#2 of a duology, preceded by Words On A Page
Word count: 4,461
April 8, 1873
“Johnny, I’m counting on you and Scott to take care of the ranch while Teresa and I are visiting the Henderson’s. We should be back in a
“No problem, Murdoch. I’ll keep an eye on Scott so he doesn’t laze around. In fact, I think we should go into town today to pick up those supplies and then we won’t have to leave again until you get back,” suggested the brunet.
“Well, I suppose that’s a good idea, but try not to get into trouble. I am counting on you.”
“Aw, Murdoch, me ‘n Scott have been here three years now, don’t you think you could cut us some slack?”
The tall man almost snorted. “Johnny, you have a talent for getting into trouble.” When the younger man started to protest, his father held up his hand to stop him. “Johnny, I know that it hasn’t always been your fault, but you have to admit that you never walk away from it either.”
The smaller man grinned at the rancher, “You gotta point there ‘course I don’t suppose you’d be too proud of me if I did.”
Murdoch nodded his head in acknowledgement. “Maybe, but I’m just concerned that one of these days you’ll bite off more than you can chew. Just try to curb some of that impetuosity while I’m gone, okay?”
“Did you tell Scott the same thing?”
“Do I need to?”
“No, I s’pose not. Not much gets him riled.”
Murdoch looked at his son intently. “Johnny, I’m not saying that I understand Scott even after three years, but I do know one thing–when he cares about something or someone, there is nothing he wouldn’t do to protect them.”
“Yeah, I guess. He sure can be a close-mouthed hombre at times.”
“Perhaps he’s learned that words once spoken can never be taken back.”
“Johnny, I admit that there have been times when I should have kept my mouth closed, especially when you were first here. You and I butted heads too much, but I hope we’ve finally reached some kind of understanding.”
Sheepishly, the younger man confessed, “S’pect I gotta take the blame for part of that. Kinda had a chip on my shoulder when I got here.”
“We both made mistakes, Son. Now, Teresa and I better get on the road. I want to be at the Henderson’s in time for dinner. You know what a good cook Mary is.”
“Sure is and pretty too.”
“That is certainly true. We’ll see you in a week.”
Johnny watched as his father and Teresa climbed into the buggy and left for the Double H. Fortunately, the young woman had made some food for the two young men and had left it in the cool larder. At least they wouldn’t starve while she was gone. Not that Johnny couldn’t cook if he had to, but in the past three years he had become spoiled by the soft beds, plentiful food and having a permanent roof over his head.
“Did they get off okay?”
Johnny looked over to see his brother walking towards him from the stable. “Yeah, you ready to go into town?”
“I have the buckboard ready and Barranca saddled.”
“Barranca? The dark-haired man questioned.
“Come now, Johnny, I know you by now. You intend to stay in town overnight, don’t you?”
The brunet grinned. “Well, I was gonna suggest it; but if my older brother needs help getting’ those supplies back, I sure can sacrifice my pleasure to help him out!”
“Tell me another one, Little Brother. I don’t mind if you stay the night, but try to get back before noon tomorrow. There is a lot of work to do around here and I’m not going to be the one to tell Murdoch that we didn’t get it all done!”
“You’re gettin’ as grim as old lady Logan, Scott. Why don’t you stay in town with me? We can head over to the saloon, play poker, have a little fun.”
“And have your latest lady love on my back for keeping you away from her? I value my hide too much for that. That Conchita has a temper!”
“She surely does. Did you know she threw a skillet at me once?”
“A skillet? What did you do?”
“Aw, I forgot to take her somethin’ for her birthday. How was I supposed to remember hers?”
“Hmm! I suppose it is difficult when there are so many to remember, but we’d better get going. I have several things I need to do.”
“Uh, Scott, can you do me a favor?”
“Sure, how much do you need?”
“T’ain’t money! Will you pick up the mail? You know Mrs. Logan can’t take my drinkin’!”
“Johnny, why can’t you remember to get the mail before you stop at the saloon?”
“‘Cause my throat gets awful parched on that dusty road to town!”
The blond Lancer gave a small sigh. “All right, I’ll pick up the mail then I’ll meet you at the saloon.”
“Great! Knew I could count on you.” Johnny hesitated, then asked, “You okay, Boston?”
