He stood toward the back of the saloon, his hat worn low on his forehead; the heel of his right boot hooked over the brass foot rail at the bottom of the walnut bar. The fingertips of his left hand were tucked into his front pants pocket. He held a mug of draft in his right hand, occasionally taking a swallow. Truth be told, it was his third beer. He had been standing in the same spot for some time just watching.
Four men sat around a circular table. They had been there when Johnny walked in and it was with unwavering attention that he studied their every move. He usually didn’t play low stakes poker, saving his card counting skills for larger pots. The fat man puffing on a cigar was currently ahead of the others; his money piled neatly by denomination in front of him. The old man on his left currently held three of a kind – jacks - and was struggling with the decision of holding what he had or drawing to a possible full house or even four of a kind. The lanky fellow on his left sat with the draw deck in his hand waiting, his thumb sliding the top card forward. He asked for the second time what the old man was going to do. The man in the corner held his cards high and close to his face, peering with shifty eyes over the top of them. Johnny chuckled to himself. None of them were very good poker players; they would be easy to take.
Draining his glass, he rested his forearm on the bar and continued watching. The old man had chosen to draw but hadn’t bettered his three jacks. The dealer took three – must not have much. The man in the corner called and the fat man took one. After adding to his hand, he smiled widely, clenching his cigar in his teeth. So much for a poker face!
Johnny was on his way home from delivering one hundred saddle- broke wild mustangs to the army fort. At thirty dollars a head, he was a rich man – even if only temporarily. He had expenses to pay when he got back to Lancer. Wages, supplies, his partner’s cut, but he would still end up with a hefty balance for all the months of hard work and sore muscles – particularly the one on which he sat. Johnny reminded himself though that most of that money had already been spent, however, on lumber for a new corral, tack, fencing and feed for the next herd. Scott and Jelly’s birthdays were December nineteenth, Murdoch’s December twenty-eighth, Teresa’s December first, and then there was Christmas. That added up to a lot of presents close together. Yes, it was only August, but he had already decided on what he wanted to give each of them. If he didn’t spend a dime between now and then, he would just have enough but Johnny knew himself better than that! No shots of tequila, no beers, no “entertainment”. He’d never make it. He knew he could win the vast majority of hands from these players and extra cash never hurt.
The last hand cleaned out the old man and he was just standing up to leave. Sauntering over to the vacant chair, he asked, “Looks like you need a fourth. Mind if I sit in?” All three men looked him over head to toe, pausing momentarily on the gun belt worn low on his hip. The other two men stared at the fat man who obviously was the boss of the table. Puffing on his cigar, he removed it from his lips for a moment to slam down a shot of whisky.
“How old are you son?” He asked, putting the cigar back between his teeth.
“I’m legal,” Johnny stated.
“You from around here?”
“Just passin’ through.”
“You got any money? Our ante starts at ten dollars.”
“Not a problem.” Johnny answered, bending down and taking a roll of folding money out of his boot. He noticed how all three men’s eyes widen at the site of it. Johnny peeled off a ten dollar note and threw it in the center of the table.
The fat man extended his hand to shake Johnny’s. Johnny ignored the man’s hand and simply touched the brim of his hat. Taken a little bit aback, the man said, “Welcome son, we look forward to playing with you.”
Johnny sat in the vacant chair, leaning back and folding his hands over his belt buckle. His steady gaze moved from one man to the next. “I like to know who I’m playing with,” he said coolly.
The fat man spoke up, “I’m Clive Jacobs, president of the bank. The fellow on your right is Sam Farley, owner of the general store and there in the corner is Doc Peters. And you are?”
“Johnny.” He stated flatly.
“Johnny . . .” Mr. Jacobs asked.
“Just Johnny.” He paused and glanced at each of the others to see if not giving his last name presented a problem. He didn’t want to announce he was a Lancer. The Lancer ranch was well-known in the area and if the other men thought he was part of its wealth, they might change their mind about him being their fourth and he most certainly wasn’t going to tell them Madrid. “Are we going to play or . . .”
Mr. Jacobs cleared his throat. “Yes, yes of course. Doc I believe it’s your deal.”
Johnny watched the man carefully as he shuffled the deck and dealt. He was making sure that Doc Peters wasn’t dealing off the bottom of the deck or otherwise cheating, but after studying the way he handled the cards Johnny didn’t think he would be clever enough. The men picked up their cards and began arranging them in their hand – what amateurs! When Johnny placed his right fingers over his cards, he simply bent them up off the table just enough to see what kind of a hand he had. He needed one card to draw into a full house. The banker’s eyes widened and a smile touched his lips. He must have a good hand. Sam Farley’s mouth was turned down at the corners. He must not have had much and it was a little hard to read Doc Peters’ expression the way he held up his cards in front of his face. No matter. Johnny would know by how many cards they drew whether he had a winning hand.
Johnny took one card and it just happened to be the one he needed completing his queen over tens full house. Sam took three, Doc took two and the banker stood pat. The bet increased between ten and twenty dollars a round. Johnny called, Sam folded, Doc folded but Clive anted. Johnny turned over his cards and spread them into a fan shape. Clive puffed on his cigar, looked Johnny straight in the eye and laid his cards – face down – on the table.
Johnny grinned, stretched out both arms and scooped the cash toward himself. He separated the notes by denomination, highest on top. “Beginner’s luck,” he drawled.
Johnny knew that he had to fold some winning hands to keep the other men’s confidence. He took the pot on about every third hand or so and soon Sam Farley was out of money. Doc Peters was getting low but Clive’s was still holding out. Johnny needed to outplay the Doc and get the game down to just himself and the banker. That’s when he would make his move and, hopefully, clean the man out. He purposely threw a couple more hands and was pleased when Clive won them. Doc Peters picked up his last forty dollars, mumbling something about having to bring something home to his wife and left the table. Johnny and Clive decided to let Sam be the official dealer because they both trusted him as a fair man who wouldn’t cheat. Johnny took the next hand and cleared a handsome two hundred and fifty dollars. Mr. Jacobs was beginning to sweat. His cigar was down to a nub.
Johnny took the next pot and the next. Clive’s stack of notes was diminishing quickly. Johnny was waiting to be dealt the win-all take-all hand. He didn’t have to wait long. Sam dealt with slightly shaky hands. Johnny picked up his cards, held them close to his face and fanned out his hand. It was hard for him to keep a straight face but knew if he showed any indication of the straight flush he held Clive wouldn’t keep upping his bets. When Clive looked at his hand, the corners of his mouth turned slightly upward. Johnny could tell he thought he had the winning hand and would bet until his last dollar was gone but Johnny knew that the only five cards that could beat his was a royal flush and the probability of Mr. Jacobs being dealt one without the need to draw at least one card was almost zilch.
Johnny had more cash in front of him than the banker and he knew his odds couldn’t be beat, so he tossed it all in the center of the table. That little upward turn of Mr. Jacobs’ lips disappeared quickly. He knew he didn’t have enough money to see the bet.
“Well, you’ve put me in an awkward position son. I don’t seem to have enough cash to cover the pot.”
Johnny shrugged his shoulders but his facial expression never changed. “Then I guess I win.”
Clive stubbed out his cigar and asked the bartender to bring him a shot of whisky. Tossing it down his throat in one swallow, beads of perspiration broke out on his forehead. He had never had such a good hand and was positive it would beat the one this cocky kid held. Using two fingers, he reached into a small pocket on his vest and pulled out a key. Holding it up between his thumb and index finger, he grinned.
“Son this key is worth more – much more – than the money I’m short. With your permission I will cover your bet with it.”
Johnny studied the small brass key. It looked like it might fit a strong box of some sort, perhaps with cash or jewelry inside. Even if whatever it opened wasn’t worth a dime, Johnny reasoned he would still be the winner. “I accept and I call.”
Mr. Jacobs swallowed hard and gently laid the key on top of the stack of notes in the middle of the table. He glanced at Sam then smiled. Fanning out his cards, he laid four kings out in front of him. Chuckling, he began gathering the pot. Johnny simply watched him tight-lipped and with cool blue eyes.
“It’s nice of you to gather all that money together for me.” Johnny drawled. Clive froze. Keeping his gaze locked on the banker, Johnny laid his cards down in front of him one at a time. As he did so, Sam announced them.
“Eight. Nine. Ten. Jack. Queen.” Sam swallowed before looking up into Clive’s face. “All clubs.”
Johnny broke into a wide smile as Mr. Jacobs’ face visibly paled. Clive raised both hands, putting one on each side of his face. He looked like he was going to cry. Johnny stood to reach the other side of the table and began neatly stacking the notes in his hand. Once finished, he picked up the key. “I cleaned you out but I never leave a man broke. I should let you keep this but . . .” Johnny tossed it slightly up in the air and caught it with his right hand, folding his fingers around it in a fist before dropping it in his shirt pocket. He threw a twenty dollar note down. “Get yourself a drink. You look like you need one.” Clive rested back in his chair and dropped his hands on the table. He figured Johnny had cleared over a thousand dollars. “So what did I win?”
Mr. Jacobs looked up into Johnny’s eyes in disbelief. His mouth dropped open but no words came out.
“Are you going to tell me what the key is to?” Johnny asked. Clive nodded slowly, looking over at Sam.
“The key fits . . .” He pulled a handkerchief out of his coat pocket and wiped his face. “My rig. It fits what’s in my rig.”
“And where do I find your wagon?” Johnny asked. He was tired. He was grimy with trail dust. He was hungry. He wasn’t in the mood for Mr. Jacobs’ drawn out games. He looked over at Sam.
His eyes nearly bugging out of his head, Sam said, “It’s down at the end of the street tied up at the post on the alley side of the bank. You can’t miss it. Pulled by two big Morgans.”
Johnny grinned, fingered his hat to the men, stuffed the cash into his pockets and walked out the door. He remembered a sign reading “Bank” on a stone building across the street and down about a block. He grabbed Barranca’s reins and decided to walk the short distance. The night breeze was cool and felt good against his face. His back hurt and so he stretched it as he walked. “That was so easy, Barranca. It was like taking candy from a baby.” The big palomino nodded his head up and down as if he had understood Johnny’s words perfectly. Johnny chuckled and patted his horse’s neck. Reaching his destination, he tethered his mount to the hitching post in front of the building then made his way around the corner.
There were two wagons tied up in the narrow alleyway and in the dark it was difficult to tell which horses were the Morgans; the animals were all about equal in size and color. As he got closer, he saw there was someone sitting on the seat of the first rig and that it looked like a young lady. “Ma’am”, he said, fingering his hat. When she didn’t reply he thought nothing of it. After all, it was late and here she was in a dark alleyway with a stranger. Johnny looked in the back of the first wagon but it was empty. He looked in the front under the seat. Same thing. Empty. He crossed to the wagon on which the girl sat and looked in the back but again found nothing. He was beginning to think he had been duped but reminded himself he was still a winner.
Standing well in front of the rig, he asked, “Ma’am, is this the Jacobs wagon?” She nodded in reply. “Mr. Clive Jacobs?” Again she nodded. “Hmp,” he grumbled, standing with hands on hips wondering what he should do. “Ma’am,” he said, pulling the key out of his pocket. “Mr. Jacobs told me that I would find what this key fits in his wagon. I won it from him in a poker game but the wagon looks empty to me.” The girl smiled shyly. “Do you have any idea what this key is to?”
“Ni has de ming zi shi SuYen (Hello, my name is SuYen).” She replied in almost a whisper. Johnny took a few steps closer.
“Do you speak English ma’am? I didn’t understand you.”
The girl nodded. “I speak good English. Learned from missionaries.”
Johnny felt relieved. “Oh good. Then you understood my question?” The girl nodded. “So you know what this key is to?” She nodded again. “Can you tell me?”
“Me.” Johnny thought she was simply repeating his last word; that maybe she understood some English but not enough to understand what he was asking. He sighed. He doubted that there had been any “treasure” in the first place. That the key was all a hoax.
“Well, thanks anyway, ma’am”. He said, again fingering his hat and beginning to turn.
“The key is to me.” Johnny froze. Either he heard wrong or she misspoke. He turned slightly.
“The key is to me.” She repeated. In the dim light of a half moon, she could see the look of total perplexity on his face. When she lifted her arms up Johnny heard the rattle of chains. “You see” she asked, holding her wrists forward. “The key is to me.”
Johnny tossed his hat back until it hung by its leather cording around his neck. Putting his hands on his hips, he dropped his eyes and shook his head slowly. Why me? He thought. None of this made any sense. Stepping closer he peered over the side of the wagon. Johnny saw that her two hands were bound together in some sort of a shackle devise and that a chain ran from her wrists to her ankles which were encircled by a similar device. Bracing his forearms on the top edge of the rig, he put his head down on his arms for a moment. When he lifted it, he used his left hand to swipe down from his forehead to his chin. What had he gotten himself into now?
Trying to look on the bright side, he convinced himself that the girl just didn’t understand what he was asking her and that this chain business was all just a coincidence, although he wondered why she was chained in the first place. No one should ever be held captive like that. It brought back some bad memories that he had to quickly chase out of his thoughts.
Walking around to her side of the wagon, he took the chains in his hand and studied the length of them. About waist level there was another chain which encircled her and then was joined to the others by a small brass lock. Although he really didn’t want to know, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the key. At first it was hard to fit it into the hole of the lock in the dim light, but using his fingertips as a guide he finally managed. Swallowing hard and saying a silent prayer, he turned it. The lock sprung open. “Oh no,” he muttered. He could just imagine trying to explain this to his father, who didn’t approve of gambling in the first place.
“I yours now,” the girl said. She began undoing the chains and soon her wrists and ankles were free. “I SuYen. Who you?”
“Johnny. Just Johnny.” He muttered.
“Pleased I am to meet you, Master Johnnysun!”
“Yah, wonderful,” he mumbled. What was he going to do now? “You stay right there. I’ll be right back.” Johnny trotted to the street and looked toward the saloon, which was dark. Stepping over to Barranca, he rubbed the horse’s nose then laid his head down against it. “What are we going to do now, amigo? Pa is never going to believe this.” Barranca gently pulled his face away from Johnny’s cheek and shook his head from side to side. He patted the horse’s neck before walking back to SuYen. He couldn’t hardly leave her here in the dark and the cold. There was nothing he could do tonight. He would have to wait until the bank opened in the morning and then plead his case, hoping Mr. Jacobs would take her back. But that left another problem. The chains. It was inhumane to lock her up and he wouldn’t leave SuYen with him if he did it again. Maybe the sheriff could help.
He found that SuYen had released herself from the remaining chains and manacles, climbed down from the wagon and now stood next to it holding a small cloth bag. Johnny motioned with his hand that she should come to him and she quickly trotted to his side. “Look SuYen,” he began, not really knowing what he was going to tell her. “It’s late. I’m cold. I’m tired. I imagine you are the same. I can’t straighten out this whole mess until tomorrow morning. Come down to the livery with me. I’ll feed and bed my horse. I’m sure there is some clean straw to spread out for sleepin’. It’s the best I can do for tonight.” He motioned with his arm that she should walk in front of him but she didn’t move. He took hold of her elbow to steer her in front of him but she still resisted. “SuYen please, can we just go?”
“SuYen walk behind Master Johnnysun. It is my custom. SuYen must always stay at least two paces behind her master.”
“That’s in China, here we do things differently.” Johnny explained but she remained frozen in place. “Fine. Suit yourself.” He sighed, walking back toward Barranca. He glanced over his left shoulder and, sure enough, she was two steps behind him.
Johnny was glad to see that the livery had two empty stalls. He led his horse to the first one, unsaddled him, and got Barranca some grain and fresh water. “I know you like to be brushed big fella, and any other time I would do it but I’m so gall darned tuckered, I just can’t. In the morning?” The horse nodded his head before starting to eat. Johnny closed the gate and then walked over to inspect the other stall. It was clean, thank goodness, so all he had to do was spread some extra straw. He grabbed a large section of clean hay from a nearby bail and tossed it into the stall where it broke apart upon hitting the floor. He knelt down and raked it smooth with his fingers. Standing he brushed off his hands and then his pants. There was a clean saddle blanket hanging on the divider between the two stalls so he pulled it free and tossed it down on the makeshift bed. When he turned, SuYen was standing right behind him.
“Geez SuYen, don’t sneak up on me like that. You could get shot.” Johnny exhaled and rubbed his forehead with his right hand. “I put clean straw done. It’s not the greatest bed in the world but not the worst either. Believe me, I know. Good night.”
SuYen had to take a couple steps backward to allow Johnny to pass. As he did so, she turned to watch where he was going. Grabbing Barranca’s saddle blanket, Johnny crossed to the far corner of the stable where a pile of clean hay was stacked. Kicking some of it around with his boot to make a bed, he tossed his hat on the floor and undid his gun belt, laying it beside the hat. As he went to shake out the blanket, his arm bumped into something. “SuYen, what did I tell you about sneaking up on me? I’m going to sleep. You need to do the same. I made you the best bed I could. Now go.” He ordered, raising his arm and pointing back at the stall.
“SuYen sleep with Master Johnnysun. It is my custom.” She stated flatly.
“Oh no. No sleeping with Master Johnnysun,” Johnny replied. “Johnny will be sleeping alone tonight, as will you. Now go!” SuYen searched his eyes, which he had narrowed. She could tell he was not happy. She hung her head and cast her eyes downward. Reluctantly she turned and walked over to the bed he had made for her and laid down, folding her hands together and putting them under her head.
Johnny was almost too tired to lie down. Leaving his boots on, he dropped down on the straw and pulled Barranca’s blanket over his shoulder. He was soundly asleep in minutes.
Johnny stirred just as the sun was coming up. The bed was so warm and comfortable he had a hard time opening his eyes. Maybe just a few more minutes. He was lying on his left side and scooted himself backward a little until his backside touched something and he couldn’t move any further. Still more than half asleep, he reached down and pulled the arm that encircled his waist up to his chest, holding it there. He grinned. He hadn’t slept this well even in his own bed at home.
Suddenly Johnny’s eyes snapped open. He looked down at his chest and saw that he was holding a hand against it with his hand so whose hand was it? Rolling his head just a little he saw someone lying behind him. Johnny threw the hand off his chest, quickly rolled away, grabbed his gun and crab walked backward until his shoulders hit the opposite wall. “SuYen, what the hell . . .” he yelled. The girl slowly opened her eyes, rolled on her back and stretched lazily. Jumping up, she brushed the bits of hay from her slacks and tunic.
“Good morning Master Johnnysun. SuYen hope you sleep good.”
Johnny lowered the gun and exhaled the air he hadn’t realized until then that he was holding in his lungs. He stretched out his cramping legs in front of himself and leaned his head back. Closing his eyes, he pinched the bridge of his nose for a second. “SuYen, what did I tell you last night about me sleeping alone? About you sleeping over there?” When he opened his eyes, SuYen was kneeling directly in front of him.
“It was cold last night. It is SuYen’s duty to keep Master Johnnysun warm. It is my custom. Did I not keep you warm?” She asked, her lip quivering just a little.
“Yes SuYen, you kept me warm but it’s not proper for you to sleep with me.” Johnny saw that the girl’s eyes were misting. SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward before speaking.
“I anger Master Johnnysun. SuYen sorry. I only want to please Master Johnnysun,” she said, barely above a whisper.
Talk about feeling guilty! Johnny felt guilty right down to his toes. He pushed himself up from the floor and extended his hand to help her up but she refused to take it. “Master Johnnysun not supposed to help SuYen. SuYen supposed to help Master Johnnysun.” She stood then, keeping both her head and her eyes down and clasping her hands in front of her.
Just then the liveryman entered. He looked back and forth between the two. “Mornin’.” He finally said with a nod of his head.
“Mornin’,” Johnny answered. “I . . . we got in real late last night and kinda made ourselves to home. “ Pointing to the far stall he continued. “That there’s my horse. I gave him some grain and water so I owe you for that and for the use of the stall.” Pointing over a little further, Johnny explained that he had used some clean hay to make the girl a bed and that he, himself, had bedded down right across from where they all stood.
The man kept looking from one to the other. “Uh ha”, he mumbled, scratching his head. “Well, it’ll be four bits for the horse and grain and two bits for the straw you used.” Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled out some coins. He counted out a dollar’s worth into the man’s palm.
“Keep it.” Johnny instructed. “Come on SuYen. We got business to take care of.” Johnny bent down picked up his gun belt and hat then grabbed Barranca’s saddle blanket and shook it out before he crossed to the stall and rubbed his horse’s neck while entering through the gate. “Amigo, I promise I’ll make this all up to you. Tonight I’ll brush you extra, okay?” The horse looked over its left shoulder and snorted. Johnny saddled up his mount. SuYen stood just outside the stall gate. She moved aside as Johnny led Barranca forward. Knowing it would do no good to invite the girl to walk ahead of or beside him, he walked out of the livery knowing she was following a couple paces behind.
They walked like this to the bank where Johnny tethered up his horse to the post. “SuYen, I want you to stay out here with Barranca. I’m going to talk to Mr. Jacobs and try to get things straightened out.” As he stepped up on the boardwalk he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Without turning he commanded, “I said stay out here.” Looking back as he opened the bank door, he saw SuYen standing next to the hitching post, head hung, eyes cast downward. Crossing over to a teller’s window Johnny asked to speak with Mr. Jacobs.
“Mr. Jacobs?” the man queried.
“Yah, Mr. Clive Jacobs. He is the president of this bank, isn’t he?” Johnny was becoming suspicious. A tall, thin man in a black suit came out of a nearby office.
“Did I hear you ask to speak to the president of this bank?” He asked.
“Yah, you did. Is he in?”
“Well, young man, you’re looking at him. I am Amos Cuttler. How can I help you?” Johnny got this sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Seeing the anger rising on Johnny’s face, Mr. Cuttler asked him to come into his office and sit down. Closing the door behind Johnny, the man took his seat behind the desk. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand . . .”
“I’m beginning to,” Johnny muttered. Taking off his hat, he started turning it around and around between his hands. “There is no Mr. Clive Jacobs at this bank, is that right?” Mr. Cuttler nodded. “Never has been?” Mr. Cuttler shook his head.
“I’ve been president of this establishment since it opened.”
Johnny closed his eyes before placing his right hand over them. He exhaled slowly while running his hand down his face. He explained about the poker game, about who he had played with or – at least – who he thought he had played with, about the bet and about SuYen.
“I truly wish I could help you, son, but I’m not familiar with any of those names. We don’t have a town doctor and the general store is owned and run by Mrs. Whitbridge.”
Johnny stood and extended his hand. “Well, thank you anyway, for your time. I guess my next stop is the sheriff’s office. Can you tell me his name so I know for sure I have the right man?” Mr. Cuttler told him the sheriff’s name was Dutch Higgins and that his office was down the street and left at the corner. Johnny put his hat back on his head and walked out of the man’s office and out the front door, nodding at the teller who simply stared.
Seeing her master, SuYen immediately stepped forward. “We eat now?” Johnny hadn’t even thought about food this morning, which was highly unusual.
“I got to talk to the sheriff first.” He explained, taking a hold of Barranca’s reins and walking toward the end of the block. Re-tethering the horse, Johnny again instructed SuYen to stay put, this time shaking a finger in her face. As before, she stood right off the boardwalk with head hung and eyes cast downward.
Johnny explained everything to the sheriff only to have the sheriff shake his head and shrug his shoulders. “Don’t know any men by that name or by the description you gave. Must have just been traveling through. You said this Mr. Jacobs had a wagon down by the bank?” Johnny nodded. “Well, why don’t we mosey down there and take a look.” The sheriff put on his hat and motioned for Johnny to precede him out of the small office. Once outside he nodded his head in SuYen’s direction. “That her?” Johnny thought that seemed like an awfully dumb question. After all he had just told the sheriff that the girl he had “won” was Chinese, about seventeen years old, wore black slacks and a blue tunic, and had a braid of long, black hair.
Johnny decided not to make a fuss and just nodded his head. He and the sheriff walked back to the alleyway by the bank with SuYen two paces behind. The men found the wagon standing right where it had been the night before. All four horses and the other wagon were gone. The sheriff looked the rig over carefully inside and out. He reached down under the seat and pulled up the chains, studying them carefully before dropping them back to the floor of the rig with a clatter. Tossing his hat on the seat, he dropped down to the ground and pulled himself partway underneath. When he scooted back out, stood and put his hat back on his head, he nodded. “Just what I thought. This here’s a rented rig. It’s stamped on the back of the rear wheel. That’s how they’re doing it now, you know.” Johnny didn’t know that but, at this point, he really didn’t care.
“Where’s it from?” He asked.
“San Francisco. A place by the name of the Imperial Wagon Works.”
Johnny made a mental note of the name before extending his hand. “Well, thanks sheriff,” he said while shaking hands. “I’m going home. I guess I’ll have to take her with me,” he added, nodding his head in SuYen’s direction. “You have the names and the descriptions. Sure would be obliged if you’d let me know anything you might find out. Just send a wire to the Lancer Ranch.” The sheriff nodded, stepped passed Johnny and tipped his hat to SuYen. Johnny hung both arms over the side of the rig and sighed. Now what? SuYen took a couple tiny steps toward him.
“Master Johnnysun, we eat now?”
Johnny nodded, “we eat now.” He replied. Stepping past her so she could follow, he remembered seeing a small café in the middle of the block. Leaving Barranca where he was, Johnny opened the door and, forgetting himself, held it open while motioning SuYen to enter. Seeing her freeze in place, he took off his hat and walked in. This “custom” of hers was going to take some getting used to. Murdoch would have a conniption if he thought his son was not minding his manners. Johnny crossed to a table by the window and tossed his hat on one of the chairs. He waited for SuYen to sit in the vacant chair but no such luck so he sat down. She stood just to the side and a step back from his right elbow. The waitress came over and poured Johnny a cup of coffee looking inquisitively at SuYen.
“SuYen, you want somethin’ to drink?” He asked. SuYen folded her hands in front of her chin in a prayer-like fashion and bowed slightly. Johnny looked at the waitress who simply smiled.
“SuYen have what Master Johnnysun says SuYen can have.” She said.
Johnny looked at the waitress again and pointed at the cup which sat opposite him. After she filled it, she asked if he wanted to see a menu. “What’s your special today, ma’am?” The waitress described the morning special as being two eggs, ham, potatoes and biscuits. “Sounds good. Bring two please, ma’am.” Although the café wasn’t terribly crowded, being a late hour for breakfast, those patrons who were seated at the other tables were staring, pointing and whispering. Johnny felt like sliding under the table. He turned to SuYen. “I want you to sit down in the other chair and eat your food when it comes, understand me?”
SuYen nodded before speaking. “I know what Master Johnnysun say, but it is not my custom. SuYen eat after Master Johnnysun is finished.”
Johnny blinked slowly and took a deep breath exhaling in a sigh. “Well, you sitting down and eating is my custom and I will be very unhappy if you don’t do what I say.” Meekly SuYen looked around before quickly and quietly sliding into the other chair. She sat with head hung and eyes cast downward. The waitress brought their food and Johnny dug right in, tackling the potatoes first. SuYen wasn’t eating. “SuYen, I told you to eat.” Finally SuYen looked up with her dark – almost black – almond shaped eyes. She picked up her fork and took small bites of her potatoes. When Johnny picked up a forkful of eggs, she did the same. Advancing to the ham, Johnny began cutting it with his knife. As soon as he had finished SuYen picked up her knife and did the same. Johnny finally caught on and kind of made a game out of it. He would hold his fork as if he was going to eat the potatoes and at the last minute spear eggs instead. He picked up the pace and had to chuckle to himself when SuYen struggled to keep up with him.
Johnny finished quickly and leaned back in his chair to sip at his coffee. When he stopped eating, SuYen followed suit. “Go ahead and finish.” He prodded but it was no use. Apparently when he was done eating it was her “custom” to stop also. He would have to remember that and start pacing himself so she wouldn’t starve. Johnny took some money out of his pocket and laid it on the table, including a generous tip. He put his hat back on and stood to leave. Walking towards the door he peeked out the corner of his eye to make SuYen was following.
Once outside SuYen took her place two steps behind as he walked back to Barranca’s side. Petting the palomino on the neck, he asked SuYen if she could ride a horse. She shook her head. ‘Of course not’, Johnny thought. Why should my life get any easier? He asked her if she knew how to drive a wagon. Another no. Johnny put his forehead down on Barranca’s saddle for a minute. If he would have to rent a wagon and team, it would take at least two extra days to get back to the ranch but he didn’t seem to have a choice. He better let his father know.
Motioning with his hand for her to follow – like he had any doubt she would – he trotted across the street to the telegraph office. SuYen was learning. She stayed just outside the door without being told to this time. Johnny picked up a pencil and a scrap of paper. He was tempted to let Murdoch and Scott know what happened but how was he going to explain a thing like this in such a short message? He decided to just tell them he had to take care of some unexpected business and would be at least two days late getting back. He handed the message to the telegrapher who read it to make sure he could decipher Johnny’s handwriting. Nodding his head, Johnny tossed some money on the counter, fingered his hat, and left.
He didn’t even bother motioning this time as he knew by now that SuYen would simply follow wherever he went. Taking Barranca by the reins, he walked back to the livery. When the owner saw him, and remembering his earlier tip, he smiled brightly and quickly came forward.
“Yes sir,” he said. “Something else I can do for you?”
“I need to rent a wagon and a team.”
“Yes sir. A freight wagon or just a small one for travelin’?”
“A smaller one is fine. Just two of us but I need the bed to fit my horse’s saddle and some supplies. A couple days’ worth.”
“Oh, yes sir. I have the perfect one. I’ll put my best team in the hitch and have it ready in just a few minutes.” He scurried off toward the rear of the building and soon came back leading two horses pulling the wagon. Stopping just short of his customer, the man stood patiently as Johnny inspected the animals and the rig.
“Looks fine.” He commented. Crossing to Barranca, he removed the saddle and padding, tossing them into the back. “We’ve had a change of plans, big fella. I know you don’t like to walk behind a wagon but I don’t have any choice. I promise to make all this up to you.” The horse whinnied and tossed its mane. Making sure Barranca’s reins were firmly affixed to the rear of the wagon, he motioned for SuYen to come and get in. He should have known better! It was only after he had hopped up into the seat that she climbed up using the wheel for a foothold. She sat stiffly erect, hands folded in her lap and keeping her gaze straight ahead. Johnny gently slapped the reins against the team and the wagon began to move forward.
They made quite a sight and people stopped along the boardwalk to watch them pass. Johnny, in his black leather pants, flaming red embroidered shirt, and low-riding gun belt, SuYen sitting like a statue beside him, and a large golden palomino following. Johnny pulled in front of the general store, jumped down, looked back and held out his finger. SuYen turned her head so minutely it was almost imperceptible but stayed in place. Johnny picked up the bare necessities of a couple blankets and some food. Emptying his arms into the wagon bed, he returned to the seat, picked up the reins and they were on their way.
After a couple hours of complete silence, Johnny tried to strike up a conversation but SuYen would only say “Yes Master Johnnysun” or “No Master Johnnysun” so he gave up. They stopped just before dusk to make camp. Johnny built a small fire. Oh how he would miss his coffee the next couple days. He opened a tin of beans with his pocketknife and sat the can close to the flames to warm. He laid out one blanket on either side of the fire. SuYen, of course, followed right behind him. While the beans heated, Johnny started brushing down Barranca, talking to him, explaining what was going on. The horse occasionally snorted, blew, snickered, nodded or shook his head which always made Johnny grin. When he first approached Barranca with the brush, SuYen stepped forward and attempted to take it away from him. Barranca tried to nip her and she jumped back. Johnny told her his horse didn’t cotton to strangers and so she finally settled down on a boulder not too far away.
When he had finished grooming his mount, he rubbed the horse’s face and then laid his cheek against it for a moment. “Good night amigo. We should be home day after tomorrow.” Returning to the fire, Johnny dug in his saddlebags and pulled out a spoon. He handed it to SuYen before carefully picking up the tin of beans and carrying it over to her. She looked up at him with quizzical eyes. After Johnny settled himself down, she carried the tin and spoon over and knelt in front of him. She dipped the spoon into the tin and carefully scooped out a serving of beans and held it up to Johnny’s lips. “What are you doing?” He asked in exasperation.
“SuYen feed Master Johnnysun. It is my custom.”
When Johnny opened his mouth to protest, she quickly slid in the spoon. He had no choice but to accept the food. Swallowing, he grabbed the spoon out of her hands. “Look, I know it may be your custom but I’m not a child. I can feed myself.” SuYen immediately hung her head and cast her eyes downward. It was sure easy to make Johnny feel guilty. “We need to straighten this out right now. Although it goes against my custom to eat in front of a lady, I will eat first and leave some for you.“ SuYen lifted her head and smiled. She watched him eat until about half the tin was left. He then handed the beans and spoon to her. Holding them in her hands, she stood then bowed before walking back over to the boulder to eat.
All day while they had ridden in silence, Johnny had been thinking about how he was going to possibly explain this whole affair to his father and brother. So far nothing except the truth came to mind. He could picture their faces in his head and it made him cringe. SuYen came back and knelt before him, studying him closely.
“Master Johnnysun has a problem, no?” She asked timidly.
“Oh boy, does Master Johnnysun have a problem,” he remarked. Turning to hold her gaze he continued. “That’s another thing we have to get straightened out. Don’t call me Master Johnnysun. It’s just plain Johnny.” Again SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. He could swear he saw a tear or two drop off her chin. Sighing, he said, “Okay. You can call me Master Johnnysun. I guess I’ll get used to it.” SuYen looked up at Johnny and smiled.
“I am most pleased, Master Johnnysun. It is my . . .”
“Custom,” Johnny interjected. Johnny tossed a few more branches on the fire. “It’s time to get some sleep SuYen. Fold your blanket in half, like this.” He instructed, demonstrating for her. “Then lay on the bottom half and cover yourself with the top half. It will keep you warm; that and the fire.” He watched as she crossed to the other blanket and arranged it as shown. “Now tonight you stay in your own bed, you hear me?” SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “Ohhhhh . . .” Johnny snarled, laying down, covering himself and rolling over with his back to the fire.
