I was sitting at the kitchen table, having my fifth piece of bread and strawberry preserves. Maria was busy doing the breakfast dishes, but every time we heard Murdoch’s voice get louder, she would mutter her head off. Even with the study door shut, we could hear Murdoch as he gave Scott a trimmin’ down that woulda meeked down the devil himself. We couldn’t hear it all, but words like ‘danger’, ‘disobedient’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘clot-heid’ and ‘consequences’ came through quite clear.
The day previous, Scott had gone to the Cluney’s mill to collect timber which we needed to replace the whole back wall of the barn. That was on account of a little fire we’d had the week before.
Murdoch had sent Scott, knowing he was mooning over Claudine Clooney, and would get to visit with her. He’d told Scott that though he could take the wagon on the road that was most direct, he was to take the long way back. Pa was concerned that with all the drenchin’ rain we’d had the last days, the shorter road would be too treacherous for the wagon to pass, once it had the full load of timber on board. Scott said as how he could judge himself which way to return, and Pa had said quite firm to please do like he was told.
‘Course, Scott decided he knew better, having checked the road all the way on the outward journey. Plus he was keen to get back early because it was Friday and he was going into town before supper. He didn’t want to be late back and get held up.
Unfortunate for Scott, he was nearing home when part of the roadway under the wagon collapsed away. It was only a small slip, but it still meant the back corner of the wagon went off the side. The wheel smashed on a rock underneath, and Scott got pitched out. He was fortunate that he didn’t get hurt. That was because he landed in a nice soft, squelchy mud hole. He then slithered down the side of the hill about fifteen feet. Conall and Corc were fretted bad, but lucky for them and us, who loved them, they were not injured either.
Ol’ Boston had got himself in a fix, alright. About a third of the planks had fallen out and were now spread out below the wagon. Some were half hanging out the back. Scott settled himself and then the horses, and led them forward so that all of the wagon was at least back up on the road. But he couldn’t do anything else. He was real worried about another slip, too. He quickly unhitched the two sturdy Normans and then he clambered up on Conall and headed home. Corc followed, till Scott came to a good flat, grassy area where he hobbled the horse.
It was a mighty uncomfortable ride for Boston, who had never ridden bareback hardly. Took him two hours, because trotting killed his backside-and more delicate parts - so he walked Conall the whole way. Still, having his legs stretched around that broad back, and using only his legs to grip, all that time – whooee! He walked funny for three days.
He wasn’t looking forward to getting home anyway, as he knew what – or that was, who, he would have to face when he got back to the ranch.
When he arrived Murdoch was in a fit, worried that Scott was hurt. I was at the back of the barn still working on the frame with Bert. We had enough timber to do that part, but were waiting on Scott for the rest. When I saw Scott and Conall coming slowly up the road I had run down to meet him, worried too. Once we got to Pa and he was sure that Scott was okay, he asked what had happened.
Scott was mortified about what he’d done, and how it had been the wrong thing to do and had turned out bad for him, and for the horses, and for the men who’d have to help clear up his mess.
Pa listened to Scott, and as he listened he stood up straighter and straighter, until he looked like a damn mountain. He folded his arms, and his mouth got grim and his whole face looked like thunder.
“I’m –I’m really sorry, Murdoch.”
Murdoch just nodded, and then he turned to me.
“Johnny, round up four of the hands please. And get that spare wheel into the gig - hitch Beulah. I’ll drive that out. Ask Jed to bring his tools.”
He turned back to Scott.
“You go and clean up and be back here in fifteen minutes. We have a lot of work to do.”
He went striding toward the barn. Scott was red in the face, the bits I could see through the mud. He looked like a whupped pup. Wasn’t much I could say, so I just slapped his shoulder and went off to do what Murdoch had asked.
I wanted to go with the crew, to be there for Boston, but Pa told me it would be heavy work for grown men and I’d just be in the way! My temper nearly got the best of me, but I hauled in. He told me to get back to the framing till it was time to finish for the day. Then I was to ask Maria to set aside food for him and Scott. After supper I was to get my lessons done because I hadn’t done them the night before. I was real peeved, but wasn’t goin’ to rile Murdoch. Not with the mood he was in. Scott had had a spit wash and changed out of his muddy clothes, but he was still dirty as hell – ‘specially for him. And, God-almighty did he look unhappy.
He and Pa and the crew all set off, leading Conall with them. They didn’t get back till after dark. Pa ate his dinner and then sat by the fire having a drink and reading. Scott made straight for the bathhouse, taking his supper plate with him. While he ate and filled the tub, I went and got him his long johns and his robe. Then I sat in there and he told me about the accident and then all the work rescuing the timber.
Pa wouldn’t let any of the men do anything risky, not with the road so boggy in that stretch. They had unloaded the planks that were still in the wagon and then all of them lifted it, and Jed was able to remove the smashed wheel and fit the new one. Then they put a third of the planks back aboard, and Jed brought those back and he and some of the hands unloaded them. When he went back he collected about another third. Murdoch and Scott and the men all worked stacking the timber while waiting for him. They retrieved a few of the planks from down the hillside by lassoing them and hauling them up. The rest of those timbers were staying where they were till the morning. Three men were going back and going to stay back on solid ground while the third went down with a rope around him, and he would tie ropes to the planks he could so they could be hauled up.
Scott was dog tired, and he was hurting in places he never knew he had because of his long bareback ride. He said Pa had not said one word of ‘recrimination’… yet.
“You mean he hasn’t given you hell?” I asked.
“No. Not yet.”
I offered to go get the liniment and give Boston a rub, like I always do for sore horses, but he said where he was sore no man was ever going to put hands, thank you very much.
He’d just said that when there was a knock and Pa’s head came around the door. We both looked up, but then Scott looked down at his knees where they stuck outta the water. Pa came in and I saw he had a bottle of Dr Thomas’s Eclectric Oil in his hand. Jesus – looked like ol’ Boston was in for an embarrassing as hell meeting with Murdoch!