“I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“You been awful quiet the past coupla days ‘n well, you look like you ain’t been sleepin’ too good.”
“It’s just a headache. I’m fine. Now, let’s go.”
With Scott at the reins of the buckboard and Johnny atop Barranca, the two men made their way into town. Their first stop was the general store where they dropped off the list of needed supplies. After that, the two young men split up with Johnny heading towards Conchita’s house while Scott stopped by Tim Barton’s carpenter shop to pick up two items that he had commissioned from the talented man. From there he went over to the small building which constituted the post office. Entering, he found the small woman who acted as postmistress and who tended to deliver lectures on the evil of drink at the same time.
“Good morning, Mrs. Logan. I’ve come for our mail.”
The white-haired woman handed over the Lancer mail. “Not too much for you today, Scott, except the one from Boston. Isn’t your grandfather there? I hope he’s not sick.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Mrs. Logan,” but the young man hurriedly opened the letter since he recognized the familiar handwriting. Scanning the letter quickly, he felt like the breath had been knocked from his body as his head began to swirl.
“Scott? What’s the matter?” From a long way away, he heard Mrs. Logan’s concerned voice and her hand on his head urging him to lean over. As he did so, the dizzy feeling began to fade.
Still concerned because of Scott’s extreme pallor, the austere woman led the young man over to a chair near the stove. “Sit down, young man. Should I go get Johnny? He is in town, isn’t he?”
“No! I mean, he’s in town, but don’t bother him. I. . .I’m all right. I guess I just got dizzy.”
“Scott Lancer, I wasn’t born yesterday. Looks like you got some bad news in that letter.”
“Mrs. Logan, I appreciate your concern, but really, I’m all right.”
Hands on her ample hips, the postmistress just shook her head. “I always thought you had more sense than most men–even if you do partake of that evil liquid–anybody with eyes in their head can see you’ve just had a blow!”
A slight smile curved the pale lips. “Well, I suppose you’re right, but not the kind you mean.” Taking his feet, the blond gave the small woman a hug. “I have to go pick up our supplies, but thank you for caring about me.”
With just a suspicion of moisture in her dark eyes, Adela Logan patted Scott on the back. “It’s not hard to care about a good man like you, Scott. I just wish me and one of my husbands could have had a son like you.”
“Thank you for saying that. I’ll see you next week.”
“‘Goodbye, Scott. Take care of yourself.”
After pocketing the letter from Harlan Garrett, Scott slowly moved towards the saloon. It wasn’t likely that Johnny would be there yet so there was no point in hurrying. However, to his surprise his dark-haired sibling was waiting for him at a table with two beers in front of him. “Hey there, Boston. Good thing you got here, I was just about to drink your beer too.”
“What’s the matter, Johnny? Did Conchita get wise to your flirtatious ways and shut the door in your face?”
“You gotta be kiddin’. Nah, she’s got some relatives visitin’ so she told me to meet her over at the cantina in about an hour. Gives us just time to drink down some of this golden brew.” As if to reiterate his point, the brunet took a huge gulp which left a small foam mustache on his upper lip. “Ahh! That is good.”
Scott gave him a smile, but didn’t say anything before taking a sip of his own drink.
“Did I get any mail?”
“No love letters this time, Brother. You should have seen the look Mrs. Logan gave me the last time I picked up the mail and some of your letters positively reeked of eau de cologne.”
“The ladies are just bein’ romantic. You should try it sometime.”
“I leave that to you, Johnny. You’re the resident expert at women, guns and horses. Speaking of horses, I’m going over to pick up the supplies now. See you back at Lancer tomorrow.”
“Why not stay awhile longer? You haven’t even finished your beer.”
“My. . .my headache’s getting worse so I’d like to get back and lie down. Have a good time with Conchita–and watch out for those relatives of hers!”
“No problem. I think most of them are females! Think I’ll play a little poker while I’m waitin’. See you tomorrow.” Johnny reassured the older man.
The drive back to Lancer seemed to take an eternity, but finally Scott drove under the great gate and found a couple of hands to help him unload the supplies. Only then did he allow himself the luxury of going into his room where Scott once again read the letter from his grandfather. Each word seemed to burn its way into his memory. Finally, he carefully put it back into its envelope before taking out the metal box where he kept a few personal items, including the journal that he wrote in from time to time. Putting the letter into the box, he withdrew the journal then leaned back against the headboard and began to write.
