Scott was in love. It was downright pitiful. He was useless, and I was about at the end of my tether. Playing chess or checkers was a waste of time ‘cause he couldn’t concentrate worth a damn, and beating him continual got boring for me. Instead of being good company like he usually was, he was sighing and lookin’ off into the distance, looking like a goddamn namby pamby milksop. Murdoch had even had to talk sharp to him couple of times, which was unusual as I was the one who mostly got the rough edge of Pa’s tongue. But Scott would have a chore to do and sometimes would forget it all together, or get up and leave in the middle of something and not even realize.
The biggest problem was though, that this chica was not right for Scott.
His fancy’s name was Araminta, and she weren’t all that bad on the eye, if you liked a skinny type of woman. She had pale blue eyes and pale brown hair that she did up in all these fancy doodad sort of ways. She always wore them earbobs. She was unfailing polite and had pretty manners that Boston had too, and she dressed fussy as hell. She didn’t look to me like she would ever be happy livin’ as a rancher’s wife. She was the seventeen year old daughter of Cyrus Tarrant, and she was home from a rich school she was studyin’ at in San Francisco. Scott met her at church, and it had been two weeks now, and he was not comin’ to his senses at all, only gettin’ worse. I was starting to figure on what I would have to do to save him.
Things came to a head in the barn. I told Scott a real funny tale ‘bout a priest and a whore. Instead of bustin’ out laughin’, or rolling his eyes at me like he would usually, he told me it was time I learned a bit of respect for women, and I should be ashamed to tell such stories. That took me aback some, but then he followed that with a threat.
“You had better clean up your mouth, Johnny, or I’ll tan you.”
The fuckin’ high’n’ mighty prick!
My fist slammed straight into his belly and he bent double as every bit of air was forced outta him. I was steamin’, and ready to bust him again soon as he got his breath back, but he was still gaspin’ when Murdoch stepped outta the tack room and yelled my name, catchin’ me and Scott by surprise. Neither of us knew he was in there, else I wouldn’t a told a joke about whorin’.
Pa came barreling towards me, and I knew better than to go ahead and jump Scott, even though I was still mad as hell, and still had my fists clenched.
“John, I have had just about enough of you and your temper.”
I scowled my own displeasure, and folded my arms tight, to stop the temptation of punching Scott in the nose.
“And you, Young Man,” says Pa, fixin’ a hard eye on Boston, “if there is any discipline to be handed out around here, I’ll thank you to leave it to me.”
Scott did his own scowlin’, but still breathin’ a bit short.
“Yeah, you bastard!” I nodded self-righteously.
But all that comment got me was a smack on the ear from the Ol’ Man.
“Now the two of you get about your business, before I change my mind and keep you in here for some parental guidance neither of you will enjoy.”
I didn’t need tellin’ twice, but of course Scott was real peeved that Murdoch spoke to him like a kid, him being eighteen and thinking of himself as bein’ every bit as mature as Pa or anyone else on the ranch. He cut an aggrieved look at Pa, but then he followed me out the barn door, trying to look dignified even though he was still all red in the face from my punch in the gut.
Obviously this Araminta was a bad influence on Scott, and it was my job, being as how I was a lot more worldly than him, to get him away from her. He also needed takin’ down a peg or ten, and I was just the man to do that.
Sunday mornin’ I was at the table, dressed up for church, and when Murdoch walked into the kitchen he just about cricked his neck with the sudden way he noticed me.
“Coffee is brewin’’ I offered, ignoring his shocked look.
Murdoch narrowed his eyes, suspicious straight up, but he didn’t say nothin’ as he started in on making breakfast. Scott arrived then and it was the same with him as with Murdoch, only he sat down opposite me and studied me, a smile half lighting his eyes and quirking his mouth.
“Well, John, do I assume you have found your way to the Lord?”
I very careful mouthed ‘get fucked’ to my smart mouth older brother, but out loud I told him I thought I would join the family for services this week. We none of us talked much then, all fillin’ our bellies with the porridge and French toast that Murdoch liked to make every Sunday morning.
