Sequel to Alternatives
Murdoch Lancer rode over the hill which formed a natural boundary between Lancer and the former ranch that had belonged to George Young. When Johnny had ridden back to the white hacienda to inform his father about his encounter with Scott Lancer, the tall man had reacted in confusion. Somehow, he had never imagined that he would see his older son this soon, especially after learning about the paper that Scott had signed giving up any claim to Lancer.
Approaching Fortune’s Escape, Murdoch immediately noted that money had been spent recently on a new corral. George Young had been a notorious miser and resented the expenditure of every nickel and dime on his ranch. The house had been even worse. During the night that Murdoch had spent with the Young’s, the wind had moaned through the rickety frame so much that the tall man had been afraid the house might fall down around his ears. So, it was surprising to see two hands expertly repairing the posts that held up the porch roof. Obviously, Dan Cassidy intended to make something of his investment.
As soon as Murdoch knocked on the door, a tall, lean woman, wearing a snow-white apron, opened it. “Please come in, Mr. Lancer. Scott isn’t here right now, but he should be back soon.”
Murdoch, who had removed his hat, entered and turned to look at the austere woman. “Excuse me, M’am, but have we met?”
“Not exactly. I saw you once when you visited Scott in Boston.”
“That was . . .many years ago. You have an excellent memory.”
“Mr. Lancer, Scott is very important to me since I have known him for most of his life so I do not think it’s unusual that I would remember his father the one time he visited.”
“You worked for Harlan Garrett?”
“My name is Sarah Nicholson. Mr. Garrett hired me to take care of Scott when he was small. I stayed with them until Scott went away to war.”
“I see. So, you must know Scott quite well?”
The tall woman nodded. “We became quite close during those years. When his grandfather passed away, I suggested to Scott that he might want to visit me in California.”
The rancher’s gray eyes opened wide. “You. . .you mean, he didn’t intend to come out here so he could visit Lancer and get to know his family?”
“That’s not quite what I meant. I suggested that he might want to visit me and in his return letter, he mentioned that he would take the opportunity to stop at Lancer and meet you.”
Murdoch shifted nervously on the hard wooden chair. “So, he really never intended to stay with us?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer. I have no idea what Scott intended in regard to Lancer. I do know he was surprised to discover that he had a half-brother. Other than that I couldn’t say for sure. Happily for me, Mr. Cassidy offered both of us the chance to make a home here at Fortune’s Escape.”
“Did. . .did he tell you what happened while he was staying with us?”
“Are you referring to the mine shaft?”
“Yes. I regret that incident. It should never have happened, but I’m afraid it has influenced Scott’s thinking about Lancer.”
“Oh, I think you’re wrong there. I believe Scott understood its motivation.”
“Are you saying that Scott knows who did that. . .that outrage? He said he didn’t.”
“I don’t believe he knows a name, but I suggest that you talk with him if you have anymore questions. Now, I believe that I will make some coffee. Scott should be here any minute and he always enjoys a cup of coffee and some cookies when he returns. Could I offer you a cup as well?”
Nonplused by the forthright lady, Murdoch Lancer accepted the offer of coffee.
By the time the coffee was ready, both SPIN and Murdoch heard the approach of a horse. Looking out through the window, the rancher saw his blond son on the back of the chestnut.
Scott Lancer evinced no surprise when he entered and found his father sitting at the wooden table with the lace tablecloth. “Good afternoon, Sir. I assume Johnny told you about my being here?”
“Now, Scott, you’ll have plenty of time to talk to Mr. Lancer. Sit down and have some coffee first.”
“Thanks, SPIN. Good to see that the hands are finally getting this house fixed up. I was sure it was going to fall down first.”
“Yes, I noticed that work has been done here. George Young was a real miser. He hated to spend money on anything. I always felt sorry for his sister, Miriam. The poor woman had to make do with so little. Does Mr. Cassidy intend to live here eventually?” inquired Murdoch.
“No, he and his wife Sarah, have another place. We became friends during the war so when I ran into him while I was visiting SPIN in San Francisco, he mentioned that he was looking for a ranch to buy for investment purposes. After he bought the Young ranch, he asked me to take over as foreman.”
“Weren’t you surprised? I mean, it’s not like you’ve had lots of experience?”
Crystalline blue eyes looked directly into the other man’s face. “Dan trusts me to take care of his investment and fortunately, there are some very capable hands here who are interested in making a go of this ranch, now that they are receiving decent wages.”
Murdoch could see the determination in the handsome face. “Well, I wish you well. This sale was certainly providential for us at Lancer.”
The cerulean eyes flickered slightly. “So, I understand.”
“Excuse me, Scott dear, but I think I’ll go out and collect some eggs. I’m sure you and Mr. Lancer have a great deal to discuss.”
“Of course, SPIN. Why don’t you have a lie-down after that? You work too hard.”
“Scott Preston Lancer, I can still hold my own on a ranch. Compared to nursing in a field hospital, this is nothing!”
The blond stood up to give her a kiss on the forehead. “I know you’re one tough lady, but I want you with me for a long time so that’s an order—take a rest!”
“You are just like your grandfather at times!”
“Thanks for the compliment, now go collect your eggs. Uh, by the way, what’s for dinner?”
“Leg of lamb. Roast potatoes, parsnips and carrots with a lemon cake for dessert.”
“Sounds delicious and I am starving!”
Murdoch watched them with interest. The affection between the two was obvious.
