Undiminished by Mary Whimsey

I still own absolutely nothing and all my profit will be pleasure not money.
I want to thank Carmela for her wonderful editing and Mary O for her careful reading.
I appreciate all feedback. Thank you for reading.

Word count: 11,580

The sun sparkled on the water; the white sails snapped in the wind; he tasted salt on the air; and heard a high light laugh of a girl.

Scott smiled, his eyes still closed. It was more a memory than a dream; the memory of a perfect day crewing for Daniel on the sloop. Last summer? The summer before? There had been many such perfect days over the years of their growing up. And, he thought, his smile growing wider, quite a few that were anything but perfect; no wind, too much wind, rain and once a freak snow squall that nearly put them on the rocks.

He rolled over onto his back, yawned and stretched his arms above his head; his eyes still closed. He was reluctant to let the memory go. As it faded he realized the girl’s laughter remained.

Scott opened his eyes and sat up swinging his legs over the edge of the bed; he winced when his left foot hit the floor. He rubbed his chin and rolled his shoulders. He felt good except for that damned sprained ankle; well rested for the first time in weeks.

He was of course in a bedroom at Lancer not on a sloop. Besides the bed of heavily carved dark wood, there was a dresser, a very comfortable chair, a table, a desk with two dozen small drawers and a washstand with a mirror hung above it. His luggage sat in one corner, mostly unpacked. It was a nice room, much larger and more richly furnished than his room in the Beacon Hill house, but it felt impersonal, not yet his. There had been no time to even place the few belongings he’d brought with him. The photograph of General Sheridan and him lay on the table; other photographs were in his travel desk still at the bottom of the small trunk.

On the floor were alternating stripes of dark and light created by the sun shining through the barred window.

Scott’s eyes widened. It was not the light of dawn but of midmorning that made those sharply defined shadows. Midmorning meant he had slept through the ringing of the bell at dawn. That didn’t greatly surprise him given how tired he had been the night before. What did surprise him was that Johnny hadn’t rolled him out of bed.

He heard the laughter again. He stood and limped to the window. He looked out over the walled garden; neat beds of leafy greens, trellises for runner beans and peas, spears of corn less than a foot high. Close to the house, just under his window, were beds of flowers and herbs; a table and several chairs fashioned out of bend wood. Johnny was sitting in one of the chairs. Teresa was working on a rose bush espaliered against the wall. Scott couldn’t hear what Johnny was saying that was making Teresa laugh.

“Well, lookee here,” said Johnny suddenly, pointing towards the window. “He’s alive. Hell, Boston, we thought you was gonna sleep all day.”

Scott leaned forward against the bars. He rolled his shoulders and thought how wonderful it was that a full night’s sleep in a decent bed was so restorative.

“Did I really sleep through the bell?” asked Scott. He was not looking forward to running into his father after oversleeping.

“The bell didn’t ring,” called Teresa, coming to stand under the window. “And don’t let Johnny fun you. He’s been up less than an hour himself.”

“Why didn’t the bell ring? It is Saturday isn’t it, not Sunday?” At least he didn’t think it was Sunday. The days of the week had run together on the range.

Sunday was the only day of the week the bell didn’t ring. On the ranch with so many animals to care for, Sunday could not completely be a day of rest, but it was a slower day than the rest of the week.

“The patrón -” began Teresa.

“You promised to call him Murdoch,” interjected Johnny with a barely concealed laugh.

“Oh, hush,” said Teresa frowning, “Murdoch told Pedro not to ring the bell. He said everyone needed an easy day after the past two weeks especially since you’ll be back rounding up cattle in a couple of days. So this week has two Sundays. Come on down and have some breakfast.”

Breakfast thought Scott -what a splendid idea. “I’ll be right there.”

*********

“There you are, Scott, hotcakes,” Teresa said with a bit of a flourish as she set the plate in front of him. “There is honey and butter to go on them.”

“They look like Johnny-cakes,” said Scott lifting the edge of one of the hotcakes with his knife.

“Nah, Johnny-cakes would have to have chocolate in them,” said Johnny softly, with a wide smile. His own plate was empty. He was leaning back in his chair balancing it with the two front legs off the ground.

“I suppose everyone has some version of batter fried on a griddle. In the South they call them hoe-cakes and in France they are made very, very thin and called crepes,” said Scott putting his fingers almost together.

“See, Teresa, he just can’t help himself, he’s always got to be telling you something clever.”

“Oh, Johnny, I like learning new things,” said Teresa with a playful swat at him. “So you eat something like hotcakes in Boston?”

“Yes, we eat them with butter and maple syrup,” answered Scott as he spread fresh butter on the hotcake.

“Isn’t maple a tree?” asked Teresa hesitantly.

“That’s right. In the spring when the sap is rising you put a tap into the trunk of a maple tree and the sap drips into a bucket. Then you boil it down to just about nothing and it becomes this wonderful sweet syrup.”

Scott paused. When he decided to stay in California he realized he was going to miss many things, but it had not occurred to him he was going to have to do without maple syrup.

“I guess that ain’t no stranger than getting tequila from an agave plant.”

Scott looked at Johnny and asked, “What’s tequila?”

“A kind a drink favored down in Mexico. I’ll see if I can find some so you can get a taste of it.”

Scott noted his brother’s sly smile. He recalled the soup they’d had at Johnny’s request the night before. Scott vowed to remember to be very careful tasting this Mexican drink if the opportunity arose.

“I should have brought fresh coffee out,” said Teresa picking up the pot.

Johnny let the chair’s front legs fall to the ground, stood and reached for the pot saying, “I’ll get it. I know you want to get back at them flowers.”

“Thank you, Johnny,” she said with a smile. Teresa picked up a pair of wicked looking gardening sheers and went back to the rose bushes.

Scott watched her deadhead the faded blooms as he chewed the honey sweetened hotcakes. She was a pretty little thing even dressed in a pair of trousers and a shirt that was far too large for her. Her looks-the round soft face, the cloud of dark hair; her small stature- were very deceptive. Scott knew she was a hell of a lot stronger and more stubborn than she looked.

He let his thoughts drift back to the final confrontation with the land pirates. He had been so careful to take every possibility into consideration. His father had had the final say, but it had been Scott’s plan to draw the gang out of their stronghold by fooling them into believing the hacienda was basically undefended. He had deployed the men around the house and the main barn. The women and children had been gathered into the kitchen. If things went badly the thick walled kitchen, the oldest part of the house, would be the best place to mount a final defense.

Learning that Johnny had left had distracted Scott when he first returned to the house a few hours before dawn. Murdoch had offered no explanation. Scott did his best to put it out of his mind and catch a few hours’ sleep. When he woke just before daylight, his father was standing by the big window. Through the gap in the curtains he was watching the hills to the east. Teresa stood beside him.

“If they’re coming I expect it will be soon,” he said crossing the room to stand with them.