Jesus, but church was a boring suffering that made me grit my teeth and squirm and fidget so much that Murdoch was clearin’ his throat at me every five minutes, and finished off pretending to drop his hymnal, and when he reached for it he used it to whack me on the leg. None too gentle neither. I saw the glint in his eyes though, and I kept real still for the next twenty goddamn minutes till we all escaped.
Scott of course made a beeline for the Tarrants, and I smooth as silk slipped Pa’s grasp and joined my brother. Mr Tarrant hadn’t forgotten Scott’s shenanigans frightening his prize bull not too long ago, but he was well aware that Lancer was a very desirable property. So having Scott Lancer interested in his property, that bein’ his marriageable daughter, he was not over friendly, but also not goin’ to put Scott off neither. He didn’t have to make an effort towards me though, and he gave me a hard look, and an even harder handshake.
Araminta looked a treat, I had to admit. All flowery green material that hugged her very tasty, and she smelled fresh and peachy. She gave me a small smile, but it was dismissin’ me too, and then she turned her real smile on Scott.
“You’re still joining us for lunch, Scott? You hadn’t forgotten?”
“I’ve been looking forward to it all week, Araminta.”
Scott sure could smile up a storm, but his smile faded when he heard me.
The Tarrants fixed me with a surprised look, and none of that surprise was pointed with pleasure.
“Why, Johnny, I believe Murdoch is expecting you to stay with him.” Scott’s voice was very pleasant, but I knew that it was really telling me to get lost.
“Aww, c’mon Scott, you know Murdoch’s havin’ lunch with the Thistlethwaites – I been bored to death enough already this mornin’ and –“
“That’s enough.” Jesus, but Scott could sound just like the Old Man when he was irritable. “I hope if Mr Tarrant is gracious enough to include you in our lunch arrangements, that you’ll exhibit better manners than to deride other people.”
What the hell ‘deriding’ was I didn’t know, but Mr Tarrant interrupted and invited me to join them, though he didn’t sound none too gracious himself.
I went and let the Old Man know I wouldn’t be joinin’ him and the Bank Manager and his wife to talk about ledgers and droolin’ over other folks money. Murdoch looked quick over at Scott, and that bastard grimaced back. Murdoch had hands the size of dinner plates, and when one of them lighted on my shoulder they had their own way of speaking. Sometimes that hand was real comfortin’, or full of care, but other times it was warnin’, or like now, downright threatenin’.
“Son, it’s Scott’s first meal with that family – I think you should leave them to it.”
“Aww Pa, Mr Tarrant already invited me.”
Murdoch’s hand tightened as he looked over at old man Tarrant, who touched his hat polite back. Murdoch nodded equal polite and then fixed a sharpish eye on me.
“Meet me back here at three. You behave yourself.”
Being a gunfighter is a lot more than bein’ able to draw fast and shoot straight. Having a mouth on you is also very handy, and anyone I’d ever had dealin’s with soon realized that I had some mouth on me. So when the Tarrants and Scott and me sat down at the table in the restaurant at the hotel, I put my smart mouth into action straight off.
“Your bull got condition back on him after his big run, Mr Tarrant?” I asked as polite as could be, as I delicately spread the napkin across my lap.
I was looking at ol’ Cyrus with my innocent as a babe face. He started goin’ red straight away, and from the corner of my eye I could see this appalled look on Scott’s face. He was so shocked at my mentioning him runnin’ off ol’ Cyrus’s bull, that he didn’t even think to kick me under the table like he usually did.
“That bull is fine, now, thank you Johnny.” Tarrant said. He himself didn’t look fine though.
“Pleased to hear it. ‘Course, you won’t know if that sprint across the county affected his seed, till –“
We all turned to look at Scott. He’d gone some shade of red, and if he coulda shot me in my seat I don’t think he woulda thought twice about it. He didn’t look so pretty now, not with his mouth in a hard line and his eyes shooting daggers at me. His girl was holding a hankerchief to her mouth, and she was kinda pink and pale at the same time, her eyes blinking fast. Scott took a big breath, and did his best to gather himself.
