Scott and Johnny Lancer dismounted almost in unison and handed the reins of their horses to the hand that had come to greet them. They and their horses looked bedraggled after a day of rainstorms interspersed with cold, dense fog.
“Barranca deserves an extra helpin’ of oats tonight, Miguel,” Johnny said. “Been a long, cold, tirin’ day.”
Scott smiled and shook his head. In fact it had been a short day, due to regular downpours that made any kind of work difficult and dangerous. “You spoil that horse, brother,” he called as he too handed his reins to Miguel. “Give them both a good, long rubdown, Miguel.” He watched as Johnny started toward the house then added, “And give Charlie an extra scoop of oats, too.”
“I heard that!” Johnny said, turning back.
Scott laughed and walked toward his brother, slapping Johnny’s stomach as he walked past him. “I don’t want my horse thinking he’s less important than Barranca,” he said, walking faster as he approached the house. The warm light from inside was drawing him, and he couldn’t wait to get next to the fire and start thawing out his bones. The big front door opened wide and he saw Theresa standing there.
“Scott!” she called excitedly. “A bunch of trunks came for you today!”
“For me?” He stepped under the portico and removed his sodden hat and jacket, hanging them on a peg outside the front door. Johnny was right behind him, doing the same. They both pulled off their boots as Theresa continued.
“Yes, four trunks, from Boston!”
Johnny grimaced and Scott looked puzzled at first. Then he shrugged one shoulder. “In his last letter Grandfather mentioned sending some of my things.”
“Four more trunks worth? How much stuff ya got anyway, Boston?”
Scott chuckled. “Unfortunately a lot… and most of it would be fairly useless out here. It’s not like him to spend money sending things that don’t matter though….”
They strode into the great room together, and both made for the roaring fire. Murdoch Lancer was sitting at the big desk near the large window.
“Good evening, sir,” Scott said. “Thanks for sending Raul out to tell us to call it a day. It was welcome relief.”
“The ground is too wet and slippery to get much done, and we already had a couple of hands with injuries today—“
“Who?” Johnny asked as he turned his back to the fire.
“Cole and Hernando, but neither is hurt bad. When Cipriano came back with the second man, we both agreed it was crazy to keep going today. The work will be there tomorrow.”
“So what’s the story ‘bout all the trunks that came for Scott?” Johnny asked, flashing Theresa a brief smile. She was fairly bursting with curiosity.
Murdoch looked a little uneasy but he nodded quickly. “Yes, son. I had four trunks delivered to your room. Did your grandfather mention anything about sending them?”
Scott sensed wariness beneath Murdoch’s seemingly innocuous question, and he paused for a moment to take a seat on the couch. The subject of his grandfather had not been mentioned since the man left after an ill-fated visit a few months earlier. “In his last letter, he did say something about sending some of my things—“
“Maybe he needed yer room for somethin’ and was just clearin’ it out,” Johnny said, depositing himself on the arm of the sofa next to Scott.
Murdoch and Scott exchanged a knowing look. The house where Scott grew up had more than 20 rooms and it was highly unlikely his grandfather had sent them to free up space.
“I believe he has accepted that I plan to stay,” Scott said. “Sending my things is his way of showing it.”
Murdoch Lancer looked unsure about that but he decided not to say anything further. “Theresa, darlin’, why don’t you and Maria push dinner up a bit tonight? It’s the kind of night where we all can turn in early….”
A few minutes later, Johnny slammed through the door to Scott’s room, having quickly changed into dry clothes. “So what’s in these trunks?” he asked rhetorically. Scott had one open and had begun removing a few things, mostly books and clothes. Among them were a tuxedo and cape he’d worn on the night the Pinkerton agent tracked him down with the news that Murdoch was looking for him.
“What the heck kinda suit is this?” Johnny asked as he sank to his knees between the bed and the open trunk.
“It’s an evening suit, called a tuxedo,” Scott said. “I wore it to balls, and the opera—“
Like a curious toddler, Johnny reached into the trunk and pulled out the silk top hat that went with it. He snorted as he plopped it on top of his head. “What’s the point of a hat like this?” Jumping to his feet, he walked over to the mirror and admired himself in it, finally deciding it looked best worn at a jaunty angle.