Murdoch nodded. “Yes. I can’t see Pardee missing a chance like this or at least what he must think this is.”

Scott, reviewing the placement of the vaqueros in his mind, said absently, “Teresa, it is probably best if you join the other women in the kitchen now.”

“I’m not going to the kitchen.”

Scott slowly turned towards her. He thought that he must have misheard her. “I beg your pardon?”

“It is a good plan,” she said seriously, looking up at him and straight in the eye, “having all the women and children together in the kitchen. The Patrón gave Mateo a shotgun so at least he feels he’s a part of the fight. Although I’m sure the pirates won’t get anywhere near the kitchen.”

Scott drew his brows together in a fierce frown. Teresa probably did believe that the plan was solid, but Scott knew flattery when he heard it. And he had enough experience to know that when a woman flattered him so carefully she was about to be contrary. “Then you’re going to the kitchen now,” he said very firmly.

Teresa shook her head, still holding his gaze. “I go where the Patrón goes.”

Scott glanced at his father. Murdoch had taken notice of the conversation and was now limping across the room to stand between the two of them.

“Teresa, you can’t go out there with us,” said Scott sternly. The very thought sent a cold chill up his spine. “Those men are hardened criminals; I really believe they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you.”

“Well, I know I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them,” she said, her chin rising defiantly. “They killed my dad.”

“Sir?” Scott turned to his father. He didn’t have time for an argument with the girl. He expected Murdoch Lancer to order her into the kitchen where she would be safe.

“Darling, Scott’s right. It would be very dangerous for you to be outside the house,” said Murdoch dropping his huge hand onto her slender shoulder. “Go on now. Go into the kitchen. You’ll be able to help with the younger children; they’ll be frightened by the shooting.”

Teresa looked up at him. The difference in their sizes was stark; even with the pronounced limp, Murdoch Lancer was a powerful physical presence; Teresa was small and delicate.

“It won’t be as dangerous for me as it will be for you. I can move quickly, you can’t. I go where you go. You can’t hold your stick and load your gun. If you lose the stick there is a good chance you’ll fall. I’ll stay right beside you and keep a rifle loaded.”

“Teresa,” pleaded the big man. “If something were to happen to you–”

“Nothing is going to happen to me because I’ll be with you,” she said with a fleeting smile. “Besides, you know I’m a better shot with a rifle than half the men. Those men killed my dad. Now they are trying to destroy my home. I’m not going to go hide in the kitchen unless you come hide with me.”

“Darling.”

Scott shifted his glance between the two. The logic of Teresa’s argument appealed to him. He knew if she were a sixteen year old boy he would not hesitate to agree with her plan. Murdoch’s lack of mobility was a serious handicap. If he had a full company of men to defend the hacienda, he might try to convince his father to protect the women in the kitchen. As things stood, every gun was needed against the pirates outside. Besides, Scott might not know the man well, but he was sure there was absolutely no chance Murdoch Lancer was going to let others defend his precious ranch while he sat safely in the house.

Scott knew if something happened to Teresa his father was not the only one who would never forgive him. But the army had taught him to use all his assets, and if she really did stick with Murdoch it could be a tremendous help. He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

“I don’t like it, sir, but she has a point,” said Scott grimly. He turned to Teresa saying, “Stay behind the wall. And for God’s sake keep your head down.”

Scott had thought once the shooting started Teresa would run for the house. She didn’t. She stayed with Murdoch, keeping a gun loaded for him, keeping track of his walking stick. Scott was chagrined now that he had doubted her determination, her courage.

***********

“Those roses are a beautiful shade of pink,” said Scott gesturing with his fork towards the canes espaliered against the adobe wall. “It will be at least another month maybe longer until roses bloom in New England.”

Teresa cut off several blooms and brought them to the table saying, “La Señora’s roses. They always bloom first. I think it must be because they are against the wall and it holds the heat of the sun.”

“Why do you call them La Señora’s roses?”

Teresa stripped the leaves from the stems and arranged the flowers in a glass, adding water from the pitcher. “That’s what Abuela Mariah calls them. Sometimes she calls the whole garden La Señora’s.”

“La Señora is how she refers to my mother,” said Scott very softly, almost to himself.

Startled, Teresa looked up at him. “Oh, how stupid of me,” she said, “I never realized it was your mother she was talking about. I thought La Señora was the Spanish lady that lived here when Abuela was a little girl.”

Scott shifted in his chair; he smiled at her saying in his normal voice, “There is no reason you should have thought of my mother. She’d been dead almost a decade before you were born.”

“I know, but my dad used to talk about her sometimes. They were really good friends. He thought the world of your mother.”

“I’m glad to know that. I didn’t realize your father was here that long ago. Does my-,” Scott paused, shook his head slightly, “that is -does Murdoch talk about my mother?”

“Not to me,” she answered frowning. “I think he and Dad talked about, well, about a lot of things in the past, but it didn’t happen often.”

“Yes, like he said, the past is over and gone.”

Teresa heard a trace of bitterness in his voice. It made her sad.

“He may have said that, but it doesn’t make it true,” Teresa said gently. “She must have loved the garden, your mother, for Abuela to talk about it as hers after so many years.”

Scott glanced out over the garden. At the other end several of the women were weeding. They knelt among the rows of green plants; the bright colors of their blouses drawing his eye. The scene reminded him of paintings he’d seen in Paris salons.

“She was probably amazed by how well plants grow here. New England’s climate is a great challenge to a gardener.” Scott looked back at Teresa. “You seem very happy in the garden.”

“Oh, yes, don’t tell your father. I know he means to treat me kindly by telling Maria to give me the easy work to do like dusting, but I hate housework. And I hate dusting the most; by the time you finish a room, the first thing you wiped is dusty again,” Teresa giggled. “I trade with Lupe and Rosita all the time so that I’m in the garden rather than the house.”

“You work very hard,” he said thinking of other girls he knew. In Boston most girls her age worked as hard as or harder than Teresa, as maids, in the factories, far too many in less savory occupations. But the girls he had grown up with lived different sorts of lives. At sixteen, Constance, his cousin, spent most of her time practicing the piano; although at nineteen she was nurse in an army hospital. And according to her mother, his young cousin Adelaide spent all of her time reading. They did not have to worry about how food got on the table or whether the laundry got put away. Constance, now that she was married, was an excellent homemaker, with the help of two maids and a cook.

Teresa shrugged her narrow shoulders. “It’s a ranch, everybody works hard. Around here everybody knows if you don’t work -you don’t eat.” She walked back to the bushes and gathered the faded blooms. She put them into a basket and turned back to Scott saying, “Abuela knows a lot about plants, what’s good eating, what’s good for making medicines. I want to learn everything she knows.”

Scott smiled at her and then returned his attention to his breakfast. The honey had a distinct taste. Very different than that produced on his great aunt’s farm in Vermont where the bees fed on apple blossoms.