“Mr Tarrant, I see your new buggy arrived in time for Araminta’s visit.”
I let them get comfortable palavering. I wanted to get some good grub inside me so I kept my spurs out of Scott, and I at first minded my manners. I’d had some table manners drummed into me by Mama and some of her fancy men, but later, living rough, and with low types of companions, they’d got real rusty, till I returned to Lancer. Murdoch and Maria were always keepin’ their eagle eyes on me, and just by watchin’ Scott I naturally learned to be elegant. Scott never had to think about nothin’ when he had a meal before him. He just ate like a prince might of done. Unlike me, who hadn’t always got enough food to fill a gnat, so when it was so plentiful in front of me, when I started livin’ at Lancer, all I could do was see how much and how fast I could get it from the plate stuffed inside me right down to my toes. I soon got herded in the right direction though, so I coulda been a delight at the Tarrant table. But I wasn’t.
I started off small, reaching across Mr Tarrant for the bread. I sassed Miz Odile, the waitress, and gave her a few winks that Araminta saw. I kicked Ara, but made haste to apologize. I knocked over the salt. Then I offered the pepper to Ara, making sure some flew outta the pepperpot, which of course made her do a very un-ladylike sneeze. When she did I quick offered her my handkerchief. It was real grubby, and the look on her face was purely comical. Scott was looking mad as a cut cat, but he couldn’t really pin anything on me yet.
I kept quiet while I hoed into the stuffed duck with potatoes all creamy and carrots all buttery. I ignored the squash though, and scattered some shreds of it next to my plate. I didn’t even knock over my glass of milk till it was nearly empty, so hardly any of it got on Araminta’s dress at all. She still squawked like a snake- bit hen though. Her Daddy told her to hush and not make such a fuss. I cut a look at Scott, and I could see his temper building, and I wondered if I could make it safe to Murdoch before Scott belted me one.
Dessert was Eve’s Pudding with custard, and that was a pure pleasure in my mouth. I kept my head down till that was gone, and then when coffee was ordered, I commenced bein’ aggravatin’ again.
Scott was just draining the last of the wine from his glass, and I put my head on the side, and gentle and kind sent him a question.
“You only banned from drinkin’ hard liquor for another three weeks, ain’t it Scott?”
Poor Boston choked some and had to put his glass down and grab his napkin to his mouth. While he was getting his breath, I turned to the Tarrants and softly explained to them.
“His drinkin’ was outta control, so Pa banned him. It’s fine having him come home most Saturday nights, now, ‘stead of spending over night at the saloon or in the jail.”
Mr Tarrant looked like a thundercloud, and his daughter looked like she’d just seen fish guts. She mighta been young and fancy schooled, but she knew what men stayed overnight at the saloon for.
“Johnny – I want to speak to you outside.” Jesus, but Scott sounded strangled.
“Sure, Boston.” I turned to the others again though.
“He’s just embarrassed about Pa threatening to give him a licking. Why, he ain’t had a licking from Murdoch in at least three months –“
Scott’s hand landed on the scruff of my neck, and he had a fistful of my jacket and my hair, so I was hasty in standing up and sticking close to him, as he excused us and went striding outta that dining room like an A-pach was hot on his heels. He was breathing heavy and I could feel the hot of his temper pouring off him and over me. This was going to end painful for me if I didn’t make a break for it, but the bastard had his right hand at my neck and his left hand clutching my left arm tight as all gettout. He was hustling me so fast the other diners were just a blur.
I made my play soon as we reached the door to the boardwalk. I shoved Scott into the frame of the door, and soon as his grip loosed I wrenched myself away. Scott recovered quicker than I woulda thought, and he lunged at me and just got the tail of my jacket. I flung both arms back and shed that jacket and bolted down the street.
