Disclaimer: This is for fun, no money is made. The boys are not mine but they live in my heart.
Thanks to my betas Ronnie and Dora Maria who helped me with my English. Writing stories in English is still a challenge for me.
Remaining mistakes are mine.
Most of the time she felt like she was floating in a world of nothingness, disembodied, not knowing who or where she was. Then there were times she felt so tired and heavy that the only thing she wanted to do was sleep and never wake up. Or she was so hot she thought she would burn up; other times she shivered with cold and felt her teeth chatter so violently that she feared her head would burst due to the shaking.
But all along she was aware of a strong presence close to her. There was a soothing deep voice, talking to her and calming her down when she struggled and screamed in feverish dreams. There were soft hands, wiping her forehead and body with a wet cloth in order to cool her down. When she was shivering there were strong arms, wrapping her in thick blankets to warm her up.
She knew she had to hold on to that force or she would die. It was this presence that helped her to hang on.
And the piano. Every now and then she heard the piano being played. It sounded so beautiful through her restless sleep, the notes and melodies like a rope of pearls curling around her body, making her feel warm and safe. It had to be her mother. Yes. Who else but her mother played that instrument so masterfully?
She stirred in her bed and opened her eyes. “Mama? Mama!“ Was that raspy low voice hers? Anyway, her call had been heard, the piano fell silent, and she heard approaching footsteps. No, it wasn't her mother who bent down to lay a soothing hand on her forehead. “Shsh,“ a young man with blue grey eyes said. “Shsh, don't worry. Everything will be fine. Drink this.“ A glass was held to her lips and she drank, all the while looking into those kind eyes. She hadn't realized before how thirsty she was. Frowning she tried to find out what was happening. Where was her mother and the piano? And who was that man with the soothing hands?
Confusion overwhelmed her. She was too tired to think. Later she would figure everything out, later. She let the man pull the blankets up to her chin and fell into a deep sleep.
The next time she awoke it was to the sounds of the piano again. She lay with her eyes closed, relishing the music and listening as the melody waved up and down and wove its way right under her skin. How good that felt. Must be years since she had heard a piano being played.
She knew the piece. It was one of her favorites, “For Elise“ by Beethoven.
But oh, it didn't take her long to realize it was not her mother playing. Her mother had played better, much better. Besides, her mother had died many years ago. Whoever was at the piano now played wonderfully in some parts, hesitantly in other parts and always made the same mistake in that difficult part in the middle of the piece. Again and again, the player stumbled over those notes, stopped and started anew.
She lay still and listened. Always the same: the beginning was wonderful, but the player wasn't able to manage that difficult part. It started tearing at her delicate, weakened nerves. But the player proved to be very patient. Another start. The melody floated. She held her breath in anticipation and gritted her teeth - there it was - the notes clashed, dissonances filled the room and made her stomach clench.
The musician had more patience than she could muster right now. “No, please,“ she called. “Stop that!“
She was shocked by the weakness of her voice. It was no more than a whimper. But the piano player must have heard her, just like the first time. There he was, the same young man, smiling down at her. “You are awake! And you look much better than yesterday!“ The satisfied smile broadened.
“Was it you at the piano …?“ she whispered.
He lowered his eyes. “Yes, I'm afraid. Sorry to have caused you discomfort. It's been a long time... I just couldn't resist.“ The smile was back. “I'm glad you seem to be better. You should drink some broth now.“
Broth? Who would have made broth for her? There was nobody else living in her house...
Through the open door of her bedroom she watched him walk over to the stove and fill something from a pot into one of her big mugs. My, was he tall and lean! He came back and helped her sit up against the pillows. Then he started feeding her the contents of the mug – it was indeed broth. It tasted good. While she was fed she studied his face. He had beautiful slate blue eyes and handsome features. She shoved the spoon away. “Did you make that broth?“ “Yes,“ he said, lifting the spoon to her lips. It was hard to understand. No one had cooked anything for her in years. She lived alone. Apart from ... apart from ...
“My animals!“ she gasped, throwing the blankets aside and trying to rise. “The mare! Oh my God!“
“Calm down.“ He set the mug aside and pressed her back against the pillows. “They have been cared for.“
“She's fine, and the newborn foal, too. The chickens and the cow are full and happy,“ he soothed.
