Heart of the Matter by S.

Word count: 3,848

“Scott’s home, Scott’s home!” bellowed Jelly.

Teresa, Murdoch and Johnny rushed out the door. Scott Lancer had been away for over 3 months visiting his grandfather in Boston. He had written 2 letters to Teresa in that time, but made little reference to his activities so they were all anxious to hear about his trip.

When the carriage stopped, Teresa immediately saw that Scott was not alone. Sitting next to him was a well-groomed young woman with blonde hair which she wore in a bun.

Teresa rushed over to kiss Scott. Johnny pounded him on the back. “Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa, Jelly, I’d like you to meet my fiancée, Roxane Jordan.

Even though the gasp wasn’t audible, it was there. Fiancée? “Uh, let’s go inside. I’m sure Miss Jordan must be tired and hot.”

“Thank you so much. I must say that these last few miles were rather dusty.”

All went in except Johnny. He hung back. “Johnny, you comin’ or not?”

“Yeah Jelly, I’m coming.”

Teresa showed Roxane to the guest room. “I’m sure you’ll want to freshen up a bit. Then come out and we can have dinner and talk.”

Murdoch and Jelly followed Scott into his room. “So how’d ya meet her? When’s the weddin’? Are ya gonna live here?”

“Jelly, give Scott a chance to talk!”

“It’s okay, Murdoch, when Roxane comes out, we’ll tell you all about our plans.”

“Fine, now we’ll let you get changed.”

Scott looked at the two as they left. Good to be home, but I wonder why Johnny didn’t come in?

Soon all were sitting in the dining room. Scott had just finished telling everyone how he and Roxane had met. “And then she slapped my face!”

Teresa gasped. “She did what?”

Roxane intervened, “Well it was his fault for tripping me so that I just happened to land in his lap!”

“Roxane, it was an accident. I told you that!”

Eyes twinkling, Roxane replied, “So you say.” Everyone laughed.

After dinner they resumed talking in the living room. Roxane seemed to be quite comfortable with Scott’s family. But soon it became apparent that she was fatigued. “Roxane dear, why don’t you
go to bed. Tomorrow we’ll take our tour of Lancer.”

“Goodnight everyone.”

“She seems to be a lovely woman, Scott.”

“I think so. I’m lucky to have met her.”

They continued talking for some time until it was quite late. “Well we’d better get to bed.”

“I am kind of tired and I promised Roxane that I’d show her Lancer tomorrow.”

As they separated for the night, Scott started toward his room, then decided to go see Johnny. He knocked.

“Come in.”

Hey Brother, you were quiet tonight. Anything wrong? “

“No, I guess I’m just surprised by your news.”

“I’m surprised too. It happened so fast.”

“Yeah, you haven’t really had a chance to get to know one another, have you?”

“That’s why I brought her to Lancer–so she can get to know me here–not just in Boston.”

“Does she have family there?”

“No, her parents are dead. She’s a librarian.”

“I hope it all works out.”

“Me too. Well I’d better get to bed. Good night.”

“Night, Scott.”

Johnny lay on his bed, sleepless. How can I let him marry her? How can I tell him that the woman he loves is a prostitute? Why did I have to meet her in Sonora? Scott will probably shoot me if I tell him about her! The words kept running through his head–until after many hours he fell asleep.

The next day Scott and Roxane drove out in the buggy. “Oh Scott, I had no idea Lancer was so big. No wonder you love it out here. It’s magnificent.”

“It’s Murdoch’s dream.”

“Well yes, but I think it’s also yours.”

“Do you…do you think you could be happy here?”

“Oh Scott, I could be happy anywhere with you.”

“Well I don’t mean we’d actually live here. I thought I’d make a deal with Murdoch. The old Tate place is real nice and has a tremendous view. I’m just worried that you’ll miss Boston and your books.”

“My books? I can bring my books with me. I love being a librarian, but I love you more.” She kissed him. “I’m so glad you asked me to marry you.”

“So am I.”


