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The Clearance


The counting of seconds by the Great Room’s clock rhythmically replaced the measured dull jangle of Johnny’s spurs departing for the masterminded bunkhouse poker game.


“Win back the investment you and your brother felt it necessary to make in order to have an evening of calm, civilized discussions. My ears told me you didn’t get your money’s worth.”


No truer words were spoken by the tune caller during his bullseye evaluation of a situation. The brothers’ clever ruse to extract Jelly from the evening’s conversations had little impact on the spoken chaos which eventually cannonball'd out of control.


Keep a firm grasp on the key, lad, or it will spin right out of your hand.


Scott swore there were still echoes of gratuitous viewpoints lingering in the corners of the room - his own contribution of Jelly’s a pot-stirring sonofabitch seemingly the loudest ringing in his ears.


His father’s timely arrival quickly handed out verbal spankings, which left the recipients with very little to protest about. In fact, relief of seeing the Lancer patriarch’s hearty finger-pointing return made swallowing his reprimands rather easy to do with a smile. Scott sat back and waited for his own scolding to shovel the remaining rubble out of the room.


Murdoch’s finger didn’t point at his oldest son, but at his oldest son’s half-filled snifter. “A man shouldn’t waste good scotch nor should he drink alone.”


His father’s read-between-the-lines opinion didn't require an explanation. Scott rose with a slight shake of the head - not where he assumed Point A of their conversation would begin. “This is against my better judgment, especially if Teresa finds out.” A second poured snifter came to rest on the desk’s blotter. “However, my judgment lately has been anything but good.”


“Scott, the only time your judgment falters is when you’re harshly judging yourself.” A sip splashed contentment on Murdoch’s face. Adjusting his seated position swept it away. “I’d suggest moving by the hearth, but my cane’s advising me to stay put so pull up a chair.”


The only chair to pull up with ease was an uncomfortable one reserved for the lop-sided discussions where Murdoch talked and an unfortunate soul listened - a situation known by most headmasters as a lecture. Scott permitted a subtle grin. Well, at least he’d be sitting with a drink in his hand. “Your cane hands out wise counseling, much like its owner.”


“When a man is bestowed with loud, opinionated children, he only needs a nearby open window and a door slightly ajar to be wise.”


“Well, the Good Lord has certainly blessed you, sir.”


“Tenfold. And may he bless you with the same.”


“Open doors and windows or loud, opinionated children?”


“They go hand in hand, son.”


While silence fell between the two men, the clock’s tick-tock cadence renewed its familiar presence.


Scott’s eyes fixed on the snifter cradled in his hands. An onlooker might assume he was contemplating whether the amber liquid be a Highlands or Lowlands scotch. Truth be told, his quiet reflection had only one thought - broaching the name of the man he’d worked hard to remove from his sight for the evening.


“It’s a lang road that’s no goat a turnin’.”


“Sir?” Scott’s brow dipped to decipher his father’s old country articulation.


A smile brushed Murdoch’s lips. “I no doubt donned the same look hearing my father say those words for the first time. Unfortunately, you’re also burdened with my rusty dialect.”


“Evan a well-oild one wud nat be halpin’.”


“Son, that was a terrible attempt to honor your ancestral roots.” The patriarch’s good-humored poke pulverized the last of the rockslide to dust. “It’s a long road that’s no got a turning.” A pause was taken to gather words. “My translation - a man’s life doesn’t travel in the same direction forever so never lose heart in dark times.” Murdoch’s gaze drifted over Scott’s head as if searching for misplaced memories. “My father, my grandfather - they all had their share of dark times courtesy of the clearance.”


Scott nodded. Dark times, indeed. Boston papers had referred to the injustice as The Highland Clearances. Those involved from the beginning called it The Year of the Sheep. Landlords, choosing sheep herding over agriculture in the name of higher profit, evicted farming tenants from the fertile grazing hills to coastal lands which were insufficient in providing support for these relocated families. Periods of famine were inevitable. Even though he possessed knowledge of these dark times, Scott hadn’t taken a moment, until now, to consider the history influencing Murdoch Lancer's intense need for a lasting legacy… and his dislike for hoofed locusts. No, his father’s views hadn’t begun in California - they’d booked passage with him.


The patriarch set his drink aside. “Both you and your brother have traveled your own difficult paths. You know the journey and this ...” Murdoch tapped his temple and then his leg. “This isn’t a long road, it’s a -”


Hiccup?” Scott’s raised eyebrow assisted with highlighting the question mark.


“Let’s say we call it a bump along the way that doesn’t require a turn, just a slower gait for a spell. Your old man has plenty of travel left in him. All the worries which have turned this ranch upside-down are to be packed up and lives need to resume their proper directions.” Murdoch’s snifter offered a sip. “Including your required presence in Boston. Young Westcott may think he can handle that little girl upstairs, but he hasn’t a damn clue about the Beacon Hill Rattler.”


Scott’s chin dipped at his father’s reference to Harlan Garrett. “Sir, Seth is a good man-”


“Agreed. I’d like to keep him around, which is why my decision stands.”


My Decision Stands. Murdoch’s version of Harlan’s End of Discussion. Fine. Scott knew he could work around that a bit. Kinsey had already suggested delaying their trip. Johnny would eagerly agree in slowing down his mission-calling from the Good Lord so his older brother could stay on the ranch a few more weeks and keep an inconspicuous eye on their father. Scott would seek out Johnny in the morning, making note of the nearest open window or door.


“I heard a rumor, son. Perhaps you can confirm its accuracy.”


“Yes, I’ll certainly try. What is it?”


Teresa’s canary feather settled in the corner of the patriarch’s smirk. “Jelly Hoskins is a pot-stirring sonofabitch.”


Point B hadn’t come around the bend. Instead, it landed in the middle of the road with a thud. Clearing his throat, Scott laced his fingers and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. “Are you seeking accuracy of the quote itself or the opinion that inspired it?”


“The words did bounce around the room but I believe I’ve put them in the correct order so let’s discuss the inspired opinion.”


It was Scott’s turn to pause and gather the right words. “Sir, it doesn’t sit well with me when the people I care most about are unrecognizable under their thick coats of guilt. I held Hoskins responsible for that happening and I guess you could say I showed him there would be a bend in his road if it happened again.” Rubbing palms across his thighs, Scott settled back in his chair. “Having our concerns, our.. fears for your well-being thrown into the stirring bubbled the pot over. That wasn’t Jelly’s fault. I should’ve had a firmer grasp and I apologize.”


Murdoch held up his hand. “No. No apologies.” The hand reclaimed its drink. “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life. He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”


“Emerson.” Scott’s smile mirrored the one spreading across his father’s face.


“A rusty dialect not required.” The tune caller’s finger pointed once more - this time at the doorway. “Why don’t you find that poker game and be certain your brother’s ledger is showing gains, not losses.”


Scott rose and turned to leave.


“Son.”


“Sir?”


“Raising loud, opinionated children will suit you just fine.”


Walking to the bunkhouse, Scott decided that was the best damn compliment he’d ever been given.


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