Word count: 1,184
“Uh, Murdoch, could I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure, Son. What’s up?”
Johnny Lancer fidgeted from one foot to the other. “Well…you see…uh…when I was in town, I got into this card game and….”
“How much did you lose?”
“Oh, it’s not that! I didn’t lose.”
Murdoch’s eyebrows arched. “So what’s the problem?”
“It’s who I won.”
For a minute Johnny was tempted to giggle at Murdoch’s owl impersonation, but thought better of it. “Yeah, there was this guy named Brant Tucker. He had three ladies and well, I just happened to have their mates. He couldn’t cover the bet so he gave me Malcolm to make up the difference.”
“Hey Malcolm, come in here!” called the brunet.
In walked a small man with thinning brown hair, an erect carriage, and twinkling, green eyes.
“Malcolm, this is my father Murdoch Lancer.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Lancer. Mr. Johnny has told me so much about you.”
Yes, well…Mr. Malcolm, I’m not sure how this happened, but obviously you are not obligated to my son.”
“Oh but I am, sir. You see, Mr. Tucker won me from my former employer, and now I owe my service to Mr. Johnny.”
“You’re not a slave!”
“Of course not!” Malcolm’s eyes flashed at that thought. “But I do have an obligation and as a gentleman, it is my duty to fulfill it.”
“Uh, I’m not sure I understand. What is it you do?”
“I am a gentleman’s gentleman–in short, a valet.”
Johnny exploded in laughter. “Me–with a valet!”
Murdoch frowned at his son. “Johnny, that’s enough. Turning to the other man, he said, “Mr. Malcolm, I don’t think my son needs a valet.”
For one moment Malcolm perused the former gunfighter. “I am not sure that I agree, sir, but of course, that is your choice. I can perform other services”
“I’ve been told that I’m an excellent chef. I am also willing to do domestic chores.”
At that moment, Teresa entered carrying a basket of laundry. “Clothes, clothes, clothes! How do you men make so many dirty….?” She stopped as she realized a stranger was present. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know we had company.”
Malcolm immediately went over to Teresa, taking the basket from her. “This is too heavy for you, Miss. Perhaps you’ll allow me to assist you?”
“Uh, well, uh.”
“Teresa, this is Mr. Malcolm. Johnny won him in poker.”
“Yes, Miss. Mr. Johnny, won my services for a month.”
“Teresa, you sound like an echo!”
“Be quiet, Johnny. Tell me Mr. Malcolm….”
“Just Malcolm, if you please.”
“Malcolm, just what services do you provide?”
“I can help a gentleman to dress correctly. (Teresa frowned.) or cook (The frown turned to a smile.) I can clean, polish silver and do windows.”
At that, Teresa broke into a huge grin. “Malcolm, you are more than welcome here.”
Johnny protested. “He’s mine!”
Teresa cowed him with one look. “Well now, he’s mine. Malcolm, would you mind helping me around the house for the one month you have left?”
“Of course not, Miss. A young lady such as yourself should have a social life, and not have to stay at home doing chores all of the time.”
Teresa was tempted to hug Malcolm but didn’t. “Oh Malcolm, you and I are going to get to get along fine.” With that she took the small man’s arm to lead him into the kitchen.
Johnny looked at Murdoch. Murdoch looked at Johnny. “Well Son, I guess Malcolm is staying–for a month.”
“Guess so. I’m sure glad I won that hand of poker.” he said with just a hint of sarcasm.
The next morning Johnny got up early. Fence mending was on the agenda–something he preferred to do before the heat became oppressive. Walking into the kitchen, the brunet noticed a wonderful smell.
“Ah Mr. Johnny, Miss Teresa said that you would be coming in early for breakfast. Sit down and I’ll dish up.”
Johnny looked at Malcolm. “Where’s Teresa?”
“I told her to feel free to sleep late in the morning while I’m here. And here is your breakfast.”
The younger man surveyed the heaping plate of bacon, eggs and something that looked a little like biscuits but was triangular in shape.
He bit into one. “Hey, these are good. Teresa never makes biscuits like these.”
“They are scones, sir, not biscuits.”
“Stones? They don’t taste like rocks to me.”
“No, they are s-c-o-n-e-s, not stones.”
“Whatever they are, they’re good. Could I have another?”
In fact, the month passed with surprising speed. Johnny and Murdoch got used to polished boots while Teresa finally had time to help Reverend Baker at the Orphanage. They all loved Malcolm’s cooking. He had even managed to persuade Johnny to try certain dishes that the young man would never touch before.
Even the testy Jelly tolerated the valet after Malcolm praised Dewdrop as the very epitome of a perfect goose. But his crowning achievement occurred the day Johnny Madrid Lancer purchased four new shirts in assorted colors!
Two days before the month was up, Johnny accosted Murdoch who was working on the ranch books. “Murdoch, what do you say we ask Malcolm to stay on–for wages, I mean.”
A fearsome frown crossed the patriarchal face.
“”Uh, well, that is…not if you don’t….”
Then Murdoch grinned broadly. “Good idea, Son. I’ve already asked Teresa what she thinks and she was delighted. Then she could help out with the orphans anytime she wanted.”
“Yahoo! Wait’ll I tell him. You do think he’ll agree, don’t you?”
“I hope so, but you have to be prepared that he might want to leave.”
“Well, I’ll go get him.” Johnny knocked on the door to the guestroom where Malcolm had been staying.
“Malcolm, could you come out a moment? My father wants to talk to you.”
They walked into the living room.
“Malcolm, we’ve really enjoyed having you with us so I wanted to know if you’d be interested in staying on–for wages of course.”
For one minute the valet hesitated, then he answered, “I’d be delighted.”
“Whooee!” Johnny slapped Malcolm on the back with joy.
“There is just one thing. It has been my dream to open a small establishment–a club for gentlemen–where I can provide a comfortable atmosphere with a personal touch. I have been saving my money so that I can go to San Francisco and start such an establishment. I will stay in your employ as long as needed to raise the money. Of course, I would give suitable notice before departing. Is that agreeable to you?”
“Perfectly. Every man needs a chance to fulfill his dreams.”
Johnny tapped Malcolm on the shoulder. “Now that that’s settled– you haven’t made them stones in two days, could you make an extra big batch tomorrow?”
Malcolm smiled, “Certainly, Mr. Johnny, certainly.”
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