Word count: 1,622
Scott Lancer pulled up short as watched the familiar figure of his brother approach on his palomino. The older Lancer son had ridden out early that morning to check on the fencing. A tremendous windstorm the day before had played havoc with wire and posts which had seemed so solid only two days ago. Expecting Johnny to go with him, Scott had been surprised when Murdoch had asked his younger son to remain behind.
For an instant Scott had seen the trepidation in his brother sapphire eyes and had almost told him not to worry that Murdoch hadn’t found out about the money Johnny had lost at poker just the week before, but the small devil inside of the blond-haired man had whispered in his ear, “Let him worry a bit. Maybe he won’t be so eager to draw to an inside straight the next time.”
Whistling a tune, the easterner had instead walked out to the stable to collect Waterloo and start his inspection of the fences. The job was not difficult, but it was tedious and necessary. One section of a fence in disrepair could cost hours or even days of work rounding up the cantankerous beeves who insisted on their freedom. Better to do the job right rather than spend precious time looking for lost cattle, not to mention encountering the ire of a tall rancher who had little patience for slipshod work.
Scott’s heart fell when he saw the grim look on his brother’s face. Evidently Johnny had not liked what he had heard. Deciding to allow Johnny’s explosion before saying anything, the man on the bay just sat there waiting for the younger man to erupt.
It wasn’t long in coming although to his credit, it was obvious that Johnny was trying to keep his formidable temper under control. “Do you know what he wanted?” the dark-haired man hissed.
“I can guess.”
“I’m not gonna do it! He can’t make me and I refuse! It’s fine for you to get dressed up like one of them monkeys and stand there ’til your back aches, but not me!”
“Johnny,” Scott used his most soothing tone, “he only wants us to have a portrait made of the four of us. I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”
“Unreasonable? Do you know how long you have to stand there—without moving for God’s sake! Can you see me bein’ able to do that?”
Scott had to concede it would be difficult for the fidgety young man, but he didn’t let on to his own doubts on that score. “I’m sure the artist would give us breaks.”
“That’s not the point! This is a workin’ ranch! Who’s gonna’ to run it if we’re out standin’ in front of the house posed like statues?”
Scott smiled. “I’m sure Murdoch will be impressed by your dedication to your work, but I’m sure it won’t take that long and we do have ranch hands you know.”
Johnny snorted. “Don’t understand this need to have some fancy picture in oil paint. Why not one of them new-fangled photographs?”
“You have to stand still for awhile with those too!”
“Not for days on end! I’m not gonna do it! He’s got you, me and Teresa right here, why’s he want us to waste our time?”
Scott slipped one leg over his saddle and dismounted. “C’mon, let’s go sit under that tree and talk a bit. It’s hot right here.”
Mumbling to himself, Johnny followed his brother. “Okay, Boston , what do you wanna talk about, ’cause you’re not talkin’ me into this. I know that silver tongue of yours, but it’s not gonna work this time.”
After pulling his hat off and mopping his brow, Scott glanced over at his sibling who sat at his side. “Just exactly what did Murdoch tell you?”
“Not much. Just said he thought it’d be nice to have a picture. . .he called it a portrait of all of us, dressed up real nice. I asked if he meant I had to put on a suit and he said yes.”
“You’ve worn suits before, maybe not often but they’re not chastity belts!”
Johnny smirked at that one. “He knows better than to try that with me. Say, are you sure that some of those women had to wear them things like you were tellin’ me? What if the lock rusted shut or somethin’?”
“Just forget I mentioned chastity belts, brother. The point is Murdoch wants to remember us as he first saw us—when we came here to Lancer.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, he asked if I might know of an artist who would be willing to come here to Lancer and stay for the necessary time. I suggested he contact some of his friends in San Francisco . I think that’s what he intends to do.”
“But. . . .”
“Johnny, he didn’t tell me much more than that, except to say that he thought that someday his grandchildren might like to see what we looked like at this time.”
The gunfighter groaned, “Grandchildren. He’s always goin’ on about grandchildren. He’d just better not count on me givin’ him any, leastways not for awhile. ‘Course he could be right about you since you always seem to go along with what he wants.”
For an instant Scott felt anger start to burn inside, but he was determined to not lose his temper. “Johnny, I don’t go along with everything he wants, but I don’t deliberately go out of my way to antagonize him either! It’s taken some time, but I realize Murdoch Lancer is not likely to change a great deal just because he now has two sons living with him. He’ll always be the man in charge and butting my head against that is only going to give me a headache, however, I assure you I do not intend to just walk up to a female, propose and have babies to make him happy!”
Johnny giggled. “Guess you do need some female in there somewhere. I can just see it now. You take off your hat, bow to her and say, ‘Would you have my baby, m’am, so my father will be happy?'”
Scott punched Johnny in the arm. “Will you be serious? I think Murdoch has this idea that he’ll have a second chance with his grandchildren, somehow make things right for what he didn’t do when you and I were young.”
“Nothin’ll ever do that.”
“I know, but what else is there? He can’t go back to that night when you were two and keep you from going with your mother. He can’t go back to that day when I turned five and tell my grandfather that he’ll fight him no matter how long it takes.”
“Guess you could be right. It’s just I’m not sure what havin’ grandkids has to do with gettin’ stuffed into a suit and standin’ there for hours.”
The blond chuckled slightly. “I hate to break this to you, brother, but you and I are not always going to be as young and handsome as we are.” Scott winked at his companion. “One day we’ll have gray hair and wrinkles and we’ll be Murdoch’s age. Maybe he thinks we’ll be able to look up at that portrait and remember this time in our lives. After all, it didn’t have to happen. That Pinkerton man could have been five minutes too late. I could be buried somewhere in a nameless grave on a forgotten battlefield or Murdoch could have succumbed to Pardee’s bullet.”
“Yeah, could have happened that way or some gunslinger have been just a tad faster than me.”
“Exactly. Of course, I suppose it could be that he just wants to have a reminder of what he looks like now—the well-to-do landowner, sought-after by every widow or spinster in the valley.” Twinkling blue eyes focused on the man in the tomato-red shirt who was holding his sides, trying not to join in the laughter.
“Speakin’ of spinsters, did you know the Palmer sisters invited our esteemed father to have Sunday dinner with them? They told him that he must feel the need of more mature company at times. Told you they didn’t like me!” Johnny announced as he chortled with glee. He had had a run-in with the two elderly women over his “reckless” buggy driving which still rankled even after nearly two years.
“Nooo!” Scott drawled. “Tell me all the juicy details. Can’t see either one of them being our step-mama!” That set them both laughing.
The jocularity went on for a few more minutes, but finally the two hauled themselves to their feet. No one would be laughing if the fence inspection wasn’t completed. As soon as Johnny was in the saddle, he turned to confess, “Guess it won’t hurt me to get gussied up once and let that artist put me on canvas. Kinda wish I had somethin’ like that of my mother.”
“At least she’s there in your memory,” Scott reminded him.
“Always will be,” Johnny agreed. “What about your mother? Bet your grandfather has one of her.”
“Yes, he does. It hangs in his bedroom. Grandfather promised me that someday it will be mine, but I’m not in a big hurry. It’s strange, but even though I never saw her, I feel like I know my mother because Grandfather has told me so much about her.”
Johnny grinned. “Well, I guess old Murdoch can have his portrait, but he can forget about the grandkids—unless you want to give him some?”
“Not me, brother, I’ve got all I can do to put up with you!”
On a roar of laughter both men returned to work.
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