Scott couldn’t help smiling. “It’s not a hat for a purpose. It’s simply… fashionable. And you have to wear it square on your head, not to either side or more front to back. It’s called a top hat.”
Johnny shrugged and tossed the useless hat on the bed, then pulled a walking stick out of the trunk next. “What’s this for?”
Scott explained and Johnny immediately responded, “Don’t seem like it would provide much support if yer had a limp or somethin’.”
“No, it’s not really for support, it’s just… fashion. A well-dressed gentleman carries one. It could be used for self-defense—“
“Not against a gun,” Johnny said authority.
“No, but people in Boston don’t go around wearing guns so that would not be a likely occurrence.”
Johnny swung it in an arc a couple of times. “Seems kinda flimsy if ya needed to beat someone off with it.”
Scott reached out and took the walking stick from his younger brother. “It
could stun a man if you hit him in the head,” he said, “but this one has a
hidden advantage.’ He neatly fingered something under the gold handle and
pulled out a dagger.
“Whoa!” Johnny whistled appreciatively. “Now that makes this a little more useful.” He took the walking stick back and began working on withdrawing the dagger as fast as possible. Scott bit back a laugh as he watched Johnny figure out how to use the weapon to its greatest—and quickest-- advantage.
He opened the second trunk and pulled out another hat.
“How many o’ those silly hats did ya need?” Johnny asked as he caught sight of it.
“This is a hat for riding—“ He chuckled when Johnny looked askance at the beaver-covered top hat. “For fox-hunting, actually…” He explained about the hunts and Johnny laughed uproariously. “Dogs! And dozens o’ horses ‘n riders, all chasin’ one puny fox? What for? They aren’t even good for eatin…!”
“No, and we never killed the fox,” Scott responded, reluctantly thinking his brother was right. It was rather absurd. “It was just for sport.” He winced as Johnny pulled the next item out of his trunk, a pair of white jodhpurs followed by a red riding jacket. Johnny first held out the jodhpurs, his eyebrows rising.
“Yes, well… Those are the required riding pants for a hunt… or almost any ride back East.”
“You’re pulling’ my leg, right?”
“No, you see, back East, I mostly rode for recreation…at least, since I left the Cavalry. And there were certain rituals and… fashions expected…..” His voice trailed off as somehow it did not make as much sense to him as it had back in Boston.
“And what about this?” Johnny asked, holding up the red riding jacket. Scott simply shrugged, not knowing how to explain the long history of fox-hunting and the traditions started in England and handed down through generations. His life back East seemed far away now and had far less purpose and meaning than any day here in California.
“Well, just don’t be making’ fun of my pink shirts,” Johnny said as he tossed it toward his older brother.
“When have I ever done that?” Scott responded as he caught it with one hand before it hit him in the head and placed the jacket on the bed next to him.”
“Well… you may not say it but I see ya thinking’ it,” Johnny said matter-of-factly. He sprung open the locks on the third trunk and laughed. “Books! A whole truckload o’ books.” He picked up three and looked at the titles. “I’m pretty sure these are all on the ole man’s bookshelves already.”
Scott took them out of his hands and wryly agreed. “Yes, these are all classics. I received them for birthdays and Christmas over the years. Maybe I can donate them to the town to start a public library…”
Johnny snorted his disdain for that idea as he lifted a few more volumes from the trunk. “Ya think there’s a lotta folks in Morro Coyo wantin’ ta read….,” he stopped and screwed his face up in puzzlement. “What language is this?”
“Latin,” Scott laughed as Johnny opened the book and flipped through a few pages.
“It looks a little like Spanish….”
“Latin is the root language for Spanish, along with French and Italian and a few other romance languages,” Scott told him as he placed most of the books back into the trunk, vowing to think about what to do with the duplicates. He kept a book of Burns’ poetry though, trying to recall who had given it to him. Burns was definitely not a favorite of his grandfather.
“Yeah? That must be why you’re pickin’ up Spanish faster than most Easterners,” Johnny said as he opened the fourth trunk. “Ya had a head start.”
Scott smiled, knowing it was a backhanded compliment from the brother who usually laughed at his accent despite the fact the older son had worked diligently to pick up the language since arriving a year earlier.
“Hey! Here’s a package addressed to Murdoch.”
Scott’s head lifted from the book he’d been holding. “What?”
