Sequel to Obligations
*Includes the death of a major character.
The white-haired man halted the rented buggy on the high bluff, overlooking the great ranch below. As it had four years before, the white hacienda majestically filled the valley landscape, secure in the midst of its snow-capped peaks. Staring down for a long moment, the man put the horse into motion once again. He had not come this far to see a house, even one as impressive as Lancer. He had come to be with his grandson, Scott, on this his 30th birthday.
Moving down the road, Harlan Garrett shivered in spite of himself. Even though it was December, the temperature was still comfortable, unlike Boston which had already experienced frosty days and flakes of snow when he had left over a month before. The long days of travel had taxed his body, even allowing for short rest stops which he had taken in towns near the railroad. As uncomfortable as the train had been, the stagecoach, which had shaken his aging bones, had been worse. At times he would despair of ever reaching his goal, but then he would take out a small photograph from the breast pocket of his vest, stare at it for a moment, and go on.
Driving along at a satisfying pace, the slightly-stooped man allowed himself a measure of pride that he could still handle the reins. Garrett had not had much opportunity to do so in the last few years, but he was a man of determination. From his early days in Boston, Harlan Garrett had worked hard under his father-in-law’s guidance to make a name and reputation for himself in business. Through his wife’s influence, he had also taken a place in society, succeeding in learning its intricacies.
A year after Harlan’s marriage to Annabelle Preston, the two had been blessed with a daughter. If for one instant, Garrett had been disappointed at not having a male heir, the feeling had disappeared when he had taken the delicate girl into his arms for the first time. Her cloud of blonde curls and bewitching blue eyes touched his heart as no other person had ever done. After Garrett’s wife had died, Catherine had become his whole world–until the day when a tall Scot had taken her to the far-off adventure of California.
The two men, so different in appearance, had immediately taken account of each other. These were men used to getting their own way. If Garrett was the wealthier and had more prestige in Boston society, it was Lancer’s youth and untamed appeal which had caught the attention of Catherine Garrett. Lancer’s defiance of Harlan Garrett had only added to the allure of a new life in a primitive land. Realizing that mere words would not penetrate the cloud of rose-colored romance, Garrett had grudgingly allowed his daughter to leave, not knowing he would only see her again on her deathbed, along with the child who would become Catherine’s legacy to her father. That small babe with the blond hair and intense blue eyes had been the only reason the ruthless businessman had been able to carry on. He had fled in a haze of anguish, unable to see his beloved daughter laid to rest in the cold ground.
For months the old man had lived in apprehension that Murdoch Lancer would appear at his doorstep to claim the most important person in Garrett’s life. As the years passed, he began to realize that would not happen. It was obvious that Murdoch had more essential things in his life than the burden of a child to take care of. He had possibly even married again. Then on Scott’s fifth birthday, the tall rancher had shown up at the Garrett residence. Harlan could not understand why the dour Scot had chosen to visit then. Had he waited until the boy was at least at a more manageable age or did the rancher truly believe that he could ignore his son for five years and then just walk into the great mansion and Garrett would hand him over with his blessings? Whatever it had been, Harlan had known that the man would have no stomach for a fight. Murdoch had escaped, comforting himself in his self-righteousness that he had tried to do the best for his son, only to be vanquished by the power and money of Harlan Garrett. It was a myth that would last for more than twenty years.
During those intervening decades, war had come to tear apart the country and to rip away Garrett’s crusty facade. Just the thought of Scott’s slender body bleeding to death on some God-forsaken battlefield had driven the old man to use every means within his power to stop the young man from leaving, but in the end Harlan had known it was hopeless. Scott Lancer was his grandson and the son of another stubborn man. How could the Bostonian have expected any less? He had raised his heir with a sense of worth and desire to succeed, but the boy had become his own man and would back down to no one–just as Murdoch Lancer would not beg and his pride would not bend, not even for his own son.
Acknowledging his own mistakes during his previous visit to Lancer had not come easy to Harlan Garrett, but the thought that his act of desperation had almost cost Scotty’s life had been eye-opening. Once again, he had had to recognize that his grandson belonged to no one but himself. The businessman had returned to Boston determined to repair the damage that he had inadvertently caused in his relationship with Scott. He would give his grandson the time to discover for himself just what kind of man Murdoch Lancer truly was. At that moment, Scott needed to believe that his father cared about him. He didn’t want to see Murdoch as a man who let pride stand in the way of being with his sons.
