Reputations by Olley

Word Count 2,719

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Reputations – 2nd in the Hettie series

Johnny is 19 Scott is 25 they have been at Lancer for 4 months.

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Murdoch and Scott walked away from the barn having visited the newest foal born that previous evening, a palomino mare. They had both smiled knowing how pleased Johnny would have been at the safe arrival.

Scott paused and held onto Murdoch’s arm, “What is Maria doing?”

The housekeeper appeared to be spying through the French doors into the great room.

Both men drew their guns and slowly and quietly approached. Maria turned and smiled at them and with her finger to her lips indicated they should be quiet.

Laughter could be heard, Johnny was laughing, not the sardonic laugh he used when angry or the raucous laugh when sharing stories with the crew but a boyish one very rarely heard. Scott and Murdoch both raised their eyebrows, what was he up to?

Johnny was in his socked feet with a large book on his head, balanced on one foot on the foot stool in front of the fireplace, while Hettie Baxter also with a book on her head, was walking up and down, “Chin up, shoulders back and walk like a young lady or gentleman,” she was obviously mimicking someone’s voice.

Murdoch couldn’t help but smile, his youngest boy acting like he would have wished he could have done during his young years instead of turning to the gun. “Well, what’s all this about?”

Hettie turned suddenly and caught the book that fell from her head, “Hello, Uncle Murdoch.”

Johnny jumped down from the footstool the book still balanced on his head and walked up and down a few steps, “Hettie was teaching me ’bout de-port-ment, seems like that fancy school she got expelled from needed to teach kids how to walk.” He grinned full on at Murdoch and Scott.

“Hettie was telling me you likely had these kind o’ lessons Boston, that right?”

Scott came fully into the room and looked at his younger brother just knowing he was in for some teasing, “Young people who go into society have a number of lessons to acquire so they are comfortable in social situations, elocution and deportment are just two.”

“Electrotution, what’s that Boston sounds painful?”

“Elocution is speaking correct English. I expect that was another lesson Hettie would have had at school. And yes, I did have lessons in deportment.”

Murdoch had a slight frown, “Hettie, I didn’t know about you being expelled, is Johnny exaggerating?”

“You know Pa sent Lucy and me away to school in Stockton when the high riders started raiding well all that school wanted to teach us young ladies was how to catch us a suitable husband. That didn’t suit me one little bit. I want to learn about the world and how it works and how to use my brain. So I was pretty unhappy about it all and well anyway, to cut a long story short, it was agreed I could come home.” Hettie smiled shyly at her godfather.

Johnny was grinning at her. He knew the full story, and she blushed and looked down. “I found Hettie earlier visiting Consuela and her two new babies. I tell you Pedro is strutting round fit to burst, being the papa to twins.”

“I don’t think he will be doing too much strutting after all the sleepless nights he is going to have,” said Hettie.

Murdoch laughed “Probably right Hettie. I imagine he will be volunteering for night herd riding just to get a rest. Are you staying for diner, my dear?” He knew he had been deflected from the story of the expulsion, he would find out from her father.

“Oh yes, Maria and I are making chili and tortillas. I’ll go and help her.” Hettie backed away before turning to go to the kitchen.

The three Lancer men had a pre-dinner drink in hand and were discussing the new foal. “Sure is a pretty little thing and should make a good brood mare for the Lancer palominos, pity Barranca is no longer a stallion” Johnny was unusually cheerful and Murdoch was reluctant to spoil the mood.

“Well, Barranca would have been difficult to use as a cow pony if we had kept him as a stallion, the new foal is his half-sister so carries that breed line. But it’s the cattle that come before the horse breeding.”

Scott saw the cloud cross Johnny’s face, and quickly interrupted, “All good businesses diversify to insure against unexpected market conditions.”

“Not putting all the eggs in the one basket, eh Boston?” Johnny retorted.

“Quite, it’s the sensible way forward.” Scott looked across to Murdoch. Johnny wasn’t the only one with ideas beyond cattle.

Before Murdoch could start calling his tune, the sound of Spanish chattering came from the doorway and Maria and Hettie arrived carrying in the evening meal.

As Hettie sat at the table, Maria fussed and petted her, “De qué sirve cocinar poco la chica es” “What a good little cook the girl is.”

“Muchas gracias señora Maria” “Thank you Maria” Hettie blushed at the compliment.

Scott looked at the chili with trepidation, he was trying with the hot Mexican dishes that Johnny favoured and Murdoch seemed to take in his stride, but for his eastern palate, he needed plenty of milk to cool them down.

Hettie pushed two bowls to him, “the sour cream and cucumber and red onion salsa will cool it down, Scott.”