Johnny held up a package wrapped in brown paper and tied tightly with string. “Don’t feel like anything valuable…. What do ya think it is?”
Scott was honestly stumped and silently gestured for Johnny to hand it over. Perversely, Johnny shook it first, but nothing rattled inside so he tossed it to Scott. “Ya gonna open it?”
Scott looked torn, his innate sense of propriety telling him it was wrong to open something addressed to their father. And yet, a part of him wondered what his grandfather might have sent the man he blamed for taking his daughter—and now his grandson—from him. Despite the fact Harlan Garrett had left on fairly even terms, Scott doubted he harbored enough regard for the big Scot to send him a gift. He had an uneasy feeling about it and put the package aside on his bed table, partly hoping Johnny would forget about it, which would give him time to consider what to do with it.
“What’s this?” Johnny asked holding up a brass tube. It was the telescope Scott had received on his fourteenth birthday. The older brother smiled, remembering hours of diversion watching the heavens and thinking it would be fun to share that with his younger brother. He got up and rooted around in the trunk for the tripod on which the telescope sat, all the while explaining the purpose of a telescope. “There’s too much cloud cover tonight to see much in the sky unfortunately but on a clear night, we’ll set it up outside and you’ll be amazed at what you can see, Johnny.”
“Stars? I can see them without one of them telescopes—“
“You’ll be able to see that some of the stars are actually planets, and a lot of detail on the moon—“
At that moment, the door opened and their father appeared in the doorway. “Boys, dinner’s almost ready,” he boomed, quickly taking in the mass of clothes and books and finally the telescope in Scott’s hands, which made him smile. “Looks like a cyclone hit this room.”
Scott gave him a half-grin. “Thanks to my little brother. I had a slightly more orderly approach until he arrived.”
“If I left it up to you, it’d be next month ‘fore it was done. And I never would have learned ‘bout what ta wear to a fox hunt… or a ball.”
The three men laughed, and Murdoch slapped his younger son on the shoulder. “Yes, it would have been a shame for you to go through life without knowing those things, Johnny,” he chuckled. But he also realized this was an opportunity for the younger son to know a little more about his brother’s life before they both arrived at Lancer. His sense of unease about the delivery receded a little in the hope that this was another step in securing their bond as brothers. “Well, dinner’s waiting,” he said and turned to leave.
“Murdoch, wait!” Johnny called. “Ole Harlan sent ya somethin’!”
Murdoch returned, looking startled, and he noticed immediately that Scott flushed with unease. But Johnny did not notice and continued. “Scott, toss that package over here.” Scott hesitated a moment but then he took something off his bed stand, got up and handed it to his father.
Murdoch wasn’t sure what to do with it, whether to open it on the spot or not. He quickly reasoned that Harlan had addressed it to him and wrapped it up so he decided to wait for a private moment. He nodded to his sons and left, stopping to drop the package off in his room before going downstairs. A part of him wanted to rip it open but another part was afraid this was another attempt by Harlan Garret to drive a wedge between himself and his oldest son. And he sensed Scott was worried about it too.
After dinner, the two younger men returned to Scott’s room to finish unpacking the trunks. Murdoch went to his desk and tried to work on the books but the unopened package never left his thoughts. Finally giving up, he filled a glass with whiskey and headed upstairs. He paused a few moments outside Scott’s room, and smiled at the good-natured teasing and easy laughter he heard. The arrival of the trunks seemed to have brought his sons a chance to talk about Scott’s past, and for Johnny to learn a little more about his brother’s earlier years back East. He considered stopping in but thought better of it. He quietly entered his own room and closed the door behind him.
Murdoch went to the dresser where he’d placed the package. He stared at it a moment, almost afraid to pick it up. Shaking off his unease, he palmed it in his big right hand and went to the comfortable side chair. He put his bad leg up on the matching ottoman, then took a swallow of whiskey.