As soon as SPIN left, Murdoch commented, “Miss Nicholson seems quite formidable. What did she mean about a field hospital?”
“After I went into the cavalry, she volunteered to do some nursing in the Union Army. After the war, she went back to Boston for awhile, but then decided to move to the San Francisco area. We kept in contact by letter, but I was determined to see her when I came out here.”
“So I understand. Uh, Scott, when Johnny told me about your being here, I was astonished. If you wanted to live on a ranch, why didn’t you just stay with us? You’d have been welcome.”
“Mr. Lancer, I said right at the beginning that I only intended to visit. I thought it was time I met you and learn more about. . .where my mother made her last home.”
The tall man hesitated then got down to the point of his visit. “Johnny and I talked about what happened to you in the mine shaft. He appreciated the fact that you didn’t suspect him.”
“As I said before, that wasn’t his style. Mr. Lancer, please tell Johnny that I understood why he resented my being at Lancer. I would never have visited if I had known about his existence. He was only protecting what he values most.”
“That’s generous of you, but obviously the man in the mine shaft went too far. Are you sure you don’t have any idea who it was?”
“Mr. Lancer, frankly even if I did have a name, I don’t believe it would serve any purpose to tell you what it is.”
“But why not? I’d think you’d want to see justice done.”
“Justice is a fine and noble thing in the abstract, but in reality, it can have worse consequences than the original act. Let’s just say that I would prefer to forget about what happened in that shaft. I don’t believe that the man or men will continue their campaign since I am no longer a threat.”
Reluctantly, the rancher conceded the point. “I’m not sure I agree with you, but I suppose it should be your decision.”
“Good. Now, could I pour another cup of coffee for you?”
“Well, just a half cup more. Miss Nicholson certainly makes excellent cookies.”
“SPIN is a woman of many talents. After I grew too old for a nanny, she took over as the housekeeper. We spent many hours together talking about all the things she’s done in her life as well as about my hopes and dreams for the future. She’s a most understanding woman.”
Murdoch took a sip of the steaming brew before clearing his throat and remarking, “Scott, I realize that you must have wondered why I didn’t. . .contact you during the years you were in Boston. I just hope you’ll give us the chance to become acquainted now.”
Steel blue eyes gazed upon the older man’s lined face. “Are you sure you really want to?”
“Certainly. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Mr. Lancer, let me make my position clear. For many years I was quite hurt by your indifference to my welfare. In fact for a time, I believe I hated you.” Murdoch flinched as Scott continued. “Then gradually, that changed as I began to believe that it was my fault that you didn’t write or come to see me. After all, I did cause my mother’s death, however, I finally dismissed that idea as well. It wasn’t until I arrived at Lancer, that I recognized the truth. You simply didn’t need me. You had Lancer, Johnny and Teresa. An extra son was superfluous.”
The big man’s mouth dropped open. “That’s. . .that’s not true!”
“Isn’t it? You had what you needed for a contented life and I would have only been a disruption to that life.”
Murdoch started to protest again.
“Please, Sir, it was obvious from the week I stayed at Lancer that I didn’t fit in. The three of you have a wonderful life together and believe me I wish you well. Hopefully, we can learn to be comfortable together as neighbors. You and Johnny are always welcome to visit here.”
“You. . .you don’t intend to visit Lancer at all?”
“If you ask me to, of course, but I think we should keep it to a minimum. I believe that one day Johnny and I can be friends, but I see no reason to flaunt our relationship in his face. He’s had a lot to adjust to in a very short time.”
“So that’s it then? You’re in charge?”
Scott gave his father a small smile. “I think we’ll all feel more comfortable if we are realistic in our expectations. Perhaps one day a true family relationship can develop, but twenty-five years can’t be forgotten in one week or a month or even a year.”
Murdoch Lancer sighed. “Perhaps, you’re right. I. . .I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I rode up here. You’re obviously a self-reliant young man, but I suppose that would only be natural for Harlan Garrett’s heir.”
“Oh, I do have my moments of despair, like in that. . .that mine shaft, but I have always tried to face my weaknesses and carry on.”
“Well, there’s not much more to be said, is there? It’s getting late so I’d better head back to Lancer.”
“You could say that you, Johnny and Teresa will come to dinner on Sunday. SPIN is planning to make chicken and noodles, buttered string beans, and an angel food cake.”
Murdoch quickly licked his lips. “I guess we could make it. What time?”
“About 4:00. Oh, and please tell Johnny to bring the checkerboard with him?”
Murdoch grinned. “I will. Maybe you and I can have a game too?”
“Certainly. Just don’t agree to play with SPIN. She’s a checkers hustler!”
Murdoch Lancer was still laughing when he walked outside to mount his horse. Waving to his blond son, he rode over the hill that marked the boundary between the properties.
Scott stood there on the porch gazing after his father for some time. Maybe there was still a chance that he could create some kind of relationship with the other two Lancers. Even as that hope formed, Scott’s slender body shivered at the memory of the dark eyes that had stared at him with such contempt at Lancer. After hearing the same voice of his mysterious captor at the door to his room, Scott had made an effort to wander about listening to the voices of the ranch hands. Finally, he had heard the voice—speaking to the man with a dark face. Since only the black eyes of the man had been visible, the blond had not been sure of the man’s identity, but there was no mistaking the hatred in those challenging orbs.
Hearing a noise in the kitchen, Scott shrugged off his misgiving as he went inside to help SPIN begin to prepare their dinner.
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