“Scott, I’m going to give you a rub down with this.” He held up the bottle.
Scott’s face was red from the hot water, but now it went scarlet.
“Thank you, Sir, but I’m quite alright.”
I swung my head to look at Scott and then back to Pa. This was goin’ to be interesting.
“Scott, I am well aware that you are not alright. Now don’t be foolish. Get out of that tub, wrap a towel around yourself and lie on that bench. I am tired and I am ready to retire, but I will see to you first. Unless you have some assistance –“
“But Sir –“
“Please do me the courtesy of not interrupting when I am speaking.”
Pa was getting fractious, and his voice started getting louder.
“Unless you have some assistance you will find yourself barely able to walk, let alone ride, tomorrow. Now I’ve had about as much contrariness as I can tolerate from you in one day. You’ll do as you’re told!”
Jesus, looked like Scott was losin’ his temper just like I usually did, and he looked real defiant. Hell. But one look at Murdoch’s clock and I could see Scott didn’t have a hope in hell of winning this battle. Murdoch suddenly pinned me with a look.
“Johnny, please leave us.”
There weren’t no way I was not goin’ to do like I was told. I cut one sympathetic look at my brother and then I scarpered. But only to the other side of the door. I folded my arms and leaned back on the door jamb and listened up.
“Scott, I will ask you politely. Please allow me to assist you. You wish to be considered an adult. So stop acting like a child, and get yourself onto that bench.”
All was quiet, and I could imagine Scott looking at his knees, breathing hard, and not wanting to give in. But not wanting Murdoch to think he was carrying on like a bashful girl.
Then I heard the swish of water, followed by Scott clearing his throat, and then the scrape of the bench as he musta knocked it as he got himself laid down. A few seconds passed and then I heard a grunt, and then I could hear lots more of stifled groaning.
I went off up to Scott’s room and made myself comfortable on his bed. I leaned back with my hands behind my head and my ankles crossed. I couldn’t wait for him to come in so’s I could put my spurs into him about where Murdoch’s hands had been, ‘where no man was ever going to touch him’. This would give me fodder for tauntin’ Boston for years! I was pleased as I could be.
When the door opened and he came in he was thinking too hard to notice me. He had this look on his face which was ‘bemused’. When Clayt Aubrey was givin’ me lessons, he explained what that word meant, and that was exactly what Boston’s face looked like.
That look changed quick to a disapproving frown soon as he looked up and saw me.
“Get your feet off my bed.” He growled. “Actually, get yourself right out of my room, and be quick about it!”
Jeez, he could sound like Murdoch sometimes. I swung my legs around and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning back with my arms supportin’ me, and I gave him a considering look.
Scott went to his washbasin, still walkin’ funny, but a bit easier, and he started brushing his teeth. He used a toothbrush and toothcream. I had a toothbrush too, since living at Lancer, and Scott made sure I always had a pot of toothcream, too. I’d grown up usin’ frazzled twigs to clean my teeth. Or baking soda on a rag, when I lived with Mama and Val, and with Mama and Javier. Murdoch still used that on his brush, even though Scott had bought toothcream for him to try as well.
I sat there quiet, and Scott was keeping his eye on me in the mirror. He rinsed his mouth, then dried it, turning and looking at me over the towel…wary. I kept my face serious, but put my head to the side, and soft and concerned like, asked a question.
“Sooo, Big Brother…Pa’s hands nice and warm?”
“Shut up, Johnny.”
He tried to look calm, but the red was already creeping up his face. He threw the towel onto the top of his chest of drawers, and I noticed he clenched his fists. I let a small smile play on my face, and spurred again.
“He put those nice warm hands on your little-“
“I said shut up, Johnny.”
“Bet you never thought you’d have Pa’s hands rubbin’ your little a-“
But Scott had thrown himself on me and the rest of my taunt was cut off as he knocked the wind out of me. I tried to fend him off while struggling to get my breath. He couldn’t move too well, so I was able to make a break for it – but not before he’d knocked his bedside lamp off the table and then smacked my eye. I howled, and the lamp - not the lit one, lucky - smashed, and then Murdoch’s voice drowned out everything.
“What the hell is going on up there?”
I skittered out of Scott’s door and pulled it behind with a bang, and held the doorknob in case he was after me.
“It’s okay, Murdoch – Scott just knocked something over,” I yelled.
“You’d better not be roughhousing up there – I’ve told you a hundred times – not in the house!”
“Nosir –ah, yessir. ‘Night Murdoch.”
I heard his feet start thumping up the stairs, and shot into my room and shut the door. When I got into bed I didn’t fall asleep for a while, as I kept thinking of real insulting things I would be able to rile Scott with. Like did Pa’s hands on Boston’s backside feel anything like the girls in the bordello, and did it have the same effect. I kept chortling away to myself and then finally fell asleep.
Breakfast next morning was some quiet. Scott was waiting for the axe to fall, and I was watching the two of them to see when it would. At least Scott didn’t have to worry about gettin’ his ass blistered, as Pa thought Scott being eighteen was too old for that to work. I wished he thought fifteen was too old, as well.
Once Pa had finished his second cup of coffee, he asked Scott if he was finished.
“I would like to talk to you about yesterday. I’ll see you in my study.”
Pa got up and thanked Maria for breakfast, as usual, and then went off with that real purposeful stride of his. I looked at Scott. He was slowly wiping his mouth with his napkin, and then he felt my eyes on him. I straight away did what he’d done to me not too long before. I pretended I was cracking a whip, and then grabbed my backside with a pained look on my face. Then I grinned. He just looked at me as though he was completely not worried.
“That’s how Pa punishes children, Little Brother. He sees me as an adult.”
I howled laughing and clapped my hands.
