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Finally Home by Linda L.

Rated: PG
Feedback: welcomed
Disclaimer: The characters except Matt are not mine, the story is.
Thanks to my beta-Janet


Chapter 1

The sun was beating down on Johnny’s back; his shirt clung tightly to his well muscular body. His black wavy hair was dripping droplets of sweat into his face. He wiped the back of his hand across his already grimy face

Matt should of been back over an hour ago with Jelly being gone to his sister’s for a month, Matt was doing some of the running and bring the supplies that Jelly usual did.

Matt stood outside the general store talking to Trent and Peter Yalon not even paying attention to the time. “Matt come on this is going to be a great party, Steve is bringing beer and the Johnson sisters will be there”

“Trent my father is not going to let me go to a party without any adults,” Matt answered as he checked and pulled the rope tighter that held the supplies down.

“Don’t tell him, you think we’re telling our parents?!”

“Oh so I’m just supposed to get dressed, walk out, and not say say a word Even if I got by Murdoch there are two more problems named Scott and Johnny. And just what do you think Murdoch is going to say, or worse yet do, after that other fiasco?”

“Oh yeah I forgot about that I guess they would for sure ask questions – probably say no also.” Trent said while scratching the side of his face.

“Ya think they would? I know they would! Murdoch was so outraged that night when Val brought me home, I thought he was turning into a lizard he changed colors so many times! And we won’t even talk about Johnny or Scott’s reaction about being woke up at two in the morning with Val pounding on the door!”

“Damn-speaking of Johnny I was supposed to meet him over an hour ago with this fencing he’ll have my hide. I gotta, go talk to ya later!” With that being said Matt jumped into the buckboard and took off.

Johnny leaned against the last fence post he had just put in “Well Matt I sure hope ya get here soon. Murdoch and Scott said they were stopping by after they got done at the Yalon’s and I don’t have any idea where you’re at.

Matt came flying up in the buckboard about twenty minutes later. “Johnny I’m sorry I was talking to the Yalon brothers and lost all track of time!” he said as was unloading fence posts.

“Matt will ya please slow down I’m not going to start yelling at ya,” Johnny laughed as he tried to help unload the fence post.

“What did the Yalons have to say?”

“Not much. They invited me to a party but I said no”. Matt answered as he threw a fence post off the wagon barely missing Johnny’s foot.

“Do ya wanna go? And watch what your doing! ” Johnny yelled as he jumped out of the way.

“Sorry but I know Murdoch will say no,” Matt said as jumped off the wagon and picked up a fence post and proceeded to put it in the hole Johnny had dug earlier.

“Why’s that?” Johnny asked as he picked up the hammer to pound the fence post in.

“Because there won’t be no adults there and Steve is bringing beer. Do you still remember Murdoch’s reaction when Val brought me home after me and the Yalon brothers got caught sneaking in to the saloon?”

“My ears are still ringing from all his bellowing, not only that the blisters on my hands are just know healing up from raking out barns, hoeing and pulling weeds and about a dozen other nasty dirty chores I can think of.”

“I can just imagine what he would say or do about it if I got caught this time. I don’t know about you or Scott but he can scare me out of my wits by just glaring at me not alone yelling.” Matt said shaking his head as he dropped the last fence post off the wagon.

“Ya he can to do the same to me, can’t speak for Scott though,” Johnny laughed as he wrapped the barbed wire around the fence post. 

Johnny and Matt worked quickly together, so when Murdoch and Scott showed up about an hour and half later they were setting the last fence post. 

“Boys it looks good. I have something we need to talk about, so lets go down by the creek where it’s cooler.” Murdoch asked starting toward the creek with his canteen.

When they arrived at the creek it was almost over its banks, due to some heavy rainfall in the mountains.

Matt immediately shed his shirt, shoes and socks and rolled his pants legs up and started toward the creek.

“Hold on brother  wait on Johnny and me.” Scott said smiling. Matt turned around to look at Scott and before he even realized what was happing Scott had grabbed his arms and Johnny his legs!

“Boys” was all Murdoch got out before Matt went flying into the creek.

As Matt hit the water on his back, he felt like he was standing in the icehouse naked the water was that cold!

“Brrrrrr, brrrrrrr” was all he could say as he came up out of the water to see his older brothers standing in water that was about waist deep. “Oh you two are going to be sorry,” Matt laughed as his moved toward Johnny and Scott

“Oh were going to be sorry,” Scott laughed as he tried to move away from Matt.

“Yeah you two are going be sorry, as Matt advanced on Scott he didn’t realize Johnny was coming up behind him! All of sudden Johnny arms went around Matt’s arms, Matt, without even thinking leaned forward, and Johnny went crashing over Matt’s head right into Scott knocking them both under water.

Meanwhile Murdoch was sitting on the bank laughing till his face was red and it was hard to catch his breath!

As Johnny and Scott came back up they untangled themselves and looked at Matt with disbelief.

“What’d ya do that for?” Johnny spurted, flinging water out his hair.

Matt just smiled and asked, “What’s wrong big brother did your little brother surprise ya?”

“Sorta,” Johnny laughed.

Right about then Scott noticed Murdoch still shaking with laughter, he made his way over to Matt and Johnny and with a nod of his head to Murdoch he got his brothers’ attention. 

The brothers slowly advanced on Murdoch try not to draw his attention. Before he realized what was happening three very wet and smiling sons were standing before him.

“Murdoch do you realize your the only one not wet?” Johnny grinned.

“Boys I’m giving you fair warning don’t start something you can’t finish,” Murdoch laughed as he struggled to get up.

“Did ya hear that Scott, Matt? Our Old Man here giving us fair warning not to start something we can’t finish.” Johnny laughed

“Well brother I for one never start something I can’t finish –sooner or later,” Scott’s laughter joining Johnny as they circled Murdoch.

Murdoch moved out into the water slowly knowing most likely that he was going to be dunked if his three sons had their way! As his three sons circled him grinning, Murdoch couldn’t help but thinking what life could have been like if he had raised his sons. 

All of a sudden Murdoch felt his feet going out from under him, what he hadn’t realized is that why he had let his mind wonder Matt had sneaked up behind him. Murdoch’s arms flew up in the air as he tried to balance himself to avoid the impossible. As he started back up he saw three sets of legs, remembering the fun he and his own brother’s had while growing up in Scotland he grabbed two legs and up out of the water he came.

Scott could feel himself going over backwards again and much to his surprise Matt was falling also. As Murdoch stood up in the water, Johnny suddenly realized why Scott and Matt were falling, he turned to run back to shore when his own legs got tangled in Scott’s as Scott fell backwards Johnny went forward.

Murdoch stood laughing at the surprised looks on his three boys’ faces.

Everyone had been having so much fun that no one noticed a wagon pulling up. “Excuse me I’m looking for Murdoch Lancer’s ranch I was told it was out this way.”

 Murdoch sloshed out of the creek with water still dripping off him made his way to the wagon and stuck out his hand “I’m Murdoch Lancer these three gentlemen are my sons, Scott, Johnny and Matt, how may I help you?”

“Yes sir you can my name is James Kincade and I just bought the-“

Before he could finish Matt who just managed to join his family yelled, “Mr. Kincade how are you? And where is Tim”? Before anyone could respond a boy about Matt’s age with rusty colored hair jumped off the wagon. “Matt is that really you?

Before any one could get another word out Matt and Tim had greeted each other with a slap on the back. In the middle of all this confusion a girl who appeared to be about a year or two younger jumped out of the wagon and hugged Matt and kissed him on the cheek.

Johnny looked over at Scott and grinned. Matt, looking totally embarrassed and quite red, grinned sheepishly.

“Susan what did you that for, you embarrassed Matt” Tim said with a look of disgust on his face.

“Ah Tim it’s all right she’s just happy to see me also,” Matt spoke with a little more composure.

“Ahem, ahem. Matt now that you have been greeted, would mind introducing us to your friends.” Murdoch asked with a smile.

“I’m sorry Murdoch you have already met Mr. Kincade. This is his son Tim and daughter Susan. The lady still setting on the wagon seat is Mrs. Kincade. They live on the ranch next to Mr. Sanders”.

Mrs. Kincade who was helped down from the wagon greeted Matt with a hug and kiss also.

“No, Matt I sold the ranch, after what happened to the Sanders, I decided my family was more important than any piece of property. Besides I got a more for it than it was worth.

I decided to start over. When I heard of the Michaels place being up for sale I took the opportunity and bought it. I had no idea I would find you here though, what have you been doing the last year and a half?” Mr. Kincade asked while wiping the sweat of his face.

Matt stood looking at James Kincade like he had lost his mind! “You mean you caved into the railroad also, I don’t believe it,” Matt replied angrily as he turned away from a man he at one time held in high regard. 

“Matt my pa did what he thought was right you can’t fault a man for that,” Tim said as he held back his angry toward Matt

Oh I can’t? Mr. Sanders died for what he believed in,” Matt replied hotly. “Your pa’s a coward in my eyes,” Matt spat as he turned to walked back to the buckboard. Before any one could move or respond Tim had grabbed Matt’s arm and swung him around and decked him. Matt came back up swinging by then Murdoch and James Kincade had recovered each grabbing their own sons

“Matt knock it off what’s wrong with you,” Murdoch bellowed as he wrapped his massive arms around Matt.

“Mr.Sanders died for what he believed in,” Matt retorted as he wiped the blood from his mouth and struggled to get free from his father

“Well my father did what he thought was right also, what good would it have done him to have the ranch if he was dead,” Tim spat back as he struggled to get free from his father also.

“Tim, Matt stop this nonsense now before I forget how old you both are and take a strap to ya and don’t think for one minute I won’t do it,” Mr. Kincade yelled.

Both boys ceased there struggling immediately and stood glaring at each other, knowing very well that James Kincade met what he said.

“Matt,” Murdoch spoke with a voice so frigid you could feel the chill in the air. “You get on that buckboard now and head home.When you get their finish your chores then go to your room and stay there till I get home!”

“Mr. Kincade” Murdoch started to say.

“It’s Jim please,” Mr. Kincade interrupted.

“Ok and its Murdoch. I have no idea what’s gotten into Matt but I fully intend to find out when I get home,” Murdoch answered.

“Murdoch I understand where Matt’s coming from he loved the Sanders and when they were killed part of him died that day. Matt doesn’t know it but Pete was giving it some serious thought about selling his ranch, he had the boys to think about and they were more important to him than that ranch. Please don’t be too hard on him,” Jim asked.

“Jim, I appreciate your concern, but Matt is only seventeen. I have told him before I will not tolerate disrespect toward an adult, and I guarantee by the time I’m done he will remember next time,” Murdoch fumed.

Johnny and Scott turned and watched as Matt walked over to the buckboard and started to get in, when suddenly he turned and walked back over to Jim Kincade and Tim.

” Mr. Kincade I’m sorry,” Matt started to say when he felt Murdoch’s hand on his arm.

“Matthew I thought I made myself clear on what your to do,” Murdoch spoke with a chilled tone.

“I owe Mr. Kincade and Tim an apology I spoke out of turn,” Matt spoke while scuffing his boot in the dirt.

“Very well, apologize, but don’t think I’m through discussing this, you also owe Mrs. Kincade and Susan an apology young man.” Murdoch spoke sternly with his arms crossed.

“Yes sir,” Matt spoke softly.

“I’m really sorry Mr. and Mrs. Kincade, Tim and Susan even now that I live with my father and brothers, I will never forget what happened to the Sanders. They chose me over all those other kids at that orphanage- they didn’t have too but they did. And for that I will always be grateful. The night they died part of me died also as you said sir,” Matt said turning to Jim Kincade. “I don’t know why I reacted the way I did? Maybe it has something to do with the railroad winning again. Will you please forgive me and except my apologies?”

“Matt darling there is nothing to forgive, you’re a child still in many ways.” Mrs. Kincade spoke as she hugged Matt to her chest.

“Matt forget it we had are disagreements before.  I’m just tired of people talking bad about my father.” Tim added as he stuck out his hand for Matt to shake.

“Me too Matt, will you come over for supper soon?” Susan asked hopefully.

“I think that’s going to be up to Matt’s father just how soon he gets to come over.” Jim Kincade replied before Matt had a chance to say any thing.

Matt turned and looked at his father hoping to see some of his anger dismissed. He was disappointed to still see the anger there hidden from the Kincades maybe, but not from his sons who knew only to well the explosion that would be coming when they arrived home. “Matt will not be going any place for a while Susan, but when I allow him to I’m sure he will gladly take you up on your offer for dinner.” Murdoch said with small smile on his face. “Matt I believe you were told to head home I hope you won’t make me repeat myself.” Murdoch spoke firmly.

“No sir you don’t have to repeat yourself I’m going straight home doing my chores then going to my room and wait for you,” Matt said sadly as he walked over to the buckboard.

“Matt wait for me.” Johnny hollered as he threw the shovels in the back of the buckboard.

Johnny and Matt rode in silence for a while neither knowing what to say. Finally Matt spoke “Murdoch is going kill me over this mess.”

“Hey Murdoch’s bark is worse than his bite, usually.” Johnny said trying to reinsure Matt.

“It’s that usually that worries me,” Matt replied with a smile. “Johnny I know you were only a little over two when our Mother left Murdoch. Do you have any memories of Lancer at all?”

“No, Matt I don’t, sure wish I did though.” Johnny answered wistfully. The two brothers rode on in silence for a while longer not saying anything.

Matt was thinking about what Murdoch was going to say when he arrived home, so he didn’t see the flash off to his right. Next thing he knew Johnny had shoved him out of the wagon and they were both lying on the ground while the buckboard and horses headed off toward home.

“Johnny what the devil is your problem trying to kill us both?” Matt asked furiously.

“Keep your head down and get behind those rocks,” Johnny answered as he pushed Matt ahead of him.

Chapter 2

Just then Matt heard a rifle shot and felt a burning sensation in his leg, he looked down to see blood soaking his pants leg. “Johnny I’ve been shot,” he yelled as his leg gave out from under him.

“I got ya, hang on little brother,” Johnny answered as he wrapped his arm around Matt’s waist and pulled him behind the rocks.

Suddenly they heard a shout “I just want that boy, you leave him and ride away mister.” 

“Go to hell, I’m not leaving my brother! What do you want with him anyway?” Johnny shouted back.

“What ya mean your brother, Matt ain’t got family – he’s just an half-breed that Sanders felt sorry for.” The voice shouted back.

“Matt I want ya to lie still. I think there is only one of them, I’m going to try to sneak up from behind. I know you’re a good shot with a rifle how are ya with a pistol?” Johnny asked as he removed his pistol and handed it too Matt.

“I’m fair with one” Matt answered as he kept pressure on his leg

“Hey you down there are you leaving cause if you ain’t I’ll kill you too!” the voice from the rocks shouted.

“Matt do you recognize that voice?” Johnny asked as he tied his bandana around Matt’s leg.

“Ya I think- I do it’s Sheriff Bart.” Matt hissed as a tried to move his leg.

“Sheriff Bart who’s he, and what does he want with you?” Johnny asked while he tried to scan the area to find away up to the rocks.

“He’s Scanlen partner, remember I told ya how they disappeared together. I bet he killed Scanlen and now he wants me dead also.” Matt answered as he picked up Johnny’s pistol.

“Hey Sheriff ya never answered my question what ya want with my little brother? And next time ya kill someone like Scanlen bury him don’t leave your mess for someone else to clean up,” Johnny shouted as he moved behind Matt to get a better look at the cloud of dust moving up the road toward them.

“Scanlen was a loser, first sign of trouble he turned tail and ran, can’t leave no loose ends. That’s why Matt’s going die.” 

“Nah my little brother ain’t dying today sheriff you might but not him!” Johnny angrily responded.

Johnny could see the wagon clearly now, he knew it had to be the Kincades and Murdoch and Scott were with them. Sheriff Bart had seen the wagon also, he then made a fatal mistake he stood up for a better look. Johnny seeing his chance jumped up aimed and fired. The sheriff felt the bullet enter his chest as he tumbled forward he mumbled,

“Nobody ever said Johnny Madrid had a brother.”

Murdoch and Scott, hearing the rifle shot, took off toward the sound. Jim Kincade told his family to stay put and he jumped on the horse tied to the back of his wagon and followed Murdoch and Scott. Johnny seeing his father and brother coming stood up and waved his rifle so they would see him. Murdoch reached Matt and Johnny first.

As Murdoch dismounted Johnny shouted, “Murdoch, Matt’s been shot, it’s not bad.  I think his leg might be broken though. Scott, there’s a sheriff up in those rocks, I shot him don’t know if he’s dead or not.”

“I’ll go check it out and bring him back.” Scott shouted over his shoulder as he road off.

When Scott reached the rocks he pulled his pistol and proceeded with caution. He hadn’t moved very far into the rocks when he saw Bart, He was propped up against some rocks holding a blood drenched bandana against his chest. “Don’t shoot mister, all this was Scanlen’s idea. I wanted no part of it, “til he said there was gold in those hills,” Bart spoke through clenched teeth.

“I’m not going to shoot you, I want you alive. My brothers are down below us and you’re going to explain to Matt what you’re talking about,” Scott answered as he moved toward Bart and helped him up.

Jim Kincade had brought his wagon up and they where getting ready to lift Matt into it. When Scott hollered “Murdoch, Mr. Kincade, I need some help here,” as Bart was getting weaker and Scott didn’t know how much longer Bart could hang on.

Murdoch and Jim finished putting Matt in the wagon with Johnny who had bruised his left shoulder and arm badly from the fall off the wagon.

As Murdoch and Jim helped Scott with Bart to the wagon they both could see he wasn’t going live much longer. They laid Bart across the back of the wagon and propped his head up so he could breathe better.

“Matt,” Bart began, “the railroad only wanted a small section of Sanders’ property not the whole thing. Scanlen found gold up in the hills and decide he wanted it and when Sanders wouldn’t sell he killed him and Bob. He didn’t know you had been hurt and were at home, you where supposed to have been in the buckboard also that night. Damn you kid! You never could listen and do things right!” Bart spoke with his breathing becoming irregular.

“You where supposed to uphold the law, you stood by and let Scanlen beat me half to death for not telling where that will was, you’re- a poor excuse for a human being!” Matt spat.

“I wish I could say sorry boy as far as I’m concerned you’re nothing but a filthy half breed!” With that being said Bart’s eyes rolled back in his head and he died.

The silence was deafening as no one really knew what to say. Finally Matt spoke “When is the hate and prejudice going to stop? I thought we just fought a war so all men could be free and equal. Will people ever realize that the color of your skin has nothing to do with what type of person you are?” Matt spoke sadly.

“Matt wish that I had an answer for your question all we can hope for is that every generation grows more tolerant. I can assure you and Johnny that your mother’s skin color was never a issue for me.” Murdoch answered as he looked into the sad eyes of his two youngest sons.

