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The Garrett Letters by Ros

Word count 5,125

1st in the Garrett Letters Series

Cassie pulled her wool scarf around her throat and hugged her coat tighter against the cold. She’d lived here in Boston all her life and there was nowhere else she’d rather live, but it could sure get cold.

She stood at the edge of the pavement and let the car go by before hurrying across the street.  It was an expensive old house in a well to do part of town but its grace echoed its owners’ quiet unpretentiousness.

Rounding the back of the big van outside Rebecca’s house, she looked through the open rear doors with curiosity. Apart from some ropes and packing straps and a few beaten up old rugs, it was empty.

She turned away and walked up the steps to the front door. It was open and she peered inside, knocked on the doorjamb and called out ‘Hello’ but no one answered.

She knew the house almost as well as her own parents’ home and felt just as welcome. Cassie had been best friends with Rebecca since they had started junior high together and their different choices for their futures had changed nothing. Rebecca had recently graduated with a law degree while Cassie had chosen teaching instead but their private interests were so much alike that they spent most of their free time together.

“Bec, you home?” she called out loudly as she stepped into the house.

“Upstairs… in my study,” came the reply.

Cassie smiled. ‘Her study…’ It had always been a spare bedroom in the house, Bec not having any brothers or sisters to need it. But when Rebecca started college, her parents had set the room up with a small desk and some bookcases. Then as a graduation present, they had replaced the small desk with a much bigger antique one.

In Cassie’s home there was no such luxury as David and Chris took up the other rooms so, unlike Rebecca, she had been eager to leave home and find a place of her own.

Half-way up the staircase she passed two men in overalls who squeezed past her on their way down with a politely murmured ‘Excuse me’ and ‘Pardon me, Miss.’ Even more curious now, Cassie made her way to her friend’s study.

She stopped at the open door and stuck her head in.

“Come on in, Cassie,” Rebecca said. There was excitement in her voice. “Come and see!”

Cassie found her friend with a man at least sixty years old. She was beaming and the man looked pleased.

“Cassie, this is Mr. Carter. Look, he’s finished the desk!”

 Rebecca stood aside.

“No way that’s that ratty old thing you had!” Cassie exclaimed. Behind them stood a gleaming, mahogany antique pedestal desk, topped with burgundy leather. Brass drawer rings that had been dull and aged the last time she’d seen them now shone brightly.

“Came up just fine,” the man said, nodding. 

“Fine! It’s amazing,” Cassie told him.

Rebecca smiled. “I knew Mom had a good eye for antiques, but she’s outdone herself this time.”

“I’d say she has at that,” Carter agreed. “Didn’t find a maker’s label on it, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t a Duncan Phyfe. It’s early American Federation style, no doubt about that. Phyfe made a few pedestal desks and that acanthus leaf design and the lionmask handles on the drawers were favorites of his. Yes, could be… could be.” He scratched his chin in thought. “You should get it valued for insurance, Miss.”

“Really?” Rebecca ran her fingers lovingly over the tooled leather. “Duncan who?”

“Phyfe… Duncan Phyfe, of New York, early nineteenth century. Made furniture for all the society types. If you could find anything to prove it’s one of his, you’ve got yourself a very valuable piece there.” He paused as if suddenly remembering something. “Reminds me, Miss, I found these in the back of the center top drawer. They were caught where the back had come away from the bottom of the drawer.”

He pulled a bundle of what looked like letters, tied with a blue satin ribbon that was obviously old but virtually unfaded, from his coat pocket. He handed it over to Rebecca.

“Haven’t looked at them myself,” he told her. “Maybe there’s something in one of those that will prove some provenance for you. Even if they don’t…” He stopped and scratched his chin again. “Well, old letters can be valuable anyway. ‘Specially if they turn out to be Civil War letters or from someone famous.”