Scott took off after me like he was a fuckin’ hell hound, and I had to put on a goddamn quick turn of speed to keep from getting caught. He was still taller than me, something I hoped would change pretty damn soon, and those long legs of his meant he was gainin’ on me. Dios, if he caught me before I could reach Pa, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. It would be pretty bloody.
He was hot on my heels, and he mighta caught me, only for luck being on my side, for once in my damn life.
Miz Leodie Potter talked so much that she was known for walkin’ backwards away from her victims so’s she could keep natterin’ till they was too far away to hear what she was saying. Just then she came backin’ out of the residence door next to the store, and I missed her by a whisker. Scott didn’t.
Scott and Miz Leodie collided there on the boardwalk, and her shriek coulda been heard in Mexico. I spun ‘round and saw a mash of legs and arms and a spinning ball of tan trousers and blue dress and white bloomers. Lots of white bloomers. Scott was near on six feet tall, but Miz Leodie was near on six feet around. I woulda said most of her weight was in her belly, but now, with her dress over her head, and her layin’ face down and crossways, with ol’ Boston pinned underneath her, I could see a lot of that weight was in her haunches. All that white expanse of cotton was makin’ me blink.
She was still shriekin’ like she was being scalped. I thought about assistin’, but, fuck, I didn’t think I coulda lifted that woman anyway. Mr and Miz Kelly and their three kids had burst out of the doorway, and I noticed Sheriff Creane making his way down the street. Other heads were poking out of windows, and then I saw some men spill outta the saloon. I quickly stepped back into the shadows of the alley where I could watch but not be seen.
Some of those men from the saloon had no manners at all, and they started guffawin’ like donkeys. Sheriff Creane and Mr Kelly were now both trying to lift Miz Leodie, but strugglin’, and they lost their grip and she fell back on Boston and I heard the breath whoosh outta him. Miz Kelly was not helping much by getting in the way as she tried to pull that blue dress down some over those white bloomers.
Another attempt was made to pull that skittled woman upright, but she was not able to help, and there weren’t no progress being made. Then a bellow louder than Miz Leodie’s thundered down the street, and sure enough, down came Murdoch, hollerin’ about what in tarnation did Scott think he was doing? I was impressed the Ol’ Man had recognized his first born under all that poundage and petticoats. Guess he could see Boston’s shiny, blonde mop peekin’ out from that lacy froth.
Once Murdoch reached the scene that lady was straight away hauled to her feet. She was scarlet, but I noticed for the first time how pretty her face was, all big eyed like a baby deer. I expected Scott to spring up, but he lay there like a stunned rabbit, panting and red and sweaty. Once Murdoch laid hands on him though, he was upright in half a second, but still looked like he couldn’t breathe none, which I realized was a good thing ‘cause he couldn’t start on blaming me for nothin’.
Miz Leodie and the Kelly’s had plenty to say though, and they started beratin’ Scott for tearing down the town’s boardwalk like a runaway train, and the Sheriff started putting his two cents worth in with how Scott was always in the thick of trouble.
“Now see here –“ Boston gasped out.
Pa started apologizing for Scott’s behavior, and Scott was trying to gasp out his own sorries to the aggrieved lady, but she was too busy talkin’ a blue streak of complaints while she was trying to tuck her curls back under her bonnet which was skewed on her head. The saloon drunks were still laughin’.
I decided now was the time to slip away, and was goin’ to, but then saw the Tarrants bearin’ down. Cyrus looked real stony faced, but Araminta looked worried. Miz Potter glanced up and saw Cyrus Tarrant and suddenly stopped bein’ loud and complainin’, and went all girlish and grizzlin’ instead.
“Leodie, are you alright?” Cyrus breathed, his eyes goin’ all mushed.
“Why, Cyrus, I do believe I’m going to faint.” And she did. Or pretended to anyway.
