The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Scotland Bound

 

 

 

Third in the Scotland Series, following New Traditions and Snow Angels

WARNING : The last few chapters deal with the sensitive subject of homosexuality. Nothing crude, vulgar NOR explicit.

 

The More The Merrier

Having seen the Wilkins off with a wagon laden with supplies, the Lancers began a new year together.

Murdoch started packing for his trip. He had less than two weeks before leaving and he wasn't even sure what to take. Knowing it would be cold helped with his clothing choices but he wanted to take some mementos to show his family.

As he looked through some photographs, he heard a light tapping on his door. "Come in."

Teresa stepped into the room and closed the door. "How's it going?"

"Oh, fine. Just deciding what to take with me," Murdoch smiled.

The young girl returned the smile and walked slowly about the room. Her fingers threaded through the curtain and then let it fall away. She dusted the sill with one finger, smiling when it came back clean.

"Something on your mind, sweetheart?" Murdoch asked.

She turned to face him, taking a deep breath. Squaring her shoulders, she set her chin in determination. "I want to talk to you about your trip."

"Alright."

"Murdoch, I think ..... well , you should... I think you should take Scott and Johnny with you." She sighed as her shoulders sagged with relief. She'd said it, now she was ready for the argument.

He studied her face calmly. "Who will run the ranch?"

"Jelly and Cipriano. And I can help, too. You know the winter months are slower. The herd is already in the winter pastures so there's really no reason not to take them. This trip would be so good for all three of you," she said hurriedly.

He nodded his head, deep in thought. "What if we can't get more tickets?"

"Well, maybe you could trade in your ticket for another one. I'm sure there are ships going to England all the time," she suggested.

"They probably wouldn't want to go," he argued quietly.

"Oh, yes they would. I know they would," she stated emphatically. "If it's the money, I have some savings."

Murdoch cocked a brow and smiled at her enthusiasm. "Maybe we should ask them before we go spending all your money."

She smiled widely and hugged him tight then skipped from the room.

He watched her go, a smile of pure love on his face. He had thought about it, of course. Still, he'd been hesitant to suggest it to the boys. Why, he couldn't say. The thought of taking them to his homeland was a dream come true.

********

That evening at dinner, Teresa kept shooting Murdoch looks. He tried to ignore her, knowing it would infuriate her but unable to help himself from teasing just a bit.

She finally rose and announced she would get dessert. As she passed him, she managed to brush heavily against his shoulder.

"What's the matter with her? She's as jumpy as a kitten," Johnny asked.

Murdoch chuckled. "Oh, she wants me to bring something up. Let's wait until she comes back," he winked.

Johnny shrugged and glanced at Scott who also shrugged. Teresa returned with an apple pie and sat it unceremoniously on the table. Taking her seat, she folded her hands in her lap and glared at Murdoch.

"Alright, sweetheart, alright," he laughed. "Our Teresa has come up with what I think is a brilliant idea. She wants you both to go to Scotland with me."

Johnny and Scott exchanged surprised looks. "Who's going to take care of the ranch?" Scott asked.

"Jelly and Cipriano are capable and, of course, Teresa will be here."

"It's a little late. I mean, we went through ..... a lot to make this happen. We can't just up and decide to go in less than two weeks," Johnny said.

"I don't see why not? If you can't get tickets for the ship Murdoch's on, he can change his and you can find one with room for all three of you," Teresa protested.

Scott looked doubtfully at her. "I don't know, Teresa. Maybe."

"Alright. If you get to Boston and can't get on the same ship, I'm sure there would be another one within a day or two at the most."

"Why are you pushin so hard for this?" Johnny asked her.

"Because, I think it's important that you both know that part of your heritage. The part you both share. And, the three of you need time together away from the ranch and all the work. Anyway, don't you want to meet your family?"

"What do you say, boys?" Murdoch asked.

Looking at each other again, they both smiled. "Sure, why not?" Scott said.

"Should be different, at least," Johnny grinned.

"Good! I'll go into town tomorrow and get the stage and train tickets," Murdoch smiled.

******

Teresa spent the next several days making sure Scott and Johnny's clothes were suitable. She even made them both go into Green River for new winter attire. She assured them it would be very cold in Scotland though how she knew this, they couldn't guess.

Riding back from town after their shopping trip, Johnny wondered aloud. "The way she's actin , you'd think she couldn't wait to get rid of us."

"I was thinking the same thing, brother. Maybe Teresa needs a break from us," Scott smiled.

"I've never been to another country," Johnny said.

Scott looked over at him with a raised brow. "What would you call Mexico ?"

Johnny's face reddened a bit. "You know what I mean. To me, Mexico is just like goin to Texas or Arizona ."

Scott nodded. "Well, I've been to England and France but that's all. It should be quite interesting."

"They do speak English there, don't they?"

Scott frowned. "I'm sure they do. Yes, they must."

Johnny frowned as well. He'd have to ask Murdoch about that. He still couldn't believe he was making this journey. Part of him was excited, part of him reluctant.

Scott felt some reluctance as well but he was used to traveling in other countries. He was looking forward to meeting their uncles, aunts and cousins. He thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get some insight into their father.

"Johnny, you realize how important this trip is, don't you?"

Johnny looked over at him with a frown. "You mean because we'll get a chance to see how the old man was as a kid? Or, that we'll get to meet our family? Or, maybe because it's what Murdoch wants? Or, that it'll give us a chance to really get to know him?"

"Okay, okay. You do know how important it is," Scott said with exasperation.

Johnny grinned at his brother. "There's something else, too. I get to see Boston . Maybe even meet some of your old girlfriends."

"We won't be there long enough for that!" Scott declared adamantly.

"We'll see," he shrugged.

Teresa thoroughly inspected each article of clothing they had bought. They both sighed with relief when she approved. No woman had ever had the effect on either of them that this young one did.

********

It was the fifteenth of January, 1872 . The air had a decided chill but it couldn't be called cold.

Johnny stumbled into the kitchen and plopped down. He grabbed the cup of coffee placed before him and took a long drink before whispering, "Thank you."

"Are you alright?" Murdoch asked with amusement.

"Sure. Just earlier than usual to be up."

"I know but if we want to make the stage...."

"Yeah. I hope we're the only ones on it. I'd like to take a nap."

Scott laughed a little but he had to agree. If Johnny had spent the night he had, he knew why his brother was so muddled. The excitement had caught up with him and Scott had found it nearly impossible to fall asleep.

"Good morning!" Teresa sang as she flew into the room. She was met by grumbles all around.

"Now is that any way to start your trip?" she asked, hands on hips.

"Sorry, querida . We'll wake up in a minute," Johnny smiled wanly.

She smiled and kissed his cheek, then Murdoch's, then Scott's. She made her way back around to her seat.

"What are you planning on doing while we're all gone?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, nothing special. Just some cleaning and sewing. I might visit some friends and I have a new book I've been dying to get to."

"See? I told you she was trying to get rid of us," Johnny grinned.

She smacked his arm and smiled. "I'll admit, it will be nice to have some alone time. But I'll miss you all terribly. Just promise you'll have a good time."

"We promise, darling. Now, I think I'll check with Jelly on the surrey," Murdoch excused himself.

*******

They loaded their bags into the back of the surrey and Johnny took off for the barn. Murdoch was going over everything in his mind and was finally satisfied he'd covered it all with Jelly.

He looked around, suddenly realizing he was missing a son. "Where's Johnny?"

"Where do you think? In the barn," Scott grinned.

Murdoch rolled his eyes and sighed. "Well, would you get him? I don't want to be late."

Scott laughed and went after his errant brother.

"Now, Jelly's gonna ride you every day. He promised. And he's gonna rub you down just like I do. Well, almost. I'll be gone for a long time but don't worry about me. This is a good trip and me and Scott are gonna meet some relatives. Murdoch's taking us to Scotland . It's a country far, far away from here. I'll be back, though. I'll miss you, amigo."

"Ahem. If you're quite through," Scott said from the barn door.

Johnny looked up and grinned. "I had to explain it to him so he wouldn't worry about me."

"Of course. That makes perfect sense to me. But Murdoch is ready to go." Scott raised an eyebrow and Johnny knew what that meant.

"Okay, Barranca. I'm leaving now. I will be back, I promise. Be good for Jelly and let him work ya. He's good with you, just remember that," he instructed as he scratched the palomino's ear.

"Johnny!"

"I'm comin !" He walked to the door and looked back one more time. Barranca bobbed his head and nickered a goodbye.

Teresa hugged and kissed them all and said a teary goodbye as she waved them off.

Once under the gate, Murdoch sighed. "I was beginning to think we were never going to get underway."

"Ya got plenty of time, Boss," Jelly assured him.

******

They did have plenty of time, a full hour, before the stage was due to leave. Johnny sat on a bench in the stage depot and nodded off, hat pulled low over his eyes.

Scott watched him with a pang of jealousy. He'd like to nap, too. But Murdoch was talking his head off about anything he could think of. Scott was amused at his father's excitement.

Mercifully, the stage was a few minutes early. Scott woke Johnny and they loaded their luggage. Pete, the stage driver, looked on curiously.

"Are ya comin back?" he grinned.

"Don't know, Pete. Maybe not," Johnny smiled.

"We might get there and decide we never want to leave," Scott supplied.

"Get where?" the old man asked.

" Scotland ," Murdoch said proudly.

"No foolin ? That's some trip. Well, climb on in and let's get ya on yer way," Pete laughed.

All three men smiled with relief when they found themselves the only passengers. Johnny pulled his feet up on the bench opposite him, between his father and brother. He pulled his hat back down and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Comfortable, brother?" Scott grinned.

"Yep. Now, you two be quiet so I can get some sleep," he mumbled.

Scott kicked his leg and settled down himself. Murdoch figured he may as well join them. He was too excited to really sleep but it was going to be a very long trip.

*******

They arrived in Sacramento two days later, all three quite weary. There was no time to rest properly, however. The train would be leaving in an hour and they hurried to make it.

"Whew! I sure wouldn't want to do this every day!" Johnny proclaimed as they settled into their car.

"Neither would I. But it's always the same when you travel. Though, usually, it's hurry and get there then wait for the train or stage or whatever," Scott smiled.

"Well, you know more about that, Boston . I just use a horse. I know when he's ready."

Murdoch chuckled. "I'm afraid a horse won't get you to Scotland , son."

Johnny's mouth curved slightly upward. "Oh, I don't know, Murdoch. Barranca's a real good swimmer."

They shared a laugh as the whistle blew and steam plumed from the train. A jolt let them know they were underway.

"Hope the ship gets off this easy," Johnny frowned.

"Have you ever sailed, son?"

"Nope. I gotta tell ya, I'm not looking forward to it. All that water and no land in sight." Johnny made a melodramatic shudder with his shoulders.

"I like sailing. The ships these days are really nice from what I hear. Very fancy," Scott said.

"Fancy, huh? Well, if you want me, just look in my bunk."

"You plan on lying in your bunk for six weeks?" Murdoch asked with amusement.

Johnny's eyes widened. "Six weeks?!"

"How long did you think it would take, brother?"

"I ... I didn't think about it. I don't know about this. Maybe I'll just go back home."

"Johnny, it'll be fun. It won't be like when I first came over here. I was on a freighter and worked my way across. It was a miserable trip. This time we'll be on a nice ship with all the comforts."

"If you say so," Johnny muttered.

******

The train wasn't too full so, again, they enjoyed some breathing room. They spent their time talking or playing cards. The time seemed to move along and before they knew it, they were in Denver .

Johnny stepped off the train to be met by a blast of winter air that sucked his lungs empty. Cinching his coat around himself, he hunkered his shoulders against the frigid air.

" Dios ! Is it always this cold?" he asked anyone.

"Well, it is January, brother. And we are in the Rocky Mountains . Some of the highest elevations in the country."

"Well, they can have it. I think you two are tryin to kill me," he grumbled.

Murdoch chuckled and winked at Scott. "Wait until we get to Inverness . It's really cold there."

"That's it! I'm goin home!" Johnny announced.

"He's only teasing you, brother. Boston is much colder," Scott grinned.

Johnny eyed them both narrowly. "I guess you two think it's real funny to take a poor Californian and throw him into the middle of winter in the mountains. That's okay. We'll see how my uncles feel about this. I bet they can beat you up, Murdoch." He tried to keep the smile from his face and was almost successful. But the look on Murdoch's face was too much and he and Scott both burst out laughing.

"I think I'm going to have to turn you both over my knee before this trip is over," he grumbled. Breaking into a smile, he wrapped an arm around each son. "Let's see if there's any hot coffee to be had."

********

It wasn't long before they were on their way again. One step closer to Boston . Johnny noticed Scott grow quieter as the miles passed. The evening before they were to arrive in the port city, he found a few minutes alone with his brother.

"You okay?"

Scott looked at him curiously. "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"We'll be in Boston tomorrow, Boston ," Johnny grinned.

Scott smiled wanly. "Yes."

"Maybe you'll have time to see your grandfather," Johnny fished.

"Probably not. Maybe on the return trip."

"You don't sound too disappointed."

"I have mixed feelings about it, Johnny. His trip to the ranch was a mess."

"You said you had a long talk with him when you took him to the stage. You don't think he accepts your decision?"

"I hope so but grandfather is used to having his own way. It doesn't matter. I don't want to ruin this trip by thinking negatively. Let's just enjoy ourselves." Scott forced a smile that Johnny didn't buy for a minute.

"Sure thing, Scott," he said softly.

Murdoch rejoined them and no more was said about Harlan Garrett. Johnny decided he would just have to keep an eye on his brother and make sure he was kept occupied.

*******

Murdoch awoke to a sudden jerk as the train came to a stop. He wiped a hand over his face and looked around, a bit disoriented.

"Wake up, Murdoch. We're here. Good ole Boston ," Johnny grinned.

Murdoch frowned and stood up, stretching his stiff muscles. 'Great! Never thought I'd see this city again,' he groused to himself. For his sons he put on a smile. "I guess we should check the ship schedules first thing."

"Good idea. Your ship is due to sail tomorrow morning," Scott replied.

They gathered their luggage and hailed a cab to take them to the port authority. Johnny stuck his head out the window and took in the city where his brother grew up.

Scott leaned over his shoulder and pointed out landmarks as they passed. Johnny could here the melancholy in his voice.

The closer they got to the docks, the colder it became. Johnny decided he was done sightseeing and pulled the curtain tight on the window.

"How could you stand this weather, Scott? It's freezing."

Scott smiled. "I suppose you get used to it. California weather was hard for me to get use to."

"Well, I don't plan on getting used to this," Johnny stated emphatically.

They arrived at the harbor master and quickly made their way inside. Johnny made a beeline for the potbellied stove. Scott was right behind him.

Murdoch inquired about the ship and availability. A few minutes later, he joined his sons with a smile on his face.

"They had a cancellation. Apparently a young couple were to sail on their honeymoon tomorrow but they've cancelled the wedding."

"Smart of them," Johnny grinned.

"We sail at 10:00 a.m. We need to be on board no later than nine. Scott, will you recommend a hotel?"

"The Westchester is very nice."

"Let's go. I want a warm bed tonight," Johnny said.

 

 

A Quick Tour of the City

The three men made their way to the Westchester . Johnny looked up at the tall building and whistled. His brother smiled and grabbed his arm, pulling him inside.

Scott approached the desk and smiled.

"May I help you, sir?" the clerk asked.

"Yes, we'd like three rooms for the night, please."

The clerk glanced up at the three men, his eyes lingering on Johnny. "Yes, well, I'll see if we have anything available."

Scott didn't miss the look his brother had been given but he held his temper in check. He decided to save embarrassment by using an old method. He didn't like throwing names around but he was willing in this case.

"While you're looking, I'd like a message sent to my grandfather. Harlan Garrett," Scott said casually.

The clerk's head flew up. He didn't even try to contain his surprise. "Harlan Garrett? THE Harlan Garrett?"

Scott raised a brow. "He's the only one I know."

"Yes, sir. That would be Beacon Hill ?"

"That would be correct," Scott smiled.

"Of course, sir. If you'd write your message while I get your room keys," the clerk smiled, handing him pen and paper.

"Thank you. Murdoch, would you sign us in while I do this?" Scott asked.

Murdoch was puzzled. Scott had said he would wait until their return to talk with his grandfather. Now, he wanted to send him a message. He nodded and signed the ledger.

Johnny wasn't paying attention to any of this. He was checking out the place. He felt uncomfortable in all this finery.

"Very good, sir. The bellboy will get your luggage," the clerk said.

"You know, I've changed my mind. I think I'll just wait and see my grandfather this evening," Scott smiled and handed the blank paper and pen back.

The clerk's face dropped. "Of course, sir. As you wish," he said stiffly.  

As they walked up the stairs, Murdoch leaned in close to his eldest. "What was all that about?" he whispered.

"I'll tell you later," Scott whispered back.

The door was opened and the bellboy stepped back to allow the guests entry. He followed with the luggage and set it down near another door.

"Scott, this is a little much, isn't it? I mean, it's only one night," Johnny said, looking around.

"Well, brother, why not enjoy ourselves ? This is our vacation and we aren't likely to get another for a very long time."

"Scott's absolutely right, son."

"Ahem, gentlemen," the bellboy politely interrupted. "The bedrooms are over here. The bath is through this door. If you need anything, please ring," he finished by showing them a velvet rope hanging from the ceiling.

"Ring what?" Johnny asked.

"If you pull on this, sir, it will alert the staff downstairs," the young man explained.

"I think we can take it from here. Thank you," Scott smiled and handed him a tip.

Johnny plopped down on a settee and let out a sigh. "All I wanted was a bed and a decent meal," he said, shaking his head at the extravagance.

"And that's what you got. And a bath right through there," Scott grinned, pointing the way. "Which I would like to use, if no one objects."

"Go right ahead, Boston . I'm just gonna sit here and rest," Johnny said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

"Well, before you indulge, I'd like to take a look," Murdoch said.

Once in the bathroom, he closed the door. "Alright, what was all that about downstairs?"

Scott sat on the edge of the tub and sighed. "That clerk wasn't going to give us rooms."

"How could you know that?"

"I saw the way he looked at Johnny," Scott grimaced.

Murdoch's brows knitted together, his cheeks turned red.

"Don't make a big deal of it, Murdoch. Johnny wasn't paying attention anyway. Let's just drop it."

"Alright, son. But one surly look from that little cretin and ...." Murdoch left it at that. He went back to the sitting room to find Johnny at the balcony, doors wide open.

"Trying to catch your death?" Murdoch asked as he walked up behind him.

"This is where Scott grew up. Sure would like to see more of it," Johnny said. His voice sounded strange to Murdoch.

"It's a very old city. One of the oldest in the country. Full of history. It's also freezing. Close the door, son."

Johnny smiled and did so, thinking he must be getting used to the colder climates.

"Are you alright, Johnny?"

"Sure, I'm fine. I'm not daft ya know," he said, cocking a brow and grinning.

"You lost me," Murdoch said, thoroughly confused.

"That clerk? Scott all the sudden wanting to send a note to his grandfather? Harlan Garrett," he announced the name as if all should now bow. "Don't think I didn't know what was going on."

Murdoch tightened his jaw. "You knew more than me. Scott just explained it to me. I'm sorry, son. If I had realized what was happening ...."

"You would have what? Left the hotel? I doubt that clerk would care. Scott was pretty slick. Now they're stuck with us," Johnny grinned.

"Are you going to just joke this away?" Murdoch asked with concern.

"What do you want me to do? Go down there and smack him? Let it go, Murdoch."

"Is that what you usually do?"

"Usually," Johnny shrugged. Seeing his father's determination for being upset, Johnny sighed. "Look, this is my problem and I'm used to dealing with it. I'd have dealt with it today if Scott hadn't. I was a little ticked off at first but then, well, he sure got that fella's goat," he laughed.

"It's my problem, too, son."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I ....."

"Made me?" Johnny grinned.

"Well, yes!"

He fell back onto the settee and laughed heartily. Murdoch couldn't help but join him as he realized how silly he'd sounded.

Scott walked out of the bath wearing a robe and drying his hair with a towel. "What's so funny?"

" Nothin , Boston . Are you all nice and clean now?"

"I feel much better. So would you if you'd care to follow me," Scott smirked.

"Later. I want to see the sights. Show me this town, Scott."

"Now? You want to sightsee?"

"Sure. I want to see Harvard and the Commons and all the places you've told me about," Johnny smiled enthusiastically.

"Well, I don't think we have time to see all of it," Scott said, looking to Murdoch.

"You boys go ahead. I've seen Boston . I think I'll soak in a nice hot tub while you're gone. Meet me back here in a couple of hours and we'll have supper."

"Alright. I'll be dressed in a minute," Scott shrugged and headed to one of the bedrooms.

Johnny changed his clothes as well, opting for something plain. He felt lopsided. His right hip was naked as far as he was concerned. Murdoch had made him put his gun away when they left Denver . He'd felt the loss ever since.

"Better get your heavy coat," Scott said as he re-entered the room.

"Right over there, brother. You ready?"

Scott noted he'd changed and he smiled a little. "Let's go."

As they passed the clerk, Johnny couldn't help but give him a little bow and a wink. Scott was walking ahead of him and didn't see.

The clerk turned his nose up and went back to his business.

"We should see Harvard first, it's the farthest away. Then we can backtrack," Scott said.

"Backtrack? We goin huntin , brother," Johnny grinned.

Scott hailed a cab and shot him a perturbed look. But he was right, Scott's vocabulary had changed quite a bit.

They crossed the Charles River and pulled up in front of the esteemed institution. Johnny noted the old buildings and the young men running from one to another. All cinching their coats closer as the wind from the river hit them.

Scott smiled and took a deep breath. "I wonder if any of my professors would remember me? "

"Only one way to find out. Let's go," Johnny said, grabbing him around the shoulders.

As they walked along the grounds, Scott gave Johnny some history on the school. "It's the oldest college in the country. It was established in 1636. John Adams and John Quincy Adams attended Harvard."

Johnny nodded, he could hear his brother's pride in his voice and he smiled a little .

They approached Harvard Hall, a two-story brick structure with a balcony on the second floor. A bell tower adorned the top of the building, hexagon-shaped. The steps led up right and left to the front door. It was surrounded by a wooden fence with an iron gate at the sidewalk entrance leading to the steps. Sidewalks were laid to keep people off the grass, which was brown at this time of year.

"What does that mean?" Johnny asked, pointed to the plaque over the door.

"Veritas. It means Truth. That's the school motto," Scott explained.

They entered the Hall and Scott stopped in the center of the large foyer.

Johnny watched him soaking in his memories. He took a look around himself. Many portraits graced the walls. There were doors down each corridor and the place was as quiet as a church. Johnny found himself wanting to whisper.

"Where to, brother?"

Scott snapped back to the present and smiled. He pointed down one hall and started walking. His boots clumped on the high polished marble. He winced at the sound but there was nothing he could do about it. He made his steps a little lighter, however.  

He stopped midway down the hall and peeked through the window in the door. Johnny looked around his shoulder to see a large room full of young men. The teacher was at the front, talking about something he couldn't hear.

He was a tall man with gray hair and a well-trimmed moustache. He wore a gray suit and looked quite debonair.

"That's Professor Ludlow. He teaches business and economics. He was one of my favorite professors," Scott whispered as he turned to look at his brother.

"How is he with a ruler?" Johnny asked.

"A ruler? Why would you ask that?"

"Cause he's coming this way," Johnny grinned.

Scott turned to see his old professor reaching for the door knob. He actually cringed.

"Gentlemen, I take it you are not students," he said.

"No, sir. That is, not anymore," Scott fumbled.

"Then kindly tell me why you are lurking at my door," the man said coldly.

Scott stared at him, seeming to have lost his voice.

"My brother went to school here a few years back. He just wanted to visit," Johnny explained.

"How quaint. Perhaps you could reminisce elsewhere?" the professor suggested.

Johnny's eyes narrowed and his own voice grew cold. "Scott lives in California now and he was just passin through. He said you were his favorite teacher. Can't see why that is, myself."

Scott opened his mouth, then closed it again. He wanted to yell at his brother but that was not appropriate.

"I see. You did not attend Harvard, I can assume?"

"You can assume anything you want but, no I didn't. And if all the teachers are as stuck up as you, I wouldn't want to," he shot.

"Johnny!" Scott managed to whisper.

A flicker of a smile crossed the professor's face. "What is your name, young man?" he asked sternly.

"Johnny Lancer. What's yours?" he drawled.

"Wilhelm Ludlow," he answered, then frowned, looking more closely at the muted one. "Scott Lancer? Yes, I remember you. A fine student," he smiled.

"Thank you, sir. We're sorry to take up your time," Scott managed.

"And this is your brother?"

"Yes, sir," Scott answered, shooting Johnny a look.

"And why is it you did not attend Harvard as well?" he asked Johnny.

"Because I didn't grow up here," he answered.

"We have many students from all over the country," the professor replied.

"Didn't grow up in the country neither. I grew up in Mexico , if it's any of your business."

"We'll be leaving now. We're sorry for the intrusion," Scott said, grabbing Johnny's arm.

"Just a minute. Don't leave just yet," Ludlow said. He went back in and excused his class, hurrying them along.

The young men filing out of the room looked curiously at the two Lancers. Scott   wanted to crawl under a rock. He figured he was in for a lecture of a different kind. If Johnny thought he could hold his own with this man, he was sorely mistaken.

"Now, gentlemen. Please, come in," he smiled and held the door open for them.

Scott walked in and was hit by deja vu. Johnny looked around the room and was unimpressed. "Is it always so cold in here?"

"Usually. We find that students pay closer attention when the room is cooler. They tend to nod off in warmer conditions," Ludlow replied.

"I'd be too busy thinking about how cold I was to listen to you," Johnny told him.

"What do you think of Harvard, Mr. Lancer?"

Johnny shrugged. "It's old."

Ludlow smiled. "I remember you quite well, Scott. You were an attentive student. Very inquisitive. I don't recall you ever mentioning a brother, however."

"Well, that's a complicated story, Professor."

"That's why I asked you in. I want to hear this complicated story," the man said, seating himself at his desk. He folded his hands on top of the desk and waited expectantly.

Scott knew that look, remembered it well. The man expected an answer and he was compelled to give it.

"Well, if you recall, I lived with my grandfather."

"Harlan Garrett. I remember. Go on."

"Yes, well, almost two years ago, my father contacted me. He asked me to come see him in California . He has a cattle ranch there," Scott explained.

Johnny was surprised Scott was telling this man anything. He was full of himself and Johnny didn't like him.

"When I arrived, I discovered my father had remarried and had another son."

"Fascinating! So, you knew nothing about your brother until two years ago. And what of you, young man?"

"What about me? I ain't your student or your friend. My life is none of your business," Johnny hissed.

"You are correct, of course. We have gotten off to a bad start, haven't we? I'm afraid my curiosity has gotten the better of me. You mentioned Mexico . I traveled there as a young man."

"Good for you."

"Johnny, please," Scott ground out.

"It's alright, Scott. I have insulted your brother. He has every right to be put out with me. Would you accept an apology, Mr. Lancer?"

Johnny sighed and nodded. He didn't want to embarrass his brother. Too late for that, he reckoned.

"We really should be going, sir. We're meeting our father for dinner," Scott said.

"Well, I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him. It was good seeing you again, Scott. And it was very nice meeting you, Johnny. Por favor, perdone mi comportamiento descortes ," he said, extending a hand.

Johnny accepted the hand shake. "No se preocupe de él ," he smiled.

Scott breathed a sigh of relief when they stepped out into the afternoon sun. "That went well."

"He's okay. So, what else you want to show me?" Johnny smiled.

Scott looked at him as if he were insane. "That's it? You aren't going to say anything about what happened in there?"

Johnny shrugged. "He said he was sorry and I told him not to worry about it. What more is there? Come on, brother. Show me them Commons." He walked toward the street, leaving Scott staring at his back incredulously.

*******

By the time they reached the Commons, Scott had shrugged off the incident at Harvard. It did no good to dwell and he would probably never lay eyes on Professor Ludlow again. He had to smile. The whole thing started with his awe of the man and Johnny feeling his brother was being slighted.

"It's pretty, Boston ."

"Yes, it is. It's the oldest public park in America . They used it for cattle grazing at one time but that's been banned. There were also hangings here. The militia trained here during the Revolutionary War and it was occupied for a time by the British."

"No kiddin ? What's that building over there?"

"That's the State House. It was completed in 1798. The dome was covered in copper to keep it from leaking."

"Oh, that's why it's so shiny," Johnny grinned.

"Come on, I want to show you Faneuil Hall," Scott laughed.

They walked around the marketplace for a while. It reminded Johnny a little of the Mexican marketplaces. Always crowded with people selling wares of all kinds.

"We should head back. Murdoch will be ready to eat a whole cow by himself," Johnny laughed.

"Right. I wish we had more time," Scott said a bit sadly.

"Maybe on the way back. Besides, you have to see your grandfather then. He'll kill ya if you don't."

"You are right about that," Scott smiled.

As they walked across the hotel lobby toward the stairs, they heard a commotion to their right. It took all of a second to recognize Murdoch's voice. The brothers looked warily at each other and headed in that direction.

The same little clerk was standing in front of Murdoch, blocking his passage into the dining room.

"You can't tell me there are no tables when I see at least a dozen empty!" the rancher growled.

"As I explained, sir. Those tables are reserved. You will have to find some other place to eat," the little man said.

"Problem, Murdoch?" Scott asked.

Murdoch turned to see his sons standing behind him. "No, no problem. They're all booked up for dinner," he said, averting his gaze from Johnny.

Johnny smiled at his father's poor attempt. He stepped around him to face the clerk. "What if I were to tell you I won't be eating with my family tonight?"

The clerk swallowed hard but stuck his chin out. "I don't see what bearing that has on the situation."

"Sure, you don't. Come on, Murdoch. Scott and I saw a lot of restaurants. I'm sure they have better food anyway."

"No, Johnny," Scott fumed. He stepped up beside his brother. "I demand to see the manager."

"Scott, don't make a big deal out of this," Johnny said softly.

"Now!" Scott glared at the man, ignoring his brother, who sighed resignedly.

A moment later a tall dark haired man appeared. He had a thin moustache and a long nose with a high forehead.

"Is there a problem, gentlemen?"

"Yes, there is a problem. I would like to see your reservation list," Scott said.

"I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand," the man said, appearing to be truly confused.

"Did I not speak in English? Your reservation list," Scott said in a gritty tone.

The man frowned at him, then looked at the clerk who seemed to want to say something. "Reginald, what is going on here?"

"I told 'them' they couldn't eat here because we're fully booked, sir," the clerk answered, his eyes darted to Johnny on the word 'them'.

The manager glared at the man. "Would you excuse us, gentlemen? I will be right back," he said and pulled the clerk aside.

After a rather animated conversation, the manager returned. "I'm sorry for the confusion, gentlemen. Please, allow me to show you to a table."

"Just a moment. I would like to know why there was any 'confusion'," Scott persisted.

The man seemed embarrassed and Johnny felt a little sorry for him. "Drop it, brother."

"No, I won't," Scott said firmly.

Johnny looked at Murdoch who shrugged his shoulders. An amused look was on his face. 'He's enjoying this!' Johnny thought.

"Sir, I'm afraid my clerk had some inaccurate ideas. It will not happen again."

"Are you sure about that?" Scott pressed.

"Quite sure, sir. I have fired him," the man assured him.

This answer satisfied Scott. Johnny didn't think any other answer would have. He'd have to talk to his brother about this.

They were seated and waited on immediately. Once their orders were taken and they had a bottle of wine in front of them, Johnny spoke.

"Proud of yourself, Boston ?"

"As a matter of fact, I am," Scott replied.

"Do you think what you did will change that weasel's attitude?" Johnny asked.

Scott dipped his eyes. "I suppose not but at least we won't have to deal with him anymore."

"We?" Johnny asked, a little amused.

"Yes, 'we'. Are you upset with me?"

"No, no. Not really. I just don't think it was your place, that's all," Johnny said casually as he twirled his wine glass gently between his fingers.

"Not my place? Why not?" Scott asked.

"Well, you weren't the problem," Johnny shrugged.

"Prejudice is everyone's problem, son," Murdoch intervened.

Johnny smiled a little. "Yeah, your method was real effective."

Scott laughed as did Murdoch.

"I guess not. Your brother is more diplomatic."

"Your solution wouldn't have solved anything, Johnny," Scott pointed out.

"Nothing has been solved, Scott. He's still a jackass only now he doesn't have a job. He'll blame that on me, too. So you see, all you did was make him hate more."

Scott couldn't deny the logic of that. "What would have made him hate less?"

Johnny smiled. "Nothing, I guess."

"There are no easy solutions, boys. If there were, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Murdoch's right. So, why don't we change the subject," Johnny suggested.

No more was said and they enjoyed their meal. They talked about the trip tomorrow and began to feel the excitement again. But in the back of his mind, Johnny wondered if things would be different in Europe . If the prejudice would be as prevalent there.

 

 

 

Six Weeks to London

The next morning, the Lancers checked out of the Westchester . They hailed a cab and made their way to the port. Seeing to their luggage, they stood before the massive ship with the name emblazoned on her side. Atlantic. It certainly seemed an appropriate name.

"Well, I suppose we should board before it gets too busy," Scott said.

"I'm not in any hurry," Johnny replied glumly.

Murdoch wrapped an arm around his youngest's shoulder. "You'll be fine, son. I predict smooth sailing all the way to London ."

"I'm gonna hold you to that, Murdoch. I'm also gonna regret this, I just know it."

Murdoch laughed and put a hand on each of his shoulders, gently guiding him up the gangplank.

Johnny grabbed hold of the rope railing as the gangplank began to sway a little. Scott assured him it was normal and he would not end up in the water. Johnny wasn't convinced and kept a tight hold until he reached the ship's deck.

They were greeted by a cabin boy who took their tickets and showed them to their cabins.

Upon entering, Murdoch had to stoop so he wouldn't bang his head on the entryway. He looked at the bunk and raised a brow.

"How are you gonna sleep in that?" Johnny asked.

Refusing to be negative, Murdoch smiled. "I'll manage, son."

"Well, let's see our cabin, shall we?" Scott said as the boy waited patiently.

Murdoch went along and they found themselves in a rather large cabin with a good sized bed.

"One bed?" Scott asked.

"Remember, son? It was supposed to be newlyweds in here."

"Murdoch, why don't I take your cabin and you bunk with Scott. This bed's a lot bigger. There's no way you can fit in that cot in your room," Johnny offered.

"It is a bit cramped, sir," Scott added.

"No, boys. I couldn't let you do that."

"Do what? It's not a big deal. I'm smaller, it'll be fine for me. You gonna sleep in there for six weeks?" Johnny asked.

Murdoch reconsidered quickly. "Alright. Thank you, son."

"Sure. Besides, that way, me pukin my guts out won't keep Scott awake," he grinned.

*********

They managed to get Johnny topside for the Bon Voyage. He'd never seen the like. People standing on the docks yelling and carrying on. Why didn't they just say goodbye and be done with it?

He was surprised he hadn't felt bad but he figured he would as soon as they were underway. Johnny had never been on a boat of any kind and he just knew he'd hate it.

The ship's horn blew loudly and several people on board covered their ears. Steam rushed from the stacks and Johnny felt movement. He groaned though it wasn't heard over the roar.

His knuckles went white as he held onto the railing. Murdoch put a hand on his arm and smiled reassuringly. Johnny felt a tenderness from his father's concern. Sometimes, he forgot Murdoch could be so understanding .

They made their way out of the harbor and still, he clung to the rail. Scott finally managed to talk him into going back to the cabin. The wind was cutting into them all.

They all settled in the larger cabin and Johnny found a chair that looked sturdy to sit in.

"How are you holding up, son?"

"Fine, fine," he mumbled, his eyes darting all over the room.

Scott smiled. "Well, let's see what's on the agenda." He opened the ship's itinerary and began to read aloud.

"Dinner at the captain's table tomorrow night. We'll have to dress for that."

"Wasn't planning on goin anywhere naked," Johnny muttered.

Scott ignored him and continued rattling off the parties and dances and games offered aboard. "Ah, this will interest you, Johnny. There's a bar on the top two decks."

"Funny, Scott," he sneered.

Scott simply smiled at him.

The ship's horn blew again and Johnny jumped a foot. "How many times are they gonna do that!?"

"There shouldn't be anymore until we reach London unless there's fog," Murdoch explained and wished he hadn't.

"Fog?"

"It's nothing to worry about, son."

"I'm beginning to think I'd rather spend six weeks with Harlan," Johnny mumbled under his breath.

"Listen to this. The captain has been a sea-faring man for twenty years. He's commanded three ships in that time," Scott read.

"Yeah? What happened to the other two?" Johnny asked.

"Are you going to be like this the entire voyage?" Scott asked.

"No, I plan on bein pretty sick pretty soon," Johnny shot back.

"You haven't been and we're already underway. I think you worry too much, brother. I've never gotten sea sick," Scott stated.

"I did," Murdoch admitted as both sons stared at him. "My first week on board, I prayed to die," he laughed. "After that, I got my sea legs and was fine. So you see, son, if you do get sick, it won't last long."

"I hope not. Anyway, what should we do now that we're stuck on this boat?"

"There's a welcome aboard party in thirty minutes," Scott suggested.

"They gonna have liquor?" Johnny asked.

"I'm sure they will."

"Count me in," he smiled.

They walked into the main dining hall and stopped. Johnny cocked a brow at the room. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The walls were covered in murals depicting sea life. White linen table cloths and silver adorned the tables. Fresh flowers were at the centerpiece. Johnny noted the men were all dressed casually and he sighed with relief.

"Where's the bar?" he asked, looking around.

A waiter appeared beside him as if by magic. "What would you like, sir?"

Johnny shrugged. "What have you got?"

"Almost anything you'd care for, sir," the waiter smiled.

Johnny grinned. "Yeah? Got any tequila?"

"Yes, sir. And you gentlemen?"

"Scotch," Murdoch said and Scott made it two.

They walked further into the room and took notice of the other passengers. All seemed to be wealthy or at least well off. Johnny wondered if there were any poor slobs like him around. He smiled a little at that thought.

"Oh, my God. I don't believe it!" Scott whispered.

"What?" Johnny asked, looking for a threat.

"That's him! Over there with the captain. I know it's him!"

"Who, Scott?" Murdoch asked.

"Ralph Waldo Emerson," Scott said with adoration.

"Who?" Johnny asked.

"Emerson, the poet and author," Scott explained. He stared openly at the aging man with the balding gray pate and large roman nose.

Johnny shook his head. The things that interested his brother were a mystery. "Well, go on over there and say hello."

"Oh, no, I couldn't."

Johnny rolled his eyes and grabbed his brother's arm, yanking him toward the man.

"Johnny, stop it! You can't just walk up to a man like Emerson," Scott pleaded.

"Watch me," Johnny clipped.

Johnny pulled up a few feet away and let Scott regain his balance. "Excuse me, Mr. Emerson?"

The man turned and looked at him. "Yes, young man."

"This is my brother, Scott Lancer. He's a big fan of yours and he wanted to meet you. He's a little shy so I dragged him over here," Johnny grinned.

Emerson smiled, amused. "It's a pleasure to meet you both, Mr. Lancers," he said with a slight bow.

"A true honor, sir," Scott said, shaking hands with the great man.

"Tell me, which of my works do you like most?"

"Oh, there are so many. Well, the poetry is just exquisite and Nature was a work of genius," Scott began.

Johnny backstepped out of the conversation and returned to his father.

"That was nice, son. He would have never gone over there himself."

"Yeah. Look at him, talkin his head off," Johnny laughed.

Murdoch looked him up and down. "And look at you. Not a sign of seasickness."

"Hey, how about that? Well, I'm not lettin my guard down just yet."

********

Three weeks into the voyage, they had settled into a type of routine of meals, reading, talking or walking along the decks. They participated in some of the activities aboard and even met some nice young ladies.

Scott spent a considerable amount of his time with Mr. Emerson. This left Johnny and Murdoch to their own devices and, surprisingly, they enjoyed their time together.

Johnny awoke one night to those blasted horns. He bolted out of bed and grabbed his pants, catching himself as he careened to one side of the small space.

He didn't bother with his boots or his shirt. He left the cabin and made his way to his family. He swayed from one side of the corridor to the other as the ship tossed about. 'I knew it. I knew this would happen. Now this damned thing is gonna sink!' he thought.

When he got to the door, he was on the opposite side of the hall. Pushing himself off the wall, he lunged for the door and flew into the cabin.

Murdoch and Scott stared at him. They were in the middle of dressing themselves.

"What's wrong?!" Johnny demanded.

"We were just about to go see. But, judging by the way the ship's moving, I'd say we hit a storm, brother," Scott replied calmly.

"Johnny, go get dressed. You can't run around on deck like that," Murdoch grumbled. He was not happy having his sleep disturbed. He noticed his son's face and managed to walk over to him.

"It's probably nothing, son. Go on and get dressed. We'll meet you in your cabin," he said more gently.

Johnny nodded and fought his way back to his own room. He sat on the edge of the bed and felt his stomach roll with the ship. Taking a deep breath, he put his socks and boots on, then his shirt. He grabbed his coat and opened the door just as his family were approaching.

They made their way topside, not an easy task, to find many of the other passengers holding onto whatever they could find. Suddenly, a shrill whistle blew.

The Captain walked down a few steps from the bridge and waited until everyone was quiet.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please do not be alarmed. We've spotted a vessel in distress and are checking things out. The storm is annoying but it is nothing to fear. The ship is not in danger."

Many sighs and words of relief could be heard washing over the crowd. Johnny was not among them. He wasn't buying any of this, not for a second. He pushed his way through the crowd to reach the captain.

The captain leaned down toward him when Johnny tugged on his sleeve.

"Are you bein straight with us or just trying to keep these people calm?" he asked.

The captain smiled. "I'm telling you the truth, young man. I do not withhold information that may affect my passengers."

Johnny looked him dead in the eyes and nodded. "Can I help?"

"We have it under control for now. But if you can keep yourself available, we may need help later. If there are any survivors," the seasoned man said.

"I'll be around," Johnny said glumly. He knew the man was being honest now for certain.

The purser appeared and asked everyone to return to their cabins or into the dining room so that the crew could work. Hot coffee and snacks were made available for those who couldn't sleep.

The Lancers went to the dining room and Johnny told them what the captain had said. All three decided to wait around in case they could help.

"It looks like it may be a long night," Murdoch commented. There were very few passengers in the dining room and it was too quiet.

Johnny sipped his coffee and nodded. He glanced over at Scott and frowned. "Hey, you okay?"

Scott looked at him with pure misery in his eyes. "I don't think so."

Johnny tried to hold back the smile and was almost successful. "Sick?"

"Don't laugh!"

"Sorry, brother."

"I'll see if the purser has anything you can take, son," Murdoch said, a little amused himself .

"Let me help you back to the cabin, Scott. You should lay down," Johnny offered.

"No, I want to be here in case they need help," Scott said, shaking his head slowly.

"You stay here and you'll be the one needing help. Come on, brother."

Scott sighed and nodded and Johnny helped him stand up. Murdoch returned to say the purser would have some gingerroot brought to the cabin and it was best for Scott to lay down and stay still.

Scott had no trouble following that advice. As they walked out on deck he took a deep breath of the salt air and thought he actually felt a little better from it. But as the ship rolled once more, he decided that idea was all in his head.

Johnny and Murdoch sat him on the bed and took his boots and coat off. Murdoch but a waste basket next to the bed and got a glass of water.

A crew member delivered the ginger and instructed that Scott take just a bite or two. He swore by it's effectiveness.

He settled in and Johnny pulled the covers over him. "Just lay real still, Scott."

"Thanks, Johnny," he sighed.

"I'm going back up. Stay with him?" Johnny asked Murdoch.

"Of course, son. If you need me...."

Johnny smiled and headed topside once more.

It turned out the fishing vessel they had spotted was empty. The captain surmised all hands had been lost. The dining room was quiet as a church as the tired crew filtered in. Johnny was the only passenger left.

The captain joined him, thanking him for waiting.

"How will you let someone know about that boat?"

"We'll notify the harbormaster when we arrive in London . They'll find out the ship's registry and make the appropriate contacts," he sighed tiredly.

Johnny nodded thoughtfully. "Guess I should check on my brother. He got a little seasick," he said, a smiled tugging at his lips.

"Happens to the best of us."

Johnny looked up at him. "I'm sure it'll make him feel better to know the captain gets seasick," he laughed.

The captain laughed as well.

Scott recovered by the next day. He stated he would swear by ginger-root for the rest of his life.

 

 

Foggy London Town

Johnny stood on the deck, gripping the handrail. He strained his eyes to make out the silhouette in the foggy distance.

"What do you see?" Scott asked.

"Don't know. Looks big, though."

Scott smiled. "I imagine it does. That's London ."

Johnny looked at him. "We're here? Thank God!"

Scott couldn't help but laugh. "Yes, we are here. And in the morning, we're getting right back on another ship."

Johnny groaned at the thought.

"Don't worry, son. It will only be a few days this time," Murdoch assured him as he approached.

As he was about to respond, the ship's horn blew and he jumped a foot. Closing his eyes, he gritted his teeth. If there was one thing he would not miss, it was that blasted noise.

It seemed to take forever for the ship to dock. The fog was thick and Johnny didn't relax until he heard the engines stop. Sighing with relief, he followed his family down below to retrieve their luggage.

********

Standing on the pier, they all three took a moment to get their bearings. Murdoch hailed a cab and asked the driver to take them to a nice hotel.

" Ow nice ya want it, gents? I mean there's nice and there's nice," he said in a cockney accent.

"Very nice," Murdoch said, emphasizing the 'very'.

He nodded and flicked the reins and they were off. Johnny craned his neck to take in the sites around him. This part of London was grimy and poverty-stricken and he wondered what the big deal was.

But soon enough they entered a different part of the city. It reminded Johnny of Boston and he voiced that observation.

"Yes, I suppose it does. Boston is a very old city. It stands to reason it would be built similar to English cities," Scott responded.  

They pulled up in front of a tall building. Johnny looked up and noted the statues. He frowned, he didn't like them. They seemed to be staring at him and it put him on edge.

"Something wrong, son?"

"Huh? Oh, no, I was just lookin around."

They entered the lobby and stared. It was more elegant than anything Murdoch or Johnny had seen before. The Scotsman was beginning to wonder if he had been too insistent on a 'nice' hotel.

Scott was not dissuaded and he sauntered to the desk with a smile. "Three rooms, please."

"Certainly, sir. How long will you be staying with us?" the clerk asked politely.

"Just tonight. We sail again tomorrow," Scott explained.

"Very good, sir. If you'll sign the register," the man turned the book around and Scott quickly signed them in.

Once again, they found themselves in the lap of luxury. Johnny was getting a little tired of all the pomp and circumstance. He hoped Scotland would be more down to earth. Still, he had not encountered any of the ugliness they'd had at that Boston hotel. In fact, no one seemed to give him a second glance and he liked it just fine.

"What time do we have to get back on that boat tomorrow?" he asked.

"We sail at nine so we need to be there by eight," Murdoch answered.

"How long will it take to get to Inverness ?"

"Six days."

"Well, that beats six weeks!"

Murdoch laughed at his son's frustration. "Homesick already?"

"Guess so. I'm just not used to all .... this ," Johnny said, opening his arms to take in the room.

He sat down in a chair by the balcony next to Scott. Crossing his legs at the ankles he studied his father. "So, tell us what to expect. Do these people speak English?"

"Of course they speak English. It may not be easy to understand. The accent is pretty thick. Just follow my lead when we get there. Oh, and don't expect 'all this'," Murdoch made the same gesture Johnny had about the room, "when we get there."

"Good! I could do with something a little more simple ," Johnny sighed.

"To tell the truth, so could I," Scott rejoined.

"What's this? Big brother gettin tired of all this finery?"

Scott looked into his brother's teasing eyes. "I guess you two have corrupted my sensibilities," he grinned.

"You're welcome," Johnny said with an air of victory.

Murdoch watched them, feeling very confident that his sons would fit right in with his siblings. He hadn't doubted it for a moment, though. Johnny and Scott treated each other the same way he and his brothers had as they were growing up. He could see them as children and imagine them together through his own experiences. He was overwhelmed by a sense of homesickness for his native land. He was anxious for this next week to pass.

 

 

Inverness

He stood on the deck and watched the city come into view. The docks, the ships, the tall buildings that lined the waterfront and beyond. Taking a deep breath, his senses reeled from the familiarity. Had it really been 40 years?

To him, the city had not changed one iota. He could see himself, running around the docks, chasing after his father before he made it to work. Catching him because he'd forgotten his lunch again. He smiled. Da was always forgetting something. He sometimes wondered if it wasn't purposeful. Just so his boys could come down and see him for a few minutes.

Scott had gone to see to their luggage and Johnny watched his father lost in memories.

"How does it feel?"

Murdoch looked over at him and smiled. "Feels like I never left."

He wrapped an arm around his son's shoulders and pulled him in close. "Have I thanked you?"

Johnny laughed, " only a million times."

"Well, make it a million and one. I never thought I'd see it again," he said, his voice catching.

Johnny swallowed hard, memories of his own catching him off-guard. He pulled away from his father and looked out over the sea.

"Johnny?"

"I'm okay. Just thinkin ," he mumbled.

Murdoch smiled knowingly. "About Mexico ."

He looked at his father and smiled. "Yeah."

"You'll see it again, son."

"I know. But, right now, I'm anxious to see this country. You are gonna show us all of it. I mean, the highlands and everything?"

"I promise to ...." he was cut off by that blasted horn again.

Johnny didn't even flinch this time. It was almost a sweet sound. It meant they had finally arrived at their destination.

 

 

 

Home

The three of them landed on solid ground again and Scott and Johnny's eyes were everywhere at once. Drinking in their father's homeland, every ounce of it.

"Murdoch!"

They turned to see a tall man waving toward them. He had another man with him, a little shorter but not much. Johnny and Scott looked at each other and smiled. They could be no one else but Murdoch's brothers.

The taller one had almost gray hair and clear blue eyes. High forehead and slightly jutting chin but a narrower nose and fuller lips. The shorter one had light brown but graying hair and much the same features of their father. Right down to the seemingly permanent crease of the forehead. Same nose, same ears, same cheeks. It was a bit disturbing how much they resembled.

Murdoch actually ran to them, embracing each one soundly. "Duncan, Blane!"

The boys stood back a little, waiting as their father took in the sight of his brothers. The three men laughed and hugged several times, remarking on how old each had gotten and how good they all looked.  

Murdoch finally remembered them. "Oh, I have a surprise for you. I want you to meet my sons. This is Scott and Johnny," he introduced them with great pride.

"What's this!? We didn't know ya was bringin your boys," Duncan smiled.

Scott and Johnny extended a hand and both were summarily swatted away as the big man embraced one, then the other. Blane did the same and they both felt a little smushed .

"It was a last minute decision for them to come but I'm glad they did," Murdoch explained.

"As are we. Now, let's get you all to the house. You'll be stayin with me," Duncan said.

"Where's Aileen?" Murdoch asked, looking around for his sister.

"Ah, I'm afraid ya won't be seein her. Her husband was transferred to Paris after the first of the year," Blane explained.

Murdoch's face fell in disappointment.

"Come on now, we'll keep ya busy enough," Duncan smiled.

Duncan and Blane each took a side and marched their brother onward, talking a mile a minute.

"Did you understand half of that?" Johnny asked.

"No. It should be interesting to say the least," Scott grinned.

********

The frigid air lessened as they drove away from the waterfront. Murdoch was engrossed in a conversation with his brothers. A conversation both Johnny and Scott gave up on trying to follow . The thick brogues of their uncles was too difficult to understand.

They headed down Church Street and across the River Ness, turning onto Telford Road , then Carse Road .

They pulled up to an impressive home and stopped. A two story brick structure with bay windows in the front on both floors. There was a porch on the side of the house. It looked to be at least six bedrooms.

"Well, this is it," Duncan announced.

"Very nice, brother. It looks like you've done well," Murdoch smiled.

"I get by."

"Ha! Get by, my foot. He works for the White Star Line. Vice President," Blane proclaimed with a nod of the head.

"We can't all be college professors, Blane," Duncan shot back.

"Alright, you two. Boy, it's like I never left," Murdoch laughed.

They entered the house to be greeted by a stunningly beautiful petite woman with blonde hair and pale blue eyes. "Murdoch, this is my wife, Heather."

"It's so nice to finally meet you, Murdoch," she smiled and hugged him.

"And these are his sons, Scott and Johnny."

"Oh! What a wonderful surprise! Welcome," she exclaimed.

"Let's get ya all settled first. Then, we can catch up," Duncan was saying.

"I'll be back with my brood for supper," Blane told them as he darted out the door.

"I hope this isn't an imposition, ma'am," Scott said.

"Don't be silly. You're family. You can stay in Robert's room if ya like. There's two beds in there. Or would ya rather have a room to yourselves?" she smiled.

Looking briefly at each other, they grinned. "One room is fine," Johnny said.

"Where is Robert?" Murdoch asked.

" Cambridge . St. Andrews wasn't good enough for him," Duncan said with a sarcasm no one missed.

" Duncan ," his wife warned. "You'll be wantin to rest, I'm sure. Supper's in two hours," she told the boys as she showed them to their room.

"Thank you, ma'am," Johnny smiled.

She looked at them both and sighed. "Bonny lads ya are."

******

Once alone in the room, Johnny had to ask. "What's a bonny lad?"

Scott shrugged. "Beats me but I'm pretty sure it was a compliment."

"Boy, you couldn't miss the family resemblance, could ya?" Johnny laughed.

"It would be hard. They seem really nice."

"They act like us. Always teasin each other," Johnny noted.

"I noticed that. Guess we come by it honest," Scott laughed.

Johnny sat on the bed and bounced a few times, testing the mattress. It passed his inspection and he laid down on his back, hands behind his head, feet dangling off the edge.

"Well, we're here," he sighed.

"It's a lot different than I imagined," Scott frowned.

"Yeah? I didn't imagine anything. What did you think it would be like?"

"Well, I just got the image of a poor country. But, it doesn't seem to be much different than London ."

"Yeah, they talk funny there, too," Johnny laughed.

Scott raised a brow. "Maybe you should throw some Spanish at them. I'll bet that would sound funny to them, too."

"Alright, Boston . Don't go gettin on me for bad manners. It's just us here."

Murdoch popped in the door, still grinning. "Settling in?"

"Yep. Your brothers are real nice. And Duncan 's wife is a real looker," Johnny grinned.

"She is beautiful," Murdoch agreed.

"I see the Lancer taste in women stretches across oceans," Scott stated, a smile playing at his lips.

They descended the stairs for supper together and found Blane had returned.

The dining table was huge and beautifully set.

"Murdoch, Scott, Johnny, this is my wife, Lorna. These are my boys, Ian and Douglas," Blane introduced. Lorna was a redhead and quite attractive in her own right with big brown eyes and just a hint of freckles across her nose. Ian had light brown hair and hazel eyes. He was of medium height and thin. He was sixteen. Douglas was two inches taller and two years older but, other than that, the brothers looked a great deal alike.

Murdoch smiled. "Still trying to compete, I see," he said to Blane.

Seeing the confused looks on everyone's faces, he explained. "Ian is the Scottish equivalent of John."

Johnny smiled at his cousin. "Guess we're in for some comparing."

"I hope not," the young man said quietly.

"Supper is ready," Heather announced.

Johnny watched the quiet young man, wondering about his comment. Soon enough, his attention was elsewhere.

"Where's your youngest, Duncan ?" Murdoch was asking.

"Always late, that one. He's got no sense of timing," Duncan snarled a bit.

Just then, the door slammed and a red-faced young man entered the room. "Sorry, class ran late," he said as he took his seat.

He was introduced to the American Lancers as Andrew. Nineteen, tall and well-built, he had blond hair and deeper blue eyes than his cousins. Not as blue as Johnny's but darker than Scott's. As with the rest of the Scottish clan, his complexion was fair.

Scott and Johnny didn't miss the disapproving look he received from his father. Anxious to get past the awkward moment, Scott spoke up.

"Johnny and I were wondering. What is a bonny lad?"

Murdoch chuckled as did Heather. "It means your fine lookin boys," she explained.

They both actually blushed a little and thanked her.

*******

The rest of supper and most of the evening was spent with the elder Lancer men catching up on each other's lives. Murdoch had brought along some pictures of Teresa and the estancia; photographs he'd had done recently in anticipation of the trip. 

The conversation then turned to reminiscing. A topic that Scott and Johnny were most interested in. Listening to their father's antics as told by his brothers brought a new insight for them both.

Some of the stories were ludicrous, some outrageous and some too funny for words. The boys were finding it easier to understand their family's brogues as the evening progressed. Neither missed the brogue that was appearing in Murdoch's speech.

One particularly interesting story was told after the vehement objections of one Murdoch Lancer. Duncan and Blane were not impressed with his threats. They were determined to tell their tale.

"It wasn't long before Murdoch left for America . He was seeing a bonny lass by the name of Fiona. I don't remember her last name. Anyway, he told her his plans to go to America . She was not thrilled. In fact, the girl was furious," Duncan stopped here, laughing at the memory.

Blane took up the story. "Well, she thought she was about to be Mrs. Murdoch Lancer, you see. Murdoch tried his best to placate her but she was havin none of it. He decided to charm her so he took her chocolates and flowers. Well, she took one look at him and smiled very sweetly. She invited him in and sat him on the sofa."

Duncan continued. "She was very nice to him. Oh yes, she was a darlin . She took the flowers and chocolates and fixed coffee. They sat and talked. She let him go on and on about his plans. About an hour later....." once more he fell out laughing.

Blane, who was barely controlling himself, went on. "He started feelin sick. I mean, very sick. He excused himself and ran for the door."

Scott and Johnny were smiling wide. "Well, what was it?" Scott asked.

"Castor oil," Blane choked out. "Murdoch told us later the coffee was horrible but he was afraid he'd hurt her feelins if he didn't drink it."

"He didn't leave the house for two days," Duncan chuckled.

Johnny and Scott fell out laughing, tears streaming down their faces.

"Alright! I think that's enough walking down memory lane," Murdoch groused.

"Ah, Murdoch, ya deserved it for leading the poor girl on," Blane said.

"I didn't lead her on! Never mind about that."

"What happened to her?" Johnny asked.

"She married less than a year later. She's got five kids now."

"Guess she got over her broken heart," Johnny grinned.

"Can we change the subject? Andrew, what are you studying?" Murdoch turned to the quietest Lancer.

"Philosophy," he mumbled.

"Scott went to Harvard. You took philosophy, didn't you, son?"

"Yes, as a minor. Business was my major."

"Smart lad. Always study somethin useful," Duncan said.

"I understand St. Andrews is a very old university," Scott diverted.

"Ay, it is that. We'll have to put that on the tour," Blane said. "I think I can get us in," he grinned and winked.

"Tour?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, since your boys are here, they'll be wantin to see things."

"Yes, we do. We want to see the highlands, too," Johnny added.

"Why would ya want to see that?" Andrew asked.

"That's were Murdoch's from," Scott shrugged.

The young man simply rolled his eyes.

"Andrew, help me with the drinks. Our guests must be thirsty for some good   Scotch whiskey," Duncan said.

"Now, you're talking," Murdoch smiled.

"And that would be our cue. Come on, boys, your da will be up all night," Lorna said.

Blane saw his family off as they returned home. Heather also said her goodnights, leaving the men alone.

When Duncan and Andrew returned, it was evident they'd had words. Andrew's face was set in stone. The room was quiet for several minutes as tension filled the air.

"This is fine Scotch, Duncan," Murdoch commented.

"Aye, it is that," he replied.

"Tell me, boys. What do ya think of ranching?" Blane asked.

"It's hard work. I must admit, I wasn't used to it. It took some time," Scott said.

"Aw, you took right to it, brother. He's pretty smart for a city boy," Johnny grinned.

"What about you, Johnny?"

"I like it fine," he said simply.

"Doesn't talk much, does he?" Duncan laughed.

"Don't get him started," Murdoch warned.

"Hey," Johnny said and smacked his father's arm.

Murdoch smiled. "Get him talking about horses and you won't get a word in edgewise."

"Oh?" Blane asked.

"Johnny is very good with horses. The best I've seen," Murdoch said with pride.

"You should see him work a wild stallion," Scott agreed.

Johnny dropped his head at the praise and smiled.

"Well, that'll go on the list, too, then. We have some fine horseflesh in Scotland, Johnny. I'd be anxious to see how they compare," Duncan smiled.

**********

It was midnight when Johnny and Scott begged off for the night. They went to their room and readied themselves for bed. As they crawled under the blankets, Scott turned out the lamp.

Sighs escaped both men as they settled into the comfortable beds.

Johnny laughed softly. "Will you listen to that? They're still going at it."

"I know. They'll be up all night."

Thundering laughter filtered through the door and both young men burst out laughing themselves.

"They're like a bunch of kids," Johnny said.

"I guess that's how they feel since they haven't seen each other since they were kids."

"Yeah. Boy, they sure do favor each other. And did you notice Murdoch's getting right back into that accent?" he laughed.

Scott laughed, too. "I have to admit, even after one short day in Boston , I had to catch myself a few times. If I haven't said so before, this was a great idea, brother."

"Thanks, Boston . I have one every now and then," Johnny laughed.

"I don't think we're going to get much sleep as long as they keep carrying on like that."

"Oh, I don't know, brother. Just think of it as music," Johnny said softly.

 

 

The Highlands

The next morning, Duncan and Blane had mapped out the days activities. They would tour St. Andrews and the city today. Tomorrow, they would head to the Highlands and see some horses as well.

As they approached the university, Johnny whistled softly. "This place is bigger than Harvard."

"It's beautiful," Scott agreed as he took in the gothic architecture.

"It was founded in 1413 and is the oldest university in Scotland . Third oldest in Great Britain ," Blane explained.

" St. Andrews itself is an old city, dating back centuries," Duncan said.

As they approached the university, Blane directed their attention to St. Andrews cathedral. Another example of gothic architectural magnificence.

After taking a short tour of the university, they headed back to Inverness . Blane and Duncan had their heads together, whispering conspiratorially.

"Murdoch, let's show the boys Loch Ness," Blane grinned.

Murdoch chuckled and nodded his agreement.

As they stood on the shore of the beautiful lake, the boys were stunned at the breathtaking scene. Deep blue water lapped gently against the shoreline. Mist danced across the surface of the lake that seemed to go on forever. Gently sloping hills followed the shore; the bare branches of the trees painted white with a recent snowfall.

"It's majestic," Scott said softly.

"Aye, it's also dangerous," Duncan said.

"Dangerous? Doesn't look dangerous to me," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, only if Nessie comes out."

"Who?"

"Surely ya've heard of the Loch Ness monster," Blane said straight-faced.

"Monster? Oh, come on," Johnny laughed.

Murdoch laughed. "It's an old tale, boys. Going back to the 7th century when the first sighting was made by a monk."

"There was a sighting just last October. Overturned a boat," Blane said seriously.

Johnny cocked a brow as he watched his uncle's face. He seemed sincere.

Looking back at the lake once more before they left, Johnny thought these Scots were loco. 'Monster! What a crock!'

They spent the rest of the day touring the city and it was interesting but both boys wanted to see where their father spent his childhood. The Highlands .

And on the next day, they headed off to the train station. Andrew came with them though it was obvious he didn't want to be there. Johnny wondered about the young man. He didn't get along with his father, that was plain. He figured that was something they had in common. At least, sometimes.  

They settled in their seats as the train pulled out of the station, heading north. Scott and Blane were talking about the university and Andrew shrunk into his seat.

Sitting next to him, Johnny thought of a kid he'd known once. Spoiled rotten to the core, used to getting his own way. He wondered if that was the case here.

"Is it always this cold?" he asked, trying to get a conversation going.

"Only in the winter," Andrew remarked a bit snidely.

"Never gets this cold in California . Mexico either," he commented, ignoring the sarcasm.

"What's Mexico like?" he asked, suddenly interested.

"Well, it's different depending on what part your in, like America . There's desert and mountains and valleys. There are some beautiful places. The Pacific Ocean , the gulf."

"Gulf?"

"The Gulf of Mexico . White sand beaches, huge waves. The sunset is incredible."

"I'd like to see America ," he said in a distant voice.

"So, why don't you?"

"Some day. When my studies are finished," he said. Johnny couldn't miss the hint of pain there.

"It may be none of my business, but I get the feeling your don't get along too well with your father."

"We don't agree on much of anything," Andrew acknowledged.

"Yeah, I have the same problem," Johnny sighed.

Andrew looked at him with surprise. "That's hard to believe. You seem to get along well."

"It's getting better. We have a lot of ..... stuff between us."

"Ma told me about your mother leaving your da ."

Johnny tensed slightly. But then, he'd started this talk so he couldn't balk about it. "Yeah. I grew up pretty much on my own. Headstrong and independent. Murdoch's the same. It's like two bulls goin at it," he laughed softly.

"How do you stand it?"

Johnny looked at him, surprised by the question. "What's the alternative? He's my father. Should I turn my back on him? Sure, we go at it, but I know he cares."

Andrew seemed to consider this for a moment.

"Look, all I'm saying is I think it's normal for fathers and sons to argue. It's part of growing up and becoming your own man. The only thing is, don't let it get so bad that you can't find your way back to each other," Johnny advised.

*******

The train came to a slow stop and the elder Lancers stood to disembark. Andrew sat still for a moment, deep in thought, until Johnny nudged him.

The wind caught them up and seemed to cut right through the wool coats. Scott wrapped his coat tighter around him and shivered.

"The next time we decide to send Murdoch off somewhere, let's make it a warm place," he said.

Johnny laughed but agreed wholeheartedly.

None of the others seemed to be bothered by the weather. The boys figured they must be used to it by now. They noticed Murdoch staring out across the train depot toward the mountains looming nearby.

Scott and Johnny shared a knowing look and went to stand on either side of him. "You okay?"

"Hmmm? Oh, yes, just memories, son," Murdoch smiled.

"You want to tell us why these men are wearin dresses," Johnny said, looking around suspiciously.

Murdoch chuckled. "They are not dresses. They're kilts and that's what we wore. Most city folks don't wear them anymore but the Highlanders do."

"Why?" Johnny asked.

"A number of reasons. Tradition, for one. They're warmer than trousers. The tartan signifies which clan you belong to. They are easier to move in, something that came in handy during battles. You can also remove them and use them for a blanket. A tightly woven kilt is also virtually water-proof. So, you see, they have many uses," Murdoch explained.

Johnny considered all this information, then shrugged. "Still looks like a dress to me."

"Alright, then. We're off to the stables," Duncan announced.

All three American Lancers smiled widely.

"Well, I think Johnny should pick out our mounts," Blane said.

"I think Murdoch and Scott would like to do that for themselves," Johnny answered.

"No, no. Go ahead, brother. Pick us out some good animals," Scott grinned and Murdoch nodded his approval.

Johnny shrugged and entered the stables. He returned with the stableboy and six fine looking animals. Stockier than what they were used to, but muscular.

"Nice, son," Murdoch smiled.

"Yeah? This ain't," he said, pointing to the English saddles.

Murdoch sighed. "I'd forgotten about that."

"Is somethin wrong, brother?" Duncan asked.

"No, it's just that we're used to western saddles. It'll be fine, Johnny," he promised but his son was not convinced.

Both Johnny and Scott decided not to bother with the stirrups and vaulted onto their mounts. Johnny tried, but he just couldn't stand his knees being bent so extremely.

" This what they use in Boston ?"

"I'm afraid so," Scott said.

"How did you stand it?"

"Well, Johnny, it's what I was used to. I had to get used to western saddles in the cavalry."

Johnny shook his head and let his legs dangle along the horse's sides. The animal wasn't happy about it but he talked him into going along. Casting a wry grin at his brother, he commented, "bet you're missin that new saddle about now."

Scott smiled widely at the thought of his new saddle. One he had not fully broken in yet.

"You were in the cavalry, Scott?" Andrew asked.

"Yes, during the war."

"War?"

"The Civil War in America ," Scott explained.

"Oh, yes. I remember reading about that," Duncan said.

Scott was taken aback by this. But then, he supposed people became so wrapped up in their own lives, they forget there is a whole world out there that may not give two hoots.

They set off across country, Duncan and Blane taking the lead. Murdoch rode beside Andrew, Scott and Johnny brought up the rear.

Even though it was winter, the view was spectacular. Duncan and Blane took them high up in the mountains onto a ridge. Overlooking a valley of snow-spotted brown grass. Murdoch described the scene in summer, when the valley was covered in heather and bluebells.

Listening to their father's descriptions, Johnny and Scott could see it before their eyes. As they stood there, the same thought went through both their minds.

Scott voiced it. "If you replace that heather with green grass, this could be a view of Lancer."

Murdoch smiled wanly. "It could, couldn't it?"

"Murdoch, it's really beautiful. Did you live near here?" Johnny asked.

"Not far. Just on the other side of this mountain. There was a small village but it's long gone now."

"Would you lads like to see a castle?" Blane asked.

"Sure," they chorused.

********

On the banks of the North Sea stood a centuries old castle. Blane explained the place was believed to be haunted. This got a sardonic look from all three younger men.

"Uncle, you don't believe all that nonsense," Andrew chided.

"I never said I did and I never said I didn't. I'd just as soon not find out, laddy ," he winked.

The wind picked up just then and howled through the many cracks and crevices of the old stone walls. It gave the illusion of whistling. Johnny looked to the sky and saw a magnificent bird gliding over the water.

"What is that? Looks like a hawk," he asked.

"It's a Osprey. They hunt fish and small animals," Duncan explained.

Johnny watched in fascination as the bird dove to the water and came back with it's catch. He smiled as it reminded him of the eagles back home.

"Come on, let's have a look," Andrew said as he dismounted.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Murdoch said.

"Oh, come on. It'll be fun," Johnny grinned and slid off the horse. Ground tying him, he set off after Andrew. Scott was right beside him.

"Children," Duncan snipped.

Murdoch chuckled. "Yes, they are great aren't they?"

The older men waited as the young men explored. Sitting on an old stone wall, they watched the waves of the sea.

"How has it been, really?" Duncan asked.

"Hard. Especially with Johnny," Murdoch answered with a grim look.

"Oh? He seems like a lovely boy," Blane spoke up.

"He has a temper. It's just ..... well , I told you about his past. How he grew up."

"That's hardly his fault."

"No, but it made him grow up too fast. He's so independent. I know that's supposed to be a good thing but with Johnny, it's too much of a good thing."

Blane stood up and faced his brother. "You think he doesn't need you?"

Murdoch looked at his brother then dropped his eyes.

"That's malarkey, Murdoch. And ya know it. Your children will always need ya. Even if they don't know it. And that one ..... he needs a lot from you."

"What do you mean?"

"He means, from what you've told us and what we've seen, that boy isn't as grown up as he thinks. There's still a young lad in there who never got to have a father before. Scott, too, for that matter."

"Scott? No, Scott's very mature."

"Aye, he is. Doesn't mean he doesn't need his da ," Blane said.

Murdoch had to smile at that thought.

Before he could answer, they heard the shouts. Looking up, they saw the three young men running toward them. Laughing their heads off, they nearly bowled the elder men over when they reached them.

"What in the name of ..." Duncan exclaimed.

"Murdoch, I told you I needed my gun," Johnny laughed, breathing heavily.

"How could you let us go in there without protection?" Scott asked, unable to stop laughing himself.

Murdoch only shook his head at their antics. He figured if he gave them a minute, they'd spill it.

"I've never seen anything like it," Andrew huffed out as he sank onto the low wall.

"Alright, what did ya see?" Blane asked, amused.

"A ghost, Uncle. The ugliest sight I've ever beheld," the young man laughed.

"What did you really see?" Murdoch asked.

It was Scott who found his control first. "Well, there was a portrait on the wall. It was of a woman .... we think," he grinned.

"Brother, if that was a woman, then what have I been chasin all these years?" Johnny asked.

Blane was tickled by this. "I take it she wasn't a bonny lass ?"

The boys fell out again. "That is the ugliest woman I have ever seen."

"Scott Lancer!" Murdoch chastised.

"No, you don't understand, Murdoch. He's right, she was ...." Johnny couldn't finish, he shuddered dramatically.

Murdoch laughed at his boys. "I think it's time we headed back." He threw an arm around each of his sons as they walked back to the horses.

Andrew followed but Blane and Duncan held back.

"I don't know what he's so worried about," Duncan said.

"Neither do I, brother. Those boys are priceless."

********

Scott and Johnny stood on the platform at the train station and took one last long look at the countryside. Murdoch walked up between them and smiled.

"It's really somethin . I can see why you miss it," Johnny said softly. There was a light in his eyes that Murdoch had seen before. The same light as when he looked out over Lancer.

He pulled his boys close to his side. "I guess when I saw Lancer, it reminded me so much of home."

"That's why you love it so much," Scott said.

Looking up into his father's eyes, Scott saw a sadness take over. "It's wonderful that we can have memories. All we have to do is close our eyes and we can see a place or a person."

"Yes, son. I have missed it. I guess over the years, I had forgotten how much. But, I don't regret leaving. I wouldn't have the two of you if I hadn't."

"That's true," Johnny nodded. "Just think of all the fun you would have missed out on." A crooked grin slid up the side of his face.

Murdoch chuckled then turned at the sound of the approaching train. Sighing a little, he walked back over to his brothers.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I mean, if he's gonna be so sad," Johnny frowned.

"No, brother. It was a great idea. It's like me. I miss Boston sometimes but I have no regrets about leaving."

Johnny nodded, he too understood. Part of him would always miss Mexico. He figured he was luckier than they. He was much closer to his homeland. Smiling, he remembered it wasn't really his 'homeland'. Still, he'd spent most of his life there and it felt like home until he'd come back to Lancer.

*********

They all gathered again for supper at Duncan 's home. Lorna and Heather had been cooking all day. Preparing a special dinner for their brother-in-law and nephews.

As they served the dishes, Scott and Johnny stared warily.

" Somethin wrong, boys?" Heather asked.

"Oh, no ma'am. It's just .... what is it?" Scott asked politely.

"Shepherd's pie, black bun bread, dumplings and haggis."

"Haggis?"

"Aye, taste it. It's really good," Duncan encouraged.

The boys looked at each other, suspicion running rampant. Murdoch nodded to them both, a serious expression on his face.

Johnny was the first. Murdoch wasn't surprised. He figured Scott's upbringing would preclude him from saying anything.

Johnny grabbed his napkin and spit the bite out. "What the hell is that?"

"Johnny!"

Blane and Duncan burst out laughing, followed by the rest of the clan.

His face reddened and he looked apologetically at Heather. "Sorry, it's just ..... different ," he mumbled.

"It's alright, Johnny. It takes some gettin used to," she said gently.

"What exactly is in this?" Scott asked, having actually swallowed his bite.

"Well, let's see now. Sheep's lungs, heart, liver and windpipe. It's boiled and minced and mixed with beef suet, spices and oatmeal. Then it's stuffed in sheep's stomach and boiled again," Lorna explained.

Johnny felt his stomach roll but not as much as Scott, who had actually ingested it.

Scott smiled weakly and took a long drink of his wine. He managed to eat a little of the shepherd's pie but his appetite had left him.

"Maybe you'll like this better, Scott," Heather said as she placed a plate in front of him. "It's Dundee Cake. It's sweet."

He braced himself and took a bite, pleasantly surprised. "This is good. Very good," he smiled.

"It is. Say, think you could give us the recipe for Teresa?" Johnny asked.

"I'm sure I could. I'm glad you like it. I think tomorrow maybe we should have some steaks," she laughed.

Both boys dropped their heads, embarrassed.

"Now, don't ya go feelin bad, either of ya. I'm sure your American food wouldn't sit too well with me, either," she said.

Johnny grinned. "Ever had Mexican food?"

They all said no together and he smiled wider.

"What's going on in that head of yours, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Nothing. I just think it's a shame they can't experience some of the things we like," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, maybe you can show me how to make something, Johnny," Heather said.

"I doubt you have what I'd need here, ma'am," he said.

"The market has some wide varieties. I mean, if you want to, Johnny," Blane said.

"Sure, wouldn't hurt to look. That is, if you don't mind turning your kitchen over," Johnny smiled.

"I'll turn it over, young man, but part of cookin is cleanin up the mess," she answered in a maternal voice.

"That's what Scott's for."

"Hey! How did I get in on this?"

"Sorry, brother, but that's how it goes," Johnny shrugged.

********

After the long day out in the cold, Johnny was looking forward to a nice hot bath. He stood and stared at the tub for a while before deciding he needed some direction.

Obtaining his brother's assistance, the two of them figured out the alien device. Scott soon found it wasn't much different than the new techniques being used on the east coast of America at the time. They filled the tub with hot water using a pump device that brought the water up from a heater downstairs.

"We need one of these," Johnny stated.

"It's much the same as the ones in Boston and New York . I think I'll speak with Grandfather. Maybe we can have one shipped," Scott said.

Scott left his brother to his privacy. Johnny slid down into the water and leaned his head on the rim. Sighing, he thought he was in heaven as the heat enveloped his muscles.

After about an hour, the water began to cool. He quickly soaped himself then plunged his head under the water. Coming up, he resisted the urge to shake his head as he usually did. No sense in makin a mess in someone else's home.

Johnny sighed and stood up, water running down the lines and contours of his body. He stepped out onto a rug and grabbed the towel. Drying his hair first then the rest of his body.

He threw the towel over his shoulder to dry his back as the door flew open. He pulled the towel across himself quickly.

"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't know you were in here," Heather said quickly, her eyes moving downward despite herself. "I'll just .... I'll come back," she stammered, red-faced, and closed the door.

He stood there for a long minute, sure she'd seen about all there was to see in that second. Ordinarily, a beautiful woman seeing him naked wouldn't bother him. Ordinarily. He blushed a little despite himself then quickly got dressed.

Back in the room, Scott was lying on the bed reading. Johnny walked in and went to his bed, sitting down heavily.

"Something wrong?" Scott asked over his book.

"No, not a thing. Other than Heather just saw me naked."

Scott dropped the book beside him and sat up, smiling.

"Don't, brother. She just barged right in," Johnny said with a warning tone.

"Well, I'm sure she didn't see anything," Scott tried.

"She saw everything," Johnny mumbled.

Scott grinned. "I didn't hear any screaming."

Johnny looked over at him and threw his pillow.

 

 

Heritage and Memories

The next day, Murdoch and the boys went out on their own. Murdoch showed them the docks and shipping yards. He pointed out where his father had worked. They went to the cemetery that Murdoch had not been to himself.

Standing at the graves of their grandparents left Scott and Johnny feeling a greater loss than they expected. They watched their father closely. Both concerned for him. He hadn't been at the funerals and they knew that was hard for him.

Murdoch knelt down beside the graves and bowed his head. Both boys knelt beside him. Each putting a supportive hand on their father's shoulders.

"I'm so grateful to have you both here with me," Murdoch whispered.

"We're grateful to be here, sir."

"You okay?"

"It's hard, son. This is the first time I've really gotten to say goodbye," he answered and his voice caught at the end.

"You want to be alone?" Johnny asked gently.

"No. No, I'm glad you're here," he shook his head.

Johnny sat down and crossed his legs. "Tell us about them."

Murdoch and Scott both sat as well. The three of them, sitting on the ground in the cemetery, might have seemed an odd sight to those passing by.

" Da was a hard worker. Always taking on extra. He wanted the best for us. He wasn't an affectionate man, but we knew he loved us. I remember how he used to 'forget' things, like his lunch. I think he did it on purpose so one or more of us boys would come down. Just so he could see a little more of us. He worked so much." Murdoch stopped here, joy and sadness mixing heavily in his voice.

"Ma was, well, she was a mother. Always hovering, always worrying. Even when there was nothing to worry about. She was very affectionate with us all."

"Yeah, mother's are like that. Embarrassing ya in front of your friends," Johnny smiled at a memory.

Murdoch laughed. "She did that! Of course, we'd complain and she'd just say; too bad, I'm your mother and I'm allowed."

"That's exactly what my mother said. God! Did she ever give you a spit bath?" Johnny asked, laughing at the thought.

"Yes!" Murdoch joined his laughter.

"What is a spit bath?" Scott asked.

"Well, son. She'd spit on her fingers and wipe a smudge of dirt off my face with it."

"That is disgusting!" Scott said, horrified at the thought.

"Well, at least that's one thing you got out of, Boston ." As soon as it came out of his mouth, Johnny wished he could bite his tongue out.

"God, Scott. I'm so sorry. That was a stupid thing to say," he apologized sincerely.

"It's alright, Johnny."

"No, it isn't. I ....."

"Hey," Scott said, placing a hand on his brother's arm. "I know you didn't mean anything."

Murdoch was touched by the affection his sons displayed. "We should take a look at those stores. See if there's anything you can use for this grand Mexican feast of yours," he said, trying to end the awkwardness.

*******

By the time they had finished shopping, Scott had convinced his brother all was well between them.

Johnny was pleasantly surprised at all he'd been able to find. He had to substitute a few things but he figured it would work out well.

Scott was looking at the fabrics with interest. Murdoch explained the tartans and how each design symbolized a clan. He showed his son the closest thing to the Lancer clan tartan and Scott bought a bolt of the cloth for Teresa.

They arrived back at Duncan 's and walked into a bad situation. They could hear the loud voices as they walked in the front door. All three exchanged worried looks as they heard Duncan and Andrew going at it.

Unsure what to do, they stood there for a moment and listened.

"I don't know what's the matter with you , boy. What are ya gonna do with a Philosophy degree? Sit and think about life while everybody else is livin it?!"

"Don't worry about it, da ! It's my life, isn't it?"

"And my money you're wastin !"

"Is that what your worried about, then? Well, don't! I'll pay back every penny ya've wasted on me!"

Murdoch cleared his throat loudly as he walked into the room, Johnny and Scott right behind him.

"Ah, did ya get everythin ya need?" Duncan asked, trying to calm his voice.

"I think so. I'm just gonna take this to the kitchen," Johnny said softly and Scott went with him.

"Sorry about that, Murdoch. But, you know how it is with these children," Duncan said.

Murdoch smiled a little. "I only wish I could have argued with my boys about their choice of studies."

Andrew fidgeted a little. "Well, tell Johnny I'll be lookin forward to supper. If you'll excuse me," he said and quickly left the room.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with that lad," Duncan sighed.

"Why do you have to do anything?"

"He's wastin his life, Murdoch. Surely, ya can see that?"

"What I see is a sensitive young man who wants to understand people and this world."

" Hmmph ! Sensitive. Well, I suppose I should be grateful he's not as 'sensitive' as Ian."

Scott and Johnny walked back in just in time to hear this.

"What does that mean?" Murdoch asked.

Duncan looked at him, a bit surprised. "Well, I don't suppose you would have noticed. The boy is ..... well , he's not real interested in females. If ya know what I mean."

Murdoch cocked a brow at this. "No, I didn't know that."

Scott and Johnny exchanged surprised looks but neither commented. Johnny realized now what Ian's first comment to him had meant.

"How is Blane handling it?" Murdoch was asking.

"He doesn't know what to do, Murdoch. He's agonized over this, I can tell you. We've had many talks about it."

"Nothing he can do," Johnny said softly.

They both turned to him, surprised they weren't alone any longer.  

"What do ya mean?" Duncan asked.

"I mean there's nothing he can do. I'm sure not an expert but I knew a fella once like that. He said it wasn't something that could be fixed. Said it was just the way he felt and nothing could be done about it. He said the worst part was his family turned their backs on him. They were ashamed and disowned him."

"Well, Blane hasn't done that."

"That's good to hear," Johnny smiled. "I'm getting ready to destroy your wife's kitchen. Will she be home soon?" He blushed a little, thinking of last night.

Duncan smiled at him. "No, she said she was stayin away til supper. Said she wouldn't be able to stand it if she was here," he laughed.

Johnny laughed as well. "I'll try to be gentle." He figured she hadn't mentioned the debacle to her husband and he was grateful.

*******

Heather came home half an hour before supper and went to her room to change. She had spent the day with Lorna. Both women fretting over the evening meal. Both terrified of what they would find in the kitchen. She had tried to put last night out of her mind. Still, she felt she should apologize to Johnny again. She had finally decided to see how he acted before saying anything. It was possible it hadn't bothered him, she supposed.

Scott set the table beautifully. He'd even managed to find some flowers in the mid-winter. He'd spent the afternoon with Johnny but his job was easier. Johnny had him making small pinatas to set at each place. He lit the candles then helped his brother clean up.

He was surprised. Johnny had been cleaning as he went which made the job much easier. As he'd explained, this was the way his mother had done it. Had drilled into his head how much easier the clean-up was this way.

As they settled at the table, Murdoch smiled at the settings.

"What are these?" Ian asked.

"They're pinatas. Usually they're bigger than this. They're filled with candy. During holidays and birthdays, they're hung up and the children use sticks to break them. The candy will spill out and the children all dive for it," Murdoch explained.

"Sounds like fun," Blane smiled.

"Ordinarily, they're made of clay. It's easier to break. I guess Johnny went easy on you with the paper," Murdoch chuckled.

"I'll have you know, I made these," Scott said as he entered with two platters.

"I've got him pretty well trained," Johnny grinned as he followed with two bowls.

"Now, no peeking," he admonished as they both disappeared back to the kitchen. His eyes were everywhere but on Heather. He knew he'd turn red as a tomato if he looked at her.

"I'm wonderin what your kitchen looks like," Lorna sighed.

Heather could only grimace at the thought.

The boys returned with the last of the food and sat down.

"Okay, Murdoch, will you and Scott help with the fixins ?" Johnny asked.

"Be glad to, son. As long as you explain it," Murdoch smiled.

Johnny revealed the first platter. "These are tortillas. They're basically a thin bread. This is the beef and the rest are the toppings. Oh, these a refried beans and this," he stopped and removed the lid of a bowl with flourish, "is salsa." Grinning with satisfaction, he continued. "I have to warn you, this is spicy food. I did tame it down a little for you."

"I, for one, thank you for that, brother."

Johnny smiled. "Okay, everyone take a tortilla. Now, a spoonful of everything goes in the middle. Doesn't matter what order."

He watched until they were all done. "Now, roll it up like this. Good. Now, take a spoonful of salsa and spread it over the top. The beans are a side dish so just help yourselves ."

When they had all finished making their burritos, Johnny went on. He demonstrated how to cut the burrito and they all followed suit. "Okay, dig in."

Every one of the Scottish Lancers waited until Johnny had taken a bite before forging ahead. He watched them closely.

"This is wonderful," Duncan said. "A bit spicy."

"It is delicious, Johnny. Oh, it is a bit hot, isn't it?" Blane stated as his brain caught up with his tongue and he felt the slow burn.

Johnny grinned in satisfaction. "Maybe I'll let you try the 'real' stuff sometime. The ones that'll have smoke comin out of your ears," he laughed.

"It is mild, son. But very good," Murdoch said. He was used to the spicier type of the dish but was very glad his son had tempered things.

"Yes, it usually has me sweating," Scott agreed with a laugh.

"It's always nice to experience different cultures," Andrew said.

"Maybe you'll come visit us sometime, Andrew," Johnny offered.

"I'd like that."

"Anytime. All of you. I'd love you to see the ranch," Murdoch said.

"As a matter of fact, I was thinking about that, brother. I thought it would be a good experience for my Ian to visit America ."

Murdoch looked at Blane with surprise but recovered quickly. He looked over at Ian who had his head down. "We'd love to have him."

"How about takin him with ya when you go back?" Blane asked.

"That's great! How about it, Ian?" Johnny asked.

The young man looked up at him and shrugged. "Not my choice," he replied softly.

Blane ignored the comment and turned to Duncan . "Well, brother? Think all those connections of yours could get us passage?"

"I'm sure we can work it out. In fact, I was going to speak to you about that very thing, Murdoch. The Atlantic is one of our ships. I've arranged your trip back at no charge."

" Duncan , I didn't expect...."

"I know ya didn't. And I would've gotten you a refund for your trip here. But, I figured since it was a gift from your boys, that wouldn't be right. So, this is my gift to the three of you."

"That's very generous of you, Uncle," Scott said.

Duncan looked hard at him. "Do ya know that's the first time ya've called me that? It sounds like music," he smiled.

Scott smiled back at him. "I only wish we could stay longer."

"So do I, but it'll be spring by the time we get back as it is," Murdoch reminded him.

"So?" Andrew asked.

All three of them laughed a little. "It's calving time. Very busy at the ranch," Johnny explained. "Hey, Ian. That'll be quite an experience for you. Have you ever seen an animal give birth?"

He blushed and simply shook his head no.

"I wish I could go as well," Andrew said.

"Why can't you?" Scott asked.

Getting confused looks all around, he went on. "The university isn't going anywhere. I took two years off while I served in the cavalry. Why don't you come with us?"

"There's certainly plenty of room, Andrew," Murdoch said.

"Come on. I'll show you how cowboys live," Johnny grinned. "Maybe even give you some perspective," he added with a cocked brow.

Andrew looked to his father who was fascinated at the idea. "If you want to, son, I'm all for it."

"Alright, then. I'd love to. And Ian won't feel so out of place with another alien around," he laughed. But he saw the look of gratitude on his cousin's face.

*********

The next few days, the family spent as much time together as possible. Heather didn't mention the awkwardness of the tub room and Johnny was grateful.

Duncan took Scott and Johnny to work with him, showing them the shipping lines. He took them to the shipyards and gave them a birdseye view of the building process.

Johnny wasn't sure he wanted to know how the ships were built. Especially since he had to get on one soon.

Duncan took them to a nice restaurant for lunch and they both took advantage of the time alone. Something they had not had with either of their uncles since arriving.

"May I ask you something, Uncle?" Scott started.

"Sure ya can."

"Well, I ... that is, we were wondering if you could tell us about Murdoch."

"Tell you about him? What do ya mean?" Duncan asked.

"Well, what he was like as a kid. You know, was he wild or what?" Johnny clarified.

Duncan nodded his understanding. "I don't suppose he would have told ya anything. Well, bein the oldest, he had more responsibilities. He had to look out for Blane and me. Still, he had his fair share of fun. He had a friend at one time that got in more trouble," he laughed at the memories.

"Of course, at the time it wasn't so funny. Da was at the end of his rope, I can tell ya."

"Why? What happened?" Scott asked.

"Well, I have ta swear ya both to secrecy. If he knew I'd told ya, he'd throttle me."

Both young men nodded their acceptance.

"They met at school. The lad's name was Angus. He was from a poor family. Of course, that didn't matter, but his da was an old drunk. Angus was wild but for some reason, Murdoch became friends with him. Angus was always stealing. He got Murdoch in some serious trouble once. Oh, your da hadn't done anything. But he associated with Angus so he was a suspect."

"Suspect? That does sound serious," Johnny commented.

"Aye, it was. Angus robbed a store. Stabbed the owner when he came in unexpectedly. The man survived, thank the Lord. But the whole mess had Murdoch in deep trouble. They finally realized he had nothin to do with it. Angus was sent off to jail and Murdoch lost the love of his life."

"Fiona?" Scott asked.

"Oh, no. She was just a rebound. No, your da was crazy over another lass . I believe if she hadn't left him, he would have never gone to America ."

"Why did she leave?" Johnny asked.

"Well, her da was so upset over all that business with Angus, he made her stop seein Murdoch. He sent her to London to stay with relatives. Murdoch never got over it."

They fell quiet, the three of them. Scott and Johnny were disturbed by this information. They wondered about this girl.

"Do you know what happened to her?" Johnny asked.

"No, lad. She never came back as far as I know."

"Is she why he went to America ?" Scott asked.

"Well, he'd tell ya no but I believe she is the reason. At least, most of the reason."

"Was your father mad at him?" Johnny asked.

"I don't think da was angry. I think he was disappointed. That was probably worse for Murdoch. He thought the sun rose and set on that man. Still, they came to an understandin . Da was fine when Murdoch left. He had no bad feelins ."

"I'm glad. It's hard to leave things badly and then never have the chance to make them right," Scott said.

Johnny frowned at that thought. "So, the old man was pretty tame, huh?"

Duncan laughed. "Well, he ran around a lot. But, except for that business with Angus, he never got in any real trouble."

"Too bad," Johnny grinned.

"And what about you? What made ya come ta be a gunfighter?"

Johnny was surprised by the question, to say the least. He dropped his eyes. "Guess he told you a lot, huh?" he asked quietly.

"No, just the basics. Oh, I know about both your mothers. Tragic, it is. But, he never has said anything much."

Johnny looked up and scanned the restaurant. "Maybe we should head back."

He felt his uncle's hand on his arm. "I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable, Johnny. But, ya are my nephew and I worry about you. Both of you. I want ya to be happy with your da . I want him to be happy, too."

"We are, most of the time," Johnny smiled at the man.

Duncan chewed his lip for a second as he contemplated how far he should go. "He worries that ya don't need him. That you're both too grown to need your da ."

The brothers exchanged surprised looks. "I'm not sure what you mean by 'need him'," Scott spoke.

"Well, for advice and guidance. Like any young lad would need. You're not too grown to be taking some advice, are ya?" he grinned.

They both laughed a little at this. "No, I don't suppose we are."

"I wish you would all just pack up and come home with us," Johnny said.

Duncan laughed at this. "Now wouldn't that be somethin ? I'll bet that ranch of yours would go crazy seein all the Lancers movin in."

********

A week later, the Lancers were packed and ready to return home. Although all three were missing the ranch, there was a tinge of regret there.

Johnny wanted to talk to his father about his cousins but there never seemed to be a good time. The older set of brothers were spending every available minute together.

He understood. He couldn't imagine being so far away from Scott. It even made him sad to think of leaving them all behind. He sat on the bed and watched Scott pack.

"You know, this is gonna be really hard on the old man."

"I know. I don't know how to make it any easier, though," Scott sighed.

Johnny laughed softly. "Wouldn't it be somethin if we packed up the whole clan and took them with us?"

Scott had to laugh as well. "It would. I wish we could. I really like them all."

"Yeah, me too. It's funny how people can get to you so fast." There was a gleam in his eye that Scott did not miss.

"Yes, it's funny how that happens," he smiled and sat next to his brother. He wrapped an arm around Johnny's shoulders. "We just have to be there for Murdoch, that's all."

"Yeah, I'll miss them. I'm really glad we came. Did you pick up that gift for Teresa?"

"I did, but I think we owe her a whole lot more than that."

"That's the truth. Let's do the windows for her this year and without any griping," Johnny thought aloud.

"Hey, that's a good idea. She'll appreciate that almost as much as a store bought gift," Scott laughed.

"Wait til we tell her about all those fellas in the Highlands runnin around in skirts!"

"Kilts, Johnny, kilts," Scott reminded him.

"Whatever you say, brother. They're still skirts," Johnny laughed.

"Did you get that recipe?"

"Yep, all tucked in safe and sound. She'll like that too, I think. Ya know, sometimes, I forget how special Teresa is. Don't let me do that anymore, ok?"

"We'll have to remind each other. I'm afraid I tend to take her for granted, too," Scott said, disappointed in himself .

"Well, after this trip, I don't think either of us will forget."

 

 

Goodbyes

Johnny understood the big deal about the Bon Voyage now. They had spent thirty minutes on the dock saying goodbye. Now, they stood on the deck waving down to their family.

In just two short weeks, they had become attached. Both young men were keeping a close watch on their father as he waved goodbye to his brothers. Knowing it may well be the last time he ever saw them.

Unbeknownst to each other, they had both cajoled Duncan and Blane about coming for a visit.

Andrew and Ian weren't as sad, however. Both young men were thrilled to be getting away from home. Even though they would miss their families, this new adventure was an unexpected pleasure.

For Ian, it was a chance to have the time to figure out his life. To find himself away from the sometimes oppressive atmosphere of his family. He knew what they all thought. He didn't really care. He was shy, that was all. He knew it and he hated it but he didn't know how to fix it. Maybe now, he could find his way.

They all went below decks to find two suites and a single cabin waiting for them. The best on the ship, evidently. Duncan had spared nothing in making his family comfortable.

Murdoch decided he needed to talk to his nephews about what was expected of them and what they could expect.

"Andrew, Ian, we need to talk."

Johnny and Scott got up to leave.

"Where are you two going?" Murdoch asked.

"We know that tone, sir. We thought we'd just take a stroll," Scott grinned.

"Sit."

And they did - quickly.

"I only want to talk to you boys about the ranch. It's going to be very different for you. I want you to know what to expect and what I expect," he began.

Everyone kept their eyes plastered on the floor.

"I expect, that while you're with us, you will do as I say. I am responsible for both of you. Your fathers would have my head if anything were to happen."

This comment brought a snort from Andrew and a roll of the eyes from Ian.

"Regardless of what you both might think, your fathers love you," he continued firmly. "Now, ranch life is hard. The land is unforgiving. There are dangers from   both nature and man. I expect Scott and Johnny to look out for you both. I also expect you both to earn your keep."

"What?" Johnny asked. "Murdoch, you don't mean you want them to be cowboys?"

"That's exactly what I mean, son."

"Sir, do you think that's really fair? I mean, they are only visiting," Scott offered.

"A very long visit. And I'm very glad to have you both. But idle hands are the devil's workshop. If you're going to get in trouble, it will be honest trouble," Murdoch said, raising a brow.

"I have no objection to workin , Uncle," Andrew said.

"Neither do I ," Ian agreed.

"Good! I think this is going to work out fine. Until then, we are all still on holiday. So let's enjoy ourselves," he smiled.

Scott and Johnny shook their heads as they gave each other a woeful look.

********

Boston Harbor shimmered in the light of the new day. The sun had just risen over the horizon and cast long shadows on the buildings beyond the port. Scott watched in fascination as the city came to life.

"Pretty, ain't it?"

He turned to find his brother watching him and smiled. "It certainly is."

Johnny walked up to the railing, raising a foot and settling it on the lower rail as he leaned against the top. "Springtime."

"It's my favorite time of year."

"I know," he smiled. "Guess you'll be seein the old man today."

"Guess so."

"Want me to come along? I know he'd be really upset if he missed seeing me," Johnny grinned devilishly.

Scott laughed outright. "I guess he'll just have to be disappointed. But I was thinking of inviting him to dinner with us tonight."

Johnny smiled and shook his head. "Are you ever not polite? Why don't you have dinner with him? Give the old man the day with you."

Scott frowned a little.

"Murdoch will understand, Scott," Johnny laid a hand on his arm.

"Stop reading my mind."

"Stop makin it so easy."

"Well, there it is, boys. America ," Murdoch announced as he came topside with Andrew and Ian.

Both young men drank in the sight in silent awe.

"Say, Murdoch, you tired?" Johnny asked.

"No, son. I haven't been up that long. Why would I be tired?"

"No reason. It's just that with Scott spending the day and evening with Harlan, I thought you could entertain the rest of us," he grinned.

Scott found something fascinating to look at to his left, away from the rest of them.

Murdoch smiled a little. "Johnny, you are as subtle as a sledgehammer. I'd be glad to give a tour while Scott is otherwise engaged."

Scott turned back and smiled gratefully at his father. "Thank you, sir."

Murdoch walked around to the other side so he could stand next to his eldest. "Did you think I would be upset? Scott, I don't want you to feel you can't see Harlan. It's only natural you'd want to spend time with him while we're here."

"Well, after his visit to the ranch....."

"I hope he's learned a lesson," Murdoch cut him off. "Go and enjoy your visit, son."

"Yes, sir," he smiled.

The ship's horn blew and Johnny smiled and shook his head. "I don't think I ever want to hear that sound again."

"I thought you were thinking about a life at sea, John. As much time as you've spent with the crew," Murdoch cocked a brow.

"Yeah, well, they have better whiskey than the bar," he laughed. "I'll just stick to ranching if you don't mind."

"I certainly don't. Especially right now," Scott grinned.

*******

They went back to the Westchester and checked in. Scott had noticed on the last trip that the suit he'd brought was no longer in style. As the rest of the family went upstairs, he stopped in the men's clothier and purchased something more appropriate. The last thing he wanted to hear from his grandfather was what a ruffian he'd become. Scott smiled to himself as he went to the suite of rooms.

"Did you get a pretty new suit?" Johnny grinned.

"I guess I'll have to let you be the judge of that, brother. As soon as I take a hot bath, that is."

Johnny looked at his cousins and winked. "Cleanest rancher in California ."

"Well, what would you boys like to see? Any ideas?" Murdoch asked.

"Been to Harvard but if Andrew and Ian want to see it, I know one of the teachers there," Johnny grinned.

"Actually, I would like to see Harvard. I'm afraid it's the only thing I know about," Andrew spoke up.

"Anything is fine with me as long as it's on land," Ian smiled for the first time.

"Why don't we all change and we'll get going," Murdoch said.

Johnny was sorely tempted to change alright but he held onto his promise to his father. No gun east of the Rockies .

As they all came out of their rooms, Scott appeared in the door. He was wearing a dark blue suit and tie with a crisp white shirt. The corner of a handkerchief appeared from his breast pocket. He was wearing shiny black shoes.

Johnny whistled loudly. " Whhoooeee ! Don't you look pretty! "

"Very handsome, son," Murdoch said, giving Johnny 'the look'.

"Thank you, sir. Well, I guess I'll be on my way."

"Does he know you're coming?" Murdoch asked.

Scott smiled a little. "No, I wanted to surprise him. My luck, he'll be out of town or stuck in a meeting all day."

"Well, if he is, just come on over to Harvard. That's where we'll be," Johnny said as he hung an arm around Scott's shoulder.

"Harvard?"

"Andrew wants to see it. Hey, maybe he'll finish his schoolin there."

Scott swallowed hard and made a promise to himself to never enter the college again.

They stepped out of the cab in front of the rows of buildings and stared. Johnny started across the lawn but stopped when his father called out.

"Where are you going?"

"I told ya, I know one of the teachers. Come on," he nodded his head and took off again.

"It's splendid," Ian said.

"Yeah. It was built in 1636. It's the oldest college in the country. Two presidents went here," Johnny said and Murdoch looked oddly at him. He shrugged and grinned. "That's what Scott said."

There was still a bite in the air but nothing like the first time he'd walked across this lawn. Johnny appreciated the warmth of the sun of his face. He walked into Harvard Hall and looked around.

Andrew and Ian took in the vast foyer, nodding in appreciation.

"This way," Johnny whispered.

Murdoch was amused at his son. He could make himself at home anywhere.

Johnny peeked through the window in the door and waited. He smiled and waved as Professor Ludlow spotted him. The man smiled this time as he went to the door.

"Back again, I see? Are you signing up for my class, young man?"

Johnny laughed softly. "Not likely. Guess you're in the middle of somethin ?"

"Just finishing. Give me five minutes," the professor winked and returned to his class.

"How do you know him?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, he's Scott's favorite teacher. I met him when we were here before. Didn't like him one bit," Johnny laughed.

"That seems to have changed," Murdoch half-asked.

"Yeah, he was pretty stuffy at first but I put him in his place."

Murdoch chuckled. "Of course you did."

The students filed out and Professor Ludlow invited them in. "Scott's not with you?"

"No, he's visiting his grandfather. We just got back from Scotland . This is my father, Murdoch Lancer. And these are my cousins, Andrew and Ian. They're from Scotland . Andrew goes to St. Andrews . Heard of it?"

An amused smile flitted across the man's face as he shook hands with them all. "Yes, I believe I have heard of it. Tiny little place?"

Andrew laughed and Johnny frowned.

"He's teasing you, son. St. Andrews is a famous University all over the world."

Johnny shrugged. "School's a school to me."

"Mr. Lancer, I must say your son made a lasting impression on me."

"Yes, he has that ability."

"Now, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Just showing these two around. Andrew's been kinda put out over there and he might want to come to school here," Johnny winked.

"I never said I was .... what is 'put out'?" Andrew asked.

"Leave your cousin alone, Johnny. Professor, we didn't mean to intrude. Johnny insisted you wouldn't mind."

"And he's right, I don't."

"Hey, why don't you have supper with us tonight? We're stayin at the Westchester ," Johnny asked.

Although surprised by the invitation, Ludlow didn't blink. "I'd love to. What time?"

"Seven?"

"I'll be there."

*******

Scott walked into the offices of Garrett Enterprises and sucked in a deep breath. Nostalgia hit him hard. He walked upstairs to his grandfather's offices and approached the secretary.

"Is Mr. Garrett in?"

She looked up and burst into a smile. "Scott! What a wonderful surprise!"

"Thank you, Miss Devin."

"Oh, yes, he's in." She looked about surreptitiously. "Why don't you just announce yourself. "

He smiled gratefully at her and nodded. Easing the door open softly, he popped his head in. Harlan was sitting at his desk, engrossed in a file. Scott couldn't help but grin as he slipped in and closed the door silently.

He stood there for several seconds, trying to keep from bursting into laughter. Harlan hadn't changed. He still worked too hard.

"You'll go blind reading so hard."

The old man looked up and his mouth dropped open. Pulling his reading glasses off, he stood. "Scotty!"

He rounded the desk and approached his grandson, hand extended. "Scotty, my boy! How are you?"

"Well, sir. And you?"

"Fine, fine. Look at you! That's a fine looking suit. Well, what are you doing here? And why wasn't I informed?"

"Slow down, grandfather. I wanted to surprise you," he laughed.

"Well, you certainly did. Sit down, my boy. To what do I owe this honor?"

"Well, I was on my way home and ...."

"On your way home? Where have you been?"

" Scotland ."

" Scotland !? What on earth for?" Harlan nearly shouted.

"Calm down, sir. I went to Scotland with Murdoch and Johnny. We arrived back here this morning."

"Did you leave them there?"

"Grandfather."

"I was only joking, my boy. Well, why didn't you see me before you left?"

"There wasn't time. I'm sorry, I wanted to but the schedules didn't allow it," Scott explained.

"Ah, yes. When you wired about the ship schedules I was under the impression it was only Murdoch going."

"Well, at the time it was. Johnny and I went at the last minute."

"I see. Well, what did you think of Scotland ?" Harlan asked with a hint of sarcasm.

Scott chose to ignore it, however. "It was fascinating, sir. It's a beautiful country . We met Murdoch's brothers and their families. In fact, two of our cousins came back with us to visit."

Harlan kept smiling, inside he was screaming. Two more Lancers!

"And where is everyone now?"

"They're out sightseeing. I thought you and I could have dinner if you're not busy," Scott replied.

"Busy? My boy, nothing could be more important. I'll just check with Miss Devin and rearrange anything I have scheduled. Stay right there," Harlan said as he nearly bolted for the door.

********

Murdoch took the boys on a tour of some of the more famous sights in Boston . The Old North Church , the shipping yards, Bunker Hill and The Commons were amongst the sites. Murdoch gave a recitation on each site and Johnny was impressed with his father's knowledge of American history.

Murdoch had one stop he knew they had to make. The cab pulled to a halt and they all got out.

"Boy, these are some big houses. Where are we?" Johnny asked.

Murdoch smiled and took hold of his shoulders. He turned him to face one house in particular. He even guided Johnny up the drive a little.

"This is where Scott grew up," he announced.

Johnny looked at his father, then back at the house, his jaw slack. He walked slowly up the drive, taking in the yard and side drive. He walked up the steps and touched the white columns. His hand sliding down the rough surface slowly.

His reaction surprised Murdoch and he wasn't sure what was going through his son's mind. He was beginning to think he'd made a mistake. As he was about to retrieve his son, the front door opened.

A stately looking man in a suit stood there and looked down his nose at him. "May I help you?"

Johnny only stared at him, his mind registering the name but knowing this is not how he pictured the man. "Roberts?"

"Yes, sir," the butler said with a flat face.

"I .... uh .."

Murdoch stepped up. "I'm Murdoch Lancer and this is my son, Johnny."

The butler stiffened, if that was possible, and merely stared at him. "Mr. Garrett is not at home."

"We know. Scott is with him right now. We were just seeing the sights and I thought Johnny might like to see the house where his brother grew up," Murdoch explained tersely.

"Mr. Scott is here?" The butler's face relaxed measurably and one would almost think he smiled.

"I shouldn't have brought you here, Johnny."

"Please, forgive me, sir. I was taken aback. Mr. Johnny, would you like to come in?" Roberts asked, much more friendly now.

"Only if you don't call me Mr. Johnny," he smiled back.

"We'll wait out here," Andrew said, not wanting to intrude.

They stepped into the foyer. The first thing Johnny saw was the grand staircase winding up and around. He saw the crystal chandelier and noted the high polished marble floors. He suddenly felt out of place here. He couldn't imagine Scott growing up in such a ..... cold place.

"I'm sure Mr. Scott wouldn't mind if you saw his room," Roberts said and motioned for them to follow.

As they topped the stairs, Johnny saw the long hall on either side. He couldn't even count the doors. Roberts headed to the right and didn't stop until he came to the last door. Opening it, he explained, " the room is exactly as Mr. Scott left it two years ago."

Johnny stepped inside with trepidation. Room? This was like the hotel suite. A large sitting area with the bedroom off to the left. Another door to the right that Johnny assumed held a bath. The bed was huge. He shook his head and went to the window.

Murdoch watched him, wondering what he was thinking of all this. He had been in the house but never in Scott's room. Though, he wasn't surprised at the grandeur.

Johnny let his fingers run softly over the velvet drape as he looked out the window to a view of a small, but pretty park. The trees were just beginning to come alive again in the spring air. Flowers were budding in symmetrical rows along the walk below. Everything laid out perfectly.

He sighed softly, a smile curving up one side of his mouth. He turned to find his father watching him intently. "Is your wife here? Scott told me about you both. I'd like to meet her."

"Yes sir, she will be honored to meet you as well, I'm sure. This way, please."

As they walked out into the hall, Johnny hesitated. "Which room is Harlan's?"

Roberts was surprised by the question, as was Murdoch. "At the far end, sir."

Johnny nodded. Figures, he thought.

They were shown to the kitchen and, once more, Johnny was overwhelmed by the size. Boy, Teresa would go crazy in a place like this.

A woman appeared. She was dressed in a plain gray dress, her hair in a neat bun on top of her head, more than slightly graying. "Johnny?"

"Mrs. Roberts," he smiled.

She walked up and hugged him fiercely. "So good to meet you. Scott has written and told us all about you. How wonderful that you're here," she smiled.

"Thank you. He's told me all about the both of you, too," Johnny said softly, a bit embarrassed.

"And this is your father?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She extended a hand and smiled warmly. "A pleasure, Mr. Lancer. Scott's told us about you as well. Please, sit down. I just made an apple pie and there's coffee."

"Oh, we can't stay. Scott doesn't know we're here. He's with his grandfather now," Johnny said.

"And you think he'd be upset? Nonsense!"

"We really do have to go, Mrs. Roberts. We're meeting someone for dinner and my nephews are waiting," Murdoch said apologetically. He truly was remorseful. He would liked to have talked to these people about his son.  

"Well, another time then," she said.

"I'm afraid not. We're leaving tomorrow for home," Murdoch said.

She started to say more when she heard the unmistakable bellow of her employer. "Oh, dear."

Murdoch almost laughed out loud until he looked at Johnny.

"I hope he ain't mad about this," he mumbled.

"Who? Scott or Harlan?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, I know the old man will be," he grinned.

Scott came into the kitchen then, having been informed of his family's presence.

"Hey, brother."

"Hey, yourself. What are you two doing here?"

Before they could answer, Scott was caught up in a bear hug by Mrs. Roberts. He laughed and swung the woman around before letting her go.

"It's my fault, Scott. I thought Johnny would like to see where you grew up and then Roberts came out," Murdoch shrugged.

"Why is it anyone's fault? There's no reason why you shouldn't be here," he smiled.

"Murdoch," Harlan greeted crisply.

"Hello, Harlan," Murdoch returned in kind.

"Have you come to visit me or the staff?"

"Actually...." Johnny started but was cut off.

"We didn't want to intrude on your time with Scott. I just wanted to show Johnny where he grew up," Murdoch interrupted.

"Yeah, we should get going. Andrew and Ian are waiting outside," Johnny said.

"Ah yes, the cousins," Harlan nodded.

"I didn't see them out there. I hope they didn't run off on you," Scott grinned.

"I guess we'd better go round them up. We'll see you later, son."

"It was real nice to meet you both," Johnny said, turning to the Roberts'.

"And you, sir," Roberts replied formally.

Johnny knew he was reacting to Harlan being present so he smiled politely and winked at the man.

Once outside, Johnny took a deep breath. "Well, could have been worse. He could have thrown us out."

Murdoch chuckled. "I suppose so. Are you alright? I couldn't tell what was going through your mind in there."

"Sure, I'm fine. It was just .... well , I guess I never really knew how Scott grew up. I mean, he's told me stuff but I couldn't see it, ya know?"

"I know exactly what you mean, son. It's impressive. I was a little intimidated the first time I was here."

Johnny cocked a brow at this. "You? I can't imagine that either," he laughed.

Johnny turned as he heard someone approaching. "Where have you two been?"

"We hid out when we saw Scott comin . That was his grandfather?" Ian said.

"He looks mean," Andrew added.

"He is mean. Come on. I've had enough of Beacon Hill ," Johnny laughed.

They headed back toward the hotel, stopping at Faneuil Hall once more. Johnny wanted to find something else for Teresa and Jelly and they spent some time shopping.

Finally, they headed back to get ready for their dinner guest.

This time, they had no trouble getting a table and Johnny was relieved. He didn't want his cousins subjected to that hostility so soon. He figured they'd get a taste of prejudice soon enough.

He stood up when he saw the professor enter the dining room and waved him over.

"Buenos noches ."

"Buenos noches , Professor. Por favor, tenga un asiento ," Johnny smiled.

Andrew and Ian looked at him, perplexed.

"The professor spent some time in Mexico ," Johnny explained.

"Yes, I seldom get a chance to practice my Spanish."

"I wish I spoke another language," Andrew said.

"I can teach you. You'll probably both want to learn a little anyway. There are a lot of Mexicans in California ," Johnny offered.

"Have you taught your brother, Johnny?" Ludlow asked.

"Well, a little. Scott knows Latin so he picks up things pretty fast. But, I've been hedging on him. Don't want him gettin the upper hand on me," Johnny grinned.

The evening passed pleasantly and they parted ways. Professor Ludlow encouraged Andrew to attend Harvard when he was ready to resume his studies. He promised Johnny he would write to him and Johnny begrudgingly promised to write back. He hated writing letters. Always figured it was too impersonal.

********

Exhausted by the events of the day, the four men took leave of each other and retired early. Johnny lay in bed, thinking about Harlan's house and his brother's room. It bothered him. If he were honest with himself, he'd admit he was a little jealous. Still, he didn't think Scott's childhood was all that great.

From what his brother had shared with him, he got the impression the old man didn't spend much time with Scott. Knowing their bedrooms were a mile apart only strengthened that impression. His brother had always spoken of the Roberts' with a great fondness. Johnny figured they raised him more than Garrett had. He sighed heavily. So much for wealth. Sure doesn't guarantee happiness or love.

He heard the door open and watched in amusement as his brother crept about clandestinely. He waited a few minutes before speaking.

"Have fun?"

Scott whirled around. "Johnny, you took ten years off me!"

"You've got a few to spare," he laughed.

"Funny, brother," he shot as he lit the lamp.

"Hope the old man wasn't too mad," Johnny fished.

"He wasn't upset at all. We had a nice time," Scott smiled.

"I'm glad."

"So, what did you think of the house?"

Johnny smiled. "It's big."

"That's it? It's big?"

"Well, you had a real nice view from your bedroom window," he shrugged.

"The park. Yes, that's where all the girls would gather in the summer. A very nice view," Scott winked.

Johnny laughed. "Figures."

"I am tired, though. I'm surprised you're still awake," Scott sighed.

"Me too. Guess I'm a little wound up. Had a real nice dinner with Professor Ludlow."

Scott stopped what he was doing and turned, wide-eyed. "Professor Ludlow?"

"Yeah, we showed Andrew and Ian around Harvard and stopped in to say hello. I invited him to dinner. He said he was gonna write to me. We're best friends now," Johnny smiled.

"Great," Scott deadpanned. "Goodnight, brother."

" Nite , Scott."

 

 

Westward On

They stood at the train station, waiting. Johnny was starting to feel antsy and he paced the platform. Scott and Murdoch watched, both smiling at the familiar mannerisms.

"He's homesick."

"So am I, son."

"Me, too," Scott laughed. He heard his name and turned to see Harlan walking toward them.

"Grandfather, this is a surprise."

"You aren't the only one who can surprise someone, Scotty. I just came to see you off. I miss you, son."

Scott dropped his head and smiled. Looking back into his grandfather's face, he whispered, "I miss you, too, sir."

"I miss you, too, Harlan. Why don't you come visit us more often?" Johnny smiled.

Harlan shot him an exasperated look and sighed.

Scott smiled as well, he couldn't help himself.

"This is what you have to deal with. Well, you've made your bed, my boy," Harlan said sternly.

"I'm fine, sir. Really," Scott said.

"Actually, Teresa makes his bed," Johnny said and felt someone yank his arm. He was pulled away from them by Murdoch.

"He's only teasing with you, grandfather. He knows it irks you," Scott explained.

"Yes, well. Write to me soon," Harlan said.

The conductor shouted 'all aboard' and Harlan tensed. "If you ever change your mind...."

"I know, sir. Goodbye," Scott said softly.

"Goodbye, son. Please, take care of yourself."

"I will," Scott said and turned to board. He felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard.

Johnny walked up to Garrett. "He is where he wants to be," he said seriously.

"If you ever let any harm come to him...."

"I'll shoot myself. Save you the trouble," he smiled, then changed his expression. Looking over his shoulder to assure himself no one was in ear shot, he said softly, "I'd die before I let anyone hurt him."

Harlan looked into his eyes and nodded. "Yes, I see that."

*********

"You want to tell me what you said to my grandfather?" Scott asked once they were underway.

"Nope. It's a secret between us," Johnny grinned. His face fell at the look he got. "I just promised him I'd watch out for you."

Scott nodded, wondering if that was all of it. "What else?"

"Nothing else, brother. He worries," Johnny shrugged.

Scott studied his brother's face and nodded in satisfaction.

"Well, boys, just a few more days and we'll be home free," Johnny laughed.

"Are you two doing alright? You haven't really talked much," Murdoch inquired.

"Sure, we're fine. Just .... no one seems to be able to understand us," Andrew said.

Murdoch chuckled. "I know but that will change. You'll lose those accents in no time."

"I hope so. You two give me a headache," Johnny teased.

They both laughed at him. "Ya think it's any easier for us to understand you?" Ian asked.

"I've never heard so many different ways of talking. There's more accents in Boston than the whole of Scotland ," Andrew agreed.

"Well, it is a country made up of people from all over. Wait until you hear Jelly," Scott laughed.

They settled in and relaxed as much as one can on a train. Ian and Andrew watched the countryside change in fascination. The city gave way to farmland and prairie. Soon, they could see the mountains growing nearer.

"Those are the Rocky Mountains . We'll stop in Denver to pick up and drop off passengers," Murdoch explained.

"They're beautiful," Andrew said.

"Some of the highest elevations in the country. It's also part of the continental divide. Where the country is equally halved east to west," Scott explained.

********

They pulled into Denver and stepped off the train. Johnny told them to go ahead, he'd be along.

When he disembarked, he was wearing his calzoneros , bolero jacket and his gunbelt . He felt human again, finally.

Andrew and Ian stared at him, mouths agape.

"You just couldn't wait, could you?" Murdoch asked.

"I kept my promise, Murdoch. Now, it's time to get comfortable," he grinned.

"That's a gun," Ian stated the obvious.

"In the west, most men wear guns. It's pretty wild country. There isn't much law," Murdoch explained.

"Are those bullets?" Andrew asked.

"Yeah," Johnny looked at him strangely.

"What kind of pants are those?" he went on.

"Well, that's the Mexican style. They're called calzoneros ."

"They're so ..... low ," Ian said, for lack of a better term.

Johnny laughed at this. "It's what I'm comfortable in."

"Will we be wearin guns?" Andrew asked.

Johnny raised a brow and looked at his father.

"Maybe not. At least until you're more familiar with things," the rancher said.

"Don't worry, boys. Johnny will teach you how to use a pistol," Scott smiled.

"I will?"

"Who better?" Scott asked.

"It's time to board, gentlemen," Murdoch interrupted.

"How much further is it, Uncle?"

"Three more days on the train. We'll get off at Cross Creek. Jelly will pick us up there."

"You sent the wire, didn't you?" Scott asked Johnny.

"Me? I thought you were sending it."

"I specifically remember Murdoch telling you to send the wire, Johnny. Are you telling me you didn't?"

Johnny grinned at him and Scott punched him in the arm. "Hey!"

"Do they always go on like that?" Ian asked.

"I'm afraid so," Murdoch sighed.

*********

Jelly watched the train pull into Cross Creek station and waited impatiently as passengers disembarked. Finally, he spied Murdoch's tall form over the crowd and smiled.

He jumped off the wagon and hurried to meet them.

"Finally decided ta come home."

"Jelly!" Johnny grabbed the old man and danced him around, then Scott took a turn. By the time they were finished, Jelly was more than flustered.

"Well, why don't ya just give me a big ole kiss while yer at it!"

"Okay," Johnny said and moved toward him.

Jelly pushed him away and smacked his arm.

"Good to see you, Jelly," Murdoch said, shaking hands with the man.

"Well, that's more like it! We sure missed ya, Boss."

"What about us, Jelly?" Scott asked.

"I could do with missin the two of you a good while longer!"

"Jelly, these are my nephews, Andrew and Ian," Murdoch interrupted.

"Well, good ta have ya. Welcome. I got the wagon ready, just have ta get your bags."

Andrew and Ian stared at him, unsure what to make of the grizzled old man.

They walked toward the wagon and Johnny stopped mid-stride. A grin spread across his face as wide as a canyon.

"Jelly, I think I will give you that kiss," he said. "Barranca!"

Johnny walked up to the horse who immediately wrapped his head around his master's neck. "Hey, fella . Jelly's been treatin you real good. I can see that. You are a sight for sore eyes. I missed ya, boy."

Barranca nickered and stomped his forefoot. Johnny laughed at his antics.

"Well, didn't figure there was enough room fer everbody in the wagon," Jelly explained.

Scott was smiling, too. "So you decided Johnny and I could ride our horses back. Thanks, Jelly." He stroked Remmie's neck and the horse butted his shoulder.

Johnny looked over Barranca's neck and smiled. "Uh, did you miss your horse there, brother?"

*********

As they made their way down the road, Johnny could stand it no longer. He looked over at his brother and saw the same look.

"Murdoch, we'll catch up with you," he said.

"Catch up? What ...." that's all he got to say as the brothers took off across a meadow at full gallop. e smiled and shook his head. "Those two and horses."

"I thought Johnny was the one good with horses," Andrew said.

"Oh, he is, but Scott was in the cavalry. He has a great appreciation for them as well. He's a fine horseman."

"That's a fancy way of puttin it. Them two are plumb crazy over them animals. Scott's just a little quieter about it is all."

Murdoch had to agree with that. Scott wasn't the type to show his emotions openly. Especially about an animal.

They continued on their way and the cousins took in the countryside.

"How long before we get to the ranch?" Andrew asked.

"We've been on the ranch for a while now. We'll be at the house in about an hour," Murdoch replied.

Ian and Andrew looked at each other in astonishment. "Just how big is this ranch?"

"Oh, one hundred thousand acres," Murdoch replied casually.

"How many cattle do ya have?" Ian asked.

Murdoch turned in his seat and looked at them both. "First lesson. Asking a man how many cattle he has is like asking how much money he has in the bank," he winked.

Ian's face reddened a bit but his uncle's smile relaxed him.

Murdoch was watching Scott and Johnny in a meadow just ahead of them. They had come to a stop and were waiting for their family.

"Feel good?" Murdoch asked.

"Like heaven," Johnny grinned widely.

"If you two want to go ahead, don't let us stop you. It'll let Teresa know our guests are arriving."

Scott smiled. "Thank you, sir." Winking at his brother, he spurred Remmie into a fast canter.

Johnny shook his head. "I'm glad he doesn't get crazy over horses."

********

They restrained themselves, somehow. Having given their steeds such a run earlier, neither wanted to push the animals. Still, the desire to break into a gallop as they sighted the gate was almost too much.

Scott and Johnny rode into the yard yelling Teresa's name. She ran out of the house and flung herself into their arms.

"I've missed you both so much!" She laughed and cried at once, then hugged them both once again.

"We missed you, too, honey," Scott grinned.

"We sure did," Johnny seconded.

"Where's Murdoch?" she asked, looking down the road.

"He's coming with Jelly. And we brought a couple of Lancers with us," Johnny smiled.

"Our cousins, Ian and Andrew," Scott explained.

"I know. I'm all ready for them," she said.

"Good. We want to hear everything that you've been up to," Scott said, taking her arm.

"That's right. And don't leave anything out," Johnny said as he took the other arm.

They guided her into the house and sat her down, each man taking a side and giving her their undivided attention.

Teresa looked suspiciously at them both. "Alright, what is going on here? Why are you two all the sudden so interested in my life?"

"Teresa! I can't believe you said that. We've always been interested in your life," Scott exclaimed.

"I'm not buying this," she said with a sing-song tone.

"Okay, here's the deal. We really appreciated you talking us into going with Murdoch. We had a great time and we decided we take you for granted too much. So, from now on, we are going to be devoted brothers," Johnny explained.

"Well, I'm very glad you enjoyed yourselves and I want to hear all about it. But, right now, we have guests on the way and I don't have time to chat. Now, if you'll excuse me," she got up determinedly and started for the stairs. Stopping, she turned back to them. "You don't take me for granted. And if you ever do, I'll let you know," she said with a raised brow and a slight smile.

 

 

Strangers in a Strange Land

"Well, I guess she told us," Scott sighed.

"Don't know what made us think she wouldn't," Johnny laughed.

They heard the wagon approaching and stepped outside. Murdoch and Jelly jumped down but Ian and Andrew just sat where they were.

Both were gaping openly at the estancia.

"You boys gonna sit there all night?" Johnny grinned.

"It's so big," Ian said.

"Well, we told you we had plenty of room," Scott shrugged. "Come on, let's get the baggage inside."

As they took in the great room, Teresa came downstairs.

"Murdoch!" she ran and hugged him fiercely.

"Oh, how I've missed that smile, Miss Teresa," he grinned. "I want you to meet my nephews. This is Ian and Andrew Lancer. Boys, this is my ward, Teresa O'Brien."

Andrew managed to shake hands and say hello, though it was difficult with his mouth hanging open. She noticed the other young man seemed frozen in place and she approached him with hand extended.

"It's very nice to meet you, Ian."

"Yes, miss," he managed to whisper.

Murdoch cleared his throat. "Why don't we get the boys settled in first. We can catch up over supper."

"Sure, come on, we'll show you where you'll sleep," Johnny said, taking Andrew's arm and leading him on.

When they got upstairs, Johnny showed Andrew his room. "You can unpack later. I guess you're pretty worn out."

"Aye, I am. It's been a long journey," Andrew smiled.

Johnny nodded. "Just one thing, Andrew. Teresa is just like a sister to me and Scott. So, I guess that would make her like a cousin to you." He paused to make sure the young man was listening. "That don't mean she's a kissin cousin," he continued in a warning tone.

Andrew's brows knitted together for a second, then his face went slack as he realized what Johnny was saying.

"As long as you remember that, we'll get along fine," Johnny added.

Andrew nodded. "I'm glad you told me now, cousin. She's beautiful."

"She is, but hands off," Johnny warned.

Andrew threw his hands up. "I understand."

A smile grew across Johnny's face. "Good, I'll see ya at supper." With that, he left the young Scot alone.

He met up with his brother in the hall. "Did you warn him off Teresa?" Scott asked immediately.

"Yep."

******

All three Lancers decided a nap would do them a world of good so the hacienda remained quiet a few hours longer.

When they gathered for supper, the table was set with the best of everything from china to silverware to candles and the Irish lace tablecloth.

"This isn't the usual, boys. Just Teresa's way of welcoming us home," Murdoch quickly explained. He didn't want Ian and Andrew to expect this every night.

In fact, Murdoch was more than ready to go back to a normal life. As much as he loved the visit, he was worn out from it. Jelly had brought him up to date on ranch business during the ride home. He was pleased all had gone smoothly in their absence. He also knew they'd arrived back just in time for the busy season to start.

Teresa had baked a turkey for the homecoming. She brought it out and set it in front of Murdoch with flourish.

"Bubbly-jock!" Ian proclaimed.

Heads turned toward him in confusion. "What was that?" Scott asked.

"It's bubbly-jock," Andrew restated as if it would explain all.

Murdoch chuckled a bit. " Turkey is called bubbly-jock in Scotland ."

"Why?" Johnny asked.

Murdoch opened his mouth, then closed it. "You know, I have no idea."

"Well, whatever you call it, I hope you enjoy it," Teresa smiled.

The majority of the supper conversation focused on ranch business and all that needed to be done in the coming weeks. Once the meal was finished, Murdoch steered the younger men into the living room.

"Ian, do you drink?"

"Not much. A little brandy now and then," he replied quietly.

Murdoch smiled and served brandy to him, Scott and for himself. Johnny preferred tequila and Andrew decided he'd like to try it as well.

The tall blond took a sip of the fiery liquid and nearly choked as he gasped for air.

"Easy there, Andrew," Johnny laughed and patted his back.

"Oh, that's harsh," he finally whispered.

"Should have warned you," Johnny grinned.

Teresa came in from the kitchen and Andrew immediately stood. She looked oddly at him and smiled. Johnny reached up and pulled his arm to settle him on the sofa with a glare.

"Oh, we have some things for you, Teresa," Scott said, remembering the gifts. "I'll be right back."

He returned quickly with the bolt of cloth and laid it on the coffee table in front of her. Teresa smiled politely. "It's very nice, Scott."

"It's the Lancer clan tartan," Scott explained.

"Oh!" she exhaled as the meaning came clear. "Well, I'm sure I can make something out of it."

Murdoch tried to hold back the laughter as he grinned at her. "Actually, you don't have to do anything. It's ready to wear as a kilt," he explained.

He walked over and rolled the cloth out. Wide and narrow lines of light blue, green and darker blue dyes criss -crossed in a plaid pattern in the wool. Murdoch wrapped it around his waist several times, then pulled the end to knee-length. He tucked the remaining large amount of cloth into the waist snugly. When he was finished, the kilt was on. "This is more cloth than I need, but that's basically the idea."

"That's it?" Johnny asked.

"That's all there is to it. But, I'm sure it would still make some nice curtains," Murdoch said as he began to unravel himself.

"I don't know, Murdoch. I don't think we're getting the full effect. Maybe if you were to wear the kilt only," Scott said, his finger tapping the side of his mouth, a serious expression of thought on his face.

"I think it would look much better on you, son," Murdoch retorted.

"I have to agree. I think it would look much better on Scott," Johnny grinned.

"Whose side are you on?" Scott asked, stunned his brother was siding against him.

"Sides? I'm just giving my opinion, brother. What's wrong with you modeling it?"

"What's wrong with you wearing it?" Scott shot back.

Johnny shook his head. "Sorry, Boston , I have a reputation to maintain."

"And I don't?"

"No," Johnny shrugged.

"Alright. No one needs to model it," Murdoch intervened.

"That's right. In fact, I think it would make lovely curtains," Teresa said as she took the cloth back. "Thank you, Scott. It was very sweet," she added, bending down to peck his cheek.

"Well, I got you something, too. I'll go get it," Johnny said and headed upstairs. He came back with two packages and a slip of paper.

"This one is a recipe from Andrew's mother. It's called Dundee cake. Scott really liked it," he grinned.

"And you didn't?" she asked.

"Oh yeah, I did. The others are ... well, open them," he said.

She sat down and opened the first one. Johnny explained that one was from Boston . It was a silver chain with a pendant engraved with the letter T.

"Oh, Johnny! It's beautiful. Thank you," she said in whispers.

He smiled proudly, seeing she did indeed like it. She slipped it over her head quickly then opened the second package.

"That's from Boston and me," he explained.

There were two items in this package. The first one was a small figurine of what looked like a ..... huge lizard. She looked quizzically at him.

"That's the Loch Ness monster," Scott explained and went on to tell her a shortened version of the myth.

She laughed at the outrageous story but thanked them both. Then she pulled out the second item. A silver Celtic brooch. Her hand went to her bosom as she looked at the intricate piece.

"It's so beautiful," she said as tears began to well.

"It's a Celtic pin, darling," Murdoch said.

"Thank you, thank you so much," she cried.

" Geez , you don't have to get all emotional," Johnny said, feeling uncomfortable with her tears.

"I'm allowed," she argued. She stood and hugged all three men, Murdoch being last.

He whispered in her ear. "I have something for you, too. Later."

She nodded and kissed his cheek then bade them all goodnight.

"Well, I suppose we should talk about tomorrow," Murdoch said as he settled in a chair.

"Ian, do you ride?" Scott asked.

"I have, though not in a while," he answered.

"Well, I think you should go with Johnny. He can break you in on a tame pony. Andrew, you work with Scott."

"What exactly do you want us to do with them, sir?"

Murdoch almost smiled but refrained. "You need to check the herd in the south pasture. Check on the mothers and see which ones look ready. Johnny, check the fences in the east pasture. We'll need to move the herd next week."

"Sure thing. Guess we should get some rest. Scott and I'll wake you both in the morning."

"I haven't needed anyone to wake me in years, Johnny," Andrew said with some annoyance.

Johnny smiled softly at him. "Okay, but if you aren't at the breakfast table by six, I'll be up to get you."

"Six?" he asked a bit weakly.

"Yep and it'll be earlier in a few weeks. We get up with the sun around here."

"Then I think I will go to bed," Ian said.

The cousins said their goodnights and went upstairs. Scott shook his head.

"I don't know if this is going to work."

"It will take time and diligence and patience, son."

"Yeah, well, patience and diligence I got. Not so sure about the time," Johnny groused.

"I know. We'll do what we can with them until the drive," Murdoch sighed.

"You aren't thinking of taking them on the drive?" Scott asked.

"That would depend on how well you two can teach them," Murdoch raised a brow.

Well," Johnny stood. "Guess I'll sack in too, then."

******

The next morning, Scott and Johnny exited their bedrooms simultaneously. After greeting each other, they walked softly down the hall and stood outside the rooms of their cousins.

Each leaning into a door, they listened for any sign of activity. Johnny almost laughed aloud. The only thing he heard was Andrew snoring.

Giving each other a wicked grin, they opened the doors and stepped in for lesson number one.

Scott walked over and shook Ian's shoulder gently, then a bit harder. The boy could evidently sleep through a cannon attack.

Johnny walked straight to the window, threw open the curtains and the window sash and plopped down heavily at the foot of the bed.

Andrew bolted upright, looking around disoriented.

" Mornin ! Time to get up," Johnny smiled.

Andrew groaned and fell back against the pillows, pulling the blanket over his head.

Johnny stood and grabbed the covers, flinging them back until they fell off the footboard. "I told you, six o'clock . Come on, you better get movin if you want to eat first." He headed for the door, then paused, doorknob in hand. "The next time, I'll be really annoying," he warned with a grin.

Scott gave up on the gentle approach and pulled the covers off Ian. "Time to get up!" he called loudly.

Ian raised his head and glared at him.

"Oh, you're a grump, huh? You'll be even grumpier if you miss breakfast. Come on, up and at ' em . The day's a wastin ," he said cheerfully. He stood there, arms crossed over his chest and stared at the younger man.

"I'm comin ," Ian finally growled.

"Good. Because if you don't, I'll send Johnny after you," Scott smiled wickedly and left the room.

"I heard that," Johnny said.

"This is going to be a challenge, brother," Scott sighed.

"I know. They won't be able to move tomorrow," Johnny laughed.

*******

They made it halfway through their breakfast when Johnny and Scott stood up.

"Come on, time to get to work," Johnny said.

Looking at each other, they shrugged and rose.

They met the brothers at the door, each strapping on his gun belt. Scott looked them over and sighed softly.

"No hats."

Johnny looked up and his shoulders dropped. "Well, I have an old one. Do you?"

"Yes, I'll go get them," Scott said, feeling a bit dejected. They didn't even have proper attire. He wondered again at his father's idea. Thinking maybe they should hold off another day until the cousins were at least outfitted appropriately.

Finally ready, they walked out to the barn. Johnny could feel the eyes on them. Every vaquero on the ranch had to be wondering what was up. Getting the horses saddled would prove to be the easy part of the day.

Each man patiently showed the cousins how to apply western saddles. Andrew watched intently but Ian was more interested in stroking Barranca's nose. Johnny knew he wasn't paying attention so he showed him the mare he would ride and dropped the tack at his feet.

"Out here, not paying attention can get you killed. The smallest thing can cause a disaster. Like a loose cinch or a halter put on wrong. Now, saddle this horse and I'll show you how to do it," he said firmly.

Ian did so, or attempted to. Johnny's patience was wearing thin but he bit his tongue and showed the boy how to do it again. Scott and Andrew had long since left for the south pasture .

As they led the horses out of the barn, Murdoch walked over to them. The look Johnny gave him stopped the rancher from asking the question on his lips. Instead, he simply smiled a little and wished them a good day.

*******

Out in the south pasture, Scott was having a devil of a time. Evidently, Andrew had never seen a cow up close before. Scott was quite sure the closest he'd ever gotten was the supper table.

But before he could teach him about cattle, he had to show him how to handle a cowpony. By the time afternoon was upon them, Scott Lancer was ready to hit something.

Ordinarily a patient and understanding man, Scott was at his wit's end. He knew with time, Andrew would catch on. He could see the potential. The problem was, it was his first day back and he was still feeling the saddle himself. After three months, it wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.

Johnny was at least having a little better luck. He didn't have to show Ian the cattle. Checking the fences wasn't a hard job. He showed the boy how to tell what sections would have to be replaced, which ones deemed watching and which ones were sturdy.

Ian was at least paying attention. Though the look of boredom on his face was comical.

By the end of the day, both brothers were exhausted. Both mentally and physically. Scott decided he needed to have a serious talk with Murdoch. One that Johnny would be present for.

As Ian and Andrew went to clean up, Scott took the opportunity.

"Sir, we need to talk."

"Something wrong, son?"

Scott sighed and sat on the sofa. "Yes. This is our first day back to work in three months. It's difficult enough to get caught up on everything that's been going on without having to babysit . I know you want Ian and Andrew to work but I think it could wait a few days."

"I agree. They don't even have the right clothes. I think you're jumpin the gun here, Murdoch," Johnny said.

Murdoch inhaled deeply. "Maybe you're right. I guess I just wanted them to be interested. Tomorrow, I'll take them to town and get them some clothes and things they'll need."

Nodding in satisfaction, Scott smiled.

********

Upstairs, another conversation was being had. Ian had come to his cousin's door hoping to feel him out.

"I like the wide open spaces," Andrew smiled.

"But, what about the work? I was bored to tears today."

The older boy laughed. "Maybe this isn't for you, cousin."

"What do you think of Johnny and Scott? I mean, really," Ian asked.

Andrew considered this for a moment. "Well, they're both friendly. I think Johnny has a short fuse sometimes. Scott has been very patient with me. I like them both. Why?"

"I don't know. I mean, I like them fine. I suppose it's just that everything is so new. I'm feelin a bit overwhelmed," the younger boy sighed.

"Aye. It is a lot to take in. The people are an odd lot. They all kept staring at me today," Andrew commented.

"Well, at least I didn't have that. Johnny and I were alone all day. Still, I'm sure it will come."

"Teresa is a bonny lass ," Andrew smiled.

Ian smiled a little, too. "Are ya havin designs already, cousin?"

"Oh no. I was already warned about that. I'm to look at her as a cousin," Andrew laughed.

"Is that a fact? Well, I suppose you'd better behave yourself then," Ian said, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

Andrew's smile wavered as he considered his cousin. "You're not going to like this ranchin are ya?"

The boy sighed and shook his head. "It's not for me. I want to be a teacher like da ."

"So? Why did ya come then?"

Ian snorted. "It's not like I had a choice. Da thinks it will do me good. Make me come to my senses."

Andrew frowned at that. He'd knew the rumors, had wondered if they were true. Still, it wasn't his business. If Ian didn't want to tell him, he wasn't going to ask.

"We best get down for supper. I'm starving!" he said instead.

*******

Murdoch felt the steam coming from his ears as he drove the wagon back to the ranch. He couldn't believe people could be so crude. Of course, it would have to be those two idiots from the Circle J. He couldn't even look and Ian and Andrew. He knew they were upset and he couldn't blame them.

Thinking back on the day, his anger boiled. He had sent the boys on to the general store while he dropped off the list of supplies for the ranch and made a quick stop at the bank. When he met up with them again, he'd gotten an earful.

" What'ya call that kind a talk?"

"Sounds like a bunch of squawkin ta me."

Andrew was doing his best to remain calm but the flush in his cheeks betrayed him. "We are from Scotland ," he announced proudly.

"Scotland ?" Dave Harmon mimicked in a terrible impersonation.

"Well, what're ya doin here?" Steve Pascall asked as he crowded the two young men together against a table.

"We don't want any trouble," Ian said.

"Oh, ya don't want no trouble. Well, maybe ya best go back ta where ya came from, then."

"Hey, Dave. Get a load of them clothes. I hear tell they wear dresses over in Scotland ."

"That right? You boys must feel awful uncomfortable in them britches. Maybe we oughta help ya out," Dave grinned.

Steve laughed raucously at this idea and stepped closer to the group.

"What's the meaning of this?" Murdoch's voice boomed like thunder.

Pascall and Harmon whirled around as the rancher neared. "Just havin a little fun, Mr. Lancer. Somethin wrong with that?"

"Harmon, there is always something wrong with your kind of fun. Now, if you will kindly step away from my nephews. I believe they came in here to make some purchases, not to be belittled." Murdoch glared at the two younger men until they backed toward the door.

********

As they drove under the gate, Andrew spoke, breaking Murdoch's reverie.

"I think we should go home, Uncle."

"No, Andrew. Don't let a couple of idiots ruin this experience for you. There are people in this world who have nothing better to do than belittle others. It's only a sign of their own ignorance."

They walked into the house with glum faces.

"Well, you three are a sorry sight. What's wrong?" Johnny asked.

"We had some trouble in town," Murdoch mumbled.

"What kind of trouble?" Scott asked.

"It seems our brogues were the source of amusement for some," Ian said sarcastically.

"Is that right? Who?" Johnny asked, his eyes narrowing.

"It's over, Johnny," Murdoch said.

"Who?" he asked again, tightly.

"Dave Harmon and Steve Pascall ," Murdoch answered tiredly.

Johnny nodded his head, his mind working overtime.

Scott saw the look and was working on a few things himself.

"It's done with. Let's just forget about it. The boys got some nice work clothes. Why don't you show Scott and Johnny your new hats?" Murdoch said, trying to end the tension.

*******

Over the next few days, Andrew began to progress in his skills. Scott was quite pleased. He seemed to actually enjoy the hard work. At lunch, he decided to sound his cousin out.

"I have to admit, I've never been so tired in my life. But it's a good feeling. Like I'm accomplishing somethin ," he said.

Scott smiled and nodded. "I know exactly what you mean. When I first started there were times I thought I'd never get the hang of things. But when I go to bed at night, I know I've made a difference."

"It's so open out here. So beautiful," Andrew commented.

Scott could see Lancer had had the same effect on his cousin as it had on his brother and himself. He could see Andrew staying on here. He was about to mention that when they heard riders approaching.

Standing, Scott put his hand over his eyes to block the sun. He spotted the golden palomino easily. "It's Johnny and Ian."

"I hope nothin's wrong," Andrew frowned.

Scott laughed softly. "See? You're already thinking like a rancher."

Johnny rode up and dismounted easily. Ian was still a ways off, trying to make the mare do his bidding. Johnny turned to watch him, an exasperated expression on his face. He shook his head sadly.

"Problem, brother?"

He turned to see Scott smirking and he leered at him. "Don't start. Murdoch wants him to work with the cattle."

Scott's smile disappeared.

"Don't worry, he still wants him hangin on my shirttails," Johnny groused. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Andrew. "How's it going?"

"Very well. I like it."

"Well, glad one of ya does," he muttered. Turning back, he called to Ian. "You better make friends with that horse, boy."

Ian finally got the horse to stop and he dismounted, nearly falling over his own feet.

Johnny grabbed Scott's arm and walked him out of earshot.

"He ain't gonna make it."

"Have you tried talking to him, Johnny?"

" Talkin to him? Yeah, I tried talkin to him. He says two words all day. Just hangs his head and nods."

"I mean about what he wants. How he feels about ranching," Scott said.

"I know how he feels about it. He hates it. But he won't say that cause he thinks Murdoch will be mad. I'll tell ya, brother, I don't know what to do with him."

"Johnny, do you think it's his ... problem?" Scott said delicately.

Johnny frowned then understanding flooded his face. "I forgot all about that." He then looked at his brother in astonishment. Hands on hips, he stared at Scott. "I suppose you think I should talk to him about that, too?"

"Well, you said you knew someone like that," Scott shrugged.

"Yeah? I met him, I didn't know him. And I sure as hell don't know nothin about THAT !" Johnny stated, lowering his voice to a hiss.

"Neither do I !"

"You're the one that went to college," Johnny countered.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"You know fancier words to use, Scott. Not make him feel bad," Johnny explained.

"Oh no. Uh uh . That is not going to work, Johnny. You can't make me."

"Excuse me but shouldn't we be gettin back to work?" Andrew interrupted.

Scott smiled at the out. "Yes, absolutely. We'll see you both later," he said and quickly walked to his horse.

Johnny was on his heels. "We aren't done yet, brother."

"Yes, we are. He's yours to deal with, Johnny. I have my hands full."

"Scott. Scott. Hey!" Johnny was yelling at a quickly disappearing back. He sighed and looked over at Ian.

The younger man smiled shyly. "What are we to do now?"

Johnny walked over and forced a smile. "You and me are gonna have a serious talk, Ian. Sit."

Ian suddenly became nervous. He sat on the log Johnny indicated and picked at the grass by his feet. Playing with it in his hands, he shredded it to bits.

Johnny watched this for a moment before he sat on the ground in front of the boy. He reached over and picked a blade of grass himself, sticking it in his mouth.

"You don't like ranch work, do you?"

Ian glanced up then bowed his head again. "No."

"It's okay. It's not the life for everyone."

"Seems Andrew's taken with it."

"You ain't Andrew."

Ian snorted. "No, I'm sure not."

Johnny looked sidelong at him. He considered his words carefully. "Maybe you should work on figuring out who you are."

Ian looked up, a bit surprised. "Don't you mean what I am?"

"I say what I mean," Johnny stated.

"Yes, you do. How am I suppose to do that, Johnny? Can you tell me?" It was almost a plea.

"No, Ian, I can't. You have to figure out your feelings and accept them. Whatever they are. I mean, what do you feel?"

The boy's face turned red at that question.

"Anything you say to me will go no farther," Johnny promised.

"I watch my friends back home go crazy over this girl or that. Listen as they talk about their exploits. I don't feel those things."

"What do you feel?"

"Uncomfortable, mostly. Afraid."

Johnny shook his head. This was not what he meant. He figured he'd have to get a little more explicit. "What I mean is, do you ever get those feelings about girls or do you get them about ....?" Johnny shrugged awkwardly.

Ian stood and paced away, his back to Johnny. He felt a surge of panic and the need to run.

Johnny got up and walked over behind him, leaving some space so as not to crowd the boy. "Look, I'm not trying to embarrass you. But you have to face this."

"Why?"

"Because you are the sorriest excuse I ever did see. Ian, you're miserable. Every day, you're miserable. Why would you want to live like that?"

He turned then to face Johnny. "Because facin the truth would be just as miserable."

"I doubt that. Seems to me you already know the truth," Johnny cocked a brow.

Ian nodded his head sadly. "Aye, I know. But what am I supposed to do with it? How do I live my life?"

"I guess by finding people who feel the same as you," he shrugged.

"Where?"

Johnny pondered that question. How should he know? He smiled at the boy and clapped him on the shoulder. "I don't know but we'll find out."

"Johnny? Thank you for not ..... well , thank you," Ian mumbled.

*******

That evening, Johnny couldn't stop thinking about Ian's situation. He thought to talk to his brother but he hadn't been any help earlier. He decided he would try Murdoch instead. After all, surely he had run into this kind of thing at some point in his life.

As they sat in the living room, Johnny walked casually over to his father's chair. Tapping Murdoch's shoulder, he jerked his head toward the French doors.

Once outside, he wasn't sure how to proceed.

"What's on your mind, son?"

"Ian."

Murdoch raised a brow. "How is he doing?"

"Lousy, but that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. What Uncle Duncan said about him in Scotland ? It's true. I talked to him today and, well, he's just plain miserable."

Murdoch sighed loudly and walked over to the low wall. He stared out over the land in the twilight silently.

Johnny waited a long moment then sighed. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"He needs to be around people like him. People who understand how he feels."

"Johnny, I don't know what you want me to do."

"I want you to help your nephew, Murdoch!"

He turned to face his son, puzzlement written clearly on his face. "How?"

Johnny calmed himself and lowered his voice. "Don't you know of any place where ..... you know, people like that ..... live together?"

Murdoch's eyes grew wide. "How the devil would I know that?!"

"Come on, Murdoch. You've been around. Surely you've heard things," Johnny said conspiratorially.

Murdoch's face was stone as he stared at his son. Johnny just stared back, expectantly.

"There have been some rumors in San Francisco ," he finally said.

"See? I knew you'd know," Johnny grinned.

"So what? You think we should just send him packing?"

"No. But we have to do something, Murdoch. Look, he hates ranching and he's lousy at it. I think we need to take him to San Francisco and check things out."

"Now wait a minute, young man. We are not going all the way to San Francisco so Ian can get a date!"

"Keep your voice down!" Johnny fairly hissed. "This is not about a date and you know it. I'm surprised at you, Murdoch. You're usually more fair-minded than this."

Murdoch growled a little and turned back to face the view which was rapidly disappearing in the night sky.

"We're going to Modesto next month anyway," Johnny pressed.

"Johnny...."

"Murdoch."

"Alright, fine! We'll take him on the drive. But he's going to have to work just like everyone else."

Johnny chewed his lip at this. "Do you have a cook yet?"

"No, why?"

"Ian could do the cooking. Teresa could teach him how. There's no way he can work a cattle drive, Murdoch. Not in a million years."

The man threw his hands up with this. "Do whatever you want," he said tersely and went back inside.

'Wish it was always that easy', Johnny thought sardonically.

"What was that all about?"

He turned to find Scott behind him. "Oh, nothing."

"Murdoch looks like a mother bear," he grinned.

Johnny laughed softly. "Probably feels like a rattler about now. It was about Ian. He's going on the drive with us and I figured he could do the cooking."

"Good idea. He certainly isn't cut out for ranching," Scott agreed.

Johnny grew quiet then and Scott watched him closely.

"I feel like a fish out of water. I don't know if this is the right thing to do," Johnny spoke softly.

"I'm sure he can handle the cooking, Johnny."

"I want to take him to San Francisco , Scott. Murdoch said there might be people there like him. People he'd feel more comfortable with."

"I see," Scott said tightly.

Johnny turned at the tone. "You don't agree?"

"I don't know, Johnny. It seems as if we should try to ...."

"To what?"

"Help him see things differently."

"You mean change him," Johnny shook his head slowly. "I don't think that's possible, Scott."

"Has he ever ..... had relations?" Scott faltered.

Johnny's mouth dropped open. "How am I supposed to know?"

"Well, you talked to him," Scott shrugged.

"And you think he spilled his guts? Look, all I know is what Ian told me. I sure ain't gonna ask him about that!"

"Ask me about what?"

They both turned to see him standing at the doors.

"Nothing," Johnny said quickly.

"Well, I think I'll go back inside now," Scott said, moving too quickly for Johnny to grab him.

He found himself alone with Ian staring at him. Johnny turned to look out at the night sky. He felt, rather than saw, the young man walk up next to him.

"I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't have talked about you like that."

"It isn't like they didn't know," Ian said.

Johnny turned and looked at him, a bit surprised.

"What was it you weren't going to ask me?"

Johnny suddenly felt very nervous. He pulled a leaf off a potted plant hanging nearby and started shredding it.

"Scott .... he was wondering if you've ever ..... been with anyone," he said softly, his head down.

"No, I haven't," Ian replied as softly.

Johnny looked up at him. "Then, how can you be sure?"

"I know how I feel."

"Ian, maybe ..... well , if you've never been with a woman," Johnny shrugged.

The boy smiled. "I've never been with anyone at all but I know one makes me feel different than the other."

Johnny couldn't argue with that logic. "I talked to Murdoch. We're going to be driving the cattle to market next month. To Modesto . It isn't far from San Francisco and Murdoch said there might be people there that ..... feel the same as you."

"I see."

"If you don't want to...."

"At this point I don't know what I want," he sighed heavily. Ian sat on the low wall and hung his head. "The only thing I know for sure is I want to be a teacher, like my da ."

Johnny smiled at this. "Then San Francisco is the best place for you. You can go to school there."

"I suppose so. Da would have a fit. He wants me to attend St. Andrews ."

"What do you want?"

"To be on my own for a while."

"Sounds reasonable. I'll talk to Murdoch and Scott. They'd know about schools and the like. Oh, by the way, you'll be the cook on the cattle drive. So I guess you best get Teresa to teach you," he smiled.

****

For the next two weeks, Ian stayed in the kitchen with Teresa. She was teaching him how to cook on the trail and he was doing quite well. He enjoyed spending time with her as well. He even cooked a few dinners so she could have a break.

The sound of their laughter filled the estancia during the day. Murdoch was tickled at how well they got along. He sat at his desk going over the trail map and making plans for the drive.

A gunshot from outside interrupted his thoughts. He hurriedly walked to the French doors in time to see Scott and Johnny coming toward him. Johnny's arm was slung over Scott's shoulder and he wasn't walking very well. Andrew was coming in behind them looking quite pale.

"What happened?" he demanded as soon as they neared him.

"It's nothing," Johnny protested.

"It's not nothing . Stop being so stubborn!" Scott reprimanded.

He walked Johnny to the sofa and sat him down, then proceeded to removed his boot. By now, Ian and Teresa had come in from the kitchen.

"He was shot," Scott clipped.

"By who?"

"It's my fault. I was looking at Johnny's gun," Andrew said remorsefully.

"What is all this commotion?" Teresa asked. When she saw the blood on Johnny's leg, she grimaced. "I'll get something to put on it."

Murdoch turned and walked to the door. He saw Jelly by the barn and called him over.

"Get Sam, Jelly," he ordered.

"It's not a big deal, Murdoch. It's just a scratch," Johnny complained.

"Well, then I guess Sam will get a good supper out of it. But I want him to take a look, Johnny. I don't want you laid up with an infection. Especially right now." Murdoch's tone told the story. He would take no quarter.

"Who is Sam?" Ian asked.

"He's the doctor. Now, Andrew, exactly what happened?" Murdoch asked.

Scott turned his attention to his brother, not wanting to be part of this conversation.

"Johnny took his gunbelt off when he was workin the horses. I was watching him and I .... I just wanted a closer look. Before I knew it, the gun went off," Andrew explained, his cheeks flushed.

"Scott, you didn't notice this?" Murdoch turned.

Scott looked up at his father, a little surprised. "I was watching Johnny."

Murdoch's face turned to granite. He nodded his head and Scott braced himself. "You were watching Johnny. I suppose you've never seen him break a horse before. It must have been enthralling. Enough to keep your attention away from your cousin."

"Now wait just a minute, Murdoch. Scott ain't a babysitter. It was an accident," Johnny said.

"Johnny....."

"He's right, Uncle. I'm grown. I should have known better," Andrew spoke up.

"We need to get Johnny in bed," Scott interrupted.

"I don't need to go to bed. I told you, it's nothing. Just a scratch," Johnny protested.

Murdoch walked over and knelt beside him to get a closer look. Scott moved his hand that was holding a bandana to the wound on his left calf. It started pouring blood.

"That's more than a scratch, young man. It's going to need stitches. You may as well lay down so Sam can get to it easier," Murdoch decided.

Johnny sighed but didn't argue the point. He figured when Sam got done he'd be up and about. Scott helped him stand and supported his brother on one side as Murdoch took the other.

"I'm sorry, Johnny," Andrew said.

Johnny smiled at him. "It was an accident. They happen a lot around here."

*******

When Sam arrived, he decided it did need suturing. Sixteen in all. Once he finished wrapping the bandage, Johnny asked the inevitable.

"You can walk on it but no heavy work for a week. I don't want those stitches to tear. Change the bandage every day and keep it clean. No riding."

"What?"

"You heard me, young man. No riding for a week. I'm serious, Johnny. If you rip those stitches you know it will take twice as long to heal. Now, would you rather be down for one week or two?' Sam asked.

"One," Johnny muttered.

"What was that?" Sam asked, cocking his head to the side.

"I said one!"

"Good!"

"Will he be well enough for the cattle drive, Sam?" Murdoch asked.

"If he does as I say, he will be," Sam answered.

Murdoch looked at his younger son who felt like pulling the blanket over his head. "I said I would," he mumbled.

"You had better, son. I need you on this drive."

It was a left-handed compliment, but Johnny took it. He smiled brilliantly at his father who shook his head.

******

Sam went downstairs with Murdoch, having accepted the invitation to supper. Andrew stood at the door of Johnny's room looking like a lost pup.

"I really am sorry, Johnny."

"I know. It's okay. Murdoch's bark is worse than his bite, usually," he grinned.

"It is?" Scott quipped.

Johnny made a face at him then smiled. "Well, as long as I'm laid up, I might as well teach you how to use a gun. Just so you don't shoot Murdoch next time."

Andrew saw the gleam in his eye and knew he was joking but it didn't make him feel any better.

"Come on, Andrew. You're gonna have to lighten up a little. Can't take everything so seriously," Johnny urged.

"Lighten up? I could have killed you, Johnny!"

"Yeah, but you didn't."

"I think we had better get back to work. And you," Scott said, pointing a finger at Johnny. "You do as Sam says. You're going on that drive if I have to tie you to Barranca."

Johnny made a melodramatic event out of saluting his brother. "Yes, sir!"

*******

Half an hour later, Johnny limped downstairs and into the living room. "What?" he asked to the scowl he received.

"What are you doing up, John?" Murdoch demanded.

Johnny looked to Sam. "He said I could."

"It's alright, Murdoch. As long as he doesn't do anything strenuous," Sam conceded.

"Just ..... be careful. That's all," Murdoch grumbled.

" Sheesh . I'm goin to the kitchen. Maybe I won't get yelled at in there."

"I wasn't yelling," Murdoch retorted to his son's back.

"How are you feeling, Johnny?" Ian asked.

"I'm fine. A little sore is all." He sat down slowly, easing his leg straight out.

"Oh yes, he's just fine," Teresa said.

"How're the lessons going?" Johnny asked, praying for a diversion.

Ian joined him at the table. "Very well. I enjoy cooking."

"Well, I have to warn you. Cowboys get real grumpy on the trail. But, if they give you any guff, you just wave a big spoon at ' em . They'll know what it means," Johnny winked.

"What does it mean?"

"It means, if they don't back off, they don't eat."

Ian nodded his understanding and smiled.

"I need some onions. I'll be right back," Teresa said as she whisked out the back door.

"She's a fine lass ," Ian commented.

Johnny glanced up at him and cocked his head. "She is that. Beautiful, too."

"Aye. Andrew was quite taken," he replied with a bit of a wicked gleam in his eye.

"What about you?" Johnny asked.

His face fell as did his eyes. "Are ya pushin me, Johnny?"

A heavy sigh escaped the older man. "No, I'm sorry. Guess I just want you to be absolutely sure."

Ian looked straight into his eyes. "I am. If I wasn't before, I am now."

"What do you mean?"

The younger man chewed his lower lip, trying to decide. Finally, he did. "Nothing, nothing at all."

Johnny let it drop. He was pretty sure he didn't want to know. "Two more weeks and we'll start the drive."

Ian smiled with relief at the change in subject. "How long will it take?"

"Oh, about three, maybe four weeks."

"That long?" he asked in surprise.

"Yep. Cattle ain't too smart. Sometimes, they can be downright ornery," Johnny grinned.

"Ain't that the truth! " Jelly agreed as he entered the room. "How's yer leg, Johnny?"

" It's fine, Jelly. I'll live. That is if I don't starve to death first."

"You will if you don't get out of my kitchen and out from under my feet," Teresa scolded as she returned.

"Guess that's our cue, Jelly. Come on. I may not be able to ride, but I can brush Barranca down."

*******

For the next ten days, Johnny helped Jelly around the house and barn with repairs. He spent time talking with Ian as well. In the afternoons he taught Andrew about guns. Murdoch was pleased he was kept busy. A bored Johnny was a mischievous Johnny.

Ian was opening up more and more to him. Johnny felt uncomfortable at times but he wouldn't show it. He knew the boy needed someone to talk to. He had to admit to himself, he was gaining a lot of insight into this particular area.

He could easily see why it was such a closely kept secret. He knew if any of his friends ever found out about Ian, the boy would be beaten to a pulp on general principle.

Saturday night, Scott and Johnny had plans to go to town. It would be their last chance before the drive Monday morning. Andrew was also invited. They all felt Ian was too young and he wasn't thrilled with the idea anyway.

Sam had removed the stitches from Johnny's leg that Friday and he'd been on Barranca practically before Sam could close his black bag.

Saturday evening, the boys headed for Green River . Murdoch had admonished both his sons to look after Andrew. He remembered all too well the last trip to town.

They rode up to the saloon and dismounted, tethering their mounts to the hitching rail. Johnny stretched out his back muscles.

"Are you alright?" Scott asked.

"Fine, just gettin used to riding a long way again. Come on, my throat is screamin for a cold beer," he grinned.

Andrew started through the batwings when he felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked at Scott who was shaking his head.

"Johnny likes to go in first," he explained.

Andrew only looked puzzled but shrugged.

Johnny stepped through the swinging doors and scanned the interior quickly. Proceeding to a back table, he sat with his back to the wall.

Scott and Andrew joined him and a saloon girl took their order. Andrew watched her walk away.

Scott had to laugh. "It's been a while, huh?"

"Aye, it has at that."

"Gonna be a while longer. I mean, if you fancy her..." Johnny winked.

"Oh, I don't know," Andrew blushed a little.

"Leave him alone, Johnny."

"Hey, I'm just trying to be hospitable," he shrugged.

"Well, if it ain't the Lancer boys."

Johnny looked up to see Pete and Steve from the circle J approaching. He sighed and looked at them in disgust.

Scott shook his head and sighed as well. Andrew recognized the voices immediately and tensed.

"Pete, Steve," Johnny nodded.

"Old man let ya out," Pete laughed.

"Hey, ya got a new hand, huh?" Steve commented.

"That's right. If you'll excuse us," Scott said tightly.

"Well, now, I do try Lancer but you're a pretty sorry excuse," Pete guffawed.

Johnny looked over at his brother and smiled. Scott shook his head and glared at him. Johnny just shrugged.

"Well, ain't ya got nothin ta say?"

"I have plenty to say. However, I don't make a habit of speaking to neanderthals," Scott quipped.

Andrew chuckled at this slight. Pete and Steve just looked at him with suspicion.

"What'd you call us?"

"Neanderthals. Crude, boorish, dim-witted," Scott defined.

Steve shuffled his feet, a look of pure confusion on his face. Pete puffed out his chest, then deflated it as he slowly absorbed the insult.

Johnny watched them both then burst out laughing. " Boston, you went to a lot of trouble to call these two idiots."

"Maybe you shouldn't have been so eloquent about it, cousin," Andrew grinned.

"Hey! It's one of them Scottish boys," Pete recalled exuberantly.

"That's Scotsman," Andrew corrected.

Armed with new ammunition, the cowhands came back to life. "Ya know I hear tell all them Scottish fellas are sheep men," Pete said.

"I heard that, too. Smells like sheep," Steve sniffed the air.

Johnny stood up and eyed them both. His hand went casually to his side as he spoke quietly. "My family and I have had enough of you two. Now, go away."

Pete took one step toward him and Johnny's eyes turned a smoky blue.

"You don't want to do that, Pete," he said in a hard but soft voice.

Pete wavered, his stance not as bold now. His eyes left Johnny's. "Come on, Steve. Ain't no sheep man or half-breed worth it."

Johnny sat back down and took a drink of his beer.

"What is a half-breed?" Andrew asked.

Scott turned his eyes to the table, suddenly fascinated with the stains there. Johnny looked at his cousin and smiled.

"It means you're mixed. My mother was Mexican," Johnny said.

Andrew thought on this for a moment, then nodded. "It's an awful word."

"It certainly is," Scott said strongly.

"Can we forget about those two yahoos. Come on, we're supposed to be relaxing," Johnny said.

"Sure, but I don't think I like being called a 'sheep man' either. At least, not the way they say it."

Scott chuckled at this. "It's a dirty word around cattlemen. Don't let them bother you. The Circle J hands have always had a grudge against Lancer."

"Why?"

"Don't have a clue. Murdoch won't say either. He just says to stay away from them," Johnny smirked.

"We figured it had something to do with the owner of the ranch," Scott imparted.

"Ah, a mystery," Andrew smiled.

" Madrid !"

Scott and Andrew's heads jerked around to find the owner of the voice. Johnny sat still, slowly raising his head.

"I'm callin you out, gunhawk!"

Johnny looked at the young man. All of twenty, the Circle J scion was a pompous ass. Even his friends couldn't stand him most days. Standing in the middle of the room, Tom Jackson swayed a bit as he glared angrily.

"You're drunk, Tom," Johnny said.

"May be. But, even drunk I can take you, half-breed!" he sneered.

"I doubt it," Johnny replied softly. He still hadn't moved.

"You backin down, Madrid ?" he grinned wickedly.

"Nothin to back down from, Tom. Go home and sleep it off."

"You all heard it! The great Johnny Madrid backed off from me!" he declared loudly, pointing a finger at his own chest.

Johnny smiled and shook his head slowly at the fool.

"Should've expected you'd be a coward, Madrid . Just like your old man!" Tom spat.

Johnny was on his feet and in front of Jackson in a split second. He stared the man down, daggers flying from his eyes. "Whatever is between my old man and yours, let's keep it between them. It's got nothin to do with us. You're drunk and your makin a jackass of yourself. Go home, Tom, before it's too late."

Jackson swayed a bit and sneered. "Ain't no half-breed has-been gonna tell me...."

He stopped in mid-sentence as the cold steel of the business end of Johnny's Colt pressed against the flesh under his chin.

"You still think you can outdraw me?" Johnny hissed. "Go home!"

Jackson swallowed hard and began to back away. He turned his back and walked toward the door. Johnny holstered his pistol and turned back to his table.

The look on Scott's face was all the warning he needed. He turned and fired at the same time Scott called to him.

Tom Jackson stood at the door with a stunned expression. His hand on the butt of his gun, barely out of the holster. He looked at his right arm and saw the blood begin to run down from his shoulder.

Time seemed to stand still for an eternity. Suddenly, a loud thud was heard as Jackson 's gun slipped from his grip. His left hand went to his right shoulder and he stared at Johnny.

Three Circle J hands grabbed him and pushed him out the door as the crowd remained silent.

Johnny reholstered his gun and sighed heavily. The piano started playing again and the patrons went about their business as he sat back down heavily.

"That was incredible, Johnny! It's a wonder you didn't kill him," Andrew said in awe.

"Didn't aim to," Johnny mumbled. "I think I'm gonna head back," he sighed.

"Don't leave, Johnny. It's over. Everyone saw what happened. You had no choice," Scott said gently.

"Don't make it any better, Boston . I'm not in the mood for fun anymore," he said and stood. He walked out the door without another word.

"We may as well go, too," Scott sighed.

"Aye. Wouldn't want him out there alone," Andrew agreed.

****

They returned to the ranch and took care of the horses in silence. Johnny stayed behind, grooming Barranca as Scott and Andrew headed for the house.

"Is he alright?" Andrew asked.

"It bothers him when his past comes around."

"But, that was about Lancer mostly, wasn't it?"

Scott stopped and looked at him, a small smile on his lips. "Try telling Johnny that. He has a unique ability to blame himself for everything bad that happens."

Andrew frowned at this. "That's not logical, Scott."

Scott howled. Holding his sides as he bent forward, he nearly rolled onto the ground.

"What's so funny?" Johnny asked as he caught up.

"I'm not really sure," Andrew answered, watching Scott regain control.

"Never mind, brother. I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate it. Come on, let's get inside," Scott said as he continued to chuckle.

Scott walked on toward the house and Johnny shook his head. "Sometimes, I worry about him."

********

"You're back early," Murdoch noted.

"Had some trouble," Johnny replied, ready to fess up.

"What kind of trouble?" Murdoch asked, his eyes darting to Andrew.

"Tom Jackson was drunk and called me out."

"Johnny, you didn't."

"No, he didn't," Scott said tersely. "Tom started to leave and Johnny turned his back. Tom drew and Johnny shot him in the shoulder."

Murdoch's shoulders slumped and he shook his head sadly.

"What's it all about, Uncle? Why do those people hate Lancers so much?" Andrew asked.

Murdoch walked over and poured himself a drink. He stared into the fire for a long moment before answering. "It's between Jackson and me."

"Not if I have to shoot his son, it isn't. Look, I'm getting tired of dealing with those fools every time we see them. Why don't you just tell us what it's about," Johnny insisted.

Murdoch glared at him. "It's a private matter, John."

Johnny threw his hands up in defeat. "Fine, next time, you shoot him!"

"I'll deal with Jackson when we get back from the drive," Murdoch stated.

The conversation ended abruptly as did most when Murdoch's mouth clamped shut. The younger Lancers occupied their evening with talk of the cattle drive to begin in two days.

Ian and Teresa joined them and Murdoch came over from his desk.

"Ian, I've been checking into the schools in San Francisco . There is one that I think would be perfect for you."

"Oh?"

"Yes, it's a teaching college. It has a fine reputation. Are you still interested?"

"Yes, sir. I most definitely am," he said enthusiastically.

"Well, I took the liberty of sending a wire. Classes begin three weeks after we'll arrive there. That will give us time to find suitable lodging for you and get you settled. I thought Scott and Andrew could return with the men after the drive and Johnny and I will go on to the city with you."

"Sounds good to me," Johnny smiled.

"I'm just concerned about how your father will feel about all this," Murdoch imparted.

"I know he wanted to me to attend St. Andrews . I just don't want to go back to Scotland right now," Ian answered.

"Well, you need to write to him and I will as well. I'm going to tell you right now, Ian. If he wants you to come home, I'll have no choice but to honor that. You're still underage."

"I understand, Uncle."

"Good. Well, that's settled. I'm going to turn in," Murdoch smiled.

*******

Johnny found he couldn't sleep that night. The gunfight still bothered him. Whatever was between his father and Jackson bothered him even more. He slipped on his pants and shirt, not bothering with the buttons, and went outside.

Sitting on the low wall, he stared up at the stars. It was a gorgeous night. An owl hooted somewhere in the distance. The velvet sky lit up by the full moon and billions of stars. He sighed appreciatively at the spectral.

"Couldn't sleep either?"

He turned his head to see Ian standing at the door.

"No. I like being out here at night. It's so peaceful," he smiled.

"Am I intruding?"

"Not at all. Come on out," Johnny replied.

He stepped on through the doors and sat down on the wall. "It is beautiful."

"So, are you excited about San Francisco ?"

"Aye, I am. A bit nervous, too, I confess. But, it's like starting a new life. I feel free," Ian smiled.

"You seem happier these days."

"That's because of you, Johnny. I can't tell you how much you've helped me. Just having someone I can confide in has been a huge relief. I know it hasn't been easy for you listening to me go on and on."

"I gotta admit , it's not something I know anything about. I guess I felt uncomfortable at times. But, well, we're family, Ian. I'm not going to say I understand your feelings. I never will. But that doesn't really matter. I don't have to approve to accept you."

The younger man's face shadowed with a frown. "I wish my da felt that way."

"It isn't easy. I mean, he wants you to be like everyone else, I guess. When you're different, it makes things tough. Maybe your father feels some guilt about that."

"It isn't his fault."

"Doesn't matter. Parents, good parents, take responsibility for their kids. Look at Murdoch. He never thought about the consequences of falling in love with a Mexican woman. I mean, I'm sure he never even considered what it would be like for me."

"What has it been like, Johnny?"

Johnny sighed heavily. "I took a lot of garbage as a kid. Other kids and adults looked at me like I was less than human. Neither side wanted me around. I didn't have any friends. Any time some kid tried, his parents would make him stop hangin around me. I got in a lot of fights," he laughed.

"And now?"

"Hasn't changed much. Most of the people around here don't care. Still, there are some who do. I think more than let on. They don't want to say it out loud because of Murdoch, but I think they'd be real happy if I just went away."

Murdoch stood in the shadows inside the French doors and listened to his son. His heart felt tight as he thought of what Johnny had endured in his life. Because of him; because he fell in love with a stunningly beautiful woman. Because it didn't matter to him that she was Mexican.

Johnny was right. He had never considered the consequences for his son. He had always thought it didn't matter. And it didn't to him.

"It doesn't matter to me. Most of the time, I just ignore the looks. What's important is that my family accepts me."

"Aye, that is the most important thing," Ian agreed sadly.

Johnny laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Give them time, Ian. I can't imagine your father would turn away from you. He's not that kind of man, from what I saw."

Ian smiled. "Seems I'm always beholding to you. Thank you."

"De nada," Johnny whispered.

"I'm sorry?"

"It means, it was nothing," Murdoch interrupted.

"What are you doin up?" Johnny asked.

"Same as you, I guess. Couldn't sleep," he smiled as he joined them.

"Well, it isn't nothing ," Ian said.

"I thought you were going to teach these boys some Spanish," Murdoch grinned.

"Guess I forgot about it. We still have time," Johnny replied. "I tell ya what, you feed me good on that drive and I'll have you speaking Spanish before we get to San Francisco ."

"It's a deal. Now, I think I'll turn in. Goodnight," Ian smiled at them both.

"Guess I should give it another try, too," Johnny said as he stood.

"Just a minute, son. I'd like to talk to you."

Johnny sat back down and looked expectantly at his father.

"That business in town tonight. Did Jackson insult you?"

Johnny's eyebrows raised . "Why did you ask me that?"

"Would you just answer me?"

"Yes, he insulted me but that ain't why I got mad."

"Why did you?"

Johnny dropped his head and mumbled, " cause he insulted you."

Murdoch smiled a little. "What did he say?"

"Called you a coward."

"I see. What did he call you?"

Johnny shrugged. "Half-breed."

Murdoch sighed and sat beside him. "And that didn't make you angry?"

"Sure, but it ain't like I've never heard it before."

"That doesn't make it okay, son."

"I didn't say it was okay," Johnny snapped. "Why are you askin me about this?"

"I heard what you said to Ian. I feel bad that you had to go through that," Murdoch confessed.

"Shouldn't be eavesdroppin . It ain't polite," Johnny said.

Murdoch looked over at him to see if he was angry. In the light of the moon, he could see the twinkle in Johnny's eyes and he smiled.

"It doesn't matter, you know," Johnny said softly.

"It does matter, son. It matters a great deal. I hate that people treat you that way. And for no other reason than who your parents are."

"You sorry?" Johnny asked softly.

"Sorry?" Murdoch repeated, confused.

"Yeah, that you ever ......"

"No, son. I'm not sorry. I have no regrets about loving your mother. I definitely have no regrets that you are my son. In fact, I'm very proud of you."

********

Upstairs, Ian lay on his bed staring at the ceiling. Tomorrow would be his last day at Lancer. Even though he didn't take to ranching, he would miss this place and his family. His newly found extended family. He smiled as he thought of them.

Teresa had become a good friend. Scott was friendly and easy to get along with. He'd always been friends with Andrew. Even Uncle Murdoch was good to him, despite everything. He knew they didn't approve but they at least accepted him into their lives.

It was Johnny he would miss the most. Someone he could confide in. Someone who didn't judge him, not once. He had never looked down on him. Never hesitated to talk when Ian felt the need. He had felt Johnny's unease more than once, but he had still encouraged Ian.

He felt as if he'd made a new best friend in Johnny. If he were completely honest, he knew he felt more than that. But he would never say it. He tried to keep those feelings at bay, knowing they would never be reciprocated.

Johnny was soft-spoken, easy going most of the time. But if there was one thing Ian knew for sure, Johnny loved women. He laughed to himself as he remembered some of the conversations Johnny and Scott had had.

Talking about their romances and the women they were interested in now. Ian wondered how anyone in the world ever had a relationship. It was a lot of work. He frowned, wondering if he would ever find someone he could love.

He pushed aside those thoughts and concentrated on this new adventure. A new city , new school and, hopefully, new friends. He knew he had to write to his da and that made him nervous. He went over what he would say in that letter as he drifted into sleep.

********

Sunday was quiet at Lancer. Everyone had gone to church except Scott and Johnny. They decided to go for a ride and check the herd one final time before the drive next morning.

They both enjoyed this time together. Having decided long ago this was the day they got to spend together without the usual back breaking labor. It was an unspoken decision between them. One Murdoch didn't know about which caused him to frown on his boys not attending church.

Neither one was terribly religious but both held their own faith in their own ways. To them, that was all that mattered.

Riding together this fine sunny morning, they both felt the calm before the storm of a drive. Scott chuckled aloud.

"What?" Johnny asked.

"I was just thinking about tomorrow. Ian and Andrew are in for quite a surprise."

Johnny laughed as well. "Yeah. It's hard to explain what it's really like."

"It's definitely something one has to experience for themselves to understand," Scott agreed.

"Ain't most everything?"

"True, brother, very true."

They rode along in silence a while longer, just enjoying each other's company. They stopped by a stream and let the horses drink and graze as they sat by the bank, skimming stones.

Scott stole a few glances at his brother as they sat quietly.

"What's on your mind, Boston ?"

He smiled and shook his head. "I'm beginning to think I'm never going to be able to keep anything from you pretty soon."

Johnny grinned at this. "Make ya nervous?"

"A little," Scott laughed. His expression turned serious then. "I wanted to talk to you about Ian."

"What about him?"

"Well, you two seem to have gotten pretty close. I was just wondering if he's changed his mind about ..... anything ."

A small smile caressed Johnny's lips. "Nope."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"It bothers me, Scott. But there's nothing I can do about it. He feels the way he feels," Johnny shrugged.

"I'm just not so sure it's a good idea to leave him alone in a city like San Francisco ."

"He grew up in a big city. He's used to it. Besides, maybe he'll make some new friends there."

"Johnny, you know as well as I do what could happen to him there," Scott admonished.

Johnny turned and looked at him. "Yeah, I know and so does he. What do you want me to do, Scott? Lock him up on the ranch forever? He's old enough to make his own decisions."

"Is he? I know you've been on your own from a young age, but Ian hasn't. He's always had his family. That makes a difference in how mature he is."

"Yeah, he didn't have to grow up fast," Johnny said. There was a sadness in his voice that Scott didn't miss. "Look, I'm worried about him, too. But I still think this is the best thing for him. He doesn't want to go back home. He wants a chance to be on his own, to be free."

"Like you were?"

"No, not like me. That was a whole different kind of freedom. The kind that's thrown on you. Ian has a choice and he's made it."

"Well, let's at least make sure he knows he can always come back here," Scott smiled.

Johnny returned the smile. "So, what'ya want to do the rest of the day?"

"Oh, I don't know. Why don't we go get those cousins of ours and do a little fishing. "

Johnny's smile widened, the gleam in his eye causing Scott to give him a suspicious look. Without a word, he drew his gun and checked the chambers. "Okay, I'm ready."

Scott burst out laughing and grabbed his brother by the nape of the neck. "You don't mind if I get some more traditional gear, do you?"

"To each his own, brother," Johnny laughed.

When they returned to the house, the family had just come back from church. Scott and Johnny walked in. The first one they saw was their father. His expression gave them both pause .

The guest stood up and both knew exactly why Murdoch looked as he did.

"What's going on?" Johnny asked tightly. His eyes narrowed as he took in Russell Jackson.

"Russ is here to talk to you about his boy, Johnny," Murdoch explained, his own tone matching Johnny's.

"What about him?"

"What about him? His arm is useless. THAT'S what about him!" Jackson spewed.

Johnny looked at him without emotion. "Could've been worse," he said flatly.

"And how is that?"

"Could be dead."

Jackson 's face turned beet red as he glowered at Johnny. "He has to go to Chicago for special surgery," he hissed.

Johnny just stared at him.

"You're going to pay for it!" Jackson announced.

One side of Johnny's mouth turned up.

"That is ridiculous. Mr. Jackson, Tom started the whole thing. There's a roomful of people who witnessed it. He drew on Johnny when his back was turned. How is that my brother's doing?" Scott fumed.

"He provoked Tom by insulting our hands!"

"Your hands approached us. We were minding our own business when they came looking for trouble," Scott shot back.

"That's not how I heard it."

"I don't care what you heard! Johnny was the one provoked. Your son insulted him and me," Murdoch bellowed.

Johnny flinched a little at the familiar words but he couldn't help the pride he felt at his father defending him.

"Insulted him how?" Jackson asked.

"He called Johnny a half-breed and a coward," Andrew supplied.

"How is the truth an insult?" Jackson slammed.

"You will not come into my house and spread that filth, Russ! Johnny did nothing wrong. He defended himself. Tom was drunk and stupid and he's paying for it now. If he had any sense, he would have never called Johnny out in the first place. Now, get off our land!"

Jackson continued to fume as he grabbed his hat off the table. As he passed Johnny, he paused. "You will pay for this, Madrid ," he hissed.

The room was quiet for several seconds after the door slammed shut. Everyone stood still for a time.

"Well, that was fun," Johnny smirked.

"Yes, very pleasant," Scott said.

"Well, now we know why Tom is such a moron," Andrew imparted.

Scott and Johnny chuckled at that wise observation. Murdoch was not amused.

"Let's just forget about it and try to enjoy the rest of the day," he grumbled.

"Forget about it? He threatened Johnny," Ian spoke for the first time.

"Don't worry about that. He's just blowing off steam," Johnny smiled.

"Are you sure about that? He was livid," Ian asked.

"Russ Jackson talks big but he can't back it up. Johnny's right, he was just talking," Murdoch said.

Ian raised his brows but said nothing else. He supposed they knew what they were talking about.

"Well, I don't feel much like fishing now," Scott sighed.

"Me either," Johnny agreed.

Supper conversation consisted of the cattle drive and nothing else. All three Lancer men tried to impress upon Ian and Andrew how hard this journey would be. But, it was as Scott said, nothing could really prepare them.

They all retired early, appreciating the comfortable beds they would be without for the next several weeks.

******

Monday morning burst forth in a flurry of activity. Ranch hands milled about preparing for the drive. The kitchen sang with the sounds of pots and pans, dishes and cups, as Teresa prepared a hearty meal.

Ian was supervising the loading of the cook's wagon. A chore that brought suspicious looks from the vaqueros whose stomach's were in his hands.

Johnny and Scott entered the kitchen and took their places quietly. Sipping their coffee, their minds worked over the day's events. Murdoch came in from outside and joined them.

"How's it going out there?" Johnny asked.

"Everything's coming together on schedule, son."

"Murdoch, I'm worried about Russ Jackson," Scott spoke up.

The rancher sighed and looked steadily at his eldest. "We won't even be here, Scott."

"That is my point, sir. How far would this man go for revenge? I don't like the idea of leaving Teresa all alone."

"Damn," Johnny breathed, the thought not having occurred to him.

"There's no need for that language, Johnny. Russ isn't the kind of man who would take his anger out on a woman," Murdoch said.

"What about his hands?" Scott asked.

Murdoch considered that question. He didn't really know. "Maybe Teresa should visit the Haverty's while we're gone."

"I can take care of myself," she said with indignation.

"I know you can, sweetheart. But, I would feel better knowing you aren't alone," Murdoch smiled.

She conceded the point. "Well, I wasn't looking forward to being alone anyway. Millie could always use help with the twins."

"Good, that's settled. You'll go today?"

"I'll go today," she smiled and kissed the top of his head.

*******

Within an hour the Lancers were saddled and ready to leave. All that was left to do was get away from Teresa's big brown eyes. Eyes that were brimming with tears just like every year.

"Now, Teresa, none of that," Murdoch smiled.

"You know how I am. Just go and be safe," she smiled.

Murdoch turned to Johnny and, with a grin, said, "how about using that ear-piercing whistle of yours to get us started?"

Johnny laughed and readjusted his hat on his head, then whistled shrilly. His arm raised in the air, he brought it down in a slash to signal the move.

In a cloud of dust and hooves, they began the journey to Modesto slowly.

Ian brought up the rear with the cook's wagon, waving to Teresa as he passed. "I'll write to you," he called.

"You'd better," she called back and watched until they moved under the great arch.

Sighing, she went inside to pack for her visit.

It was slow and grueling work. Andrew felt like he was eating most of the trail. Even through the bandana he wore over his mouth and nose, he could taste the dust.

Scott rode with him, keeping a wary eye on the greenhorn. Johnny rode drag. A position no one wanted but he didn't mind. He liked being able to see everything in front and behind him.

What was in front of him was the backside of a thousand head of cattle. Behind him came Ian, another reason to ride drag. He wanted to keep an eye on his cousin. Ian had been taught how to drive the wagon by Murdoch himself but Johnny was taking no chances with his cousin's well-being.

As for Murdoch, he watched it all with some amusement. Both sons taking protective stances instinctively. It reminded him of last year when Johnny would not let Scott out of his sight.

*******

As dusk came, they stopped for the night. Murdoch decided to give Andrew a break for the first few days and not assign him to night herd duty. He hadn't seen any signs of the men conspiring to break in the greenhorn but he knew it was coming. It always did. Scott had not been immune last year so he was certain Andrew wouldn't miss out either.

He figured Ian was safe from that particular initiation. Though he was sure they would test the boy in some fashion. He smiled at the customs and traditions.

Scott approached him then and he handed off the assignments to his eldest. Something that seemed natural to him and Scott accepted the task without question. As he walked away, Murdoch thought of how much Scott had grown into this life. How easily he took charge of situations.

Johnny did as well, though his techniques were decidedly different. Where Scott took the no nonsense direct approach, Johnny was more laid back. The hands accepted both methods easily and Murdoch was a proud man.

His reverie was broken by his youngest who approached him with a devilish grin. Murdoch tensed a little, waiting for the quip that was sure to come.

"Guess we'll find out if Ian will be makin the whole trip with us."

"I guess we will. I noticed you rode drag today," Murdoch said, knowing full well why.

"Is it a problem?"

"Not at all. No one else wants to do it. I have to wonder why you do."

Johnny smiled and played along. "Didn't you know? I have a fascination with the backside of cows."

Murdoch chuckled and wrapped his arm around Johnny's shoulders, leading him toward the chuckwagon .

The smells were enticing and both of them anticipated the meal.

As they neared, the bell began to clang. They knew there was about to be a stampede of men and braced themselves for the onslaught.

Ian stared wide-eyed as they converged on him, plates ready and held out. He recovered quickly and began serving out the stew and biscuits, praying the entire time that they approved.

Hungry cowboys found someplace to sit as they dove into the vittles . Most stopped after the first bite and looked up, stunned.

Johnny took a bite and had the same expression. "Ian, this is great!"

"Dang, this is the best stew I ever had!" one of the hands exclaimed and they all nodded in agreement.

Ian relaxed measurably at the compliments and thanked them all.

"Excellent, cousin," Scott said as he finally got his plate.

Ian joined the family and smiled. "I'm glad you like it. I was worried I might get horsewhipped."

They all laughed at the thought.

"You keep cookin like this and you'll make yourself a lot of friends around here," Johnny smiled.

"Well, what did you boys think of your first day?" Murdoch asked.

"It's dusty. I've never been so tired," Andrew said.

"Oh, don't worry, you'll be more tired," Johnny grinned.

"I guess I have the easy part, just driving the wagon. But, it is a dirty undertaking," Ian said.

"You have the most important job on the drive, Ian. Believe me, these men would rather go without their horses than a good cook," Scott laughed.

*******

The third day of the drive was much like the first two. They found a suitable place to stop for the night. Johnny took care of the remuda this night and Scott had night herd duty.

As the men gathered for supper, Andrew decided to join them. For the past two nights he had sat with his family. He thought it was time to try to get to know these men.

He was quiet, listening to them talk. Tall tales of previous drives turned into taller tales of past dalliances with the female of the species. Andrew laughed with them as they stories became more unbelievable.

"What about you, Andrew? Ya got any good stories?" It was Frank who asked, a seasoned Lancer hand.

"I'm afraid nothing to compare with you men. You've led interesting lives," he smiled.

"What did ya do back in Scotland ?" Frank inquired.

"I attended university."

The men grew quiet then, unsure what comment to make to that.

"Like Scott, huh?" Frank finally said.

"Yes, like Scott."

"Well, if ya turn out like him, you'll do just fine here."

"Thank you. I hope I can measure up," Andrew smiled. He appreciated the effort the man was making.

"Measure up to what?" Johnny asked as he joined them.

"Scott. I was telling them I went to university back home," Andrew explained.

Johnny nodded and smiled. "Yeah, he's pretty smart. Not too bad with the cattle either," he winked at Andrew.

"All ya gotta do now is teach ' im how to handle a gun," Frank said and the men burst out laughing.

Andrew's face turned beet red at this but when he looked at his cousin, Johnny was rolling.

Murdoch heard the laughter and saw his son and nephew joining in. He was relieved Andrew seemed to be fitting in. In fact, he thought the young man was making excellent progress under Scott's tutelage.

He joined the group around the fire, settling in beside Johnny. "Men," he nodded.

"Hey, Boss. Was just tellin Johnny he needs ta teach Andy here about guns," Frank grinned.

Murdoch smiled a little. "I think that's been taken care of Frank."

Andrew cringed a little at the nickname. He didn't like it but wasn't sure if he should say anything.

"Oh, I think Andrew will catch on. He's done real well so far," Johnny said, accentuating the young man's proper name.

Andrew smiled in appreciation and wondered at how Johnny knew.

"Ya gonna teach ' im to be as fast as you, Johnny?" Walt asked.

"Well, now that wouldn't be to my advantage, would it?" Johnny grinned.

Murdoch became uncomfortable with the line the conversation was taking and cleared his throat. "Andrew, you'll have night herd duty tomorrow."

"I was wonderin when that would be," he nodded.

Johnny got up suddenly and walked away from the group. Murdoch closed his eyes briefly, knowing the reason for his son's sudden departure. He excused himself and went to find the young man.

*******

Johnny leaned against a tree and looked out over the night sky. He heard Murdoch walk up behind him and stand there.

"Looks like we're gonna be lucky with the weather," he said softly.

"Yes, that will be a nice change," Murdoch replied.

"I think Andrew's gonna make a fine rancher."

"He will. He's made great progress already."

"Don't worry, I won't teach him how to be a gunhawk," Johnny said quietly.

"I wasn't worried about that in the least, son."

Johnny only nodded his head.

"I guess I still get uncomfortable when your past is mentioned."

"Guess so."

"It's just that ..... I forget about it. Then, something gets said and I'm reminded."

Johnny turned to face him then. A look of pure surprise on his face. "You forget about it?"

Murdoch only stared at him, wondering what he'd said wrong now.

"I didn't think you ever forgot about it," Johnny clarified.

"I'm sorry, son."

"Don't be sorry. I'm glad. I mean ..... it's nice to know it's not on your mind all the time."

"At first, it was. But, now, well, I guess I just don't look at you the same way I used to."

"How do you look at me?" Johnny asked quietly.

"As my son, my partner, a rancher and a top hand," Murdoch replied confidently.

Johnny's eyes lit up and a smile brightened his face. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Johnny started to say more but he was stopped by a hullabaloo in the camp. He and Murdoch went quickly to see what was wrong.

As they approached, they could see two of the men fighting. Rolling around on the ground, it was impossible to tell who it was.

Johnny grabbed one and Murdoch the other as they pulled the men apart.

"What's the meaning of this?" Murdoch demanded. "Andrew?" he said in totally surprise.

Johnny looked at the man whose collar he was grasping and released him when he saw it was his cousin.

Murdoch gained control of himself. "What happened?"

" Nothin , Boss," Mike said.

"Didn't look like nothin . Now, what were you fightin about?" Johnny asked.

Neither man was willing to speak it and Murdoch's temper was rising. "If you two have so much energy, you won't mind pulling night herd duty."

"I did it last night, Boss," Mike complained.

"Well, it must not have been much of a strain if you have the gumption to fight. Johnny, get your cousin cleaned up and out to the herd. Mike, get yourself taken care of and go on out as well. Now, gentlemen!"

Johnny took Andrew by the arm and led him off to the nearby creek. Without a word, he let his cousin clean his bloodied lip. When Andrew turned around, Johnny was standing, hands on hips, waiting.

"Well, you gonna tell me how that started?"

"It's between me and that idiot," Andrew spat.

Johnny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Finding his patience, he spoke strongly yet without anger.

"Andrew, on a cattle drive every man has to look out for each other. It's dangerous business and bad feelings can get in the way. Whatever happened, you might want to find some kind of middle ground with Mike. He's a good hand and we can't afford to lose him or you."

"I'll talk to him, Johnny. Just not tonight."

"I think that's best. Come on, I'll show you what to do."

******

Scott was surprised to see his brother and cousin. Johnny didn't explain until Andrew was settled into his watch. Once he and Scott headed back to camp, Johnny told his brother about the fight.

"Andrew? That's hard to believe," Scott said.

"I know. But there he was, rollin around on the ground with Mike."

"What caused it?"

"Neither one will say. Andrew said he'd square things with Mike tomorrow."

"Well, I'm glad of that. That kind of tension can be dangerous," Scott commented.

"That's what I told him. Come on, brother. Ian made some chicken tonight that'll make you think you died and gone to heaven."

"I think that boy missed his calling. He should be a chef," Scott laughed.

They joined the men around the fire and the suspense was thick. Not being a shy one, Johnny spoke up. "I don't guess anyone wants to tell us what happened here tonight."

No one spoke for a long moment. Frank finally supplied some information.

"Mike was joking about Andrew's accent. It was all fine with him for a while. Then Mike stepped out of line."

"How?" Scott asked.

"Well, I don't like to talk about folks behind their backs, Scott."

"Just tell us what happened, Frank," Johnny pushed.

"Mike made a comment bout .... Ian."

Johnny dropped his head and sighed. "What did he say?"

"Called him a pansy," Frank mumbled.

Well, there it was. It was out in the open now. Johnny wondered how they'd found out.

Suddenly, all the hands but Frank disappeared.

"Did Ian hear that?" Scott asked.

"Nah, he wasn't around. Andrew, he just laid into Mike."

"How did Mike find out about Ian?" Johnny asked.

Frank looked at him like he was crazy. "Everybody knows, Johnny. Rumors been flyin like crazy in the bunkhouse."

"What rumors?" Johnny asked.

Frank dipped his head and didn't answer.

"What rumors?" Johnny repeated more insistently.

"You know how the men talk, Johnny. It don't mean nothin . They just seen you and Ian spending a lot of time together."

Johnny flew to his feet. "Are you tellin me they think I'm .... "

"No! Not really. I mean they know ya ain't but they like ta joke about it."

Johnny's fists clenched and unclenched as he tried to keep control of his anger. Scott stood up and put a hand on his arm.

"Sit down, brother. It doesn't matter."

"It matters, Scott," he hissed, but sat back down.

"Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything," Frank apologized.

"No, I'm glad you told us. Thanks, Frank," Johnny mumbled.

Frank left them then and Johnny stared into the flames, still seething.

"Frank was right, you know. The men just like to talk," Scott tried.

"I know, Scott, but you wouldn't take it so light if it was you."

Scott had to concede that point. "You're right. But, Ian will be gone after the drive. Things will go back to normal."

Johnny shook his head. "Sure. Get rid of the problem and the prejudice goes with it, right?"

"Seems I can't say anything right tonight," Scott said a bit harshly.

Johnny blew out a breath and looked at his brother. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be takin this out on you."

"It's alright, Johnny. I just hate to see this bother you so much. I'm sure it will all blow over. The men have known for quite a while, evidently, and they haven't said anything until now."

"Well, I sure can't blame Andrew for this."

"Blame Andrew for what?" Murdoch said from behind them.

Johnny groaned under his breath and Scott sighed. Murdoch sat down and waited for his answer. Scott supplied it and watched his father's face turn to granite.

"Maybe we should send Ian on to San Francisco ," he said.

"What are we supposed to do about a cook?" Scott asked.

"I don't know! I have enough to deal with as it is," Murdoch groused.

"You don't have to deal with this, Murdoch. I'll handle Ian and Andrew and Mike for that matter," Johnny said.

"Alright, son. I just don't need any added problems. The drive is enough." With that Murdoch skulked away.

Scott stared after him. "Did he just relent?"

Johnny laughed. "I guess he did. Well, I have to talk to Ian and then I'd like to get a minute of sleep."

"Good luck, on both," Scott smiled and slapped him on the back.

******

Johnny found Ian in the back of the wagon cleaning up.

"Are ya still hungry, cousin?"

"No, I'm full, Ian. I'm gonna have to work twice as hard just to keep from gettin fat on your cookin ," Johnny smiled.

"It's Teresa you should be grateful to," he smiled back.

Johnny's expression turned serious. "Can you stop that for a minute? I need to talk to you."

Ian set down the pot and dried his hands.

"Andrew got in a fight with another hand tonight."

"Andrew? That doesn't sound like him. What was it about?"

Johnny sighed. "You. Seems the hands know about you. Have for some time now."

Ian's face paled and he sat on the tailgate. "God," he whispered.

"It's not all that bad. They won't say anything to you."

"How do you know that?"

"Because they want to eat. It's just that they've been talking amongst themselves. Apparently, they think you and me .... that we spend too much time together," Johnny said and felt completely embarrassed.

Ian looked up at him and Johnny knew in that instant. He shifted his feet and looked down at the ground.

"I'll stay away from you, Johnny. I never wanted to cause you any trouble."

"I know. Just thought you should know what happened. Anyway, I'm gonna turn in. Goodnight." He walked away quickly.

******

Johnny stayed as far away from Ian as he could the rest of the drive. They pushed the cattle on into Modesto on time. Andrew had managed to come to an understanding with Mike and no more was said. There were no further altercations.

Once the cattle were taken care of and the men paid, Murdoch booked hotel rooms for the family. The men would have the weekend to spend their pay and relax before heading back to the ranch.

It was then that Johnny decided to approach his father about the trip to San Francisco . He knocked on the man's door and waited.

Murdoch opened the door and, seeing it was Johnny, turned and walked back to his chair.

"Do you want to wait until Monday to head out?" he asked.

"That's what I want to talk to you about, Murdoch. I think it'd be better if you and Scott went with Ian," Johnny said softly.

Why?"

Johnny sat down in the chair opposite his father. "I just think it's best."

"This whole idea was yours to begin with, John. Now, you want to back out?"

Johnny sighed heavily. "It ain't that. I just .... I don't feel comfortable around Ian anymore."

"Why not?"

Johnny looked up at his father and felt the flush come across his cheeks.

"Johnny, what is it?"

"I think he .... he's become attached to me."

"I'm sure he has. You've been good to him," Murdoch answered.

"More than that, Murdoch," Johnny said, trying to convey the thought without having to say it.

Murdoch's face took on a surprised but understanding expression. "I see. Well, maybe it would be best if you went back with the others. I'm sure Scott and I can handle it."

Johnny's shoulders relaxed and he sighed. "Thanks."

"I thought we would all have supper together tonight but ...." Murdoch trailed off.

"It's alright. I mean, I'm gonna have to tell him I'm not going anyway," Johnny smiled a little.

A knock at the door ended the discussion and Murdoch, tired from weeks in the saddle, simply called out to enter.

Ian walked into the room and stopped on a dime. "Oh, I'll come back."

"No, no. Come on in, Ian. Johnny and I were just discussing San Francisco . I've decided I want Johnny to return to the ranch. Scott and I will go on with you."

Ian looked at each of them in turn and nodded. "Alright, Uncle. If you think it's best."

"I do. Now, I want everyone together for supper tonight. You'll tell Andrew?"

"If I can find him. He took off with Scott," Ian answered.

"I'll find them. I have a pretty good idea where they are," Johnny grinned and stood. As he passed the boy, he slowed. "See ya tonight."

"Sure, Johnny."

"Did you need something, son?" Murdoch asked.

"Oh, well, I .... no , it isn't important now."

Murdoch cocked a brow. "It wouldn't have anything to do with Johnny, would it?"

The boy's face reddened. "No, it's alright now," he mumbled and left the room.

Murdoch sighed loudly. He wished he could understand what Ian was feeling. He just couldn't connect with the boy.

*******

Johnny found his brother and cousin in the saloon with most of the hands as expected. They spent the afternoon enjoying themselves . A lovely brunette approached Johnny and he departed from his family to spend some time in a corner table with the girl.

He was engrossed in conversation with her. Bantering back and forth seductively, when Scott walked up and ruined it.

"Time to go, brother. Murdoch will be waiting."

Johnny sighed and smiled apologetically.

"You just come on back later, honey. I'll be around," she smiled.

"I'll do that," he smiled back as Scott dragged him away.

"You know, Murdoch would have understood," he said to Scott as they walked down the street.

"No, he wouldn't," Scott replied.

"Okay, he wouldn't. But, I wouldn't have cared either," Johnny grinned.

"If ya don't mind, I'll go back with ya, Johnny. There was a bonny lass eyeing me in there," Andrew spoke.

"Sure, maybe we can even find something for Scott."

"Don't you worry about me, little brother. The day I need your help finding a woman is the day they sit me in a rocking chair permanently."

They continued their banter all the way into the hotel dining room. They didn't stop as they sat down, either.

Murdoch cleared his throat. "I don't think that's appropriate conversation for the dinner table, boys."

"But, Murdoch, you don't understand. That gal was all over me," Johnny said.

"You'll get over it," he clipped.

Johnny sighed pitifully, then grinned.

*******

Murdoch decided to wait until Monday to head for San Francisco . This gave Scott time with his brother and cousin. Ian kept to himself, reading in his hotel room. He knew Johnny couldn't stand to be around him anymore. It hurt but he couldn't blame his cousin.

Monday morning came and it was time to leave. Murdoch stood on the train platform drilling instructions into Johnny's slightly aching head.

"Murdoch! I got it," he finally said.

Ian walked over to them and asked to speak privately with Johnny. They walked away to the corner.

"I just wanted to thank you once more for all you've done for me. You don't know how much it helped to have someone to talk to. I know I've made you uncomfortable. I never meant to give away my feelings. I know you asked Uncle Murdoch to have Scott go instead of you."

"Ian, I don't know what to say to you. I wish things could be different for you but I know that won't happen. Just remember everything I told you. Take care of yourself and don't trust too easily," Johnny said sadly.

"I'll remember, Johnny. I won't ever forget you, cousin." Ian extended his hand and Johnny shook it firmly.

Smiling, he said, " you never know what you might find in the big city. But, if you decide you don't want to be a teacher, well, you're a hell of a cook."

Ian laughed. "Thank you. I do enjoy it. As you said, one never knows."

They heard the train whistle as it made it's way into the station. They rejoined the rest of the clan. Johnny shook hands with his father and brother and warned them about the sins of the big city.

Johnny and Andrew watched as the train pulled away.

"He'll be alright," Andrew said.

"Sure, he'll be fine."

*******

"Well, cousin. I guess we should round up the men and head back," Johnny smiled.

"This has been some experience."

"Are you going to stay with us? We'd be happy if you did," Johnny asked.

"I've been thinking a lot about that, Johnny. I like ranching, I really do. But, I'm still not sure it's what I want. I thought I would go back home and finish school. Maybe even find a way to get along with da ."

"That's a good idea. You never know how long you're gonna have with him."

"You seem to do alright with Uncle Murdoch."

"We have our moments. Some good, some bad. But, lately, it's been mostly good. I think we found some middle ground finally. Something he said to me during the drive really brought that home."

Andrew waited for a moment then decided Johnny didn't want to share what the something was. "Well, I'm glad. I think I've learned a great deal here. I know how lucky I am now."

Johnny wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Andrew, it's all about how you look at the world. You can moan and cry about how things are or you can do something to change them. If you don't like your life, you have choices. That's something I had to learn not so very long ago."

"There is one thing I'd like to learn before I leave," Andrew said with a grin.

"What's that?"

"Would you teach me to shoot? I feel like I can take a gun apart and put it back together with my eyes closed. But I never got to fire it."

"Um, yeah, you did," Johnny grinned wickedly.

Andrew dropped his head at this and Johnny laughed.

"Sure, I can teach you to shoot. Come on, cuz . We have a lot of miles to go before home."

*******

It took less than a week to return to Lancer. Andrew was amazed at the difference a thousand head of cattle made. He felt a sense of relief at seeing the white arch ahead. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe this was the place for him. He decided he needed more time to think things through.

Johnny kneed his horse into a gallop as they neared. Anxious to get home and scanning the place, too. All seemed quiet as they arrived in front of the house.

Jelly appeared to welcome them home. "I thought Scott was comin back."

"Change of plans, Jelly. How've things been here?" Johnny asked.

"Quiet as a church."

"Good. No sign of the Jacksons ?"

"Heard the old man took Tom to Chicago ," Jelly reported.

Johnny relaxed and smiled. "Teresa still gone?"

"Yep."

"Well, don't talk so much!" Johnny teased.

"I'll let Maria know yer back," Jelly said and started to walk away.

"Hey, Jelly, what's wrong with you?" Johnny asked.

"I'm alright, Johnny. Welcome home." The old man walked away then, leaving Johnny perplexed.

"Johnny, what is it?" Andrew asked.

"I don't know. Somethin's wrong with him. He's not acting himself."

********

Johnny and Andrew went into the house and were greeted enthusiastically by Maria.

"Well, that's more like it!" Johnny grinned as he hugged the woman. "What's wrong with Jelly?"

She sighed and shook her head. "He has been moping around for days. He will not talk to me, Juanito ."

Johnny frowned and went to the kitchen to find Jelly drinking coffee. He sat down next to him and stared.

"You and me are friends, ain't we, Jelly?"

"Sure, Johnny."

"Tell me what's wrong."

"I reckon I just got the dreads," he sighed.

"Is Dewdrop okay?"

"Sure, he's fine."

"Come on, Jelly. This isn't like you. Tell me the truth."

Jelly sat his cup down and looked straight at Johnny. "Heard talk about the Circle J hands. Sounds like they been just waitin for you ta get back."

"To do what?"

" What'ya think?!"

Johnny smiled softly at the old man. "And that's what's got you all sad? Come on, Jelly. Stop worryin so much."

"I'll stop worryin when that bunch leaves this family alone! Well, reckon I'll go get Teresa. She made me promise to soon as ya got back."

******

Johnny was standing in the yard talking to a hand when Jelly and Teresa drove up. She jumped down and ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck. He picked her up and swirled her around, sitting her down gently.

"I've missed you so much!"

"I missed you, too, querida ."

She smiled and hooked her arm into his, walking him toward the house talking a mile a minute.

Once inside, she became quiet. "Why did you come back instead of Scott?"

Johnny walked to the fireplace, trying to act casual. "No reason in particular. How are the twins?"

"Gorgeous, but a handful," she smiled, then her face fell. "Johnny, there's been talk that the hands from the Circle J...."

"Jelly told me," he interrupted.

"What are you going to do?"

"Not a thing, honey."

"You're just going to ignore it?" she asked incredulously.

"That's right. I have enough to deal with without worrying about a couple of idiots. Besides, they talk a good game, but they're both cowards."

"I don't think you should be takin this so lightly, Johnny," Andrew spoke up.

"Is that right? Look at this. He gets in one fight and he's ready to take all comers," Johnny grinned devilishly.

"Andrew, you got in a fight?" Teresa asked in dismay.

"It was nothing, Teresa," he said, his head hung.

"I don't want to know. I'm going to see Maria and start dinner," she sighed.

******

That evening the three young people enjoyed a quiet evening. Johnny went over the work to be done the next day with Andrew and they worked out their schedules. Teresa retired early, worn out from chasing the twin two-year-olds around for a month.

"When do ya think you'll have time to teach me to shoot?"

Johnny smiled at his enthusiasm. "Oh, tomorrow evening. Don't get all worked up about it, Andrew. A gun is a tool, just like a hammer. It's only purpose is to kill and your only use for it is to protect yourself and yours."

"That's exactly the problem. I feel like I'm a burden to you all. Having to watch out for me when I could do it myself."

"It's not a burden but I know what you mean. I ...." Johnny trailed off, his senses becoming alerted. He stood up and walked to the French doors, peering into the night.

"What is it?" Andrew asked, joining him.

"Don't know. Grab one of those rifles and pretend you know how to use it," Johnny grinned. He eased the door open and had slipped out by the time Andrew returned.

"I don't see anything," Andrew whispered.

"Neither do I, but I feel it," Johnny answered.

Before Andrew could ask what the heck that meant, they heard a ruckus from the barn. Johnny tensed when he recognized Barranca's whinny. The horse sounded anxious.

He took off, moving stealthily across the yard. He used the trees and bushes for quick cover. But the more anxious Barranca became, the more reckless Johnny acted.

Desperate to get to the palomino, he threw caution aside and took off straight for the barn doors. Throwing them open and crouching low, gun drawn, Johnny took a step back as the heat hit him.

He whirled around, ready for anything. His heart stopped when he saw it was Andrew.

"Ring that bell there. Ring it real loud then start throwin water on the fire!" he shouted.

Andrew turned and started beating on the triangle with savage fear. He watched, wide-eyed, as Johnny darted into the blaze.

Jelly came running, followed by the hands and they all started a fire line. Handing off buckets to battle the flames.

"Where's Johnny?" Jelly asked.

"In the barn!" Andrew answered, fear dripping off his voice.

"Good Lord!"

Barranca came tearing out of the barn, following by Remmie and the rest of the horses. Jelly waited what seemed an eternity but Johnny did not show.

"Andrew! Throw that water on me!" he yelled. "Do it now!" Jelly ordered when met by the stunned stare.

Andrew doused him with cold water and Jelly grabbed a horse blanket. He felt it jerked from his hands and looked up at the tall young man. Andrew simply shook his head, covered it with the blanket, and disappeared into the inferno.

Jelly stared after him for a heartbeat, then began working the fire line, cussing the whole time.

Andrew kept low, lifting the blanket so he could see where he was going. He called out for Johnny but heard no reply for several seconds. Then, he heard a cough and headed in that direction.

Kneeling in a stall, Johnny had been overcome by the smoke as he struggled with a panic-stricken mare. She refused to budge and he refused to leave her.

Andrew grabbed him under the arm and dragged him out of the barn.

"No, go back and get her!" Johnny fought.

"I'm not lettin you die for a horse!" Andrew replied angrily as he led his cousin to fresh air.

Johnny gulped in lungs full of fresh air and coughed harshly for several minutes. Teresa appeared with drinking water and she and Andrew tried to get him inside.

Johnny was having none of it, pulling away from them both. He turned and watched as the hands doused the last of the flames.

Watching as the thick black smoke hung in the air, he felt he had failed. He hung his head and shook it sadly, then with a sigh, regained his composure.

"Frank, take some men and round those horses back up. Take them to the lower pasture for tonight. Walt, keep putting water on the barn. Soak it good and put a guard on all night in case it flares up." Turning to his cousin, Johnny fumed. "What kind if danged fool are you? Never mind, help with the barn," he spat and headed inside.

Teresa followed him after giving Andrew a sympathetic smile. "Why did you yell at him like that?"

Johnny stopped and faced her. "He had no right riskin his life like that."

"And you did?" she countered, hands on hips.

"It's my ranch, Teresa."

"Yes, and you are his family, Johnny. Which is more important?"

Johnny stared at her for a long moment. He bit back the sarcastic retort and relented. "Okay, you're right. I'm gonna change clothes and clean up. I'll talk to him." He headed to the kitchen and she shook her head at his hard-headedness.

******

Johnny returned to the barn after cleaning up. Finding Andrew, he inquired as to the progress.

"I think it's out. I doubt there will be any flare-ups," he replied flatly.

"Look, I'm sorry I yelled. I just didn't want you gettin hurt," Johnny mumbled contritely.

Andrew's expression turned thoughtful. "I heard you once say something to Scott that really struck me. You said "Lancer takes care of it's own." I didn't understand it at first, but now I do. You're my family, Johnny."

"You know something? I think you were wrong. I think this life is for you."

"Maybe so. I thought I'd give it a little more time. When we got home, it felt .... right ."

Johnny smiled. "Home. It's just about the best word there is."

"How do you think it started?" Andrew asked.

"This is how," Jelly announced. He walked out of the barn with a lantern. The glass had been smashed.

"Could have happened in the fire, Jelly," Johnny said.

"Could have been on purpose, too," the old man countered.

"Circle J?"

"That'd be my guess."

Johnny shook his head and sighed. "We don't have any proof, Jelly."

"Reckon the law'd need proof, but I don't!"

"It sure would be nice to know what Old Man Jackson's got against Murdoch," Johnny thought aloud.

"Don't reckon it'd matter to them devils he's got workin fer ' im . They'd be jest as happy if'n it was over somethin stupid!"

"What will you do, Johnny?" Andrew asked.

"Let Val know tomorrow. That's all we can do. But, I want two guards posted on the house and outbuildings until we find out what's goin on. Now, I'd like to find my horse."

"Best find Scott's, too. If ya don't, it'll be the devil ta pay ," Jelly called as he walked away.

*****

The next morning, Johnny surveyed the damage in the light of day. It wasn't as bad as he thought. Some structural damage but not enough to warrant razing the whole building. He figured they could get it repaired in about a week.

He and Andrew set off for Green River for lumber and supplies and to see Val Crawford.

"Are ya alright, Johnny?"

"I'm fine. Why?"

"Ya ate a lot of smoke last night," Andrew reminded him.

"I'm okay, cousin. Just coughed some last night." He pulled up in front of the lumber mill and handed his list to the owner. Then, he and Andrew set off to see Val.

Stepping into the sheriff's office, Johnny found the front room empty. "Val!"

"What?!"

Johnny chuckled at the grump. "I ain't here to socialize," he called out.

This got Val's attention and he appeared from the cell area, broom in hand. "What's the matter?"

"Barn caught fire last night," Johnny reported.

"Anybody hurt?"

"No."

Val stopped and turned to look at him. "Reckon Barranca's alright. Ya ain't cryin !"

This brought a chuckle from Andrew and a murderous look from Johnny.

"Well, so your barn burned down. Why is that my problem?"

"You're just full of good cheer today. It didn't burn down. Lot of damage but it can be fixed. Jelly thinks it was set by somebody."

"Who?"

"I don't have any proof, Val. Just heard that the Circle J bunch has been makin a lot of noise about me."

"Yeah, I heard that noise. You're right, Johnny. Don't prove anything. I'll ride out and take a look at the barn but I doubt there's much I can do."

"I figured but I reckoned you'd want to know about it. Now, think you could spare a cup of coffee or would it kill ya?" Johnny grinned.

Andrew and Johnny left the sheriff's office and headed back to the wagon. As they approached, they saw Pete and Steve hanging around the tailgate.

Johnny sighed softly and walked up to them.

" Ya buildin somethin , Lancer?" Pete asked.

"That's very good, Pete. Can you spell barn?"

Pete grinned snidely. "Sure can. F I R E."

"Something you want to tell me, Pete? Or do you really think you're being smart?" Johnny said coldly.

"Oh, I heard about your barn burnin down, is all. Lose many horses? I sure hope that pretty palomino didn't get barbequed," he grinned.

Before Pete knew what was happening, he was thrown against the side of the lumber mill's office. Johnny's face was an inch from his.

"Listen real close, scumbag. If you touch that horse or any other part of Lancer again, I'll come lookin for YOU. And I don't need any proof to back me up. So, if you think you're doing this for your boss, think again. Cause it'll be you they bury, not him." Johnny released him and took one step back. "That goes for the rest of your mob, too. You tell ' im all for me. Set one foot on Lancer land, you'll be facing Johnny Madrid's gun."

Pete swallowed hard but said nothing. Steve had backed away a good distance by now and Andrew gawked openly at his cousin. But Johnny wasn't quite through.

"Matter of fact, if any Circle J hand steps foot on Lancer land, I'm holding you personally responsible. Understand?" He clarified his point by pushing his finger into Pete's chest.

The man could not seem to find his voice and only stared at Johnny.

"I asked you a question!"

Pete nodded his head vigorously.

"Good, now get away from me!"

Both men took off, nearly running down the street. Johnny took a deep breath and blew it out. He placed both hands against the building and leaned forward as he found his composure.

When he finally turned around Andrew was still staring at him, slack-jawed. But Johnny didn't see him, he was looking behind him at Val.

Hands on hips, Johnny stood defiantly before his friend.

"Reckon that should do it," Val said. "You ready to head back?"

"I'm ready. You okay?" Johnny asked his cousin.

"What? Oh, yes. Yes, I'm fine," he stuttered and climbed on the wagon bench.

No more was said about the confrontation as the three men headed back to Lancer. Once there, Val went over the barn with a fine-toothed comb. He could find no evidence of arson, however. Still, he knew as well as Johnny what had happened.

"Well, couldn't find nothin but I don't reckon they'll be botherin ya again anyhow," Val reported, disgruntled.

"I won't bank on it," Johnny grumbled.

"What's it all about, Johnny?" Val asked.

"I don't know. But when Murdoch gets back, I intend to find out," he said angrily.

Val said no more and left them to their repairs.

********

Two quiet weeks passed. Johnny spent the time teaching Andrew to shoot and he was doing well.

When Murdoch and Scott got back the rancher noticed it immediately, though it didn't surprise Johnny. Before his feet were on solid ground, Murdoch asked.

"What happened to the barn?"

"Someone tried ta burn it to the ground is what happened!" Jelly huffed.

"Johnny?"

"Jelly said it, Murdoch," the young man shrugged.

"Who?"

" Them fools over ta the Circle J," Jelly supplied.

"Russ Jackson?"

"No, Murdoch. Jackson 's in Chicago with Tom. His hands took it on themselves. I gave ' em somethin to think about though."

Murdoch started to ask then thought better of it. "Was anyone hurt?"

"No, everyone's fine."

"Johnny? The horses?" Scott spoke for the first time.

"I got ' em all out except Peppermint, Boston ," Johnny said, the tinge of regret still there.

Relief mixed with sadness adorned Scott's handsome features. He smiled a little and patted his brother's shoulder.

"Shore he did. Purt near got hisself kilt doin it. If'n it weren't fer Andrew here," Jelly blabbed.

"Do you have to tell everything you know?" Johnny asked him in exasperation.

"Yes, he does. What happened, Jelly?" Murdoch insisted.

"Well, he just took off right inta that fire! Just had ta get them horses out. Andrew had ta go in after ' im ."

"And I'd do it again, so there's no point in arguin about it. Besides, I have something more important to talk to you about, Murdoch," Johnny retorted firmly.

*******

Johnny gave his father time to clean up and rest first. But he was waiting impatiently when Murdoch finally descended the stairs with Scott.

"I want to know what the problem between you and Russ Jackson is, Murdoch," Johnny started right in.

"Johnny, it was a long time ago."

"It doesn't matter when I have to shoot his son and his hands try to burn our barn down! Look, this is affecting the ranch now and Scott and I have a right to know why."

"He's right, Murdoch. This is getting very ugly," Scott agreed.

"Alright. Like I said, it was a long time ago. Russ has carried this grudge for ten years. He had another son, older than Tom. Jeff was independent. He didn't want to be treated like the boss' son, which was exactly what was happening. Russ made sure the hands treated him with kid gloves. Well, they had a huge argument over it one day and Jeff left the ranch. He came here and asked for a job."

Murdoch stopped as a look of grief washed over his face. "He explained what happened and why. I thought if he worked here, he could at least be close to his father. Maybe they could work things out. Two weeks after I hired him, there was a stampede. Jeff was trampled to death. Russ has never forgiven me for it."

There was a long silence after this, each man absorbing the story. Scott could see the man's grief overwhelming him but for ten years?

Johnny stood with his head bowed, a myriad of thoughts running through his mind. He no longer despised Russ Jackson. He felt sorry for the man in a way. Still, it was no excuse to be at war for ten years.

"Has he never talked to you about it, Uncle?"

"No, Andrew. The only thing he's ever said was that he'd get even with me. That was back when it happened. Since then, we've not spoken at all until the day he came here before the drive."

"You don't think...." Andrew trailed off, unwilling to give voice to the thought.

"Think what?" Johnny asked.

"That he would try to get even by killing you or Scott?"

"A son for a son," Scott mumbled.

"No, I don't believe Russ is the kind of man to do that. He hates me but he's not a murderer."

"What about his son?" Andrew asked.

Murdoch had no answer for that. Tom was young and reckless and he got in a lot of fights.

Johnny sighed heavily, bringing attention to himself . He smiled slightly. "This isn't getting us anywhere. There has to be something we can do about this, Murdoch. It can't go on."

"I don't know what, son. The man won't talk to me civilly."

"Maybe he'll talk to me," Scott said.

"Well, he hates my guts. It might be worth a try," Johnny agreed.

******

Scott spent a few days getting his thoughts together when they heard of the Jackson 's return to the valley. He felt he was ready to talk with Russ but at Johnny's insistence, it would be on neutral ground.

He sent a note to the Circle J and waited. It could very well be that Russ Jackson would ignore his request. That was not the case, however. The hand who delivered his note returned with the reply. Jackson would meet with Scott only at the designated spot. An area beside the road to Green River .

Scott informed his father and brother and set off at the designated time. Johnny was unsettled by Scott going alone but the older man insisted. So, when Scott left, Johnny waited fifteen minutes and followed. He knew the area and knew of a place he could stay hidden. Far enough away to be unobtrusive, yet close enough to watch his brother's back.

When Scott arrived, Jackson was already there. He took a quick look around and was satisfied the man was alone. He dismounted and ground-tied Remmie , then joined Jackson near the stream.

"Mr. Jackson," Scott nodded.

"What do you want?" was the terse reply.

Scott held himself in check and resigned himself to a tough road ahead. "How's Tom?"

"He'll be able to use his arm again," Jackson answered.

"That's good news."

"Is it?" the man snorted.

Scott sighed softly. "Mr. Jackson, I didn't ask you here to argue."

"Why did you ask me here?"

Scott paced a way a bit before turning to face the man again. "Murdoch told us why you hate him."

Jackson visibly tensed. "I suppose he blamed me."

"No, he didn't. He didn't blame anyone."

"Of course not! The great Murdoch Lancer can do no wrong!" Jackson spat.

Much to his surprise, Scott laughed at this statement.

"I'm sorry, sir, but that is ludicrous. My point is that I can't imagine losing a child but Murdoch knows exactly what it's like. He knows your pain. He was given a second chance that you will never have and he knows how lucky he is."

Jackson only glared at him.

"Are you willing to spend the rest of your life hating? More importantly, are you willing to let your son? Tom is heading down a painful road. The hatred he has inherited from you is going to get him killed. Especially if he insists on calling my brother out. Johnny won't back away again. Mr. Jackson, are you willing to lose your only remaining son?"  

"Tom adored Jeff. Followed him around like a pup. He remembers his brother. Tell me, Scott. Would you allow the man who killed your brother to live?"

"No, I would not. But, Murdoch didn't kill Jeff. He gave him a job in the hopes that it would keep him close by you. In the hope that the two of you could mend the rift between you. That chance was taken away from you by a horrible accident. But, Mr. Jackson, it was an accident. Murdoch didn't start that stampede. It's one of the hazards of ranching. You know that as well as anyone."

Johnny watched from his hiding place as Jackson, obviously angry, berated his brother. He held a tight check on himself and waited. He could see Scott keeping his cool and he smiled. It took a lot to get Scott riled. He also knew Scott's quiet determination could make the devil see the error of his ways. Johnny grinned again at this thought.

Jackson began to pace in front of Scott and the younger man gave him time to consider the words he'd said.

"I've hated him for so long," he finally spoke softly.

Scott took a big risk with his next statement. "So did I . But, that was before I knew him. Before I found out what kind of man he is. You knew Murdoch before this. Were you friends?"

Jackson studied Scott's face and nodded. "We were."

"Then you know him as a fair man. A man who would not deliberately do harm to another. Murdoch had no reason to see your son hurt, did he?"

"No, he didn't," Jackson admitted.

"Maybe it's time to let go of the pain, sir. Maybe it's time to try living again. Try being a father to the son you do have."

Jackson considered the words and thought back to the friendship he'd had with Murdoch so long ago. He was so tired of the hate, the pain. "Tom is so full of anger. I don't know if I can make that better for him."

Scott considered this. "Explain it to him. Tell him the truth, all of it. Tell him about how Jeff felt and the argument that led to him leaving. Tell him why Murdoch hired Jeff. Make him understand that his anger is ultimately only going to hurt him. Maybe even get him killed. Use his shoulder wound as an example. Explain to him how much worse it could have been. Then, tell him you can't lose another son."

His brow creased as he listened to Scott. He didn't speak for a long moment. "You're a pretty bright young fella," Jackson said and Scott could swear the man almost smiled.

"There is one more thing, Mr. Jackson."

"What's that?"

"Your ranch hands. We're almost positive they set the barn fire. You need to get them under control before there's a war," Scott said and this time, his voice was not kind but firm.

Jackson nodded. "I'll take care of that. I, uh, I'd like to talk to Murdoch. Do you think he would agree to see me?"

"I'm certain he would," Scott smiled.

"Once I talk to Tom, I'll drop by."

Scott extended a hand and Jackson accepted it.

*******

Scott watched as Jackson rode away. He stood still until the man was no longer in sight.

"You can come out now," he called.

Johnny shook his head and smiled as he climbed from behind the tree. "How'd you know?"

"I didn't for sure. It was an educated guess."

"Yeah, well, bein so educated, you could hardly miss, huh?" Johnny grinned. "Looks like you got through to him."

"I think so. He wants to talk with Murdoch after he talks to Tom."

"Think he'll get through to the kid?"

"I hope so, Johnny. If he doesn't, I hate to think what might happen," Scott said somberly.

"I ain't walkin away again, Scott," was his cold reply.

"That's exactly what I told Jackson ."

"Well, come on, brother. I'm sure Murdoch's waiting for a report," Johnny smiled and threw an arm around his brother.

*********

They returned to the ranch together and filled Murdoch in on the conversation. He was hopeful but reserved. It was Tom he worried about, he explained. He felt the boy was a loose cannon. Johnny could not have agreed more.

And so they went about the business of running a ranch. The Jacksons never far from their thoughts as they wondered how Tom would take his father's change in attitude.

They didn't have to wait long. Two days after Scott's talk with Russ Jackson, Tom rode up to the Lancer hacienda and dismounted. His right arm was still in a sling.

Johnny was walking out of the barn with Andrew when he saw the young man. He pulled up, his shoulders tensing for a fraction of a second. He relaxed immediately and sauntered over.

"Tom," he nodded.

"I wanna talk to you," he said through clenched teeth.

"Alright," Johnny replied and waited.

Tom glanced at Andrew. "Alone."

Johnny nodded at his cousin who hesitated until Johnny looked harder at him. Andrew sighed and walked inside, heading straight for his uncle.

"I'm listening."

Tom stared at him for a minute before speaking. "My old man seems ta think everything's alright with your old man now."

"Good."

"Good? Ain't nothing good about it!"

"Did your father tell you what happened with Jeff?" Johnny asked.

"He told me some cock and bull story."

"But you don't believe it."

"Sounds ta me like that brother of yours did some fancy talkin , is all."

Johnny nodded his head thoughtfully. "Don't think too much of your old man, do ya?"

Tom's face turned red with anger. "What's that mean?"

"Well, if you think Scott could talk him into believing a pack of lies, you must not give him much credit to think for himself," Johnny shrugged.

The logic of the statement gave Tom pause. He couldn't think of a quick comeback.

"Do you really think Murdoch hired your brother then caused a stampede to kill him? That doesn't make any sense, Tom. Your old man and mine were friends then. Why would Murdoch do that?"

"Maybe ..... maybe it was Jeff that Lancer had a grudge against," Tom tried.

Johnny smiled a little. "A grudge against an eighteen year old kid? Come on, even you can't believe that. Besides, why would he bother to hire Jeff if that was the case?"

Tom turned and paced back and forth a little.

"You know what I think? I think you been mad for so long, you don't know how to stop."

"You don't know nothin !" Tom spat.

"Yeah, I do. A lot more than you think. I know what it's like to live with hate all your life. I know it'll eat you alive if you let it. Either that, or get you killed. You have to let go of it, Tom. It's not an easy thing, but you have to. If you don't, it's all you'll ever know." Johnny spoke softly to the young man. He seemed to be listening.

Tom's shoulders sagged and he looked at Johnny with sad eyes. "How can I let go of it? If Murdoch Lancer ain't to blame, that means ..... my pa is."

"What if no one is to blame, Tom? What if it was just an accident? Stampedes ain't uncommon. It helps if you can point of finger. Be able to look at a person and say he did this. But sometimes, there is no one to blame. People make mistakes. Your father and brother didn't get along. I know about that, too. Tom, it's time to let it go. Time to live YOUR life."

Tom hung his head and closed his eyes. He felt so tired and his arm ached. He rubbed it absently. Looking back at Johnny, he saw him staring at the arm.

"Reckon I was pretty stupid to call you out then try and backshoot you."

"Yeah, that was pretty stupid," Johnny grinned.

"I'm sorry I called you names, too."

"Forget about it. All I want is for all this fighting to be over."

Tom sighed heavily. "I don't think it's gonna be that easy. I mean, Steve and Pete got a mean on for you, Johnny. They hate you."

A smile curved up his lips. "I can take care of myself, Tom. As long as the whole Circle J crew isn't itchin for a brawl, I think things will settle down."

"It's gonna be hard. I mean, I don't know what I'm supposed to do without someone to be mad at," Tom said. A small smile tugged at his lips.

Johnny laughed. "Want to come inside? Get a cool drink?"

Tom bit his lip. "Don't think I'm ready for that yet. Thanks, anyway. I .... I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about, Tom. It's over, right?"

"Yeah, it's over. Feels kinda good, ya know?"

"Yeah, I do know," Johnny smiled. He felt a weight come off his shoulders as he watched Tom Jackson ride away. Maybe now they could have a little peace and quiet.

 

 

Epilogue

Things settled down between the Lancers and Jacksons . Steve and Pete were fired and took off for parts unknown. Russ and Murdoch had some long talks and Tom even came along a couple of times. It wasn't instant friendship, but they were making progress. Small steps toward a lasting peace between them.

Teresa received regular letters from Ian. Occasionally, he would write to Johnny as well. He reported on school and the new friends he'd made. He talked about his studies and the city life he had grown quite fond of.

Then, a letter arrived that shocked the Lancer family to it's core. It wasn't from Ian but the president of the college. Ian had been out with friends one night when a gang of thugs assaulted them. The man reported that Ian fought bravely for his friends but that, in the end, the young man had been felled by a knife.

He had been taken to the hospital and all that could be done had been. But, unfortunately, he didn't survive.

Murdoch was stricken speechless by the news. He sat at his desk for hours. Paper and pen at hand as he thought of how to tell his brother that his son was dead. News he himself thought he may receive so many times over the years.

Always for Johnny and then Scott, when he was in the war. He thought about the last time he'd seen Ian as he and Scott left for home. The boy seemed happy, excited to begin this new journey in his life.

Johnny was devastated. He locked himself in his room for two days. He felt it was his fault for encouraging Ian. He should have left well enough alone. Should have sent the boy back home to his family. A family that would never see their son again.

Scott tried to reach his brother but Johnny wouldn't let him in. He focused his attention on Andrew in the meantime. The young man was grieving terribly. He had known Ian all his life. They were friends as well as cousins.

It was decided that Ian's body would be brought back to Lancer for burial. Murdoch made the arrangements in a daze. Later, he wouldn't even remember doing it.

Johnny came out of his room on the third day only to saddle Barranca and take off. He returned late in the night and headed to his room.

"Are you ready to talk to me?" Scott asked from the darkness.

" Nothin to say," Johnny whispered.

Scott lit a lamp but kept the light low. The sound of Johnny's voice told him his brother had been grieving.

"He wanted to go. He was happy. His letters were full of promise."

"Don't, Scott. I encouraged him. It was my idea for him to go there."

"Johnny, you said yourself it was his decision. Can you honestly tell me he would have gone if he hadn't wanted to?"

"He came here when he didn't want to because his old man made him."

"And he was quite adamant about staying in America , as well."

"He was just a kid, Scott," Johnny whispered in a trembling voice.

Scott walked over and wrapped an arm around Johnny's shoulders, pulling him in closer. "I know, brother. It's a waste. A senseless waste. But, Johnny, he was happy. Right up to that moment, he was happy. Can you say he was that happy in Scotland ? None of us knows how much time we have on this earth. It's a lesson for us all to live each day to the fullest and appreciate the people who mean the most to us."

Johnny turned into his brother's embrace. He laid his head on Scott's shoulder. "I'm so tired."

Scott eased him onto the bed and lifted his legs to the mattress. He removed Johnny's boots and covered him with a thick quilt. Sitting beside his brother, Scott smiled down at him. "Try to sleep some."

Ian was laid to rest on Lancer land. Murdoch wrote the letter that ripped out his heart. His only solace was Blane had Duncan and the rest of the family there to comfort he and Lorna.

As they stood beside the grave, Murdoch's hand slid onto Johnny's shoulder. It was the first time either had made contact with the other since receiving the news of Ian's death. Johnny was sure Murdoch blamed him as well.

But that hand gripped firmly to his son and Johnny felt the pain in his father. He slipped his arm around Murdoch's waist and together, they walked back to the surrey. Scott was standing on the opposite side of Murdoch and he fell into place as they all turned away. His arm went around Murdoch and grasped Johnny's arm as they walked.

Andrew sat in the surrey looking out over the land. Scott slid in beside him and squeezed his arm. He received a sad smile for his efforts.

Time passed and the routine of the ranch returned to normal. But every now and then, Johnny or Andrew, Scott or Murdoch, would take a little ride alone. Sometimes, together, and remember their fallen family member.

Johnny wrote a long letter to his Uncle Blane. In it, he described the wonderful young man he'd come to know. It gave great comfort to Blane to know his son had made such an impression. He received other letters as well. From Scott and Andrew. All extolling Ian's sweet nature. Even Teresa got up the courage to write and tell Blane of her friendship with his son.

They began to heal from this deep wound. But none of them would ever forget the bright young man who had graced their home for such a short time.

 

 

~end~
2004

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