Cassie watched Rebecca finger the ribbon, deep in thought. Bec loved old things. It was why her parents had presented her with an antique desk for a graduation present. Of course, it was practical as well – big and with deep drawers on either side, solid enough to last. But it was the idea of the history it held that fascinated Rebecca. That was what had tempted her towards law, the tradition and history behind it.

“Well, I’ll leave them with you, Miss,” Carter finally said. “Glad you like the way the desk turned out.”

Rebecca looked up and smiled. “Oh, you’ve done a wonderful job on it, Mr. Carter, just wonderful.”

Carter nodded. “One of the best things about what I do, Miss, seeing something old and tired come to life again. Makes the work worth it.”

He took his leave then, leaving the girls alone with the desk and the bundle of letters in Rebecca’s hand.

“It’s beautiful, Bec. Really.”

“I love it, Cassie. It’s like touching history.” Then she looked at the letters in her hand. “And these… Do you think they were written by one of the owners of the desk?”

“More like ‘to’ him,” Cassie pointed out logically.

“Yes, of course.” She smiled a conspiratorial smile. “Want to look at them then?”

“You know I do.”

Rebecca sat down on the floor and crossed her legs. She flicked her long blond hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ears, then waited for Cassie to join her. Cassie couldn’t help but feel like a kid again as her friend very gently untied the ribbon.

“Be careful,” Cassie whispered. “They must be fragile.”

The paper was yellowed and stained with age. “Actually, it’s not too bad.” She took the first one and placed the rest on the floor beside her with the ribbon.

“Can you make out the writing?”

“It’s faded but yes, I can read it. It’s beautiful writing, like calligraphy.”

“Not like my scratching,” Cassie said with a giggle.

Rebecca giggled with her. “And there you are teaching children to scratch just like you.” Then, serious again, she added, “It’s addressed to Mr. Harlan Garrett, 2 Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston, Mass.”

“Hmmm… Can you open it without damaging it?”

Rebecca tried unfolding it, holding her breath as she did. “It’s readable,” Rebecca said happily. “And look at it Cassie – four pages and no smudged ink or stains.”

“Well, don’t just sit there staring at it, Bec. What does it say?”

“Alright, don’t be impatient! It says…

16th May 1870
Morro Coyo, California

My dear Grandfather,

I take pen in hand to assure you, Sir, of my safety and good health. The train journey to California was surprisingly comfortable, though the same can most definitely not be said of the two days that followed traveling by stagecoach. It has instilled in me the conviction that that particular mode of transport should be outlawed.

Nevertheless, despite the discomfort, the journey was uneventful. No robberies nor murders disturbed my equanimity.

“Oh Bec, it’s so formal? Imagine writing stuff like that.”

Rebecca giggled again. “No way I’d write something like this. And Granddad would just laugh at me if I did!”

“Go on… read some more.”

Arriving in the sleepy village of Morro Coyo, I was met by Murdoch Lancer’s young ward, a pretty girl of some sixteen years by name of Teresa O’Brien, whereupon a shocking revelation was brought to light. One of my fellow passengers was revealed to be also Murdoch Lancer’s son! You can imagine my disbelief!

Moreover, it appeared that the man was as surprised as I by this turn of events. I beg you will tell me, Sir, if you had any knowledge of my father’s second marriage and the subsequent birth of a son, John Lancer. I find it difficult to believe that you, with all your contacts, had no idea of it.

I now know that, like myself, he was not raised by our mutual parent. It appears that his mother left Murdoch Lancer under somewhat scandalous circumstances when he was but a very small child, taking him with her. Also like myself, he was offered a considerable amount of money to meet Murdoch Lancer. Although, for my own part, curiosity counted most towards my making this journey, I believe the money to have been his overwhelming interest in agreeing to come. 

I must say that your descriptions of my father did not prepare me for Murdoch Lancer, Sir. He is a veritable mountain in stature, giving me at least five inches in height and, as you well know, I am counted not less than six feet myself. He is broad of chest and presents himself as a man not yet past his prime. However, even more than his stature, it is his presence that I find commanding. He seems a stoic man, showing no emotion whatsoever upon meeting his sons, nor did he offer any apology for the past. To my surprise he did, however, allow that I have my mother’s eyes, said with what sounded like a hint of regret.

