It was Saturday and the sun had just risen. Teresa rolled over ‘just five more minutes’ she thought. The past week had especially hectic at the ranch and the young woman had run herself ragged cooking, baking, cleaning and going into town for supplies - twice. Saturdays were not particularly busy as far as chores were concerned. She would have liked to lounge in bed until late morning but alas there was housework to do. Living with three men, there was always housework to do. She was just about to flip the quilt back and swing her legs over the side of the bed when there was a knock at the door. Teresa pushed herself up to lean against her pillow and pulled the quilt up over her chest. She couldn’t imagine . . . “Come in.”
Murdoch opened the door just a crack. “Are you decent?”
“Well, yes, I suppose. Is someone sick? Did something happen?”
Murdoch pushed the door fully open and stepped in smiling. “No dear, everything is alright but I have a surprise for you.” He stepped to one side and in walked Scott and Johnny. Scott carried a large tray and Johnny held a small vase with a rose in it.
“Good morning,” the boys chorused in unison. Scott advanced to the side of the bed and sat the tray gently down on Teresa’s lap. Johnny then stepped forward and placed the vase in the top corner. “I didn’t want Scott to drop this.” Scott glared at his little brother for a second and cleared his throat then joined Johnny in looking back at Teresa. Murdoch stood at the foot of the bed.
“Waa . . . what’s all this?”
“Breakfast in bed.” Scott announced. Murdoch and Johnny just smiled.
“But . . . I’m not sick or anything.”
“It’s a sort of special occasion. “ Murdoch offered. “The boys tell me it’s national housekeeper’s day and, because you always do so much for us, we – all of us - wanted to spoil you for a change.”
Teresa blushed. Except for Sam when she had tonsillitis two years ago, she had never had a man in her room and now here stood three of them. She tugged the quilt up a little higher. “I don’t know what to say.” She glanced from one Lancer to another.
“You don’t need to say anything. We are giving you the entire day to spend any way you wish. Well, almost. I did mention our plans to Mrs. Conway and she graciously offered to get a few friends together and give a tea this afternoon at three o’clock. I guess everyone is going to dress up and make it quite a soirée.”
“Oh, my. I’ve never been to a tea before. I won’t know what to do!”
“Seems to me it’s just a bunch of waggle tongued females getting together to drink tea and eat cookies and stuff. I think you’ll manage.” Scott glared at his brother again. “What’s wrong with you? That’s the second time you’ve given me ‘the look’.” Scott simply closed his eyes for a minute and sighed.
“The ladies like to dress in their finest and get together in a civilized manner for mid-afternoon refreshment. It was quite the thing back east. And no, little brother, they won’t be eating cookies and . . . stuff. The usual offering is petit fours, cucumber and watercress sandwiches, pastel mints and croissants. All very ‘light’ delicacies meant to tide one over until the evening meal is served.” He lifted his chin and gave Johnny a smug look.
“Well la-de-da!” Johnny pranced around a little and pretended to wave a handkerchief in his older brother’s face.
“John,” Murdoch scolded. Johnny immediately stopped sashaying around, hung his head and shoved his fingers into his back pockets. “Teresa I have to go into Green River and will probably be gone most of the day. My sons have agreed to do all your regular Saturday housework. It would probably be helpful to make them a list to follow. Now, nothing special, just the usual Saturday chores.” Murdoch swung out his left arm. “Come boys, let’s go downstairs and let Teresa eat her breakfast while it’s still hot.” Just before stepping out the door, he gave her a wink.
Teresa wiggled around a little to get more comfortable. She leaned forward and took a deep whiff of the beautiful pale yellow rose. Wait. A pale yellow rose whose petals were just beginning to open. It looked eerily familiar, like the one she had growing in the garden. Teresa had three years into crossbreeding to achieve this exact color. Tears rimmed her eyes. She had planned to enter it into the gardening club’s annual competition on Monday. Now cut Teresa doubted it would keep that long and she had pruned off all the other buds so the plant would put all its nourishment into this one special bloom. Well, there was nothing she could do about it now. She would just have to try again next year. The boys meant well. Never imagining they would go into her rose garden, she hadn’t told them about the competition and she would keep her secret. Telling them would simply break their hearts.
Moving the vase to her bedside table, she lifted off the domed silver cloche to peruse her breakfast. Her brows knit together as she laid the cover aside. “Oh dear.” She murmured. There were scrambled eggs with minced onions and green peppers and some kind of grated cheese over the top. The eggs were extremely underdone, she hated green pepper, and the cheese hadn’t really melted. The bacon was barely fried; the edges still white and fatty and the grease running all over the plate. The hash browns looked delicious, golden and crispy, until she took a forkful and found the bottom nearly burned to a crisp. The biscuits were picture perfect but Teresa happened to know they had been left over from last night’s supper and there was no butter, jam or honey with which to spread them. She reasoned Murdoch had made the coffee because it was as black as India ink. Murdoch liked strong coffee and the brew in her cup could probably have held a spoon upright in its center – if there had been a spoon. What was she going to do? Teresa picked up the glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. There wasn’t much they could have done to ruin fresh juice. Taking a couple swallows, Teresa coughed one hand going to her throat. Straining out the seeds would have been a nice touch.
Teresa set the tray aside and got out of bed. She shrugged into her robe and toed on her slippers. Standing at the side of the bed, she stared at her breakfast. She couldn’t make herself eat it – except for maybe a dry biscuit with nothing to wash it down, and the boys would be so hurt if she brought the tray downstairs with the food untouched. Teresa glanced around. Could she hide it somewhere until later? Could she throw it out the window with enough aim to have it land behind the bushes? But what about the smell? Teresa blew out a breath through her pursed lips. Suddenly she remembered a wicker basket she had stored on her closet shelf. Standing on tiptoe, she got it down and tossed its content back on the shelf. She picked up the cloche and turned it upside down. It fit in the bottom of the basket just perfectly. She quickly scraped off the plate into the upturned dome. Crossing to the window, she looked out and found no one around so she poured the coffee and juice onto the poor bushes beneath. But what if someone saw her in the hall?
Teresa took the napkin and covered the food. She then carefully put her container of bath salts, her puffy sponge, the ribbon she would use to tie her hair back, and a couple small bottles and jars from off her dresser. Opening the door slowly, she peaked around the edge. The corridor was empty. Men’s voices echoed up the back stairs and she knew Murdoch and his sons were probably discussing something to do with the ranch before Murdoch left for the day. Scurrying to the opposite end of the hall, she ducked into the water closet and closed the door behind herself. Leaning back against it, Teresa spread the fingers of one hand across her heart – which was pounding loudly in her ears. She had made it. Locking the door, she took her bath items out of the basket and set them on the narrow shelf above the tub. Carefully removing the food-filled cloche, she hesitated for just a moment. Teresa felt so guilty and ashamed, but she knew there was no other choice. Before she changed her mind, she dumped the contents into the commode and quickly pulled the flush handle. Thankfully, it disappeared from sight. What a mess had it clogged up the drain!
The young woman lingered in the warm, scented water. It was a treat since most of the time someone was calling through the door for her to hurry. As the water became chilly, she resigned to the fact that it was time to get out so rinsing off, she wrapped a large towel around herself and tucked one edge into the other. Draining the tub, she took a large pitcher from under the sink, knelt down and washed her hair. Twisting a towel around it, she pulled on her robe again, draping the towel over the edge of the tub and slid her feet into her slippers before putting her bath things back in the basket. Checking the hall and seeing no one about, she hurried back to her room. Replacing the cloche and ensuring the dishes looked like she had indeed eaten the food, she put the tray in the hallway.
Teresa sat upon the small stool in front of her vanity, unwound the towel from her hair, and combed through it with a wide-toothed comb. Opening the side drawer, she took out a handful of torn rag strips and began to curl and tie her hair. Once done, she crossed to her closet, opened the door and stood – chewing slightly on her bottom lip. What to wear. Scott said it was a dressy affair and, besides her Sunday dresses, she only had two others that would fit the bill. Taking them both out, she held up first one and then the other. Deciding on the peach one, she put the other one back and hung her choice on the hook on the outside of the closet door. Opening her dresser drawer, she pulled out a pair of white hand crocheted gloves. Teresa had made them herself and she liked the openwork mesh adorned in the center with a frilly rose where the petals stood up just slightly. She pulled out her best hose and a pair of pearl earrings that Murdoch had given her one Christmas. She thought about wearing her light summer cape but would wait and ask Scott about its appropriateness.
Dressing for now in a casual blouse and plain skirt, she wrapped the towel back around her hair and headed downstairs. She found both sons in the kitchen gathering together the used breakfast dishes.
“I left my tray in the hallway outside my door. I thought it might be a little awkward for me to carry down.”
“Not to worry. We wouldn’t expect you to – at least not today!” Scott assured her, drying his hands on a towel. He took the back stairs two at a time and returned within moments with Teresa’s dishes.
“So, how’d you like it?” Johnny drawled, a wide smile on his face. He had his hands grasped behind his back. “It was my idea to put the onions, and cheese and stuff on the eggs. Murdoch had something like it in that fancy hotel in San Francisco when we went to the Cattleman’s Convention. He made a real big deal about how good it was.”
Teresa smiled. Johnny’s eyes twinkled and his whole face fairly beamed. “It was very tasty. I wondered whose idea it had been. I’ll have to have you show me how to make them. I’m sure Murdoch would like to be served them again.” Teresa smiled her best smile and could only hope her expression matched the little white lie she had just told.
“Don’t take all the credit, younger brother.” Scott glanced at Johnny and then smiled at Teresa. “I fried the bacon and squeezed the juice. Murdoch insisted on making the coffee. I thought it was a little weak myself. Oh, and I fried the potatoes too.” He sounded so proud.
“It was all simply delicious. You made me feel so spoiled. Thank you both.” The brothers grinned at each other and proffered their hands to shake. When Johnny moved his hand forward, however, he had a dark blue bandana wrapped around it. “John, what happened to your hand?” Teresa stepped up to the young Lancer’s side and took his hand to lay across the palm of hers.
“Nothin’. It’s really nothin’. Don’t bother Teresa. It’s your day off.” He mumbled.
“Nonsense! If you’re hurt I’ll tend to it. You know how easily your wounds get infected and then you’ll get a high fever and be in bed for days, and none of us wants that.” She began unwrapping the makeshift bandage. The back of his hand was all scratched up and little cuts marked both his hand and fingers. “I can’t imagine what happened!”
While Teresa’s focus was on his hand, Johnny glanced at Scott who simply shrugged his shoulders. “Johnny, I need to know how this happened so I know how to care for it.”
Johnny cast his eyes to the floor and hung his head. He kind of swaggered his shoulders and it became quite obvious that he didn’t want to answer. “Just wash it off with some soap and water. It’s no big deal.”
“John Lancer that is not the answer to my question.” Teresa retorted, putting her free hand on her hip. “Scott, he tells you everything. Do you know what happened?”
Johnny morphed into Madrid when he looked at his older brother. Scott knew instantly that his life depended on how he answered – or rather didn’t answer – that question. Scott turned back to the sink and began pumping water into the large kettle. “I’m sorry Teresa.” He called over his shoulder. “Did you ask me something? Pump is kinda loud. I didn’t hear you.”
Teresa narrowed her eyes. “John!”
Johnny swallowed hard. “The chickens attacked me.” He mumbled so low that Teresa had to strain to hear.
“What do you mean the chickens attacked you?”
Johnny snatched his hand away. Putting both hands on his hips, he tilted his head to the right a little bit. “Teresa you know da—darn well that those chickens of yours hate me. They scratch and nip at me every chance they get. I hate chickens! Well, except to eat them of course.”
Teresa began to chuckle picturing in her mind Johnny twisting and turning trying to gather the eggs with the chickens nipping and clucking and scratching the entire time. “Johnny you just need to show them who’s boss! They practically hand their eggs to me. I’ve never been nipped once. Come on,” she grabbed his arm and shoved him down into a chair by the kitchen table. Walking over to the cupboard, she took down a dark brown bottle and grabbed a towel. Putting the towel under his hand, she quickly poured some of the contents over it.
“Geez Teresa!” Johnny exclaimed, pulling his hand away and shaking it. “What is that stuff, turpentine?”
Teresa capped the unlabeled bottle and put it away. She gave him a wry smile before tossing the towel into the laundry room. “Scott, what time should we leave for Aggie’s?”
“Depends. Do you want to be fashionably late or would you rather arrive promptly?”
Teresa thought a minute. “Well, maybe a couple minutes late wouldn’t be so bad. I do like to make an entrance!”
Scott smirked. ‘Women!’ He thought. “The tea is set for three o’clock. I think we should leave here at two fifteen. If we arrive early I’ll park down the road and we’ll sit and talk for a bit. How does that sound?”
“Fine with me. I’ll need about an hour to dress.”
‘An hour?’ Johnny thought. ‘Women!’ “You got that list Murdoch wants you to write out for us?”
“Oh gosh, I forgot.” Teresa crossed to the drawer and took out a tablet and pencil. Sitting in Johnny’s vacant chair, she began to write. Both men seemed content to stand and watch her. “One thing on the list is laundry. Why don’t the two of you go upstairs and gather all the dirty clothes out of everyone’s hamper. Take both of the big willow baskets. Just dump what’s already in them on the floor. I’ll have your list ready by the time you get back.” Scott and Johnny looked at each other. ‘Laundry?’ Shrugging their shoulders, they went to retrieve the baskets.
“Teresa these are awfully big baskets.” Johnny remarked standing at the bottom of the back stairs.
“I know. Imagine me and Maria having to lug them when they’re full of clothes! You’ll fill them both and then some. You know you’ll have to change the bed linens, don’t you? And don’t forget to empty the hamper in the bathroom. I didn’t even have enough room to put my used towel this morning. It’s hanging on the side of the tub.”
“Change the bedding?” Scott asked quietly. “I don’t even know where the clean linens are.”
“Oh Scott, you’ve seen me putting them away. That big double door closet at the end of the hall is the linen cabinet. Each bed gets a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, and one or two pillow slips depending on whose bed you’re doing. Murdoch’s bed is larger so his sheets are on the top shelf and he gets four pillow slips, also on the top shelf. Custom made, you know. I find it easiest to strip all the mattresses first and then collect what I need and go back room by room and make the bed back up. I usually just shake the quilt or blanket out the window rather than run the stairs. Scott, you make your bed up every morning. Should be simple for you. You can teach Johnny. Maybe he’ll catch on and follow suit!” Teresa kept writing which concerned the boys greatly. How many ‘daily’ chores could there be?
“Are we supposed to do your room too?” Johnny asked.
“Why not? I have a bed don’t I?”
“Well, yah, but – I mean – well you’re a girl.”
“It’s about time you noticed.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Johnny retorted. “It’s just that I’d feel kinda funny bein’ in there.”
“You were in there this morning.”
“Yah, but then Scott and Murdoch and everybody was there.”
“Scott will be happy to help you, won’t you Scott? We don’t want Johnny to get too uneasy. He might have to take to his bed to recover and then you’ll have to do all today’s work by yourself. Just be careful of my dress. It’s nowhere near the bed but . . . well, where Johnny’s concerned sometimes things tend to get out of hand.”
With her back to the youngest son, she didn’t see him use the thumb and fingers of one hand to mimic her words (like one would a sock puppet) nor the way he exaggeratedly swung his hips as he crossed to the stairs.