The new born foal... Frowning, she tried to remember. She had wanted to help the mare when her time came. She had felt weak, sick and dizzy that day, but who else was there for the mare?
So she had pulled herself together and headed for the barn. The last thing she remembered was crossing the yard and the whole world spinning around her.
“Now go back to sleep, you are tired, I can see that. I won't disturb you with the piano, I promise.“ His voice interrupted her thoughts. She looked up to him. God bless that young man.
While she was letting the man lower her down onto the pillows her gaze fell on the clothes she wore.
Why, she was wearing nothing but a nightgown! She certainly hadn't walked over to the barn clad in just a nightgown!
She had to ask. She was so tired, and it was so stupid, but she had to know.
Grabbing his hand she looked him right in the eyes.
“Did you undress me?“ He had the modesty to lower his eyes, but only for a second. Then it was back, that steady quiet gaze. “Yes, Ma'am. I'm afraid I had to. You were feverish, I had to cool you down. I had to check if you were wounded, too.“ His gaze never wavered.
“Sure,“ she said and, closing her eyes she let go of his hand. 'Later, I'll deal with that later.'
But there was something else she needed to ask now.
“What's your name, son?“
“I'm Scott Lancer, Ma'am, from the San Joaquin Valley.“
The next time she woke up it was dark, except for the weak light coming from the lamp on her nightstand. She felt rested and better than before, but she was so thirsty she could have emptied the lake behind her house with only a few swallows. Water. When she turned her head towards the nightstand where she hoped to find something to drink she realized a steady low noise near her bed. A noise she hadn't heard in her bedroom since her husband had died. Breathing. The even slow breathing of a sleeping person, close to her. Propping herself up on one elbow she saw the young man sitting in her armchair, close to the light. He seemed sound asleep, sunk down in the cushion, one arm hanging over the armrest, the other rested on a book lying open in his lap.
His face was soft and relaxed, a single strand of hair hanging across his forehead. Taking her chance, she studied him. My, he really was a handsome young man; not that she hadn't realized that before. But now it was confirmed. Her heart went out to him. Asleep, he looked so young, barely older than a boy, although she guessed him to be in his midtwenties.
Poor boy, he looked exhausted. She must have given him a hard time. How many days and nights had he cared for her? How many hours had he sat with her?
But - slouching in the armchair like that throughout the night his back likely would hurt like hell tomorrow. Maybe she should wake him and and tell him to lie down on the sofa? Sitting up she reached out to touch his knee. „Sorry, son?“ He didn't move. When even a light tapping on his leg didn't provoke as much as a twitch of his eyelids she hesitated. Why not let him rest? Why disturb him? He seemed to be exhausted - and he was young. His back would stand the discomfort far better than hers would have.
She drew her hand back to grab the glass of water he must have set on the nightstand and drank. The water was cold and felt good in her throat. She emptied the glass. Setting it back on the nightstand she sighed with relief. She had been very sick, but she would be fine in a couple of days, thanks to this young man. He had cared for her... - oh no – and he had undressed her.... Remembering the talk between them earlier she felt a wave of heat sweep through her. One quick glance over to him – he hadn't moved – and she lifted her nightgown to look down at her body, frowning. Oh dear, that was what he had seen: wrinkled skin, formless lax flesh, sagging breasts. The thought of him having seen and touched her body felt awkward, if not shameful.
But then, why should it? Had the fever already burnt up her brains?
Dropping the nightgown she lay down and with emphasis drew the blankets up to her chin. It wasn't her fault she was old. Yes, he could have been her son. Perhaps it was that change of roles that felt so awkward. She should be the one caring for him. In fact, she had cared for more human beings than she could remember, especially men. She had tended her husband, her son, ranch hands. They always seemed to be sick or wounded. Girls or women had proven to be much tougher. Anyway, this time she had been the one to need help. So what? But still...
Her eyes glanced over at him and rested on his fingers lying across the book. The „fingers of a piano player“ her mother would have said. But those hands were capable of more than playing a piano. They had felt rough and calloused. They had to be used to hard work. Yet they had touched her gingerly when tending her. The thought of those hands on her body suddenly made her skin prickle. Don't be silly, biddy! You're 60, not 16. Foolish old shrew. Well. Maybe she was sixty, but she wasn't blind yet. She was able to recognize a good looking man when she saw one. And yes, he was handsome!
