Disclaimer: These characters, apart from Jemimah Day, are not mine though,
if they were, I would certainly show them more love, respect and gratitude
than Fox do.
Scott is 28; Johnny is 23.
"Boy, I am stuffed!"
Jemimah flopped back onto the soft upholstery of the sofa and patted her rounded middle just in case anyone had not fully grasped the meaning of her statement.
"You are not 'stuffed'; you are replete, satiated, abounding... at the very least 'full' but never stuffed!" Scott pointed out in a very school-masterly way as he sat in the armchair opposite and made himself comfortable.
"I bloody well am stuffed - every day at about 7 o' clock!" Jemimah persisted with a saucy grin.
Johnny flopped down beside her and proceeded to tickle the stomach she was patting so contentedly. So thorough was he that, as well as gasping for breath between each bout of shrieking laughter, she let out a burp which resonated around the room and reduced her tormentor to helpless giggles.
Teresa, by now realising the futility of trying to instil any kind of decorum into the girl, merely shook her head sadly and sipped at her sherry, a mound of mending in the work basket beside her.
"Come on, Jemimah," she smiled. "How about giving me a hand with some of this mending?"
Johnny stopped tickling her and the girl's face fell.
"We'ell, I could, I suppose," she hedged. "But you know I'm not much of a seamstress, Teresa. Last time... d'you remember what happened?"
"I sure do!" Johnny announced, an expression of horror flitting across his handsome face. "Half the buttons on my shirt suddenly pinged off in the middle of the store. Ol' Widow Hargis just about had a seizure!"
Jemimah smothered a snort of glee and ducked her head at Johnny's piercing glance. He couldn't prove it but he knew that the little devil had done it on purpose. Handy way of avoiding any future mending tasks! He reached out a strong suntanned arm and quickly had the kid in a playful headlock, tugging her to his side. The tussle rapidly morphed into a hug as the two settled more comfortably back into the cushions and Johnny accepted the glass of brandy from his father.
Murdoch eased his sore back into his armchair by the fire and puffed on his cigar. The aromatic smoke curled in a violet swirl around him, drifting gently across the room. Jemimah sniffed it appreciatively.
She liked cigar smoke - and pipe smoke. But she could not stand the dry, stale smell of cigarettes. They gave her a headache and she avoided Johnny or any of the other hands when they lit one up. She wouldn't mind trying a little puff of a cigar though. She had watched Murdoch smoking often enough to realise that you didn't breathe cigars or pipes back so they couldn't stunt your growth like cigarettes did - or so Maria said!
"Daddy," she began pleasantly, eliciting a snort from Johnny who knew very well that she only used the endearment when she wanted something and suspected Murdoch would not oblige her.
She elbowed Johnny hard in the side of his red shirt, just about where his ribs were, and he retaliated with a half-hearted cuff to her ear.
"Daddy," she repeated, gritting her teeth at Johnny's pestiferous interference.
"Yes, daughter," Murdoch quirked a wry brow.
"Do you think I may have a little try at your cigar... please?"
Jemimah was fairly sure her up-front request and added politeness would persuade Murdoch to look favourably on her plea. After all, she was not being sneaky about it or doing it behind his back.
"No, I think not," Murdoch replied in no uncertain terms. "Definitely not!"
Johnny again snorted into his glass. Her elbow jammed into his ribs for a second time and was swiftly followed with a slightly sharper cuff to her ear. This time it stung! Jemimah scowled.
"But I asked nicely!"
"You did indeed and I'm very impressed by your good manners," Murdoch praised and the girl beamed. "However, you will not smoke!"
She narrowed her piercing green eyes at Johnny and then Scott in turn. They were both laughing at her and she did not appreciate it.
"Why not?" she pouted. "All I want is a quick puff! I don't want to smoke the whole damn... darn thing!"