Discovering that Murdoch Lancer had remarried and had sired another son had answered one of Garrett’s questions when it became evident that the rancher obviously had needed an heir. Harlan couldn’t help but wonder if Murdoch would even have bothered to visit Boston if his second son had remained at Lancer.
After carefully assessing the way Murdoch related to his sons, the white-haired curmudgeon decided to test the tall man by referring to Johnny Madrid as a “half-breed.” As expected, the Lancer patriarch had said nothing. There was room for only one passion in the rancher’s life–Lancer. No one–wife, child or friend–could ever replace that consuming obsession.
But the events of four years before no longer troubled Harlan Garrett as only one concern filled his mind on this December day. Relieved that he had finally reached his destination, Harlan Garrett pulled the carriage to a stop. He had taken great care to determine that the others would not be around. This time his visit would be successful.
Entering, he found his grandson. It didn’t seem possible that it had been thirty years since he had held that small blond baby for the first time. So much had happened in those three decades. Haltingly, Garrett confessed, “I brought you some presents for your birthday. I. . .I also wanted to make sure that you weren’t alone today. Please understand why I have to do this. All the necessary arrangements have been made.” Even though the words came out in a terse manner, they were heartfelt. Nothing mattered more to the old man than that he and his Scotty should be together again.
Hesitating only for an instant, Garrett took out the two small presents and a sheet of paper. “I had to know what happened, Scotty. The telegram only stated. . .that you. . .that you. . . . Laying down the two gifts with care, Harlan clutched the paper in his left hand. Looking down, Harlan Garrett calmly announced, “It’s time, Scotty. I love you.”
The shot echoed out over the small, sheltered field. Its report startled the horse, which Garrett had already unhitched, sending him into a mad race for home.
As the lifeless body dropped down onto the mound of brown earth, Harlan
Garrett’s fingers released the crumpled paper which had so broken his heart upon its arrival. In concise words the Pinkerton agent had filled in the requested details:
This is the report that you asked for. After interviewing several witnesses, this is as accurate as I am able to determine. On December 28 of last year, Scott, Murdoch, and John Lancer arrived at the town of Trench Gap to secure the bodies of two men. While the two younger Lancers were making arrangements for the exhumation of the men, Murdoch Lancer rode out to the ranch belonging to Grange Parker. I do not know what was discussed, but the only ranch hand who would talk to me, said that Lancer and Parker almost came to blows.
The older Lancer then rode back to town. An hour later after their wagon had been loaded, the three men started towards the saloon, presumably to have a drink, when a shot was fired at them. Lancer Senior grabbed his younger son, forcing him to the ground. Another shot was fired after which Murdoch and John Lancer jumped up and started firing back. Then, they pursued the shooter. Unfortunately, they were unable to track the person down.
Johnny Madrid returned to the scene of the shooting first where he found your grandson lying in the middle of the street. When Mr. Lancer returned, he discovered John holding Scott in his arms, trying to stop the bleeding. According to one of the witnesses, Scott’s last words were to his father. To the best of my knowledge the words were ‘Thanks for keeping your promise.’
Of course, I have no idea what that is in reference to. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your grandson. He was buried at Traveler’s Rest Cemetery, next to a Miss Sarah Nicholson.
T. Watkins, Agent”
The single sheet was picked up by the wind which carried it east until it fell into a small, peaceful lake, sinking out of sight.
Ten days later Johnny and Murdoch Lancer along with Teresa O’Brien returned to the ranch. They had spent two weeks in San Francisco for Johnny’s twenty-seventh birthday, but were now quite happy to be home.
The two young people had immediately headed to their rooms while the patriarch sat down at his desk for a moment, riffling through the mail that had been delivered. Picking up one of the envelopes, Murdoch puzzled at the unfamiliar writing. At first, the words didn’t register, but after reading them for a second time, the lined face took on a contented look.
The tall man just sat back in his chair for some time until a voice jarred him back to reality. “Murdoch, you wanna come out and have some coffee and cookies with Teresa and me?”
“Sure, I’ll be right out. . . .You know I’ve been thinking, Son. It’s only three days until a new year begins. What would you say about having a small party here for New Year’s Eve?”
“It would mean a lot of work.”
“I know, but I have a feeling that 1875 is going to be a wonderful year for Lancer so let’s go consult Teresa. I feel like celebrating.” Murdoch wrapped his arm around the shorter man as together they headed into the kitchen.
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