Teresa could hear the men moving from room to room. At one point she believed a pillow fight had broken out but by the time she decided to go up and check it seemed to have stopped. Sitting back down, she absentmindedly starred out the kitchen window while tapping the end of the pencil against her bottom lip. It seemed like she was forgetting something but . . . Suddenly something dropped past the window. Teresa had just risen to go take a look when Johnny came running down the back stairs. Seeing her, he slowed his pace and smiled. Once outside she could just see the top of Johnny’ head as he passed by the window. A couple minutes passed before he came back in through the front door. Teresa leaned far to her left and turned partway to see down the hallway. Johnny had two quilts – one stuffed under each arm. Glancing up to discovered he had been found out, he muttered “Scott dropped these out the window while he was shakin’ them. I best get them back up to him right away.” With that he leapt up the stairs. Teresa chuckled. She doubted very much that Scott was the culprit.
The men came down the back stairs lugging two overflowing baskets of laundry. Teresa was suspicious as they hadn’t been gone long enough to have made the beds.
“We got the hampers all emptied and the beds all stripped. We figured we’d start washing now so we can hang out the clothes and, while they dry, we’ll go back up and remake the beds.” Scott explained.
“You done with that there list yet?” Johnny huffed, slightly out of breath.
Teresa held it up. “Yes. I just finished. Put those down for a minute and I’ll go over it with you.” Only too glad for a momentary break, both men dropped their baskets with a heavy thump and stood on either side of the young woman to read over her shoulder. “Okay, let’s see, you already gathered the eggs, made breakfast and stripped the beds so that leaves . . .” Teresa laid the page down and crossed off the finished items. “Washing, hanging out the laundry, ironing, dusting, beating the entry way rug, making the beds, washing the hallway floor, emptying all the wastebaskets, emptying the slop bucket, making lunch, making supper, washing, drying and putting away the clean dishes, making out next week’s shopping list . . . Teresa’s brows knit together as she laid the pencil eraser against her lips. “Hmm. I’m missing something .” She silently read through the list again, moving her lips. “Oh, duh, baking bread – just enough for a couple days.” She added quickly. “There.” Jotting down the bread making, she smiled and looked over her shoulders first one way and then the other to check the expressions on the boys’ faces for understanding.
“I thought Pa said only the Saturday chores. This could take months!” Johnny groused, snatching the list out of her hand.
“Those ARE the Saturday chores.” Teresa defended, pushing her chair back to stand. “Well, that is, most of them anyway.”
“Ah ha!” Johnny shouted, shaking the list at Scott. “I thought so. There’s no WAY these are all today’s chores.”
Teresa flushed. “No John, you’re right. This list isn’t really today’s chores.” Johnny gave her a smug smile and tapped the list with his finger. “I . . . I thought I’d take it easy on you. I can write down the rest if you really want to do this holiday the proper way.”
Johnny’s smile faded quickly and Scott rolled his eyes. Swallowing hard he continued, “You mean there’s more?” Teresa nodded.
Scott grabbed the paper out of his little brother’s hand. “Give me that.” He scolded. “Do you really want to PUSH the issue?” Johnny dropped his head and put his fingers in his back pockets. “No, I didn’t think so. Teresa, what do we need to know so you can go and relax.”
“The recipe for the bread is tacked up inside the Hoosier but just make half a batch. The sheets, the pillow slips, the handkerchiefs and the shirts get ironed. No starch in the sheets, pillow slips or any of Johnny’s shirts. Light starch in the white handkerchiefs and Murdoch’s shirts. Scott, as you know, heavy starch in your dress shirts and light starch in your everyday ones. Work pants, towels, socks, underwear, washcloths, rags – they just get folded. The feather duster is hanging in the front closet along with the rug beaters. The soap to wash the floor is on the bottom shelf of the pantry. I think that’s all you need to know. I’m going to take my latest issue of the Godey’s Lady’s Catalog and sit on the patio until lunchtime. You can always come ask me a question or, if you run out of chores, I can tell you the rest. Good luck boys and,” standing on tiptoes, she kissed Scott’s cheek lightly and, standing flat, gave Johnny a peck on the cheek as well. “thank you again for the day off. I feel like a princess.”
As she walked away, Scott reread the list. He would analyze and then organize the chores so there would be no duplication of effort and to make them more sensible. Johnny stood with hands on hips and mouth agape. “Hey Scott, don’t princesses wear crowns?”
“Most do I believe. Why?”
“Because I’d like to crown her right about now. And YOU! You’re next.”
“What did I do?”
“YOU cut the daily holiday list out of the paper, kept it handy and opened your big mouth to me and Murdoch about this national housekeeper’s day. ‘Oh won’t it be wonderful? Teresa does so much for us. Now is our chance to do something nice for her, even if it is only one day.’” Johnny mimicked Scott’s voice as best he could then grunted. “Well, Mr. Methodical, what do we do first?”
“If you want to know the truth, national housekeeper’s “day” is actually supposed to last a week! So if I were you, I’d thank me for voicing a falsehood to you, my dear little brother, to Teresa and to our beloved father. May God forgive me!” Scott looked toward heaven and then humbly bowed his head. Johnny rolled his eyes and jabbed his brother’s upper arm pointing to the list when Scott looked up. “I believe the wise choice would be to mix up the bread dough. That way it can rise while we do the laundry. Shouldn’t take long.” Johnny gave his brother the “Madrid” look before walking over to the cupboard and opening the door while Scott lugged both baskets into the laundry room to get them out of the way.
“I’ll read the stuff and you can go get it. Yeast, sugar, water, lard, salt, bread flour. Got that Boston?”
Scott was in the pantry, shuffling items around to find the yeast. Finally, he found a small package and proudly brought it out and set it on the table. He grabbed the partial bag of sugar, the salt box and the pail of lard. Hands on hips, he looked at the sacks of flour on the pantry floor. “Hey Johnny. Did you say bread flour?”
“Yah.” Both bags looked the same and all the stencil said was ‘Flour’. Shrugging, he grabbed one and sat it on one of the chairs around the table.
“Okay, read me the directions little brother. Let’s get this show on the road. What do I need?”
“A large bowl. No wait, two large bowls. A cup, a tablespoon and a teaspoon.”
“That’s it?” Scott asked as he gathered the items.
“That’s all the recipe says. I suppose we’ll need pans to bake it in.”
“Yah think?” Scott replied, sarcastically. “Why don’t you get them out.” Johnny dug around in the bottom cupboards. He had seen Teresa put them away once but darned if he could find them. He finally pulled out a couple long, narrow, shallow pans.
“These are all I can find.” Johnny said, holding them up for Scott to see.
“I don’t think those are the right ones but . . . I guess as long as they’re the basic shape, they should work. We might invent something new!” Scott sat his mixing equipment on the table and rubbed his hands together. “Okay Johnny, read me the recipe and I’ll measure and mix. Remember . . . Teresa said only to make half so you’ll need to divide the quantities before you read them to me. Can you handle that?”
Johnny sneered. “Yah, Boston, I think I can divide some number by two. Just get over there and get started. We got a lot of wash to do.”
Scott grabbed Teresa’s apron off the chair and slipped it over his head, tying the strings in a bow at the back.
“Well, now, don’t you look pretty!” Johnny cooed. “I think yellow with little orange flowers is just your color.”
Scott narrowed his eyes and cast a look at his little brother. “Read!” He barked.
“Three and a fourth packages of dry yeast.” Scott picked up the package he had found. The yeast was in the form of a little rectangle and the label said ‘yeast cake’ but the part of the label giving the weight had been torn away. He reasoned the company would package dry yeast and cake yeast in the same amounts, so he put three whole cakes and one quarter of another in the bowl.
“One half cup plus one tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar.” Johnny watched his brother, Mr. Precision, measure exactly that amount and dump it into the bowl. “Four cups warm water.” Scott wiped his hands on the apron and, taking out a large kettle, pumped some water into it and sat it on the stove.
Johnny shrugged. “Doesn’t say.”
“Warm like room temperature or warm like lukewarm or warm like baby bath water warm or . . .”
“I DO NOT KNOW.” Johnny said the words slowly and exaggerated their pronunciation.
“A lot of help you are. Haven’t you ever baked bread before?
“Nope and I don’t plan on doing it in the future either.” Scott dipped his hand in the water and guessed it to be warm enough.
“What should I do with it?” Seeing the grin spreading across Johnny’s lips, he immediately reworded his question. “Do I add the warm water to the bowl?”
Johnny ran his fingertip down the recipe. “In large bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.”
Scott did so, set the kettle aside and waited for the next ingredient.
“Stir in one fourth cup plus ½ tablespoon plus one teaspoon of lard, softened.”
Scott pried the lid off the lard bucket. “It’s already soft. I guess I just need to measure it.” Johnny shrugged his shoulder. Scott stirred the lard into the other ingredients. “Okay, now what?”
“Stir in three tablespoons plus . . . hey Scott. What half of three quarters?”
Scott raised his finger in the air like he was writing on a piece of paper. His lips moved as he did the calculation. He grabbed the teaspoon and carefully measured out the salt. “Three eighths.”
“Boy I’m glad you’re doing this. I hate math. All that’s left is the flour. It says to stir in the salt and then two cups of flour. Then it says to stir in the remaining flour one half cup at a time, beating well after each addition.”
Scott dipped out two cups of flour and stirred it into the mixture in the bowl. “How much flour does it say?”
The recipe called for twenty-one cups so Johnny divided twenty-one in half. “Ten and a half.”
Scott raised his eye brows. That seemed like an awful lot of flour. He hoped the bowl would be large enough to hold it all. He began adding his half cups, stirring after each.
“You know I been thinkin’.” Johnny drawled, sauntering over to sit at the table. “If we would divide section four into thirds and if Murdoch allowed us to take our third and add it onto section three and section five, then we could . . .”
“Stop!” Scott shouted. Johnny immediately stopped talking and looked up into his brother’s eyes. Scott squeezed them shut for a moment then pinched the bridge of his nose. “I lost count. YOU made me loose count.”
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said sincerely, dropping his gaze and playing with the spoon on the table.
“Let’s see. I needed ten and a half cups so that would be twenty-one half cups. I think I put in somewhere around six or seven. I’ll say six. A little extra shouldn’t hurt. Now,” He said, looking directly into his little brother’s eyes. “Shut up until I’m done, comprende?” Johnny simply nodded. The dough got to the point where Scott could no longer use a spoon so squeezed in the rest of the flour using his hands. It was hard work and sweat beaded on his forehead. Occasionally he would reach up and swipe the back of one hand across it then go back to mixing. “This doesn’t look right.” Johnny slid the bowl over in front of himself and studied the contents.
“Nope, sure don’t.”
Scott grabbed the bowl back. “Now what am I supposed to do with this . . . mixture?”
Johnny walked back over to the cupboard and ran the tip of his index finger down the recipe to find his place. “Turn it out on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about eight minutes.
Scott looked around but there didn’t seem to by an empty space big enough. “I’ll pick up the bowl, you put some flour on the table and spread it around.” Scott hefted the heavy bowl in both arms and held it against his chest. Johnny dipped his hand in the flour sack and then swirled it on the table. He looked at Scott questioningly. “I think we need more.” Johnny repeated the action and again looked at Scott. “Johnny, this is heavy. Stop playing around. Pick up the sack and pour some flour on the table and THEN spread it around.
Johnny picked up the bag but just as he tipped it toward the table, the contents shifted and flour came flying out over the table, over the chairs, over the floor and, as Johnny grabbed the nearly empty sack, it ripped wide open so now both he and Scott were dusted as well. “NOW are you happy Boston? Think THAT’S enough?”
Scott sat the bowl down and made a grab for Johnny but the younger man ducked out of his reach. Scott inhaled deeply and thrust out his bottom lip to blow his bangs off his forehead with his breath. It worked well enough but in addition to his hair, a cloud of flour went up into the air and – as what goes up must come down – it fell to coat the stove, the counter top and the sink.
Johnny could see Scott counting to ten, probably in English, Spanish, Greek, Latin and French. Finally his brother picked up the bowl and dumped the dough on the table. “I’ll knead for a minute and then you knead for a minute until eight minutes are up OR until I kill you, whichever comes first!” Scott turned the dough and pressed his hands into it. Lifting them, the dough formed long sticky strings.
“Let me try,” Johnny stepped forward as Scott attempted to peel the dough strings off the tips of his fingers. Johnny did not encounter the same problem and the two finally figured out that it was because Johnny had flour all over his hands. Finally the eight minutes were up.
“Now what are we supposed to do?” Scott asked, slightly out of breath.
Johnny returned to the cupboard. “You’re supposed to grease the other bowl, put the dough in it, swirl it around so the grease gets all over the dough, cover the whole thing with a wet rag and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles. About an hour, it says.”
“Grease the bowl with what?”
“Doesn’t say. Teresa keeps a tin near the stove with bacon drippings in it. She uses that to grease the frying pans and stuff. Use that.” Made sense to Scott, so he retrieved the container, dipped his fingers into the congealed drippings, and spread it around the inside of the bowl. Johnny watched his brother in some disgust. “I think it needs more.” He said. Scott put a generous amount on his fingertips and spread it around, tiny bits of bacon and all. “That looks better.” Johnny observed. “Now dump that there dough in and spin it around to grease it. I’ll get a wet rag.” Scott plopped the bread dough into the bowl, picked up the bowl and began to move it into circles, the dough slipping and sliding around. Scott’s hands, although he had wiped them on the apron, were still greasy and, while he caught the bowl before it could hit the floor and break, the dough went flying and landed on the rug in front of the back door.
“Way to go Boston!” Johnny remarked, standing near the sink with the dripping dishrag. “Now what?”
Scott walked over to the dough and scooped it up in his arms. Walking over to Johnny, he said, “Here. Wipe it off with the rag. There isn’t much dirt on it. Once we bake it no one will ever know!” Johnny swiped over the dough a couple times. Most of the dirt either soaked into the rag or into the mixture itself. Scott returned the dough to the bowl and grabbed the wet rag from his brother. Carefully spreading it over the concoction, he looked around for a warm place in which to set it. They would be heating water for the washing and so he carried it into the laundry room and slid it under the wood burner of the hot water heater. He took off Teresa’s apron and tossed it on the pile of laundry. Just one more thing to wash.
Johnny, having followed his older brother suggested they better get busy as time was a wastin’. Shoving the baskets over to the trio of tubs against one wall, Scott lit the burner. “You know how to wash clothes?” Johnny asked.
“No. Do you?”
“Just in the river, but I don’t think Teresa wants us to do that and I KNOW Teresa doesn’t want us beatin’ them on a rock.”
“Okay, okay,” Scott said calmly. “Let’s think about this. Since this tub is closest to the boiler, we must fill this one with the hot water.”
“Makes sense.” Johnny agreed. Scott moved over to stand in front of the middle tub.
“This must be the tub we use to actually wash the clothes. That’s why the scrub board was left in it.” Johnny nodded. Moving over to the last tub, Scott put his hand on its edge. “And this tub must be the one with the rinse water.” Johnny nodded again. Boy, the logic of his Harvard-educated brother sure did impress him sometimes.
Once the water was hot, they filled the first tub. “Well, let’s get some of these dirty clothes in there while the water is still steaming.” Scott dove his hands in the basket near his feet, scooped up an armload and dropped them in the tub. There was still room so he added a few more pieces. “There.” He said, smiling at Johnny. “I think we’re supposed to let them soak a little. Go get a couple buckets of cold water.” When Johnny returned, Scott dumped them into the center tub then refilled them with water from the heater. He emptied the buckets into the center tub then tested the temperature with his hand. Satisfied that it was neither too hot nor too cold, he shook the water off his fingers. Scanning the shelf above the tubs, Scott rubbed across his lips with the tip of his right index finger. “Sure is a lot of soaps and things. Which one do you think we should use?”