Scott bein’ right next to her, and him being such a gentleman, he grabbed her arm, but that was a mistake because all that did was take him down again, and he landed right on top of her this time. The yelling and squawking broke out louder than ever. Mr Tarrant was the one to lay hands on Scott this time, jerking him to his feet and then haulin’ his arm back ready to slap Boston a good one. I was ready to leap into it, but Murdoch grabbed Cyrus’s wrist, bellowing again, and suddenly Araminta jumped in front of Scott.
“Daddy! Don’t you dare hit him!”
I was sure surprised at that. Maybe this girl weren’t quite as prissy and proper as I’d thought. Everyone started on getting Leodie seen to again, with Mr Tarrant glarin’ at Pa and Scott, but then turning away and helping his sweetheart back into the Kelly’s place. Everyone in the county knew that ol’ man Tarrant and Miz Potter were having a hot ol’ time of it every Saturday night, but neither of them two realized about that gossip. That’s another reason those drunks outside the saloon were still having a hoot and a laugh.
Araminta gave Scott a soft look and a squeeze of his arm, and then she disappeared into the Kelly’s.
Sheriff Creane pushed his hat back on his head and jammed his hands on his hips. Then he poked one finger into Boston’s chest and started bawling him out.
“Scott Lancer, from now on I’d better see you moving along these boardwalks slow as molasses on stale bread! Any faster and I’ll fine you for disturbing the peace! You got that? You hear me, Boy?”
Scott couldn’t a looked any more peevish, but he cut a glance at Murdoch’s stormy face and gave the barest nod.
“Speak up boy!” The Sheriff barked out.
“Yes Sir, I hear you.”
The Sheriff nodded as he straightened his hat, gave Pa a brief nod and strode off. Scott started straightening himself up, still looking as disgruntled as hell.
Pa rubbed a hand down his face, and then looked down at Boston. Then came the words that set my feet to moving.
“Where’s your brother?”
I left the area real quick.
I decided it weren’t in my best interests to go home with Murdoch and Scott, so I watched from cover until they gave up waiting and headed home. I slipped into the saloon, wondering if I could make it up to the girls upstairs, or at least get a beer, but the damn Sheriff was having a tipple and spotted me straight away.
“Get.” Is all he said, and I backed straight out.
Behind the livery I found Ambrose Cotter, Ben Teller and Angus McCracken, all playin’ cards and smokin’ and tellin’ whoppers. I joined them for a few hands and some dirty talk, and then when they all had to go off to their folks for supper I moved into the hayloft of the livery.
I had me a nice, peaceful snooze. I’d seen some of our hands in the saloon, so when they came in and collected their mounts, I heard the ruckus, and I rode back double with Pauly Swister. We all had another laugh about Scott rolling around all over Miz Potter, and how Cyrus would be missing doing that while his daughter was visiting. Everyone liked Leodie Potter, and wondered why Cyrus didn’t marry her, and save himself all the travel.
I’d hoped to make it to my room secretive, and then slip down to the kitchen late at night and have a feast, but Murdoch was lyin’ in wait for me. I should of known. I got my ears pinned back then, Pa tearin’ strips off me about not meeting him and Scott ‘at the appointed hour’, keeping them waiting, and not coming home. Murdoch never wanted me in any of the nearby towns without him or Scott being with me. He reckoned on that keeping me safe as possible from harm account of my gunfighting past. Also I was squalled at for not coming home for supper, and whatever the hell else I had done to upset my brother to the point that he was chasing me through town. So Scott had not spilled to Murdoch about lunch at least. I’d also not done my evening chores, and all in all the Ol’ Man was not happy with my behavior, as fuckin’ usual, so there were to be some ‘repercussions’. Them repercussions was a big brush and a big bucket of whitewash and the fuckin’ old guardhouse, starting the next day.
“While you’re working on that perhaps you can be considering the thoughtlessness and selfishness of your behavior, and the worry and inconvenience it causes to your family.” Murdoch groused.
Jesus, sometimes I wondered how much moolah I saved Murdoch by doin’ every fuckin’ goddamn chore on that ranch, and him not having to pay for it. Sonofabitch, it was frustrating as hell.