"Aside from the fact that you are thirteen years old and therefore too young to smoke, you are a young lady and the sight of a cigar protruding from your mouth would be incongruous, to say the least," Scott pointed out.
"Incon...?" Johnny began, wrinkling up his nose as he always did at any of his brother's more complicated vocabulary.
"It means 'out of place'; 'not fitting'," Jemimah brushed aside his query. "But why can't I? Just one very quick, tiny, little..."
"Let it go, chica," Johnny instructed, his blue eyes twinkling down at her. "Leave the cigars to the men. I mean... we don't want another Teresa problem!" He bit the inside of his lower lip to keep from smiling at Teresa's sudden flush and exclamation.
"What do you mean - 'Teresa problem'?"
Johnny couldn't hold back the chuckle and even Scott hid his grin behind his crystal tumbler.
"Teresa, what are they on about?"
The older girl, her cheeks a warm shade of puce, managed to raise her eyes from the button she was sewing on (and studying assiduously!) long enough to grind out, "Smoking is disgusting and dangerous and I'd better not catch you trying it... or I'll tell Murdoch!"
Said Murdoch fixed Jemimah beadily and raised a single eloquent brow. He did not cease puffing on the cigar. Jemimah huffed and, feeling Johnny's body softly shaking with silent laughter, dug her bony little elbow into his side for a third time.
"Oof! Dang! You do that again, kid..." Johnny leaned over and grabbed her, a fiery gleam in his eye. "... an' you better start runnin'! As it is..."
Jemimah squealed then, reading the devilish intent on his grinning face but powerless to escape his clutches, as Johnny proceeded to tickle her to within an inch of her life!
Murdoch was a contented man.
A delicious supper - Teresa had surpassed herself. The beef had been melt-in-the-mouth tender and the apple dumplings, liberally doused with cinnamon and thick yellow custard, scrumptious as Jemimah had proclaimed!
He flicked through the note from the child's teacher, Mr Quinn. A glowing report for once. The youngster was top in every subject except American history and, given that she had not yet been in the country for a year, he would not hold that against her. Yes... he was very pleased with her. Her behaviour, in the main, had been good ever since New Year and he was daring to hope she had made a resolution to stick to the rules. Midway through February now and they had all noticed the improvement.
The ranch - that new bull from Aggie seemed to have done his 'duty'! Another seven heifers today... what had Jemimah called them? Oh yes... 'up the stick'! Murdoch shook his head, chuckling. Now, if only they could curb her colourful vocabulary and unique way of phrasing things...
"Let us have a little taste of your brandy, Scott?"
Jemimah was seated, cross-legged, on the rug in front of the hearth, leaning on her big brother's long legs as they stretched out towards the fire. Scott tilted his head on one side, considering her request with a smile, then, relenting, he held the glass to her lips. Jemimah took a careful sip and swilled the liquor around her mouth before swallowing. Both Johnny and Murdoch chuckled at her expression of disgust.
"Blugh! Tastes like medicine!" she spat, trying to shudder away the vile flavour. "Or boot polish!"
Scott himself took a refined sip and smacked his lips. Jemimah eyed him craftily.
"Could I have a little tiny puff of your cigar to take away the taste, Scott?"
Scott paused and, wagging his finger warningly at her, shook his head.
"No, you cannot, young lady," Murdoch's voice rumbled from the other side of the fireplace. "I thought we'd covered that last night? You are a lady and ladies do not smoke."
Jemimah slumped sullenly onto her stomach, leaning on her elbows and glaring into the dancing flames. "Seems like ladies don't get to do anything fun," she groused. "They're not supposed to ride astride or shoot guns or go into saloons or drink whisky or spit or cuss..."
Murdoch smiled at her long list of woes but remained resolute. "You get to do plenty so I shan't feel too badly for you. But there will be no smoking; absolutely no smoking and that is my final word!" He caught her eye and gave her the look - the one that said that he had put his foot down and she would be wise not to test him. "And," he went on. "If I ever catch you in a saloon, wearing a gun, drinking whisky, spitting or cussing... you won't want to ride a horse at all, be it side-saddle or astride!"
All three Lancers chuckled at her scowl which was still determinedly fixed in place five minutes later as she stomped petulantly off towards the hall on her way up to bed, Murdoch having called her bedtime.
"Just remember, young lady," he warned ominously. "Smoking is bad for your health... and I don't just mean your lungs!"
The next morning, being Saturday, meant that, once her chores were done, Jemimah had the whole afternoon to herself.
Scott had ridden over to the Conway spread with Murdoch who was escorting Aggie to some horse auction he had been talking about for a few weeks. Scott hoped to visit with Aggie's niece, Helen who was over from Connecticut for a few months. Murdoch wasn't expected back until suppertime and, if Helen was available, it was a pretty sure bet that Scott would be gone most of the afternoon too. Teresa had taken the buggy to Green River to see her friend, Millicent and Johnny had accompanied her, deciding to call in on Val and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. It was going to be pretty quiet in the house Jemimah reckoned.
To be sure, she was not alone; Maria was in the kitchen as always and Jelly was lurking about outside somewhere. She had seen Cip talking to some of the hands earlier and Alfie, the young man they had taken on before Christmas had waved at her as he passed her sweeping the porch. But, Jemimah wasn't sure what she would do with her free time. It was far too sunny to stay in all afternoon but she didn't know if she should hang on to see if Johnny came back early enough so they could go for a ride together - that's if he wanted to after riding to Green River and back. Maybe she should just sit on the porch with some cookies and Maria's lemonade and read her book - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. She was thoroughly enjoying it and totally identified with the character of Jo. Oh, decisions, decisions!
Finishing her lunch in the kitchen, Jemimah helped Maria to wash the dishes and even offered to peel a small mountain of potatoes in readiness for the evening meal. Eventually, Maria forbade her to do any more chores; she had worked hard all morning and she had earned the chance to play, the good lady decreed. With a wave of her brightly appliquéd apron, she scooted the child out of her kitchen, pressing a tall glass of lemonade on her as she skipped off cheerily
Jemimah got as far as Murdoch's big solid oak desk by the windows. She slouched lazily in his oversized chair, propping her feet up on the carved desk edge, careful to shift the paperwork he had left so that it was in no danger of being dripped on or accidentally knocked off and scattered.
"No, Scott, you can't have Monday off to go gallivanting around the countryside with Helen Farmer!" Jemimah's impersonation of Murdoch was uncannily accurate. "I don't care if she has got the body of a twenty dollar whore and can go like a rabbit all night... this is a working ranch, boy - not a rest home for the terminally verbose! Get your head out of the clouds and..."
Maria suddenly popped her head around the door, wondering who the child was talking to. Jemimah jumped to sit up straight, her feet back on the floor.
"Oh... um... just practising a poem we had to learn for homework," she explained innocently.
When Maria had returned to the kitchen, Jemimah grinned and switched to berating Johnny. "Where do you think you've been all night, boy?" she rumbled in a fair imitation of the big Scot. "I catch you sneaking in, reeking of Tequila and some cheap floozy's perfume again and I'll march your sorry butt out to the barn before you can say 'caquita de la vaquita'! (cow shit!)"
Jemimah grinned to herself. Boy, it must be fun to be the ol' man; giving orders, chewing everyone out, sipping whisky and puffing away on those big cigars. The girl paused. Cigars. Hmm...
Leaping up from the chair, she pranced lightly over to the kitchen door and eased it slightly ajar. Maria, she saw, was busily chopping vegetables and humming to herself. Jemimah skipped back. Holding her breath, she reached stealthily into the silver cigar box on the desk and selected one in her slim fingers. She knew the drill well and used Murdoch's silver humidors to carefully snip the head off. She sniffed the oaky aroma appreciatively, as he always did before lighting it. A small matching silver cylinder of wooden matches was kept on the corner of the desk for precisely this purpose. Jemimah reached for one now, lighting it on the striker.