April 9, 1873
Johnny Madrid Lancer walked across the street. After a delightful evening with Conchita, he knew that it was time for him to collect Barranca for the ride back to Lancer. He knew that Scott wouldn’t care if he was a bit late, and his older brother certainly wouldn’t tell Murdoch that the brunet had stayed in town overnight; but he still felt slightly guilty about letting the blond take the supplies back by himself. After all, his father had said that he was counting on him, and he really didn’t want to let the old man down–much.
“Johnny! Johnny Lancer!”
The gunfighter turned to see Adela Logan marching across the street towards him. This did not look good, but at least he hadn’t had a drink this morning.
“Johnny, how’s Scott?”
“Uh, he’s fine, Mrs. Logan. He went back to Lancer.”
“You mean you let him go back by himself?”
“I don’t understand what you mean. He wanted to get the supplies back to the ranch. I’m headin’ back now.”
“Good. I. . .I was just concerned when he almost passed out at the post office.”
“Yes, Scott received some kind of letter from Boston and then he got real pale and I was afraid he would pass out. I asked him if he wanted me to get you, but he said he didn’t want to bother you.”
Johnny stood there silently for a moment. “He was okay when I saw him so it must have nothin’ after all, but I ‘ppreciate you tellin’ me.”
“You’re welcome. He’s. . .he’s a fine boy. You both are. Murdoch Lancer is a lucky man. Now, I’d better get back to the post office.” She then scurried off.
Knowing that the lady was probably embarrassed by her words of praise, Johnny said nothing more, but went straight to the livery stable to pick
up Barranca. The ride back to the white hacienda seemed to take much longer than usual.
The ominous words about a letter from Boston kept echoing in Johnny’s mind. If the letter had been from Harlan Garrett, did the old man intend to try once again to convince Scott to move back east? Garrett’s one visit to Lancer had almost ended in disaster, but from the little that Scott had said afterwards, he knew that the blond had made his peace with the man from Boston.
Truthfully, Johnny didn’t understand the bond that Scott had with the irascible man, but then there were some people who would not understand the love that Johnny still had for his mother. He knew that many people saw her as little better than a whore, but they did not know her as he did. Perhaps the same could be said of Scott and his grandfather. One thing that Johnny had learned in the past three years was that things were rarely all black or white.
Gratefully, the young man finally rode under the great gate and came to a halt in front of the hacienda. Entering, he went straight to Scott’s room. To his dismay, the young man wasn’t there nor was he anywhere in the house. Going outside, he stopped one of the vaqueros to ask if Scott had returned yesterday. When assured that he had done so, Johnny then asked if anyone had seen him this particular morning.
One of the hands, who was standing nearby replied, that he had indeed spotted Senor Scott riding away from Lancer just at first light. He did not know his destination, but that he had headed north towards the old Tate ranch. Thanking the man, Johnny went back inside the house.
Pacing restlessly around the great room, Johnny could think of no good reason for Scott to be at the Tate place, but of course, his brother didn’t tell him everything. After a few moments of indecision, Johnny’s curiosity won out. He would ride up north and see if he could locate his brother. Putting his plan into action, the dark-haired Lancer scion put Barranca into the stable and chose another horse. He preferred the palomino, but knew the horse would be tired after the ride from town. Heading out at a canter, Johnny Madrid headed north on his brother’s trail.
By the time he had progressed some miles, he knew that this might be a forlorn task. The north range was huge and the blond could be almost
anywhere. Still, he decided to keep going. As Murdoch Lancer had observed, Johnny did not like to walk away from things–even if sometimes it would be better to do so.
On an inspiration, Johnny decided to stop by the Traveler’s Rest Cemetery, an old burial site built by early settlers in the valley. For the past year Scott had become a regular visitor to the grave of his friend and former nanny, Sarah Nicholson. Almost a year ago, the blond had gone all the way to Boston to recover the body of the tall woman so that she could rest in soil near Lancer. Although Scott had spoken little of the formidable woman, it was obvious to Johnny that Miss Nicholson had played an important part in Scott’s life so it wasn’t surprising that he would feel drawn to her last resting place.