I went sulking my backside off into the kitchen and stuffed myself till I felt like casting up my accounts. Scott was not home. Murdoch said he’d gone into Spanish Wells. Yeah, he got to go wherever he pleased and drink his fill of beer (not whisky, if he was not lookin’ to get skinned by Murdoch), and maybe get some trim from the workin’ girls, while I was kept on a short rein and got lectured constant. Holy Mother of God, I was sick to death of being treated so harsh. I ate some more blackberry pie and custard, and three sugar cookies, and downed another glass of buttermilk. Then I stomped upstairs in the huge hacienda, to my big room, shucked my store bought clothes and crawled into my massive, soft bed. The sheets were clean and smelled like the sun.
Maybe my life was not really all that harsh…but I still sulked.
Scott hadn’t come home the night before, and arrived home just as Murdoch and I finished breakfast. Murdoch threw his napkin on the table and requested an audience in his study with the ‘Young Man’. I lingered in the kitchen, and could hear terse voices, but not what they were sayin’. Maria told me to stop escuchas ilegales (eavesdropping) and get to my chores.
When I came outta the barn with a wheelbarrow full of muck, Scott had left without a word my way. It was the other end of the day before he came and found me where I was whitewashing that goddamn guardhouse.
He stood behind me, carefully removing his gloves one finger at a time like he always did. I dropped the brush in the pail of whitewash and turned around to face him square, wonderin’ if he was going to light into me. When he pushed his hat back on his head I knew he weren’t mad at me like he was the day before, but even so, his next words caught me flat-footed.
“Johnny, I’m sorry about what I said to you in the barn on Saturday. It was not my intent to belittle you.”
I understood the apologizing, but what was he talkin’ about being little me?
“I ain’t little Scott, and you could do a lot worse that to be me.” I groused at him.
Scott frowned while he pulled the gloves through his hands, but then his brow cleared.
“I meant I didn’t mean to talk down to you. ‘Belittle’ means to talk down to someone, or treat them in such a way that they feel small. That’s what I meant, Johnny.”
I put my hands low on my hips and looked down at the white spots on my boots while I thought. I looked back at him, standing there all relaxed, but with a waiting look on his face.
“Boston, you think that now I’m goin’ to apologize to you for ‘belittlin’ you at lunch yesterday?”
“That’s your decision. I just wanted to acknowledge my own poor behavior towards you.”
I looked into the distance, turning Boston’s words over in my mind.
“Johnny, Araminta is really a nice person. I enjoy being with her. I expect to enjoy the company of attractive girls, when possible, over the next few years, and one day I hope to enjoy the company of some girl so much that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. But Johnny, for seventeen years I imagined what it would be like to have a little brother, and then I got one. He may be the biggest brat I have ever met, but I can’t imagine my life without him, and he can’t be replaced. Never. Not by anyone.”
I turned my head back to face Scott. He had that quirked look about his mouth, which he would get when he wanted to smile.
“I guess that girl ain’t so bad, Boston.”
“No, she’s not.”
“You tup that new whore in Spanish Wells last night?”
“None of your business.”
I folded my arms, and looked down, kicking at a stone embedded in the hard dirt.
“I guess I am sorry, Boston, for queerin’ it with ol’ Cyrus for you.”
“Thank you, Johnny. I guess I will survive Mr Tarrant’s low opinion of me.”
“What about Araminta? She sure don’t seem put off you, way she jumped in front of you when Cyrus wanted to swate you.”
“No, I don’t believe she has been put off me. I plan to call on her
Wednesday night. I hope to see her frequently, until she returns to
“She’s not stayin’ here then?”
“Not till she finishes school. She has one more year to complete.”
I looked up at Scott then, while I chewed on my bottom lip.
“I guess she would love it if you moved to San Francisco.”
Scott slapped his leg with the gloves in his hand. He looked at me as he settled his hat straight on his head. Then he walked slowly to me, and put both his hands on my shoulders and gave me a shake.
