by Margaret P.
With thanks to my betas, Terri Derr and Cristy Wyndham-Shaw.
“Go on, Scott. It’s the season of goodwill.” Johnny fiddled with the brushes, combs, and other items arranged neatly on the dresser as Scott prepared soap in his shaving cup.
“If you don’t mind?” Scott reclaimed his best cologne and put the bottle back where it belonged. Then he began to apply soap to his chin.
“Hmpf, what’s eating you?” Johnny used a pair of silver nail scissors to trim a thread hanging off his cuff. Then as soon as Scott looked away, he picked up the cologne again, gave it a quick sniff and slapped some on his face.
“Help yourself, brother.”
“Thanks, I like to smell pretty.” Johnny grinned and replaced the stopper.
Scott opened his mouth to say something, but exhaled without uttering a word. It wasn’t worth the effort.
“So about the shirts. I’ve only got one good one, and I’m wearing it so will you lend yours? They’ll take good care of them.”
Scott glanced over his shoulder; three vaqueros hovered in the doorway. “That’s what you said when I lent Val a shirt.”
“That was different.”
“Well, it was Val. These fellas are—” Johnny shrugged. “Shoot, Scott, you know it’s not the same.”
“It’s a feast day, Señor Scott. We are playing the music for the fiesta.” Mateo, the leader of the little band, held his sombrero respectfully in his hands. “We must dress up.”
“Where are your own shirts? Why do you need to borrow mine?” Scott wasn’t feeling very accommodating. He’d drawn the short straw at breakfast and had been out on the range all day while others—he threw an unfriendly look at Johnny—had had it easy preparing the courtyard for the evening. Unlike some, Scott had only just finished his bath, even though he could already hear people gathering outside.
“Alas, señor, it’s a long story, but we would be very grateful. Otherwise we will have to play in what we’re wearing.”
The men looked sorrowfully down at their ordinary work shirts. They had donned their best trousers and polished their boots, but that only made their shirts look more washed out in comparison.
“Come on, Scott. You can’t let them do that. Not on Dia de los Santos Inocentes.”
“Okay. Enough.” Scott dropped the badger-hair brush back into the shaving cup. Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, the posadas, the Mass of the Rooster, Christmas and maybe a few other feast days—there were too many festivals to keep track of in California at this time of year. He flipped open the trunk at the end of his bed. “Take what you need before I change my mind.”
He went back to the mirror as the three men quickly entered the room. They helped themselves while he shaved, and by the time he patted his face dry with the towel, they were heading out the door.
“Gracias, Señor Scott.”
Johnny gave a cheeky salute and followed, leaving Scott to close the trunk.
“Hey, I didn’t say take them all.” Blast them. They’d taken every ruffled shirt he owned. God dammit, even the one he’d left hanging over the back of the chair so the creases would fall out. Now he’d have to wear a plain one.
Damn Johnny—that was probably the whole idea. He’d made a real fuss when Scott had worn a dress shirt to a party before Christmas. “You live out west now. Frills just ain’t the style.”
Unless you’re playing guitar for a fiesta, it seemed; then they were exactly what the occasion demanded.
Scott scowled. He liked to dress like a gentleman now and again. You wait, Johnny Lancer. On New Year’s Eve after his shirts were returned, washed and ironed as promised, Scott would wear the fanciest one he owned just to spite that smart alec brother of his.
Retrieving a good white shirt from the chest of drawers, he matched it with a typical-rancher string tie and went downstairs to join in the fun. It was impossible to stay angry. The smell of cinnamon, oranges and mulled wine filled the hacienda, and as he reached the hallway he breathed in the aroma of hot, spicy food. Men and women chatted merrily outside, their laughter wafting through the open front door. Then he heard his father humming in the great room, and he smiled.
Murdoch was pouring whisky from the decanter on the sideboard. “Want one?”
Scott nodded and accepted a crystal tumbler.
“I see you decided to wear a regular shirt.”
“I didn’t have much choice. Tonight’s musicians borrowed my dress shirts. Some mishap with theirs apparently.”
Murdoch stopped mid-sip. “Ah.”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s the Day of the Holy Innocents. Johnny said you knew about it.”
“I do. It’s a feast day to commemorate the children killed by King Herod when he was trying to find Jesus. So what?”
“Not quite what I meant.” Murdoch smiled.
“Hey, Scott, you ready?” Johnny stuck his head through the French doors. “The band has a special song for you.”
“For me, why?”
Johnny disappeared without answering, and when Scott looked towards his father, Murdoch avoided eye contact and almost ran out the door.
Scott took a large mouthful of Glen Ord and followed; he had a bad feeling about this.
The guests erupted with cheers when Scott stepped off the portico into the lantern-filled courtyard, and the band, wearing his shirts, started to play. Every member of the small ranch community seemed to be there with big grins stretching their faces. Even Teresa looked unusually gleeful. Then Johnny and the band began to sing:
Que te dejaste engañar,
Sabiendo que en este día
Nada se debe prestar.
Scott’s Spanish wasn’t good enough. What was going on? “Why is everyone laughing?”
“Because you’re an innocent little dove, Boston.” Johnny threw his arm around Scott’s shoulder. “But don’t worry: like me, they’ve taken a shine to you.”
“Teresa, what’s he talking about?”
Teresa went pink around the edges. Then fixing her eyes somewhere left of his elbow, she said, “The words of the song mean:
Innocent little dove,
You let yourself be fooled,
Knowing that on this day
Nothing should be lent.”
“In other words, son, don’t expect those shirts back.” Murdoch snorted, stifling a proper laugh behind his fist. He had to breathe in and out a couple of times before he could continue. “I’m sorry, Scott, I should have warned you. Dia de los Santos Inocentes is like April Fool’s Day. The main aim of the day is to trick someone into giving their things away. I nearly lost my best knife to Cipriano when I first arrived here.”
“You mean…I won’t get any of them back?”
“Nope, those fancy duds are gone,” Johnny crowed, backing out of reach into the safety of the crowd. “Nothing lent on Dia de los Santos Inocentes is returned. Those ruffles belong to these guys now.” He swept a bow in the direction of the band, and Mateo and his friends touched their sombreros to Scott. Fresh laughter rippled across the courtyard.
Scott’s lips formed a thin line as he stared at his lost shirts. Then he looked over at Johnny, smirking like a big kid, and he suddenly saw the funny side. “Very good, little brother. You tricked me.”
“No hard feelings then?”
Scott eyed Johnny’s outstretched hand. Passing his drink to Murdoch, he took off his jacket and threw it onto a chair behind him. “No, no hard feelings, but the game isn’t over yet.”
“Hey, now.” Johnny raised both hands and started to back away. “It was a joke.”
“Well, that’s true.” Scott locked eyes with his prey. Was the dove about to catch a worm? Or would he play the mature big brother?
Johnny didn’t seem too sure of the answer—he halted a few yards away from Scott, looking like a wild horse ready to bolt.
The vaqueros and their wives shuffled backwards, opening up an escape route behind him, their eyes flitting between the two brothers.
For a second Scott kept them all in suspense, smiling as though he might forgive and forget.
Then Johnny ducked his head.
And the chase was on.
1. Dia de los Santos Inocentes or the Day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on 28 December and commemorates when King Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
2. Sheriff Val Crawford borrowed and ruined one of Scott’s shirts in The Man Without a Gun, Series 1, Episode 23.
3. Murdoch nearly lost his knife to Cipriano in my story, From Highlands to Homecoming, Chapter 12.
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