Johnny had watched Maria washing clothes once because he was waiting for her to make him some lunch but he hadn’t paid very close attention. Reaching up, he grabbed a red box. “Try this one. Says here this soap leaves clothes “snowy white and smelling like spring”. Johnny poured some into the second tub.
“I don’t think that’s enough,” said Scott. “We’ve got a lot of laundry to do.”
Johnny nodded and poured in some more. He used the thick stick laying on the shelf to swirl the soap around a little. Reaching up, he picked up a dark brown glass bottle. “Here,” he said, handing it to Scott. “I’ve seen Maria put some of this stuff in too.” Scott removed the cork stopper and took a whiff turning away with watering eyes and coughing. Johnny grabbed the bottle before his brother dropped it. “Don’t DO that!” He turned the bottle around and showed Scott the skull and crossbones on the other side. “You want to KILL yourself?”
“What IS that stuff?” Scott heaved, still trying to catch his breath.
“Something called Clorox. Maria says it makes the clothes white.”
“But doesn’t the soap make the clothes white? That’s what the box said.”
Johnny shrugged. “I guess. Maybe this makes them extra white. Teresa would be really pleased with sparkling white laundry.”
“Dump some in then.” Scott advised. Johnny poured in about half the bottle. “Anything else?”
Johnny scanned the shelf picking up a small cobalt blue bottle. “I know I saw her with this bottle in her hand but I don’t know what it’s for.” He handed the bottle to his brother who turned the bottle around and began reading the label.
“Says it makes the clothes white.” Scott offered. “Says you’re supposed to add it to the rinse water.” Scott squinted and drew his brows together. “If the stuff in this bottle is blue, how does it make the clothes white?” Johnny shrugged. “Well, let’s use it. We want this laundry to be the best Lancer has ever seen.” Scott poured a generous amount into the final tub. “Go get some cold water for the rinsing tub. I think the clothes have soaked long enough. I’ll move them into the middle tub to be scrubbed and toss some more in the first tub while the water is still good and hot.”
“What about starch?”
“What about starch?”
“Teresa told us to use starch, remember.”
“Oh yah.” Scott scanned the shelf again. “I don’t see . . . wait, I recall seeing some in the pantry.”
“In the pantry? What’s it doin’ in there?” Scott shrugged.
“Maybe you can use it for other stuff too. I’ll go get it.” When Scott returned he held a bright yellow box and handed it to Johnny. “See? C O R N S T A R C H,” Scott pointed out each letter as he read.
“I didn’t know starch was made out of corn. I guess a person does learn something new every day! What are we supposed to do with it?” Scott read the side of the box.
“Says “Important: mix with cold water until smooth before use.” I guess we need another tub of cold water.” Scott looked around until he spotted a metal tub in the corner partially hidden by dirty laundry. Retrieving it, he put it on the floor next to the rinsing tub. Studying the pile of clothes, Scott decided they would need at least the entire contents of the box in his hand and maybe more. While he went back to the pantry to see if there was any more, Johnny made several trips back and forth with two buckets, pumping them full in the kitchen and lugging them back to dump into the rinse tub and the starch tub.
“Well I couldn’t find any more so we’ll just have to make due. What do you suppose Teresa meant by light starch and heavy starch?”
“Oh Boston, that’s simple.” Johnny retorted, surprised Mr. Harvard couldn’t figure it out. “Light starch means we just quickly dip it in and out. Heavy starch means we let the clothes soak in it for a while.” This explanation seemed to make sense to Scott so he merely nodded.
Scott took the wooden stick and began transferring the laundry from the near-boiling water into the center tub. He was doing well. One basket was completely empty and the other one only half full. They were making up time, which was good since it took them so long to mix the bread. Johnny rolled up his shirt sleeves, picked up a sheet and began scrubbing it against the washboard. Lifting it up, it really didn’t look very dirty and so a quick couple swipes seemed like enough. He tossed it into the rinse tub.
As the boys proceeded, it became obvious that their work shirts not only stunk but were filthy besides. It took a lot more scrubbing and it didn’t seem like there was enough soap so Johnny emptied the rest of the box into the tub. He was sweating from his labors and finally took off his shirt all together as the front was soaked anyhow. It his favorite bright red one and he wanted to wear it tomorrow so he tossed it into the first tub with the other items. “Hey Scott. How about taking a turn at the scrubbing. I’ll start rinsing and then we can hang some out.”
“Good idea, little brother.” Scott stripped off his shirt too. With vigor he began rubbing the items over the washboard. Beads of perspiration already dripped off his forehead from standing over the steaming water and, with his laboring, soon his hair was soaked and his chest and arms covered in a sweaty sheen. “Johnny, did you notice that some of these clothes – especially the white ones – have spots on them?” Scott held up one of Murdoch’s shirts and Johnny leaned over to take a closer look.
“Didn’t notice. Maybe it’s just the soap or something. It will probably rinse out.” Scott pursed his lips and shrugged his shoulders. He tossed the shirt into the rinse water then began scrubbing again on a grass stained pair of jeans. “This is kinda fun!”
“Shhhh,” Johnny scolded, looking around. “Do you want Teresa to hear you? We’ll be washer women for the rest of our lives! How much we got left?”
Scott took a quick inventory. “We’re almost finished. Looks like just the socks and underwear.”
“I ain’t washin’ NO underwear. Not even my own.” Johnny groused.
“Oh, and you think it will be MY pleasure?” Scott put one hand against his chest for emphasis.
Johnny snorted. “It ain’t gonna be NO PLEASURE. At least not when it comes to mine.”
Scott glared at his little brother through narrowed eyes. “I’ll flip you for it.” He dug into his pants pocket and pulled out a coin. Johnny immediately grabbed it out of his brother’s hand and inspected both sides. Satisfied it was not Scott’s special two-headed one, he handed it back to his brother. “Heads I wash and you rinse; tails we switch.” Scott tossed the coin high into the air, snatching it with one hand and slapping it on the back of his other. Johnny leaned over and smiled.
“Well I guess it WILL be your pleasure after all Boston.” Scott snarled and threw the coin into the corner of the room. “Temper, temper!” Before Johnny had a chance to get out of the way, Scott picked up a pair of wet underwear and threw it right onto the side of Johnny’s face. He immediately realized his mistake as Madrid appeared within the blink of an eye. Peeling the wet garment off his skin, Johnny bunched it in one hand and turned. He glared into his brother’s eyes and took two steps until he stood nearly nose to nose. Scott swallowed hard. He tried smiling to break the spell but it did no good. Johnny’s eyes had turned to sapphire ice. Suddenly Johnny reached out and – grabbing Scott by the shoulder – spun him around until his brother’s back was toward him. Clutching Scott’s wrist, he twisted Boston’s arm – gently – until Scott dropped to his knees. Pulling Scott’s head into his chest, he reached around his free hand and pinched his nose shut. Eventually, Scott opened his mouth to gasp for air. It was then – in one fluid movement – that Johnny stuffed the soggy underwear into his brother’s mouth. Tousling the blonde hair just for good measure, he sauntered back to the rinse water and continued his chore.
Finally the laundry was finished and hung out. “Scott, should the sheets be draggin’ on the ground like that?”
Scott stood back, hands on hips, and bent over to study the situation. “I didn’t have a choice. As it is I had to fold part of them back at the top. Everything else is hung out its full length but I just couldn’t figure out to get them that way.” Johnny shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know how they could get them hung full length either. He guessed it would be okay.
“Go ask Teresa what she wants for lunch. Must be about that time.”
“I CAN’T go talk to Teresa. I don’t have a SHIRT on!” Scott declared, blushing slightly.
“Fine!” Johnny groused. “I’ll go.” ‘Doesn’t he think the girl has ever seen a man without a shirt before? After all, she grew up on a ranch. She was around men all her life. Geez!
Teresa looked up and smiled as Johnny approached. She tried hard to keep her eyes upon his but, oh my, he was a fine looking man. “How’s it going?”
“Well, we got some stuff done. We’re workin’ on it. I came to find out what you want for lunch.”
Teresa’s stomach growled just thinking about food. She was near starving after not eating any breakfast. She thought a few minutes until she decided on something they couldn’t possibly ruin. Well, at least she didn’t think they could! “I’d like a couple pieces of fruit – maybe a red apple and a pear? There should be some cheese in the cold box. How about a few small slices of that and . . . is the fresh bread baked yet?”
Johnny’s eyes grew wide. They had forgotten all about the bread dough. “Ah, I don’t think so. I think Scott was just getting it ready to put in the oven.” Johnny stammered.
“Well, then, a think there’s a biscuit left from supper. Maybe split it and spread some butter and honey on it? And a nice cold glass of lemonade.” Johnny nodded slightly and turned, walking toward the corner of the house. When he reached it, he suddenly spurred ahead almost slipping on the grass in his haste. He burst into the kitchen.
“Scott!” He exclaimed in a whisper. “Teresa wanted fresh bread. FRESH BREAD, Scott. Like the kind we were SUPPOSED to bake.” He watched until his brother finally got the gist of his announcement.
“Oh, sh—shucks. I forgot all about the dough. Can you get her lunch and I’ll get the dough ready for the oven?” Johnny nodded as Scott shoved past his brother and into the laundry room. “JOHNNY!”
Johnny hurried over to the door and leaned one hand on either side of the frame. Scott was squatted down near the bottom of the boiler. Dough oozed out all around his feet. When he finally got a hold of the bowl and pulled it toward him, the dough literally inflated like a balloon now that it was no longer in a restricted space. “What did you DO to it?” Johnny scolded.
“I didn’t DO anything to it!”
“Well . . . maybe it’s supposed to do that.” Scott struggled to lift the bowl, the excess dough drooping over his sweaty arms.
“I don’t THINK so.” Scott carried the bowl to the kitchen table. “Get Teresa her lunch before she comes in here looking for it. I’ll go check the recipe.”
Johnny got out a plate, sliced the cheese and laid it on one side. He buttered a biscuit and spread it with a generous amount of honey then chose a beautiful apple and a perfectly ripe pear. Taking out a glass, he crossed to the cold box to put the cheese away and pour some lemonade. There wasn’t but a small amount left, just enough to cover the bottom of the tumbler. “Hey, did YOU drink all this?” Johnny asked lifting up the pitcher toward his brother.
“I don’t know. I drank a couple glasses yesterday but I don’t think I drank it ALL. Just make some more. I’ve got my own problems to deal with.”
Johnny took the pitcher to the pump and filled it with cold water. “How many lemons do I use?”
“I have NO idea. I suppose as many as it takes to make the water yellow.”
Made sense to Johnny so he went into the pantry and brought back the whole basket. He cut each lemon in half and squeezed them over the pitcher, learning quickly to shield the fruit as he did so so the juice wouldn’t squirt in his eyes. Eventually the water began to take on a light yellow hue. ‘A couple more should do it.’ He thought. Finally satisfied, he swirled the water around a little with his finger, wiped his hand on his pants, and filled the glass. He delivered Teresa’s meal then went back into the kitchen to help his brother.
Johnny found Scott studying the recipe, his lips moved but no sound came out. He crossed to the table and stared at the mound of dough. Johnny tore off a handful and began to play with it as though it were modeling clay. He tried making a horse but it began to sag. He reshaped it into a tree but it fell over. He spread it out flat on the table and pressed his hand into it. Wow! He could see every finger print. Peeling it off the table, he shaped it back into a ball then pressed it out thinner between his fingers and laid it on his face. He used his index fingers to smooth it down each side of his nose, across his lips, around his chin, and gently over his closed eye lids.
“WHAT are you doing?” Scott scolded. “Get that OFF your face!”
Johnny slowly began peeling it away. It kept its shape for a couple moments than began to flatten in Johnny’s warm hands. “They should make something like this for kids. They would have a blast playing with it. Hey Scott! We could call it “Play Dough” and sell it around Christmas time. We would make a fortune!”
Scott grabbed the wad of dough from his brother’s fingers. “It would NEVER catch on. The kids would get tired making things and try to eat it.”
“Well let ‘em. It ain’t poisonous! You know, you ARE brilliant! We could put something like that on the label; “When you get tired playing with it just eat it. Your mother will never punish you for not putting it away! “AND,” Johnny continued, visible excitement dancing in his eyes, “that would be the beauty of it, at least for us. If the kid ate it, their parents would have to buy them some more. It’s win-win!”
Scott looked at his little brother as if to say ‘yah right’ but kept his words to himself. Slapping the handful of dough Johnny had been playing with back onto the mound of dough before him, he told Johnny to go over to the cupboard and finish reading him the instructions. With a pout Johnny obeyed. However he mumbled ‘party pooper’ under his breath as he went.
“Deflate the dough and put it on a floured surface.” Scott glanced around. There was still more than enough flour on the table. Deflate. Deflate. Suddenly a spark shown in his eyes and he retrieved a large knife from the drawer by the sink. “What are you going to do with THAT?” Johnny asked with some alarm.
“It’s says to deflate it. How do you deflate a balloon, dear brother?”
“You stick it with . . . Oh, I get it. You may have the honor.” Johnny bowed slightly from the waist. Scott tried easing the knife into the dough gently but the dough simply stretched to accommodate it. “Have you ever STABBED anybody?”
Scott looked up in disbelief and blinked quickly a few times. “No! I’ve never STABBED anyone! What kind of a question is THAT?” Johnny walked over and took the knife from his brother’s hand, pushing him out of the way with the back of his other hand against Scott’s bare chest. He drew his arm back, gripped the knife firmly, and brought it down upon the dough with his full weight behind it. Suddenly there was a whoosh of air and the dough quickly fell in onto itself. Handing the knife back carefully, he smirked. “THAT, Boston, is how you stab somebody.”
Scott looked at the dough. “Well it certainly deflated!” The boys shared a smile. “Now what I supposed to do?” Johnny sauntered back over to the recipe feeling quite proud of himself for being able to teach his older, taller and wiser brother something for a change.
“Divide the dough and form it into loaf shapes. Put in lightly greased pans, cover with a wet rag and let rise until double – about forty minutes.” Johnny watched his brother cut the dough roughly in half. Retrieving the pans, he greased them with the bacon drippings and dropped the now loaf-shaped mixture into each. He got two dishtowels, wet them both and hurried back to the table before they dripped all over the floor. He spread one towel over each loaf then wiped his wet hands on his pants. “After the dough gets big again, you’re supposed to bake it until the top is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow. Boy, this bread bakin’ business takes all day!”
“Well, it seems like that but admittedly we DID forget about it for some time so . . . It’s time to tell Teresa to get ready for the tea. I’m going up the back stairs, wash up, shave and get dressed. You need to hitch up the surrey and bring it around to the front walk.” Johnny nodded. Picking up the list and blowing the flour off it, he continued. “While I’m gone you can do the dusting and empty the wastebaskets. You can put the bread in the oven right after we leave. You’ll need to watch it and judge when it’s done. DO NOT FORGET!” Johnny nodded. He figured the bread could bake while he finished the other chores. No problem!
About an hour later and after donning a clean shirt, Johnny bounded up the back stairs and knocked on Teresa’s door. “Time to go querida.” When the door opened, Johnny looked the young lady over head to toe and smiled brightly. “Well, aren’t you the bell of the ball.” The color of Teresa’s dress complimented the slight blush on her cheeks perfectly and she had fastened her curls back away from her face to cascade softly down her neck. She had decided to wear the cape, which just skimmed her narrow waist, and her choice of bonnet and gloves added the crowning touch. Johnny offered her his arm and escorted her to the front stairs. Teresa had her head down to watch the steps but as she went to take her first step down, she felt Johnny’s arm tighten. When she looked at him with a question in her eyes, Johnny pointed to the first floor.
Just to the side of the bannister near the bottom stair stood Scott. He had dressed in his best “Boston” suit, black, custom tailored, and quite becoming the way it accentuated his broad shoulders and narrow hips. He had on a white pleated shirt with small ruffles around the collar and wrists, a dove gray cravat with a pearl stick pin in the center and held a black top hat in the crook of his right arm. His dress boots shown so it must have taken him all night to polish them and he wore gloves to match his cravat. Teresa gasped. He was so handsome it made her heart beat just a little faster. Of course she had seen him dressed up before – church, dances – but nothing like this.
Very slowly and carefully, she descended the stairs while Johnny stood at the top and watched. When within reach, Scott held out one gloved hand to take hers and guide her until she stood safely next to him. Setting his hat jauntily on his freshly washed and expertly styled blonde hair, he bent slightly at the waist and proffered his right arm. When Teresa went to loop her arm through his, however, he gently took her hand and laid it atop his. He was, after all, just the driver not her escort. Opening the door, he steered her outside glancing back over his shoulder at Johnny who now stood in the hallway. Touching the rim of his top hat, he gave his brother a look which said ‘remember, do not burn the bread’ and stepped outside, closing the door softly behind him.
The pair ensured that they were five minutes late. After all, Teresa might never get another chance to make an entrance like this one and she wanted to make it memorable as well as show off her more than handsome ‘brother’. They were quite successful. Walking to Aggie’s porch steps with her hand upon his, Scott’s arm outstretch, he stopped at the bottom stair and clicked his heals together. “May I present Miss Teresa O’Brien of the Lancer Estancia.” Teresa straightened her shoulders and slowly ascended the few steps. The ladies were all whispering and there were more than a few admiring stares at her driver. In fact, they all tried to convince Scott to stay, but he begged leave as this tea was just for the ladies. He told Teresa he would be back in two hours. The ladies rose to watch him walk back to the surrey, some fanning themselves with their handkerchiefs. After he left, they all returned to their seats. Scott certainly dominated that afternoon’s conversation.
As the surrey pulled away, Johnny headed to the kitchen. He added a good quantity of wood to the stove. Tossing the wet towels on the floor, he carried both pans over to the oven and slid them in. He had no idea how long it would take them to bake but – being good sized loaves – he thought he should check on them in a couple hours. The parlor clock had just finished chiming the quarter hour of two.
Johnny found the feather duster in the front closet. Brushing it against his nose to see if it would tickle, Johnny found himself in a fit of sneezing. Reasoning there must be a lot of dust in it, he shook it out vigorously. When the little particles of dust lessened from a visible cloud into nothingness, he figured he was ready for action. Starting upstairs, he actually found it kinda fun to wave the plumy ostrich feathers around and tried to get creative. In no time, he had finished so put the duster down and began to gather the wastebaskets. There were seven in total and he couldn’t quite handle them all at once. Not wanting to spend time running up and down the stairs, he decided to dump them over the bannister and pick up all the trash when he got down there. The rug needed cleaning and the floor washing anyway so . . .
Scott ran in frantically as Johnny was emptying the last one. “Hey Boston. How did it go?”
“WHY is there black smoke coming out the kitchen window?” Scott ran in that direction and Johnny, not wanting to waste time, slid down the bannister than followed. Virtually the entire room was filled with smoke and the odor of burning bread. Thankfully the windows had been left open but it would take some doing to rid the space of its heavy haze. Scott quickly crossed to the oven and flung the door open, leaning his body backward as a new cloud of smoke came wafting out. Grabbing a towel, he tried to fan some of it away. “YOU forgot the bread, didn’t YOU! YOU promised me . . .”
Johnny shook his head, coughed a little and used his hands to fan away what smoke he could. “No I didn’t. I NEVER promised. Besides, it shouldn’t be done yet.” He said. Scott grabbed another towel and folded them both so there was enough thickness to prevent a burn to his hands. He grabbed the pans of black, smoldering bread and tossed them out the back door.
Flapping the towels as he walked back inside, he strode straight toward his brother - eyes narrowed and a scowl on his face. “All our hard work, RUINED! There is NO time to make more bread. What are YOU,” he said, jabbing his index finger into Johnny’s chest, “going to tell Teresa?”
“You mean what are WE going to tell Teresa, don’t you?” Scott squeezed his eyes shut tightly, threw the towels on the floor, balled his hands into fists and put them firmly on his hips. He counted to ten aloud in English, Spanish, French, German, Latin, Italian and Greek. Opening his eyes, he found that Johnny had snuck away and he had been counting to himself.
“JOHN LANCER. FRONT AND CENTER NOW.” Scott barked in his lieutenant voice. There was no answer. Scott swore under his breath and walked toward the great room. There he found his little brother, calmly dusting Murdoch’s desk. “WHAT THE HE—HECK ARE YOU DOING?”
“Dustin’.” Johnny stated, thrusting out his chin.
“Dusting!” Scott muttered.
“You told me while you were gone I should empty the wastebaskets and do the dustin’. Well the upstairs is done on both counts so I’m finishin’ this here room. Then the dining room and I’ll be done.”
“I ALSO told you to bake the bread and I can SEE . . . and smell, how well THAT worked out.”
Johnny turned around to look his brother straight in the eye. “It wasn’t even supposed to be DONE yet!”
“Not done yet? I THINK when it starts smoking that’s a pretty good sign.”
“The directions didn’t say how long to bake them. They was kinda big so I thought two hours would be about right. This here clock,” Johnny said, pointing with the handle of the duster, “just finished chimin’ the quarter hour of two so I figured to check on it when it chimed the quarter hour of four. That’s two hours!” Although Johnny spoke calmly, there was spit and fire behind both his eyes and the words.
Scott hung his head. It was true the recipe didn’t give a baking time and he wouldn’t have known how long to leave them in the oven either but . . . “I’m going upstairs and change clothes. I will ensure all the windows are open. I would suggest that you do two things while I’m up there. Number one – pick up all this trash you dumped on the floor and, two, open the doors and windows down here and then, starting in the kitchen, take a large towel and fan the smoke.” Scott had one foot on the second step and one on the third. “Oh, and Johnny? Fan the smoke so it goes OUT the doors and windows. Understand?” Scott didn’t wait for an answer.
“Fan the smoke so it goes OUT the doors and windows,” Johnny mimicked sarcastically. He crossed to his father’s desk and grabbed the wastebasket. He might as well add its contents to the pile and pick up everything at once. Putting Murdoch’s basket back, Johnny stood and studied the small mountain of rubbish. What to do. He tapped his index finger against his chin. Suddenly a smile came to Johnny’s lips and his finger stopped tapping to point toward the ceiling. Johnny had had an epiphany. Using his boot, he kicked the trash onto the hallway rug. He was just picking up the last scraps when Scott came down.
“NOW what are you doing? I thought I told you to . . .”
“I AM cleaning it up.” Johnny snapped. “We have to take this rug outside and beat it, right? Well, we can carry out the trash rolled in the rug and dump it in the fire pit. No sense in wasting a trip. Besides, we’ll never get this work finished if we don’t step up the pace.”
Scott couldn’t disagree. He helped Johnny roll up the rug and haul it out to the front porch. Going back inside, both men used towels to waft the smoke toward the great outdoors. Once the kitchen was pretty clear, they leaned against the end of the counter. “Just what do we have left on that list, little brother?” Asked Scott, his voice filled with fatigue.
Johnny pulled the crumpled paper out of his shirt pocket. “Well, let’s see.” He silently read down the items then spoke. “Beat the rug, wash the hallway floor, take the laundry in, iron, make supper . . .”
“Supper!” Scott exclaimed. “What are we going to make?”
“I saw some chicken in the cold box. We could cook that. There’s a jar of corn relish in the pantry. We could bake some potatoes and cut up some fruit and make a sort of salad for dessert.”
“We won’t have any biscuits and now that the bread is – well – black as tar . . .” Scott sighed. Teresa’s special day wasn’t turning out quite the way he had intended.
“That don’t mean the inside isn’t good.” Scott drew his brows together. “The inside of the bread.” Johnny explained. “Remember that time you made that fancy breakfast for Murdoch on Father’s Day?” Scott nodded. “What were them bread things you made? They didn’t have no crust on ‘em at all. We just cut the black part off, make it a fancy shape and wha-la!”
“Might work. I suppose we should bring the bread back in the house before one of the animals decides to munch on it.” Scott went out and brought both pans back inside. “Let’s trim the crust off now and we can take it out with the rest of the trash and nobody will be the wiser.” Getting out the bread knife, Scott struggled to remove the bread from the pan. Finally Johnny stepped forward.
“I’ll hold the pan, you pull on the bread.” The boys struggled for a minute or two until finally the loaf let loose. It was so unexpected that it flew out of Scott’s hands and into the sink. Hurrying over before it could soak up any of the standing water, Scott snatched the loaf and shook the bit of moisture from the bottom, grabbing a dishtowel to dry it off.
“This bread has seen better days!” Scott muttered. “Maybe one loaf is enough. They got pretty big.” Scott had to use two hands to hold the loaf. “We’ll take the other one out to the fire pit and wrestle it out of the pan there.
Johnny reached over and put a hand on either side of the remaining loaf. He lifted it easily out of the pan, turning toward Scott and offering a smug smile. Scott threw the loaf he was holding at his little brother playfully. However, somewhere between the mixing and the baking it had literally turned into a solid brick of dough. Johnny ducked then turned to look at the pantry door which now had a gouge in it just about the size of the bread. “You could have KILLED me!” He exclaimed, raising the loaf he held in one hand and bringing his arm back as if to throw it. Scott raised both arms and crossed them in front of himself with hands spread to protect his face. Johnny laughed and put the loaf on the table. “Had you there for a minute.”
Scott took a deep breath. “Put the bread down and back away.” Johnny did as he was told, raising both hands up as if surrendering in a gun fight. “Now, what’s left on that list?”
Johnny tried to smooth out the crumpled sheet of paper. “Well, let’s see, we did the laundry, I finished dustin’ . . .” Scott grabbed the list out of his brother’s hands.
“We don’t have time for this. I asked you what still had to be done, NOT what WAS done.” Scott perused the note carefully. “Okay, we need to dump the waste in the fire pit and beat the rug, take down the laundry and do the ironing, wash the front hallway floor and make out the shopping list.” He looked up to see Johnny making a “V” sign with the first two fingers of his right hand. “What?”
“You forgot a couple things there Boston.” Johnny used his index finger to make a circular motion. Scott turned and his shoulders noticeably slumped seeing the mountain of dirty dishes piled around the sink.
“And?” He muttered. Johnny now used his index finger to point to the ceiling. Scott clearly didn’t follow his brother’s logic.
“Make the beds.” Johnny drawled. Scott held the list in one hand and raised the other to make a fist the thumb of which he tapped against his lips. “Okay, okay, we can still make this work. Cut the burned part off the bread and throw it in the slop bucket. We can cut it into shapes later. I’ll help you carry the rug to the fire pit, dump the trash and beat it clean. If we roll it up and leave it just on the other side of the door, do you think you can get it rolled back out after you wash the floor?”
Johnny pointed to his own chest. “After I wash the floor?”
“Please little brother. Let’s not spoil this day for Teresa. You should have seen her when we drove up to the Conway house. She just beamed. Let’s at least try to get through this list.” Johnny nodded. “She said the stuff to wash the floor was on the bottom shelf in the pantry. After we beat the rug and roll it up, I’ll help you take down the laundry and then it will be time for me to change and go get our little Miss. When’s Murdoch supposed to come home?”
“Late afternoon I think. You might even run into him on your way to Aggie’s.”
“Well, that won’t be so bad – both of them getting home at the same time. I’ll convince them to relax on the patio until we call them for supper. We can’t let Teresa into this kitchen until it’s all cleaned up or you KNOW what will happen.” Scott put one hand on his brother’s shoulder. Johnny just rolled his eyes and nodded. Johnny had been trimming the blackened crust from the bread while listening to Scott. He picked up the charred dough and tossed it into the slop pail and then set the pail on the back steps. He would toss it to the pigs after bringing in the laundry.
“Johnny! How much did you cut off?” Scott exclaimed, picking up the greatly diminished loaf in one hand.
“Just the burned stuff. Went kinda deep.” Scott put the loaf back on the table.
“Well, we can do SOMETHING with it. Let’s go get that rug taken care of.” Scott turned and started striding down the front hallway to the door with Johnny following close behind. Suddenly Scott stopped, so suddenly Johnny ran right into him and both men had to grab the stair balusters to keep from falling. Scott spun around and grabbed both of Johnny’s shoulders. “Teresa is going to want to change the minute she gets home.”
“So her bed isn’t made. And when she sees her bed isn’t made she is going to check on the other beds and see they aren’t made either and then you know what she’s going to do?” Johnny bit his bottom lip and thought a minute before shaking his head. “One of two things: number one – she is going to make the beds up herself, which will ruin her day off, or two – she is going to skin us alive. You’re going to have to make up her bed and Murdoch’s the minute I leave and make sure our bedroom doors are shut. I’ll help you make up our two beds right before we’re ready to retire.”
“I can’t go into her room unchaperoned! Yhewwwww!” Johnny shuddered. “It’s got girl stuff in it – doilies, little glass bottles, lacy things – what if her diary is laying open on her desk or something. No, no I think I should wait until you get back.” Johnny shook his head as he lowered it toward his chest.
“John Lancer. We have no time to argue. Besides, you’ve been in women’s bedrooms before. What about Hilda’s?” Johnny blushed slightly.
“That’s different. I wasn’t makin’ UP the bed I was . . .well, more like . . . well, you know. Besides, Hilda was in there with me. I wasn’t alone!”
Scott sighed in exasperation. “We have no time for this. You WILL make up those two beds, understand?” Johnny pouted but nodded in compliance. “You know I have a better idea.”
“Now Boston, you and ideas . . .”
“Oh just listen. Wash the floor first so it can dry while you make the beds then come down and replace the rug. You can start the ironing but DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT STARTING SUPPER! I will be responsible for the entire meal. While the irons heat, however, you can go in the pantry and pick out four nice potatoes, wash them off and set them by the sink. NOTHING ELSE! Do you hear me soldier?”
Johnny stood at attention and saluted his brother. “Aye, aye, sir.”
Scott huffed, “That’s the Navy, not the army. In the army we said – Sir, yes Sir.”
Johnny clicked his boot heels together. “Sir, yes Sir.”
“Better. Now come on.” Scott turned and resumed his march toward the front door. Johnny tried to match his step as though he were drilling. He did, however, also put his thumbs in his ears and waggle his fingers while sticking out his tongue. “Grab the beaters!” Scott ordered never missing a step. Johnny saluted and kept his marching pace while pausing in front of the closet door, opening it and fetching the wire rug beaters. Putting them up to his shoulder as though carrying a rifle, he double-timed it to catch up with Scott. The brothers hauled the rug over and dumped the trash into the fire pit then carried the cumbersome runner over to an empty space on the clothesline. Scott heaved it up and over the line, hanging onto one end while the other unrolled down the opposite side. Each man took up a rug beater. Scott held his like you would a baseball bat and Johnny held his more like a tennis racket.