He was less kind to my brother, allowing only that he had his mother’s temper. I cannot say that I saw any such thing in the young man at that time. To the contrary, he appeared somewhat cold and distant.

To be candid with you, Sir, I find myself uncertain about this ‘brother’ I suddenly find myself with. By my reckoning, he is three years my junior, less than twenty-two years, and yet one gets the impression that he is older than his years. I know nothing of his life and I doubt that he would impart much information about himself even if I dared ask.

He is, for the most part, quietly spoken and carries himself with great self-confidence. The men here seem to wear sidearms as a part of their daily garb so it is hardly surprising that Johnny does also, and yet there is about him an indefinable air of danger. Have no concern for my safety though, Sir, for I do not believe him to be a threat to me personally.

I can find in him no resemblance to myself as he has the coloring of his Mexican mother, excepting his strikingly blue eyes – much darker than my own. He favors the Mexican style of clothing as well – short jacket and trousers with silver buttons down the sides that I now know to be called ‘conchos’. I confess, the style is too elaborate for my own taste.

As to the ranch itself, Lancer is a considerable property, some 100,000 acres according to my father. The land appears prosperous and the main house is an extensive building which, while built almost as a fortress, is also appealing to the eye. It is constructed of what is called ‘adobe’ – a clay brick used in many of the old buildings here because of its quality of holding out the heat – and the rooms are richly furnished . You have nothing to fear for my comfort here.

It became obvious that it was to safeguard the ranch that Murdoch Lancer called upon my brother and me. Upon our arrival we were made aware of the threat of a large group of brigands, led by a bandit of considerable cunning and violence.

Furthermore, it soon became apparent that Johnny knew this man and this seems to have created distrust of my brother in Murdoch Lancer, to the extent that they argued and Johnny left. It was my father’s understanding that Johnny was joining with the bandits against us, but this belief proved to be unfounded.

I shall not disturb you with a description of events except to tell you that we were soon faced with an open battle against these men which proved to be of short duration and in which we were able to completely overcome the bandits and secure the ranch. Apparently, Johnny’s plan had been to infiltrate the bandit gang to try to stop the raids but, in the midst of the action, he rejoined us and was seriously wounded in doing so. I was surprised to find that my fear for his safety overcame any other feelings he had engendered up to that time and I felt compelled to bring him to safety.

I will here reassure you again that I am unharmed. These events took place two days ago, Sir, and the house is now quiet. However, my brother lies in his room struggling for his life while we take turns to stay by his side and offer what assistance we can. The doctor, an estimable man who inspires confidence in his ability, travels considerable distance daily to tend to him and has reassured us that John’s youth and general good health will hold him in good stead.

I have now to impart some news that might meet with your disapproval. If that be the case, I will be sorry for it, but my decision has not been lightly made and I hope that you will respect my right to make it.

At our first meeting, Murdoch Lancer told us of the threat to his ranch and offered both Johnny and myself one third of all his property and possessions, a full partnership, if we stayed and helped to keep it. My first reaction was to agree, though I rethought it later in private and considered it at length until I became convinced that I had made the right decision. Johnny was less forthcoming and, until he is well enough to tell us his decision, neither my father nor I are sure of what his position will be.

I believe that it must have come to your notice that, since my return from the war, I have found myself unable to easily take up my old lifestyle. I cannot say that I am particularly inclined to seek excitement or danger, but I do find myself in search of a challenge. This land seems to offer just that and I feel compelled to answer it.

So, Grandfather, I have to inform you that I will not be returning to Boston after the month’s end as planned. Instead, I intend to remain here to see what life I can make for myself and to get to know my father and brother. I do not wish to appear ungrateful to you for all you have done for me. Please be assured of my appreciation and continued devotion, but there is much to be done here. Opportunities abound and a great future is on offer in a land that is still new to us.

