Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

Melissa And The Maine Woods by Sharon

Word count 24,840

An episode for Juniper’s Camp 

This story is a “What Happened Sometime After” for the Lancer TV series episode entitled “Juniper’s Camp”.  (A transcript of this episode can be found in Sammi & Sharon’s Episode File at the Yahoo LancerTV Show site. ) References are also made to events from “The Wedding”, “The Fix-it Man” and “Yesterday’s Vendetta” as well to the Fan Fiction story “Questions of Brotherhood.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
 

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Reading, 1854

.


 

“On the 31st of August, 1846, I left Concord in Massachusetts for Bangor and the backwoods of Maine, by way of the railroad and steamboat, as far as a dam on the west branch of the Penobscot.  From this place, I proposed to make excursions to Mount Ktaadn  . . . and to some of the lakes of the Penobscot, either alone or with such company as I might pick up there.  . .  The mountain may be approached more easily and directly on horseback and on foot from the northeast side, but in that case you see much less of the wilderness . . . ”

    After another long day of cattle and fence lines, Scott Lancer had just settled down in a comfortable chair with an unread book–Henry David Thoreau was one of his favorite authors.  Although he was usually reading something, his days in California were so full, and often so tiring, that some evenings Scott only managed to get through a few pages, if that.  He had been looking forward to The Maine Woods ; it was the last of the volumes in the package which had arrived on the day of his fateful encounter with the Velasquez brothers and Gordon.

    Although he had rarely ventured as far as Bangor, in his youth Scott had traveled north from Massachusetts to spend summers in Maine.   Aunt Cecilia, “Aunt Cee”– his grandfather’s much younger sister, had lived there, in the mid-state coastal town of Brunswick.   The former Cecilia Garrett and her husband had resided in one of the large homes on Federal Street, not far from the grounds of Bowdoin College.  In fact, young Scott had made the acquaintance of several members of the college faculty, including Joshua Chamberlain, later one of the Union heroes at Gettysburg and the current Governor of the state of Maine.  Upon his release from Libby Prison at the war’s end, Scott had learned that it had been  Chamberlain who had  been chosen by General Grant to receive the formal surrender of colors at Appomattox.  Scott had been most impressed to hear that General Chamberlain had instructed his men to salute their defeated opponents as they marched past, as a means of honoring their valor.  In fact, Scott had named his spirited chestnut horse “Brunswick” in honor of the general, as well as his own pleasant memories of the Maine town.
 

    As he read, Scott absently stroked his forehead with his left hand, one finger rubbing the small scar above his left eye.  It was a barely visible momento of his capture by the Velasquez brothers.  They had planned to kill Scott in order to avenge their own sibling’s death at the hands of Johnny Madrid.  In order to gain time, his new-found brother had pretended not to care what the Velasquez’ might do to Scott.   Unfortunately, Scott hadn’t been entirely certain of what Johnny was attempting to do.  In the course of their “discussion”,  Johnny had interpreted a comment from Scott as being much more insulting than it had been intended to be–whereupon his younger brother had delivered a solid punch to Scott’s face, opening up a cut over his already half closed left eye.  And, since Scott had been tied to a chair at the time, the Easterner had lost his balance and toppled hard to the floor. .

    Now, as Scott was losing himself in a distant wilderness of pine forests, Jelly was close to offering up his surrender to Johnny in their chess game.  Nearby, Teresa was rubbing her own forehead and frowning while paging through a rather thick book, one that Scott had recommended.  Murdoch Lancer was at his desk, going through some papers and working his way through an accumulation of mail.  Picking up an envelope posted from San Francisco, he sliced it open and quickly read the two pages inside.  The Lancer patriarch had made a trip to the city a month earlier, specifically to visit Melissa Harper and her Aunt Kate.  Melissa was the daughter of an old friend  and Murdoch had promised that he would at some point “check on” Melissa.  The young woman had seemed to be enjoying her time in San Francisco immensely.  Now it appeared that Miss Harper had accepted Murdoch’s invitation to pay a return visit to Lancer.

    Murdoch announced the contents of the letter to the group.  “Well, it looks like we’re going to be having a guest,”  he said.

Teresa brightened: “Who?”, she asked him, swiftly closing her book.  “Melissa Harper is coming from San Francisco,” was his response.

Jelly welcomed the distraction from the approaching checkmate: “She that gal that Johnny ‘n Scott had to rescue from those miner fellas?”

Scott responded: “That’s right Jelly.  And I seem to recall that you were almost as taken with her father as Johnny was with the elusive Miss Harper.“

    Johnny and Teresa laughed, Murdoch shook his head and Jelly sputtered. Scott grinned–he’d been teasing Jelly.  Murdoch’s “old friend”– Mr. James Harper of Boston had been a pompous ass, to put it mildly.  No one at Lancer had been much taken with him , probably not even Murdoch.  Scott had felt somewhat embarrassed by the fact that the man was a fellow Bostonian.  But Harper’s lack of endearing qualities was far from the only thing that Scott recalled.

    Harper had arrived at the ranch, claiming that his daughter, who was, in his words, “a frail and delicate creature“, had been kidnapped by a “whiskey swilling illiterate”.  Murdoch Lancer had insisted that his two sons ride north into the lawless mining country to track down Melissa.  Neither of them had wanted to go, but Scott’s protests had ceased once Murdoch had indicated that he owed a debt to Harper and that the debt was somehow related to Scott’s mother.

    He and Johnny had headed north the next day, his brother still adamant in his objections:  Johnny believed that the further that Melissa Harper stayed from her father, the better off the young woman would be and that it would serve Harper right if his precious daughter was already married to the drunkest, dirtiest miner in all of Humboldt Country.  Scott had tended to agree, but had kept his own counsel.  The further that they’d traveled from home, the more the trip had started to seem like a welcome escape from the endless chores of the ranch.  And in great contrast to the very first time that Murdoch Lancer had sent his sons out on the trail, the brothers had found themselves appreciating each other’s company. Once they had bribed their way into renting a hotel room in mining territory, it had been Scott’s intention to indulge in some rest and relaxation.  Still enjoying an easy camaraderie, neither brother had been in any hurry whatsoever to track down the “elusive Miss Harper“.  Scott had been contentedly contemplating the delights most likely available in the local Chinese restaurant when the “infamous” Cooper brothers had burst into the Lancers’ room.  At least, the Coopers had been under the impression that they were infamous–and they hadn’t taken kindly to learning otherwise.  Following the ensuing fight, Scott and Johnny had made the acquaintance of the third Cooper, Bobby, who turned out to be Melissa Harper’s fiancé.  They had also been treated to a quaint local custom involving paint.

    Having located the Coopers’ mining camp, the Lancers had found it relatively easy to make contact with Melissa.  In hindsight, perhaps too easy, since, as it turned out, the young lady had led them into a trap.  It appeared that, contrary to her father’s assertions, Melissa Harper was not a prisoner and she certainly did not wish to be “rescued” by the Lancers or anyone else. And she did want very much to marry Bobby Cooper.  Apparently the town Marshal was a ‘friend’ of the Coopers, because he had obligingly put Scott and Johnny in jail for safe keeping. Scott smiled to himself as he remembered how the two of them had staged a “fight”—-this time without incurring any actual injuries— in order to lure the Marshal into the cell and free themselves.

     Then the first real problem had arisen:  Scott had been determined to go back after Melissa Harper, while Johnny had been equally intent on heading for home.  His younger brother had pointed out that the girl was not a prisoner, saying that if she wanted to marry Bobby Cooper, that was her business.  Scott had felt strongly that the girl was somehow unable to see what kind of man she was about to marry in Cooper and that she was about to make a terrible mistake.  Besides, she was under twenty-one and her father wanted her back.  As did Murdoch.  Scott had felt that there was no other choice but to go back after her.  When he’d asked Johnny if he was coming with him, his brother had uttered a flat “No”.  But Scott hadn’t ridden too far down the road before Johnny had caught up with him.   Scott had been glad that his brother had changed his mind, had been careful not to say anything about it, but Johnny had offered an explanation anyway: “If you’re really gonna do this, I figured I’d better come along and keep you out of trouble.” Still refraining from comment, Scott had thought to himself << Yes, of course, and  it has  nothing to do with your reluctance to return home to face Murdoch—- alone and empty-handed. >>
 
 

    Scott’s plan to draw the wedding guests away from the tents by causing an explosion had worked perfectly.  The Lancers had been able to grab the girl and had made their escape on horseback.  It had been a fairly silent ride; evidently Johnny was still not in favor of taking Melissa Harper.  To Scott’s suggestion that they stop for the night at an old barn, Johnny had replied with a careless “its your party.“  Scott had been rather annoyed that Johnny would reveal their disagreement in front of Miss Harper.  Scott suspected that  while he was outside the barn looking around, something of a romantic nature had taken place between Johnny and Melissa inside.  When the Coopers showed up the next morning,  Melissa had warned Johnny, possibly saving his younger brother’s life.  Scott had shot and wounded Bobby Cooper and whisked Melissa off, riding double.  They hadn’t gone too far down the road before Melissa had changed horses and remained with Johnny on Barranca until the three of them had arrived at the ranch.

    After commenting, predictably, on how long they’d taken, Murdoch Lancer had actually complimented his sons on a job well done.  He’d asked specifically if there had been any problems.  Scott had recited a lengthy list, including the jailing and being shot at, but he hadn’t been about to reveal that he and Johnny had had a difference of opinion.  Not that it had mattered, because it hadn’t taken long for Johnny to express his displeasure at  having “kidnapped” Melissa–the young woman had wanted to marry Cooper and she should have been allowed to do so, in Johnny’s book.  But when Murdoch had responded that the girl was underage–the same rationale that Johnny had already heard from Scott, well, his brother, typically, had just stalked off.

    Scott supposed that that was easily the least desirable feature of their three way partnership—-it seemed that someone was always the “odd man out“,   usually Johnny.  Scott and Murdoch tended to think alike–both were very logical, given to making decisions dispassionately.  Additionally, Scott respected Murdoch’s age and experience and when he was at all uncertain, Scott did not hesitate to go along with the older man’s views.  Johnny was more emotional;  most often it was Johnny and Murdoch who were at loggerheads about something and Scott who was left to attempt to be the arbitrator.  Sometimes an effective compromise was possible, but not always, and  in that case Scott had to cast a vote, inevitably being perceived as siding against one or the other.  If Johnny was in the minority, he might seem angry or resentful, but rarely bothered to protest.  Murdoch would be irritated if he found himself outnumbered, and would often continue to press his point, or, as in the case of the “decision” to go after Miss Harper, simply declare a dictatorship.  When Scott was outvoted, in those rare cases when Murdoch found to his surprise that Johnny had sided with him, the older man would simply say  “well, that settles it” in a pleased tone and leave Scott standing there without any opportunity to continue the debate.  What with major business decisions about the ranch that the three of them had to make, as well as the daily accommodations which had to be reached, Scott was getting more practice in diplomacy and negotiating tactics than he would have liked.  Sometimes he felt that he spent more time trying to improve the situation between Johnny and Murdoch than he did in developing his own relationship with either of them.  At least in the events involving Melissa Harper, he and Johnny had been able to “agree to disagree”.   Of course, it had helped that, despite his own reservations,  Johnny had gone along with Scott’s plan.

    Or, at least his brother had gone along with Scott’s plan until they’d gotten the young lady back to the ranch and then Johnny had decided to “help” Melissa by providing her with a horse, provisions and the opportunity to return to Bobby Cooper.   A major error of judgment on his part and Scott had been angry that Johnny had done this after all they’d gone through; surprised that Johnny hadn’t seen that Cooper was just completely wrong for Melissa, even potentially dangerous.   Fortunately, the Lancers had arrived on the scene in time to prevent Cooper from harming the young woman.  Melissa had been forcefully confronted with Bobby Cooper’s unsavory character.  Everything had worked out well in the end, even for Melissa, since, with some intervention from Murdoch, James Harper had acquiesced in his daughter’s wish to spend time with her aunt in San Francisco, rather than return immediately to Boston.

    That his younger brother had fallen hard for the girl had been obvious, —-and Johnny certainly hadn’t “handled” it very well, at least not if his misguided attempt to help Melissa return to Cooper was any indication . . .

    Shaking his head, Scott glanced down at Thoreau and decided that he wouldn’t be venturing further into the Maine woods this evening.  Slowly closing the book, he thought <<“ A visit from Melissa Harper . . . This could be . . . interesting. “>>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    Murdoch noticed his elder son give his head a small shake and close the cover of the book that he had been sitting and holding.  << And that’s what he is to me . . . A closed book. >> he thought, shaking his own large white head.  The cover of– –what was Scott reading now?,—- The Maine Woods ??—– had shut softly but firmly. Not unlike the volume entitled Scott Lancer ,  though the latter would have to be termed a mystery, rather than any sort of a biography.  And that book might just as well have a padlock attached to the front cover.

    Murdoch Lancer was not typically given to such imagery–the man did not possess a “poetic soul“, by any means.  What he did possess was a great doubt that he would ever be able to “read” Scott . . . Even after so many months, his Boston-bred son, with his masked expressions and neutral tones, remained an unfailingly polite stranger.

    Murdoch slid a glance to the small portrait on the corner of his desk.  There was no question that Scott resembled his mother, though it seemed to Murdoch that he could remember that young woman smiling much more readily.  But Catherine seemed such a distant memory sometimes.  “Catherine“—-how long had it been since he’d said her name aloud??  Spoken of her?   Never to her son, he admitted reluctantly to himself.  At least not yet . .  .. << Catherine.  My wife.  Scott’s mother.  . .  Harlan Garrett’s daughter. >>  It had been simply inconceivable that she would be willing to defy her father and leave her home in Boston so far behind her—-all for the love of Murdoch Lancer.   But that had been exactly what she had done.  Miss Catherine Garrett of Boston had been a gentle, trusting, delicate beauty with the strength to know her own mind.
 

    Melissa’s father, Jim Harper had helped make it all possible, when he’d befriended Murdoch, “just off the boat from Inverness.” A young man on the way up, Harper had worked long and hard to make himself a success in Boston, just as Murdoch Lancer had driven himself to do so out here in the west.  There was no question that his old friend had changed over the years, but if he now seemed too concerned with status and  position, well, that wasn’t all that unusual in those who had struggled as Harper had to attain it.   And Murdoch certainly had no doubt that Jim, in his heart, wanted only the best for Melissa; he had after all, relented and allowed the girl to continue on to San Francisco rather than insisting that she return with him to Boston.  Murdoch wondered how much it had cost the man, to agree to be separated from his daughter by those thousands of miles.  He recalled that prior to his departure, James had not been able to resist pointing out the irony of Murdoch Lancer dispensing parenting advice . . . Jim’s chastisement  had been the  prerogative of an old friend, regardless of how little contact there had been between the two men over the years– –and there could be no question that Harper had had a point.

    When James Harper had appeared at the ranch, well, clearly the Bostonian had immediately said or done something to get Jelly’s dander up.  But when he’d related the story of his kidnapped daughter, Murdoch had been instantly determined to help, or, rather, to enlist his two sons to do so. Scott and Johnny going to the aid of Melissa Harper had seemed a fitting return on the debt which he himself owed to the young woman’s father.  No question that Jim had been a little hard to take, with his disparaging comments about some westerners and his certainty that none of them would be fit companions for his daughter.  But the man was understandably distressed and worried about the girl– and given what the Lancers had learned about Melissa’s presumptive fiancé, Bobby Cooper, well, in his case at least, Jim’s concerns had been pretty well founded.

    Johnny had been most offended by Harper’s remarks and  vocal in his dislike of the man, even going so far as to express the view that for her sake, he hoped that Harper never located his daughter. Murdoch had turned to Scott, sure that he would immediately grasp the importance of repaying a favor to an old friend, but, to be certain, had revealed something of the significance of the help which he had received.  When Murdoch had said of Harper that  “this ranch wouldn’t even be here without him, as a matter of fact, your mother“–he’d  gestured to Scott—-“ you wouldn’t be here without him”,  Scott had allowed himself a small smile but hadn’t asked any questions.  Johnny had let the remark pass without comment as well, but had continued to argue the difficulty of tracking down one girl up in the mining country.