“You go on that side and I’ll stay on this side. I’ll give it a good whack and then you give it a whack. We’ll alternate like that until it’s clean.” Johnny walked around to the other side of the rug. “Ready?”
“Let ‘er buck.” Johnny shouted back. Scott put all his weight behind his swing. As the beater hit the rug, a great plumb of dust engulfed Johnny, who had to quickly shut his eyes. He coughed a little bit as the dust blew away then opened his eyes. Putting all his weight behind it he, too, swatted the runner for all he was worth. This time it was Scott who got a face full of dust. He reacted in much the same way his brother had only moments earlier. The men continued in this fashion for some time before Scott, panting and sweat soaked called a halt.
“How much dirt is in this thing? I bet it hasn’t been cleaned since Murdoch laid it down the very first time. I don’t think we’re getting anywhere.” Johnny sauntered his way around the edge of the runner. His front half was covered head to toe in dust. His black pants looked almost white, his sweaty shirt clung to his chest and his black hair appeared as gray as Murdoch’s.
“Boston, I think we’ve done enough beatin’ for one day. This thing is just as dirty as when we brung it out here. I give up.” Tossing the beaters aside, the men pulled the rug off the clothesline and began rolling it up. Scott carried the front half while his little brother brought up the rear. Ensuring it was aligned correctly so it would roll out smoothly, they walked around the back of the house to retrieve the laundry baskets. Standing by the line of clothes, Johnny closed one eye and caught his brother’s gaze with the other. “I have an idea.”
“Oh great,” Scott muttered.
“Hey, at least MY ideas work. Well, most of the time that is.”
“Okay, let’s hear it.” Scott held resignation in his voice.
“Why don’t we sort out the stuff that needs ironing in this basket and put the stuff that don’t in the other one?” A look of amazement came over Scott’s face. It was a brilliant plan but he was in no way going to admit that to Johnny.
“Yah, I suppose we could.” Scott drawled. “We can try it. See if it works.”
The men made quick work of taking the laundry down. Working down one line at a time, with one of the near side and one on the far side, Scott unclipped all those items that didn’t need pressing while Johnny took down those that did. As Johnny’s basket began to fill, he used both hands with all his weight behind them to push the laundry down tightly. He was afraid he was going to run out of room. Each man picked up his basket and began climbing the back steps. Unaware that Johnny had sat the slop pail out earlier, Scott put his foot right into it. He tossed his basket up onto the porch before grabbing the railing to steady himself.
“What the . . . JOHNNY!”
“Why is your foot in the pig slop, Scott?” Johnny asked in his most innocent voice and with his puppy dog eyes. Scott couldn’t even get angry. It was, actually, kind of funny but he was not about to laugh either. Rather he sat down on the step and tried to pry the pail off. It took several attempts but finally with a loud ‘thop’ his foot emerged. His boot, however, was still wedged in the bucket. Throwing the pail and boot aside, he turned, picked up his basket and strode unevenly into the house. Johnny followed and place his basket near the ironing board.
“I am going upstairs now.” Scott stated in a no no-nonsense kind of way. “I am going to wash my face, comb my hair and change my clothes so I can go bring Teresa home. I STRONGLY suggest you get out the bottle of floor wash and some rags so that you can start the foyer floor as soon as I leave. Until such time, I want you to sit quietly in that chair. I don’t want you to say one word until I am out that front door. Understand?” Johnny nodded. He was determined to carry out his ‘no speaking’ order to the fullest.
After Scott went up the back stairs, Johnny looked around in the pantry until he found a bottle that said “Floor”. The bottom of the label had faded from handling but it said ‘floor’ so he reasoned it was for washing floors. He grabbed a handful of rags and returned to his chair. He would read the instructions so he was good to go as soon as Boston left. His lips moved as he read: “Pour a liberal amount on the surface of the floor. Starting in one corner, spread the liquid thickly over the surface using a clean rag. Change rags often. Be careful not to work yourself into a corner. Make sure before you start that you have a door to your back so you have a way to exit the room. Depending on the thickness, product should dry in 15-30 minutes. Test the readiness of the floor by touching it lightly in an inconspicuous area. It should not be sticky. If it is, let it dry in 5 minute increments until no longer tacky.” Well, he didn’t know some of them big words but he couldn’t violate his commander’s order and ask Scott so he would just to do his best. After all, it was just a floor. If he screwed it up too badly, he could always wash it over.
Johnny went back in the pantry and picked out four nice big potatoes. He carried them to the sink. Scott had said to wash them. Johnny put them down, grabbed a rag and a bar of lye soap and got busy. Pumping some water into a bucket, he worked up a frothy lather on the rag and began to scrub. Da - - darn! If he would have thought of it sooner, he could have washed them in the laundry room tub on the scrub board. Oh well, he had everything set up here now so he’d just have to tuck that tidbit into his head for next time. Once the potatoes had been scrubbed within an inch of their life, he rinsed them and set them on a clean towel by the side of the sink. There! Perfect! Scott would be so proud.
Before long, he heard his brother coming down the front stairs. Johnny walked partway down the front hallway to watch him leave. Scott glanced up to catch his gaze while pulling on a glove. “Now remember what I said. DO NOT START SUPPER. Wash the floor, then go upstairs and make those beds, then start the ironing. NO COOKING!” Scott gave his brother an ‘I dare you to mess this up’ look while reaching out one hand to open the front door.
“Hey . . .” Johnny called.
“I said I didn’t want to hear ONE WORD out of you. That was one word and that will quite suffice until I return.” Scott turned to leave. He was a little late and was thinking about Teresa perhaps being upset, about his father’s return, about making supper, and about how in Heaven’s name they were going to complete that list. Putting out his right foot, he suddenly tottered. He mistakenly grabbed the door which swung inward under the weight. Scott landed – rather ungraciously in light of his attire – on his posterior just inside the threshold. He sat there a minute wondering why he had ever wanted a little brother in the first place. “What were you going to say before?” Scott knew what he was about to hear. When Johnny didn’t answer, Scott glared up at him through narrowed eyes. “I give you permission to speak.”
“Watch out for the rug.” Johnny stated quietly. Scott dropped his head, shaking it slightly back and forth. Using the fingers of one hand to adjust the glove on his opposite hand, he repeated the procedure before hefting himself up. He dusted off the front of his jacket, realigned his top hat and in a rather pronounced manner stepped over the runner closing the door quite firmly behind himself. Johnny snickered. When they had been rolling and otherwise moving the rug, quite a lot of dust had migrated to the floor and now pronounced itself in a rather large circle on the back of Scott’s suit. He supposed he should have said something but . . .
Hearing the surrey pull away, he retrieved his equipment. He stood in the foyer looking around to ensure he followed the instructions and didn’t clean himself into a corner. He would start at the front door and work his way toward the kitchen. That way, while the floor dried, he could go up the back stairs and make the beds. He had this down pat!
As the sun was now in the west and coming through different windows, Johnny could easily make out the area where the runner had lain. Always thinking, he reasoned he could just wash the parts that would show once the rug was back in place! It wouldn’t take as long, it would be dry sooner and nobody would know the difference. Whistling, he dropped to his knees and poured some liquid onto the tile. Holding a rag in each hand – again always planning ahead – he began to swirl the stuff around. It smelled kinda good. This chore wasn’t so bad after all. As he crawled slowly backward down the center of the floor, he would rub in circles and when he got bored with that, he would rub in a straight line and when he got bored with that he came up with a half dozen more ways to make the task more interesting. It took no time at all and he was at the kitchen threshold. Standing, he looked down the length of the floor. It really looked nice! All his different patterns added flare to the otherwise boring tile. He would have to remember to suggest that to Teresa.
As he climbed the stairs he tried to decide which bed to make up first. Still intimidated by Teresa’s bedroom, he decided to make up Murdoch’s. After all, he could handle a little verbal abuse from his ‘sister’ but his father was known to get physical every now and again and Johnny wanted no part of that. Entering his father’s room he noticed for the first time how gigantic Murdoch’s bed actually was, now devoid of all the pillows, blankets, etc. He stared down at it a minute before leaping into the center. Laying on his back, he stretched his arms out wide but his fingers didn’t come anywhere near the edge of the mattress. Likewise, his head was at least a foot from the headboard and, raising up just enough to look down the length of his body, his feet were nowhere near the footboard. The bed was extremely comfortable and, just for a few seconds, he pretended to be making a snow angle moving his arms up and down and his legs side to side. Knowing if he got caught by Murdoch it would lead to his demise, he reluctantly got up.
Johnny shook out the fitted sheet and smoothed one corner over the mattress at the top and the other at the bottom. Walking around to the other side, he repeated his movements. ‘That was easy,’ he thought to himself. Next he shook out the flat sheet and smoothed it with his hands, tucking it securely under the foot end of the ticking. Replacing the quilt, he neatly folded the blanket and draped it over the back of his father’s chair. Just the pillow slips and he’d be done. Grabbing a slip in one hand and a pillow in the other he shook open the slip and tried to stuff the pillow down inside. The pillow, however, wasn’t slick enough. He tried tucking the pillow under his chin but it kept slipping. He laid it on the bed and tried to shimmy the case up over it. No, this wasn’t working either. Finally he grabbed a handful of the pillow and literally stuffed it, along with his arm, down to the bottom end of the slip. Pulling his arm out carefully, he smiled. A little lumpy but at least it was covered. He repeated the procedure with the remaining three pillows. Four pillows! Why on earth would anybody need that many pillows? Oh well, it was not his place to question why, it was only his place to do or die. Johnny snickered. How close to the truth was that! Pausing for a moment in his father’s doorway, he looked back at the bed. He had done a da - - darn good job.
Strolling slowly down to Teresa’s room, he paused standing just outside the threshold. He looked around. It was just a room. A very pink room, but just a room. Taking a deep breath he stepped inside. Her bed being considerably smaller than Murdoch’s it would be a piece of cake. He shook out the fitted sheet and let it drift down on top of the mattress. He pulled one corner over the edge of the mattress. Walking down the length of the bed, he grabbed the next corner and pulled it down over the bottom edge. Just as was about to circle around the footboard to the opposite side, the top corner of the sheet popped off. ‘Didn’t do that in Murdoch’s room,’ he thought. ‘Oh well, probably didn’t have it all the way down.” He circled back around and tugged at the top edge. Smoothing the corner back in place he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Now the bottom corner had popped off. Something wasn’t right! He replaced the bottom corner of the sheet only to have the top corner pop off again. Now he was getting frustrated.
Standing in the middle on the left side of the mattress, he stretched out both arms just as far as he could and held the bottom corner in place while trying desperately to retuck the top corner with one hand. Finally he achieved his goal. Very, very slowly he straightened up placing his hands on his hips. There. The sheet was in place. That was the trick. As he took a step away both corners popped off. Johnny angrily grabbed the sheet off the bed, balled it up in his hands and threw it forcefully to the floor. He was tempted to jump up and down on it but he didn’t want to get it dirty, his boots being less than pristine. Panting, he stepped over the sheet and began pacing. Suddenly he stopped. He had an idea. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he pulled off his boots and tossed them into the hall. Picking up the sheet, he tried to shake out some of the wrinkles but reasoned they wouldn’t be so noticeable once it was stretched out over the ticking. Centering the sheet on the mattress, Johnny laid down on his stomach exactly in the middle. Reaching down, he smoothed both bottom corners into place. Spreading his legs, he held each in place with one of his feet. Stretching his arms to their limit, he did the same with the top corners, holding them in place with his hands. Great! They stayed in place too. Only problem was, now he was not only in Teresa’s room by himself he was laying spread eagle on her bed. This would never do.
S-l-o-w-l-y Johnny slid his hands away. The corners stayed in place. Slowly, very slowly, he brought his left leg up underneath him. Good, the sheet hadn’t shifted. Now he brought his right leg up underneath him. Still no movement. A grin spread its way across Johnny’s lips. Ever so carefully, he swung his legs off the bed and sat gingerly on the edge of the mattress to catch his breath. He never heard it coming. In the blink of an eye, both the top and bottom edges let loose and Johnny found himself encased in a white linen cocoon. Battling his way free he again wadded up the sheet and threw it to the floor but this time he was in stocking feet so he did jump up and down on it a few times cussing a blue streak in Spanish. Exhausted, he folded to the floor to sit cross-legged. Why was this bed – this little narrow bed – being such a . . . He couldn’t even think of a word to describe it. After a few minutes, another idea came into Johnny’s head. Lurching himself up off the floor, he ran down the hall into his brother’s room.
Johnny grabbed as many books off Scott’s well supplied shelf as he could carry in two arms. Carrying them back to Teresa’s room, he dumped them into the center of the bed. He repeated his trip one more time. Johnny divided the books into four stacks and placed one stack on the floor near the corners of the mattress. Grabbing up the sheet, he tucked one corner then lifted the pile of heavy books and placed it over the sheet. He repeated this three more times. Great – the sheet was in place but now how was he going to get rid of the books? He thought Teresa might notice if he left them there. Shaking out the flat sheet, he let it drift down over the mattress, books and all. Smoothing it out, he picked up one stack of books in the crook of his arm and – while holding them – gently tugged the hem into place. Setting the books back down on both sheets, he circled the bed and repeated his moves. So far so good. Maybe if he tucked in the top sheet really, really tightly it would hold the fitted sheet in place. If the corners popped off while Teresa was climbing into bed tonight it would be her problem.
Rubbing his hands together, he studied the bottom edge like a magician might before pulling the tablecloth out from underneath all the dinner dishes. He lifted the bottom of the mattress just enough to slide his hand under it and stuffed the bottom edge of the flat sheet in as far as he could. He did the same on the other side. Reasoning that the weight of the quilt would help hold the sheet down even more, he spread the quilt out just as carefully. Holding his breath he removed one stack of the books from the headboard end of the bed. He put the books down on Teresa’s chair and removed the second stack from the opposite side. Nothing stirred. Loading his arms, he returned the books to his brother’s room and dropped them on the bed. He was just as successful with the foot end of the bed and added those books to the pile. He promised himself he would help Scott put them away later. He was getting better at putting on the pillow slips and was soon finished. He was sweatin’ like a pig, but he was done. That’s all that mattered.
Just as he was about to bound down the front staircase he remembered the floor so trotted off in the other direction. Standing in the kitchen doorway he again admired his handiwork. Very carefully, he touched the surface. Still just a tiny bit sticky. He would leave it for a few more minutes. He put away the floor stuff and gathered up all the dirty rags, throwing them in the metal tub in the laundry room. He pulled the irons off the shelf and set them on the stove to heat, tossing in just a handful more wood. He had never ironed before but had watched Teresa and Maria many times. It looked really easy. While waiting for the irons to get hot, he shuffled through the basket and pulled out all the handkerchiefs and pillow slips. Might as well start with something easy. He could work his way up to the shirts.
Spreading a slip over the ironing board, he started whistling again as he walked over to retrieve one of the irons. He was surprised to find the handle hot and so folded a dishtowel in layers to hold it. Much better. He carried it back into the laundry room and sat it down for a minute on the ironing board. A handkerchief had fallen on the floor and he bent to pick it up and return it to the pile. Picking up the iron, his eyes widened. A perfect dark brown impression of the sole remained on the pillow slip. How did that happen? Maybe he hadn’t rinsed out all the soap! Tossing that one aside, he smoothed out another one. He moved the iron back and forth as he had seen the women do and, surprisingly, it seemed to be working well. He stopped for a moment and turned away to sneeze. When he moved the iron again an identical brown mark appeared. Johnny studied the bottom of the iron. Maybe something had gotten on it. He tossed that pillow slip over near the first one. He thought he would try the other iron.