The cigar now clamped between her pearly teeth, the girl puffed delicately on it while holding the flame to the uncut end. With her free hand, she rotated the cigar to ensure it was evenly lit. Oh yes - she had studied carefully. Just to be on the safe side, Jemimah then slid down to the carpet, snuggling into the foot well of the desk to practice drawing in the smoke slowly, just a few times every minute, swirling it around her mouth so that the taste reached every part before she gently blew it out again. Enjoying the experience immensely, she sat back and rested her head against the cool wood.
"The Indians got the right idea with them smoke signals!" Johnny gave a wry smile and clapped his brother on the back as they crossed the yard. "What a waste of time! If I'd known Val was over at the Dixon place, I'd have stayed here, maybe taken the kid out for a ride."
"At least you saw Teresa safely to Millie's," Scott looked on the positive side. "I know what you mean though... I barely had chance to say good morning to Helen before the Fassbenders arrived to pick her up."
"Glad I missed that party," Johnny grimaced. "Never could figure out what ol' Mrs F has against me but every time she claps eyes on me she gets a face on her looks like she's suckin' a lemon!" He pursed his lips in a comical imitation of Mrs Fassbender's prune-like mouth and disapproving glare. "D'you think Murdoch will be back anytime soon?"
Scott shook his head wisely. "Not a chance. We won't see him 'til suppertime."
The brothers went in through the front door, pausing by the stand in the hall to divest themselves of jackets, hats and gun belts. Johnny shivered theatrically, rubbing his hands together and crossing to the fire to toast his firm behind. His blue shirt sleeves were rolled down and the cuffs fastened for once.
"Murdoch?" Scott called up the stairs. "See? He's not here. Told you he wouldn't be back yet. If he's out with Aggie for the day, I don't think we should expect him back until much later." Scott moved to the sideboard and took up the Stuart whisky decanter.
"Just what you trying to imply, brother?" Johnny grinned, rubbing the warmth back into his rear-end. "Well, he must be around; I can smell his cigars. Maybe he's outside somewhere." Reluctant to leave the heat of the fireplace, Johnny inclined his head towards the French windows in the hope that Scott would wander outside to search for the ol' man and leave him to get comfy on the sofa. Forty winks sounded pretty appealing.
Scott paused, the decanter hovering above the two tumblers, and pointed to the desk. Both men watched as a thin wisp of smoke curled its way up from behind the solid wooden structure. They stared uncomprehendingly at it for a moment then grinned at each other.
"Well, guess we oughtta mosey on into the kitchen," Johnny said loudly.
"Yes, I could just do with some of Maria's hot coffee," Scott agreed in an equally loud voice.
Both young men stomped over to the door then, spinning on the spot, tiptoed furtively back to the desk. Johnny used his fingers to count steadily to three and, as he held aloft the third digit, Scott pounced behind the desk. There was a single yelp and Jemimah was tugged upwards by the ear, a still smouldering Cuban cigar in her fist.
"Well now, what do we have here?" Scott mused, surveying the writhing girl in his firm grip. "Johnny, we were mistaken; this isn't Murdoch after all."
Playing along, hands on hips and boot tapping the carpet so that his spurs jingled, Johnny feigned puzzlement. His hand cupping his chin as he checked out the little captive, he put on his best serious expression, fighting back the desire to laugh aloud at her outraged spluttering.
"It sure ain't. This looks like... could it be... why, Scott, I think it's Miss Jemimah!"
They regarded her for a moment.
"Y'know, this can't be Jemimah," Scott shook his head, dismissing Johnny's assertions, the two brothers enjoying teasing the little miscreant. "I remember distinctly that our father specifically told her that she was not to smoke. And she wouldn't be crazy enough to disobey him, would she? It's very naughty to disobey Murdoch..."
"And bad for your health - he said that!" Johnny pointed out.
Jemimah winced and tried to wiggle free. "Leggo my ear, you'll damage me!" she squealed. Scott let her go but pinned her with a warning look that discouraged her from taking flight. Not that it would have been worth bothering; Johnny was on the other side of the desk and she knew he'd catch her long before she got to the door or the stairs. "I was only tryin' it! Didn't you ever try one of your Grandad's cigars when you was a kid?"
Both Jemimah and Johnny turned to stare at the tall blond, stunned to discover he actually did something forbidden in his youth. In unison, they exclaimed, "Really?"
Scott raised his eyes to heaven and looked momentarily irked that they considered him such a goody-goody. "I wasn't always an officer and a gentleman; I was a child once too. I had my share of transgressions and misdeeds but Grandfather was a strict disciplinarian and most adept at discouraging any kind of shenanigans. So... certainly I tried one of his cigars. I think I was ten at the time." Scott raised a rueful eyebrow, remembering the aftermath of his misdemeanour. "And, when he caught me, he used his razor strop to stripe my behind so I didn't try one again until I was seventeen!"
"He did?" Johnny grinned in delight at the visual image in his head. Though incredulous at the thought of his upright and very proper brother getting whupped, the young man found it was undeniably an amusing idea.
Scott nodded dismally. "He did."
"I can't picture your Granpappy breakin' a sweat!" Johnny chortled, hands on his hips and staring into the middle distance, the image of a young Scott being made to pay the piper still entrancing him.
Scott nodded again. "He nearly broke me! Wore himself out."
Johnny sniggered then eyed Jemimah with a soft smile. "Speakin' of that, Murdoch must still be on the way back. He's gonna be tired when he gets home." He folded his arms and looked to Scott, who nodded in agreement.
"Too tired, d'you think?"
Johnny pretended to consider this, rubbing his jaw with his hand in thought. "Maybe."
Scott looked worried, chewing his lower lip. "Think we'd better take care of this little matter ourselves?"
"It might be best."
Glancing desperately from one to the other, as she gleaned what they were inferring, Jemimah was not at all happy with the way the conversation was going. "What? Wait!" She hadn't even finished the cigar; it certainly wasn't worth this!
Scott perched on the desk edge and tipped her over his left leg, pressed to the shiny surface. Johnny leaned forwards quickly, pinching the cigar clutched in her fingers and seating himself in the blue armchair facing her, smiling a wide smile, to watch the performance.
"Let me know when you get tired, brother." Johnny swung his legs over the arm of the chair and eased back, puffing happily on the cigar and waiting for act one to start. The kid, Scott's arm squashing her flat across the silky wooden surface, was giving him that 'I'll get even' look. Johnny clamped the cigar in his even white teeth then unbuttoned his right cuff and started to roll up his sleeve. Catching her alarmed green gaze, he winked at her and grinned wolfishly.
With only half an hour to go until dinner, Jemimah was ensconced in the kitchen again. This time, she was standing by the stove, stirring away at a vast pot of simmering chilli. Maria and Teresa were both flitting about behind her, tossing salad, filling dishes with spicy salsa and easing pans of freshly baked herb rolls out of the oven. The room was filled with the delicious aroma of garlic and rich stewing beef. The girl sniffed the air appreciatively and beamed at Maria who smiled back. If it hadn't been for the lingering discomfort of Scott and Johnny's definitive smoking cure (discomfort? Damn - that was an understatement!), and the fact that she knew they were lounging with their feet up in the great room at that very moment, puffing away on a couple of Murdoch's good cigars like a couple of Arab potentates, she would have been perfectly content.
All at once, Murdoch's rumbling roar was heard from the other room. All three ladies paused in their culinary endeavours to listen. He was clearly berating the unfortunate boys and Jemimah grinned. Though unable to catch his entire speech, they easily followed the thread of his lecture.