“Johnny, this is my home, and I should’ve grown up here. We should have grown up here. We missed out on that, but this is your home now – I can see that. A blind man could see that. Can’t you see that this is my home too? Can’t you see that? Or do I have to pound it into your thick skull?”
I looked into Scott’s eyes then, and I looked for the truth. Boston’s hands were heavy on my shoulders, the finger of one of those empty gloves touching my neck. His eyes were boring into mine, and there was no laughing in them, no joshing or teasin’ or pretending. Only the truth, and I felt this unease I’d had roilin’ through me for three weeks all go away, and I relaxed.
I smiled then, and Scott’s eyes went from grey to blue as they got sass in them.
“Boston, I’m thinkin’ I should go inside and tell Pa what you did last night.”
“You do and I will tan you.”
Scott shook me hard then, laughing, and avoiding my leg as I tried to hook his legs. Instead he hooked mine and swept them out from under me. We scuffled then, rolling around in the dirt, both trying our best to pin the other.
Some of the hands yelled out advice and encouragement, but I still didn’t have the strength to overpower Scott, and he soon had me flipped with my face in the dirt and an arm up my back.
“Admit I’m better at everything, Little Brother!” Scott spoke soft while he pressed me.
“Get fucked, you bastard!” I returned as I did everything I could to throw him.
“Admit it, or I’ll get Walt to bring me a quirt, and I’ll take some hide off your scrawny backside!”
“Just try it, Boston, and I’ll get my knife and I’ll …“
I then described in detail a Comanche torture involving sharp knives, and Scott’s gizzards ending up outside his body and his cajones ending up inside, where they had no business bein’. It musta been a pretty good description, ‘cause Scott suddenly let me go, and he sat next to me, with his head hanging. I stood up, and then I put my hand out to him. He took it and jumped up, and we both headed over to the whitewash bucket, picking up gloves and hats on the way.
“We had a couple of Texas boys in my Cavalry Unit. My God, but they could ride! And they regaled us with very grisly stories of Comanche tortures. I don’t think I’ve forgotten one word.”
I picked up the brush and slopped a glob of whitewash onto the adobe and started spreadin’ it while Scott watched, and continued talking.
“I remember though, our history master at school telling us that the torturers of Old China would put the Red Indians here to shame. Somehow it impresses you more when the torturers are close neighbours, though.”
“Or brothers.” I smirked.
“Or brothers.” Scott repeated. He looked back at the house. “Our esteemed Father inside?”
“Nah. He and Cip rode off somewhere after lunch.”
I gave Scott a sly glance.
“You could go in and have a couple of good belts of the Ol’ Man’s best liquor and he wouldn’t even know it. ‘Less’n you’re still worried ‘bout his belt.”
Scott considered me for a moment, not smiling even though I gave him a smirk. He seemed to be thinking on something, and then he decided.
“Let me tell you something about our Father, Johnny.”
I slopped more white on the bricks, but I was listenin’.
“When you ran away recently – “
Scott ignored my huffing.
“Murdoch and I made a futile trip down to Lethento. A new vaquero we hired had come through there, and once here he heard about us searching for you. He came to us and told us he’d seen a boy fitting your description working for the smithy. He’d noticed an Appaloosa in the livery, so we thought we’d found you. When we got there, the horse was really old, and the boy was the smithy’s son. Murdoch’s back was troubling him – we’d ridden hard – and that night he went to bed early. I was troubled too, but mine was the worry that we would never find you.”
By now I was feeling real guilty. Scott had folded his arms, and was leaning on the door jamb, and he continued with his story.
“I got angry. Angry at Murdoch, for upsetting you and causing you to run. Angry at him for the past seventeen years of our lives, really. Angry at you for running off, when you had no just cause. Angry at the smithy’s son for not being you, and the horse for not being Serampion. Angry at myself for being angry at all those things which were beyond our control. So I took my anger down to the saloon and I deliberately downed three glasses of whisky. Then I marched back to our room and woke Murdoch and told him I’d been drinking, and I would drink the hell whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I would not be walloped like a child by him or anyone, and be damned to him!”