Johnny woke the next morning with the same warm, cozy feeling he had awoken with the day before. Reaching down, he touched the arm draped across his waist. Sighing and rolling his eyes, he eased himself out from under both blankets and pushed himself to his feet. Standing with his hands on his hips, he shook his head. How could he break her of this “custom” before he got back to the ranch? Murdoch would raise the roof. Within moments SuYen stirred and opened her eyes. Rising to her knees she stretched her arms above her head.
“Good day Master Johnnysun. I trust you slept good?”
Johnny ran his hand through his hair. “Yah, wonderful. Look SuYen, I told you last night to stay in your own bed. You promised you would. What happened?”
SuYen rose to her feet, hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “SuYen not promise. It is my custom. It is my duty to keep my master warm at night. Half a blanket didn’t cover you all up so I brought my blanket over to you and now we both stay warm.”
Well, he couldn’t argue with her logic and so didn’t even try. “Okay, okay, I give up. But we can’t sleep together when we get to the ranch. It is my custom.” SuYen looked up.
“Yes Master Johnnysun. I do as you command.” SuYen whispered. Johnny started to pack up the blankets and ensure the fire was out. He walked Barranca over and tied him to the rig. He hopped up into the seat and waited for SuYen to get situated. He didn’t know how she could sit so ramrod straight on the bumpy road.
Picking up the reins, he turned to her. “Look SuYen, we have to talk before we get back to the ranch. There are some cus . . . I mean rules that I need to follow and so you will have to follow them to. My father is very strict and I will get into a lot of trouble if you disobey. Do you understand?” SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. Johnny took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. It was going to be a long day.
Not knowing if she was even listening - because she made no indication as such – Johnny told her about the ranch and his family. “My father is a fair man but can get very angry if he is disobeyed. He likes to yell a lot but after a while you get used to it. I don’t think he really means it. I think it’s just his way of blowing off steam. Now Scott, he’s my older brother, is pretty quiet most of the time and it takes a lot to get him mad but once he reaches his limit, look out. He likes everything to be in order and very neat. Teresa is my father’s ward. She was the daughter of our foreman and when he died, my father took her in as his own. She keeps pretty much to herself but is very possessive about certain things, like her kitchen and the food in it. We have about a hundred men working for the ranch. You will meet some of them, but most of them work on the outskirts of the place.” He looked over at SuYen who never batted an eye.
Johnny kept right on talking, hoping beyond hope that she was hearing what he had to say. “Now my father has some house rules and he gets very upset when they are not followed. Breakfast is at seven o’clock sharp and supper is at six o’clock sharp. Lunch is kinda in the middle depending on who will be home to eat and when. There is no running in the house, no matter what. After supper my father, myself, Scott and Teresa are expected to gather in the parlor and discuss our day. No one is allowed to enter another’s bedroom unless invited and no one is allowed to enter any room with a closed door unless they knock first. SuYen, are you listening to me?”
The girl turned her head ever so slightly. “Yes Master Johnnysun. You have many customs just like SuYen. I will try to remember them all.”
“Yah, you do that.” Johnny muttered. He still had not come up with a good way to break his news to his father. They made camp that night near the river. SuYen stayed away from Barranca and the palomino was very grateful. Groomed and settle down for the night, Johnny discovered that SuYen had gathered wood and started a fire. She had, however, set a tin of stew on the fire without venting the lid. Johnny saw it just in time to kick it away before it exploded. So much for supper. SuYen began to cry.
“I failed you Master Johnnysun. SuYen is ready to be punished.” She stood in front of him, head hung and eyes cast downward.
“I’m not going to punish you. Just be more careful next time, okay? Go get a tin of soup and I’ll show you how to open it so it will be safe near the fire.”
“You are not going to beat SuYen?”
“Of course not!” Johnny exclaimed. “Why would I do that?”
“SuYen bad servant. Ruined expensive dinner. SuYen should be beaten.” She turned around and arched her back.
Johnny didn’t know what to do. His mind flashed back to the many times he, himself, had been beaten for more trivial things than a ruined tin of food. “I am not going to beat you SuYen. No one should ever touch another person in that way.”
“It is my custom.”
“Well, it’s a lousy one. I can’t believe your country would support such punishment.”
“SuYen forgiven?” She asked quietly, turning to look into Johnny’s eyes.
“SuYen forgiven.” Johnny said before giving her a broad smile. The girl quickly ran over to get a tin of soup out of the wagon. Johnny took his knife and showed her how to open it without cutting herself. After Johnny ate and SuYen had her share, it was time for bed. Even though he arranged the blankets the same as the night before, he doubted it would do any good. Waking the next morning only confirmed his suspicions. Packing up the wagon and securing Barranca to the rear, they started off. They should be back to Lancer just after sundown.
Passing under the arch, Johnny saw the golden light of oil lamps and the red-orange glow of the fireplace shining through the windows. Barranca could smell his stall and nickered softly. Johnny reined up the team just shy of the house near the corral. He purposely pulled it under the shadows in case anyone heard them drive up and looked out the window. Johnny jumped down and SuYen followed. He untied Barranca and led him into the barn and into his stall. The horse made an almost purring sound. “Good to be home, hey amigo?” Johnny cooed, patting the palomino on the neck. Johnny found that all he had to do now was point a warning finger at SuYen and she stayed where he indicated. He unhitched the team and put them in the corral, ensuring they had plenty of water and feed. He went back in the barn to find SuYen just where he had left her. He handed her the small cloth bag which was obviously her only possession.
“SuYen, now I want you to listen to me very carefully. My family doesn’t know about you yet and I don’t think, under the circumstances, it would be a good idea to surprise them. I am going to go in the house and talk to my brother and father; tell them about you. I want you to stay here until I come and get you. Do not follow me. Do you understand?”
“SuYen bring shame to Master Johnnysun.” The girl hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
“No, no shame. It’s just that I’ve found out it’s better to explain things to my father slowly so he doesn’t get angry, or at least not quite as angry. He, my brother and Teresa will welcome you once they understand. Now we have a custom in America called a promise. If you promise someone something you are not allowed to break that promise or you will get punished. Understand?” SuYen nodded her head without looking up. “I want you to promise me you will stay right here until I come and get you.”
“SuYen American promise.”
Johnny sighed as he walked away, glancing over his shoulder to make sure she wasn’t behind him. Walking in the front door, he found Scott just coming downstairs. “Hey brother.”
“Hey yourself.” Scott came over and slapped Johnny lightly on the back. “Good to see you home.” Johnny hung up his hat, his gun belt and his jacket.
“Hey Murdoch, Teresa, Johnny’s home.” Scott shouted.
Murdoch appeared in the parlor archway. “I thought I heard a familiar voice out here. Welcome home son,” he said, extending his hand to shake Johnny’s. Teresa appeared from the back of the house.
“Did someone say Johnny’s home?” She asked while wiping her hands on her apron. Looking up, she rushed to her brother’s arms and gave him a big hug. “I’ve missed you! I seem to have all this food left over every night and I don’t know what to do to get rid of it!” She teased.
“Well you won’t have to worry about that now that Johnny’s home. Now you better worry about running out.” Scott snickered.
They all moved toward the parlor, Murdoch in the lead. He crossed to the liquor cart. “Johnny?” He said, picking up the bottle of tequila.
“Yah, thanks Pa.” He grinned. “I think I’m going to need it”, he muttered under his breath.
“Did you say something son?”
“No, no. Just mumbling to myself. Something I have to remember.” Murdoch handed the glass to his son and raised his own glass of bourbon in salute. Touching rims, each man took a swallow.
“Come, come sit down and tell me all about your trip.” Murdoch said, dropping an arm around his youngest son’s shoulders and leading him to one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. Seated, Johnny took a large swallow of the tequila while he searched for words – or was it courage? “I was kind of worried when I got your wire. What kind of business held you up?”
Johnny finished off his drink and held his glass out to Scott who was standing with one elbow on the mantle. “Would you mind, Scott?” His brother took the glass, poured out another portion and returned it to Johnny who took a hefty swallow then cleared his throat. “Well, Pa, you see I got myself into a kind of . . . situation.” Johnny crinkled his eyes waiting for his father to explode. When he dared to look at Murdoch, he found a frown on the man’s face and his eyes clearly focused on his face.
“What kind of a situation?” Murdoch had heard those words before. Johnny, it seemed, was always getting himself into a situation and that situation usually wasn’t a good one.
Johnny swallowed the rest of the tequila. “Well, you see, I stopped off in Hawk’s River – just for a beer mind you.” Murdoch simply nodded and took a sip of bourbon. “Never been to Hawk’s River before. Kinda pretty.” He looked up at Scott who said nothing knowing his brother was stalling for time. “They got a nice saloon there. Real clean.”
“Always good to have a saloon that’s clean,” Murdoch commented. Oh boy, this situation must really be something for Johnny to stall this long, he thought.
“I got to watchin’ these fellows playing poker. Boy Scott, were they bad!” Johnny looked up and smiled at his elder brother. Scott didn’t reply, just kept his eyes glued on Johnny. “Well . . . now I know you don’t cotton to gamblin’ Pa. I know that.” Murdoch shook his head and leaned forward, waiting. “I got to thinkin’, you know, about all the birthdays comin’ up. Teresa’s and Scott’s and Jelly’s and then yours Pa. Lots of birthdays and all in December. And then there’s Christmas.”
“I think we all know when our birthday is son, and I know we all know when Christmas is – birthdays and Christmas always come on the same day every year.”
Johnny smiled widely at his father. “That’s right, Pa. Never really thought about it.”
Scott was getting tired of leaning against the mantle. “Out with it little brother,” he said.
Johnny kept right on smiling. “Well, I said to myself that I could sure use a little extra money so I could buy real nice presents for y'all.. One of the men got cleaned out and left the game and so I asked if I could take his place. Real friendly fellas. Asked me if I was legal.”
“Get to point son. It’s getting late.” Murdoch stated flatly.
Johnny set his glass down on the table and wiped his sweaty palms on his thighs. He glanced up at Scott who looked equally frustrated. “Well . . . you know . . . I learned a real long time ago that to win at poker, especially when you’re the new kid, so to speak . . .”
“Johnny. Enough.” Murdoch said firmly. “I’ll give you two minutes to tell us what you’re trying so hard not to.”
Johnny’s expression turned somber. He knew his time was up and that he’d just have to come out with it. “The game got down to just two of left. There sure was a lot of money on the table and I knew I had the winning hand. I only held a hand that good once before. I knew I had him . . . the other man . . . beat. Trouble was he didn’t have enough money to cover his bet. I could tell by his face that he thought he had the winning hand but I knew only one hand could beat mine and that he couldn’t possibly have it. I was holding a straight flush, queen high.” He waited for some kind of comment but received none. Clearing his throat he continued.
“Anyway, I called on him, you know? He was totally cleaned out. He took this little key,” Johnny illustrated the key’s size by spreading apart his thumb and index finger, “out of his pocket and said it was worth way more than the two hundred dollars he was short. It looked like it might fit a strong box or a jewelry box or something, you know? I figured out that even if whatever it opened was empty I still was going to win so I told him okay. You should have seen his face when I laid down my cards.” Johnny slapped his knees and smiled first at his father and then at Scott. Teresa sat off to the side quietly sewing.
“Johnny, you have thirty seconds . . .”Murdoch barked.
“Well, what did the key fit?” Scott asked holding his empty brandy snifter.
Johnny took a deep breath and looked back and forth between the two men. He knew the minute he told them, Murdoch was going to explode. Subconsciously he moved as far to the other side of his chair as allowed. “It opened a lock.”
“No, really?” Scott said sarcastically. “A lock to what brother?”
Johnny leaned away from his father and raised his left shoulder nearly to his ear. “A girl.”
“A what?” Murdoch bellowed, jumping to his feet. “Did you say a girl?” Johnny nodded and cringed. Scott was laughing and even Teresa was chuckling. Johnny sure got himself in a pickle this time! Murdoch fought hard to suppress his anger, reasoning there must be a good explanation of what his youngest son had just said. “What kind of girl?” He asked in a calmer tone. He expected maybe to hear his son say a “saloon girl” since he knew Johnny had a particular affection for them.
“A Chinese girl.” Johnny answered quietly.
“A Chinese girl,” Murdoch repeated. “Of all the stupid things you’ve done . . .” Murdoch’s voice grew louder with each word he spoke. “And where, pray tell, is this Chinese girl now?”
Johnny cast an annoyed look at his older brother who found the whole situation hilarious. “In the barn.”
“In the barn.” Murdoch echoed. “What is she doing in the barn?”
Teresa tossed her sewing on the table and stepped into the conversation. Standing with feet apart and hands on hips her face was only inches away from Johnny’s. “John Lancer. You left this girl in the barn? Are you crazy? Go get her right this minute!” She ordered, stamping her foot for emphasis. Johnny looked over at his father.
“Well, you heard what she said. Go!” Murdoch barked, raising his arm and pointing to the front door.
“Yes sir,” Johnny mumbled. If looks could have killed, Scott would have been a dead man what with the icy stare he received as Johnny passed him.
While Johnny walked back out to the barn to retrieve SuYen, the other members of his family had gathered near the hearth and tried to control their laughter. Murdoch rolled his eyes, finally looking up at the ceiling and lifting his hands as if in prayer. Teresa had one hand pressed to her lips to stifle her snickering and Scott simply smiled that tight-lipped smile of his and shook his head. When they heard the door open, they quickly dispersed to various parts of the room as if nothing had happened.
Johnny walked into the parlor followed by a petite girl of about seventeen. Her long black hair was pulled back severely from her face and hung in a thick braid to her waist. She wore slim black slacks and a royal blue tunic with black braided buttons and carried a little black cloth bag. Her almond shaped eyes darted quickly from one family member to another before she hung her head and cast her eyes downward. She stood just off Johnny’s right elbow about two steps behind him. Johnny walked over to where his father stood. Murdoch gave the girl his warmest smile. “Murdoch this is SuYen.” Turning sideways he continued, “SuYen, this is my father Murdoch Lancer.” Murdoch extended his hand but when the girl did not reciprocate he looked at Johnny and drew his brows together in puzzlement.
“Ni Has De ming zi shi SuYen”. The girl said never raising her eyes. She then bowed deeply from the waist. (Hello, my name is SuYen)
“What did she say?” Murdoch whispered to Johnny.
“I don’t know. I think it means somethin’ like howdy.”
“Am I supposed to bow?”
“Don’t ask me Pa. I’m still learnin’ how to deal with her myself.”
Murdoch bowed just slightly, mostly due to his bad back. “Welcome to our home.” He said. Straightening he put one hand just above his waist line and stretched slightly to relieve the spasm in the muscle. SuYen finally released her bow but kept her eyes demurely downward. Johnny crossed over to Scott.
“This is my older brother, Scott Lancer.”
“Ni Has De ming zi shi SuYen”. The girl said never raising her eyes. She then bowed just slightly from the waist.
Scott quickly returned the bow. “SuYen, I’m pleased to meet you.” Johnny then walked over to Teresa.
“SuYen this is Teresa.”
“Ni Has De ming zi shi SuYen”. The girl said raising her head and locking her eyes on Teresa’s. She did not bow.
“SuYen, I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
Murdoch, Scott and Teresa exchanged glances then focused on Johnny. “What do we do now?” Murdoch asked. Johnny shrugged his shoulders. Teresa took a step forward.
“SuYen, are you hungry or would you like something to drink?”
The girl looked into Johnny’s eyes. “Any chocolate cake?” Johnny asked.
“Son, I believe Teresa was speaking to SuYen, not you.” Murdoch stated.
“I know,” Johnny replied. “But she won’t eat or drink anything unless I eat or drink it first. Trust me. I learned this the hard way.”
“There is cake, but not chocolate. It’s vanilla cream, but it does have chocolate frosting.” Teresa said, glancing sideways at SuYen.
“Sounds good to me . . . and a big glass of milk too, please. Oh and Teresa, just one plate, one fork and one glass.” Johnny answered. Teresa excused herself for passing in front of Johnny and Scott to make her way to the kitchen. Johnny returned to his chair in front of the hearth and sat down. SuYen immediately knelt, resting back on her heels, just slightly in front of and to the right of Johnny’s knee. Murdoch glanced at Scott and arched one eyebrow. Advancing to the matching chair just opposite, he sat down resting his hands on his thighs and studied his youngest son’s face. Returning from the kitchen, Teresa handed the plate and fork to Johnny and placed the glass of milk on the small round table between the two chairs. Johnny immediately began wolfing down the serving.
Anger smoldered in Murdoch at Johnny’s lack of manners. He wanted to say something but not in front their new houseguest. When Johnny had finished about half of the cake he handed the plate and fork to SuYen. Picking up the glass, he drank down a little more than half the milk and then handed it to her also. “I am pleased that you have given SuYen food to eat. SuYen very grateful to Master Johnnysun.”
Scott’s chortle was louder than he intended it to be and Murdoch had to clench his teeth together to keep from bursting out laughing. Johnny gave his “Madrid” stare to Scott who was fighting desperately to control himself. Turning back to the girl Johnny said, “Go ahead and eat SuYen. It’s really good. Teresa bakes great cakes.”
SuYen lifted her eyes briefly to meet those of her new master. “SuYen not eat in front of her master. It is my custom.” Johnny looked up at Teresa with pleading eyes.
“SuYen come with me. I will show you the kitchen. You can bring your cake and milk with you and eat in there.” Teresa said. SuYen looked up at Johnny.
“I give my permission SuYen.” Johnny muttered. A shy smile spread across the girl’s lips as she rose, carrying the plate and glass, and followed Teresa. A few moments later Teresa returned and stood, arms crossed in front of her, just inside the doorway. She positively glared at Johnny.
“What?” He asked meeting her gaze. “Geez, I didn’t do anything wrong. This is how it’s been for the last couple days. I guess I’m just getting used to it is all.”
“Master Johnnysun?” Murdoch stated. Johnny hung his head and leaned his weight forward on his forearms which rested on his thighs.
“Believe me, that’s her idea not mine. I asked her to stop . . . Oh hell, I give up!” Scott stood leaning his weight against the far wall, arms crossed. “And just what is it you’re looking at big brother?”
Scott shook his head. “How do you manage to get into these predicaments?”
Johnny hung his head, shaking it slowly from side to side. “I wish I knew, Scott. I wish I knew.”
“So what do we do now?” Teresa asked.
“Not much else we can do tonight. It’s late. I would assume Johnny and SuYen are tired. Perhaps we should just go to bed and discuss the matter further when everyone is fresh-minded at breakfast.” Murdoch suggested. “Teresa, is the guest room next to yours made up?” Teresa nodded. “When SuYen is done eating, why don’t you take her upstairs. Show her where the water closet is and how to use it. Get her settled for the night. Okay darling?”
Teresa saw SuYen coming back down the hallway out of the corner of her eye. “She’s coming,” she whispered. Head hung and eyes cast downward, SuYen quietly walked between Scott and Teresa and resumed her place on the floor by Johnny. Johnny exhaled and leaned back in the chair.
“SuYen,” Murdoch said but she never looked up or otherwise acknowledged him. “SuYen we are all very tired and I think it’s time we go upstairs to bed. We all need a good night’s sleep. There is a room next to Teresa’s that you can have. Teresa will show you where it is and get you settled. We can talk more at breakfast.” Murdoch looked at Johnny with a quizzical expression. Johnny simply dropped his head back and closed his eyes. Teresa called to SuYen but the girl remained as still as a statue.
Finally Johnny pushed himself out of the chair and stretched. “Come on SuYen. Time for bed.” He said walking out of the room and over to the stairs. SuYen immediately got up and followed him. Teresa brought up the rear as they ascended the front staircase. Out of habit, Johnny turned to his right heading for his bedroom. When SuYen started to follow him, Teresa took her elbow.
“Our rooms are down here, at the end of the hall.” SuYen twisted her arm free and stood behind Johnny. Johnny sighed and turned around. He pointed down to the other wing of the house but SuYen didn’t move. Finally he stepped around her and she quickly turned to follow. Opening the farthest door, he walked into the room and lit the lamp. SuYen followed close behind. Teresa again brought up the rear.
“This is SuYen’s room,” Johnny said looking into her eyes. “SuYen will sleep in here tonight. There is a nice big bed, a nice warm quilt, Teresa is right next door if you need anything. You are safe here, understand?” SuYen nodded while continuing to stare up into Johnny’s eyes. “You are going to sleep and so am I, in my own room.” He clarified, recalling the last couple nights.
“Does she have any night clothes?” Teresa asked.
“She didn’t have anything with her except that little black cloth bag and the clothes on her back. Could you maybe lend her one of yours for tonight?”
“Well, sure, but she is so much smaller than I am she’ll drown in it.”
“Just for tonight, please?” Johnny begged, fatigue clearly showing on his face. Teresa nodded and turned to enter her bedroom coming back a moment later with a plain white cotton nightgown which she tossed on the bed.
“We’ll have to go into town and get her some clothes. Mine will never fit her.” Teresa commented. Johnny nodded.
“Maybe you can take her in tomorrow after lunch. I’ve got to start breaking those new horses or they’ll never be ready in time.” Turning to the girl he continued. “Good night SuYen. I will see you in the morning.”
“Good slumber Master Johnnysun,” she whispered. “SuYen wish you to have very pleasant dreams.”
“You too.” He replied, turning sideways to squeeze around Teresa. Once in the corridor, he sighed heavily, raising one hand to rub the dull ache in his forehead. Reaching his bedroom he opened the door and disappeared inside. He lit the lamp next to the bed, sat down on the edge of the mattress and pulled off his boots tossing them over near the dresser. It would feel so good to be in his own bed, under his nice, warm quilt, and with his head on his favorite feather pillow. Stripping off his pants, shirt and socks, he tossed the clothes on the chair. He flipped back one corner of the quilt, blew out the lamp and tucked himself into clean, fresh sheets. He closed his eyes and grinned. His family had dealt with his “situation” much better than he anticipated. Maybe everything would turn out okay after all. Rolling on his side and bending his right elbow to tuck his hand beneath his pillow, he pulled the corner of the quilt over his shoulder. He would indeed sleep well tonight.
An overly full bladder woke Johnny up in the wee hours of the morning. He tried to convince himself that he could wait and rolled onto his back but after a couple minutes he knew it would be no use. Thank God Murdoch had put in that water closet right down the hall. At least he wouldn’t have to make his way to the outhouse. Swinging his legs off the bed, he yawned broadly as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. He didn’t bother lighting the lamp. There would be a light in the hallway and he knew he could easily find his way to the door. Standing he took one . . . maybe two steps before stubbing his toe on something. He stretched out his arms to steady himself against the dresser put misjudged the distance and his forehead - just above his right eye - hit the corner of it with a thump. “Damn it!” He hissed. “What the hell . . .” Turning, he reasoned he should make his way back to the bed and light the lamp. Maybe he had tripped over his boots, which would have been his fault and which would make him even angrier.
He took one . . . maybe two steps and stubbed his other toe on something again but this time fell on the mattress. He took a deep breath, rolled over, sat up and reached for the matches. He turned the wick down low and held the flame to it. The lamp gave off just enough light for him to make out the placement of the furniture and the outline of the door. His bladder was now screaming for relief. Squeezing his eyes shut as another ferocious yawn escaped, he took one . . . maybe two steps and tripped again, this time landing on the floor where his chest hit something relatively soft. He rolled to the side and looked to see what it was. Reaching up one hand to clap it over his eyes, he slowly dropped it downward until it covered his lips. Pushing himself up on one elbow he moaned, “SuYen, what are doing in here?”
SuYen struggled to get clear of him and then knelt and gave a shy smile. “SuYen sleep with Master Johnnysun in event he needs something during the night. It is my . . .”
“Yah, yah, your custom.” Exasperated, he tried to think of another way to explain to her that she needed to stop doing this. He decided when Teresa went to town that afternoon he was going to have her pick up a lock for his door. There just didn’t seem to be any other way. SuYen reached out one hand and very gently touched just her fingertips to the rapidly swelling lump forming above Johnny’s right eye.
“Master Johnnysun is hurt. SuYen help.” She rose and crossed to the door. “I get cold cloth to put on Master Johnnysun’s eye.” She left the room and Johnny heard her quiet footsteps heading in the direction of the water closet. It suddenly occurred to him he no longer needed to make that trip. When he fell the third time . . . well . . . His long johns were soaked and a puddle was rapidly spreading across the wooden floor. What next? He thought. Just then SuYen ran back into the room. “Master Johnnysun, come quick.” She cried, grabbing his hand.
Johnny could hardly stand and follow her in his condition. Pulling his hand free of her grasp, he used his index finger to make a twirling motion. “Turn around,” he instructed. When the girl did not immediately do as told, his voice took on a much firmer tone. “SuYen . . .” She quickly turned her back. He stood up being careful not to slip on the wet floor and grabbed the quilt off the bed. He wrapped it around his waist and tucked in the free end. “Okay,” he huffed. “Now, what’s wrong?”
SuYen swung around and grabbed his hand again. “Come quick Master Johnnysun.” She pulled him out the door and down the hall where a wide circle was rapidly spreading on the carpeting. Pulling his hand away he pushed ahead of her. Water was shooting out of the faucet, overflowing the sink. Johnny rushed into the room, grabbed the faucet and turned the handle to the “off” position. Water still cascaded from the sink onto the floor like a miniature waterfall. He grabbed some towels, tossed them on the floor and used his foot to sweep them back and forth in the futile attempt to soak up at least some of the water. The bottom of the quilt, which was trailing him, started wicking up moisture as well. It quickly became crystal clear to him that he was fighting a losing battle. Bending down to pick up the sodden towels, his foot slid on the slippery tile and he fell hitting his forehead just above the left eye on the commode. His feeling of defeat by this time was so overpowering he didn’t even bother to swear.
Johnny saw SuYen stepping into the water closet out of the corner of his eye. He raised one arm and held it out straight. “No. No SuYen. No. Stay out of here and I mean it.” He snapped. SuYen immediately hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
“Master Johnnysun angry with SuYen. You beat me now?” She mumbled. Johnny sat on his butt with his legs spread apart straight out in front of him, his back resting against the toilet, in long johns wet long before this mishap and dropped his head in his upraised hands, wincing slightly from the bumps growing larger by the second.
“No SuYen, I told you before I will never beat you remember?” SuYen nodded, head hung and eyes cast downward. “Do me a favor and close the door . . . now.” When she didn’t move he gritted his teeth. Dropping his hands, he lowered his voice into a growl. “I said close it . . .now.”
SuYen looked up at him. “SuYen needs to help Master Johnnysun.”
Johnny couldn’t help but grin to himself. “No, no more help. You’ve done quite enough. Now, please, close the door.” Reluctantly she took a step backward into the hall and pulled the door quietly shut. Johnny sat there a moment to collect himself. Grabbing the edge of the sink, he pulled himself up almost slipping again. He bunched up the quilt and threw it in the tub. He peeled off his sodden long johns and tossed them on top of the quilt. Picking up the water logged towels, he tossed them in the tub as well. Grabbing a dry towel off the shelf, he dried his feet, legs and nether regions before adding it to the pile of laundry. Grabbing another towel, he wrapped it around his waist and held the corners firmly in his fist. Glancing in the mirror he muttered under his breath. By breakfast time he knew he would have at least one, if not two, blackened eyes.
His feet still slipping and sliding slightly on the damp tile, he made his way to the door and opened it only to find SuYen standing directly on the other side facing him. Holding her eyes with an icy gaze, Johnny didn’t say a word. He simply lifted his right arm shoulder height and pointed down the hallway. SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward then turned slowly and walked back toward her room. After a few steps she looked back over her shoulder. Johnny again raised his arm and pointed his index finger. Finally she reached the room, entered and closed the door.
As Johnny stepped out into the hallway the carpeting squished under his feet. He hoped that the water hadn’t seeped down to the plastered ceiling beneath but, after all he had just been through, he wasn’t about to go downstairs and check it out. With his luck the ceiling would come down right on his head. Entering his room and closing the door firmly, he tossed the towel on top of the puddle on the floor. How was he going to explain this to the housekeepers? The last time he had wet himself he was still in the crib.
It was almost dawn. He had had only a couple hours of sleep and his head hurt. Not bothering to don clean underwear, he threw himself down on the bed and tugged the top sheet over himself. Curling up on his side he shivered slightly missing the warmth of the quilt. Reaching up, he grabbed the pillow and dropped it over his head. Surely the coming day would be better. It couldn’t get any worse!
Johnny awoke to a bright, sunny morning. He knew he had overslept. Throwing the pillow on the foot of the bed, he tossed the sheet aside and goose bumps immediately erupted on his body from the chill draft. He dressed quickly, stepping around the mess on the floor. When he stood before the mirror to brush his hair he sighed heavily, dropping his shoulders. ‘Good glory’, he thought. ‘What a perfect way to start the day!’ He could only imagine the teasing he would get from Scott and the look he would get from his father. Not bothering to shave, he pulled on his boots and crossed to the door. Opening it, SuYen was waiting. Falling in step behind him, he decided to take the back stairs.
Johnny reasoned that breakfast was probably over by now which meant that Murdoch and Scott had left to take care of early chores. Teresa liked to read in the library with her second cup of coffee so she wouldn’t be around either. He desperately wanted a cup of coffee; its aroma wafting up from below. If he was lucky, he could sneak through the kitchen, grab his mug, fill it and be out the door before anyone saw him. He knew most of the hands were working the southwest quarter and if he was quick, he could saddle up Barranca and take off to work on the north line shack. The supplies were already there. He would have to come back for supper but that at least gave him a little reprieve. Yah, the best laid plans of mice and men . . .
Nearing the kitchen Johnny heard several voices; his father’s, Scott’s, and Teresa’s. Wonderful. An audience. Squaring his shoulders, he brushed his hair forward at the sides hoping to at least disguise his injuries a little bit. Stepping off the last stair into the kitchen, he kept his head turned just a little towards the wall and quickly crossed to the stove. Keeping his back to the others, he poured himself a cup of coffee and pretended to look out the window. He knew SuYen was standing just behind him and off to the left. He prayed she wouldn’t choose this moment to come out of her shell and strike up a conversation.
“Morning son,” Murdoch muttered.
“Hey Johnny. Sleep well?” Scott asked.
“Yah, fine. I guess I slept a little too good. I better get going. I’m hoping to finish the work at the north line shack today.” He sat his cup down on the counter and moved sideways to the back door.
“Don’t you want any breakfast?” Teresa asked.
“No time. I’ll . . . I’ll heat up a tin of beans up at the shack.”
“Here,” she said. “Let me at least wrap up a couple fresh biscuits for you.” She picked up a clean linen napkin and placed three biscuits in the center, bringing up the edges around them. She walked over to Johnny but when she handed them to him, one fell on the floor. They both bent over at the same time to retrieve it. Teresa gasped loudly and brought her hand up to her mouth. Murdoch and Scott both turned their heads at the same time.
“Teresa, darling. Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Murdoch asked with genuine concern in his voice. Teresa brought both hands down over her belly and held them there while she broke out into hysterical laughter. Murdoch and Scott looked at one another and then back to her. She actually had tears running down her cheeks.
“Not a ghost,” she choked between breaths. “A coon.” She grabbed a clean dishtowel and dried her eyes but she was unable to contain her outburst. Johnny rested his hands on the counter and hung his head. He knew the jig was up. Turning around slowly, he kept his head down for a moment and then looked up to find both his father’s and his brother’s eyes riveted on his face. Murdoch’s mouth dropped open and a spray of coffee spewed through Scott’s lips all over the table. Suddenly both men erupted in laughter, slapping the table in their mirth. Johnny sighed, refilled his cup and crossed to the table sitting down opposite his brother. SuYen followed him, standing quietly just behind and slightly off to his right.
“Yah, yah,” Johnny muttered. “Ha, ha. Little brother Johnny gave everyone a good laugh. Now can we get serious and divvy up the chores for the day?” Murdoch made a valiant attempt to stifled his laughter but Scott didn’t and now had tears running down his cheeks as well. Eventually the trio quieted down but every time one of them looked at Johnny they relapsed.
“Ah, son, do you want to tell us . . .” Murdoch said.
“No I don’t.” Johnny snapped. “You’ve heard the saying “things that go bump in the night”? Well, let’s just say that’s what happened to me.” He grumbled.
“This . . . this bumping around in the night wouldn’t have anything to do with the hallway carpet being soaked in the area of water closet, would it?” Murdoch inquired.
“Or the pile of sopping wet laundry in the tub?” Teresa added.
Johnny put his forehead down on the table. “You three are just not going to let this drop are you?”
“Not a chance little brother. Not a chance.” Scott said.
“In this – shall we say merriment – we neglected to say good morning to SuYen.” Murdoch pointed out. “Good morning SuYen. Did you sleep well?”
SuYen kept her head hung and her eyes cast downward. Johnny could hear the ire tingeing his father’s voice at not being answered but when he raised his head and glanced over at him, Murdoch guffawed at his son’s raccoon face. He reached out and placed a hand over Johnny’s wrist. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I think we need to have a serious talk about your “situation” and the sooner the better.” He chuckled.
Johnny ran a hand through his hair. “Yes Pa.” He muttered.
“Well Scott we better get going. We’ll be out on the northeast section pretty much all day. Won’t be back for lunch but we’ll make sure to be back by supper.” Murdoch said, standing before draining his coffee cup. Scott took one more swallow from his before rising to follow his father out the back door. Johnny could hear the echo of their laughter all the way down the hall.
“I’ll fix you some eggs.” Teresa said.
“I’m not really hungry. The biscuits will do fine.” Teresa tilted her head in SuYen’s direction glad that Johnny understood her signal. If he didn’t eat, SuYen wouldn’t eat and she was tiny enough.