    Despite Murdoch’s hint as to what the debt to Jim Harper had entailed, Scott had never returned to the topic or made any inquiries.  Of course, Murdoch reflected, there really hadn’t been time.  After a few hours in his guest room, Harper had reappeared to dominate the conversation at dinner and the next morning the boys had set off to find Melissa.  When they’d returned, there hadn’t been much time for talk either, at least not until the Harpers had departed, setting off in their separate directions.  Then it had been time for the Lancers to turn their attention once more to the many details of running a ranch.

    Now, Melissa Harper was coming to visit.  It was inevitable that the word   “Boston” would crop up in conversation.  It was possible that those conversations might stir up questions about the past.  Murdoch Lancer was a man who wished  everything in the past to remain there, who wanted to avoid dredging up old memories up at all costs—most especially when it came to the subject of his son Scott and the city of Boston .  .  .
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    Johnny was certainly looking forward to Melissa Harper’s arrival–he had been very much “taken” with her. With her expressed desire for the Freedom to “be herself, good or bad“,  the young woman had seemed to share many of his own views of life.   Johnny sure hadn’t been impressed with Melissa’s father and all of his talk about “standards” and “barriers“.  It had been entirely Scott’s idea to comply with Harper’s wishes and retrieve Melissa from, as Jelly had put it, “those miner fellas”–not that Boston was the type to point that out to the old horse wrangler.

    Johnny had felt strongly that Melissa Harper had the right to be with the man she loved.  But his older brother, good ol’Scott “What about the Law?” Lancer, sure hadn’t seen it that way. The girl was “underage”, her father wanted her brought back, Murdoch too, so that’s just what Scott was determined to do.  Although he hadn’t seen it the same way, Johnny had gone along to help Scott—-he couldn’t let his brother try to take on the Cooper boys alone.

     Once they’d gotten back to the ranch, Melissa had still been talking about  her fears of being “buried” back in Boston and her resentment of feeling “caged”.   Johnny certainly hadn’t enjoyed Melissa’s implication that he was like one of the keepers in the zoo because he had helped to bring her back to the ranch.

     Truth be told, helping Melissa to return to Bobby Cooper had been a mistake, and Johnny was man enough to admit it.  It had been a sizeable mistake in more ways than one.  First, Cooper was just no good– “a grade A candidate for the hangman” was the way that Scott had put it, and damn if he hadn’t turned out to be exactly right.  Cooper would have done Melissa considerable harm– << Hell, Madrid, he was only ‘bout to horsewhip the woman >> —  if the Lancers hadn’t arrived when they did.

    Second, his decision to send Melissa off into the night had made Murdoch, and Scott, pretty angry—Johnny was used to Murdoch’s temper, but he was hard pressed to think of too many other times when Boston had raised his voice to him–or anyone else for that matter.  His brother was nothing if not self-contained.  But in this instance, Johnny figured that he couldn’t really blame Scott.  Johnny felt kind of guilty that he’d gone right along with helping Scott bring Melissa back, then turned around on him like that.  When he’d tried to say something about it later, Scott had merely observed that it was probably a good thing that Melissa had seen the true Bobby–that otherwise she might have always thought herself in love with him.  Still, Johnny wondered whether his brother would think twice about trusting him the next time.

    Fortunately, the girl hadn’t seemed to hold it against Johnny either, that he’d helped put her at risk by sending her back to Bobby.   Johnny certainly did “fancy” Melissa.  << She sure is something . >>  But when he’d suggested that she might consider staying at the ranch for a while, she’d wanted none of it.  The young woman had been very eager to hurry off to her aunt and San Francisco.  Well, maybe she gotten tired of the place by now.  Johnny hadn’t had time during her first visit to show Melissa all those places on the ranch “where a person could be alone“—–and he was very much looking forward to having the opportunity to do so.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     On the appointed day of Melissa Harper‘s arrival, Murdoch and Teresa set out in the buggy, accompanied by Johnny on Barranca.  When they returned to the ranch, it was with various parcels and some letters, but without Melissa.  They had found a wire waiting for them in Morro Coyo, indicating that the young woman’s stage had been delayed and it would be another day or possibly two before it arrived.

    The next day, the threesome set out once more to meet the stage.  Scott again remained behind, determined to tackle one of his “favorite” chores–lifting bales of hay into the loft above the stables.

    When he had finished his afternoon’s work, Scott headed to his room to get cleaned up and change his clothes.   Feeling much better, he wandered through the hacienda, relishing the quiet of the empty rooms.  In his father’s study, he found a stack of mail on a small table, with one letter set aside–a letter addressed to Scott from his grandfather in Boston.  << Odd that no one mentioned it . >> he thought, surmising that Murdoch and Teresa must have brought the items back with them the previous day. Scott sat down, opened the letter and read the news from Boston.  Harlan Garrett provided information about the activities of various friends and acquaintances, and wrote of local events–politics, business.  His grandfather inquired as to whether Scott had been keeping abreast of the ongoing military conflict on the Continent, between the nations of France and Prussia.  Garrett politely asked after Murdoch, Johnny and Teresa.  He also responded to information which Scott had shared in his own missives, in particular, Scott’s description of his horse, Brunswick. The older man speculated that the Maine town might have been named after the German state.  An avid student of history, his grandfather had also written a few lines about the Duke of Brunswick, who had twice liberated his duchy from Napoleon Bonaparte and had himself fallen during the Waterloo campaign.

     The letter concluded with what had become a habitual observation— that surely Scott would eventually begin to miss “civilization”.  However, rather than the usual demand  that he give up this “quaint notion” of becoming a rancher, and “come back home to Boston where he belonged“, his grandfather had simply stated that he missed Scott and then had extended a gracious, heartfelt invitation to his grandson to pay him a visit in the very near future.  << Well, there, Boston, that’s certainly an improvement. >>

    Scott had been rather offended by the appellation “Boston” when Johnny had first used it——it obviously hadn’t been meant as anything approaching a compliment.  Since then, however, it had become a friendly nickname often employed by his younger brother.  In fact, at some point, Scott had appropriated the moniker for use in his own internal monologues.  Previously, he had referred to himself as “Lancer”, but now it was “Boston.” It seemed to fit.  For twenty four years, he had not known any other “Lancers”, and now there were two more.  He had, from time to time, encountered other individuals named “Scott”.  But here,  at the ranch, he was clearly the one and only “Boston.”

    Scott thoughtfully refolded the pages and slipped them back into the envelope.  Perhaps he should respond by extending his own invitation—-suggesting that his grandfather make a journey west.  << Murdoch and Grandfather in the same room >>, he thought.  << Now that would be more than merely interesting .>>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    For Melissa Harper, it had been a rather long and dusty trip.  Fortunately, the stage had not been overly crowded; there had been only four other passengers.  The Reverend Jeremiah Weeks and his wife Sarah had been pleasant and courteous traveling companions.  Mr. Jamison, an elderly gentleman, had spent much of his time napping.  The fourth passenger, a tall, scruffy- looking man named Rowe had identified himself as a miner, traveling north to Humboldt County to rejoin his cousin to work on their claim.  The references to Humboldt County and miners had brought up all sorts of unpleasant memories of Melissa’s experience with the Cooper brothers, especially her one-time fiancé, Bobby.  Melissa had the Lancers to thank for rescuing her from the Coopers, and while she was most grateful to have avoided a beating, she really did not wish to be reminded of the humiliating episode.

    Melissa had been attracted to Bobby Cooper precisely because he was so different from any of the young men that she had known back in Boston.  Now, when she thought about how close she had come to marrying a murderer . . . it made her shudder.    Equally distressing was the realization that she had almost  allowed herself to be trapped indefinitely in that remote mining camp—–although it had certainly seemed like a grand adventure at the time.

    Melissa had been reluctant to leave behind the wonders of San Francisco to accept Murdoch Lancer’s invitation.  She wasn’t especially eager to return to the ranch for a visit, but her father was beginning to press his daughter to come home to Boston.  Daddy was funding her stay out West and Melissa hoped that her visit with his old friend would please him.  << And besides, I’ll get to see Johnny again . >>

        When she emerged from the stage in Morro Coyo, Melissa was very pleased to see the Lancer party waiting for her.   Murdoch greeted his old friend’s daughter warmly, escorting her to the waiting buggy in a proprietary manner.   Teresa was also welcoming and full of concerned questions about the discomforts of the stage.  And Johnny Lancer just smiled at her and drawled a greeting: “Melissa”.   He was  every bit as handsome as Melissa had remembered.  She self consciously put a hand to her hair, which she had put up in a knot at the back of her neck for the trip.

    Glancing around, Melissa noted that the other brother, Scott, did not seem to be present.  She was somewhat relieved by that.  When the Lancers had shown up to retrieve Melissa from the mining camp, Scott had been the one who had actually grabbed her and then practically thrown her onto a horse–twice.  Later on, at the ranch, he had seemed to be somewhat—– was it amused? —–by Johnny’s attentiveness to her.   Somehow Melissa had had the uncomfortable feeling that Scott hadn’t considered her to be entirely deserving of his brother’s regard.

“And where is  . .  .  Scott today?,” Melissa asked Teresa, once they were settled in the buggy. Teresa and Melissa occupied the back seat, with Murdoch Lancer as their driver.

“Oh, he had some chores to do at the ranch.”

“There’s a great deal of work to be done on a ranch, Melissa, “ Murdoch intoned.

Melissa smiled at her father’s old friend, large brown eyes widening under her dark bangs. “Well, I will try not to be too much of a distraction while I’m here, Mr. Lancer.”

“Now, don’t you worry about that.  And, between the four us, I’m sure we’ll be able to keep you entertained.”

<< And it looks as if Johnny is about to get a head start >> Teresa thought.  Eager to interrogate Melissa Harper about her life with her aunt in San Francisco, Teresa watched with growing annoyance as Johnny kept riding ahead on Barranca and then coming back to interrupt the girls‘ conversation and “make eyes” at Melissa.   In Teresa’s opinion, Johnny was only making a fool of himself with his silly smiles, grins and “puppy dog” expressions.  << I wonder what poor Barranca thinks of all this constant back and forth. >>  Teresa would  have liked to have let Johnny know exactly what she thought of his behavior, but Melissa seemed to be thoroughly enjoying  the attention. Teresa predicted that once they got back to the house, she wasn’t going to have much opportunity to speak with Johnny alone.  << I’ll just have to go find Scott. >> she decided.

    When the buggy stopped at the door of the hacienda, Johnny slid off of Barranca and uncharacteristically allowed one of the hands to tend to his horse.  When Johnny grabbed Melissa’s bags and announced that he would show their guest to her room,  Teresa shook her head and set off in search of his brother.  She found Scott seated in Murdoch’s study, just about to open a book. There was an envelope on the arm of the chair beside him.  << Hmmm. Must be that letter from Boston . >>  she thought.  As Teresa came into the room, Scott looked up and smiled at her. << He has such a nice smile, too bad we don’t see it more often . >>

     Teresa also noted that when he’d looked up and seen her, Scott’s hands had reflexively moved to the arms of the chair.  She recalled that when he’d first arrived, the well-mannered Easterner had had a most disconcerting habit of rising to his feet whenever Teresa entered a room—-a behavior that she had very quickly broken him of—- or so she thought.  But, judging from that motion, << Old habits do die hard, my father used to say. >>  Funny, with all the worrying that she and everyone else had done about Johnny’s ability to adjustment to life at Lancer, no one had really seemed very much concerned about how much  everything must have changed for Scott.

“Did Miss Harper arrive safely?” Scott asked.

    Teresa crossed the room.  She picked up Scott’s letter without really looking at it and perched on the arm of the chair. ”Yes, she certainly did,” she responded emphatically and launched into a detailed description of what she termed “Johnny’s antics”.  Scott, characteristically, didn’t seem to be particularly surprised by anything that she had to say.  “I gather that you‘re not impressed,“ he said with another smile.  “But it would appear that Johnny is ‘in love.’”

“Well, he still doesn’t have to act like a complete .  .” she sputtered, unable to come up with a fittingly disparaging term.  “He’s just acting like a  . .  . a three-ways fool!”

“That’s one of Jenny’s expressions,“ Scott observed.   Jenny had had a colorful array of insulting terms to describe Scott’s friend Josh, or at least she had until she‘d married him.  The couple now lived some distance from the ranch.  “I notice that you didn’t say ‘four-ways’, so perhaps there’s still some hope for Johnny yet.”

“Maybe . . “, Teresa said slowly.  Then, added :  “I’m sure that you’ve been in love with lots of girls, but you’d never carry on like that.”

”I can’t exactly say that I’ve been ‘in love’ with lots of women”, Scott responded good humouredly.

    Teresa smiled at that.  He was always so understated.   And she’d picked up on the fact that he’d said women, rather than girls.  “But I’m certain that lots of very elegant l adies have been in love with you.”  << Well, not lately >>, he thought.  “You must have been very popular back in Boston,” she added, waving the letter at him.

    Unable to quickly come up with an appropriate response which was both modest and truthful, Scott chose not to reply.  He did take the envelope from her, and used it to mark his place.

    Teresa reached out and fingered his black string tie.  Scott had obviously washed his hair–his bangs were nice and full.  He’d put on a clean white shirt and the light caramel colored jacket that complimented his coloring.  After a day’s work, he usually changed for dinner, but Scott had stopped “dressing up” as he had when he’d first arrived at the ranch.  This jacket and tie were more formal than usual, even for him.

“We do have a guest,” he said, looking up at her.  Teresa wanted very much to lean over and kiss the top of his head, but she didn‘t.  She wondered how his hair smelled.  Standing, she twirled around, although she was attired in her customary blouse and pants.  “I think I’ll put on a dress,” she announced and headed towards the door.

“Teresa?”

“Hmm?“

“The rose colored one suits you very well.”

She smiled brightly and hurried from the room.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    At dinner that evening, it was Scott Lancer who politely assisted “Miss Harper” with her chair.  Melissa was feeling much better now that she’d had the opportunity to change from her traveling attire.  She’d spent considerable time brushing her long dark hair and put on a very nicely fitted blue dress with long sleeves.  She was quite pleased when Scott Lancer murmured a compliment on her appearance as he seated her.

    Teresa, in rose, stood waiting impatiently until Johnny, with a good natured grin, finally did the same for her.  Along with his familiar pants, Johnny was wearing a new pine green shirt that Scott had given him.  Murdoch, seated opposite Melissa at the far end of the table, had put on a  tie for the occasion. Playing the role of gracious host, Murdoch initiated the first few topics of conversation.  He mentioned  a letter which he had recently received from Melissa’s father, James.  Murdoch also asked after Melissa’s Aunt Kate, and then talk turned to the city of San Francisco itself.  Teresa listened in rapt attention as Melissa described the sights which she had seen there.  Scott had not yet visited that city, but in response to Miss Harper’s descriptions, supplied comparisons with St. Louis,  Philadelphia, and New York.

“You do sound as if you are very well traveled, Mr. Lancer,” she said in an envious tone.

“I have seen my share of cities, Miss Harper.”

“Please,” she smiled at him. “It’s Melissa . . .  Have you been abroad?”

“When I was younger, I traveled quite a bit with my grandfather,”  Scott replied.

    Melissa and Teresa listened in fascination as Scott briefly outlined his travels on the Continent, including his tours of ancient ruins in Greece and Italy.  He named the cities he’d visited: London, Paris, Madrid,— looking across the table and smiling at his brother when he mentioned the Spanish capital.  Scott had been about to add a comment on the recent efforts to unify the German states, when he noticed that Johnny was looking a bit glassy eyed.  Murdoch too was silent—-as he had been ever since Scott had mentioned his grandfather, although the blond man hadn’t noticed this.

    “But of course,” Scott continued smoothly, “we have our own opportunities for sightseeing right here in the San Joaquin Valley, Miss Harper.   And I’m sure that Johnny would be very happy to point some of them out to you tomorrow. “ Johnny shot his brother a grateful look, while Murdoch quickly added: “I assume that means you’re willing to take care of your brother’s work tomorrow in addition to your own?”