“Murdoch I’m going to get Sam, do you think that you and Mr. Kincade can get Matt and Johnny home? Why I’m in town I’ll stop and see Val, tell him what happened and turn Bart’s body over to him. If he has any questions I’m sure he’ll ride out and talk to Johnny and Matt,” Scott said as he mounted to ride off.

“Yes Scott I’m sure we can manage between the two of us as long as it’s ok with Jim?” Murdoch replied as he turned to Scott first then Jim.

“It’s fine with me Murdoch, I’ll drive or wagon on to your ranch.” Jim answered as he turned to climb on the wagon.

“Jim your ranch is another good ten miles from our place, why don’t you and your family spend the night with us and get a fresh start in the morning?” Murdoch asked he put the blankets that Mrs. Kincade handed him over Matt and around Johnny.

“Thanks Murdoch after all that happened today, my family and I accept your kind offer.” Jim replied as he finished climbing into his wagon and turned to look at Matt and Johnny. “Boys you need to be proud of your heritage, and Matt as for what Bart said- that man was a loser. This world is full of people like him. I’m proud to call you a friend and you’re welcome, along with your family, anytime to my home.” Jim said with smile.

“Hey does that mean I can marry your daughter?” Matt asked smiling back.

“Sure Matt how about in ten years?’ Jim answered back while trying not to laugh at the shocked look on Murdochs face.

Johnny and Tim started to laugh uncontrollably as they saw the shocked look Murdoch had on his face. “Matt”, Johnny finally managed to get out while laughing, “you’re going to have our Old Man pulling his hair out if you keep this up.”

“Excuse me don’t I have a say in this?” Susan asked while pretending to be angry.

“No you don’t. This is going to be one of those arranged marriages,” Tim said laughing as he moved out of his sister’s reach.

The ride to the ranch seem to take forever and the wagon seemed to find every hole and bump in the road. Murdoch had tied his horse behind the Kincade’s wagon and was sitting in back with Matt and Johnny.

“Murdoch I had no idea that Scanlen was behind the Sanders’ murder. What’s going to happen now? With gold being found will that change things?” Matt asked through clenched teeth as the wagon hit another hole.

“Matt don’t worry about that now ok. I’ll contact Jarred and will go from there.” Murdoch answered as he wiped sweat from Matts brow.

As soon as they reached the ranch Jim and Murdoch carried Matt upstairs and laid him on his bed Johnny followed behind them and seated himself in the chair by Matt’s bed. Jim went back downstairs to help Tim with their horses and wagon. Mrs. Kincade and Susan were helping Maria get hot water and towels together for Sam when he got there. Johnny suddenly laughed and shook his head. 

“Matt remember last time we sat like this?  You were at the Barkleys’ all banged up.”

“Ya I remember and I also remember something else.” Matt answered back trying to smile.

“What’s that son?” Murdoch asked as he walked over to open the door for Mrs. Kincade and Maria.

“I was laid up in that bed forever and I hated it!”

Murdoch laughed and replied, “Son every time you, or one of your brothers get hurt and has to stay in bed for any length of time, everyone in this house hates it, last time Johnny was hurt the dog even hid.”

“Murdoch please don’t make me laugh like this” Matt snickered as he pictured the dog running and hiding.

Before Murdoch or Johnny could respond there was a knock on the door, Scott and Sam entered the room. Sam just shook his head as he looked at Johnny and Matt.

“Murdoch I’m giving up my pratice in town and moving out here between you and your sons you’ll keep my pratice going.”

“Well young man it looks like you’re going be laid up awhile,” Sam said as he examined Matt’s leg.

“Sam is it broken? I can’t stand to put any weight on it.” Matt asked as Sam was examining the bullet wound.

“No Matt it’s not broken but the bullet is still imbedded in your leg and I have to get it out.

“Murdoch will please get me the….”

“NO!  You’re not putting me to sleep to get that bullet out! Pa please don’t let him do it that way!” Matt yelled as he struggled to get away from Johnny and Scott as they held him down.

Chapter 3

Murdoch, startled by Matt’s outburst, quickly moved back over to bed.

“Scott, Johnny let him go. Matt it’s the best way to get that bullet out. I promise son, that I won’t leave you, and I’ll be here when you wake up.”

“NO! It’s not all right, I want to be awake. Sometimes people don’t wake up after being put to sleep! Pa I’m begging you please don’t do this.”

Murdoch was amazed at the amount of fear on Matt’s face. He had seen Matt upset before, but never afraid, not even when he was chewing him out.

“Sam how deep is that bullet, can you get it fairly easy and quick?” Murdoch asked still trying to keep Matt calm.

“Murdoch the bullet is right under the skin. There will be no problem extracting it but it’s going to be painful and it still will have be cleaned, stitched up and then wrapped. Matt, are sure this is how you want this done?” Sam asked while he continued to lay his instruments out.

“Yes that’s how I want it done give me laudanum. Just don’t put me asleep.” Matt begged.

“Murdoch it’s your call he’s your son.”

“Sam go ahead give him the laudanum. While it’s taking effect will you please look at Johnny’s left shoulder and arm. It’s pretty bruised up after fall off the wagon.”

“Murdoch I’m fine it’s just a little sore take care of Matt.” Johnny protested as Sam started looking at his shoulder and arm.

“Murdoch I have to agree with Johnny on this one. His arm or shoulder isn’t broken it’ll be sore for a few days so no heavy lifting or bronco busting. Ok? Johnny you understand what I’m telling you?” Sam said as looked at Johnny sternly.

“Yes, sir, I understand no heavy lifting or bronco busting.” Johnny replied as he twisted the button on his pant leg.

“You better follow Sam’s orders young man or you’ll be answering to me. I have had more disrespect and disobedience today than I ever want to see again!” Murdoch told Johnny firmly.

Before Johnny could even reply Scott spoke up. “Sam, Matt has fallen asleep. Don’t you think the bullet should be removed now?”

“Yes let’s get it removed while he’s still sleeping. Murdoch you and Scott may have to hold him if he wakes up.” Sam spoke as he picked up his scalpel.

Sam was able to remove the bullet from Matt’s leg with out too much problem. He told Murdoch that Matt needed to stay off his leg for least a week to allow time for the wound to heal.

Matt could hear people talking as he struggled to wake up it sounded like he was in a tunnel and everyone was calling to him. Finally his eyes opened to the concerned looks on his father and brothers’ faces.

“Hello sleeply head about time you woke up.” Johnny said smiling at the dazed look on Matt’s face.

“How long have I been asleep?” Matt asked while rubbing his eyes.

“Oh I would guess about four hours. How’s your leg feeling son?” Murdoch asked while he felt Matt’s forehead.

“It feels like I’ve been shot.” Matt replied with a smile.

“Murdoch” Matt said with a gulp ” Are you still mad at me?”

Murdoch stood watching Matt with a look of disbelief. ” Matt I don’t think you’re up to a discussion about your ehavior today but believe me you have not heard the end of it What I really would like to know son is why you are so frightened about being put to sleep?”

Matt looked down at the blanket that was covering him and started to pick at a piece of lint. Slowly he raised his eyes up to look at his family. The sorrow in his eyes was almost unbearable. When he finally found his voice the story he told would haunt his family for days to come.

“When I was about seven there was a little girl at the orphanage. Her name was Ruth she had big green eyes and blonde hair. Ruth was always laughing and she tried to see the good in everybody. One day she got real sick and needed a operation. The doctor who operated on her gave her to much chloroform and it killed her. She never woke up and from that day on I vowed nobody would ever give me chloroform. “

No one said anything for a few seconds then finally Scott spoke. “Matt I seen this happen during the war. Sometimes I think it was almost more humane than letting someone suffer.”

Scott we’re not talking about a soldier who was probably going die anyway Ruth was a little girl who never hurt anyone, she didn’t deserve to die that way! Matt spat while glaring at Scott.

“Matt, Scotts not saying it’s right. Sometimes things happen. I will fight every inch of the way to advoid laudanum and you took it like it was nothing. Scott hates morphine. There is no right or wrong in this. Everybody has something that they don’t like about medicine. All Murdoch wanted to know was why- not start a fight.” Johnny spoke as he looked at both of his hard headed brothers.

“Matt I’m sorry that was a poor example.” Scott spoke as stuck his hand out to Matt. “Me too Scott. If I don’t start thinking before I speak I’m going to have more trouble than I can handle.” Matt said smiling as he took Scotts hand.

“What time is it? My stomach is yelling for food. I havn’t eaten since noon and that was just a sandwich,” Matt complained as tried to sit up more in bed.

“I’ll go see if Maria has any of that soup she made for supper.” Scott said with a grin as he started to walk out the door.

“Is that soup all I get? How about a steak and some potatoes with gravy? And see if you can find some pie or cake or even cookies will do.” Matt asked while trying to look pitiful..

“Soup, Scott that’s what Sam said he could have and nothing else.” Murdoch spoke firmly trying not to smile at downcast look on Matts face.

“You heard him Matt. He calls the tune.” Scott laughed and winked at Matt.

“Matt, the Kincades are downstairs waiting to see how you are feeling. I’m going down to let them know that your awake and hungry. Do you feel like saying goodnight?”

“Yes sir I do if that’s all right with you? After I eat and tell them goodnight I want to talk Murdoch. Please.”

“Ok I’m going down stairs now I’ll send your tray up with Tim and Susan. and don’t be horsing around either. Do I make myself clear young man?”

“Yes sir.” Matt replied with a slight grin.

Tim and Susan brought Matt’s supper up to him after Scott talked to Maria and got his soup. They even managed to sneak some chocolate chip cookies to him.

Tim, Susan and Matt laughed and remisced about the fun they all had growing up. They didn’t even realize how late it was until Murdoch knocked on the door to inform them it was almost 10 pm and there was a lot of work the next day. Goodnights were said and Murdoch showed them to their rooms.

Matt was laying in his bed waiting for Murdoch to return, he knew this conversation wans’t going to be easy but it had to be said.

Murdoch knocked on Matt’s door and entered his room.

“Matt what do you want to talk about?”

“Murdoch I really acted stupid today with the Kincades and I don’t want this hanging over my head. What are you going to do about it? If you were Mr. Sanders I would know for a fact what was going to happen when I got back up and around.” Matt said while he twisted his blanket between his hands and stared at Murdoch sadly.

“Matt what would Mr. Sanders have done?” Murdoch asked while he walked over to the chair beside Matts bed and set down and crossed his arms looking stern the whole time.

“He would of waited till my leg was healed, Then me , him and his belt would have had a discussion I wouldn’t forgotten. anytime soon.” Matt spoke why trying to read Murdoch’s reaction to this statement.

Murdoch sat staring at Matt keeping his face void of expressions until finally he spoke and Matt felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“Matt I agree with Mr. Sanders way of handling disrespect.” Murdoch waited to continue his lecture as he watched a look of disbelief cross Matt’s face. “Under normal circumstances I would probably do that and you wouldn’t forget anytime soon! But this is not normal circumstances so you won’t be experiencing a discussion with my belt.”

Murdoch had to try hard to avoid smiling at the look of relief on Matt’s face. “Rest assured, young man your, disrespect will not go unpunished. Starting the first day Sam releases you from his care, you’ll be restricted to the ranch for one week with no friends over. If I find out you broke this restriction Mr. Sanders reaction will seem mild compared to mine! Do I make myself clear? You show me that I can treat you like a young adult and I will Start acting like you’re about ten and that’s how you’ll be punished. Understand?”

“Yes sir I understand but-.”

” But what Matt? I think I’m being very fair with you. If I had raised you boys things would have been different.”

“Yes sir I know things would of have been different. But what I’m trying to say is Sam told me I have to stay in this bed for a week and it’ll be another week or two before I’m even allowed to think about getting on a horse Murdoch all together that’s going to add up to almost a month’s restriction.” Matt said with a pleading voice.

“Exactly would you rather go with the other discussion?” Murdoch asked while watching Matts expression change to disbelief again.

“No sir I’ll stick with the month, least I’ll be able to sit.” Matt replied with a small grin.

“Good we got that settled. Now young man you need to get some sleep understand?” Murdoch said as he started to turn down the lamp.

. “Murdoch.”

“Yes Matt what now ?” Murdoch asked as he started out the door.

“Thanks for caring and being here even when I’m in trouble.” Matt added smiling.

“You’re welcome son. Now go to sleep before I forget about our agreement about treating you like a young adult.” Murdoch spoke with a menacing tone in his voice as he turned and looked at Matt.

“Yes sir Matt laughed as he quickly pulled his quilt over his head.

Murdoch was still chuckling to himself as he walked downstairs to find Johnny and Scott playing chess. He stood in the door way and watched his two oldest and listened to there teasing back and forth. He bowed his head and thanked God silently for bringing his family together again and keeping them safe.

Chapter 4

The next morning the ranch was alive and bustling with activity, Tim and Susan spent about an hour talking with Matt before they were called away to help their parents finish hitch up their team and put the pies and fried chicken that Maria insisted they take in the back of the wagon.

Matt did have time to tell them about him being restricted for the next month. Tim told Matt his father had told him they same thing after he had left Matt’s room last night. Both boys had agreed the punishment was fair even if they didn’t like it

Susan, teasing, had told them she remembered a few times when they were younger she was sure restriction would have been more welcome than the tanning they had gotten. That had brought laughter that could be heard down the hall as Johnny came to tell them their parents needed their help.

As Johnny turned to walk back out the door Matt called him back in. “Johnny wait a minute please.”

“What do you want or need Matt? The Kincades are getting ready to leave and I promised Murdoch we would go over the ledger. He has questions about a mistake he found.”

“Do you know what Murdoch wanted to talk to us about yesterday? He never did get around to telling us.”

Johnny cocked eyebrow and then scratched his forward before he replied to Matt. “Ya know you’re right he never did tell us did he? I’ll ask when the Kincades leave and that reminds me of something else – what did ya do with the mail you picked up yesterday?”

“Uh- I left it on the floor of the buckboard so I’m guessing it’s still there- I hope. You let me out of this bed and I’ll go look.” Matt said with an impish grin.

“Yeah, right then Murdoch will have my hide.” Johnny said smiling as he walked out the door.

“You know I had to try.” Matt said as he threw his pillow at the retreating back of his brother.

“Oh little brother you’re going get it if you keep this up.” Johnny laughed as he picked up the pillow and threw it back at Matt.

Then shut the door and ran down the hall laughing as Matt hollered “Leave the door open.”

After the Kincades had said their good-byes and left Johnny went out to the barn and found the mail right where Matt had said it would be. He quickly sorted through it and ran back to the house.

Murdoch and Scott were finishing with the ledger as Johnny came running back in

“I’m glad you decide to join us son I found the mistake and it was mine. Murdoch smiled at the shocked look on Johnny’s face.

“You made the mistake Murdoch?” Johnny asked finding it hard to believe his father made the mistake and then admitted to it.

“Yes Johnny I made it and hard as it is for you boys to believe, your old man isn’t perfect.” Murdoch said while laughing.

Johnny handed Murdoch the mail and stepped back out of reach then playfully nudged Scott and replied ” I don’t find it hard to believe do you Scott?”

“I’m going to refrain from answering that on grounds I’ll be riding fence line from now’ til next year sometime.” Scott said as he joined in on the laughter.

Murdoch started to thumb through the mail when all of sudden he stopped. “It’s a letter from Jarrod. He said that a lawyer from the railroad contacted him. The railroad wants to talk to Matt and us about the Sanders, it seems Scanlin was fired for misrepresentation of a client.”

“Murdoch what are you saying? The railroad doesn’t own the Sanders ranch?” Johnny asked as he walked over to the fireplace and stared in at the cold coals.

“John I don’t know.” Murdoch answered as he watched his middle son struggle with his emotions at mere mention of Scanlin’s name.

All of a sudden Johnny turned and slammed his hand down on the back of the chair “When is that man going to stop coming back into our lives! Even dead he haunts us!”

“I don’t know Johnny-but this I do know together will get through the nightmares he has caused you and Matt.” Murdoch spoke as he and Scott both laid there hands on Johnny’s shoulders.

“Thanks. When did Jarrod say they would be here?” Johnny asked while he drummed his fingers against his leg.

“He said around the first of the month they would send a telegram with the exact date and time their stage would be in,” Murdoch said as he walked over stared out the window behind his desk.

“Ok we’ll deal with it when Jarrod gets here. Matt asked earlier about what you and Scott wanted to talk about yesterday at the creek before the Kincades showed up?”

Murdoch looked at Scott and then back to Johnny swallowed a couple times then started to speak. “You know Scott and I went over to the Yolans’ yesterday?”

“Ya I remember. So what happened the old man try to give ya Trent and Pete?” Johnny asked grinning.

“Well not exactly.” Scott started to say.

When all of a sudden Johnny said “Oh no there not coming here – those two are nothing but trouble!”

“Johnny, Sam and Ruth have a chance to get away for their twentieth wedding anniversary and they don’t trust Trent and Pete by themselves.” Murdoch spoke quietly trying to defuse Johnny’s temper.

“And with good reason if I remember right!” Johnny spoke angrily.

“Johnny come on it’s for only about two and half weeks. What could possible happen in that amount of time?” Scott asked while thinking to himself “where can I go for two and half weeks?”

“I would just as soon be bitten by a rattlesnake as have to deal with those two. Murdoch, Matt will have a fit when you tell him. Go ahead and bring them over but keep them away from me!” Johnny shouted as he stormed out the door.

“Well I think that went real well sir.” Scott said as he started out the door behind Johnny.

Chapter 5

Murdoch stood by the window watching Johnny and Scott ride off. He thought to himself “How did things get heated so fast? One moment I’m laughing with my sons then in the next breath Johnny is storming off. I know Pete and Trent can be a handful but what sixteen and fifteen year old can’t be.”

He shook his head and turned and headed for Matt’s’ room. Murdoch knocked on Matt’s door and waited to be invited in.

Matt was setting up in bed reading a book of poetry that Scott had loaned him that morning.

“You know Murdoch I just don’t see why girls get so emotional over this stuff. I heard Teresa talking to Sara Jones about that poet her and Audra Barkley were going to see in San Francisco. Teresa was all dreamy eyed and saying how soft and gentle his voice was. How the words just flowed from his mouth. Personally if someone has something flowing from their mouth I don’t want to see it,” Matt said with huge grin.

Murdoch chuckled at Matt’s last comment then proceeded to the window and stared out.

“Murdoch is there something wrong? Has something happened to Scott or Johnny?” Matt threw back the blanket and swung his long legs over the side of the bed and started to stand.

“No, Scott and Johnny are fine and you stay in that bed young man!” Murdoch said as he walked back to Matt’s’ bed then sat down in the chair beside it.

