#2 in a duology, preceded by Brothers Apart
SPIN – Sarah Penelope Inez Nicholson
Word count: 15,762
Johnny Madrid stood fidgeting, trying to talk himself into using the impressive knocker that adorned the massive door of the Harlan Garrett residence. Throughout the long stage and train trip which had brought him to the city of Boston, the dark-haired young man had imagined this moment many times, but now that he was actually in the historic city, his belly had turned cold with fear. Many a man in the West would have laughed himself sick at the idea that Johnny Madrid could be scared of anything, but here in the East, he certainly felt out of his element. That was bad enough in itself since he was a man who prided himself on always being in control, but unfortunately, in this world, he could not just walk into a place and command respect because of the speed of his draw. Still, it was not that which made him hesitate to knock on the door in front of him—it was the fear of what he might discover inside.
Johnny Madrid had always known that his true last name was Lancer, but until he had been summoned to the white Lancer hacienda, he had not known his formidable father. After helping Murdoch Lancer protect his vast empire against the Pardee gang, the blue-eyed young man had thought that he had finally found a home and a family, although certainly a tumultuous one at best. He and his father had struck sparks off each other from the first so it had been difficult for both to bank down the potential anger that could have destroyed their relationship. Admittedly, there were still many questions that Murdoch Lancer had never answered to the young man’s satisfaction, but he had decided to take it slow and give the older man a chance. Then, Madrid had inadvertently discovered that he had had a half-brother named Scott.
In his emotionless monotone, the tall rancher had informed his son that Scott Lancer had lived his life out in Boston before dying during the War, possibly in an escape attempt. That no body had ever been discovered had seemingly not concerned the older man as it had his younger son. Impulsively, Madrid had insisted that he would travel to Boston to discover the truth about the brother who he had never even known existed. Typically, Murdoch had discouraged the trip, citing the illogic of going 3,000 miles to find a man who had probably died at least five years before. The terrible injustice of not knowing his brother had led Johnny to make the trip anyway. He could only hope the truth lay behind the door in front of him.
Even before the somber knock of brass against wood had stopped, a uniformed man opened the door. Eyes of black perused the rather disheveled young man standing there, hat in hand, but the man was too well trained to ever give a hint of curiosity about the stranger’s business. “Might I help you, Sir?”
“Well, uh, the name’s Johnny Lancer. This is Harlan Garrett’s house, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, however, Mr. Garrett, passed away almost three months ago now.”
“Yeah, I, uh, heard that, but you see I’m tryin’ to find out about his grandson, Scott.”
Despite himself, the black eyes flickered. “Perhaps you should come in and wait in the study. I will inquire if Miss Nicholson is available to speak with you.” Johnny followed the rather austere figure into a room, covered in bookshelves. It had a definite masculine air to it with a massive desk, in walnut, just like the shelves.
Madrid stood there twisting at his hat for a moment before he carefully took a seat in one of the chairs sitting to the side, near an unlit fireplace. He had only been seated for a few minutes when a tall woman entered. Sarah Nicholson was lean and what, in a man, would be called sinewy. She wore her graying hair in a tight bun and eschewed makeup of any type. When she spoke, her voice was one of authority. “Portman has informed me that you are here about Scott Lancer.”
Johnny, who had jumped to his feet when the woman had entered, sat down again as she waved him to his seat. “Yes, M’am. My father, Murdoch Lancer, informed me that Scott lived here with his grandfather until the War. He said Mr. Garrett sent him a picture and a letter, saying Scott had been killed. I. . .I’d like to find out what happened.”
Sarah Nicholson’s slate gray eyes easily perceived the nervousness of her visitor. “Mr. . .Lancer, perhaps you will indulge me for a moment by telling me why you are just now inquiring about Scott? As far as I am aware, Murdoch Lancer did not even respond to the letter which Mr. Garrett sent.”
“Yes, M’am, I’m sure he didn’t. You see me and Murdoch just got to know each other a few months ago. My mother was his second wife and well, they didn’t get along too good either so she took me from the ranch when I was two. I never knew that I had a brother so when I found out, I decided to come here.”
“You do know Scott’s grandfather died recently, don’t you?”
“Murdoch told me that, but I thought, well, he might have papers or maybe he might have left stuff with a lawyer or somethin’. I just gotta know for sure about what happened to my brother.”
“Why? You didn’t know he existed for over twenty years.”
Sapphire eyes gleamed with brightness as Johnny stared at the ramrod straight figure, sitting opposite him. “M’am, I don’t mean to be rude, but Murdoch didn’t tell me anythin’ about this Garrett havin’ a wife or another daughter, so could I ask who you might be?”
A small flicker of amusement entered the slate eyes. “Ah, yes, how remiss of me. My name is Sarah Nicholson. I was in Mr. Garrett’s employ for many years as housekeeper and a nanny for Scott when he was a child.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open slightly. “You knew Scott when he was a boy?”
“Indeed, I did Mr. Lancer. I came to stay with Scott when he was six months old. I did not leave until he was in his teens.”
The gunfighter sat there almost speechless. At least, this woman could tell him about the boy his brother had been. “Miss Nicholson, I’d be much appreciative if you could tell me about Scott. All I know is the little Murdoch told me and what he looked like from the photograph Mr. Garrett sent to my father.”
SPIN pursed her rather thin lips together. “Mr. Lancer, I do not wish to seem impolite, but exactly why are you here?”
“I told you—I want to know about Scott. If he’s truly dead, I’d like to find his grave and if there’s any chance he might be alive somewhere, I thought maybe Mr. Garrett’s papers might help me find him.”
“You are aware that Mr. Garrett was an extremely wealthy man, aren’t you?”
“I just wondered if there might be another reason for your showing up at this time.”
“Perhaps, you believe that somehow you might be able to make a claim on a portion of Mr. Garrett’s estate? After all, Scott was his primary heir.”
The gunfighter flushed with anger. “I don’t give a damn about the money. If I cared about that, I’d a stayed at Lancer where I’d a had half of 100,000 acres.”
“So you don’t intend to go back to Lancer after you leave here?”
SPIN could barely hear the mumbled answer. “Don’t know. Depends on what I find.”
“Are you saying that your father wouldn’t welcome you back?”
“He wasn’t all that pleased with me acomin.’ Don’t believe that he and Garrett got along much.”
“That, Young Man, is an understatement. Harlan Garrett and Murdoch Lancer hated each other with a passion. They were both pig-headed autocrats who couldn’t conceive that they might be wrong about anything!”
“Sounds like you know Murdoch, alright!”
“I only saw him once in my life—when Scott was five. He came to obtain custody of the boy—or so he said.”
“Yeah, he told me about that. Said Garrett threatened to take him to court.”
“I believe that possibility was mentioned, however, your father backed down.”
“He seemed to think that he didn’t have much chance to win against Garrett’s money and position.”
“Perhaps he was right, but it certainly gave him a good excuse to run straight back to his ranch.”
“I don’t think I understand, Miss Nicholson.”
The spare-figured woman stood up and walked over to the mantle where there was a small painting. Taking it down, she handed it to Johnny. “Mr. Lancer, Harlan Garrett was not a likable man. He could be ruthless in business and was cold emotionally. I believe he loved only two people in his entire life. One was his daughter, Catherine. He had that made just before she. . .took up with Murdoch Lancer.”
Johnny looked at the small art piece carefully. “She and Scott must have looked a lot alike.”
Sarah nodded. “I think it was very hard, at first, for Mr. Garrett to look at his grandson without. . .without remembering how Catherine died. But as the boy grew, I think he realized that though there was a resemblance, they were not alike in character. You see, Catherine had always been in fragile health. Her own mother died not many years after Catherine was born so the young girl became the center of Harlan Garrett’s world.”
“So when Murdoch came along, naturally he wasn’t too popular with Garrett?”
“Indeed, but it wasn’t only for that reason. As I said, Mr. Garrett was ruthless in business, but his sole weakness was Catherine. She was the only one who could manipulate him so he reluctantly, very reluctantly, agreed to the marriage, but he wanted the couple to stay closer to Boston. Your father refused. He was determined to make a life in California.”
“Lots of people do. Land’s good out there.”
“Mr. Lancer, I mean no disrespect to the people of California. I have visited there several times and love the western way of living, but as I said Catherine was not as aware of how primitive the life could be. She had stars in her eyes, as many women in love, do. She did not anticipate the harshness or loneliness of living there. Eventually, she even came to regret living so far from all that was familiar to her. However, I assume everything might still have turned out well if she had not realized that she was carrying Murdoch Lancer’s child.” Johnny handed the miniature painting back to the woman. She gazed at it for a minute before continuing. “She had a difficult time of it right from the beginning. I’m sure your father must have found it toilsome to deal with a terrified woman who alternately rejoiced in the idea of producing an heir to Lancer and sobbed with fear that her body could not withstand the ravages childbirth would put upon it.”
Madrid started to protest when SPIN interrupted, “Lest you think that this is the fancy of a spinster, I must tell you that when I was taking care of some of Mr. Garrett’s personal effects, I found some letters from Catherine to her father, detailing her fears. She said that her husband was gone a good deal of the time and many of the ranch hands did not like her because she was different She probably felt that she was alone.”
“Miss Nicholson, I don’t know all the circumstances about how Scott’s mother died, but I gotta believe that Murdoch loved her and wanted a son.”