"...helping yourselves without asking ... audacity ... disrespect ... presumption ... not a dime a dozen ... my property..."
The kitchen door started to open and all three ladies pretended to be ignorant of the boys' predicament. Murdoch, it seemed, was still on the rant.
"... and, if you weren't both such hulking great louts who are, without a doubt, old enough to know better, I'd be marching you out to the barn sharpish! As it is..."
The two young men were herded in by a far from happy Murdoch who immediately turned to Maria, asking her to find something for Scott and Johnny to do.
"Murdoch!" Johnny was aghast. "You're joking!"
His father pinned him with a beady glare. "John, my son, does it look like I'm joking?"
"Well, no, I guess not," Johnny mumbled, his gaze averted from the big man's stony stare and fixed on the toe of his boot. "But, Murdoch... kitchen work - it's for women!" Johnny dared to glance mutinously at his father, his arms wrapped around himself and his busy fingers picking at his shirtsleeves.
Murdoch looked to be grinding his teeth and the young ladies of the house stifled satisfied smirks. Oh, it was good to see the boys getting their come-uppance!
"I've been wondering where my best Cuban cigars have been disappearing to for some time," Murdoch stated. "And now I know!"
Scott opened his mouth to protest but Murdoch cut across him. "There is a penalty for taking things without permission and this is it! To my everlasting regret, you didn't grow up here but, if you had, you would have learned this a long time ago!"
For a very unwise moment, it looked like Johnny was going to argue... until, that is, Murdoch took a step towards him and fixed him with a flinty blue glower.
"Unless, my boy, you actually would prefer to step over to the barn where I'm sure I can come up with something else!" Murdoch gave a very impressive performance of a father fresh out of patience though his sons would never guess how much fun he was having and what a task it was to keep a stern countenance. It was good to keep these two young whippersnappers on their toes from time to time! Lounging by the fire as though they hadn't a care in the world and just expecting to be waited on by the ladies... it wouldn't hurt either of them to pitch in a little. They had both had a day off after all.
Johnny was not entirely sure that Murdoch was joking; he thought he could detect an amused twinkle in his father's eye and felt pretty certain that the big man was pulling his leg. After all, the very idea was ridiculous... wasn't it? Johnny felt suddenly uneasy. He only knew that the thought of being in the company of the unhappy Lancer patriarch... alone... in this mood... was far from appealing. He shook his head and held up his hands in surrender. "No, I know when I'm licked! Well... I mean ..."
"What Johnny means, sir," Scott interrupted quickly. "Is we're happy to give Maria a hand! Aren't we brother?" He nudged Johnny who agreed with alacrity.
Murdoch grunted and headed to the door. "Y'know, you two ought to take a leaf out of Jemimah and Teresa's book; look at the hard work they've done today and all to provide you two good-for-nothings with a hearty supper!"
Murdoch reached out to place his huge hand on Jemimah's dark head, giving it a loving fatherly pat before flinging a final filthy glare at his two astounded sons and going through to check over those figures he had meant to enter into the ledgers (darting a sneaky surreptitious wink at Jemimah and Teresa on the way).
Maria and Teresa were smirking openly. Jemimah was smirking too but successfully hiding it just in case either man should see fit to enlighten Murdoch about her earlier error of judgement. Maria spun Juanito around and deftly tied a large dishtowel around his waist, gesturing to the sink which was heaped with dirty dishes and pots. Then, taking Scott by the elbow, she waved him over to the table where there was a mound of onions to peel and dice.
Scott sighed. "It'll be tears before bedtime... for me!" he moped.
Johnny fixed a delighted Jemimah with a frosty blue glare and pointed a warning finger at her. "One smile, chica... just one, and...
She turned back to her pot of sauce and, shoulders shaking with silent mirth, stirred it well. Oh, this was the best kind of revenge; she hadn't even had to do anything and, she knew, that made it all the sweeter!
Anne Haslam May 2013