A Lancer Christmas tale
“Tell me again why I agreed to come with you,” Johnny groused, huddling deeper into his fleece lined jacket in a hopeless attempt to escape the icy cold.
The cramped cab they were traveling in lurched through the snow filled streets of Boston, often moving so slowly that Johnny reckoned they’d make better time on foot. He could see his breath hanging in the air and was convinced that he would end up frozen to the seat if they didn’t reach their destination soon. To take his mind from this miserable end to a journey that felt like it had lasted a lifetime, Johnny was trying to fathom out what Scott was thinking. Outwardly his brother appeared calm, but Scott’s almost complete silence since they left the train told a different story.
“You feeling alright?”
The slightest of smiles twitched at Scott’s lips. “I’m fine, Johnny. You don’t need to look so worried.”
“I reckon it’s Murdoch who’s worried,” Johnny replied unwisely.
The smile disappeared. “He should know by now that I don’t intend to return to Boston to live.”
“Oh, he knows that. It ain’t so easy for him to trust your grandfather after that dirty trick he pulled when he visited Lancer.”
“That was over two years ago,” Scott said. “He hasn’t tried to cause any trouble since. He isn’t really a bad person.”
“Uh huh,” Johnny said, trying to hide his doubts.
The coach lurched once more before coming to a standstill. Scott pushed the window blind out of the way. “We’re here.”
Johnny wrenched the door open and jumped down without a second thought. “Mierde,” he hissed in surprise when he found himself ankle deep in soft, wet, snow. A quick look around showed him a white world stretching in every direction. He looked up, blinking quickly to clear the snowflakes from his lashes. Despite his wet feet and the bone deep cold he couldn’t help laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Scott asked.
Johnny waded through the snow to reach his brother who was standing on the sidewalk. “It’s like being in the middle of one of the stories my mama used to tell me when I was little. For a long time I didn’t even know what snow was.”
Scott draped his arm across Johnny’s shoulders. “I’m glad you decided to come, even if you have been complaining for days about the train, the food, the weather...”
Johnny accepted the brotherly teasing with good grace. “Yeah, I’m glad I came too.” For the first time he looked at the building in front of them. “So, this is where you grew up.” Once he might have been jealous. Now, he was just curious.
The house was tall and brick built. To either side of the front door the walls curved round in graceful sweeping arcs. There were many windows, all of which were shuttered against the cold. Icicles hung from the black metal balcony railings. A short pathway leading to a half dozen steps had obviously been cleared of the deep snow earlier in the day, although a thin layer was building up again.
When Johnny turned back to the road the cab driver had finished unloading their cases. Johnny could only see the man’s eyes since the rest of his face was swathed in scarves. Scott handed over the money for their fare and picked up his case.
“I’m always ready, Brother,” Johnny said.
The door opened almost as soon as Scott knocked and Johnny followed his brother into the hallway, his gaze darting back and forth to take in his surroundings. The air smelled of apple and cinnamon and it was noticeably warmer, although still far too cold for his liking.
“Welcome back, Master Scott.”
“It’s good to be here, William. Is everyone well?”
William, Johnny saw, was a kind looking older man, dressed in a dark suit. He was smiling warmly at Scott.
“They’re all very happy to have you home for Christmas, especially Mr. Garrett. He’s been planning parties and outings ever since he received your letter.” William’s attention turned to Johnny. “You must be Master Scott’s brother. Welcome to Boston, young sir.”
Deciding he liked William, Johnny grinned broadly. “The name’s Johnny and I’m sure not used to putting on fancy airs like Scott here.” He elbowed his brother in the ribs, the effect being spoiled by the thickness of Scott’s jacket.
William laughed. “I’ll try to remember that. Let me take your coats. You will find your grandfather in his study, Master Scott. I’ll show your guest to the parlor. There’s a good fire in the hearth and I don’t think Mr. Garrett would object to some of his brandy being used to warm the young man up.”
“You’re a man after my own heart, William.” Johnny glanced at Scott. “Merry Christmas, Brother. Now, go and see your grandfather.”
It was habit to knock on the study door before entering. Scott was surprised how eagerly he was looking forward to seeing his grandfather again. There has been a time when he would have said this visit would never happen. Time and distance had eased the pain of Harlan Garrett’s betrayal. A number of sleepless nights, thinking about all the happiness and love he’d experienced in Boston, had convinced him that his grandfather hadn’t been acting entirely out of self-interest.
His first thought when he opened the door was that his grandfather was looking older. Always a fit and healthy man, Harlan Garrett seemed smaller in stature than he remembered.
“Scotty! I wasn’t sure you’d come.” Garrett walked forward, stopping just short of Scott.