Sighing, she closed her eyes and, listening to his even peaceful breathing she let herself drift back to sleep.
She awoke to the sound of clattering dishes. She opened her eyes and saw him through the open bedroom door, busying himself in her kitchen. Good boy - what had his name been? Scott. Yes. Scott … Lancy - or something like that. Well then, hopefully the meal „Scott“ prepared was for her. She was so hungry, her stomach felt like a huge hole. She felt rested and strong, so why not get up and help him in the kitchen?
She wasn't prepared for the dizziness that overwhelmed her as she sat up and swung her legs onto the floor. What was that? Bending over, she rested her head on her knees and waited for the spinning to stop.
“Easy, Ma'am, easy. What do you think you're doing? You can't get up yet!“ Through the buzzing in her ears she heard his dark voice and felt strong arms helping her lean back against the headboard of her bed.
Taking a deep breath she opened her eyes to meet his, watching her with concern. “You okay?“
She nodded. “I wanted to help...“
“Not yet, but soon,“ he said.
God, he simply didn't know how strange it felt to be cared for and let others do the work all the time.
He reached for the tray he had set on the nightstand. “Here's your breakfast, Ma'am.“
“Thank you, … Scott.“ She put the tray on her lap and motioned to the armchair he had slept in during the night. “Sit down, son, please.“ He fetched his own mug of coffee from the kitchen, then did as she had told him.
Looking at him she smiled. “I wanted to say thank you, Scott, thank you for everything you are doing here. It's been a long time anyone did anything for me and I feel rather… overwhelmed. I'm not used to being helped. And – stop that 'Ma'am', I'm not used to that, either,“ she smiled. “My friends call me Cathy. Actually, my name is Catherine.“
“Catherine,“ he slowly repeated, surprise written all over his face. “That was – that was my mother's name...“ Turning his head he looked out of the window with an absent gaze.
“Oh, what a coincidence. Was? She's dead, then? I'm sorry.“ She watched him stare out of the window with a forlorn expression. He turned his attention back to her and cleared his throat.
“Thank you. But it's okay, she died long ago, I never knew her. She died when I was born.“
For a second his expression belied his casual words. For a short time the curtain to his soul was lifted and she saw a sadness in his eyes that made her want to take him in her arms.
But then the moment was over. He lowered his gaze and shifted in the armchair.
“That’s not your fault. I'm sorry anyway, son.“
He nodded. The quiet gaze was back and she saw, for him the matter was closed.
Chop ... chop ... chop ... chop ...
The steady noise penetrated the light doze she had fallen into after supper the next day.
Must be Scott, again, doing her work. Shame and frustration washed over her. There she lay in bed while he was working, day after day the same thing. That had to stop right now. Enough was enough. How was she supposed to regain strength when lying in bed all day? Besides, didn't she feel better, much better every day - new born, so to speak? And - speaking of newborn - she wanted to see the foal. Scott had told her to stay put and rest, but - who did he think he was to tell her what to do? Cathy cared for her own, always had and always would.
With determination, she put her feet on the floor and rose. Okay. She didn’t fall. First, she felt a little shaky, but her legs carried her. Wrapping a blanket around her shoulders she walked over to the washstand and dared a glance in the mirror. Oh dear. What a mess. What might the boy think of her? A ghost like face with large eyes stared at her out of the mirror, white like a sheet. The lines marring her features were deeper than ever, her face looking even more gaunt than usual. This grotesque face was framed by a wild scrub of long, tousled grey hair. To be honest, she looked like a sorceress. Shaking her head she reached for the comb and tried to tame the wilderness on her head.
Vanity is a sin, Cathy Henderson. But she was a woman, and with that young man in her house it was necessary to regain some of her dignity. If nothing at least her hair had to be proper. For the time being a braid, hanging down to the small of her back, would do.