“Boston, you and me both know that Pa still don’t see you as anything like an adult! I’m pretty sure he had his hands on his belt buckle when he walked out, and you know what that me-”
“Juanito! Eso es suficiente! Si ha terminado, llegar a sus tareas.” (That is enough! If you are finished, get to your chores.)
“Mamacita, me gustaria recibir mas tostadas, por favor.” (I would like some more bread, please.)
Scott got to his feet.
“Johnny, you are going to send this ranch broke with the amount of food you eat.”
He ignored my whip- cracking again as he hobbled off. The big grin on my face died when I looked back and saw the look Maria was giving me. Then she turned back to the stove.
So that’s how come I was sitting filling my face, and listening to Scott getting thundered at by Murdoch. When it sounded like the tirade was winding down, I took my last bit of bread and kissed Maria on the way out. She tried to land a whack on my backside but I hauled in and she missed. I lounged about at the bottom of the back stairs and waited. Scott finally emerged, looking like he had been whupped. His face had high colour, and his mouth was grim, and his eyes looked all turmoiled. He looked up and saw me and I saluted him with my crust. I was glad when he rolled his eyes, ‘cause that meant he wasn’t too beat down to still react to my teasin’. He didn’t say anything, just walked straight past me, trying to look dignified even though he was still walking so funny.
Next, Pa came out of the study. He had a determined look which I knew pretty well. Then he spotted me and he frowned.
“Heaven help us, Boy – you’re still eating?”
“Got to keep my strength up, Murdoch.”
“Your stomach is going to send us all to the poorhouse.”
“Never mind. Burt would have been working on the barn for half an hour already. Get out there and help him.”
He swung his arm back and I moved quickly towards the front door where my rig was hanging on the hat stand, with his. I knew if his hand connected it would have a lot of wallop which he woulda built up blasting ol’ Boston, and so I was not plannin’ on bearing the brunt of that.
We hardly lost any of the timber in the end, just a lot of lost work hours, as Pa grumbled. Scott told me though that Murdoch’s rant had been mostly about the risk of Scott gettin’ hurt, followed by how the Normans mighta got hurt as well. So Scott was payin’ penance by doing all the grubbiest jobs around the ranch. Pa said as how Scott could do them for a month, and while he was digging outhouses and cleaning pigpens and chicken coops, he could think about listening to his elders and betters, and learning to do what he was told. And he could forget about going into town for two weeks.
Scott didn’t grouse and complain, like I woulda. He just got on with it.
The only thing Scott was uncomfortable about was that the Corners were coming to stay with us again. They’d been to another wedding, and this time the whole family was coming. Eb Corner’s second sister had got hitched. Last time Josh’s Ma had to stay home on account of the little brother getting the chicken pox. And the older brother was at some college so hadn’t gone either. Scott was uncomfortable because he didn’t want Josh’s older brother to know that he couldn’t take him into town. I said to just tell him that he had a bellyache, but ol’ Boston was not good at outright lies.
“I could punch you in the belly, if you want?” I offered.
“Thank you so much Little Brother, but I can skirt the truth somehow.”
Scott was a master at skirting the truth. He could be real sneaky if his hide or mine was in danger.
At breakfast the day the Corner family was going to land on us, Pa had given me a very terse lecture about there bein’ no repeat of my ‘dangerous and disobedient’ behavior with Josh. Any shenanigans from me would result in a repeat of the ‘repercussions’ Murdoch had doled out last time. Me teaching Josh to shoot behind our Pa’s backs, and then us blowin’ up a line shack had got us both tanned very thorough. I couldn’t sit comfortable for two days, even though Murdoch had only used his hand. I sure wasn’t planning on any shenanigans, but things mightn’t play out that way.
“They will only be here for four days, to break the journey for Hester. Johnny, you and Josh will have little Monte to look after. He’s six, I believe. Carl is a little older than you, Scott.”
“I ain’t babysitting no sprout,” I protested.
“You will keep an eye on the little boy. It’s not open to discussion.”
Murdoch didn’t yell, but he didn’t have to. He could put this determined hardness in his voice that woulda cowed down the President of Mexico.
We all trooped out to orders, and then Pa was taking the wagon into town to meet the stage. I wanted to go, but he told me to get on with the barn repair. I was looking forward to seeing Josh and telling him about me finally bedding a woman. ‘Course, I planned to embellish that story plenty. If Josh knew what’d really happened he’d laugh as much as Scott did every time he brought it up, the bastard.
We didn’t get much work done on the barn as the rain came thunderin’ down mid mornin’. Bert and I downed our tools and hightailed it under cover. Cip came and found us where we was hunkered down inside the barn and told us to get our slickers and go help move the heifers over to the Morro Lake pasture.
Scott was glad to get our help, and glad to see me getting as drowned as him. It was the middle of the afternoon before we got back for something to eat. With the steady rain we hadn’t been able to heat any food and had just had some jerky.
When we got inside the house Maria gave us both a towel to sop up the worst of the dripping. We’d left our slickers to hang outside the kitchen door. Maria told us to go up the backstairs and get dry duds on before we joined Murdoch and our guests in the Great Room. After we’d said howdy we could come back into the kitchen to eat, as everyone else had already had lunch.
When the two of us trooped downstairs, Murdoch was standing in front of the fireplace with a cup and saucer in his hand. Mr Corner was pleased to see us and shook our hands and then introduced his wife. She was pretty and plump and short, and real friendly.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you boys! I’ve heard so much about you.” She held out her hand.
I shot a look at Josh, who just grinned at me.
“Pleased to meet you, M’am.” I said, polite as could be, giving her hand a shake.
“How do you do, Mrs Corner,” said Scott. He could make a few words sound like a speech to the Queen.
Then we shook with Carl, the oldest son, and then got introduced to Monte. Carl looked like his Pa. Solid and broad shouldered, dark hair, but no moustache like Eb had. Monte had dun colour hair like Josh, and looked like him only pint-sized. They looked like their Ma. Josh had grown some since he’d last been at Lancer, but so had I, and I was pleased to be almost the same height as him.