If you are disappointed or distressed by my choice, I do sincerely regret it, but I beg you will come to terms with it. I find myself excited by my future for the first time in a long while.

Your devoted grandson,

Scott Lancer

PART TWO

Rebecca folded the pages neatly and replaced them in the envelope. She caressed the old, yellowed envelope with her fingertips and then looked up at Cassie.

“Well…” She couldn’t think of anything else to say. The words had fascinated her. To read and feel a part of someone’s life unfolding and changing, to see history in his words, was more than she had dared hope for.

“Imagine finding out you have a brother like that,” Cassie said quietly.

Rebecca could see that she was affected by the story the letter told as well. “I wonder how it all happened. I mean, how did Scott Lancer come to grow up in Boston?”

“And fighting off outlaws!” Inwardly, Rebecca smiled at her friend. Trust Cassie to see the excitement in it. Her eyes were gleaming with it.

“I bet there was more to that story than he told,” Cassie added.

“Oh I’d say so. I don’t know about you, Cassie, but I just have to know more.”

“Me too.” Cassie’s eyes twinkled. “Though it’s not exactly that provenance Mr. Carter was hoping for.”

Rebecca laughed. “Who cares!”

She picked up the next letter and carefully opened it. It was in the same handwriting and she knew that it had to be from Scott Lancer again. Unfolding it, she found only one page and she was surprised.

7th June 1870
Morro Coyo, California

My dearest Grandfather,

I take this opportunity to reply to your letter of 26st May. I confess to being disappointed by your rebuke. I take heart in the belief that it was written in the heat of your own disappointment at my not returning rather than of a lasting passion, for it would distress me to lose your goodwill.

You have no need to remind me of my obligation to you, Sir. You have provided me with a home and an education second to none and you should have no doubt of my appreciation and regard for you. As to my promised inheritance however, I have never sought it and am more than happy to make my own way in the world. Though I value your esteem and respect, I feel no need to have your consent in this endeavor.

And so, I regret to say that your charge upon me is to no avail. I have not changed my mind and intend to remain here.

Johnny is now quite recovered from the wound he sustained and has also agreed to stay. The contract has been signed and we three find ourselves partners in the ranch. We do not expect this to be uncomplicated for we are still virtual strangers to each other but, if determination counts for anything, we shall succeed.

Ever your devoted grandson,
Scott Lancer

“Ouch…”

Rebecca looked up from the page at her friend. “You can say that again.”

“Sounds kind of pissed, doesn’t he?”

“I wonder what his grandfather said!” Rebecca said, frowning.

“If it got that reply, I suspect it wasn’t anything good.”

Rebecca looked at her friend and laughed. “Sounds like the old guy didn’t approve, doesn’t it?”

“I’d say that was a given.” Cassie smiled wickedly. “Go on, read the next one.”

Rebecca folded the page and very carefully tucked it back into its envelope, putting it aside on top of the first. Then she opened the next.

10th June 1870
Morro Coyo, California

My dearest Grandfather,

I take pen in hand to let you know how matters progress here.  Upon reflection, I should perhaps have explained more to you of my reasons for remaining here in my last letter, in the hope that you might better understand my decision. Maybe then you will be able to accept my decision more equably.

I find it hard to believe that you did not notice my restiveness upon my return from the Great Rebellion. I shall not write of my experiences in the war for those memories are too fraught with discomfort to be resurrected. It is better by far to leave that period of my life behind excepting to say that, though my health was restored readily enough, I cannot feel that my well being was.

Suffice to say that I found myself adrift, barely able to concentrate on continuing my studies and, when those were completed, unable to focus on earning myself a living. I felt uncertain of what the future would hold for me. Despite all the support and consideration you gave me during that time, I found myself unable to settle down to normal life. Society held no charms for me. I fear that Julie noticed it and I cannot blame her for breaking our engagement as a result. 