Finally he began methodically untying the string, and unwrapped the package. Inside was a stack of envelopes. The one on top looked very new but some of the others were yellowed with age. A lump formed in his throat as he realized what he was holding but he steeled himself against the emotions and opened the new-looking envelope first. In bold black hand he recognized as that of Harlan Garret was written:
I make no apologies for the choices I made. I always believed them to be the best possible at the time. But things have changed and given those changes, I believe you deserve to see the letters I am sending. I’ve sent Scott’s things, clothes he may need in San Francisco or St. Louis. One hopes you will recognize the young man has talents that extend beyond ranching but those are choices you and he will make in the future, I suppose. I would be remiss if I did not say that many of the things I believe mean the most to Scotty are gifts you sent him over the years – the kaleidoscope, the books, the telescope you sent for his fourteenth birthday, the bottle of Talisker’s when he turned twenty-one. The only things I held back were those that would clearly have come only from you. You see, while I gave him the gifts, I never said who they came from. And he did not ask….. because he never knew about your visit on his fifth birthday, or the letters that you sent him. It always amazed me that you continued to write despite receiving no answers. As it amazed me Scotty wrote to you even though he never received a response. If I am sorry for anything, I am sorry I did not send these. I enclose them now and ask for your forebearance with an old man who was afraid to lose the last connection to a beloved daughter. It was wrong of me to try to make Scott take her place. He is his own man, and to be honest, he was even as a child. He gets that from his mother, and you, Murdoch. It is no wonder the streak of independence runs so strong in him.
With kind regard,
Murdoch swallowed the lump that rose in his throat as he lifted the first envelope. It was yellowed with age and addressed simply “Murdoch Lancer, California” in a large, childish hand. His own hands shook as he carefully opened the envelope and slid the paper out. In block letters, his son had written:
How are you? I am fine. I am 6 years old now. I have a pony named Jefferson and the stable master says I ride quite well for my age. I am pretty tall too, not as tall as Warren but taller than Eugene and Tom. I would like to meet you some time. Do you think you might want to meet me some day?
PS I can read pretty well, too. So you can write to me if you wish.
Murdoch’s eyes had clouded as he read, and he blinked back the moisture, and reached for his glass. After taking a swallow of whiskey, he opened the next letter.
I am 8 years old, and now I go to Boston Day School. I am pretty smart, but Nanny says that makes me seem conceited. I do not think I am conceited, just smart.
Murdoch laughed out loud, shaking his head. His son did have a streak of independence from an early age.
I have two good friends, Warren and Tom. Tom lives next door and has a younger brother named David. And Warren has a brother and a sister. I would like a brother—but not a sister-- but Grandfather says that is not going to happen. I want to know why not. I would be a good big brother. I know all the things to do from watching Warren and Tom, and all the things not to do. Like it’s not good to put your little brother in the coal bin. That got Warren a licking from his father. And it’s not good to give your little brother an ink well either. Tom could not sit down too well for a couple of days after that happened. If you came to get me, do you think you would be a strict father? I am not worried because I am pretty good, most of the time. I would be very good if you were strict though.
Anyway, do you think I could have a brother? Or a dog? I would really like a brother but a dog would be okay too.
Murdoch exhaled forcefully, nearly overcome with regret for what might have been, for the interesting and forthright little boy he never got to know
In his room, Scott was finishing the unpacking and answering Johnny’s uninterrupted stream of questions to the best of his ability as the younger brother amused himself with the kaleidoscope Scott had received on his fifth birthday. In the last trunk, under a box of jewelry – tie clasps and cuff links, along with some rings – he found another package wrapped in brown paper. This one was addressed to Scott and his heart skipped a beat in anticipation.
Johnny looked up as Scott had stopped talking. “Another secret package?”
“Yes, this one’s got my name on it.”
“Well, open it.”
Scott swallowed hard, then unwrapped the string and opened the paper. On top was an envelope with his grandfather’s initials embossed on it. He recognized Harlan Garrett’s writing but the other envelopes were in a hand he now recognized as that of his father. He wanted to rip those open first but he forced himself to open the first one. Inside only one sentence was written.
I should have given these to you years ago.
“What’s in the others?” Johnny asked quietly.
“I think they’re from Murdoch,” Scott said quietly.
“Aren’t ya gonna open ‘em?”
Scott nodded but at first his hands did not move. He forced his attention to it and opened the first, reading aloud.
My dear son,
You are two years old now. I know you cannot read this yet but I hope when you are old enough, it will be waiting for you. I miss you so much. I want nothing more than to have you here with me. Your grandfather and I are working to make that happen—
“Yeah, somehow I doubt that,” Johnny interrupted.
Scott agreed but he chose not to say it. Instead he continued reading:
The ranch is growing and you will love it here when I get you home. In the meantime, I am sending you these toy horses, stallions that look like the ones that run wild in our canyons. Some day we will catch one for you, together. Be well, my darling son, until I can come to get you.
“I remember those horses,” Scott breathed. “I had them for years—“
“These horses?” Johnny asked, holding up two toy horses. “I wondered about ‘em when I saw ‘em. This one looks like Charlemagne, and this one looks like Barranca, don’t ya think?”
Scott thought it was uncanny how much they looked like the horses he and Johnny now rode. Distracted, he opened another letter.
My dearest Scott,
I hope you are well and happy, my son. I think about you every day. I met someone very special and you have a stepmother now, and a little brother. Johnny is only a few weeks old and sometimes he screams like the devil himself but most of the time he is a happy baby, with the biggest smile you have ever seen. I know he will love having you as a big brother, and he will be lucky to have you in his life. I am coming to Boston soon to get you and I know you will like California. Lancer is a very special place, and the only thing that keeps it from being perfect is that you are not here. Soon we will all be together, and it will be the best day of my life to have both of you boys home with me.
In the meantime, be a good boy, and know that I love you, and miss you more than I can say.
With all my love,
A long silence stretched between the two brothers until Johnny finally broke it.
“Well,” he breathed. “That don’t sound like the same Murdoch we met that first day, does it?”
Down the hall, Murdoch had read a few more of the dozen letters Harlan had sent. The next was written when Scott was a few years older.
I hope you are well. I am fourteen and have been at boarding school for four years. I hope if you come to Boston, you do not come when I am away. I would hate to miss the chance to meet you. I get very good grades and do not get in too much trouble. I think you might be proud of me if you met me. Do you think you might want to meet me some day?
Murdoch closed his eyes against the emotional storm that threatened to overwhelm him. The idea of his boy doubting whether his father even wanted to meet him was infuriating. He looked down through misty eyes and read the rest of the letter.
I am very good at English literature and arithmetic, and I am the best rider in my form, and better than almost everyone in the form ahead of me. I do not think it is conceited to say that because it is true. I do not think I would be useless if you invited me to visit you some time.
I would like to see California some day. I know I saw it when I was born but I do not remember it. It would be good to visit again.
I will write back immediately if you send me a letter.
A knock on his bedroom door drew him from his thoughts. “Come in,” he called. Scott stuck his head in the door, with Johnny hot on his heels. Before Scott could speak, Johnny sat down on the ottoman in front of Murdoch and announced, “Harlan sent Scott a whole bunch of letters from you that he never gave him before.”
Scott came to a halt a few feet away and grimaced a little, then he gave up and sighed. “I never knew… you sent any letters….”
“I knew that, son. As soon as you arrived, I realized you had never received them. “ He lifted the stack of letters in his lap. “And I never received any of yours before now.”
“Scott wrote ya letters that Harlan never sent?” Johnny groused. “Well, don’t that beat all. That ole man has a lot ta answer for….” He picked up a couple of the letters in disgust.
“I think he thought---“ Scott began, then he stopped. “It doesn’t matter what he thought. It was wrong and—and, well….”
“I know, son,” Murdoch said gently. He took his leg off the large ottoman on which Johnny was sitting and gestured for Scott to take a seat. “We can’t excuse his keeping letters from us. It would have been good to have a relationship with you, even if only through correspondence. But, what’s done is done. All that matters is that we’re all together now, right?”
Scott nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said quietly. Then he smiled. “I mean, yes, Father.”
Murdoch Lancer beamed as he and his older son exchanged a look of understanding that had been years in the making. But the moment was interrupted by a cry of indignation from his younger boy.
“Hey!” Johnny yelped. “You would have settled for a dog? Instead of me, you would have taken a dog?”
Scott laughed, then reached out and put an arm around his brother’s neck. “Yes, but I only thought that before I knew you,” he reassured the youngest Lancer. Pulling him closer, he ruffled his hair none too gently. “Now I’m sure I would have preferred a dog!”
The two of them tussled and rolled onto the floor together, laughing.
“Boys!” their father started to bark, then he found he could not contain the smile that lit his face as he watched his sons wrestle good-naturedly on the rug in his bedroom. It had taken too long but at last his boys were home, safe, and they both knew how much he had always wanted them. A cold, gloomy day in California had never felt better.