“Good to see you, Johnny! You look all wool and a yard wide!”
“And you look like the back end of bad luck!” I sassed back.
“Alright, you two, you can insult each other later. You boys probably haven’t eaten, have you?”
Murdoch was talkin’ to Scott and me.
“No, Sir, and we’re famished,” Scott answered.
Murdoch sent us out to the kitchen and Josh followed us and Monte followed him. We ate sandwiches to tide us over till supper. Maria gave Josh and Monte oatmeal cookies and they sat and ate them. Josh jawed with us, but the little tacker just ate while listening and watching.
Scott told Josh about jumping the corral fence in town and nearly landing on a bull. I knew the story, but the way Scott told it, keeping his face straight but exaggeratin’ it all, Josh and me and even the kid were all laughing fit to bust a kidney.
After we’d eaten Scott went back to join the others, taking Monte by the hand and leading him away. Josh and me went straight outside, not wanting to listen to the old people gas on about weddings and ranch business and the like. Scott had to be polite and talk to Carl, so I hoped he was worth the trouble.
The rain had stopped, but the skies were still dark grey and threatening. Soon as we cleared the house, Josh dropped his voice and asked me a question.
“Johnny, will you help me with something real important?”
Jesus, this worried me straight off.
“I ain’t blowing nothing up – don’t even ask!”
Josh laughed and shook his head.
“My Ma chased me all over the house with a switch when Pa and I got home. She’d never switched me in my life, but she would have if she could have caught me! No, I don’t aim to ever fool with dynamite again.”
“Well, I’m relieved to hear that. So what is it?”
We stood at the corral, watching the horses. They didn’t look any too happy about the weather either.
“Johnny, I thought my Aunt Jo’s wedding would be just as boring as the last one, and it would’ve been except for one thing.”
When he didn’t go on I turned to look at him. He was looking over the corral at the mountains, and his face had gone all to mush. I’d seen that look on Scott’s face, so I knew what was coming.
“Well? Go on.”
“I met the most – well, the most, ah, I met this humdinger of a girl, Johnny!”
“You did, huh? This girl, she let you do anything?”
Josh looked at me and coloured up some.
“She’s a real nice girl, Johnny. Real well brought up and ladylike.”
“Uh-huh, so she wouldn’t let you do anything, then? That right?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Johnny, ‘cause I know I can trust you. She let me kiss her on the cheek, real close to her mouth! But she’s a real good girl, Johnny, so I wouldn’t take no liberties with her, of course.”
“So, this good girl – how old is she?”
“Her name is Gaynor, and she’s sixteen. She sure is beautiful. I’ve never seen a more beautiful girl, you know. She’s the sweetest girl you could ever meet too, but her folks aren’t sweet at all. Matter of fact, they’re downright mean. So, I have to help her, Johnny, but I can’t do it alone. Will you help me?”
If I had any sense I woulda said I couldn’t do anything to help, and hightailed it back into the house. But Josh was looking at me like a sick calf, and if a girl needed our help, and she was beautiful and sweet – well…
“What are you plannin’ to do to help this…Gaynor?” I asked, chewing on my lip and worrying.
“Gaynor is full of life, Johnny, and she wants to have fun and meet people – all those things like a normal girl wants. But her folks are awful religious, and don’t believe in any of that, and like I said, they’re real mean. They’re sending her to San Francisco and she’s to be imprisoned in some convent there. They want her to be a nun! Can you believe it? A nun!”
Josh groaned and buried his head in his arms. I folded my arms and kicked at the ridge of mud under my boot.
“I don’t see what you can do about that, Josh? How can you help?”
He looked up at me and his eyes got bright.
“We got it all planned! Gaynor and her governess are going to be on the stagecoach that stops in Green River on Thursday. They’re staying at the hotel there for the night and then leaving the next morning. I knew we’d be close to Green River so I aim to rescue her.”
“Jesus, Josh, how you goin’ to get her away from her governor?”
“Governess. She’s an old biddy who has taught Gaynor at home for years. Gaynor said she can get away from her soon as the old lady falls asleep. All we have to do is bring her back here, and then next day take her to meet the stage going the opposite direction.”
“Bring her here? Dios, Josh, you crazy? And what do you mean – ‘meet the stage’? By the time the stage gets to Morro Coyo everyone on it will know about the girl missing in Green River. They’ll all be on the lookout for her – Sheriff Creane will see to that.”
“That’s why Gaynor is going to dress like a boy! That’s why I need your help. We need to hide her in one of those rooms you got out the back, and give her a set of your duds. Then we take her to Morro Coyo next day and see her onto the stage. I haven’t got any money, but she has, so she can buy a ticket to Los Angeles.”
“Godamighty! We got to sneak into Green River, sneak a girl back here and hide her – then sneak her into Morro Coyo next day? And all without anyone on the ranch, including all our kin – not knowing nothing? Is that all?!”
Josh gave me a big smile, not even thinking that I was being sarcastical, and nodded.
“See, I knew you’d be a real boon to have for this rescue! You probably done lots of rescues like this when you were Johnny Madrid – hey Johnny?”
I closed my eyes and shook my head slow.
“No, Josh, as a matter of fact I ain’t never kidnapped a girl and run her all over the state, and that’s a fact.”
“Who said anything about kidnap? Jeez, Johnny, you aren’t going to back out of our rescue, are you?”
Our rescue. Jesus, all this trouble for a good girl. Now, if she was an accommodating sort of girl, well the hazard to our hides might be worth it for the pleasure of her body. But we were takin’ all these sonofabitchin’ risks just to wave her goodbye on the stage.
“Johnny? You gotta help! Gaynor knows a cousin in Los Angeles who she can stay with. She said if I helped her I’d have her undying gratitude. I can’t let her down…not after she let me kiss her!”
