Synopsis: An early Lancer short. Murdoch and Scott have a talk, and a decision is made.
Sliding his tongue around, he made sure all teeth were present, then spat out a glob of something bloody hidden behind a back molar.
He leaned forward, stilling when saddle leather creaked. It seemed so loud. Listening harder, other noises drifted in. The keen of a killdeer in motion, a cricket chirping nearby, the muffled mewls of a calf.
It was the blueness of the ridge that pulled him to the spot hidden away under the wide trunks of two poplars. The peace in this place crept into his brain, lapping against it. Scott let his eyelids shut and wondered why he waited until now to come see her.
An itch moved down between his shoulder blades and he stretched, pulling on ribs that twitched. Shifting, but not finding a comfortable seat, he gave it up and slipped from the saddle.
Broken up patches of yellow and violet flowers—that was all he saw for a while, then followed the line of them up to the stone. Chiseled in granite, the craftsman showed expertise.
Catherine M. Lancer, Beloved wife.
Beloved wife. Not mother, just…wife. No, that was petty. But it still stung.
The sound of horse hooves drew his eyes to the ridgeline. Stray cows were rounded up and penned off in the southern pasture. Murdoch would be riding by to check, as he always did on Thursday afternoons. Needing reports and figures—but mostly to check on him. How he was measuring up. Well, there’d be news today.
The cowboy he beat to the ground was well-liked among the men. But just another man who measured and found him lacking. No remorse for the punches—the man gave as well as he got—only for the feelings that drove them.
Toby plodded towards him. Murdoch slowed the horse to a crawl, then a full stop, angling off the saddle with care.
Scott turned back to the flowers. A sparse area near the border of the stone looked out of place with all the color on either side of it. There was a rustle of grass and Murdoch’s big boots slid in beside his own. A fleeting thought of galloping up the hill and over the ridge came to mind.
"Cipriano said you rode out after the fight.”
A dignified enough retreat, or so he thought at the time. “It was a good time to leave.”
“I bet. And I’m sure Jackson will thank you when he wakes up. Who started it?”
He managed a weak smile that filtered away quick enough. The cowboy swung at him for some unknown slight. Blood was let on both sides with the initial punches, but it was only the first one that really hurt, the rest were blurred and forgotten.
His anger got the best of him. No surprise there, it was coming on for weeks. Shades of Camp Meigs, where he ceased being Scott and learned to become Lieutenant Lancer. At least he had some sense of himself, a part of larger whole—what did he have here?
Murdoch stiffened and sighed over the silence. “You inherited my temper.”
“You’re not the first Lancer to get bloodied. Nor do I expect the last.”
No, not the first…images of Johnny tumbling towards the lake, then Teresa coming between them as if that slight girl could manage such a feat. Canting his head to the side, he eyed Murdoch, wondering when his father had first been bloodied.
“Jackson has a big fist. And from what I saw at camp, you have a big one of your own.”
The grin crept back to his lips.
His father’s tone changed, but his eyes remained on the stone. “You stayed away.”
“I thought it for the best.”
“Time to cool down.”
“Were you coming back?”
Pressed, he couldn’t give an answer.
Murdoch moved closer to the grave and flicked a few blades of grass from the top of the stone, letting his hand linger. “There wasn’t enough time to say goodbye. Not properly, anyway. Then your grandfather…”
Grandfather...older now, but already old for as long as Scott knew him. And Murdoch…. He pictured him as young—all black hair with a wily smile—and tried to pin that image together with the solemn-looking lady above the fireplace mantel in Boston.
“Did you love her?”
“God, yes.” The words hurried out of Murdoch’s mouth. He swung back to face Scott. “And I wanted you.”
The words threw him off-balance, almost missing what was said next.
“I brought her back as soon as I could. It was bad enough she died in Carterville, I wasn’t going to leave her there.”
Old hurts bubbled up. “Then why did you leave me in Boston?”
“It’s hard out here.” Murdoch fished into a pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. He gestured to Scott’s lip and thrust it into his palm. “It was even harder to stay and do what I thought was right.”
Scott stood waiting for his heartbeat to slow. It was a tangible thing, his anger, something held close and tight all these years. But here and now—in this peaceful place—the hard points of it started to dull.
“You’ve already proven yourself and, right or wrong, maybe that’s what I was counting on in the beginning. But not any more.”
Murdoch turned his head towards the carved stone to study her name. “Will you stay?”
Sparing a glance upwards, he found his father staring back at him.
“I’m asking, son.”
He blinked hard at the worry found in Murdoch’s voice. When did things change?
Scott closed his eyes and waited. Listening. Cattle lowed in the distance, but the calf must have found its mother, the bawling had stopped.
The whole of him shifted and settled. He looked up and his head slid into a nod.
Sequel: Letting It Stand: Johnny’s turn at making decisions.