“I’m sure that you are right, but unhappily all of Catherine’s fears came true. All I know for certain is that Mr. Garrett tried to meet his daughter so that she would receive proper medical help, but arrived too late. He then took Scott with him since Murdoch Lancer was not around and the baby was all that he had left of his beloved daughter. And, Mr. Garrett could hardly leave his grandson in the hands of a midwife. When I questioned him later about why he had not stayed to see Catherine put in a proper grave, he only said that the pain of her death had nearly driven him insane. Scott’s welfare then became his primary concern.”
“Uh, well, I’m not saying he was alyin’ but Murdoch doesn’t tell it quite the same way.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t. As I said, I believe both men were at fault. They were not able to put aside their differences for Scott’s benefit. Scott was robbed of so much as a boy, and later as a young man. I tried to do what I could, but no one or nothing could ever replace what he lost.”
“I can sure understand that.”
Knowing gray eyes turned to the young man. “Perhaps, you do since your mother took you away when you were two. I wish you could have known Scott and he could have known you. He was a lonely little boy and wanted a brother so much that he created one in his imagination.”
Johnny’s heart clenched at the thought of his brother’s pain. Both Lancer sons had lost so much by their separation. The blue-eyed gunfighter started to ask another question, but then hesitated.
‘”Did you want to ask me something, Young Man?”
“Well, it’s obvious that you loved Scott a great deal. Why did you leave him?”
“He had grown into a fine young man, and I thought it was time for me to move on. Then the War came and I volunteered to do nursing in the Union Army. I was very fortunate that Mr. Garrett continued to send me news about Scott after he joined the cavalry. As you can imagine, that decision angered Mr. Garrett, but the boy was as stubborn as his mother had been twenty years before. When Mr. Garrett discovered that his Scotty had disappeared after the Battle of the Wilderness, he did all that he could to find out his fate. He even contacted Secretary Stanton and General Grant. Eventually, he received a letter from the Department of War stating that it was believed that my boy had died during an escape attempt from Libby Prison.”
“But they didn’t find a body, did they?”
“No and that’s what kept Mr. Garrett going. He hired detectives, he harassed anyone who might know what had happened in that prison. Years passed and finally he sent the photograph and letter to your father. His grief overwhelmed even his hatred.”
Sarah Nicholson sat there quietly, her eyes brimming with tears which she did not allow to fall.
“I’m. . .I’m sorry to make you remember that.”
“Oh, Mr. Lancer, it never truly goes away or at least it didn’t until a few months ago.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The widow of a Confederate soldier sent Harlan Garrett a letter. Using the information she furnished, Mr. Garrett found Scott—alive.”
Johnny felt like he had been struck by the blast of a shotgun as he tried to take in what Sarah Nicholson had just said. “Alive?” he gasped.
“He’s in his room upstairs.”
“And you kept me down here? I want to see him,” shouted the young man as he jumped to his feet.
“Relax, Mr. Lancer. Believe me, he is not going anywhere and I wanted you to know something about the man up there.”
“All right, I know about him. Let’s go!”
“Are you always this impatient? If so, I don’t believe it would be a good idea for you to see him.”
“What?” Anger began to simmer in his voice and heart.
“Mr. Lancer, please return to your chair. There is something I need to tell you.”
With ill grace, the gunfighter did as he was asked.
“The reason Scott did not return to Boston after Appomattox was because he had been severely wounded during the escape attempt. I do not know all the details, but he was evacuated when Richmond fell and as a result, no one knew of his whereabouts.”
“But why. . . .?”
“A Rebel bullet struck him in the head. As a result, he still has no apparent memory of who he is. Also, he does not talk. The doctors are not sure why since his vocal cords weren’t damaged. Sometimes, he does appear to be aware that I am in the room, but he has never said a word to me. Most of the time he is content to sit in a chair. I have tried to encourage him to go on walks with me, hoping that something will get through his solitude. So far I have been unsuccessful.”
The anguish of those simple words touched Johnny’s heart. “I would still like to see him.”
“Good. At this point, I must admit that I am hoping for a miracle. Mr. Garrett was sure that his Scotty was still inside that damaged mind, just needing something or someone to release him from his prison. Unfortunately, he died before he could see it happen. I can only hope you are that miracle.”
Walking out the study door, Sara Nicholson moved up the broad staircase with Johnny at her side. Stopping in front of a door, she opened it and entered. In the corner by the fireplace sat a solitary figure with long ash-blond hair. The young man did not acknowledge the presence of the two visitors so SPIN walked over to his side. With a gentle hand she pushed a lock of blond hair from over the temple where a large healed-over gash was to be seen. Then she motioned for Johnny to join them. With a hint of hope in her voice, Sarah introduced the two siblings. “Scott, this is your brother, Johnny. He’s come to help.”
Sarah sat on Scott’s bed, watching Johnny with his brother. At first, she had been wary of trusting her boy with the other young man, but eventually she had realized that this stranger from the West did indeed care about his injured sibling. Of course, there was no telling if his interest would last more than a day or so. She had been at this for months and knew that it might be years, if ever, before there would be any improvement in the blond’s condition. Somehow, Sarah could not see the impatient young man being willing to stay in Boston for years.
“Mr. Lancer, you must be hungry. Would you mind staying with Scott while I go down and prepare some lunch for the three of us?”
“I’d be happy to, Miss Nicholson, but you don’t have to do anything special for me. I’m used to bacon and beans.”
Smiling, Sarah Nicholson merely replied, “I understand. While I was working for the army, there were times when I was grateful for some bacon and hardtack. Fortunately, we won’t have to have that today. When it’s ready Portman will come to get you and Scott.”
“Great. I am a might hungry. I came here straight from the train station.”
“It should be only a few minutes.”
“Uh, Miss Nicholson, before you go—is it all right if I use some of those toy soldiers over there?”
Sarah glanced over to the table near the window. Scott Lancer had loved playing with miniature soldiers as a child. He had kept those brightly-painted figures even when he had grown up. In fact, this room was a reflection of the blond’s life.
Bookshelves were filled with those books he had read as a boy as well as those he had used at Harvard. On other shelves were awards earned at school and a photograph of Harlan Garrett. Over the fireplace was a large painting of Catherine Lancer as she must have looked on her wedding day.
SPIN glanced over to the small soldiers. “Of course, feel free to use them if you wish. They represent Wellington’s men at Waterloo. In fact, Scott had many soldiers. I believe most of them are packed away in the attic. I suppose knowing his interest in such things, it isn’t surprising that he went away to war, is it?”
Johnny shook his head. “I guess you gotta point. I was always around guns as a kid so maybe that’s why I became so good at using one.”
“I did notice that you carry one on your hip.”
“Would you like it better if I didn’t?”
“Mr. Lancer, I want you to be comfortable here. Do you. . .do you plan to stay for awhile?”
“Well M’am, I sure want to. I wasn’t figurin’ on findin’ Scott this way so I guess I didn’t make too many plans.”
“Mr. Lancer, you are more than welcome to stay for as long as you like. Perhaps together we can help Scott reclaim his life.”
“I hope so, Miss Nicholson. I’ve done some things in my life that I’m not real proud of, so maybe helping Scott would balance things out kinda. . . .Uh, since it looks like I’ll be here awhile, would you want to call me Johnny? Every time you say Mr. Lancer, I look around for Murdoch.”
“Of course, Johnny. Since we’re going to be comrades-in-arms in this battle, I’d like for you to call me Sarah,” she announced with a smile. Walking over to the blond, she leaned down to give him a hug and said, “I’m going to make us some lunch, Scott dear. Johnny will stay here with you.”
If Johnny had ever believed that this woman was an austere martinet, the smile and devotion that she had shown to Scott would have dispelled that notion forever.
As soon as SPIN left the room, Johnny rushed over to the table where the miniature soldiers stood. Grabbing up several handfuls, he returned to a spot near where Scott was sitting and began to set up them up in order. The only problem was that many of the soldiers were not dressed in the same uniform so he wasn’t sure if they were all from the same army. Muttering to himself about the fact that, while many of the figures were in red, Johnny noticed that some wore uniforms in green or black. There were even some which seemed to be wearing skirts! Johnny wasn’t sure who this Wellington was, but he couldn’t believe that a general would allow women to fight in his army! Of course, he had heard rumors that some women had fought along side men during the War Between the States, but maybe those were just falsehoods. It was too bad that he couldn’t ask Scott, who might know.
As soon as he had the miniatures arranged to his satisfaction, he took Scott by the hand and pulled him down to the floor to sit opposite the soldiers. His brother willingly sat on the floor, but made no move towards his military toys. “Scott, I sure wish you could tell me about these men. They look real brave just standin’ there. Oh, wait a minute. I forgot the ones on their horses.”
Jumping up, Johnny went over to the table to sweep up the magnificent men on their gray chargers so that they could rejoin their fellows “How about that now, Scott? I wouldn’t mind havin’ a horse like that. Murdoch let me use a palomino while I was stayin’ with him. He didn’t have a name until I broke him. I called him Barranca. Wonder if someone else is ridin’ him now? S’pose so. Everybody’s gotta earn their keep on a ranch like Lancer. I told Murdoch that if I found you, I’d ask if you wanted to visit there. I sure wish you could tell me what yer a thinkin’.” Picking up one of the horses, Johnny slipped it into Scott’s slim hand. For an instant, the dark-haired man thought he saw a flicker in the unexpressive face, but then it was gone—if it had ever truly been there. “Yeah, I sure wish you’d talk to me.”
