Word count: 1,924
Johnny and Scott Lancer sat at the table in the saloon, drinking beer before heading back to their ranch. “Say, Boston, how do you think I’d look with blond hair?”
Scott’s blue eyes took in his brother’s determined face. “Are you serious? Why would you want to change your hair color?”
“Well, you know Molly Tuttle? She says she only dates men who have light-colored hair.”
“Yeah, that’s what she told me when I asked her to the dance.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“You got a point there, but just between you and me, Brother, women do a lot of things that don’t make sense.”
Scott smiled. “I can’t argue with you there, Brother. Just look at Teresa. Every spring she turns the house inside-out and in just a few days it’s dirty again.”
“Ain’t that the truth–and then she says it’s because of us! Women!”
The two young men sat there for some time quietly pondering the vagaries of the “gentler” sex.
“So why are you willing to change your hair color for Molly?”
“I don’t want to really change it. Just thought I’d see what it would be like for a little while. Plus you never know, women might flock to me like sheep! ‘Course it don’t seem to have helped you none.”
“Well, thanks Johnny. For your information Molly Tuttle has made overtures to me about going out together.”
“So why didn’t you? I know you like them bluestockings.”
“Johnny, just because Molly likes to read and has had more education than many females, doesn’t mean she’s a bluestocking.”
“So why didn’t you go out with her?”
“I thought about it. It’s just that she’s so quiet and well, she just kept looking at me like I was going to leap on her or something.”
The dark-haired man sat up quickly. Leaning forward, he almost spilled his beer. “Did you try to jump her, Boston? You can tell me. I won’t tell nobody!”
The blond grimaced. “Of course, I didn’t. She just seems to be timid around men and maybe my overwhelming charm dazzled her too much!”
Beer came spewing out of the gunfighter’s mouth as he had just taken a huge swallow of the golden beverage. Scott pounded on his brother’s back for a minute before the younger man could again breathe reasonably well. “I guess I didn’t realize that charm of yours was so noticeable. Of course, that bull did chase you across half the range the other day so maybe he noticed it.”
“Johnny, you know that was because I was wearing your red shirt!”
“Oh sure, sure. Guess that was it. Anyway, how do you suppose I could get my hair to look lighter?”
“Johnny, there are plenty of other girls who would love to go to the dance with you. Heaven knows why, but Tilly Mason asked me just the other day if you were planning to go.”
“Already went out with Tilly Mason.”
“Well, how about Jenny Thompson?”
“Been out with her too.”
“Johnny, is there any female within twenty miles you haven’t been out with?”
“Uh, let’s see….umm, besides Molly no. So you see, she’s spoilin’ my perfect record. Now tell me how to get my hair light.”
“Well, if you’re determined…I’ve heard that lemon juice can do it over time.”
“Ain’t got time. The dance is in less ‘n week.”
“Well, then, I suppose you could try a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water.”
“It’s something that takes some of the color out of your hair. I’d use it sparingly though.”
“Sounds good. Do you think they’d have it at the general store?”
“Well, I’m gonna go over and see. Meet me at the buckboard in fifteen minutes. By the way, that pear stuff ain’t somethin’ new, is it?”
“I believe it’s been around for over a hundred years.”
“Okay, just wanted to be sure.”
By the time the two brothers reached the great white hacienda with their purchases, it was nearly time for dinner so they unloaded the buckboard and then cleaned up.
Murdoch was pleased that the two young men had been able to pick up several items that the ranch needed. He had tried to make Lancer as self-sufficient as possible but there were always things that had to be ordered from San Francisco or even the East. Teresa, too, enjoyed the fact that through catalogues provided at the general store she could order clothes that she couldn’t make herself. Of course, she had made the dress that she intended to wear to the dance the next Friday evening, but Maria had helped with the sewing.
Johnny sat at the table rather bored. He had hoped to be back in time to try out the purchased hydrogen peroxide, but since tomorrow was Sunday he would have some privacy to try out the product while the rest of the family was at church. Lost in his thoughts about how pleased Molly would be when she saw his golden tresses, he didn’t even hear Murdoch’s question to him. “Johnny did you hear what I said?”
“Huh, what? Oh sorry, Murdoch, I’m kind of tired from unloading that buckboard.”
“Well, I hope you’re not too tired to start the branding on Monday. We’ve got lots of calves this spring.”
“Oh, sure, sure. Boston and I can get them done first thing Monday morning.”