“Oh eggs. Yah, eggs. Scrambled would be great and could I talk you into frying up some potatoes?” Teresa nodded and crossed to the stove. A short time later she sat a plate containing a very generous serving of both eggs and crisply fried potatoes in front of Johnny then poured him a large glass of milk. Johnny dove right in, occasionally moaning to indicate how good the food was. SuYen lifted her head to watch him. Teresa saw her practically drooling.
Finishing roughly half of his breakfast, he slid the plate down in front of his father’s chair. Looking over his shoulder and catching SuYen’s gaze he said, “Eat.” Slowly the girl walked toward Murdoch’s chair. Hesitating, she looked over at Johnny, who nodded. SuYen then sat down and hungrily started shoving the food into her mouth. Johnny quickly drank some of the milk and then sat the glass next to SuYen who immediately took a large swallow. Johnny grinned at Teresa.
“Are you going to be here for lunch?” Teresa asked Johnny.
“Probably not, why?”
“Well, as long as everybody’s going to be gone and I don’t have to prepare a noon meal, I thought I could take SuYen into town this morning.”
“Sounds good to me and, might I say, good luck!”
SuYen looked up when she heard her name. She swallowed her last bite of food, laid the fork on the plate and returned to stand by Johnny’s right elbow. Turning in his chair, he looked directly into her eyes. A tiny grin tugged at the corners of her mouth as she fought to control her giggle at Johnny’s funny looking face.
“SuYen, I want you to go into town with Teresa.” The girl looked briefly at the woman sitting across the table. “Teresa is going to take you shopping. Get you some clothes and things . . . you know, girl stuff. I want you to behave when you’re with her, understand?” SuYen nodded.
“Master Johnnysun don’t want SuYen around him. I disappoint Master Johnnysun.” She hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
Johnny sighed. “No, I do want you SuYen.” Teresa arched her eyebrows. “That didn’t come out right,” he mumbled. “Look, SuYen, Master Johnnysun wants you to have nice things. Pretty things. I can’t take you into town because I wouldn’t know . . . well, not exactly anyway . . .what to buy. You need to try things on. Make sure they fit. It would make Master Johnnysun very happy.” He grinned. SuYen lifted her head and returned a shy smile. Johnny winced slightly as he winked at SuYen then stood.
“I better get to those horses.” He stated, turning to walk away. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and turned. “Teresa . . .ah . . .well . . .”
“When do the cleaning ladies come again?”
“Day after tomorrow, why?”
Johnny pursed his lips. The accident he had had was already beginning to smell and if the room was closed up all day . . . well, he didn’t want to think about it. “I have something to take care of upstairs before I leave. Is there a mop and a bucket up there somewhere?”
Teresa drew her brows together. “Yes,” she answered with a wary tone of voice. “In that small closet under the attic steps.”
“Okay.” He said, scooting around the table. He almost made it to the stairs when he heard her.
“May I ask what you need them for?”
“Nope.” Johnny took the stairs two at a time with SuYen in hot pursuit. He grabbed the mop and bucket, leaned the mop up against his bedroom door and crossed to the water closet to fill the bucket. The carpet still squished under his boots. SuYen stood in the doorway watching him closely. Carrying the pail of water in his right hand, he squeezed past her. Picking up the mop he entered his room, waited a moment for her to follow, then closed the door but just partway. He sat the bucket on the floor and leaned on the mop handle for a minute. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to mop a floor, it was more the thought of what he would be mopping. He could muck out a horse’s stall and never think twice about it. Why should this be so different?
Seeing his hesitation, SuYen took the mop from his hand and dipped it in the bucket. Wringing out the excess water, she began swabbing the mop back and forth. “Oh SuYen, no honey. You don’t have to clean up my . . . mess.”
“SuYen’s duty. I want Master Johnnysun to have a clean and pleasant room.” She answered, rinsing the mop frequently. The water became dirty quite quickly and when she bent down to pick up the pail Johnny took it from her. She opened her mouth to protest but Johnny quickly interjected.
“SuYen can mop the floor. Master Johnnysun will get the water.” Returning in a couple minutes, he sat the bucket of clean water down then stood back slightly and crossed his arms over his chest to watch. SuYen had been moving the soaked towel that Johnny had tossed on the “spill” the night before further and further back until the part of the floor under it was the only spot left. Rinsing out the mop, SuYen used two fingers and, picking the towel up by the very corner, dropped it in the pail. She then quickly finished the floor. Holding the mop in both hands, she looked up into Johnny’s face and smiled brightly.
“SuYen mop floor good, yes?”
“Yes, very good. It looks very nice SuYen. Thank you.” He picked up the pail, carried it to the water closet, picked up the towel in much the same manner that SuYen had and dropped in the sink. He emptied the bucket down the commode. He wasn’t too sure what to do with the towel. Finally he picked it up in both hands, turned his head away and wrung out the excess moisture. Johnny then dropped it in the tub with the rest of the laundry and immediately washed his hands. “Let’s put this stuff away.” SuYen scurried ahead of him to the closet and quickly returned the mop and bucket to their proper places.
Johnny squatted down in front of SuYen in order to look directly into her eyes. “Master Johnnysun does not want SuYen to tell anybody . . . you understand . . . ANYbody about what happened last night and about the . . . mess . . . we just cleaned up. Okay?” SuYen nodded.
“SuYen good at keeping secrets. You could not beat it out of SuYen.”
Johnny cringed, remembering all the beatings and whippings he had endured as a child and even as an adult. He wished she would stop using that phrase. He turned and headed down the front staircase with SuYen a step behind. Finding Teresa doing dishes Johnny just gave her a wide smile when she looked at him with suspicion. Turning to SuYen he held her gaze. “Now remember what Master Johnnysun said. I want you to go to town with Teresa and behave yourself. No nonsense. I am going to go to work. I’ll see you at supper.” SuYen nodded but tried to follow him outside just the same. Hearing her open the door behind him, he turned, raised his arm shoulder height and pointed. She immediately returned inside.
Teresa gave the girl her warmest smile. SuYen crossed to the table and sat in Johnny’s vacated chair. “We’ll leave as soon as I’m through with the dishes. Do you like to shop?”
“SuYen not know. SuYen have no money. Everything SuYen have was given by Masters.”
“Well you won’t need any money today. The ranch will pay for whatever we buy. There,” Teresa said, untying her apron and dropping it over a chair. “I’ll have the stableman hitch up the wagon and we can go. You wait here a minute and I’ll be right back.” Teresa walked the short distance down the hallway to the back door, exited and trotted over to the barn where she asked Julio to get the rig ready. Going back in the house, she saw that SuYen had left the table. Teresa heard something in the pantry. Entering the large shelf-covered room she found the girl looking around at all the bags and containers.
“You not have rice.” SuYen said.
“No, I guess we don’t. I’ve never even made rice before. We can get some in town though, if that’s what you like to eat. SuYen can teach me how to make it.”
“Hmm,” SuYen replied.
Teresa heard the wagon pull up just outside the back door. “Let’s get going SuYen. I’m anxious to get you to town. I just love shopping, especially with someone else’s money.” SuYen followed Teresa out to the rig and quickly climbed up into the seat. Teresa took her place on the driver’s side and slapped the horses with the reins.
“SuYen teach Miss Teresa to cook rice. Miss Teresa teach SuYen how to drive horses.”
Teresa turned her head to meet SuYen’s eyes. “Sounds like a good deal, but not today. There is too much traffic in town, horses, carriages, stage coaches, buggies. It would be too dangerous for anyone with no experience.”
Johnny pulled his hat low on his forehead and pulled up the collar of his shirt into a standing position. His attempts at concealing his injuries, however, fooled no one. By the time he got to the first corral of wild horses, there were at least a dozen hands leaning against the fence watching the animals. Yes, others knew how to break horses but Johnny was by far the best and so he always got first choice of those animals he would personally work with. Keeping his head down, he stood off to the side and studied the herd. One stood out from the others and so he would be the first choice today. Johnny advanced to the gate, opened it just enough to enter and swiftly latched it behind himself. His presence in the corral made the horses nervous and they all gathered together at the far end, snorting and keeping a close eye on this intruder. Johnny carrying a lasso in his right hand, began walking ever so slowly toward them talking in a low, calm voice as he approached. His first toss of the rope missed and now the skittish horses moved in a group to the other end of the corral. Johnny’s second attempt with the lasso fell perfectly around the stallion’s neck. Immediately the horse began rearing up and tossing its head from side to side.
Johnny dug his heels into the softened earth and leaned all his weight back on the rope. He continued cooing to the horse, looking the animal straight in the eye. His choice made, one of the hands opened the gate between the corral of horses and the adjoining empty one. The other men then began shooing the other animals into the vacant one by waving their hats and shouting. Once the remaining herd was contained, the stallion calmed down slightly. Johnny gradually pulled in the rope still sweet talking in almost a whisper. Before long he was able to walk up close enough to the animal to pat it’s neck. He slowly removed the rope then scrambled out of the corral, climbing the fence, as the horse realized its freedom. Johnny sat on the top fence rail and watched the stallion gallop, buck, rear, and canter around the corral. He was waiting for the horse to wear himself out, then he would attempt to ride him.
The other hands gathered around the area where Johnny sat, making quiet comments about the animal and asking him questions. Johnny answered them, never taking his eyes of the stallion. Forgetting himself, he tossed his hat down between his shoulder blades until it hung by its narrow leather cord. It was then that one of the hands looked up at his boss and broke out laughing, pointing at Johnny’s face. Within seconds the other men joined in. Johnny hung his head realizing his mistake. Swinging his legs over the rail and jumping down on the outside of the corral, he looked up at each man with that icy glacial stare he used to use as Madrid. “Okay, everybody get a good look,” he snapped. “Take your time, Marty, Phil, Carl”, he called out pointing to his eyes. “Now if all of you are done laughing at me, let’s get to work. We’re behind as it is.”
SuYen followed Teresa into the mercantile and paused to look up and around at all the shelves and cases of merchandise. “Morning Teresa,” Mrs. Canfield called from a back corner where she was putting away some material.
“Morning Sarah, “ Teresa replied as Mrs. Canfield made her way over to her customer. Spying Teresa’s companion, she asked, “Well, and who is this young lady?”
“Sarah this is SuYen. She is a guest of Johnny’s and staying at the ranch for a while. SuYen, this is Sarah Canfield.”
SuYen looked up at Teresa. “SuYen not a guest. SuYen belong to Master Johnnysun. He won me. I am his servant.”
“Oh,” Sarah gasped, eyes widening. Teresa blushed furiously and cleared her throat.
“Ah, yes, that’s true . . . pretty much. I will explain everything later, I promise.” Teresa said touching Mrs. Canfield’s arm with her hand. “Right now SuYen is in need of some clothing. She only has what she has on, I’m afraid, so we’ll need the works.”
Sarah smiled. Business had been slow the last few days. The Lancer purchase would certainly make up for her losses. “I just got in some really pretty new calico dresses. SuYen is very tiny but perhaps a girl’s size, rather than a lady’s size, would work.” Sarah bustled off to the east side of the building with Teresa and SuYen following. She studied the choices hanging on the rack and picked out a pink dress with white flowers scattered over the bodice. “I think this one might fit her. Probably a little long but that can be fixed.” Holding the dress up in front of SuYen she continued. “I think the color is just about perfect for her.” Teresa tilted her head, reached out and fingered the tightly woven fabric and nodded. “It’s a good start but what else do you have?”
“SuYen not wear dresses. Dress too hard to work in. SuYen wear pants.” She stated flatly, pushing the dress toward Mrs. Canfield who looked at Teresa with a flustered expression. Spying some heavy denims folded in a pile on a nearby shelf, SuYen walked over to them and picked up a pair. “SuYen like these.”
“Ah, well, those are certainly sturdy but they are for boys.” Sarah explained still clutching the hanger on which the pink dress hung. Teresa walked over to SuYen and took the pants from her hands.
“SuYen, are you sure you don’t want at least one dress? Johnny likes nothing better than to see a young lady like yourself in a pretty dress.”
SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “SuYen wears pants. Always wears pants.” She mumbled. Teresa looked pleadingly at Mrs. Canfield who shrugged her shoulders.
“Very well. If you feel more comfortable wearing pants then let’s see how these fit.” Sarah brushed past Teresa and sorted through the denims until she found a smaller size. She handed them to Teresa who showed SuYen where the dressing room was. “Go in here and try them on. We have to make sure they fit.” Teresa pulled the curtain over the doorway and turned back to Sarah. Silence fell between the two women while they waited. Shoving the curtain back, SuYen took a couple steps toward them. The pants fit pretty well around her waist and hips but were a little long. Mrs. Canfield bent down and turned each leg of the denims up two turns.
“There. Teresa you sew don’t you?” Teresa nodded. “I’ll pick out some matching thread and you can hem them up in no time. Now, what else?”
Teresa told Sarah they would take three pair of the denims and then would need some shirts, some socks, a pair of shoes, some underwear . . . “SuYen do you have a comb?”
SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “SuYen have nothing.” She whispered, sounding like she was fighting back tears.
“Well,” Teresa said to Mrs. Canfield. “Looks like we need the whole shebang!”
Sarah smiled broadly. Yes, this one order would almost clear her expenses for the entire week. She bustled around the store gathering things and making a couple piles of items on the back counter. “I think I have everything. Come take a look.”
SuYen followed Teresa over to where the merchandise laid. Three pair of pants, four blue chambray work shirts, five pair of socks, seven pair of underwear, a pair of boys black shoes, a comb, a brush. Something seemed to be missing. Teresa snapped her fingers. “She needs a couple nightgowns.”
“SuYen not wear nightclothes. SuYen sleep with Master Johnnysun. SuYen needs to be ready for whatever he desires.”
Teresa and Sarah looked at one another with mouths agape. All kinds of images went through their heads while struggling to understand what they had just heard. Finally Teresa broke the silence. “You sleep with Johnny?” She stuttered.
SuYen nodded. “It is my custom. I must always be ready to serve my master whatever time of day or night.” She explained. “Master Johnnysun told SuYen she could no longer sleep right next to him. That was only to keep him warm when we spent the night outside. Last night I slept on the floor by his bed.”
Teresa rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. She was certainly going to bring up this certain tidbit of information to Murdoch after supper. She knew he would put a definite end to the custom right then and there. Teresa turned back to Sarah and gave her an awkward smile. “Add two nightgowns to the pile and then I think we’re set.” Mrs. Canfield retrieved the garments, laid them on top of the other items and wrapped the whole parcel in brown paper, tying it securely with a strong piece of twine. “Just put it on the Lancer account.” Teresa picked up the heavy bundle in both arms. “Thank you. Come along SuYen.” Teresa walked past the girl and hurried outside and to the wagon. Dropping the package in the bed, she placed a hand on either side of it, leaned her weight forward onto them and closed her eyes. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. Opening her eyes, she found SuYen standing at her side. “Let’s go get some lunch.” Teresa said turning up the street toward the café with SuYen in tow.
SuYen followed Teresa into the restaurant and had no hesitation in taking a seat opposite her at a table near the window. The special was chicken and dumplings so Teresa ordered two of them and two glasses of milk. SuYen stared at her plate when it was set before her then looked up at Teresa. “Those are called dumplings, SuYen.” Teresa cut off a bite of hers and showed SuYen how to eat them with a fork. SuYen took a cautious taste then smiled. The women ate their lunch in relative silence. Teresa was afraid that if she asked any more questions about Johnny and SuYen she might get answers she’d rather not hear. When they were finished, SuYen reminded Teresa they needed to buy rice.
Teresa told the girl they would need to stop at the general store for groceries. As before, SuYen stood almost in awe after they had entered. Mr. Clements was just finishing up with a customer and so Teresa walked around gathering a few items in her arms. “SuYen,” Teresa called. “Is this the kind of rice you want?” SuYen crossed to her companion and looked at the bag in Teresa’s hand.
“Yes this is right kind but very tiny bag. They have bigger bag?”
Teresa scanned the shelf then called over to Mr. Clements and asked. “No that’s the only size we have. Don’t get much call for rice around here.”
“We’ll get two bags. That should last us a long time.” Teresa crossed to the counter and deposited her items off to one side. Turning she leaned back against it and called to SuYen who seemed to be inspecting the selections carefully. “SuYen, do you need anything else?”
SuYen walked over to Mr. Clements. “SuYen need many things but SuYen not see them.” Mr. Clements glanced up at Teresa.
“Tell me what you need. Maybe I have it on a high shelf or even in the back.”
SuYen captured the man’s gaze. “SuYen need soy sauce, hot mustard, hot peppers, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame oil, dried black mushrooms, chili paste, garlic, oyster sauce, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, tea . . .” Mr. Clements held up his hand and looked at SuYen under a furrowed brow. In addition to not carrying most of these products he had never even heard of some of them. He turned his gaze upon Teresa. Teresa tried to remember what SuYen had all asked for.
“SuYen, we have vinegar, cloves, cinnamon, and pepper in the pantry at home.”
Mr. Clements rubbed his chin. “I think I have some hot peppers in the back. Bought some when the Mexican crop pickers were here but they never bought any. I know I have tea.” The man disappeared into the back room and came back a few moments later with a small bag of dried red peppers. Passing a shelf near the back of the store, he grabbed a tin of tea leaves. He put these items next to Teresa’s gatherings. “Anything else?” Teresa shook her head. Mr. Clements pulled out a small empty crate from under the counter and put the items into it while writing each on a slip of paper. “On the Lancer account?”
“Yes, please.” Teresa picked up the groceries. “Thanks Mr. Clements.”
SuYen followed her companion back to the wagon. She was unhappy about the store not having what she needed but told herself she would just have to make due. On the way to Lancer, SuYen told Teresa that from now on she would be preparing Johnny’s meals. That it was her custom. Teresa arched her eyebrows. “Okay,” she drawled.
“SuYen know what best for Master Johnnysun.” Scott was just coming out of the barn as they pulled up. He stepped forward and helped Teresa down while SuYen jumped out and came around to her side.
“Scott, could you help me carry some things in the house?”
“Sure, no problem.” Teresa grabbed the crate while Scott tucked the larger paper wrapped bundle in his arms.
“That goes upstairs in SuYen’s room. New clothes.”
“Well, I was just on my way up there to change. I’ll lay it on her bed.” His statement reminded Teresa of the remarks SuYen had made while in the store.
“Murdoch home yet?” She asked.
“Nope. He’ll be coming soon. Stopped to watch Johnny breaking in that new batch of horses.”
Scott ascended the front staircase. SuYen followed Teresa into the kitchen. “SuYen want to know if fresh vegetables are available.” Teresa walked her to the back door and told her there was a big garden a couple hundred yards behind the house and just this side of the hill. “SuYen use basket?” She asked, looking at the wicker container hanging on the wall. Teresa stood on tiptoe and handed the basket down to SuYen, who bowed slightly in thanks. Once the girl left, Teresa returned to the counter, put away that day’s purchases and began preparing for supper. ‘This should be good.’ She thought, knowing how Johnny hated just about all vegetables.
When SuYen returned the basket was nearly overflowing. She placed it on the counter next to the sink, entered the pantry and returned with a bag of rice and the tea. Teresa had always been very possessive about her kitchen and everything in it. She didn’t look forward to sharing it with SuYen. Luckily, the main entrée for tonight’s supper would be cooked outside on the grill Murdoch had fashioned just off the patio.
“Do you need to use the oven?” SuYen shook her head. She was too busy to reply as she was carefully washing the vegetables. Teresa crossed and lit the stove. She picked up five potatoes from the large pottery bowl on the counter.
“SuYen not eat potato. Master Johnny not eat potato.” Teresa put two of them back in the bowl. Teresa waited for SuYen to finish her preparations and move away from the sink. When she finally did, Teresa pumped some water over the potatoes and rubbed away any residual dirt. Pricking them with a fork, she opened the oven door and laid them inside. “SuYen need big pot with lid, smaller pot with lid, and tea kettle.” Teresa pulled out the requested vessels, except for the tea pot – which she didn’t have – and set them next to the stove.
“We don’t have a tea kettle, SuYen. I do have a small coffee pot. Will that work?”
SuYen looked at her, head tilted to one side, an expression of frustration on her face. “SuYen will have to make do.”
Crossing to the cold box, Teresa took out a large platter on which lay four thick T-bone steaks. She sat it down on the table for a moment to grab the long handled fork out of a drawer. “Master Johnnysun not eating beef. SuYen making food for Master Johnnysun.” Spearing one of the steaks, Teresa dropped it onto the smaller plate she had just taken down from the hutch. Crossing back to the cold box, she opened the door, put the plate inside and closed the door. Picking up the platter she walked out to the patio. It was a good thing she had planned on a meal which really didn’t require her to use the kitchen. Scott walked out the French doors with a drink in his hand.
“No thanks. I think I’ve got it.” Teresa answered.
Stepping back inside he took a sip of his scotch. He looked up when he heard the front door. “Sir,” he said, nodding his head slightly at his father. Murdoch lifted his hand in a weak wave as he made his way up the stairs. His other hand clutched his back about waist level. It was killing him. Not even a minute later, Johnny walked in. He headed directly to the liquor cabinet after hanging up his gun belt and hat. Not even bothering to get out a glass, he pulled the stopper from the bottle of tequila, raised it too his lips and took a long and deep swallow. Shoving the stopper back in the top, he placed it back in the rack.
“You didn’t see that.” He said to Scott before heading upstairs to clean up for supper. With the water running SuYen didn’t hear him come in and so kept to her task. Johnny was grateful for the time alone. Sinking down on the bed, he rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his head from side to side. He was sore. His butt hurt. His head hurt. He was tempted to skip supper and go right to sleep until the aroma of grilling steak wafted up and through his open window. The growling of his stomach brought him back to his senses. What was I thinking? Miss supper?
Groaning under his breath, he pushed himself up and off the bed. Crossing to the water closet, he winced when he saw the bruising across his forehead and the blackness around his eyes. The rest of his body hurt so much he had forgotten about the injuries incurred earlier that morning. Rinsing a washcloth under the cold water, he gently stroked it across his forehead, over his cheeks and nose, and under his chin before wiping his neck. He wished he had gotten home early enough to take a hot bath. He decided that luxury would have to wait until after he had eaten.
He heard the parlor clock begin its six o’clock chiming so he made his way downstairs via the back staircase. Every step elicited a grunt from him. SuYen glanced up at him but was too busy cooking to do anything other than greet him. Hobbling down the hall to the dining room he found his father and brother already sitting in their places. Johnny pulled out his chair and eased down into it, wincing when his butt met the seat.
“Problem son?” Asked Murdoch, turning his head to observe his youngest.
“No, no. No problem. It’s just some parts of my body got a little harder workout than the others.” Scott snickered, stopping immediately when his little brother narrowed his eyes and glared at him. “Why don’t I have a plate and stuff?” Johnny asked, finally noticing that his place setting was vastly different than the other three. Just then Teresa walked in from the kitchen with the platter of perfectly grilled steak and fluffy baked potatoes. Johnny’s mouth began to water.
“SuYen is fixing your supper. Says it is her duty. She’ll be right in with it.” Teresa passed the platter to Scott who speared one of the pieces of meat onto his plate and quickly tossed a hot potato next to it, licking his fingertips from the heat. He held the platter so Murdoch could take his helping then Scott handed the plate back to Teresa who took the last steak and the last potato. Johnny had watched the platter intently as it made its rounds on the opposite side of the table. Just then SuYen walked in with a large plate in her hands. The food was covered by the lid off a pot to keep it hot. She smiled brightly at Johnny, sat the plate down in front of him and took off the lid setting it aside. As Johnny surveyed his meal, the others fought hard to stifle their amusement.
SuYen took her place near Johnny’s right elbow with a pleased and proud look on her face. Johnny stared at his supper for some time before glancing around the table at the other’s plates. “SuYen,” he muttered. “Is this one of those . . . Scott, what’s that fancy word for a snack before a meal?”
Scott choked out his answer while trying not to burst out laughing. “I think the word you’re looking for is “appetizer”.
“Yah, SuYen is this one of those appetizer things? My steak and potato are still in the kitchen, right?”
“No Master Johnnysun, this is supper. Rice and steamed vegetables are good for you. Steak is not.” She explained.
Johnny hung his head mumbling under his breath. The others all knew that Johnny absolutely detested vegetables except for potatoes and sometimes – depending how it was prepared – corn. With his eyes cast downward, he didn’t notice the wink that Murdoch gave Scott and Teresa. “Well, just how am I supposed to eat this? I ain’t got a fork.”
A startled look crossed SuYen’s features. Reaching into her pocket, she took out two long, slender pieces of sanded wood and laid them down next to her master’s plate. “Them are awfully big toothpicks,” Johnny stated picking one up to inspect it closer. Scott guffawed while trying to swallow a bite of baked potato.
“Those aren’t toothpicks, little brother. They are chopsticks. The Asian people use them to eat with just like we use forks, knives and spoons.” Johnny looked up at Scott, his brows drawn together.
“Chopsticks,” he repeated holding one in each hand. “How the he . . . heck am I supposed to eat with these?” He then used the one in his right hand to stab a piece of onion and a piece of red pepper.
“SuYen will teach Master Johnnysun.” The girl took a small step forward and held out her hand. Johnny laid the chopsticks across her palm. She quickly maneuvered them into proper position and picked up a piece of broccoli. “See?” She said beaming. “It is easy.” She held her hand beneath the food and brought it closer to Johnny’s lips. He wrinkled his nose and tried to pull his head back. “You open please?” Giving her a sideways look he finally parted his lips just a little and quickly found the broccoli on his tongue. Closing his mouth he reluctantly chewed a couple times before swallowing hard. It was all he could do not to gag. SuYen crossed behind his chair and use the implements to pick up a clump of rice. Bringing it to his lips, he parted them to accept the offering. The rice wasn’t bad and took away the aftertaste of the vegetable. Handing the chopsticks back to her master, SuYen stated “Now Master Johnnysun try.”
Johnny felt four pair of eyes watching him intently. He tried to maneuver the chopsticks between his fingers to hold them as SuYen had but finally gave up as he accidentally flipped one on the floor. Sighing he was just about to reach down and retrieve it when SuYen picked it up. “I wash now.” She scurried off in the direction of the kitchen. Coming back a few moments later, she handed the clean chopstick back to her master. Johnny tried to pick up a piece of carrot to no avail. Slamming one chopstick down on the table, he went back to stabbing the pieces of vegetables, essentially making a shish kabob out of them and then sliding them off into his mouth while pulling the implement back out between slightly closed teeth. When SuYen stepped forward Johnny simply held up his open hand, palm towards the girl. She immediately stepped back, hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
“Boy Teresa, this is the best steak I’ve ever eaten!” Exclaimed Murdoch. “It’s grilled just perfectly; medium rare. And it’s so juicy and tender, why it just melts in my mouth.” He winked again at Scott.
“You are so right sir.” Scott commented. “Teresa, did you do something different? Some type of seasoning? Use a different type of wood in the grill?”
“Why yes Scott. How astute of you to notice. I seasoned them last night so the flavor would soak into the meat and then I used a mix of hickory and apple wood in the grill.”
“How did you get the potatoes so fluffy?” Murdoch asked.
“I tried a new recipe. See you bake the potatoes then scoop out the insides, mix it with butter and a little heavy cream, put the mixture back in the skin and put them back in the oven for a little while. They call them “Twice Baked Potatoes”. “
“I love the fresh chopped chives,” Scott added. Murdoch murmured in reply. He snuck a sideways glance at his youngest son who continued to stab and devour a few specific choices of the steamed vegetables.
“I’m getting full.” Murdoch stated.
“Oh, you have to save room for dessert. It took me almost all day yesterday to make it. It’s another new recipe from that church cookbook we bought at the bazaar.”
“What’s the name of it?” Asked Scott, holding up a piece of steak on his fork.
“Funny you should ask! It’s called Boston Crème Pie.”
“I’ve had that before and I just love it! You see sir, you bake a butter cake then slice the layer in two, spread vanilla custard between them, put the top layer back on – kind of like a sandwich – and then frost the top with thick dark chocolate and sort of let it drip down the sides.” Scott could swear he heard his brother moan.
“Sounds wonderful! Cake, custard, chocolate. Mmm.” Murdoch replied.
“Well than you’re really going to love this version because it is six layers high and I varied just a little bit and put some fresh raspberries in the middle layer of custard.”
“Chocolate and raspberries? I can hardly wait.” Murdoch exclaimed casting another sideways glance at Johnny who was still nibbling at his dinner with a disgruntled look on his face. Johnny’s only saving grace was thinking that he would get a piece of this marvelous sounding dessert. It would make the suffering he was going through now all worthwhile.
Johnny knew that trying to spear any of the tiny grains of rice was not going to work so while he thought no one was looking he picked a large clump of it up with his fingers and quickly tossed it into his mouth. He hadn’t even had time to swallow.
“John Lancer,” Murdoch roared. “Just what do you think you are doing! We are not barbarians. We do not eat with our hands. Shame on you!”
Johnny looked into his father’s eyes while picking up another clump of rice and putting it in his mouth. He figured he was already in trouble, so what the heck? “Pa, if I don’t eat with my hands I’ll starve to death!” He groused. He noticed that the others had finished eating which was fine because he had about half of his supper consumed so the remaining would go to SuYen for her dinner. He laid his chopsticks on the plate and picked up his napkin to wipe his fingers. SuYen stepped forward and removed the plate.
“SuYen bring Master Johnnysun’s dessert.” The girl scurried off to the kitchen. Teresa picked up the remaining dirty dishes and followed her. Johnny leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hands together. Now he would get his just reward. Teresa came back carrying a plate in each hand. She handed one to Murdoch and the other to Scott. Johnny’s eyes twinkled and his mouth watered as he looked at the mile-high pieces of cake. SuYen came from the kitchen then, carrying a plate in one hand and a small bowl in the other. Johnny raised his hands to accept the plate, his face falling as SuYen handed the plate to Teresa and placed the small bowl in his hands.
Johnny brought his hands back in front of himself and looked down into the bowl. “SuYen, I thought you were going to get me some dessert?” SuYen nodded.
“SuYen did bring Master Johnnysun dessert. Miss Teresa’s cake is not good for Master Johnnysun. This much better.” Johnny sighed and looked back into the bowl.
“What is it?” He grumbled.
“Is rice water, saved from when I boiled the rice. Very healthful.”
Johnny looked around at the others over the rim of the bowl. They were all making comments on how fabulous the Boston Crème Pie tasted. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Master Johnnysun drink it.”
“From a bowl?” He exclaimed. “Pa . . .”
Swallowing a bite of dessert his father cut another portion with his fork. Never looking up he said, “Johnny don’t be impolite. Drink up your dessert.” Teresa giggled and Scott just made that tight-lipped smile of his. Johnny raised the bowl to his lips and took a sip. It wasn’t as bad as he thought but it definitely was no Boston Crème Pie.
“SuYen put a little sugar in it for Master Johnnysun. In China we would never do that. It is not our custom.” Johnny drank down the rest of the rice water. At least it took the taste of those awful vegetables away. He was already planning on how he would sneak down to the kitchen during the middle of the night and get some cake.
“Oh,” Teresa exclaimed. “I forgot the coffee. I’m sorry. I’ll go get it right now.” Coffee, thought Johnny. My life is being saved after all. Some days on the trail he existed on the strong black brew when there was no time or no facilities to cook. Teresa hurried back to the dining room holding the large granite pot in one hand and a smaller matching pot in the other. She handed the smaller pot to SuYen then rounded the table filling Murdoch’s and Scott’s cups before her own. SuYen stepped up to the table and filled Johnny’s cup from her smaller pot. Johnny thought the brew looked a little on the weak side but he didn’t care. At least it was his beloved coffee. He took a deep swallow and almost spewed the liquid out all over the table.
“What is this?” He growled grimacing.
“Tea.” SuYen answered.
“Tea? Where the he . . . heck is my coffee?”
“Coffee not good for Master Johnnysun. Tea more healthful.” Johnny put the cup back down on the saucer while making quite a face. He was doomed.
Teresa refilled the cups and Scott and Murdoch leaned back in their chairs and crossed their legs while they leisurely sipped it down.
“Teresa that was the best supper I’ve ever eaten. My compliments to the chef.” Murdoch said, lifting his coffee cup in salute.
“Here, here,” Cried Scott doing the same.
Teresa looked at Johnny and tried not to snicker. The skin around his eyes was even darker purple than this morning, no doubt from working in the hot sun and falling off a horse a dozen times or more. Standing, she gathered together the rest of the dishes. When she went to pick up Johnny’s bowl, SuYen protested.
“SuYen wash Master Johnnysun’s dishes.” SuYen picked up Johnny’s bowl and started off toward the kitchen with Teresa following several paces behind. Murdoch and Scott stood and each man rubbed his belly.
“Boy what a good meal,” Murdoch sighed. “Johnny, how was your dinner?”
Johnny winced as he forced himself to his feet. “Fine Pa. Just hunky dory.”
“Well if you hurry you can have a quick drink before SuYen tells you no because tequila isn’t healthful for you either!” Murdoch teased.
“No Pa. I’m going to go out to the bathhouse and take a good, hot, long, relaxing bath or I won’t even be able to move in the morning. That stallion sure don’t like to be sat.” He commented, rubbing his butt.
“Why not take your bath upstairs? There’s plenty of hot water.” Scott asked.
Johnny shook his head. “Nope. That tub isn’t deep enough. I like the water to come up to here.” He answered, using his index finger to draw a line just under his collar bone. Turning toward the back door he mumbled a goodnight. He peeked around the corner of the kitchen door. He didn’t want SuYen to see him and start to follow. When she had her back turned, he tiptoed quickly across the opening, eased open the backdoor and stepped out, closing it softly behind himself. The bathhouse was just around the corner of the kitchen so Johnny flattened himself against the side of the house so he wouldn’t be seen walking past the window. Opening the bathhouse door only wide enough to pass through, he quickly closed it and then leaned back against it exhaling slowly. He had made it. He lit the lamp then began filling the tub while stripping off his clothes. Every move only served to aggravate his achy muscles. Stepping over the edge of the tub, he lowered himself slowly into the steamy bath. He waited until the water was almost up to his neck before turning off the faucet. Grabbing a towel off the nearby rack, he rolled it, placed it behind his neck and leaned back. Oh, what heaven! Closing his eyes he felt like he was floating.