        Scott nodded at the older man “I think that I can manage a day of that,”  although in fact, he had already done so for the past two days. Johnny began outlining plans for an excursion the next day with Melissa.  Hearing him inquire so solicitously of the young woman’s preferences regarding the lunch menu, Teresa rolled her eyes at Scott, who smiled at his plate and was careful not to look across the table at her again.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    His day of touring the ranch with Melissa Harper had not gone precisely as Johnny had hoped. The weather had been pleasant, as was Melissa, but nothing more.  She seemed to enjoy riding, although she said that she hadn’t done much of it before.  She’d talked on quite a bit about San Francisco, and the people that she’d met there.  She admired the views that Johnny showed her, and when they stopped for lunch, she very carefully kept her distance.

    It was at lunchtime that the conversation turned to Murdoch’s visit with Melissa and her Aunt Kate in San Francisco.

“Your father told my Aunt Kate a little bit about you and your brother–that neither one of you has been here very long.”

“That’s right.”

“He said that your brother was raised in Boston; I was very surprised that no one mentioned it to Daddy and me when we were here before.”

“Yeah, he’s from Boston, all right, Melissa.”  << And been  just about every where else, sounds like. I sure don’t want to be sittin’ here talkin’ ‘bout  Scott “City Boy” Lancer. >>

“And you, Johnny, you were raised in Mexico by your mother?”

“Yeah, Mexico, along the border.  Then I’ve been around some.” This was another  topic that Johnny wasn’t especially eager to pursue.

“Well, the two of you certainly seem to be very different.” Looking at Johnny appraisingly, she added: “You seem to be very happy here.  Settled.”

Johnny looked at her with some surprise. “Yeah,” he said slowly, “Guess you could say that.”

    Before they remounted, Johnny did manage to get close to Melissa.  It seemed like he was working pretty hard for just a few kisses–very different from Melissa’s previous visit.  Different from his experiences with the local girls too—–not that he minded a bit of a challenge for a change. . .  .

    When they returned to the hacienda, Johnny helped Melissa to dismount and suggested that she go on inside while he took care of the horses.  The young woman was agreeable and announced that she would be in the kitchen looking for something to drink.  She found that Scott was already seated at the kitchen table with a glass of water in front of him.  He stood as Melissa entered, revealing an untucked, and somewhat dusty, shirttail.

“Miss Harper.  Did you enjoy your ride?”

“Its beautiful here, Mr. Lancer.  May I ask what you’re drinking?”

“Only water, I‘m afraid.  Let me pour you a glass. . . .”, as he did so, he continued to make conversation.   “You must have ridden towards the southern end of the ranch—-I’m sure that Johnny only showed you his favorite spots.”

“Thank you”, she said, accepting the glass.  “So, now tell me, how does a Boston gentleman like yourself end up all the way out here?”

Scott looked down at his disheveled attire with an amused expression.  “Now whatever would make you believe that I am a “Boston gentleman ”, Miss Harper?”

Melissa directed her own smile at Scott.  “When your father came to visit, he mentioned that you grew up in Boston.”

Scott looked mildly surprised. ‘”I see.”

“As to being a gentleman, let’s say that I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Lancer.  Since, as I’ve discovered, there are many men here out West who are not in that category.”

Given what he knew of Miss Harper’s choice of a fiancé, Scott was at a loss to come up with a diplomatic response.

“In fact, I’m sure that you must think that I have very poor judgment when it comes to men,” she added, putting Scott squarely on the spot.

<< She certainly is . . . direct .>>  “Well, Miss Harper,” he said , “that does seem to be improving.“

“How so, Mr. Lancer?”

He gave her a searching look.  “My brother Johnny is certainly nothing like the Cooper brothers.   . . . Now, if you’ll excuse me, Miss Harper, I think I’ll go get cleaned up before dinner.”

    At dinner, Melissa Harper made a concerted effort to engage Scott in conversation.  In response to her questions about his impressions of Western society, he was polite, but not effusive.  When the discussion amongst the Lancer men turned to various tasks to be completed within the next few days, their young guest expressed an interest in seeing more of the ranch.  But when Johnny asked Melissa if she were “up for another day of ridin’”, Murdoch pointed out that his younger son had a considerable amount of work which needed to be done.

Melissa Harper then looked expectantly at Scott.

When Scott failed to say anything, she allowed herself a pretty pout. “I did so enjoy riding today.  I don’t get to do it very often.”

Now all eyes were on Scott.  “Well, Miss Harper, I’m afraid that tomorrow, I —

“I’m certain that Scott will be able to fit you into his schedule, Melissa,” Murdoch finished for him.

“Murdoch, you seem to be forgetting that–

Murdoch cut Scott off again.  “Scott, you’re overdue for some time off.”  The older man smiled, but the look in his eyes made no secret of the fact that he would brook no further argument—–not that his elder son could voice any additional objection without being rude to their guest.

After dinner, Scott carried his glass of wine outside.  When Johnny followed him, Scott turned and gave his brother an apologetic look.  “It seems I’ll be entertaining Miss Harper tomorrow.”

“Just so long’s you make sure you‘re not the one’s bein‘ entertained,” Johnny responded in a casual tone.

Surprised at his brother’s words, Scott looked at him quizzically.  “Johnny, you heard Murdoch . .  Its not as if he gave me any choice.   . . . So if you have a problem with it, I suggest that you take it up with him.”

“I’m talkin’ to you,” his brother replied more pointedly. “And I didn’t ‘xactly hear you objectin’.”

“I could hardly do that. “

<< Right. Wouldn’t want ya to be “impolite“, now. >>  But he made sure to keep his tone friendly. “Well, you just remember now to keep bein’ a proper gentleman.”  Johnny started to walk away.  “And Scott . .”

Scott looked at him, without expression.

“You be sure to keep those gloves of yours on, now won‘t ya.”
 

Scott shook his head and sipped his wine.  Before he’d even had a moment to think much about that conversation, Murdoch came out and stood beside him.

“I would have expected you to be a bit more gracious towards Miss Harper,“ he said abruptly.  “She is our guest.”

Scott wearily reminded Murdoch once more of his belief that Johnny had fallen in love with the young woman when the Lancers had rescued her from the Cooper brothers.

Murdoch was unimpressed.  “It sounds as if you were the one who actually rescued her.  Besides, I’m sure that you’re much more what she’s accustomed to,“ he said dismissively.

<< Now, what is that supposed to mean? >>  Normally, Scott would bristle when he felt that Murdoch was being critical of his brother.  Still somewhat irritated by the manner in which Johnny had addressed him, Scott let that aspect of the comment slide.

“Perhaps,” he replied, slowly.  “But she’s not exactly what I’m accustomed to—-  She’s very young.  And probably quite . . .  inexperienced. “

Murdoch looked grim.  “Do I need to remind you that she’s the daughter of an old friend?  A friend who gave me help when I needed it?”

“No, sir, you’ve —

“Good. Then I can be sure that you’ll behave like a proper Bostonian.”

The idea of Murdoch Lancer providing etiquette instruction to Harlan Garrett’s grandson . . .  Scott almost smiled at that.  Almost.  Instead he nodded gravely.  Murdoch turned and went back inside.

Alone with his wine, Scott leaned against a pillar and looked out towards the corral.  << For once Johnny and Murdoch agree on something—-they both expect me to behave like a “proper Boston gentleman.” >>  He sighed. << As if I could be anything else.  .  . . So, now, Boston, it would appear that you and Miss Harper are going for a ride tomorrow.  . . .  And if it should turn out that a “proper Boston gentleman” is exactly what the young lady is looking for, well then, so much the better. >>

He emptied his glass and then waited a few minutes, just in case Teresa had any complaints to air.  When the girl failed to appear, Scott went inside and headed to his room.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

“The mountainous region of the State of Maine stretches from near the White Mountains, Aroostook River.  . . some hours only of travel in this direction will carry the curious to the verge of a primitive forest, more interesting, perhaps, on all accounts, than they would reach by going a thousand miles westward. “

    Alone in his room, Scott stretched out on his bed with The Maine Woods , but hadn’t read more than a few paragraphs before he was thinking once more of his earlier interactions with his father and younger brother and the entire, strange, series of events which had brought them together.

    Scott had come to respect Murdoch Lancer as a rancher, business man, organizer.  He’d certainly built up the ranch and would by most any measure be termed a success. But as a man . . . The jury was still out.  As a father, well, he simply wasn’t, in anything other than name.  Not even that.  Both he and Johnny called him “Murdoch”.   Scott addressed him frequently as “sir”, though initially that had been a polite reflex rather than  a mark of respect.   Both he and Johnny had still attempted to be dutiful sons to Murdoch rather than insisting upon being treated fully as partners.  The two brothers were very different, in their personalities, background, and what they needed from the man. It was quite clear that Murdoch Lancer had not the slightest inkling of how to be a father to either one of them.

    More than anything, Scott was tired, —weary of this unnatural and unbelievable situation. Three adult males, strangers, thrown together. Trying to somehow forge some sort of relationship– a father-sons-siblings relationship— despite their differences.  All with the stipulation that this should be done while asking as few questions as possible and avoiding at all costs conversations about their respective pasts.

    It was unreasonable.  It was approaching ridiculous.  Scott knew that.  Yet he was no more likely to turn to Murdoch and say “tell me about my mother”, than he was to interrogate Johnny about his life as an orphan.  Johnny appeared equally reluctant to broach such topics.  For his part, Murdoch Lancer certainly did not seem compelled to offer any explanation for his failure to contact his older son for the first twenty four years of his life or to offer reasons as to why his second wife had taken their child and left him.

    Of course, Scott himself had not, would not, reveal much of himself to Murdoch and Johnny.  He’d said very little about his experiences during the war, his imprisonment at Libby, nothing about his childhood, and especially not a word about his feelings concerning his father.  Why would he ever bare his soul to these strangers?  He hadn’t shared those thoughts with anyone, not his grandfather, not Aunt Cee, not Julie Dennison, his former fiancee.  << That reminds me—-she still hasn’t responded to my letters. I really should write to her one more time. >>  On second thought, poor Julie had certainly heard, on more than one occasion, a recitation of how much Scott hated Murdoch Lancer.
 
 

    Unlike Johnny, Scott had been fortunate to grow up with an attentive grandfather.  But he’d still been an orphan.  His mother was a woman with an eternally youthful face, in a portrait hanging in the front parlor. His father was a man somewhere in far-off California, who had apparently rejected his son without ever having laid eyes upon him.

    True, Murdoch Lancer had finally sent for Scott—after he had served in the army as a cavalry officer and could therefore be expected to be of some use in helping to defend the Lancer ranch from land pirates.   Murdoch knew nothing of Scott’s childhood, his interests, his travels, how he’d spent his summers up north . . .   .  Although his father seemed to be making an effort, now that he’d actually met the man, Scott was pretty certain that Murdoch Lancer was not the sort who would have been very much interested in a little blond city boy with good manners.  . .

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     Scott woke early the next morning, coming out of a dream in which he found himself standing once more in that back alley in Morro Coyo, facing Johnny Madrid.

    Being shot by his brother had obviously been a harrowing experience, even if Johnny had only done so in order to save Scott‘s life.   It was fortunate that the ex-gunslinger was accurate enough to have inflicted only minimal damage.  Strange, that in the dream sequences, Scott usually found himself standing in the street—-because it was the memories of being a helpless prisoner that were the most painful to him in when he was in a waking state.  Being given a gun loaded with one bullet had at least provided him the option of doing something. Being tied to that chair, with his brother—- his only source of help—– seemingly against him  . . .   thinking about that was  . . . difficult.

    Shaved and dressed for the day ahead, Scott appeared in the kitchen for breakfast as usual, ready to participate in the daily ritual of practicing his rudimentary Spanish with Maria.   While Teresa was packing up a lunch for Scott’s excursion with Melissa Harper, the lady herself appeared.  As the two younger women conversed, Scott idly stirred his coffee and wondered where Johnny was this morning.

    Once underway, Scott and Melissa rode towards the northern end of the ranch.  Initially somewhat reluctant to respond to Melissa’s efforts to engage him in conversation, Scott’s good breeding won out as he politely answered each of her questions.  The young woman learned that Scott had attended Harvard and that he had served in the army during the War.  He had studied piano as a boy and although it had been a very long time since he’d actually played, he was familiar with classical music.  They discussed favorite pieces and Scott started to ask questions about Melissa’s musical studies at the institute in San Francisco.

    Overall, Melissa Harper was very favorably impressed.  Scott was older, more mature,  than the young Bostonians with whom she had been paired by her father.  He was clearly more adventurous than those Easterners, the proof being that he was living here in the West.  He had traveled extensively and might be inclined to do so again.  It occurred to Melissa that Scott Lancer was a man that even her father just might actually approve of . . . .

    On his side, Scott was beginning to enjoy chatting with Melissa.  She obviously had had the benefit of a more formal education than most of the local ladies had received.  It was pleasant to have someone with whom he could reminisce about places back home.  Scott had to admit that there were any number of topics of conversation which he would never even consider bringing up with most of the girls in town.  He even recalled that one young woman had actually regarded him with deep suspicion when he’d tried to assist her with her seat.

<< Perhaps she thought I was going to take it away . . >>  Although it made him uncomfortable to hear the echo of Murdoch’s words, Scott had to admit that Melissa Harper actually was more like what he was “accustomed to” . . .

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

         . . .  It was late afternoon and Johnny had completed, in record time, the chores which Murdoch had assigned to him, his goal, as ever, to save a few precious hours for himself.  By now, he knew better than to return to the hacienda early—–if Murdoch were there, the Old Man would come up with just one or two more things for Johnny to do.  He also didn’t especially want to be present when his brother returned from his day-long outing with Melissa Harper.  So he settled into the newly replenished hayloft with the intention of catching a brief nap.

    When Johnny woke from a light sleep, it was very warm in the loft, and he felt a little groggy.  Then he heard Scott and Melissa in the stable below.  Johnny swore softly to himself, but quickly decided not to reveal his presence, since he was uncertain of how long the couple had actually been there.  It sounded as if Scott was unsaddling the horses; Johnny figured that it was Brunswick’s stall directly below him.  His brother had certainly implied often enough that he had a way with the ladies: << Well, let’s just see if he‘s any wheres near as good as he thinks .>>

“Have you heard from your father lately?” Johnny heard Scott ask Melissa.  Johnny relaxed, figuring he wouldn’t have to worry about overhearing anything too personal if the two were going to talk about that pompous fool Jim Harper.  He grinned to himself as he thought << No wonder ol’Boston hasn’t gotten too far with the womenfolk ‘round here if that‘s what he picks to talk about.   >>

“Yes,” Melissa responded reluctantly to Scott’s question.  “He wants me to return to Boston.”

“That’s not surprising”, his brother responded in a neutral tone.  “I’ve received numerous such invitations from my grandfather”.  << Well, why the hell don’t you just take him up on it? >> Johnny thought grumpily.

“I still feel as if I’d be buried alive there,” Melissa said with some emotion. “And my father will immediately want to marry me off to someone from the “right” family.”
That sounded  a familiar to Johnny; Melissa had voiced those concerns during their first encounter.  He’d been touched by the young woman’s expressed desires to be free to “love the man that I love“ and to raise her children “to breathe the fresh air of the whole outdoors”.

“Well, Melissa, “ Scott said with an arch look and neutral tone, “you seem to be a woman who knows her own mind . . . I do believe that your father is beginning to understand that.  Otherwise he wouldn’t have allowed you to stay in  San Francisco.  And when the time is right for you to return home, I’m certain you’ll be the first to recognize it.”  Johnny smiled at that.  << Pretty speech, Boston—–you sound like  you should be HER big brother. >>

“I guess .  .” responded Melissa doubtfully.  Johnny could hear her strolling around the space.

Scott introduced another topic of conversation.  “It appears that your father knew Murdoch, when he first arrived from Scotland.”

“Did he?”

“I also understand that your father knew my mother in Boston.  . . Her name was Garrett, Catherine Garrett.”