She made her way to the back door where the noise came from. Leaning against the doorframe she stood, staring at the sight in front of her. Scott was chopping firewood, and it seemed he wanted to make sure she had enough for the next ten years, if the pile that had grown next to him was any indication. That was not the only thing that had changed during her sickness. She let her eyes wander and noticed the repaired barn roof and doors. The new corral had been finished, and the water trough beneath the pump looked new to her. The old one had lost water through a small hole.
She looked back at him. Scott was covered in dust and sweat. He worked with his shirtsleeves rolled up, his shirt unbottoned to his waist. Gone was the aura of the refined gentleman. Yes, Scott Lancer was capable of more than playing the piano and talking about Greek poets. He had been an enigma to her until she learned he had been raised in Boston, by his grandfather. He had been educated to become a member of the Boston High Society. He had attended the University of Harvard and was studying to become a lawyer. And now he lived on a ranch and did the work of a cowboy, as if he had never done anything else. What a crazy decision to make! But hadn't she done the same, years ago? Hadn't she left a rich and easy life to build a ranch in California, together with her husband?
She looked at the pile of chopped wood and the new water trough. It was good to have him here. Not that she wasn't able to chop her firewood herself. She always did. But it became harder on her every year. All the hard work did. Maybe she would have to leave her farm sometime within the next couple of years to live in her daughter's house in San Francisco.
But not yet. No, not yet.
If he had been looking for work she would have hired him. But he wasn't a stray, like those men that had worked for her before. He knew who he was and where he belonged. Right from the beginning of their acquaintance she had sensed a quiet self-assurance and power within him that made her feel safe and secure in his presence. No, this young man was a man who didn't need her help. She grinned with frustration. Oh dear, this time it was rather the other way round. That wasn't easy to stand.
The sound of chopping stopped. Straightening he arched his back and saw her standing in the door. She straightened, waiting for a comment. And there it was.
“Ma... Cathy! What do you think you're doing? You shouldn't be walking around yet!“ With three long strides he was by her side. Shoving his hat back he looked down at her, his eyes dark with disapproval, hands on his hips.
A single drop of sweat made its way from his temple down his cheek and neck to dissappear in his shirt collar. It left a tiny shiny line on his dusty face. Tilting her head, she watched with fascination. My, he looked like a boy who has played in the dirt... an angry boy, for that matter... if he knew how cute he looked ...
Stop. Was she getting soft in her old days?
Pulling herself together, she stepped close to him. “And you shouldn't be chopping my firewood! I can do that by myself!“ Their eyes locked. She was the first to lower her gaze. What a stupid thing to say. Right now she felt as if she wasn't able to stand any longer by herself, to be honest. God, how she hated her weakness. Looking up again she touched his arm. “I'm sorry, Scott. I didn't mean it. It's just...“
“I know, Cathy. No apology necessary.“ Lifting his arm he wiped his brow with his shirtsleeve, leaving more smears on his face. “Now you should go back inside, it's too hot in the sun for you to stay outside.“
She shook her head. “Not yet, Scott. I'm fine.“ He raised a brow in that special way of his. Grinning, she admitted, “... okay, fine enough to have a look at the foal.“ Raising her chin she turned to walk towards the corral. He would never know how shaky her legs were...
But there he was by her side, offering her his arm. Taking a bow he lifted his hat, then he asked with mock politeness, “May I lead you to the corral, Mylady?“
He always seemed to know how she felt and what she needed.
The foal stood on its long thin legs and stared at them with curiosity. Its ears turned towards them, its nostrils twitching. It was black, with a white spot on its forehead and three white ankles.
“It's a colt,“ Scott said.
“He'll be a beautiful strong stallion,“ she whispered, regarding the colt with pride. What a sweet little animal that foal was. She reached out and let it sniff at her hand. Then, he started sucking at her fingers. She laughed. The mare and the foal were fine, thank goodness. And thanks to the young man leaning next to her against the box, propped on his elbows.
“Thank you, Scott, for everything you have done and still are doing for me,“ she said.
“My pleasure,“ he said. “I only did what anyone would have done.“
“Not sure about that, Scott.“
A silence arose between them. Scott regarded his folded hands as if they were of great interest. Then he looked up.
“Anyway, what's his name?“ he asked, changing the subject. He was always so modest.
She hadn’t thought about a name for the foal before. Yes, of course that little animal needed a name. A good decent name.