Teresa told SuYen to wash Johnny’s dishes first because there were so few. As the girl stood off to the side drying them, Teresa drained the water and refilled the sink for the remaining dishes. She carefully lowered them into the foamy water to let them soak a couple minutes. SuYen had placed the clean dishes back on the hutch. Walking down the hall, she found the lamp from the dining room had been extinguished. Creeping silently toward the parlor, she peeked unnoticed around the corner to see Murdoch reading the paper and Scott at the desk writing. No Johnny. Returning to the kitchen with a bewildered look on her face, she asked Teresa where she could find her master.
“Johnny was telling us how very sore his muscles were after breaking horses today. I’m pretty sure he went out to the bathhouse to take a hot bath and relax.”
“You tell SuYen please where bathhouse is?” Teresa pointed out the window and within seconds she heard the backdoor shut.
SuYen slipped silently into the bathhouse. She found Johnny submerged in the tub, water steaming. Only his head and his arms, which rested on the rim on either side, were above the water. He appeared to be sleeping. She crept over so as not to wake him. She had washed her masters before but they had been awake and could move as instructed. Debating on just how to proceed with a sleeping master, she reached for the soap and a washcloth. She would have to start with his arms and chest. This was somewhat backward but she couldn’t envision any another way. SuYen dunked the cloth into the tub to wet it. She accidentally dropped the slippery bar of soap in the water and it hit Johnny on the left thigh.
Johnny moaned slightly and put his left arm in the water; his fingers searching for whatever had just bumped against his leg. Grabbing the bar of soap, he brought it above water level and opened his eyes to put it back into the holder. “SuYen!” He bellowed. SuYen smiled at him shyly. Johnny grabbed the towel from behind his neck, dropped it in the water and pushed it down to cover himself. “What the . . .what are you doing in here?”
“SuYen give Master Johnnysun his bath.”
Johnny sighed and squeezed his eyes closed for a moment. Now if this had been a saloon girl offering to give him his bath he would have leaned back and enjoyed every minute but, damn it, SuYen was just a kid. He used both hands to hold the towel in place so it wouldn’t buoy up in the water. “Master Johnnysun can take his own bath, thank you.”
SuYen shook her head, her long braid swinging back and forth. “No Master Johnnysun. SuYen trained to give men a bath. I have done it for other masters. It is my custom.”
Johnny brought his left arm up out of the water and pointed his index finger toward the door. “Go.” He said firmly. This time the method he had used successfully before didn’t work. SuYen stood up a little straighter, looked right into his eyes, pursed her lips then spoke.
“No.” She stated emphatically.
Johnny tried pointing and telling her to leave again but she held her ground. He brought his dripping left hand to his face and slowly slid it down from his forehead to his chin. Dropping his arm back into the tub, he let out a long, slow breath. “Okay,” he relented. “But only my back, you understand me?” He commanded. SuYen nodded her head and smiled. She stepped behind the tub as Johnny leaned slightly forward, firmly holding onto the towel with both hands. If Murdoch could only see me now! He mused. SuYen soaped the cloth into a heavy lather, reaching to put the soap back into the holder, it slipped out of her hand and into the tub. Starting at the nape of his neck she worked in small circles, her fingertips pressing into his muscles just enough to relax them. She slowly made her way downward changing the pressure accordingly. She dropped the cloth and used both hands to knead and massage his spine. Johnny moaned.
“SuYen hurt Master Johnnysun?” She exclaimed taking both hands away.
“No, no, SuYen helping Master Johnnysun. My muscles were really sore. Now they feel sooooo much better.” Her hands immediately slid across his shoulders, working the muscles from the center of his neck outward in both directions. After a few minutes, SuYen slid her hands to his left bicep. She turned and twisted the knotted muscle until she felt it slacken then moved her hands to his other bicep and did the same.
“You lean back now.” She reached up and grabbed another towel off the shelf, rolling it to place behind his neck. Johnny was so relaxed and felt so good he would have done anything she told him to . . . well almost. Once his head was positioned, SuYen filled two buckets with warm water and poured one of them over his head. She sat the other bucket at her feet. “SuYen wash Master Johnnysun’s hair. Need soap. I get.”
Johnny immediately sat forward and searched the bottom of the tub. Bringing his hand up he cried,” No need. Here it is.” SuYen took the slippery bar from his fingers and waited for him to lean back against the towel again. She dipped her hands into the tub then rubbed the soap between them. She worked her fingers gently through his thick black hair from his forehead to his neck then lifted them and repeated the motion several more times. When she washed the sides of his hair, she employed firmer pressure using just her fingertips. Johnny inhaled deeply and expelled his breath slowly. He had never felt this relaxed before. At that moment, he didn’t have a care in the world.
Teresa decided to ignore the dishes until later. With both Johnny and SuYen otherwise occupied, now would be a good time to talk to Murdoch and Scott. Walking into the parlor, Scott looked up and offered a quick smile. Murdoch was too absorbed in the newspaper he held up in front of his nose to even notice. Teresa cleared her throat. It was only then that Murdoch lowered his paper.
“Oh Teresa, I didn’t hear you come in.” Teresa crossed to the chair in front of the hearth just opposite Murdoch’s.
“Mind if I sit down? I have something . . . well, something I think you should be made aware of.”
Murdoch closed the paper, folded it in half and tossed it to the floor. He picked up his glass of bourbon and took a swallow. As he did, he waved his hand at Teresa indicating she should sit down. Teresa perched on the front edge of the chair, knees tightly together and hands folded in her lap. She looked into the fire for a moment. “Go ahead darling, tell me what’s on your mind.”
Scott looked up, “I can leave you two alone and finish these letters in the library.”
“No, “ Teresa said, glancing over her shoulder in Scott’s direction. “You should hear this too.” Scott rose, dropped his pen on the desk, picked up his snifter and walked over to lean his elbow on the mantle.
Murdoch leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. There was great concern in his eyes. Teresa had never appeared so solemn before. Their conversations up until this time were always about supplies, special meals, her going to visit a friend. He intertwined his fingers and placed his hands between his knees. “Go ahead dear, tell us what’s got you so upset.”
Teresa took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Glancing at Murdoch and then up at Scott, she dropped her eyes to the floor. “It’s about Johnny . . . and SuYen.” She stated. Murdoch’s brows arched and he looked up into Scott’s face. Hearing about something Johnny had done wrong was nothing new but the source was. Teresa was not known to tattle and, if anything, usually defended him.
“What about Johnny? Has he done something wrong . . . again?” Murdoch asked.
Teresa fidgeted under his and Scott’s scrutiny. She licked her lips and turned her head to look directly into Murdoch’s eyes. “SuYen told me that she and Johnny are . . . ,” Teresa paused “ . . . sleeping together.”
Murdoch brought his hands up and rested them against his chin before leaning back in his chair. He raised his eyes to Scott’s face.
“I can’t believe that.” Scott defended.
“You know your brother. He can’t wait for Saturday nights.”
“Well, yes sir that’s true, but those are . . . saloon girls. They’re in the business of . . . making him happy, should we say.” Scott felt uncomfortable speaking of Johnny’s “recreational activities” in front of Teresa. “He would never take advantage of a young girl like SuYen.” He affirmed before taking a sip of brandy. “Would he?” He added quietly.
“SuYen told you this?” Inquired Murdoch. Teresa nodded. “And just how did this conversation come about?”
Teresa swallowed. “We were in the store. Johnny sent SuYen into town with me. She had nothing, not even a change of clothes, so he asked if I would take her and buy her some things.” She could see Murdoch nodding slowly out of the corner of her eye. She continued, choosing her words carefully. “I told Mrs. Canfield SuYen needed two nightgowns. I had lent her one of mine but it was way too big and way too long.”
“That makes sense,” Murdoch said, looking up at Scott who merely nodded. “I know the girl only had that small black cloth bag with her when she came here. So the mention of night clothes brought about this . . . admission?”
Teresa nodded. “SuYen said she doesn’t wear nightclothes because sleeping with Johnny keeps her warm. That that’s how they’ve slept at night ever since he . . . won her.” Teresa hesitated, chewing on her bottom lip and looking up at both men. “She said she needs to be prepared for whatever Johnny desires. She said he expects her to be ready to do whatever he demands no matter what time of day or night it is. In fact she slept in his room just last night.”
Scott’s face paled and his eyes took on a bewildered expression. Could his brother . . . his little brother, actually be “using” SuYen in such a way? He knew that Johnny had a healthy sexual appetite but, after all, men his age usually thought of pretty much nothing else but he still couldn’t believe that Johnny would actually be doing those kinds of things with such a young girl. He looked at his father.
Smoke was coming out of Murdoch’s ears. The man’s face was morphing from a deep red to almost purple. The veins in his neck were distended and Scott could actually see his father’s heartbeat in his left temple. The roof was about to be blown off the hacienda and propelled clear into the next county. Murdoch’s large hands, fingers spread wide apart, where gripping the armrests of his leather chair so tightly that the man’s knuckles were turning white. “Where is he?” He growled. “Where is my . . . son and where is SuYen?”
“Johnny said he was going out to the bathhouse and take a bath. I believe SuYen is out there with him.”
Murdoch erupted out of his chair, folding both hands into fists and distorting his face into a scowl. Scott tried to step in front of his father in an attempt to calm him down but Murdoch raised his left arm and actually pushed Scott out of the way. He marched down the hall toward the back of the house. These escapades were going to stop and they were going to stop right now. He was not about to condone such behavior in his house and certainly not from one of his own sons. Scott put his snifter down on the mantle and hurried after his father. If he couldn’t stop him he was at least going to be around to pick up the pieces.
Murdoch pushed the back door open so hard it bounced off the side of the house and two panes of its glass window crashed to the porch floor. Scott saw that Murdoch was clenching and unclenching his hands as he walked and hoped that his little brother was at least in a position to defend himself. Murdoch grabbed the handle of the bathhouse and was just about to step around the divider when he heard their voices. He paused to listen.
After SuYen had rinsed Johnny’s hair, she lightly soaped her fingertips and began to massage his temples and then slide them gently back and forth across his forehead. She worked down either side of his cheeks to his jawline and slid her fingers beneath his chin, working the flesh up and back until she felt the tension relax. “Oh SuYen, don’t stop. I can’t believe how good it feels when you work your fingers up and down like that.” Rinsing her hands in the water she soaped her palms more heavily and was just about to begin massaging Johnny’s chest.
Johnny couldn’t help but moan in pleasure. The muscles of his back, neck and face felt so much better. All the tension seemed to drift away. He was actually fighting to stay awake.
“Master Johnnysun feel better? You like SuYen’s manipulations?”
“Oh SuYen, I have never felt like this before. You are simply the best. Your touch is so gentle and yet I love the firmness in those fingertips when you rub me. I know I’ll sleep like a baby tonight after all you’ve done for me. I wish you could do it all over again.” Johnny murmured before he began moaning softly. He was glad all the lathering had created a foamy film over the top of the water for, even though he tried to stop it and think about something else, nature had taken over. Releasing the towel, it floated off his lap and against his leg. The buoyancy of the water, its comforting warmth and its gentle wave action was working wonders on his lower anatomy.
Murdoch had heard enough. As he stormed around the partition Johnny’s gunfighter reaction took over and he jumped to his feet. When he realized that his father’s eyes were focused below his waist, he quickly dropped back into the sudsy water. “What the hell is going on here? You,” he barked, pointing at SuYen, “get out. Go back in the house.” SuYen squared her shoulders, clenched her jaw and met Murdoch’s gaze unflinchingly. Murdoch took a step forward.
“Go on SuYen. Go back in the house,” Johnny whispered. SuYen searched her master’s face and saw both apprehension and embarrassment. “Go on, it’s okay.” Only then did the girl swish her soapy hands in the water and grab a towel on which to dry them. She gave Murdoch an angry glare through narrowed eyes as she squeezed her way around him.
Murdoch was breathing heavily like a bull preparing to charge. His fingers stopping curling and uncurling and were now held in tight white-knuckled fists. His eyes burned into Johnny, seemingly piercing right through him. Johnny dropped his head and held his breath.
“Nothing happened.” Johnny muttered.
His statement only served to agitate his father even more. After all, Murdoch had just heard his son moaning with pleasure with his own ears. “Nothing happened,” he spat. “If nothing happened then how did you get . . . then why are you . . .why do you have . . .” Murdoch was at a loss for words. “I was standing right there,” he barked, pointing to the partition. “I heard what you said, heard how you moaned in pleasure. Don’t tell me nothing happened. Get out of that tub and in the house. Now!” He roared.
“But Pa,” Johnny began looking up into his father’s face. Murdoch’s hardened eyes and his expression said it all. The man was not about to listen to excuses or listen to reason. “Yes sir.” Johnny mumbled, grabbing the towel off the bottom of the tub to cover what he could. Thankfully as Johnny began to stand, Murdoch swung around and turned his back to his son. Johnny grabbed a dry towel off the shelf and wrapped it around his waist. He then bent down, picked up his dirty clothes and grabbed his boots. “I didn’t bring any clean clothes . . .” He stammered.
Murdoch spun around, feet planted wide, hands on hips and bent forward until the tip of his nose almost touched the tip of Johnny’s. “You have five minutes to get in that house, get dressed and meet me in the den.” He hissed, saliva spraying onto Johnny’s face. “Is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” Johnny whispered, hanging his head down so far that his chin nearly touched his chest. There was no way to wiggle around his father and get out the door. Johnny’s eyes shifted from side to side trying to figure out what to do. Finally Murdoch, realizing he was blocking the way but telling himself he was damned if he was going to apologize for it, turned and walked out the door. Johnny swallowed hard. He was, at the very least, thankful that his father had not punched him or, God forbid, drowned him. Holding the towel together with one hand and his boots and clothing in his other arm, he stepped outside. That’s when he saw Scott standing in the shadows. Scott took a step forward but stopped when Johnny looked up into his face with pleading eyes. Scott could see the embarrassment and humiliation his little brother was suffering. Johnny walked silently past him, through the back door and across the kitchen to the back stairs. Murdoch was standing, arms akimbo, near the table. When SuYen began to follow his youngest son, Murdoch reached out and grabbed her arm.
“You, young lady, are staying right here.” SuYen tried to twist her arm free of the big man’s grasp but the more she fought the tighter his hold became. Finally she stopped struggling, glaring into Murdoch’s eyes.
“It is my custom.” She hissed before spitting on Murdoch’s shirt. Scott had entered the house and stood watching from the kitchen doorway. As Murdoch drew back his free hand, ready to slap the girl across the face, Scott stepped up and grabbed his wrist.
“Murdoch no,” Scott said. “It’s not her fault.” Murdoch and SuYen locked eyes, neither one wanting to be the first to back down. Finally Murdoch let go of her arm and stormed past Scott. Within seconds the pocket doors to the den slammed shut with a bang. Scott turned to SuYen.
“I need to go to Master Johnnysun.” She said with pleading eyes. “It is my duty. If SuYen fails in her duty to her master, SuYen will be beaten and sent back to China.”
Scott offered a small smile. “I think you better stay down here. Johnny is getting dressed then he will be back. Here, sit down at the table. I’ll get you a glass of milk.”
“SuYen not drink if Master Johnnysun not tell SuYen to drink.”
Scott opened the cold box and poured about a half serving of milk into the glass he held in his other hand. Setting it down in front of SuYen he said, ”I’m sure if Johnny was here now he would tell you to drink it. It’s okay, SuYen, I give you my permission in my brother’s absence.”
SuYen took a few small sips, stopping immediately when Johnny entered the kitchen from the back stairs. She hurried over to fall into place behind as he crossed to the table. He glanced at Scott in passing but said nothing. He exited the room, turning right and stopped in front of the doors to the den. “SuYen my father wants to talk to me alone. I need you to stay out here. Why don’t you go down to the library. There’s lots of books for you to look at. I’ll come find you when I’m through.” SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
“Master Johnnysun no more like SuYen. SuYen make trouble for Master Johnnysun. You must beat me now.”
Johnny took a deep breath. “I told you I would never beat you. I want you to promise me you’ll never say that again. Promise.”
“I make American promise.” She whispered.
“Now go on. Go in the library and look around. I’m sure you can find a picture book to look at until I’m done. Then I promise to come right down there to find you.”
“American promise. Now go on.” SuYen slowly walked toward the library door, glancing back over her shoulder with questioning eyes until Johnny nodded. Swallowing hard and taking a deep breath, Johnny knocked on the den doors.
“Enter,” Murdoch barked. Johnny slid the doors apart just enough to squeeze through them sideways. “Close those doors.” Johnny brought the doors together just until they touched. Turning he found his father sitting behind his large desk, which had been completely cleared of paperwork. Not a good sign. Murdoch had his hands folded in front of him, fingers interlaced. Johnny walked over to one of the leather tufted chairs on the opposite side of the desk and sat down. He rested his widely spread fingers on his thighs and waited, casting his gaze to the edge of the desk closest to him. “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Murdoch growled. Johnny looked up to meet his father’s icy cold eyes.
Minutes passed exaggerated only by the ticking of the clock in the corner. Finally Murdoch spoke. “I want to discuss you and SuYen.” Johnny opened his mouth to speak but quickly clamped it closed when his father arched both eyes brows. “Are you telling me the truth when you said you won her in a poker game?”
“Yes sir,” Johnny whispered.
“Yes sir,” Johnny repeated in a loud clear voice.
“I understand you two have been sleeping together. Is that true?”
“Well, actually . . .”
“Yes or no.” Murdoch growled.
“Yes sir, but you see . . .”
“You mean to tell me that you’ve taken that young girl to your bed?”
“If you’ll let me explain sir . . .”
“You’ve got one minute.” Murdoch answered, glancing at the clock to note the time.
“That first night, after I found out I had . . . acquired her, everything was already closed up so we had to sleep in the livery. There was an empty stall so I put down some clean hay and spread a blanket down for her. I went to the farthest corner of the livery, spread some straw around and laid down. I fell asleep and when I woke up the next morning she was lying next to me. I swear Pa I was just as surprised as you.” Murdoch never batted an eye. “I . . . I immediately got up and asked her why she wasn’t in her own bed and she said it was her duty to keep her master . . . to keep me warm. I swear Pa, I swear it was her idea, not mine. She said it was her custom.”
“Hmph,” Murdoch muttered. “That’s the first night. What about the other nights? What about last night?”
“The two nights out on the road . . . well it happened just the same way. I would fall asleep and wake up with SuYen next to me. I tried to explain to her to stay in her own bed, that she was not to leave it and lay down with me but . . . she said it was her custom. I tried to tell her Pa, I really did.”
“Hmph. So SuYen forced herself on you, did she? And you didn’t . . . reciprocate?” Murdoch could tell by the expression on his son’s face that Johnny didn’t know what that word meant. “You didn’t force yourself on her?”
Johnny leaned forward. “No sir. Pa, she’s just a kid. I would never . . .”
“You still have not explained about last night.”
Johnny slowly shook his head. “Teresa made SuYen comfortable in the guest room. I told her to stay there. I went to my room, shut the door, got undressed . . . mostly, and went to bed. I woke up early this morning because I had to pee. I tripped over something because I didn’t light the lamp. When I went back to light the lamp I tripped again and fell on the floor. I found out that I had tripped over SuYen; that she was sleeping on the floor next to my bed. Pa I was so glad to be home and in a soft bed that I fell right to sleep. I never even heard her come in. She told me it was her custom. That she was to make herself available to her master at all times of the day or night in case he needed something. I mean something like . . . like a drink of water or something. I told her to go back to her own room. In fact I ordered her to do so. Pa every time she thinks she has done something to make me mad she asks me to beat her. I don’t know what to do.” Murdoch saw the sincerity in his youngest son’s eyes as he told of what happened and the pleading in his youngest son’s eyes at not knowing what else to do. Murdoch leaned back in his chair and exhaled.
“That still does not explain what I heard when I came in the bathhouse. You were moaning . . . in pleasure I might add . . . and the words you spoke, well. . .”
Johnny blushed. “I hurt so bad all over that I could hardly walk. You saw me at supper; how sore I was. I snuck out to the bathhouse to take a hot bath. I had my head laid back on a towel and fell asleep. When I felt something . . . when I felt the bar of soap drop on my thigh I opened my eyes and there she stood. I almost jumped out of my skin. I told her to leave and she refused. She said it was her duty. I told her again and again but it was clear to me she wasn’t going anywhere so I told her she could wash my back . . . and only my back.” The embarrassment on his face became obvious. “She started massaging my back and it felt so good. Pa I can’t tell you how good that felt. When she was done she washed my hair and started massaging my scalp and then my face and my neck. I was practically asleep again. I haven’t felt so good in a long time. But I swear Pa that it stopped right there. I was not about to let her wash anything else. I kept a towel over my . . . lap . . . the whole time.”
“Oh? Then how did you get . . . aroused.” Now it was Murdoch who was embarrassed.
Johnny cheeks flamed. “Between the warm water and the feeling like I was floating and the rippling of the water . . . it just kinda happened. It had nothing to do with SuYen. It was just one of those things. I kept covered up the whole time. Well, at least until you stormed in and nearly scared me out of my wits.” Murdoch tried hard not to chuckle remembering the look on his son’s face. Clearing his throat he continued.
“You have a problem my boy and her name is SuYen.”
Johnny sighed and slumped back in the chair. “Tell me about it. What do I do?”
Murdoch shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t tell you that son. That’s something you’re going to have to figure out all your own. You got yourself into this mess, it’s up to you to get yourself out of it.”
“Yah, lucky me.” Johnny mumbled. “Can I ask you a question?” Murdoch nodded. “Did Teresa have anything to do with you finding all this out?”
“I don’t want you to get angry with her for coming to me. She was concerned and she did the right thing. Had something been going on it was my responsibility to stop it. There are other people living in this house you know.”
Johnny pondered this information for a second. “One other question. How could you think me and SuYen were . . . doing something out in the bathhouse when she had all her clothes on?”
Murdoch dropped his gaze. He hadn’t thought about that. “There are other ways.”
Johnny blushed again knowing what his father meant from his experiences in town on Saturday nights. Tilting his head, his eyes looking directly into his father’s he asked one more question. “Do you believe me?” Murdoch didn’t know quite what to say. He quickly reassessed the situation and his son’s explanation in his mind. It did make sense. He didn’t know a lot about Chinese culture or customs but his heart spoke volumes.
“Yes son I do. I apologize for doubting you; for thinking that you might have done the wrong thing.” Murdoch stood and came around the desk. Johnny rose and faced his father. Murdoch extended his hand and shook his son’s. “Try to make SuYen understand how things are done in our country. Ask Scott to help you. But Johnny, I don’t want SuYen sleeping in your room, much less your bed, or giving you a bath again. Is that understood?” Johnny nodded. Murdoch lightly slapped Johnny on the back. “Now get out of here. I have paperwork to do.”
Johnny was grateful that his father had believed him; that the trust between the two was growing stronger. Quietly sliding the doors open, he stepped in the hall and closed them just as quietly behind himself. He found Scott leaning against the wall between the den and the dining room holding a coffee cup in one hand with his other hand tucked in his front pocket.
“Yah, I’m okay.” Scott removed his hand from his pocket, took a step forward and ruffled his little brother’s hair before passing him and entering the parlor. Johnny turned to follow him but veered the opposite way to enter the library. He found SuYen sitting in one of the large wing chairs, ramrod straight, eyes focused on the doorway, hands folded properly in her lap. When she saw Johnny, she jumped up. Johnny gave her a wide grin. “Everything’s okay now. Murdoch isn’t mad any more, at either of us. But we do need to talk about some of your customs and Scott and I are going to teach you some of ours.”
“SuYen like to learn American promises.”
“Good. Well it’s too late to start teaching you tonight. We’ll find some time tomorrow. But American promise one thing. American promise me that you will sleep in your own room tonight. No more sleeping with Master Johnnysun.” SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “SuYen . . . promise me.”
“SuYen American promise but what if Master Johnnysun needs something during the night? How will SuYen know?”
“Master Johnnysun is a big boy. I can take care of myself. If I have a need during the night I can’t take care of, I will come and get you. I American promise.” SuYen smiled. “Come on.” Johnny turned and made his way to the front staircase with SuYen following two paces behind. “Good night Scott.” He called while ascending the steps. Once at the top SuYen immediately turned down the hallway toward her own room. With one hand on the knob, she looked back at her master who simply smiled. “Good night SuYen.”
“Please to dream good things Master Johnnysun.” She whispered before entering her room and closing the door.
Johnny slipped into his room, sat on the edge of the mattress and pulled off his boots. He laid back on the bed and bent both arms up to put his hands behind his head. Almost an hour later, he heard Scott’s bedroom door close. He jumped up, tiptoed to his door and opened it just enough to look down the long hallway. SuYen’s door remained closed and no lamp light slid out from under it. He closed his door quietly and tiptoed over to Scott room. He didn’t want to knock because he didn’t want the sound to echo down the corridor and draw any attention. Grasping the knob, he opened the door just enough to slide inside.
Scott spun around wearing only his cutoff long johns. “Johnny,” he growled. Johnny held a finger to his lips. “What the hell are you doing coming in here without knocking?” Scott continued in a whisper while snatching his robe off the chair and wrapping it around himself, tying the belt securely.
“Scott, big brother, I need to ask you a huge, gigantic favor.” Johnny murmured in a low voice. “Can you please, please, please go down to the kitchen and bring me back a piece of that cake and a glass of milk? Please!” Johnny looked up at his brother’s eyes and put on his most pleading face. His hands were folded in a prayer-like fashion and he held them up in front of his chest.
“I just got up here. I’m tired . . .”
“Please?” Johnny looked like he was going to cry.
“Just go down the back stairs and get it yourself. Teresa went to her room twenty minutes ago and Murdoch is in the parlor reading the newspaper.”
“Please? I can’t go down. SuYen will hear me and start to follow and you know she won’t let me have any because, as she puts it, ‘it’s not healthful for Master Johnnysun’. Scott I’m going to starve to death if you won’t help me. I’d do it for you buddy.”
Scott exhaled a long, slow breath. “All right,” he relented. “But just this once.” Scott brushed past his little brother, opened the door slowly and checked out the hallway. Finding it empty, he walked in bare feet to the back stairs and disappeared around the corner. Johnny sat down on his brother’s bed. His mouth watered at the thought of the crème filled cake with its chocolate frosting, all to be topped off with icy cold milk. It seemed to be taking an awfully long time for Scott to return. Finally his brother shouldered open the door, used his foot to close it, and handed Johnny the plate, fork and glass. “Here,” he grunted. “Get off my bed.”
Johnny took the items from Scott’s hands and stood. “I love you buddy. You saved your little brother’s life.” Scott untied his robe, tossed it on the foot of the bed, pulled back the covers and climbed in. Johnny leaned back against his brother’s dresser and slid down its center to avoid the pulls. He sat the glass on the floor next to his knee and shoved a hefty forkful of cake into his mouth, groaning in please.
“What are you doing?” Scott asked, rolling on his side and looking at Johnny.
“I’m eating,” Johnny mumbled around another bite of dessert.
“Why are you eating in my room? You’ll get crumbs all over the rug.”
Johnny drank down almost half the glass of milk. “I have to. If SuYen finds any crumbs on my floor or these dirty dishes in my room, she’ll know!”
Scott rolled his eyes and flipped onto his back. “Well hurry up. I want to go to sleep.”
“So sleep,” Johnny replied, stuffing another big bite of cake into his mouth.
“With the light on?” Scott muttered. “Oh, Johnny. For all the times I wished I had a little brother and for all the good times we’ve had, there are times like this . . .” Scott groan and rolled on his side so his face was towards the wall. Johnny quickly finished both the Boston Crème Pie and the milk, sat the dishes on the top of his brother’s dresser and blew out the lamp.
“Sweet dreams buddy,” he whispered before going back to his own bedroom.
When Johnny woke up the next morning, first he checked to see if he was alone in bed. He was. Rolling over, he dropped his head over the side of the mattress and examined the floor. No one there. Flopping on his back he sighed a breath of relief. SuYen had kept her American promise. He crawled out of bed, stretching his arms above his head before scratching his belly. The muscles of his back and neck felt so loose and relaxed unlike the muscles in his butt and thighs which were hardened with cramps and tension. If only SuYen . . . Johnny pushed the thought out of his mind. He leisurely shaved, brushed his hair and dressed. When he opened the door, the aroma of fresh coffee and sausage rising up from the kitchen via the back stairs made his stomach growl loudly. Hurrying downstairs, he found his father sitting at the table, his plate half empty and Teresa standing at the stove frying eggs. SuYen stood at the far counter with her back to him until she heard his voice at which time she hurried to his side.
“Mornin’”, he exclaimed. Murdoch grunted while sipping his coffee. SuYen greeted him with a quiet “good day” and a slight bow. “I sure am hungry. I could eat a horse.” Johnny took his place at the table. “Pa I tell you, I slept like an absolute baby last night. My back . . . well at least the upper half . . . feels wonderful.”
“That’s nice son. I wish I could say the same.” His father replied, putting one hand against his back at waist level.
“Your back bothering you again?” Murdoch nodded. “You should have SuYen rub it for you. She’s great.”
“Hmm. I don’t think that would be appropriate Johnny. I’ll manage.”
Teresa had a plate of eggs, sausage and biscuits in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Johnny looked longingly at the food which Teresa was eating. A moment later SuYen sat a large bowl in front of Johnny.
“Your good morning meal, Master Johnnysun.” She announced, laying the chopsticks next to the bowl.
Johnny looked down. He didn’t recognize the substance contained in the pottery vessel. “What is this?” He asked hesitantly.
“In China it is considered a very fine dish. It is usually only made on special festival days.” SuYen said proudly.
Johnny maneuvered the chopsticks in his hand and tried to pick up a bit of the food. It was useless. His fingers were just too clumsy to manage the slender wooden sticks. “SuYen, please, Master Johnnysun needs to use a spoon. It is an American custom.”
SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “Very well. SuYen must honor Master Johnnysun’s customs just like Master Johnnysun honors SuYen’s.” Crossing to the drawer in the hutch, she took out a spoon and carried it back to him. Johnny scooped up a portion and gingerly put it in his mouth. It was disgusting. Chewing it the very least that he could, he forced it down his throat. Not wanting to hurt SuYen’s feelings, he grinned at her slightly.
“Mmm. Fancy Chinese dish hah? You’ll spoil me.”
SuYen smiled broadly. “It take a long time to make. SuYen up very early but SuYen not mind. It is an honor to cook for Master Johnnysun.”
“And what did you say was in it again?” Johnny asked holding the empty spoon in his hand.
“I make egg noodles, dry them, add salt and a little pepper. Then I melt down cow fat and pour it over the noodles and cool it very quickly so the fat gels like egg whites. Very good. SuYen only gets to eat it herself twice a year on holidays.”
Johnny glanced sideways at Murdoch who was chuckling silently behind his newspaper. “Eat up son,” Murdoch said. “Time’s a wastin’. You told me you wanted to get an early start on those horses.” Murdoch stood, folded the paper and dropped it on the table. Picking up his hat and gloves he slapped Johnny lightly on the back in passing. “Enjoy your breakfast!”
Johnny pursed his lips and exhaled slowly. SuYen looked so pleased with what she had made that he felt like he had to eat at least some of it. Grinning at her, he scooped up another spoonful and forced it between his lips. The temperature inside his mouth made the beef fat melt until it ran down the back of Johnny’s throat in a gelatinous glob. He forced the noodles into the pouch of his cheek. “Can I have something to drink?” He asked. SuYen scurried away to get the small granite coffee pot off the stove. While her back was turned, Johnny searched frantically to find a place to spit out the absolutely awful mixture. SuYen was too quick at her task and turned back to serve him up some tea. Johnny had no choice but to swallow. Although he detested the drink, he gulped it down simply to wash away the residue of the beef fat clinging to his teeth.
Leaning back in his chair, Johnny rubbed his belly. “Boy, this is really filling. I don’t think I can eat another bite.” He slid the bowl toward SuYen. “Here SuYen, Master Johnnysun wants you to finish this.” SuYen eagerly picked up the bowl and moved to sit in Murdoch’s vacant chair. Johnny watched as she wolfed down the remaining mixture with a smile on her face. Johnny shuddered. Although he was eager to get to work, he waited until the bowl was empty in fear that if SuYen rose to follow him and she hadn’t eaten it all, she might save it for his breakfast the next day.
Johnny stood, pushed in the chair and put his hat on his head. SuYen immediately leapt to her feet and quickly walked over to his side. “I’m going to work now. I have horses to break. I’ll be back for lu . . . supper.” He almost said “lunch” but didn’t think he could stomach whatever she would make him. He would eat with the hands if at all possible.
“SuYen go to work with Master Johnnysun. It is my custom.”
“Oh SuYen, wouldn’t you rather stay here? It’s not really a place for young ladies. It’s hot, it’s dusty, I’m sure you would be bored.” SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. Johnny sighed. “Okay, come on, but just until noon. Then I want you to come back to the house and I don’t want any argument, you understand me?” SuYen nodded. “American promise?”
“American promise.” She replied. Johnny turned to leave through the back door. How was he going to explain this to the hands. Men being men he knew there would be swearing, spitting, raunchy stories . . . Perhaps telling them she was only going to watch for a little while would temper them enough to settle down and act like gentlemen. Yah, right!
“Yah,” he said without turning.
“SuYen not understand why you want to break a horse.”
Striding onward across the pasture toward the corral of wild horses, Johnny tried to think of a short, to-the-point explanation. “The horses are wild. We need to be able to ride them. We have to teach them how to wear a saddle and what it feels like to carry a rider.” When she didn’t question him further, he assumed she understood. Most of the hands were already gathered around the corral fence. Some still stood holding their coffee cups. Coffee! Oh how Johnny wished he could have even just a little taste but he would have to wait until lunchtime.