“Scott,” said the girl shyly, the basket balanced on her hip. “Did they let you study plants and animals at school?”

“Yes,” Scott nodded, chewed and swallowed. “There were classes in natural history; some of my favorite classes although my fascination was with bugs not plants.”

Teresa laughed. “Oh, my, if I’d said I wanted to study bugs, I can’t imagine what Mrs. Pierce would have done. She would probably have made me write a paper about why studying bugs isn’t ladylike.”

Scott was charmed by the sound of her laugh. He had noticed it earlier when she was talking with Johnny. It was so light, so free. As if when she laughed, she forgot all the tragedy of her recent past.

“Who is this unenlightened lady?”

“She was the head of the school I went to in Sacramento.”

“It must have been hard for you to leave the ranch and your father to go to school. Did you like it?”

Her eyes wide she said eagerly, “Oh, I loved school, well, most of it. At first when I was young it was hard, but I made friends and I liked the learning. When it was the boys and girls together, it was more interesting. We learned reading and writing and sums, but sometimes we’d learn about, well, things we could use on a ranch. The last three years, I was at a school just for girls with Mrs. Pierce. She and I didn’t get on too well,” she sighed a little. “Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m glad to know how to set a nice table and write a proper thank you note. Sometimes, you’ll see, the Patrón has important people come to visit. My knowing how to do things proper like is a help ‘cause he likes things done proper.”

“Yes, I’ve gotten that impression,” said Scott dryly. “But you would have liked more challenging studies?”

“Yes,” she said softly as if she had admitted something shameful. “I like to learn things; useful things. That school you went to in Boston must have given you a chance to learn so much.”

“I learned a lot of interesting things. I’m not sure how useful any of them are here.” Scott looked over the garden wall to rolling sage green hills beyond. He thought about the roundup where without question he had been the least experienced, least knowledgeable hand; a condition he had never experienced before, even as a very young army officer.

“Scott,” asked Teresa very quietly, looking down at the toes of her boots. “Are there scientists who study plants; I mean real scientists?”

Scott turned his attention back to the girl. She was speaking so carefully that it almost seemed she felt what they were talking about was illicit in someway. “Yes, definitely. They are called botanists.”

“Is there any way to learn what they’ve learned?” she asked her voice almost a whisper now. “Abuela knows an awful lot about gardening but I think if I could learn more I could make the garden even more bountiful and beautiful. I suppose that sounds a bit silly to you, but how well we eat, how well we live, really depends on the garden.”

“So what you want to be is a horticulturalist.”

Three seconds later Scott felt strong hands clamp over his shoulders. He was drug from his chair, spun around and slammed against the wall of the house; his breath knocked from his lungs.

Johnny pressed his hands against Scott’s chest pinning him in place; his flushed face close to his brother’s.

“What do you mean using words like that around her? I ought to wash your mouth out with soap. Some gentleman you are!” shouted the angry youth.

Scott struggled and got his arms free enough to give Johnny a hard shove backward. Balling his fists he debated whether to nail his brother with a right to the jaw or a left to the gut. He forgot to favor his left foot; a stab of pain shot up his leg.

“No! No, Johnny, stop!” cried Teresa throwing herself between them. “Oh, Johnny, that is so sweet of you, but that word doesn’t mean what you think it does. Oh, Johnny, that is so sweet of you.”

Scott did not think there was anything sweet about Johnny. But having given it a moment’s thought, he realized that his brother had probably both misheard and misunderstood the word horticulturalist.

Johnny’s blue eyes flashed between the girl and his brother. He stood with his weight forward, almost in a boxing stance. “Well,” he demanded, “what does it mean?”

“It means, well-” said Teresa rubbing her hands against her pants. “I think it means gardener or farmer. Doesn’t it, Scott?”

“Basically,” said Scott still eying his brother warily. “It is from the Latin, hortus meaning garden and cultus meaning I cultivate .”

His pedantic tone had the desired effect on Johnny. The younger Lancer was definitely embarrassed, something neither Scott nor Teresa had seen before. Staring down at his boots he mumbled, “Well, I’m sorry I was rough with you then. Guess I ain’t smart like you.”

“No doubt,” said Scott tersely, rolling his shoulders. After spending time with his brother on the roundup and watching how he made decisions Scott had come to believe that Johnny was intelligent, perceptive and, though he probably didn’t know the meaning of the word, analytical. At the moment he was not in the mood to hand out compliments. “But in this case, we are talking about a difference in education. As you are fond of pointing out, something I have in excess.”

“Yeah, well, you ought to be careful throwing around them big words ‘cause I don’t have much education,” retorted Johnny exaggerating the pronunciation of the last word.

“But being a man,” said Teresa with a touch of irritation, “you could get more and useful education if you wanted it.”

“I know what I need to know,” said Johnny brusquely.

Scott glanced back and forth between the two. Teresa seemed to be making a larger point about the differences in opportunities for men and women. A point Scott had heard argued by several young women of his acquaintance in Boston.

Johnny had missed her point completely. Instead he still looked disgruntled; he was tapping the fingers of his right hand against his thigh, his blue eyes staring towards the other end of the long, walled garden.

He’s annoyed that he lost his temper. He’s angry at himself for misreading the situation and ending up in the wrong, thought Scott. He is feeling exactly as I would.

Scott righted the chair Johnny had pulled him from. He noticed the coffee pot Johnny had gone to fetch was sitting precariously on the edge of the table. It occurred to him that he was lucky Johnny had taken the time to set the pot down. Otherwise he might have been struck in the head by a pot full of hot coffee.

Scott picked up the pot and filled his cup. Then he sat down. Teresa was gathering up the dead roses that had scattered when she dropped the basket. She glanced nervously between the two brothers. Johnny continued to stand still; his hands now clenched at his side, his gaze directed somewhere in the middle distance.

Over the rim of his coffee cup Scott studied his brother. Almost the first thing Murdoch had said the day the two of them arrived was, “You have your mother’s temper,” to Johnny. Scott, preoccupied at the time with his own feelings, his own temper, had let the statement pass unexamined. He realized now that he was in the habit of thinking of Johnny as hot tempered. But knowing what he did about Johnny growing up believing that Murdoch had throw him and his mother out, Johnny’s smoldering blue gaze and sharp tone seemed an impressive display of temper being kept under control. He had seen the boy display that level of control at other times.

A hot temper, thought Scott, would be a great liability for a hired gun. Johnny’s temper was no hotter than his own, possibly less so. Scott grimaced at the memory of how many times his temper had flared since he’d been on Lancer.

As a child he had been prone to outbursts of temper when he felt he was being treated unfairly. His grandfather would shake his head at such times and say, “I suppose there had to be something of him in him”; a statement that had never made sense to Scott until he met Murdoch Lancer, a man with a truly explosive temper.

Over the years Scott had gained great mastery of his temper. He had learned that giving in to strong emotion clouded his judgment. He had been proud of being a reasonable man when he was still little more than a boy. But there had been times in the past few years, since the war in truth, where the best he could do was regain control over his temper when it suddenly erupted.

It was an intriguing idea that Johnny, the supposedly wild Lancer, was actually the mild-mannered one. Well, perhaps not that mild-mannered; Johnny was still very touchy about what Murdoch said to him. Although not any touchier than Murdoch was about Johnny.

“Would you like a cup of coffee, Johnny?” offered Scott, lifting the pot in his brother’s direction.

Johnny turned to him slowly; his handsome face still creased with a frown. Meeting Scott’s direct gaze, Johnny nodded and said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

Scott poured the coffee into the heavy iron stone cup. Johnny came to the table and picked it up.

Teresa, still watching the two of them warily, said, “Scott, how about some more hotcakes?”

“If it is no trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” she said, setting her basket down. She came to the table and picked up his plate. “Johnny?”

“I guess I could eat a couple more.”

Scott, noticing Teresa’s slightly worried expression, said, “I give you my word, we will behave like gentlemen until you return.”

Johnny shook his head and laughed lowly. Teresa relaxed, smiled and walked toward the kitchen with both their plates.

The Lancer brothers sat quietly sipping their coffee for several minutes. Then Johnny said, “You don’t look half dead anymore. I guess you slept alright.”

“I slept very well.”

“You know, you don’t have to work yourself to death to be a cowboy. It takes awhile to develop some of them skills. Carlos and Mateo was practically born with lariats in their hands.”

“And you?”

“Well,” drawled Johnny, “I got a lot of what you call natural ability.”

Scott grinned, shook his head and said, “And humility.”

“You ain’t bad for a greenhorn,” said Johnny, his finger tracing the rim of his coffee cup.

“That’s the problem, I’m a greenhorn. I’m not doing my share. And it is worse because everyone here knows Murdoch gave each of us a part of the ranch.”

“We earned it. We both damn near got killed,” said Johnny fervently. “‘sides he still calls the tune.”

“True,” Scott nodded. “But it is one of my grandfather’s maxims that if you own a business you should know the business.”

Johnny’s blue eyes narrowed. “What’s that mean, a maxim?”

“Um . . .tenet, a guideline, a rule. My grandfather’s first business was part owner in a shipping firm. He left the family farm in Vermont when he was fourteen. He wanted to go to Harvard. He wasn’t quite old enough to sit for the entrance exam so he went to sea as an assistant to a supercargo.”

“The what?” demanded Johnny. Sometimes having a conversation with Scott was like trying to read a book in a foreign language.

“On a merchant ship, the supercargo is the man in charge of the goods; of selling and buying. He’s the agent of the owners. By the time Grandfather got back to Boston two years later, he knew not only the job of the supercargo, but a great deal about what makes for a good ship and a good crew. When he finished at Harvard and went into business he really understood what it took to succeed. Some years later when he got interested in railroads he did the same thing; he spent time with crews laying the track and he learned how to be an engineer. He can tell you what every gauge and lever in the cab of a locomotive is for and how much water, coal or wood you need for any distance traveled.”

“Kind of hard work ain’t it for a rich man?”

Scott gave a slight shrug of his shoulder. “It is the way to learn a business from the inside.”

“That’s what you’re aiming to do with ranching, learn it from the inside.”

Scott nodded. Some day he might tell Johnny about being fourteen and spending the summer in a railroad camp in Maine with his grandfather. He’d learned that summer what sort of strength it took to drive the spikes into the ties to hold the rails in place; strength he had not yet had. He too knew what all the gauges and levers in a locomotive were for. It had been a good summer, but when he tried to replicate the experience the summer after his first year at Harvard, he found it wasn’t possible to go back.

“And you gotta learn it all in two months.”

“I just wanted to do my share,” said Scott woodenly. He felt Johnny driving towards something he didn’t want to talk about.

“Yeah, I guess impressing the old man wasn’t a part of it.”

Scott looked away towards the eastern hills. He took a deep breath and blew it out. When he looked back, Johnny was watching him with a thoughtful expression in his blue eyes. Scott felt as if he was being studied.

“I want him to know I take being an owner of a place like Lancer seriously,” said Scott slowly. “I want him to know that I appreciate the opportunity.”

“Seems like you’d of had other opportunities.”

“That’s true. Lancer is the one I’m interested in now,” Scott said firmly. “You remember what he said about arms and legs and guts if we had them? Well, you can’t just tell a man like Murdoch you mean to make the most of what he’s given you; you have to show him. ”

Johnny leaned back with his hands behind his head. “For your sake I hope he gets the message before you sprain every joint you got.”

A fleeting smile passed over Scott’s face. He rolled his shoulders again; being slammed against the wall had reminded his body it had been through a lot in the past few weeks.

“A couple of the new hands are headed to Green River for the night. I’ve heard it’s a lot bigger, more Anglo, than Morro Coyo. I reckon it’s got lots of –er . . .” Johnny glanced towards the kitchen to be sure Teresa was out of earshot. “Entertainment.”

So, that was his brother’s idea of an apology; suggesting they find a nice brothel. Scott looked up with a crooked grin. “With lots of willing entertainers.”

“Be my guess,” said Johnny taking a sip of coffee.

“It must be close to a three hour hard ride to Green River,” said Scott thoughtfully. A little female companionship had great appeal; it had been a long dry spell, not something he was used to. But a three hour ride there and back tomorrow to Lancer and back in the saddle on Monday with a return to the range for the next phase of the roundup by the end of the week? Damn – it made him tired just thinking about it.

“At least that,” agreed Johnny.

And thought Scott looking down at his feet on which he was wearing two heavy pairs of socks, I’d have to get a boot on over this damn ankle. He looked up at Johnny asking, “When are you leaving?” After all, a man does have needs.

“I think I heard Pete say noon. You sure you’re up to it?” asked Johnny glancing at Scott’s stocking feet. “Of course, women being tender-hearted, you might do better limping.”

Scott gave his brother a sidelong glance. Johnny was smirking. Scott was considering a rejoinder when he heard-

“He most certainly is not up to it!” snapped Teresa as she banged their plates down in front of them. “Scott Lancer, you are not to leave the house. You have to take care of that ankle if you’re going to be ready to go back out on the range.”

Johnny immediately reached for the butter and spread it on his hotcakes. Scott looked up sheepishly at Teresa but could think of nothing to say.

Teresa stood with her arms akimbo glaring at them both. Entertainers, she thought, as if she wouldn’t know what that meant.

*****************

“Hello, Scott.”

It was half an hour later. Johnny had gone off to the barn; Scott assumed to get ready to ride to Green River. He was still sitting at the table; partly because he didn’t want to put any weight on his foot; and partly because it felt good to sit quietly in the morning sun.

Scott looked towards the arbor over the path that led around to the front of the house. “Dr. Jenkins, I didn’t realize you were here. How are you, sir?” he said coming to his feet politely. He winced.

“Looks like I’m doing better than you are,” said the doctor walking towards him. “Sit back down and let me take a look at that ankle.”

Scott’s sandy eyebrows drew sharply together. “They didn’t get you way out here for my ankle surely? Really, sir, it is only sprained.”

“So now you are a doctor, are you?” scoffed Sam pulling the other chair around to face Scott’s chair. “Get that sock off, young man. And to answer your question, no, I did not come all the way out here to look at your ankle since I knew nothing about it. I normally make a circuit through the outlying farms and Morro Coyo every five or six weeks. I like to end up here, these days to check on your father’s back although I’d come anyway; you got as many folks on this ranch as a lot of towns out here. The life of the only doctor for two hundred square miles is a traveling life. At least when I stop here, I get a comfortable bed and a good hot meal as well as a glass of excellent Scotch.”

Scott grinned. No one could fault Murdoch Lancer’s taste in whiskey. “Have you lived out here a long time, sir?” he asked.

“Oh,” answered the doctor peeling the second sock back from Scott’s swollen ankle. “It must be about twenty years now. I met your father and your . . . No- it was Johnny’s mother, Maria, on the boat coming up from Panama. I’d lost my wife not long before and came out here like so many to start a new life. My plan was to stay in San Francisco and open a practice. The town was full of disappointed gold-seekers in those days. There was an earthquake the first night I was there and I revised my plan following your father’s suggestion I move farther inland.”

Scott grunted with pain as the doctor’s fingers probed his foot and ankle.

“You sure made a mess of this ankle, boy, but you’re right, it is just a sprain. Take my advice and stay off of it for a couple of days. I’ll wrap it up for you – that ought to help.”

“I’ll use you as my excuse when Johnny starts complaining I’m lazy,” said Scott reaching for his sock. “I understand his mother was very beautiful.”

“Maria?” The doctor smiled. “Oh, beautiful was only part of it. She had the loveliest singing voice I’ve ever heard. She’d sing in Spanish of course and I wouldn’t understand a word, but I’d sit there and listen to her for hours.”

“Hello, Doc,” said Teresa. She had been working in the garden from which she could keep an eye on Scott. Seeing the doctor she walked up the path to them. “Did you tell him to stay off that foot?”

“I did. And I’m leaving it to you to make sure he does,” said the doctor as he slid an arm around her and pulled her to him in a brief hug. “Can you find me a length of cloth to bind it up with?”

“Yes, I’m sure I can.”

“Good. Now I’m going to track Johnny down and see if that wound is completely healed up,” said the doctor as he walked away. He looked back over his shoulder saying, “By the way, Scott, I brought the mail out with me. I believe there are several letters for you. I left it in on your father’s desk.”

Scott started to stand. Teresa put a hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him back into the chair.

“I’ll get it. You sit.”

“Good girl,” said Sam, laughing.

Knowing that Scott was anxious to read his letters, Teresa wasted no time in going to retrieve them from Murdoch’s desk. She found two addressed to him and brought them back to Scott. Reaching out a long fingered hand he took them from her and shuffled them as if trying to decide which to read first.

Teresa walked towards the row of tomato plants she’d been weeding, looking back over her shoulder. She saw Scott slip a knifepoint under the sealing wax of one of the letters and unfold it. As he read the letter, she saw a series of emotions pass over his face; a frown, a crooked smile, a soft laugh and a deeper frown. She realized she was spying on him and red-faced she turned her attention to her work.

Scott Garrett,
    Have you lost your mind? The very idea of a man with your abilities, your innate intelligence, your education spending his life poking at cows is preposterous! It is a criminal waste! I am speechless with incredulity. That you can even consider staying in that God forsaken place puts your very sanity in question!
    You were concerned I might be disappointed with your decision. Disappointed, young man? I am outraged. What are you thinking? Clearly you are not thinking.
    It will serve you right that when you come to your senses and come home where you belong, you are given a position as an office boy. I’ll make you young Daniel’s assistant. That will be the proper place for you – bringing Daniel the morning post and running his errands. Daniel may not have your ability but at least he hasn’t taken leave of his senses.
    Scotty, Scotty, my boy, what has happened to you? What is this talk of the beauty of the land speaking to you? How can that arid waste speak more eloquently than the ocean, than the mountains here? What could such land have to say to you, a civilized man? What can there be for you but back breaking work and a dearth of intellectual stimuli?
    It is your father. That’s where the blame lies. He’s filled your head with fancies, just as he did your dear mother’s head.
    Now about this half-brother John; I swear to you I knew nothing of the boy’s existence. I cannot swear that I would have told you about him had I known of him. Given that the great grievance of your boyhood was the lack of a brother, I fear you might well have run off to find him. He sounds a questionable type, my boy. Something out of one of those dreadful cheap novels you used to hide under your pillows. That you feel for the boy having had such an unfortunate childhood and wicked youth is precisely what I would expect of you. It does you credit that with all you yourself have been through you still have such a good, open heart but use your mind, boy, do not be taken in by a tragic story; be fair and be cautious.
Thank you for your question as to my health. I am pleased to be remembered while the balance of your mind is clearly disturbed. I am well.
    I have grave concerns over the shenanigans in Washington affecting business. Do you think as you are there you might take a little time to explore the possibility of our investing in the proposed railroad along the Pacific coast?
    Your cousin Rosemary will write you soon with news of the family; she is all in a dither at the moment. Her Constance was safely delivered of a boy on the seventh. They’ve named him for his two uncles who died at Gettysburg. Poor little fellow, what a burden to carry through life –the names of those two dimwitted boys who now are remembered as heroes because they died in a great battle. The christening is the end of the month-I cannot imagine how I shall answer courteously when asked where you are by the entire of your grandmother’s family and half of Boston. I have arranged for a silver cup to be given in both our names.
    I spoke yesterday with Broden. He will keep watch for new publications you might be interested in. You should be receiving a box from him within the month and every other month thereafter should you actually stay there so long. I’ve instructed him to include both a selection of the Advertiser and The New York Times as well as several magazines you’ve shown an interest in. There is no question of how the account will be settled. I shall happily take on the expense. With these reminders of civilization, you may come to your senses more quickly.
    I suppose etiquette requires I ask to be remembered to your father-well, not fondly, do you hear? You remind that man that I will take him apart limb from limb if anything happens to you.
    Scotty, come home, my boy. And until you do, write faithfully. I have no hope of that wretched man informing me, God forbid, if the need arises. Please take care. Do not forget who you are, Scott. There are worse things in the world to be than a Boston gentleman.