Reining in just outside the gate, Johnny dismounted and entered to find the man he was looking for. Scott Lancer sat on his jacket near the grave of Sarah Nicholson which was covered in a profusion of wild flowers. In his hand was the small volume he used as a journal. So intent was Scott on writing his words that he didn’t even notice his brother’s appearance. Johnny stood there silently for a moment, just watching the blond before he quietly approached. “Scott, it’s kinda chilly for you to be just sittin’ out here, ain’t it?”
Cerulean eyes turned to focus on sapphire ones. “Hi, Johnny. What are you doing out this way?”
“Mrs. Logan was worried about you. She said somethin’ about you bein’ dizzy.”
“That? Oh, that was nothing. I’m sorry she was concerned.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re okay, but why don’t you come back to Lancer with me? You look like you’re freezin’. I know it’s April, but it’s still cold.”
“I’m fine and I have to finish my entry,” Scott reassured his brother.
“It’s April 9. I always make an entry on this day–and today I needed to write more.”
“Scott, can’t you do that back at home? Even if you’re not cold, I am.”
The blond man looked at the dark man intensely. “All right, Johnny, but I need to do something first.” Taking a small package out of his saddlebags, Scott unwrapped it and stuck the wooden figure into the soil of the grave.
“Today is SPIN’s 63rd birthday. I know how much she likes. . .liked flowers and they always wilt so fast that I asked Tim Barton to carve this for her.”
“Looks like some kind of daisy.”
“You’ve got a good eye, Brother. It was SPIN’s favorite flower. I remember her telling me how she would collect daisies when she was young and then she and Constance would play that game: ‘He loves me; he loves me not.’ She said that it almost always came up negatively so I wanted to make sure that would never be true again.”
Johnny picked up the small flower and gazed at one of the petals. On it, carved in very small letters, was “He loves you.” Handing it back to Scott, Johnny, in a soft voice, assured the blond, “I’m sure she knew you loved her. I’m glad that you had each other.”
Scott nodded. “That’s why I was so sure she. . .she wouldn’t leave me alone.” A shudder ran through the older man’s slim body.
“Come on, Scott, let’s go back. Murdoch will be furious if we come down with pneumonia.”
“I suppose you’re right. A cup of coffee would taste good.”
The trip back to Lancer took an hour or so, but the sun had risen high in the sky so the two men began to warm up rapidly. As soon as they reached the stable, Johnny volunteered to take care of their horses while Scott went in to change into dry jeans. By the time the blond Lancer emerged, there were two mugs of coffee and some of Teresa’s cookies on the kitchen table. Scott eagerly drained his cup, even though the beverage was scalding hot. “You’re getting much better at your coffee making, Little Brother. Usually it’s so strong, that it could walk to Morro Coyo.”
“Speakin’ of Morro Coyo, Mrs. Logan mentioned you got some kinda letter from Boston. Was it from your grandfather?”
Scott’s cold hands clenched around the still-warm mug. “Yes.”
“Does he still want you to go back to Boston?”
“I guess so, but that’s not what the letter’s about.”
Johnny sat there trying not to fidget, waiting for Scott to tell him about the contents of the note.
With a sigh, Scott set the mug on the table, leaned back in the chair, and focused on his brother. “Do you remember a year or so ago when I
received the newspaper article and letter announcing SPIN’s death? I didn’t tell you all of it. Mrs. Cunningham said that SPIN had killed herself, using laudanum.”
“Did she know why?”
“She only said it was because SPIN had written some letters to the editor which aroused some reprisals. I. . .I couldn’t believe that SPIN would ever kill herself. She was a very strong woman, and. . .and I thought she cared too much about me to. . .to hurt me that way. For the past year I’ve been haunted by the idea that I could have done something to help her. She needed me and I let her down.”
Johnny could hear the anguish in that admission, but wasn’t sure what to say.
“Anyway, I finally decided to write to my grandfather. I asked him to use his influence to find out the truth. I needed to know what happened to SPIN. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t ask her to come out to California when I had the chance. She loved the West and I think she would have been happy here.”
“You mean at Lancer?”