Due to her small stature, the men didn’t see SuYen behind their boss’s broad shoulders. They were already talking about their latest conquests in town and what their plans were for next time. “Hey,” Johnny called out sternly. “Enough talk. We have work to do.” The hands looked from one to the other. This was odd behavior for Johnny as he usually eagerly joined in their conversations, especially if it involved the girls that worked at the saloon. As he pulled on his gloves and opened the latch on the gate, they saw the reason.
Johnny closed the gate then rested one arm on the top fence rail. “SuYen you must stay on that side of the fence. No matter what. You cannot come in here with me or the horses. It would be very dangerous and you could get badly hurt. Do you understand me? I want you to make me an American promise.” SuYen looked around nervously at the other men who basically were staring at her. She finally nodded. “No SuYen, I want you to say it. Say you American promise. Otherwise you have to go back to the house.”
“SuYen American promise,” she whispered.
“You see those bales of hay over there?” Johnny pointed and SuYen turned slightly to follow his indication. “I want you to go and sit on one of them and stay there. No matter what happens to Master Johnnysun. American promise.”
“I American promise,” she mumbled, turning and walking toward the large stacked bales. She chose one on the second tier so that she could see over the fence. Johnny rolled his eyes.
“Don’t ask.” He warned the men. Studying the herd for a few minutes, he quickly chose the mare he would be working with this morning. “That one,” he said, pointing to a smaller horse roan in color. The men opened the secondary corral gate and drove the remaining horses through it. As soon as the roan stood alone, Johnny got to work. He had purposely chosen an animal of smaller stature so that if . . . when . . . he got thrown he likely wouldn’t get hurt and scare SuYen. He had his eye on a heavily muscled stallion for later that afternoon.
SuYen sat as still as a statue. She now understood what her master had earlier explained about what he was going to do. The first time Johnny got thrown, she jumped to her feet and gasped. The hands near her turned and looked then returned their focus on the corral. About the fourth time Johnny was thrown, SuYen put her hands over her eyes and kept them there until Johnny came over to her and touched her arm.
“SuYen are you okay?”
“SuYen not like to see Master Johnnysun get hurt. SuYen not like to have to stay here when SuYen should go to Master Johnnysun to comfort him and care for his wounds.” Her voice sounded as though she was near tears.
Johnny gently took a hold of her wrists and pulled her hands away from her eyes, which were tightly squeezed shut. “SuYen look at me,” he said softly. Very slowly SuYen opened her eyes and looked into his face. Johnny gave her his brightest smile. “See, I’m okay.”
SuYen shook her head rapidly back and forth while she stood up. Reaching out a single finger she carefully touched the corner of Johnny’s mouth. “You bleed here. You lie to SuYen.”
Johnny wiped at his lips with the back of his hand. “I just bit my lip a little. Happens all the time. Really, SuYen, I didn’t lie to you. I’m fine.” Johnny saw the genuine concern in the girl’s eyes. “Now you promised – American promised – Master Johnnysun that you would go back to the house when we stopped for lunch. Well, it’s time now.”
“SuYen not have food for Master Johnnysun.”
“That’s okay. I’m still pretty full from breakfast.” He said, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a burp which brought the taste of the beef fat back into his mouth. “I usually don’t even eat lunch. I’ve got a lot of work to do.” He took her hand and helped her down.
“SuYen go home. Make Master Johnnysun very nice supper.” She gave him a wide smile and bowed slightly before trotting back across the pasture toward the house.
Johnny inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, and made his way over to the chuck wagon. The noon meal was only beans and bacon but that was fine with him. At least there was coffee, blessed coffee, and he nearly drained the pot dry. Good thing the cook always made two.
“So what’s with the little China doll boss?” One of the hands asked, causing the others to chuckle.
“Her name is SuYen,” Johnny sternly answered. He bristled when they called her a “China doll”. “She is staying at the ranch for a while.”
“Where did you get her? A friend of Teresa’s?”
Johnny swallowed the last of his coffee. “No, no friend of Teresa. I met her on the way back from delivering the last herd, if it’s any of your business.” He stood and tossed his empty plate on the table. “Time to get back to work.” The other men knew by the tone of their boss’s voice that the conversation was over. They followed Johnny back to the corral. Pulling his gloves back on, he pointed. “I want to work that big stippled stallion.” The hands dispersed to bring the animal into the empty corral.
Teresa spied SuYen coming toward the house. She had prepared everything for a nice lamb stew, having baked fresh bread just that morning and had an apple pie all ready to go into the oven.
SuYen entered the back door. She felt bad that she hadn’t prepared a lunch for Johnny to take with him and succumbed to a moment of self-pity. SuYen had to remind herself she belonged to Master Johnnysun and it was her duty to make him happy and no one else. Lifting her head and squaring her shoulders, she set about gathering the ingredients she would need to make him his supper. Picking up the wicker basket, she made her way to the garden. She took her time inspecting the vegetables so as to pick the perfect ones. She then entered the barn for a time until she knew the pie would be done and Teresa would take it out of the oven so as not to get in her way.
SuYen quietly opened the back door, stepped inside, and closed it behind herself. She placed the basket on the table and went into the pantry to retrieve the rest of the ingredients for her special recipe. She would serve her master an amazing supper that would make him proud to own SuYen.
Johnny walked in the front door, hung up his hat and gun belt, and took a step down into the parlor. Crossing to the liquor cart, he poured a generous glassful of tequila. Murdoch was sitting in his favorite chair going through some receipts. Johnny walked over and dropped into the matching chair just opposite of his father’s. He took a deep swallow of the tequila then dropped his head back, sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
Murdoch looked up at his youngest son. “Son, you look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet!”
Johnny lifted his head and looked at his father. “You got that right Pa. That stippled stallion is having no part of being saddle rid. I can’t count how many times he threw me. I finally gave up for the day. Got that little roan mare pretty well under control though. Should be done with her tomorrow. That only leaves . . . how many more?”
“The order from the fort was for at least a hundred. If you’ve got thirty-four saddle ready and adding the mare that leaves sixty-five more at a minimum.”
Johnny groaned, tossed the remaining tequila down his throat and struggled to his feet. “I could sure you another massage like SuYen gave me last night.”
“Johnny . . .” Murdoch scolded, arching only one eyebrow. Never a good sign.
“I know, I know. I’m just sayin’ is all.” Dragging himself over to the front staircase, he lumbered up the steps. “I’m gonna go clean up some. I’ll be down for supper.”
Johnny’s shoulders slumped. All he wanted was a bath, clean clothes and a good supper. He was fighting to stay awake as he stood with one hand on the doorknob. Tilting his head back to look up at the ceiling, he whispered, “Why me Lord? Why always me?” He entered his room, closing the door quietly behind himself.
As Johnny came down stairs a short time later, Murdoch was just coming out of the parlor to make his way to the dining room and Scott was just coming in the front door. Johnny stood on the bottom step, shoved his fingers in his front pockets, and waited for his brother to hang up his hat, jacket and gun belt. Johnny stepped down to the foyer floor, threw one arm over Scott’s shoulders and together they walked into the dining room. Taking their places, they waited for their supper.
Teresa placed a bowl of lamb stew in the middle of the table. She returned seconds later with a basket holding thick slices of bread and a crock filled with fresh butter. Murdoch ladled some stew into his bowl and, looking at Scott pointed at the bread indicating that he should hand him a piece of it and the butter. After serving his father, Scott took some stew and bread also. Returning the ladle to the serving dish with the handle toward Teresa, she then helped herself to some.
SuYen brought Johnny’s supper in from the kitchen. Smiling brightly, she sat the plate down gently in front of him and took off the lid she had used to keep it hot. Immediately this enticing aroma wafted through the room.
“Boy that smells good,” Johnny exclaimed, taking a deep whiff. Glancing at SuYen, her hand disappeared into her pocket and she pulled out a fork. “No more chopsticks?” She shook her head. “Now I can eat!”
Murdoch and Scott both looked longingly at the plate full of browned meat, green peppers, onions, red peppers and thinly sliced green cabbage in a thick gravy-like sauce. Teresa was at best a hit-or-miss cook and tonight’s lamb stew was clearly a miss but neither man dared to say that in her presence. Holding their spoons in one hand and their slices of buttered bread in the other, they watched as Johnny took his first bite. He literally closed his eyes and grinned ear-to-ear.
“Oh SuYen, this is fabulous.” He shoveled another forkful into his mouth. “I’ve never had anything like this before. You want a taste?” Johnny offered looking up at his father, brother and Teresa. Seeing the look of warning on SuYen’s face they declined.
“Master Johnnysun make SuYen very happy.”
“No SuYen make Master Johnnysun very happy. It’s going to be hard to leave you any.”
“Master Johnnysun not worry. SuYen made herself some too.” Johnny was thoroughly enjoying his meal, moaning with pleasure at each bite he took. Swallowing and pausing long enough to speak he asked SuYen what was in this wonderful dish.
“It healthful for Master Johnnysun. Fresh onions and peppers and cabbage. Sauce made from cloves and honey and beef broth and pepper. SuYen sorry, I did not have any soy sauce.”
“That’s okay. It tastes great just as it is.” Johnny took another forkful. “What kind of meat is this?” Johnny asked, spearing a piece with the tines of his fork and holding it up to study it.
“Rat. Nice and fresh. SuYen set a trap in the barn. Caught a big one. Still warm when SuYen found it.”
Johnny’s face paled before turning this kind of celery green. He dropped his fork, looked between his father and brother and jumped up from his chair so quickly it fell over backward with a crash. Johnny pushed SuYen out of the way and ran full throttle out the back door. He barely made it to the shrubs next to the barn before he threw up.
SuYen froze for a moment with a look of total shock on her face. Finally, she spun around and ran after her master. She stopped at the bottom of the back porch steps and watched as Johnny violently vomited up all his supper and probably part of his lunch.
Inside Murdoch, Scott and Teresa looked at each other for a minute and then burst out laughing. “I’m glad we didn’t take that taste Johnny offered.” Murdoch said.
“You aren’t the only once sir. I’ve eaten some . . . delicacies . . . but never of the rodent variety.”
“Do you suppose we should go check on him?” Murdoch asked, his eyes showing genuine concern.
“He’ll be fine as soon as he finishes puking.” Scott reassured his father before starting to snicker again.
“Well I don’t know about you but I’ve lost my appetite. Should we?” Murdoch stood and tossed his napkin on his chair. Scott followed suit. Glancing disgustedly at Johnny’s plate as they passed, they headed to the parlor for a strong drink. Teresa began gathering all the dirty dishes. All that is, except for Johnny’s plate which she wouldn’t have touched for a thousand dollars.
SuYen quietly walked up behind her master. Johnny had one hand braced against the side of the barn and the other was holding his stomach. He had brought up all the contents of his belly but the thought of what he had just eaten kept him dry heaving.
“Master Johnnysun sick?”
“Go away SuYen.” Johnny said breathlessly. Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip.
“But . . .”
“Get away from me. Go back in the house. Now!” He barked, arching forward as another wave of dry heaves overtook him.
SuYen dropped her head and cast her eyes downward. She didn’t understand. One minute her master was enjoying his supper and the next . . . Maybe it had something to do with being thrown off that horse so many times this morning, she reasoned. Glancing back over her shoulder she slowly climbed the steps and entered the back door. Pulling a chair from the kitchen table, she positioned it so that she would immediately see Johnny when he came back inside.
“He’s been out there quite a while. Maybe I should go check on him.” Scott said in a worried “big brother” tone.
“Yah, maybe you should. Bring him a glass of water. I’m sure he’ll need it if for nothing else but to rinse his mouth out.” Murdoch suggested.
Scott couldn’t help but glance into the dining room on his way past which caused him to shudder. He squeezed past SuYen and filled a large glass with cold water. When he headed toward the back door SuYen stood. “You better stay here.” Scott stated. SuYen sat back down.
There was no moon, only the dim lamp light that shone through the kitchen window. Looking around he didn’t see his little brother anywhere. “Johnny?” Scott called out. When there was no answer, he walked over to the barn. Entering he saw his brother sitting on a hay bale, head hung down nearly between his knees, an empty bucket between his feet. “Johnny?” He whispered crossing to sit down next to him. “Here,” Scott said while holding out the glass of water.
Johnny glanced at it, wrinkled up his nose and turned his head away. Scott put an arm around his brother’s shoulder. Johnny’s shirt was damp with perspiration and he was trembling slightly, panting to catch his breath.
“Johnny, come on. Take just a sip. At least rinse your mouth out.” Scott crooned trying to comfort him.
Johnny turned to look into his brother’s face. Scott clamped his thin lips together to keep from gasping. Johnny’s face was beet red. Sweat trickled down from his forehead and beaded on his upper lip. Johnny reached out with a shaking hand to take the glass. Rather than let it go, Scott held on to it and brought it to Johnny’s lips. His brother took a mouthful, swished it around and spit it out into the bucket. He heaved a couple more times but couldn’t bring anything up.
“I bet you and Pa had a good laugh out of this, didn’t you?” He muttered. Scott was glad that Johnny wasn’t looking at him as he stifled a snicker.
“Johnny, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t know it was rat.”
Johnny grabbed the bucket and heaved several times. Trying to catch his breath, he stammered, “Will you please stop reminding me.” Scott suddenly felt very guilty. It was obvious his brother was feeling bad enough without having someone else add to his misery. Johnny started shivering.
“Come on little brother. Let’s get you inside and up to bed before you catch pneumonia.” Scott stood and put his arm around his brother’s back and placed his free hand on his elbow to help him up. Johnny clutched the bucket to his chest for dear life. Walking up the back pathway, Scott looked up to see his father standing in the doorway.
“Is he alright?” Murdoch asked quietly, taking Johnny’s arm to help him up the steps.
“He will be. I think a warm bath and a good night’s sleep will do wonders.”
“Should I send for Sam?” Teresa asked, drying her hands on her apron.
Scott shook his head. “No, we don’t need a doctor. Murdoch if you’ll please help me get him upstairs, I’ll take care of him.” They led Johnny to the front staircase which was wider and made it easier for one of them to support him from each side. SuYen followed. Murdoch and Scott sat Johnny down on the edge of his bed. SuYen stood quietly in the doorway. Scott looked beseechingly into his father’s eyes. Murdoch crossed to the door, took SuYen’s arm gently in his large hand and steered her back a few steps in order to close Johnny’s bedroom door.
“I must go to Master Johnnysun. It SuYen’s fault he is sick. Must help him.”
Murdoch, still holding the girl’s arm, walked with her to the stairs and began his descent. Once in the parlor, he let go of SuYen’s arm and bent down to talk to her. “SuYen did nothing wrong. I’m sure the . . .meal . . .you prepared is common in China. Johnny thought it was really good, didn’t he?” SuYen nodded, hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “Come, sit down on the sofa for a little while. Scott is helping Johnny get undressed and then he’s going to give him a bath and tuck him in bed. Johnny will be fine in the morning, you’ll see.”
“SuYen is a failure. I greatly disappoint Master Johnnysun yet he refuses to beat SuYen. You beat SuYen?” She asked, looking up at Murdoch.
“No SuYen. I will not beat you. That may be a custom in your country but it is a crime in ours. You did nothing wrong. You will not be punished.”
“American promise,” Murdoch murmured. He smiled down gently at SuYen as she sat down on the couch intently watching the front stairs.
Murdoch poured himself a stiff drink and took a large swallow before crossing over to his favorite chair, sitting down and picking up the book he had been reading.
Upstairs Scott was struggling to remove Johnny’s clothing. It would have been a lot easier if his brother would simply let go of the bucket but when Scott tried to take it away, Johnny’s grip only tightened. He finally convinced Johnny to let go with one hand just long enough for Scott to pull his arm out of his shirtsleeve. He repeated the process on the other arm. Next Scott knelt, pulled off his brother’s boots and then his socks. Johnny’s pants were going to be the real problem because they were so tight. “If I hold the bucket for you, can you strip off your pants and underwear?” Scott asked. Johnny looked up into his big brother’s face. He knew Scott was only trying to help him.
Slowly Johnny stood and handed the bucket to Scott. “Hold it right here,” he said. Scott held the vessel under his brother’s chin as indicated. Johnny bent slightly to unfasten his pants, push them down along with his underwear and step out of them. He immediately sat back down on the bed and took the bucket back. Scott grabbed Johnny’s robe off the hook on the back of the door and wrapped it around his brother’s shoulders.
“I’m going to go across the hall and run a bath. I’ll be right back to help you. Are you going to be okay?” Johnny nodded slightly. “Call if you need me.” While the tub filled with warm water, Scott grabbed several thick towels off the shelf and laid them on the sink. When the bath was ready, he went back and helped his brother up. Scott pulled the robe around his brother’s slim waist and tied the belt. He followed Johnny across the hall and closed the water closet door. Scott took off Johnny’s robe and hung it on the back of the door. He supported Johnny’s arm as his brother stepped over the high rim of the tub with first one foot and then the other. The bucket still tightly clenched in Johnny’s hands, he slowly lowered himself into the water. “Give me the bucket Johnny. I’ll set it right here within easy reach, okay?” Johnny looked up into Scott’s eyes. He wouldn’t have trusted anyone else. Slowly he handed the bucket to his brother, who placed it right up against the outside of the tub.
Johnny relaxed back against the curved rim of the tub. He closed his eyes and sighed. Scott sat on the closed lid of the commode. Tossing a washcloth into the tub, he watched his brother carefully. He was afraid Johnny might fall asleep and slip under the water. After a few minutes, Scott rolled up his sleeves and threw a towel on the floor. Kneeling next to the tub, he wrung out the washcloth and gently stoked his brother’s face with it. Johnny opened his eyes. Scott’s loving attention was so comforting. Taking the cloth from his brother’s hand he rinsed it out.
“I can finish,” Johnny murmured. “Just stay in here with me, will ya?” Scott nodded and sat back on the commode. Johnny soaped the cloth and began gently scrubbing his neck, arms, chest and then his legs and feet before rinsing off. As Johnny stood, Scott wrapped a towel around his waist and supported him as he stepped out of the tub. Scott draped another towel over his little brother’s shoulders then rubbed briskly to dry his back and upper arms. Johnny picked up another towel and started drying his chest, legs and feet. Leaving the towel around his waist, he pulled his robe around himself, holding it closed. “Bring the bucket, Scott, please?” Scott picked up the vessel and followed Johnny back to his room. Scott placed the bucket on the floor near the head of the bed then pulled back the corner of the sheet and blanket. Johnny tossed his robe on the chair and then dropped the towel. He climbed in between the sheets and Scott quickly covered him up and tucked in the edges of the blanket.
“Feeling better?” Scott cooed, reaching out to sweep his brother’s thick black hair away from his forehead. Johnny nodded.
“Thanks big brother. I owe you one.”
“You owe me nothing. That’s what big brothers are for. Do you want anything? A drink of water?” Johnny shook his head and scrunched up his nose.
“Just sleep. Just want to sleep.” He rolled on his side and bent his left arm up underneath the pillow. Before Scott left the room Johnny was asleep.
Wearily Scott descended the steps and walked into the parlor. SuYen looked up anxiously followed by Murdoch. “He’s fine. He’s asleep. I think a lot of the problem was thinking about what he had just eaten. I don’t think it was the food itself. He will need to drink a lot of fluids tomorrow. Maybe he should take the day off.” Murdoch nodded, picked up his pipe, struck a match and sucked the flame into the tobacco. “SuYen, Johnny would want you to go to bed now. It’s getting late.” SuYen stood, hung her head and cast her eyes downward. Taking tiny silent steps, she crossed the foyer and climbed the steps.
Making sure she was out of earshot Scott dropped in the chair opposite his father’s and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. “What are we going to do about SuYen sir?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think we have enough information to make any kind of decision about her right now. I don’t even know where to start.” Murdoch said, sitting forward and mimicking his son’s posture. “I think we need to sit down with her and Johnny and see if she’ll tell us anything; anything we can use to get her back to her people.” Scott nodded.
Murdoch stood and tapped his pipe tobacco out into the fireplace. “I’m going to bed. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.” Scott stood and followed his father upstairs. Murdoch paused and pressed his ear against Johnny’s door in passing.
“I’ll check on him sir. Good night.”
“Sleep well son.”
Scott quietly opened his little brother’s door and peeked in. He had left the lamp burning low. Johnny was lying on his stomach, arms draped over either side of the bed. His slow breathing indicated he was sleeping peacefully. Scott smiled, closed the door and went to bed.
Teresa, Scott and Murdoch had already eaten and were sitting at the kitchen table when Johnny, looking quite like something the cat dragged in, came down the back stairs with SuYen on his heels. His hair stood out at odd angles, he wore only socks – no boots, he hadn’t fastened his belt, his shirt was miss-buttoned and he hadn’t shaved. Walking over to his chair, he dropped down, put his elbows on the table and dropped his head in his hands. “Just kill me now. Don’t make me suffer.” He mumbled. SuYen, standing near his right elbow, looked beseechingly from Scott to Murdoch.
Murdoch reached out a hand and laid it on Johnny’s shoulder. “Can I get you something son? A glass of milk or some eggs?” SuYen opened her mouth to speak until Murdoch glanced at her and shook his head.
Johnny dropped his forearms to the table and laid his head down on them, turning his face towards his father. “Food? You want me to eat food? I may never eat again!”
Murdoch patted his son’s shoulder before taking his hand away. “I think you should at least drink some water. Keep your fluids up. If not Sam will have to come and put that awful tube back down your nose and force feed them to you.” Johnny remembered the pain and discomfort of that rubber tube and how he couldn’t wait to be rid of it.
“Okay, water. But just a little.” SuYen quickly scurried to the hutch, took down a clean glass and filled it with cold water. Setting it down in front of her master, she took a step back and waited, a concerned expression on her face. Johnny took a minute sip, wrinkled his nose and swallowed.
“SuYen know how to make Master Johnnysun feel better.”
Scott looked up. “You do?”
“Oh yes. SuYen trained in Chinese medicine.”
“Well then, little lady, I’d surely appreciate anything you can do.” Murdoch stated. A wide smile quickly spread across SuYen’s face. Turning she hurried into the pantry returning just seconds later, her arms laden with jars, bottles and bags. She spread them out on the counter and pulled out a pot.
“It will take SuYen only moments to mix it but it needs to sit for some time before Master Johnnysun can drink it. You take Master Johnnysun in parlor room and lay him on the sofa?”
Murdoch and Scott both stood. Each taking a hold of one of Johnny’s arms, they pulled him to his feet and put their arms around his narrow waist to walk him into the parlor. Lowering him to the couch, Scott tucked a pillow behind his head while Murdoch took the blanket off the rocking chair and covered his son from the chest down. Johnny closed his eyes.
“Sir I have that northwest quarter line shack to repair but I hate to leave him like this.”
“I can watch him. I have some paperwork that I’ve been meaning to complete. I’ll bring it in here and use the table by the window. He’ll be okay. Don’t worry, just be back by supper time.” Scott nodded, took one last look at his little brother’s face and crossed to the foyer to retrieve his hat and gun belt. Murdoch heard the front door close softly behind his eldest son.
Teresa had ridden over to a girlfriend’s house and wouldn’t be back until supper time. Johnny dozed most of the morning. About eleven o’ clock, SuYen appeared with a large mug. Steam rose from the top and Murdoch could recognize the aroma of cloves.
“Master Johnnysun needs to drink this now.” SuYen stated quietly.
Murdoch rose and approached the couch. Touching his son’s arm, he called his name. Slowly Johnny’s eyes opened. He looked from his father’s face to SuYen then to the cup she held. He desperately hoped it was not that awful, bitter willow bark tea that Sam was always forcing on him.
Johnny swung his legs off the edge of the couch and took Murdoch’s offered hand to pull himself up into a sitting position. SuYen advanced a step and held the mug out to him. Looking into SuYen’s eyes he accepted the cup from her hands. Whatever it was, it smelled pretty good but then so had last night’s supper. Johnny looked up into his father’s eyes.
“SuYen, tell me what this is made of, please.” Murdoch asked.
“SuYen use tea leaves, cloves, ginger, honey, and a tiny bit of salt.” Johnny’s eyes pled with his father’s.
“Anything else?” Murdoch asked, understanding his son’s look. SuYen shook her head. Johnny raised the cup to his lips and was just about to take a swallow when she spoke.
“Oh yes, one more thing. SuYen forgot.” Murdoch arched one eyebrow. “Molasses sugar. SuYen know that Master Johnnysun likes sweet things very much.”
Sighing in relief that there were no scorpions, worms, spider webs, or bat eyes in the mixture, Johnny took a small sip. It was pretty good. He drank it readily and soon the mug was empty. He handed the cup back to SuYen and thanked her. SuYen bowed slightly and hurried back to the kitchen. Murdoch put one of his large hands on Johnny’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Johnny grinned then laid back down but didn’t go back to sleep. SuYen brought a cup of the tea mixture to her master every hour on the hour. By late afternoon, Johnny was feeling and looking much better. “I’m kinda hungry Pa.” Johnny said. Murdoch had never heard sweeter words. If Johnny was hungry Johnny was well. Murdoch went to the kitchen and returned with a small plate of bread with just a slight touch of butter. Handing it to his son, Johnny immediately took a big bite. “If that doesn’t upset your stomach, I’ll heat up some chicken soup.” By the time Scott got home, Johnny was sitting in the chair by the hearth reading a book.
“Well, don’t you look the picture of health.” Johnny looked up and gave his brother a grin that said it all. “Sir,” Scott said nodding towards his father.
“When’s supper?” Asked Johnny. “I’m starving.” Scott looked at his father who simply smiled.
“Well, I’m not too sure. Teresa hasn’t come home yet and I don’t think you’ll want to eat SuYen’s cooking for quite some time. We might have to fend for ourselves.”
“I’ll go see what I can scrounge up,” Scott said taking his leave.
“Where is SuYen anyway?” Johnny asked.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t seen her for a while.”
“Hmp,” Johnny muttered. He didn’t know if he should be worried or relieved. Before long Scott announced that supper was ready. Exchanging looks father and son strode back to the dining room. There was a platter of some kind of egg dish, bread and butter, sliced fresh fruit and – Halleluiah! – fresh coffee. As the men settled in their chairs, SuYen came around the corner and took her place near Johnny’s right elbow.
Johnny helped himself to a couple slices of the buttered bread and a piece or two of each kind of fruit. When Murdoch handed him the platter of eggs, he hesitated and glanced at his big brother. “What’s in this?”
Scott smiled understanding Johnny’s reluctance to helping himself. “They’re called omelets. It’s kind of like scrambled eggs with filling inside. It’s good. We ate them in some of the best restaurants in Boston.”
Johnny looked at the platter and then back at Scott. “What kind of filling?”
“These have a little onion, a sprinkle of fresh chives and melted cheese.”
Johnny slid one on his plate and stared at it for a few minutes. He was waiting for his father and brother to each take a bite first.
“Scott this is wonderful. We should make these for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Johnny try it. It’s good, really.”
Johnny cut off a small piece with his fork, speared it, brought it up to his nose to take a sniff and finally cautiously put it in his mouth. Scott and Murdoch were studying him, looking to see his reaction. As he chewed a smile came to his lips. “Good job big brother. This is great.” Accepting the fact that there was nothing strange or unusual in his food, Johnny ate heartily. After finishing his second cup of coffee he glanced over at SuYen who stood with head hung and eyes cast downward. Returning his gaze to Scott, Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “SuYen I feel so much better. Thank you for making that tea. It really, really helped. It made Master Johnnysun very happy.” Slowly SuYen lifted her head, a shy smile creeping across his lips.
The front door opened and Teresa rushed in. “I’m sorry I’m late. I see you’ve already eaten. Good, because the Montclair’s had an early supper and I joined them. I’ll clean up.”
“SuYen I would like you to come with us into the parlor. We have some things we need to talk to you about.” Murdoch said, standing. SuYen looked anxiously at Johnny.
“It’s okay SuYen. We’re just going to talk.”
“Teach SuYen American customs?”
“No, not tonight. We just want to get to know you better, that’s all.” Murdoch replied with a reassuring smile. Scott and his father started walking toward the parlor. As soon as Johnny followed them SuYen fell into step behind him. Murdoch sat on one end of the sofa and Scott on the other. Murdoch patted the cushion between them and SuYen carefully stepped over Scott’s foot and sat down gingerly on the very edge. Johnny pulled the coffee table back a little bit and perched upon it, crossing his legs Indian style and resting his arms on his thighs. He kept a grin on his face in hopes it would make SuYen feel more comfortable. Right now she looked like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Murdoch nodded his head just slightly at his youngest son hoping Johnny would catch his signal.
“SuYen, you know a lot about Master Johnnysun but Master Johnnysun doesn’t know much about SuYen. Where in China do you come from?” SuYen glanced around at all of them before answering.
“SuYen come from southern China.”
‘Well that’s something’ Johnny thought glancing at his brother. “Why did you come to California?”
“I was ordered.” Scott shrugged his shoulders and looked at his father who raised both eyebrows.
“Ordered?” Johnny asked. SuYen merely nodded. “Okay. Ordered. Do you have family back in China? SuYen nodded. “Do you have family in our country?” SuYen shook her head. Johnny looked at his father with pleading eyes. He didn’t know what else to ask.
“SuYen,” Murdoch said in a quiet voice. “Where did you learn to speak English? Did you go to school?” SuYen turned to look at Murdoch and sought approval from her master before answering. Johnny nodded.
“SuYen learn English from missionaries. SuYen not go to school.” The conversation seemed to be going nowhere.
Murdoch sighed and gazed at Scott. “SuYen did you come to our country alone or was someone with you?”
“SuYen come alone.”
“How old are you?” Scott was also running out of any type of questions that might help.
“SuYen live sixteen years. SuYen born in the year of the monkey”
“Well SuYen,” Murdoch said, pushing himself up of the sofa. “Thank you for talking to us. It was very interesting.”
“SuYen go help Teresa clean up the kitchen now.” Standing she looked up into Murdoch’s face. He smiled and nodded. Then she looked into Johnny’s face who mimicked his father. Carefully sliding past Murdoch, she hurried off to the back of the house. Murdoch sighed and dropped back down on the couch.
“Well, that was a big help!” He said with an exasperated tone in his voice. Scott leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees.
“Okay, we know she comes from southern China. That doesn’t really tell us anything. There could easily be a hundred or more villages in that area. We know she learned English from missionaries, but they might have traveled from one village to another, so that’s no help. We know she has family there but none in our country. We know she came here alone and we know she is sixteen years old. Putting that all together we pretty much end up right where we started.”
“Who would send a sixteen year old girl – by herself – on a voyage like that?” Murdoch asked. Johnny, head tilted, had been staring at the junction where the wall met the ceiling. “Son, I can almost hear the wheels turning. What are you thinking?”
Johnny tapped his index finger to his lips. “What did she mean by ‘ordered’? Ordered? Does she mean someone ordered her to come here?”
“I don’t know son. She may not have understood herself. She may say ‘ordered’ and mean something totally different.”
“Well, we tried. Now what?” Scott said, standing and crossing to pour himself a brandy. “Johnny do you have any idea where these men came from in that poker game? Did any of them say anything that might be a clue?”
Johnny drew his eyebrows together, going back through what he remembered of their limited conversation. He shook his head slowly. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and his eyes twinkled. “The wagon. It was a rented wagon, where I found SuYen. What was the name of the . . . The Imperial Wagon Works out of San Francisco.” He looked back and forth between his big brother and his father.
“It’s a start. Somebody would have had to sign the rental papers. I’ll ride into town tomorrow morning first thing and send a wire. Keep your fingers crossed. Maybe we’ll get lucky.” Murdoch stood again and groaned slightly at the crick in his back.
“I tell you Pa. You should let SuYen massage that for ya.”
“Don’t start with me Johnny. I’m going to go take a hot bath and go to bed. Don’t stay up too late.”
“Good night Pa/Sir,” Scott and Johnny said in unison. Scott knew what the gleam in Johnny’s eye meant. He stood, crossed to the table and began setting up the chess board. Johnny was ahead by three games. The first one to win by five got to choose a chore for the other one to do and Scott could about imagine what his brother’s ingenious mind might come up with. He shuddered.
SuYen returned to the parlor, saying that Teresa had gone upstairs. She stood near Johnny and watched for a couple minutes as each man calculated their next move. “Master Johnnysun,” she whispered.
“Just a minute SuYen, I’m thinking.” Deep in concentration, Johnny finally moved his bishop and was promptly admonished with the cry of ‘check mate’ by his brother. Johnny was about to swear when he remembered that a sixteen year old girl was standing right next to him. “Okay SuYen, what did you want?”
“With Master Johnnysun’s permission. In SuYen’s humble opinion moving your knight instead of your bishop would have won you the game.“ Johnny and Scott both studied the board then looked at SuYen in amazement. She was right.
“SuYen, you play chess?” Scott asked. SuYen nodded.
“SuYen very good at chess.”
“Well we’ll have to play sometime.”
Johnny stood and stretched his arms above his head, yawning broadly. “Time for us to go to bed, SuYen.” Scott snapped his head up and searched his brother’s face. Realizing his mistake he immediately corrected himself. “I mean you go to your bed and I’ll go to mine. Remember, American promise.”
“SuYen remember.” Waiting for Johnny to walk past her to the staircase, she fell into pace two steps behind. Reaching the top she bowed slightly. “SuYen wishes her master healthful sleep.”
“Thank you SuYen. Sweet dreams.” Johnny stood and watched her walk down to her room, enter and close the door. He turned and walked down the hall to his room.
As soon as Johnny opened the door, the hair on the back of his neck bristled. The furniture had been totally rearranged. The lamp had been moved to the dresser. The bed turned against the opposite wall. The mirror which used to hang above the dresser now hung on the wall where the bed used to be. Even the braided rug had been moved. Johnny’s eyes narrowed. Scott! It had to have been Scott. He said he would get Johnny back for a prank that Johnny had pulled on him and that his little brother wouldn’t know when or where.