In fond agitation,
Grandfather

“Well,” said Scott softly, “at least he didn’t disinherit me.”

He reread the letter, hearing his grandfather’s voice in every word. He couldn’t believe he had forgotten Constance’s baby was due earlier in the month. Pregnancies were not considered polite conversation for mixed company in Boston society, but the Lowell cousins, of which he was one in everything but name, kept little from each other. Even with recent advances in medical science, having a baby was a risky proposition for a woman. He should have been thinking of Constance; worrying about her. And he would have, he thought, if he hadn’t been so damn tired for the past two months. The very first letter he would write this afternoon would be to Constance.

Scott closed his eyes and thought of the study at the back of the Beacon Hill house. His grandfather would have sat at his huge walnut desk to write the letter. Scott had fond memories of that desk. It was so large because it was intended for two people to work facing each other; the furniture maker called it a partners desk. When he was in school, Scott would do his studies at that desk while his grandfather worked across from him. When he was very small, he would play in the kneehole pretending it was a cave or house or tunnel.

Yes, he could see the old man bent over, dipping his pen into the ink pot and pressing the nib deep into the heavy paper. Scott wondered how many times he had started over. Harlan Garrett was a thrifty man who hated to waste anything, even sheets of writing paper. Still, he always liked to put his best foot forward so to speak and would not send a letter full of ink blots and hash marks even to Scott.

Scott turned the last page over and found what he expected. He knew the postscript would have been written hours after the body of the letter; perhaps after a brisk walk around the Common.

    Scott, I know you are a grown man and God knows you have earned the right to choose your own way in life. But must it be so far away and such dangerous work? Wouldn’t Chicago or St. Louis have been enough of a change?
    I miss you, my boy.

“I miss you too, sir,” Scott said stifling a sigh. He sat quietly for a few minutes wondering what he could say in a letter to his grandfather that would ease the old man’s mind.

Then he broke the seal on the letter from his cousin Daniel.

Dear Cousin,
    Salutations et al.
    Good Lord, Scott, what were you thinking stating straight out that you are staying in California for the foreseeable future? Don’t you think it would have been wiser to say nothing? After a year or two, Uncle Harlan would have realized you were staying on there. Stop frowning. He’s all right. He’s growling a little; the office boys are all walking around on their toes in fear he’ll notice them. Dad has a promising new project in Virginia that will distract him from, and I quote, ‘foolish boy, off playing conquistador.’ Do they still have conquistadors out there? At least your foolishness has made me the fair-haired boy for a change. I’ll have you know. I now have responsibilities.
    By the by you might watch your father for withering limbs or the sudden appearance of warts. You know, our great-grandmother Lowell firmly believed that the Garretts traced their lineage straight back to one of the Salem witches. If Uncle has the power, he is certainly going to use it on Murdoch Lancer.


Scott, darling,

The handwriting changed abruptly. Scott raised his head and smiled. He imagined Meggie, Daniel’s pretty wife with the bouncing black curls, plopping herself on his lap and snatching the pen from his hand.

When are you coming home? We all miss you dreadfully. And you’ll never guess what BH is going around town saying. She’s telling just everyone that you left town because she refused you and broke your heart. Don’t you worry, last night she made a mistake—she said it in front of Julie. Yes, Julie is back from Paris. She has the most stunning blue silk Worth gown, the bustle has a drape—Daniel says you have no interest in Julie’s bustle.

Scott stopped reading. Julie, beautiful Julie. There had been a time when everything about Julie had been of interest to him. But now that she was married, he certainly had no right to have an interest in her bustle.

He took a breath and blew it out slowly. Meggie wrote as she spoke, breathlessly, with little thought and no malice. He picked up the letter and read on.

Well, Julie leaned over to me and said just loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’m so glad Scott has finally been able to go to California. You know, he has been talking about going ever since we were children.” Is that true, have you been talking about . . .? – Well – it doesn’t matter because everyone knows how close you and Julie were and that you parted on good terms and so no one would take Barbara’s word over Julie’s concerning you. So, it is all right now.

Scott, when you come home – bring your brother. He sounds so romantic. He is handsome isn’t he?

Scott laughed and shook his head. Romantic? Not the first word that came to his mind when he thought of Johnny.

    There has been a crash in the kitchen, resumed the letter in Daniel’s handwriting. Meggie has gone to investigate. So you’ve got your own little brother now do you? Poor old Charlie finally manages to come up to the mark by doing well at Harvard and you find a little brother who is a pistoleer. You should have heard me trying to explain to Aunt Rosemary exactly what a pistoleer is. I suspect you are about to learn the truth of that old adage –be careful what you wish for. Little brothers can be an awful lot of trouble.
   
All you said about your father was that the giant we remember from when we were small really was him-do you suppose anyone will tell you what really happened then? Closed up like a clam, is he?
    The family is all well. Constance’s babe appears a sturdy little fellow; he has a strong pair of lungs. I’m afraid Meggie will want one of her own now. Charlie has Professor Otterbein for mathematics; I’m sure you remember him.

Scott read on eagerly as Daniel gave news of other family members and friends. He was saddened to read of the death of a favorite teacher from their grammar school and pleased to hear of the engagement of an old friend. He was glad to realize that Daniel was getting along quite well without him at the office as he read the details of his current project. The project did sound interesting; he had a few ideas Daniel might be able to use.

    By the way, I hear they miss their favorite piano player at Number 10. Lower that judgmental eyebrow, cousin. Meggie deserves a model husband and I vowed to be one. I have not been to Number 10-which is a great hardship since Maggie Doyle keeps the best wine cellar in the city. James and Kit passed along that your departure has caused great sadness.

Given the amount of time he had spent in the discreet brothel known as Number 10, Scott suspected that it was not his piano playing that was missed, but the color of his money. Now there, he thought thinking of his conversation with Johnny earlier, was a group of “entertainers” who were worthy of the name.

    You’ve got your feet back under you, don’t you? I thought I heard some new energy in your letter. When Constance read it, she looked up smiling and said, “There’s our Scott.” And I knew I was right. I can’t say that I see the appeal of the sun, the dirt, the back-breaking work or the days on horseback-but in your description not only of the battle but of the people and place, the brittleness was gone. Obviously you cared about what you were writing about.
     We do miss you. And we all, especially Uncle, although he can’t imagine it isn’t in Boston, want you to find what has been missing these last years.
    I think it is there—whatever “it” is-the land itself or the people or perhaps the opportunity to begin anew—I can’t say. Allow me this one moment of wallowing sentimentality— We were all so thankful to have you survive the war, especially after losing Thomas— that it took time to realize what it had cost you. I know, cousin, you tried to settle yourself into the plans you once had. It is so trite to say the war changed everything and yet it is so true. I should much rather miss your presence and know that you are there building a new life, hopefully a good life, than have you here struggling to fit into the old one. Yes, yes, I know, enough of this drivel.
    Uncle is planning to go to the farm for June as usual; you know your Aunt Laura will talk sense to him. And he’s promised Aunt Rosemary that he will spent August on Nahant with the rest of us. There is no need for you to worry about him. He may never be happy with your decision, but he will come to accept it. Take care of yourself. Do keep writing; your letter was better than a dime novel.
    By the by, if I’ve gotten it all wrong and you have decided to come home try to make it by the Fourth-I need crew for the regatta.

Daniel

Scott looked again towards the eastern hills but he was not seeing them. His thoughts were on Daniel’s words. Your feet back under you. Was he really back on his feet? Had the dry air, the sheer physical space of Lancer really revived something within him? Had hard work finally sweated some poison out of him, some bitterness that often in recent times had threatened to choke him?

He shifted his left leg off the facing chair wincing a little. Well, Daniel, he thought, feet might not be the best analogy at the moment. He started to stand.

“Where are you going?” demanded Teresa. She appeared from nowhere at his shoulder.

“I want to write some letters.”

“El Patrón has paper, ink and pens in the bottom drawer of his desk. I’ll get them for you,” she said already moving towards the house.

“No,” called Scott, equally amused and annoyed by her fussing over him. “Teresa, wait. I have my own.”

She turned back to him, frowning, and said, “Where?”

“In my travel desk in my trunk.”

“Which is upstairs in your room. Keep that foot up. I’ll get it for you.” She was gone before he could offer any objection.

He had just started to feel impatient when she returned carrying the polished oak box with a slightly slanted top and two small drawers. She set it down on the table in front of him; her index finger traced the inlay that formed his initials.

“This is beautiful.”

“It was a gift when I graduated from Harvard,” he said opening a drawer.

He took out a pen and several nibs. From the other drawer he took a bottle of ink. Then he opened the slanted top. Inside were heavy writing paper, envelopes and several large photographs without frames.

Teresa saw a change come over his face that she couldn’t interpret; not a smile of pleasure exactly, but something softer, perhaps sadder.

He pulled the photographs out and laid them stacked on the table.

In the center of the top photograph were two white haired men and a woman seated; six younger people were grouped around them. Teresa’s eye was immediately drawn to the tall figure of a young man in a dark uniform.

“Is that you in your uniform?” she asked pointing. “How handsome you are.”

“No, that’s not me,” answered Scott quickly, his voice oddly thick. “This is an old picture, taken a couple of years before the war. That’s Willie and his wife Amy beside him. In the center is Grandfather, his younger sister Laura and older brother Henry. He’s dead now. The girls are Mary and Beth; they’re both married now. The man is their father, Grandfather’s nephew John, he was a major in the army, he died at Gettysburg. I’m the boy.”

Teresa looked more closely at the boy; he was so young, twelve, thirteen maybe. He stood behind his grandfather; leaning forward against the older man. Pale hair fell across his forehead; his gaze was straight ahead; he was smiling slightly as if he were thinking of something amusing. His right hand lay affectionately on his grandfather’s shoulder.

Affectionately? Why did she think that?

Teresa had grown up on her father’s stories of Scott being stolen away as a baby by an evil old troll and kept captive in a frozen wasteland called Boston. She knew of course that they had only been fairy stories, but she’d always believed that there was a kernel of truth in them. She’d believed that Scott’s grandfather was a wicked man who had cruelly kept Scott from the patrón. She had believed that Scott had been a sad little boy forced into a life she could not imagine far from the life he should have had on the ranch.

There was nothing sad about the boy in the picture. Harlan Garrett, the evil troll, looked a bit wooden as most people did in photographs. He didn’t look evil or unkind; in fact he looked like Scott, the same eyes, the same thin face.

Intending to ask him about his grandfather she turned to Scott. She didn’t speak.

It was there in his stillness, in the silence that surrounded him, in the way his head was bent towards the photograph, all of his attention focused on the tall young man in uniform.

Grief.

Willie was dead; probably in the war. He’d been important to Scott; this was a loss he still felt; would always feel.

Teresa felt her eyes fill; for her father, for the unknown Willie, for his wife, for Scott, for herself. The silence washed over her and all she could do was stand still and wait.

Scott shifted his shoulders, cleared his throat and said, “Would you like to see a picture of the Lowells, my grandmother’s family?”

“Yes, of course,” Teresa responded a bit too brightly.

Scott picked up the second photograph and placed it on top of the first. “This was taken last summer at Nahant.”

“What’s Nahant?” asked Teresa as she leaned over to look more closely at the photograph. There were sixteen or seventeen people in the picture. It was very bright; everyone was dressed in light colors. The men wore loose fitting jackets, the women tight fitting gowns with tiered skirts of lightly patterned fabrics. Even the children were dressed in finely tailored clothes.

How beautiful they looked; how-what was that word-elegant. Teresa could imagine the colors, the silkiness of the fabrics and the ribbons. Were they dressed up for the picture or did they wear clothes like that all the time, she wondered? She felt suddenly aware of her corded trousers and shirt that had been her father’s. In her clothespress was one silk dress, a gift from her father when she finished school.

“Nahant is an island just north of Boston that’s attached to the coast by a sand spit. Cousin Rosemary,” he said pointing to a woman seated in the middle of the group, “has a sort of an estate there; it has a main house and two cottages. She spends the summer there and the family comes and goes. Boston is not very pleasant in the summer, so those who can go to the seaside or the mountains. This was taken last August when the family was all there. We are at the end of the yard, beyond us is the bay.”

Teresa had no trouble picking Scott out. He stood in the back with his arm around a young man several inches shorter than him. In fact, nearly everyone in the picture appeared to be several inches shorter than Scott. She recognized Harlan Garrett, looking far older than in the picture with his own family, sitting beside the woman Scott had identified as Cousin Rosemary. There was a small child sitting on Garrett’s lap.

As Scott pointed to various people and named them, Teresa learned that everyone was the progeny of – or related by marriage to a man named Daniel Lowell. Lowell had been Garrett’s brother-in-law and partner in business.

Teresa heard the affection Scott had for these people in his voice. He spoke of them as she would speak of Abuela Mariah, Maria, Cipriano; all those she had grown up knowing on the ranch. He sounded especially fond of Daniel, the young man he had his arm around, Constance, the young woman who stood with her hand on Garrett’s shoulder and the woman he called Cousin Rosemary.

“Constance just had a baby boy. Grandfather is holding her daughter, Lydia. She’s named for my grandmother. I’m her godfather,” Scott said with a smile and noticeable pride.

Teresa felt a sudden disquiet. The people in the photographs were who Scott would think of if someone asked about his family; not his father or his brother. His memories were full of these people. These smiling people in their silly, impractical clothes were the people he loved as family; not the patrón, not Johnny.