Perhaps a complete break with my past will restore that which I seemed to have lost –the challenge of something new and vital.

And a challenge it is indeed proving to be. We three ‘partners’ are strangers still. I know little about the past of either my father or my brother but, to be fair, I have told them little of my own. In Murdoch Lancer’s own words, ‘it’s past and gone’ and we have a ranch to run. A little blunt perhaps, but nevertheless true.

As he has all the experience, it has been agreed that it should be Murdoch who makes the decisions but we are equal partners otherwise. Johnny and I work alongside the help and do a fair day’s work, just as they do. I find it enlivening and enjoy it.

Much of the work is somewhat tedious though. The days start early, at a most unseemly hour to my thinking, and they finish late. Many of the men, and I include my father and brother in their number, did not believe I would manage a full day’s work. I am considered to be what is referred to here as a ‘greenhorn’ – a newcomer with no understanding of their ways.

My upbringing and cavalry training have stood me in good stead however, and I take perhaps unbecoming pleasure in having surprised them with my riding ability and in showing them that I can take care of myself in most situations. Nevertheless, I confess that there are many tasks that I have had to learn.

As example, some of the men who work here make ‘roping’ cattle appear much easier than it actually is. The idea is to open a long loop in a rope, then throw it over the head of the beast and bring it to the ground, all this while riding at a gallop. You would laugh to have seen my first attempts. Johnny appears proficient in the art while I find myself having much to learn, but I am determined to master it.

With so few men to work them, the cattle became widely scattered while Lancer was under threat. There was much to do in returning the ranch to some semblance of order and many days have been spent in the saddle gathering the cattle from far afield. Both Johnny and I have now begun to appreciate the size of the property.

From my first sight of it, the ranch appeared a striking place. Though wild and remote in places, it holds great beauty in its hills and ridges, streams and vast open fields. Already, I feel a strong appreciation for it.

Murdoch’s back injury, incurred in a cowardly attack before our arrival, continues to plague him so that he is mostly unfit for work on horseback as yet. Johnny, however, seems to be determined to prove himself fit and is working already. His own injury appears, for the most part, not to bother him though it is only a matter of weeks since he was shot. He keeps up with the other men and does all the same work, but I fear he may be suffering for it and keeping it from us.

There is something about my brother that I think I should now impart. Soon after our first meeting I was made aware that he did not use his own name, using instead the nom de guerre ‘Johnny Madrid’. I noticed that people look sideways at him and even stand aside to make way for him on occasion, particularly during our first visit to the township of Green River.

Johnny seemed to think nothing of it, but I found this behavior curious and broached the subject with Murdoch. It was then that I learned that Johnny Madrid, my brother, is a renowned, even notorious, gunfighter. He has been earning his living by ‘selling his gun’ for some years, despite his youth. I was shocked, even horrified yet, strangely, not surprised.

***

“Wait!”

The exclamation startled Rebecca and she looked up from the page at Cassie.

“Did he say a gunfighter?” Cassie asked.

“He did. I thought they were only in TV shows and movies!”

“Apparently not.” Cassie smiled mischievously. “Now I HAVE to know more.”

“Then don’t interrupt.” Rebecca looked back to the yellowed page in her hand and read on…

***

He is something of an enigma. At any given moment he can appear diffident and cold, even dangerous; then suddenly youthful and excited, with a smile and mischief that belies his reputation. I well know your aversion to frivolity, Sir, but I confess that I find myself drawn into his exuberance on those occasions. In his presence he can make me feel mature and staid at one moment then almost like a carefree youth again.

Such moments are rare though. More often he seems wary of letting us see what he might be thinking or feeling. I sometimes despair of ever really getting to know him.

I find myself unsure of my father. Murdoch is a stern man who gives away little of his feelings. He expects a lot from both Johnny and me, though we are new to this way of life. For my own part, I am well aware that I have a lot to learn. Johnny appears to know the work but has been free to do as he pleased for so long that I fear he might not take to blindly obeying orders. At times, I have thought I could see rebellion on his face. I saw it many times during the war on the faces of young men with no experience of a regimented way of life. But I do not think that Murdoch has noticed. If he has, he has made no moves towards consideration of it.