Johnny stomped back to the staircase ready to confront his brother when he found Scott coming up the stairs. Johnny waited at the top. As soon as Scott stepped up into the hallway, Johnny grabbed a fist full of his brother’s shirt and literally dragged him down the hall, shoving him through his bedroom door. “Very funny. Ha, ha.” Johnny hissed. “Now put it all back. I’ll wait.” Scott quickly scanned the room.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do this.”
“Well if not you, who?” Scott shrugged his shoulders. “You told me you would get me back for that prank I pulled on your birthday. Nice payback! Now put it all back.”
“Johnny I swear I didn’t do this. Ask Murdoch. I was at the northeast quarter line shack all day. You know how far out that is. There is no way I could’ve come back, did this, and then gotten back out there. Ask Hank if you don’t believe me. He rode past just as I was loading the wagon to come home for supper.” Johnny studied his brother’s face which held a look of total innocence.
“Yah well, I will ask Pa and Hank and if I find out anything different . . .now get out, I’m tired.” Johnny said, pushing Scott into the hallway and quickly closing the door. Scott shook his head while crossing to his room.
Johnny undressed and jumped in bed. He tossed and turned. This was just plain weird. He was all disoriented and couldn’t get comfortable. He laid with his head toward the headboard then he flipped and laid with his head toward the foot end of the bed. Nothing seemed ‘right’. Finally he tossed the pillow and the quilt on the floor. Arranging himself on the hard wooden surface as if the bed was still in the old position, he rolled over and went to sleep, revenge clearly on his mind.
He woke up with the sun shining in his eyes nearly blinding him. Johnny had to think a moment about where he was, everything seemed topsy-turvy. Finally he remembered. Struggling to his feet, he found his back tight from sleeping on the floor. He tried to stretch and twist his torso to loosen the muscles. While it helped some, it was far from perfect. Johnny pulled open his top dresser drawer to grab some clean socks and underwear. Shirts? Why were his clean shirts in his sock and underwear drawer? He slammed the drawer shut and opened the next one. Why were there pants in his shirt drawer? Opening the third drawer he found his clean socks and underwear except the third drawer was for his clean nightshirts. Oh, Scott was in for it now. Swearing in Spanish under his breath while he dressed he had really worked himself up. By the time he walked into the kitchen for breakfast fire flashed in his eyes.
Murdoch noted the Madrid expression on Johnny’s face. His son was obviously very angry about something. Johnny poured himself a cup of coffee, roughly pulled out his chair and threw himself down in it. Resting his forearms on the table and holding the coffee cup between his palms, he glared through narrowed eyes at his older brother. Scott had been looking down to load some eggs on his fork and when he looked up and saw the expression on Johnny’s face he froze. If looks alone could kill he would be dead. Murdoch glanced back and forth between his two sons. Draining his coffee cup, he stood. “I don’t know what’s going on between the two of you . . .” Johnny opened his mouth to explain but was stopped when his father turned both hands palm out. “. . . and I don’t want to know. I am going into town and send that telegram. I want peace in this house so I expect the two of you to work out whatever your problem is by the time I get home. Understand?”
“Yes sir, “ Scott replied. Johnny continued glaring at his brother.
“Johnny,” Murdoch barked. His youngest son got up, pushed his chair back under the table, grabbed a couple biscuits from the basket in the center of the table, poured his coffee down the drain and went back upstairs. Murdoch rolled his eyes. Would there ever be just one minute when everything in his house would be copacetic?
SuYen stood at the top of the stairs. “Good day to you Master Johnnysun”. She said cheerfully, taking note of the scowl on Johnny’s face.
“Mornin’” he mumbled, walking past her back to his room. It would take him most of the day to put it back the way he liked it. SuYen fell into step behind her master. She watched for a minute as Johnny began throwing things hither and yon out of the dresser drawers. Advancing a step, SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward.
“Master Johnnysun not like what SuYen has done.” She muttered. Johnny stopped hurling his socks, shirts and underwear around and looked at her.
“You did this?” SuYen nodded. “Why?”
“Ancient Chinese practice. Feng Shui. It is to bring positive energy into your life.” Johnny sighed and sunk down on the bed, or at least where the bed should have been thudding to the floor on his already sore butt.
“Oh great!” Johnny hated nothing more than having to apologize and he owed Scott a big one. “SuYen I know you meant well but . . .”
“SuYen disappoint Master Johnnysun. You beat SuYen now?”
“What did I tell you about saying that? You American promised never to use that word again.” He bellowed. SuYen backed up, clearly afraid of him. It showed all over her face and her body became rigid. Sighing he continued, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just that . . .” He wanted to explain that every time she said the word “beat” all he could think of was the mistreatment he had endured as a child. “I’m not mad. I was just very . . . surprised. I thought that Scott had done it to play a joke on me. I know you were only doing what you thought was best for Master Johnnysun.” Johnny pushed himself up. “Hey, will you help me put this stuff away? I made quite a mess.”
SuYen smiled and entered the room. She quickly picked up the scattered items of clothing, tossing them on the bed where she busied herself folding them. Carrying them back to the dresser she hesitated and looked at Johnny. She wasn’t sure if she should put them back in the drawer according to Feng Shui or the way they had been. Johnny grinned. “Put them back the way you had them. I liked them better that way.” He lied. He could always rearrange later.
Slinking down the front stairs, Johnny found Scott in the den busy with the books. Slipping his fingers in his back pants pockets, Johnny advanced sheepishly, standing opposite his brother. “What do you want?” Scott asked, not looking up.
“I’m sorry”, Johnny murmured.
“What did you say?” Scott laid down the receipt he had been entering into the ledger and looked up into his brother’s eyes, which had now morphed into big blue puppy dog spheres.
“I said I’m sorry,” Johnny repeated just a little bit louder.
Scott leaned back in Murdoch’s oversized leather chair and spread a smug look across his finely carved features. “I told you I didn’t do it.”
“Yah, I kinda found that out. Seems SuYen used some Chinese thing to make it better for me. I’m sorry I blamed you and grabbed your shirt and stuff.”
Scott knew how hard it was for Johnny to admit any wrongdoing. He was tempted to prolong his misery just a little longer but thought better of it. “I forgive you but next time, ask instead of blame okay?” Johnny smiled and nodded. “Don’t you have horses to break?”
“Yah, I supposed I better get to work.”
“Or you could stay here and work on the books.” By the time he finished his sentence and looked up Johnny was long gone. Scott snickered to himself.
Johnny told SuYen that she had to stay around the house today; that she could work in the garden, clean up the kitchen, sit in the library and read a book. It didn’t matter to him as long as she didn’t follow him to the corral. SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “SuYen do what Master Johnnysun tells SuYen to do.” She mumbled.
Johnny put on his hat and strapped on his gun belt. “I’ll be back for supper.” He told her walking out the front door.
SuYen decided to clean up the kitchen as a surprise for Teresa who had gone back over to her friend’s house to finish hemming a dress. She dusted the hutch, washed all the dishes, scrubbed the floor, washed the window. Shortly after she started, one of the hands came in through the back door. Seeing her, he immediately took off his hat. “Ma’am,” he said. “Is Scott around?” SuYen nodded and pointed toward the den. “Thanks ma’am.” The man said walking down the hall. SuYen’s curiosity was piqued and she tiptoed down the hallway until she was just steps from the den doors.
“Carl, what can I do for you?” Scott said, stopping his entries for a minute.
“We were rounding up cattle in the east pasture in order to move them into the southeast grazing land and one of them fell or tripped or something. Anyway, the back leg was broken pretty bad; bone sticking out and everything, so we had to shoot him. What do you want done with the meat?”
“Check the ice house and see how our supplies of beef are holding out. If we’re pretty full up I’ll send some over to Aggie Conway’s and the rest to the Simmons. They’ve got all those kids and I know they’re barely making it.” Carl nodded and left to exit the way he had come in. SuYen had returned to the kitchen but as soon as the man left, she ran to the back door, down the porch steps and called to him. She said she heard him tell Mr. Lancer that he was going to butcher a cow and wondered if she could have some of it to make soup. Carl shrugged. He didn’t see why not. After all, it was Lancer meat and the soup would be for Lancer meals so . . . SuYen told him just what she needed. Carl gave her a strange look but told her he would bring her provisions back later that afternoon. SuYen smiled.
Murdoch sent the telegram then took care of some other business before deciding to eat lunch in town. He knew Teresa wouldn’t be home and he wasn’t too sure that he wanted SuYen to fix him any. After his noon meal, he strolled over to the saloon and ordered himself a beer. He was the only customer – it being midday – so made himself comfortable at a table and bantered with the bartender for a while. Hoisting himself up into the saddle, he rubbed at his back with one hand. Next time he got to town he would have to break down and ask Sam for some liniment or something. He really hated to admit that he was getting old.
Coming in the front door, Murdoch hung his hat and gun belt on the hooks. He went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and find SuYen. The girl was busy cleaning, and doing a good job of it too. “SuYen, can I talk to you in the den for a couple minutes?” SuYen put down her rag, dried her hands and followed him down the hall. “Sit down please.” He waited for the girl to settle, taking a sip of his coffee then dropping into his chair behind the desk. “I have come to a decision. Starting tomorrow, Teresa will be doing the cooking, baking and washing the dishes. No more special meals for Johnny. I understand it is your country’s custom to cook for the master but in this country we serve one meal for everyone at the table. I know you are preparing supper. I hope you made enough for all five of us.” SuYen nodded. “Good.”
“Then what SuYen do?” She whispered.
“I want you to take care of the vegetable garden and do the laundry. That should keep you plenty busy during the day when Johnny is at work.”
“SuYen happy to do those things, Honorable Master Murdochsun.”
Murdoch grinned trying not to chuckle at the name SuYen had bestowed upon him. “Thank you SuYen,” he said. “Now I would like to finish some paperwork. I will see you at supper.” Murdoch pulled the ledgers out of the bottom drawer.
A short time later, an enticing aroma drifted into the den from the direction of the kitchen. The smell seemed familiar to Murdoch but he just couldn’t place it. Making the excuse of needing another cup of coffee, he meandered that direction. There was a huge kettle on the stove. “Sure smells good SuYen,” he said with a smile. “Just came to get some coffee.” On his way past, Murdoch couldn’t resist the temptation to lift the lid off the pot and inhale deeply. “Soup?” He asked, turning to pour coffee while looking at SuYen.
“Yes, soup. You like?” SuYen wondered.
“Like I said, sure smells good. An hour until supper huh? Hope I can wait!” Taking his coffee he was on his way back to the den when Johnny came in the front door. He was caked with partially dried mud, his face smeared with dirt, his hair plastered to his head by sweat and Murdoch detected a slight limp. “You alright son?”
“I’ll live,” Johnny murmured while hanging up his gun belt and hat. “I’m going to go up and take a quick bath.” As he began to slowly climb the stairs, Murdoch walked over to the railing. As his son paused with one foot on the next step, Murdoch told Johnny about the agreement he had reached with SuYen. “Fine.” Johnny replied resuming his climb.
Half an hour later, Johnny came back downstairs looking much better – at least on the outside. Scott came out of the library and the two boys went into the parlor and poured themselves a drink. Walking together to the den, they asked Murdoch if he wanted one but their father refused. “Is that supper I smell?” Asked Johnny, lifting his chin and sniffing at the air while his stomach growled. “I know what that is!” He exclaimed. Setting his drink on the desk, he hurried to the kitchen. Briefly greeting SuYen, he lifted the lid from the kettle and picked up the large stirring spoon which lay at its side. Johnny swirled the soup around a time or two and then loaded the spoon with a little of the broth. Blowing across it to cool it slightly, he drank in the liquid and smiled. “Boy that’s good. I haven’t had this since I was a little boy.” He grinned broadly at SuYen, who returned his grin with a bright smile.
“Makes SuYen happy that Master Johnnysun is pleased. Food will be ready in ten minutes. You call family to the table?”
“I sure will,” Johnny answered, dropping the lid back on the kettle. “I can’t wait!” Trotting down the hallway, he told his father and Scott to come to the table. Teresa was just descending the front stairway. She overheard his announcement and turned down the hall. Teresa, Scott and Murdoch took their places and dropped their napkins in their lap. “Teresa, when did you get home?”
“About a half hour ago. I’ve been upstairs.”
Johnny eased himself slowly into a sitting position. He winced and sucked in his breath when his bottom met the seat of the chair. Murdoch grinned.
“That stippled stallion still giving you trouble?”
“You don’t know the half of it Pa. I’m about ready to give up and I ain’t never given up on a horse before.” Johnny groaned.
SuYen carried in a plate of fried bread and another of olives, pickles, cucumber slices, sliced tomatoes, and spiced beets. She went back to the kitchen and brought in the large soup tureen and, with Scott’s help, placed it in the middle of the table. Removing the cover she took a step back and waited for everyone to fill their bowls, then carefully replaced the lid in order to keep the remaining soup hot. Quietly walking around the table, she stood just off and a step back from Johnny’s elbow. The men all took a spoonful and blew on it to cool it before tasting it. Johnny didn’t even take the time to smile, he was hungry and impatient for the soup to cool enough so he could just keep shoveling it in.
“This is quite good, SuYen,” Scott said. “A dish from your country?”
SuYen nodded. “They used to make it in Mexico all the time.” Johnny chimed in. “I haven’t had it since I was a kid but I sure do love it.”
Murdoch took another swallow. “Reminds me of something my mother used to make back in Scotland when I was just a lad. She would only make it on special occasions as it took a lot of work, but the family sure enjoyed it.” He noticed that Teresa was sitting, spoon in hand, staring at the contents of the bowl in front of her. Murdoch cleared his throat and when she looked up, he gave her “the look”. Hesitantly, she dipped her spoon into the mixture. She tried hard not to shudder as she swallowed. Johnny was ready for his next serving and, as it pained him considerably to stand up and then sit down again, passed the bowl to Scott and asked him to refill it. After handing the bowl back to his little brother, he topped off both his father’s bowl and then his own. The diners all ate in silence for a few minutes except for an occasion moan of pleasure. When Teresa lifted her next spoonful of soup, she screamed, dropped the spoon, jumped up and knocked her chair over backwards. All three men snapped their heads to look at her.
“What wrong with you?” Johnny asked, being the closest.
“What . . . what’s in this . . . so called soup?” She stammered, backing away from the table until her shoulders were up against the wall.
“Why? It’s good, ain’t it?” Johnny asked taking a bite of fried bread.
“Something . . . looked at me!” She brought her napkin up over her mouth. Johnny grabbed Teresa’s bowl and fished around in it with his spoon.
“Oh man,” he grumbled. “Teresa won!” Murdoch snickered and Scott looked around at the others with an expression of total confusion. Johnny lifted the spoon. “She got one of the eyeballs!” Murdoch explained to Scott that whoever got an eyeball – one of the most tasty ingredients - in their bowl was supposed to have insight into the future. Johnny held out the spoon toward his sister. “Hear that?” It’s your lucky day!” Teresa’s eyes widen and her face paled. “Well, you’re loss!” Johnny exclaimed. Watching Teresa’s face he popped the spoon in his mouth and drew it out empty. Tucking the eyeball into the pouch of his cheek, he pretended to chew while grinning. Teresa pushed herself away from the wall, held both hands in front of her mouth and ran into the kitchen because she knew that she’d never make it outside before becoming sick.
Johnny spit the intact eyeball out into the palm of his hand, tossed it back into Teresa’s bowl and shuddered. “Yuk!” He exclaimed. “I thought for a minute I was going to have to really eat that disgusting thing.” Murdoch tried to contain his laughter so Teresa wouldn’t hear. Scott looked from one man to the other. Murdoch leaned in close to his eldest son’s ear.
“You never, I repeat never, eat the eyeballs. They are like chewing on rubbery grapes and very bitter. There is no such wives tale. I only made that up to play along. ” He looked at Johnny and found his youngest son’s face beet red and his eyes watering as he fought to control an outburst of laughter.
“You two are mean,” Scott chided, rising and throwing his napkin on his chair. “I’m going to at least go out there and check on her.” Murdoch waved his hand in such a manner to convey ‘go right ahead, we won’t stop you’.
Johnny leaned over toward SuYen. The girl bent her head to place her ear near her master’s lips. Johnny whispered to her,” SuYen, what’s in the soup.” SuYen explained that she had used most of the parts of the butchered cow including the stomachs, intestines, brains, liver, the sexual organs and, of course, the eyes; that the broth was a mixture of crushed tomatoes and the cow’s blood. Johnny thanked her and, straightening in his chair, rubbed his hands together in glee. Oh he was going to have fun with this information and make Teresa pay for a lot of the nasty tricks she had played on him. Scott walked back into the room and announced that Teresa was suffering in much the same way Johnny had when he had eaten the rat. Johnny almost squealed in delight. Trying to calm himself, he told Scott he was very concerned and that, since he had experienced similare effects, would go out to the kitchen and help in any way that he could. Murdoch raised an eyebrow.
Johnny paused right before entering the kitchen door. He sobered himself considerably in appearance while still quivering in joviality on the inside. Teresa had her forearms crossed on the edge of the dry sink and her head laid down on them. She was white as a ghost. Johnny walked over, put his hand on her back and started to rub it in gentle circles. “You okay?” He asked in his most sincere voice. Teresa moaned in reply but never moved. “You want a drink of water?”
Teresa lifted her head, uncrossed her arms and braced herself against the sink with her hands. “Do I look like I want a glass of water?” Johnny gave her his puppy dog look.
“I’m just trying to help. I know - from personal experience – just how bad you must feel.”
“How could you eat that . . . that . . .mixture?” She asked, crinkling up her nose.
“Like I said, they used to make in Mexico all the time. Couldn’t afford to waste anything down there.” Teresa put her hands up and held her forehead in them. “It’s really very good for you, you know. It uses some of the most nutritious parts of the cow; the stomachs . . .”
Teresa was turning a yellowish-green color.
“ . . . and the intestines” Johnny drew out his words to prolong her misery. “ . . .and the liver . . .” Teresa arched over the sink as though she was going to throw up again. “ . . .the brains . . .” Her body started to shudder. “ . . .of course the eyeballs . . .” Teresa dry heaved. “. . . even” Johnny leaned close to her ear and whispered “ . . . the . . . male organ, if you know what I mean.” That did it, she was heaving so hard she was barely able to catch her breath. Johnny straightened and took a step back. “Of course, the broth is made with the blood.” Bingo! Teresa grabbed an empty pail from beneath the sink, held it under her chin and ran up the back stairs. Johnny heard the door to the water closet slam shut a moment later.
Clapping his hands, he started chuckling as he walked down the hallway to find his brother and his father already in the parlor. SuYen began clearing the table. Johnny flopped down on his back on the sofa and crossed his arms over his stomach. His face was so red from having to contain his mirth while in Teresa’s presence, Scott thought his brother may be having a stroke.
“That wasn’t a very nice thing to do Johnny.” Murdoch said, trying not to snicker. “She didn’t deserve it.”
“Oh yes she did. Now we’re even for all those nasty things she did to me these past few months.” It took several minutes but finally Johnny was able to contain himself. Scott pressed his thin lips together while shaking his head slowly. Such childish pranks! He thought.
SuYen came into the room and stood next to the couch. “Master Johnnysun?” She murmured. Johnny turned his head to look up at her. “You sore?”
“Oh SuYen,” he moaned. “That’s putting it mildly. My hip and back are killing me. Got thrown off the da . . . darned horse too many times. I’m afraid Master Johnnysun is getting too old to break horses.” SuYen walked down to the foot end of the sofa and began pulling off Johnny’s boots. “Ah, SuYen, what are you doing?” Murdoch turned his head to check out the situation, watching them over the rim of his half-glasses.
“SuYen fix Master Johnnysun.” Johnny looked past her to his father who had both eyebrows raised. Johnny tried to push himself upright but SuYen put one hand on each shoulder and pushed him back down. “SuYen know how to fix any problem.” She stated flatly. Scott suddenly looked up from the book he was reading and Murdoch put down his paper. SuYen picked up Johnny’s stocking clad feet, arranged herself cross legged on the foot end of the sofa with her back supported by the armrest, and laid her master’s feet in her lap. Scott and Murdoch watched closely. Picking up one foot, SuYen began rubbing a section of it firmly using her thumbs.
“I’ve read about this,” Scott interjected. “It’s called . . . reflexology I think. The Chinese have charts of the foot and claim each section controls a different body part. By massaging that part of the foot, the nerves carry the message – if you will – to the body’s muscles. I’ve never seen it done but the Chinese developed medicines long before the rest of the world.”
“Well, as long as she only rubs his feet . . .” Murdoch grumbled, picking up his paper and turned his gaze back upon it.
SuYen moved her fingers to various areas of Johnny foot and toes. She watched Johnny’s face carefully for signs her ministrations were working. In a matter of minutes, Johnny had his eyes closed and appeared to be much more comfortable than before. SuYen put down his left foot, picked up his right foot, and began again. After about twenty minutes, she stopped, laid Johnny’s feet back on the sofa and stood. Johnny was asleep. SuYen tiptoed to the other end of the sofa and stood, leaning slightly over the armrest. Murdoch looked at her over his glasses wondering just what part of his son’s body she now intended to work on. SuYen placed one hand behind each of Johnny’s ears and began gently making small circles on a certain area with her index fingers. Satisfied, Murdoch turned back to his newspaper again.
Ten minutes later, she stepped away. Taking the blanket off the back of the rocking chair, she carefully shook it out and covered Johnny’s legs and chest. She tiptoed over to Murdoch. “SuYen go wash dishes now. Please to be quiet and not wake up Master Johnnysun.” She instructed before exiting the parlor and turning down the hall.
SuYen reentered the parlor about an hour later. Johnny was still sound asleep. Scott motioned for SuYen to come over to his chair. “SuYen,” he whispered. “How about that game of chess?” SuYen glanced over her shoulder to ensure she was not currently needed by her master then turned back to Scott and nodded her head.
Sitting on either side of the small table by the window, Scott set up the pieces and offered SuYen her choice of black or white. Saying she didn’t care, Scott took the black. They took their turns back and forth until, with SuYen’s fifth move she declared checkmate. Scott thought perhaps SuYen was mistaken but studying the board he realized that she did, indeed, have checkmate. Looking up with bewilderment on his face, SuYen offered a shy smile. Scott asked for a rematch and SuYen eagerly agreed. She won the next three games; the most moves the young girl had used was seven. The winning streak had attracted Murdoch’s attention and he pulled his chair closer to watch. Scott turned the board around so that he was now playing the white. SuYen won two more games, using as few as three moves. Scott was now gritting his teeth and rubbing his forehead. SuYen continued offering him a shy smile.
Johnny stirred on the couch and opened his eyes. The table, being along the wall and to the right side of the sofa’s armrest, he didn’t see anyone at first. “Hey, where did everybody go?”
“Please to excuse SuYen.” She hurried over to the couch. Johnny smiled up at the girl. “You feel more better now Master Johnnysun?” Johnny swung his legs off the end of the sofa and grabbed the back of it to help raise himself up. It was then that he saw Scott and Murdoch intently studying the chess board. SuYen followed his gaze.
“Oh yah? Hey Scott, how many games did you play brother?”
Without turning, Scott leaned back in his chair. “Six.”
“Six! How long have I been sleepin’?”
“Not that long.” Scott grumbled.
“Were you playin’ Pa or SuYen?”
“Did she beat ya?” Scott nodded slowly. “How many games?” Scott paused before he answered with embarrassment.
“Six.” Johnny looked at SuYen who was smiling brightly.
“You won all of them?” SuYen nodded. “Hey Scott, you know those games count toward my total for the week.” Scott turned in his chair to look at his younger brother.
“Why? You didn’t win them, she did.”
“That’s right. And SuYen belongs to me so therefore . . .”
“Therefore nothing!” Scott snapped, rising he crossed to the liquor cart and poured himself a scotch then returned to the easy chair, picked up his book, and quickly turned his full attention to his reading.
“Son I don’t think the term ‘belongs to me’ is appropriate. Nobody can own another human being.” Murdoch chastised.
“I’m sorry Pa. That’s not how I meant it, you know that. I’m sorry SuYen.” The girl merely nodded. “SuYen,” Johnny asked looking directly into her eyes. “Who do you think should get to count those winning games?” SuYen glanced over at Scott and then back to Johnny.
“Master Johnnysun. SuYen owe him her everything.”
“Ah ha,” Johnny shouted. “Thank you SuYen. You can play for me anytime.” SuYen bowed slightly.
“SuYen asked Master Johnnysun if he feels better but Master Johnnysun not answer SuYen.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to ignore you. I just got caught up in the chess tournament.” Johnny stood, stretched his arms above his head, twisted side to side at the waist, and shook out his legs – first one than the other. He winced slightly as his right hip muscle – well, truth be told not exactly his hip but rather his butt – cramped up slightly. “I feel pretty good SuYen.”
“Master Johnnysun lie to SuYen. I see it in your face.”
“Honestly SuYen, I do feel much better. It’s just my right . . . hip . . . that’s still a little sore. My back and my arms feel great.”
“Master Johnnysun lay on belly on floor please.” Murdoch tuned his head to watch his younger son. Johnny met his gaze and immediately read the expression on his face.
“SuYen I don’t think . . .” He protested.
“Master Johnnysun lay on belly on floor. Now.” She replied, more as a command than a request.”
Johnny dropped to the floor in a sitting position. “What are you going to do SuYen? He asked, seeing his father’s eyebrow arching as he spoke.
“Lay on belly. SuYen not have all night.” She instructed, drawing her eyebrows and lips together and placing her hands on her hips.
“Yes ma’am!” Johnny replied, swinging his legs around and flipping from his side to his stomach.
“John Lancer!” Murdoch barked.
“You heard her Pa. What choice did I have?” He crossed his forearms and rested his chin on them.
SuYen removed her shoes. Scott had put his book down in his lap using one finger to keep his place. “Put head on floor looking left and arms at sides.” Johnny complied. Slowly SuYen stepped up on the small of Johnny’s back. Murdoch looked over at Scott in shock. SuYen slowly began walking along Johnny’s spine until almost at shoulder level, then deftly spun around and walked back along the same path until she came to his hips. Murdoch opened his mouth to protest but Scott held up his index finger to his lips to silence him. SuYen balanced on one foot and used the ball of the other foot to knead the muscles of Johnny’s hip (ok, butt!).
“I’ve heard about this.” Scott quietly commented. “Supposed to do wonders.” Murdoch clutched the arms of the chair with white knuckles. He hardly thought this proper behavior in his parlor, of all places. SuYen switched to balance on her other foot and to massage Johnny’s other “hip”. After a few minutes, she began walking up his spine again, placing one foot on either side of Johnny’s neck and shifting her weight from one to the other. Murdoch looked at his son’s face. Johnny’s eyes were closed, a grin on his lips, and appeared totally relaxed. SuYen turned and made her way down his back again, this time putting one foot on either side of Johnny’s spine and shifted her weight from one side to the other while taking minute steps along his ribs. She repeated her ‘hip’ massages one more time then carefully stepped back onto the floor and began putting her shoes back on.
“How better is Master Johnnysun’s right hip now?”
Johnny sighed. Keeping his eyes closed, he moved his head to center it, lifted it slightly and rolled it a time or two from side to side. As he brought his toes under him, he pushed up with his hands until he was standing. He walked the length of the couch a couple times. His limp was gone. “No more pain! SuYen, you’re wonderful. Pa, you should let her walk on your back.”
Murdoch pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. “No son. I don’t think it would be . . . appropriate for a young girl like SuYen to minister to an old man like me. My back and hip have bothered me for years. I’m getting used to it. I’ll ask Sam to give me some liniment or something next time I’m in town.”
“Have it your way, but I’m tellin’ ya I feel like I’ve never been thrown from a horse – ever!” Johnny turned to SuYen. “If I asked you to walk on Pa’s back, would you do it?”
“It would bring SuYen great pleasure to correct Honorable Master Murdochsun’s back.”
“I will not allow this girl to walk on my back, for heaven’s sake.” Murdoch groused.
“I can fix back from feet and ears.”
“Yah, Pa, let her rub your feet. Come on, just try it. What are you scared of? That it will work and you won’t have anything to complain about anymore?” Johnny knew he was treading on thin ice.
“Murdoch will always find something to complain about,” Scott piped in. As his father had kicked off his boots earlier, Johnny motioned for SuYen to go sit on the floor by his chair and rub his feet. SuYen hesitated, looking into Johnny’s eyes. He winked and grinned. She slowly advanced to Murdoch and sat on the floor in front of him. He had resumed reading the newspaper, which he held up in front of his face and so didn’t see SuYen approach. She picked up his foot and placed it on her thigh. Murdoch almost jumped out of his skin.
“What the . . .” Johnny quickly trotted over to stand behind his father and hold him down with both hands on his shoulders.
“It’s just your feet Pa. Give the girl a chance.”
Murdoch shot a scowl over his shoulder at his youngest son. He snapped the newspaper so hard it almost split down the center but, Johnny noticed, he did not pull his foot away from SuYen’s fingers. “You can remove your hands from my shoulders at any time . . . preferably sooner than later.” He groused. Johnny slowly took his hands away, crossed back to the sofa and sat down to watch SuYen and his father. Before long, Murdoch’s eyelids drooped as he fought to stay awake; his head nodding back and then snapping forward again. SuYen picked up Murdoch’s other foot and began again. Johnny snickered to himself and winked at Scott who returned a tight-lipped smile. The old man was actually enjoying it. Would wonders never cease?
Gently returning Murdoch’s feet to the floor, SuYen stood. “SuYen can only do so much on back from feet.” She said, looking at Johnny. Johnny swallowed hard before glancing at his older brother, imploring his support by the look in his eyes. Scott nodded.
“Pa, let SuYen walk on your back. She’s only trying to help.” Murdoch folded his paper and tossed it to the floor. Taking off his glasses, he folded them and laid them on the table. Pushing himself out of the chair, he was surprised at how much better his back felt. “Come on, Pa. Scott and I will help you get down there.” Scott and Johnny both walked over to Murdoch, one standing on each side of their father. Murdoch looked from one to the other.
“It’s not getting down that’s worrying me. It’s getting up.” Johnny and Scott each took hold of one of Murdoch’s arms as he struggled into a kneeling position. Johnny winked at SuYen who returned a shy smile and began taking her shoes off. Once Murdoch was prostrate on the floor, Johnny took SuYen’s hand to help her balance while she stepped up into the small of Murdoch’s back. She performed much the same pattern of steps as she had on Johnny except that, while keeping one foot on Murdoch’s hip she placed the other on his thigh and shifted her weight back and forth. When she was done, Scott and Johnny both bent down to take one of their father’s arms. Jerking them from his son’s grips, Murdoch barked. “I don’t need your help. What do you think I am, an old man?” With that he rose easily to his full height. A smile very slowly spread across his lips. He took a few steps first one way and then turned and took a few steps back. Johnny, standing with his hands on his hips, smiled at SuYen.
“Well Pa?” He asked.
It humbled Murdoch to have to admit his back felt better than it had in years. Bending down slightly, hands resting on his thighs, he looked directly into SuYen’s eyes. “Thank you SuYen. I was wrong to judge your methods as unsubstantiated. You have done wonderful things for myself and my sons and I am most grateful.” SuYen bowed slightly.
Johnny and Murdoch slept like babies, each rising with the sun and cheerful as all get out. Practically bouncing down the back stairs into the kitchen, they found Teresa sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee. She looked like someone who had just risen from the dead. SuYen was busy at the stove cooking eggs. “SuYen, I think you better make some of that magical tea you gave me for Teresa.” Teresa slowly raised her eyes to study Johnny over the rim of her coffee cup. Was he crazy? Did he really expect her to eat or drink anything else that SuYen made? Johnny snickered. “It’s good. Really. I drank it and it really, really helped.”
As Johnny and Murdoch sat down, SuYen brought over two plates with scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins and freshly sliced peaches. Scurrying back to the stove, she carried over the pot of fresh coffee and poured them each a cup. Seeing the eggs, Teresa excused herself from the table and took her cup into the library. The food smelled fabulous but so had the other dishes she had made and . . . “What’s in these SuYen?” Johnny asked, fork in hand.
“What kind of eggs?” Murdoch asked.
“The kind that comes out of a chicken.” SuYen answered. She looked at them like they were crazy. Where else would she get eggs? The ranch didn’t have any ducks, geese, turkeys or quail.
“Eggs and what else?” Johnny asked, still holding his fork in midair.
“Chicken eggs, salt, pepper, cream, a little chopped onion and a little chopped chives.”
Johnny smiled and took a large forkful. “It’s okay Pa, they’re really good.” The men quickly, enjoying their breakfast. “Where’s Scott?”
“I don’t know. Maybe still asleep.” Murdoch answered around a mouthful of muffin.
“Master Scott leave already. He very busy.”
“Scott was up before the two of us? I thought we got up awfully early. Oh, by the way, SuYen I slept so good last night.” Johnny said.
“Me too, SuYen. Thank you. My back didn’t bother me at all.”
“SuYen pleased I could make pain leave your bodies.”
Cleaning their plates and draining their cups, the two men stood, put on their hats and exited through the back door. They actually planned to work together all day just to have a little time to themselves. Scott was working alone today repairing one of the corrals. He hated to admit, even to himself, that he was slightly jealous of the relationship his brother - and now his father – seemed to have with SuYen. Maybe if he worked hard enough today, his muscles would need her attention too.
Teresa reluctantly drank some of the tea SuYen had made and had to admit that it did make her feel much better. So well, in fact, that by late afternoon she was in the kitchen preparing a simple supper. SuYen spent the morning doing the laundry and hanging it on the line to dry. The sun was bright and there was a gentle breeze coming from the west. After lunch, she worked in the garden a bit then retrieved the laundry and began the ironing.
