(Eggs for Breakfast)
I own nothing and I will make no profit . But I have had a really good time thinking about the Lancer brothers.
The song is Stephen Foster’s BEAUTIFUL DREAMER published in 1864.
Thanks for my wonderful beta Lyn. All remaining mistakes are mine alone.
Word count: 6,660
“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee”
Sang Scott as he slid his long arms into the sleeves of a tan Tattershall plaid, soft collar shirt, pulled it up over his muscular shoulders and buttoned the front.
“Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away!”
He glanced in the mirror above the washstand and rubbed his rough chin. Although he had been in the habit of shaving every morning conditions allowed since he was sixteen he was coming to the conclusion that the cattle did not care whether he was clean shaven or not. In fact it seemed his skin took less of a beating from the sun when it wasn’t freshly scraped. He would shave when he cleaned up for dinner at the end of the day. This was a practical decision although it left Scott feeling a little less than properly prepared for the breakfast table. His expression softened to think how startled his grandfather would be if he’d sat down to breakfast with a bristly chin in the walnut paneled dining room of the Boston house.
“Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me !”
He sang softly as he made his way to the stairs and down to the great room where his father and brother were just taking their places at the long table. Maria was pouring coffee into china cups. She looked up at him and smiled.
“Qué bonita canción el, Señor Scott. Su sonido tan feliz.”
Sliding into his seat at the table Scott returned the smile. He had no idea what she’d said but how bad could it be if she was looking at him so kindly.
“Yep, just like a lark,” said Johnny as he took deep gulps of the rich, black coffee. He held his cup out for more.
“Did you sleep well, Scott,” asked Murdoch, reaching for a small pitcher of fresh milk and pouring a generous dollop into his cup.
Scott started to answer; then paused thinking that he had slept well, exceptionally well, better than he’d slept since the night the Pinkerton agent had delivered his father’s strange invitation to come to the ranch. “Yes, sir, I slept quite well. I suppose all this fresh air agrees with me.”
“Just as long as the hard work does,” responded his father gruffly.
Scott caught Johnny’s glance. Since their sunrise conversation the pervious morning they’d had little opportunity to speak to each other. After working with different crews on the range they’d returned late the night before. Scott had nearly fallen asleep into his dinner; he’d gone to bed immediately after. He suspected Johnny had done the same.
Now there was a question in his brother’s deep blue eyes. Was Scott telling the truth? Had he really slept well? Even though he had been so tired and being tired was when the nightmares were most likely to plague his sleep?
Scott appreciated that the questions were asked in silence. Johnny seemed to understand the nature of nightmares; even suggested that he’d had a few of his own. Scott doubted that Murdoch Lancer would see losing sleep to nightmares as anything other than a weakness. Scott was determined not to show his father weakness.
He nodded slightly. Johnny grinned; a bright flash of white teeth in his sun-darkened face making him look about ten years old.
Scott had the feeling that Johnny was taking credit for his good night’s sleep; that perhaps he deserved the credit. At the time Scott thought that something had shifted during their conversation on the roof. Although not in so many words they had agreed to give being brothers a try. What that meant Scott wasn’t sure but he did feel a link with Johnny he had not been sure existed as more than just a vague hope in his own mind. That link gave him a stronger sense of belonging at the ranch which might, he reasoned be why he’d slept better.
Maria had returned from the kitchen with three plates. She set one in front of each of them. Scott looked down at his and felt some of his pleasure in the day deflate. The yokes of his eggs were cooked hard as they had been the day before and all the days before that so he knew when he ate them it would be like eating paste.
This was the way his father liked his eggs, Murdoch tucked in with relish.
Scott glanced across the table. Johnny’s plate was piled with soft scrambled eggs topped with a sauce that looked like Scott’s Great-aunt Laura’s piccalilli but which, he suspected, was hot enough to take the enamel off his teeth.
Swallowing a sigh Scott picked up his fork. He liked his eggs sunny-side up with soft, runny yokes he could spread on his toast. There was no toast. Occasionally there was bread or rolls for dinner, sometimes there were sandwiches for lunch-beef and soft cheese spread on course brown bread but bread of any sort was not the staple at Lancer it had been in Boston.
Breakfast in Boston was served sharply at 7:30 am not at 6:00am with the sun barely over the horizon. When he was a boy it was his favorite time of day because at the breakfast table he had his grandfather all to himself. He wondered what they had talked about –school probably or what books he was reading. His grandfather had always taken a keen interest in his education.
Since he’d finished at Harvard, Scott who often had not gone to bed, at least his own bed, before the wee hours, still made it a point to have breakfast with his grandfather, properly attired and shaved if bleary eyed, every morning. He knew it reassured the older man that his grandson while lacking in direction was not about to become a complete ne’er-do-well. His grandfather would bow his head and say a brief blessing. They would exchange a few pleasantries. Then Harlan Garrett would look through the mail piled neatly beside his plate. Scott would glance at his own mail and disappear behind the Boston Globe. In due course a china plate would appear, fried eggs with their yolks just warmed through, crisp buttered toast still hot, and kippers. In summer whatever fruit was in season would be presented alongside in a cut glass dish; in winter fried apples with cinnamon.
He wondered what Maria would say if he asked for kippers with his breakfast. He was quite sure she didn’t know what kippers were and if he’d said a small dried herring it was unlikely that she would recognize that as a fish either. It didn’t matter. It was more than possible that the closest place to obtain kippers or any fish like them was San Francisco. The food at Lancer was generally very good but after living almost his entire life within an easy walk of the docks where the fishing fleets came in Scott missed seafood.
Maria returned from the kitchen with a glass of milk for Johnny. The two of them carried on a quiet conversation in Spanish. Something funny must have been said because Scott noticed his father had paused in his eating to smile at them. Scott had no idea what the story was.
Although Maria and his father appeared to communicate quite well with a combination of English and Spanish; Maria did not understand much of what Scott said. He suspected it was his accent that made it hard for her. Neither in English nor in his very limited Spanish had he managed to get across how he liked his eggs.
Of course he could ask his father to explain it to her. But doing so would make him feel inadequate in some significant way. The same would be true of asking Johnny to tell Maria how he wanted his eggs-or maybe that would be worst. Johnny was likely to laugh at him. Perhaps he could just mention it quietly to Teresa. It wasn’t all that important after all. It was just annoying that by virtue of speaking Spanish Johnny could have a breakfast made to order while he had to make due with rubber and book paste just because Maria had assumed he would want what his father liked.
At least the bacon was perfectly cooked.
Twenty minutes later Scott was sitting on a bench on the veranda attaching his spurs to his boots. His father was standing over him talking about what had to be done that day. Scott was only half listening. The list of tasks had not changed from the list he’d half listened to during dinner the pervious evening. He noticed that Johnny had walked on ahead towards the corral, effectively missing this lecture.
“You go with Fernando, he knows that section of the range like the back of his hand; he’ll know where the cows are likely to be hiding themselves.”
Scott maintained his pleasant expression with difficulty. He knew Fernando was a good cow hand but the man seemed to object to Scott for no other reason than he wasn’t Johnny. Scott knew that was a ridiculous notion but it was how it felt. A day spent on the range with Fernando would mean no conversation for hours and hours; he either spoke no English or chose not to speak it to Scott.
Coming to his feet he nodded at Murdoch, saying, “Yes, sir.”
“Just spend the morning out there. I want to show you the books from last year so you get an idea of what a decent year would be like. This one is not likely to be after the number of head we lost to those pirates. What sort of madness would drive men to shot cattle in the field and let them rot?” asked his father rhetorically with a shake of his gray head.
It ran through Scott’s mind to ask Murdoch if that was a greater madness than that which allowed men to kill other men like the farmer the land pirates had strung up or the man’s poor wife defiled and killed in her own kitchen. He kept his mouth shut. Cattle were his father’s bread and butter, perhaps they had become his religion in some sense. He would not appreciate Scott’s bitter sarcasm.
“You ride in early and we’ll get a start on those books before dinner.”
“Yes, sir,” he said again with a nod. He turned to make his way to the corral where half a dozen of the men were gathered around Johnny.
He was sitting on the top fence rail speaking in rapid Spanish. When Johnny stopped talking there was a shout of laughter among the vaqueros. Fernando smacked Johnny playfully on the arm and started speaking himself.
Scott had spent enough time with groups of men to know they were telling jokes, probably risqué ones.
If they told one slowly and gave him an hour to translate it through Latin or French he might understand the joke but then a joke depended a lot on timing. It was likely to lose quite of bit of its punch in translation.
“Hey, brother,” said Johnny as he climbed over the corral fence. He let loose a loud whistle. Across the corral Barranca raised his golden head, turned and trotted towards him. “Fernando says you should be able to collect them cows on your section before noon. We’ll meet up with you by the river.”
“I’m sure Fernando knows,” responded Scott. He looked toward the man. Fernando had mounted his horse and was looking towards Scott with a stony face. Inwardly Scott groaned. What a lovely day he was going to have.
Murdoch was right. Fernando knew exactly where to look for errant cows and their calves within the folds of the land. They gathered more than thirty by mid-morning. It was Scott’s job to hold the bunch together while Fernando searched for more. It was not a difficult job. The cattle were comfortable in a herd and contend to graze until encouraged to move on by a cowboy swinging his rope and whistling.
Except for a few grunts and the occasional hand gesture Fernando ignored Scott. Scott just hoped the man would not ride away and leave him. He was completely unfamiliar with this section of land to the west of the hacienda. He’d been lost on Lancer before and he did not care to repeat the experience.
It was with great relief he greeted the sight of the larger herd of cattle gathered by the river and his brother. When Scott rode up Johnny had one leg hooked around his saddle horn; totally at ease. He was discussing the morning work with Cipriano, in Spanish, of course. He told his brother Miequel was stirring up a pot of beans for lunch. Scott shook his head saying how he needed to get back to the ranch for his session with the books.
Flashing his most mischievous grin, Johnny said, “Better you than me, brother. Sure you can find your way back?”
Scott realized that just a few days ago he would have bristled at the suggestion he would get lost. Now he found that the question didn’t bother him. It was a perfectly reasonable question and asked, perhaps, out of genuine interest in his welfare. That was how he chose to take it. “We’re south and west of the house, right?”
Johnny nodded. He pointed, saying, “According to Cip you take a line on that bald peak and you should come across the track we rode out on in about twenty minutes.”
With a nod Scott turned his horse towards the peak. He glanced back at the herd and the vaqueros. Johnny was so completely comfortable among them that Scott felt a pang of jealousy. He chided himself for his childishness. He knew that he should be pleased Johnny got on so well with the vaqueros; the more at home Johnny felt the more likely he was to stay in spite of the head butting with their father.
Scott was used to being easily accepted into a group of men. In school, the army, at Harvard, even from the peculiar institution known as Boston society he had always found a warm welcome. On Lancer he was –well, it might be more than just tolerance, after all the men had followed his orders during the fight with the land pirates-but it wasn’t the friendliness with which he was used to being treated. He knew he had to keep a little distance from the men if, being younger than most of them, he expected them to take orders from him. He’d learned that in the army, he couldn’t be one of the lads and command. Even so he wanted to be able to share a joke with them.
The problem was the language barrier. It wasn’t the only problem. If he was ever going to be more than a source of amusement for the men he was going to have to master throwing a lasso. But not speaking or understanding Spanish was what kept him separate.
If he could just see the words written then he could fix them in his head. Some words were very close to the same word in French which he spoke fairly well and could read if the novel was very interesting. Since like all Romance languages Spanish was rooted in Latin his proficiency in that language would be a great help to him if only he could see the words written.
A vision of his Latin master from school popped into his mind. It made him laugh aloud. He couldn’t imagine that Mr. Alden knew there was such a thing as a vaquero even though he was likely to immediately point out the root Latin word vacca meaning cow. Mr. Alden was so old the boys often joked he’d gone to school with Julius Caesar. A tall, narrow, stooped man with wispy white hair he had been a strict task master; the sort of man who appears to have been locked in a library for a century or so. He had been a good teacher and Scott had been an excellent student.
He could master Spanish given a little time and a little help. He wondered if either Johnny or Teresa could write in Spanish. They spoke it so easily but that didn’t mean it was their written language. The truth was although he knew Teresa had some schooling, Scott had no idea whether Johnny could read or write on more than a rudimentary level in English. The little he knew of Johnny’s childhood did not suggestion a lot of opportunities for education in any language.
Having reached the rough track that lead to the hacienda Scott urged the horse into a controlled gallop. He was anxious to have a chance to clean up before he settled down with the ledgers his father wanted him to see.
Approaching the hacienda from the southwest he first came to what he thought of as the home farm; it reminded him of estates he’d seen in England. About a half mile from the main house were two neat rows of a small adobe houses; a barn, a pig sty and a large chicken coop. The houses were for the families of the vaqueros; some were empty their inhabitants having fled during the trouble with the land pirates. Murdoch was talking about trying to find some of his former workers now that it was safe again. This idea was not very popular among the families who’d stayed to defend the ranch. Scott was surprised that it was his father who felt that a man’s obligation to his family’s safety was a sound reason for leaving Lancer short handed. Scott would have been happy to welcome any experienced hand- the skeleton work force was keeping to a killing schedule –but he knew from experience that dissention among the ranks was far worse a problem than too few men for the work.
A small herd of black and white dairy cows peacefully grazed in the meadow along the creek. The pigs were confined to a muddy wallow but the chickens roamed free, more than once a startled bird had flow up just in front of his even more startled horse. Between the farm buildings and the hacienda was a huge walled garden. On the rise of the ground beyond was an orchard decked out in soft pink and white blossoms. He thought about plums and hoped among the showy trees there were some that would produce his favorite fruit.
“Me mira, patron,” called a boy who couldn’t have been more than five years old as Scott slowly passed the small houses. The boy picked up the nearest object to hand which turned out to be a little girl. He held her up. “Yo soy fuerte, patron.”
Scott smiled down on the child, wondering if he was to admire the little girl or sympathize with the boy for having to watch her. Other children called to him cheerfully. Although only their fathers were paid for work, Scott knew the mothers were busy in the gardens or the smoke house or the wash house. Every one worked on Lancer.
He rolled his shoulders as he looked ahead to the bunkhouse, the horse barn and the main corral. He’d get his horse untacked, brushed and turned out. Then he would clean up and hopefully have enough time to ask Teresa for some lunch before his father was ready for him.
He turned in the saddle to see a small, elderly man running out of the diary barn. Scott didn’t know the man’s name but he knew he was responsible for the small herd of dairy cows. The man was hatless, long iron gray hair flew wildly about a seamed, dark face.
Scott pulled his horse to a stop and looked down at the agitated fellow.
“Venga, señor, la vaca está en problemas. El ternero se ha quedado atascado. Vamos, vamos, tenemos que darnos prisa,” he said, gesturing wildly at the barn.
Scott had understood only one word. Vaca, cow. But it was evident that something was wrong and the old man expected him to help. Quickly he dismounted and dropped the reins to the ground. The well-trained cowpony would stand there until someone came along and picked up the reins. Scott followed the old man into the barn.
Standing in a stall filled with clean straw was a bellowing cow with a dainty calf’s hoof sticking out of her rear end. The cow was rolling her eyes and breathing hard, clearly in great distress.
“Tenemos que ayudarle, señor. Tenemos que darnos prisa!”
Scott looked at the animal in dismay. It wasn’t that he was squeamish. If it would help the poor animal he would gladly stick his hand into her but not knowing what he was doing he was likely to do more harm than good. Scott had a dog or a horse most of his life but he had never seen even the cook’s cat give birth.
The little man continued to give instructions in Spanish; none of which Scott understood. In French, praying it would be close enough to the Spanish for the old man to understand his meaning Scott said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand you.”
Whether or not he understood the words the old man realized that Scott was clueless. He rolled his eyes and muttered something fiercely under his breath. Scott was quite sure it was a caustic and entirely accurate comment on the inadequacy of the Patron’s elder son.
Scott pushed his hat off and pulled his gloves from his hands. He was trying to show his willingness to help. The old man still muttering took Scott’s hands and placed them on the cow’s flanks.
Scott wasn’t sure he was any help at all. He simply applied pressure where he was shown to. The old man manipulated the small hoof back into the birth canal and then somehow managed to bring both feet out together. He put Scott’s hands on the hooves and pantomimed pulling. Then he raised his hand in what Scott recognized was a gesture telling him to wait.
Again the old man reached into the cow, a small head appeared between his blood streaked hands.
Scott pulled with all his might, even going so far as to brace his right foot against the cow’s rump. At first the calf didn’t budge then with no warning the cow took a shuddering breath and pushed. The calf came out in a rush of fluid; Scott flew backwards landing against the stall wall with a crash.
The wet calf landed in his lap. It looked up at him with big brown eyes. The old man fell to his knees and started wiping the calf with straw. The cow turned her head to gaze at her off spring. Slowly, she approached the calf and began to lick it with her huge, rough tongue.
“Como ves, el senor, una multa niña. Bueno, bueno.”
Scott disentangled himself, stood and rubbed his shoulder. He looked down at the small animal the old man was helping to stand on wobbly legs. “Welcome to the world, little one,” he said as he collected his hat and gloves.
He noticed then that half a dozen dark-eyed children were hanging over the stall wall pointing and giggling. The old man looked up at them; his old eyes shining with an excitement and pleasure that mirrored theirs.
Scott grinned. At least this was a language he understood.
His horse was standing where he left him. Scott picked up the reins and started to lead the animal towards the main barn. He hadn’t been clean before, now his tan shirt and trousers were streaked with several rather unpleasant smelling fluids. He hoped his father was not sitting in the great room impatiently waiting for him because he simply couldn’t appear as he was.
They reached the garden wall just as Cipriano’s two adolescent daughters came through the gate. At first they glanced up shyly at Scott and whispered polite greetings. But when they got a good look at him they stared with wide smiles spreading across their pretty young faces.
Scott blushed. He didn’t know why but he suddenly felt like a schoolboy at his first party.
“Ahora él es tan guapo como Johnny. Lo único que necesitas es un poco un lío. Ver un hermoso color tiene el pelo? Como trigo maduro”.
“No, no tan guapo como Johnny. Pero lo hace parecer más jóvenes y no tan rígido. Mira que está obteniendo la cara.”
The girls were giggling now. Scott’s embarrassment was growing deeper. He was rarely embarrassed around young women. He had quite a reputation for his charm but his charm was based more on what he said than how he looked. He had a vast repertoire of clever compliments sure to please debutantes or parlor maids, grand dames of Boston society or the madam of an upscale brothel.
He knew the girls spoke at least a little English. But not knowing what they’d said he was at a lost as to how to recoup some of his dignity.
“Usted niñas tontas! Usted tiene trabajo que hacer! Vaya! Vaya!”
At the sound of Abeula Mariah’s stern voice the girls picked up their skirts and ran towards the washhouse; still giggling.
“Buenas tardes, Senor Scott,” said the old lady with a slight dip of her chin.
Scott noticed her lips were twitching as if she was holding back a laugh. He nodded to her and repeated her greeting carefully.
“Mateo! Ven aqui!” shouted Abeula Mariah.
From the other side of the garden wall came an answering, “Si, Abeula!” A moment later Mateo, a black-haired boy in his early teens, came through the gate.
“Hola, Senor Scott,” said the boy, looking Scott up and down with his lively dark brown eyes. “You okay?”
“Calf,” said Scott succinctly with a nod towards the dairy barn.
“Ah,” answered the boy, nodding with knowing smile.
Scott had the humbling thought that Mateo would have been considerably more help to the old dairyman and the cow than he had been.
“Cuidar del senor de caballo,” said his grandmother.
“Si, Abuela,” said Mateo, reaching for the reins. “I take him, sir.”
“You don’t need to, Mateo,” said Scott quickly. He had determined from his first day at Lancer he would never take advantage of his position in ordinary tasks like caring for his own horse. He wasn’t confident that the vaqueros would ever see him as anything but the greenhorn. He was not going to have them see him as a burden as well.
“Please, senor, it is a man’s job,” pleaded the boy with a glance back at the garden wall. “Not like planting maíz y calabaza. That is women’s work.”
Scott chuckled as he handed over the reins.
“Vamos, vamos, hijo mío.,” said Abeula Mariah touching Scott’s arm.
She led him to the kitchen door. She called out for Teresa who came running, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Teresa stopped when she saw Scott, her dark eyes growing wide with concern.
“What happened to you?” she demanded.
“I was midwife to a dairy calf.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Teresa with delight then said something in rapid Spanish to Abuela Mariah. Both women were excited and pleased. Scott stood by feeling more and more annoyed that he couldn’t understand a word they were saying.
“I’ll go fetch you some fresh clothes,” said Teresa finally turning back to him.
“I can do that.”
“No,” she said quite firmly. “We don’t want that muck tracked through the house. I’ll get them.”
“Oh, right,” responded Scott, feeling stupid. He didn’t know why it bothered him to have Teresa fetch his clothes. He’d grown up with maids putting his laundry away; it shouldn’t bother him that his self-appointed sister knew which drawer his socks were in. Teresa did not strike him as a snoop not that there was anything all that revealing among his possessions. “Is, um, my father waiting for me?”
“No, Father Arileo sent some people-a man, his wife and two children- out to see him. They’re looking for work. Le Patron took them to see one of the farms. He said you could,” she flashed him an impish smile. “Cool your heels until he got back.”
“The doctor told him to stay put for a couple of weeks,” said Scott angrily. He hadn’t noticed her smile.
His father’s back was a great concern to Scott. Lancer needed the Patron healthy, able to ride and work the cattle; able to go into town and if need be throw his weight around. Scott didn’t believe that the land pirates had simply been locusts on the land taking anything they could get. He thought, and he was sure Johnny agreed with him, that there had been someone else behind the mercenaries; someone who wanted the prize that was Lancer. To discourage another run at the ranch they had to put forth a strong front; part of that, a great part, was a hale and hearty Murdoch Lancer.
“He wasn’t to ride a horse or in a wagon so that his back had a chance to heal. You know what the doctor told him.”
Teresa’s sweet, young face fell. She looked as if she was going to cry but she managed to respond with spirit. “I did remind him. He said getting a crop in the ground before it was too late in the season was more important than what the doctor said. I did try.”
Silently Scott cursed his father’s stubbornness and his own short temper. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt Teresa’s feelings in any way. She was little more than a child yet she had taken on responsibilities that would weary a mature woman. The first of which was trying to manage Murdoch Lancer’s recovery.
“Teresa?” queried Alueba Mariah, shifting her worried but clouded glance from one to the other.
Teresa told her in Spanish what was wrong. The old woman nodded, said something only Teresa could hear and walked back towards the garden; touching Scott lightly on the arm as she passed.
“What did she say?” he asked quietly. He wanted to make amends for upsetting her.
Teresa smiled, her good humor restored. “Oh, something about men and good sense not being friends. I’ll put a pot of coffee on and fix you some lunch.”
An hour later Scott was washed, shaved and dressed in clean clothes. He’d had a soup that looked like vegetable but tasted like no vegetable soup he’d ever eaten. He walked into the great room carrying a blue willow ware cup brimming with fragrant coffee. The room was empty. His father had not returned.
For the first time since his arrival at Lancer Scott had nothing pressing to do. He knew he could find something that needed doing in the barn but he felt sure that as soon as he began a task his father would appear and demand he look at the books. So for the moment he was cooling his heels. To his surprise instead of feeling fortunate to have a few moments respite he felt guilty about Johnny and the vaqueros still out on the range.
He shook his head, took a sip of coffee and laughed at himself. Looking around the room his gaze fell on the bookcases. He had had no time to explore them. Perhaps there were some books in Spanish left by the original inhabitants of the hacienda. If so they might help him start learning the language in a more organized way; trying to pick up words as others spoke them was not working very well.
He reasoned that if there were such books still on the shelves they would be at the top. Having not put on a pair of boots after cleaning up, Scott turned a chair from the table and climbed up on it in his stocking feet. As he picked up the first leather bound volume a book lying on its side at the very end of his reach caught his eye.
It was familiar; in fact a dozen or more just like it sat on the shelf of his grandfather’s Beacon Hill library. Broden’s Booksellers sold them as journals; bound in red calfskin they contain a hundred blank pages of fine quality paper. His grandfather used them for household accounts and the occasional note about some important event. Scott had a smaller version upstairs in his traveling desk containing the addresses of friends and family as well as a list of birthdays he wanted to remember.
Broden’s Booksellers had been in business for forty years. The Garretts had been loyal customers from the day Mr. Broden opened his doors. Scott was quite sure he was looking at a book that had belonged to his mother.
He reached for it, took it from the shelf and climbed down from the chair. There was a thick skin of dust on the front cover. He opened it carefully.
Morro Coyo, California
His mother’s handwriting; he recognized it immediately having seen it many time in her books in the Boston house.
Scott had long been aware of the irony of his living parent being a complete stranger while the parent who died two days after he was born was not. Catherine Anne Garrett had been one of five children. Two, the boys, had died before their seventh birthdays. One sister died of rheumatic fever when she was fifteen. The other several years later when her heart, weakened by the fever all three girls had contracted, gave out. The third floor of the Beacon Hill house had been full of reminders of these short lives.
Scott had slept in the nursery his mother and her siblings had slept in; he’d played with their toys; and learned to read with their books. It was their father who had raised him.
The girl Catherine had been was not a stranger to him. The woman she became as Murdoch Lancer’s wife was. His grandfather sometimes told stories about his lost children and his long dead wife; stories that made them real for Scott in a way his living father had not been until the night the Pinkerton agent spoke to him. But Garrett never spoke of Scott’s mother’s life in California. It was as if for Harlan Garrett his daughter died when she boarded the boat with her new husband.
Scott was curious about his mother’s life in California. His father had spoken of her once when they first met; a single sentence about Scott having her eyes. He had not so much as mentioned her again. Scott knew that Murdoch refused to dwell on the past, refused even to acknowledge it. In a way Scott envied him that ability; there were memories of his own past he would like to exorcise but then there were others that he cherished.
Oddly it was Abuela Mariah who had spoken to him about his mother. Sadly he couldn’t really understand what she’d said but he could tell that she’d liked his mother. La Senora was what she called her and she said it with a smile. If he ever managed to learn enough Spanish to carry on a conversation he would ask Abuela Mariah about his mother’s life at Lancer.
Of course the answers could be in his hand. Scott stared down at the book; running his long finger over the stiff spine. It could be a diary. He wouldn’t read it if it was. He wanted to know the broad strokes of his mother’s life not the intimate details of her life with his father to which he was not entitled. Even dead for so long he would not invade her privacy in such a way.
Perhaps, he thought, it was the household accounts. That would make sense seeing as it was for what his grandfather had long used the same books. That could be interesting and would perhaps give him just enough information about life on the ranch when she was alive to answer his questions.
Well, he would never know if he didn’t turn the page. So he turned the page.
What was written there left him open-mouthed with surprise.
In his mother’s neat script was page after page full of lists of words in English and in Spanish. Sometimes the Spanish word had several spellings as if Catherine were guessing. There were accent marks to help with pronunciation. There were pages of nouns, verbs with different tenses, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions. On some pages were complete sentences.
The sentences made him laugh for they were simple phrases that a ranch wife would need in the course of her day. Have the eggs been gathered? We’ll wash the sheets today. Please saddle my horse; dozens of them neatly written out, some with several variations in Spanish.
It was a Spanish grammar book; reminiscent of the most basic Latin grammar books he’d used as a boy. A Spanish scholar would not recognize it as such; Scott was sure there were many mistakes fore how would his mother have known what was correct. But for Scott it was the answer to a prayer. It gave him more than a starting point for learning the language of the ranch; it gave him a leg up.
His smile grew broad. He’d been wrong when he thought that the woman Catherine Garrett became as Catherine Lancer was a stranger to him. The book in his hand told him that she had remained the orderly, bookish and practical person that her friends and family in Boston had describe to him.
Scott glanced up at the top shelf. He thought about the book lying there for so many years as if it was waiting for him. As if his mother had created it for him. He felt the familiar sense of excited interest at the thought of learning something new and useful.
He sat down at the table, bowing his head over the book as he had over so many books as a school boy. Silently Scott spoke the words; feeling the shape of them in his mouth. Occasionally he took a sip of his coffee. He did not notice when Teresa came in to refill the cup, her smile gentle and thoughtful. He mumbled a word of thanks when she lit the tapers in the candelabra so that the light fell on the pages.
Scott did not notice when just about dark his father entered the room through one of the French doors or that the excuse for keeping him cooling his heels all afternoon died on the big man’s lips. He did not see his father staring at him in the small circle of candle light with his blond head bowed over the handwritten book bound in red calfskin.
Two days later Scott got up very early. After dressing he went down to the kitchen. Maria looked surprised to see him standing in the doorway.
She wiped her hands on a red and white checked dishcloth and walked to him; her dark eyes a bit worried. “Something, senor?” she asked rather timidly.
Scott gave her a wide, happy smile that reached his gray-blue eyes. “Buenos dias, senora,” he said very carefully and slowly. “ Por favor, ¿puedo tener huevos con yugos suaves?”
~ end ~
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