“No, of course not. She. . .I would have made sure she had her own place. She was a very independent woman, but we could have seen each
other occasionally. I think you would have liked her. She was quite outspoken, but I was her one weakness.” Scott grinned at that admission. “She was always trying to help women and the less fortunate. In fact, that’s what caused her death.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Grandfather hired some Pinkertons. Like me, he didn’t believe that SPIN would commit suicide, but didn’t question the coroner’s verdict at the time. After I asked him to check into it, he spared no expense to find out what the truth was. Finally, after a year, a Pinkerton found proof that she didn’t kill herself, but was murdered by a doctor who was nothing more than a quack. It seems that he specialized in bilking poor women of the few dollars they had. Most of the time he just gave them sugar water as medicine. Many of them died as a result. Somehow, SPIN found out from one of the women and I suppose she was going to inform the police. The doctor had her killed by using laudanum so it would look like suicide.”
“My God, what a bastard!”
“Exactly. Ironically, the doctor chose laudanum as a way out of being prosecuted.”
“I ‘s’pose it’s not much comfort, but I guess it’s better ‘n thinkin’ she took her own life.”
The blond nodded. “I still feel like I should have been there to help her fight the man, but at least I know. . .I know she didn’t leave me of her own free choice.”
“Well, maybe now she can rest in peace.”
“I hope so. She deserves that now since she had so little of it in her life.”
“That may be true, but she also had you. I s’pect that mighta been enough.”
Scott gave his brother a huge smile. “I appreciate your saying that, Johnny. I’d like to think I gave her as much as she gave me. But speaking of giving things, I have something to give you.”
“Me? It ain’t my birthday.”
Scott walked into his room and returned with a paper-wrapped package. “Here. Happy Anniversary!”
“Exactly three years ago today I got off a stage and started a brand new life so I thought it was only appropriate to give you a present to acknowledge your part in that life.”
Speechless, Johnny ripped open the package. A wooden horse emerged–a wooden horse stained golden brown. “Barranca!” Johnny gasped.
“That’s right. Tim Barton went over to the livery stable in Spanish Wells and made some drawings of Barranca while you were visiting some lady friends. I. . .I picked this pose because it reminded me of that time I took him over the corral fence. I guess neither of us ever expected to get to this point in time what with Pardee and all.”
Johnny looked down at the figure in his hands. The golden horse seemed to be almost in flight. “I’m. . .I’m gonna go put him in my room, right beside my bed. I. . .thanks, Scott. I didn’t even remember ’bout today.”
“It’s okay, Little Brother. There will be plenty of other anniversaries for you to remember.”
“Well, the least I can do is make dinner tonight. Whattya say to some of my world-famous tamales? I know you like ’em.”
“That’ll be great. I’ll be looking forward to dinner. Uh, would you mind if I went in to lie down for awhile? I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Sure, sure. I work better alone in the kitchen. Don’t want nobody stiflin’ my style.”
“No one could do that, Johnny!”
“‘S’pect you gotta point there. Now, you go lay down. I want you good and hungry for dinner.”
“Thanks. I’ll be out in a few hours.”
Scott Lancer walked into his bedroom to take out his journal before leaning back on the bed. He wanted to finish the day’s entry which Johnny’s arrival at the cemetery had interrupted:
April 9. 1873
Eight years ago today Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. I was in Libby Prison, hoping and praying that I would survive long enough to go home to Boston. God in his mercy granted my prayer so I was able to be with my grandfather again–and to see SPIN one more time.
My dear SPIN, Happy Birthday. I can only wish that you were really here for me to tell you that in person. I owe you so much for all the love you gave me in those years you were with us. I know there were times when you and Grandfather were at odds, but with the help of you both, I hope I have become a man you could be proud of.
Lancer is still an adventure, even after three years. I never know what is going to happen from one day to the next, but I keep trying to learn so maybe one day I’ll get it right.
Teresa is a wonderful friend and while I still have questions, I think Murdoch and I have finally reached some kind of understanding. Johnny is Johnny. Sometimes I cannot believe that I did not know or even know of him for all those years, but then there are other times when I don’t believe I will ever truly know him or that he will know me. Perhaps that is as it should be—that way the coming years will never be boring. Just as I prayed for freedom at Libby, now I can only pray that I never let any of them down.
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email S. directly.