Melissa’s footsteps stopped.  Down below, the girl turned to face Scott, and, with her hands still clasped behind her back, she looked up at him.  “Daddy’s never spoken to me about either of your parents, Scott.  I wasn’t even aware that he knew anyone out here, not until you came searching for me at the mining camp. “

In the loft above, Johnny was struck by the fact that he had never, until now, known Scott’s mother’s name.  The very few times that she’d been mentioned, it had been as “Scott’s mother”.  Of course he’d snuck a peek once or twice at that small portrait on Murdoch’s desk.  Boston sure did favor the woman.  << Catherine, huh? >>

While Johnny was thinking about this, he missed the next thing that Melissa said to his brother—as in the stable below, Melissa focused her most winning smile on Scott–”And I don’t believe that I’ve ever properly thanked you for rescuing me!!”

But Johnny did catch Scott’s response: “And what would you consider a “proper” thank you, Miss Harper?”

“Since you seem to be a very serious man, I’ll have to give that some very serious thought, Mr. Lancer.”  << Its back to  Miss Harper and Mr . Lancer, better ‘n better >>, observed Johnny.  Melissa slowly walked towards Scott.  Stopping in front of him, she slowly—–and seriously—–placed her hands on either side of his face and pulled him towards her.  Scott’s arms went smoothly around her and the kiss was long, lingering —–and completely silent.  Then Johnny heard Melissa’s lilting laugh in response to Scott’s “I must say, Miss Harper, that I do like the way you think”, as she moved to the other side of the barn.

    Now there was only the sound of Scott handling the horses.  Johnny could picture his brother methodically hanging up the tack, placing everything just so.  The man was meticulous. He didn’t know that Melissa Harper was sitting on a bale of hay watching Scott work, appreciating the view from behind as he moved  efficiently about the space.  She smiled each time he glanced in her direction.  She liked the way that his eyes smiled at her, even when the lips did not.  And she’d certainly enjoyed those lips . . .

    His hand resting on Brunswick’s back, Scott turned to Melissa once more, and now those eyes—-and lips—- were not smiling as he prepared to pose another question.  Scott looked so very serious.  She wondered what he was about to say, as he first looked down at the ground, as if gathering his thoughts, then finally addressed her: “Melissa, do you recall Murdoch saying that the last time he had seen you, you must have been “all of three”?”

“Oh, yes”, she smiled, “And he said that Daddy claimed I was reading articles from the Boston Herald !  I do remember your father saying that to me because I was so surprised.  You see, Daddy doesn’t have a great many friends and I’d never heard him mention your father before.”

Johnny wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Jim Harper didn’t have many friends.  Come to think of it, neither did Scott—must be a Boston thing.

“Well, I was wondering. .  .  Did your family do much traveling when you were younger?”

“Not really, why?”

“It had occurred to me that perhaps you’d come out here to California.”

“You think that I may have been here before?  Oh, I really don’t think so . . . But I’ll  ask Daddy.“

“Perhaps your family met Murdoch in some other city, St. Louis, Chicago . . .
Johnny didn’t see why it mattered one bit where Melissa had been when she was three years old.  The important thing was that she was here now.  Not that he much minded it if the College Boy wasn’t able to figure that one out.

Melissa shook her head emphatically, setting her long hair in motion.  “No, Scott, I really doubt that. .  . Why, as far as I know, coming out here to be with Aunt Kate was the first time that I’ve ever been very far from Boston at all . . . I’m sure that your father must have come to see us while he was there.”

She smiled up at him, swinging her legs a bit. “So Mr. Lancer, when I was “all of three”, how old were you?”

Scott had turned his attention back to Brunswick once more.  “I would have been about eight.”

Melissa got up and strolled toward Brunswick’s stall.  “And you were raised by your mother’s family  . . It must have been difficult for your father to leave this great big ranch and travel all that ways to see you . . . you must have been so excited when he came to visit.”  << What an adorable child, you must have been Mr. Scott Lancer, to grow up to be such a handsome man. >>

Johnny heard Scott’s quiet response, directly below him: “As far as I know Murdoch hasn’t been back to Boston since he and my mother left. “

    Johnny considered this—it certainly confirmed his impression that Murdoch had far less knowledge of Scott than he’d had of Johnny himself.  He was kind of surprised that Scott had shared this information with Melissa.

    For her part, Melissa Harper found this information to be quite disconcerting.  A father who never visited his son?? Definitely a sharp contrast to her own doting, often suffocating  parent.  She smiled again, but this time it was with sympathy.  “It must have been so difficult— trying  to keep in touch through letters.”

    Lying in the hay, Johnny willed his brother to make some response to that comment, but instead, after a short pause, Scott deftly changed the subject.  “And speaking of letters, I have a few to write before dinner.  Let me take you inside and we’ll find Teresa.”  Melissa and Scott exited the barn.

    Johnny thought about this, and swore to himself again.  “Not one visit.“  He was pretty sure that there wouldn’t have been any letters either.  Scott had told Johnny that he’d read Murdoch’s Pinkerton files on Johnny Madrid; it had been his new older brother who had assured him that “off and on,“ Murdoch had been searching for Johnny and his mother.  But Murdoch Lancer had known where Scott was all the time.  Seemed like he just hadn’t done anything about it.

    Why hadn’t Scott just asked Murdoch these questions?? Well, Johnny knew the answer to that one—-he hadn’t asked Murdoch anything about his own history for the same reasons.  It was embarrassin’–made you feel like a little kid again, whinin’ for your daddy.  And the Old Man probably wouldn’t give ya an answer, anyway.  Johnny wondered, not for the first time, why Scott had even bothered to come to California at all, and why he had decided to stay.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     Not in any hurry to be seen leaving the barn so soon after his brother and Melissa had exited, Johnny chewed thoughtfully on a piece of straw.  Even though he and Scott had been at Lancer for a while now, there still were  plenty of unanswered questions . . . .

    Despite Scott’s insistence that “Of course I’m staying, “ Johnny had had grave doubts that the serious Easterner would really last very long on the ranch.  Sure, Scott could ride and he could shoot, and once he’d stopped wearing those fancy clothes and dressed like everybody else, you couldn’t tell by looking at him that he didn’t belong out West.  Fortunately, Scott didn’t talk all that much, because every time he opened his mouth, his words and manner of speaking pretty much gave him away.  His brother certainly hadn’t known the first thing about ranching, and part owner or not, some of the hands had been rather merciless in their assessment of the “greenhorn.”

    The vaqueros who had witnessed Scott’s feat of jumping the just broken Barranca over fences and carts continued to tell stories about it for some time; those who had been scattered by the blond equestrian being good naturedly ribbed by their friends.  The other, newer, hands were skeptical that the reserved Bostonian was really so skilled.

    In fact, some of the wranglers had taken to watching Scott as their chief form of entertainment.   Much as Johnny had, they expected someone from back East to be an “uppity” snob and viewed anyone who hailed from a city as “soft“.  They would not be easily convinced otherwise. So, Boss’s son or not, these men were greatly amused to see Scott fail.  Each error was duly noted and mockingly commented upon; they were clearly disappointed when he was successful.  Of course, Johnny recalled, that hadn’t been all that often, not at first.  But sometimes, his brother had had a little “help” . . . the wrong kind of help.

    One day, Scott had saddled Brunswick and left him near the corral. When he returned and mounted, the horse had started bucking, white ankles flashing in the air as the horse reared up on its hindquarters. Scott had fought hard to hang on, but eventually had been unceremoniously dumped, landing hard on his backside.  Cipriano had hurried to help him up, while Jose and Miguel tried in vain to contain the animal.  Johnny had been standing with a cluster of men and had watched the events unfold from a distance.  A couple of the cowboys hooted and one commented mockingly on his brother’s disheveled appearance as Scott stood slapping the dust from his black pants–”He don’t look so proper now!”  His hat left lying neglected on the ground, hair and jacket in disarray, Scott stepped towards the still frantic horse.  “Whoa . . Whoa . .” he murmured, his expression intense  as he slowly approached Brunswick, gloved right hand upraised.  The animal settled and finally Scott grasped the reins with his left hand, turned and led his horse towards the fence. He accepted his hat from Cipriano with a word of thanks.  Uncinching the saddle,  in one swift motion he gripped it, lifted it off of Brunswick’s back and hoisted it onto the top rail of the fence.  Reaching under the saddle blanket, Scott finally located the offending object and pocketed it. Then with deliberate motions he replaced the saddle and slowly walked Brunswick around the enclosure a few times.  Johnny had noted that his brother was moving very, very carefully; he’d landed pretty hard.  << Gonna feel that tomorrow >>, Johnny had thought.   He also registered that Scott did not once glance in the direction of any of the groups of observers.  When Scott finally passed by, Johnny queried him with a friendly “Boston, you okay?” Tom Harvey had snorted at the label and the others grinned. Johnny realized belatedly that the use of the nickname had been a mistake.  Scott looked at him without expression. “I’ll be all right,” was all he’d said.

              That evening Johnny and some of his drinking buddies had headed off to town. Scott had said that he wasn’t interested; a good thing since Harvey and a few of his cronies had continued to have some big laughs about Scott landing in the dust.  Although from the first, Scott had been willing to pitch in and work side by side with anyone, there was still a sizeable distance between his older brother and the men who worked on the ranch.  There was just something about Scott that set him apart, made him seem like a “boss” even when he was the one asking how to do something.  Quietly confident—–a natural born leader.  But real self contained—— that made Scott pretty hard to get to know.  Rather than make that kind of an effort, most of the men wouldn’t bother to try.

                So Scott didn’t really have any friends.  But it for sure wasn’t for the same reasons that Jim Harper didn’t have any, even if the two men were both from the same city.  Well, on second thought, Scott had had one friend—- big Josh from the hill country.  But it had been a pretty unequal relationship right from the start.  Josh was big , strong, gentle—- and illiterate.  Scott had worked with him patiently, night after night; Johnny‘d listened in a few times.  Turned out that Scott was a natural born teacher too.  Johnny figured he‘d be a heck of a better reader himself if he‘d had someone like Scott to teach him.   And Josh, well, he’d thought the sun rose and set on Scott Lancer, though it’d been pretty easy to see that that attitude made Scott kind of uncomfortable.  Made him feel obligated too—–like he had to be always looking out for Josh.  And Josh was one of those people that just seemed to need looking after.  Some of the hands had picked up on it, of course, calling Josh “Scott’s dog” or “mule” or other things, though never to the big man’s face.

              One day, Johnny and Scott had been out with a crew clearing stumps from a field. Tom Harvey and Jake Mullen, another brainless drifter, both of them long since gone, had come up with what they figured would be a fine afternoon’s entertainment.  They had hollowed out a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, yelled “look out!”  and tossed it at his brother’s feet.  As Johnny started towards Scott, intending to pull him out of harm‘s way, big Josh had flung himself right on top of  the explosive.  The only “explosion” had been one of laughter, first from Harvey and Mullen and the others who had been in on the joke, then spreading through the rest of the crew as they realized that Scott had not been in danger and that Josh was lying there with his eyes closed and face tensed all for nothing.

    Scott had crouched down beside the man, spoken to him so quietly that no one else could make out what he’d said, then helped him to his feet.  The others continued to snicker as his brother led the big man away from the group.  Johnny watched from a distance as Josh stood with his head bowed and Scott spoke to him with some intensity.  As Josh headed off towards the bunkhouse, Johnny strolled towards Scott, carrying the “stick of dynamite“.

“It’s hollow”, he’d informed his brother.  At first, Scott merely nodded at him, his face an impassive mask.  Then he looked at Johnny appraisingly, not entirely certain whether the younger man would answer the question: “Harvey and Mullen?”

“You got that right.”   Then Johnny looked at Scott, head tilted sideways:  “You know, Boston, maybe you should just blow up—-at them.”

“What would that prove?” his older brother asked him quietly.

“Maybe nothin’.  Maybe make you feel better.”

“I doubt that.”

Johnny looked at the “explosive” in his hand, then eyed his brother speculatively:  “You know, you kinda remind me of a stick of dynamite.”

Scott had started methodically removing the glove from the fingers of his right hand, but at that comment, he looked at Johnny sharply.   “I’m hollow?” he asked in a “did I understand you correctly?” tone of voice.

“No”, responded Johnny, momentarily confused by that response.  Then he looked down at the stick in his hand.   “I mean a real one.”  He looked at Scott with narrowed eyes as he continued his analysis.  “You do a damn fine job of making sure that the fuse ain’t lit.  But I’m thinkin’ one of these days its gonna get away from you.”

“And I’ll explode?”, Scott asked carefully, looking down and working on the left glove now.

“Yeah, somethin’ like that.”

Scott looked up again, meeting Johnny’s eyes.  “I wouldn’t count on it, if I were you.”

Johnny stood idly tossing the fake stick of dynamite from one hand to the other and watched as his brother walked away.  << Maybe I won’t.   Sure would like to be there to see it, if it happens though . . . Guess I wouldn’t  be too anxious to be the target. >>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    What Johnny hadn’t known, because Scott didn’t show it, was how very, very  close his brother had been to reaching the end of his rope.  Rope—-now that had been a sore subject.  Scott certainly hadn’t been very good at anything having to do with it, most especially attempting to lasso wayward steers.  His Harvard degree, European travels, cavalry experience, even his backwoods Maine adventures——NONE of it had prepared him for the specific ranching skills which he was now expected to master.  He wasn’t used to failing, and he’d had his share of it since he started his “ranching lessons”.  He’d had enough difficulties of his own, he certainly hadn’t needed the practical jokes.  Now Josh had been pulled into it.  Scott kicked at the ground in frustration. << Too bad I didn’t take that stick of dynamite away from Johnny–then I’d have something to throw. >>

    To say that Scott Lancer had a competitive nature would be an  understatement.   In the beginning, he’d challenged himself to try to keep up with his younger brother——from what he’d read in Murdoch‘s Pinkerton files, Johnny had grown up in the border towns and become a hired gun at a very young age. So Scott had expected that Johnny would have just as much to learn.  That hadn’t turned out to be the case.  It seemed that his brother had not only the distinct advantage of having seen ranching techniques before, he’d evidently spent at least a little time actually doing such work.  And unlike Scott, in those areas where he seemed lacking in expertise, Johnny had progressed very rapidly.

    Scott shook his head ruefully.  It probably also didn’t hurt that Johnny had a group of supporters to cheer him on.  The vaqueros had immediately adopted him as their own; a few, like Cipriano, had even been at Lancer long enough to remember Johnny as a baby.  His brother naturally gravitated towards the Mexicans and conversed easily with them in rapid, fluent Spanish.  Scott couldn’t yet understand much of what they were saying, but he assumed that Johnny had the benefit of some additional encouragement and advice.

    Scott on the other hand, faced a less friendly audience.  The hands who were not Mexican, the “cowboys”, far from being supportive of Scott, seemed to take particular delight in the “college boy” learning some painful lessons.   What he heard from them was shouts of laughter, not encouragement.  Although the vaqueros did not join in the derision, Scott usually had to be the one to make the approach and then ask a direct question in order to obtain any helpful information from one of them.  Hopefully some of the distance would disappear once he’d learned more of their language.  When he had enlisted Cipriano’s help in laying the trap for Pardee, Scott had been respectful of the older man’s knowledge of the terrain, careful to act on his advice.  Yet Cipriano had still seemed to want to defer to Scott, as if he regarded him as some sort of stand in for Murdoch himself.

    Murdoch would sometimes remember to ask Scott how things were going, but, fortunately, he never pressed  for many details.  The only person who ever had anything heartening or reassuring to say to Scott was his new brother.  Scott had been both surprised and grateful, even if he knew that he wasn’t always gracious.  But Johnny still couldn’t resist making a few jokes, having a few grins.  So even with him, Scott hadn’t let his guard down; he was quick with a self deprecating comment and carefully thanked his younger brother when he did offer advice.

    One thing was certain.  No one was ever going to get a glimpse of how frustrating it all really was.  There were many things that he still needed to learn, things that they hadn’t taught him at Harvard.  Scott might not be able to cut a steer from the herd and rope him cleanly—–not yet anyway.   But one lesson that Scott Lancer had mastered very, very well, was how to mask his feelings.  He’d earned an advanced degree in that at Libby Prison, under the tutelage of Professor Johnny Reb.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     “We had dinner . . .  At the public-houses on this road, the front rank is composed of various kinds of “sweet cakes,“ in a continuous line from one end of the table to the other. I think I may safely say that there was a row of ten or a dozen plates of this kind set before us.   They say that, when the lumberers come out of the woods, they have a craving for cakes and pies, and such sweet things, which there are almost unknown, and this is the supply to satisfy that demand. “

                    —Henry David Thoreau  The Maine Woods

    Dinner conversation that evening was filled with references to Boston, Boston, Boston as Melissa and Scott kept going back and forth about people, places and all the big doings in the Eastern city.  It seemed that Boston had everything:  dinners, dances, plays, performances in the Boston Music Hall—–Johnny wondered why he’d never noticed that California cities were “sadly lacking in most forms of entertainment.”  << Hell, from the sound of it, even San Francisco don’t come close to measurin’  up to Boston >>.

    Johnny noticed  that Murdoch didn’t seem to have much appetite for the topic either; the Old Man kept trying to engage him or Teresa in an alternate conversation.  In fact, the elder Lancer appeared to relish discussion of Boston about as much as he appreciated mention of “Madrid.”   Johnny wondered with grim amusement which one would be Murdoch’s least favorite city:  Boston or Madrid?

“When you do decide to return East, you might contact me,“ Scott suggested to Melissa. “I do intend to go back for a visit at some time; perhaps we could travel together.”

Johnny felt Teresa grow tense beside him; when he looked at Murdoch for his reaction, the older man’s expression indicated that he had a very bad taste in his mouth.  Melissa gave Scott one of her big smiles and said that that would be “just wonderful.”

“Well, “ Johnny drawled at Melissa, “sounds like you’re thinking’ of goin’ back to be ‘buried in Boston.’”

Scott put his lips tightly together, while Melissa smiled sweetly at Johnny: “Oh, only for a visit.  And not right away. There’s still so much to see and do in so many other places.”  “Why, I’d much rather stay here than be stuck in Boston permanently,” she added.  From the expression on Scott’s face, Johnny supposed that his brother didn’t altogether share Melissa Harper’s negative opinion of their home city.

    After the meal was over, Teresa took Melissa off somewhere and Murdoch went to talk to Jelly.  Johnny stepped outside, still thinking about Boston—and Scott and Murdoch.  He knew that on numerous occasions, his older brother had attempted to be a peacemaker, smoothing over disagreements between Murdoch and himself.  << And  then there’s all the times I don’t know ’bout .>>  Scott hadn’t always been successful, but Johnny recognized that he’d made the effort.

    Johnny leaned against the pillar and looked up at the evening sky.   He didn’t especially enjoy thinking about being here at the ranch alone with Murdoch—–even for the number of weeks that would be required for Scott to make a short visit back East.   And once there, would he ever return?? Johnny thought about all those packages and letters that arrived every so often from Boston.  Scott had his grandfather there, other family, friends—–people he’d known all his life, not a bunch of strangers—- people who would surely want him to stay.

    He hadn’t thrown himself on top of an explosive or taken a bullet for his brother, but Johnny had helped Scott out more than once. He’d figured out pretty early on that Boston could use a little looking after— he’d already seen the man take some chances, especially when he set out to help somebody else.   Since Johnny had decided that Scott was worth gettin’ to know, he wanted to keep him alive and in one piece.  Though if his brother was just gonna head back East, it seemed as if maybe  he’d gone to a lot of trouble for nothin’.
 
 

    If anyone had told Johnny when he’d first met Scott that the thought of the Eastern dandy leaving some day would bother him, well, he sure would have laughed right in that man’s face.  But almost from the start, Scott had simply accepted Johnny as his brother—-Madrid and all.  Sure, he’d looked pretty dismayed when Teresa had introduced them at the stage, probably had been a whole lot less than happy, just too polite to show it.  Johnny hadn’t been altogether friendly to Scott at first, but when he’d been shot, Scott had come on out after him.  Since then, Scott had continued to be much more relaxed about Johnny’s past than Murdoch seemed to be.  Ol’Boston wasn’t afraid to discuss gunfights and he didn’t get all uncomfortable when the name Madrid was mentioned.  Hell, not too long ago, when good ol’Charlie Wainwright had been building the jail in Green River, Scott had even joked about how Johnny was lucky to have a chance to see exactly how the jail was built—-so he could  learn how to break out before they locked him in.  Come to think of it, even Murdoch had managed a chuckle at that.  Anyway, Johnny felt pretty comfortable around Scott, even made some comments of his own, like how he might be able to turn his brother into a “professional” some day.  Murdoch wasn’t around for that one; he probably wouldn’t have laughed much at the idea of havin’ TWO gunslingers for sons.  Come to think of it though, since he’d arrived in California, Scott  had already ended up behind bars once or twice himself. << Scott “Jailbird” Lancer–now don’t that have a ring to it.   Wonder what the folks back in Boston would think ‘bout that? >>

    Of course, ever since that episode with the Velasquez brothers, Scott didn’t make quite so many comments about Johnny Madrid.  << Guess it’s a little different now.  .  . makes it more real for ‘im. >>

    Johnny stood with his hands on his hips, as he considered this looking at the ground and scuffing it up with one foot.  Maybe Scott just wasn’t all that happy out here.  He seemed to get along well enough with Murdoch—–or at least better than  Johnny did, but it still wasn’t a real close relationship.  Scott sure had to have some serious questions about the past, but he and Murdoch weren’t havin’ any long talks.  Scott didn’t have a steady girl and he didn’t have any friends– << Hell, >> Johnny thought , << I don’t neither, more like drinkin’ buddies, guys to ride around with, trade the whole bunch of ‘em for Scott. >>   He figured his brother was starting to really miss all those Boston ladies he’d been sweet on and craving all those entertainments that he and Melissa had been talking about.  Well, if Scott was unhappy, Johnny would just have to see if there was anything to be done about that—–see what could be done to prevent him from getting any ideas about heading back East.
 
 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    Scott settled in a comfortable chair with the intention of trying to read another chapter of The Maine Woods :

      “I was deep within the hostile ranks of clouds, and all objects were obscured by them. Now the wind would blow me out a yard of clear sunlight, wherein I stood; then a gray, dawning light was all it could accomplish, the cloud-line ever rising and falling with the wind’s intensity. Sometimes it seemed as if the summit would be cleared in a few moments, and smile in sunshine: but what was gained on one side was lost on another. It was like sitting in a chimney and waiting for the smoke to blow away. It was, in fact, a cloud-factory, – these were the cloud-works, and the wind turned them off done from the cool, bare rocks. “

    He had actually made it through an entire page when Johnny came in and just stood there looking at him.  Wanting to avoid another uncomfortable conversation with his younger brother, Scott uncharacteristically pretended not to see him, then decided that he couldn’t ignore him any longer.  Placing one finger between the pages, he closed the book and looked up at Johnny.

“It would appear that you have something to say.”

“Yeah.”  Pause.  “Just that its okay by me if you fancy Melissa . . .”

The blond eyebrows shot up.  “You’re giving me permission?”

“Well, you ain’t exactly been spending much time with the local ladies . .  So I just figured as long as she’s here . . “

Scott just stared at him.  Finally, he spoke with a voice which had turned several degrees colder: “So, if I understand you correctly, you’ve decided to let me “have” Melissa??”

Johnny smiled. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it.”

Scott stood.  He looked blue icicles at Johnny while he organized his thoughts. “First”, he said slowly, gesturing with the book in his hand, “let me point out that Miss Harper is not an object to be handed between us.  I’m certain that she’s more than capable of making her own choices.”

“That so?,” asked Johnny with exaggerated innocence–“even though she ain’t twenty- one yet?”

Scott set his jaw–hard.  << It’s a wonder it don’t break >> thought Johnny.

“Secondly, I resent the implication that if there were a competition between us for her attentions, you would surely win. ”

Johnny stood defiantly in Scott’s icy blue eyed glare.  He stared back for a moment, then, finally, he just shrugged: “Okay, Boston, if you really want me to say it . . Yeah. If it was between you and me, I’d end up winnin’.  But then, whatever it is, I usually do.” He smiled tightly.

    Rather than saying anything, Scott deliberately turned his head, looking at the chess board standing on the table awaiting the next game.  Johnny followed his gaze.  His smile widened. “When it matters, I win”, he said in a rough voice.

    Scott’s own voice heated up, rising in volume: “And, of course, you think it would be easy .  You are such an arrogant ,  . . “–Johnny held up one hand: “Hold it.”  He turned his back on Scott and sauntered away.  Scott came close to shouting: “ Where – -are– you- -going?”  Johnny stopped in front of a chair, turned back to face his brother, sat down, and said: “I ain’t goin’ too far.“  He leaned back, placed his left foot on his right knee, and rested his hands on his belt buckle, fingers interlaced.  Then, in a mocking tone, he continued: “‘Cause if this is you explodin‘, I don’t wanna miss any of it.”

    Scott eyes widened, his mouth opened, he looked as if he’d been thunderstruck. Then he pressed his lips firmly together as a succession of emotions played across his fine features: anger, frustration and finally dismay. Johnny smiled— he was rather enjoying the display.  He only felt the barest twinge of misgiving when his brother turned away, standing in profile with head slightly bowed and his eyes closed as if in physical pain.  Scott seemed to be fighting as hard for emotional control as he’d fought to stay on Brunswick’s back. This time he hung on.  When his older brother turned to face Johnny once more, his face had assumed its usual impassive expression; when he spoke it was with a chilling calm.   Johnny had heard that there was a lot of ice and cold in Boston; it sure seemed as if Scott had managed to bring a fair amount of it along with him.

“It should be clearly evident that Miss Harper and I are much more suited to each other than the two of you would be.”

Johnny’s smile evaporated.  “How’d ya figure that?”

“If you’re unable to see it, then it merely lends credence to my assertion.”

<< What the hell was that supposed to mean? >> Not that it mattered to Johnny if he couldn’t define each one of the words—-he got the point, all right.

    Scott belatedly recognized that with his vocabulary and tone he had just slipped into what he referred to as “Hahvahd-ese”, something that he had consciously tried hard to avoid ever since he’d arrived at the ranch.  Now it seemed as if there were just too many horses here for him to handle.  Scott felt as if he had managed to gather up one set of reins only to have yet another slip from his grasp. “What I meant to say was . . .”

“I get it.” Johnny said coldly, standing up to face him.  “I’m not good enough for a girl like Melissa.  In your opinion.”

    Scott sighed and dropped into the seat behind him.  With his left elbow resting on the arm of the chair, he absently stroked his brow.  “I did not say that,“ he replied, in a tired voice.  He felt as if he’d been caught up in that cloud bank, and now he’d stepped right off of Ktaadn.  Scott continued speaking in a mechanical fashion, fairly certain that nothing he said now would make any difference.  “Melissa and I being “suited” doesn’t mean that I think that you aren’t good enough for her— or for anyone else.”  Scott wondered why Johnny was still standing there above him, why he hadn’t stalked off.  When he raised his eyes, he saw that his brother was staring at him, or, more to the point, at a spot somewhere on Scott’s forehead.  << Probably contemplating the best placement for the bullet —–and it’s not because he  wants to put me out of my misery. >>  “We are both from Boston, after all”, Scott added, and, although his face didn’t show it, he was immediately disgusted to hear himself make such an inane remark.  << Boston, why don’t you just shut up? >> he asked himself dismally.

     . . . That damn scar.  The faint mark on his brother’s brow reminded Johnny of the last time he had overreacted to something Scott had said.  Lashed out at him in anger. Well, ol’Boston wasn’t the only one who could exercise self-control.   Now Johnny was looking at a spot somewhere towards the ceiling.  He expelled an audible breath.  “So . .  . you’re both from Boston .  . . well, you know, I just hadn’t noticed,” he muttered.  Even though he knew it might be unwise, Scott couldn’t resist a small smile at that.  He looked up quickly, and in his usual dry tone, offered: “My mistake—–I was fairly certain that you’d picked up on it.”  When Johnny looked down at his brother’s eyes, he saw that there was a hopeful expression there, rather than the bland look which usually accompanied such remarks.  Scott was visibly relieved when Johnny responded with “Boston . .  . now that’s somewhere back East, ain’t it?”

    A long silence.  Scott sat staring at the cover of the book that he was still holding.  Finally setting it aside, he sighed again.  Scott fixed Johnny with a direct look and  without further preamble quietly said:  “Our relationship is important to me.  I don’t intend to see anyone or anything come between us.”

    Johnny nodded, evidently in agreement with that.  Crossing his arms, he looked at the floor and said: “Listen Scott . . . Since its soul barin’ time . .  I oughta say I was nappin’ in the hayloft today.   Guess I heard you and Melissa talkin’.”   Johnny looked up to see a slight flush on Scott’s face.  “Didn’t hear nothing’ ‘cept talk.”  Johnny had intended that as a gentle gibe, but Scott’s blush only deepened.  Had he missed something, Johnny wondered?  Anyway, looking at his brother, it seemed that there were some real disadvantages to having blond hair and a fair complexion.

“I was wonderin’ ‘bout you and Murdoch.”

    Scott started perceptibly at the mention of their father’s name. He hadn’t had any clear ideas what his younger brother had been about to ask, but had not expected it to have anything to do with Murdoch.

“What about Murdoch and me?”

“Why you never asked him any questions— ‘bout leavin’ you in Boston.”
 

     On the long trip west, Scott had had ample opportunity to contemplate his first meeting with his father.  He had anticipated various things that might be said, considered how he would respond.  He certainly had had plenty of time to imagine virtually every possible scenario—–except the introduction of his younger brother.  It had been because of this audience of one, a stranger, that Scott had refrained from pressing his questions and demanding answers, as he had intended to do.  Now that Johnny had asked for an explanation, Scott carefully considered his reply.  “I suspect its for many of the same reasons why you haven’t questioned him about your mother and his relationship with her.”

“Yeah.  I haven’t.   . . .  . But I know some things—-from Teresa,  . .  .and from you. “  Johnny had also gleaned some information from Maria and Cipriano, as well, but he kept that to himself.  “Ya know, when I was a kid, I sure hated him, ‘cause of what she told me.”

“When I was a child, I hated him also.  And when I got older, that didn’t change.”

“So it seems like that’s one thing we got in common.”

Scot smiled wanly.  “Forgive me, Johnny, if I say that in your case, you now know that you were at least somewhat  . . . misled.”

<< Lied to is what ya mean. >> “ Yeah, I know he was lookin’ for me.  You told me that. Said it was in the files.”  He didn’t add that he had quickly turned to Cipriano and Maria for confirmation of the fact.

    Scott stood and, with his hands in his pockets, moved around the room. He seemed to be talking to the walls as much as to his brother as he continued musingly:  “I have nothing to gain by questioning Murdoch.  He’s likely to place the blame on my grandfather, and possibly with some justification. . .  “ He was clearly saddened by that thought. “But,“ Scott faced Johnny once more–”Murdoch can’t possibly exonerate himself completely.  So you see, its most likely best left in the past . .  . Which is just the way that he wants it.”

“If it was me, I’d still be wantin’ to know.”  Scott did not respond.

“Ya know, something else I noticed . . . “

“What’s that?’

“The Old Man don’t seem to like hearing the word “Boston” in relation to you any more than he enjoys hearing the name “Madrid” attached to me.”

    A shadow crossed Scott’s face. Murdoch’s difficulty in dealing with his younger son’s past had caused many problems between the two of them, problems which, despite his best efforts, Scott had not always been able to mediate.  Scott strongly suspected that Johnny’s conviction that his father was ashamed of him  had caused his brother considerable pain, although he’d never admit it.

Johnny shrugged: “Guess maybe that’s somethin’ else he ain’t too proud of.“

Scott crossed the room and, for a change it was he who initiated a one-armed neck hold.  “In that case, Little Brother,” he grinned, “I’d say it’s appropriate that you selected “Boston” as my  . . .  alias.”

    Johnny spun out of Scott’s grasp, grinned back at him, and briefly clasped  his older brother’s shoulder.  But he didn’t intend to let go of the topic at hand.  Serious once more, he added: ‘You know, I always wondered why you came out here.  Weren’t for the money, weren’t for him .  Wondered why you stayed too, ‘stead of goin’ back home to Boston.”

“Sometimes I wonder that myself,” was the honest reply.  Scott shook his blond head.  “Well, all this “soul-baring” is exhausting.  I think I’ll turn in.”  Before Johnny could say another word, in a few long strides, Scott was gone.

              Johnny stood lost in thought, looking at the spot where his brother had been standing.  Coming to a decision, he strolled over to Murdoch’s desk, sat down in the chair and started opening drawers.  Having resolved to find and read the Pinkerton file on Scott, he did not bother to close the door or waste time in looking over his shoulder.  While he didn’t slam the drawers, neither was Johnny particularly concerned about opening them quietly.  He finally found what he was looking for in the bottom drawer on the left side.  First, various documents dealing with the ranch.  Then a very thick collection of paper with his names on it: Johnny Madrid was listed first, then below it, Johnny Lancer.   He placed some of those papers on the desk, opened one folder in the middle and the details of an almost forgotten gunfight leapt out at him from the page.   << Later >>, he thought, closing the file.  << Not now . >>  Wedged in between his own thick dossier and more papers dealing with ancient sales of land and cattle, so thin that he’d almost missed it, was a binder labeled: “Scott Lancer“.  He placed it on the desk, the slim folder dwarfed by the stack of ”Johnny Madrid” paperwork.  He carefully returned the thick folder to the drawer and quickly extracted the pages from Scott‘s, placing the cover back in  in its place, behind his own file.  Taking the pages with him— having rolled them into a tube– Johnny headed towards his room . . . .

    Stretched out on his bed, Johnny looked over the small amount of information which the Pinkerton agents had compiled on his brother.  It was hardly worth reading—-certainly not worth stealing—–and he wondered idly how much money Murdoch had paid for nothing.  He tossed the few sheets to the floor in disgust.

    What Murdoch had indicated was true–there was no mention of Scott’s year-long imprisonment and few details of his military service.  None of it said much that was important about Scott at all.  Well, he’d promised himself once that he’d find Scott’s file and read it, and that he’d  be sure to let his brother know if it wasn’t purely fascinatin‘.  Now, as he pictured Scott looking at the disparity between the  two stacks of information that Murdoch Lancer had collected on his sons—–well, that didn’t make Johnny feel like ribbing his brother much at all.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

      Very early the next morning, Johnny headed to the kitchen and found Maria there alone, just as he’d hoped.  Feeling somewhat like a Pinkerton agent << Imagine that Madrid. >>, he made some friendly conversation before getting around to asking her what he wanted to know.

“Maria, were you here when Murdoch was married to Scott’s mother?“

Maria looked at Johnny in surprise, uncertain as to why he would ask such a question.  “ Senora Catherine ?  Si , but el patron , he sent her away just after we came.”

“Haney’s raids?” asked Johnny.

“ Si” , Maria nodded in assent. “It was a muy bad time, Juanito.  So sad, when Senor Lancer returned, to say that the senora had died.”

“D’ya remember what he said about her baby–’bout Scott?”

Maria’s face assumed a troubled expression.  It was a long moment before she answered. ”He said. .  . that el nino had died too.”

Johnny was startled.  Quickly recovering, he narrowed his eyes: “He said that?”

“ Si , this is what he told us, Juanito.”

His mother had always called Johnny “Juanito”.  The name conjured up memories of her, some of them painful, but he had never wanted to say anything to discourage Maria.  Now a thought occurred to him: “So my mother didn’t know ‘bout Scott.”

<< Seems like she would a been more ‘n happy to tell me that Murdoch had another son. ‘Specially one that was older ‘n me and had blond hair. >>

Maria shook her head, “No, no, we all believed him, that there was no el nino .  Of course, your Mama, she knew that Senor Lancer had been married.  But it was only later, after she took you away, that el patron left, he went far away to  . . .”

When the name of the unfamiliar city escaped her, Johnny supplied it: “to Boston?”

“ Si –and he says he goes there to bring back su hijo !  Oh, Juanito!  We were so surprised! But this is what he says.  And again—- he returns alone. And this is when he started to look for you and for your Mama.  But it was too late. . “

“Trail was cold”, Johnny said.

“ Si ”, Maria said sadly.

“That the only time Murdoch went East?”

She shook her head.  “I do not know this . . .”

    Johnny knew that Maria had been helping Scott to learn Spanish.  The  woman seemed to dote on the young blond man–she was always plying him with products from her kitchen, getting him to sample items which she knew were unfamiliar to him.  “Scott ever ask you ‘bout any of this?”

“Senor Scott?  Oh, no. Madre de Dios “, she said , crossing herself.  “What would I say? It is not my place to tell such things.”

“You told me.” Johnny said simply.  “Told me ‘bout my mother.”

“Oh, Juanito,” the older woman said, patting his cheek affectionately.  “That is different.  You are one of us.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     Later that afternoon, Johnny was in his room changing out of clothes which were grubby from the day’s work.  He’d just slid his arms into a clean shirt when there was a knock on the door. “Yeah, come in,” he said, sure that it must be Scott—–his brother was the only member of the household who routinely knocked on closed doors and then actually waited for a response.  Belatedly, Johnny remembered that Melissa was visiting, but when he turned he saw that it was, in fact, Scott.  His brother was wearing his blue cropped jacket and was holding his hat.  “You goin‘ somewhere?”, Johnny asked.  “Yes . .” Scott started to say, then noticed that his opening of the door had caused some papers to be dislodged from the collection of rumpled linen which Johnny called a bed.  Stepping into the room, Scott picked up the pages and then hesitated, uncertain where to put them, reluctant to place anything on Johnny’s “bed.”

    Something on the page caught Scott’s attention and when he looked up at Johnny, his younger brother’s blue eyes were fastened on him—– even while he was fastening the buttons of his shirt.  Scott set the papers down without comment and then settled his hat squarely on his head.

“You ain’t gonna say nothin‘?”

“What’s there to say? I read the files on you.”
“Yeah.  But Murdoch gave ‘em to you to read.” Johnny said, looking down at the last button.

“He did.”

Johnny looked up at Scott.  “Well, I took ‘em out of his desk.”

“I’m certain that he won’t notice.”  Scott said evenly.

Scott pushed his hat back on the crown of his head, leaned against the doorframe, crossed his arms and waited.  After a moment, he addressed Johnny:   “Well . . . I assume that you have something to say about the number of pages—-or should I say the lack of them.  So go ahead.”

Johnny was unpredictable—-Scott wondered whether his brother would make a teasing remark or deliver a barbed comment.

“Don’t do ya justice.” Johnny said quietly.

Scott‘s eyebrows shot up.  << He so often surprises me . >>   Still apprehensive that he might be “setting himself up”, Scott nevertheless posed the question: “How so?”

For a long moment, Johnny considered his response.  Finally, he offered: “Don’t say nothin’ ‘bout that prison camp.”

Scott’s face shuttered, “No, it doesn’t.”

“Says you got a few medals.”

“I did.”

“You bring ‘em with ya?”

Scott shook his head.  “No, I didn’t.”

Johnny shrugged.  “I’d like to see ‘em sometime.”

Scott looked at him in mild surprise. “Well, I’m afraid you’d have to go to Boston for that.”

Johnny tilted his head: “I just might do that some day.”

Scott glanced down at the floor and smiled to himself.  Looking up at Johnny once more, he simply said: “That might be interesting.”

“So—-”, Johnny gestured towards the papers on the bed. “Guess I’d better get ‘em back in the drawer.”

“As I said, I doubt they’ll be missed.”

“Yeah, well, he sure ain’t reading mine every night either.”   Johnny sat down on the edge of his bed, and began putting on one of his boots.  “Speakin’ of Boston . . seems the Old Man always knew just where to find you.”

Scott just stood there, leaning on the doorjamb and regarding him with a neutral expression.  << Okay , >>, Johnny thought, << Guess you already had that figured.  >>

    While thoughtfully contemplating his second boot, Johnny continued:  “What I still wanna know is .  . .why’d you come out here?”  He gave Scott a searching glance: “How come you didn’t go back home—–to Boston?”

Scott inclined his head toward the pages on the bed.  “As you can see, I wasn’t exactly being  . . . ‘Productive’ in Boston.”

    Johnny just sat there looking at Scott, as if what he’d said hadn’t even begun to answer the question.  Obviously that phrase in the file:   “Present Occupation: NONE”, hadn’t jumped out at Johnny the way that it had for Scott.

    Scott sighed and glanced down at the floor with a serious expression.  Johnny narrowed his eyes at this behavior which was characteristic of his brother. He knew that in the next moment Scott would lift his head back up, look him right in the eyes and say something—- something significant.  Johnny sat there, still holding the second boot in his hand, and waited.

“When I  . .  decided to come out here, I ah  .  .   I thought that if things didn’t work out with Murdoch, well, then I’d do some traveling and perhaps I might look for you.”

Johnny nearly dropped that second boot.  He stared hard at his brother.  “Whadya sayin’ . .  .  that you knew ‘bout me?”

Scott managed a slight smile.  Then he sighed again.  “Not exactly.  But when I was about ten years old, I read something . . . . “

    Staring at the corner of his brother’s room, Scott was actually envisioning a much more familiar space.  “I was in my grandfather’s study.  Which,” he said looking directly at Johnny, “was off limits, you understand.”  Scott could easily picture  the neatly organized top of the large desk, which, for once, had had some papers left lying on it.  “I don’t know what possessed me to touch the file on Grandfather’s desk.  I suppose  that I recognized the name: ‘Murdoch Lancer‘.“  Looking down at the floor again, he added softly, very slowly, “We’d never spoken of him much. I knew that he lived in California, and that he had never . . .“ That sentence trailed off.

    As he resumed his narrative, Scott started to remove his left glove, one finger at a time–but kept his eyes on Johnny.   “I realize now that that folder was probably a Pinkerton file—–evidently Grandfather had gathered some information on Murdoch.  Not much of what was in it seemed very interesting to me at the time, but there was one page that mentioned a baby boy–“,  he smiled.  “Named John.”

“No kiddin’”, said Johnny softly.

With a intent expression, Scott continued.  “That got my attention.  But . .  on another page it said that the baby was gone—-there were some big letters ‘something UNKNOWN‘–probably ‘WHEREABOUTS‘. “ After a short pause, he continued: “There were quite a few more pages, but nothing else about that baby.“

Johnny watched as his brother started working the fingers of the right glove.

“I never felt that I could ask Grandfather about it,” Scott continued, “–though I‘ve always wondered if he knew what I‘d done, since I was never able to find that file again.  And I did look.”

“Of course,” he added, “when I got to be a little older, I realized that I might have been mistaken.  So, I wasn’t entirely certain that you’d ever existed.  But when I came here, I did intend to find out—-and possibly even try to find you.”  “Besides,” he concluded, with a self-deprecating smile,  “I really wasn’t doing much of anything in Boston.”

    Throughout this recitation, Johnny had remained seated on the edge of his bed, listening in fascination, oblivious to the boot dangling in his hand.  “Guess that explains why you were maybe kinda  . . .  acceptin’ . . .  of us bein’ brothers.”

Scott looked down at the gloves gathered in his hand and smiled again.  “Oh,—- I used to have entire conversations with my ‘little brother’– Johnny Lancer.”

“Yeah?”

“I can remember sitting for hours with a fishing pole, just talking away.”

“So what’d I look like?”

Scott reached up and put his hat back even further on the crown of his head.  “Well, blue eyes,” he said with a grin. “And blond hair——in fact, you looked rather like me.”

“Guess you missed the part ‘bout my mother being Mexican.”

Scott shrugged.  “I guess so.  I was ten—–it wouldn’t have meant anything.”

“Does it now?”

Scott looked at him with a slightly puzzled expression.  “What do you mean?”

“Nothin’. “  Johnny finally pulled on his other boot.  Strange that someone so smart— well, seemed like there were still one or two things Boston hadn’t caught on to yet.

In the next moment, Johnny partly reconsidered that thought, as Scott quietly said, “I gather that your mother never mentioned anything about me.”

Johnny stood up, turned and reached for his gun belt.  He wanted a moment to think about that one.  As he fastened the leather around his waist, he looked over at Scott.  “You already know she didn’t ‘xactly tell me everythin‘. . . . so where was it you were goin’?”

Scott looked mildly startled, then shook his head.  “I’d almost forgotten . .  . the reason that I came in was that Teresa and Melissa Harper took the buckboard into town——they were planning to pay a few calls.”  Scott slid his hands back into his gloves.  “They’re overdue and Murdoch wanted me to go out to meet them—–make sure they haven’t had any trouble with the wagon or the horses.  Are you coming?”

Johnny picked his discarded shirt up from the floor and used it to cover up the pages from Scott’s file which were lying on his bed.  “Let’s go.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

“Bobby!” Melissa Harper exclaimed.  She was stunned to see her former fiancé, on horseback, in the center of the road.  Sitting next to Teresa in the buckboard, all she could think was << Oh, why didn’t I stay in San Francisco! ? >>  Melissa felt ready to burst into tears but << No, no, don’t you dare >> she ordered herself.

“Bobby!” Melissa said again, “How wonderful to see you!”  “How did you know where to find me?” she asked with a big smile.

    Teresa was totally bewildered.  She had observed Melissa Harper’s interactions with Johnny and Scott over the past few days with growing irritation.   In Teresa’s opinion, Johnny had been far too interested in Melissa, while Melissa had appeared to be thoroughly enjoying his attentions.  But then their guest had suddenly seemed to be much more interested in Scott.  And Scott—-who could ever really tell? Teresa had fervently hoped that Scott was just being polite to Melissa because . . .  well, it would be just terrible if he and Johnny were to get into an argument over her.

    Suddenly this other man had appeared from out of nowhere— Melissa had sounded frightened at first, now she seemed more than happy.  Teresa regarded the newcomer appraisingly.  He had to be the “infamous” Bobby Cooper, Melissa‘s former fiancé.  He had nice features, very blond hair, much lighter than Scott’s, and incongruously dark eyebrows.  But it wasn’t just those eyebrows which made him look angry.  Melissa was still talking cheerfully about how she just couldn’t wait to tell “Bobby” all about San Francisco.  << Well, if she isn’t something. >> Teresa thought with a mixture of both disapproval and grudging admiration.  << Both Scott and Johnny paying attention to her and she’s been thinking about ‘Bobby’ the entire time. >>

“Save it, Melissa.  It ain’t going to work. I’m not interested. “  Bobby Cooper sounded as angry as he looked.

“Why, Bobby,” Melissa actually batted her eyes at him.  “Then why have you come all this way . . “

“I’m not interested”, he repeated coldly.  “But my Little Brothers are.”

Melissa looked up with apprehension as Harmon and Crocker Cooper, also on horseback, approached from behind.  They were leading a fourth mount. Both of them smiled—leered—- actually–at Melissa.

    Bobby dismounted and walked over to the wagon, setting the brake as he looked up at Teresa.  He stared at her as he removed the reins from her hands.  Without taking his eyes off of Teresa, he addressed his former fiancée: “Now, Melissa, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     When Scott and Johnny found the buckboard, it was unoccupied, the two horses standing docilely in place. They both immediately recognized the significance of the direction in which the animals were facing.  Teresa and Melissa had not made it into town.  Therefore, whoever they had gone off with–or whoever had taken them—– had quite a head start. Judging from the tracks, there were at least three, and possibly four riders.

    Neither brother stated the obvious:  that “someone” should go back to the ranch to alert Murdoch and get more help.  Or that “someone” should really take care of the horses and buckboard, rather than leaving them to stand for an unknown number of additional hours alongside the road.  However, since neither of them intended to be that “someone”, it wasn’t worth mentioning.  They simply started following the tracks, which initially were highly visible and easy to trace.

    Once the prints left the road, however, following them became much more of a challenge.  The brothers allowed their horses to choose their own footing over the rough terrain—–both riders with bowed heads, scanning the ground.  Johnny picked up the trail the first time that the tracks faded from view, Scott the second.  After exchanging compliments, they refrained from any unnecessary additional commentary, each brother recognizing that the other was rather good at this.