Josh had gone all red. Him and Scott were both confident and regular sort of yahoos, men it was good to be around. But soon as they got all moony about some girl they turned into girls themselves. I sure was never going to let no female change me like that. It was downright disheartening. But I knew Josh would not be able to carry out his plans without help, and he was asking me, and it looked like I would have to pitch in. Once I made my decision, my mind started workin’ fast on plans.
“Alright, Josh, I’m in.”
Murdoch took the whole Corner family to visit with the Blandings for lunch the next day. They were an old couple who he’d known for years, and Mr Corner was friends with them from years before too. The rain held off so they would have a comfortable ride over. It meant that me and Burt could keep workin’ on the barn as well.
Josh had helped us after breakfast, before he had to go and get dudded up. Monte wanted to help too, but mostly he got in the way. He asked a thousand questions which took all three of us to answer. Not that any of us knew why the sky was blue or who thought up nails. Scott might have.
Soon as Burt was up the ladder, out of earshot, Josh and me made plans. That night I was goin’ to grab some bedclothes for the room we planned to stash Gaynor in. I’d leave a pair of my pants and a shirt and jacket in there, and my old hat. Once everyone was in bed we’d skive off into Green River and collect this girl and she could ride home double with Josh. We’d feed her in the morning, and then we had to figure how to get her to Morro Coyo without anyone seeing any of us. If the stage went through that town in the morning we coulda taken her straight there, but it went through in the afternoon. We couldn’t be missing at breakfast, and we couldn’t be hanging around the town all day with a strange looking ‘youth’.
“Josh, we’re goin’ to have to use Monte.”
“Use me for what?” piped up the kid.
“Johnny, we can’t use him – he can’t keep his mouth shut about anything.”
“Can too!” the kid protested.
“We don’t got to tell him nothing – leave it to me.” I answered.
At supper that night I said to Pa as how the stay had been pretty boring for a little kid like Monte, so I thought Josh and me could take him out the next day.
“Why Johnny, how very thoughtful of you.” Miz Corner was fair beaming.
Scott raised his eyebrows at me. Sometimes he’s real suspicious.
“Yes, Son, that is thoughtful. What did you have in mind?” Pa looked a bit suspicious as well.
“Well, the Aubrey kids are off school and Silas isn’t much older than Monte. And their Scottish Collie just had pups – he’d like to see them.”
“Can I go, Ma? Please?!”
Monte’s eyes were shining with excitement. Jeez, I felt bad. No way could we deliver Josh’s girl to Morro Coyo and go all the way back to the Aubrey’s. And when Pa asked the three of us about our visit I’d have to think of some reason we hadn’t gone. Fuck, this was getting to be more and more of a headache by the minute.
“Petunia is a beautiful dog – how many pups did she have?”
Murdoch sat there giving me a thinking lookover, but then he nodded.
“The three of you can go after lunch. Once all of your chores are done, Johnny.”
Monte whooped and Josh and I sighed with relief. But not so anyone could hear.
Late that night I got bedding from the big oak linen press and Josh and me dropped it in one of the bedrooms right out the back of the hacienda. I left the clothes for Gaynor on the bed. Then the two of us crept outta the house and saddled up and lit out for Green River. It was cold, and it was raining. We wore our slickers and took an extra one for the girl.
Josh had told Gaynor to find the main kitchen of the hotel and sit in there once everyone had gone to bed. We would knock gentle on the back door. First we scouted the Sheriff’s office. It was locked, and there was no light, so Allan must have done his rounds and gone home. The hotel was in darkness, apart from one light in an upstairs room. I kept a lookout while Josh snuck up to the kitchen door. Soon as he knocked it opened and I could hear excited whispering. Josh loomed out of the dark and behind him was Gaynor. Even with only the faint moonlight that could get through the cloud cover, I could see straight off why Josh was smitten.
This girl had a figure like Maria’s egg-timer. Her dress was stretched taut across her bubs. They not only came out a nice distance, but they were full right the way around. Jeez, they looked good.
“Johnny, this is Gay- er- Miss Fitzwilliam. Gaynor, this is Mr. Johnny Lancer.”
I’d seen Scott kiss a ladies hand at the last social, and I’d seen what it did to the lady. She went all to sparkling, so I decided right then to make this girl sparkle at me. I took the hand she held out and planted a kiss on it and then looked up slow before I stood back up.
“How do, Miss Fitzwilliam.”
Jehosephat! Could she sparkle.
“Why, Mr Lancer, how utterly charming!”
I smiled at her smile and she smiled bigger. She had the prettiest face, and her hand had tingled mine.
“Er, Johnny – shouldn’t we get outta here?”
I looked at Josh who I’d somehow forgotten was there. He was looking strange at me, and at Gaynor.
“Yes, let’s go. The horses are this way, Miss. Should I take your arm? I wouldn’t want you to stumble in the dark.”
“Why, that’s so gallant of you, Mr Lancer.” Her eyelashes fluttered and I found it hard to swallow.
I grabbed her hand and threaded it through my arm and we hurried to where Pancho and Loco were tied. Josh got the slicker he’d brought along and helped her put it on. Then he mounted and told her that I would help her get on behind him.
“Why Josh, I could never ride a horse with a name like Loco! And Mr Lancer’s horse is such a pretty boy. A Pinto, I believe?”
“Yes’m. A piebald Pinto, and he would love to have you ride with us. He’s as gentle as a lamb, Miss.”
“Oh my, please do call me Gaynor! Meeting under these exacting circumstances, I do think we can forgo the proprieties – to a certain extent that is!”
And she trilled this laugh that sounded like music, and that made her milkers tremble. I felt a bit trembly myself.
“I really think you oughta ride with me, Gaynor. Your Ma and Pa wouldn’t like you riding with someone you just met!” Josh sounded grieved.
“Why, Joshua Corner! Mother and Daddy wouldn’t like one thing I’m doing, so I hardly think riding with Mr Lancer is going to matter. Now Josh, be a good boy and help me up behind Johnny.”
I cut a look at Josh as I mounted. He looked upset, and I didn’t blame him. If she’d called me a ‘good boy’ I woulda been upset too. He scrambled off Loco and cupped his hands for her to step up. She snuggled in behind me and wrapped her arms tight around my waist. I could feel her breath on my neck, and I could feel ol’ John Thomas getting mighty interested in proceedings, too. Jesus, I wished we were travelling like this to San Francisco – not just back to the ranch!
We set off riding nice and easy and steady, and that girl clung to me like we were one person. I had to push that thought right outta my head, because I was already having trouble keeping myself decent. Even with both of us having slickers on, I was sure her milkers kept swaying across my back, and it gave me a jolt in my pants every time.
It rained heavy on the way back, but I didn’t care at all. I was enjoying the feel of that girl’s arms around me, and wishing like hell that I could just turn completely around in the saddle and … but didn’t do to think on that. It did keep me warm though, all the way home.
Soon as we got to the barn Josh was off Loco so fast he was just a flash. He pulled Gaynor down from behind me even faster.
“Josh! Please mind my dress!” She squawked.
“Sorry Gaynor, I just want to get inside quick as I can.”
Which is exactly what I was thinking…
Josh had suddenly got real bossy, askin’ me to please put up the horses while he took Gaynor in out of the weather.
Half an hour later I knocked soft on the bedroom door and went in to find the two of them talking low. Soon as Gaynor looked at me she gave me this big smile.
“Mr Lancer, I can’t thank you enough for helping me. I wish I could do something to show my appreciation.”
My mouth went dry.
“Johnny, I was just telling Gaynor what plans I’ve made. You can go to bed now, I’ll just finish with my instructions, and I’ll see you at breakfast.”
Fuck! Josh suddenly was Mr Big Bug Boss. I felt like planting my fist right in his clock.
I ignored him and went closer to the bed where Gaynor was sitting with her dress spread all around her. It was hiked up at the front a little, and her slim ankle was showing.
“Please call me Johnny, Miss-ah-Gaynor.”
“I would adore to call you by your first name! My word, this is such an adventure. Me being rescued by two such handsome cowboys! Why, it’s enough to make a shy little thing like me go all to swooning!”
She had this breathy sort of voice that made me feel a bit like swooning, too.
“Now, I am enjoying both your company so much, I really hate to say goodnight. But I fear I won’t look my best tomorrow unless I get some sleep, gentlemen!”
“Why of course, Gaynor, we’ll leave you. Is there anything I can get you before you go to sleep?”
Josh sounded like a flannel-mouth, and I wished he would shut it.
“No Josh, I’ll say goodnight. Would you pull the door shut behind you? I just want to have a quick word with Mr – that is, Johnny.”
Josh’s face suddenly went red and he seemed to have trouble getting a breath. But so did I. We looked at each other and I could see he was struggling to think of something to say or do. I was too.
“Josh?” She was looking at him, and when he looked back she said firm, “Goodnight, Josh.”
He didn’t have no choice but to scarper, and he strode outta there looking mad as hell. He even forgot his manners and didn’t say goodnight to either of us, the swine.
Soon as the door shut I looked back at that enticing girl, wondering what she wanted to say. She didn’t say anything, just started unbuttoning this cape thing she had on. She kept her eyes on me while she did it. It was just a cape, but watching her as she watched me with this cool look, I suddenly felt my blood start to surge. And it was surging all in one direction.
She shrugged off the cape, and the front of her dress was fine to see. All swell and curve and moving.
“Come sit beside me.” She patted the bed.
I could move real fast, and before I knew it I was beside her. On a bed. Dios.
“How old are you, Johnny?” It came out all breathy.
“Eighteen. Yes, I’m definitely eighteen.”
“I thought you were older than Josh. You wear a gun. I’m betting you would know how to use it. And Johnny, you wear it low. I’m pretty sure I know what that means… I think you might be a dangerous man, Johnny Lancer.”
I gave her a slow smile I’d practised in the mirror. It was meant to be just dangerous enough to thrill a girl.
Her eyes were a smoky sort of blue and even though she had yellowy colour hair, her eyelashes were dark. Every time they dipped up and down I imagined them on my cheek, ticklin’. She smelled good, like roses in the hot sun.
Just then there was an enormous clap of thunder, and Gaynor’s eyes flew wide and she grabbed my hand. I straight away scooted up next to her and wrapped my right arm around her shoulders.
“I can stay with you till the storm passes, if you’d like?”
“I’d like that very much.”
And without another how-de-do, she leaned forward and lightly brushed her lips across mine. Well, that’s all the invitation I needed and I pulled her in and started on kissing her, and not five seconds later her mouth was open and I was having a hot and heavy time. She was breathing deep as I kissed her neck, and that made her bubs rise and fall. Seeing that close- up made my head swim.
“Johnny,” she said quiet, “I am a modern woman, and I want to feel the passions of the body – but I don’t want a baby. We’re not going to go the limit – you understand?”
I understood alright, and I nodded and started unbuttoning the top of her dress, as I went back to kissing her. I was ready to ‘go the limit’, and my body was already rearing to explode, but I would take what I could get. And having a pretty girl in my arms who was going to let me touch her bubs, well that was good enough for me, for now.
The blamed buttons were tiny and in the end I had to stop kissin’ so I could use both hands and look to see what I was doing. Finally the blasted things were undone and I had her dress open to the waist. I put my hand on the outside first, and the feel of the weight of her milker under my hand was heaven. She did this little moan so she was enjoying it, too. I kissed her light on the mouth, and then I started moving down her neck again, this time with my eyes wide open. As she moaned again I took my hand and slipped it inside her dress – and Jesus, I just about disgraced myself when my hand got on her bub, and her pezon (nipple) suddenly hardened under my palm. She leaned back then, and I leaned over her, my hand squeezing. Then I pushed aside the other half of her top and bent my head to kiss the top of this beautiful pechuga (breast). I was as happy as a hog in a wallow. I moved my mouth lower -
But just then Josh’s blamed fool voice interrupted us.
“Johnny! Johnny!? What’s taking so long? I’m right here – you should come out! I’m waiting!”
I tore my mouth away from Gaynor’s beautiful swell, annoyed at having to because Josh wouldn’t take the hint that his girl wasn’t really his girl.
“Josh! Keep your voice down! You’ll wake up the house! I’m staying here … for a little while. You go to bed.”
“Johnny – you come out here right now! You hear me! Right now!”
Jesus Mary, Mother of God. I looked back at Gaynor. Her dress was open and one of her delicious breasts was there for the taking. Her eyes were closed and she was clinging to my right arm.
“I’ll be right back, Gaynor. I’ll just get rid of him.”
I scooted fast across to the door, feeling mighty uncomfortable in my pants. I opened the door just a little, ready to tell Josh he needed to fuck off because this girl wanted me. But I didn’t get the chance. The sonofabitch pushed the door open, and of course he got an eyeful of the girl he saw as his, and he saw what we were up to. She’d sat bolt upright and pulled her dress closed, but Josh’s temper was already up.
“You fucking sonofabitch!” he roared, and he threw himself at me, his fists flying.
I didn’t expect he would do that and he caught me flat-footed. His right fist glanced off my cheekbone and he followed that with a left to the side of my head. We both fell to the ground and he was pummeling me and I was trying to get my knee into his cojones, and trying to get a punch back, and Gaynor was yelling at us both and we were both swearing.
I got a good hard fist into his face and leapt to my feet, but Josh was as mad as hell and he dived into my legs and brought me down again. As we went down we knocked over a plant stand with an empty pot on top, and of course the pot broke when it hit the tiled floor. And also of course, the ruckus we were making, and all the yelling Gaynor was doing, our secret business was no secret anymore.
What we found out later, was that all the thunder had woke up Monte. When he discovered he couldn’t pile into his big brother’s bed, account of his big brother not being there, he’d made a beeline for his Ma and Pa. Mr Corner had checked Josh’s room, and when he found Josh missing, he’d gone upstairs and checked mine, too. He had left Monte to sleep with his Ma, and then he had come out to the Great Room. He was dozing in the chair in front of the fireplace, waiting to catch us two when we arrived home. But not long after he went out to the outhouse by the kitchen garden, and that’s when he heard the fracas we were makin’, and he came to investigate.
“JOSHUA ANDREW CORNER!” he roared.
Joshua Andrew Corner had just bitten me on my upper arm and I’d howled, and then Josh was not on top of me anymore because his Pa had lifted him straight up in the air. He had him by the scruff and by the seat of his pants, and he was setting him down as I scrambled up.
Both of us were a mess. Black eyes and bloody noses, bruises, torn clothes, and dust. Maria only had these rooms cleaned every so often.
“Gaynor! What in the he- that is, what on earth are you doing here?” Mr Corner looked frazzled as hell.
Gaynor looked a mite disheveled herself. Her hair was all rumpled and she was holding her dress closed with both hands. I could see her mouth looked some swollen, and now she was looking real red and horrified. She didn’t seem able to speak, but from the way Mr Corner looked from her, with her dress barely held together, and then swung his gaze to us two…
“Joshua – go and get your Mother.”
“I’m right here, Eb. What is – Gaynor!”
Jesusfuckingchrist. I’d been on the brink of having my hands and mouth full of an honest to God female breast. Two of them. Two beautiful, full, and warm bubs which I coulda played with all night long. And who knows what else this excitin’ girl might have been talked into doing? I felt like crying, and not because of my throbbing eye or the cut on my lip or my bruised rib. Or my aching cobbles.
“Hello, Mrs Corner.” Gaynor looked uneasy, and dropped her eyes.
Mrs Corner’s eyes swept around the lot of us, and then she took charge.
“Eb, please take these two disgraceful young men out to the kitchen and see to their injuries. Then all three of you had best go to bed. I will talk to this young lady, and I will sleep in here with her tonight. In the morning we shall discuss what has to be done. And what has been done…”
With that last sentence she fixed me and Josh with a glare that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I glanced at Josh and saw he was looking very uneasy now, too. Mr Corner ushered us out and we all trooped into the kitchen. He got me to fetch the arnica and to find a steak. He wasn’t gentle as he cleaned us up and whacked the arnica on our cuts. He cut the steak in half and gave us each one to put over our swollen eyes. The whole time he muttered about young miscreants who didn’t have a brain between them, and how we would find out in the morning just what happened to young whippersnappers who couldn’t stay out of trouble for five minutes at a time. And what the devil Murdoch would think of their family, when every time they visited Josh caused some monumental disaster.
“Joshua, I have only one question before we all retire and try and get some sleep. Have you sullied that girl?”
Josh went real red. He looked at his boots.
Mr Corner sighed with relief, but then Josh gave me a death stare, and Mr Corner looked at me. He closed his eyes, and then he opened them and stood up.
“Go to bed, gentlemen. Tomorrow is not going to be pleasant, of that I am sure.”
He sounded pretty downcast.
Josh and I headed for the backstairs. Neither of us looked at the other, and neither of us spoke when we parted, me to go quiet as a mouse up the stairs, and Josh around the back of the stairway to the rooms where all the Corners were staying.
I was in a deep sleep when Scott woke me, shakin’ my shoulder and calling me boy. I rolled onto my back, and heard him mutter a soft cussword when he saw my battered face. I opened my eyes…well, one eye, anyway, and looked up at him.
“Damnation, Boy, what the devil have you been doing?” he demanded.
“’M alright, Boston. Just had a little set-to with Josh last night.”
“Last night? Jesus, Johnny…did you and Josh sneak out last night?”
I just nodded.
“Hell, you two are incorrigible. You won’t be able to keep this a secret – from Pa or Mr Corner.”
I sat up and swung my legs out of bed. I felt awful sorry for myself. And not because of a few bruises.
“Mr Corner broke up our fight, so he already knows what we been up to. Part of it, anyway. So Murdoch will be hearing about it right about now, I’d say,” I groaned. Couldn’t help myself.
“You’d better fill me in, so I can formulate a defence.”
I headed for the washbasin. Scott sat on the edge of my bed. While I washed up and dressed, I told him about Gaynor and the nunnery and our plan to rescue her.
“And she was letting me at her milkers, and I was just getting’ started, and that fuckin’ bastard ruined everything!” I said, deeply grieved.
By now Scott had his head in his hands.
“Little Brother, you have a lot to learn.” He looked up and shook his head from side to side.
“Yeah! I do! And she was just about to teach me and we got stopped!” I moaned.
“JOHN MACKENZIE LANCER!”
Pa’s voice raised the rafters, and Scott and me looked at each other. I must’ve looked as rattled as I felt, because Scott did this smirk as he got to his feet.
“Come on, Boy. Time to face the music. And you’d better hope the conductor hasn’t got a baton in his back pocket.”
But Scott just bustled me out the door and followed me down the stairs.
Well, seemed that Josh and me had been suckered quite thorough by little Miss Gaynor Fitzwilliam. That girl had been giving her folks one headache after the other, showing a whole lot too much forwardness when it came to sparking. So her parents had decided to send her to San Francisco to Miss Tevender’s Finishing School – not to a convent at all. ‘Course, Gaynor wanted no part of a school full of girls, and so she had concocted this convent story so that Josh would help her run off to Los Angeles. She didn’t know anyone there at all, and was planning to get a job in a saloon, singing, she told Miz Corner.
She’d told how we had come to fetch her, and how she had been ‘talking’ to Johnny in her room, when Josh had ‘misconstrued’ what was taking place, and had attacked Johnny. Miz Corner heard all about the plan for us to skive off, using taking Monte to the Aubrey’s as a sub-ter-fuze, and get her into Morro Coyo so she could catch the stage for Los Angeles.
We heard all of this while sitting on the sofa with Pa and Mr and Miz Corner glaring at us. I shot a quick look at Murdoch’s face and was not comforted.
Frank had taken Miss Fitzwilliam, accompanied by Cip’s wife Aletta, back to Green River first thing in the morning. They knew that her Governess, Miss Hannah, would be frantic when she woke and found Gaynor gone. Frank and Aletta were going to stay and see the two travelers onto the stage.
“Murdoch, what can I say? Josh has once again led Johnny into foolish and reprehensible behavior. I am very sorry.” Mr Corner looked very unhappy, as did Josh’s Ma.
“Eb, no need to apologize. John knows the difference between right and wrong, and is responsible for his own actions. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Johnny and I are going to discuss this further in my study.”
My stomach dropped, and I’m guessing Josh’s did a plummet as well, when his daddy answered Murdoch.
“Josh and I have more to discuss, too. We shall go across to the barn to do so. Mother, I will join you for breakfast shortly.”
Everyone else was out in the kitchen, chowing down. It was awful quiet back there, and I guessed they were all listening hard as they could to what was going on with us. They wouldn’t have had to listen too hard to hear what Pa had to say to me in that study. He was real relieved to hear that I had not ‘sullied’ Gaynor, but he knew from Mr Corner that I had been doing my best to sully her as much as she’d let me. His angry lecture was as loud as any he’d ever given me. And it was embarrassing as hell to know that they could probably hear what happened next, as he impressed on me the ‘inadvisability of telling lies, helping a girl to defy her elders, sneaking out, and shameful and unseemly behavior with a young woman - however much she encouraged it’.
So once again Josh’s visit to Lancer ended up with him and me nursing sore backsides. We sure looked a sorry pair, both of us with our black eyes and bruises, and both of us mooching around the hacienda and homestead because neither of us could sit anywhere, most surely not a saddle. We weren’t allowed off the ranch anyway, so we had a miserable couple of days before the Corners all packed up to leave for home. Josh and me forgot our grievances with each other soon as we realized we’d both been wrangled by that conniving little zorra (vixen).
Now that she was gone, I entertained Josh by telling him all about my visit to the cantina in Spanish Wells, and my many experiences with the whores there. My one visit and one, very, very short experience with a whore gave my stories just enough truth for Josh to be mighty impressed. He even suggested we sneak out that night and pay that cantina a visit. Neither of us had a cent though, and the ride in probably woulda killed us. To say nothing of getting killed all over again by my old man and his.
When the Corners all left Scott said as how he hoped I would grow up a bit before we saw Josh again. I told him to get fucked and we started tussling and Murdoch told me to get to the barn and start shoveling. And for Scott to get going out to the crew clearing the small creek on the south side. With all the rain we’d had, most of the creeks would have damned up plenty.
I got to work mucking out, and every movement twinged my culo (ass) and reminded me of how mad Murdoch had been. But the thought of Gaynor, and in particular, certain parts of Gaynor, those thoughts drifting through my head were powerful exciting. And of course in my daydream I didn’t get interrupted by that blasted fool Josh, and Gaynor wasn’t worried in the least about having no baby, so she let me go right ahead and go that limit she talked on.
And Godamighty, in spite of the hiding from Murdoch, I was certain sure that I was glad that I’d got to be alone in that bedroom with that girl, and I couldn’t wait till I was able to be alone in some bedroom with some other girl – soon.
Please God, soon…
False Though She Be
‘False though she be to me and love,
I’ll ne’er pursue revenge;
For still the charmer I approve,
Though I deplore her change.
In hours of bliss we oft have met:
They could not always last;
And though the present I regret,
I’m grateful for the past.’