“Then what is it? WHATS WRONG? PLEASE TELL ME?” Matt exclaimed as all kinds of horrible things started to play out in his mind.

“Matt everything is fine I just have something’s to tell you and I don’t know where to start.” Murdoch spoke as he put a reassuring hand on Matt’s shoulder.

“Why not start at the beginning.” Matt suggested

“Well to start with Pete and Trent are coming here on Saturday for about two and half weeks. Their parents are going to San Francisco, it’s their twentieth wedding anniversary.

“Murdoch you’re asking for trouble you know.” Matt said while watching his father’s face.

“Matt what do you and your brothers have against Pete and Trent?” Murdoch asked with an edge to his voice.

“Well, don’t tell me you have forgotten Val’s visits here at TWO AM. Because I sure haven’t!” Matt spoke with a hint of anger in his voice.

“Young man you know you have no one but yourself to blame for that trouble!” Murdoch spoke firmly.

Matt dropped his head down and stared at his blanket, not wanting to met his father’s eyes.

“Matt it’s not like you or your brothers to be this way. They will be here on Saturday. Unless I hear some very good reasons why those two boys shouldn’t come here. And you better treat them nicely or you will be answering to me! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?” Murdoch who had been trying to stay calm suddenly found himself yelling.

“Yes, sir you’re coming through loud and clear!” Matt spat back angrily. “And if your done hollering at me will you please leave, this book Scott gave me is very interesting all of a sudden!” Matt practically yelled.

Murdoch opened his mouth to reprimand Matt for his disrespect. Then he remembered Jarrod’s letter. “Matt there is one more thing I have to tell you, Jarrod Barkley and a lawyer from the railroad will be here sometime the first of next month.”

“What does the railroad want?” Matt said with disgust in his voice.

“Matt I can see your in no mood to discus anything right now. So I’m leaving and hopefully your attitude will have changed by this afternoon.” With that being said Murdoch turned and walked out of Matt’s room closing the door none to gently behind him.

As Murdoch stormed downstairs he thought back to the conversation at the Yalons yesterday. Eve Yalon was fine with Pete staying with him and the boys but she wanted Trent to go with her and Abel to San Francisco.

It took him and Abel quite a while to persuade her to let Trent stay and even then Murdoch didn’t think she was totally convinced it was for the best.

He sat at his desk and thought Scott wasn’t too happy about the Yalons staying here either.

Well, I hope everything goes well – after all it’s just two and half weeks what could possibly go wrong.

If he had just been able to see ahead Murdoch would have run over to the Yalons that day and told them neither one of those boys was staying at his place! No one knew the hell that both families would be going through in two and half weeks!

Later that afternoon when Johnny and Scott arrived back at the ranch for lunch Murdoch asked them if they would please take a few minutes and join him in Matt’s room.

As Johnny and Scott followed Murdoch upstairs they both were thinking ‘what now’?

Murdoch knocked on Matt’s door and when Matt didn’t reply he entered anyway.

Matt put the book down he was reading and gave his father a glare as he entered unwelcome. “Do you always go where you’re not invited? I don’t remember saying come in did you hear me invite you in!”

“Matt I’m not here to argue with you. As for entering your room I did knock and I don’t need an invitation to enter your room young man. And it would be in your best interest to watch that tone in your voice!” Murdoch spoke while sparks shot out of his blues eyes.

Matt met his father’s glare with one of his own until he finally answered back in a very clipped tone. “I guess if *my best interest is at stake* I should say come on in have a seat would you like some refreshments also.”

Johnny and Scott who had followed Murdoch into Matt’s room had their hands over their mouths so Murdoch are Matt couldn’t see the smiles.

“Boys I want to know why you don’t want the Yalons here? And what have they done -” Murdoch started to ask.

When Matt interrupted “Well brothers will you listen to this our father is deaf I told him this afternoon why we didn’t want-” Before Matt could get the rest of his sentence out he received a surprise that he just as soon would like to never have received.

Murdoch had just enough of Matt’s smart mouth so he didn’t think twice about applying the back of his hand across Matt’s mouth. The silence that filled that room was deafening.

Matt brought his hand up to his mouth Murdoch’s blow was not hard enough to break the skin but it sure stung. Father and son stared at each other coldly.

Finally Matt spoke “I’m sorry Murdoch you want to know about Pete and Trent it’s like this Pete is a hard worker, a real good guy. Trent loves causing trouble – the more he can cause the happier he is. You’ll have your hands full keeping Trent out of trouble. And just so you know half the time Mrs. Yalon thinks Trent does no wrong and Pete can’t do anything right. So If anything happens Pete will get the blame whether it’s his fault or not!”

Murdoch was at a loss for words at Matt’s last statement. The Yalons had been friends of his ever since they moved into the valley shortly before Trent’s birth.

Johnny who was still in shock over Murdoch backhand to Matt spoke up.

“Murdoch, Matt’s telling the truth. I don’t know what’s happening but Mrs. Yalon can’t stand Pete and behind closed doors it’s probably worst.”

“Scott you got something to say or add to this conversation?” Murdoch asked

“No sir I don’t.” Scott answered while observing the heated looks Murdoch was receiving from Matt.

“Well, it looks like where in for an interesting next few weeks gentleman.” Murdoch spoke as he sat down on the chair beside Matt’s bed.

“Matt when I came up this afternoon I told you we received a telegram from Jarrod Barkley. He will be here after the first of the month with the railroad’s lawyer. Tom Scanlen was fired from the railroad before he ever arrived at the Sanders. Jarrod said he will explain more when he gets here.” Murdoch watched Matt’s face as a look of total confusion passed over it.

“Murdoch this is going to change everything isn’t?” Matt asked while rubbing his temples.

“I don’t know Son, lets just get through the Yalons visit then we’ll worry about Jarrod’s information.” Murdoch said.

“Well, I guess it’s time to get back to work.” Johnny said as he shoved Scott toward the door.

“Johnny hang on I want to talk about your taking off this morning like you did.” Murdoch said with his face void of any expressions Johnny could read. “Lets go downstairs.”

Chapter 6

Johnny followed Murdoch back downstairs and into the great room the whole time thinking, “Well Johnny boy you got yourself into this mess. I sure wouldn’t blame Murdoch if he backhanded me also. Matt sure got what he deserved and I don’t blame Murdoch one bit. Well I just might as well follow him and get it over with. Suppose I should be worried about over doing it this morning also. Sam told me to take it easy and Murdoch said there would be trouble if I didn’t listen. When are you going to start thinking before you act? ” 

As Murdoch entered the great room he was wondering to himself, “I sure hope Johnny understands why I feel so strongly about this.”

Johnny spoke first “Murdoch I’m really sorry about this morning. I know Sam told me to take it easy. If you ask Scott he’ll you I didn’t do no heavy lifting, we just talked while Scott worked.”

Murdoch stood there looking at his middle son like he had lost his mind. “Johnny I didn’t ask you to come down here to bawl you out. I need your help with something.”

Now it was Johnny turn to look at his father like he lost his mind. “Ya mean you’re not going to yell at me about this morning? I was angry and took off I didn’t even give ya a chance to explain your side.”

Murdoch smiled in spite of trying not to. Johnny looked much younger than his twenty years as he stood before his father rubbing his sweaty palms on the side of his pants and scuffing the toe of his boot on the floor with his head bowed.

“Johnny what can I say? You were in the right to be angry. I owe you an apology and Matt also; you should have been able to voice your opinion before a decision was made. No I didn’t care much for your attitude this morning but you’re a little to old for me to turn across my knee or backhand even though thought may have crossed my mind a time or two.”

Johnny looked up at his father and gave him one of the smiles that Murdoch had missed all those years Johnny had been gone. “Just a time or two huh? ” Johnny laughed.

“Keep it up John and I just may have to teach you some manners.” Murdoch replied grinning.

I’m scared now.” Johnny laughed.

“You should be.” Murdoch laughed as he stood up and moved toward Johnny

“Alright all right point made.” Johnny said as he threw up his hands in mock surrender.

Both father and son sat back down laughing. Johnny knowing Murdoch may bawl him out on occasion. But far as hitting him it wasn’t going to happen.

Murdoch realized also this young man sitting before him was an adult not a child or teenager and should be treated as such.

“Murdoch what did ya want to talk to me about?” Johnny asked while his fingers drummed on his leg.

Murdoch rubbed his hand across his face staring at Johnny the whole time. “Well Johnny I’m asking you a big favor so please don’t leave here in a huff.”

“Alright what is it Murdoch?”

“John, I want to separate Trent and Pete. Scott will take Pete and I thought you could take Trent. If he’s anything like you are your brothers described he’s one angry young man.” 

 “Murdoch I don’t know about him being angry but he’s sure a brat. That boy needs to learn some manners!” Johnny said as rubbed his face.

“Johnny what’s your suggestion? And, yes, son I want to know what you think should be done.” Murdoch asked

“Well since ya asked I think part of Trent’s problem is he never has had to answer for any of his wrong doings. Murdoch while he’s here why not treat him like he’s one of us. What would you do if Scott, Matt or me would have told ya to go to hell and this ranch ain’t our responsibility at fifteen? I think I know the answer but tell me anyway.” Johnny asked with a slight grin at his last comment.

“Johnny you know what I would have done. First of all you sure wouldn’t be riding anywhere the reason for that is because you wouldn’t be able to sit. You would find your chores doubled. And your extra chores would be every dirty, disgusting thing I could find.”

“Ya that’s what I thought would happen. Trent needs somebody to ride him hard – not be mean and cruel though.” 

Murdoch, Trent reminds me of a horse a friend of mine had. He was a beautiful animal but he a bad habit of kicking and biting. My friend thought it was really cute ’til the day his little brother came running out to the barn and Lucifer kicked him in the head Josh was dead before they could get him into the house. Zach was devastated – he knew if he had trained Lucifer right that it probably never would have happened. Trent’s like that horse Murdoch. If somebody don’t start teaching him right or wrong and making him stand up and accept his wrong his whole life will be destroyed.”

Murdoch stared at Johnny in amazement. What Johnny had just said confirmed Murdoch’s thought that Johnny was wise beyond his years. “Johnny what happened to Zach and Lucifer?”

“Johnny looked at Murdoch with sadness in his eyes.

” Zach’s pa made him take Lucifer out and shoot him. It was one of the saddest things I ever saw Murdoch, Zach standing there with tears running down his face and Lucifer looking at him so trusting as Zach put the rifle up to his head and shot him. Then Zach’s pa made him stand and stare at Lucifer while he told him if he had trained that horse right Josh wouldn’t be dead are Lucifer. I don’t think Zach ever forgave himself for what happened that day; about a month later he was killed while trying to break a wild horse. I know for a fact Zach’s pa never forgave himself either. He always said if he had paid more attention to what Zach was doing with Lucifer maybe all that could have been prevented. Murdoch, Trent’s the same way as Lucifer if someone don’t do something he’ll be dead and his parents will be blaming themselves.”

Murdoch put his arm around Johnny’s shoulder and said “Son you going to make a wonderful father someday and I hope I’m alive to see it. ” 

Johnny’s smile lit up his face as he told Murdoch “Just don’t make no plans for me getting married any time soon. I want to have fun for awhile.”

“All right Johnny you got a deal- but I want grandchildren while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.” Murdoch spoke with a smile.

“I’ll do my best. But right now I better go find Scott I’m sure he’s thinking by now I took off. Murdoch now I have some advice for you. Ya said Matt deserved an apology for not being included in the discussion about Trent. You’re right about that, but don’t apologize for smacking him it was deserved.”

Before Murdoch could respond Johnny had turned and grabbed his hat and gun belt yelling up the stairs to Matt “see ya later brother.” Murdoch just shook his head and smiled at Johnny’s retreating back even though his boys haven’t been raised together you couldn’t find three closer brothers and for that Murdoch Lancer was a grateful father.

Chapter 7

The next few days passed fairly fast, Sam had came out and checked Matt’s leg over again and told a very happy young man he was allowed out of bed. Murdoch had apologized to Matt the same as he had to Johnny. Scott agreed to take Pete with him but not before he told Johnny he was getting the best deal taking Pete, in which Johnny had replied we’ll see.

All to soon Saturday arrived along with Yalon brothers and that’s when things started spiraling out of control at the Lancers’. It started as soon as Abel Yalon rode over with his son’s while Eve stayed at home getting some final packing done. It was very evident that Trent didn’t want to be at the Lancers’ from the begining. He rude and very disrespectable to his father and, while Pete didn’t seem too happy either, at least he was polite.

Murdoch informed both the boys and their father what he expected and that Pete and Trent would be treated just like his own sons. When Trent rolled his eyes and said sarcastically “we’ll see”. Murdoch also added that he would face the same consequences his own sons would face at that age for disrespect or disobedience.

Abel told Murdoch that was fine with him and told Pete and Trent they had better mind what Murdoch said or be ready to face the consequences.

After Able left to get his wife and catch the stage the Lancers and their anything but happy guests went in the house to show the boys where they would be sleeping.

Murdoch thought it would be nice if both boys had their own rooms the reason being Pete wouldn’t have to worry if Trent tried sneaking out or who knew what else.

The rest of the weekend passed without any serious problems except Trent’s smart mouth had Murdoch and the rest of the family just about ready to knock Trent’s teeth down his throat. Monday morning dawned beautiful and sunny with a light breeze.

Johnny entered the dinning room with a grin to his father and brothers knowing full well that by the time the day was over he probably wouldn’t be grinning if anything murder just might be on his mind.

“Scott I want you and Pete to take the buckboard – it has supplies for the line cabins. Take them up to the cabins if everything goes right you should be back by tomorrow night. Do you have any questions?” Murdoch asked while he drank his coffee.

Before Scott could even replied to Murdoch question Trent interrupted “Why does Pete get to leave if you think I’m sticking around this place you’re wrong I’m going too!” As he stood up his chair went flying backwards with a crash.

Murdoch had just about had his feel of disrespect as he stood up. “TRENT PICK UP YOUR CHAIR AND SIT DOWN WHILE YOUR STILL ABLE!”

Pete jumped at the anger in Murdoch’s voice. “Mr. Lancer maybe it would just be better if I stayed and Trent went.” Pete spoke in his soft voice.

Murdoch turned to Pete and started to speak sternly to him also then he saw the sorrow in Pete’s eyes. “Pete you’re going with Scott. Trent is staying here and working with Johnny – end of discussion. Pete, Trent will be just fine.” Murdoch spoke in a softer tone. “Now you two get going. See you tomorrow. Find some time to enjoy yourselves.”

“Yes sir.” Pete answered with a smile for the first time he could ever remember Trent wasn’t tagging along and it felt good.

“I’ll see you tomorrow sir.” Scott added as he and Pete moved toward the door. Then he turned and with devilish smile to Johnny he added, “Have a great day brother.”

Johnny started to reply then he remembered the chair still lying on the floor and turned his attention to Trent. “Uh, Trent Murdoch won’t tell ya twice to pick up that chair. Now myself I’m riding today. He speaks to ya again you’ll probably be walking.”

Trent looked first at Johnny then Murdoch neither one was smiling and Murdoch looked like he could make good on his threat. Trent picked up the chair and slammed it back down then turned and storm out of the house. Murdoch was up and out the door behind him before Johnny or Matt could react or say anything.

Finally Johnny looked over at Matt and started laughing while scratching his neck “Brother I think somebody has just pushed Murdoch to far and whooee is he goin’ to be sorry.”

Matt started to laugh also as he answered Johnny back. “Ya think so brother? I’m glad it’s not me.”

This about that time Murdoch reappeared with Trent holding him firmly by the arm. “Young man you sit there until I tell you to get up.” A very quiet and subdued Trent sat down. “Johnny, I want you to ride up to the north pasture and check on the herd. Walt said he saw big cat tracks up there the other day so please check it out.”

“Alright is Trent going with me or staying here with you and continue your talk?” Johnny asked trying hard not to smile.”

“No! Trent isn’t staying here. He’s going with you and there better not be any trouble, Trent do you understand what I just said?” Murdoch asked sternly.

“Ya I understand. Any trouble, then that’s all I’ll be able to do is stand.” Trent answered sarcastically.

“Johnny, Trent I’ll see you tonight. Johnny, be careful Walt said by the size of those prints that cat is big.” Murdoch spoke with a hint of worry in his voice.

“We’ll be careful don’t worry Murdoch. Matt, have a good day wish ya were coming to.” Johnny said trying to reassure Murdoch as he and Trent moved out the door.

  Johnny and Trent left ranch heading up to the North pasture neither saying a word to each other. Finally Johnny broke the silence by asking Trent what was on his mind. “Trent we been riding an hour now and you ain’t said a word, back at the ranch ya came mighty close to walking today instead of riding so don’t tell me ya have nothing to say.” Johnny said with a slight grin.

Trent looked over at Johnny and said “Ya I guess my mouth came pretty close to getting my backside tanned. Johnny do ya think your pa will make good on his threat? I mean after all I’m fifteen not some little kid.”

Johnny looked at the serious look on Trent’s face and had to smile. “Trent, my pa isn’t gonna care if you’re fifteen or not cause your acting like you’re ten. So I think he will make good on his threat.”

“What makes ya so sure? He ever tan you, Scott or Matt?’ Trent asked still trying to decide himself if he believed Johnny or Murdoch.

Johnny laughed at Trent’s last question. He knew Trent was being serious but the thought of Murdoch tanning him or Scott struck him funny especially after his and Murdoch’s talk last week. “Trent I can tell ya Murdoch has never laid an hand on Scott, as for me or Matt well I lived here till I was about three so I supposed he probably did tan me, I just don’t remember. Ya would have to ask Murdoch about that. As for Matt ya need to ask him how much sass Murdoch will take. Does that help any?”

“Ya I guess it does. Do ya think we will find that cat today?” Trent asked changing the subject.

“Trent, I don’t know its possible. We’ll just keep looking. Cats don’t usually come down this far out of the mountains except-” Johnny’s words where cut short by the scream of a big cat and the bellowing of a frightened steer. “Trent, get your rifle out now and stay put. If that cat comes your way shoot it. But be sure it’s the cat you’re shooting at and not me!” Johnny hollered over his shoulder as he rode off toward the sounds of bellowing and screams.

He didn’t have to ride very far before he came upon the fight to death. The cougar was crouched down getting ready to leap at the steer, while the steer had its head lowered shaking its horns at the cougar. Johnny pulled his rifle up to get the cat in his sights as the cat leaped toward the steer Johnny started to pull the trigger when the sound of another rifle going off caused him to duck as the bullet went zooming over his head and struck the cat. It seemed time froze in place as the cat fell dead a few feet short of the steer. The steer in a panic turned and ran straight toward Johnny! Barranca being a well-trained horse quickly moved out of the way. Trent’s horse not being trained like Barranca panicked and barely moved in time to avoid being gored by the frightened steer. Johnny was off Barranca in a flash to check on Trent who had been thrown!