    Sometime later, Scott observed that “We’re quite near Josh and Jenny’s place.”

“Maybe we should stop in . . .see if they’ve seen anythin’.”

“Agreed.”

    When the Lancers rode up, Josh was out in front of the low slung house chopping up kindling.  The big man put down his ax, brushed the hair out of his eyes and approached as they dismounted.

“Scott.  Johnny, “ he said slowly.  “What brings you out this way?”

    Scott quickly filled him in.  “Jenny!!!”, Josh bellowed in the direction of the house.  “We got us some company!”

    Jenny came through the door, attired in her usual jeans and plaid shirt, but without a hat on her straight blond hair.

“Hey, Scott . . . we ain’t seen you around here for a while.”

“How are you, Jenny?”, Scott asked carefully.  It had been Jenny who had seemed quite eager to keep Josh away from Scott.

Behind them, the barn door slid open and a drawling voice announced: “Well, if it ain’t John Madrid.”

Josh looked over towards the building, Jenny smiled at the speaker and Scott froze as he recognized the voice.  Johnny kept his gun hand poised as he slowly turned to face the barn.  “Gordon.”

“John.”

Jenny jogged over to the big bearded man.  “Johnny, I hear you know my brother.”

Scott raised his eyebrows, giving his own brother a “you handle this” look.

“Yeah, me and Gordon go way back,” Johnny told the young woman.  He tilted his head sideways: “Ya say he‘s your brother?”

Jenny put her arm around the big man–Josh and Gordon looked to be about the same height, and sure enough, the top of Jenny’s head only came up to Gordon’s shoulder.

“Now I know that we don’t look terrible much alike—”she started to say.

“I’m her half brother,” Gordon explained.

Johnny grinned at that.  “Well, that sure does explain it,” he said, looking significantly at Scott.  Scott’s serious expression did not change.

“Jenny?“ Josh asked, “think you could put some food on the table?”

“Could if you was willin’ to help me.”

As the couple headed towards the house, Scott quietly said, “I’ll join you,” and handed Brunswick’s reins to Johnny.  Gordon and Johnny walked towards the barn, leading the two horses.  “Figured you’d be back in Canada by now.”

“Yeah.  Thought since I was so close, I’d come by and see Jenny. Like to convince her and Josh to come with me.”  The two men entered the barn, their unspoken plan to unsaddle the horses and provide them with some well deserved food and water.

“Where ya headed?”

“Alberta . . . we’d be Alberta bound, I guess.”

Johnny began to remove Barranca‘s saddle.  “Well, you been here a while if this is where ya came after I last saw ya.  Josh and Jenny must need some convincin’.”

Gordon began working on Brunswick.  “Ain’t that–everything they have’s tied up in this place.   . . . And I do have an idea in my head now and then.  I wasn‘t fool enough to come here directly.”

“Speakin’ of fools— ‘n ideas—– how ‘bout that gunfight –that one yours?  . . .”

“Nope.  . .  Now I’m not sayin’ I wasn’t lookin’ for the money, John.  But it was the Velasquez boys t’was lookin’ for blood.”

“Well, they sure got some.”

“Yeah.”  Gordon had been riding with Gerardo Velasquez and his older brother Diego —-“Diablo” for quite some time.  Not that he could in any way hold it against Johnny for shooting the two of them, under the circumstances.

“Ol’Diablo weren’t usually that stupid, least not when he was stone cold sober . . . giving that brother of yours Gerardo’s gun, well, John when I saw that I like to just .  . .” the bearded man finished with a colorful obscenity.

Johnny grinned in appreciation.  Gordon had always had a way with words.  Now the Canadian shook his head. “You and your brother sure did have us believin’ you were never too close.”  After a short pause, he added: “Figured you’d have come gunnin’ for me if I’d shot ‘im.”

“You got that right.”

“Hey John“–he extended his hand.  “I’m glad it turned out for ya.” Johnny hesitated a moment, then finally shook the big man’s hand.  The two of them made short work of tending to the horses and then headed into the house to join the others at the table.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

“Though we glided so swiftly, and often smoothly, down, where it had cost us no slight effort to get up, our present voyage was attended with far more danger: for if we once fairly struck one of the thousand rocks by which we were surrounded the boat would be swamped in an instant.

Stop he cannot; the only question is, where will he go? The bow-man chooses the course with all his eyes about him, striking broad off with his paddle, and drawing the boat by main force into her course. The stern-man faithfully follows the bow. “

                        –Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods
 

     Josh volunteered himself and his brother-in-law to help the Lancers try to find Teresa and Melissa.  Scott was very much averse to spending any more time in Gordon’s company, but when he tried to dissuade Josh, his friend observed, correctly, that it would only “even things up a bit”, since the brothers had indicated that they were tracking four horses.   Determined to avoid  filling Josh and Jenny in on the details of his previous experience with Jenny’s brother, and eager to resume the search for Teresa and Melissa, Scott very reluctantly acquiesced.

    Rather than wait for morning, the four men decided to make use of the remaining hours of daylight.  While they were packing provisions and bedrolls, Jenny announced her intention to ride to Lancer to inform the people there of “what Scott ‘n Johnny were up to.”  When Josh objected, saying that she should  stay put, Jenny informed him in no uncertain terms that she was going anyway.  Johnny pointed out that Jenny would ride with the men the short distance until they picked up the trail, and then head back towards Lancer—–odds were she might even encounter someone from the ranch who was following him and Scott.  In view of that, Josh was agreeable, and the five set out together.

    After parting company  with Jenny, the four men resumed tracking Teresa, Melissa and their companions until the approaching darkness made the signs invisible.   They made camp and built a fire, settling for coffee and trail food.

When Johnny left the campfire and headed over to Barranca, Scott took the opportunity to speak with his brother alone.  “So who do you think we’re following?” Scott asked him.

“Hard to tell.”

Scott gave Johnny a searching look: “I’ve been wondering. . . Johnny, did Miss Harper tell you anything about her trip to Morro Coyo?”

“Mostly that she weren’t too impressed with it.”

“I meant about the other passengers on the stage.”

“Yeah . .”,  Johnny said slowly; he could see where Scott was going with this. “She did say one of ‘em was a miner from Humboldt County.  She weren‘t too happy ‘bout that.”

His brother nodded.  “He could have been someone who knows the Cooper brothers.”

“Coulda been.  Guess we’ll know tomorrow.”

Scott looked at Johnny speculatively.  It was a moment before he asked his next question: “Just how far back do you and Gordon go?”

“He saved my skin once.”  Johnny didn’t look directly at Scott.  “When you went down, he didn’t get away–I kinda let him go.”

    Since he’d been lying on the ground, struck by his brother’s bullet, there was no way that Scott could have known this.  Scott recognized that Johnny knew he was taking a risk by revealing it.

    In the lengthening silence, Johnny added: “He never was no back shooter.  . . but I don’t know for sure what he woulda done.  I just couldn’t take the chance of not droppin’ ya, Scott.”

    Scott nodded, but didn’t say anything.  He seemed to have closed off again.  Johnny wondered if it was really only hours ago that Scott had been leaning against the doorframe, wearing a big grin and saying how when he was a kid,  he used to go fishing with his little blond haired brother, Johnny Lancer. . .  << But hell, it was just last night we were fightin’ ‘bout Melissa and ol’ Boston came pretty near to  blowin‘ up on me >>.

    When it was time to turn in, Johnny noted that his brother set up his bedroll some distance from the campfire and the other men.  From past experiences on the trail, he knew that Scott didn’t sleep too good at night.  More than once Johnny had awakened reaching for his gun in response to something Scott had shouted in his sleep. Something else he’d never said anything to his brother about—- didn’t plan to either.  He’d heard enough to believe that many of the dreams which interrupted Scott’s sleep just might have to do with that time spent in a prison camp.  Johnny wondered whether meeting up with Gordon again might not also trigger something
. . .  Scott was evidently thinking along those lines too.

    When Johnny opened his eyes, it was morning and Scott was already up and  making coffee. If his brother had called out in the night, Johnny had slept through it.  The four men cleared camp quickly as the Lancers were eager to get back on the trail. The brothers continued their pattern of alternating as lead tracker, with Josh and Gordon following behind.

    By late afternoon, Johnny was of the opinion that the trail was getting  clearer— that they might be gaining on  whoever it was they were following.  When they stopped for a short break, Scott suggested climbing up a rocky outcropping to see if anyone was in sight.  He and Josh headed up, while Johnny and Gordon waited below.

“We’ve seen them,” Scott announced, when the two returned. “They’re making camp for the night.”

“Quittin’ kinda early,” Johnny observed.  “How many?”

“I count three men–most likely the Coopers, though I can’t be certain.”

“Teresa and Melissa?”

Scott exchanged a worried look with Josh.  “We could see them .  . . But they  didn’t seem to be moving around much.”

The four mounted up and continued on for a time.  After they had traveled only a short distance, Scott called the party to a halt.  “Here’s what we might do . . “, he offered.

“Josh and  . .  .Gordon can ride on into their campsite—–the Coopers won’t recognize them, as they would you and I,” he said to Johnny.  Then, addressing Josh and his brother-in-law: “You two can be very friendly, just passing by.  But get yourselves between the women and the Coopers. “
“Johnny, you and I will circle around on foot, get to their horses.  Cut off their escape.  We’ll have the element of surprise, come out nice and easy with our guns drawn, but try to avoid any gunfire . . “

“How ‘bout waitin’ til sundown?” Gordon asked.

Scott regarded the big Canadian coolly.  “That did occur to me,” he replied.  “I guess I’ve seen too many . .  . friends shoot each other in the shadows.  So I’d rather avoid operating in the dark.”

Johnny noted his brother’s hesitation and the way that his eyes slid over Gordon when he used the word “friend”.  << Seems like Scott “Here’s the Plan” Lancer ain’t too sure ‘bout trustin’ Gordon.  Well, can‘t say I blame ‘im . >>

“Now, Josh, –Teresa will recognize you.  So here’s what you’ll have to say . . “ Scott put his hand on the big man’s arm and led him away a short distance, coaching him on a greeting that he could deliver which would both acknowledge Teresa and let her know that help was at hand. “Very friendly now, Josh.  Ask her to introduce you to her friends and you introduce your,  . .  . your brother-in-law.  Say: ‘This must be Miss Harper’ . . Tell them that Johnny and I were talking to you about her.  That will let Teresa know that you’ve seen us.”   Scott repeated these instructions twice more, with emphasis upon the key phrases that he wanted Josh to utter.

Johnny and Gordon stood apart, listening to the exchange between Scott and Josh.
“You okay with this plan?” Johnny asked the bigger man bluntly.

“Your brother sounds like maybe he knows what he’s doin’.  It’s worth believin’, anyway.  But I ain’t so sure about Josh.”

“Yeah, well, seems almost as if you could read my mind.” Johnny also had some concern about Josh playing such a key role in Scott’s plan.  Which made Gordon’s willing participation all the more necessary, in Johnny’s view.  “Just checkin’ if you got a problem followin’ Scott . . . Cause I don’t.”

Gordon gave Johnny a long look.  “The way I feel is . . . that might not be a bad choice, John.”

In response to Johnny’s surprised look, Gordon added quietly: “You keep a man in your gun sights for a time, maybe you see some things.”  The bearded man continued: “I surely do appreciate that neither one of ya said anything to Jenny—-or Josh.  . . . Anyway, John,“ he concluded, “I won‘t leave ya high and dry.”  Johnny nodded his acceptance of that, as Scott and Josh rejoined them.

“You ready?”  Johnny asked Josh.

“Yeah, Johnny, I’m ready.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     Although Bobby had declared that he wasn’t interested in Melissa Harper, he still had her ride double with him.  The Cooper brothers had put Teresa on  the extra horse.  She had tried to stay alert to the possibility of escaping, but Crocker, with the heavy sideburns and the slightly stockier Harmon,—- one or the other had remained at her side at all times.

    When they were not on horseback, it had been Bobby who had stayed close to Teresa.  Both Harmon and Crocker were quite attentive to Melissa–it was probably a good thing that there were two of them, because so far they had each intervened when the other one tried to get too “friendly” with the young woman.  Meanwhile, although Bobby tried to charm Teresa, she was having none of it.

When he’d asked her if she was comfortable, she’d replied defiantly, “I will be, just as soon as I’m back home.”

“Now Teresa, I figured you for the type of woman who might enjoy a little traveling.”

“I’d love to travel some day, but when I do, I’ll choose the destination—- and my  traveling companions,“ she replied pointedly.

“Careful, now.  You don’t want to hurt my feelings.”  He smiled, but Bobby Cooper’s eyes . . .there was something rather menacing about them.  Still Teresa couldn’t bite back her retort.  “I’m sure that you’re very sensitive.”

“I take offense real easy.  You might ask Melissa about that.”

He turned his head and snapped at his “little brothers”: “Crocker, Harmon, c’mon you two, get a fire going, cook up some grub .”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    After giving  Scott and Johnny some time to circle around to the other side of the small clearing, Josh and Gordon rode into the Coopers’ campsite.  Although she managed to hide it, Teresa was very pleased to see Josh and greatly reassured by his reference to Johnny and Scott.  Josh managed to deliver his lines fairly well, with some prompting from his brother-in-law.

    The Lancers were not quite yet in position when the other two men arrived. Hidden in the underbrush, Scott turned back to face his brother and raised his gloved hand to halt Johnny’s forward progress.  With a movement of his head, Scott indicated that the younger man was opposite Melissa Harper’s position. Johnny nodded in understanding and stood poised, gun drawn.

    Scott continued to ease forward through the brush.  Johnny noted that Scott’s weapon remained in its holster since his brother needed both hands to hold the branches motionless as he edged through them.  Scott was trying to position himself behind Bobby Cooper and Teresa, who were standing facing Josh, Gordon, Harmon and Crocker,  who were all a short distance across the clearing from them.  Josh and Gordon had dismounted and, as instructed, were standing in between Bobby’s “little brothers” and Miss Harper.

    Bobby placed his arm possessively around Teresa’s shoulders.  “Teresa”, he said in a smooth voice, “I’m surprised that you haven’t told your friend here that you’re going up to Humboldt County with me.”  “We’re about to be engaged”, he added in a conversational tone, and when Teresa started at his words, he casually slid his hand to the back of her neck.  Johnny’s eyes flitted to Scott, who was crouched motionless, intently watching Bobby and Teresa.  From Scott’s nearer vantage point, he could see Cooper’s hand tighten on Teresa’s neck, as Bobby reached for her with his other hand, turning her towards him. It was only when he attempted to bestow a kiss, that Teresa began to resist.

    Chagrined, Cooper looked at the other men and through clenched teeth he said, “You know, sometimes a woman just needs to be taught a lesson . .” Turning back to Teresa, he delivered a swift backhand to her face.  As Teresa cried out in surprise and pain, Scott exploded from the underbrush, launching himself at Bobby Cooper.

    Thinking << so much for his plan >>, Johnny emerged immediately after, gun at the ready, and hurried across the space, only to find that Josh and Gordon had already drawn their weapons and trained them on Harmon and Crocker. “Well, hello, there Melissa”, Johnny grinned at Miss Harper, then turned to watch as his older brother continued to pummel Bobby Cooper.  Scott had set Cooper up with two swift punches to the midsection, then once he was doubled over, delivered a hard blow to the man’s face.  His nose was bloodied, probably broken. Bobby collapsed in a heap.  Scott hauled him to his feet, removed Cooper’s gun from his holster and tossed it aside.   Gordon followed suit with Harmon and Crocker’s weapons.

Johnny gestured with his own gun at the two younger Coopers. “Take him and ride on outta here.  If I was you, I wouldn’t look back ‘til I was safe underground.“  Crocker and Harmon hastily moved to comply.

    Still breathing heavily, Scott turned towards Teresa, who threw her arms around him and placed her head against his chest.  “Oh, Scott!”  He stood there with his arms around her for a moment, one hand stroking her dark hair. Then he placed his gloved hands on Teresa’s shoulders and gently moved  her far enough away to get a good look at her face. Scott was just about to ask her if she was all right when he heard Melissa scream “Bobby!! No!!” and Johnny shout “Scott! Get down!”  As he dove for the ground, pulling Teresa with him, Scott heard a bullet whine past in the air directly over his head.  He heard, but did not see, his brother’s answering shot.