“Actually, I was thinking of having Scott do some survey work, but I suppose it would go faster if the two of you did the one range. I’ll ask Ramon and Luis to handle the other. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I
want to work on the books awhile before bedtime. I enjoy Reverend Baker’s sermons, but I don’t understand why he has to start services so early.”
Teresa hid her smile behind one hand. It was well known that Murdoch was more than capable of falling asleep in church and yet present a state of awareness at a moment’s notice.
Scott helped Teresa take the dishes into the kitchen where he helped her wash and dry them. This was one of his favorite moments of the evening–even though he really didn’t enjoy the task itself–because it gave him a chance to talk the young woman. Since coming to Lancer, he had discovered that while not as well-educated as many of the women he had known in Boston, Teresa had a common sense way about her that was delightful. Her devotion to Lancer and Murdoch had given him pause when he had first settled at the ranch. No one knew Murdoch Lancer better than Teresa O’Brien so she had become his source of information about the years he had missed at the great ranch.
In return, he told her about the various places he had visited in his quarter-decade. She loved to hear about the big cities and people that he had met. He had even found her to be willing to hear about his war service. He could see the concern in her eyes when he described his imprisonment, but he tried not to dwell on that too much. He preferred to tell her about some of the men he had served with and with whom he still felt a bond.
As night fell, Scott went in to finish writing in his journal. For some reason, he had taken to writing nearly every day as opposed to the years before Lancer when sometimes weeks would go by without putting pen to paper.
Johnny, on the other hand, had sat in the great room with his father for some time. They had said little to each other because Murdoch did not like to be interrupted while working on the Lancer books. For Johnny, this was one of the best times. He could almost imagine he had been doing this for years instead of a few months. While he did have some good memories of his growing years, most of the gunfighter’s life had been focused on the need to survive. Now, he could appreciate what he had survived for.
Finally, Murdoch closed his books, took off his glasses, and wished his younger son a good night. Johnny returned the wish and headed to bed himself. He knew that if he wanted to get the dyeing job done before the return of the churchgoers, he would have to get an early start.
Johnny Lancer poured a measure of the liquid from the bottle into the wash bowl. Then he dipped his hair into it. It was so awkward and he wanted to be sure that he got every strand so he decided to take a different tack. Going outside, he leaned over and just poured the entire contents of the bowl over his hair. Since it was cool in the early morning air, he did not stay out long. Wrapping his head in a towel, he sat down on his bed to wait. The bottle said nothing about how long the lightening process would take and he wanted to make sure he gave it enough time.
After a half-hour, and with butterflies in his stomach, he removed the towel and walked over to his shaving mirror. There in the mirror he saw a stranger’s face, well not a stranger, but Johnny Lancer with totally white hair–as white as the snow gleaming off the mountain tops.
Eyes aghast with fear, he started to rub at the strands, only to have the threads abandon his scalp and end up in his hand. Terror filled his heart and mind as clump after clump fell from where there had once been luxurious black hair. Screaming out, “Scott!”, the heartbroken young man sank to his knees and began to sob.
“Johnny, wake up, you’re having a nightmare!
The gunfighter bolted upright at his brother’s voice. Gazing with bleary sapphire eyes into the blond’s concerned face, Johnny jumped up to look into the mirror. There before him was his usual appearance, especially his black hair. Turning to the slender man, he gave the startled older Lancer a hug. “Whooee, Boston, what a nightmare!”
“Are you all right now?”
“Sure am and I’ll be even better in just a minute.” Walking over to the table beside his bed, he took the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and poured it into the chamber pot.
“Why did you do that?”
“I’ve decided that I don’t mind if Molly Tuttle spoils my record. I’m not changing my hair.”
“Glad to hear it, especially since I never thought you’d look good as a blond anyway.”
“Yeah, if she wants a blond, she’ll just have to settle for you.”
Scott cleared his throat. “Then you don’t mind if I take her to the dance?”
“Well, you see while I was waiting for you to go to the general store, I met up with Molly. She had just picked up the book she had ordered and we got to talking.”
“Yes, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. You know Alexandre Dumas just passed away this year. So anyway, we got to talking about it and I asked if she wanted to take a buggy ride with me. She said yes, so if all goes well, maybe I’ll ask her to the dance.” Seeing the look in Johnny’s eyes, he added, “But not if you don’t want me to, Brother.”
The stern look on Johnny’s face turned to a grin, “Oh, that’s all right, Brother. One blond in the family is enough for me.”
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