Trent was on his feet and dusting himself off when Johnny came running up to him. “Trent, are you alright? Why the hell didn’t you listen to me? You could have gotten both of us hurt or worse yet – killed! What were you thinking?” Johnny was asking as checked Trent over and tried to calm his own shaking nerves.

“Johnny, what’s the big deal I got the cat didn’t I?” Trent asked angrily as he pushed Johnny away. 

“You got the cat – is that all you can think of? Ya almost shot me. could have gotten yourself killed by that steer, and all you can say ‘I got the cat’! Boy, you get yourself on that horse get back to ranch and stay there! Don’t you know how to follow orders? Get moving now before I do something you’ll regret!” Johnny spat as he walked back to Barranca shaking with anger.

Chapter 8

Trent road back to the ranch seething and cursing Johnny Lancer, how dare he speak to him like that. That cougar was his kill and now Johnny would get all the glory for shooting it. Well he would show him he would tell everyone how he out shot the great Johnny Madrid Lancer. Then see how Johnny liked that! He road on tell he reached Lancer as he entered the barn Matt exited the tack room where Murdoch sent him to clean up. Trent immediately started bragging to Matt how he out shot Johnny and killed the cougar. Matt listed to Trent’s bragging not believing any of it knowing Johnny could out shoot Trent any day! Finally Matt just stopped listing and went back to cleaning the tack room knowing just how angry Murdoch would be if it wasn’t done. Matt was so busy he didn’t hear Johnny ride up or hear Murdoch yelling for him ’til Trent told him his pa was hollering for him. 

“I don’t know why he sounds so mad but whatever it is I didn’t do it.” Matt thought as he walked toward the house prepared for the worse. Johnny and Murdoch both stood by the door deep in their conversation as Matt walked up to them. “Sir? Were you calling for me?” Matt asked as he took a step back when he noticed the angry looks both his father and brother displayed.

“Yes, I was. Have you seen Trent this afternoon?” Murdoch spoke in an icy tone

“Yes sir, last time I saw him he was sitting on a bale of hay in the barn, bragging about how he killed the cougar and got his shot off quicker than Johnny!” Matt said cautiously, knowing that his brother was not going to take too kindly to that.

“He what?” Johnny exclaimed indignantly, shaking his head in disbelief. “The only thing that boy’s quick at is shooting off is his mouth” he muttered, “It’s a good job he’s in the barn ‘cus that’s where he needs to be!”  

“Johnny wait, let me handle this. I told Able I would deal with the boys. Besides I think you’re to angry to think clearly.” Murdoch spoke as he reached Johnny and put a restraining hand on his arm. 

Johnny turned and looked at his father he saw anger in his eyes but he knew Murdoch would stay in control where he just might not. “All right but I want him to understand no more crazy stunts like today or next time I won’t be so nice!”

“Johnny I promise Trent will not leave that barn without knowing the errors he made today. Why don’t you and Matt go into the house and get some lemonade from Maria? Trent and I will be in soon.”

Johnny nodded but he couldn’t resist shaking his head one last time and muttering, “Quicker than me. Hell, I’d like to see just how quick he thinks he is once Murdoch’s finished with him.”

As Johnny and Matt started toward the house Murdoch turned toward the barn dreading his up coming discussion with Trent. He knew if his boys had been raised by him and pulled a dumb stunt like Trent did today they would be standing up to eat their next few meals.

Thinking it was Matt coming back into the barn Trent spoke rather sarcastically “Well what did your Old Man want, you to do some other dirty chore he’s too good to do.”

Murdoch swallowed a couple of times to bring his own anger under control. “No Trent it’s not Matt. As for dirty chores that’s going be your job for the next few days.”

Trent stood looking at Murdoch in disbelief “I wouldn’t count on it.” Trent spat back angrily.

“Trent do you remember what I told you this morning about staying out of trouble and what I would do if you didn’t? I meant that. Johnny told me what happened this afternoon you endangered your life along with his and the horses.” Murdoch paused waiting for his words to sink in with Trent. “Trent I don’t like having to do what I have to do now. You have giving me no other choice I have to get your attention and if this is how so be it. This is one talk I hope you never forget because I don’t want to repeat it but I will. You or Johnny or both of you could have been killed or seriously injured because you wouldn’t follow orders. Next time someone tells you to do something for your own good I hope you listen.”

“Ya – I might listen and I might remember -then again I might not- Oh no I’m fifteen not some little kid. And you can’t treat like one” Trent said as he backed away from Murdoch.

“I guess maybe you should have listened then and I will treat like a little kid if you continue to act like one” Murdoch spoke softly as he removed his belt and approached Trent. The next few minuets Trent learned a lesson that would stay with him the rest of his life. Murdoch Lancer was a man to be dealt with and his word was law on Lancer.

Murdoch stood and watched Trent as he fought to control his emotions. The tears were still flowing down his face. “Trent this is one part of being a parent I have never liked and I know I’m not your father-“

Before Murdoch could finish Trent interrupted angrily “My father doesn’t care one bit about what I do! Every time I do something wrong Pete gets in trouble not me and my mother knows better. You want why I act this way? It’s because I’m trying to get them to treat me like Pete. Did you know that Pete isn’t my mother’s child? My father had an affair and Pete is the result of that affair. Ma hates the sight of him and she makes sure he gets the blame for everything, even if I do it. Mr. Lancer do you have any idea what it’s like to see your brother punished every time you do something wrong? Pete’ a great older brother and I’m afraid he’s going to start hating me if this keeps up.”

Murdoch stood watching the Trent as turned back around where Murdoch couldn’t see his tears starting afresh. Not knowing what to say because this was something Murdoch had no idea about, he just walked to Trent and laid his hands on his shoulders. What happened next almost surprised Murdoch more than what Trent had just revealed.

Trent turned back around to Murdoch looking up at him and said “Thanks for caring enough to correct me when I was wrong I’ll try to do better.” And with that being said he hugged Murdoch tightly. Murdoch being surprised just stood there a second then he reached out and hugged Trent back while rubbing his back.

“Mr. Lancer why do my parents hate Pete? Sometimes I feel like if I was gone or dead Pete might have a chance for their affection.” Trent spoke sadly.

“Trent I don’t think your parents hate Pete I think your mother was hurt very deeply by your father’s betrayal and is afraid to show affection to Pete because it would look like she was putting her approval on his affair. As for your father if he shows affection to Pete it looks like he throwing his affair up in your mothers face. Trent it’s a sad situation all the way around and somebody always gets hurt and it’s usually the children.” Murdoch paused a moment thinking of his own sons and their mother’s betrayal and the hurt they both suffered because of it. “Trent I’ll talk to your father. Maybe together we’ll come up with something. I want you to try not to worry about this.” Murdoch spoke gently.

“Yes, sir I’ll try.” Trent answered with a small smile. I do have a small question though -about those dirty chores does that still stand?”

Murdoch found himself almost laughing at Trent’s question as he answered back. “Yes Trent they still stand. Starting tomorrow you’ll clean all the barns along with rest of the tack if you get that done I’ll find something else for you to do I believe if I keep you busy you won’t have time to get in trouble. Now lets go up to the house – you still need to apologize to Johnny understand?”

“Yes, sir I understand – I just hope Johnny don’t feel the need to repeat your discussion.” Trent said with a half smile.

“Trent I’m certain he won’t even if you did scare about ten years off his life. Now let’s go get the apologies over with.”

Johnny was standing talking to Walt about the size of the cougar when Murdoch and Trent approached them, Murdoch asked Walt to join him inside he wanted to find out if the cougar had done much damage to the livestock.

Trent stood looking at ground drawing a pattern in the dirt with the toe of his boot not wanting to look at Johnny. Finally he swallowed a couple of times then he looked up to see the anger in Johnny’s eyes. “Johnny I’m really sorry about today I could have gotten both of us hurt or killed when I didn’t listen please forgive me it won’t happen again I promise.”

Johnny could see the sincerity on Trent’s face along with the tear streaks he knew Murdoch had done more than discussed Trent’s misbehavior and was pretty sure Trent was in no hurry to repeat that discussion. “Trent I forgive you, just don’t let it happen again. We have about an hour before supper I’m going to work with that new stallion would you like to watch?” The smile that came across Trent’s face answered his question. “Really Johnny? You don’t mind? I won’t say a word.”

“No Trent I don’t mind Matt’s going to join us in a few minutes. You two can set on the fence and watch.” Johnny replied as he started toward the corral.

“Uh Johnny, if you don’t mind I would prefer to stand by the fence instead of setting on it. I’d probably be more comfortable if you know what I mean.”

“Ya I think I do.” Johnny laughed and put arm around Trent’s shoulders as they both headed to the corral.

Chapter 9

Scott could hardly believe what Pete had just shared with him! Never in his twenty-four years had he heard such a sad story! What the hell were the Yalons thinking or did they even care how their own selfishness was affecting their sons? One thing he knew for certain he and Murdoch would be having a talk about this when they got back to the ranch.

Pete sat silently beside Scott thinking, “What have I just done? My father will kill me if he finds out anyone else knows our family secret! I just should have kept my mouth shut and left like I had planned.”

Scott and Pete rode in silence the rest of the way back to the ranch neither one knowing what to say. It was getting dark as they rode under the arch. The light in windows seemed to be saying “come on home we missed you” to Scott as he rode into the yard. To Pete they seemed to say “welcome come on in friend.”.

Supper had already been eaten and Johnny had just gotten out the chessboard and challenged Trent to a game with Matt playing the winner. Matt was stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace reading a book that Scott had loaned him.

Harlan Garrett, Scott’s grandfather, knew many authors and had just met Samuel Clemens and had some business dealings with him. And, in turn, Mr. Clemens had given him a copy of a book he had just written and wasn’t out in print yet to the public.

Matt found Tom Sawyer a fascinating character. Some of his adventures were hilarious and, right now, he was reading about Tom, Huck and Joe Harper going to their own funeral.

Murdoch was sitting back and enjoying watching his two sons and Trent interacting with each other and thinking how things had gone from bad to worse but, after his talk with Trent, everything seemed to be better. If he had know what was going to happen in the next few days he would have grabbed Matt and Trent, along with Pete when he walked in the door, and headed for the barn!

Scott walked in the door with Pete following behind him dragging his feet. Matt looked up and seeing the look on Scott’s face thought “oh no here we go again”.

“Murdoch we need to talk- right now please.” Scott insisted as soon as he entered the great room. 

“Scott, please, not now my father will kill me if he finds out I told anyone!” Pete begged 

Murdoch came out from behind his desk and rested his hand on Pete’s arm. “Pete don’t worry. Your father is not going to kill you. If we’re talking about the same thing, Trent already informed me and I plan to talk to your father myself.”

“Mr. Lancer you don’t now my father, his temper is horrible! I’m not lying he once told me if anybody ever found about his affair and me I was good as dead!” Pete spoke in a trembling voice.

Murdoch felt his own temper starting to boil as he listened to Pete’s pleading.

“Matt, Trent and Pete will you please excuse Scott, Johnny and I while we discuss this situation and what to do about it? I would like you to go upstairs for now, I’ll talk with you later about what we decide.

Matt started to protest but one look at his father’s face made him change his mind. So instead he picked up his book and motioned to Trent and Pete to follow him upstairs. Once upstairs he went over to his room and opened the door then shut it rather loudly and signaled Trent and Pete to do the same.

Murdoch started talking with Scott and Johnny thinking the other boys had entered their rooms what they didn’t know was that the three boys were sitting on the steps listening to everything being said.

Murdoch, Scott and Johnny must have talked a good hour before Murdoch said “Boys I don’t think we can get this all figured out tonight. Let’s start fresh tomorrow. I’m tired and heading to bed. Good night. See you in the morning.”

The three boys scrambled hard to get up and back in their rooms before Murdoch turned the corner to start up the stairs. Soon the sound of Murdoch snoring could be heard coming from his room and first Trent, then Pete ventured out into the hall and over to Matt’s room.

Once inside the planning started that would turn Lancer inside out and upside down and leave Murdoch asking himself “Why did I every get married and have children?”

Later that night while Murdoch and Scott, Johnny slept three figures crept down the stairs and ran for the barn.

Once inside Matt leaned against the door and said almost in a whisper “Murdoch is going to have my hide for going along with this. He’s going to skin me alive and nail my hide to the barn door!”

“Matt, don’t worry about it, I’ll tell everyone it was my idea that way no one gets in trouble.” Trent spoke with an area of confidence.

“Yeah – I’ll remember that when it’s me standing out here while Murdoch is pulling off his belt.” Matt said with a voice dripping with sarcasm.

The next morning the sun was just coming up over the horizon when the first part of the plan was put into action. The Morro Coyo River was running strong as Matt, Trent and Pete arrived. Soon they had changed clothes and left their others lying around looking like they had taken a swim. The horses were sent back to Lancer looking like they had pulled loose from being tied to long. The boys headed for the caves a long the bluffs waiting for their plan to take effect!

Meanwhile, back at Lancer, things were starting to heat up! When the three boys didn’t appear for breakfast Murdoch went upstairs none too quietly and started pounding on doors when no one answered he entered Matt’s room first wondering how his son had slept through his pounding. He stood in shock looking at his son’s bed, which had not been slept in. “Scott! Johnny! Get up here fast! Your brother, along with Trent and Pete, is not here and their beds haven’t been slept in!” All you heard the next few minutes was “Where are those boys?”

Johnny ran out to the barn to check and see if their horses were missing. When he reported to Murdoch that Matt’s horse was missing and two others that was when Murdoch really blew. By the time he was done ranting and raving about what was going to happen when he got his hands on those three boys. Scott and Johnny were very happy that they were not involved in any way.

Meanwhile Matt and the Yalons had reached the caves. Moving deep inside, not wanting to be found, they set up camp and planed their next course of action. “Listen Matt, like I said last night, we have to make our parents realize they are wrong in how they are treating us. If they think we’re dead maybe they’ll realize how wrong they were.” Trent said while pacing back and forth. 

“Yeah maybe it will work but ya know what I see happening is our parents finding this out and our backsides paying the price.” Matt answered while pacing back and forth. 

“Well do you want to call it quits and go back to your place?” Pete asked while he laid back on his bedroll.

“Sure, Pete, we’ll just walk back to the ranch and calmly tell Murdoch along with my brothers, we just went for a midnight swim. Then just wait for Murdoch to explode all over us! HAVE YOU GONE CRAZY!? IF I’M GOING TO GET IN MORE TROUBLE THAN I HAVE EVER BEEN IN SINCE I FINALLY FOUND MY FATHER AND BROTHERS IT’S GOING TO BE WORTHWHILE!” Matt yelled at the top of his voice.

“Matt calm down they’ll hear you yelling all the way back to your place. You should try to get some sleep. They’ll be looking for us soon enough and nobody can track any better than your brother Johnny” Trent spoke as he rolled over to get more comfortable.

“Well it’s nice we can agree on something. You’re right – nobody can track like Johnny and you’d better pray he don’t find us right off. As for yelling you haven’t heard nothing yet! Just wait ’til Murdoch gets started!” Matt answered back as he lay down then covered his face with his hat.

Chapter 10

It had been almost ten hours and Murdoch Lancer was getting frantic. Scott and Johnny had found the boys’ clothes by the river but no sign of them! Their horses had returned hours earlier and Murdoch knew Matt wouldn’t leave his horse running loose unless something had happened.

Murdoch heard the sounds of Johnny and Scott talking as they entered the house while he sat at his desk.

“Scott I just can’t believe they drowned, Matt was a excellent swimmer and he knew better than to swim in that river with that strong undertow and at night, it just don’t make sense.” Johnny spoke as he rubbed his hand over his chin thinking about the last time the brothers had all gone swimming

“Yes Johnny I agree it doesn’t make any sense, Matt was a good strong swimmer but that doesn’t bring them back. Have you seen the look on Murdoch’s face when he had to send that telegram to Trent and Pete’s parents – he’s aged Johnny, in the last few hours, and I’m really worried. Why don’t we go back over the boys’ rooms and see if we find anything we might have missed the first time?”

“Ok Scott. You start with Matt’s room and I’ll go over Trent’s and Pete’s rooms. What are we looking for anyway?” Johnny asked as both brothers started up the stairs not even realizing that there father was sitting at his desk head bowed in his hands trying not to let the tears come as kept telling himself “no he can’t be dead – he just finally came home!”

Scott entered Matt’s room for the second time that day not knowing what he was looking for. As he walked over to Matt’s dresser his eye caught a book lying open on Matt’s nightstand. He picked it up and realized it was Tom Sawyer. Matt had asked to borrow it after Scott had read it. Scott stood there reading for moment when something suddenly clicked with him. Still caring the book he ran from the room almost colliding with Johnny coming out of Trent’s room. 

“Johnny I don’t think they’re dead! I think there playing like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Joe Harper!”Scott exclaimed as he tried to hand the book to Johnny. 

“Scott who’s Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn And Joe Harper? Do we know their families? And why hasn’t Matt mentioned them? And what do they have to do with that book you’re waving in my face? And what makes you so sure Matt, Trent and Pete ain’t dead?” Johnny asked finally taking the book from Scott

“No Johnny we don’t know them are there families. Tom Sawyer is the book Matt’s reading and Tom, Huck and Joe pulled a stunt very similar to this.”

“Scott what the heck stunt are you talking about? If this is all some joke Murdoch isn’t going to see no humor in it. And Matt won’t either by time Murdoch gets done with him! That little brother of ours won’t be setting comfortable for a while.” Johnny said as he flipped through the book that Scott had just handed him.

“Johnny, I don’t think it’s supposed to be a joke. Their trying to get attention”–

“Attention?! When Murdoch gets his hands on them they’ll get plenty of attention and they ain’t going to like it one bit. I may not even wait to give Murdoch a chance I’ll show them attention. They won’t forget any time soon! Those three don’t have an ounce of sense between them! Well what are we doing standing around here lets get Murdoch and go find them!” Johnny was almost shouting as he headed toward the stairs.

“Johnny wait. We don’t know for sure if that’s what happened. Let’s head back out at daylight and cross the river maybe they left tracks on the other side. Oh Johnny about you not giving Murdoch a chance first, stand in line brother because I intend to make Murdoch look calm by the time I get through!” Scott spoke as he turned and walked into his room hoping to get some sleep but not counting on it.

The sun shone bright the next morning as Scott and Johnny started toward the barn to saddle their horses. “Scott, Johnny hang on I’m going with you.” Murdoch yelled as he came out of the house fasten his gun belt.

