Lost Son

by

LaJuan

 

 

 

He had been so delighted when he heard the news. She had been
nauseated and cranky for the last month and Murdoch had secretly
visited Dr. Sam Jenkins in town to explore the possibility of another
child with Maria. Sam confirmed that it was possible, now that Johnny
was walking, weaned from the breast and older. Murdoch had agreed to
sweet talk his young wife into seeing the kindly doctor for an exam.

It took some doing and he had to pamper Maria into his bidding. That
wonderful day came when he stood on the boardwalk outside the doctor's
office and smelled the heady scent of pine trees lining the porch
railings. He looked up at the overcast sky and felt the tang of
winter mist against his face. Inside, he felt the sunshine and the
warm, fragrant breeze of a spring day. He was going to be a father again!

A tinge of regret went through his brain as he thought of Scott, his
elder son. Scott was in Boston, spirited away by his grandfather,
after Murdoch's first wife had died in childbirth. Since that day, a
day that Murdoch regretted, Scott lived without much knowledge of his
father or his father's love. Vowing that one day he would retrieve
his missing son, Scott, and have his family together, Murdoch turned
back into the doctor's office to help his second wife, Maria, out to
the buggy.

His younger son, Johnny, the image of Maria with Murdoch's eyes,
tagged behind them, scuffing his worn play boots in the dirt. His
father waited, but looked on with horror when the child came up to the
bored horse tethered to the buggy. Without fear, Johnny reached up
and brushed his hand on the underside of the horse's belly. With
curiosity, the mare swung her head back and down to check out the
child. She shoved her head into his shoulder and pushed the boy down
into the dusty road. Johnny giggled.

Murdoch hurriedly picked Johnny up and deposited him beside his mother
on the seat. Waving to Sam, Murdoch clucked to get the horse started
on their journey home. Silent tears dripped down Maria's face. Her
husband quietly reached out and placed his giant hand across her small
clinched fist, slowly petting her hand.

Over the next months he had many opportunities to sooth Maria's
irritation over her unexpected pregnancy. As her belly expanded, so
did his excitement, and so did her temper. Her hormones loosen her
tongue and Murdoch was a favorite target. Some days he had to escape
and his growing ranch's need for his attention was a ready excuse.
Lately, Maria had acquired a need to clean the hacienda from top to
bottom and she had enlisted the ranch ladies to aid her. Murdoch rode
out that morning intent on staying out of her way.

There was comfort under the sweeping limbs of the old tree, shading
him from the fierce sun. A dry breeze played with the leaves, ruffling
them and his hair. It cooled the skin where sweat dribbled down his
forehead on its journey to his chin. Reaching up with the hand that
held his felt hat, he wiped the moisture with the sleeve of his work
shirt. Placing the hat back on his head, he pulled it down to shield
his eyes. As he gazed out over the valley to the distant mountains,
his thoughts turned to his sons. His big gelding stepped sideways
causing him to shift in the saddle and settle deeper. The sudden
creaking of the leather was in discordance to the cicadas and the
lowing of the cows.

He loosened the reins to allow the horse to reach for the succulent
grass below them, and his attention was caught by the cloud of dust
coming his way. One of his vaqueros was racing up the hill with little
regard to safety. The man waved his sombrero as he shouted, "Patron,
Patron! Come quickly!"

"Slow down, Jose. You're going too fast!" Murdoch growled, with some
irritation.

He ignored Murdoch's order and when he came to a stop, Jose allowed
the words to spill from his mouth. "The Senora. She fell down the
stairs and does not move. We took her to your bedroom. The women sent
for the doctor and I come for you."

Murdoch's face blanched and he whispered, "Maria." His next thought
was of his son. "Johnny? Who has Johnny?"

"Your hijo, Juanito, is being watched by my woman. Por favor, Patron,
hurry."

Ever practical, even in times of stress, Murdoch saw to it that Jose
would stay, finish rounding up the strays, and drive them to the east
pasture with the other crew. Then he turned his attention and his
horse to the emergency at his hacienda.

He cut the usual two hour long trip from the north pasture into half
and dismounted on a run. Tossing the reins to one of the men milling
around, he ran through the heavy wooden front door and into the
darken, cooler region of the great room. He turned and took the steps
up the stairway two at a time sounding like a herd of elephants
shaking the staircase and was halted on the landing by the doctor
hurrying down the hallway.

"Murdoch, let's go back down and get you a drink."

"But, Sam, I have to see Maria." Murdoch replied as he tried to
sidestep the small man in his pathway.

"Not now, friend. You're going to need that drink." He grabbed onto
Murdoch's shoulder and attempted to turn around the giant of a man.
"She's miscarrying the baby. I have the ladies with her and they'll
watch her while I talk to you."

Murdoch's California tan left him as his skin blanched white. He
swayed and grabbed onto the banister as he turned and lowered his bulk
down to sit on the step. Sam shifted his hold to the railing as he
sat down beside the rancher. "I'm sorry, Murdoch."

Glancing over to the doctor, Murdoch softly whispered, "Is there any
hope the baby will live?"

"Maybe. I won't know for sure until she delivers and that can take
several hours. Come on, friend. You've got a wait before you and I
need to get back to your wife. Let's go into the great room. I'll
send one of the ladies down to you with a change of clothes, so you
can clean up." He turned toward the door leading to the kitchen and
called out to the cook. "Christina, can you bring Murdoch some of
your soup and roast beef? Just take the tray to his desk, and ...
bring two empty glasses."

A dark head appeared in the doorway and glance up at the stair
landing. "Si, un momento." She disappeared back into her domain and
they heard the noises of a tray being loaded.

With coaxing, Sam moved Murdoch from the stairs to his desk with the
magnificent view of the Lancer spread. Sitting down was easy for the
rancher, as his legs felt like rubber. Eating would be harder. Under
the watchful eye of the doctor, he took a sip of the soup and a bite
of the beef. This was followed by a hefty dose of whiskey. As long as
the man was nearby, Murdoch worked on his meal, but the moment Sam
went back upstairs, the rancher shoved the tray aside and started his
pacing. His stomach was churning and even the thought of more whiskey
was upsetting to his disposition. He was losing a son ... or a daughter.

For hours, he kept up his walking, only stopping to go out to the
horse trough to wash up when his clean clothes were placed in his
hands. To keep from wearing a rut in his flooring, he finally sat
down, draped his hands across his knees, and tried to relax. It was a
failed attempt and he jumped up and headed to the stairs when he heard
his wife's screams, followed by the faint, weak cries of a baby. He
was met at his bedroom door by two vaquero wives who planted their
bodies between him and the entrance. The door was cracked and he
could hear Sam talking soothingly to Maria, but she was agitated and
her steadily rising voice rapidly degenerated into a steady undulating
scream of terror and anger. The door was slammed shut by another
female who had notice the rancher trying to peer into the room over
the heads of the amazon women.

His anger snapped and he glared at the guardian females. "What's going
on in there? What's wrong with my wife?"

The smallest of the two was the spokesman. "Patron, the doctor...the
doctor needs you to stay here. He will come out to talk to you, but
first he must take care of your wife. Por favor, Patron. Do as he ask."

Murdoch knew his place was to wait until he was summoned into the
bedroom, but it didn't make it easy and he didn't like it. With a
tightening of his lips, he swerved away and took to walking the long
hallway leading back to the stairs. The vibration of his pacing could
be felt through the flooring. The screams of his wife died down and
slid into a soft whimper. Then there was silence in the bedroom and
Sam opened and closed the door quietly. Sweat was pouring down the
face of the doctor and he reached into his pocket for his
handkerchief. Wiping his face, he reached out and grabbed Murdoch's
bicep. "Come on friend. Let's go talk."

He guided Murdoch into the guest room and into a chair by the window.
As the evening breeze picked up the curtains and softly bathed the
rancher's face, Sam took a seat on the bed facing Murdoch and said the
words he dreaded to say.

"The baby died shortly after birth, Murdoch, but Maria will be okay.
She's had a rough time of it and a major shock, so I've given her
something to keep her sleeping for the night. From how you look, you
need some sleep, too."

Murdoch glanced up from viewing his clenched fists in his lap. His
face was pale and he was sweating. "What was it, Sam, boy or girl?"
He waited for the answer and his concern climbed when he got no
answer. "Sam?"

It was Sam's turn to look up at Murdoch after the man had jumped up
from his chair to tower over him. With sadness in his eyes, he
responded. "You had a son, Murdoch. The baby was a boy and deformed.
I'm just so sorry."

"I want to see my child." Murdoch said, with firm conviction in his
voice as he walked to the door.

"Noooo." Sam jumped up and tried to stop the giant rancher, but
Murdoch shook him off like a dog shedding water. Opening the door, he
spied a woman hurrying down the hallway with a blanket wrapped bundle
in her arms. Stepping out to bar her way, he gave her an icy glare.

"I'll take my child now."

She was afraid of him, but she knew what she needed to do. The Senora
had screamed out to take the monster away and would not want to see
the child again and it must be buried. She tried to duck around his
outstretched arms, but he wrapped them around her and gently pried the
bundle away from her.

Murdoch was aware of what was happening, he had heard of this custom
of burying the deformed and never speaking of the children again.
Regardless, he needed to see his child.

He quietly carried the baby back into the guest room and lowered his
body back into the chair by the window. His attention was so intense
on the child in his arms, he wasn't aware of his audience at the door.
Slowly and with great gentleness, he unwrapped the tiny boy and gazed
upon it's face.

His son favored Johnny with it's dark thatch of fine black hair and
facial features, but that was where the similarities stopped. The
child had a clef palate, shorten arms, web hands and feet and probably
some internal deformities from the look of his misshapen chest. He
gently stroked the baby's cheek as his gaze traveled outside of the
windows to the distant hills and mountains. He told it of it's name,
Michael, and of the Lancer ranch and the heritage he would have had
with his two older brothers. Finally, his voice grew quiet and he
stared out the window as his hand absently twined his son's hair
between two fingers.

Figuring that this had gone long enough, Sam, with the woman
distracting Murdoch, came up and injected the rancher with his
syringe. As the numbing medicine took affect, the rancher slump over
the misshapen child and Sam intoned, "It's time to sleep, my friend."
The woman retrieved the baby, wrapped it in the blanket and left.
She summoned her husband to aid Sam in putting Murdoch to bed in the
guest room.



Maria recovered quickly from the childbirth and Murdoch took solace
working his land, but there was a stillness, a quietness between them.
Johnny was a blessing to him, and he took every opportunity to
interact with his son. He dreamed every night for months, but this
night it was a different dream.

There was comfort under the sweeping limbs of the old tree, shading
him from the fierce sun. A dry breeze played with the leaves, ruffling
them and his hair. It cooled the skin where sweat dribbled down his
forehead on its journey to his chin. Reaching up with the hand that
held his felt hat, he wiped the moisture with the sleeve of his work
shirt. Placing the hat back on his head, he pulled it down to shield
his eyes. As he gazed out over the valley to the distant mountains,
his thoughts turned to his sons. His big gelding stepped sideways
causing him to shift in the saddle and settle deeper. The sudden
creaking of the leather was in discordance to the cicadas and the
lowing of the cows.

He loosened the reins to allow the horse to reach for the succulent
grass below them, and his attention was caught by the cloud of dust
coming his way. One of his vaqueros was racing up the hill with little
regard to safety. The man waved his sombrero as he shouted, "Patron,
Patron! Come quickly!"

"What is it, Jose?"

"The Senora has left with another man and she has taken your hijo."

"Noooooo." He screamed out and bolted up in his bed. It was still
dark, the dark of just before dawn. He was sweating and his heart was
racing. Reaching over for Maria, he felt the coldness of sheets long
devoid of her body heat. He fumbled around on the night stand for a
match to light the lamp and finally succeeded in getting it lit. He
looked around the emptiness and his eyes fell on the open armoire and
the emptiness of clothes on her side. He scanned around the room to
discover her personal items were gone, the brush, comb, her mirror
were all missing, as well as the carpetbag.

Pulling the covers off his body, he threw his legs over the edge and
stood up. Rapidly, he raced down the hallway to his son's bedroom.
It was dark in the room and he quickly lit the lamp, but just as it
was before, it was again. The bed was empty and Johnny was gone.

He absently picked up a little wooden horse haphazardly dropped on the
floor and sat down on his son's bed. His mind was numb and all he
could think of was three. First Scott, then Michael, now Johnny.
Three lost sons. As he sat and watched the sun rise out of the window
declaring another day, he made a vow. He couldn't find Michael, the
Lord had him, but he knew where Scott was and he would find Johnny.
He would bring his lost sons home, no matter how long it'd take.


Many, many, many years later, he made good on that vow, for Murdoch
was a man of his word.

Finis

 

 

 

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