“Jesus Scott! You talk about me bein’ reckless and playin’ with fire!”
Boston seems like such a polite, gentleman sort of a feller, but he has just as big a stubborn streak as Murdoch, and a hell of a temper when he gets his dander up. What I wouldn’t have given to see Pa’s face that night, with Scott in liquor and challenging him. Jesus!
Scott ignored my interrupting. His mouth was grim. He had his arms folded, and he was looking over at the house, but not seeing it I knew, as he continued his telling.
“Murdoch threw back the covers and got off the bed, and I prepared myself to fight him. I actually took up the correct boxer’s stance, as taught at my school.”
“Precisely. Murdoch stood there, with one hand over his eyes, massaging his brow. I distinctly remember that. I don’t know what he did next, but I found myself face down on my bed with his shin across my legs, and his left hand on the back of my neck. I was helpless.”
Scott looked at my horrified face, and he reached toward me and used his fist to tap my chin up. I didn’t know my mouth had fallen open. Scott gave me a half smile, and then he went on.
“He reached under me then, unbuckled my belt, and pulled it through the loops. Johnny, I thought my head would explode, I was so angry, and embarrassed beyond reason. I tried to fight, but he had me pinned. You know what he did next?”
“Yeah – he whaled the tar outta you.” I gulped.
Scott smiled at me, and shook his head.
“No, he didn’t. He let go of me, and he sat back on his bed and watched me scramble upright. He tossed the belt to me, and said ‘finish undressing and get into bed, Son’, and he said it calm as could be. I was all in a welter of feelings, but I sure had sobered up in an instant. I stammered out about his threat to tan me if I drank liquor before three months was up. He said he had threatened to punish me, but he had told me when I turned eighteen that he believed I was past benefitting from a more physical type of discipline, and he had meant it. So as I had deliberately broken my word and been drinking whisky, my punishment was that once we got home I would be spending a lot of time digging a new garden bed for Maria, and transferring the entire seasoned manure pile into that garden bed. In my own time, of course.
I felt exhausted by then, and I just nodded. I’d behaved like a child, and we both knew it. Murdoch was sitting on his bed drinking a glass of water, and I had one too. Then I undressed, and I turned to pull back the covers. Well, Murdoch whacked my backside so hard I pitched headfirst into the wall next to the bed. I turned over quick as lightning, and he was just sitting there, grinning.
But then he stopped grinning, and he put the glass down. He said he realized I was overwrought, and had been drinking, but he would not tolerate disrespect or defiance from me. So in the morning, once I had slept and was feeling more myself, he expected an apology. Then he just said goodnight to me, lay down, and went to sleep.”
Scott looked at me, and then down at my right hand. The brush I was still holdin’ had left a puddle of whitewash next to my foot, and was still dripping into the puddle.
“So, Little Brother, I will not be drinking hard liquor until my banned period expires. And I have learned a little more about our Father. I hope me sharing this story with you has been instructive for you in that regard as well.”
Scott laughed, and he headed off to the house, while I threw that damn brush into the pail. I went into the guardhouse, and I sat at the small table in there. I pushed my hat off, and I chewed on the stampede strings while I pondered.
Murdoch was still surprising Scott, and me, regular.
He surprised me then, by appearing in the doorway.
“Having a rest, Son?”
He filled the whole doorway. He was a big man. But it was more than just his size. I’d come to realize that fact in my early days of being home. That’s why I had stayed, even though Lancer and family life was far from what I was used to, and far from what I had thought I wanted. It was becoming clear to me that Scott mighta stayed for the same reason. I had come from a hard type of life, and apart from his time in the Cavalry, Scott had come from a soft type of life. Murdoch sure wasn’t offerin’ either one of us a soft life, but he wanted to be a part of our lives, and for us both to share in his life.
There sure was no goddamn ‘belittlin’ of us, or anyone else, by Murdoch Lancer.
And Pa, he expected both of us to turn out big too.