Later that day, Roxane was in the kitchen with Teresa. She had wanted to get a woman’s view of living in the west. Books and Scott could tell her only so much.

Scott went out to the corral. Johnny was there watching a horse being broken for riding. “Hey how come you’re not the one doing that?”

“Gettin’ too old, Brother, gettin’ too old.”

“Nonsense Johnny. Maybe you’re just ready to settle down.”

Johnny gave Scott a nervous look. “Scott, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, what’s the matter with now?”

They walked to a spot under the trees where they couldn’t be overheard.

“Scott, I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you that I don’t want to hurt you. But I think you need to know the truth before you marry Roxane.”

“The truth?”

“I met her once before–in Sonora.”

“Sonora? She’s never been west of the Mississippi!”

“That’s not true. I met her in a bar. She did that part-time. The rest of the time she…well she was a prostitute.”

Johnny cringed. The look in Scott’s eyes was pure fury. He started to strike out at Johnny but then stopped. “It isn’t true. She’s not like that.”

“It gets worse. Not long after I left Sonora, I saw her picture on a wanted poster. She was wanted for knifing some guy. Of course the name wasn’t Roxane Jordan. It was Rachel Jenkins.”

Scott’s face paled. His eyes became pools of fear. “She didn’t…she wouldn’t…I’ve got to talk to her.”

“Believe me, Scott, I’m not lying.”

Scott stared at him. “Johnny, I trust you. You wouldn’t lie to me, but there’s got to be some mistake. I’ve got to know.”

Johnny nodded. “I know you do.”

Scott went into the house. Johnny just stood there, watching his brother. He’ll never forgive me for telling him that.

Scott asked Roxane to step into the study with him. For the next 20 minutes heated words could be heard reverberating through the thick walls. Finally the study door slammed behind Roxane. She went into the guestroom, packed her bag, and emerged to demand that someone take her into town to catch the stage.

Scott started to say that he would do it, but an icy “NO!” stopped him. He then asked one of the ranch hands to drive her in.

That night Johnny told Murdoch, Teresa, and Jelly the reason for Roxane’s departure.

Scott was in his room. No one bothered him. They knew that he needed to grieve alone. The 3 decided to wait until he was ready to accept their comfort. After a day had passed, Murdoch wanted to push the issue; but Teresa counseled patience. “Scott’s a grown man. He’ll let us know when he needs us.”

Teresa seemed to be right when Scott re-entered the life at Lancer the following day. He went back to doing the chores that he usually performed, but never mentioned Roxane’s name.

One day, 2 weeks after the breakup, while out on the range together; Johnny impetuously brought up the subject, “Are you still angry with me for telling you about Roxane?”

Scott visibly flinched. “Angry?…I hated you. I couldn’t understand why you’d hurt me that way.”

“I am so sorry. I didn’t want to do that. I just…I just….”

Scott held up his hand. “It’s over, Brother. I didn’t hate you for more than an instant. I know it took courage to tell me. I also know that you didn’t do it out of malice.”

The blond closed his eyes. He could see the hurt and anger on Roxane”s face. She was so beautiful and he loved her so much.

He opened his eyes to see the concern on Johnny’s face. “Don’t worry, Johnny, I’ll be okay. Let’s just get back to Lancer.”



Scott was in town picking up supplies at the general store. “Scott, glad to see you. You’re looking good.” but somewhat thin, said Angie. 

“Oh hi, Angie. Yeah I’m keeping busy.”

“Well your supplies are almost ready. We’ll have them loaded in about 15 minutes.”

“Good. I think I’ll go have a drink at the saloon. Thanks again, Angie.”

He headed to the bar, settling for a beer instead of hard stuff because of the ride to the ranch. That’s all I need is to be careless with the supplies. Murdoch would have my hide.

As he started to return to the general store, Sam, the telegraph operator, stopped him. “Hey Scott, Miss Porter over at the post office gave me this to give to you. Her arthritis is actin’ up a fright.”

Scott recognized the handwriting. Roxane! “Thanks, Sam.”

He returned to the saloon, sat down, and read his letter. He reread it and then hurried over to the telegraph office to send a telegram. He waited for a reply. When it came, he gave it only a cursory glance. He’d already known what it would say. He crumpled the telegram, stuffing it into the pocket of his shirt along with the letter. Now his one desire was to get the supplies back to Lancer.

At the ranch he asked some of the hands to unload the buckboard. He strode into his room, stripped off his clothes and washed up. He wished he could stand under a waterfall and scrub himself clean, but that wasn’t possible. He then got dressed, packed a few things and walked into the parlor.

“Scott, are you going somewhere?” asked Teresa.

“Uh, I’ve got a date in town and then I may be gone a day or two.”

“Anyone I know?”

“You know me, Teresa, I don’t kiss and tell.” No, I just drive women away.

“Well have a good time. I’ll tell Murdoch.” Well at least he’s taking an interest in life again.

“Do that. Thanks.”

Scott rode off.


Men! They are so inconsiderate. Here she’d made a delicious dinner and no one was around to eat it. Scott had ridden off to town. Johnny and Murdoch were still out looking for strays and Jelly…

“Hey Teresa, I’m back!.”

“Good, Jelly, you have to help me eat off of this food.”

“No problem!” After the 2 finished their meal, Jelly said good night.

Teresa went to gather up the laundry. Tomorrow was Monday, her wash day. Lucky for me, it hardly ever rains this time of year. Johnny’s clothes were in a basket. What does he do to get them so filthy?

She found Scott’s things on the floor. That’s strange. He’s not usually so careless.

As she picked up the shirt, a note fell out. She glanced at it, then reread every word. No, it isn’t possible! All thoughts of laundry left her head.

Her inertia ended with Johnny’s appearance. “Johnny! You have to read this.”

When I left Lancer, I was furious with you. I wanted to scratch your eyes out. But it has now been some days since that horrible moment when you asked me about Sonora. I am still angry because of your lack of trust, but now I can see that I also did you an injustice by not telling you the whole truth. You said that Johnny knew me as Rachel Jenkins in Sonora. Rachel Jenkins was a prostitute, a bar girl, and a murderess, and also my twin sister. I know I told you that I had no family. That was a lie. Rachel fled Boston after becoming involved with a man who was scum. He abandoned her in Mexico. She asked me for money several times. I did send her enough for a return to Boston, but she never arrived. I found out later that she died in childbirth at an asylum in Galveston.
Scott, I decided to tell you this because, no matter what, I loved my sister–as I know you love your brother. I don’t blame you for believing him. He told you what he believed to be the truth. My pride
and shame wouldn’t allow me to admit my sister’s humiliation. Please don’t try to contact me. I will have moved by the time you receive this letter. I just want you to know that I truly did love you and I’m sorry that we won’t be able to have a life together. Roxane”

Johnny looked at Teresa. “Where’s Scott?”

“He left.”

“Where? I’ve got to talk to him.”

“I don’t know where. He said he had a date and might be gone a day or two.”

Johnny walked over to the couch, sat down with his head in his hands. “Maybe she was lying to him. Maybe she wanted him to feel guilty.”

“I don’t think so. I also found this in his pocket. It’s a telegram from the Galveston asylum confirming the death of Rachel Jenkins in childbirth.”

Johnny slowly got up. “I’ve got to find him. I’ve got to tell him….”

“Johnny, he knows you didn’t do it deliberately.”

He looked at Teresa with terror in his eyes. “But what if that’s not enough” What if…he’s left for good?”

“He said he’d be back. He just needs time.”

“But what if you’re wrong? What if he….”

Teresa almost slapped Johnny. “You are not to think that way! He said he’ll be back. I trust him. Why don’t you?”

Johnny hung his head. “I do trust him, but do you think he’ll ever trust me again?”

He walked out of the house and saddled Barranca. He had to find his brother.