She looked at the man standing by her side. Young, barely older than a boy, tall and slender, long legged like the foal...
“What about Scotty? Yes, I think his name should be Scotty! That would fit!“
He winced. Then he took two steps backwards, stretching out both hands. “No. No, Cathy, no. Not Scotty, please.“
Taken aback by his passionate reaction, she asked, “Why not?“
“That's what my Grandfather used to call me. I hate that nickname!“
Frowning she looked at him, then back to the colt that was watching them with its big brown eyes. So far, he had always talked about his family with warmth and love, especially about his new found father and brother. But, there seemed to be something between him and his grandfather. Something that wasn't right, and there was more to it than that nickname. Anyway, whatever it was, due to his grandfather he had become the fine man he was. He had to appreciate that, didn't he?
But it was none of her business.
“All right. Then I want you to give him a name, a name that will remind me of you. After all, you have saved our lives.“
He looked at the colt, now running through the corral, bucking and throwing it's legs, full of spirit and vitality.
When he looked back at her there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“Johnny. I want you to call him Johnny. That's my brother's name. He reminds me of him, he's wild and untamed, just like Johnny.“
“Johnny ...“ She regarded the foal. "Johnny.., yes, that's a fine name. And he looks like a 'Johnny', too."
A couple of days later she watched Scott ride away. He rode along the corral fence at a very slow pace, his back straight. She never had seen a cowboy riding his horse the way he did. But then, he hadn't been a cowboy for most of his life.
It wasn't easy to let him go and it hadn't been easy to convince him she was fine now and it was about time for him to go home.
But he had a place where he belonged, and she belonged here. Even more, she wanted to stay here. Of course he had offered her a place on the Lancer Ranch. But she loved this place! When she refused, he had wanted to send out a ranch hand to help. But no, she didn't want any man on her ranch, never. They were more trouble than help. Hadn't her husband died because of his own foolishness? He broke his neck when he tried to break a horse that everyone had warned him of, leaving her alone with two daughters and a son. Several years later her son got himself killed in a stupid useless gunfight down in Fort Harpersville; another tragedy of her life she never had recovered from.
She had tried to work the ranch with her daughters and several ranch hands. But it turned out the men didn't want to take orders from a woman and left one by one. So she and the girls went on alone. When her daughters were married and left the ranch, she sold the cattle and most of the horses. But she stayed, although her oldest daughter wanted her to come along with her to live in San Francisco.
No, this was her home, and she wasn't about to go anywhere. All right, she was getting older. Things weren't as easy as they used to be. She had promised Scott to send regular telegrams to Morro Coyo to let him know she was okay. And she had promised him that, when the time came, she would leave the farm to live with her daughter in San Francisco.
Yet, it was harder on her to see him ride away than she had thought. Maybe she was getting soft in her old age? Having him in her house had been a pleasure, not trouble. A man who knew about music, literature and ranching! A man you could talk with about such things. A man who knew how it felt to deliberately give up the privileges and advantages of a high education and life in a big city. A kindred spirit. She sighed. Yes, she had relished his company.
When he reached the end of the corral where her husband had set the post with the big marker “Henderson's Ranch“ in what seemed an era ago, he stopped his horse and turned in the saddle. Motionless, he stared back at her. She didn't move either; then, after several seconds that seemed to her like an eternity, he tipped his hat. She raised an arm in answer. He kicked his horse into motion and raced along the path leading to the road, a cloud of dust following him. She watched him until he disappeared among trees and bushes.
Slowly, she let her hand drop to her side. "Good bye, Scott.“
God, it hurt to see him leave.
She turned when she heard the colt gallop through the corral, throwing its head and whinnying.
“Hey, Johnny, what's the matter with you? Are you jealous? I know you're here, boy.“ The colt stopped next to her. Reaching over the fence she stroked his soft nose. “You know something, buddy?“ The colt's ears twitched as she whispered in a conspiratorial voice. “If I'd been 30 years younger … oh boy...“ Ha, she wouldn't have let him go, that was for sure.
Johnny's head jerked and he snorted. It almost sounded like laughter. She grinned. “You don't believe me? You had better believe me, little rascal!“
Scott took his time riding back to the Lancer Ranch. Meeting Cathy Henderson had caused a turmoil within him that had to be dealt with before he reached home again. What a tough, strong woman she was!