Johnny’s monologue continued until Portman knocked at the door to inform the two men that lunch was ready so the younger Lancer helped the older man to his feet and they went down to lunch. The gunfighter was rather surprised to find that the table had been set in the kitchen since he had seen a massive dining room when he had first entered the house. “I hope you don’t mind, Johnny, but Scott and I usually sit in here for mealtimes. I don’t use most of the rooms in the house since there are so few of us.”
“No problem, Sarah. It’s the food that’s important.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I remember how much Scott used to eat when he came home from school. I made many different treats for him, but he stayed too skinny.”
“Looks like he’s the same way now.”
“Yes, that’s been one of the most difficult things—getting him to eat. Usually, I get him started and then he will continue, but when the poor boy first came home, I had to feed him.”
“You must have been scared you were gonna lose him.”
“I’m not ashamed to admit that I was terrified. At night, I would sit in his room as if my presence would keep him breathing for one more day. I truly don’t know how he survived those years after the War. Someone must have taken care of him, but Mr. Garrett was not able to find out many details. He was just so grateful to have his Scotty back.”
“You called him that before. Was that your name for him as a boy?”
“No, only Mr. Garrett called him by that name and did up until the day he died. I know that it did irritate Scott somewhat after a certain age, but he never said anything. It was a special name and I think he relished that bond with his grandfather. Just as I enjoyed the fact that he called me SPIN.”
Sarah Nicholson hesitated for a moment. Scott had stopped in the middle of eating his soup so she gave him a gentle prodding. The blond again raised the soup spoon to his lips.
“I try to give him light but nourishing meals to build up his strength. I’ve also prepared some sandwiches for you since I’m sure you use up a great deal more energy.”
“You’re right there, Sarah. At the ranch, I worked from sunup to sundown, but Teresa always made sure I had some food to take with me when I was out working the range.”
“Teresa? I don’t believe I know who she is.”
“She’s Murdoch’s ward. Her pa was his foreman and died in an ambush.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. She has no mother either?”
“No, but she’s not one of them poor orphans you hear about. She’s as feisty as they come. She’s put me in my place more’n once!”
A delicious chuckle emerged from Sarah’s lips. “Good. I like to hear about women who are not afraid to stand up for themselves. I’ve been that way all of my life and I have no intention of changing now at my age.”
“I kinda figured you were the out-spoken type after your questions about my intentions with Scott.”
“I hope you didn’t take offense, Johnny. Mr. Garrett left Scott a great deal of money as well as certain properties. There is a lawyer who takes care of business, but I am in charge of Scott. Mr. Garrett wanted to make sure that his grandson would always have someone to care for him, whether he recovers or not.”
Sapphire eyes looked gravely into those of slate. “Sarah, do you really believe there’s a chance Scott will get better?”
“Why? Are you not sure that you want to stay? I could understand your desire to return to California. You are a young man, you must want to be with your friends.”
“Truth to tell, I don’t have many friends. A gunfighter don’t make all that many. The only people I care about are at Lancer and sittin’ here at this table.”
“Johnny, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you become a gunfighter?”
“I was good with a gun, plain and simple. After my mother passed on, it was a way to survive.”
“So you chose to do so?”
“More or less. Trouble is once you’ve shot a man, even if he’s tryin’ to kill you, it becomes easier the next time.”
“I know. I took care of soldiers that said the same. Young boys who had never killed more than a chicken for Sunday dinner were asked to kill and kill again. At first, many of them would vomit after seeing that first man fall, but not for long. Killing is addictive, just like that dreadful opium that Chinese men sometimes use.”
“That’s why I wanted to stay at Lancer. I figured maybe I could find a better way than waiting for the day that some feller would outdraw me.”
“Johnny, you do not have to stay in Boston. If you want to return to Lancer, I will understand.”
“Mebbe you would, but I couldn’t. Murdoch mighta left his son here, but I’m sure not gonna leave here without my brother.”
Sarah’s face paled slightly. “Johnny, you do understand that even if Scott recovers, he might not want to. . .visit his father.”
“Considerin’ all he’s been through, I s’pect you might be right, but I’m still not leavin’ unless Scott tells me he doesn’t want me here.”
“I believe that Scott has finished eating now. Usually, I take him out for a short walk in the garden and then he comes in for a rest. Would you like to join us?”
“Sure would. I saw some flowers out the window of Scott’s room. Looks nice out there. I didn’t realize that Boston had gardens ‘n all. It’s a lot greener than most of the Southwest.”
“Yes, it is. Now, that you’re here maybe we’ll use a buggy so that you can see some of the city. I think Scott would enjoy getting out more as well. He was always an active young man—especially with the young ladies.”
“Whooee, are you telling me that my brother had lots of girlfriends?”
“Several of them, but no one really special.”
“Me neither. I mean, I like lots of girls. I don’t think I wanna get hogtied until I’m old. Too many things can go wrong.”
“Very true, now shall we go? I’ll take care of the dishes while Scott is resting.”
For the next half-hour the three inhabitants of the Garrett mansion strolled through the pleasant garden. Johnny was impressed with Sarah’s knowledge of the various plants and flowers which were planted there. “I enjoy working in the garden when I have time, but it has been difficult because of Scott’s condition.”
“Well, now I can help keep an eye on him so you can get out here more.”
“I would appreciate that. It does get lonely sometimes. Only the doctor or sometimes Mr. Garrett’s lawyer ever visits.”
“What about Portman?”
“He is an excellent butler and served Mr. Garrett for many years, but he is inclined to keep to himself. He is devoted to Scott, however, so perhaps you might urge him to tell you some stories about Scott after I left Mr. Garrett’s employment.”
“I just might do that—although he kinda reminds me of a rattler just before he strikes.”
After urging Johnny to make free use of the house, Sarah made sure that Scott lay down on his bed while she read to him. That had always been one of their favorite shared activities when the boy had been small so she had selected books which both treasured.
Johnny wandered downstairs to look around a bit. Most of the rooms were obviously not in use since the furniture was in dust covers. Everything spoke of wealth to Johnny’s inexperienced eye. He wondered what it must have been like for Scott, growing up in such a home. Again, he couldn’t help but feel that his father had done a disservice to both of his sons, but it was the future which now concerned the young man. He could not change the past, but he was determined to make a future for both brothers.
That night after dinner, Johnny walked out into the garden. The night time sky looked so different here. Most of the stars weren’t even visible. Shivering in the cool air, Johnny decided to go to his room which was on one side of Scott’s while Sarah’s was on the other. It had been a long day and he was tired. Just riding the train was exhausting, however, he couldn’t help but be thankful that he had come. He had found his brother.
Just down the hall, Sarah Nicholson, hair in a long braid and wearing a sensible nightgown, checked on Scott one more time before retiring herself. The dear boy was sound asleep, seemingly without a care in the world.
Lying down in her rather narrow bed, Sarah thought about all the day had brought to the household—an unexpected stranger who might make the difference to Scott’s recovery, and yet who wanted to take Scott away from Boston, away from Sarah. **Oh, Constance, what will I do if
Scott wants to leave?**
Whenever Sarah Nicholson’s mind was troubled, she still tended to turn to her own imaginary, sister, Constance, who dispensed sage advice and comfort. The gray-haired woman had never felt more need for her sister than at that moment. As always, Constance did not let her down.
By the time Johnny awoke the next morning, Sarah already had Scott up and dressed. Greeting the dark-haired Lancer with a friendly smile, she invited him to once again stay with his brother while she prepared breakfast, which turned out to be porridge.
Sarah almost laughed at the look on the young man’s face when he saw the bowl of steaming cereal, but after she offered him some honey and cream to stir in, he decided to give it a try. To his surprise it was actually good. In two minutes flat the bowl was empty. “It would seem that you enjoyed your porridge?”
“Sure did. Don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it.”
“Scott and I have it nearly every morning, however, I have also prepared some bacon and eggs for you since I’m not sure one bowl of porridge will be enough .”
Tucking into the dish, Johnny washed it down with two cups of coffee. “Well, after a meal like that, I guess I’m ready for anything.”
“Excellent. Why don’t you take Scott out in the garden for a walk while I do some baking? Usually, I don’t bother, but I’m sure a young man such as yourself likes cakes and pies. I know Scott always enjoyed my cherry pie.”
Sapphire eyes darkened. “Sarah, I don’t want you to go to any special trouble, just for me.”
“Johnny, I think we need to get some things settled if you’re going to stay here. First of all, my number one concern is Scott, however, I would like to make sure that you are comfortable being here. If you truly intend to stay for some time, you are going to find that our daily routine is much the same from day to day. Besides, I have missed doing things like gardening and baking so this is my chance. Do you understand?”
Madrid nodded. “I’ll help in anyway I can Oh and if you need a suggestion about what to bake, I’m kinda partial to chocolate cake.”
“I’ll have to see if I have the ingredients for one, but it looks to be a beautiful day so why don’t you take Scott out? The doctor is supposed to be calling in later this morning.”
“Good. I’d like to talk to him if you don’t mind? Maybe he can tell me somethin’ I could be doin’.”
“Johnny, I’m afraid that Dr. Jackson will not be very helpful. I believe he has decided that there is no hope for Scott.”
“Why don’t you get someone else then? If it’s the money. . . .”
Sarah flushed with annoyance. “Johnny, I would spend any amount of money if it would help Scott. Mr. Garrett took Scott to the best doctors in Boston after he returned home. None of them gave us much hope. Scott has become used to Dr. Jackson so I continue to use his services.”
“Sorry. I guess I got no business comin’ in here and tryin’ to tell you what to do.”
SPIN’s face softened. “I know you want the best for Scott, just as I do. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions. I’m willing to try anything.”
“Yes, M’am, anybody who knows Johnny Madrid, knows he’s not afraida speakin’ up.”
This time Sarah did laugh. “Johnny, I think this partnership is going to work out quite well. Now, I’m going to see if I can make a chocolate cake that will meet with your approval. It has been awhile since I’ve made one.”
“Shoot, Sarah, you make it ‘n I’ll eat it!”
“That’s good to hear. I’ll let you know when the doctor arrives so you can bring Scott in. Generally, he just gives him a cursory exam so I don’t expect Dr. Jackson to stay long.”
The physician arrived precisely thirty-five minutes later to find Sarah Nicholson in the kitchen with a smudge of chocolate on her nose. Startled, he could not even inquire about his patient for a moment until the woman volunteered that Scott was out in the garden with his
brother. That announcement almost knocked the slight man off his
“Yes, his name is Johnny Lancer. He’s come from California to help me with Scott.”
“But Miss Nicholson, I knew Mr. Garrett for many years. He never mentioned another grandson.”
“Johnny is Scott’s half-brother.”
“I see. At least, I think I see. Miss Nicholson, I do hope you took the precaution of checking out this man’s story.”
“Dr. Jackson, I am satisfied that Johnny is here to help Scott and not for any nefarious purpose so will you please go up to Scott’s room and I’ll see that he comes up immediately.”
A sour look crossed the nondescript face, but the physician complied. He was always well paid for these house calls and had no desire to lose such lucrative business.
Thirty minutes later when the doctor left, without even partaking in his customary cup of tea, it was apparent that Dr. Jackson was not at all pleased about the turn of events. First of all, Johnny had stayed in the room during the exam, keeping a careful eye on all that the man did. Then, when the gunfighter mentioned to him about the possible reaction that Scott had shown to the horseman, Jackson had pooh-poohed the whole idea, suggesting it was probably a muscle spasm. Johnny had gritted his teeth and said nothing more; but as soon as the medical man had left, he filled Sarah’s ears with his concerns.
“Johnny, I do realize that Dr. Jackson is not a very sympathetic man, but he is well-qualified. When Scott first returned to Boston, he had to be sedated every time a doctor wanted to exam him. It was. . .horrifying when he screamed but no sound came out. Mr. Garrett and I believed that the doctors, who first took care of him, were little more than butchers. It has taken months for him to allow Dr. Jackson to touch him so you can see why I’m reluctant to bring anyone new in.”
“Yeah, he’s been through enough pain. At least, the man doesn’t have to come around much.”
”Exactly. Now, I must go check on my cake. Perhaps, this afternoon we can take a buggy ride over to see Boston Common.”
“It’s like a park in the middle of the city.”
“Oh. Well, I’m goin’ back up to see Scott. He likes to play with them soldiers.”
Gray eyes twinkled. **He does or you do, Johnny?**
Unfortunately, the trip that day was cancelled due to a rain shower, but in the days that followed the trio made the excursion several
times. In fact, in the next weeks Johnny and Sarah made every attempt to see that Scott was able to be out and about in his hometown. While there was no visible sign that the blond recognized any of the sights, he did seem to acquire more endurance and did not tire as easily. Also, there was the added benefit of an increased appetite for the young man.
Sarah, too, benefited from being able to get out of the house more. Between the two of them, Johnny and Sarah divided up Scott’s care so that each would have time to themselves. Of course, Sarah soon discovered that Johnny frequently gravitated to Scott’s room even when he was supposed to be free, but she certainly did not discourage that since it was evident that Johnny needed to be with his brother.
Then one memorable day she had an inspiration. Climbing up into the attic, she hunted down the rest of Scott’s toy soldiers which had been carefully packed away. With Portman’s help, she carried them down to the unused dining room and placed them on the massive dining room table. Then she requested that the butler ask Johnny to bring Scott downstairs.
When the two brothers entered, it was the sapphire eyes of Johnny Madrid that lit up with joy at the sight of all the different soldiers. Picking one up with great care, Johnny turned to Sarah to remark, “He looks a lot like one of the red ones upstairs.”
“He’s a part of the 93rd—the ‘Thin Red Line’—at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. As I said, Scott collected different soldiers from many countries. His grandfather ordered most of them from England.”
“Can I. . .can I take ’em out of their boxes?”
“Certainly. I brought them down here so that you and Scott could play with them.” Her lips twitched, but she made no further remark.
“Thanks, Sarah. I know Scott will enjoy himself. Say, who’s this guy? He looks like he has glasses on.”
“He does. That is Marshal Davout, the best of Napoleon’s marshals. He had very poor eyesight and had to wear glasses even on the field of battle. He was always one of Scott’s favorites.”
“Say, you know as much as about these guys as Scott does, I’ll bet.”
“We spent many happy hours playing with these soldiers. I’m glad he kept them so that now you two can enjoy them together.”
“Thanks again, Sarah. I sure wish I’d a had a nanny like you. My mother was always workin’ so we didn’t have much chance to do anythin’ like that.”
“Believe me, Johnny, I was the fortunate one. Now, I am going to go work on dinner. I do hope you like fried oysters?”
“Oysters? You mean them things that come out of shells?”
“Yes. Why? Haven’t you ever had one?”
“Saw one once. It was kinda slimy”
“Raw ones can be, but I think you will like these.”
SPIN was proven to be correct when Johnny ate nearly a whole pan full. Scott managed to eat only one, which saddened the older woman, since at one time, he too would have eaten a whole pan full.
As the weeks passed, Sarah began to cook more and varied things, including fish and vegetables. She delighted in introducing the young man to food items that he had never tasted before. To his credit, he discovered that most of the dishes were quite tasty.
Then, one night Johnny surprised his friend by insisting that he would prepare dinner that evening. Solemnly, she agreed since it was transparent that Johnny wanted to surprise her. The tamales that he served were quite good, if a bit spicy, for her tastes, but she took care to praise them and encouraged him to take over in the kitchen any time he chose.
By the end of two months Sarah and Johnny had developed a definite rapport. Both were ardently committed to helping Scott reclaim his life, but there was also a genuine friendship between the two of them.
The only gray cloud, besides Scott’s continued unresponsiveness, was the fortnightly visit by Dr. Jackson. During his last visit, he had even hinted that it was unseemly for an unmarried woman to be living in the same house with a young man, such as Johnny Madrid. Sarah Nicholson had not hesitated to put the squeaky man in his place, informing him that she doubted whether a man in his twenties would think of courting a sixty-year-old woman! Embarrassed by her lack of delicacy in even discussing sex in a roundabout way, the doctor had walked out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
Hearing the door slam, Johnny emerged from the dining room. When she imparted the gist of the doctor’s warning, Johnny politely inquired if she wanted him to make an honest woman out of her. In return, she thanked him for that honor, but reassured him that she had no intention of hogtying him—as he had so succinctly referred to it. Once again, laughter filled the Garrett mansion.
A week later, a telegram from Murdoch Lancer arrived for Johnny. After taking it into the dining room where both brothers were sitting, she watched the dark-haired man’s face, which had turned from a smile to a frown. “I hope it isn’t bad news, Johnny.”
“Uh, well, I, uh mighta made a mistake. You see, not long after I got here, I wrote a letter to Murdoch telling him about Scott bein’ alive. This here telegram says he wants me to take Scott to California. He thinks Scott should be with his family.”
“I see, and I am certainly not family.”
“He don’t mean anythin’ by it. That’s just him.”
“Yes, he’s such a devoted family man,” she murmured.
“Uh, yeah, well. . . .”
“So what do you intend to do?”
Stunned by her question, Johnny’s head dropped to his chest. “Scott’s in no condition to make that long trip, even if I wanted to take him to Lancer. ‘Sides, you’re as much his family as I am. You sure love him more ‘n anybody else does.”
“Thank you, but. . .what are you going to tell your father?’
“The truth. Scott is in no shape to ride on a train for 3,000 miles. If he wants to see him bad enough, he can come here. He can, can’t he?”
“Absolutely. I have no desire to keep them from seeing each other.”
“Okay, I’ll go send him a wire. Back in awhile.
“Fine. I think I’ll see that Scott takes a rest. We can finish OLIVER TWIST today.”
Dinner that night was somewhat subdued. Johnny could see that Sarah was still disturbed by the telegram from California, but she made a valiant effort to shake off her misgivings. It wasn’t until she slumped into her own bed that she allowed tears to fall and to once again seek comfort from Constance.
Johnny still took his brother out into the garden every day, but since it was now well into autumn, many of the plants no longer bloomed. Johnny had marveled at the changing colors of the trees for weeks, picking up some of the fallen leaves to examine carefully. That night he had confessed to Sarah that he was beginning to like Boston, despite the prejudice he had had against it in the beginning. In a confiding whisper, he suggested that maybe he and Scott could do some traveling together—when Scott recovered—because truthfully he hadn’t seen a whole lot of the country.
SPIN quickly agreed that there was much merit to that idea. She did not want to squelch Johnny’s hopes about Scott’s recovery.
Now that Johnny felt confident about managing Scott on his own, Sarah had taken to going out shopping more. One day, she announced that she intended to purchase some knitting wool so that she could make scarves, gloves and socks for both Scott and Johnny. Boston winters could be quite severe and she did not want the two young men to be caught unprepared. In addition, she was going to take tea at the home of a former Garrett employee. The girl had served as a maid for Harlan Garrett before making a somewhat advantageous marriage to a merchant. Fortunately, she was now able to take advantage of the invitation.
Johnny happily shooed his friend out the door. He intended to take Scott down to the stables so that his brother could pet some of the animals. He had done this once before and it had brought an almost glow to the cerulean eyes.
Unfortunately, they had been at the stables for only a few minutes, when it began to rain. Deciding it would be better to return to the warmth of the house, Johnny carefully shepherded his brother up the slippery walk and in the side door. Just as they entered, a loud clap of thunder pealed out.
Both men jumped in surprise, but Scott’s body started to tremble. Thinking that he might be cold from the damp, Johnny led him upstairs to change his clothes when another thunderclap shook the whole house.
A silent scream burst forth from Scott’s pale lips. Clutching at his head, he tried to hide in the corner of his room. Not quite sure what to do, Johnny reached out to try to calm the frightened man. Scott ruthlessly pushed him away, lost in his dark fears.
Deciding to just let the other man sit in the corner until the storm stopped, Johnny sat down to wait, even as the storm darkened the late afternoon sky. In fact, it became so dark that Johnny lit one of the lamps on the wall. An unnatural glow filled the room, but he did not want Scott to sit in a totally dark room when he was so afraid.
Johnny wasn’t sure how long he and his brother had sat there when his gunfighter’s keen hearing picked up the sound of someone coming up the steps. Perhaps, it was only Portman, but Madrid had not survived this long by taking chances. Pulling his gun from its holster he moved forward to open the door—and found Sarah standing in the door way, soaking wet. For an instant, only an instant, the gun pointed at Sarah Nicholson’s heart. Then Johnny heard an unknown voice wail, “SPIN!” and he was tackled by a whirlwind of arms and legs. Stunned by the ferocity of the attack, he did not at first realize that it was Scott who was hanging on to his body. Reacting instinctively, he grabbed the slender arms and pinned the man to the floor. Breathing heavily, he gazed down into the blue eyes in the extremely pale face beneath him. For the first time, he saw a flicker of cognition there. The two stayed that way for a long heartbeat until Sarah pleaded with Johnny to let Scott go. Cautiously getting o his feet, Johnny watched as SPIN knelt beside the blond, checking to make sure that her boy wasn’t injured.
When he saw tears streaming down her lined cheeks, a cold fear squeezed is heart. “Did I . . .did I hurt him? I didn’t mean to. I. . . “
The red-lined gray eyes turned to the dark-haired boy. “I don’t think he’s hurt.”
“But why are you cryin’ then?”
“Johnny, he thought you were going to hurt me. He called out my name!”
Johnny Madrid Lancer stood there, unbelieving. “That was him?”
“I was beginning to think I’d never hear his voice again.”
“What do you think we should do now?”
“Well, I don’t know about you or Scott, but I intend to down to the study and find Mr. Garrett’s best brandy and have a glass!”
“Sounds like a good idea!”
“All right, then let’s get Scott onto his bed. He looks exhausted and I think we’ll let him sleep. You stay here and I’ll bring up the decanter and two glasses.”
Ten minutes later Johnny and Sarah were sipping their brandy while Scott Lancer peacefully slept. “Sarah, what do you think is going to happen when he wakes up?”
“I wish I knew. There might be no difference at all, but now we can truly hope.”
With that, Johnny clinked his glass against that of Sarah’s in a toast, “To Scott’s return.”
Lancer looked particularly beautiful the day that Johnny Madrid returned after nearly ten months in Boston. An intensely blue sky, punctuated by an occasional misty white cloud hanging over the mountains, held more than the promise of spring. Leaving behind the New England city, still mired in the snows of winter, Johnny began to breathe easier as he passed through fields, into prairies and plains, and finally through the high mountains which signaled the nearness of the ranch, he had once called home.
The youngest Lancer had wired that he would be returning but due to the vagaries of travel in the 1870s, he had not been able to give his father an exact date for his arrival, however, he had assured the older man that he would be able to find his way to the ranch. He hoped that by this time, Murdoch Lancer would have forgiven Johnny’s earlier refusal to risk Scott’s well-being in attempting such an arduous trip. Since he had not heard from the rancher in nearly six months, he recognized that there were no guarantees that this was so.
Driving under the great gate, the dark-haired Lancer stopped for a moment as he turned to look at the two people in the carriage behind him. “Well, here we are. This is Lancer. It stretches from here all the way to those mountains out there.”
“It is quite magnificent, Johnny. I can understand why you wanted to return,” replied Sarah Nicholson.
The young blond man at her side looked around, but said nothing as she took his left hand firmly in her own.
Pulling the rig up to the front of the hacienda, Johnny started to unload the few pieces of luggage that they had brought with them. Then he helped Sarah and his brother down from the carriage. In the six months since Scott had said his first word, the young man had progressed dramatically, due to the Sarah’s unfailing devotion and encouragement.
Still, there was much to be done since stress or fatigue caused the middle Lancer to revert to his silence because he tended to lose words which led to much frustration. On the other hand, Scott’s awareness of the world around him remained firmly in place. Whatever had caused him to seek sanctuary in his own mind, had been thrust away at the sight of SPIN in imminent danger.
As a result, it had taken some weeks before the injured man could truly understand why this stranger, who had announced that he was Scott’s brother, could be trusted. It had been a difficult time for Johnny because the blond had not wanted to have anything to do with him, preferring to be with SPIN, who had his absolute trust.
At one point, Johnny had considered leaving the Garrett house so that his brother would feel more comfortable, but then fate had stepped in the form of a mare at the stable which encountered problems with the birth of her foal. Scott frequently spent part of his day at the stable so when the mare had shown signs of distress, he had returned to the house and in halting words had asked SPIN for help. Instinctively, she had asked Johnny to be the one who would answer Scott’s plea. The two brothers had worked together unceasingly so the two horses were saved. From that moment, an unbreakable bond had grown between the former strangers.
In the weeks that followed both Sarah and Johnny delayed telling Scott about Lancer and his father since the young man’s emotional equilibrium was still quite tenuous. He had broken down in tearful sobs when Sarah had reluctantly answered his question about the whereabouts of his grandfather. His last clear memory of Harlan Garrett was the day that the 83rd had proudly ridden out to war. Finding out that he had lost nearly five years of his life had been devastating. For a time, both of his devoted companions feared another withdrawal from reality, but Scott Lancer had only bent, not broken at the news. Calling on the reserves that had allowed him to survive his wound and the horror that followed, Scott continued his valiant struggle to reclaim his life with the help of the two people who cared most about him.
Finally, the day arrived when Johnny felt that Scott was capable of making the decision of whether he wished to visit Lancer or not. Sarah had left it to Johnny to talk to her boy since she could not trust herself to be unemotional about the idea of his leaving Boston. To his surprise, Scott had readily agreed to the idea of going west so plans were made and had now come to fruition. Scott Lancer would finally confront his father and his heritage.
Entering the great room, Johnny, Scott and Sarah found the gray-haired Lancer sitting at his desk, working on the ranch books. For an instant, the tall rancher only stared speechless at the blond man he had only seen as a boy. Standing up, he walked over to face his unknown son “You do look like your mother. I’m glad that Johnny brought you home.”
“Uh, Murdoch, this is Sarah Nicholson, she’s a good friend of Scott.”
“Please to meet you, Miss Nicholson. Welcome to Lancer.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. Would it possible for Scott to rest for awhile? He is exhausted.”
Taking in the dark shadows on the thin face, Murdoch assented. “Of course, I’m sure Teresa has the guest rooms ready. I’ll just go get her.”
But that proved to be unnecessary as Teresa had heard their voices and rushed in, pleased to see Johnny once again. After being introduced to Sarah and Scott, she immediately showed them to their rooms, leaving Johnny with his father. It was quite obvious that Murdoch Lancer had many questions for his son.
Motioning for the dark-haired man to sit down, Murdoch leaned against his desk. “So tell me about Scott. I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t say a word. And who is this Sarah Nicholson?”
“She was Scott’s nanny when he was growing up. When Garrett finally found him, he asked her to take care of him.”
“That bastard! He let me think that Scott was dead!”
“Murdoch, he only found Scott about a month before he died. Perhaps, he had other concerns besides your feelings.”
“Well, the important thing is that you’re both here now. I knew that you’d be able to talk him into coming to Lancer. After all, it’s his home as well as yours.”
Hesitating, Johnny fidgeted with a pillow that lay on the couch. “Actually, Murdoch, there’s something I have to tell you.”
Before the young man could continue, Sarah Nicholson emerged from Scott’s room to inform the gunfighter that Scott wished to see him. Jumping up, Johnny headed for his brother’s room while Sarah proceeded to take a seat in the great room.
At that moment, Teresa entered with a tray of coffee and home-baked cookies, then she sat down beside Murdoch to inquire, “Miss Nicholson, how is Scott doing?”
“Quite well, but this trip did exhaust him. We tried to take it in slow stages, but hopefully now he can have some time to rest.”
Murdoch quickly broke in with, “Of course. I certainly appreciate all of the time you have spent with my son. I understand that you took care of him for many years?”
“Yes, I entered Mr. Garrett’s employ when Scott was six months old.”
A hint of envy flickered through the rancher’s eyes. “I’m sorry that I did not have the opportunity to know my son as a child.”
“Yes, I’m sure that was regrettable.”
The patriarch glanced at the dignified woman. She seemed to be sincere and yet there was a glimmer in those gray eyes—a not very sympathetic glimmer.”
“Well, I hope you will enjoy your stay at Lancer.”
“You certainly do have a beautiful home, Mr. Lancer. It is obvious that you have worked hard to create a life here.”
“It has taken many years of backbreaking work, Miss Nicholson, not to mention the death of some fine men.”
Sarah turned slightly to focus on Teresa. “Johnny told me that you lost your father, Miss O’Brien. I was sorry to hear of that.”
“He was a fine man, but I was fortunate that I could stay here with Mr. Lancer. Lancer has always been my home.”
“Johnny also told me that you are an excellent cook. He certainly has praised your chocolate cake.”
“He definitely has a sweet tooth.”
“So I’ve discovered,” the older woman imparted with a smile.
“Miss Nicholson, is there anything special that Scott likes? I thought I might try to make some favorites since he’s here.”
“Actually, Scott will eat almost anything. He learned very early at his grandfather’s table to try various types of food. Right now, he still consumes only small portions, but I’m hoping that his appetite will increase out here in the fresh air of California.”
“Uh, Miss Nicholson, might I inquire how long you are planning to visit to stay in California?”
Slate gray eyes surveyed the tall figure across from her. “Possibly the rest of my life, Mr. Lancer, although I have learned never to count on anything too much.”
“I see.” Although he certainly did not see. Could this imperious woman really expect to remain at Lancer for years?
Just then, Johnny emerged from Scott’s bedroom. “He’s gone to sleep so I thought I’d come out and see if you had any chocolate cake hangin’ around, Teresa?”
“Well, there might be one piece out in the kitchen. I was just about to throw it away.”
The injured look on Johnny’s handsome face caused both Sarah and Teresa to break into laughter. Unsure of the reason, the sapphire eyes swerved from one feminine face to the other. “Hey, that’s no laughin’ matter.!”
“John, I believe Teresa baked a chocolate cake just yesterday.”
“Oh. So what are we sittin’ here for, let’s go get a piece!”
“Why don’t you, Teresa and Miss Nicholson go in and have some. I really need to finish these books today. I have a trip later in the week to Modesto to do some cattle selling.”
“Oh sure. Sarah, you just gotta taste Teresa’s chocolate cake. She puts some secret stuff in it and it’s real good.”
“Better than mine, Johnny?”
Consternation filled the sapphire eyes. “No, I mean, uh, yours is good too. I just. . . “
“I was just taunting you Johnny. I’m sure Teresa’s is much superior to mine, although I suspect you might prefer my pan-fried oysters.”
“Oysters?” chorused Teresa and Murdoch.
“Indeed, Johnny has become quite a gourmet.”
Teresa O’Brien shook her head in wonder. Johnny Madrid Lancer—a gourmet?”
“Say, if you let me, Teresa, I’ll make tamales one night? Sarah really loves my tamales, don’t you, Sarah? Even Scott ate them.”
A surreptitious wink from Sarah to Teresa accompanied, SPIN’s reassurance, “They were quite good, Johnny. I’m sure your father and Teresa would enjoy eating them.”
“Well, anything that gets me out of the kitchen for a night, is fine with me. But Mr. Madrid, you clean up your own mess!”
For an instant the pouting lip stuck out, only to be replaced by a smile. “Okay, it’s a deal. Oh, uh, Sarah, you wouldn’t mind helping me clean up, would you?”
Sarah tactfully ignored the suggestion as she followed the dark-haired Lancer son and brown-haired girl into the kitchen.
After consuming a huge piece of cake washed down with coffee, Johnny took off to the stable to check out Barranca’s whereabouts. He had definitely missed the palomino and wanted to make sure he had been well taken care of in his absence.
Sarah Nicholson stayed with Teresa in the kitchen since this might be her only chance to talk to the girl. “Johnny talked about Lancer a great deal.”
Sipping at her coffee, Teresa commented, “He certainly stirred things up around here, but I can understand why he wanted to find Scott.”
“Yes, the two of them have developed a rare bond in such a short time. I hope it will continue for many years.”
“Scott is lucky to have someone like you in his life. From what Mr. Lancer told me, Scott’s grandfather was not very demonstrative.”
“Teresa, like many men of his generation, Harlan Garrett contained his emotions quite well, but he did have them. He loved Catherine and her son with a great devotion. I only wish that he had lived long enough to see Scott regain some measure of health.”
The younger woman nodded. “Men can be the most frustrating creatures on earth. They always put up such fronts—like we’d think less of them if they showed any weakness.”
“It takes great strength to show vulnerability to another human being. Great strength and trust. Not many men are able to do so.”
“And it’s even worse when you’re surrounded by men who are stubborn as Missouri mules!”
“There, my dear, Scott Lancer is a prime example. Lord, when I think of the battles he and I had! I’m sure that was the only reason he was able to get past his grandfather’s opposition to his going into the cavalry—he outstubborned him!”
“Considering what I’ve seen with Johnny and what I’ve experienced many times with Mr. Lancer, I suspect all the Lancers are stubborn mules!”
“It’s a good thing then that you’re not!”
The young girl looked at the smiling older woman and then let out a trill of laughter. “You’ve got me there, Miss Nicholson, but I prefer to call it survival instinct!”
“Teresa, since I am sure that we are going to be good friends, would you please call me Sarah as Johnny does.”
“Thank you, Sarah. It will be wonderful to have someone I can talk to like this. I love Mr. Lancer, but, well, there are some things, that he just doesn’t understand.”
“I would be most pleased to listen. I have always enjoyed being around young people. Oh, and do remind me to tell you about how Johnny proposed to me!”
The sip of coffee that Teresa had been in the process of swallowing went tipsy-turvy and caught in her throat. Coughing and sputtering, she squeaked out, “Proposed?”
“Ah, yes, my one and only proposal of marriage—unless you count the one Scott made to me when he was ten. Why don’t I tell you about it while I help you make dinner?”
“Now, I know we’re going to be friends. Certain members of this family have to be blackmailed before they’ll even consent to dry a dish! That’s why I was so surprised to hear Johnny volunteer to cook tamales!”
“He just needs more training. Actually, Scott always enjoyed being in the kitchen with me. We had some wonderful talks during those times.”
“I. . .I’m anxious to know him better.”
“He’s a fine young man who has suffered great loss, but I truly hope that now he will find some peace and happiness for himself in this beautiful land.”
“Me too. Now, shall we get started on dinner? If I know Johnny, he’ll be in here in a little while, demanding food!”
In the great room, Murdoch Lancer leaned back in his chair. He had finally finished his neverending paperwork. There were times he thought he would prefer to spend a day branding than doing an hour of paperwork!
Peering over at the door to Scott’s bedroom, he couldn’t help but think about the incredible turn of events. His first-born son was actually alive and here after twenty-five years. Standing up, he walked slowly to the door and quietly opened it. Yes, the too-thin body was still in the bed with blankets drawn up tight around his shoulders. As he started to close the door so the boy could continue to rest, he heard a faint whisper, “SPIN?”
Murdoch hesitated and then moved over to the side of the bed. “No, it’s me—your father.”
Silence met the patriarch’s announcement of his presence. Hesitating for only a moment, Murdoch moved over to the table to turn up the dimmed light. Bringing it nearer, he could see huge steel-blue eyes staring at him from a thin, pale face. “Scott, I know there’s a great deal to say, but I’m glad that you’re finally here at Lancer. When you’re feeling better, I’ll take you for a ride around the ranch.”
Licking his dry lips, Scott tried to ask a question, “C-could I s-see my. . .mother’s grave?”
For a moment the tall rancher stared down at his son in confusion. “That’s a long ride. Maybe when you’re stronger.”
“She’s not here at Lancer?”
“No, your mother is buried at Crawfordsville.”
The man in the bed shifted uncomfortably. “S-sorry, I thought. . . .”
“Don’t worry about that now. You just need to rest. We’ll have plenty of time to talk now that you’re going to stay here.”
“No! . . . I. . .don’t want. . .we aren’t. . . .”
Towering over the blond-haired man, Murdoch Lancer stopped. “You don’t intend to stay? Then, why did you come at all?”
“Johnny needed. . . I pr-promised. . . .”
Scowling with dismay, the rancher took a step nearer. “Promised? Who did you promise? Johnny?”
Blue eyes, filled with pain, glanced up at the imposing figure. “Grandfather. He said. . . .”
“I can just imagine what he said. Scott, that man kept us apart for twenty-five years. Can’t you understand, I’m your father! He stole you from me, just like Johnny’s mother did with him. Lancer needs both of you.”
One slender hand reached up to rub at the still-jagged scar on his temple. “Please, Mr. . . Lancer, he. . .I . . . .”
“They were lies, Scott. He never told the truth about anything in his life. He only wanted you in Boston so I couldn’t have you! If he had loved Catherine, he wouldn’t have left her out there, miles from nowhere. He just grabbed you and fled!” Murdoch’s litany continued now that all of his hate against his former father-in-law was opened to the light of day. “I tried to tell Catherine not to be frightened, but she just kept crying about wanting to be in Boston. She should have understood I couldn’t take her all that way. Harlan Garrett indulged her too much so she didn’t even know how to be a proper wife. She kept complaining about the dirt and the heat and not feeling well. I. . .I wanted an heir for Lancer so much, but she kept saying she was afraid. When we found out you were coming, I thought she’d try to be happy, but it just got worse. She wanted me with her more and more, but I had a ranch to run so finally I gave in and let her go. I never saw her again.”
After hearing those words, searing agony filled Scott’s head. Since being wounded, Scott Lancer had learned to deal with pain on an everyday basis. While a prisoner, he had been forced to endure the anguish without much to alleviate the pain since laudanum and whiskey were in short supply. Slipping into unconsciousness became the only way to escape the unendurable. Then as the months passed, the pain had lessened gradually, but would return in a blinding flash when the young man’s mind and body was strained by outside influences. In the early weeks after Scott’s return to Boston, Dr. Jackson had prescribed liberal use of laudanum when the paroxysms of anguish would strike, but Sarah had tried to limit its use, knowing how easily one could become dependent on the substance. She had used other calming techniques which had helped a great deal so it had been quite some time since the blond had had to suffer this mind-bending, body-breaking torture.
Lost in his own tormented memories of the past, the rancher turned toward the door, “I’ll be back later, Scott. I. . .I have. . . work to do.”
Cowering under the blankets and wrapping his thin pillow around his aching head, the blond clenched his eyes tightly shut as the glow from the lantern sought to pierce his eyes with shards of pain. Light and noise always increased the agony attached to these episodes. Whimpers of distress escalated into cries as the beast took hold of his body. Desperate for relief, Scott flung himself out of the bed, seeking the laudanum which he knew that SPIN had packed in his traveling bag. Even as his hand closed upon the small bottle, he wrenched off the cap and took a long swallow. The full-strength mixture almost made him gag, but he forced himself to take another drink. Dropping the now-empty vial, Scott Lancer sank back on the bed and prayed for the pain to end.
Murdoch Lancer stalked out of the house, heading to the stables. He needed the consolation of a ride across the vast property of his empire. Of course, the acreage of the land had increased dramatically since the days he had traversed the range after the losses of Catherine and Maria. The tall man treasured every acre that he possessed. As he had told Sarah Nicholson, this land had been paid for in unending toil and blood and only death could separate him from it. After twenty-five years, he had finally realized what the presence of his sons could mean to the future of Lancer. Now, that dream had been threatened, so Murdoch was determined to do what he had always done when Lancer was in danger—fight back and win.
Moving into the stable, the rancher discovered Johnny brushing and combing the palomino. Coming up behind the shorter man, Murdoch immediately confronted his son. “John, we need to talk. Scott said that he isn’t staying at Lancer! What do you know about this?”
“It’s true. I started to tell you before. Scott and I are buying a ranch. I saw one for sale when I was here before and I contacted the man. We should be able to move in another week or so.”
The oldest Lancer stood there mouth agape. “Neither of you intends to live here?”
“We talked some about it back in Boston. He knew I’d never be happy stayin’ there for years so he agreed to come out here, visit Lancer and then we’d get our own place. I’m puttin’ up some of the money you gave me and he’s payin’ the rest.”
“That is absurd. There’s more than enough room for the both of you. If you don’t want to live at the hacienda, we could make arrangements. The two of you are my heirs.”
“But I’m not anymore, and Scott doesn’t want to be, so this is the best we could come up with. You’d be welcome to visit whenever you have time.”
Fury began to percolate in the older man’s veins. “Visit you? Why should I do that when your place is here, helping me run this ranch!”
Sapphire eyes began to glow with repressed anger. “I sold my share back to you, remember? You didn’t need me for twenty years so I’m sure you don’t need me now. Scott, on the other hand, does need me and I’m not gonna let him down. I’ll take care of the ranch and Sarah will take care of the house and keep an eye on Scott until he recovers some more.”
“That woman is going to live with you?”
“That woman, as you call her, saved Scott’s life. She loves him more than you could ever conceive of loving anyone so don’t you dare say a word against her!” The pugnacious bantam stepped right up to his father’s space, defying the man to do his worst.
Before the patriarch could utter another word, Teresa came running into the stables. “Johnny, come inside. Scott needs you.” Without even glancing at his father, the gunfighter took off for the house, heart thumping in fear.
Reaching the door of Scott’s bedroom, he flinched at the smell of vomit and the sight of his brother, seemingly unconscious on the bed. Taking note of the stained, wet clothing Scott wore, Johnny rushed in to demand, “Sarah, what the hell happened? He was sleeping when I went outside.”
“I’m not sure, Johnny, but he drank the laudanum that was in the bottle we brought with us. Teresa and I found him lying on his bed and I forced him to throw up. Teresa is going to bring in some coffee. We’ve got to get him to drink a lot of it so it will help dilute the effects of the laudanum.” Just at that moment, Teresa pushed her way past Murdoch who was standing in the doorway.
“Thank you, Teresa. Now, we need to get this down him fast. He’s just barely conscious so I’m hoping this will help.”
Propping the slender blond up against his chest, Johnny helped Sarah force the middle Lancer to drink some of the hot coffee. Scott struggled against the brew, but neither Sarah or Johnny would take no for an answer. Even when Scott retched up the first cup of the steaming beverage, the two continued to ply their cure. Finally, some of the liquid stayed down and the blond’s breathing became easier. Peering into the cerulean eyes, Sarah asked Johnny to help get her boy onto his feet so that he would not go back to sleep for some time. With Johnny bearing most of the weight, the two marched the slender figure up and down his room for what seemed to be hours, but at last, Sarah felt it was safe to let the young man sleep off the rest of the effects of the laudanum.
Looking around at the soaked, smelly bed linens, not to mention the clothes that Scott wore, Johnny quickly insisted that his brother be
moved into his own room to recover. Picking his sibling up, the gunfighter soon had him deposited in the soft bed, after stripping off the soiled clothing. Covering him with two quilts, Johnny sat down beside the bed to wait. After some time, Teresa and Sarah also entered the room to inform the youngest Lancer that Scott’s room had been cleaned up and aired out.
Johnny only nodded at the information, then asked if the two women would continue to sit with his brother as there was something he needed to do. Not liking the grim look on Johnny’s face, Sarah reassured him that Scott would be all right and it wouldn’t do the blond any good if Johnny lost control of himself.
Knowing that SPIN was right, Johnny struggled to force down the rage that had overwhelmed him when he had seen Scott’s condition. He needed to find an answer to what had happened in such a short time and how it had almost cost his brother’s life.
Walking into the great room, the dark-haired man found a very pale Murdoch Lancer sitting at his desk with his head in his hands. The tall man looked up and asked, “Is he all right?”
“Sarah thinks he will be, but I want to know what you said to him that he would do something like that.”
Fear and astonishment entered the Scot’s eyes. “You think he did it deliberately?”
Johnny’s head dropped. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “He’s been through so much, but why now when. . .when we’re going to buy that ranch together?”
“It had to be an accident. He just didn’t know how much he was taking!”
“I hope you’re right, but he hated taking that stuff. He only allowed Sarah to give it to him when he was hurtin’ real bad. Did he say anything when you were talkin’ to him?”
The rancher rubbed his hands together as he tried to remember exactly what he had said to his injured son. “He. . .just mentioned about not staying here and about promising Garrett something. I tried to tell him that his grandfather was a liar, but he wouldn’t listen. He even thought his mother was buried at Lancer for some reason. Maybe. . . maybe this trip west was too much for him.”
“Murdoch, I think it would be best if you not speak to Scott about his grandfather for the rest of the time we’re here. I know you hated the man, but Scott loved him so it does no good to get him all riled up.”
“But. . .but he should know the truth. Maybe then he’d be willing to stay!”
“I’m not gonna take a chance like that. Our ranch isn’t far. When he’s feelin’ more like himself, we’ll visit and then he can get to know you. Right now, he needs rest, not more wranglin’. Can you understand that?”
Shame-faced, Murdoch Lancer nodded. “I suppose you’re right. Maybe I said more than I should have.”
“Okay. Just as soon as I make sure he’s all right, I’m gonna ride over to the ranch we’re buyin’ and get the paperwork all taken care of. I may be gone a couple of days so I expect you to remember your word.”
Murdoch’s chin came up in defiance. “I said I wouldn’t mention his grandfather to him and I won’t.”
“Good. I just want you to remember one thing—if it comes down to him or you—I’ve already made my choice.” With that bald statement, Johnny Madrid walked back to his room to check on his brother’s condition.
Dinner that night was a subdued affair. Very little was consumed as all at the table couldn’t forget at how they had almost lost Scott forever. Knowing that Sarah was exhausted from the day’s events, Johnny had made a bed on the floor of his room so that he was able to keep an eye on the sick man. Although the gunfighter fell asleep easily, he continued to wake at regular intervals to reassure himself that the blond was still breathing.