Matt stood at the entrance of the cave with a thousand thoughts running through his head. This wasn’t right – none of it, Murdoch and his brothers deserved better. He couldn’t even begin to think what Murdoch must be going through. He had heard the story about what his and Johnny’s mother did and how Murdoch had looked for years for Johnny. Then for him, Matt Lancer to pull a stunt like this after all the time he searched for his father – no it wasn’t right and he was going home and face the music. He reached down picked up his rifle slapped his hat on his head and headed down the bluff leaving the two Yalon brothers sleeping.

Murdoch, Johnny and Scott had just crossed over the river when Johnny looked up and saw a flash up in the bluffs. “Murdoch, Scott I just saw something up there on that bluff! Lets go!”

Matt had paused a moment to catch his breath when he saw three riders fast approaching. The next thing he knew his father and brothers were snatching him up in a big hug.

When the hugs were over Murdoch held him at arms length and asked with a worried tone. “Matt where are Pete and Trent?” Matt bowed his headed and scuffed his boot in the dirt then finally looked up at his father with a sorrowful look and said “We were hiding out in the bluffs, Pete said we needed to get their parents’ attention – we thought —“

“YOU DID WHAT!” Murdoch bellowed tightening the hold on Matt’s arms.

Matt swallowed hard. He knew Murdoch was going to be angry when he found out the truth but he no idea how angry. “Pete and Trent said if everybody thought we were dead then maybe things would work out with their parents and after we came back you would be so happy we were alive all would be forgiven.”


Murdoch finally realized he was yelling and lowered his voice some but he still held Matt’s arms in a death grip “Matt you’re my son and as my son I expect more from you. What you three did was inexcusable! I had to wire the Yalons and they turned around and are coming back. Jelly wired us yesterday to see how everything was going. He’s on his way back. You three have a lot to answer for and a lot of people to answer to. Do you have any idea what you put us through this last day and half?” Murdoch asked as he released Matt’s arms.

Matt stood looking at the ground not trusting his voice to speak, as he knew Murdoch and his brothers and everyone else had a right to be furious.

“Matthew I asked a question and I’m waiting for an answer and I better get it soon.” Murdoch spoke in a tone that Matt knew had better be answered and answered soon.

“No sir I have no idea what you have gone through outside of it must have been hell.” Matt spoke as he raised his head and saw not only anger but also disappointment in his father’s face.

Murdoch swallowed hard a couple of times before he spoke again he was so glad that the boys were fine but it was taking every ounce of self control he had not to take his belt to Matt right then and there. “Matt we’re going to finish this when we get back to the ranch. Now show us where Pete and Trent are.”

“Yes sir but I have a questionDon’t you think I’m just a little to old for what you’re planning to do when we get back to the ranch?” Matt asked as Scott gave him his hand and Matt swung up behind him.

Murdoch finished mounting and turned and looked at Matt with a heated glare before he answered. “What I think is that you’re a little to old to be pulling stunts like you just did! And to answer your question no I don’t think you’re too old. You behave like a ten-year-old I’ll treat you like a ten-year-old. And you might as while enjoy sitting now because when I’m through you won’t want to. Do I make my self clear?”

“Yes sir you’re real clear.” Matt answered back while feeling a knot bunch up in his stomach. He knew what he was going to get was well deserved but he also knew Murdoch didn’t fool around with Trent and he could expect worse and that he wasn’t looking forward to it.

The Lancers rode toward the bluffs in silence, each lost in his own thoughts.

Matt could feel the tension in Scott as held on around his waist and he knew Murdoch wasn’t the only one he was going to be hearing from about this crazy stunt.

Johnny kept casting glares at Matt while thinking Murdoch had better make a good impression on this kid. Hell at seventeen I had already earned a name for myself and I would have given anything to have a home and security like Matt has. Yeah Matt deserved anything Murdoch was going to hand out. And if Matt thought for one second he wasn’t going to hear that from Johnny he was wrong!

Scott swallowed his words again that he wanted to say to Matt. He knew that Matt was going to be in for a very rough time with his father but he was going to hear that from him also.

In about a half an hour they reached the cave where the boys had spent the night. Matt hollered out for Matt and Trent and received no answer. When the Lancers entered the cave there was no sign of the Yalons.

“Murdoch I swear they were here when I left this morning! They were both sleeping!” Matt said as he backed away from his father and brothers’ angry glares.

“Scott I want you to take Matt back to the ranch and wait for me and Johnny there. We’re going to see if we can track those two down.” Murdoch spoke with a clipped tone. 

“Murdoch wouldn’t you rather I go with Johnny and bring Trent and Pete back?” Scott asked while taking a deep breath.

“No Scott I wouldn’t. Right now I need time to cool off but thanks for the offer. Now please head on back in case those two show up there” Murdoch spoke as turned to follow Johnny.

Scott and Matt didn’t speak a word to each other as they rode back to the ranch. Once inside the barn both brothers dismounted and as Matt turned to walk toward the house he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Not so fast little brother I haven’t said my piece yet. You don’t have any idea what we have been through this last day and half! I thought Murdoch was going to have a heart attack when Johnny and I brought your and Pete’s and Trent’s clothes back! He just sat there not saying a word for the longest time and I also know that for a fact he didn’t sleep at all last night! Less than a year ago I came out here to find out I had one younger brother then a few months later we found out about you. Yesterday Murdoch, Johnny and I thought we lost you. I can’t even begin to describe how that felt! Then to find out it was nothing but a stupid kids stunt! I’m so mad at you right now I could just— !” Scott was so furious he couldn’t even finish his sentence. “Matt just go to your room because right now I don’t even want to look at you!”

Matt took a step back and looked into the angry blue-gray eyes of his brother and without saying a word ran to the house. Murdoch and Johnny arrived back at the ranch just before dusk having had no luck in picking up the Pete and Trent’s trail in the rocks.

Matt lay on his bed waiting to hear Murdoch footsteps as he came up the stairs. He was very surprised to hear Murdoch yell for him to come down and eat supper. Matt swung his legs over his bed and started to put on his boots thinking “Yeah my Last Supper before the execution, at least the last one I’ll be sitting at for awhile.” as he walked down the stairs to meet his family for dinner and then his fate.

Supper was a silent affair – no one saying much, Murdoch did tell Scott and Johnny he would like to talk to them in the great room after dinner about the search plans for the following day.

Matt asked to be excused after he had finished eating and went out to the side porch looking toward the direction that Pete, Trent and he had ridden off almost two days ago.

He jumped like a mouse turned loose into a room full of cats when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Realizing it was his father’s hand he turned and faced him before starting to speak “Murdoch I know it don’t mean much but I’m truly sorry about the part I played in this I never thought it would turn out this way-please forgive me.”

Murdoch looked into the sorrowful blues eyes of his son and spoke gently. “Matt I have already forgiven you but this is something I will not let go unpunished I think it’s time you and I took a walk to the barn You and your brothers mean the world to me and I’m dreading this as much as you. So let’s go get it over with.” 

“Yes sir.” Matt spoke quietly as he started his walk toward the barn with his father’s hand on his back.

Once inside the barn Matt stopped and thought about the conversation he and Trent had a day early.

“Matt don’t worry about it. I’ll say it was my idea and nobody will get in trouble.” 

“Well Trent old buddy here I stand waiting for Murdoch to remove his belt and where are you? Not here that’s for sure.”

“Matt, I’m waiting.” Murdoch spoke with a catch in his voice.

Matt turned slowly around to face his father his eyes starting at Murdoch’s feet traveling up to the hand that was holding not a belt but a very thick and wide strap. Matt’s eyes widened in fear as he realized this how uncomfortable his father intended this to be.

“Murdoch you don’t have to do this. I promise it will never happen again.” Matt spoke as he backed away from his father.

“Matt I promised you this early today and I wouldn’t be much of a father if I didn’t keep my promise.” Murdoch spoke as he wrestled with his own emotions if he was doing the right thing. 

“Murdoch this is one promise you can break and I swear I’ll never hold it against you.” Matt begged as he backed farther away.

“Matt don’t make it any harder than it already is,” as Murdoch took his arm and turned him around to face the stall door and told him to place his hands on it.

Matt took a deep breath and did as he father request then bit down hard on his lip deterred not to show his father how bad this hurt or cry out. His last thought before the strapped contacted with his backside was why didn’t I just stay out of this. 

Several miles away hidden in another cave Trent and Pete were wondering what was happing to Matt. Unknown to any one at the ranch they had heard everything Murdoch had said that morning to Matt. They also knew if any of the Lancers got their hands on them they would get no mercy.

Chapter 11

Trent awoke with a start. He had dreamed that Pete and he were lost in a cave without food. He looked around then realized it was not a dream – they were lost. The food had run out last night.  They still had water but it would probably be gone by tomorrow then it would just be a matter of time before they would die.

Matt was lying on his bed enjoying the gentle breeze that was blowing through his window. He was thinking back over the last couple days and wondering how things could have gone so wrong. Murdoch wasn’t as hard on him as he expected, yeah he still could feel the aftermath of the discussion in the barn, but Mr. Sanders had given him far worse for less. Shaking his head as to rid the thoughts of the last couple days he turned and watched the sun that was just beginning to sit on the horizon casting a pink hue across the sky.

His father and brothers had spent the better part of the day looking for Trent and Pete without any luck. Johnny had tracked them back to the cave that they were originally in but then it seemed like they had disappeared again.

Matt knew that cave had all kinds of hidden tunnels and caverns. He had explored them at great length unbeknownst to his family. He knew of a curve in one part of the cave if you weren’t careful you could easily get lost. That was it – they had taken the wrong turn and were lost! Matt swung his legs over the side of his bed, grabbed his shirt that was lying across the chair and his boots that were on the floor then, with only his jeans on, raced downstairs calling for his father and brothers.

Murdoch was getting ready to pour himself a drink when he heard Matt’s door slam open and then the footsteps running down the stairs along with his son yelling like the house was on fire! Matt burst into the great room hollering “I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE! WE HAVE TO GO GET THEM!”

Johnny who had fallen asleep on the sofa awoke with a start then leaped to his feet looking around expecting the worse. Scott who had been reading dropped the book with a thud on the floor as he jumped up also. “Matt what in the world are you hollering about and slow down,” Murdoch demanded after Matt almost ran him over.

“Murdoch I’m telling you that they’re lost in that cave and I know where they are. We need to go get them before something happens to them. ” Matt tried to explain to his father for the umpteenth time.

“Matt I understand what you are saying but why do you want to leave now? Murdoch questioned. ” It’s almost dark..  I really think we should wait ’til morning.”

Matt swallowed and tried to think of a way to explain without Murdoch finding out he had been exploring those caves and caverns after Murdoch had forbidden him to explore them by himself. “Murdoch it’s like this – about a month ago I was up by the caves and decided to explore the one we hid in.” Matt looked up to see if his father had figured out yet what he was telling him.

Murdoch kept his face emotionless knowing full well what Matt was admitting to but that wasn’t the issue now. Matt was almost in a panic demanding they leave immediately and he wanted to know why. “Matt please continue on. What happened in that cave that makes you so insistent that we go tonight?”

“Murdoch everything was fine ’til I came to this curve. I veered off to the left and stumbled on another tunnel.  I had only moved about ten feet into that tunnel when I got such a cold chill I ran all the way back out of that cave.” Matt waited a few seconds before he tried to explain why when he went back to that cave he avoided that tunnel all together. “Murdoch, Scott, Johnny I can’t even begin to explain what I felt in that tunnel but it sure wasn’t good.” Matt added while trying to rid his mind of that horrible day.

Scott and Johnny who had been listening with great interest looked at their father and nodded. “We’ll have the horses saddled in about ten minutes.” Johnny announced as he and Scott started out the door.

“Murdoch I really wish that I knew what happened that day. It was like someone was watching – then beckoning me to come farther into the tunnel. I was never so scared in my life. Murdoch has anyone ever died in that cave?” Matt asked while walking toward the horses tucking his shirt in and trying to put his boots on.

“Son, I don’t think so. What makes you ask that question?” Murdoch asked as they reached the horses.

“What question is that sir?” Scott asked as he mounted his horse.

“Matt wanted to know if anybody had ever died in that cave.” Murdoch replied as they started out from the ranch.

“Hmmm it seems as if Matt may have really taken Tom Sawyer to heart.” Scott said while grinning.

Before Matt could even reply Johnny spoke up “I have to read that book ’cause it sure has caused nothing but trouble in this family.”

“HA HA HA you both are just so funny!” Matt spat as he shifted in his saddle to get more comfortable remembering very well all the trouble that book had caused him.

“Boys that’s enough. We need to remember why we’re out here. So let’s get moving.” Murdoch spoke firmly.

The rest of the ride was made in silence as each person was lost in their own thoughts.

When they arrived at the cave it was still dark and the moon was giving off an eerie glow.

The Lancers dismounted and grabbed their lanterns, then headed into the cave with Matt leading the way.

Matt soon came to the curve that he had told his family about he went to the left and soon found that tunnel. He stopped for a second then swallowed hard then entered the tunnel. About ten feet in that horrible feeling started eating at him. About another ten feet he heard something coming at him.

Matt yelled out “What the —-”as he fell back against the wall and it gave way he felt himself sliding across a very wet floor on his back. When he finally came to a stop he got his bearings as Johnny entered the room with a lantern. Matt let out a yell that was probably heard back at Lancer. He never knew that he could move backwards so fast just using his hands and feet while never standing. As soon as his back hit the far wall he scrambled up never taking his eyes off the horrifying sight in front of him.

Trent and Pete who were farther down the tunnel heard the yell and awoke with a start. They scrambled to their feet and started to move down further down in the tunnel when suddenly Pete who was in the lead stumbled over something causing Trent to bump into him knocking them both to the floor. Trent pulled a match from his pocket then struck it against what he thought was a wall. A second and third scream echoed off the walls in the cave as they turned and ran back down the tunnel toward the light that was shining.

Chapter 12

Scott turned toward the scream he had just heard he lifted his lantern up and saw two forms rushing toward him. Before he could move Pete plowed into him sending him crashing up against Murdoch and knocking Murdoch off balance causing him to stumble into Johnny who had heard the yell and was turning around to see what had happened now. Matt was still pasted to the wall not willing to move or take his eyes off the scene before him. Before anyone could regain their balance Trent arrived almost causing the same chain of events that had just happened to reoccur!

Murdoch being the first to recover took control “Matt are you ok son?” he asked still not knowing why Matt had hollered or for that matter why Trent and Pete were yelling and running like a ghost was after them? 

Johnny who was standing the nearest to his brother turned to see what Matt was staring at. Johnny felt like his supper was going to come back up as he moved toward his brother where Murdoch, Scott and the Yalons could get in. Before anyone could say another word Pete and Trent had seen what Matt was staring at. They turned to run back out but Scott was blocking the way.

“HOLD IT BOYS RIGHT NOW.” Murdoch’s voiced bellowed through the cavern. If it wasn’t for the sickening sight in front of him Murdoch might have found the reactions to his voice funny. Five young men just seem to freeze to the spot they were standing on and looked at him like to say “what’s next”!

Finally Matt found his voice and moved over to stand next to his father and asked “Murdoch who would do such a gruesome thing? And I wonder who they are?” why he looked at the skeletal remains that where propped up against the wall.

“Matt I don’t know the answer to either question. Is there anything around them saying who they might be?” Murdoch asked as he brought his lantern closer to the remains. 

“Murdoch, these two are adults, but these two are children and look at this.” Johnny pointed to the smaller of the adult skeletons inside the remains was another tiny skeleton.

“Oh God no– It can’t be- it just can’t be!” Murdoch said as his legs felt like they were turning into mush.

“Sir, are you alright? You look like you have seen a ghost.” Scott asked his voice laced with concern as he and Johnny moved to take positions on either side of their father and supported him.

“Boys let’s go outside for a minute. I need to get some fresh air and I’ll tell you what I know about who I think these people are.” Murdoch spoke in a very quiet voice.

“Mr. Lancer there’s another skeleton further down the tunnel. That’s what Pete and I stumbled over,” Trent said not really wanting to bring attention to himself or Pete.

Murdoch turned towards Trent closing his eyes briefly then asked in a voice that sounded like he already knew the answer. “Is it another child?” 

“I don’t know sir,” Trent answered not knowing what to think of Murdoch’s sudden change.

“Scott or John would one of you please check? If these people are who I think they are, that skeleton should be of a child about eleven.” Murdoch asked while trying to calm his nerves. 

“Murdoch, did you know these people?” Matt asked while he picked up what looked like a locket from behind one of the children’s skeletons and handed it to his father. Murdoch slowly looked it over, the locket had been very beautiful in it’s day now it was tarnished and the chain was broken like it had been ripped from someone’s neck. On the back he found the initials M.E.

Murdoch tried the clasp that opened the locket. It gave after a gentle tug. Inside was a picture of a family. The father standing behind his wife his hand resting on her shoulder a boy about ten was standing next to him seated next to her mother was a girl probably six or seven on the mother’s lap sat another little girl who looked to be about four.

Before Murdoch could respond Scott had returned bearing bad news, yes, the skeleton further down the tunnel was that of a child about eleven confirming what Murdoch had already knew. Scott also told Murdoch it looked like that child had died with a blow to the back of the head because the skull was cracked all the way through. 

Murdoch slowly walked back over to the skeletons and knelt beside the smallest child. “Boys this is Becky Edwards. She was a beautiful little girl long curly blonde hair, big green eyes and a smile that could melt the hardest of hearts, oh but she was terrified of the dark. DAMM IT –WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN? What possible gain did he get by doing this?” Murdoch shouted.

“Murdoch when you said “he” who were you talking about?” Johnny asked a little taken back by his father’s outburst.

Murdoch looked up into the concerned faces of his son’s Pete, and Trent. “Boys lets go outside I’ll tell you a story of a foolish rancher who let his hatred for gambling and gamblers cost a friend and his family their lives. Leave one of the lanterns here for Becky so she won’t have to be afraid of the dark anymore. ” Murdoch spoke as his voice broke and he bent over and gently kissed Becky’s skull.

Chapter 13

Murdoch exited the cave with his sons and the Yalons behind him. Slowly he turned and faced his family “Boys please sit down I don’t even know where to begin,” Murdoch said as he started to pace back and forth.

“Mr. Lancer why not start at the beginning– like why you feel you betrayed your friends?” Pete asked while staring at Murdoch’s ashen face.

“Murdoch are you alright?” Scott asked greatly concerned about the ashen color of his father and the trouble he seemed to have breathing. 

“Scott I’m fine. It’s just after all these years of thinking the Edwards were fine, that they had just left–to fine out they died like this. I’m just in shock. Give me a few moments I’ll be fine.” Murdoch answered as he set down.

Finally after several moments Murdoch started to speak. “The Edwards’ were very good friends of Maria and me. Margaret was excepting their fourth child, Bill was so excited he was positive she was carrying another boy. Johnny, they enjoyed you so much Becky used to take you and her little sister Millie and pull the two of you around in her wagon. We would talk about how Scott would come home and you boys and their children would grow up together. Matt we didn’t even know that you were on the way.” Murdoch stopped speaking as his thoughts took him back to a little blond hair girl pulling a wagon with a dark haired blue eyed boy and a red haired little girl laughing saying “faster –faster “No one spoke for several seconds as Murdoch was lost in his thoughts. Finally Johnny who was sitting by his father spoke. “Murdoch what happened to change everything? How did they end up here?” Murdoch started to speak then he stopped when he finally spoke again there was a great sadness in his voice. 

“Johnny – Matt I would do anything to spare you from what I have to say next– there is just no way of telling this with out making your Mother look bad and for that I’m truly sorry. Tom Scanlen came to town about this time I knew he was a gambler and not to be trusted but after he saved your mother from those drunken cowboys I started to trust him.” Murdoch paused for a moment before continuing, waiting to see how Johnny and Matt would react hearing Scanlens name again. 

“Murdoch please continue.” Scott asked quietly 

“Yes, sir, please continue.” Matt said as he put his hand on Murdoch’s arm to let him know he was fine. A nod from Johnny confirmed he was fine also. Pete and Trent sat spellbound listening not knowing what to say.

“Bill Edwards had a gambling problem and before anyone knew what had happened, Bill lost everything he owned. Plus he owed Scanlen seven hundred dollars. He came to me for help — All I could offer him was a job, at that time I didn’t have the money to give him. What I didn’t know at that time Maria was planning on running off with Scanlen. Bill and Margaret came to us late one night with the children, Scanlen told Bill he had less than twenty-four hours to come up with that money or he would kill the whole family! I had two-hundred dollars in the safe to buy some horses with I took it out and gave it to Bill for him and his family to start over somewhere new. Maria suggested that they hid in the caves up here for that night then leave in the morning. When I woke up in the morning Maria had already gotten up and went for a ride something she had started early in the week. She came back that afternoon all upset and crying -not talking to me or anyone. I came to bed after she had fallen asleep never finding out what was wrong. The next morning when I awoke she was gone and you with her John. A couple weeks later Paul found some bloody blankets and a child’s toy I was so lost in my own grief I never gave it any thought. DAMM HER! She led Scanlen right to them! How could she? I should have seen this- what did I miss?” Murdoch yelled trying to keep his voice from cracking.

The silence was deafening as no one knew what say. Finally Trent spoke up. “Mr. Lancer maybe your wife didn’t know what Scanlen was capable of?”

“No Trent she knew what he was going to do. When I was little I would hear her crying out in her sleep begging God to forgive her for the Edwards deaths! Murdoch she betrayed that family just like she betrayed you! Oh God they trusted her and that’s how she repaid their trust and friendship! Johnny exclaimed as he walked away from his family to gain his composure.

“Son don’t beat your self up over this- maybe Scanlen threated her, we’ll never know. Why don’t you and your brothers go bring the wagon and some blankets back. We’ll bury the Edwards on Lancer that’s the least we can do– you boys don’t mind do you? Murdoch asked while putting his arm around Johnny’s shoulders.

“Murdoch that’s fine, I don’t think any one of us will object to that?” Scott stated while Johnny and Matt this gave a nod.

“Fine you need to get going. Oh boys, Mr. and Mrs. Yalon might be there by now. If they are please let them know that their sons are fine and they are with me.

Murdoch spoke while looking sternly at Pete and Trent.”

Yes sir.” Matt said with a grin as he looked at the stricken looks on Pete and Trents face.

Chapter 14

The Lancer brothers rode back to the ranch in silence all three lost in their thoughts about what their father had just shared with them. Matt was the first to speak he had so many questions about his mother that he wanted to ask his brother but he didn’t even know where to begin. “Johnny may I ask you a question about our mother?”

“Yes Matt go ahead. I’m not sure you’ll like the answer though.” Johnny answered tensely not really wanting to talk about their Mother but also knowing he was the only one who could answer Matt’s questions.

“Was she really like- what Murdoch said? Or do you think she was young and scared of Scanlen?” Matt asked while studying his brothers’ faces for their reaction to this question.

Johnny paused a while before he answered making Matt think that he didn’t want to answer his question. “Johnny did you –

“Yes Matt I heard your question. In many ways she was like what Murdoch described-In other ways she was just the opposite. Remember she let Scanlen take you and give you to that orphanage so you would be protected from him. Yeah she was scared of Scanlen for good reason to and he still ended up killing her. She paid for her mistakes -she died trying to protect me- maybe she remembered those children and she couldn’t bear to see me suffer that way, Matt, I don’t know if that’s the answered you’re looking for, but I do know for all her faults she loved us both- maybe in different ways -but she loved us.” 

“Yes Johnny you answered my question – thanks.” Matt said while trying to sort out the information his brother had just given him.

Scott rode in silence looking at his brothers, Johnny had shared more feeling about his mother in those few moments talking with Matt than he had the whole time since him and Scott had arrived at Lancer.

“Matt we haven’t ever talked about our Mother, she was a lonely women who let men use her. When she was sober you couldn’t ask for a better mother. But when she had been drinking things changed- usually for the worse. That’s when all the different men started showing up. They didn”t care to have a half breed around. That’s when the beatings started happening.” Johnny paused for moment waiting for Matt’s response to this bit of information.

“Johnny– where did Scanlen fit in?–what was he doing while our mother was entertaining these men?” Matt asked while the image of his brother trying to get away from those beast forever etched itself in his mind.

“Matt, when Scanlen was losing at the tables– he made her–” Johnny stopped talking and started to turn away from Matt and Scott.

“Johnny, Scanlen made her sell herself didn’t he?” Matt asked softly.

“Yes, Matt that’s right. Scanlen made her sell herself. Our mother was a whore! She sold herself were I wouldn’t go hungry and Scanlen could stay at the tables!” Johnny yelled as he turned to ride off again when he felt Barranaca stop.

“No, Johnny , running won’t make it go away. Keep those happy memories. She did what she had to do to survive. Like you said brother- she loved us both in different ways.” Matt spoke while still hanging on to Barranaca bridle.

Johnny was amazed at the look of compassion on Matt’s face. There was no anger -only love for a women who had given him life and then gave him away to protect that life.

Scott’ who had been listening quietly rode up on the other side of Johnny. “ Johnny listen to what he’s saying. Love her for being your mother. Don’t hate her for what she did to survive.”

Johnny pulled up and stared at both of his brothers. So different but yet so alike. “All right I get the message. Now lets get moving before they send someone out to looking for us .”

Scott glanced over at Matt who had rolled his eyes at Johnnys statement. Knowing full well Johnny had heard what had been said but did he believe it?

“Hey you two it’s over, thats in the past ain’t nothing we can do about it now. So lets enjoy our time together without the two troublemakers.” Johnny said as he face lit up with his smile.

Suddenly Matt started to snicker. “Hey brothers did you catch the looks on Pete and Trent faces when Murdoch said to tell their parents they were with him?”

“Yeah, I caught it. Sorta looked liked they were gonna get sick.” Johnny laughed remembering the stricken looks on Pete’s and Trent’s faces

“Well I’ll tell ya this I don’t feel sorry for them at all.” Matt laughed thinking about those looks also.

“You two are incorrigible” Scott said as he tried not to laugh at expressions on his own brothers’ faces.

“Hey you two- last one of you home gets to do my chores for the next week,” Matt laughed as raced off toward home.

“That’s not fair! You better wait for us!” Scott and Johnny were yelling as Matt raced off.

Matt raced into the yard just as the Yalons were walking out the door with Maria.

Before he could say anything to the Yalons. Johnny and Scott raced into the yard.

“What the heck is going on? Where are my sons ?” Abel Yalon demanded to know before the brothers could dismount.

“Mr. Yalon your sons are fine, they’re with my father back at the cave where they were hiding with my brother. If you will please come back into the house e for a minute I will gladly explain to you and your wife what has happened.” Johnny, Matt please get that wagon ready? Murdoch will be waiting for us and I really don’t think it’s a good idea to make him wait any longer than he has to.” Scott said as he followed the Yalons back into the house.

An hour later three Lancer brothers and one very upset father started back to meet Murdoch , Pete and Trent and to bring the Edwards’ back to their finally resting place. Mrs Yalon decided to stay with Maria not wanting to ride home with the remains of the Edwards’.

Trent and Pete sat watching Murdoch pace back and forth waiting for the explosion they both knew was coming.

Murdoch turned and looked at the stricken faces of the brothers when he finally started to speak he approached them and almost had to smile as the Yalons all must fell off the rocks they were sitting on.

“Boys I don’t what to say. The other day you both had me so angry about how your parents were treating you two I was ready to let them both have a piece of my mind.! Now you got me question if you both weren’t lying to me! I hope for your sakes you decide to come clean with me and give me the true story!”

Murdoch spoke as he paced back and forth in front of Pete and Trent.

“Mr. Lancer do you have to tell are parents everything that we said?” Pete asked timidly.

“DO I HAVE TO TELL YOUR PARENTS! BOY I JUST SENT THEM A TELEGRAM TO LET THEM KNOW YOU TWO WERE MISSING! YES I’M TELLING THEM EVERTHING.” Murdoch walked over to the entrance of the cave and stood there trying to control his anger. Finally he turned and faced Pete and Trent. “BOYS I WANT THE TRUTH AND I WANT IT NOW! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?”

“Yes sir, we understand, I just have one question sir.” Pete asked while scooting back away from Murdoch who walked back over there way with his arms folded and a look on his face that said “you two had better talking or else!”

“Whats your question Pete?” Murdoch asked as he towered over the boys with his arms folded.

“What are you going to do to us for pulling this stunt?” Pete asked while starring at Murdoch’s boots.

“ Look at me you two. I think you already know that answer. What I want to know now did you lie to me?” Murdoch said his voice almost too calm.

Pete and Trent looked at each other then back at Murdoch. Both brothers gulped then Pete answered “ Yes and No sir. We both have different mothers, but our father never had an affair. My mother died when I was born. Trent’s mother was my mother’s sister. She had lost her husband and daughter two years earlier. Pa married her so she could take care of me and come out west to start over. The truth is I always take the blame for what we do because I’m the oldest and I don’t want Ma to stop loving me.”

“ All right. What about the part of your father telling you that he would kill you if you told anyone about this?” Murdoch asked his face losing some of the anger on it.

“He never said he would kill me, all he ever said was people would look down on Ma if they found out.” Pete answered in a quivering tone.

“So that gives you the right to lie to us? The boys and I were furious at your parents after what you told us.

You two are really lucky I’m not your father ! Pete Iv’e changed my mind I’m not going to lay a hand on either one of you, but I will gladly loan your father my belt and the barn if he would like to use it!”

“Mr. Lancer can’t you please just punish us and leave or parents out of this?” Trent asked with a whine to his voice.

“No I won’t do that you’ll wait for parents and boys it will be a long time before I trust you again. Now let’s get camp made it’s going to be dark by the time the boys get back and I don’t want to hear another word about this! Murdoch spoke while glaring at them.

A few hours later Johnny, Scott, Matt and Mr. Yalon arrived at the campsite you could have cut the tension with a knife as Mr. Yalon stared his sons downs after he grabbed them in a bear hug.

Scott nudged Johnny and Matt as he could see Murdoch wanted to talk to Mr. Yalon and the boys together.

As the boys walked off Johnny let out a low whistle then said “You know I thought Murdoch could give cold hard stares but he ain’t got nothing on their Pa. I sure wouldn’t want to be in their boots.”

“I don’t think its their feet they have to worry about “ Matt added as he reached into the wagon and pulled out a blanket.

There’s no doubt about it, they are in some serous trouble.” Scott

added as he pushed his hat back on his had and grabbed a blanket and threw one to Johnny.

Mr. Yalon stood looking at his sons in disbelief never before had he been this angry he knew what he was going to do soon as they got back home and those two weren’t going to be sitting comfortable for a while.

The next morning came all too soon as they loaded the last of the Edwards’ remains Trent gave Pete a shove and said rudeley “Get out of my way, you know this is all Matt and your fault!”

Before Pete could reply or react Mr. Yalon had grabbed Trent rather roughly. “Boy you have no one except yourself to blame for this! Now get in that wagon and set why your still able and don’t open your mouth cause I don’t have to wait to get home to finish this!” as he swatted Trent while he got in the wagon.

Later that day after the Lancers and Yalons arrived home and Mrs. Yalon fussed over the boys .They buried the Edwards’ under the twin oaks overlooking Lancer . Murdoch invited the Yalons for supper but Abel refused saying he had things to take care of at his place.

That night for the first in a little over a week all the Lancers slept well. Next morning as they were getting ready to leave to there assigned tasks for the day. Johhny noticd a rider coming in like the devil himself was chasing him.

Chapter 15

The Lancers watched as the rider got closer. Suddenly Matt hollered “That’s’ Jelly I wonder what’s wrong?”

Jelly was still trying to catch his breath as he practically leaped off his horse. “Boss this here telegram were waiting for yah at the telegraph office. Tommy gave it to me I told him I’d make sure yah got it. Now did yah find them boys yet and ifen yah did er they alright?”

“Jelly relax the boys are just fine. Trent and Pete went home yesterday with some very angry parents and if you would stop yelling for a minute you would probably notice Matt standing right here beside me.” Murdoch spoke while trying to get Jelly to sit down on the bench outside the front door.

For the first time Jelly noticed Matt then he started hollering all over again. “Boy do you have any idea how worried I was? When yer Pa wired me it skeered me plum senseless. I left soon as I got the wire and haven’t rested since! I oughta cut me switch and wear you out!!” Jelly hollered as he advanced on Matt.

Matt moved behind Murdoch hoping for protection from the angry handyman and glaring at his brothers who were almost rolling on the ground with laughter.

“Jelly you don’t have to worry about that Murdoch done took care of it.” Matt spoke while standing behind his father.

With that statement being made Johnny and Scott collapsed on the bench with laughter .

“Jelly everything is fine I’m quite sure Matt will never pull a stunt like that again. Now will you please give me that telegram?” Murdoch asked with his hand outstretched.

“Sure boss here yah go” Jelly said as he handed the telegram to Murdoch and then sat down on the bench making Johnny and Scott move over.

Murdoch read the telegram through keeping his face void of expression. Finally after what seemed like forever he stopped reading and looked up into the concerned faces of his sons and friend. “Boys how would like to a trip?”

“A trip sir? Where ? And what for?” Scott inquired as he finally stopped laughing.

“This telegram is from Jarrod Barkley and he would like to meet in a town called Taison

“Taison ? Why there Murdoch? Only thing that was there when I left was a stage stop, shipping center and a church that was a school during the week.” Matt said before Murdoch could answer the rest of Scott’s question.

“Matt before you so rudely interrupted I was starting to explain why Jarrod wanted to meet us there.” Murdoch spoke while giving his youngest son a glare.

“I’m sorry sir.” Matt said as he went over to bench and stood with his hands in his pockets and head bowed.

“Apology accepted son. Jarrod wants us to meet him in Taison along with the railroad lawyer and Mr. Sanders lawyer.” Murdoch waited for his words to sink in remembering what had happened last time he approached this same subject with Matt.

Matt slowly raised his eyes up to meet his fathers. What Murdoch saw was not a angry young man but a young man who looked like he was caring a load of hurt around! “Murdoch why don’t you ,Johnny and Scott go. Everything I ever cared for are loved in that town is gone Scanlin seen to that .” Matt spoke while trying to swallow the lump in his throat and remembering the white farm house with black shutters and the white picket fence around the yard. And the two little boys that used to ran and play in that yard and the man he had thought of as his father for all those years who would chase and catch them thing tickle them until they all collapsed with laughter. No there was not any way he wanted to go back to those memories. Then there was the night Bob and his pa was killed he was laid up in bed with a broken leg and until the day he died he knew he would remember the sneer on sheriffs face when he told him that Bob and his pa were dead.

Chapter 16

All of a sudden the Lancers heard a door open and close then footsteps running down some stairs. Suddenly a girl with chestnut brown hair emerald green eyes wearing a green gingham print dress burst into the room hollering. “Where’s Matt, Pa”

Matt was across the room in a second gathering Sara up in his arms and twirling around with her.

“Matt you put me down this minute!” Sara giggled slapping Matt on the shoulder.

“Well you asked where I was!” Matt laughed 

The next few seconds were quiet as green eyes and blue eyes locked onto to each other and were lost to the rest of the world around them. Finally Murdoch cleared his throat bring them back to the present and aware of the four sets of eyes watching them.

“Um Mr. Johnson this is my father Murdoch Lancer and brothers Scott and Johnny.” Matt finally stammered out feeling the heat from the flush on his face.

You could hear the clock ticking on the wall as the two men sized each other up. Mr. Johnson remembering the horror stories he had heard about Murdoch Lancer and how he kicked his pregnant wife and two and half year old son out of his house because he was ashamed of their Mexican heritage.

Murdoch stood stunned by the look of pure hatred for him that crossed Mr. Johnson’s face.

Mr. Johnson spoke first “Matt will you and your brothers leave your Pa and me alone for minute please. I have something I want to say to him and I think it would be better if you three don’t hear them!” Johnny and Scott stood in disbelief what they had just heard and seen.

Before they could say or get a word in Murdoch spoke in a tone that all three of his sons knew and respected. “Boys go on out, it seems whatever this gentlemen has to say to me is private. So please excuse us.” Not a word was spoken as his three sons turned then walked out with confused looks on their faces.

“Sara you may join Matt and his brothers outside if you would like otherwise go back upstairs while Mr. Lancer and I talk.” Mr. Johnson said rather firmly never taking his eyes off Murdoch’s face.

“Yes sir.” Sara spoke as she scurried after the Lancer brothers not knowing what had happened to make her father so angry. 

The tension in the air was so thick that you could have tried to cut it with a bowie knife and never made a slice in it.

Mr. Johnson finally spoke with anger in his voice never breaking eye contact with Murdoch. “Does Matt have any idea that you kicked his mother out, after she told you she was excepting?”

Murdoch stood in disbelief looking hard at Mr. Johnson knowing this man actually believed that story!

“ Maria what have you done with your lies? How many lives and family’s were destroyed because of your deceptions!” Murdoch thought as he readied himself to tell the painful story all over again. “Sir I’m not sure what you have heard, I can only imagine, but I assure you that I loved my wife very much and never would have sent her away. As for my son’s I never knew about Matt and spent years looking for Johnny! Before you ask I was never ashamed of having a Mexican wife, and all three of my sons mean the world to me. Nothing or anyone will ever come between us again!” Murdoch spoke with an edge to voice most men would have backed down from.

The two men stood staring at each other neither giving an inch.

Mr. Johnson was the first to break the stare. He slowly started to smile then stuck his hand out to Murdoch . “My name is Adam and I’m pleased to hear you’ll never let anything come between you and your boys. I figured there was more to this story. I had to be sure though , that young man out there means the world to me and he has been through hell! I could tell by the way he introduced us how he felt about you.” Murdoch slowly accepted the extended hand. “Murdoch is my name pleased to meet you Adam. I think we better bring our families back in here and explain.

Scott walked outside followed by his brothers and Sara. Soon as they were outside Johnny started pacing back and forth finally he stopped then looked at Scott and Matt who were leaning against the hitching rail.

As he started to speak Sara interrupted “What’s wrong with our fathers? I’ve never see my father so upset.

Scott pushed his hat back on his head, staring at the door they just all had exited Slowly he turned and looked at Sara before speaking. “Far as I know or fathers have never seen each other before. I have no idea why your father is so angry with ours? “

Before anything else could be said the door opened and Murdoch along with Adam Johnson walked out smiling. The confused looks they received from there children only caused the smiles to grow bigger. Murdoch spoke first telling his sons they would be eating dinner with the Johnsons that evening almost laughing out loud at the shocked looks on his sons faces.

“Murdoch what’s happing? Five minutes ago you two looked like two old bulls ready to square off, now it’s like nothing has ever happened. Would you care to explain what happened inside?” Matt asked while smiling at Sara who had walked over to her father and stood beside him with his arm around her shoulders.

“No son I don’t care to explain right now, we’ll tell you tonight over supper. Right now all I want is a hot bath and clean bed. Do you think that you three can manage to stay out of trouble tell supper?” Murdoch asked with a smile then giving Matts shoulders a squeeze.

“Now Murdoch have we ever given you any reason not to trust us?” Johnny asked trying to look hurt, but his mischievous smile giving him away.

“Where would you like me to start?” Murdoch asked with the mock severity in his own laughing eyes giving him away. Throwing up their arms in mock surrender his sons turned to leave then remembering Sara standing there beside her father they asked if she would like to join them.

Sara declined saying she needed to see about getting dinner on.

As the brothers started down the street Matt pointed out certain buildings and what they were. When they arrived in front of the saloon they debated among themselves before going in. Once inside Scott informed Matt he was allowed one beer and that was it. They had know sooner sat down when a big burly cowboy turned around then with his eyes still locked on Matt he made his way over to the table where the Lancer brothers were sitting. Saul Turner had not seen Matt in almost two years and he long thought him dead. But there he was sitting with two strangers one who looked remarkably like Matt. Johnny and Scott watched as Saul made his way over to there table wondering what was going to happen next and praying silencing too themselves there would be no trouble! Matt suddenly recognized Saul, leaped to his feet slapping his friend on the back then grabbing a chair telling Saul to sit down have a beer on them. Then realizing he hadn’t introduced his brothers turned to Scott and Johnny explaining that he and Saul had been friends since childhood.

Soon the beer and stories about some of Matt’s and Bob’s stunts started flowing . Two hours later Scott took out his pocket watch glancing at it and the four empty beer mugs in front of Matt he knew they had stayed too long and that by Matt’s behavior he had to much beer and if Murdoch found out just how much beer Matt had drunk on a empty stomach there would be hell to pay. All of a sudden the saloon doors swung opened the man standing there took up the whole door blocking the sun . You could hear a pin drop as he walked across the floor to the table were the three Lancers sat along with Saul.  

Scott Lancer was a Lieutenant in the Union army and a prisoner of war in the war between the states and he had seen things that would make a grown man tremble. But nothing had every caused his stomach to lurch as it was now. He’s eyes slowly traveled up the form of the man standing in front of him with his arms crossed and a look like he who would like to throttle someone!

Johnny felt like his stomach was coming up to meet his eyes. Johnny Madrid had stared down many a gunfighter but the man who stood before him had the remarkable ability to make him feel like a small boy who had just been caught doing something he want supposed to be doing!

Matt looked up to see his father standing in front of the table with his arm folded and a look that said “You’re really in trouble now!” But that want what was bothering Matt though .Slowly he stood to face his father’s wrath, he started to say hi, when suddenly his stomach revolted then emptied it’s contents all over his father’s boots.

Saul seeing his chance to escape this giants wrath made a hasty departure out the back remembering his own father was waiting for him and the supplies in the wagon out front.

Murdoch stood speechless staring at the mess on his boots. Before he could say a word Scott grabbed one of Matt’s arm Johnny grabbed the other. Then totally ignoring Murdoch’s glare, they fled the saloon not even paying heed to the laughter following them.

Soon as they had Matt back to the hotel Johnny went in first to make sure neither Sara or her father were  nowhere around!

Matt laid on the bed moaning like a cow in distress trying to focus his eyes on his father who was pacing back and forth not even say a word. Scott looked over at Johnny who stood by the window looking like he was ready to jump if need be. Johnny looked up at Scott with a look that said “this is all your fault, you’re the one who let him drink!”

Murdoch finally felt like he could trust himself to speak without shouting. “You two will get your brother cleaned up and in bed! While I try to explain to our host and hostess why Matt won’t be joining us for supper!”

Scott started to speak but Murdoch silenced him with a glare. “After you get him cleaned up and in bed you two may join us for supper! But rest assured I will want a explanation about how this happened! And trust me it had better be good!” Murdoch practically barked as he turned and stormed out

Adam Johnson roared with laughter as Murdoch tried to explain to why Matt wouldn’t be joing them for supper. “Oh Murdoch this isn’t the first time Matt’s done this. Come sit down I’ll tell you some stories that will turn your gray hair grayer! That boy could find trouble in a prayer meeting ”

Murdoch smiled in spite of trying not to. He could well remember he and his brothers doing the same thing and their father not being anywhere near as understanding. Yes being young meat doing foolish things but being a father he also knew had to let those three sons of his know just how upset he was.

Scott walked down the stairs with Johnny following close behind wishing he could turn back time. There was no doubt in his mind his ears would be stinging from the yelling that would start as soon Murdoch had all three of his sons alone.

Johnny had just started to follow Scott into the dining room when the hotel front door opened. Jarrod Barkley entered with a tall thin man that looked like a good wind would blow him away.

Chapter 17

Jarrod Barkley greeted the Lancers and Johnsons with handshakes then turned and introduced the gentleman with him.

“Murdoch this is Michael O’Donald he’s the attorney for the railroad. Michael this Murdoch Lancer his sons Scott, Johnny**** where’s Matt?” Jarrod asked while looking around.

Murdoch flashed a look toward Johnny and Scott that made them suddenly very interested in what was on the dining room table.

“Jarrod, Matt isn’t feeling well right now. I’m hoping he’ll be feeling better tomorrow, though I’m not counting on it!” Murdoch spoke while glaring at the back of dark head and blond one.

“All right I guess we’ll check in then go get something to eat and call it a night. How about meeting at Mr. Parker’s office tomorrow around 9.00 am where we can straighten this case out?” Jarrod asked knowing there was more than Matt just being not feeling well behind Murdoch’s explanation and soon as he had Johnny, Scott and Matt together he would hear it.

“Nine AM will be fine Jarrod. We’ll be there, maybe after the meeting we can ride out and see the Sanders Ranch?” Murdoch asked.

“Sounds fine to me Murdoch. Now I’m tired and all I want is something to eat and a bed.” Jarrod responded as he walked toward the front desk.

“Jarrod why don’t you and Michael join us for supper we have plenty, besides I promised Murdoch some stories about Matt. Sara honey get a couple of extra plates for our guest?” Adam asked.

Soon everyone was settled around the table passing the mashed potatoes with white gravy, green beans and fried chicken along with biscuits that would melt in your mouth.

“Well Adam you promised some stories about that youngest son of mine that would turn my hair grayer, though I can’t imagine anything would top his last adventure.” Murdoch said with a smile.

“Well Murdoch one story that stands out in my mind is about Tree Rat.” Adam said with a laugh.

“Tree Rat? I’m almost afraid to ask what it is?” Murdoch replied smiling.

“Tree Rat was a squirrel that Matt and Bob found as a baby. They bottle fed that crazy squirrel took him everywhere they went. Tree Rat would ride on their shoulders, top of their heads, inside their coats were every those two boys were so was Tree Rat.” Adam paused remembering the furry little rodent that was instrumental in getting the church built. “We wanted to build a church- the services were being held in the school and it was getting too small. Mr. Cain was the only member holding out. Without his money the church couldn’t be built. On the day we were to have the final vote a visiting minister was in town and our pastor decided he could bring forth the message. He was speaking about how you couldn’t take your money with you when you were dead. Then he started speaking about the demons of Hell that were coming for unbelievers. Now those boys knew that Tree Rat wasn’t allowed in church but Mr. Cain’s hounds had followed him to church that day.” Adam stopped speaking chuckling to himself he took a drink of water then con united on.

“Well Mr. Cain was squirming around in his seat like that message was just for him. When the next thing we knew the preacher said “and the demons of Hell are coming for you!” as he pointed out to the congregation. Tree Rat jumped out of Matt’s jacket and right on top of Cain’s bald head! Cain leaped up like he had been grabbed by one of those demons itself and let out a yell that would have rattled Hell’s gates! Next thing we knew Tree Rat had lit on the floor and ran toward the door. Well those crazy hounds seen him about the same time Tree Rat spotted them. Then all hell broke loose in that meeting! Oh Murdoch if you could only have seen it that squirrel running over pews, dogs following boys tripping over the dogs. Ladies passing out from fright. By the time Tree Rat escaped with the hounds after him Cain had his wallet out handing the preacher money for the new church. People were standing on pews – the visiting preacher looking like he had seen a ghost.” Adam stopped talking as the Lancers along with Jarrod, Michael and Sara were laughing uncontrollably

“Adam?” Murdoch finally managed to ask, “What happened to Tree Rat and those boys?” 

“Murdoch I tell yah Pete was so red we thought he was furious I thought for sure those two boys wouldn’t be able to sit for a week. He was getting ready to leave when the Pastor walked over and stuck his hand out to Matt and Bob telling them that the plan worked great! Then he told Pete if he laid a hand on either one of those boys he would answer to God and him! Yah should of seen Pete’s face that anger vanished like dirt in a dust storm, then all of a sudden he started laughing ’til the tears rolled down his face. Those two boys sure breathed a great sigh of relief when Pete started laughing. Tree Rat is still around he’s getting old and gray not moving as fast as he used too. He’s living out at the ranch with the couple who were hired to take care of it.

Once the laughter died down supper was finished without any more stories. Sara received compliments from everyone on just how good it was. Adam cleared his throat rather nervously before he started to speak.

“Murdoch there’s something I have to let you know and there is no easy way to say it!” Adam said as he went over to the window and looked outside like he was just waiting for someone to come walking up. “Sara, honey, will you please excuse us, this is something I don’t want you to hear. You can finish the dishes later or, better yet, I’ll finish them before I go to bed.” Adam spoke as he gave his daughter a kiss goodnight.

“Murdoch, I guess the easiest way is this to say it and get it out. About six months ago the river overflowed it banks and washed out part of the cemetery. Two of the graves that were washed out were Pete’s and Bob’s you can imagine our shock when we opened Bob’s coffin and there was no body. Murdoch, the Sheriff had the bodies buried before anyone got to see them. We all just assumed they both were there.”

“NO YOU’RE LYING, THEY’RE DEAD! IS THIS SOME CRUEL JOKE?” Matt yelled as he stumbled into the room as everything started spinning partly from the effects of the alcohol and from the shock of what he had just heard. “When is this nightmare ever going to end?”

“Matt, Son, take it easy will find out what’s happening just take it easy, listen to what Adam is telling us.” Murdoch spoke as he helped Matt to a chair.

“Take it easy, Murdoch for almost two years I thought Bob and his Father dead! Then to find out that Bob may still be alive or worse yet his bones just laying out there for the vultures and God knows what else to pick clean! SO YOU JUST TELL ME AGAIN MURDOCH HOW I’M SUPPOSE TO TAKE IT EASY!” Matt spat as he jerked away from his father and stumbled toward the back door knowing he was going to be sick again.

Murdoch stood behind Matt with his hand on the back of Matt’s head as for the second time that day his son was sick in front of him. “Murdoch please don’t say anything right now. I don’t think I’m going to be able to take much more tonight. We should have had Jarrod meet us at Lancer. Every time I think this is all starting to fade into a nightmare something else happens Tell me Pa where does it all end? Just how much more is Scanlen going to tear up this family? Oh God Pa, what if Bob laid out there and died thinking no one cared about him! For the second time since Murdoch had met his third son he held him as Matt cried like his very heart was breaking.

Johnny and Scott stood in the doorway listening to what Matt and their Father was saying. They felt like a knife had been plunged into their own hearts and was being twisted as they listed to anguish sobs of Matt.

Slowly they turned then with heavy hearts of their own they walked back into the dining room where Adam, Jarrod and Michael along with Sara who had come running back downstairs when she heard Matt yelling stood with looks of concern on all their faces.

“Scott, Johnny I’m sorry I didn’t mean—–” Adam started to say but stopped when Scott held up his hand.

“Mr. Johnson you had no way of knowing Matt was listening. I know you would never have spoken like that if you knew Matt was standing there. Johnny and I want to hear more about this so called accident and where it took place. While Murdoch and Matt meets with you two and Mr. Parker tomorrow.” Scott spoke directing his voice toward Jarrod and Michael. “Johnny and I are going to the site and look around some, there has to be a some sort of evidence there! All I know right now is my little brother is caught in the middle of a nightmare that just keeps getting worse! I want this mess solved before we leave once and for all!”

Murdoch seeing the look of sadness that was clouding Matt’s face quickly moved over to his son putting his arm around Matt’s shoulder. “Son I know there are bad memories there but there also are good memories too You have shared many of these with us. I also feel that I need to pay respect to a man that raised my youngest son into the wonderful caring person he is today.”

Matt looked up unashamed of the tears that were threaten to spill over his eyes . “I’ll go sir but promise me one thing if I’m not too respectful to Mr. Sanders lawyer you won’t have my hide cause I can’t stand that man!”

Murdoch smiled in spite of himself “I’ll promise you – I won’t have your hide but I will except some respect do you understand that son?

“Yes sir I understand Matt spoke with a hint of a smile.

“Well all I have to say is this dang blasted dust is horrible.” Jelly mumbled as he walked off to the bath house.

“I have to agree with Jelly the dust out here is horrible. So let’s move into the house and discuss this.” Murdoch said as he started back into the house. He turned to look at his three sons who was staring at him “like who is this man and where is our father?” “Boys will you please join me we have some plans to make.”

As his sons entered the great room and seated themselves Murdoch stood in front of the fireplace. H e started to speak slowly not wanting to cause his youngest anymore anguish than he had to. But he had some questions that only Matt could answer. “Matt I know this conversation will be hard for you and Johnny it also might bring back things for you also” Murdoch paused waiting for his words to sink in. He watched as his three sons exchanged looks between themselves. “All right Murdoch what do you want to know?” Matt asked softly

“Matt outside you said that you don’t like Mr. Sanders lawyer I would like to know why? You have shared a lot with us about growing up with Bob and some of the things you two did together. What I want to know is what happened that night Scanlen dragged you off to that orphanage ?

Matt swallowed hard a couple times then proceeded to tell a story that made his father wish Scanlen was still alive where he could kill him all over again!

“I had my cast off about a week and was starting to get around really well. When I started noticing things missing Scanlen had no explanation as what was happening . I could see he was getting more and more agitated with my questions. Finally one day he told me we were going to see Mr. Sanders lawyer. Once we got there he and the lawyer started in on me about a will. I knew there was one cause Mr. Sanders had talked to Bob and me about it. Where it was I didn’t know. Finally they gave up I thought and we left for home. All the way there Scanlen kept glaring at me never saying a word. When we arrived home I jumped out of the buggy and started toward the house. That’s when he grabbed my arm and said, “boy I want answers and I want them now!” I tried to pull away that’s when he first hit me. As I lay on the ground trying to figure out what happened he reached down and jerked me to my feet dragging me into the barn. Once in there he told me I reminded him of another half breed brat he once knew. I told him I wasn’t scared of him or his type.” Matt stopped speaking closing his eyes trying to forget the horror that happened next. He looked up in surprise when he felt Johnny s hand on his arm.

“Go ahead brother tell Scott and Murdoch what happened next I -all ready know. They need to hear it and I think you need to say it.” Johnny spoke softly while keeping his hand on Matt’s arm.

“He walked over to the wall and took down a harness strap walked back over to me and said “Start talking boy” I turned my head and spat on the floor then he took and beat me till I couldn’t feel the blows landing anymore. Next thing I remember is having cold water splashed in my face and Scanlin saying “Boy you’re not getting off this easy” He raised the strap and as he bought it down I grabbed it and jerked it out of his hand. All I remember after that is his fist coming toward my face. Two days later I woke up at that orphanage Scanlen was gone and all I had was my coat and Bible that I hid in it.

No one said a word for a few seconds after Matt finished speaking. Finally Murdoch found his voice. He looked at Johnny and Matt setting beside each other. Two of his sons never raised together but suffered the same fate at the hands of the same bastard! “Matt, Johnny I wish to God that I could have been there to protect you from him.”

“Murdoch it’s the past. Let it go Scanlen is dead and he’ll never hurt us again.” Johnny said as he started to rise.

Scott who had been setting quietly not saying a word stood up squeezed Matt’s shoulder looked at his father and Johnny then announced he was going for a ride then turned and walked out the door.

Johnny started after him when Murdoch’s voice stopped him. “Let him go Johnny. He needs time along to think about what he’s just heard.”

“Murdoch he needs to know there was nothing he could have done.” Johnny said while his eyes pleaded with Murdoch to let him go after Scott.

“All right John go after him I’ll see you later ,” Murdoch said as he turned his attention back to Matt who was sitting with his head in his hands.

“Son I’m sorry about that day in the barn I never would have used that strap if I had known what Scanlin had done.” Matt looked up at his father in amazement

“ Murdoch I deserved everything you gave me that day I never once compared that day to Scanlen beating” Matt said . Then in his next breath he smiled at his father then still grinning he asked “Does that mean the next time I mess up I’m off the hook?”

”Murdoch folded his arms across his chest and in mock severity said, “Don’t push your luck son.”

“Yes sir but it never hurts to try.” Matt said as he ran out the door as Murdoch grabbed for him laughing.

Johnny rode out after Scott knowing his older brother was probably angry cause he wasn’t there to protect his brothers.

Scott played the scene in the great room over and over again in his head. It was so unfair that Johnny and Matt had to suffer like that when he lived in the lap of luxury. Sure his grandfather had gotten mad at him but never once had he hit him. The worse punishment he ever received was being sent to bed without supper and comparing that to what his brothers has suffered it was nothing.

Johnny slowed down as Matt joined him the two brothers rode in silence both thinking of Scott and what to say when they found him.

Finally they spotted him standing by a stream skipping stones . Scott stood and waited for his brothers to join him then he turned and spoke , “ I’m sorry I shouldn’t have left like that . It just seems so unfair I had everything never wanted for anything.! You know I grew up without anyone hitting me Grandfather would have fired them immediately.”

Johnny trying to make light of the tension Scott was feeling, slapped his brother on the shoulder and said “Well if that’s the problem brother I’ll talk to Murdoch – tell him you feel left out.”

“No thanks brother I’ll pass if that’s all right with you,” Scott said while grinning.

“Ah Scott you don’t know what your missing .” Matt said teasing.

“All right you two that’s not what I was talking about and you both know it.” Scott replied while turning back to the stream.

“Scott there is nothing you could have done. Hell he would of beaten you too. What happened is in the past. Right now we have the future to look forward to as a family. Murdoch said something about a trip and making plans. So lets go back and plan brother. Johnny said while resting his hand on Scott’s arm.

Scott slowly turned and looked at Matt and Johnny then asked. “Do you two ever think about how it would have been like growing up here with Murdoch?”

“Yeah I thought about it.” Johnny answered with a mischievous grin “How you would have been the perfect older brother always taking the blame.”

“Now just a minute,” Scott said laughing. “What makes you think I would always take the blame for the things you two thought up?”

“Because that’s what older brothers do .” Matt said laughing at the look on Scott’s face.

“Oh really, is that so, then what do little brothers do for older brothers? Scott asked while standing with his arms folded.

“Oh they “ Matt was saying as he mounted his horse “Get them caught sneaking back into the house after they went to town and left their little brother home.”

“You are going to get it Matt !” Scott yelled leaping on the back of his horse then taking after Matt.

“Hey, yah two wait for me!” Johnny shouted trying to catch up.

Murdoch stood looking out the window lost in his own thought s about how life would have so different if his sons had been raised with him when suddenly he noticed his boys racing up to the house.

Matt was off his horse and running through the door straight for his father shouting “Murdoch help I’m your youngest! You to have protect me from my mean older brothers!”

“What the heck is going on?” Murdoch started to say just as Johnny and Scott rushed in headed straight for Matt who by then had put himself behind Murdoch for protection.

“Not a thing a good dunking in the horse trough won’t take care of sir.,” Scott said grabbing for Matt.

Murdoch seeing the smiles on all of his sons faces stepped aside so that Scott could grab Matt’s arms and Johnny his feet then out the door they went Matt hollering all the way. Seeing his youngest wasn’t going to be hurt Murdoch hollered to the boys “When you’re done dunking your brother maybe we could talk about our upcoming trip.

Scott and Johnny who had reached the horse trough by then dropped Matt in then turned and walked back into the house like nothing had happened and seated themselves like they were earlier.

Matt walked in behind them dripping water as he headed toward the stairs and his room to change his clothes.

A few minutes later Matt joined his family in the great room with a towel drying his hair.

Murdoch looked at the three of them shaking his head and said “There are some thing’s fathers are better off not knowing about and I think this might be one of those times.”

That comment brought grins to all three of the boys faces and they shared a look between them.

Two hours later the plans being made the brothers headed out to complete the chores they had started out to do early that morning.

The next week was busy with last minute preparations as the Lancer prepared to leave for Taison.

It was a hot, dusty day the Lancers arrived in Taison. Matt was amazed at the changes Taison had undergone in the last two years. It had grown into a sprawling town with a bank and new school several new stores had been built. People turned and looked at the four Lancers as they rode up to the hotel and dismounted and went inside.

Once inside a older gentlemen behind the counter started to speak then stopped and stared at Matt. His face suddenly broke into a wide smile as he recognized Matt. “Sara,” he shouted , It’s Matt Sanders! He’s back.”

Chapter 18

Matt rolled over and moaned as the light glaring in from the window made his head scream. Between the hangover and the news from last night, he felt like his head was in a vise and someone was turning the handle. Slowly he sat up as the room swam around him causing his stomach to feel like it was coming up and everything in it.

Murdoch walked in just as Matt reached the basin.

“Good morning son feeling a little rough? To many beers will do that to you.” Murdoch said as he handed a towel to Matt, then sat down on the bed. “Matt we have to talk about yesterday—” Murdoch started to say when Matt interrupted.

“Pa I’m sorry about the saloon, It wasn’t Scott and Johnny’s fault I kept switching beers around and they never caught on,” Matt said as he sat on the bed with his head in his hands.

“That’s not what I came in here to talk about. I do appreciate your honesty about it though and we’ll discuss it later with your brothers and you can explain to them what you did.” Murdoch spoke while trying to hide the smile that threatened to show at the look of horror that crossed Matt’s face.

“Pa they’ll kill me! Scott said only one beer and I had four or five. Please don’t make me tell them!” Matt begged while the whole time his head felt like it could explode.

“You should have thought about that before you started to switch drinks young man” Murdoch spoke firmly. “We need to talk about the meeting with Jarrod and Michael along with Mr. Sanders’ attorney. Matt, if Bob is still alive it changes things I told Jarrod last night after you went back to bed that I fith glee as his pa died. Only when they had turned to look for him did he retreat. 

He knew the time had come for him to track down the sheriff and his partner. Both those men were dead they just didn’t know it yet. The last year and half he had become excellent with a knife he was remarkable with a rifle but it was his speed and aim with a pistol that made him sure the sheriff or his friend didn’t stand a chance.

He was brought out of his thoughts as he heard the dark haired man say, “Scott do you think Bob is still alive? Matt has been through hell; first thinking Bob and his pa were murdered, then finding out that Bob’s casket was empty and now having to put off the railroad and wait until we find Bob’s body or evidence he is still alive. “ 

“Johnny I don’t know about Bob being alive it sure would be nice though. What do you think about Murdoch’s idea. For that tombstone? “ Scott asked while he stopped reaching for his canteen.

“I thought it was great, Pete Sanders sounded like one great guy. What better way to pay respect to a man that raised your son into the remarkable person he is.” Johnny answered taking a drink from his canteen.

Both brother’s stared in amazement as a young man rode out from among the trees and stopped, looking at each brother hard. If they were amazed to see him riding out of the trees then his next announcement just about knocked them out of there saddles. “My name is Bob Sanders. What do you know about my Pa and Matt?” 

It seemed as time stood still until finally Johnny broke the silence with a grin. “Bob you just made our job easier. Matt is going to be speechless, he’s waiting at your ranch for us.” Seeing the total look of disbelief on Bob’s face Johnny quickly introduced him self. “My name is Johnny Lancer this guy here is Scott. We’re Matt’s older brothers.”

Bob felt everything around him start to spin and the next thing he knew someone was wiping his face with a cool cloth. He struggled to set up not wanting these two strangers to see any weakness on his part. 

“Hey kid, take it easy. You took quite a fall and I sure didn’t mean to startled you like that, Matt has talked so much about yah I feel like we know yah.” Johnny said reaching for his canteen before handing it to Bob.

“Bob my name is Scott Lancer and I know this is coming too fast for you right now. Matt is not dead. He’s with our father right now out at your place. Matt found us a few months ago and up tell last night we thought you and your father were dead.” 

“Matt—- is alive?” Bob asked in disbelief, swatting Johnny’s hand away.

“Yes Bob, Matt is very much alive.” Johnny replied, offering Bob his hand again. 

“Take me to him please I need to see for myself and don’t try anything funny I know how to use this pistol and you better hope this isn’t no joke.” Bob stated as he turned to walk over to his horse.

Matt stood in the front yard of the ranch that he had so many fond memories of. Pa and he had arrived about two hours ago to meet the couple that was renting the ranch. He stopped and looked over to Murdoch who was standing by the corral talking to Gabe about the stallion that was prancing around tossing his head like he owned the world. Matt smiled thinking about how easy it was calling Murdoch Pa. He felt like Murdoch was his father from the beginning and calling him Pa now just was right.

Murdoch looked over and smiled Matt was turning into a remarkable young man. He and Johnny had been through so much in their lives already it amazed still how well they had turned out. 

Matt walked over to Murdoch and started to comment on the stallion when suddenly he spotted three riders off in the distance.

Murdoch noticed the three riders about the same time and he quickly put his arm on Matt’s shoulder. ”Son don’t get your hopes up, it just might be some strangers.”

“No Pa it’s Scott and Johnny I would recognize Barranca anywhere. But who’s with them? It can’t be Bob he’s a lot smaller than that guy.” 

Murdoch and Matt along with Gabe watched the three riders approach wondering the whole time who the third rider was? 

Johnny and Scott grinned at each other as they waved to their father and Matt knowing as soon as Matt and Bob recognized each other the yelling would begin. Bob stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding in front of him It just couldn’t be possible it just couldn’t be! As they rode up to where Murdoch, Matt and Gabe stood Bob’s heart felt like it was about to pound out of his chest. He dismounted then slowly walked toward Matt, “Matt is it really you?” he asked disbelievingly.

Matt looked with disbelief at Bob for half a second then let loose with a yell that sent the stallion running to the other side of the corral “Bob! Oh my God! Bob you’re alive!”

There wasn’t a dry eye as the two young men grabbed in a bear hug then broke loose staring at each other before hugging each other again. 

Bob stepped back trying to gain some composure. After all, Matt was really the only one he knew well. “Matt what happened to you? I came back one night about two months later and the place was deserted. “

“Bob let’s go inside and talk. We have a lot of catching up to do. I really want to know what happened to your father. Speaking of fathers this is mine. Murdoch this is Bob Sanders. Bob this is my father Murdoch Lancer.”

Bob stepped back taking Murdoch’s size in before speaking. “Your father? How? Why didn’t he? Ah Matt it don’t matter none I’m just happy you’re alive.” 

“Well Bob the feelings are mutual. Please let’s go inside and talk. We have so much catching up to do.” Matt asked while swinging his arm around Bob’s shoulder.

“NO, I’M NOT GOING IN THERE” Bob spat angrily as he jerked away from Matt, “Matter of fact soon as I get some supplies I’m leaving I have a sheriff to track down! He’s going to pay for what he did to my father!” 

Before Matt could respond to Bob’s outburst Johnny spoke up. “Sorry Bob but I took him out when he came after Matt. His partner is dead too. Your sheriff seen to that also.” Johnny said with disgust 

“Listen Bob I know you’re angry , hurt and all of this is coming way to fast. There is time to discuss the sheriff and Scanlen later. Right now why don’t we go back to town? You can stay with us at the hotel. You and Matt have some decisions to make concerning this ranch.” Murdoch spoke gently guiding Bob to a bench.

“Mr. Lancer, I can’t speak for Matt but I don’t want this place or anything to do with it.”

Suddenly there was a chattering above and a fuzzy little head appeared before Murdoch could respond to Bob’s statement.

“Tree Rat!“ Matt and Bob said in unison. 

“So that’s his name, it sure fits him. First time he jumped on my shoulder I thought he was attacking me.” Gabe laughed while he patted his shoulder showing Tree Rat it was all right to come on down. Tree Rat leaped off the branch he was sitting on to Gabe’s shoulder. Then he started chattering at the Lancers and Bob, it seemed like he was telling them they were invading his territory.

Matt held out his hand slowly allowing Tree Rat to sniff it. Suddenly Tree Rat gave a bark and leaped onto Matt’s shoulder chattering like he just discovered a long lost friend. Bob held his hand out next and soon had the same reaction.

Murdoch just didn’t have the heart to bring up the ranch again as he watched Matt and Bob renew their friendship with Tree Rat. It didn’t take the whole family very long to make friends with the furry little rodent.

Soon Gabe’s wife arrived back home from visiting the neighbor who had just had a new baby. She greeted her husband with a kiss then turned and smiled and shook hands with the Lancers and Bob as her husband introduced her.

“Mr. Lancer, Scott, Johnny, Matt and Bob this is my wife Ellen. Ellen I would like you to meet Murdoch Lancer and his sons/ Scott, Johnny and Matt. This young man here is Bob Sanders his father owned this ranch.”

“ Pleased to meet you. Come on in I just made some fresh apple pie before I left and I will put on a fresh pot of coffee. I also won‘t take no for an answer.” Ellen said as she turned to walk into the house.

Murdoch braced himself watching Bob and waiting for another explosion like the last one when Matt suggested that they go into the house.

Bob stood staring at Ellen’s back as she entered the house. She hadn’t even given him time to say no and he decided that Ellen was a woman who didn’t take no for an answer very often. So he shook his head and followed her in.

Once inside Ellen asked where they were staying and again before Murdoch or anyone could reply, she informed them that they all would be staying there. They had plenty of room.

Murdoch just smiled and agreed. Then asking Scott and Johnny if they would mind going back into town and informing Jarrod where they were staying. He also requested that Jarrod and the attorneys please ride back out to ranch with Scott and Johnny. When Bob started to protest Murdoch silenced him with a glare.

Ellen insisted the boys tell Jarrod and the attorneys they would be staying for supper and she wouldn’t be hearing any arguments about it.

Jarrod and both of the attorneys agreed to come on out and stay for supper after Johnny and Scott informed them it probably would be in there best interest to stay for supper as Ellen was a women you didn’t want angry with you.

After a supper Gabe and the Lancers along with Jarrod, Bob and the attorneys went into the parlor and shut the door while Ellen cleaned up. It didn’t take long to decide that Gabe and Ellen would be the caretakers of the ranch. Gabe then called Ellen in and informed her of the decision. It also was decided that Gabe and Ellen could open up their home to the five Caitlin children who had lost their parents to Scanlen and the Sheriff also.

The attorney for the railroad also informed Gabe and Ellen they would be getting money from the railroad every month for expenses that they would incur taking these children in.

All Matt and Bob requested was that they be allowed to take Tree Rat with them back to Lancer.

The next day was Saturday and as Murdoch, Gabe and Jarrod along with the attorneys finalized the paperwork, Johnny and Scott rode off to look over the ranch. Matt and Bob took Tree Rat and went to their favorite fishing hole to catch supper.

Supper that night was filled with laughter and stories that Matt and Bob told. Murdoch glanced around the table at his family and newly acquired son, Bob. He saw a light in Matt’s eyes that he had never seen before and Bob, it seemed like his anger was leaving as each story was shared. Tomorrow they would set the tombstone for Pete Sanders and Murdoch silently thanked Pete for the wonderful job he had done with Matt and promised him Bob would be well taken care of.

Sunday morning found the Lancers sleeping in late. The night before had been a time for stories and remembering, the good times and bad. Murdoch was sure of one thing though with Matt and Bob together life would never be dull at Lancer! He watched as Matt and Bob stood off in corner talking. He knew by the smiles that those two where up to something.

Gabe and Ellen had announced at breakfast that they would be attending church that morning. Then after church they would make arrangements to pick up the Caitlin children from the families they had been staying with.

Much to Murdoch surprise his sons and Bob said they would like to attend also. As they rode to church Murdoch kept glancing over to Johnny who was exchanging grins with Matt and Bob. He didn’t know what those three were up to but what ever it was he was sure it spelled trouble! Soon as they arrived at the Church, Matt and Bob were surrounded by friends. Murdoch watched as Johnny stepped back avoiding the talk and laughter. If he known then what was going to be happening once church started they would have left right then. All went well as the service started he still had that felling of impending doom but with the light hearted singing he started to feel better. When the preaching started he noticed the grins exchanged again. When the boys saw him frown the grins faded and he relaxed. That was a mistake because it gave Johnny time to remove a furry little body from his coat and put him on the seat next to him. What happened next Murdoch was sure would be talked about in that town for years to come and passed down from generation to generation!

Scott seeing what Johnny was doing reached, out to grab Tree Rat and that’s all it took. Tree Rat was off and running it was like he was living in the same story Murdoch had heard just the other night. By the time Tree Rat had made his run through the church Murdoch was pretty sure the Lancers and Sanders would never be invited back to this town! As they filed out of church with Scott holding the little rodent that caused all this havoc the people of the church looked like they had been to a Saturday night brawl! All the pastor would say “Is goodbye Mr. Lancer I hope you enjoyed your stay in our town . I’m very pleased to see that Matt, Bob and Tree Rat are alive and well.” Then he murmured something about a woodshed revival as he was walking away. Murdoch turned toward his wayward sons and their partners in this crime and said. “HOME NOW!”

They rode out of town and Murdoch could feel four sets of eyes staring at his back. When they had ridden a fair piece Murdoch had to stop. As he looked at the culprits who were waiting for the bellowing to start . Murdoch started to laugh, between the look on their faces and what had happened at church he couldn’t help it. He knew for a fact between his three sons and Bob along with Tree Rat life never would be dull at Lancer.


Murdoch turned and looked out of the big window behind his desk. Had it really been eighteen years since his sons had all returned home. It only seemed like yesterday that the house had rung with their laughter. Now Scott who had married first, had built a house for his growing family.

Murdoch smiled as he thought of Scott’s lovely wife Beth. She along with her best friend Mary had moved to Green River to start a dress shop. It hadn’t taken Scott or Johnny long to meet either of them.

Scott and Beth announced their engagement first with Johnny and Mary a month after that. Murdoch could close his eyes and remember that day when he watched the two young ladies walk down the aisle to be married.

Little did he know at that time Matt and Sara were talking about marriage also. He remembered telling them that he thought nineteen was a little young to be married, but they insisted and won him over along with Sara’s father Adam Johnson.

He couldn’t have picked three more beautiful women for daughters-in-law and wives for his sons if he had done it himself.

Daughter. Yes that word sounded so good and brought him back to Teresa. He knew the day Matt and Sara got married that Teresa and Bob would follow soon. He chuckled to himself remembering the first day those two met. He and the boys had arrived home to find Teresa had come home early from the Barkleys‘. She had run out to meet them hugging Murdoch first then Scott, Johnny and Matt. When she had turned to greet Bob Tree Rat had poked his head out of Bob’s shirt and her scream probably had been heard all the way to Green River. Jelly had come running out of the barn with a rifle thinking she was being murdered. Boy did he have a few words to say that day.

Jelly. It still brought tears to Murdoch’s eyes remembering that day five years ago when they went to wake Jelly up and found that he had died in his sleep. He was laid to rest under the big oak tree and not a day went by without fresh flowers being laid on the grave of a man that meant so much to all of them.

Yes a lot of things had happened since his boys came home, some good some bad. But he Murdoch Lancer was a man truly blessed and he thanked God daily for it.

The End


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One thought on “Finally Home by Linda L.

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