Word count: 1,852
Scott Lancer leaned his tall frame back against the wooden wall of the old hall where Reverend Baker had arranged for the evening’s festivities to be held. Unlike some members of his congregation, Reverend Baker did not believe that dancing was an act of the devil. He enjoyed dancing with his wife and saw no reason why young couples could not stand up together in full sight of their parents and other adults and enjoy themselves as well.
One young man certainly was doing so. The man had blue eyes, dark hair and wore his gun in a low-cut holster. He also happened to be Scott’s half-brother, Johnny. The younger Lancer rarely missed one of the dances put on by Reverend Baker and the good ladies of the Morro Coyo/Spanish Wells area. He loved the adrenaline rush that dancing gave him and he certainly enjoyed being focus of the young ladies of the valley who vied with each other for his attention.
Watching his brother, Scott couldn’t help but smile at the way Johnny threw himself into the activity. Johnny wasn’t the type of man to hold anything back–except information about events he preferred to forget. In the early days of their acquaintance, this reticence had annoyed the older son, but finally he had put this lack of trust into perspective. The two men might be related by blood, but they were virtually strangers due to a twenty year separation so Scott had stopped hoping for that trust. Perhaps one day it would come, but there was no guarantee of that.
Standing in front of him was a small girl with long brown hair. “Hello, Teresa. Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Well, I was until I found out that Stephen isn’t going to be here after all.” Stephen Henderson had promised to dance with Teresa O’Brien if he returned from Sacramento in time. “Would you be able to take me back to Lancer when you go?”
“Certainly. Just let me know when you’re ready.”
“I will but why aren’t you dancing?”
“I did before, but I like to watch. It brings back happy memories.”
Teresa gazed at the young man in front of her. “Maybe you can tell me about them sometime, but right now I have to go help Mrs. Logan with the refreshments.”
“Okay, I’ll be here.”
Mrs. Logan and Teresa rapidly set up the refreshments table with homemade cakes and punch. Not surprisingly, Johnny Lancer was the first in line to procure a couple of pieces of chocolate cake as well as the pink punch. After heading back to the Wilson sisters, he ended up eating most of the cake himself while the two voluptuous girls sipped at the innocuous punch.
When a Virginia reel was called, the dark-haired man jumped up, letting the crumbs fall to the floor. Grabbing Winifrid Wilson’s hand, Johnny and the girl led two lines of dancers. As soon as the reel finished, the guitar player and fiddle player started on a waltz. This time it was the other Wilson sister’s chance to dance with the younger Lancer.
For a moment Scott was tempted to ask Teresa to dance rather than letting her to remain behind the refreshments table, but before he could do so she was snapped up by an eager man named Dwayne.
Stepping back, Scott accidentally trod on the dress of a young woman seated to the side of the table. Turning to apologize for his clumsiness, he looked into an amazing pair of green eyes. “I am so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention,” he murmured.
“Please don’t apologize, Mr. Lancer. It was an accident.”
“Uh, would you like to dance? That would give me more time to say I’m sorry.”
“That is unnecessary. I would prefer to sit this dance out if you don’t mind?”
“Of course but would you mind if I sat down and talked to you awhile?”
“I don’t mind at all but are you sure you wouldn’t like to dance with one of the lovely young ladies who are here?”
“Actually, my feet hurt. I got new boots and I haven’t broken them in yet.”
The young lady with the green eyes tried to hide her smile. “I can
certainly understand that. I remember a pair of dancing slippers I bought in New York. By the end of the evening, I had blisters which felt like boulders.”
“Are you from New York?”
“Yes, I was born there, but now I live in San Francisco. I’m here as the guest of the Blairs.”
“Oh sure. My father has had dealings with Tobias Blair. Is he your uncle or something?”
“Yes, he’s my mother’s brother. He thought I might enjoy seeing something of California, outside of San Francisco.”
“San Francisco is a beautiful city. I hope you’ll enjoy your visit here, but do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“You can certainly ask.”
“Would you tell me your name?”
“Oh dear, I am so sorry. I should have told you that immediately. I’m Elena Darcy.”
“I’m Scott Lancer.”
The girl dimpled slightly. “I did know that and you have a brother named Johnny, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but. . . .”
As soon as I arrived in Morro Coyo, the first thing my aunt mentioned was the two handsome bachelors who lived with their father at a ranch named Lancer. I think she believed I would toss my cap at you–or your brother.”
“Well, I appreciate your aunt’s compliment, but I can’t see why she would believe that you’d need to chase any man. I’m sure you must have more than your share of suitors.”
“That is most kind of you, but most men would prefer a wife who has two good legs.”
Cerulean eyes focused on green in puzzlement. Without another word, Elena demurely lifted her skirt just enough to shyly reveal two legs, but one was obviously made of wood. “It happened about six years ago. I received word that my brother was badly hurt at Spotsylvania. We had only each other except for my uncle so I was determined to nurse him myself. Unfortunately, the train derailed on the way south. I lost part of my leg and by the time I recovered, James . . . had died.”
Scott reached out to touch the woman’s hand gently. “I’m truly sorry to hear that, Elena. It must have devastated you to lose so much.”
The auburn-haired woman nodded. “I was so angry for weeks after that. I just felt like there was no reason to go on. My brother was dead and I knew that no man would want me like this.” Elena Darcy hesitated, “Then, one day a soldier was admitted to the hospital where I was recuperating. He had been horribly wounded so no one had expected him to survive but somehow he did. I’m not even sure now why I started going to visit him, but there was a certain resemblance to James so I kept going. Then, one day he told me about this girl he had left behind in Rhode Island. He had had a friend write to her and say that he was dead so that she would never know how badly hurt he was.”
“I’m sure he just wanted to spare her.”
“Of course but I told him that he wasn’t giving her a chance to make her own decision. He yelled at me, saying he didn’t want pity. Nothing I could do would calm him down so the doctor had to use laudanum. I hobbled back to my own room on my crutches and sank down on the bed to cry. I wanted so much for him to see his love again. I guess I thought if he could be loved so could I.”
“Elena. . . .”
“It’s all right, Mr. Lancer. That may have been the low point in my life, but at least now I can look back on those days without so much pain. A friend of my uncle secured a position for me working with children who have similar injuries as mine. Unfortunately, I contracted pneumonia during the winter so the doctor thought a vacation would help me recover faster. So here I am–at least for a month or two.”
“Well, I’m very glad that you’re here. Would you like to go for a buggy ride with me tomorrow? I can show you around Lancer and the whole area if you’d like.”
“That would be nice if you have the time. My uncle says that cattle ranching is a never ending business.”
“He’s right about that, but since tomorrow is Sunday even my father lets me have one day off.”
“Oh, then I’m sure you’ll want to go to church first so why don’t you pick me up after that?”
Scott colored. “I. . .well, I. . . .”
“Somehow I get the idea that you’re not a churchgoer, but don’t worry neither am I!”
“Well, I do take Teresa sometimes if Murdoch is out of town, but not on a regular basis.”
“The girl with the brown hair at the refreshments table. She’s my father’s ward and like a sister to Johnny and me.”
“You’re a fortunate man, Scott Lancer, and I think I’ll enjoy getting to know you.”
Pleased by Elena’s forthrightness, Scott quickly replied, “I feel the same way. It will be good having someone to talk to that knows the East. Have you ever been to Boston?”
“Many times, is that where you’re from?”
The two talked for another hour before Elena admitted to being rather tired so Scott hunted up her aunt and uncle for the ride back to the Blair ranch. After promising to call on the green-eyed young woman at 1 PM the next day, Scott located Teresa for the trip back to Lancer.
Driving along in the buggy, Scott found himself humming “Lorena”.
A sleepy-eyed Teresa quietly asked him about the song. “It’s so sad. What’s it about?”
“Losing someone you love. It was a favorite song in the South during the War.”
“Were you ever in love, Scott?”
The blue-eyed man looked over at the girl beside him. “I. . .I thought I was one time, but now I’m not so sure.”
“It must be the most wonderful feeling in the world, don’t you think?”
“I suppose, but sometimes it can bring a great deal of heartache. You just have to decide if it’s worth the price.”
“I guess you have a point. Some people don’t seem to stay in love very long.” From then on the young woman said nothing until they drove under the great gate at Lancer then she asked Scott to stop before they reached the door. “Scott, would you dance with me?”
“Here? But there’s no music.”
“Yes, there is–I can hear ‘Lorena’ in my head.”
“Then, I would be delighted to dance with you.” Helping her down, Scott Lancer bowed and then swung the girl into his arms and began the steps of a waltz, under the pale starlight.
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