    Behind Scott, the three Coopers had mounted up, but instead of quickly riding away, Bobby, his nose misshapen and bloodied, had pulled a rifle from the boot attached to his saddle and pointed it at Scott.  Bobby Cooper got off one shot before Johnny’s bullet took him off of his horse.  Harmon and Crocker galloped off, leaving Bobby lying  lifeless on the ground, a red stain spreading across his chest.
 

    His unhesitatingly quick reaction to  Johnny’s warning shout had spared Scott, but across the clearing, Cooper’s bullet had found a mark and another man with a bloodstained shirt lay on the ground . . . .

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

     Scott Lancer slowly got up off the ground, helping Teresa to her feet.  “Thank you, Brother,” he said to Johnny, who was hurrying towards them. Anything else he planned to add trailed off as he looked over and saw Gordon bending over Josh.  Saying his name in a stricken tone, Scott moved in the direction of the fallen man.

“Shoulder”, Gordon informed him. “Tore up pretty bad, but I think that the bullet passed right on through.”  Josh moaned, Scott knelt beside him and Teresa sat on the ground, taking Josh’s head onto her lap.

    Johnny went over to confirm that Bobby Cooper was in fact dead.  Looked like the man had been shot through the heart. Clean.  He turned back to see Melissa staring at him, white-faced.  Approaching the young woman and placing his hands on her shoulders, Johnny turned her away from Cooper’s body. “Melissa, you get some water we can heat up,” he instructed her.  “What else we need, Scott?’

    His attention still on Josh, Scott replied: “I have some things in my saddlebags.”  Without another word, Johnny jogged off down the path, to where Brunswick and Barranca were waiting.

    Recognizing that Scott and Teresa had Josh well in hand, Gordon backed off, and went to help Melissa start a fire.  Johnny returned and tossed Scott’s saddlebags to the ground beside him.  “Got your hat, too.”

Scott glanced up at his brother.  “Thanks again.”

“Think it’s bad?’

Josh looked apprehensively at Scott when he heard Johnny‘s blunt question, then relaxed visibly when the blond man replied in a matter-of-fact tone.  “The bullet does seem to have passed through—-best to let it bleed out a little . . .”  Scott began to remove items from the saddle bags.  First a hunting knife, then a roll of bandaging, a sling . . .”Fortunately  for you, I’m used to traveling around with Johnny, so I’m prepared for this,” he said dryly to Josh.  Scott also removed a rumpled extra shirt, which he handed to his brother, asking him to tear it into strips.

    For the next half hour, Scott worked over Josh, cleaning the wound, packing it to stop the bleeding and finally immobilizing the shoulder, all the while narrating what he was doing in that calm voice of his.  << Somethin’ else Scott ain’t half bad at, >> Johnny noted, << Could come in handy .>>

    Having made Josh as comfortable as possible, Scott joined Johnny and Gordon near the campfire.  “He’ll need a doctor. There may be damage to the bone.”

“Don’t make much sense to head out now, “ Johnny replied.  “It’s almost dark. So why don’t you and the ladies see what you can find for food, “ he suggested to Scott.   Johnny glanced over at Gordon.  “Me and Gordon will take care of him”,  he added, indicating Cooper’s body.

    The two men carried the corpse out of sight.  With a small spade from the Coopers’ abandoned gear and some stones which they were able to gather, they constructed a shallow makeshift grave, and laid Bobby Cooper in it.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    Josh spent an uncomfortable night, eased somewhat with liberal doses from a bottle of whiskey  which the Coopers had also left behind.  The next morning, the big man indicated that he believed he’d be able to sit a horse.  << Good thing >>, Johnny thought, << That’s enough weight for any horse, hate to see someone have to ride double with ‘im . >>

    After the gear was packed up and loaded onto Bobby Cooper’s horse, the party set out, Johnny leading with the pack animal.  Melissa elected to ride with Scott.  Scott kept Brunswick alongside Teresa, who had resumed her position on the Coopers’ spare mount. Gordon rode close beside Josh, keeping an eye on the injured man.

    When they neared Josh and Jenny’s place, Scott rode back to check on Josh.  In response to Scott’s inquiry, Josh managed only a weak smile.  “I ain’t feeling too good right now, Scott.”

“I know that, Josh,“ he replied with a look of genuine concern. “I promise you we’ll get the doctor as soon as we can.”

“We’re almost there,” he added with an encouraging smile.  “And I have to admit that I‘m not looking forward to explaining this to your wife.  I’m very much afraid that she’s going to call me a three- ways fool for letting you get shot and you’ll be a four-ways one for coming along with us in the first place.”

    When the group arrived at Josh and Jenny’s, they found that the young woman had already returned home, accompanied by Murdoch Lancer and several of his hands—–one of whom was quickly dispatched for the doctor.

    Scott had been mistaken in his prediction . . . Jenny actually labeled him a four-ways fool for placing Josh in harm’s way.  Josh himself was upgraded to a six-ways fool for going along with Scott’s “plan“, whatever it had been, and then not having sense enough to get out of the way of a bullet.  Rounding on her brother, Jenny then turned the air blue before she put her arm around big Josh and carefully, tenderly, guided him into the house.  Scott looked embarrassed, while Johnny laughed and observed that “havin’ a way with words must be a family trait.”

“Yeah,” Gordon replied.  “We used to call her ‘Cotton Jenny’—–cotton cause that’s whatcha wanted to have stuffed in your ears, if she ever once started in on ya.”

    After Josh was settled inside, the Lancers offered their thanks to Gordon and took their leave of Josh and Jenny.   Scott told Jenny that he’d like to stop by to see Josh in a few days—if that was all right with her.

“Oh, it’s fine with me if you wanta to show up,” she informed him.  “Guess I’ll decide when you git here if I wanna let you in.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

      Teresa, Melissa and the men from Lancer started for home.  Murdoch Lancer took Teresa with him on his big horse, leaving the animal that Teresa had been riding available for Melissa Harper.  Scott on Brunswick rode slowly at the rear of the group and Johnny allowed Barranca to drift back until he was beside his pensive looking brother.

    For Johnny, the most meaningful outcome of the recent event had been the affirmation of Scott’s trust in him.  When Johnny had yelled for Scott to “Get down!”, his brother had done so instantly; he had not paused to look around or ask a question.  This was fortunate, for Scott would most likely be dead otherwise.  Teresa and Melissa had been frightened, but were unharmed.  Bobby Cooper was not going to be causing any more problems and it was pretty unlikely that Harmon and Crocker would show up again without their big brother.  Still, something was eatin’ at Scott “Lieutenant” Lancer and it wasn’t too hard to figure out what that might be.

“Josh’ll be okay.” Johnny offered.

Scott just raised one eyebrow at him.  He had assumed responsibility for the rescue attempt; he was well aware that if he had only adhered to his plan, it was quite likely that Josh might never have been injured.

“If you hadn’t gone after Cooper, I sure woulda done it.”

Scott looked over at him, then faced forward once more.

“Gordon’s trying to get Josh and Jenny to go to Canada with ‘im.”

“They told me.”

Johnny was about ready to ride on ahead.  << When Boston don’t feel like talkin ‘,  . . .

“I was thinking of offering them some money for their place, so that they’d be able to go.”

“Yeah?”

Scott looked straight ahead.  “I still have . . . that $1000 from Murdoch.  I’d intended to return it to him, but . . . It’s just never seemed like the right time to bring it up.   This might be a good use for it.“

“Sure would be . . . I’d throw mine in too, ‘cept I already gave it back to ‘im.”

Scott turned to face his brother, his surprise evident.  “You gave it back to Murdoch?”

“Yeah.  When I was still laid up with that bullet. Had it figured you wouldn’t be keepin’ yours, so I decided I wouldn’t neither.”  Uncomfortable with the way that Scott was staring at him, Johnny abruptly changed the subject.  “So now, Scott, somethin’ I was wonderin’ ‘bout—-what’s your real middle name?”

<< Real?? >>  Scott was puzzled by the phrasing of the question, but he answered nonetheless: “It’s Garrett.”

“Ya mother’s name.”

“That’s right”, Scott said evenly.  Turning towards his brother, Scott slid his hat back on the crown of his head.  “Now what’s yours—–no wait“ he said, holding up one gloved hand, “Don’t tell me the name— just give me the first letter.”

“M”.

Scott looked at Johnny appraisingly: “It’s not really Madrid?”

“Nah, not officially, anyway.”

Scott faced forward again, in a vain attempt to hide somewhat the wide grin spreading across his face.  “Then it must be Murdoch—-and that explains it—- why you’re his favorite.”

Johnny snorted at that. “Favorite!  If he had a favorite, it sure wouldn’t be me.”

Scott turned serious once more–“That’s only because the two of you are so much alike.”

Johnny rolled his eyes–he had already heard this from his brother many times before.  “Right–proud, stubborn, cut from the same cloth, ‘no give’ . . “

“It’s true.”

“Could be describin’ yourself.”

Scott squinted at Johnny and said, carefully:  “On me,  it looks . . . different.”

 Johnny had to agree with that.  << Actually, don’t look like nothin’ Boston, cause that’s what you let folks see most of the time . .  .nothin’ .>>  Johnny was still of the opinion that his older brother would one day lose that control of his and explode.

After a moment, Scott softly said, “I wish I’d known that you’d given back that money.”

Johnny considered that.  He had a pretty good idea of what Scott’s initial opinion of him had been.  “It‘s always been about the money for you“ is what Scott had said once.  Johnny fixed his bother with a direct look.  “Well, I ain’t saying it weren’t why I came. But the money’s not why I stayed.  . . Hell, Scott, seems like maybe things’ve changed some since then.”

“You got that right,” replied Scott, in a very poor imitation of Johnny’s drawl.

Johnny had to laugh at that.  “Do me a favor now, Boston,” Johnny grinned at him.  “Don’t go and change too much.” With that, Johnny spurred Barranca into a gallop.  Knowing from experience that the lighter and quicker Brunswick would easily make up the distance, Scott waited a moment before setting off in pursuit.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

    Very late on the first evening back at the ranch, Johnny undertook  to return the pages of Scott’s file to the folder in Murdoch’s desk drawer. Confronted once more with the sight of his own extensive paperwork, he decided to again postpone reading any of it.  He knew that he would do so at some point, if only to discover exactly what his father and brother knew about his past.

    Thanks to his own investigative efforts, and no thanks to the Pinkertons, Johnny was in possession of information about Scott–information of which his older brother was unaware.  Most startling was the fact that Murdoch had for a time denied the existence of his elder son; had apparently actually informed the people here at the ranch that baby Scott had died along with his mother.  Or, giving Murdoch Lancer the benefit of the doubt, perhaps others had made that assumption and Murdoch had simply allowed them to believe it.

    According to Maria, after Johnny’s mother had departed, with Johnny in tow, Murdoch had gone to Boston, intending to bring Scott back with him.   Scott was a few years older, so Johnny figured that his brother would have been about five.  Murdoch had said he’d seen Melissa Harper when she was three—– probably back in Boston, based on the conversation Johnny had overheard between Scott and Melissa. Scott would have been about eight years old then.  But his brother apparently had no recollection of ever having had a visit from their father. And, however many times Murdoch had actually journeyed to the eastern city, he had obviously returned to the ranch empty-handed.

    Johnny wasn’t certain what, if anything he should do with this information.  Like Maria, he felt that  it wasn‘t his “place”’ to inform his brother, even if asked.  << Ain’t my story to tell .>>  He did however, feel much more curious about Scott’s upbringing in Boston. Johnny wondered about all those unknown people in his brother’s life, most especially his grandfather.  << Wouldn’t mind hearin’  more about that little blond haired brother of his, either. >>

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  

“We have advanced by leaps to the Pacific, and left  . . . California unexplored behind us. Though the railroad and the telegraph have been established on the shores of Maine, the Indian still looks out from her interior mountains over all these to the sea. There stands the city of Bangor, fifty miles up the Penobscot, the principal lumber depot on this continent, like a star on the edge of night, still hewing at the forests of which it is built,  – and yet only a few axe-men have gone “up river,“ into the howling wilderness which feeds it. The bear and deer are still found within its limits; and the moose, as he swims the Penobscot, and sixty miles above, the country is virtually unmapped and unexplored . “

    Having finally reached the end of Henry David Thoreau’s account of his trip up and down Ktaadn, Scott was pleased to find that he still had two thirds of The Maine Woods to look forward to reading. Thoreau had also written about two additional journeys into the forests of the Pine Tree State, when he had canoed first Chesuncook Lake, and, then later the Allegash.

    Scott couldn’t help but consider that, in coming out West, he like Thoreau, had made his own venture into the “wilderness”.   His life out here was a journey into territory which was still largely unmapped.  Melissa Harper‘s visit had reawakened Scott’s awareness of the still unexplored areas of his own past.   Not only were there questions which he had not yet addressed to Murdoch here in California, but also others which had never been raised with his grandfather back East.

    It had fallen to Murdoch Lancer to entertain  Melissa Harper for the remainder of the young woman’s visit.   By unspoken mutual agreement, Johnny and Scott each tried to avoid spending much time alone with their guest.

    When the day of Melissa’s departure dawned, all three of the Lancer men and Teresa accompanied her to Morro Coyo.  Scott drove the buggy, with Melissa beside him and Teresa and Murdoch in the back seat.  Johnny, on  Barranca, rode alongside.  As they pulled to a halt at the stage depot, Murdoch solemnly inquired as to Melissa’s plans.

“I’ll spend another month with Aunt Kate in San Francisco,” Melissa replied. “Long enough to finish my studies at the institute.”

“And then?”

Melissa looked over her shoulder and smiled at Murdoch.  “And then . . I think that I’ll make Daddy very happy and go back to Boston for a while.”

    While Murdoch handed Teresa down from the buggy on one side, Scott assisted Melissa on the other and Johnny gathered up her bags.  As they stood on the far side of the buggy, away from the others, Melissa quietly thanked Scott once again for rescuing her:  “you saved me —twice“, she smiled, her words followed by a brief kiss.  Then, “Good luck,” she said.

    In response to Scott’s questioning look, Melissa smiled knowingly and glanced over to where Teresa was standing, Johnny’s arm draped casually over her shoulder.   “When you do go back to Boston for a visit, Scott, you really should take Teresa along with you.  I know that she would like to do some traveling.  And I’ve found that after a little traveling, even a woman who wants the whole world just might come to better appreciate what she already has . . . . “

     Melissa took her leave of Murdoch, promising to give his regards to James Harper when she wrote her father a carefully edited account of her visit to Lancer.  She hugged Teresa and gave Johnny a kiss on the cheek.   Then, turning to Scott, who was waiting to help her onto the stage, she inquired, “So Scott,  when will you be going back to Boston?”

    Murdoch, Johnny and Teresa did not even attempt to pretend that they doing anything other than intently listening for Scott’s reply.  “Actually, Melissa,” he smiled down at her, “it may be quite some time before I get back to Boston.  You see, I’ve invited my grandfather to come here.”

    Beside him, Johnny felt, rather than saw, Teresa break out into a big smile.  He slid his eyes over to Murdoch, who  was not smiling.  The older man’s face had turned to stone.  At the moment, his father probably closely resembled that rock formation up in  New Hampshire called “The Old Man of the Mountains“, the one that Scott and Melissa had been talking about the evening before.  As his brother carefully handed Melissa Harper into the coach, Johnny thought “Well, whadya know . . .a visit from Scott’s grandfather . . . Now that could be real . . . interestin.“

To WHN: The Kid and Blue Skies For Willie Sharp

~end~
.

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. You can do so using the ‘reply’ box below, or, if you prefer, you can email Sharon directly.

Stories in Sequence Series
Boston 1870
Why Scott Stayed
First Toast
Together at Day’s End
WHN: The Escape
Questions of Brotherhood
Melissa and the Maine Woods
WHN for “The Kid” & “Blue Skies”
Echoes of the Heart

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: