This collection came from the December Challenge: Each Lancer receives a special gift.
No beta- all mistakes are mine.
Word count: 4,425
A Gift For The Traveler: Scott
Murdoch pulled the envelope from his pocket and studied the writing. It wasn’t familiar at first. All it said on the envelope was ‘Mr. Lancer’. Well, he wasn’t going to know anything unless he read what was inside, so he tore it open and began to read.
Dear Mr. Lancer,
I’m not much good at writing letters and have to admit I had a little help putting this together to have it sound alright. But, it’s long overdue and needs to be said.
First, I want to thank you for giving me a chance and offering me this job to work at Lancer. It meant more to me than you will ever know. You gambled on me, and I can only hope you don’t regret taking that chance. I’ll give you my best, honest hard day’s work, and I hope you will never regret hiring me on.
And secondly, I want to say thank you for having faith in me. You treat me as well you treat all the other hands, and the color of my skin has never made you think twice about who and what I am. That faith you put in me helped me to have faith in myself, that I can be whatever I set my mind to and be as good as any of the other hands. And I want you to know that I would have continued to be just another man with dark skin in others’ eyes without it.
There is another thing that I’d like to tell you, too. Scott and Johnny are a pleasure to for and with. They are good men- they care about us, and both of them always work right alongside us. There isn’t anything they won’t do. Neither takes advantage of being the boss. They work harder than any of us. It’s funny. When Scott and Johnny first came to Lancer, we all wondered how things would change with them here, and now I can’t imagine Lancer without them. They are fine men, men to be proud of, and we are all proud to know them and call them friend.
These words might not seem like much, Mr. Lancer, but they come from my heart. I’ve wanted to say something for a long time now and figured this was as good a time as any. You’ve got no idea how you have helped me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have changed my life for the better. I also have to thank Miz Conway. She helped me put this letter together and make it sound right.
Thank you, again, for everything and for giving me a chance and a place to belong.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lancer.
The weight of the words hit him hard. Murdoch had always believed in the man, his character, and mind— not swayed by the color of his skin. A man proved his worth in what he did and sometimes didn’t do; his looks had nothing to do with it. Everyone deserved a chance. Everyone.
Murdoch looked at the words so carefully scrawled across the paper. Words from the heart from a valued hand. An employee. And more, a friend. It was quite possibly the nicest letter he’d ever received, and he would treasure it as long as he lived and maybe beyond. It was truly a wonderful gift.
A Gift for the Traveler
Their guests had finally gone home, leaving the hacienda quiet and basking in the glow of cherished friends and family, of good times and the magic of the holiday season. The silence was a sharp contrast to the last twenty-four hours of boisterous celebrations and the Christmas cheer that rang through the adobe walls. The cozy peace that settled in the great room wrapped the Lancer family with love unknown to them until recently. Two years ago, they hadn’t been a family, and now, they were as close had they all been there since the beginning.
It was a new experience for Johnny; gift-giving, decorating, and the tree, but most of all, gathering with those you loved. True, Christmas for Johnny Madrid was spending time in whatever cantina or saloon that was open, with people he didn’t know or count as friends, and hoping no one would recognize him and possibly call him out. But as he sat in the great room this night, enveloped in the arms of a family he loved and their love for him openly given, it was beyond anything he’d ever felt before. No one had loved Madrid. And that had changed now, mostly because of Scott. As Johnny came to learn what family could mean, Scott brought that concept to life and made it personal.
He had Murdoch to thank for bringing them together, but Boston made it family. Something that Madrid never had, nor thought possible. And that was the greatest gift Johnny knew he would ever have. And he wanted to keep it close, to hold in his heart for as long as he lived. But how would he let Scott know exactly what their brotherhood meant to him?
It was getting late, and Christmas Day was nearing an end. Murdoch looked tired. After all, hosting friends, eating, and celebrating took their toll; he rose from his chair, taking in his grown children as they sat enjoying the quiet time together, not wanting the day to close.
“Well, as I can’t keep my eyes open any longer, I’m going to bed, but I want to thank all three of you for making this the best Christmas… so far! Thank you for everything!”
Teresa rose from her chair, went to him, and wrapped him in a hug filled with her warmth and love. “I think I can speak for all of us when I say that you are very welcome and thank you! We love you, Murdoch!”
The tears in the large blue eyes always sent Murdoch fumbling for his next words. And there weren’t any that he could put to voice. Returning her hug, he murmured, “And I love you, too!” Then turned to his sons. “All of you!”
“Good night, Murdoch! Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll keep Johnny out of the alcohol tonight!”
Murdoch smiled and shook his head. “I’ll believe that when I see it! Good night!”
“‘Night, Murdoch! An’ don’t worry, I’ll watch Boston an’ make sure he stays out of the cookies!”
With a chuckle, Murdoch said, “Yes, I’ll believe that, too, when I see it!” and continued up the stairs.
“I think I’ll go to bed, too. It was a big day, and I’m very tired!” Bidding her brothers good night, she departed but not before she left them with a word of warning. “Behave yourselves!” With a wink and a sisterly smile, Teresa O’Brien made her way to her room.
“Well, brother, are you ready for another drink?” Scott asked with a conspiratorial grin at Johnny.
“What? An’ defy an order from the ol’ man?” Johnny asked in mock surprise.
Scott laughed and nodded.
“You bet Iam!” And he held out his glass as Boston refilled it.
Settling on the couch next to his brother, Scott watched the fire as it danced over the logs.
“You know, Johnny, when I was a kid back in Boston, Christmas was all pomp and pageantry…”
“What’s ‘pomp an’ pag… pagent-what?” Johnny asked, never taking his eyes from the cheery fire.
“Pomp and pageantry is ceremony- a display, a spectacle. It was done to make the most out of something, like Christmas, with frills and fancy, but you know what, brother?”
Johnny rolled his head across the back of the comfortable couch cushions and turned his eyes to his brother. “No, what?”
“All that doesn’t have anywhere near the meaning of what we have now, tonight. All the money in the world couldn’t buy what I am feeling at this very moment. I want to feel this for the rest of my life. Whatever I do and wherever any travels will take me, I want to take this in my head and heart, forever and always.”
Forever and always… Johnny loved those words— words that a dear friend had told him, a dear friend that was now gone. And he was glad he prepared for this moment; he had another present for his brother.
“Scott, I want you to have this, and he reached into his pocket to retrieve something that Scott could not yet see.
The light from the fire came alive in Johnny’s eyes, and he thought there would never be a better time; it was perfect after hearing what Scott said a few minutes ago. Turning to his brother once again, Johnny held out his fist then opened his fingers. In the palm of his hand lay the St. Christopher’s medal he usually wore.
Wide shock-filled eyes lifted to Johnny’s face. “Johnny, I can’t take that!”
“What’d ya mean ya can’t take it? Sure ya can, I’m givin’ it to you.” The grin began to tug at the corner of his mouth. “I want ya ta have this, Boston. St. Christopher was the patron saint of travelers. An’ ya just said that ’where ya travel’, well, now you’ll be protected.”
“But, what about you? You still need it! Besides, I’m not Catholic!” Scott argued.
“I want ya ta have, Scott, an’ it don’t matter ta me what religion ya are. Ol’ Father Benedict gave it ta me five years after I was on my own. Got shot, an’ he helped me, an’ before I left, he gave it ta me to protect me in my travels. It worked pretty good, well sometimes, an’ now, I want you ta have it. It’d mean a lot ta me, brother.” Johnny stared; the need for Scott to have this treasure was clear in his eyes.
With clenched fists in his lap, Scott made no move to take the medallion from his brother’s hand.
“I want cha ta have it, Scott. It would mean a lot ta me, please…”
“But, now you won’t be protected!” Scott declared.
Johnny couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s what I got you for, Boston!”
Despite Johnny’s levity, Scott felt his throat begin to close; he had to say something, but there were no words to express the emotions coursing through his veins. Two words— that was it. Two simple words.
“Thank you,” he whispered as he took the gift, possibly the most treasured gift he would ever receive. “Thank you, brother!”
An arm went around Johnny’s shoulders and pulled him in.
“Merry Christmas, Boston!” he whispered. “Merry Christmas.”
(Reference made to the story Forever and Always)
Picture of the Past
Now, where is that box? Murdoch Lancer thought as he searched through the cluttered attic room. He’d found a trunk of old clothes, but there was no box inside; he waded through and over unused furniture and shoved aside a dusty dress form, plowing a path to the other side of the attic, but the box of old documents remained elusive. He sighed heavily through his nose and put his hands on his hips. It’s here somewhere; I know it’s here!
The attic was a mess, and after Christmas, he would have Teresa, Maria, and the boys help him straighten it out. Some things needed to be thrown away, and with the unnecessary things gone, just maybe the box of documents would turn up… hopefully. The ladies were too busy preparing for the celebrations to do it now. There were things stored there that belonged to Catherine, and perhaps Scott would want them. It was a shame that Maria didn’t have any personal belongings left— she hadn’t brought anything with her other than clothes, mostly items Murdoch had purchased for her when he bought her to Lancer but soon, her pregnancy began to show. Thoughts of new gowns would have to wait until the baby arrived. After the birth, Maria purchased many beautiful dresses, even though the ranch budget dictated she shouldn’t, and she took many of those clothes when she left in the night.
When Johnny turned a year old, it seemed that Maria lost interest in the ranch, Murdoch, and yes, even Johnny. And a year later, she left, taking the toddler with her, and disappeared into thin air. If anything of Maria’s was left behind, Murdoch stored it away, in the attic and out of sight to leave no reminder of what was and what could have been.
Enough! Look for those documents! Impatiently, he shoved this and moved that and snorted with his efforts. Nothing. He could not find the box he was looking for in this mess! Against the back wall, half-covered with canvas, was another trunk. Perhaps that’s where I put that box… Murdoch carefully lifted the canvas and opened the lid. Inside and packed in neat piles were linens yellowed with age, a few with tattered corners, the result of a pesky mouse looking for food or shelter or whatever mice are looking for. Why the documents would be in that trunk, Murdoch could not guess, but as long as he had the trunk open, he would check things out.
Sliding his hands down the side of the delicate stacks of cloth, he lifted them out and checked the bottom of the trunk. Nothing! No documents! Frustrated, Murdoch stood and knocked one of the piles of linens over, and it thunked when it hit the floor. Something was in the stack of material. He stooped down, feeling through the cloth until his fingers brushed against something rigid. Carefully picking the item out of the pile, he peeled away the canvas wrap and gasped. A buzzing noise filled his ears, and the blood drained to his feet. He grabbed a nearby chair and slumped into it, his legs unable to hold his weight.
Her smile was as beautiful and bewitching as the night he met her. The drawing captured her spark, her sparkle in the lifesized image. It captured the essence that was Maria, and it made Murdoch’s hardened heart fill once again with the magic of his beautiful, young bride. It came back to him like it was yesterday; they left their marriage bed to take in the day, and the market filled with vendors displaying their wares. The artist beckoned them over, and Murdoch paid for the drawing of Maria. He was stunned at the likeness, for it was perfection. Her eyes came alive on the paper, and the wind-tossed hair looked as if he could reach out and run his fingers through the thick mass. It even captured the strand of hair that blew across her cheek in a graceful, curving caress.
And Murdoch suddenly felt the love for her as he did then. The anger was gone, the heartache faded, and he could almost feel her once again in his arms.
He left the attic and made his way to his room, where he sat in the chair by the window, looking out across the valleys and into the mountains of Lancer and lost in another time— the time with Maria.
The gifts were passed out, and the Lancer family enjoyed the closeness of the morning. They laughed at the banter between Scott and Johnny as the brothers joked and clowned as the mistletoe tossed about and kisses were threatened.
Murdoch thought the time was right. “Oh, I see something behind the tree that was overlooked.” His long reach pulled the package out, and he stood holding the mysterious gift.
“Who’s name is on it, Murdoch?” Teresa bubbled with Christmas morning excitement.
Making a show of reading the name on the tag, Murdoch then smiled, and he raised his eyes to settle on Johnny. “This is for you, son,” Murdoch spoke softly.
He handed the brightly wrapped present to his youngest. Johnny hesitated, then took it apprehensively.
“You already gave me a present, Murdoch…”
“Who said this is from me?” Murdoch countered with a smile. “Open it.”
The paper was beautiful; it seemed like he would ruin it if he opened the present.
“Johnny, open it! See what it is!” Teresa fairly bounced in her seat.
As he held the present, it felt warm in his hands. It was as if he held a living, breathing thing, and he could feel a caress over his fingers, a gentleness like the kiss of butterfly wings. But that was silly, Johnny thought. It was a gift, not something with a heartbeat.
“Open it, Johnny.” Murdoch urged again.
Nudged out of his musings by his father’s soft voice, Johnny carefully opened the package. Why was his heart thundering so hard? He felt anxiousness grow with each crackle of paper as it revealed its treasure; then, he pulled the last of the wrapping away. His eyes widened, and the sharp exhale rasped from his throat, for there in his hands lay the beautiful drawing of his mother.
Maria’s eyes met his straight on, the smile infectious and stunning. The artists’ pencil captured her perfectly and made the drawing come alive; indeed, she was breathtaking as she gazed up into his face. That smile was irresistible, and Johnny remembered the curve of her lips, the expressive eyes as she reached out and took him in her arms.
He sat amazed, both aching for those arms to hold him again and heartbroken she was no longer of this earth. Johnny closed his eyes and bowed his head.
Teresa’s smile disappeared, replaced with worry, and went to her brother’s side. “Johnny…?” she murmured and laid her hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine, T’resa, thanks,” Johnny lifted his head to smile briefly, then quickly looked away.
Scott rose from his seat, “Come on, Teresa, let them have a minute.”
When they were alone, Murdoch spoke. “I had no idea that picture would upset you, son. I hope you know it wasn’t meant to…”
“Thank you, Murdoch. Where did… where was this? I’ve never seen it before,” Johnny whispered, overriding Murdoch’s apology as he struggled to pull his emotions together.
“I found it in the attic; I don’t know how it got there or why it was there. But, I thought you would want it.” Murdoch watched as Johnny sat staring at the likeness of his mother and traced a gentle finger over the beautiful face.
“Thank you,” Johnny repeated. “I… I love her. Even with all the bad, the drinkin’, the… men, for leavin’ you an’ Lancer… but I still love her…” His voice cracked.
Murdoch sat beside his son. “So do I, Johnny. So do I. It hit me when I found this picture. At first, I was angry seeing it, but suddenly, that anger faded, and I loved her again.” He paused and touched the wooden frame. “It’s so real. I remember when it was done. We had just gotten married, and we went to the market. There was an artist,” and Murdoch stopped as the remembrance played out in his mind. “The artist was struck by her beauty; his mouth fell open when he looked up to see her standing there! Ha, I’ll never forget it!”
“Yeah, she had that effect on men…” Johnny murmured.
“She had that effect on me! I think I loved her the moment I saw her. And now, I realize that I still do.” Murdoch sniffed. “She was a beauty.” He had not meant to say that out loud. But he did, and it was the truth.
“I don’t know what to say, other’n thank you, an’ that don’t seem like enough.”
“Oh, Johnny, it’s enough! But I would like to see occasionally, that’s if you don’t mind!” Murdoch chuckled.
Johnny turned to meet his father’s smiling face. “I’d… I’d like that, Murdoch. I’d like that.”
Murdoch grinned. “Merry Christmas, son!”
Para Mi Hija
(For My Daughter)
She had given the idea much thought, and it had been on her mind for the last few Christmas’s, but this year would be the one that she would tell the girl how she felt. Maria stood, walked to the small wardrobe in her room, and pulled the plain box from the top shelf. Her husband, Javier, made her that box over forty years ago. From scraps of wood, he fashioned the chest with his work-roughened hands and carved her name into the top with ivy and tiny flowers entwining the letters. The box held a few precious things she owned.
A rosary resided there, a bracelet she wore on special occasions, and a broach that belonged to her grandmother all called the box home. There was another item that Maria kept, but it was never meant for her.
There, in the bottom of the treasured box, lay a necklace. It was a chain of fine links with a tiny gold charm in the shape of a rosebud and intended to be given to a daughter. Maria and Javier had two boys, both of whom worked at Lancer— Javier was buried there, in a special place where Maria could visit and sit by his grave and talk, telling him that she would always love him, telling him everything.
But having no daughter, Maria knew the necklace would go to the young woman who was as close to a daughter as she could have, and that young woman was Teresa O’Brien. Maria assisted Doctor Jenkins with the delivery when she was born and was more a mother than Angel, Teresa’s birth mother. An infant when Angel left the ranch, Teresa flourished under Maria’s nurturing and grew into a lovely, kind, and caring young lady. And Maria was as proud as if Teresa was of her own blood. And now, Teresa would be the new owner of the necklace fit for a daughter.
Maria held the treasure in her fingers and pictured in her mind how beautiful it would be at Teresa’s graceful throat. Her beloved Teresa… Her hija.
“Chica, we have done much today; I think we rest un momento. Come sit with me.” Maria said with a wide smile.
“Alright! I am a little tired, and a rest will do us both good!” Teresa smiled as she took the cake out of the oven. Oh, Johnny is going to like this! She thought, and her smile grew.
Maria fixed a tray of cookies, added cups, and coffee, and headed for the great room. “I think we go here. The men, they go, and the house is quiet!”
Teresa giggled. “Yes, there’s always something going on when Scott and Johnny are here, and Murdoch is so happy now that the boys are home. It’s good to see him laugh and enjoy his sons, isn’t it?” And she sat next to Maria on the couch.
A cheery fire burned in the hearth and warmed the room. The decorations and the Christmas tree looked beautiful, and the two women enjoyed their treat of not only coffee and cookies but the time together.
“Oh, Maria, I love Christmas time! Don’t you? It’s such a wonderful time of year, and everyone is so happy!”
“Sí, Chica, it is maravilloso! The Patrón, he is happy now!” Maria turned to face Teresa. “Con sus tres hijos, sí, he is happy!” (With his three children)
Teresa’s eyes sparkled as she watched the woman that had raised her for most of her life. Maria had been there for her as she grew, and Teresa knew the woman meant much to Johnny as well. Scott adored the woman but didn’t have the ties Teresa and Johnny felt. But that was alright. Maria treated Scott like a son, only a bit more reserved than her interactions with Johnny or her own sons.
The coffee tasted wonderful on the chilly morning, and the cookies were just the thing to make this special time more pleasant. ¿Ahora? (Now?) Maria thought as she watched Teresa enjoying the magic of Christmas and looking forward to celebrations that were to come soon. ¡Sí, ahora!
Carefully, Maria set her cup on the tray, went to the tree, and stooped down. She reached under the piles of brightly wrapped gifts and pulled out a small box. Returning to the couch, she sat by Teresa, only closer than she had before, and began to talk.
Maria’s eyes began to mist over, and she reached out to place her warm hand on the girl’s cheek.
“This is for you. You would make my heart muy contenta (very happy) to have this.” Maria handed the tiny package to Teresa as the girl stared, and her smile faded.
“Maria, what..?” and Teresa made no move to take the box.
“No, Chica, it is for you. You make this old heart happy! Por favor, take it,” Maria urged. Her smile was sweet and motherly as she put the little wrapped package into Teresa’s hands.
The large blue eyes filled with tears, and Teresa was deeply touched by Maria’s warmth and gentleness. Slowly, the girl’s long fingers closed around the package.
“Thank you, Maria!” Teresa whispered. “I don’t know what to say.”
Maria nudged the girl’s hands, then Teresa began to peel away the paper and held the tiny box in her fingers. She glanced at Maria, then lifted the lid.
Maria watched the expressive face closely and could not help but grin at the reaction of Miss O’Brien.
The tiny rosebud sparkled in the bottom of the box and couldn’t have prompted a bigger response than had it been a diamond instead. Teresa felt her tears trace paths down her cheeks; she gasped and found it difficult to speak. She took the time to gather her emotions and could only whisper.
“It’s beautiful, Maria! But why?”
Maria sighed and took Teresa’s hand. “I saved my money when I was very young. Javier and I were married, and I knew someday we would have a familia. I bought this for my hija, but no hija, only hijos. Your Mamá, when she left, I help Señor Paul to raise you. You, Teresa, became my hija… I choose you for my daughter, and now, I give this to you!”
Maria’s hands were warm around hers, and Teresa felt a Mother’s love; it made no difference it was not of blood, but more, by heart, a choice. And she couldn’t hold back any longer. She looped her arms around Maria’s neck and sobbed uncontrollably. Those warm hands patted her back as she heard the murmured words. “Te amo, babé. Te amo… Feliz Navidad.”
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10 thoughts on “Gifts From The Heart by Buckskin”
these were wonderful. They made me have a good cry. I loved it. Thank you for this gift.
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Oops! I didn’t mean to make you cry, Char! But I’m happy to know you felt the love between all the characters. Everyone of the Lancer family had such heart and were all great people. So, they gave gifts from the heart! I’m glad this collection touched your heart!
These stories are so sweet. Thank you.
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Thank you, Caterina! I’m happy you found these stories to your liking! Thanks for reading and the feedback!
Lovely stories. Thank you for sharing.
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Thank you, Lesley, I’m glad you liked them!
Enjoyable gifts that you shared with us
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Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this little collection of ‘Gift’ stories!
These stories are so special and the different view points make them more personal. Good writing!
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Thank you, Debra. Gift giving can take many forms, and the Lancer family did not hold back when it came to gifts from the heart. Each person was special, so the gifts they gave were special, and the person that received those gifts was special. I’m glad you enjoyed this story, and thank you for the feedback.