He had left Lancer a month ago, with a contract in his saddlebags dealing with supplying horses to the army. He was heading to Fort Harpersville to negotiate the contract with General McDonald. He had been very proud that his father trusted him with such an important matter. But, on the other hand, contracts and horses were things he knew a lot about.
The weeks before he left they had branded the calves and the whole action had been a hard lesson. He had known nothing at all about calf branding and the burned flesh had evoked unrequested memories of the war.
He shuddered. Never would he forget that smell...
Besides, he had almost been stabbed by a mad cow that hadn't wanted her calf to be taken away from her.
More than once he had asked himself if this was what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he belonged at Lancer, but God knew how hard ranch life was on him sometimes. No, he'd never shown his doubts and frustrations, but since that day he had arrived in California eight months ago there had been times he had thought he would never fit in the West. His father and brother as well as the ranch hands never became tired of teaching him everything he had to know. And damn, he was eager and determined to learn and not give up, but sometimes it was plain frustrating. And there were times he missed Boston and talking with his Harvard friends very much.
His father must have felt he needed a break and had sent him away with those papers.
On his way home he had found Catherine Henderson, lying in the yard of her farm, hot with fever.
If anything her example had finally shown him where he belonged. She was a civilized person from a city like him and yet she had managed the life of the West. Even more, she had managed to be an independent woman coping on her own for a great part of her life.
Right from the first day he had seen her house he knew she was someone special. There were shelves filled with books and there was – a piano. Like the one his mother had played in the little room next to the Great Room.
Cathy and he had played the piano together, and his mother seemed to look over his shoulder. He felt closer to his mother than ever before.
Cathy had shown him how to manage that damned part in the middle of “For Elise.“ Not that he was able to do it much better than before, to be honest. His fingers seemed to knot as soon as they reached that part. But Cathy really knew how to play the piece. He smiled at the memory. Yes, she was someone special. And yet, she was not ready to exchange the wilderness for the comforts of a life in the city. With her determination she had made him look at his own life from a different angle.
No, nothing he had in Boston was worth trading for what he had now. Cathy had known that. A beautiful wild landscape, a wonderful ranch, hard work that was truly satisfying and – best of all – his family. And if he needed them, even books and a piano. His mother had been ready to live in the wilderness, Catherine Henderson had been ready to live on a ranch – and yes - he was, too. Hadn't those two women shown him you could live on a ranch and nevertheless stay true to yourself?
One week later Murdoch Lancer entered the Great Room with long determined strides.
It was Monday evening and he knew he was late for dinner. But apart from Johnny, who was slouching on the sofa, no one was in the Great Room. The table was set, but dinner didn't seem to be ready yet. Murdoch let out a breath. Thank goodness. The women didn't take it well when the men were late for dinner. And, to be honest, he didn't like being late himself.
Something was wrong, anyway. Normally, Johnny was the one to be late. Where was Scott?
“Johnny? Where's your brother? Johnny!“
Johnny opened one eye.
“Don't know, Murdoch. Haven't seen him since breakfast. Anyway, Charlie is in his box. Scott must be somewhere around.“ The eye closed again.
Murdoch shook his head. As soon as his youngest hit the cushions of a sofa he seemed to fall asleep. Just sitting there and reading a book like he or Scott would do didn't seem...
He froze as, all of a sudden, the notes of a melody he knew all too well began to float through the Great Room. Johnny rose from the sofa, very slowly, his now wide open eyes met Murdoch's.
Johnny turned his head to try and find out from where the sound came. Murdoch's gaze followed his son's to the closed door of the small room. The notes continued to float through the door, drippling right into his heart. Catherine. That was the piece Catherine had loved the most. Funny how music was able to evoke well hidden feelings and images. He saw her sitting at the piano, playing, while the sun shined through the window and lightened her blond hair. Of course, that wasn't Catherine playing. It was her - their - son.
Johnny's voice pulled him back. “That's beautiful, Murdoch. Much more beautiful than Ike Turner's playing in the saloon. Never heard something like that before...“ He cocked his head, listening.
Murdoch cleared his throat. “Must be Scott,“ he said.