Scott Lancer was drunk. The bottle he’d brought with him was empty. His head and body hurt like hell. Lying still on the bunk was the only thing that kept the nausea at bay.

Why did I have to confront her? Why couldn’t I let it go?… Scott, how could you lt something like that go? You had to know the truth! Scott groaned. What is so good about the truth? It doesn’t set you free. It just makes you miserable.

This was the 2nd day of a seemingly terminal hangover. Now that he was out of booze, he had to face a return to reality. God, why didn’t I just leave it alone? The trouble was that he knew that even if he hadn’t asked Roxane those questions, the doubt would have destroyed their relationship anyway.

Since his arrival at the old Tate place, he’d played the confrontation through in his mind many times.

As soon as Scott had mentioned Sonora and the name Rachel Jenkins, Roxane had frozen up. Gone was the shy, lovely woman he’d fallen in love with. He wanted so much for her to deny everything, but she hadn’t. She just slammed out the door and out of his life. Can you blame her–look what you accused her of!

The turmoil in his mind continued into night. His nightmares teamed with visions of Roxane kissing and then stabbing him. Finally he awoke in a sweat and with the taste of a stable floor in his mouth.

Scott got up and took a drink of water. Even though he still felt terrible, he was determined to return to Lancer. He knew Teresa would be worried. And what am I going to say to Johnny?

Packing up took just a few moments, then he started out at a slow pace. His oversized head wouldn’t allow a faster gait. After some miles, his concentration slipped. Perhaps that was why he didn’t see the snake in time. His horse reared, Scott lost his grip and hit the ground hard. Once again oblivion claimed him.

On his 3rd day of search Johnny Lancer had also ridden a few miles when he spotted Murdoch returning to Lancer.

“Any luck finding Scott?”


“Well if you don’t find him today, I’m going to send out more hands.”

“No one saw him in town so I’m sure he didn’t go there.”

Murdoch continued, “I’m going back to the house, get some food and then I’ll go back out.”

“Sure, see you this evening.”

Johnny rode on. Suddenly he heard hoofbeats. Scott’s horse appeared but no Scott. He backtracked the trail. In the distance he could see a slender figure walking– no, stumbling– towards him.

“Scott?” The man didn’t even look up. He seemed to be concentrating on moving one foot, then the other.

“Scott. It’s me, Johnny. What happened?” Johnny had dismounted and proceeded to stand in front of his brother.

Scott halted, looked at Johnny and whispered, “Will you take me home?” He then sagged against his younger brother. Johnny caught him, hoisted him onto Barranca and rode back to the ranch.

When they reached Lancer, Johnny yelled for someone to get a doctor. Fortunately Murdoch heard the yell and came out to help carry Scott into the bedroom. “Look at that bump. He must have fallen pretty hard.”

Teresa came in with a cold, wet cloth. After pulling off his boots, they made Scott comfortable under the covers. Then they waited for the doctor’s arrival.

The doctor quietly closed the door to Scott’s room. Teresa, Johnny, Jelly, and Murdoch waited anxiously in the living room. “How is he?” 

“Well, he definitely has a concussion but no skull fracture as far as I can tell. He’ll probably sleep a lot for the next day or so. Give him some liquids when he wakes but don’t push food into him. He’ll probably be nauseous when comes to. Keep an eye on him. His head is going to hurt like the devil, but time will take care of that. If you’re worried, have someone come get me and I’ll ride out.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“No problem, Murdoch. Between your 2 boys, I’ve been able to afford a piano for my wife’s birthday!” He grinned.

“I don’t doubt it. I don’t doubt it all.”

The four kept watch over Scott during the next 2 days. It was Teresa who noticed the fluttering eyes and the movement of one hand. “Scott?”

With a tremendous effort, the patient opened his eyes a fraction. “Roxane?”

“No Scott, it’s me Teresa.”

“Teresa?… Lancer?”

“Yes, Johnny found you and brought you home.”


He fell into sleep. Teresa went out to the corral. “Johnny, he woke up.”

Johnny started to rush inside. She grabbed his arm. “Slow down, he went back to sleep.”

Johnny nodded. “I think I’ll go sit with him anyway. He might wake up and I don’t want him to….”

“I understand. I’ll go make some lemonade since the doctor said he needs liquids.”

For the next hour Johnny sat there, then he paced. A tired voice whispered, “Would you stop that clattering? My head hurts.”

Johnny came over. “Hey Brother, how are you feeling?”

“I just told you my head hurts.”

“Well you’ve got a concussion. Do you remember what happened?”

Scott started to shake his head. Mistake! His face went green. Just in time Johnny put the chamber pot in front of his brother. Scott retched until his stomach hurt almost as much as his head.

“Teresa! Bring a wet cloth.”

Teresa hurried in with the lemonade and the cloth. Johnny removed the chamber pot and then returned.

“Thanks Johnny.”

“Hey, what else is a brother for?” He smiled at Scott.

“Would you like a drink?” Teresa helped the young man take a sip of the lemonade and then proceeded to wipe off his face.

“Thanks Teresa….feels good.” Once again Scott returned to sleep.

That night the mood at dinner was much more cheerful since it now seemed that Scott would be alright. As the others finished their meal, Jelly came out of the bedroom. “Teresa. the boy wants to know if you made biscuits for dinner? He reckons he could eat one.”

“Then it’s a good thing I did. I’ll go make up a tray for him.”

Jelly sat down to help himself to some of the beef and potatoes.

“Has he said anything about how he got hurt?”

“Yeah, he told me a snake spooked his horse.”

“Young fool was lucky he wasn’t hurt worse.” replied Murdoch.

“We’ve all got a lot to be thankful for.”

That night after Murdoch went to his study and Teresa went to bed, Johnny went in to sit with his brother.

Scott lay there quietly, eyes closed; but Johnny knew he wasn’t asleep. “Scott? Are you still upset with me? I…I should have made sure before I told you.” Then he got to the heart of the matter–“Do you still trust me?”

Tears eased their way down Scott’s cheeks. “Johnny, don’t ever doubt that I trust you. I’m upset at myself, not you. I should have handled it differently. Maybe Roxane was all that you said, but I still loved her. I shouldn’t have been so judgmental. It’s no wonder she wouldn’t tell me the truth.” Sighing, “Well it’s all over now. Maybe one day I will meet someone else, but I won’t rush into anything.”

“That’s smart thinking. Now you’d better get some sleep. We need you to get well quickly. There’s a lot of work to be done and you, Big Brother, have been malingering too long!”

“Malingering? How about that weekend last month when you didn’t get out of bed?”

“I had the grippe!”

“A tequila-induced grippe!”

“Well how about when you got that splinter in your….?”

Outside the door Murdoch listened to the two brothers. Well, things seem back to normal at Lancer…Thank goodness!



“You’re applying for a position as librarian?”

“Yes,” answered the young woman.

“Please sit down at the desk and fill out this application. I’ll inform our Head Librarian, Mr. Warren, that you are here for an interview.”

“Thank you.”

The woman stared down at the application. She wasn’t sure that she liked New York, but it was a big city so she could easily lose herself in it.

Well, I may not have Scott, but I still have my books–thanks to Roxane. Poor Rachel and Roxane–to die so young. Now I’m the only one of us left.

She shook her head and straightened her back. Now now, Roberta, don’t get maudlin. You know it was necessary if you ever want to escape the drudgery of all those little stitches on all those elegant gowns! At least, Rachel’s death wasn’t your fault.

She continued to fill in the form. Blast! Why did Johnny Lancer have to recognize Rachel? He ruined everything for Scott and me. I guess there’s no use crying over spilt milk. So what if I sacrificed Roxane? At least now, I’ll have her life and books. That’s what’s truly important.

Just then the clerk reappeared. “Mr. Warren will see you now, Miss…uh Miss?

“Jordan — Roxane Jordan.”




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