Carrying the used one over to the stove, Johnny looked over the sole of the other one very carefully but couldn’t find any spills or rough edges or other imperfection. Shrugging his shoulders, he returned to the laundry room. He’d try a handkerchief. Smoothing out one of his father’s expensive monogrammed handkerchiefs – a Christmas gift from Aggie Conway – he began in one corner, slowly moving the extremely hot iron as carefully as he could. Everything seemed to be going okay but he noticed that as he moved the iron down the linen, the edges were curling up and when he got to the monogram the iron seemed to stick. Trying to keep the iron sliding down to the edge, he found he had to really use force when it had practically glided over the linen before. Finally lifting the iron straight up he studied the sole and found some colored smears that he knew weren’t there before. Looking at the handkerchief he now knew where they had come from. The monogram was all askew and some parts of it were missing. Now how did that happen? Johnny thought he had better quit while he was ahead and wait until Scott got home. He scrunched up the linen square and stuffed it underneath the pillow slips. Not knowing exactly what to do with the iron so that whatever had gotten all over the bottom of it didn’t get on anything else, he sat it in one of the dirty bread pans and put the pan in the oven. Out of sight, out of mind.
Checking the foyer floor again, he found it dry so made his way to the front door and lugged the rug over the threshold. Aligning it up so it exactly matched the outline on the floor, he used his foot to unroll it. Perfect!
Johnny supposed he could go back upstairs and put Scott’s books away and make the other two beds or he supposed he could lay down on the couch and take a little nap. The nap won. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep when he heard the front door open followed by his brother’s voice and his father’s chuckle. Jumping up too quickly, he swayed a moment until the dizziness quieted.
“Oh Johnny! The floor looks marvelous. I’ve never seen it so shiny.” Teresa remarked, standing in the doorway with Scott and Murdoch each peering over one of the girl’s shoulders. “Scott told me you were working on it while he had come to fetch me. I’m going to have to bribe you with a chocolate cake every Saturday so you’ll do it again!”
Johnny swallowed hard. Was she serious? The men behind her finally persuaded her to move forward. Teresa’s foot slipped a little but Scott was at her side and immediately reached out to steady her. “Oh it’s these dress shoes. I don’t wear them often enough so the soles are still smooth. I should get out the sandpaper some day and rough them up a little. I’m fine.” She said, turning to smile at Scott. “I’m just going to go and change. I won’t be long.” Scott looked at Johnny with questioning eyes to which his little brother just nodded slightly and smiled. Scott’s face relaxed immediately.
“I’m going up to change also, Sir. I would like to suggest – as there is still some time before supper – that you and Teresa relax out on the patio and Johnny will bring you out some icy cold lemonade. It will give you and Teresa a chance to converse about your day and give my brother and myself time to prepare the meal.”
“Sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day. I just think I’ll sneak a quick swallow of Scotch before Teresa comes back down.” Scott started up the stairs. Murdoch took a step inside and immediately there was a loud thud followed by a moan. Scott turned and hurried back down the stairs and Johnny ran over to his father’s side. “Pa, what you doin’ down there?”
Murdoch was sprawled on the floor flat on his back, his hat still clutched in his hand. “Why Johnny, I thought I’d just drop in!” Murdoch began struggling to get up as Scott took his arm and helped him.
“That’s real funny Pa. ‘Just drop in’. You are a clever one!” Johnny chuckled while reaching out to grab his father’s other arm.
“Are you alright Sir? Your back?” Scott’s concern clouded his blue eyes.
“Yes, yes I think I’m okay. I don’t know what happened. It was like my feet just slid right out from under me.” The boys helped their father into a chair then Johnny poured his father a half glass of Scotch. Murdoch took a deep swallow. “I’m fine, really. Scott weren’t you on your way upstairs to change? Go ahead, son. Johnny here can take care of me for a few minutes. Lord knows I’ve taken care of him enough times!”
Scott’s forehead furrowed as he glanced at his little brother. Johnny’s shoulder shrug was barely perceptible. Scott turned and started up the stairs again.
“So you boys getting through that list? I understand you and your brother were a little overwhelmed when you saw the length of it.”
“We’re doing okay. We got some stuff to finish up after supper- like the dishes – but we made good progress. I think Teresa will be pleased. If you’re sure you’re okay I’ll go in the kitchen and get some glasses and ice on a tray with the lemonade and bring it out to the patio.”
Murdoch waved his son off with his hand as he polished off his drink. Ten minutes later Teresa came down the steps with Murdoch hurrying over to offer his arm as she reached the bottom. Looping her right arm through his, she paused a moment to again admire the floor. “Yes, I’m surprised too. I’m not sure what I expected but this certainly wasn’t it. Do you think you can really get Johnny to do this every Saturday if you bake him that cake?”
Teresa rolled her eyes. “Are you kidding? I can’t believe he did it once! Better leave well enough alone. And my bed was made! Another surprise.” Murdoch smiled. He held pride in his eyes. He lead her out to the patio and they settled in the chase lounges on the shady side of the porch. Johnny had already placed the tray on the table between them and poured lemonade in their glasses. Teresa’s attention was captured by something off to her left and she shaded her eyes to get a better look. Meanwhile, Murdoch lifted his glass to his lips. He was just about to take a swallow when Teresa swung her head back around.
“Murdoch no!” She cried. “Don’t drink that!”
Murdoch immediately took the glass away from his mouth and stared at it. “Isn’t this some of the wonderful lemonade you make?”
Teresa shook her head and laughed quietly. “Don’t blame ME for this!” She scolded teasingly as she waved her open hand over the pitcher and glasses. “We must have run out. I asked for a glass at lunch so I assume the boys made more. Looks just like my lemonade, yes, but I wouldn’t taste it if I were you. They didn’t put any sugar in it. Just water and the juice from about fifty lemons. It’s horrible! I had to toss mine behind the bushes so they thought I had drunk it. I would strongly suggest you do the same.”
Murdoch put his glass back on the tray after tossing about a third of the liquid into the base of a nearby planter. “I shouldn’t do that – it’ll probably kill Maria’s flowers and then I WILL be in for it!” They both laughed albeit quietly so Scott and Johnny wouldn’t hear and get their feelings hurt. “Well darling, I guess you have to give them an “A” for effort.” Teresa nodded.
Scott bounded down the back stairway to find Johnny standing in the middle of the kitchen. “What the he—heck are all my books doing on the bed? You expect me to sleep like that? No sheets are bad enough but . . .” Johnny held up a finger to his lips.
“It’s a long story and I ain’t in the mood to tell it right now. I have my own problems!” He spoke in a hushed tone and hoped his brother would follow suit.
Scott took a step closer. “What do you mean? The floor looks fantastic. You got Murdoch and Teresa’s beds made. I see the potatoes are ready for the oven. Did you start the ironing?” Johnny nodded and crooked his index finger, wagging it so Scott would follow him into the laundry room. He pulled out one of the pillow slips and held it up.
“Yah. Looks okay. I think you could get a few more of the wrinkles out but otherwise . . .” Johnny turned the slip around in his hands and watched his brother’s face closely. Scott reached out and took the bottom of the pillow slip in both hands. “What did you DO?”
“I don’t know! Everything seemed to be going fine but when I moved the iron . . .”
“I don’t think they’re supposed to look like this. I mean I’ve never seen . . .”
“Really? You’ve never seen your pillow slip with a dark brown impression of the iron on it? Really?” Johnny said sarcastically, snatching the slip from his brother’s hand and throwing it back on the pile.
“How many . . .” Johnny held up two fingers. “Well, that’s not so bad. We can probably come up with some kind of a story . . .”
“You better make up a good one.”
“Why? What aren’t you telling me?” Johnny reached down and pulled out Murdoch’s ruined handkerchief and handed it to his brother. Scott opened up the crumpled linen and gasped. “Aggie gave him these for Christmas. He’s going to kill you!”
“Not if he don’t know about it.” Johnny grabbed the cloth from his brother’s hand, ran over to the stove and through it in on top of the burning wood before Scott could stop him.
“He’s going to know one is missing. She only gave him three. How are you going to explain what you just did?”
“I’ll worry about that when the time comes. I think right now we better get supper started.”
Scott got the chicken out of the cold box. Putting the largest cast iron skillet on the stove, he let it get good and hot so it would brown the chicken nicely before he put it in the oven. He dug out a big pan that the meat would fit in and gathered up the potatoes. “Nice job little brother.” He commented, inspecting each potato closely. “Why don’t you get our a jar of that corn relish and a bowl to put it in and then you can cut up some fruit for dessert.”
Only moments after Johnny went into the pantry the sound of broken glass echoed out to Scott. “Oops!” Johnny said. Scott rolled his eyes. More work – that’s all they needed. He glanced at the every growing mountain of dirty dishes and sighed. Well they had promised Teresa a whole day and he knew he and his brother would no doubt use up the entire twenty-four hours.
Johnny was holding another jar of the relish against his chest and trying to twist off the lid with little result. Scott could see another accident waiting to happen so pried the jar out of his little brother’s fingers and sat it on the table. “Let me get the chicken started and then I’ll open that for you.”
Scott stretched out his hand, palm side down, over the frying pan. The heat radiated off it nicely. Taking one piece of chicken in his hand at a time, he dropped the first piece – skin side down – in the pan. It immediately sizzled and crackled and a narrow stream of steam rose. He hurriedly put the other pieces in, wiped off his hands on the dishtowel and walked over to the table to open the relish.
Scott grasped the lid and turned. He readjusted his grip and twisted harder. He picked up the dishtowel, held the jar tightly against his chest and really put some elbow grease into it but it still wouldn’t budge. Johnny stood there, arms across his chest, grinning.
“Not so easy it is big brother?” Scott’s face was red with his efforts. Johnny’s attention was drawn over his brother’s shoulder to the stove. “Hey Scott? Is the chicken supposed to be smokin’ like that?” Scott whipped his head around. Throwing the towel on the floor he set the jar on the table in his haste to attend to his meal. Unfortunately the jar landed barely on the edge of the table and fell to the floor with a crash. Now they had two messes to clean up!
Johnny walked back into the pantry and got another jar of relish. “This is the last one, Boston.” He warned, putting the jar on the counter and walking over to the stove where Scott was cussing softly and trying to pry the chicken loose from the pan.
“Help me Johnny. Don’t just STAND there!”
“I seem to recall, LIEUTENANT LANCER, being given strict orders to keep my hands off supper; that you would handle it all by yourself.” Scott narrowed his eyes and glared at his little brother over his shoulder.
“Order rescinded. DO something!” Johnny placed his hand over Scott’s and lifted the pan off the burner setting it down in the sink.
“First, take away the source of the heat.” He announced. Sauntering over to the drawer, he took out a broad flat implement that he’d seen Teresa use to flip pancakes. “Second, use the proper tool for the job.” He waved Scott back and to the side with the flipper. “Third, add just a tab bit of water to – hopefully – loosen the skin from the pan.” Johnny dipped his fingers in a glass of water Scott had sipped from earlier and shook it gently around one of the pieces. He waited a few seconds and tried to pry it up but it was still stuck like glue. He poured a little bit more water from the glass into the pan. It sizzled and steamed and bubbled for a moment before Johnny tried again. With some wiggling and shifting and jabbing he finally got the piece to let loose. “Go get the pan.” He ordered. Scott retrieved the baking dish and held it in both hands. One by one Johnny managed to get the chicken loose from the cast iron pan and place it in the baking pan. Twirling the flipper between a couple fingers, Johnny bowed just slightly from the waist, a Cheshire grin spreading over his lips.
Scott returned a smirkish grin. “Now what?”
“I don’t know. YOU’RE the cook.” Johnny walked over to the table and sat down. Pulling the fruit bowl toward him, he selected a few different kinds then slid the bowl back into place. “Besides my orders were to cut fruit and cut fruit is just what I aim to do.” Pulling his knife out of his pocket, he opened the blade inspecting both sides. Wiping it on his pants, he took up the first piece of fruit and began slicing. Scott was still frozen in place, holding the baking pan with the chicken in it and looking around.
“I guess I just put it in the oven.” He mumbled. Setting one edge of the pan on the burner, he opened the oven door with his other. “Why is there an iron in the oven?”
“It was hot. Didn’t have no other place to put it.” Johnny stated matter-of-factly never missing a stroke.
“Well it’s a lot hotter now! Get over here and put it somewhere else. This pan is HEAVY.” Johnny took his time strolling over to the stove. He grabbed a couple dishtowels on his way and, elbowing Scott slightly to the side, bent over and took out the pan with the iron in it.
“Thank you!” Scott’s voice was filled with sarcasm.
“Where should I put this?”
Scott chuckled. “Do you REALLY want me to tell you?”
Johnny stuck his tongue out at his older brother. Carefully carrying the hot pan out the back door he put it down on one of the stairs then went back inside to finish making the salad. “Don’t forget the potatoes there Boston. Can’t have chicken and no potatoes! And they both gotta be done at the same time you know.”
Scott shifted the pan toward the side of the oven and tossed the potatoes in next to it. Closing the door, he put his hands on his hips and took a relaxing breath. “How long should I . . ,.”
“Oh no,” Johnny interrupted. “I’m not falling for THAT again. This time YOU be the judge.” Scott looked up at the ceiling. Johnny could tell he was silently calculating.
“I think fifteen minutes should be plenty of time.”
Johnny had finished with the fruit and slid the bowl aside. Picking up the little loaf of trimmed bread, he began tossing it from one hand to the other. “What are you gonna do with this?”
“To begin with, I’m going to take it away from you if you DON’T stop playing with it!” Johnny sat the loaf down on the table. Scott retrieved the bread knife and the cutting board and laid them before Johnny. “Slice it into thin pieces, like this.” He demonstrated. “And try to make the slices all the same thickness. I think Teresa has some cookie cutters in the Hoosier.” Scott crossed to the cupboard and opened the top doors. Rummaging around he found a box containing an assortment of tin cutters. “Here use these to cut shapes out of the middle. I’ll show you.” Scott chose a diamond shaped cutter, centered it on a slice and pressed down firmly. He tore away the waste them tapped the cutter gently on the board. Laying the shaped bread in the palm of his hand he showed it to Johnny. “See! Just like that.” Scott got out a plate and carefully laid the diamond on it before setting it on the table beside his brother.
Scott turned his attention to the jar of relish. ‘If Teresa and Maria can open these canning jars, surely a big strong rancher can do it’ he thought. Picking up the jar he was just about to try it again.
“Why don’t you take that thing and hold it over the sink. At least if you drop it again it won’t make such a mess.” Johnny advised.
“You do come up with good ideas,” Scott complimented. “Every ONCE in a while!”
Taking the jar in one hand and the bowl in the other, Scott sat the bowl in the sink and held the jar slightly over it. It still took a couple good firm twists but finally the lid popped off. As it opened somewhat expectantly, Scott spilled some of the relish in the sink but the vast majority landed in the bowl. Scott scooped up the spilled relish and threw it too in the bowl. He added the jar and cover to the ever expanding pile of dirty dishes and carried the bowl over to set it beside the fruit. Glancing at Johnny, he found his brother totally absorbed in his task. He was bending over the table slightly and just the tip of Johnny’s tongue showed at the corner of his mouth. Scott couldn’t help but smile. Johnny still had a little kid somewhere deep inside. Suddenly there was a dull explosion coming from the oven.