In the morning a light tap on the door signaled Teresa’s arrival with a cup of coffee and some biscuits. Wolfing them down, Johnny took advantage of her offer to sit with Scott so that he could take a bath and shave. Peeling off his dirty clothes was an extreme pleasure.
Returning to the house, he discovered that Murdoch had decided to move his trip to Modesto up a few days. He had informed Teresa that he would definitely be back before his sons and Sarah left for the new ranch.
At hearing the news, Johnny felt relief. With Murdoch’s absence, the chance of another confrontation between the rancher and his older son was nil. Perhaps, the tall man had been telling the truth, but Johnny did not want anything to interfere with Scott’s recovery and their move to the new ranch.
When the gunfighter entered his room, he found Sarah sitting next to Scott’s bedside, holding his hand. “Uh, how’s he doing?’
“He’s been restless the last few minutes so I think he’ll be waking up soon.” Peering up at the young man, Sarah remarked, “I understand that you told your father about our plans?”
“I gather he was not pleased.”
“Miss Nicholson, m’am, that is one of them understatements.”
“I’m not surprised. Hesitating, she added, “Johnny, you do know that you are perfectly free to stay here at Lancer? I assure you that I won’t leave Scott alone. You could always visit us at the ranch.”
“Sarah, I know you’re more’n capable of handlin’ him and a ranch—although I would like to see you brandin’ a cow,— but I need to be with him too. I can’t ever get back those lost years, but I can make sure there aren’t any more of ’em.”
“I’m delighted to hear that because I know he needs you too. But, Young Man, I’ll have you know that I have branded a steer or two in my day!”
Johnny broke out laughing. “Don’t doubt it, Sarah. I’m beginnin’ to believe you can do almost anything!”
“Almost?” she inquired with a deadpan face.
Scott Lancer awoke to the joyful sound of the two people, he most cared about, laughing. Considering he felt like death warmed over, he couldn’t quite understand the source for their merriment, but he did know that it sounded wonderful. Perhaps, the desolation of the past five years was gone for good. “SPIN?”
Both heads immediately focused on the man in the bed. “Hey there, Boston, how ya feelin’?
“Don’t ask! My head feels like it’s stuck in. . . molasses.”
“Don’t worry, dear boy, I’m sure it’s just temporary from the laudanum.”
“Lau. . .laudanum?” Cerulean eyes gazed at the two in bewilderment.
“Scott, don’t you remember takin’ half a bottle of the stuff?”
The blond winced as he started to shake his head. “I remember talking to Mr. Lancer. He said something about my. . .mother. Then, my head began to hurt—like a 12 pounder hit it. I guess I must have taken the laudanum. . . to help.”
“Well, don’t go takin’ anymore of it, cause Sarah and I can’t handle it!”
“Listen to your brother, Scott. I’m not quite as young as I used to be and I’d appreciate your not making me older than I am. Now, I will go see if Teresa has some broth that might be good for you.”
Seeing that the blond’s blue eyes were almost closed already, Johnny sat there quietly for a moment. Then, Scott spoke up, “Johnny, you haven’t. . .you haven’t changed your mind about the ranch, have you? Because of what happened, I mean.”
“Don’t worry yourself about it, Brother. I was just waitin’ to see that you were all right and then I’m headin’ over to see Mr. Strong about payin’ the money for our place. ‘Course we’ll have to do some fixin’-up, but I suspect we’ll be able to move in pretty quick.”
“Good. Garrett’s looking forward to it. He wants you to teach him how to shoot, but he insists I teach him how to ride.” Then, the heavy eyes succumbed to the lure of sleep once again.
Madrid stood there watching for some time before he headed to the kitchen where he encountered Sarah dishing up some biscuits and broth. “No use takin’ it in there now, Sarah, he’s gone back to sleep.”
“I’ll just keep it warm for when he wakes up. Please help yourself, if you’d like. Teresa made them. Since Scott is asleep, I believe I’ll go help Teresa with the laundry.”
“Uh, Sarah, could I ask you somethin’ first? I know Scott’s grandfather’s name was Garrett, but was there somebody else named that?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Just before he fell asleep, he talked about wantin’ me to teach this Garrett how to shoot.”
“I see.” Putting down the bowl of broth, Sarah sat down at the table. “Garrett was the name Scott gave to his imaginary brother.”
“Why. . .why would he talk about him now?”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps, Garrett has been with him for the last five years. Maybe. . .maybe that’s who he talked to when he wouldn’t talk to anyone else. Now, let me go help Teresa. She shouldn’t have to do the wash all alone.”
As soon as Teresa and Sarah reentered the house, Johnny set off on Barranca. Now, that it was so close Johnny could almost taste his desire for his own ranch. Maybe, at one time he could have called Lancer home, but the years of indifference had taken their toll. He wanted only to have a ranch where he could get to know his brother and hopefully find the peace that both of them deserved. And, he had to admit, he would enjoy being with Sarah Nicholson. The redoubtable SPIN was unlike any woman he had ever known and that in itself was intriguing. Hopefully, he had found the family he had been looking for from the day his mother had died. On that happy thought, Johnny prodded the palomino into a gallop.
Two days later, a tired Murdoch Lancer rode up to his home. His long ride had proven successful and for that reason he was a happy man, but truthfully, he was not looking forward to his return. What should have been a joyous event—the return of his sons—had become a nightmare. He had devoutly hoped that his sons would want to remain with him and learn to appreciate their heritage, but instead Johnny and Scott wanted to go out on their own—and with a woman who had undoubtedly mesmerized them with Harlan Garrett’s lies. Sighing, the rancher dismounted from his horse to hand it over to one of the vaqueros.
Entering the great room, the tall man found his older son sitting in one of the chairs. “Scott, you look like you’re feeling better.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll be ready to leave when Johnny returns.”
“Uh, so he did go see Bill Strong?”
“If everything went according to plan, he should be back tomorrow or the next day.”
“That’s good. Well, I’d better go clean up. I expect dinner will be ready soon.”
“Mr. Lancer, before you go, I’d like to ask you something.”
The tall man stared down at his son. “Go ahead.”
“I want to buy Barranca for Johnny.”
“The palomino that he likes to ride.”
“Oh. Yes, it is a fine horse. If you want the horse, you can have him.”
“I would prefer to pay for him. Barranca will be my present to Johnny. I owe him more than any amount of money can ever repay.”
The patriarch stared at the younger man. “I underestimated you, didn’t I? I thought you were milk-and-water like your mother, but you’re cold and hard like Harlan Garrett, aren’t you?”
With a wry smile, Scott replied, “Actually, I thought I was more like Murdoch Lancer. . . . I’ll see you get your money before we leave. Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t ever tell Johnny about what you said. He’s free to visit Lancer whenever he wants.” The slender blond man stood up and went to his room.
That night after dinner, Murdoch Lancer walked out through the French doors to stand on the porch of his hacienda. Staring up at the stars and nearly full moon, he didn’t hear the door open behind him. “Mr. Lancer, might I speak to you for a moment?”
Turning, he found Sarah Nicholson profiled in lamplight. “Yes, Miss Nicholson, what can I do for you?”
“Noting for me. We will be leaving Lancer soon and this may be my last chance to speak with you.”
“Miss Nicholson, I am tired and frankly I have had enough talking. I invited my sons to be with me and instead I found only ingratitude. I wanted so much and they have given me so little.”
“Mr. Lancer, I have always been an outspoken woman so you will understand if I speak my mind. I know you feel that Harlan Garrett stole your son from you, and perhaps he did in a way, but from what I have seen, all you truly care about is this ranch—and perhaps Teresa. Harlan Garrett had many faults, but he did love Scott—unequivocally. As for me, I would not trade one minute of the time I have spent with your son in the last twenty-five years—not for all 100,000 acres of Lancer. Good night, Sir.”
Three days later Johnny, Scott, and Sarah drove out under the great gate in their hired buggy with Barranca tied behind. Their parting from Teresa had been sad, but she had assured them that she would visit soon. Murdoch had been polite, but tepid in his parting. It would take some time for him to adjust to the situation—if he ever decided he still wanted some kind of relationship with the two strangers who were his sons.
About an hour away from the new ranch, Sarah suddenly brought up a point that none of them had considered. “What do you intend to name your new home?”
The blond looked at the brunet. The brunet looked at the blond. Neither had an idea.
“Well, then I have a suggestion. What do you think of The Double L with overlapping Ls as your brand?” Both brothers enthusiastically agreed with her idea.
That night after a sketchy dinner and as Sarah was finishing up the dishes, she heard Johnny’s voice calling to her. Going outside, she found her two boys standing by a freshly painted sign: THE DOUBLE LL Home of Scott, Johnny and Sarah.
Slate gray eyes filled with tears as she saw what they had written. “Th-thank you. I love you both.”
“Shucks, SPIN, we knew that. What do you think of the sign? Oh, oh, I shouldn’t have called you that!”
A beaming Sarah reached over to kiss the dark-haired young man. “Don’t worry about it, Johnny. I love the sign, and I don’t mind that you used that name—once. But,” she added as she turned and kissed the blond young man, “there’s still only one man privileged to call me SPIN.” Three happy people walked into their house together.
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