“Thank you, Hettie, you seem fluent in Spanish.” Scott said.

“When Lucy and I were younger, Teresa and we were the only Anglos in the area, so it was only natural to pick the language and life style up.” Teresa smiled across at him.

“I know Lucy is your older sister, but who is Teresa?” Scott asked.

Hettie looked surprised and glanced at Murdoch, who had a slightly embarrassed look, “Teresa is Paul O’Brien’s daughter and is a year older than me. She lived here, of course, and we went to school together for a while when school was held here at Lancer before the schoolhouse in Green River was built. After her Pa was killed, she went to school in Philadelphia. She has an aunt who lives there.”

Scott looked over at Johnny both looked at Murdoch, they knew about Paul O’Brien being killed by Pardee when Murdoch was so badly injured, but not much had been said about this Teresa.

Hettie seemed to notice the strained atmosphere, “I supposed because we were in the minority and I was so young getting involved in the Mexican ways was natural. Of course, the last few years have seen a lot of incomers and Green River has grown much bigger and is mostly Anglo, but that’s no reason not to recognise the history of California being Spanish is it. After all, Anglos are proud of their European history?”

Scott blinked a girl not yet 16, indicating she was aware of the growing problem of discrimination against the native Mexican population, “I agree Hettie, it is important to recognise our neighbours rights and traditions.”

Murdoch decided a change of conversation would be sensible, “Will you be attending the coming social in Green River, Hettie?”

The girl frowned and looked up at Johnny who also had a dark look on his face, “I suppose we will put in an appearance.”

Scott was well aware of the words exchanged between Murdoch and Johnny about the Lancers being expected to attend these social functions and get to know their neighbours. Johnny had been determined he would not go and Murdoch equally determined he would, yet another demonstration of the Lancer stubborn. “I intend to escort Miss Suzy Gilmore to the event, but I shall be pleased to have a dance with you, Hettie.”

Hettie looked stunned and embarrassed. However, Johnny let out a laugh, “Oh boy, Boston, you’d better take care Mz Gilmore is on top of the list that Hettie has given me.”

“List, of what may I ask?” Scott asked, looking from Johnny to Hettie wondering if he was being set up for a joke.

Johnny waved his fork towards Scott, “Gals who have Papas with shot-guns and Mamas who are on a husband hunt. Don’t suppose you have shot-guns in the back of the groom while the padre spouts the wedding vows in Boston, do you Boston?”

Scott actually laughed, “Not exactly and as I keep pointing out my name is Scott and I used to live in Boston. I do have some experience, however, of parents who try to arrange suitable marriages and how to avoid them.”

“Boys, I don’t think this is a suitable topic with Hettie here.” Murdoch was finding being a father a mystery.

“Uncle Murdoch, its fine, these two sons of yours are the most eligible bachelors in the whole of the San Joaquin and Scott does need to know that for some out here, escorting a young lady to a social is the first step in a courtship. And Suzy is very,” Hettie paused, searching for wording, “decorative, but to be honest, she doesn’t have a practical bone in her body, and do you really want the Gilmores as in-laws?”

Murdoch was now embarrassed, of course, he didn’t want the Gilmore girl as a daughter-in-law. In fact, in truth, he didn’t want either Scott or Johnny to seriously think about marriage. He wanted to have them to himself and make up for the lost years.

Scott rescued his father, “I have no intention of marrying in the near future and I shall in the most diplomatic way make that clear without offended Suzy or her parents.”

Johnny grinned he was enjoying this meal and the conversation, “Perhaps you could have a word with my Tia Eleanora about arranging anything for me Pa, with her being so traditional an’ all she may take it as her responsibility.”

Murdoch was stunned called Pa even if it was in a joking way, being teased by his dangerous pistolero youngest son. He was speechless.

Before he could respond, Johnny was on his feet, “Come on Hettie, time to get you home.”

Scott coughed, “How are you taking Hettie home, Johnny?”

“Well, Barranca’s out there already for a nice ride in the evening sunshine.” Johnny looked confused.

Scott sighed, knowing being an elder brother giving advice was likely to irritate Johnny, “A young lady like Hettie needs to think about her reputation and this habit of riding double with you could cause talk.”

Johnny was hurt, he liked Hettie and thought of her as a friend and he didn’t have many of those. His blue eyes went dark, an indication that his temper was about to make an appearance. “You mean me being Madrid?”

Hettie still sat. “It’s about the fact that girls have to be whiter than white reputations. Anyway I already have a reputation as being odd, which I find useful for hiding behind, so riding about with Johnny isn’t going to make much difference.”

“Hettie, please don’t call yourself odd, you and your sister Lucy are charming intelligent young ladies,” Murdoch had seen the hurt look that had flashed across Johnny’s face.  It struck him that Johnny Lancer was hiding behind the reputation of Johnny Madrid.

Johnny grinned at Hettie, “You an’ me may have reputations, Hettie, but we both have an older brother or sister with reputations that make up for us. Go on, tell Scott about your sister.”

Hettie grinned at Johnny.

Murdoch saw the exchange, Hettie had that mischievous twinkle he knew in her eye, and Johnny stood behind Scott was bouncing on his toes knowing what was coming.

Hettie looked at Scott, “Well Lucy is a couple of years older than me, she is taller than me, she has much better finer manners than me, she is always much more tidy than me, and” here she paused and looked Scott straight his eye, “has the most lovely blond hair.”

“Sounds like a real fine match for you there, Boston.” Johnny ruffled Scott’s hair as he stood behind him.

Scott didn’t know if he was embarrassed or amused, “That’s Scott and I look forward to making the acquaintance of your sister Hettie. It sounds like we will have to compare notes about troublesome younger brothers and sisters.”

“You mustn’t believe everything she will tell you. In my experience, older siblings tend to be over protective and try to be bossy. But, don’t worry Scott, my sister isn’t in the market for a husband just yet. She has this hankering to travel.” Hettie got up and as she passed Murdoch kissed him on the cheek, “I’ll just say goodbye to Mamacita, then I’ll live down to my reputation and have a ride home with Johnny.”

Johnny was laughing. “Yeah, older siblings are bossy”

Scott shook his head, it seemed he had come out losing this particular debate, and surprisingly Murdoch had smiled at the antics.


Murdoch and Scott were in the middle of a hard fought chess game. Scott had been considered one the best chess players in his class at Harvard and had been surprised at how good his father and brother both were.  Although who had taught Johnny the game was a mystery that Scott had not yet solved.

The sound of Johnny’s spurs announced his return before he entered through the French doors. Johnny tipped his head forward and caught his hat as it fell into his hands.

Murdoch looked up and smiled, “Hello son, I thought you would have gone into Green River after taking Hettie home.”

Johnny put his head on one side. He didn’t hear any criticism in the words or tone, “Nope, I stayed and visited with Mr. and Mrs. Baxter for a while. Mrs. Baxter was telling me Hettie was born here at Lancer.”

Murdoch nodded, “Yes the Baxter’s were visiting here when there was a sudden spring storm and the road was unsafe for Molly Baxter to travel, then Hettie decided to make an early arrival into the world. Luckily Maria was here for the delivery, and I found the crib and baby things that had been used for you. Hettie spent the first 3 weeks of her life here and so here I am her Godfather and Maria is her Godmother.”

Johnny was stood by the desk, looking down and toeing the floor. He had thought a lot on what Molly and Charles Baxter had told him on his ride home. “This here was where I had a rocking horse, Murdoch?”

“Yes, son, you loved that horse, and when the Baxter’s visited you would ride double with Lucy. Riding double with a Baxter girl is, it seems, a habit of yours.” Murdoch held his breath the good memories still there despite the hurt of the bad ones. Johnny as a toddler so brave and happy how he wanted that boy back.

Murdoch found it hard talking about the past, the pain and anger locked deep in his heart. But if they were to be more than just partners in the ranch, if they were to become a family, he suddenly had a blinding realisation that no matter how hard he would find it he needed to share with these young men the stories of their mothers.

Johnny looked up, “So who’s winning this game then?”

The change of subject so rapid so typical of Johnny, who could shut down if he was put under pressure to divulge anything he didn’t want to.

Scott smiled. He was pleased that Murdoch had managed a quiet conversation with Johnny sharing something that filled in a missing piece of his childhood. He looked at Johnny, “I am confident of a win.”

“That right, Boston, let’s see about that.” Johnny went to Murdoch and sat crossed-legged at his side, “You need help with this ol’e man?”

“I need all the help my sons are willing to give.” He smiled at them both. It was going to be a long hard road. He with his reputation for tune calling, Scott with his reputation as an Eastern dandy and Johnny with his reputation as a gun-fighter. But they had in common a reputation for being stubborn in their determination that Lancer looks after its own.

end

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3 thoughts on “Reputations by Olley

  1. This series was the first I had the courage to post, and before I would ask anyone to edit/ beta a story. Thank you for commenting

    Like

  2. I liked this story about Johnny and Hettie and being at Lancer. I hope there are more stories. Thank you for making your writing available to us.

    Liked by 1 person

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