“Did you hear that?” Scott asked.
“Hear what?” Johnny replied, just as another muffled bang came from the same direction. “Oh that? Yah, I hear it.”
Scott walked over to the stove and cocked his head to one side to listen. There it was again. “What do you suppose . . .”
“Probably somethin’ in the oven,” Johnny offered. Scott pursed his lips and rolled his eyes.
“Yah, that much I know. But what?”
“Open the door and find out.” Johnny suggested. Scott grabbed the towel and folded it around the handle of the oven door. Very slowly and very cautiously – stepping back just a little – he opened the door. Just then something came flying out of the oven and landed clear across the kitchen. As both men looked at it, it too exploded. “It’s a potato.” Johnny stated.
“Yes, little brother, I can see it’s a potato. But why on earth . . . “Scott bent down and carefully looked in the oven. Bits of peel as well as the innards of the potatoes were everywhere. On the sides of the oven. On the roof of the oven. On the inside of the door of the oven. All over the top of the chicken. “I guess I miscalculated. It couldn’t be more than ten minutes since I put them in there. It seems that was about a minute or two too long. The chicken is probably done then too since I put them both in together.” Scott pulled out the pan of meat and set it on the very back of the stove to stay warm. “So what do we do for potatoes? I can’t hardly put them back together.”
“Scott, Scott, Scott. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe you went to that fancy college back east much less graduated. Get a bowl, scrape the stuff out of the oven and off the top of the chicken and we’ll make mashed potatoes. Teresa sometimes leaves bits of the peel in hers. She’ll be flattered we tried to duplicate her recipe. And don’t forget that one over there,” Johnny added, pointing to the potato on the floor.
Scott dug the flipper out of the stack of dirty dishes and used it to scrape down the inside of the oven into a large bowl. He then used a spoon to gather the potato innards from the top of the chicken. Retrieving the lone flying spud, he throw it into the bowl and got out the potato masher. He mashed and mashed and mashed but the potatoes didn’t look quite right; they seemed a little dry. Opening the cold box, he stood and peered within deciding what he might try. The baked potatoes he had been served in the finest eateries in Boston had been accompanied by sour cream but he didn’t see any. There was, however, cottage cheese. Taking the carton back to the counter, he reasoned once he mashed the cottage cheese the little clumps would meld right in. It didn’t work out quite as expected but when he tasted them they weren’t half bad. He could dress them up a might by sprinkling the top with something green.
“Hey Johnny? You done with the bread yet?”
“Y a h,” Johnny answered slowly knowing the tone of his brother’s voice meant more work for him.
“Two things. Number one – go out to Teresa’s herb garden and bring me in some parsley or chives or dill or something, and two – when you’ve done that – better get the table set. Supper is ready.”
Johnny stopped at the backdoor. “So what does this parsley or chives or whatever look like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen it while it’s growing. I just want something green to sprinkle on the potatoes.” Johnny cocked his head. Something green? That shouldn’t be too hard. He walked out to the herb garden and stood with hands on hips. Everything was green. He didn’t know one herb from another. Knowing he had to hurry, he chose the first row and carefully walked about halfway down to some rather tall stalks of feathery looking stuff. He didn’t know exactly what it was but it was green and that’s all that mattered. Breaking off a couple stalks he hurried back inside and handed them to his brother.
“Nice and green. Good. Feathery. Good. Should be perfect! Thanks little brother.” Johnny grinned then began collecting dishes and flatware to set the table. He came back to get the cups, glasses and napkins.
“Hey there Boston. We gonna have any wine?”
“I think we should. After all we ARE celebrating in a way. Run down and bring up a bottle. Maybe a rose or a delicately flavored red.” Johnny bounded down the stairs to the wine cellar. There were literally dozens of bottle and, other than the Barkley wine, he had no idea which was what. He walked down one row of shelves, stopped, turned and closed his eyes. He reached out and grabbed the first bottle he touched and went back upstairs, setting it and the corkscrew next to his father’s plate. He went back in the kitchen to find Scott had put coffee on and all the other food was plated and ready to serve. “Why don’t you go tell Murdoch and Teresa that supper is ready and I’ll start carrying the meal into the dining room.”
Johnny sauntered out the French doors and down to where they sat. “May I announce that supper is served.” He said quite formally. Turning on his heel he went back to the kitchen.
Murdoch hoisted himself up and offered his hand to Teresa. Pulling her arm through the crook of his elbow, he smiled. “Well darling, are you ready for this . . . culinary adventure?”
Teresa returned his smile and placed her free hand over her stomach. “Most definitely. I’m starving. I know Scott said the refreshments at the tea were meant to hold one over until supper but those tiny little sandwiches and absolutely minute cubes of cake didn’t do much for me.” Crossing to the table, Murdoch held out her chair just as Scott carried in a large platter and a bowl.
Arranging their napkins on their laps, they waited patiently for the remaining food to be delivered. Once the boys were seated, Murdoch leaned slightly forward to peruse the feast before him. “Chicken, mashed potatoes, corn relish and – what is that? Some fancy kind of bread?”
Johnny grinned. “I made those.” He boasted quite proud of saving the embarrassment of having burned the bread earlier.
“And let’s see, what kind of wine have you two chosen?” Murdoch picked up the bottle and wiped the dust off with his napkin. Scott gently kicked Johnny under the table. He should have done that before bringing it in. Johnny remained silent but looked at his brother as if to say ‘what did I do?’. Murdoch studied the label, his forehead furrowing slightly. “Were you boys aware that you chose a rather heavy burgundy? This usually goes better with beef.” Scott again kicked Johnny under the table. This time Johnny returned the gesture along with his ‘Madrid’ look. “Oh well, I guess we can break the rules. This IS a good wine. Teresa, you may want to water yours down a little. It’s got a pretty strong taste to it.” Murdoch opened the bottle and poured. He waited for Teresa to dilute hers and then raised his glass in salute. “To our dear Teresa who we often take for granted. That we remember to voice our thanks and appreciation more often.” They all touched glasses and took a sip. Murdoch was right, the wine was very strong.
The dishes were passed and after the plates were filled, Teresa quietly cleared her throat. “I would like to make a toast too.” She waited for the men to put down their forks and raise their glasses. “To Johnny for his wit, his heart of gold, and even his mischief which makes all our lives much more interesting. And to Scott for his thoughtfulness, his willingness to always lend a helping hand, and his knowledge of just about everything. He has taught me a lot about a world I’ve never had the chance to see. And to Murdoch for his guidance, his wisdom, and especially for being my surrogate father. He put aside building his estancia to take me in at a time when I had nowhere else go and, for that, I will be forever grateful. And lastly, for all of you being so selfless and kind in giving me respite for a day. The most special gift I could ever have received.” Tears rimmed everyone’s eyes as they each took another sip of the wine.
“Well,” said Murdoch. “After such a truly wonderful toast, let’s eat. The boys went to a lot of work to make us this delicious looking meal, let’s not spoil it by letting it get cold.” Murdoch took up his fork and knife and cut into his piece of chicken only to have pink tinged liquid drip onto his plate. Separating the cut, he saw the meat was nearly raw. He had heard of people getting very sick eating undercooked meat but he didn’t know quite what to do. “Is that coffee I smell?” Hoping both boys would go check so he could warn Teresa.
Scott rose immediately. “It wasn’t quite ready before. I’ll go get it.” Johnny was tucking his napkin into the collar of his shirt.
“John, would you mind going with Scott and bringing back some . . .butter. Yes, the crock of butter for our special bread.” Thankfully Johnny tossed his napkin aside and followed his brother. Murdoch leaned over close to Teresa’s ear. “Don’t eat the chicken. It’s not done.” He had hardly finished telling her when the boys reappeared. Scott poured everyone a cup of coffee and Johnny put the crock down near the bread plate. “Johnny, pass that over to me please. I can’t wait to taste the bread you boys baked.” Johnny handed the plate and crock to Murdoch then watched as his father took up a piece. Laying it in his large palm, he held it up for everyone to see. “Why I do believe it’s the Easter bunny!” He proclaimed with a smirk. Scott kicked Johnny under the table again. Johnny had had just about enough.
“What is your problem Boston?” He hissed. “If you don’t quit kicking me I’m going to have a bruised shin for a month!” Murdoch gave his eldest son ‘the look’ and raised one eyebrow. Scott flushed and cast his eyes to his plate. “You told me to cut the bread into shapes. That’s just what I done. You never said what kind of shapes. You know I get bored doing the same thing over and over.”
Murdoch cleared his throat. A clear signal the discussion was over. “I think this piece in the shape of the Easter Bunny adds a touch of festivity to our meal. John, you did a good job.” Johnny caught his brother’s eyes and, crinkling his nose, gave Boston a smug smile. Murdoch studied the shapes more closely. “I see a shamrock and a ghost and, let’s see, oh yes – it’s Santa I believe. You did a fine job son, ensuring all the holidays were represented. I’ll have to put you in charge of cutting the bread for all our special occasions.” Johnny beamed. After everything that had gone wrong he was proud that something – even such a small thing – had turned out better than expected.
“You boys shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble.” Teresa said. “I’m just not . . . very hungry. Scott was right about the tea. Aggie had several kinds of sandwiches and cookies and tiny individual cakes and even some homemade candies. I’m afraid I made quite a spectacle of myself, having to try everything presented.” Teresa leaned back, put down her fork and placed one hand over her stomach. “I’m so very sorry! I feel like I’ve spoiled everything.”
Scott came to her rescue. “We’re sorry to hear it, Teresa, but you didn’t spoil anything. I’m just glad to hear you had such a wonderful time this afternoon. Won’t you have just a little something? Maybe a piece or two of the bread with a little butter? We worked very hard on it.”
“You can say that again!” Mumble Johnny. This time he anticipated Scott’s kick and moved his legs to either side of the chair so that when Scott lashed out he hit the rung of the chair instead of his shin.
“Well . . . “ Teresa hesitated then caught Murdoch’s nearly imperceptible nod. “I guess I could eat some bread. I hate to disappoint you and they are small.” Teresa smiled and took the plate from Murdoch’s hand. “I think I’ll eat a tulip and a star.” Placing the pieces on the very edge of her plate, she set down the bread.
Murdoch had been brave enough to taste a forkful of potatoes. “Mmm, these are interesting. Not like those that Teresa makes at all. Tell me, what’s your secret?”
Scott straightened his shoulders. Pride fairly glowed on his face. “Well, Sir, I came up with a rather novel way to cook the potatoes,” he paused and gave Johnny a warning glance. “then I thought about how potatoes were often prepared in some of Boston’s finest establishments. We didn’t have quite the proper ingredients so - I admit - I had to do a little improvising but I think they turned out fairly well.” Murdoch took another small taste.
“Teresa darling, you should try these. Very unique.” Murdoch handed the bowl to her. Teresa studied the potatoes for a moment then glanced around the table. “I . . . why did you put ragweed over the top of them?” Murdoch almost choked, immediately raising his napkin to his lips.
“Ragweed?” Scott questioned.
“Why yes. This is ragweed. I’ve never known anyone to eat it before. Usually people stay as far away as they can get, especially during allergy season. I don’t even know if it’s safe to eat.”
Johnny quickly pushed his potatoes to the farthest edge of his plate. Scott swallowed hard and turned a little peaked. “I asked Johnny to go out and get some nice green HERBS from your garden and this is what he brought me. A WEED!” Scott’s voice had grown slightly more menacing with each word he had spoken.
“I told you – BROTHER – that I didn’t know one herb from another. YOU apparently didn’t either or YOU would have said something when I handed it to you.” Johnny spat.
“Boys!” Murdoch barked. “Enough. It was innocent mistake. You should have Teresa teach you what’s what in her herb garden so next time your mistake won’t be repeated.” Both sons dropped their heads and muttered quiet ‘I’m sorrys’. Murdoch still hadn’t come up with a way to prevent his boys from eating the underdone chicken. He hated to lie to his sons but, in this case, it might just save their lives. “You know I ran into Sam today. He was just on his way home. He’d been out to the . . . McMultry farm for two days. Whole family took suddenly sick. Mother, father and a little boy. They all died. Sam said there was nothing he could do. Seems they ate some bad chicken. I never knew chicken could kill a man but Sam says it happens more often than one might think.”
Scott and Johnny both froze. They had just been about to put a piece of meat in their mouths. Their forks hung in mid-air. “Chicken? Is that what you said Pa?”
“Yes, seems the husband made the supper and didn’t cook it all the way through. It surprised me when Sam said chicken had to be cooked at least an hour with no pink juice running out when you pierce it with a fork. I wouldn’t have known that. Seems it shouldn’t take that long. Anyway, sad thing. Just starting out on a new life here in the San Joaquin.” He silently thanked God when both boys put down their forks. Johnny caught Scott’s eyes who conveyed more than any spoken word could ever have.
“You know, I’m not very hungry either. I think I’m too tired to eat. What about you Johnny?”
“Yah, too tired.”
“We made fruit salad for dessert if anybody wants some.” Scott said quietly.
“Oh, did you have a recipe or . . .”
“It’s nothin’ fancy,” Johnny mumbled. “just cut up fresh fruit.”
“You know sons that might just hit the spot. I had a late lunch so meat and potatoes was just a might heavy. I’m sorry. That’s my fault. But I could go for another cup of coffee and something light like fruit. Why don’t you go get it?”
“Yes,” Teresa piped up. “After all those sweets I should really eat something nutritious before I go to bed. Bring me some too. And a nice big glass of milk please.”
Scott and Johnny picked up their plates and those of their father and Teresa. Backing in through the kitchen door, Scott held it with his shoulder until Johnny had come through. They shuffled over to the sink and set the plates down. “You know that story about that family dying was a lie, don’t you?”
“Yah, I kinda thought so. Never heard of no McMultrys around these parts. Pa knew this chicken was no good the minute he saw it. Kinda a nice way to tell us without makin’ us feel like complete idiots. He probably DID save our lives.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, I think that’s true. I feel just awful that we ruined dinner. We might have to offer Teresa another day of housekeeping chores to make it up to her.”
“Are you loco?” Johnny hissed quietly. “We haven’t even made it through THIS one yet. I say we just cut our losses. If you feel that guilty, go into town and buy her that dress she’s been hintin’ about for weeks. I AIN’T DOIN’ NO MORE HOUSEWORK!”
“I agree. The dress is a good idea. I think I might do that Monday first thing. I hate to admit that being a woman is darn hard work. I always thought we had the worst of it but trading places for just one day – just ONE day, mind you – has certainly convinced me differently. I hope I remember this lesson if I ever have a wife. I guess they DO do more than sit around and read magazines and eat bonbons all day. Who would have guessed?” Johnny nodded in agreement.
The boys delivered the fruit and Teresa’s milk. After refilling Murdoch’s coffee cup, they excused themselves saying they had ‘just a couple little chores’ to finish up. Back in the kitchen, Scott and Johnny stood shoulder to shoulder and stared at the mountain of dirty dishes, the broken jar and spilled relish on the floor (not to mention in the pantry) and the dusting of flour clinging to everything else. Both men sighed simultaneously. They were beat and still had to make up their beds before crawling into them to sleep. They were just going to have to admit defeat and suffer through Teresa’s gloating for a couple days.
“Yah know Boston, we could get up early and at least get these dishes done before Teresa comes down. That would mean the only things we didn’t get done are the ironing – and I think we want to stay as far away from that as possible – and making out a shopping list which I wouldn’t know how to do anyway. Agreed?”
“Again little brother, I am astonished by your forethought. You did promise to help me put those books away though, remember?”
“Yah.” Scott and Johnny trudged up the back stairs.
“Are you ever going to tell me what you were doing with all my books in the first place?”
“Someday Boston. Someday.”
Scott happened to look down to the far end of the hall. “Hey, wasn’t there a lamp on that table in front of the window?”
“You going to tell me what happened to it?”
“Someday Boston. Someday.” Johnny didn’t want to admit – at least not right at that moment – that he perhaps got a little too creative in his dusting. “I gotta make a quick trip and then I’ll be right there to help.” Johnny disappeared into the water closet.
Scott moved the books to the floor. He shook out the fitted sheet and smoothed it over the corners. Next he shook out the flat sheet and let it float down over the mattress. Smoothing that out as well, he grabbed the quilt and tossed it across the bed. Folding the top of the quilt and the hem of the sheet back invitingly, he grabbed his pillow and the pillow slip. Yawning broadly he struggled to cover the pillow. It seemed that Johnny should have been back by now. Oh well, he would just lay his head down for a minute until his brother came to help with the books.
Johnny had left the water closet and entered his bedroom, closing the door softly behind him. He had forgotten all about his promise to his brother. He picked up the fitted sheet and flung it across the mattress. Remembering all the problems he had had with Teresa’s bed, he stripped off his clothes – not wanting to get the pristine linen dirty - and planned again to attempt his method of lying in the center of the sheet and stretching his arms and legs out to hold the corners.
Teresa and Murdoch finished their beverages and their dessert. Teresa rose and began gathering the dishes but Murdoch put out his hand and laid it on her arm. “Put those down young lady. The day is not over. Let the boys take care of it. It’s still your day off.”
Reluctantly she placed the pile of dishes on the table. “It sure is quiet. Makes me kind of nervous.”
“I know just what you mean darling. When Johnny was a toddler and it got real quiet I knew he was into something or up to something that he shouldn’t be. I’m sure everything is fine. What say we call it a day? I can’t wait to crawl into bed and pull those nice fresh sheets over this worn out old body.” Dropping his arm around Teresa’s shoulders, they climbed the front stairs together. Bidding good night, Teresa separated from Murdoch and walked down the hall, disappearing behind her bedroom door.
Murdoch glanced down the other length of the hallway and noticed that light still shown from beneath both of his son’s doors. He decided he should check on them and, anyway, he wanted to thank them and tell him how proud he was at what they had accomplished that day.
Opening Scott’s door quietly, he grinned. Scott laid, fully clothed, on his back. One arm hung off the mattress holding his pillow and the other arm hung off the opposite side of the mattress holding a pillow slip. He was breathing softly and Murdoch knew he was sound asleep. He tugged off his son’s boots and set them down quietly near the foot of the bed. Taking the pillow out of his boy’s left hand and the pillow slip out of his right, he quickly pulled the slip over the ticking. Lifting Scott’s head gently, he slid the pillow underneath then spread the extra blanket from the back of the chair over him. He wondered why there were books strewn all over the floor. Scott was usually so meticulous about his room but there must be a reason and so left them alone. Blowing out the lamp, he softly closed the door and walked across the hall.
When he opened his youngest son’s door, he snapped his eyes shut momentarily and took a steadying breath. Johnny lay on his stomach in the middle of the mattress spread eagle and buck naked. His breathing was slow and light so Murdoch knew he was asleep and not just playing possum as was Johnny’s favorite way to get out of doing something – pretending to be exhausted and asleep. Murdoch shook out the flat sheet and covered up his son. Picking the quilt up off the floor, he spread that over him as well. He didn’t see Johnny’s pillow and as long as his son seemed comfortable, he decided to leave it be. He blew out the lamp, crossed the threshold back into the hall and closed his son’s door.
Murdoch couldn’t help but grin. He remember marveling first at Catherine and then at Maria. They could put in a longer day then he ever could and a labor filled one besides. He noted the same thing about Teresa. ‘Must be something in a woman’s constitution’ he thought. As he put his hand on the doorknob to his room, his attention was captured by the small table standing before the window. ‘Didn’t there used to be a lamp there?’ He thought. Shaking his head he entered his room and did, indeed, relish in the feel of those crisp clean sheets.
Teresa rose at her usual time, got dressed and tiptoed down the back stairs. Turning her attention from watching her step into the kitchen, she gasped and held her hands up to cup her cheeks. All the cupboard doors stood at least partially open. At least a dozen dishtowels lay in haphazard fashion on the table, the counter, the floor and draped over the backs of chairs. The counter, the sink and the floor near the sink was covered in piles of dirty dishes. The oven door stood open and, bending to look inside, she couldn’t believe her eyes. ‘What on earth happened in there?’ she thought, shuddering. Making a circle around the rest of the room she saw that the Hoosier cupboard’s contents were nearly all setting askew on its mixing surface. She peaked into the laundry room and quickly closed the door. Maria was going to have a fit. Peering into the pantry wasn’t much better. A broken jar of relish lay on the floor, its contents spread out over the area and the pickling liquid leaving a wet circle where it had seeped into the wood. She had already had to step over the identical mess near the kitchen table. What was the problem? And the flour! Small mounds covered parts of the table, the chairs and the floor. Everything else was covered with a dusting of it and white footprints lead from the worst spills in every direction. Even the slop pail was missing. Teresa was in shock. She wandered down the hall in a daze, making her way to the sofa where she laid down and put her left arm over her eyes.
Only minutes later, Murdoch came thundering down the front staircase. His expression grew concerned when he saw his ward lying on the couch like that. Hurrying over to her, he bent down. “Teresa, are you ill?” He whispered.
The young girl opened her eyes slowly. “Not exactly. Not in the way you mean. I am, however, feeling the start of a headache.” She swung her feet to the floor and Murdoch offered his hand to help her sit up. Sitting down next to her, he waited for her to speak. “I’m alright, really I am.”
Murdoch smiled and patted her hand. “That’s my girl.” He said. He hesitated a moment before asking his next question. In fact, he debated whether or not to bring up the subject but he had to be in town shortly so . . . “Is breakfast ready darling?”
Teresa pulled her hand out from beneath his. Her shoulders straightened as did her back. She started breathing a little faster and a little harder. Suddenly she stood up, crossed her arms in front of herself and swung around. “There will BE no breakfast this morning.” Teresa’s eyes had narrowed and Murdoch could see her anger smoldering just below the surface.
Murdoch rose slowly, wiping his sweaty palms on the thighs of his pants. “Has something . . . upset you dear?” Murdoch knew all too well about Teresa’s temper and had to choose his words carefully to avoid her sometimes unbridled wrath. She didn’t answer. Rather she glared at him. Murdoch slowly backed up. There must be a problem in the kitchen. He knew that both Teresa and Maria held reign over that particular room and would fly into an immediate rage if something were disturbed. Slowly he made his way down the hall to the kitchen door. Taking a deep breath he pushed it open. Murdoch’s mouth fell open. He staggered forward a few steps and turned his head in a slow circle to survey the normally fastidious area. Now he understood for his own anger was starting to burn, a smoldering ember in the pit of his stomach.
Sounds on the back stairs brought Murdoch abruptly out of his trance. Scott froze when he saw his father. Johnny, not paying attention as he was concentrating on buttoning his shirt, almost knocked Scott down the remainder of the steps. He was just about to grouse when he followed Scott’s gaze.
“I . . . I forgot something upstairs. I’ll be right back.” Johnny was only halfway turned around when his father barked.
“John, freeze right there. Whatever it is you can get it later. Both of you, down here right now.” The exchanged look between his two sons did not go unnoticed. “What the hell do you call this?” Murdoch only swore at his sons when absolutely necessary to prove his point and this situation made it necessary. He swept his arm out in a wide semicircle.
“You see Sir,” Scott stammered, trying a bright smile in hopes of lightening the mood.
“Oh I see alright. And so did Teresa.” The boys exchanged another look. Scott swallowed hard, his pronounced Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down. Murdoch took a couple steps closer to his sons until they were backed up against the wall. Johnny was familiar with the feeling of facing a firing squad but he doubted Boston had ever been in such a position, not even during the war. When Murdoch spoke, he had lowered his voice to the tone he used when he meant no interruptions and listen closely because I’m only going to say this once.
“In addition to your regular chores today, the two of you are going to make this kitchen right. You are going to wash all the dishes, dry them and put them back where they belong. Then you are going to wipe down everything that’s coated with flour so there is not one speck of same when I inspect your work later. Then you are going to scrub out the oven and clean the top of the stove. You will clean up the broken jars of relish in both the pantry and out here. When you’ve finished that, you will put everything back in the Hoosier exactly the way you found it. I want all the chairs wiped down, the table thoroughly cleaned and the floor washed. John, you did such a fine job in the hallway you can do that while your brother folds all the laundry that doesn’t need ironing. And you can do anything else that needs doing to make this kitchen spotless. Both Teresa and I will inspect it and it had better pass, comprende?” Both boys nodded. “Scott you are excused just this one time from Sunday services but, as I have to be there early to discuss some things with the pastor, you will drive Teresa in and make sure she gets there on time. Tie your horse to the carriage, whatever his name is this week, as I want you back here ASAP to help your brother. I will bring Teresa home with me and all this had better be done by the time we get back.” Scott opened his mouth but immediately snapped it shut when Murdoch looked at him with both eyebrows raised.
The men watched as their father strode down the hall. He almost slipped on the tile again and both boys held their breath until he righted himself. They watched as Teresa crossed the hall to the stairs and went up to change. Murdoch strapped on his rig and thrust his hat on his head. He gave them one last ‘look’ before exiting through the front door.
“You better go hitch up the carriage. I’ll start heatin’ the water for the dishes.”
“But what about breakfast? I’m hungry after not eating any supper!” Johnny gave his brother his best ‘Madrid’ stare.
“Breakfast. YOU want breakfast.” Johnny strode over to the cold box and took out a plate. Extending his arm until the plate nearly touched Scott’s chin he uttered. “Here. Have a nice piece of cold chicken.” Scott slowly backed away, turned and hurried out to the barn. “Breakfast!” Johnny huffed, tossing the plate on the counter.
Murdoch completed his business with the pastor and Teresa arrived right on time for services. Afterward, they went to the café and had a nice brunch. Murdoch took his time driving the carriage home. It would be absolutely impossible for the boys to finish all that work and, suddenly feeling just a touch ashamed at the way he had acted toward them earlier, wanted to give them all the time he could.
“Murdoch?” Teresa asked softly a little ways out of town. “Housekeeper’s day only comes once a year, right?”
“I would think so, why?”
Teresa thought a minute, then tilted her head a little. “Because that’s all I can take! As it is, it’ll be a month before I can undo all the damage those two sons of yours did in one Saturday!”
Murdoch’s chuckle turned into full-fledged laughter. His heart lightened as Teresa joined him. He slapped the reins on the horses’ rumps a touch harder. “Let’s get home.”
I am happy to report that the kitchen passed inspection even if it did take the boys almost two entire days to finish the work. It was discovered that Johnny had used floor wax instead of floor wash on the hallway tile. Using wax on adobe tile is like creating a skating rink indoors. The floor had to be professionally stripped and refinished, the cost of which came out of both boys’ pay. Maria had to wash almost all of the laundry over. She was not shy to complain – in Spanish – about all the dust and dirt she found all over it. Teresa considered teaching the boys how to iron but . . . She is still trying to figure out why the starched shirts became absolutely rigid when the hot iron touched them. Johnny finally fessed up to breaking the upstairs hallway lamp. A new one came out of his pay. Scott went into town and bought Teresa her dress but decided to wait and give it to her for her birthday. He also purchased a matching hat and gloves to make the outfit complete. He let Johnny know those would be his little brother’s gift to her and that reimbursement would be coming out of Johnny’s pay. Teresa vowed to never take another day off unless she was on her death bed, and then would only stay there if Maria came in to do the housework. But the best thing to come out of all this was the change in attitude of the Lancer men – all three of them – for they each had developed a sincere appreciation for all that Teresa did and she never got tired of hearing them say a simple “Thank you!”
DO NOT FOLLOW THE BREAD RECIPE IN THIS STORY. WHILE I USED AN ACTUAL RECIPE FOR “FARMER’S BREAD” I PURPOSELY HALVED SOME OF THE MEASUREMENTS AND NOT OTHERS. YOU WOULD BE WASTING YOUR INGREDIENTS AND PROBABLY MAKE YOUR FAMILY SICK!
The earliest form of bleaching involved spreading fabrics and cloth out in a bleachfield to be whitened by the action of the sun Modern bleaches resulted from the work of 18th century scientists including Swedish chemists who discovered chlorine, French scientists who recognized that chlorine could be used to bleach fabrics and who first made sodium hypochlorite and who discovered the disinfecting ability of hypochlorites.
The Clorox product and the company date back to May 3, 1913, when five entrepreneurs invested $100 a piece to set up the first commercial-scale liquid bleach factory in the United States, on the east side of San Francisco Bay. The firm was first called the Electro-Alkaline Company. The name of its original bleach product, Clorox, was coined as a portmanteau of chlorine and sodium hydroxide, the two main ingredients. The original Clorox packaging featured a diamond-shaped logo, and the diamond shape has persisted in one form or another in Clorox branding to the present.
The public, however, didn't know very much about liquid bleach when Clorox bleach first debuted. Although the Electro-Alkaline Company started slowly, and was about to collapse quickly, it would not be until 1916 when investor William Murray took over the company as general manager and convinced his wife, Annie, to hand out free, 15-ounce, sample bottles to the public at their family grocery store in Oakland. Not long after, word began to spread throughout the public and, in 1917, the Electro-Alkaline Company began shipping Clorox bleach to the East Coast via the Panama Canal.
The History of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing In the late 1870s, Al Stewart, a traveling salesman for a Chicago wholesale grocer, was a familiar figure in Iowa and southern Minnesota. In his market basket full of samples, he always carried a bottle of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, which he made in his home with his family assisting him according to a formula he had acquired.
Meanwhile, Luther Ford moved to Minneapolis where he started the first “Five and Ten Cent Bazaar” west of Pittsburgh. Business was not highly successful and so he began a wholesale business, carrying notions, toys, and fireworks. Al Stewart and Luther Ford crossed paths when Mr. Stewart began searching for someone to manufacture his bluing for him. Mr. Ford realized the potential of a future in the bluing business. Al Stewart sold Luther Ford the rights to Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, and the first documented sale of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing was logged on July 30, 1883.
Yeast = 3 pkgs of dry yeast is equal to 2 yeast cakes
Bread Flour vs. All Purpose Flour = Bread flour is made from high-gluten hard wheat, pastry flour is made from high starch soft wheat, and all-purpose flour is made from a combination of the two. High-gluten bread flour provides the strength for bread dough to stretch and rise into a high loaf. High-starch pastry flour produces the tenderness and fine-grained texture of a perfect cake. All-purpose flour can do either, just not to the same degree, it won’t make as high a loaf of bread or as fine-grained a cake, but it is perfect for cookies, pancakes, muffins, quick breads, thickening sauces, or breading foods to be fried.
Cornstarch = Starch made from corn was first produced in 1841. In 1846 “T. Kingsford and Son” established itself in Bergen, New Jersey. Other cornstarch factories sprang up across the United States in 1848, many in the Midwest where corn was plentiful. The familiar bright yellow box with the Indian maiden on the front (Argo) was launched in 1892 when four companies combined into one. Argo Cornstarch celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 1992 with a significantly different package design.