Word count: 2,034
Scott and Johnny Lancer leaned against the bar of the ramshackle saloon which had enjoyed their patronage for the last hour. “Time to saddle up, Boston, you know Murdoch is awaitin’ for the money we’re bringin’ him.”
“I know, Johnny, but frankly my behind is getting mighty calloused and I’d like to soak in a tub for two days.”
“A tub in this town? Most of these people don’t even know what a tub is for.” The dark-haired Lancer unconsciously wrinkled his nose at the various odors of alcohol, smoke and sweat that permeated the air.
“Well, you got a point there so I’m telling you right now, when we get back to Lancer I get the tub first!”
Sapphire eyes looked slightly up into the cerulean eyes of his brother. “No way, Boston. I’ve been plannin’ this soakin’ for the last two days.”
“Okay, I’ll flip you for it.”
The gunfighter grinned as he took he took a coin out of his pocket. “Good enough and I just happen to have a coin right here.”
Another coin whipped through the slender fingers of the easterner in a rhythmic sequence. “I think we should use mine, BROTHER.”
“Are you sayin’ there’s somethin’ wrong with mine?”
“That looks like the one we used last month to see who had to dance with Miranda Parsons.”
“And you were the lucky feller!”
“Lucky? She hung around my neck for weeks.”
“It’s just that magnesia personality of yours.”
“The word is magnetic, Johnny, and I don’t want to attract Miranda Parsons.”
“But Scott, she’s just a poor lonely widow and you could be a gentleman and comfort her.” Sapphire eyes danced with friendly malice.
“Johnny, the woman has buried three husbands and none was older than thirty-five and I do not intend to be Number Four!”
“But just think of all the property she owns from all them husbands. You could give Murdoch a run for his money!”
“Your concern for my welfare is heart warming, but no thanks. Now, let’s get going. As you said, Murdoch is waiting!”
“Aw Boston, aren’t we gonna toss my coin?”
Before the blond Lancer could reply to Johnny’s plea, silence filled the squalid room as a small woman entered. Barely five feet, with shining black hair and dark eyes, Shen Mei hesitantly slipped into the saloon through the uneven swinging doors. Gracefully making her way to the bar itself, she quietly asked the bartender a question.
“Get out of here. We don’t allow your kind in this place.”
For a moment, the young woman shrank back in fear, but then she courageously stepped forward again. “Please, Sir, my grandfather is very ill. Could you tell me if there is a doctor in this town?”
The burly man, clad in a filthy apron, started out from behind the bar. “Dammit, you’d better get out of here or I’ll. . . .”
The rude barkeep found his way blocked by the slender figure of Scott Lancer who held a gun at him, pointed in the general vicinity of the man’s supposed heart. “This young lady asked you a question and I suggest you be polite and answer.”
The bully quickly backed off. “Uh, there ain’t no doc in this town. The nearest one’s at least half a day’s ride.”
The blond thrust his gun right into the man’s side, “Then, what about that sign we saw as we rode into town? It said, ‘Horace Norton, M.D.”
The barkeep gulped. “Oh, him? I. . I forgot. He’s only been here a coupla weeks.”
“He’s a doctor, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, yeah, was a surgeon in the Union Army.”
Turning to the small Chinese girl, Scott smiled politely and inquired if she would like to go with him to the doctor’s office and take advantage of his services.
Shyly the girl agreed to accompany this charming stranger.
“Hey, Boston, now that she knows where the doctor is, we’d better head
out of town or we’ll never make it back to Lancer in time.”
Swiveling around to see a rather impatient Johnny Madrid standing there, the easterner desperately tried to think of a compromise. “Uh, well, Johnny, why don’t you just go ahead and start for Lancer? I’ll just make sure this young lady finds the doctor and then I’ll follow you.”
Madrid carefully perused up and down the girl’s slim form. “Well, I don’t know if I want to leave you here by yourself. Never know what kind of trouble you’ll get in to.”
“I do appreciate your thinking of me, but just imagine, if you get back
to Lancer first, you can head straight for the tub!”
A gleam entered the brunet’s eye. “I could, couldn’t I? Well, in that case, I’ll just let you do your gentleman act. I’ll see you at Lancer–hmm, wonder if Teresa’s got any clothespins?”
Before Scott could ask why his sibling might need clothespins, the gunfighter was already on Barranca and half-way down the street.
Shaking his head at his brother’s eccentricities, Scott politely offered his arm to the young lady.
Unfortunately, Dr. Horace Norton’s dedication to the Hippocratic Oath left much to be desired. As soon as Scott informed him of the girl’s need, he had tried to rush her out of his office. He had no intention of riding the three miles out of town to take care of an old Chinese man who probably could not afford to pay him anyway!
Of course, the former army surgeon had not reckoned with Scott Lancer. In no uncertain terms, the Lancer scion informed the physician that he would indeed be attending the girl’s grandfather–and that he would certainly be paid. Scott could almost see the portly man drool at the coin he held up between his nimble fingers.
As a result, in only a few minutes a small procession consisting of Dr. Norton in his buggy, Shen Mei on the swaybacked horse she had entered town upon, and Scott Lancer left town to make the three mile ride of mercy.
Coming upon the tattered wagon that Shen Mei and her grandfather called home, the doctor cautiously made his way inside, careful not to touch anymore than he had to. Giving the old man a cursory exam, with Scott and Shen Mei watching, put the doctor into a cold sweat that reminded him of the time his hospital had come under shell fire.
Finally, he wiped his hands and turned to Scott. “The old man has a touch of pneumonia. This wagon is so draughty, he’s lucky it’s not worse. She should keep him warm and give him lots of fluids. Don’t let him lie down too much and make sure he coughs. Tell her that will you?”
Shen Mei cleared her throat, and in a most pleasing voice thanked the doctor. His look of surprise at her fluent English said everything. Grabbing the coin which Scott held up, the doctor fled the wagon to return to town.
After speaking to her grandfather in rapid Chinese, the girl turned back to Scott, “I am going to make my grandfather a cup of tea. Would you join us?”
“I’d like that. By the way, my name is Scott Lancer.”
“Mine is Shen Mei and that is my honorable grandfather, Shen Joi. We are heading to join some family members near Auburn.”
“Auburn? You’ve got a long way to go.”
“Unfortunately, that is true, but we have come still farther.”
While Shen Mei prepared the tea, she told the blond a little of the travails that the two had endured in the last months. “We lived in the Los Angles area, but after the riots in October, my grandfather decided that it would be safer to be nearer our family who settled there while working on the railroad.”
“I read something about that riot in the paper. A lot of your people were killed, weren’t they?”
“Nineteen I believe. Unhappily, many Americans do not welcome us to their towns.”
Sipping at his tea, Scott just nodded.
“I must go in now and make sure that grandfather has his tea. Please wait here. I will return quickly.”
“Take your time. This tea is excellent.”
The girl gave him a tiny smile.
Staring into the fire, Scott remembered the times during the War when a fire was all that he had had to keep him warm. Sometimes on those cold nights, he’d ask himself why he had left the safety of Boston to fight. Most of the time he knew the answer, but once in awhile the reason seemed illusory.
Suddenly out of the darkness, a compact figure sprang, knocking Scott to the ground. Before the former cavalryman could do anything, he found a sharp blade at his throat and two coal-black eyes staring into his.
Climbing out of the wagon, Shen Mei quickly took in the situation and shouted in Chinese to the figure holding the blade to stop what he was doing. The figure stayed where he was and only grunted at the girl.
This brought on a new flood of the Chinese tongue until finally, the young man stepped back and let Scott get to his feet.
An embarrassed Shen Mei explained, “Mr. Lancer, please forgive Feng Chih. He did not realize you were a friend.”
Rubbing at his throat, the blond cautiously glanced at the intense young man who still held the knife. “Uh, well, that’s all right, I guess. Who is he? Your brother?”
“No, he is my fiance as the Americans say.”
“You’re going to marry him?”
“It was arranged many years ago so when we left Los Angeles, he decided to honor the agreement and come with us.”
“Arranged? You don’t have to do that, you know.”
“Oh, but I do. My family is not wealthy and Feng Chih has honored our family.”
“But. . . .”
A wry smile crossed the girl’s face, “Please, Mr. Lancer, do not judge him by this. I am very fond of Feng Chih and I am pleased that we will be able to marry when we reach Auburn.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“We would have been there already, but Grandfather took ill and none of our traditional medicines seemed to help. That is why I rode in to find a doctor.”
“Well, he wasn’t much help.”
“But still it was kind of you to pay for his services.”
Feng Chih interrupted with a growling sound and a few words. Replying, in a short burst, Sheng Mei looked at the blond with an apology in her eyes. “My fiance has reminded me that we must make an early start tomorrow so perhaps I should say goodnight.”
“Uh, you’re right. I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to my brother.”
“Your brother? You mean the man with the black hair and blue eyes?”
That’s Johnny. We’re half-brothers.”
“Oh, I see. That is why there is no resemblance.”
“His mother was from Mexico and mine was from Boston.”
“Your father married a woman from another culture?”
“Johnny’s not. . . .”
She held up a slender hand in apology. “Please, Mr. Lancer, I meant no offense. I had no idea that your brother was not of the same background as you, but then Americans tend to look the same to me. Just as many of us from the Orient look the same to the white race. Until we came to your beautiful land, I had never even met a white person except for the missionary who taught me English.”
“I guess there’s a lot for all of us to learn.”
“You are most correct, and one pleasant thing I have learned is that there are some good people in California such as yourself and that gives me hope.”
“I wish you and your grandfather a safe trip to Auburn.”
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer, and I hope the same for your trip home.”
Two days later, a very tired, dirty and sweaty Scott Lancer rode under the great gate of the white hacienda. Before he could even dismount, a grinning Johnny Madrid walked out of the house, with a clothespin on his nose. “Bath’s all yours, Brother!”
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