“Did you know he can play the piano? I never heard him play before.“ Johnny looked at him.
“Me neither. But I think... It seems... I have known that. The Pinkerton report told something about music lessons he took when he was a boy. Harlan placed a high value on what he considered as proper education...“
He stopped, feeling ashamed as he realized another detail about Scott's life that he hadn't given any thought. Another detail of Scott's life he yet hadn’t been interested in. The old well known feeling of guilt arose. Hadn't Harlan placed high value on Scott while he had placed high value on his ranch?
Ouch, that hurt.
Even now that Scott was living at Lancer he, Murdoch, didn't seem to be able to sense what the boy might miss. He had never thought of the music lessons and what they might have meant to Scott. Yet - he was his father! It had never occurred to him that Scott would like to play his mother's instrument. How inattentive. But - had he ever seriously considered Scott's needs or tried to find out who Scott was?
No, to be honest. Scott hadn't needed the invitation to Lancer nor the 1000 $ for his attention. He was a rich city dweller from the East. How could it have occured to him Scott would want to live on a ranch in California and work like a cowhand? Murdoch had needed Scott to come and he wanted him to stay and become a rancher. That had been pure selfishness and arrogance.
His oldest had proven to be tougher than he looked and he had been willing to learn everything a rancher or cowhand had to know. Even more, he seemed to enjoy his new life. But sometimes he was absent-minded and sad. These moments had increased during the weeks before he left to meet General McDonald. Thank God, this time Murdoch had paid attention and felt what Scott needed. He had sent him away to give him space. When his return took longer than expected he had begun to worry Scott might not come back, that he might send a letter, telling them that he was going back to Boston.
But Scott came back and something had changed. Whatever had happened on his journey, he was more relaxed than ever before. It was as if he had truly come home now.
Johnny whistled. “Proper education, huh? Dios, Garrett has been successful. That playing is real proper.“
The music decelerated in a cascade of tones, then ended with a feathery but emphatic sound that seemed to linger.
A chair was pushed across the floor, then Murdoch heard footsteps and the door to the chamber was opened. Scott appeared in the doorframe. He seemed to shine from inside.
Seeing him and Johnny just stand there and stare, unmoving, he stopped in his tracks, looking at them, his eyebrows raised.
“Something wrong?“ Scott craned his head to look past them, towards the dining table. “Am I late for dinner?“
Before Murdoch was able to open his mouth and say at least something intelligible Johnny offered, “That was good playing, Brother.“
Scott grinned. “Thanks, Brother.“
Johnny looked down and shuffled his feet. When he raised his head again Murdoch saw a teasing glimmer in his eyes.
“You know something, Scott? Next time you meet a mad cow and aren't able to rope her you play a piece on that piano. I bet she'll be as tame as a pet and follow you wherever you go...“
Laughing, he dove under Scott's outstretched arm and hurried towards the French Doors, Scott hot on his heels.
“Wait ... I'm gonna teach you some manners!“
They rushed through the French Doors. Murdoch let out a breath. Maybe Scott had found what he had missed. Anyway, he had looked happy.
“Where are those boys going? Dinner's ready.“
The sudden voice made him start. He hadn't heard Maria come in. She put a steaming bowl on the table, a frown on her face.
“They want to tame a mad cow with the piano,“ Murdoch chuckled. It was so good to hear their shouts and laughter coming from outside.
Maria's eyes widened. “Qué?“
She seemed to be in a bad mood. Her hands went to her hips and Murdoch saw the scowl deepen. “The stew will cool down!“
Oh. It was not good to get into the housekeeper's bad books.
“I'm going to call them in, Maria.“ He hurried to the French Doors, his heart lighter than it had been for ages.
“Scott, Johnny! Come in, dinner’s ready!”
Author's note: I have to admit I do not know when Beethoven’s composition "For Elise“ reached the West of the American continent. I found out it was composed in April 1810, but not published until 1867. So, most likely it wasn't known in America in 1871 or even earlier. Scott’s mother cannot have played it.
But that doesn't matter to me. I needed the composition, it’s a Scott-music for me. So I took the liberty of using the piece in my story. I think Mr Beethoven will forgive me.
Those who are interested in listening to "For Elise“ might want to use this link: