself there would be time for that later; right now, his daughter needed him and depended on him to help her. He tore shirt in two, made one piece into a wadded ball and placed it on the bullet hole. Then he took the other one and wrapped it as best he could around his shoulder and under his arm. Using his mouth and one good hand, he tied it off good and tight. Johnny winced as the pain shot down the left side of his back and his left arm. He took another swig of water then took off his bandana, tying it into a sling to put his arm in. He got up, staggering over to the man he had hit. Seeing that he was dead, Johnny paid him no further heed. Leaving him there, he walked over to his saddle, picked it up with his good arm and somehow managed to find the strength to saddle Barranca.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Scott strolled into the great room from the kitchen. “I was thinking I'd go up to the cabin and see if they need any help.”

“I don't know. Your brother might not welcome you if he knows the real reason you're going up there.” Murdoch looked up from his coffee cup.

“I don't know what you're talking about, sir.” Scott perched on the blue chair in front of the huge desk that Murdoch used to do all his paperwork.

“Scott, I'm afraid you aren't any good at hiding your feelings. You're worried about what trouble those two can get themselves into," Murdoch chuckled. “But, if you're going to make it up there by night fall, I suggest you get started.” Murdoch watched his elder son jump up and head for the stairs. He smiled at the close relationship his sons had. Ever since they fought Pardee when they had first arrived and Scott had refused to leave Johnny's side while he was laid up from the bullet from Pardee's gun.

“I'll see you tomorrow, Murdoch!” Scott took off at a dash. He didn't want to say anything to Murdoch but he couldn't help feeling like something was wrong and Johnny needed him. Scott decided he would go up there and check out the situation for himself before saying anything. He had no wish to sound like a foolish old 'mother hen'. As he rode, he came across Bruce and Teresa who were heading back to Lancer,

“You aren't coming to look for us?” Teresa was at first disgruntled that everyone seemed to feel she needed a constant chaperone.

“No sweetie, I'm heading up to give Johnny a hand. We'll be back tomorrow, don't worry.” Scott nodded in Bruce's direction. Saying his good byes, Scott took off as Bruce started getting a mite nervous, thinking to himself, “This family is becoming mighty annoying,” but he had promised to fetch Juanita to his boss and he wasn't about to show up without her. If her old man and that uncle of hers wanted to get in the way, he'd just have to kill them.

Bruce started the horses going as Teresa was chattering away about how she hoped both Scott and Johnny made sure Juanita was home tomorrow in time to attend church and meet Dr. Busch. Bruce couldn't wait to drop the wittering female and get up to let his partners know that their plans had been moved up to tonight. As they came up the road to the Lancer house, Teresa asked him if he would be at the church social too.

“I can't say right now; it depends if my business gets done tonight,” Bruce told her as he drew up in front of the door. He jumped down and helped Teresa as Murdoch came out to greet them.

“Did you have a nice time?” Murdoch asked Teresa.

“Oh yes, we did! I showed Bruce the beautiful waterfalls from the mountains where we had our picnic.” Teresa was so excited.

Bruce said his good byes then he got into the buggy and headed off. He came to a fork in the road and turned to the left, going up it about a further two miles. There, waiting for him, was a teenaged boy who took the buggy reins and handed Bruce his horse. Bruce took off as fast as he could, hoping his brother and friend hadn't let themselves be caught. No telling what they had been up to while he worked on Teresa for more information about the wealth of Lancer. He had found lots of good hiding places on the land if he ever came this way again.

As he came upon the campsite, he found it empty. Calling out to his brother and Tim, he noticed their things gone. Bruce ran over to see what was happening with Johnny and Juanita. What he saw made Bruce cuss up a storm for there was Stanley, lying dead on the ground. He figured the older Lancer brother hadn't got there yet but wasn't to know Scott was already down there searching for his brother and niece.

Scott came upon a horse tied up so he called out for Johnny then Juanita. Receiving no answer, he made his way over to their campsite where he found the body. Further inspection showed blood liberally spattered around another area too. Thinking the worst, Scott ran down to the creek, calling out for Johnny and Juanita. What in god's name had happened to them? He sprinted back to the camp and looked for tracks. There were so many, it was difficult to discern what might have happened there. There were two  sets of tracks, heading up into the hills with a lone set. Scott come to the conclusion that someone took Juanita and Johnny was following. It was the only thing that made sense to Scott. He prayed it wasn't the other way around - Johnny taken and little Juanita pursuing them. With that child, Scott knew it was a possibility. He untied the horse they had tethered to the tree, letting it go, then mounted his own horse. He wanted nothing more than to follow those tracks; to go after his family but his army training kicked in and common sense prevailed. He knew he had to let Murdoch know what was going on. With more men, they would stand a better chance.

Bruce made it down to the camp site as Scott was looking around. He hid out in the trees until Scott left at long last. Then Bruce made his way over to his brother's body. Cussing, he asked him why they hadn't waited. He guessed it had to be Tim's idea to take it upon themselves to grab the girl. He had feared something like this would happen; that was why he had wanted to wait. Tim was just too impatient for his own good and Bruce intended to teach him a lesson.

He took the time to bury his brother. They had arranged where they would meet if they became separated so he wasn't worried about catching up with Tim. Now that Stanley had been buried and he was traveling alone, Bruce made pretty good time but wasn't near to catching up to Johnny who wasn't far behind Tim... and Juanita.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Tim decided to skirt away from the place where they had agreed to meet up and to keep going. He knew where he was headed and, if anyone was following him, he could lose them easily.

Juanita was hurting and felt she was going to be sick. The gag in her mouth made it hard to swallow and she had to get control of her stomach for fear she could choke to death on her own vomit. Her head pounded from being strapped over the horse. The trail wasn't easy either and all she wanted was to get off the horse. As they continued, she could feel tree branches and twigs hit her at times and heard that the hooves were going over stones. She no longer knew where they were going. She tried to relax and let her instincts take over. The more she relaxed, the more she could smell what was around her and she knew this would help should she gets a chance to escape.

All of a sudden, they came to a stop. It felt cold and damp. Tim came over to her and cut the rope that held her down, grabbing her hair and dragging her off the horse. He was not one to warm to little kids let alone this one. He knew Bruce wouldn't tell them to not trust her without good reason. He pulled her up from the ground with the rope, dragging her over to a tree. Tying her to the tree for the moment, he got the rope off Jackson and opened the loop, tossing it over a high branch. Then he tied it to another tree. He then untied her, pushing her hard enough that she fell. He roughly pulled her up, never caring about hurting her. A few bruises or cuts didn't matter to him. All he wanted was the money that was due him.

His life had never been easy; the son of a bartender and his lover, never wanted by either of them. His old man tossed him out onto the streets when he was old enough to beg for his food, to his memory he had been a kid of around five or six. He was abused by many, used by rough men and jeered at by the upstanding citizens. Being raised up around the border, Tim knew about Madrid. He was well aware of the man's reputation with a gun so he wanted to set up a trap to make sure that, this time if he finds them, he would kill him for sure.

Tim took the loop of the rope and put Juanita's hands in it. He tugged then twisted the rope around her wrist, tying it tight. He made sure he secured her legs good and tight too then he pulled on the part tied around the tree until Juanita was hanging by her arms, only able to touch the ground with the tip of her toe. There he left her as he went over and made a small fire for himself. At least that night he was going to be warm and, with the beans in his saddlebags,  he would have a hot meal and a full stomach. After he had eaten, Tim took his canteen over to Juanita. He undid the gag then offered her some water. Juanita didn't want it but her mouth was so dry, she had no spit to swallow, so she nodded her head. Tim held the canteen to her mouth, tipping it for her to get a drink. He didn't let her drink long enough but she wasn't going to beg no damn gringo. Tim capped the canteen and put the gag back into her mouth then went over and sat down by the fire to keep watch. He was hoping to kill Madrid before the night was done for he was no fool; he knew that bullet wouldn't slow Madrid down.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Scott made it back to the ranch at top speed. The men were just going in to get some shut eye as Lancer started before daybreak each morning. Someone called out, “Rider coming!" Murdoch ran out the door with his rifle. It could be trouble; not many came to Lancer at this hour.

“Scott! What are you doing here? Where's Johnny and Juanita?” Murdoch had many questions for his son as he rode up to the door and a hand came to take his horse for him

“Hank, get me another fresh horse,” Scott called after him. “Murdoch, we have trouble! Johnny and Juanita are gone. I found a body at the campsite and there's more - someone was hurt. I found blood splattered around!” Scott pushed past Murdoch into the house to get another rifle and more bullets.

“Scott, slow done and tell me exactly what you saw!” Murdoch tamped down on his rising panic. His son and granddaughter were in trouble and he needed to calm Scott to get the whole story. Murdoch walked to the door and called for Pete to ride for Val. He turned around and stopped Scott from leaving

“Sit down, son and tell me everything. You can't do anything tonight; it's pitch black out there!”

“Murdoch, we don't have time! Johnny and Juanita need us now!” Scott tried to go around his father but he was fighting a losing battle. Murdoch took up most of the doorway with his impressive bulk.

With a sigh of defeat, he sat down in one of the blue chairs in front of huge desk.

“Murdoch, when I got up there, there was no Johnny or Juanita; only a dead man. I called out for them. I checked the creek, thinking they were maybe hiding from someone else. When I couldn't find them, I looked for tracks up around the camp and I found three sets heading up into the hills. Two then another one following right behind them. I figure either Johnny's following or Juanita but, whichever it is, we need to get up there.

“What makes you think either of them have been taken and that it's not Johnny and Juanita on the first two horses?”

“I know Barranca's hoof prints and I can assure you it was Barranca following.”

“Well, now we got something you hadn't thought of when you first came in here. At first you didn't know but calming down has made you see it is Johnny following the two others. I'm inclined to agree with you. Johnny wouldn't put Juanita in danger but it looks like someone might have taken her. What other reason would Johnny have to go after them? Now, let's hope whoever is hurt isn't Johnny or Juanita.”

Teresa walked into the great room after hearing them talking and sensing something was wrong.

“Scott, what are you doing here? I thought you went up to help Johnny?"

“Everything is going to be alright, sweetheart.”

“What do you mean everything will be alright? What's happened? Oh no, not Johnny and Juanita?”

“Yes honey. Something has happened and neither one is there. We think someone might have taken Juanita and Johnny is following them.” Murdoch had learned a long time ago never to hold things back from Teresa. The girl was no shrinking violet.

“Val is on the way so you could get some bandages and provisions together for us.” Murdoch wanted her to keep busy so he could talk things over with Scott and Val when he arrived.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Johnny was having trouble staying this side of conscious for he hadn't stopped the bleeding and was losing more than he knew he could afford. Barranca paused, sensing his master was about to fall, then moved softly over to the grass. Johnny tried to smile. He knew Barranca was trying to make it a soft landing. His final thought was of thanks for the clever animal then he passed out. Johnny didn't land on the grass as expected but slid from the saddle into a bush, hiding him from any passers by Barranca moved around the bush to stay with Johnny and munch on the grass. And that was how Bruce found him - saddled but no rider to be seen. Bruce didn't know why Johnny had become separated from his horse, unless he was hurt, but he had no time to stop and search for him. All he could do was hope Johnny died out there. He continued on his way, hoping Tim was where he should be.

It grew darker and the moon not out. Bruce was forced to stop for the night, and this only angered him more. All he could think about was catching up to Tim and making him pay for his brother's death. He would take Juanita and get the money for himself. As he lay there by his campfire, he thought of how he had always been the one to watch over his brother since the day their parents left them on their own, never to return. He remembered the day well; he was only eight years old,  his brother six. Their parents were going to ask their grandparents for a loan to feed them but, when they never came back, the children set off to find their grandparents. They had never met their grandparents but their father had told them they lived somewhere in Texas. As it turn out, Bruce met Tim when they were looking for the elderly couple and the three of them became friends with the same goal in life - to strike it rich the easiest way possible.

Tim was a hot-head. He had gotten them in many tight spots, even jail time. But when they met up again in Mexico, working for the same rancher, it was like they had never been away from each other. As things played out, finding themselves without a job, Tim had found out about the one survivor of a massacre of a small village. The little girl was worth ten thousand dollars to the great Senor Delgado. They saw easy money to be made. What made it even easier was that Tim's sister was a nun. By chance, she knew the girl and her whereabouts. What no one had let them know was whose child this girl was, or why both Tim's sister and Senor Delgado wanted her. But money was money and it didn't

 

 

Chapter 25

The next morning, Val, Murdoch, Scott and most of the hired hands headed out to search for Johnny and Juanita. Val suggested they started up at the campsite, to see what evidence may have been left behind. Scott disagreed for he had told Val that he'd already been there and nothing was left but a body and blood; it was the tracks they should be following. There was no telling who was hurt and he wanted to get to his brother and niece as fast as they could. It was Murdoch who was able to calm Scott by suggesting he take six of the men and follow the tracks while he and Val checked out the campsite with the rest of the men. This gave Scott something to do instead of feeling useless and allowed Val to do his job without having to argue with Scott.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Bruce made it to the meeting place but didn't find Tim there with the kid. This only increased his anger to a point that he knew he would kill Tim on sight when he caught up with them. His main problem was to know which way Tim was going and how far had he gone. Bruce knew Tim would travel without the light of the moon if he was in a hurry and, with this situation, it made him think that was just what he did - travelled all night long. Even though he hated the kid, he did hope Tim hadn't hurt her too badly for he knew that was his way. Tim didn't care what condition a person was in when he delivered them as long as he got his money. This made him worry. He knew very well that their boss wanted the kid alive. Why he didn't know but he wasn't going to be the one to question the orders. So Bruce got up before day light and headed off to try to find their tracks. The trail took him southwards and into the flat lands of Lancer. Bruce realized he had been tricked. All he could do was head for Mexico, hoping to run into them.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Keeping watch all night, Tim got bored so he decided after three hours of rest it was time to get moving again. Juanita had been hanging there, her hands numb and her arms stretched to their limits. She was having trouble breathing with the gag in her mouth but mostly she was terrified that her papa couldn't come and save her before this man killed her. She knew this kind of man from her days living around the border in her small village. She had seen them and, when one of the villagers looked at them the wrong way, they would just shoot them without a second thought. This man was no different and he scared her but, as a Madrid, she had been taught to show no fear, stand your ground and let them know you are strong. Juanita didn't know if she could do it but, for her papa, she would not let this man think he had the best of her. Using the skills that were taught to her, she let her instincts take over, her judgment of just where the outlaw was, taking all her weight  on her wrists. Forcing the pain out of her mind, just as Tim reached up to untie her, Juanita raised her legs and kicked him between his thighs as hard as she could. It caused her much pain in her arms but she wasn't going to let him know it; the true Madrid in her was coming out.

Tim howled and fell back, bending forward and cursing, “You'll pay for that, bitch!” as he clutched himself.

Juanita wanted to smile one of her Madrid smiles to goad him but the gag was in her way, just as the bandana was over her eyes so she couldn't give him her best Madrid stare.

Once Tim managed to control himself, he grabbed a good fistful of her hair and started cruelly striking her as hard as he could. Juanita tried not to make a sound, forcing herself to take each blow and remain conscious. In total he hit her five times. When he was done, he tossed her head down to her chest then untied the rope from the other tree to let her fall. Smiling to himself as she hit the ground, if that wasn't enough for Tim, he walked up to her and gave her a good kick to her ribs, causing Juanita to scream in pain. This gave him much satisfaction, as he smiled down at her, with her bandana hanging down from her eyes, so she could see him.

“Get up!” He grabbed her wrists and hauled her to her feet. Juanita's face was already swollen and battered from the punches. She hurt worse than she ever thought possible yet she made herself stand, dizzy to the point she felt like her head was going to explode.

Tim dragged her to Jackson then tossed her on the hard ground so he could tighten the cinch on the horse. Then he threw her over the saddle again, tying her down. He mounted his horse with one jump and, taking hold of Jackson's reins, he headed out. Making up the time he had lost, they were at least seven hours ahead of Bruce, Scott, Murdoch and Val.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Val walked around the campsite turning things over here and there. “Murdoch, someone is buried over here. Must be that body Scott found.”

“Then we are dealing with more than one person,” Murdoch stated as he walked over to Val.

“More than two I would have to say.”

“You sure about that?” Murdoch asked him as he looked around “Why you say that?”

“Because it took two here. Johnny must've killed this one. Then there was another one who took Juanita or Johnny, then another one to bury this guy. I don't see him leaving his prisoners to bury any bodies.” Val let Murdoch know how he figured it out.

“I hope you're right and it wasn't Juanita who was hurt and went after Johnny.”

“I don't see them taking just one of them and leaving a witness,” Val stated, walking over to the tracks. “Murdoch, I got what I need here. Let's go fetch Johnny and Juanita home!” Val mounted up and followed the tracks, Murdoch and the rest of the men behind him.

Val was a good tracker and knew the tricks that these kind of men would use to throw them off the scent. And so, he noticed the fake tracks going south on to the flat land of Lancer. He also noticed Scott and his men must have been tricked and had followed them so he headed north into the hills of Lancer. As they rode in silence, Murdoch prayed that his son and granddaughter were alright and that they would find them soon. What he didn't know was that he would find Johnny before he would find Juanita.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Bruce found a stream to stop at. Dismounting, he walked his horse over to the edge of the water to let it drink its fill. He took some jerky out of his pocket and, finding a little shade, sat down to rest.

Scott and his men were only four hours behind him, coming up strong, for nothing or no man could get Scott to slow down or take a rest. He was driving them hard to gain on their quarry. The men were worried about him, knowing how close he and Johnny were and how much Scott loved his niece. Even so, they tried to reason with him.

“Scott, the horses need a break. They are tired and so are the men,” Hank tried to reason with him.

“Not yet! We're hot on their trail!”

“Later just might be too late for the horses if we don't stop now!” Hank wasn't giving up. He knew Scott was usually more reasonable than his father and brother.

“We aren't doing either of them any good if we end up on foot,” Hank insisted.

“There's a small creek up ahead where we can rest an hour and then continue,” Scott gave in, knowing Hank was right.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

“Murdoch, isn't that Barranca over there?” Val pointed to where a horse was grazing.

“Where's Johnny?” Murdoch wondered as they galloped over to Barranca. Val was off his mount before Murdoch and looked the palomino over thoroughly.

“Murdoch, Johnny's around her somewhere; his horse wouldn't be here if he wasn't!” he called out.

“Okay men, let's look around and find him!” Murdoch ordered as he got off his horse. As he walked around he heard a little moan. “I heard something, he's here!”

Suddenly, Billy Morton called out, “He's over here!”

Both Murdoch and Val raced to find Johnny in a bush near the road. He hadn't moved since he fell off Barranca.

“Johnny, son, wake up! It's me - Murdoch!”

Johnny heard his father talking to him and tried to open his eyes, tried to say something but couldn't.

“Someone get some bandages and water!” Val ordered. Billy ran and fetched the supplies out of Murdoch's saddlebag.

As Val helped Murdoch get Johnny out of the bush, Henry spread his bedroll out so they could put Johnny on it. As Murdoch looked over him, he started to undo the bandages that Johnny put on. The shirt he had placed into the wound to stop the bleeding was stuck so he had to water it down to take it off. Doing this made Johnny gasp in pain. Val was still looking around and found both Bruce's tracks going south then Tim and Juanita's heading back up into the hills.

“It looks like two people went north and more went south from here. Murdoch, what's up there?” Val pointed up into the hills.

Murdoch, who was tending to Johnny, explained that they would find nothing much up there except for more trees. Johnny was coming around as Murdoch washed out the bullet hole the best he could, getting all the debris from the cloth out of it. When Murdoch was satisfied, he took a fresh piece of bandage and put it on the bullet hole, staunching the blood and pressing down hard.

Johnny moaned his displeasure. “Murdoch, you trying to kill me?” Johnny's voice was weak; nothing more than a mumble but Murdoch felt relief flood through him.

“No son, I'm trying to make sure the bleeding stops.” With a smile on his face, Murdoch let Johnny know he would be alright.

“Murdoch, he's got Juanita! We have to go get her!” Johnny tried to get up.

“No Johnny, you're not in any condition to go. That bullet has to come out.” Murdoch gently pushed Johnny back down onto the blanket.

“But Murdoch!” Johnny was so weak and had to lie back down. “I'm scared, Murdoch. She's been through too much already. If... when we get her back, what's this going to do to her? She saw me kill a man.” Johnny was at a loss, feeling guilty over not being able to protect her as he promised her he would.

“Son, Juanita is your daughter; she'll be alright. Scott and some men went ahead of us. Val and the other men are getting ready to go catch up with them.”

“Murdoch, the man who took her went north. Tell Val!”

“How do you know?”

“Only one track heading south, two nor...” Johnny fell back in agony, unable to finish his sentence.

“Val! According to Johnny, they went north!”

“Alright Murdoch, we're heading out right now.” Val led the men off up the hills.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Scott told the men to mount up; it was time to move on. He was on his horse in no time and, as he kicked it into a trot, the men followed.

The trail took them south-west, moving at a tangent off Lancer land. Scott wondered just who it was that knew Johnny and Juanita would be up at the north-east cabin at that time. Someone had to be watching the ranch, had seen them leave and followed them. Then again, why wait until they made their move? So many unanswered questions. Scott felt he no longer knew who to trust. Which of the Lancer men would put a child in mortal danger? He knew all the older hands were loyal and they had taken to Juanita, enjoying watching her trying her hand at herding the cattle that day. So Scott made a mental note of all the new hands. None had acted strangely that he knew of; at least, he hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary. At that moment, one of the men came up to Scott. “Don't worry Mr. Lancer, we'll get her back. We all love that kid.” 

“Thanks. I know Johnny appreciates how you all feel about Juanita.”

“We all talked last night. No-one's giving up until she's safe back in Johnny's arms.”

As the man rode back into the group, Hank moved near his boss. He knew he had hardly slept for the last two days and not knowing what shape Johnny or his niece were in was taking a toll on his boss. As his second in command, he was going to make sure Scott got home in one piece too. “Scott, you have any idea where they might be taking Juanita?”

“I wish I did, Hank. Seems to me we're heading more south than east. Makes me wonder if this has something to do with Juanita's life before coming to Lancer.” Scott was starting to get very worried about what they might find.

“Scott, what could a kid do to cause them to have enemies?” Hank just couldn't imagine. .

“I wish I knew, Hank. Wish I knew.”

As they talked, a man came riding up to them.

“Hey Scott, we found someone! You better come!”

Scott didn't say a thing; just kicked his horse and galloped over to the guy that they were holding. When he saw who it was, Scott ran over to Bruce.

“What are you doing here?” Scott grabbed him by his lapels and threw him down on the ground. “Where's my niece? Where's Johnny?” Scott had to be pulled off Bruce by Hank who almost took a punch as Scott was already swinging. Bruce was helped up by two of the hands. He stooped and picked up his hat then marched over to Scott and punched him right in the mouth.

“Who you think you are, Lancer, roughing me up like that?”

Scott touched his lip. It wasn't bleeding but he had taken enough and he couldn't shake the feeling that this man was involved somehow. He took a step up to Bruce. “I asked you a question and I want an answer!” Scott wasn't backing down and Bruce knew this.

“I don't know where that kid is!” It was no lie; Bruce really didn't know where she was but wasn't going to tell Lancer where she was going. Nope, that was his gold mine and he aimed to collect on the bounty.

“Where are you heading? Weren't you supposed to take Teresa to the church social?” Scott knew something didn't add up.

“Where I'm going isn't any of your business, Lancer!” Bruce puffed his chest out but was still three inches shorter than the tall blond.

“Well, if you think I'm just going to let you go, think again! I feel you have something to hide so maybe the sheriff can get it out of you. Hank, bring the rope over and tie his hands behind him!”

“You can't do this, Lancer!” Bruce protested as Teddy grabbed hold of him and helped tie his hands. “I'll get you! You high an' mighty Lancers think you can go around pushing the rest of us about but I'll tell you nothing. Oh and it's too late for that brat of Madrid's!"

Hank shoved Bruce over to his horse and was just about to throw him up onto it when Scott took a good hold of Bruce's collar and yanked him down to the ground again. This time, he put his right boot down on his chest.

"You better start talking or I'll take a leaf from my brother's book and let you crawl to the sheriff's."

“You can't do that; your men won't let you!” Bruce winced in pain as Scott pushed harder on his chest. “I can't breathe, get off!” Bruce was struggling with the boot, feebly trying to shift the weight which pinned him, but Scott wasn't giving an inch.

The men had overheard what Bruce had said and a new hand stepped up. “You better think again! Ain't no one here would stop Mr Lancer if he wanted to put a bullet in you!”

There were murmurs of agreement from all the others. Bruce could see he was outnumbered yet he wanted and needed the money that Juanita would bring. First, he had to find a way to escape from here to catch up with Tim. Scott ordered two men to put Bruce up on his horse. Then they tied him down by his legs so even if he fell off he would still be attached to his horse. Scott wasn't in the mood to be kind; his mind was on his niece and what she might be going through at  the hands of her captor. He tried to shake it out of his thoughts but it didn't seem to want to go. They mounted up and headed for the nearest town, Bruce still yelling about it being too late for Juanita and they were wasting their time dropping him off at the sheriff's for he had done nothing wrong. Scott was tired of his mouth so he ordered a man to gag him - a task every man there would have performed with pleasure. He had to smile at the thought - the Lancer men had each other's backs and Juanita had almost become a mascot to the men despite Johnny's wish to raise her as a little lady.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

As Tim and Juanita reached the first border towns, someone yelled out to him. Tim tried to ignore him but the traffic on the small road in town was slow moving and the stranger was able to catch up to them. By this time, Juanita had been sitting up for about an hour. Tim didn't want to draw any attention to them so had he tied her hands to the horn of the saddle and draped a shirt of his over them.

“Hey, what ya doing here? I heard you were heading north to some big ranch with Bruce and his brother?” the stranger asked him as he shot a worried look at Juanita.

“Change of plans. I'm here visiting," was all Tim was going to give him. No mention of the girl with him but the stranger didn't like the looks of her. Juanita had a fat lip, her eye was blacked and there were some nasty cuts on her face. The stranger wondered how many bruises were concealed under her clothes. He knew Tim liked it rough, the rougher the better, but this kid was way too young and it didn't sit right with him.

“Who's the kid?” he asked.

“None of your business!” Tim kicked his horse and moved on before the man asked any more questions. He didn't like it that someone had seen him with the kid so he made the decision to kill the man after he hid the girl. He'd come back to make sure he wouldn't talk.

They rode far beyond town to a small cluster of trees. Tim got down to move the some of the bushes which hid an opening to a cave. Juanita had been able to loosen the rope that was tying her to the saddle. This gave her the use of her hands. Once the knot came undone, her hands came free, the shirt that Tim threw over her hid what she was up to. When he turned his back on her, she was able to reach her new knife she bought the last time she went to town, after losing her papa when he went into the gunsmith. Juanita slowly walked Jackson up to Tim's horse then, grabbing the reins to his horse, she yelled out, “Go!" and kicked Jackson as hard as she could. Holding on tight, off she went with both horses, never looking back. As Tim had taken her blindfold off, she was able to see which way to go north and home. Tim cussed up a storm. He ran after her, screeching at her to, "get her ass back here." He was forced to stop running as he ran out of breath. As he stood there, watching her ride out of sight, he had to kick himself for turning his back to her. Now he was out in the heat, miles from any town. He kicked the dirt and started walking.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Murdoch left Johnny's side long enough to tie Barranca to his saddle horn then went over to get Johnny. It wasn't easy for Murdoch to get his son up onto his horse but, with his determination to get his son home to bed and after about five minutes of struggling, he finally got him settled and mounted up after him, lying him against his chest and riding off as fast as he could.

As Murdoch rode up to the house, he noticed the doctor's buggy outside. He had forgotten Val had sent one of the hands to town to have him meet him at Lancer. It was all Murdoch could do worrying about his son and granddaughter, now Scott was out chasing the ones who took his Juanita.

“Mr. Lancer, here, let me give you a hand!” A man came out of the door with Teresa close behind.

They managed to get Johnny up in bed and Murdoch was unbuttoning Johnny's shirt when the doctor came in.

“Here Murdoch, let me see,” Sam said as he took over. Murdoch reluctantly moved aside as Teresa walked in with hot water to sterilize the instruments the doctor would need.

“Everyone out but Maria!” Sam ordered.

“Oh Murdoch, what about Juanita?” Teresa was worried about the little girl she had come to think of as a little sister.

“I know, honey. Scott and Val are still out there looking. It seems Johnny was able to finish one of the kidnappers.” Murdoch entered the great room to see the man who had helped him get Johnny up to his room.

“Oh Murdoch, this is Doctor Busch,” Teresa introduced Murdoch to Kyle. “Doctor, this is Mr. Lancer”

“Hello Mr. Lancer, it's a shame what has happened to your son but I'm very worried about Juanita. This doesn't look good for her mental health.”

“No, I guess not but I'm more concerned with getting her home first. Then we'll worry about helping her through this ordeal.” Murdoch offered him a drink as he poured his own

“No thank you, I don't drink,” Kyle informed them.

Murdoch sipped his drink unhappily then sat down on the couch, sighing heavily.

“Murdoch, would you like something to eat?”

“No honey, maybe a little later.”

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Val followed the tracks up into the hills of Lancer, as they made their way in and around the many trees that could cover them. He felt like this was someone who didn't know just where he was going, for the tracks would stop for a moment then move on. As they came out of the cluster of trees, the tracks started heading south. Bob Taylor rode up to Val and Hank as they led the way, waving something as he called out their names.

“Look, I found this under a bush! It's Juanita's; I seen her use it.”

“What is it?” Val asked.

“She calls it her good luck charm. Seems Johnny gave it to her,” Bob told them.

“That's right, Johnny gave it to her to keep her hands busy instead of on the wire,” Hank added.

“Okay then, these tracks are leading south so let's mount up.”

As they headed south, the trail led them to a small creek to the east of Lancer where the men heard some commotion ahead. This made them enter cautiously for there was no telling if it was the outlaw with Juanita. Some of the men smiled, thinking Juanita would be giving him a hard time yet they also feared for her safety. As they got closer, Val heard Scott asking the man where his niece was, letting him know which direction the men were.

“Hey Scott what ya catch there?” Val dismounted and walked over to Scott and Bruce.

“This here is one of the kidnappers, Val. He was up at the house to see Teresa.”

“So that answers how they knew where Johnny and Juanita was. This guy told 'em.” Val approached the man on the horse. “What ya got to say for yourself, mister?”

“I don't know anything, sheriff. These men came up on me and started throwing me around, asking questions that I don't have the answers to!” Bruce was trying to work his charm on Val, thinking he would be set free.

Scott let Val know he would take Bruce with him to the next town. He had no intention of wasting time getting him to the sheriff in Spanish Wells or any other town behind them. Val agreed as he mounted up and they headed south to find Juanita.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Scott and Val delivered Bruce to the sheriff's office in the small town of King City. Val let the sheriff know what had happened to Juanita and their suspicions regarding Bruce. The sheriff, name of Mike Steal, didn't like anyone who would stoop low enough to pick on a helpless child. He instantly threw Bruce into a cell despite the man's yelling and protests. All his shouting did was make Mike even madder than he already was.

“Don't give me none of that hogwash! How about the little girl's rights to be left alone with her family? How about it bein' unlawful to steal a kid away from their loved ones? You sure didn't yell about her rights, did ya?” Mike slammed the cell door and locked it. “You best hope someday I let ya out!” He crossed to where Scott and Val waited for him.

“How long can ya keep him?” Val asked.

“As long as ya want, Crawford. He'll still be here when ya come back.”

“Do you think you can get him to talk? I know he knows more than he's letting on,” Scott wanted to know.

“Well, that depends on what mood I'm in. Either he gives it up the easy way or the hard way but I'll get him to talk for sure.” Mike gave them a smirk.

“Then I think we best get going, Scott. Mike has everything taken care of; he don't need us cluttering up the place,” Val said, stepping out into the evening sun with Scott following. “I guess we might as well head out and find a place to camp.” Val mounted his horse, turning down the street out of town.

“I think we should send the men back if we have to go into Mexico,” Scott suggested.

“I agree. A couple of us wouldn't look out of place but a group will draw attention.”

When they met up with the Lancer men, they found a place to make camp and Scott told them that, in the morning, only he and Val would be going on; the rest would be returning to Lancer.

“If'n you don't mind, Scott I'd like to go along with y'all,” Billy Bob said, causing others to speak out. They weren't too set on the idea of going back without the little girl.

“I appreciate it... all of you and so does Johnny. You are all good friends to him but I know my brother would agree with me. All of us going across the border - if it comes to that - could cause trouble for us and for Juanita if whoever is holding her finds out before we can get to her.” Scott wanted to show his appreciation for their loyalty but they needed to understand his reasoning.

So the next morning, everyone but Scott and Val headed back, leaving one pack horse with provisions for them. Val and Scott went south as the men headed north.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Tim wasn't having much luck. He was thirsty and hungry. He walked until he couldn't walk any more so he found a small tree to sit under to rest for a while. As he slept, a man on a horse came by. Concerned that the stranger lying under the tree may be injured, he dismounted and gently nudged Tim. The man's kindness was repaid by being callously shot at point-blank range. Not even sparing the man a second glance, Tim sprang onto his horse, leaving him sprawled in the dirt. He rode north in  the hopes of catching up with Juanita. He rode as fast as he could, not caring how tired the horse was getting. He wanted that kid and nothing was going to stop him from getting her. What he didn't consider was just how smart Juanita was for she knew how to get what she wanted and what she wanted was to escape.

Juanita rode north-east, thinking that, if her pursuer was able to get a horse, he would go north. As she rode, she came upon a stream. Being hot and tired, she led both horses over to it allowing them to drink as she too guzzled down the cool water. Then she gathered the canteens and filled them with fresh water from the stream. After she ate a little jerky she found in Tim's saddlebag, she mounted up to keep going. As she rode, little did she know help was riding toward her for, if  ;she kept on her path at her current pace, she would surely run into Val and Scott. They were heading right her way. Within four hours they would meet up with one another.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Bruce was getting on the sheriff's last nerve. He kept yelling to be let out and insisting that he didn't do anything wrong; they had no right to hold him. The sheriff was about ready to gag him when the small town veterinarian came in for their weekly game of checkers.

“Hey doc, you got anything to shut him up?"

“I'm an animal doctor, not a human doctor!”

“Well, unless we can shut him up, we ain't playing anything!”

“What's he in for?”

“He's been accused of kidnapping a child. The sheriff from Green River asked me to hold him 'til he came back for him.”

“If that's the case, how about some sleeping powders I have?”

“What are ya doing with those?” Mike asked.

“At my age, I sometimes have trouble sleeping,” the vet told him as he pulled some packets out of his pocket. They were so crumpled that the sheriff wondered how long he had had them stuffed there. A knock came at the door and the sheriff opened it to a young lady who handed him a tray of food and left.

“Here, give me some of that!” The sheriff sprinkled some of the white powder on the mashed potatoes, mixing it in well. When he was done, he took it to the cell and slipped it through a slit in the bars.

Bruce was starving for the sheriff had refused him breakfast and lunch was nothing more than a dry sandwich and some milk. He ate the plateful so fast he didn't even recognize that the potatoes tasted a little peculiar. As the sheriff took the tray away, Bruce sat on his bed and, before he knew it, was out like a light. This set well with the sheriff for this was the quietest it had been since Bruce had been locked up. He and the doc played checkers peacefully until late. Finally, the old doctor looked at his pocket watch and announced that it was midnight and he had to leave.

“See ya next week, Mike,” the doc said as he left the office.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Sam came out of Johnny's room and ran straight into Teresa who told him Murdoch was wearing a hole in the floor in front of the fireplace in the great room. Sam sent her in to help Maria. Johnny was going to be alright; he just needed plenty of rest. He went down the stairs to the great room where he was rushed at by Murdoch as soon as he came in.

“Sam?”

Slow down, Murdoch, he's alright. The bullet missed anything vital. He'll be sore for a while, no using that arm, and he'll need plenty of rest and fluids to counteract the blood loss. I gave instructions to Maria.” Sam wearily helped himself to a cup of coffee.

“You both will stay for dinner.” Murdoch was not making a request.

“It doesn't sound like he gives us a choice,” Kyle said to Sam.

“No, Murdoch calls the tune around here. It's just he sometimes forgets he doesn't call mine!” Sam told Kyle as he sat back in the chair by the fireplace.

Murdoch had the decency to blush. “Alright Sam, would you and Kyle like to stay for dinner?” he smiled.

“That's more like it, Murdoch. Yes, we certainly would. Kyle, wait 'til you taste Maria's cooking. I'm afraid I can't hold a candle to her so I expect you'll be finding any excuse to visit Lancer!”

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

It was getting late and Juanita needed to stop and rest. She had been on a horse almost non-stop for a couple of days now and all she wanted was to lie down and sleep. She had to find a safe place. Though what was safe out here for a little girl? Especially one with a bounty on her head. After looking around, she found an out of the way clump of trees with a tiny brook running a few yards behind. She found a good spot for the horses and tied them to a tree so they  ;wouldn't take off on her while she slept. As she slept, she didn't hear the sound of horses coming. As they got closer to her, they also noticed the clump of trees and, thinking it was as good as place as any, headed toward them. Neither party knew of the other. As they drew nearer, Juanita woke up in a panic. She froze in place, too scared to move yet knowing she had to. Before she could stir herself, someone poked out from the bushes and she screamed.

 

 

Chapter 26

Juanita had picked up her knife ready to attack, when Val called out, "Juanita, it's me - Sheriff Crawford. I'm coming in!"

Before he could walk in, Juanita had hurled herself around his waist. "It's alright now. Scott is coming right behind me," Val let her know as he picked her up and took her over to set her on a nearby log. But almost immediately, Juanita was up and had her arms around her uncle's neck.

"Don't leave me, Tio!" Juanita put her head on his chest and cried.

"There, there, it's all over now." Scott sat on the same log, and put her gently on his lap.

He wanted a good look at her and what he saw made him angry. Her face was a mess, and when he went to touch her, she cringed and backed away. Val and Scott knew there was something more and Scott easily lifted her shirt to discover the purple bruises there.

"Did that man touch you anywhere else?" Scott was worried about what else may have happened to her

"No, Tio, he didn't rape me," was all Juanita mumbled as she moved away from him. Scott reached out to take her wrist, but when he made contact, Juanita moaned. His touch though gentle on her raw injury caused the pain to flare again.

Val didn't need to be told anything more; he handed bandages to Scott then busied himself by tending the horses, giving them some privacy.

Scott told Juanita she had some broken ribs. He had noticed how she was trying to hide her pain - just like Johnny. This made him smile inside; how much this little girl reminded him of his brother. Johnny must be worried sick about her.

"Val, let's head back tomorrow. I want to get a wire off to Johnny and Murdoch; let them know Juanita is safe with us."

After Scott had taken care of all Juanita's injuries and made sure she was as comfortable as possible on the hard ground, they wrapped her up in Val's blankets to keep her from going into shock. Then, as Val got a good fire going, Scott made the coffee and started preparing the best dinner he could for her. As they worked together, Juanita watched them, moving from one place to another. Val thought he would start a conversation with her to get her to open up some. He knew from other cases that  it was better to get the person who was injured to open up and talk about it as soon as possible while their memory was fresh.

"Can you tell us where the man is? The one who took you?" Val asked her. He didn't get an answer so he looked to Scott to help him out.

Juanita jumped up and ran to Scott, holding on to his neck as if she would never let go. This worried both of the men so Scott tried talking to her.

"Honey, we need to know what happened to the man who took you, can you tell me?" He set her away from his chest as gently as he could but it wasn't easy for she wasn't going to let go. Clinging on to Scott for dear life, he had to croon to her as softly as Johnny did during one of her nightmares. She stared at him, but seemed unable to answer. Instead, she started shaking uncontrollably - something Val had never seen her do before and so he walked away to gather some wood and to give them time together. Maybe Scott could soothe her enough for her to answer the question.

Scott tried to stand her up, thinking she was going into shock. He knew, from the war, to keep them warm so he tried to get his blanket to cover her. Juanita wasn't letting go so he picked her up and walked over to his horse. Untying the straps to the bedroll with his free arm, he draped the blanket over his arm and returned to the fireside. Sitting back down, he untwined her arms from around his neck then put her on his lap, wrapping the blanket around her shaking body. Then he began to rock her back and forth, as Johnny did with her, talking low and soothingly to reassure her that he wouldn't let anyone hurt her again; that he was going to take her home to her papa. As he talked to her, Val came back, tossing the wood on the ground and accidentally scaring her again.

"Val, did you have to drop it like that? Please do it quietly." Scott started over calming Juanita down again.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare the kid again. Poor little tyke!" Val moved around as quietly as he could. By the time he was finished, he looked over to find Juanita sound asleep in Scott's arms.

You seem to have the touch. Thought only her old man had it," Val chuckled.

"Here, help me lay her down."

They spread out the other blanket then Scott laid her down as Val covered her up with his bedroll. Then they sat down beside her as they talked about what to do come morning.

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Upstairs in his bedroom, Johnny woke out of his sleep, asking for his daughter. Murdoch had to tell him that Juanita wasn't there. Then it came back to Johnny what had happened. He struggled up against the pillows, insisting he had to go find her.

"Johnny, Scott and Val are out looking for her, along with some of the men."

"Murdoch, you didn't see these men. They wanted her. They mentioned that there was a bounty on her head! What kind of sick bastard puts a bounty on a child? I have to help her; I'm her father!" Johnny was stopped by Murdoch holding him down.

"Sam said you're to stay in bed and bed is where you'll stay!"

Murdoch was not having any of his bullheadedness, not now. He had sat up with Johnny even after Sam told him to get some sleep. As they argued, a knock came at the door and Sam himself came in, asking, “What in the Sam Hill is going on here?"

The doctor took Murdoch's place as he looked at Johnny. Then he asked where he thought he was going?

"I'm getting up and finding my daughter; that's what I'm doing!" Johnny had had enough of being nursemaided. It was only a bullet in his shoulder, nothing to keep him in bed in his opinion.

"Johnny you lost a lot of blood. You need to build your supply up." The doctor tried to explain it to him.

"Doc, I can do that without being bed-ridden." Johnny tried to get Sam to change his mind.

"If I let you up, it won't be to ride Barranca or any four-legged animal you can think of," Sam chuckled at the look Johnny was giving him.

"Come on Sam, my daughter is out there somewhere. I need to find her." Johnny tried to wheedle his own way, but no such luck. Sam decreed that, if he wanted to get up, it would only be to sit in the house. He agreed to it just to get out of bed; he just wasn't one to laze away in a bed, without a girl that is, as he told Sam and Murdoch. To Johnny's surprise, Sam told him that even that kind of exercise was too much. This made Johnny laugh along with the doctor, but Murdoch didn't see what was so funny. Sam winked and told him he'd explain to Murdoch what kind of exercise they were talking about. This only made Johnny laugh harder, much to Murdoch's dismay.

"Sam, I know what you meant. I just don't think it is appropriate conversation... especially when Teresa could walk in on us at any moment."

"Don't worry Murdoch. If Juanita has spent any time talking to Teresa, she'll already have heard all about it. That child isn't backwards at coming forwards!"

Johnny just smiled.

Before they left, Johnny asked if it was possible to talk to Dr. Busch later. Sam told him he would let Kyle know for he hadn't come with him today. Sam left, reminding Johnny, he preferred him to stay in bed, but he would agree to him sitting in his chair in his room. This didn't make Johnny too happy. He still had to stay in his room. He knew every inch of it, every mark on the walls and floors. Recovering from other injuries he had obtained since coming to Lancer had already necessitated plenty of bed rest.

As they day wore on, Murdoch and Johnny talked more about horses than about the ranch. He let his father know that they had captured a horse he believed belonged to Aggie Conway and they had it tied to a tree. He wanted to know if anyone had brought it back to the ranch for Juanita wanted to see if Aggie would sell it to her. Murdoch informed him that he and Val hadn't seen any horse tied to a tree, let alone anywhere around there. Johnny asked his father if someone could go out and find it for him.

"It was a chocolate palomino - a Quarter horse just like the ones Aggie has on her ranch. That's what made me think it was one of hers."

"It sounds like it. Where'd you two find it?"

"With all the wild horses that run free up by the east by that little stream that runs off the mountains. You know the place I mean?"

"I'll ask Jose to go look for it. He's good with horses. Yes, I know the place well." Murdoch got up to leave as Johnny started to get out of bed.

"You want some help?"

"Naw, I can handle it. Going to go sit in Juanita's room for a while." Johnny put his pants on then stood up to go, only to run into Murdoch blocking his way.

"Son, did you hear Sam at all?" Murdoch stood his ground.

"Yeah, I heard him but I don't think sitting in my daughter's room will hurt me. I need to do it Murdoch, please understand. Waiting to hear something... it's killing me inside a little bit each day, not having her dancing in and out, looking for me. I keep expecting her to run in here at any moment." Johnny was at a loss; he never thought he would feel this way about any kid.

Murdoch did understand what Johnny was going through as he had sat in Johnny's room every night for months on end after his mother took him away from Lancer at the age of two.

"Alright son, I'll have Teresa bring your tray in there. Is there anything else you need?"

"No, thanks anyway," Johnny said as his father moved out of the way to let him go past. As Johnny took the chair by the window, he noticed the letter Juanita had received a while ago. It was lying open on the table as if she had been reading it the morning they left. When he had asked her about the letter, she told him it was nothing. This bothered him at the time but he didn't question her about it. Now, he picked it up and started to read it.

Disturbingly, there was mention of Sister Maria's brothers finding out that Juanita had been the reason the nun was transferred to another parish instead of a mission in Mexico. Then what came next angered Johnny for the girl who had written it told of how the nun would supply a Mexican Don with children and Juanita had been chosen as one to be taken from the mission the night she ran away. Sister Maria ended up being reprimanded by Father Miguel when he discovered the plot. She had been handed over to the Mexican Rurales to be disciplined. The priest was also very upset to find out she had locked the child in the upstairs closet and had her two brothers waiting to take her the next morning. It seemed the brothers, worked for this Don and he was offering the highest bounty ever for the daughter of Johnny Madrid. The letter ended with a warning to Juanita to be on the lookout for a Bruce and Stan Tibbit. They were described as very dangerous.

Murdoch was sitting at his desk in the great room, trying to get some paper work done. He picked up the hot coffee Teresa had brought him a few minutes earlier. Hearing his son yelling out for him, he spilled the coffee all over himself and the desk.

Teresa heard Murdoch yelp at the spilled coffee then cuss about his papers being ruined. Alarmed, she came running.

"Murdoch, why don't you go up and change your shirt then see what Johnny wants?" She started cleaning up the mess. Murdoch left Teresa and he climbed the stairs, heading past Juanita's room where Johnny still called for him.

"Johnny, I'll be right there. I spilled some coffee on my shirt. I want to go change first!" Murdoch went down to his room to change. As he entered the room, he started unbuttoning his shirt, but had to wait as Johnny thrust some papers under his nose.

"I told you I'll be right there. Couldn't you wait? And who told you to get up and walk down here?" Murdoch took a shirt off the hanger and slipped it on as Johnny waved the letter urgently.

"What's this?" Murdoch took the letter to read it and Johnny told him to read the parts he had circled.

Murdoch scanned it then looked up at Johnny. "Why wouldn't she tell you or one of us?" Murdoch didn't understand what his granddaughter had been thinking.

"That's easy, Murdoch." Johnny sat wearily on Murdoch's bed. "She didn't want me to cancel our camp out."

"You think she would do that, knowing her life was in danger?"

"You know her, Murdoch. It's just like her to do something reckless like this, that I'm sure of." Johnny put his head down as he shook it back and forth. "Murdoch, she's my kid of course she would!"

"Johnny, this isn't funny!"

"Does it look like I'm laughing? I'm mad as hell!" Johnny stood up and started pacing

"Alright son, I'm sorry. Yes, you're right; of course, she would. But let's get you back to your room and calm down. I'm just as worried and angry as you are, but right now we have to try to get a message to your brother."

"We don't even know where Scott or Val is!" Johnny walked out of the room with his father, but instead of going back to his own room, he returned to his daughter's. That's where Murdoch left him as he went to fetch him a drink to calm him down.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Tim rode like he was fleeing from a brush fire not even looking for her tracks, but heading north hoping to catch up with her before she made it to Lancer. This was getting him further and further away from where the money was, and it only made him madder than an angry rattler. How he hated kids, and the less he had to do with them, the better he was. This little bitch was going to learn her place when he caught up with her, this was a promise he made himself. No kid was going to outsmart him.

He was not looking where he was going and it came as a big surprise when he landed three feet from his horse, sprawling near the edge of a cliff. Tim struggled to his feet, spitting out dirt and cussing up a blue streak, but found that the horse had broken his leg stepping into a deep rut in the track. He cursed his bad luck then drew his gun and shot it between the eyes. Dusting down his already filthy clothes, he started to walk to the next town or village to find himself anot her horse. After a while, he had to stop for it was too dark to keep going so he found a clump of shrubs and settled down to wait the night through.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita woke up the next morning to find both her Uncle Scott and Sheriff Crawford sitting talking as they drank their coffee. Val was cooking something on the fire, making her stomach growl.

"Tio, is there anything to eat?" Juanita sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"Here, have some of this." Scott handed her some bacon.

"Gracias, Tio. I'm starving!" Juanita took the bacon from Scott and moved closer to him.

"Juanita, are you up to answering some questions?" Val asked her as he placed some scrambled eggs onto a tin plate for her.

Juanita looked up at her uncle to see if it was all right to talk. Scott understood the look she was giving him as he had seen her do the same thing to his brother.

Calmly, Scott explained to her about the man in King City jail; how they thought he was involved in the kidnapping. They had to know from her how many men had been there.

She explained that only two men had come to the camp - the one they found dead who her papa had killed, and one named Tim who had shot her papa and taken off with her.

This was not looking good for Scott and Val; they might have to let Bruce go free if they couldn't come up with evidence that he was part of the kidnapping.

"Juanita, think back. Did either of the two mention another man?" Val asked.

"The man who died kept saying his brother wouldn't like it and the mean man told him if Bruce didn't like it, too bad. He was sick of sitting around watching Madrid and his brat. He meant me and Papa. Before Papa shot back at them, the man who took me said if he wanted to play with that Lancer bitch, it was his tough luck!" Juanita bowed her head, knowing her Papa had warned her about cussing.

"Tio, are you going to tell my papa I cussed?"

Scott put his arms around her and pulled her to him. "No honey, we asked you to remember and that's all you did. Just don't repeat it or let me hear you say it again." He pinched her nose softly.

"I won't." She snuggled up to him because she felt like she was going to cry just remembering seeing her papa on the ground.

It was then that Juanita remembered the letter and hurried to tell them about it; how it was her that they wanted and not her papa. She explained how she had forgotten to take the letter that morning to show Johnny because she was too excited about going camping with him.

"Well, I would imagine your papa isn't going to be happy about that! You know that don't you?"

"Si, he's going to one angry papa."

Val started clearing up so that they could break camp and move on to King city and let the sheriff there know they were taking the prisoner back to Green River with them.

Scott settled his niece as he picked up the bedrolls. Juanita wanted to help, but they wouldn't let her. Instead, Scott grabbed the bandages and told Juanita he wanted to change the dressing before they left. He was worried about her riding with her injuries. He didn't want to cause her any more pain or make them worse, but he saw no other way. “Do you think you could ride by yourself or would you be better with me?"

"It's alright, it doesn't hurt that much. I can ride." She was trying to ease her uncle's worries.

Scott picked her up, much to her surprise, "Tio! I can walk, I'm not a baby"

Her protests fell on deaf ears for Scott wasn't going to let her suffer anymore. As they loaded up to head out, Juanita stayed as close to Scott as she could. "Tio, are we heading home now? I want to see my papa. I'm worried about him."

"We have one stop to make first, honey then we'll be heading back to Lancer."

"Scott, maybe I should go on to King City while you head on home with her?" Val felt Juanita had been through enough and understood how she yearned to be home with his friend.

"Val, I don't know. You able to handle things without me?"

"Hey, I can take the prisoner back alone; don't need ya holding my hand!" Val told him with a look of disgust.

"How about we go in with you and I can telegraph Murdoch to let him know we have Juanita with us? Then we'll head out?" Scott wasn't comfortable leaving Val to handle Bruce on his own.

As they rode, Scott checked continually to see how Juanita was doing. He thought he would see if they had a doctor in the town and have him look her over. They took their time even though Juanita warned them about Tim being out looking for her. Juanita didn't want to think of anything but being home with her papa and family - safe and sleeping in her own bed.

They came upon a rickety wooden sign, stating King City 50 miles. The closer they got, the more Juanita started to withdraw into herself. Both men saw it happen and agreed that Scott would send a telegraph to Murdoch, taking Juanita with him while Val went to talk to the sheriff.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Johnny opened his eyes, at first not remembering where he was. The bed wasn't his. He stretched; giving a big yawn, as he sat up then it hit him he was in Juanita's room. He had been sitting in her chair last night looking out on to Lancer, imagining his daughter out there riding free. He got up; walking over to the door for nature was calling. As he opened it, he took one last look then walked to the stairs. He entered the kitchen as Maria was coming in to start breakfast.

"Juanito, why are you up? The doctor tells you to stay in your room."

"It's alright, Maria. I have to do something." He headed out to use the outhouse, but heard Murdoch call his name.

"John, where are you going?"

"Nature calls," was all Johnny said as he left.

"Juanito is worried about his hija, si?" Maria looked up as Murdoch came down the stairs. She got him a cup from the shelf to pour some of the fresh coffee.

"Yes, Maria, Johnny is very worried - about more than Juanita too."

Murdoch took up the newspaper that one of his hands brought back from town yesterday. As he opened it up and started reading, Teresa came in, asking if he would escort her to church and the social afterwards. Murdoch explained that he would be willing to attend church with her, but wasn't interested in staying for the social; maybe one of her friends could bring her home after? This wasn't exactly what Teresa had in mind, but she knew that finding Juanita and bringing her home was the important issue at  hand. This made her think of how she was so looking forward to Juanita going to her first one. Lilly Sue was going to bring the riding outfit they made for her to look like theirs. It had been a sad time having to tell Lilly Sue about the kidnapping yet Lilly Sue made sure they had it finished for her, praying she would be home by now.

Teresa was thinking so hard that she didn't see Johnny come up behind her. When he spoke, she jumped and dropped the coffee pot, just missing being burnt by the scalding liquid.

"I'm sorry, Teresa, I didn't mean to scare you." Johnny grabbed the closest towel and started cleaning up the coffee.

"It's alright, Johnny I wasn't paying attention." She grabbed another towel to help him as she handed the pot to Maria.

The mess was cleaned up and Johnny gave the sodden cloth to Teresa to put with the dirty laundry. He sat down at the table and, when Murdoch raised a questioning eyebrow at him, he said, "What?" with one of his winning smiles that usually got him anything he wanted.

It always surprised him when it worked on his father who almost always knew what he was up to. What Johnny didn't know was how his father was seeing the little boy who would always smile like that when he was in trouble as a child. He smiled to himself, thinking how justice would be served when Juanita turned that same winning smile on her young father the next time he caught her out of bed where he had sent her. Murdoch chuckled at the thought.

"What's funny?" Johnny looked at him.

"Nothing, John, nothing at all."

"Doesn't sound like nothing. Tell me."

"You'll find out before long." Murdoch helped himself to a fresh cup of coffee then poured one for Johnny. In the meantime, Johnny took the paper that Murdoch put down and started reading.

"Murdoch, did you see this?" Johnny turned the paper to show Murdoch an article about a nun being murdered down by Fresno City; a nun who was selling children to Mexicans.

Johnny watched Murdoch who read it out to everyone in the room. No names had been reported to protect the privacy of the victims.

"Murdoch, it makes me wonder who ordered Juanita to be kidnapped." Johnny felt a rush of relief. Now, if they just knew where his daughter was.

"I can't say for sure, Johnny. Let's just hope Scott and Val have found her." Murdoch prayed that Scott got to Juanita before anything bad happened to her.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Riding in to King city, Scott took Juanita with him over to the livery to stable Tim's horse. He asked the livery owner if there was a telegraph office in town and was directed to the other side of town. Then he asked if there was somewhere to get a meal other than the saloon. It was a small town so, when the man told him there was no cantina or cafe, Juanita looked at her uncle and told him it was all right; they didn't have to tell her papa. Scott, however, refused to take her into a saloon.

"Sir, is there a hotel or rooms where we could freshen up?"

"The only thing here would be the saloon, mister, Just down the street a-ways."

The three of them left the livery, each with something on their minds. Scott told Val they would meet up at the saloon in an hour. So Val took off to the jail to see how Mike was faring with their prisoner.

"Howdy Mike, come to take the prisoner off your hands."

"Ya have? Good! You can have him with my blessings. He keeps going on about being held against his will." Mike stood up to shake Val's hand. "Want some coffee? Where's the other guy that was with you?"

"Yeah, I'll have some coffee. He's with his niece, looking for a telegraph office and something for the girl to eat. Seems the one who took her didn't think she needed to be fed; seems he thought she'd do fine without anything. Oh, and we have his horse so the man is on foot as far as I know!"

Val laughed at the thought of some big man getting outdone by a little girl. Yet, he shouldn't be surprised; she wasn't just anybody's little girl - she was Johnny's.

"I see. It's a shame that she had to go through it at all. Is she alright?"

"All we want is to get her home, and with her family's help she will be. She did say that the two who kidnapped her mentioned a boss named Bruce so I figure it's him. As soon as I have something to eat, I'm heading out with him." Val pointed to the man lying on the hard cot in the cell.

"How come he ain't up or running his mouth?" Val was curious.

"Oh. let's just say he's taking a nap. Had to give him some sleeping powders to get him to shut his trap. I'll have him ready for you in an hour if that's alright?"

"Sure thing, just don't tell me how you do it." Val then asked about somewhere to eat and was told about the saloon being the only place. Val thanked him and left the office to discover Scott and Juanita just finishing at the telegraph office so he waved them down.

"Mike says the only place to eat is the saloon. How about grabbing something before we head out?"

"Val, we can't take Juanita in there. No, Johnny would kill us!" Scott was worried about taking Juanita into a saloon. This only made Juanita shake her head. How ridiculous her uncle was being.

"Tio, now you are just being silly. If my papa was here, he would take me there to eat."

"I don't know. Seems to me Johnny wouldn't want his daughter in no saloon. Nope, he'd go find a nice place to camp, catch him a rabbit and feed you hisself!"

"Well, he's not here with us and what he doesn't know won't hurt him!" Juanita contradicted Val and headed down the street to the saloon.

"That's telling you, Val!" Laughing the whole way, Scott threw up his hands and led them down the street into the saloon. Juanita stopped, looking around, and when she didn't feel there was any threat she continued to the far back table, taking a seat with her eyes on the door and her back to the wall. This didn't go unnoticed by Val and Scott. They looked at each other, Val shaking his head.

"Yep, that's Johnny's kid, alright!" Scott just nodded then took a seat next to her.

The bartender sent the girl that worked there over to tell them they didn't serve kids. At this, Juanita whispered in her ear, "Tell your boss if he doesn't want to be on Johnny Madrid's bad side, he better serve his daughter or else somebody will teach him some manners!" The girl glanced at the two men then moved fast to speak to the barkeep.

"Juanita, what did you tell her?" Scott didn't like the look on the girl's face or the angry glare from the bartender when she hurriedly spoke to him.

"Nothing really, just told her I was hungry and I'm not nice when I'm hungry!" Juanita sat back, tipping her chair back on two legs just as Johnny always did. She was scared inside, but her grandpapa always told her a Madrid didn't show fear when around strangers so she put her best Madrid face on.

The girl came back to take their orders, making sure that they were pleased with her service. What the little girl did not know was that Johnny Madrid was a good friend of the barman, so when he strolled over and questioned them about Juanita being his daughter, Val spoke up. "What's it to you?"

The man smilingly explained he was a friend of Johnny's and didn't know of any daughter.

Scott spoke. "Johnny found his family."

"I don't recall Johnny mentioning you, mister," Val casually said as he leaned back on his chair. "Juanita, your pa ever mentioned him to you?”

"Nope, Uncle Val, not that I recall." They were having a little fun with the bartender, though Scott was serious.

"I'm Big Al." He put out his hand to shake Val's and Scott's.

"Glad to know my brother had friends out here." Scott stood up to shake his hand whereas Val stayed sitting down.

"Anything I can do for y'all, give me a holler." Big Al turned to walk away when Scott asked him where they might be able to find a train station.

"Two towns over you'll be able to catch a train to Stockton."

Scott thanked him. As they tucked in to the meal, the girl came over again with another drink for each of them. Juanita beamed at the sight of her huge glass of milk. Once they were finished eating, Scott left some money on the table and they walked out of the saloon. Scott saw a general store and a bathhouse.

"Val, how about we take a couple rooms so Juanita can get a good night's sleep. She could use a nice bath and some new clothes too. Would you like that, honey?"

"Si, Tio."

"I'll go tell the sheriff while you take her and get anything she wants Scott, anything and it's on me." Val hoped Scott got the message without spelling it out to him for he loved the little girl; wanted her to be happy and back in her father's arms.

"I'll take care of it. Get us some rooms when you're done," Scott smiled.

The two of them went to the general store as Val headed back to the jail.

As Scott opened the door for his niece to enter first, Juanita thanked him politely. The first thing she saw was a barrel of pickles standing next to the counter that had a huge shiny cash register on it. Next to the cash register, sat two big jars full of striped peppermint sticks and black licorice strands. As she let her eyes adjust to the dim light, she took in the sight of a table with cowboy hats strewn across it, but they looked too big for her head. As she looked to her right , along the wall were handmade toys - horses, trains, carriages, wagons, and to go with the horses, a handmade fort with high walls. At the top, each part of the fence was shaped into a point. She walked over to it, reached out and touched it. This made her start to cry. Scott was right behind her, knelt down and took her in his arms, letting her sob until she was done. Then he took his bandana out so she could blow her nose.

"Estoy lo siento, Tio," she sniffled.

"Honey, you don't have anything to be sorry for; you didn't do anything wrong." Scott held her for a little bit more then asked her, "How about we go look for some clothes for you?"

Juanita nodded her head then took Scott's hand in her's. He smiled down at her and they walked around a small table with some men's shirts on display. Scott noticed a man behind a stack of material so he asked if they had any children's clothes and hats. His response was that they had some boys' clothes, but if he was looking for girls' dresses, he didn't sell them for most ladies tended to make their own. Scott looked down at his niece and smiled.

"I'm looking for some jeans and a shirt, some underclothes, socks, anything you have. Also a child's hat."

The man directed Scott and Juanita over to a rack with a few pair of jeans and a table of shirts that would fit her. They went through it all. Juanita picked out a pair of jeans, but the shirts were harder for they all were dull colors, or plaid and she didn't like any of them. But her uncle reminded her that, once they made it back to Lancer, she didn't have to wear it again. So she picked out the brightest one there; a sage green similar to her papa's green one only it didn't have the same stitching. So, with pants and shirt, they went and picked out some long johns for her which made her laugh.

"Tio, if Papa could see us now, he would be shaking his head!" This made them both laugh.

"I never thought I would be doing this either," Scott told her as he passed her a pair of socks. Juanita soon had everything she needed then she spotted the boots.

"Oh Tio, may I?" At his smile, she picked a pair that she liked. Next came a hat. That was the big problem as none of them fit her.

As the owner watched them, he went into the back room to get something. When he returned, he had a brown cowboy hat, small enough to fit her head.

As Scott was paying for the clothes, he added a dime's worth of each of the candies in the jar and they walked out of the general store, both with a piece of licorice in their mouths. From there they headed over to the bathhouse where they ran into Val, already in a bath soaking.

"Hey mister, you can't bring her in here!" The manager told Scott who sighed in exasperation.

"Listen friend, this is my niece and she has been through a tough time as you can see. Now she wants a bath and she will have one!" Scott let him know he wasn't taking no for an answer.

The manager looked at the little girl, finally noticing the black eye and the split lip. Flashing her a sympathetic smile, he directed Scott and Juanita into a small room, off the main room.

"I'll bring in a tub and set it up for her; no one will bother her in here." He left to fetch the tub.

"Tio, gracias, you didn't have to do that; I would've gone to a creek and bathed there."

"No, you couldn't. Now, you just relax. If you want me to stay with you while you bathe, I will."

"I'm too old for that!"

"Yes honey, I know you are, but I also know you're still scared. You can't fool me so I'll have the manager bring a screen in so it'll be alright."

Scott did just that and Juanita was able to take a nice bath without worrying about being alone. When she first saw the bruises on her body, it made her angry at Tim; she just wanted to have her papa kill him, but he had told her that wasn't going to happen. When she saw the big black bruise by her rib, she knew why it hurt so bad. She got dressed then asked Scott to come in to check the bruise. Scott had asked about a doctor, but had been told the only one was out of town. Scott was disappointed for he knew his niece was hurting badly.

After Scott took a look at her, he suggested they get some bandages. So, while Scott took his turn at taking his bath, Val took Juanita over to a room above the saloon where he took and bandaged her ribs nice and tight. Juanita moaned in pain.

"Sorry honey, I have to make sure you don't do any more damage 'til we get you to the doctor's."

"I know, it only hurts a little." Juanita sat on the bed and asked Val if she was going to have to see the man in the jail. She didn't know if she could do it.

Val told her that Scott was leaving with her in the morning then he would head out in the afternoon. As he finished bandaging both her wrists, Val didn't notice the one on her waist and Juanita didn't let on it bothered her any. Val continued telling her that they would be going to be take the train to Cross Creek then on to Green river with his prisoner and she would head to Lancer with Scott. This made her feel a little better though she didn't want either her uncle, or the sheriff thinking she was a baby.

"It's okay; I can do it I think with both you and Tio being there with me." She didn't want Val to have to take the man back alone either. If he was as mean as Tim, she feared for his life.

Just then, Scott walked in, not too pleased to be bringing Juanita back into the saloon. He was worried about her being there at nighttime. Juanita laughed at her uncle for she told him she wasn't in a saloon; she was in a room above a saloon and she wasn't going to be down there at night.

Val got a kick out of Juanita; she was so much like Johnny - she called it as she saw it, never beating around the bush like Scott.

"Scott, you know she's right. If Johnny was here, he'd do the same thing as we're doing. No other choice."

"No Val, I think Johnny would've found a place outside of town to camp with Juanita." Scott sat on the other bed after he put his dirty clothes in his saddlebags.

"Tio, you worry too much about always doing the right thing and what people are going to think about you if you don't. It's their problem and your business as my mama always taught me. You don't have to be right all the time or perfect. God didn't make us to be perfect." Juanita just didn't understand his, or her grandpa's ways. She thought they were always trying to live up to others' views of them; always too afraid of what others might say.

"That's because it does matter how others view you when you live in a community and in business, Juanita. The way you act has a lot to say about your morals and your beliefs," Scott told her.

"Hog wash! It's none of their business what I do. What should be more important is what you show by the hard work you do and the quality of what you're selling. That's what my grandpapa always told me. If your cows are skinny and old and you try to sell them, it should be about the look of the beasts, not whether you pick your nose in church!" Juanita was serious about how she felt, both Scott and Val saw that in her body language.

"I think it's time we all get some rest." Val spoke up before this became an argument and the Boston-bred uncle became annoyed.

"I have the room across from y'all, see ya in the morning."

"First, I want to send a wire to Lancer. I saw the office was open on my way back." Scott walked to the door. "You want to come with me, Juanita or stay here with Val?"

"I want to go with you and send my papa a telegraph."

So off they went as Val went to his room to get some much-needed rest before taking Bruce back to Green River.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Juanita knelt to say her prayers, blessing her family and friends, but mostly her papa then she got under the covers as Scott tucked her in as Johnny always did.

He climbed into bed, thinking about all Juanita had said and how she was so right about him. He did worry about what people thought of him; he always tried to be perfect and do, or say the right thing. How he wished he could be more like his niece and brother; they said what they meant so you knew what was on their minds. Yet, he still thought there was a place and time for speaking your mind. He just wished Johnny and Juanita saw that. It was more Juanita than his brother for he had seen Johnny correct her blunt approach and somewhat rude outbursts. He felt he had hardly closed his eyes when he was being awakened by his niece going through one of her nightmares.

 

 

Chapter 27

The next morning, Val, Scott and Juanita went down to the saloon main room together where Big Al had everything set up for their breakfast.

“You let me or Sally know if there's anything you want. Only the best for Johnny's family!”

“Thank You, Big Al, but I think we have everything,” Scott let him know how grateful they were for his hospitality.

As they ate, Juanita picked at her food. Scott watched her for a few minutes then asked if she wasn't hungry. Juanita admitted she wasn't and ached to go home. Val went over to the bar to ask Big Al if there was a stage coach that came through. Al let him know that it came through only once a week and that it wouldn't be through again until the next week. If they had to leave, horse-back was the only way. Val reported back to Scott and it was decided that Scott and Juanita would  leave after breakfast with Val leaving later so that Juanita wouldn't have to linger too long or see the prisoner.

As they were finishing up, doctor Ray came into the saloon, asking to see Juanita. He apologized for not being there sooner. Scott accompanied them back up to their room upstairs. As the doctor undid the bandages Scott had just put on her that morning, Juanita kept her eyes fixed straight ahead so she didn't have to witness the cause of her pain.

“I don't like the looks of these bruises. Also her wrists look infected and it seems she has some cracked ribs. This little one has surely been in the wars!”

“I'm alright, doctor, I'll keep them bandaged.” Juanita didn't like doctors on the whole, except for her Dr. Sam back home.

“Doc, will it be alright for her to travel in a wagon?”

“I'd rather she not travel at all but stay here where I can watch over her.” The doctor was worried about her eye; how black and blue it was and still swollen shut.

“I”M GOING HOME!” Juanita yelled back, telling Scott she was more scared than angry.

“It's alright, honey. We'll get you home as soon as we can but I don't think Johnny would want you traveling against the doctor's orders. I'll wire him you need to stay put.” Scott was trying to reason with her as he could see she was on the verge of crying - the shaking had started.

He looked at the doctor for some reassurance that she would be alright. The doctor told Juanita that she could damage her ribs further if she rattled them too much. Juanita wasn't interested in anything other than going home. Even though she knew in her heart they were right, she didn't know how to make them understand how vulnerable she felt with Tim on the loose.

“Por favor, Tío Scott, quiero estar con mi papá?” Juanita pleaded with her uncle.

“How about I telegraph him and see what he wants us to do?” Scott was at a loss for he wanted to let her have her way but knew darn well he shouldn't. He felt she needed Johnny and, if he could get Johnny here, then he would do it.

The doctor re-bandaged Juanita and put some ointment on her wrist to fight the infection. Then he tied it good and tight. He left some ointment in a jar for Scott to use on her every two hours and instructed him to re-bandage the wounds to keep them clean. Scott paid the doctor then told Juanita to stay put; he would be right back. But when he went to leave, Juanita was right behind him.

“I'm going with you, Tio! I'm not going to stay here.”

“Alright, let's go let Murdoch and Johnny know what's going on.”

When they went down the stairs, Big Al and Sally were standing by the bar, getting ready to open the saloon to it's usual customers. Sally came over to see if there was anything she could do for them.

“Thank you, Sally, we might need a quiet room for a while. Seems the doctor doesn't want Juanita traveling,” Scott informed her.

“I'll get the back room upstairs ready for you. It's the quietest we have.” With Big Al's permission, Sally left the opening of the saloon to him and went up to prepare the room for Scott and Juanita.

At the telegraph office down the street, Juanita wanted to send her papa a telegraph too so Scott told her she could add something to his. After they had sent the wire, Scott told the man that he would be in the saloon should there be an answer. The guy behind the glass looked down at Juanita and then at Scott, mumbling under his breath about taking a kid to the saloon. Juanita heard him criticizing her uncle and, allowing her fiery temper to show, let him know that his opinion of them wasn't worth the spit he shined his boots with. Then, she marched straight back over to the saloon with Scott taking up the rear.

“Juanita, that wasn't very polite," Scott frowned disapprovingly. "I think you should go apologize to him.”

“Nope!”

Scott's mouth firmed grimly at her sass. He would have said more but they were already pushing through the bat-wing doors of the saloon. Val was sitting at a far table with his back to the wall, sipping on a cold beer. Seated in the chair next to him was the sheriff. He also clutched a beer and Scott noticed with pleasure that there was a spare beer waiting for him too. Juanita took a seat and reached for Scott's glass, daring anyone to stop her. She was obviously in one of her moods  ;and she could feel the anger take over her body, as if she was ready to explode. She knew she was pushing it but, somehow, could not stop herself. She lifted the drink to her lips but didn't manage to take a sip as Scott swiped it from her, giving her a dark look.

“Sally, can you bring Juanita some sarsaparilla to drink, please?"

Sally put the drink in front of the scowling child with a friendly smile. Her smile slipped when she was received with one of Juanita's best Madrid faces. Juanita drank her drink slowly, not paying attention to the conversation that was taking place at the table. The men discussed taking Bruce back to Green River that afternoon. As they talked, Juanita moved over to the bar. From the corner of his eye, Scott noticed a man at the bar edge closer to her. He was just about to rise from his seat when the man yelled at Juanita who kicked him in the shins, shouting up at him to back off. Scott was by her side in an instant, instructing her to sit down and that, if she needed something in future, he would get it for her himself. She spun around and glared up at Scott, pouting for all she was worth. She was not in a good mood.

“What's eating you, honey?”

“Nothing.” She moved away from her uncle and sat back down. Sally came out of the kitchen with a plate full of sandwiches which she handed to Scott, explaining that Big Al wanted to make sure Juanita ate at least one of them. Then she returned to the kitchen for a glass of milk for the little girl. Sally thought it was sweet of Al to make sure she was taken care of. No matter how tough he acted, she knew he liked the kid and her spunk.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

At the Lancer hacienda, Murdoch had just received Scott's wire, saying that the doctor there felt Juanita shouldn't travel at this time. He wanted to know if Johnny could come to King City instead. At the end, there was a little note for Johnny from Juanita, saying she was coming home, no matter what the doctor said.

Murdoch went out to the barn where Johnny was with the chocolate palomino that Aggie had said they could keep for Juanita. Aggie said she would settle with the girl when she came home. Johnny was gently brushing the horse while Barranca snorted jealously close by.

“Johnny, a wire came from Scott!” Murdoch made sure he made plenty of noise as he approached the doorway. With his younger son, it was unwise to sneak up on him; you might just get shot.

Johnny threw the brush into a bucket as he left the stall, eagerly taking the telegraph from Murdoch. He read it then told his father he would be leaving as soon as he packed his saddle bags. Murdoch told him he would send a reply to Scott to let him know they were both on their way. Johnny passed the boy from town waiting for a response from one of them. Murdoch invited him into the house to wait in the kitchen with a cool glass of lemonade while he wrote out what he wanted to say. The he handed it to the boy with the money to pay and extra dollar for his trouble. Then he asked Frank to saddle their horses.

Strolling into the kitchen, he asked Teresa to put together some supplies for them as they were going to meet up with Scott and Juanita. As Teresa started getting things together, she asked one question after another but all Murdoch could tell her was what the telegraph had said and that they were going to meet up with them in King City. Just as Murdoch made it to the stairs to get his saddlebags packed, Johnny slid down the banister, eager to get moving. Johnny was a bundle of energy waiting to explode. Hanging around wasn't his strongest suit so he went out to saddle Barranca.

As he walked in, Frank was trying to get close to the golden horse with his blanket. Johnny laughed at what he was seeing as, no matter which way Frank tried to get to him, Barranca blocked his way.

“Here, let me. Barranca, you know you're bad!”

“That horse is spoiled rotten!” Frank tossed the blanket to Johnny and moved to saddle Buster, Murdoch's horse, instead.

Leading the two horses out of the barn to a waiting Murdoch, Johnny spied the large sack of supplies and, grinning down at the girl, he tied it to his horse and off they went.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Scott took Juanita up to their room so that he could get her out of the way of the customers now coming into the saloon. Scott had her get into bed and propped her up with extra pillows that Big Al made available. Juanita was having none of it. She scowled and complained and fought being put to bed until Scott brought out the candy they had bought, using it as a bribe to make her stay put. As they both had a peppermint stick, Scott got the child to talk about how she was feeling . They were discussing how Juanita knew about Sister Maria having two brothers and Bruce being one of them when there was a knock at the door. Scott got up, asking who it was. The man on the other side told him he was from the telegraph office with a reply for a Scott Lancer. He opened the door, reaching into his pocket for a dollar which he handed it to the man in exchange for the envelope. Scott closed the door but, before he could turn around, he was almost knocked off his feet by the excited girl who charged at him.

“Well, is it from Papa?"

“No, it's from Murdoch. I'll read it to you.”

Juanita went back to bed without complaining. She sensed her fever was getting worse and, in truth, she wasn't feeling all that great but she was anxious to know what was in the wire. “Well?”

Scott smiled and sat down on the chair he had pulled up to the side of the bed. “It says Murdoch and Johnny are on their way here. Johnny wants you to listen to the doctor and do as he tells you.” Scott smirked at the look of disgust on her face.

“Let me see that, my Papa didn't say that!” Juanita grabbed the flimsy paper from Scott's hand to read it for herself. Her face fell when she spotted those very words - underlined - only making Scott laugh even harder.

“Bet grandpa wrote this!” Juanita argued. Just then, Val poked his head around the door.

“Is it safe?” he said as he came in. “I'm leaving this afternoon with Bruce and, with your help Juanita, he'll be charged with attempted kidnapping of a minor.” Val sat down on the edge of the bed and grinned at her.

“Do I have to testify?”

“I'm going to see if the judge will just talk to you privately,” Val told her.

“Let's worry later about that, Val. We got a telegraph; Johnny and Murdoch are on their way here. We have to stay put until the doctor says Juanita can travel,” Scott informed him.

“Well then, you take good care of our special girl here, Scott.” Val delved into the bag of candy Juanita offered to him, extracting a third peppermint stick.

“What can I do in this bed? I'm already bored!”

“I think for now, when you're done with that candy, you are going to lay down and get some rest.” With his best stern uncle's look, Scott let her know that he was in charge, not her. “I might buy some checkers so we can play and how about I see if they have any good books for you?”

“Naw, just don't feel like it.”

“With that fever of hers, I don't think she'll be doing anything but sleeping,” Val said.

Scott had noticed her face was flushed but knew his niece would argue and he was hoping to avoid stirring her up any further. Juanita was starting to feel the effects of the fever; she struggled to keep her good eye open, drifting off to sleep. Her hand slid down to her lap and the peppermint stick fell, sticking to her blanket. Scott took the candy away, wrapping it up, in the telegraph paper. He then removed a pillow from behind Juanita's head, letting her lay back to sleep. This gave Val an d Scott time to talk privately about taking Bruce back to Green River.

"Doc gave her a little laudanum to get her to relax and sleep some. You know Val, with Johnny and Murdoch coming, you could wait and I could go back with you,” Scott offered.

”I'd appreciate the company but the sooner I get him back to Green River, the happier I'll be and I'll be able to keep an eye out for that Tim guy and any others looking for Juanita. Just want to get on the trail. How long you reckon it'll be before they get here?”

"According to Murdoch's telegraph, they were leaving right away so I think... about two days. Knowing Johnny, he'll want to ride as long as they have daylight.”

“Yeah, knowing my amigo, he'll ride all night if there's a full moon.” Val knew Johnny well enough to know that nothing or no-one would slow him down. “We have to hope he doesn't run into that other feller, Tim.” Val was worried about him still being on the loose, looking for Juanita.

“You think he would head back to Lancer?” Scott was now thinking of Teresa being alone at Lancer with all of them here in King City.

“As I see it, that's where he would think Juanita would be heading so, yeah, I think he would.”

Scott hadn't had time to think about anything but keeping Juanita safe and getting her home so this wasn't great news for him. Now, he was more than anxious to get back home himself, but he didn't want to worry Juanita.

They sat and talked for another hour or so then Scott had Val watch over Juanita while he sent another telegraph to Teresa to let her know about Tim and to have Hank set up some guards around the hacienda.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Murdoch and Johnny rode until the sun started to go down then they found a good place to camp for the night. Johnny had so much pent up energy and was so anxious to be in King City with his daughter. Worrying about her injuries (he knew the kidnapper's kind well enough), he feared for his little girl. Murdoch could see how his son couldn't settle. The young man paced, back and forth, from his horse to the fire, over and over, until Murdoch had to firmly tell him to sit down.

“Murdoch, I can't help but think of what state she might be in. I know that kind; they don't care if it's a kid or a woman, alive or dead, the money is all they care about in the end!"

“We'll find out more when we get there, so there's no point in worrying about something we can do nothing about. Scott's with her; he won't let anyone hurt her. You know he'll take care of good care of her.”

“I know, Murdoch, but I would feel better being there myself.” Johnny walked to Barranca, knowing that just petting the powerful animal would soothe him. Once he let his fears out, he could get himself under control... and god help the man who got in his way. Johnny was hoping to come face to face with the scum who took his daughter, just to have the pleasure of making him pay for messing with what was his. He knew that he was letting his anger get the better of him but none of this would've happened if he had known about the letter before they went camping. He was going to have a good talk with his daughter about keeping things from him.

He didn't get much sleep that night and, in the morning, he had the fire built up and some breakfast made before Murdoch woke up. As Murdoch ate, Johnny packed the camp up and saddled the horses. Murdoch watched his Johnny went about packing. He smiled to himself, thinking how much one little girl had changed his son.

“Son, you don't mind if I finish my coffee before we leave?”

“If you have to, old man, I guess I can wait.” Johnny caught the smile his father was giving him, ducked his head and wrapped his arms around himself as he scuffed the dirt with his right boot. “Guess I'm just anxious to get going, sorry.”

“Don't be son, I know that feeling. At one time I had it bad; every time I went out searching for my son.” Murdoch drained his cup and rinsed it with the water from his canteen. He put the metal cup in his saddlebag along with his clean plate.

They rode until their horses were tired then they took a break. If it wasn't for Murdoch being there, Johnny would just have walked Barranca as they both rested but he knew it was taking a toll on his father. With the injury from Day Pardee's bullet, Murdoch's back still suffered from a lengthy ride or a long afternoon in the forge.

This was the reason he had called both his sons home; to help defend their home. Much of the past had been put to rest as they all got to know one another. Johnny had found it hard at first to talk about his childhood with Murdoch but, as time went on, his father opened up more to him about his own past with Maria. There were still some well hidden secrets that Johnny would take to his grave. He felt none of the family, especially his father, would benefit from knowing so he kept them to himself. His childhood was the best and the worst of times - something which could be said by many - and he shared the good. Johnny was thinking how much Murdoch had accepted him being Madrid, even to the point of reminding him that his past would always be a part of him. After Johnny had killed his friend, Isham.. it seemed so long ago now that he had raced to save his father from the gunfighter he had once called friend. It had brought them both closer than ever.

They rode into a small patch of trees and made camp there that night to get some much needed rest and with the intentions of getting an early start. As they sat by the fire in the gathering darkness, Johnny's instincts became alerted. He motioned to Murdoch to stop talking by putting his index finger to his lips as he listened. Someone was stealthily approaching. Johnny motioned for Murdoch to get behind a tree as he took out his gun, clicking back the hammer ready to shoot. Johnny hid behind another tree, watching as the man who had taken Juanita walked right into camp with his gun drawn. Johnny took this time to walk out to confront him.

“Remember me?” a cold hard Madrid asked.

“I didn't kill you after all, Johnny Madrid. This time I won't miss,” Tim said as he aimed his gun toward Johnny, only to find himself falling. In shock, he saw the rough hard ground rising up to meet him. A gasp of surprise died on his lips as his face crashed into the earth. It was over before Murdoch could blink. He had seen Madrid in action before but this astounded him; how fast and decisively his son had moved.

“Johnny, you alright?” Murdoch ran to Johnny's side, his legs feeling shaky.

“Yeah Murdoch, not a scratch on me.” Johnny crossed cautiously over to Tim, kicking his gun away then checking for a pulse.

“He's dead. Guess we better bury him.” It was more a statement than an question

“.Son, we have nothing to bury him with. Let's just take him to the sheriff in Kings City in the morning.”

“You want look at him all night, Murdoch?” Johnny returned to the body and dragged it into the brush, out of sight of camp.

“No, I don't but we can't bury him right now. The next best thing is taking him to the sheriff.”

“Murdoch, he walked in here with the sole intention of shooting us both, more than likely in the back. Now, you going to let him ride with you? 'Cause he ain't riding with me.”  Johnny sat down again, taking a cup of coffee from Murdoch. then he slid a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebags, pouring some into the steaming liquid, then offering it to his father. Murdoch took the bottle with a thankful nod and poured a good shot into his coffee to ease the pain in his back which knifed him persistently. He hoped he could hide it from his son but he knew better; Johnny saw right through him.

Murdoch had been enjoying this time with his younger son even though he knew they were on a mission to fetch his granddaughter. To him, it was like the times when Johnny was very young and they would sit out on the veranda, looking out on the land that was theirs and talking about whatever subject the little two year old Johnny could come up with. Johnny had talked early and he never used that baby talk that some kids develop first. After a while, Murdoch had Johnny lay down and he stood  watch first, knowing his son badly needed some sleep.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

The next morning found Juanita's fever was worse, causing Scott to leave her for a minute to ask Big Al to call for the doctor. Sally fetched some cool water and some rags to wash the child down. As Big Al took off, he almost bumped into Doctor Ray, coming in the doors of the saloon.

“What's wrong?” Ray asked, worried about Juanita.

“Juanita took a turn for the worse this morning,” Scott answered, leading the doctor up the stairs.

When they entered the room, Juanita was thrashing around on the bed, moaning in her deleterious. Sally handed the water pitcher to Scott as she moved next to Juanita, trying to keep her down. Scott took over from her as the doctor poured water into a bowl on the table and dunked the rag, wringing it out hastily and laying it on Juanita's forehead. Sally started washing down her body. As Sally lifted the sweat-soaked nightshirt, she gasped.

“Look!”

On the side of Juanita's waist was a ugly infection with puss leaking out copiously. It looked like something was embedded in the wound. With another cloth, Sally washed it well. Scott pinned Juanita firmly to stop her constant thrashing.

"If I'm to get this under control, Mr. Lancer, I'm going to need to open the wound to drain the poison. See here... I pinch it lightly and the infection just oozes out.” It was the only comment Ray was going to make; he had work to do... and immediately if the child was to survive.

Scott had Al bring up some hot water to sterilize the instruments the doctor was going to use. Sally made room for everything he would need to operate.

Sally was a very strong young woman; from a big family of thirteen children, she had to go along with her two older brothers and sister every day to work for her family. One day, an older man had asked her father for her hand in marriage. She had been only twelve but her father accepted the money the man was willing to pay for her hand. That night, in fear and dread of being married, she shuck away from home never to return. She never stopped hiding until Johnny Madrid found her eating out of the garbage. It was then that Johnny took her over to the bath house and paid for her to take a bath. He had found her some clean clothes and, when she was more presentable, took her to Big Al's to get her something to eat. Al had taken her in and treated her as a daughter ever since, promising Johnny he wouldn't let her become a saloon girl to please the men. Her duties were only to wait on the customers, and, if any man tried to touch her, they found themselves looking down the barrel of a shotgun. Big Al only had to use it once and that man had never bothered anyone since or so as the story went.

Johnny and Murdoch rode into King City close to noon. On the back on Murdoch's horse, they had tied Tim's body. Stopping at the sheriff's office, Murdoch and Johnny looked in.

“Johnny and Murdoch Lancer? Val said you were on your way. Seems your daughter took a turn for the worse. You'll find them at the saloon.” Mike didn't get anything else out before Murdoch and Johnny took off for the saloon. Mike followed them to the door and saw the body on the back of the horse. He undid it, calling out to a man on the street to go get the undertaker. Tim's corpse hit the ground with a thud as it was untied. The sheriff left it there while he waited for the  ;undertaker to haul it away; he would find out who it was later.

Johnny beat Murdoch to the saloon. Rushing in, he found Scott and Al sitting at a table, drinking a beer. Johnny couldn't believe they were just sitting there when his daughter needed them.

“What the hell are you two doing?” Johnny regarded them with fire in his eyes.

“Just hold on, Johnny.” Big Al got up fast.

“Johnny, the doctor is with her,” Scott soothed his brother.

“Johnny Madrid, don't you worry none. Doc will have your daughter up and sassing everyone in no time. He's the best,” Al assured his friend.

Murdoch watched this big man place a meaty arm around his son and wondered who he was. On his lonely travels, Johnny had at least found a few good friends. Murdoch smiled. “Hello, I'm Johnny and Scott's father, Murdoch Lancer.”

“Howdy, Mr. Lancer, welcome. How about a beer, maybe some vittles?” Al was eager to please his old friend's pa.

They all moved back to the table, making Johnny sit and listen to them. The sheriff came in as Al was taking the orders and asked for a beer for himself.

“Can one of you two tell me who that dead man is you brought in with ya?” Mike wanted answers.

“Sheriff, he came into camp last night. Johnny recognized him as one of the men who took my granddaughter. He challenged my son... and lost.” Murdoch could feel no regret for what was done.

“Thanks. That's all I need to know."

“Who was in the jail? There was only two of them and I killed both.” Johnny was a little confused about things.

“Johnny, there was more than two. It seems that an accomplice met Teresa and used his friendship with her to find out about you and Juanita being up at the cabin. This man and his brother and friend had been watching you two the whole week,” Scott explained.

“Yeah, seems the two who kidnapped and shot you got restless and acted without their leader who was in Mike's jail, waiting till Sheriff Crawford took him back to Green River to stand trial," Mike added.

“You mean, that boy who came into our home? The one that Teresa showed around Lancer?” Murdoch couldn't believe his ears.

They talked more until the doctor came down. Instantly, Johnny was on his feet

“How is she, doc? Can I see her? Will she be alright?" Johnny couldn't stop himself.

"Hold up,” the doctor stopped Johnny from going any further. “Let me sit down and I'll tell you everything. Al, how about a coffee?”

“Doctor, this is my brother Johnny and my father Murdoch. Johnny is Juanita's father,” Scott introduced them.

"Yes, I can tell. I'm Ray, the doctor around here. Juanita's fever is high. I'm keeping an eye on it and Sally is up there with her now. The child has a couple bad infections I've had to open up and drain; one on her waist had a thin piece of rope hair in it. That's what caused the infection. She has two cracked ribs so I suggest she stays put until I say she can travel. I will be staying as close as I can to her, keeping an eye on her fever. I don't want it getting any higher. Now, Mr. Lancer is it or Madrid?"

“I go by Lancer now. Thank you for taking care of my daughter. I'm going to go up there now. Which room?”

“It's the one in the back, Johnny.” Al came up with a shot of tequila for Johnny.

“Thanks.” Johnny downed the shot, handing the glass to Al and going up the stairs. By the time he reached the room, his memory had strayed back to when Al and Sally had hidden him there so many years ago. Now they had Juanita safe too. He opened the door to find his daughter laying there so quietly and looking so pale and sick that he barely recognized her. Johnny felt his eyes fill up as tears started to form. He didn't stop them. He moved closer to her, unable to take his eyes off her face.

"Here Johnny, come sit here.” Sally got up from the chair, putting the cloth back in the bowl. She felt for both of them but especially for her old friend, Johnny. She knew how painful it was for him to see his little girl so battered and bruised. She watched as Johnny put his hand softly on Juanita's forehead, brushing her bangs out of the way.

“Johnny, do you want me to stay or do you want to be alone with her?”

Johnny didn't say anything; just picked up the wet cloth and wrung it out, as he began washing Juanita gently. “Johnny?”

“Yeah?”

“I'll leave you alone.” Sally quietly left Johnny to take care of his daughter alone.

Johnny sat, softly talking to her as he washed her, mentally taking in all the cuts, scratches, and yellowing bruises on her frail form. He looked at the bandages around her little ribs and wrist and it made him mad; yet at the same time he hurt for her. It was a feeling he had never known; like someone was pulling his heart out. He had to take a deep breath to get himself back under control.

There was a knock on the door and Murdoch asked to come in. Getting no answer, he entered warily and moved a second chair to the other side of the bed. It made him sick to think that grown men would stoop to hurting a helpless child. He wondered just what could make a man do this. As he watched Johnny wash his child, no words were necessary between them for each knew how the other felt. It made them both feel stronger inside, knowing how far they had come as father and son. Now, being a parent, Johnny understood how his own father felt when he was shot by Pardee; as he lay in bed, raging with fever. Here Murdoch was again, only with his daughter this time. Johnny looked up at Murdoch and smiled. The older man returned the smile and nodded his head in complete understanding.

They stayed with Juanita all night long. Big Al kept food, coffee and cool water coming at all times. Scott came up before he retired to bed to let them know to call at once if they needed him. In the morning, Murdoch took Johnny some breakfast, making him eat something. Johnny wasn't that hungry but he ate a little and drank the hot coffee. A knock on the door had him rushing to answer it.

“Hey Doc, come on in.”

“Any change?” Ray asked them.

'No,” Johnny said. “We kept washing her down but it seems like it hasn't helped any.”.

”It's a good sign that her temperature hasn't risen so let keep positive.” He got busy, undoing the bandages then checking her ribs by gently probing them here and there. Murdoch could tell his son wasn't liking the way Juanita moaned at the man's touch and suggested Johnny leave while the doctor assessed her condition. Johnny just shook his head and stayed while Ray re-bandaged her. Neither Johnny or Murdoch was prepared for what they saw. It made both their stomachs lurch. Murdoch got himself a drink of water.

Once the doctor had finished his examination, he instructed Johnny to continue sponging her down with cold water and, if anything changed, to let him know right away. “For the time being, it's more a matter of clearing up the infections. Her wrist is healing up, it's the one on her waist that has me concerned. Keep an eye on that one, I'll be back after lunch,” he told Johnny as he closed up his black bag and left.

Scott came in all ready to leave and catch up with Val. "I'm heading out. Hope to catch up with Val. I also don't like Teresa being by herself with only Maria”

"Okay son, be careful out there." Murdoch and Johnny said their good byes and Scott took his leave.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

Johnny sat with Juanita all through the night again, washing her down with a cool cloth. Murdoch came in with a tray for him - a roast beef sandwich, a cold beer and a cup of strong black coffee. Johnny drank the beer to wash down the sandwich but he left the coffee. Murdoch tried to persuade him to lay down and get some sleep but Johnny wanted to be there when Juanita woke up. Murdoch stayed with him as they talked about little things.

At about three o'clock in the morning, Juanita's fever broke. Her eye blinked open to see her father dozing in the chair next to her bed with his hand in hers. She looked around and found her grandpa in another chair, sound asleep too. This made her smile and she stroked her thumb over her father's hand until he woke.

“Hello, sleepy head,” Juanita croaked.

"Look who's talking!" Johnny smiled at her as he reached over and poured her a glass of cool water. "Here, drink this." He helped Juanita sit up and take a sip from the glass.

"How ya feeling sweetheart?"

"Hurts, Papa. Still feel bad." Juanita felt ashamed to admit it but she knew he would only want the truth.

"The man who shot me and took you is dead so you don't have to worry about him any more. Though we have some talking to do when you're feeling better."

"Si Papa, I know you are mad at me for the letter." Juanita tried to stay awake but the lingering effects of the laudanum were making her eyes droop. Johnny told her to hush and go back to sleep; there was plenty of time to discuss all of that later. He wasn't going anywhere and neither was she.

The next day found Juanita in much pain and very woozy from the laudanum she was being given. She told Johnny she didn't want any more of it and he questioned rather she really needed it for he never liked being drugged himself. He only gave in when he knew he couldn't stand the pain. He told Juanita he would permit her to forego the medicine as she gave him one of her winning smiles - something which made him give in to her every time. However, he told her if he felt she needed it, then it would be there in readiness. Murdoch watched the whole conversation take place and only smiled inside as he saw how easily Johnny gave in to her.

As Juanita slept, Johnny had Murdoch watch her while he went to send Val a wire to let them know that Tim was dead. Then he was going over to see what the general store had that might keep his daughter from being bored during her recovery. Johnny knew what it was like having to stay in bed and, after two days of her being cooped up in bed, she was wearing his nerves, complaining she was bored or she wanted to sit in a chair; telling him she was alright when he knew darn well she wasn't. Murdoch had come in a few times to break up an argument between them. Juanita was just like her father when she was sick and Murdoch was just finding this out. At times, he had to chuckle about Johnny saying the same  exact words to her as he had used many a time himself. He knew Johnny wasn't a push-over but it seemed Juanita had figured out that her special smile got her anything she wanted. Murdoch felt it was time to alert Johnny to just what his granddaughter was up to.

"Son, we need to talk."

"About what, Murdoch?"

"Juanita."

"What about her?"

"Seems she is playing you; using that certain smile of hers. Remember at the kitchen table when I told you your turn would come?"

"Come on, Murdoch, Juanita isn't pulling my leg. I know what's she's up to. She thinks I don't but I'm on to her. That little lady has quite a bit to learn about her papa and, when she's better... I intend to teach the lesson well." Johnny's blue eyes sparkled as he smiled at his father.

"I hope so, son because she sure thinks she has you hopping!" Murdoch smiled as Johnny played self-consciously with one of the conchos on the side of his pants.

They sat at a small table in the saloon while Juanita slept. Or at least they left her sleeping; Juanita had other plans and played possum until they left. Waiting for them to go down the hall, she sat up, pulling her legs to the side of the bed. She felt a little dizzy so she put her head down until the room stopped spinning then she stood up carefully, using the chair her papa had sat in to steady herself. Then she plunked her rump down into it, feeling sore all over but happy to be out of that bed.

That's just where Johnny found her when he went up to bed. Al had brought in a cot so Johnny could sleep in the same room with her. When he saw her, all crumpled up in pain as tears rolled down her face, Johnny gently woke her.

"Come on chica, let's get you back to bed." Johnny lifted her up only to have her scream and start pounding him on his back. Another of her nightmares! He put her on the bed as he talked to her as calmly and smoothly as he had done many times before. Her screams not only brought Murdoch, but Big Al and Sally.

"Johnny, what do you need?" Big Al asked as he threw open the door. Murdoch came up behind him and told him it was alright; Johnny would take care of everything. Sally and Al backed out with fearful looks on their faces but Murdoch reassured them everything would be well. Then he went back into Juanita's room and shut the door, waiting until Johnny told him it was alright.

As the night wore on, Juanita couldn't sleep for, even though they had told her Tim had been killed, every time she closed her eyes she had dreams of him, murdering her family then coming after her. She knew Tim had nothing to do with killing her family and village but the letter had made her think that, because of her, the Don had them all killed in his search for her. Johnny didn't want to worry her or his family but, once this horror was over for his daughter, he intended to find  out just who this Don was; what he was up to with these children. What he didn't know was that Murdoch had already wired a friend who had a hacienda down around the border, asking him about Don Delgado whom Bruce had mentioned he worked for. Until he had something definite to tell Johnny and Scott, he was keeping quiet.

 

 

Chapter 28

For the past week and a half, Juanita had been confined to bed. It was Johnny's test of all tests so far to keep her there and not allow her to become bored. His efforts had Murdoch chuckling. She complained endlessly of being bored but she didn't want to play any of the games Johnny bought for her. Every time he left the room to fetch something or take a break, Juanita tried to get up. Johnny endeavoured to hold his temper but she was walking a thin line with him. She kept telling him she was alright and she would do better to be outdoors where she could have some fresh air. The child was tenacious; Murdoch had to give her that!

Eventually, Juanita had taken enough of being 'imprisoned' as she put it so, when Dr. Ray began to once more repeat his instructions that she should stay in bed, she gave him the 'Madrid look' and very quietly said, “Don't even think about me staying in this bed one more second!”

Johnny looked at her, his face stern, then said, “You'll stay in this here bed until the doctor says otherwise. Now, you had better wipe that look off your face. And I won't tolerate that tone of voice either. Y'know, you ought to thank the doctor here; it's only down to him that you're not across my knee with me tanning your hide!”

Juanita said no more. Instead, she slid down in her bed, knowing her papa meant business. However, she was not so easily subdued; she had her own plan to get away. She just had to bide her time. As she laid there, scheming, she heard Dr. Ray say, “I guess you can make plans to go home tomorrow. I'm releasing Juanita in the morning though there are a few conditions I'd like to discuss with you.”

This made Juanita ask if she could please get up and walk around. Both men started laughing which didn't please her at all. "What?”

“Just how much walking have you done this week when our backs were turned?” Johnny asked her.

Juanita flopped petulantly back and wrapped her arms around herself, her head down and bottom lip out. Johnny grinned. “Yeah, you can pout all you like; we know you're not innocent when it comes to obeying us.” Johnny looked at the doctor, also wanting the answer to the question his daughter had asked.

“Juanita can get up and walk around a little as long as someone is with her at all times.”

“You get up and get dressed. We'll go join Murdoch for lunch.” They left to let her get dressed. Johnny also had other questions about her riding and camping out on their way home. Dr. Ray allowed it only if they could find no other way for it was a little too soon for her to be riding but he had a feeling both Murdoch and Johnny wouldn't let her do anything unnecessary. As they talked, Juanita came out of the room, all dressed and eager to go.

“Come on, Papa lets go. I'm starved!” She grabbed Johnny's hand and tried to tug him along.

“Alright, slow down and say goodbye to the doctor!”

“Goodbye, doctor Ray. Gracias for all you've done.” Juanita didn't let go of her father's hand, wanting to get him to hurry. “Papa, you're a slow poke!”

“Is that so?”

“Si. Wait 'til I get home and tell Tio you took me downstairs to the saloon!”

“Now, wait a minute! What's that about?”

“Oh Papa, he went on and on about what you would say about him bringing me to stay in a saloon. Someone has to tease him some so it should be me and you.” Juanita was down the stairs first and spotted her grandpa, sitting by himself. She walked over to him with Johnny following.

“I see the doctor let you out for some fresh air.” Murdoch moved a chair out for his granddaughter to sit.

“Not only that, Grandpa. I can go home tomorrow!”

Murdoch looked at his son for confirmation.

“Yeah, he's letting her go so tomorrow morning we head home.” Johnny ordered a beer and steak for himself and a glass of milk and a chicken dinner for his daughter.

“So, we'll have to get provisions for our trip. We need to head to the next town to meet the train, take that to Cross Creek and home?” Murdoch asked.

“Nope, going to ride back straight to Lancer.”

This made Juanita the happiest; she wanted to ride straight home and not have to go out of their way to catch a train. This would only delay them and, in her eyes, it was unnecessary.

“Seems to me I haven't seen that shirt on you before. Is it new?” Murdoch had just noticed what his granddaughter was wearing.

“Si Grandpa, my clothes were all torn up and dirty. Tio said they would make great rags for Teresa. When we got here, he let me get new clothes then took me over to the bath house.”

“Didn't they have anything for a girl to wear?' Johnny smiled at her as he cut a juicy piece of steak.

“Nope!” Juanita looked up at him and gave one of his smiles back.

“Johnny, you think it's wise to let her sleep out on the ground? What did the doctor say about it?”

“Murdoch, he said it was alright and we'll be watching her.”

The rest of the day was spent making sure they had enough supplies for the two and half days it would take to ride home. Johnny allowed Juanita to go with him to check out the horses and buy what they needed. The storekeeper remembered the little girl and told her he had something specially for her. Johnny asked her if she knew what the man meant.

“No Papa.”

When he came out of the room, he held in his hands the most beautiful little statue of a brown horse with a blond mane and tail. It was on a wooden stand and delicately carved with Juanita's name ... bravest girl of the west. Juanita couldn't believe her eyes. She reached out to gently take it in her hand.

“This is hermoso! But I can't take this!” She handed it back to him.

“Yes miel, you can. It's from your grandpa and your uncle Scott,” Johnny told her.

“Oh Papa! Por qué?"

“Because you are so special to them and... they love you.” Johnny took the statue from Juanita and asked the man to wrap it well so that it would survive their journey home.

“Papa...” Juanita started to cry. Johnny held her in his arms until she settled down. “Papa, I'm special to them? They love me?”

“Of course sweetheart, but they don't love you more than your old man does.”

“Si, I love them also.”

They took the little package and all the other things they had purchased for their trip. Then the two of them left the store.

“How about, while it's still daylight, we leave today, Papa?”

“Not 'til the morning.” Johnny smiled down at her, knowing just what she was trying to do. He couldn't be mad or upset; he'd done the same thing.

They reached the livery as Sheriff Mike was coming out.

"Howdy Johnny, Juanita!”

“Howdy. Find someone to buy that man's horse?" Johnny asked.

“Yeah. Cletus bought it,” Mike told them. “You look like you're getting ready to leave."

“The doc says Juanita can head home tomorrow so we're just loading up and we'll be heading out in the morning.”

Mike and Johnny talked for a bit more awhile Juanita went in to see Jackson and Barranca. Johnny eventually came in and saw her petting his horse. "Don't get any ideas; you're riding Jackson! Now, stop spoiling my horse. Scott thinks it's me spoiling him.”

“Oh Papa, you know I don't spoil him any more than you do and Tio knows it too. How come I can't ride Barranca? After all, he'll be easy with me.” Juanita started laughing at the look Johnny was giving her.

"Oh no you don't, chica. Jackson will be just as easy.” Johnny put the provisions down then checked all three horses over. At last, they made their way back to the saloon where they found Murdoch, sitting at a table reading.

“Murdoch, what ya' got there?" Johnny took a seat, motioning for Juanita to join him.

“The answer to my telegraph. I wired my friend, Alberto who owns a ranch down in Mexico. Let's go upstairs; I'll tell you all about it.”

Just then, Al set down two new beers and a drink of milk for Juanita with some cookies.

“Just get it said, Murdoch. If it concerns Juanita, I reckon she has the right to know.”

“Alright son. It appears from what we read in the paper about this... Don, it was the same man Bruce was working for. His name is Senor Delgado. He owns a big spread just over the border. His cattle aren't doing well and he was losing money so he tried breeding horses but... that failed too. As he got desperate, he tried his hand at a different kind of business - selling young orphaned children. He sold the boys and girls alike to brothels and bordellos. Believe it or not, there are those who would..." Murdoch glanced at his granddaughter and chewed at his lip, the disgust clear in his eyes. "The prize was to be Juanita. To possess the daughter of Johnny Madrid.... Well, with everything that has happened, I got another telegraph from Val, saying Bruce named Don Delgado as his boss. Val contacted someone in Mexico who has been working on the case and he reports that all involved across the border have finally been arrested. He said Juanita doesn't have to testify because Bruce spilled his guts and t old just what Tim was capable of. With Scott and Val letting on how they found her, only you will have to give a statement, Johnny.”

“What about the bounty on me?” Juanita was worried more would come.

“Been taken care of; there isn't any.” Murdoch eased her mind.

That night, Johnny was having trouble getting his daughter to sleep. She was so anxious to be home that she couldn't settle. Johnny decided that now was a good time to talk to her about keeping things from him.

“I want you to tell me why you kept that letter a secret from me.”

“I wasn't trying to, Papa.” Nervously, she dipped her head.

“I asked you about it and you told me it was nothing. Isn't that right?”

“Si.”

“Well?”

“Papa, I didn't want you to know at first but, as the time came to go, I took out the letter to show you but I was getting everything ready... and you were calling me to get a move on... and... I forgot to take it with me. That's all.”

Johnny wasn't buying any of what she had to say for she wouldn't look him in the eye.

“Tell me, what did you think was going to happen when they showed up? Did you think we were going to take care of them ourselves as Madrids?” Johnny was far from happy with his daughter. She wouldn't look at him and constantly fiddled with a thread on her blanket.

“I asked you a question. I expect an answer.” Johnny's voice was soft yet stern enough to let her know he was seriously displeased.

"I was hoping they didn't know where I was and I could have just one camp out with you. I didn't really think they would find me.”

“They not only knew where you were but had been there watching us all week. Had I known about the threat, we would never have gone. You would've stayed at home.. safe.” Johnny tried to explain he would have been able to protect her if she had been honest from the start. "Sweetheart, I know you were looking forward to the camp-out but we need to work together to protect each other. Yes, I would've canceled it that time but there would've been other times. If ever anyone threatens you, I want to know about it, understand? It's important, honey.”

“Si Papa, I promise.” Juanita glanced up at Johnny to see one of his winning smiles. She ran over to him and gave him the biggest hug she could. “Te amo, Papa!”

“Yo también te quiero.”

Johnny laid down with her until she fell asleep then he went down to the bar and got himself a drink before he went back to bed.

The next morning found Juanita up early. She jumped on Johnny, prodding at him with her hands, trying to get him to wake up. Johnny told her to go back to sleep before he got his belt which only made her sit on him. Johnny squinted through half-opened eyes at his over-excited child.

“Time to get up, Papa. We can go home today!”

“I can't! Someone is holding me down!”

She jumped off him, taking his covers with her, and trotted right out the door and down the hall to Murdoch's room. Juanita knocked on the door three times before bursting in. As with Johnny, she shook him and told him it was time to go home. Murdoch blinked groggily and moaned that he needed his coffee before dealing with her. “Honey, go get your daddy up!”

“I am up! She woke me first. Here, some nice hot coffee. Juanita, go get washed up and dressed while your grandpa gets up.”

“Okay, see ya' later, Grandpa!”

“Son, she is all wound up like a spring! It's going to be an interesting day.” Murdoch sat on the edge of his bed, taking the cup. Johnny perched on a chair and laughed.

“It won't be easy, that's for sure. It took forever to get her to go to sleep.” Johnny drank his coffee with Murdoch then left to get ready himself.

When they came down the stairs, Al had a big breakfast waiting for them. Sally had prepared a bag full of sandwiches with a couple of bottles of sarsaparilla for Juanita and an extra treat - home-baked cookies for them. Johnny gave her a kiss on the check, saying thank you and Juanita enthusiastically copied him. As they ate, Sheriff Mike came in to bid them farewell. While Juanita and Johnny left to get the horses, Murdoch thanked Big Al and Sally for all they had done for his family, making sure to let them know if they were ever up near Morro Coyo, to stop in for a visit.

Juanita ran back into the saloon, calling out to Murdoch that her papa was waiting for them.

Once out on the road, they took their time, watching for any signs from Juanita that it was too much for her or that she needed to rest. Johnny kept an eye out for anything that might be a threat. When Juanita started getting whinny about going too slowly and being hungry, they stopped near a small creek for lunch. Murdoch got out the sandwiches and drinks for them as Johnny tended to the horses.

After their lunch, Murdoch and Johnny tried to persuade her to linger and rest without any success. Instead, Juanita ran right into the creek. She was laughing and urging her papa to join her, claiming it was relaxing and had cooled her off. Johnny removed his boots, rolled up his pants then walked into the water. With Johnny's back to her, Juanita quietly crept up on him, thinking he wouldn't hear her. When she was about to jump on his back, Johnny turned and caught her mid-pounce then tossed her into the water. They played for a while, laughing and just enjoying the time together.

Up on the grass, sitting on a blanket, Murdoch watched his son and granddaughter enjoying themselves. It was good to see Johnny being able to relax and spend this carefree time with his daughter. Murdoch hadn't ever believed he would have his son back in his life, let alone a granddaughter of this - his youngest boy. To Murdoch, it was truly a blessing to be a witness to this innocent play time, knowing there would be many more moments such as this for these two. Murdoch knew Juanita's arrival into his son's life was a miracle and he thanked providence for it. He knew Johnny had never dreamed of having a family. So, for him to be able to have a daughter had shown him such a life was possible and, with one little girl's help, his son just might get married someday... if she had anything to say about it.

Johnny and Juanita came out of the water, laughing and still trying to trip each other. Murdoch had a feeling the girl was deliberately falling just so her father had to pick her up.

“I guess you two should dry off before we move on,” Murdoch smiled up at them.

“I can ride wet. How about you, Papa?”

Johnny winked at Murdoch. “I think we should wait and dry off. An hour should do it.”

“No Papa! You're teasing!” Juanita saw the smile between them and smacked Johnny's bottom then fled. He took off after her as she ran to Murdoch for protection. She pranced behind her grandpa, daring Johnny to catch her while Murdoch laughed and tried to move out of the way or pull her up in front of him to offer her to his son. She wasn't about to let it happen and she held on with all her might to Murdoch's belt while Johnny jokingly threatened dire consequences. Finally, Johnny was worn out and slumped down next to his father. The battle was over it seemed and Juanita at last stopped dancing and paused for breath. Without warning, Johnny reached behind Murdoch and seized her. He flipped her over his legs where she squealed and scrabbled to escape. But, instead of the threatened spanking, Johnny tickled her mercilessly until she shrieked that he'd better let her go before she had an accident. Nature called!

Johnny watched her go behind a bush. He was instantly uneasy, not yet comfortable at having her out of sight. Together, they packed up their leftovers then headed out.

That first day out on the trail, Juanita did better than either of them had expected. Johnny was happy to see her enjoying herself, knowing that at any time her mood could change. Scott had told him how he had seen her be happy and laughing one minute and, the next, shaking and crying. Johnny understood it was what she had been going through after talking to Dr. Busch. All he could do was get her to talk about her worries and constantly reassure her. It bothered him to see her now mixing  the two nightmares together but he felt more able to help her.

That morning, as Murdoch made breakfast, Johnny and Juanita sat together in a quiet place near the water and talked about her nightmares and what happened to her when Tim took her. She told him everything, leaving nothing out. Johnny was proud of her for fighting back. Boy, the girl had spunk! But he only told her that she could have been hurt worse. He understood how she thought for he knew he would've done the same thing, had he been in her situation. They talked for nearly two hours, Murdoch giving them their privacy and packing up the camp so that, when they at last were ready, they could leave straight away.

 

 

Chapter 29

The travelers made good time on the journey home and the third morning found them up on the south- west hills, looking over the lush expanse of Lancer. Something came over Juanita and, before she could stop herself, she was off and galloping down, anxious to be home. Johnny and Murdoch yelled out but she didn't seem to notice; her eyes were fixed on the far distant white hacienda that called out to her.

"I guess she doesn't hear us, Murdoch." Johnny gave Barranca a kick and flew off in pursuit. Murdoch simply shook his head and smiled, giving Buster a hearty nudge and joining them. This had been an experience of a life time for Murdoch, spending time with his son and granddaughter. He let his inner child out somewhat and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He had even found himself being pulled into a wrestling match with Johnny, Juanita exuberantly joining in; Murdoch had finally hopped into the lake to keep  from being caught by them. At one time, long ago it now seemed, Murdoch had dreamed how it would have been with his sons, had they grown up at Lancer. Now, home was right in front of them all and, though worn out from the trail, they were anxious to see their loved ones.

Juanita made it under the Lancer arch first and declared herself the winner. Scott heard the noise from the barn and came out to greet them as Teresa and Maria rushed out of the front door.

"Hello there, I see you all made it back in one piece," Scott called out, smiling up at the laughing child as she kicked free of her stirrups.

"Juanita, it's so good to see you again!" Teresa ran over to the girl and threw her arms around her.

"Howdy Teresa, I missed you." Then she spotted Maria and broke hold of Teresa to run over to the beaming little woman. She had to ask Maria to ease up some; she was hugging her so hard she couldn't breathe. Next came Scott, embracing her warmly, telling her all would be well. Juanita had tears of joy in her eyes. She realized they loved her but not this much.

As they walked to the door, both Dr. Sam and Dr. Busch were waiting for them. Juanita hugged her Dr. Sam as she called him and said hello to Dr. Kyle then smiled shyly.

"How did everything go?" Sam asked.

"It went fine, Sam, just fine. We can talk later but right now I need a drink and some food." Murdoch poured himself a drink then offered to pour one for the rest of them. Sam already had a drink and Kyle had his lemonade. Johnny eagerly took up Murdoch's offer, as did Juanita who only received a stern no from all three of the Lancer men.

This only made her laugh and say, "They take me into a saloon and won't even let me taste the beer! Men!" Then she ducked from both Scott and Johnny who were trying to grab and tickle her.

"It seems she's doing better than I thought she would be," Kyle commented on this bounding, laughing girl in front of him.

"Well, that's because of you, Doc. I did what you said, about getting her to open up and talk about her fears and nightmares. I'd appreciate if you would see her on your own and let me know what you think," Johnny said as he took the drink from Murdoch and sat on the couch.

Juanita went with Teresa and Maria into the kitchen to get herself a glass of milk and some cookies to tide her over until lunch. It smelled good in there as Maria was making all of Juanita's favorite foods. The girl wanted to see what they were cooking but neither one would allow it, waving her out of the kitchen.

When she walked out into the great room, someone knocked on the door. She instantly ran to Johnny and squeezed in between him and Sam. She tried to hide her face behind her father but Johnny looked over to Dr. Busch who nodded his head to let him know this was to be expected. Johnny knew he would have to work with her on that but, for now, just put his arm around her to make her feel safe.

Scott let Aggie in as he had invited her for lunch to welcome Juanita home. Scott knew that Aggie wanted to be there when Juanita saw her horse for the first time and Johnny had asked him to make sure Sam and Kyle were there. Johnny had become good friends with Kyle over the time that he had been in Green River. He was aware that Kyle wanted to stay and open a practice up in the area with Juanita as his first patient.

"Hello everyone, where's Juanita? Didn't you bring her home with you, Johnny Lancer?"

"You bet I did. I wasn't leaving without her. I have no idea where she's can have got to." Johnny smiled at Aggie and pointed down to where she was hiding.

'Well, in that case, maybe I should take the horse home when I go, seeing as she's not interested."

"What? What horse?!" Juanita jumped up and squealed in both Johnny's and Sam's ears. "Where is it?"

"Slow down, before you scare it away!" Johnny tried to grab her but missed.

"Well, it's certainly not in the house I hope. Why don't we all join Juanita in the barn?" Murdoch announced.

Before he had finished speaking, Juanita was out the door with Scott and Johnny right behind her. Johnny reached her first and stopped her from opening the barn door until everyone was there. Once they were all gathered, Johnny nodded to her and helped her open the door to see a beautiful Quarter Horse, with the colors of a chocolate palomino. It wore a big red bow around its neck. Juanita was in awe of it all.

"Papa, is this mine?" She walked slowly to the horse which neighed as she approached, her hand held out.

"Yes miel, he's yours." Johnny walked up to her as she petted its nose and ran his hand through the silky mane.

"Mrs. Conway, is this one of yours, the one that we found?" She turned to Aggie.

"Yes honey. Your daddy told me you wanted to buy him, is that right?"

"Si, but I haven't paid you yet." She cast a worried glance at her papa.

" We'll work that out later, honey don't worry about it. Just enjoy him," Aggie told her.

"I will pay you for a..." She had started saying "For Madrid's pay for what they want" .Those that knew her well all joined in and said it with her then they all burst into laughter. Juanita had a mad look on her face but then started laughing along with them.

"How about making it Lancer?" Johnny asked her.

As everyone waited for her answer, Juanita smiled and told them, "My name is Juanita Madrid - Lancer." Then she turned to her horse.

"Juanita, what you going to name him?" Kyle asked.

"His name is... Curro."

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

All of the adults went back into the house except for Johnny and Scott. They stayed with Juanita and Johnny helped her up onto Curro and walked her out into the corral. He handed her the reins and told her she could only walk or canter around the corral for now. The two men watched her handle him like an expert, taking him through some of the steps she had learned with her grandpapa.

"You would think, after being in the saddle for three straight days, her behind would be too sore to sit on another horse for a while," Scott smiled to his brother.

Johnny smirked at Scott and replied, "She's a Madrid!" This made both of them burst out laughing. Tears rolled down their cheeks. Juanita noticed so sped across to them as if she was going to ride right over them then came to a stop mere inches away. Startled, Johnny gave her one of his looks that told her not to do that again.

"Papa, I wasn't going to hurt you or Tio just wanted to know what was so funny."

"Nothing sweetheart, you're doing well. Where you learn to do that?" Johnny was impressed.

"It's a routine that Grandpapa and I would take the horses through at the ranch we worked at. I sometimes would help the vaqueros or grandpapa run them. You knew that, Papa."

"I know but I never saw you do this routine."

"Papa, will you work with me and Curro? I want to teach him everything Barranca knows."

"Oh, I don't know. I don't show how to Scott get his horse to do what Barranca can do."

"Curro is special, Papa. He's not Tio's; he's mine. So will you, por favor?" Juanita pleaded with Johnny.

"Only if you stop being so demanding... for a while at least." Johnny reached up and took her off the horse, telling her to let Curro out to the pasture for their lunch was ready. Juanita did as she was asked then ran back to Johnny, not wanting to leave his side for long. Both of the men noticed this; she was herself one minute, the next a scared kid. Johnny knew now to expect mood swings from her. Kyle had discussed this at length. Johnny and Scott both slung an arm around her shoulders and, together, they walked into the house.

Lunch in the kitchen was a joyous affair with a lot of chatter and laughter. Kyle kept a watchful eye on Juanita as he noticed the more the noise, the more she shied away into herself. Even Murdoch noticed and wondered if Johnny was realizing what was happening before him.

"Juanita, if your father doesn't mind, I would like to take a walk with you and have a little talk?" Kyle was looking directly at her for an answer. Juanita glanced up at her father then asked if he would come too.

"Miel, I'll be right here waiting for you. How about just you and the doc talk for a while then we can all talk together." Johnny put his hand on hers to show his support.

Juanita put her head down. "If you say I have to, I will, Papa. But I don't want to go without you." She mumbled it so softly that Johnny had to listen carefully. He took his hand off hers and lifted her face to him. "Nothing to worry about, miel. You're around people who care about you and will protect you always."

After they had finished, Dr. Kyle and Juanita walked over to the pasture where Curro was enjoying some of the rich green grass that Murdoch had claimed to possess a gray hair for every blade.

"How you doing, Juanita? Would you tell me how you felt about being taken?" Kyle began.

"You know that I would've stopped it?" She climbed up on the fence and threw her leg over to straddle it.

"Yes, your father told me about the letter. Why didn't you tell him or show it to him?"

" Didn't want him to know. He would've canceled the camp-out and I wouldn't have been able to work with him."

"I see. So now, after all that has happened, would you still keep it from him?"

"My papa and I talked about this. No, I wouldn't have kept it from him in the first place. After I thought about it, I forgot to grab it and take it with me. I thought I knew my papa could handle those men... with my help."

"Do you still think that way?"

"No"

"I'm glad to hear that. I bet your father was happy to hear it too. Your uncle tells me you had some nightmares where you mixed both what happened to your family and the kidnapping?"

"Yeah, my uncle has a big mouth. Wasn't his place to tell you that; it was mine... if I wanted you to know."

"You can go ahead and get mad, Juanita, but I'm not going away. Just as your uncle and family aren't going to stop caring about you. Would you tell me about your nightmare?"

"Didn't my papa or tio tell you? I told them what happens."

"Yes, your father told me when we talked but I want to hear your version. Please."

Juanita climbed down off the fence and started walking toward the little path that went through the grounds to the back of the house. This was where her tree and bench was so that she could sit down comfortably to tell it. Kyle followed her, letting her set the pace of the conversation to make her as comfortable as possible. They turned the corner, only to run into Teresa carrying a bucket of leftover food out to the pigs. It was a close miss for Juanita stopped as sharply as she could thrown a knife.

"Oh I'm sorry, honey. You alright?" Teresa seemed to be rambling on and not to making eye-contact with Kyle, Juanita noticed.

"It's alright, Teresa," Juanita smiled then continued on to her special place.

She sat down, making room for the doc on the bench and started right into telling him all about her nightmares.

"You see, the ones who killed my family were gringos. Do you know what they are? They were from this country and the leader looked like my grandpa. I was hidden in a basket that my mama put me in and... I saw how they butchered and scalped my family. They raped my mama and grandmama then they... they cut them into pieces. When I came here, my papa sat with me during my bad dreams and got me to talk about them." Juanita sniffed for the tears were now streaming down her face as she remembered it all again for the doctor.

"It's alright, Juanita, take your time." His voice was gentle, soothing.

Juanita started pacing in front of the bench. "You know, I thought I was getting over it. I started sleeping most of the night through but now, with what's happened, it's like I feel they were at our village looking for me and all my people had to suffer for not giving me up. I wish now I had gotten out of the basket and tried to help my family or at least let them take me." Juanita was over whelmed to the point where she sat on the ground and rocked.

Kyle got up and sat next to her, telling her that she couldn't have helped even if she wanted to. She was just a little girl and would have been killed too. Men like that didn't care about anyone and, even if she was who they were after, they would still have killed everyone just for the thrill. Juanita became angry and jumped up, hitting out at Kyle and yelling that they had no right to kill her family or to kidnap her; she had done nothing to them. From the window, Johnny saw her hitting Kyle and came running over. Kyle stopped him by putting up his hand to let him know everything was alright.

Johnny stayed put even when Murdoch asked why he wasn't stopping Juanita from hitting the doctor. Johnny told him the doc had told him not to. As they stood there, watching the two of them, Juanita stopped hitting Kyle. It was then that he waved Johnny and Murdoch over to them. He motioned for them to all take a seat on the bench. Juanita sat in between both of them with her arms around Johnny, as she tried to sniff away her tears. Johnny took his bandanna from where it was tucked into his belt and gave it to her, telling her to blow her nose. Once everyone was settled, Kyle addressed all three of them.

"Juanita is going to need this whole family but mostly you two. Johnny, as her father, she is going to rely on your support. I know you will always be there so I'm not worried about that. Same with you, Mr. Lancer - she needs to know she wasn't the cause of her family being killed or the villagers. Juanita is having some problems dealing with that. Reassure her, convince her it's not because of her mistake they shot you, Johnny, or took her."

Doc, we know that and I'm hoping Juanita knows it too." Johnny lifted her chin to look her in the eyes when he spoke. "You do know that, sweetie?"

"I try to remember but sometimes I think it is my fault, especially when I'm laying in bed and can't go to sleep right away."

"If you ever doubt it, you come find me or grandpa, even Scott, and we'll remind you. None of this is your doing." Johnny smiled down at her, reassuring her they would be there for her.

"Even if I'm supposed to be sleeping?"

"Yes miel, even then."

"I can see Juanita has a lot of support and love. And I'm sure that she'll be alright in time. I'm opening up a small practice in Green River so, whenever you have a question or need to talk to me, any of you, especially you Juanita, you have your papa bring you to see me. Mind you, all of you are welcome to come see me at any time, problems or not! I'm sure for now her moods might change and things will seem a little rocky for a while but with what you're all doing, i t'll pass. Just give her time; time is the best healer of all. Now Juanita, I'd like to talk to your papa and grandpa alone please."

She looked up at Johnny who nodded his head so she walked away slowly.

When she was out of earshot, Kyle told them not to give in to her when she became whinny or demand; she is an intelligent girl and would use this to get her own way. Johnny didn't believe so but Murdoch could see where it could happen. "Well, let's hope she doesn't." Kyle said. "For now, just keep her talking and try to show her that she wasn't the cause of her people being murdered or those swine taking her. It was all one man's doing; she had no control."

"What if she blames herself because of not showing me the letter?' Johnny wanted to know.

"Just let her know how you feel about it. After all, you are her father. You should be able to make her toe the line and obey your rules without feeling you have to tiptoe around her. That wouldn't do her any favors at all. Just don't scare her. The best way is to keep her busy and working with you would help a lot. Not only will she have you around her, Johnny, but doing something she loves will help her to forget. Just keep her on a regular schedule and, if she comes to you with questions, answer them as honestly as you can. If you don't know, say so. That's all I can advise. I'll be around of you need me, remember so I'll say goodbye to Juanita and be on my way."

"Thank you, doctor, we appreciate all you have done for our little girl." Murdoch put out his hand to shake Kyle's, as did Johnny.

"Murdoch, she ain't so little anymore; you try carrying her lately?" Johnny said as they all walked over to the pasture to see what Juanita was up to. On the way past the barn, Murdoch had one of the hands get the doctor's horse saddled.

Kyle joined Scott at the fence to watch Juanita try to teach Curro to come when she whistled. Scott was trying not to laugh as the horse shook its head and walked the other way. The three men watched a while then Johnny called her over to say her goodbyes and thank the doctor.

 

+^+^+^+^+^+

 

After being home for three weeks, Johnny had Juanita in a regular routine of morning chores then going out with him to fix fences or gather strays. Juanita kept asking Johnny questions about the day her family was killed and about being kidnapped. At night, when she couldn't get to sleep and started thinking or tossing and turning, Juanita got up and looked for either her papa or grandpa. Murdoch was very supportive of how Johnny wanted to handle it and, even when he came in saying he needed some time to go see Dr. Kyle about something, Murdoch always agreed. Even Murdoch, Scott and Teresa stopped by now and then to talk to Kyle so that they could all help her.

After a couple of months, and so gradually that the family barely noticed the exact moment or day, Juanita's nightmares stopped. Johnny could see the cares lift from his daughter and, indeed, the rest of his family and he welcomed the new-found peace that descended on their lives. At last, she and Johnny could get a good night's sleep - much needed after working and playing all day. Johnny was not only working with Juanita and Curro but the little girl had her father roped in for some more horse-training. Bonita had a new horse too. Juanita (with Johnny's help) gave her friend the horse for her birthday; another one of Aggie's Quarter horses, a chocolate palomino.

 

 

~end~


Author's Note :
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885

Want to comment? Email Marlene