However, a recent surprise visit by one of his old friends showed us a different side of him. Sheriff Joe Barker arrived with two deputies, escorting a prisoner. It seems that my father worked with him as a deputy many years ago and thought very highly of him. Prior to our arrival, he had once even offered him a partnership in Lancer.

With his hand on my shoulder, Murdoch introduced me as his son. For the first time, I had a sense of his satisfaction in the words, pride even, and I confess to being somewhat pleased.

I will not go into details regarding the events that followed, Sir, but Barker proved to be less than the trusted friend he had once been. On their first night with us, the prisoner, who had been locked securely in the guardhouse, managed to kill the deputy guarding him and escaped.

Johnny had known the prisoner some years ago and was immediately suspected of helping him. To say that it was a terrible state of affairs is to understate the obvious. Johnny was locked in the guardhouse and was to be tried for murder. Though I can give you no logical reasons for it, I had no doubt of Johnny’s innocence. You may say that I know little of this brother of mine but I have come to trust his character.

 What did impress me was that Murdoch appeared to feel the same. I cannot say whether he ever considered that Johnny might be guilty but he was prepared to do whatever he could to save him, even to the extent of helping him to escape to Mexico.

To his credit, Johnny swore his innocence and refused to accept Murdoch’s offer. In due course, it proved to be Barker who had aided the prisoner’s escape and Johnny’s innocence was proven, but the affair showed us a compassionate side of our father that neither of us had previously seen. Perhaps there is hope for us all yet.

I could see that, in his quiet way, Johnny was affected by our faith in him. I suspect that it embarrassed him for some reason. It has led me to wonder if my brother has ever had much experience of family.

We soon found ourselves back in what is rapidly becoming our normal routine. Murdoch is not a man to dwell on events and was back to issuing orders the next morning. Johnny merely nodded and left with the work crew while I remained at the house to attend to bookwork.

To be honest, I prefer working out of doors and I find Johnny pleasant company. At night, after dinner, we often spend some time at leisure together over a game of checkers, sometimes chess. From our first game, I found that his casual demeanor hides a clever mind and it pays not to underestimate him.

So you see that the three of us are slowly learning about each other. I don’t delude myself into thinking that any of this will be easy, but I am convinced of its worth. My decision is the right one for me.

I hope that you will have faith in me and wish me well in the endeavor, Sir.

Ever your devoted grandson,
Scott Lancer

***

Rebecca lowered the pages and stared at them. “Intriguing…”

“Bec, you have to be the master of understatement,” Cassie answered, shaking her head.

“It’s like looking into his life, isn’t it?”

“Into all their lives. It’s like the past coming to life.”

Rebecca ran the tip of her finger over the words on the top page. “The handwriting is so fine. He sounds like an educated man, doesn’t he?” She folded the pages with care. Then she slipped them back into the envelope and placed it on top of the other two letters on the floor beside her. “I wonder what he looked like.”

“Hmmm… I’m curious about the gunfighter.” Cassie tilted her head, thinking. “If he was so notorious, like Scott said, maybe there’s a record of him somewhere.”

“Could be,” Rebecca conceded. “Maybe there’s something about Scott too… or Murdoch Lancer and his ranch.”

“Could be fun to find out.” Cassie’s eyes lit with excitement and a smile crossed her lips.

Rebecca saw it and knew what she was thinking. As one, the two girls voiced their idea… “Google!”

.

End
2011

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2 thoughts on “The Garrett Letters by Ros

  1. Wonderful! I found myself sitting in the same room, anxiously, waiting to open the next letter.
    As if I had no idea what we were going to read!

    I need to do some homework, so I will wait tomorrow for read more. Very difficult to do.

    Like

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