“It’s good to see you, Grandfather.”
“You look well, my boy. Come and sit down and tell me about your journey. I know how difficult it can be to travel at this time of year. You’ll have to blame the selfishness of an old man in asking you to visit for Christmas.”
Scott sank gratefully into one of the armchairs by the fire. “It certainly wasn’t the easiest journey I’ve ever had, but there were only a few short delays and the weather wasn’t too unkind until recently.”
“Ah, yes, it is very different in California.”
“In many ways.”
“Did your...brother accompany you?”
Scott noted the slight hesitation. “Yes. You said he would be welcome.”
“He is. There are many things I regret about our last meeting, Scotty, one of which is that I didn’t take enough time to get to know Johnny. He seems to be a remarkably single-minded young man. If it hadn’t been for him...Well, that’s in the past and it does no good to reopen old wounds.”
Scott leaned forward to warm his hands and hide his expression. “How is Julie?”
“Miss Dennison is engaged to be married. The wedding will, I believe, take place in the spring. I doubt if I will receive an invitation.”
The wry note in his grandfather’s voice made him smile. He sat back, allowing the happy memories associated with this house, and the people in it, to relax him. “I have some news for you. There is a young lady...” He coughed to clear his throat. “She and I have grown very close this last year and I am hoping that she will consent to become my wife. I would like it very much if you could attend the wedding, if the journey wouldn’t be too strenuous for you.”
“My dear boy, I would be delighted. Tell me all about her.”
Johnny had done his best to sit still, but there were too many fascinating things in the room. The brandy had warmed him down to his toes and relaxed stiff muscles. He wandered over to the large pine tree in the corner furthest from the fire. Its tip was almost brushing up against the ceiling, and the fresh smell made him think about the tree he and Scott had wrestled into the hacienda the day before they left. It was hard to be away from Murdoch and Teresa at Christmas, but he hadn’t hesitated when Scott invited him to make this journey.
The decorations sure looked good enough to eat; gingerbread men, candies and strings of dried fruits and berries. Johnny’s stomach rumbled, reminding him that his last meal had been a breakfast time. He wondered what time dinner would be ready. Scott had described the food in great detail, turkey, goose, ham and all the trimmings followed by fruit pie. He almost groaned in anticipation.
Above the mantle was a painting of a young woman. Her pale coloring and the shape of her blue eyes marked her clearly as Scott’s mother. He wasn’t surprised that Murdoch had fallen headlong in love with her.
The paper covering the walls was another source of interest. He was used to white adobe which was only brightened up by paintings or colorful woven wall hangings. He ran a finger over a section of paper, feeling the uneven surface. The pattern reminded him of flowers, although he’d never seen such fancy looking things even in Teresa’s garden. The colors were too pale for his liking, although he had to admire the skill of the person who’d drawn it.
The clock on the mantle chimed five just before the door opened. Harlan Garrett walked in with Scott right behind him. Both men looked at ease, which was a relief. Johnny stayed where he was, waiting to see how he’d be greeted.
“Welcome to Boston, Johnny.” Garrett held out his hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Garrett.” Johnny moved forward and grasped the older man’s hand. “When Scott invited me along I wasn’t sure what you’d think about it.”
“I wasn’t entirely surprised. It wasn’t hard for me to see that you and Scotty have become good friends as well as brothers. I regret my attempt to break up your family.”
“Seems to me that you’re Scott’s family too, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t try to get along.”
“I think I might have misjudged you, Johnny. Well, I hope we’ll have plenty of time to talk during your stay here. Now, Scott tells me that it’s been hours since you last had something to eat. I thought it would be nice if it were just the three of us for dinner tonight so that we can be informal.”
Johnny signed in relief. He hadn’t been looking forward to getting all fancied up just to eat dinner. “Sounds good to me, Mr. Garrett.”
“I will have William show you to your room. Scotty, you will be in your old room. Join me for a drink once you’ve both cleaned up.”
“Thank you, Grandfather,” Scott said.
“What for, Scotty?”
“For...” Scott shook his head, looking at a loss for words.
Johnny walked over to stand by his brother. “I think what Scott’s trying to say is that he’s glad you asked him to spend Christmas with you.” Johnny knew it was a lot more than that, and he didn’t doubt that Garrett knew it as well.
“Ah, well, we all have a lot to be thankful for and it’s times like this that serve to remind us.”
“They sure do,” Johnny said. “You coming, Scott? Right now my stomach would be thankful for some of that good food you’ve been bragging about.”
Garrett’s laugh was deep and sincere. “I think we can all look forward to a lot of very good food and a Happy Christmas.”