Scott, still looking at the photograph, was unaware that Teresa was standing beside him biting her lip. He was thinking that the war had an effect on this photograph as well. His Cousin Nancy’s husband was killed at Manassas; Daniel’s older brother Thomas died of wounds received during the Second Battle of Bull Run. He wondered if there was a family anywhere in the country that had not been touched in some way by the damn war.

Scott pointed to the woman in the center of the photograph as he said, “Cousin Rosemary is a very avid gardener. I wish there was a way to send her a cutting from La Señora’s roses. She and my mother were very close. Much of what I know of my mother as a girl she told me.”

Teresa bit her tongue a little harder. She wanted to say- does she garden in that silly dress-but she knew that would be spiteful. Instead she brushed her hands against the rough fabric of her trousers and said, “I should get back to the kitchen. Maria may need help.”

“Thank you for bringing the travel desk down for me,” he said as he started to shake the small jar of ink.

“Sure,” she said walking away. She stopped near the kitchen door and looked back at him. His blond head was already bent over the letter he was writing to his family in the east.

********

The letter to Constance was easy to write. He congratulated her on the baby and asked after his goddaughter. He told her a few stories about the roundup making them as entertaining as possible. He knew the letter would be read aloud when the family was gathered as other letters had been read from those who traveled away from Boston. He hoped that Constance would hear in this letter whatever it was she felt she’d heard in the one he’d sent Daniel weeks ago.

He took Daniel’s advice when he wrote his grandfather. He said little about the ranch, his brother or his father. Instead, he asked about the project the firm was working on in Virginia and agreed to find time to learn about the proposed railroad along the Pacific coast. He knew the old man wouldn’t be fooled or placated, but there was no reason to salt the wound.

Before he started his response to Daniel, he sat thinking. There had been so much work to do, so much to learn about how to do the work that Scott hadn’t stopped to ask himself why he decided to stay on once the ranch was secure. He wasn’t sure there was a specific moment when he decided to stay – he’d just never considered leaving.

Why? He should be able to say why he’d decided to stay, shouldn’t he?

It was true that being part owner of a place like Lancer was an incredible opportunity, but Murdoch had put no conditions on the partnership except that he was the one to call the tune. Scott had learned never to put his name to anything he didn’t thoroughly understand before he was old enough to legally sign a contract. It didn’t matter that Murdoch Lancer was his father, he’d read the agreement with great care. He owned a third of Lancer whether he stayed or not.

There was the land itself. His grandfather’s question came to mind. Was it more beautiful than the ocean or the mountains of Vermont in fall when the hillsides turned orange, yellow, red and russet? No, not more beautiful, not even more stirring. He could not explain why he felt that strange warm sense of having come home the first time he saw Lancer spread out before him.

His grandfather did have a point-he was going to miss the intellectual life of Boston. Even though he believed after a good night’s rest that the hard physical labor had been good for him he could see where the sun, the dirt and the back-breaking work could lose their appeal eventually. Now, there was the challenge of honing new skills and that would be enough for a while.

Was Daniel right? It wasn’t that life on the ranch was better than his life in Boston, but that at this moment it fit him better? Was it as simple as that? Perhaps.

It was well past noon, his place at the table was in the shade. He relaxed into the chair, his now wrapped left foot on the one opposite. As he watched, the people of Lancer went about their work. A group of hands rode out through the arch. Several barefoot children attempted to shoo the chickens out of the garden. He heard the ring of metal hitting metal and looked to see his father at the forge in the shade of the barn.

He wondered what Dr. Jenkins would have to say about Murdoch swinging the hammer with his bad back. He knew his father was stubborn and prideful. There were other things he would like to learn about the man who had been a mystery his whole life. Were the answers to those questions the reason he was staying on at Lancer? What Johnny had suggested earlier, that he had worked so hard in an effort to impress his father, was Scott realized in part true. He did want to earn the man’s respect.

He caught sight of Johnny coming out of the barn and watched him with a smile spreading across his face. His little brother didn’t so much walk as saunter across the dusty ground. Scott had never seen a man so at ease in his own body as Johnny.

“I thought you were headed to Green River.”

“Well, I started thinking about all them hours in the saddle versus another night’s sleep in that soft bed upstairs. I would sure enjoy some entertainment,” Johnny said with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “but I reckon them girls will still be there in a couple of weeks. Seems like you could do with a little entertainment. Maybe you’ll manage to stay on your horse while we round up this next bunch. Then you could go along.”

Working hard to keep from laughing, Scott answered with mock seriousness, “I’ll do my level best.”

Johnny put his hands on the back of the chair Scott’s foot was resting on. He leaned forward, rocking from his toes back to his heels; his elaborate spurs jangling. “I suppose you play fancy card games like whist and faro?”

“Yes, I’ve played some. I’ve also played poker. Were you planning on winning my third of the ranch?”

Johnny laughed -a warm full sound that drew the attention of the women hanging laundry. “I guess you play chess too?”

“Yes,” answered Scott eagerly. His grandfather had taught him when he was a boy and he’d played regularly in clubs while he was in school. He still played often. Like maple syrup, it had not occurred to Scott he would give up chess by staying in California. “Do you?”

Johnny shook his head. “I’ve seen it played a few times. I play checkers.”

“Do you suppose there is a board around here somewhere?”

“There’s one on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the great room. Maybe if you can manage to stay awake through dinner we could have a game this evening,” said Johnny straightening. He started to walk towards the kitchen door. “You want a glass of beer?”

“Yes, thanks,” answered Scott watching him go. Then he picked up his pen and carefully dipped the nib into the ink pot. He wrote:

Dear Daniel,
Tonight I’m playing checkers with my little brother.

.

.

~ end ~

Author Note:
I also want to thank everyone who suggested titles for this story. They were all terrific and apt. I chose the one I did because of this email from Gina, which I use with her permission: 

“I don’t know if you’re still searching for a title for this narrative but I humbly offer: “Undiminished” and here’s why: I was reading this book review in the WSJ about the book entitled The Wartime Journals by Hugh-Trevor Roper, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines. Anyway, the reviewer, Brendan Simms stated the following about the author, ” At times he is cast down by the sadness of losing so many friends in action, and—rather like his contemporary Enoch Powell—feels diminished by his own survival.”

Anyway, the words, “feels diminished by his own survival,” struck me as applying aptly to Scott, given his youth and wartime experiences and his struggle to conform. I could go on and on why I think it is an apt title, but I think the words are powerful enough on their own.”

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Mary Whimsey directly.

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3 thoughts on “Undiminished by Mary Whimsey

  1. Caterina, your comments on my LANCER stories are so very kind. I am so glad that you enjoy them. thank you for taking the time. Mary Whimsey

    Like

  2. Hi! I’m reading all your stories again, and longing for an addition to the collection. Abuela Mariah has to be my favorite character after Scott, love their interactions. Thanks, Miss Mary for your excellent writing

    Like

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