Life at the Lancer ranch carried on pretty much normally in the following weeks. SuYen continued to baffle Scott with her chess moves. Johnny had gotten used to SuYen meeting him at the door every day after work and following him around like a shadow until bedtime. Murdoch had acceded to actually asking SuYen for a foot rub or to walk on his back, it made such a difference. Scott and Johnny had slowly been teaching SuYen about American customs and its culture and the girl spent more and more of her free time in the library. In exchange for the brothers’ lessons, she promised to teach Scott how to use the least moves and still obtain a checkmate. However, Johnny had overheard the conversation and told SuYen she would need his permission to do so and Johnny had no intention of granting that permission any time soon.
SuYen had been with them almost five weeks. One night after supper, while SuYen voluntarily washed the dishes so that Teresa could finish hemming her dress, the men poured brandies and then settle down on the couch and the easy chair in the far corner.
“Boys, we need to do something with SuYen.” Murdoch stated after taking a sip of brandy.
Johnny dropped his head. He was sad to think of losing her. Now that her role as servant to him had become more relaxed, the two had become fast friends. “What ever happened to that telegram you sent to the wagon works in San Francisco? ”
Murdoch pursed his lips. “I got a wire back that really told me nothing so I didn’t even bring it up. Seems a Mr. Clive Jacobs signed for the rig and paid the deposit with cash. I remembered his name from your story and knew there was no such person so I just dropped it. I’ve been thinking and thinking and just can’t up with an idea.” Murdoch looked at Scott who merely shook his head slowly.
“I just can’t stop thinkin’ about her tellin’ us she was “ordered”. I mean ordered by who or ordered for what?”
“Whom.” Scott interjected.
“Yah, whatever.” Johnny chided, taking a sip of brandy. “Hey Teresa, she talks to you doesn’t she? I mean about girl stuff?”
“Sometimes. She will answer me when I ask her a question. Why?”
“Well I was thinkin’, maybe you could talk to her. See if you can find out anythin’ that might help us get her home or find out why she came here.”
“I can try. I promised to give her a lesson in driving a wagon. I could pack a picnic lunch tomorrow and take her up to the mesa.”
“I’d really be obliged.” Johnny replied.
Teresa did as promised and took SuYen for her lesson. During lunch, she casually asked as many questions as she could think of and the girl was more than anxious to answer them. After supper that evening, Teresa asked to speak to the men in the den so the doors could be closed.
“Okay, I’ll tell you everything I found out.” Teresa made sure she had their undivided attention. “SuYen comes from Canton China. Her parents live there, as well as her two younger sisters and her older brother. It is a custom in China for the parents to arrange a marriage. Her parents are good friends with a family who has a son a few years older than SuYen. I forget his name but he came to California a couple years ago and settled in Chinatown. He is studying to be a doctor. The parents decided that he was to be SuYen’s husband. I guess the perspective husband is supposed to pay the passage for his bride to come from China. Two hundred dollars. I think that’s what she means by ‘ordered’, kind of like a mail-order bride.” Teresa paused and looked at each man’s face to judge a reaction. Scott, as usual, appeared calm and thoughtful. Murdoch had a ‘deep in thought’ look about him. Johnny had dropped his gaze to the floor and was exceptionally quiet.
“And,” Murdoch prompted.
“SuYen’s fiancé was supposed to meet her at the docks when the ship landed and pay the captain the money. He never showed up so the captain sold her off to those men that Johnny talked about; the poker players.”
The room was extraordinarily quiet for a time except for the tick-tock of the clock. “So now what do we do?” Johnny mumbled.
“I guess I could go to San Francisco – to Chinatown, and try to find this man.” Scott offered.
Murdoch shook his head. “Do you how many Asians live in Chinatown? You could be there for months. Why don’t we think about what Teresa told us for a while and maybe an idea will come to one of us.”
The men thanked Teresa then the group disbanded. A couple days passed and, as of yet, no one had come up with an idea. One night after supper, as was their usual routine, they all went into the parlor. Teresa picked up her sewing.
”Murdoch, up for a game of chess? I’d like to try out some of the new moves I’ve been learning from SuYen.” Scott asked.
Murdoch, glasses low on his nose and holding a newspaper up in front of his eyes answered, “No thank you son. I am two weeks behind on my reading and I promised myself that I would get caught up with the world before I went to bed tonight. Why don’t you try out what you’ve learned on your brother?” Scott looked at Johnny and smiled.
“Oh no, not me. I plan to stretch out on this here couch, tuck myself down with a nice warm blanket and rest up some before I go to bed.” Murdoch and Scott both snickered. Scott waved his open hand indicating to Johnny the sofa was all his. He even grabbed the blanket off the back of the rocking chair and tossed it to his little brother. SuYen appeared in the doorway.
“SuYen,” Scott called, crossing to the table on which the chess board sat. “It’s time for my lesson.” SuYen looked at Johnny who nodded his permission.
Murdoch reveled in the warm and cozy feeling in the house. A low fire blazed in the hearth. He had both his sons at home and safe. Teresa worked at her sewing and SuYen’s quiet laugh echoed through the room as she again beat Scott at chess. He was smiling to himself. It just didn’t any better than this.
Scott and SuYen played chess one game after another. Johnny was dozing on the couch, one arm extended over the armrest and hanging limply. Murdoch sipped at his brandy and enjoyed his reading. Suddenly one headline caught his attention. “Well, I’ll be damned. Scott, come here a minute.” Scott rose and stood behind Murdoch’s chair to look over his father’s shoulder. Scott immediately spied the item that had caught his father’s attention; its text outlined by a heavy black border.
MISSING PERSON: Searching for Chinese woman by the name of Chen SuYen.
Age 16. Arrived on ship “Ocean Breeze” at San Francisco port one month past.
Please contact Li Ming Hoa by wire at Sacramento School of Medical Science.
Murdoch twisted his head to look up into his son’s face. “SuYen,” Scott said. “What is your last name?”
“SuYen have last name of Chen.” Murdoch drew his eyebrows together in puzzlement. Everything else in the ad seemed to fit but the name.
Scott smiled. “The Chinese list their last name first and their first name last.” He explained to Murdoch. He watched his father’s face as he silently mouthed the names in reverse order. A smile slowly stretched across his lips.
“SuYen, I think we found your betrothed. Come her child.” SuYen didn’t understand what Honorable Master Murdochsun was talking about. She didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘betrothed’. Scott pointed to the boxed ad over his father’s shoulder as SuYen craned her neck to read the tiny print. Her face visibly brightened as she read.
“Li Ming Hoa my American promised husband.” She exclaimed. “He is looking for SuYen?”
“He is looking for SuYen,” Scott echoed. Suddenly SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “What’s wrong SuYen? I thought you’d be excited.”
“If he look for SuYen, why he not come to boat to meet SuYen?”
“Well SuYen I don’t really know. Perhaps he forgot about the time. Didn’t you say he lived in Chinatown?” SuYen nodded. Murdoch reread the ad. “It says here to contact the school in Sacramento not San Francisco.”
“Maybe he relocated or changed his degree and couldn’t obtain it in San Francisco. Used to happen back in Boston all the time.” Scott offered. Johnny stirred, yawned widely and rolled on his side.
“What are you all doing over there? Talking about me while I’m asleep?”
“I think we’ve found a solution to at least one of your problems, son.” Murdoch announced. “I think we found SuYen’s future husband.” Johnny’s sleep heavy eyes snapped open. Tossing the blanket aside, he swung his legs off the couch and sat bolt upright.
“SuYen, true?” SuYen kept her head down and her eyes cast downward, shrugging her shoulders in reply. “SuYen, this is great! Why are you so sad?”
“She is worried about the fact that he didn’t meet her at the ship. I believe that SuYen thinks he may not want her anymore.”
Johnny crossed to where SuYen stood. He squatted down, placed his hands around her upper arms and turned her toward him. “SuYen it’s obvious he still wants you. It’s expensive to put ads in the paper. He sounds like a man desperate to find his fiancé.”
“Master Johnnysun think so?” She mumbled, lifting her head just slightly to look into Johnny’s eyes.
“Master Johnnysun think so.” He smiled brightly hoping it would reassure her. Standing, he put one hand gently on her shoulder.
“Tell you what we’re going to do. First thing tomorrow morning I am going into town and send him a telegram. Let him know you are safe and sound with us and to contact me and the boys here at the ranch. Okay?” Murdoch suggested. SuYen lifted her head and searched Murdoch’s eyes before nodding. “I might even take you with me . . . if you go right up to bed and go to sleep.” SuYen glanced up into Johnny’s face checking for his permission. When he nodded, she scampered off to the front stairs calling her wish for everyone’s good sleep as she ascended.
The next morning Murdoch sent a wire to SuYen’s betrothed. Late that afternoon he asked her to help Teresa with some chores around the house.
SuYen dropped her gaze a minute in thought. Looking up with confusion in her eyes, she finally spoke. “SuYen happy to help but . . .” SuYen paused, glanced down at her hands for a moment, licked her lips and then continued, “SuYen should be doing things for Master Johnnysun. He owns SuYen. He should come first in SuYen’s duties. I have been failing him for many days. Master Johnnysun should punish SuYen. SuYen is disgraced.” The girl hung her head and cast her eyes downward. Murdoch rose and walked over to the front stairs.
“Johnny?” He shouted. Johnny appeared on the top stair. “Would you come down here please.”
“Sure Pa,” he answered hopping down the stairs. “What’s up?” Murdoch motioned for Johnny to follow him. A few steps into the hallway, Murdoch stopped and turned.
“SuYen thinks she has failed you. That she is a disgrace. Can you talk to her for me? I would like her to help Teresa with some things but she says her first duty is to you.” Murdoch whispered. Johnny nodded, entered the den and closed the doors.
“Hi SuYen,” he said lightly. He sauntered over to the front edge of his father’s massive desk and hoisted himself up to sit on the shiny surface. “My father told me he asked you to help Teresa.” SuYen nodded, never looking up. “SuYen, can you look at me please?” He asked, dipping his head a little to catch her gaze. SuYen lifted her head but couldn’t make herself look directly into Johnny’s eyes. Johnny reached out and cupped her chin in his palm turning her face until the girl’s eyes met his. Dropping his hand he continued. “What’s the matter?”
Tears formed in SuYen’s eyes and one escaped to slide down her cheek and drip off her jaw. “SuYen failed Master Johnnysun. I bring disgrace to you. SuYen should be punished.”
“Oh SuYen,” Johnny crooned. “You haven’t failed me. Not in the least.” SuYen dropped her head and cast her eyes downward causing more silent tears to fall. Johnny sighed.
“SuYen, don’t I have clean clothes to wear because you wash them?” SuYen nodded. “And don’t I have freshly ironed shirts hanging in the wardrobe because you ironed them?” Again SuYen nodded. “And didn’t you shine my dress boots?” SuYen nodded. “And don’t you make Master Johnnysun eat his vegetables?” SuYen almost grinned. “And didn’t you take my pain away by rubbing my feet and walking on my back?” SuYen lifted her head before nodding once again. “See you do more for me than you realize and I am very, very grateful. You will make your future husband a good wife.” Johnny smiled brightly. SuYen looked deeply into Johnny’s sky blue eyes and shyly offered him a tight-lipped grin. “It would make me and my father very happy if you could help Teresa. It would lift a great weight off our shoulders. Do you think you can do that?” SuYen’s face brightened and her grin turned into a full blown smile. Johnny hopped off the desk and walked over to the doors, sliding them open. “Come on SuYen.” He said glancing back and waving his open hand. “Let’s go beat Scott at some chess.”
Dan rode out to the ranch two days later with a telegram for Murdoch. Opening the envelope, a wide smile spread across his lips. He could hardly wait for Johnny to get home. He wanted to tell SuYen the good news and have his son by her side.
After supper that night, Murdoch asked Johnny and SuYen to come into the den. After they had entered, he asked Johnny to close the doors. When the two went to sit down he told them he preferred if they stood; that what he needed to convey wouldn’t take that long. He pretended to be quite serious both in the tone of his voice and the expression on his face. He went around the desk and pulled out the telegram, handing it to Johnny. “Read that out loud, will you son?” Murdoch muttered. SuYen cast a worried look at her master.
“Murdoch Lancer, Lancer Ranch from Li Ming Hoa, Sacramento, Calif.
I am much grateful to receive your wire. School vacation in three days for
one week. Will come for SuYen on Saturday this. Explain then. Sending
affection to her and much thanks to you. Ming Hoa”
A bright smile grew on Johnny’s lips as he read. When he had finished he looked at SuYen to find tears in her eyes and her hands clasped over her mouth. “What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy?”
Taking her hands away she answered, “SuYen very happy. These tears are joy.” She broke out in a wide grin and a gentle giggle.
Murdoch was grinning ear to ear and had walked around to the side of the desk and then bowed to SuYen. “Let me be the first to congratulate you on your upcoming marriage.” SuYen returned the bow.
“Boy Pa, that look on your face . . . you had me worried, you old tease, you!” Johnny sighed.
“Why don’t we go tell Scott and Teresa?” Murdoch offered. “But first I want to go down to the wine cellar and bring up a bottle of our best so we can all toast to your future.”
“I’ll go get it Pa.” Johnny offered, handing the telegram to SuYen. “Why don’t you two wait here. I’ll go the back way.” Johnny pulled off his boots before sliding the den doors apart as quietly as he could. He snuck through the kitchen and down to the wine cellar. He grabbed a bottle of Barkley wine, everyone’s favorite, and tiptoed back up the way he had come. Slipping into the den, he handed the bottle to his father. “Hey Pa, why don’t you go into the parlor first. Leave the wine here and I’ll bring it. Pretend you’re really upset like the telegram was bad news. Pour yourself a drink. If they ask any questions, tell them you just can’t bring yourself to talk about it. SuYen and me will wait a minute or so and come in all somber like. We’ll really have them going!”
Usually not one to play a practical joke on his own family, Murdoch agreed that – just this once – it might be worth it. He slid the doors open, hung his head and put his hands in his front pockets. As he entered the parlor he sighed heavily and crossed to the liquor cart, pouring himself a glass of bourbon. Scott looked up from his book.
“Something wrong sir?”
Murdoch, never looking up, shrugged his shoulders and carried his drink over to the fireplace where he stood supported with his left hand on the mantle and gazed into the flames. Scott drew his eyebrows together and glanced at Teresa who merely shook her head slightly. About fifteen seconds later, Johnny and SuYen appeared and stood in the doorway. SuYen had her head hung down and her eyes cast downward. Johnny had his left arm around the girl’s shoulders, his right hand holding the wine bottle behind his back. The look on his face conveyed great disappointment. Teresa rose and walked over near Scott, resting her hands on the back of his chair.
“We got the answer to the telegram today,” Johnny mumbled. He turned his head slightly toward SuYen. “SuYen, do you want to tell them or should I?” He whispered. SuYen simply shook her head. Johnny lifted his gaze toward where Scott sat and Teresa stood. “I don’t quite know how to say this but . . .well . . .” He stopped to clear his throat.
“Let ‘er buck, little brother.” Scott said softly.
Johnny dropped his eyes for a moment and tightened his grip on SuYen’s shoulder. “I guess it’s best just to come out and say it.” He paused a moment and cleared his throat again. “Ming Hoa . . . Ming Hoa is . . . well . . .he’s coming on Saturday to get SuYen. They’re going to be married.” Breaking into a wide smile he practically shouted the last few words, pulling the wine from behind his back. SuYen looked up and smiled, nodding her head.
Scott and Teresa exchanged glances. They had been preparing themselves for bad news and had wondered how to comfort SuYen. It took a moment for the announcement to sink in. Scott through his book on the floor, stood and pulled Teresa into his arms to give her a quick hug. “Congratulations!” He exclaimed, coming forward with his hand extended to SuYen. SuYen smiled up into his face and bowed deeply from the waist. Scott returned her bow.
Teresa rushed forward, pushed Scott out of the way and gave SuYen a big hug. “Oh, SuYen I am so happy for you!”
“SuYen happy for me too.”
Murdoch had walked over to join the others. “Johnny, if you had gone on any longer . . . I thought maybe you were putting on a three-act play or something! I had all I could do from spinning around and telling them myself. Now, open that wine and make a toast to SuYen.”
“Yes sir.” Johnny answered in a voice much like one would use to reply to a military command. “Teresa, go get the glasses would you please?” Teresa scurried off in the direction of the china hutch. She came back in only moments holding a large silver tray on which sat five goblets. She held it out in front of her while Johnny filled the glasses and then carried it from person to person until she got to SuYen who shook her head. “Come on, SuYen, Master Johnnysun gives you permission. This is a very special occasion.” SuYen looked from her master’s face to the glass and back. Johnny nodded ever so slightly. SuYen hesitantly picked up the goblet.
“To SuYen and her betrothed.” Johnny began, everyone lifting their glass in salute. “May they live long and happily ever after.” Johnny clinked the rim of his glass to SuYen’s. The girl watched everyone take a sip before bringing the goblet to her lips and doing the same. Swallowing she smiled.
“SuYen never drink before. SuYen like.” Everyone chuckled before taking another sip.
“I have a fantastic idea!” Scott exclaimed. “When is Ming Hoa coming?”
“Saturday,” Johnny answered giving his big brother a suspicious look.
“Why don’t we throw them an engagement party? We could invite a few neighbors; maybe have a picnic lunch. Nothing formal just a good time.”
Lifting his glass in salute, Murdoch smiled. “Great idea son. SuYen would you like that?”
“We fly kites?”
“Fly kites? I don’t understand.” Johnny queried giving the girl a puzzled expression.
“In China, when we celebrate, we fly kites. Very good thing. It means the soul is soaring.”
“Then fly kites we will!” Scott affirmed. “Only problem is, we don’t have any and I doubt the general store does either.”
“No problem.” SuYen said. “Make kites. Person with the best kite wins.”
“Wins what?” Johnny asked, excitement shining in his eyes. SuYen pursed her lips and looked at the others.
“We’ll figure something out.” Murdoch assured. “Anything else these parties entail?”
SuYen nodded her head vigorously. “All who come must dress in bright colors. Keeps bad spirits away so joyful spirits will join.” Murdoch looked at the others. He doubted any of them, with the exception of Johnny and his bright red shirt, even had clothes brighter than brown, tan, black or navy blue. Suddenly Teresa, as if reading his mind, clasped her hands in front of her.
“There are some old trunks in the attic. Old dresses and tablecloths and stuff. I bet we could find something and do some sewing.” The men shared an expression of ‘oh boy, aren’t we lucky!’. “SuYen, we’ll go up there first thing in the morning and see what we can find. We don’t have much time but I think I can talk a friend of mine, Martha, into letting me use her new sewing machine.”
“So who are we going to invite?” Scott asked, crossing to the desk and taking out paper and pen. Sitting down the others gathered around him.
They all chimed in their ideas as Scott wrote down the names: SuYen and Ming Hoa, Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa, Scott, Aggie Conway, Jelly, Cip & Maria, Dan, and Martha. When everyone became quiet, Scott knew the list was complete. “Are we going to mail these out or . . .?”
Murdoch shook his head. “Not enough time. Johnny, why don’t you ride in tomorrow and invite Dan. Take Teresa with you. She can pick up anything we might need if you’ll all give her your lists. I’ll ride over to Aggie’s first thing in the morning and invite her.” Scott and Johnny winked at each other. It seemed Murdoch was always the first one to volunteer when Aggie Conway was involved. “Teresa, Johnny will take you by Martha’s on the way back. You can ask her about the sewing machine and invite her. Scott you make sure Jelly, Cip and Maria knows? Any questions?”
SuYen raised her hand. “What do you want to say, SuYen?” Scott asked in his quiet tone.
“Tell men to make kite. Only men fly kites. And tell them all to wear bright colors.” SuYen looked into each face around her until they nodded. “SuYen go to wash dishes now.” She retreated towards the kitchen. Scott tore the invitation list out of the tablet which Teresa quickly grabbed out of his hand along with the pen. Motioning for him to move, she took a seat and began scribbling notes for the menu.
Teresa arranged to meet Johnny, wagon ready, at one o’clock and she emphasized to him to “keep clean” so she wouldn’t be embarrassed. Johnny had merely smirked. ‘If she thinks I can be immaculate after hours of mucking out stalls and cleaning up the corrals, well . . . he might look clean but . . . wait a minute, she hadn’t said anything about smelling good.’ He grinned as he walked over to the barn.
Immediately after breakfast the next morning, Teresa and SuYen climbed up to the attic to look for material. They were surprised to find a treasure trove of things they could use to make the men shirts and pants, and themselves new outfits too. They gathered up the old bright yellow drapes that used to hang in the parlor, an apple green satin dress that Teresa had never liked, an orange tablecloth used one Halloween, quite a length of purple fabric used as draping for the church one Easter, a bright red tablecloth used for Christmas a couple years back, and some vivid blue fabric bought to use at one time for the backing of a quilt. SuYen held open an old burlap bag while Teresa stuffed in the fabric so no one would see it. The girls wanted it to be a surprise.
Teresa smiled up into Johnny’s face as she came down the back steps at exactly one o’clock. His face and hands were clean, his hair combed beneath his hat, his shirt and pants virtually spotless and even his boots wiped off. He held out his hand to help her up into the seat next to him. “Shall we go?” He asked. Teresa nodded. There seemed to be an odor of some type about the wagon but she knew that the breeze was coming from the east where the cattle had just been moved for fresh graze. Teresa reasoned that the aroma would dissipate the further away from Lancer and the closer to town.
Teresa glanced at her driver every so often to find that Johnny had a silly smirk on his face. Probably daydreaming, she thought. A few miles down the road the odor became stronger. Teresa rubbed her nose on the back of her hand. Maybe someone was fertilizing a field, although it really wasn’t the time of year to do so. She watched the front wheel to see if the wagon had picked up some manure from the road but saw nothing. Turning, she watched the back wheel but there was nothing on it either. Turning back to face forward, Teresa’s purse slipped off her lap and onto the floor between her and Johnny. Bracing a hand on his arm, she bent down to pick it up. The odor was so strong she nearly gagged.
“It’s you!” She shrieked. Leaning closer to Johnny, she inhaled. “John Lancer, I thought I told you to keep clean and not embarrass me?”
Turning his head to look at Teresa he drew his eyebrows together. “I did keep clean. Don’t I look clean? I scrubbed my face and combed my hair and even wiped down my boots.” He retorted, turning his attention back to the road.
“But you stink!”
“Ah, but you didn’t say anything about the way I should smell. Only the way I should look.” He declared. Teresa huffed, turned her shoulder to him and sat almost sideways in the wagon. At least from this position the air was tolerable.
When they got to town, Teresa jumped off the seat. Johnny followed suit. “Where do you think you’re going?” She snapped.
“Just being gentlemanly. I thought you might need help carrying things.” He explained.
“Don’t you dare come near me smelling like a . . .like a decaying skunk. I can manage on my own.” Teresa stomped off toward the mercantile. Johnny snickered and leaned back against the hitching post to watch the world go by. As luck would have it, he spied Dan coming down the street. Johnny called out and waved. Dan reined his horse up and greeted Johnny.
“Hey Dan, we’re having a little shindig this coming Sunday. A party for SuYen and her beau. We’d like you to come, being as how you delivered the telegrams and all. Be at the house around noon I guess. Teresa is packing a picnic lunch.”
“Can I bring a guest?”
“That depends. Who you want to bring?” Johnny looked up into his friend’s face and winked.
“Oh I think you already know Johnny boy.” Johnny nodded and smiled. He had seen Dan and Ellen Hopkins together a couple times when he was in town.
“And Dan, we’re having a kite flyin’ contest. You’re supposed to bring a kite and dress in bright colors. Think you can handle that?”
“You bet. Well, at least the kite. I was really good at kite flyin’ when I was a kid. I think I still have my best one around somewhere. I’ll have to look. Kite, bright colors, come around noon and I’ll even bring the beer.” Johnny gave Dan a thumbs-up as he rode away towards the telegraph office.
Teresa purchased thread to match each of the material colors and a number of buttons, coming as close to the colors as possible. She carried four very large spindles of string to the counter and added them to her order. Scott had asked her to buy him some large sheets of paper but she couldn’t find any. When Mrs. Canfield asked what she needed it for, Teresa explained about the kite making. Sarah said she had a roll of white wrapping paper in the back and, if that would work, she would be happy to give Teresa a large piece.
“Oh Mrs. Canfield that would be wonderful. Scott will really appreciate it. I don’t suppose you have any empty spools from your wrapping twine?”
“I sure do. Toss them in a crate. I figured I could use them for something someday. Four?” Teresa nodded and Sarah scurried into the backroom to retrieve the paper and the spools. “Anything else?” Teresa chewed on her bottom lip a minute looking around.
“Nothing I can think of right now.” Turning back to Mrs. Canfield she instructed, “Just wrap up what I have here and put it on the Lancer account. If I’ve forgotten anything, I’ll send Scott in to pick it up.” Mrs. Canfield rolled up the white paper and tied a string around it so it wouldn’t get wrinkled. Teresa tucked the parcel into her right arm and picked up the paper in her left hand. Bidding Sarah a good day, she left the store. She needed to go to the general store and pick up some foodstuffs but didn’t want to have her hands full while doing so. Johnny was looking the other way at some kids playing near the corner of the saloon. Maybe she could tiptoe up to the wagon, deposit her packages and get away without him coming too close. She almost made it but at the last minute Johnny, hearing the heels of her boots on the wooden walkway, turned. Teresa closed her eyes for a minute and almost stopped in her tracks. Standing as far away from him as she could, she tossed him the parcel and then the paper, explaining she was now going to the general store. Johnny just chuckled. She didn’t understand how he could possible stand the smell of himself. Men!
Teresa bought what she would need for the picnic on Sunday. When the clerk had packed everything into a couple crates, and Teresa knew she wouldn’t be able to carry them herself, she had no choice but to ask Johnny. She asked the clerk if he could set them just inside the back door and she would have him pull the wagon around right away. Reluctantly, she crossed the street and climbed up into the seat. Johnny hopped up next to her and his sudden movement released another whiff of his person. Teresa placed one hand over her nose and told him about loading the groceries. Johnny pulled the rig around to the back of the store and quickly had her purchase in the bed. He hopped up into the seat again and Teresa thought she would faint. As Johnny had been standing with the hot afternoon sun beating down on him, patches of sweat were starting to appear on his shirt which wasn’t helping the situation in the least!
Teresa debated about stopping at Martha’s but time was short as it was and if she didn’t get the machine today she doubted she would finish sewing in time. Johnny turned the wagon off the main road and down the winding driveway to the Comstock house. Pulling up in front, Johnny asked if she wanted him to go to the door with her.
“Don’t you come anywhere near the house. It’s bad enough I have to suffer. You just stay here and . . . relax.” Teresa was greeted at the porch door by Martha. She entered the small clapboard house, coming back to the wagon about fifteen minutes later. Teresa closed her eyes for a moment. “Martha said I could take the machine with me but it’s too heavy for either of us to carry and her father and the hands are all out in the far field.” Johnny smiled and jumped down, coming around the rig to Teresa’s side.
“See, I knew you’d need a knight in shiny armor eventually.” He smirked.
“You listen to me John Lancer. The machine is in a case on the dining room floor by the sideboard. I am going to lure Martha into the kitchen to ask her about . . . well, I’ll think of something. I do not want you anywhere near her, is that understood?” Johnny pouted.
“I kinda like Martha, although I’ve never been formally introduced. I thought maybe seein’ I’m right here and at . . .”
“Don’t even think about it. Go in, grab the machine and leave immediately or I’ll . . . I’ll refuse to make my special chocolate cake for the picnic.” Johnny loved Teresa’s chocolate cake like nothing else on God’s green earth. He pursed his lips, shoved his fingertips into his front pants pocket and nodded. Teresa walked back inside the house and Johnny followed a few seconds later. Immediately spying the machine in its brown case, he grabbed the handle suddenly grunting. It was much heavier than he expected and almost dropped it. Setting the case back down on the floor, he stooped down and picked it up in both arms, shouldered his way out the porch door and hoisted it up into the back of the rig. He took off his hat and was just wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt when Teresa returned. “I have a good mind to sit in the back where the air is more pleasant.”
Johnny surveyed the wagon bed. The crates of groceries had been loaded behind the passenger seat. The parcel from the general store leaned up against the front crate. The sewing machine sat next to the second crate and he was not about to move it again until they got back to Lancer. The only open space for Teresa to sit was directly behind him. “Suit yourself.” He muttered. “Just remember, you’ll be sitting directly downwind of me.” Teresa stood on tiptoe to survey the load. He was right.
“Ohhhhh,” she groused, climbing up into the seat. Teresa sat as close to the outside edge as she dared, took a handkerchief out of her purse and held it in front of her nose the whole way home. What made it worse was that Johnny chuckled almost the entire four miles.
As Johnny pulled up the rig near the front door, Scott was just coming around the corner of the house. “Scott,” Teresa called, climbing down. “Can you please carry these things in for me?” Scott veered off his course and walked around to the back of the wagon. As Teresa entered the front door, Johnny jumped down and sauntered in Scott’s direction. His brother had just picked up the sewing machine. Scott’s face contorted and he wrinkled up his nose.
“Johnny,” he said, turning his head away. “Is that . . . aroma emanating from you?”
“Well it’s most unpleasant.” Scott hurried away as his little brother picked up the closest crate of food. Johnny carried it around the house to the back entrance and set it just inside the porch door. He was actually starting to feel a little nauseated from his own stench. He got the other crate out of the wagon and placed it beside the first. Teresa stood in the hallway watching and waiting for him to leave.
“Hey Teresa, I’m going to take a bath. Tell Scott to bring me some clean clothes.”
“Gladly!” She called.
After the supper dishes were done and put away, Teresa took SuYen upstairs to start working on the festival clothes. Scott cleared off the desk in the parlor, got out all the items he thought necessary to design his kite, and started making sketches. Murdoch got comfortable in his favorite chair and was reading the paper. Johnny, who had promised to set up the sewing machine in SuYen’s room, lugged the heavy contraption up to the second floor moaning and groaning the whole way in an attempt to entice either his father or his brother to offer help but . . .
Teresa dug in the bottom of the trunk in her closet and found the paper patterns she had previously made from the men’s discarded clothing. She knew none of their sizes had changed. “SuYen, you pin the patterns to the fabric and cut them out. I’ll wind the bobbins so we can sew them together.” SuYen nodded, spread out the first piece of fabric and began her work. She and Teresa had previously decided who was going to wear what so her assignment would be easy. Teresa had used the machine a couple times and, since it was so basic, she knew she wouldn’t have any trouble. After SuYen had cut out the first shirt, she handed the pieces to Teresa who quickly pinned them together and started to sew. SuYen stood for a couple minutes, fascinated by the machine then got back to her task.
While the girls were busy with their sewing, the men were busy designing their kites. Of course Scott, being as analytical as he was, had out the ruler, the protractor, the slide rule, a book from the library on weather where they discussed air currents, about twenty pencils and the large piece of paper Teresa had gotten in town.
Johnny was at a loss. He had never even seen a kite fly before. Not wanting to admit this fact to his father, he asked Jelly for help and Jelly was more than happy to be of assistance. The two men decided to work together on their kites.
Murdoch sat in front of the fire with his feet up and a favorite book in his lap. He showed no concern at all about the project because he had a secret. Years before, when he was in San Francisco at a Cattlemen’s Convention, he bought a wonderful kite to send to Scott but Scott’s grandfather had returned it unopened and so he had packed it away for ‘someday’. Well, now it was someday. He couldn’t help grinning to himself. Of course he would have to throw the contest as he, after all, was furnishing the prize which was still undecided. When he had stopped over at Aggie Conway’s earlier in the day, she had been delighted to accept saying she had the perfect dress and would bring a large basket of home baked cookies, homemade candy, and her famous deviled eggs.
Cip and Maria were equally pleased to be asked to partake in the festivities. Maria said she would be bringing some of her home canned goods such as spiced beets, pickles, salsa, and would make homemade tortilla chips.
Dan was coming too and asked if he could bring someone. It seems he had been courting Ellen Hopkins and things were getting ‘serious’. He said he would bring the beer.
Jelly said he would contribute two jugs of his home pressed hard cider and Martha was bringing fruit salad. Teresa was making ham sandwiches, potato salad and her famous chocolate cake.
Murdoch, Scott and Johnny were responsible for gathering up blankets, a couple tables, some chairs, the surrey and enough buggies and wagons for everyone, doing all the hitching, taking care of the horses and driving. The location had been chosen as the hill overlooking Lancer. It not only had the most beautiful view but good breezes in order to fly the kites. Murdoch had chosen fifty dollars to the winning kite pilot.
Teresa helped SuYen dress early Saturday morning. SuYen hadn’t slept well the previous night and was constantly fidgeting as Teresa attempted to fix the girl’s hair. At every little sound from the courtyard, SuYen would run to the window to see if it was Ming Hoa. Teresa tried to ease SuYen’s nervousness to no avail. After all, Teresa couldn’t even fathom meeting a man for the first time that you knew would become your husband. What would he look like? Would he be polite, kind and caring? Would he be well groomed? Would he act like a gentleman? So many things to think about. Johnny came upstairs and knocked on SuYen’s bedroom door just as Teresa was finishing her braid.
“Come on in,” Teresa called, holding a length of blue ribbon between her lips. Johnny opened the door then leaned his shoulder against the frame and tucked his fingers in his front pants pocket.
“SuYen you look just beautiful.” He crooned, smiling.
“SuYen not feel beautiful. SuYen feel sick like Master Johnnysun and Teresa got after eating SuYen’s cooking.” Johnny looked over the girl’s head at Teresa. If SuYen was going to throw up he wanted to make sure he was well out of range and earshot.
“SuYen is really nervous, that’s all. First date jitters, you know.” Johnny had never had that problem but he nodded in sympathy. “Maybe it would help if you talked to her. I’m going downstairs and make sure everything’s ready.” Teresa stood, put her hands on SuYen’s shoulders and whispered her good luck. After she left, Johnny took a few steps into the girl’s room leaving the door open wide.
“What’s got you so worried SuYen?” He said softly, putting his hands on the footboard of the bed and leaning his weight slightly forward. “You’re a beautiful girl, you’re very intelligent, you’re an excellent chess player, you keep the house nice and clean and the laundry has never looked better. You’ll make a very good wife. Ming Hoa is a lucky man.”
SuYen hung her head and cast her eyes downward. “Master Johnnysun not say anything about SuYen’s cooking.” Johnny stood up straight and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Well, SuYen, some of the things you made were very good. You make the best fried potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Even the dish you made using . . . rat was quite tasty”. Johnny was glad SuYen still had her focus on the floor and didn’t see him shudder remembering.
“Rat made Master Johnnysun sick.” Johnny couldn’t disagree. How would he explain it was more the thought of what he had consumed than the actual taste of it.
“It was very, very tasty.” He said. “It’s just that, well . . . in this country we are not used to eating such delicacies but I’m sure when Ming Hoa tastes it, it will make him very happy.”
SuYen lifted her head and looked up into Johnny’s sparkling blue eyes. She blushed just slightly recalling all the wonderful things he had just said as well as those he had mentioned to her before. Just then the rumble of a wagon and the jingling of a hitch echoed up from the drive and in through SuYen’s open window. SuYen immediately crossed to the window shadowing herself in the curtains. Johnny sauntered over to stand behind her. A very well dressed young Chinese man holding a large bouquet of wildflowers was climbing down. He came around the wagon, tugged at the hem of his suit coat with his free hand and adjusted his string tie. ‘He looks like he’s going to jump right out of his skin’. Johnny thought. SuYen hadn’t moved an inch.
“What do you think SuYen?” He asked quietly.
“SuYen think Ming Hoa very handsome.” Johnny grinned. He knew then that everything was going to be okay.
“Well, you better get downstairs before Murdoch, Scott and Teresa question the poor fellow to death!” SuYen looked up into Johnny’s face, took a deep breath and licked her lips. Squaring her shoulders, she walked out of the room and began descending the front stairs. Johnny was the one to follow this time but kept quite a few steps behind. Scott had answered the door and shown Ming Hoa into the foyer just as SuYen was coming down the steps. Ming Hoa looked up at her and smiled with closed lips. When SuYen stood on the last stair he stepped forward, bowed and handed her the bouquet. He then looked up at Johnny who had stopped about a third of the way from the bottom. SuYen followed his gaze.
“Li Ming Hoa I introduce you to Master Johnnysun. He has been very good to SuYen.” Johnny came down the remaining stairs and was about to extend his hand when Ming Hoa bowed.
“Ming Hoa is very pleased to hear that you have been good to SuYen. I was very worried about her. Many thanks I owe you for taking her in and treating her well.” Johnny blushed slightly.
“SuYen is a very special young lady. Very intelligent and very talented. She took good care of me and for that I am very grateful. I will miss her when she goes back with you but I wish her . . . the two of you . . . every happiness and good fortune.” Ming Hoa bowed to Johnny again before an awkward silence fell over everyone present. Finally Scott cleared his throat.
“SuYen the parlor is empty. You and Ming Hoa are welcome to visit in there and then I believe Teresa has made you lunch. She’ll come tell you when it’s ready.” SuYen laid the bouquet on the foyer table then waited for Ming Hoa to enter the parlor and be seated before she crossed the room and sat on the opposite end of the sofa. Scott picked up the flowers and then Johnny and he stood side-by-side a moment just to watch the two young lovers. Hearing a slight hissing sound, they turned their heads simultaneously to find Teresa glaring at them and waving them toward the kitchen.
“What’s your problem?” Johnny asked her.
“What’s your problem? Spying on them like that! You should . . . both of you . . . should be ashamed. Give me those.” Teresa grabbed the flowers out of Scott’s hand and entered the kitchen. Johnny and Scott looked at one another shrugged their shoulders.
The boys walked back down the hall to the den where Murdoch sat behind his desk. Since the surface was void of all paperwork, it was immediately obvious he wasn’t working. “I would give anything to know what they’re talking about.” He whispered as Scott and Johnny got closer.
“We should have thought to open the French doors before he came. Then we could have sat out on the patio and heard every word.” Johnny muttered. Scott looked between his brother and his father and simply shook his head. “What? You Mister Goody Two Shoes? Don’t tell me you aren’t curious!” Johnny spat.
“It’s damn near killing me!” Scott replied, surprising both Johnny and Murdoch.
“You think we could hear them from the library?” Murdoch asked. Johnny and Scott both shook their heads.
“We’ve tried that before when . . . we’ve tried that before and you can’t hear a thing from in there.” Johnny replied.
Teresa had walked in during the last part of the conversation. She reprimand all three men, standing with her hands on her hips for emphasis then dropped her arms and whispered, “There is nowhere to go to hear what’s being said in the parlor. Trust me, I’ve tried everything.” Murdoch looked up at his ward with scolding eyes.
“Well you boys better get to work. See if everything is ready for tomorrow. The surrey and the buggies should be wiped down inside and out. Check the hitches and the tack, make sure they’re all in good working order. Brush down the horses then take the wagon and load up the tables and chairs and take them up on the hill. Lay them by that big hickory tree. They’ll be safe there overnight. You boys have your kites ready?”
“Yes sir and, if I might toot my own horn, think I’ve crafted the winning one and, if I win, I’m going to give my prize money to Ming Hoa and SuYen.” Scott answered, looking quite proud of himself.
“Not so fast big brother. I got me some expert advice on kite buildin’ and I think I’ve got the winning kite. And another thing, it was me who told you about giving the prize money to them if I win. You stole my idea!” Johnny hissed.
“Boys!” Murdoch admonished. “Go. Do as I told you and don’t come back in this house until you’re finished.” With that the brothers quietly walked down the hall and out the back door.
Teresa put the flowers in a large crystal vase of water and placed them on the dining room table. She had gotten out Lancer’s best china and silverware, used the finest linens, and hopefully prepared a lunch they would both like. Calling them to the table, she noticed that SuYen walked two paces behind her betrothed and that Ming Hoa sat down before SuYen. Teresa had to bite her tongue, reminding herself that this was the custom in their country. She served the food then disappeared back into the kitchen. She had no way of knowing that while she had her ear pressed tight against the wall between the kitchen and the dining room that Murdoch had his ear pressed equally as tight against the wall between the den and the dining room.
The couple spent the afternoon sitting in the parlor talking. They joined the family for supper where Murdoch opened a bottle of Barkley wine and proposed a toast to their future. After the meal, Ming Hoa asked if he could talk to Johnny somewhere private. Murdoch offered them his den. Once inside Johnny closed the doors. Murdoch, Scott, Teresa and even SuYen stood just on the other side of them trying to hear what was being said. Johnny suspected as much and signaled to Ming Hoa to be quiet by holding his index finger in front of his lips. In one sudden swift movement, Johnny flung the doors apart. “Ah ha!” He cried. “I thought as much! Shame!” He scolded, shaking his finger at them. They all blushed and slunk away. Johnny watched them until they turned into the parlor. Closing the doors again, he motioned for Ming Hoa to sit down. Johnny took the chair opposite and leaned forward with his forearms on his thighs.
Ming Hoa avoided Johnny’s gaze for a few moments, looking extremely nervous. Clearing his throat, he finally spoke. “First I want to thank Master Johnnysun for providing for my promised one. For giving her shelter and food and new clothes. This would not have happened if she would have been left to fend for herself, even in Chinatown.” Johnny opened his mouth to speak but was silenced by Ming Hoa’s upturned palm. “SuYen has told me that you were a perfect gentleman; that you never tried to take advantage of a young woman that would have had to obey if you so desired. Not many men would have done that. I am grateful. SuYen is very beautiful and seems to be kind hearted and very gentle. I look for that in a wife. I think we will be happy and grow to love each other. I have two years left of school and have already been offered a position with a hospital in the east. I will be a good provider for SuYen.”
Ming Hoa paused and looked directly into Johnny’s eyes. “But there is a problem.” Johnny drew his eyebrows together and rested back in his chair. “When I sent for SuYen, it was with the understanding that I was to pay for her passage to America. Two hundred dollars. I had saved the money for some time and finally had enough but . . .” Ming Hoa hung his head and cast his eyes downward. “I am embarrassed to tell you that I no longer have enough money. I spent quite a sum putting ads in the Chinatown newspaper and, when that brought no results, in the San Francisco newspaper. I had no idea how expensive . . .” Ming Hoa’s voice dropped off.
Johnny sat forward in his previous position. “How much are you short?”
Ming Hoa turned his head away. “I only have seventy dollars left.” Johnny thought a moment.
“Why don’t you just keep your seventy dollars and we’ll call it even. I paid the two hundred and, believe me, SuYen did more than two hundred dollars’ worth of work around here.”
Ming Hoa was shaking his head. “No, you don’t understand. SuYen will not leave you until she sees me giving you the money. All the money. I’m afraid I will have to leave her here until I can save it up again.”
“I’ll give you the rest. One hundred and thirty dollars. With your seventy that will come up to two hundred.” Johnny said. Ming Hoa shook his head. “Yes, Ming Hoa. Listen to me, it is well worth it to see SuYen with you where she belongs. After meeting you she won’t be happy staying here anymore. She should be with you. Consider it a wedding present.”
Ming Hoa stood, turned to Johnny and bowed deeply. “Ming Hoa is forever in Master Johnnysun’s debt.” Johnny stood and put his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Oh no, Ming Hoa. That’s where you’re wrong. Master Johnnysun is forever in SuYen’s debt.” The men shook hands and agreed that Johnny would slip Ming Hoa the money at breakfast and then, later in the day at the picnic, Ming Hoa would make sure that SuYen saw him give the money to Johnny. “Say by the way, why didn’t you show up at the ship?”
“I was on my way to San Francisco from Sacramento. I rented a wagon. The back wheel came off and I couldn’t fix it by myself. I had to wait for help to come along but, you see, I took a back road so had to wait almost two hours. After wagon fixed, I drove fast but found ship only. No SuYen. Captain gone too. I drove to Chinatown but could not find her. I look and look.”
“Well Ming Hoa, it’s a good thing you put that ad in the San Francisco paper and that my father happened to see it. We tried to ask SuYen about the details of her coming here but she didn’t give us much to work with but all that’s in the past now that you two are together.”
The next morning dawned with bright sunshine, mild temperatures and a breeze coming from the southwest. Perfect picnic weather and perfect kite flying weather. While the men ate breakfast, Teresa and SuYen laid their new outfits out on their beds then they, themselves changed. Teresa had fashioned herself a bright yellow dress from the old drapes. It had a full skirt and a peasant-type top and she tied her long dark curls back with a yellow ribbon. SuYen had made herself slacks and a tunic in red using the old Christmas table cloth. She had explained to Teresa that it was very traditional in China for the bride to wear red, especially on her wedding day. SuYen had fashioned fancy black corded buttons and button loops down the front of the tunic which had slits to the waist on both sides. Returning to the kitchen, Scott clapped and Johnny whistled. Ming Hoa and Murdoch simply smiled.
“You two had better get out to the barn and start hitching up. I’m coming with you to inspect the work you did yesterday which, by the way, had better be perfect. Ming Hoa, want to join us?” Ming Hoa nodded and the men left through the back door. They returned about an hour later.
“Murdoch, Scott and Johnny.” Teresa called. “You three will find your new outfits laying on your beds. I think they turned out just perfect and you men had better get a move on and change. The guests are supposed to be here shortly. SuYen and I will start packing the food.”
The food packed, Teresa double checked her list. Just when she had satisfied herself that all the items had been checked off, there was a knock on the front door. Hurrying to open it she found Aggie Conway.
“Aggie, you’re our first guest.” Mrs. Conway handed her basket to Teresa. “Well I wanted to come early and bring this dear. Make sure it gets packed and all, you know.”
“Thank you. Murdoch told me you made your famous deviled eggs and I understand you made both cookies and candy. Johnny will be in Heaven! And I see you got the message to dress in bright colors. Your dress is very pretty!” Aggie wore a peacock blue silk dress with black trim. Teresa looked over the woman’s shoulder to see a buggy coming down the driveway. “Go sit down in the parlor. I think I see Dan and his guest coming now.” Teresa waited at the door, waving as they came closer. The buggy stopped just shy of the front entrance. Dan got out, helped Ellen down and then turned to help Martha down as well.
“Miss Teresa.” Dan greeted, taking off his hat. “This is Ellen Hopkins and you already know Martha. We stopped by to pick her up seein’s it was on the way and all.”
“Well come on in, all of you. Nice to meet you Ellen.” Teresa put her hand on Martha’s arm. “Wait until you see the outfits. Oh Martha, thank you so much for letting me use your machine. Maybe Dan can take it back for you today.” Dan wore white jeans and a bright lime green western-style shirt while Ellen was dressed in a shocking pink frock and Martha in a violet dotted Swiss dress with a wide ruffle at the hem. Teresa ushered all of them into the parlor and told them to make themselves at home. Walking back to the kitchen with Aggie’s basket, she saw Cip and Maria coming in the back door. Maria wore a Mexican style dress of bright white with rows and rows of colored trims around the bottom and Cip wore an embroidered shirt with a pleated front and long flowing sleeves in high cuffs of a salmon color. Maria sat her basket of goodies on the counter with the others before Teresa invited them down to the parlor. Jelly was the only one who hadn’t yet arrived.
Crossing to the back door, she saw him putting his jugs of cider in the surrey. She waved and indicated that he should come in the house. He was dressed in shamrock green pants and a flashy plaid shirt of blues, greens and reds. “Miss Teresa,” he said, doffing his cap. “I’ll get those rigs loaded.”
“Oh Jelly, that would be wonderful. I don’t think that any of the Lancers have come down yet and we need to get going.”
Teresa returned to the parlor to find that the Lancer men were still among the missing. Inviting everyone to gather in the front foyer, she called up the stairs. “Johnny, Scott, Murdoch. Come on, everybody’s waiting.”
Johnny was the first to appear. He hopped about half-way down the stairs, paused, spread his arms wide and smiled. He was dressed in skipper blue pants and a bright yellow shirt made out of the same draperies as Teresa’s dress. Everyone clapped. Bounding down the rest of the steps, he stopped on the bottom one. “I love this outfit.” He declared, turning part away around to show off the fit. “Can you make me more shirts like this?” He asked Teresa.
“I suppose!” She groused. Johnny jumped down the last step and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Where are your brother and father?”
“I don’t know. In their rooms I guess. Haven’t seen ‘em”
“Scott and Murdoch, get down here now or we’re leaving without you.” Teresa scolded. Squinting up the staircase, she could see the tips of their boots but their bodies were still hidden behind the wall. They seemed to be arguing about who should go first. Finally Scott stepped around the corner and began his descent. Never looking up, and with an expression of total embarrassment on his face, he tuned out the chuckling and snickering of the guests. He stopped on the bottom step and glared straight at Teresa. Scott wore Easter purple pants and a Halloween orange shirt. The most exaggerated laughter came out of the mouth of his little brother who began to clap, urging the others to join him. Scott blushed furiously which clashed horribly with his shirt. Shouldering his way through the group, he walked out the front door.
“Murdoch, do I have to come up there and get you?” Teresa threatened.
“I’m not coming down. You all go ahead without me and have a good time. I’ll see you when you get back.” The guests all began to boo led, of course, by Johnny. Teresa stomped up the stairs. She turned toward Murdoch who was still hidden behind the wall. She was shaking her index finger in his face and chastising him but good for acting so childish. She gave him thirty seconds to get down the stairs.
Descending the steps herself, she resumed her place. Finally, and with only a second or two left, Murdoch walked out from behind the wall and froze on the top step. He had a scowl on his face and his hands clenched into fists. “I will personally escort the first person who laughs off this ranch.” He bellowed. The guests all became quiet except Johnny who tried, really tried to hold back his laughter. Teresa finally poked him hard in his ribs with her elbow. Murdoch came down the steps, one at a time, in almost military precision. He was dressed in the same colored slacks as Scott – Easter purple – and wore a shirt of apple green satin. The crowd parted like the Red Sea as he walked through them, eyes straight ahead, and out the front door. The guests turned to watch him cross the courtyard and climb into the surrey, picking up the reins. The scowl never left his mouth.
Johnny burst out laughing and, although the rest of the folks tried to contain themselves, soon began tittering and chortling too. It took several minutes until they could contain themselves enough, most especially Johnny, to exit the house and walk single file to the rigs. As he approached the buggies and saw Murdoch again, he nearly fell on the ground in laughter. His face was red, he held his stomach and tears were running down his face.
“Are you going to be able to drive or should I find someone who can control themselves well enough to handle a team of horses?” Murdoch barked.
Johnny bit his lip to quiet himself and climbed up into the driver’s seat of one of the buggies. Murdoch lead the convoy followed by Scott with Johnny’s rig bringing up the rear. He purposely allowed Scott to precede him so he could lag slightly behind and continued expressing his mirth. Soon all his passengers were chuckling right along with him.
The men had wrapped up all their kites so that their design would remain a secret until it was time for the contest. They had been loaded carefully into the back of and tied on the tops of the rigs. As they gingerly unpacked them, the ladies set out the food. Before the line formed, Murdoch asked for everyone’s attention. “I think some of you might know or have seen SuYen around town or on the ranch. She has been our special guest for the past five and a half weeks. This fine gentleman is Ming Hoa. He is SuYen’s betrothed. He is studying to become a doctor in Sacramento. SuYen and Ming Hoa are to be married soon and the Lancers wanted to give them this party to celebrate their engagement.” While everyone started to applaud, SuYen and Ming Hoa bowed. The guests stopped clapping and bowed back.
“Let’s eat!” Murdoch shouted. “SuYen and Ming Hoa, you go first and Johnny why don’t you follow them. I’ll bring up the rear.”
The tables almost groaned under all the food. Ham sandwiches, potato salad, fresh fruit, deviled eggs, salsa and chips, pickles, spiced beets, chocolate cake, fudge, homemade caramels, divinity, oatmeal cookies with raisins, chocolate chip cookies and crispy thin sugar cookies. To drink there was punch and lemonade for the ladies and beer or hard cider for the men.
Ming Hoa helped himself first with SuYen two paces behind and Johnny directly behind her. When they had all laden their plates and got their drinks, the three of them chose a blanket in the shade of a large oak tree. Johnny explained salsa to them and each took a hesitant taste then smiled and dug right in. The next glitch came as Johnny ate a deviled egg. Both Ming Hoa and SuYen picked theirs up then looked at each other and back to Johnny.
“Eat. You’ll love ‘em. One of my favorites but . . .” and Johnny lowered his voice “ . . . not one of the better things Teresa makes.” He winked. Ming Hoa and SuYen seemed frozen, each holding their half egg and staring down at it. “Go ahead. It’s just a cooked egg, you scoop out the yolk, mix it with some stuff and put it back. They’re called deviled eggs.” Both SuYen and Ming Hoa immediately dropped their eggs back on their plates, a horrified look overtaking both their faces. “What’s wrong?”
Finally SuYen spoke. “This is supposed to be happy time.”
“It is a happy time. Very happy. Don’t you think so?”
SuYen glanced at Ming Hoa before answering. “If happy time, why you serve food made for the devil?” Johnny laughed but stopped when he noted the expression on their faces.
“SuYen, that’s just the name of them. They have nothing to do with the devil!”
SuYen was practically in tears thinking someone had put a curse on her marriage by making a food associated with evil spirits. “Then why they called devil eggs?” She pleaded, a tear slipping down her face. Johnny thought about it for a minute.
“I don’t honestly know SuYen. It’s just a silly name, I guess. Believe me,” Johnny said, putting one hand over his heart. “They have nothing . . . absolutely nothing to do with the devil or evil spirits. If you’d rather not eat them, I’ll eat them for you . . . sort of to take the evil away.” Promptly both Ming Hoa and SuYen handed their eggs to Johnny, who wolfed them down. After he swallowed, he raised his hands. “See. I’m fine. I’m going back for more.” He jumped up and sauntered over to the tables. Everyone had gone through the line once and now a few guests – mainly the men – had come back for seconds. While the others took another sandwich or more potato salad, Johnny focused on the sweets. He took another piece of chocolate cake because – after all – Teresa had sliced them really thin. Aggie made the best cookies in the county as evidenced by all the blue ribbons on her kitchen wall and so Johnny took a whole handful. He helped himself to more caramels and a couple more pieces of fudge then stopped and grabbed a beer. It was a good think Scott, Teresa and Murdoch had all chosen to sit way across the field or his father would have tanned his hide for sure.
After a couple glasses of hard cider, Murdoch and Scott became much more tolerant with their clothing. In fact, he had seen Scott actually modeling it for Martha and Ellen, twisting every which way and bowing to accept their applause. Murdoch, sitting with Aggie, was actually stroking the front of his shirt and laughing.
After everyone had finished eating, the ladies began packing up the food and the dishes while the men gathered up their kites. As soon as the ladies had finished and found themselves a good vantage point while remaining in the shade, the men lined up to unveil their creations. Dan went first. His kite was yellow with blue tails. It looked a little faded, which worried Johnny as he recalled how Dan had bragged to him about being an expert. Scott went next. His kite was blue with yellow tails and didn’t look anything like Dan’s. Leave it up to Scott to engineer something no one else would even think of. Cip went next. His kite was very large and painted with Mexican looking flowers, birds and cactus and had white tails. Jelly unwrapped his, which was quite simple in design and constructed out of old newspapers. Now it was Johnny’s turn. While quite similar in style to Jelly’s he had painted his with birds of all colors and had affixed green tails to it. Murdoch was last. He felt a little foolish after seeing the others’ crafts what with his being store bought. He unwrapped it while everyone watched.
“Hey, that’s no fair!” Johnny yelled. “Pa bought his!” Murdoch blushed and cleared his throat.
“Yea, I don’t think we should let him compete.” Piped in Jelly. “What if he wins?”
“I can’t take home my own prize! If I should happen to be the champion, then the prize money will go to the kite that takes second place. Fair?”
The men grumbled between themselves but eventually agreed to let Murdoch participate. Besides, they reasoned, except for Jelly – who was of much smaller stature and, therefore, more wiry – Murdoch was the oldest. The younger men already had the advantage because they could run faster. Spreading out across the field, making sure they were well clear of the trees, they began running with their kites following. Johnny watched a minute to see how it was supposed to be done and then took off like a shot. Gradually he let the string out more and more. He was the first to get his kite in the air, followed within seconds by Dan. Scott ran and ran, backwards and forwards and backwards again but couldn’t even get his kite off the ground. Picking it up, he broke it to bits and threw it down on the grass.
Cip was a stocky man and all the running was taking its toll on him, but he did manage to launch his kite and Jelly soon followed, having tripped over his own feet a time or two. Watching the exertion put forth by his juniors, Murdoch didn’t even attempt to get his kite in the air, tossing it down on top of Scott’s.
The women applauded and pointed at the kite they liked the best. The kites soared and dipped and made wide circles catching the different currents of air. Part of the competition, it had been explained, was to try and knock an opponent’s kite out of the air using yours. Confident in his ability and thoroughly loving the experience, Johnny made the first move. Murdoch and Scott had moved to stand closer to the pilots and all the men were looking up in the sky. Johnny gradually moved his kite next to Cip’s, his closest competitor. With one quick movement, Cip’s kite dipped and plummeted to earth. Johnny laughed while Cip swore quietly in Spanish. Winding up his string, Cip tossed his kite near the pile and stood by Murdoch and Scott to watch.
Jelly, the little scamp, was running over pulling his kite through the air, trying to down Johnny’s kite. As he got closer, however, Johnny quickly moved the opposite direction and, without even trying, overpowered Dan’s which crashed to the ground. Dan reeled it in and tossed it on top of the others. The women either clapped or sighed, depending on which man they wanted to win. Dan stood with the others. Now it was up to Johnny and Jelly. The already defeated group moved up closer to the two pilots to cheer or jeer, whichever the case may be. Johnny and Jelly were running back and forth trying to dodge and outmaneuver each other. Johnny would run towards Jelly would who run backwards just in time and over to Johnny’s other side. The men continued in this fashion for almost half an hour. Johnny could have stayed out there all day, he was having so much fun, but Jelly – being older – was getting tired. Finally, he purposely pulled his kite in, grumbling the whole time that ‘in his younger days, he would have whooped the boy but good’. Johnny ran back and forth and around and around in utter glee until finally his father called him.
“Johnny, son,” Murdoch said.
“Just a minute Pa. I’ve got good wind.”
“John Lancer,” Murdoch barked. Johnny knew that tone. The fun was over, at least for today. He could hear the ladies laughing quietly behind him as he pulled in his string. ‘Funny,’ he thought, ‘I know I had more line than this’.
“Don’t make me call your name again ,” Murdoch growled. Johnny cast his eyes to the ground before turning. Swallowing hard, he finally looked up at his father. Between him and Jelly running back and forth and around each other, they had literally wound their strings around the other men who stood in a group watching, even binding their arms to their sides. Johnny looked directly into his father’s eyes, which blazed fire. His checks puffed out in contained merriment until he could hold back his amusement no longer. Bursting out in laughter, he gripped his belly and fell backward into the grass. He had his legs drawn up and his head thrown back, his face beet red, tears running down his cheeks. Every time he tried to stop laughing, he would start to giggle. His giggle turned into a snicker which turned into a chuckle with turned into a chortle with turned right back into good old-fashioned laughter.
Murdoch looked around at the men who were bound together. Scott, Dan, Cip, and even – although not quite as tangled as the others – Jelly. No one seemed to be amused. Murdoch lifted his eyes to Heaven. “Johnny, son.” He said in an anger-controlled voice which only caused a new round of giddiness to overtake his youngest son. “John.” Johnny looked over at his father, still clutching his belly and gasping for breath. Not only the sight of them all knotted together but the appearance of his father’s outfit reminded him of a story he had heard once about a giant that had been captured and tied down by the little people. Johnny was actually rolling from side to side now when, suddenly getting too close to the edge of the hill, rolled right off of it.
“Johnny!” Scott shouted, knowing there was quite a drop and fearing his brother might be seriously injured. Scott had to use all his strength even to move, but was determined to make his way to the precipice and rescue his little brother so the men shuffled in a group along with him. Those in the front of the entanglement looked over the edge to see Johnny clinging to a ledge for dear life, a smile still on his face. SuYen gasped and tried to run to him but was held back by Martha and Aggie.
“Teresa, get over here.” Scott shouted. Teresa ran to his side and glanced down at Johnny in fear. “In my right front pocket, pull out my knife.” Teresa hesitated and glanced into Scott’s eyes. “Just do it,” he sighed. Carefully Teresa slid her hand into Scott’s pocket just enough to grab the knife then yanked her hand out with it clutched in her palm. “Cut us loose. Hurry.” Teresa grabbed one length of string after the other and sliced it in half. Soon enough of their bonds were loosen to where the men could simply pull the rest away.
“Hang on Johnny, I’m coming,” Scott yelled out. “Teresa, run over to the surrey. There is a length of rope under the seat. Quick.” Teresa scrambled over to the rig and back, handing the coil to Scott. “Johnny, I’m going to toss this rope down to you. Grab it with one hand.” Scott gently swung the rope back with his fingers and then let go of it when he swung it forward. Immediately the other men grabbed the free end and began to pull. Within a minute, Johnny scrambled up over the edge where Scott grabbed his shirt and belt and pulled him further away from the drop-off. “Are you okay?”
Johnny looked up and smiled. “Hi big brother. I won the contest.” Scott huffed and released the grip he had on Johnny, stalking away as he began to recoil the rope. Johnny laid in the grass for a minute to catch his breath, recognizing just how lucky he had been. Murdoch walked over to him and, towering above him, reached down a hand and helped his youngest to his feet and pulled him into a hug. Embarrassed to be embraced this way in front of everyone, Johnny pulled away. “I’m fine Pa.” He mumbled, brushing off his pants.
“Well thank the good Lord for that.” Murdoch muttered before turning to walk away. The guests, all realizing how this festive occasion could have ended very differently, silently began picking up items and repacking the rigs. “Ladies and gents,” Murdoch called out. “We do have a winner in the kite competition.” Everyone stood in place, but turned to face their host. Murdoch motioned for Johnny to come and stand by his side. Blushing, Johnny put his hands in his back pockets and hung his head. Murdoch dropped an arm around his son’s shoulders. “The fifty dollar prize goes to my son Johnny.” Everyone clapped and Murdoch handed Johnny the money. Johnny tried to argue but Murdoch wouldn’t take the money back. He looked up into his brother’s eyes for approval. Scott nodded almost imperceptivity.
“Folks,” Johnny said, turning to motion that SuYen and Ming Hoa should come to him. Once standing at his side, he continued. “This here prize money is gonna be a weddin’ gift to these two.” He extended the money to Ming Hoa, who shook his head. “No, go ahead, take it.” Ming Hoa took a step backward and put his hands behind his back. Johnny looked at SuYen with confusion in his eyes.
“Master Johnnysun, we cannot accept your gift. It is against our customs.”
“Money is against your customs? How can that be?”
SuYen glanced around at the guests and then at Ming Hoa. “Not all money, just that money.” SuYen answered tilting her head towards Johnny’s hand. Seeing that he still didn’t understand, she explained further. “In China, if people give money as a gift, it must always be given in an amount that ends in nine. We cannot accept money that ends in zero. It is bad luck.” Johnny exhaled loudly and glanced as Scott in disbelief.
“Ming Hoa, you got a dollar?” Ming Hoa nodded, reached in his pocket, and pulled out a one dollar coin. Johnny extended his free hand and Ming Hoa dropped the coin into Johnny’s palm. “Okay, now you can take this money because it’s really only forty-nine dollars.” He flipped the coin up into the air and, catching it in his other hand, dropped it in his shirt pocket. SuYen smiled and accepted the notes, immediately handing them to Ming Hoa who bowed to Johnny. Everyone clapped.
It had been a long day by the time they got everyone back to the ranch, said their goodbyes, escorted the guests back to their own rigs, unhitched all the teams and put the buggies and surrey away. Teresa and Murdoch carried in all the extra food and dropped it on the kitchen table to be disposed of in the morning. Walking into the parlor, Teresa collapsed into one of the hearthside chairs. Murdoch poured himself a glass of bourbon and then collapsed into the other. When Scott and Johnny came in, Scott poured himself a brandy and melted down in his favorite chair in the corner. Johnny was so exhausted he didn’t even care if he had a drink and threw himself belly down on the couch. SuYen and Ming Hoa entered, looking fresh as daisies. Catching their attention, Johnny muttered, “SuYen, go to bed. You make me tired just looking at you.” She looked at Ming Hoa, who cleared his throat.
“I believe we still have some business to conduct.” Ming Hoa said.
Johnny had forgotten all about the two hundred dollars passage money. He motioned with his hand that Ming Hoa should walk over to him. Ming Hoa took the money out of his suit pocket and handed it to Johnny. “Thank you Ming Hoa. She’s all yours.” Johnny slurred stuffing the money in his back pocket. SuYen’s face lit up and she smiled brightly at Ming Hoa as he walked back to her side.
Teresa got up especially early the next morning and made a fantastic breakfast of flap jacks, bacon, sausage, eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits, fresh orange juice and coffee. Everyone sat around the kitchen table enjoying their meal and commenting on the party and how well everything went. Johnny wanted so badly to tease Scott about his kite but didn’t want to spoil the mood so bit his tongue. There would always be time later.
When everyone had finished eating, Scott and Johnny went out to hitch up Ming Hoa’s rented buggy. Johnny checked over every inch of it so, hopefully, there would be no problems on the couple’s trip. Teresa had packed a lunch of roast beef sandwiches, cut up fresh vegetables picked just that morning, and nearly all the leftover cookies and candies in a small wooden crate that she handed to Scott as he walked out the door. Johnny drove the buggy around to the front of the house. SuYen had packed up all her new clothes and other items into a brand new valise that the Lancers had bought for her as a wedding present. Scott grabbed her bag and tucked it in the back seat beside the crate. It was that awkward time when goodbyes needed to be said. Ming Hoa led the way to the buggy followed, two paces behind, by SuYen. Scott, Johnny and Teresa followed the couple with Murdoch bringing up the rear. Ming Hoa bowed to all of them upon reaching the buggy then climbed in and took the driver’s seat.
Teresa had tears in her eyes as she hugged SuYen and wished her all the best. Scott bowed slightly and thanked SuYen for the chess lessons and for all the care she had given his little brother. Murdoch stepped forward, bowed deeply and told SuYen that it was because of her walking on his back that he could now do so without pain. He thanked her and stepped back. Now it was Johnny’s turn. He had been standing off to the side, head hung, with his fingers tucked in his back pockets. Johnny walked toward the buggy until SuYen was at his side. She no longer had to keep two steps back, she was now his equal. He struggled to swallow the lump in his throat. Murdoch dropped an arm around both Teresa’s and Scott’s shoulders and turned them toward the house. Entering, he softly closed the door. This was now his son’s moment.
“SuYen, I’m going to miss you so much. You’ve done such wonderful things for me and my family and taught us all some very valuable lessons. Gracias por ser mi amiga. tuvimos algunas buenas aventuras juntos, nosotros dos y algunos bastante más divertidos también. Nunca te olvidaré,. Usted está tomando un pequeño pedazo de mi corazón contigo. Dios te bendiga y su matrimonio. Esté SuYen feliz. ¿Recuerde que el viejo maestro Johnnysun le va? Buen viaje Suyen. Despedida.” (Thank you for being my friend. We had some good adventures together, we two and some pretty funny ones too. I will never forget you. You are taking a little piece of my heart with you. God bless you and your marriage. Be happy SuYen. Remember old Master Johnnysun will you? Safe trip SuYen. Farewell.)
Johnny tried to sniff away his tears, wiping his shirt sleeve under his nose, but it was no use and a couple silently slid down his cheeks. Blinking quickly and looking up to the sky he managed to gain some control. “I’ll tell you what I just said SuYen.”
SuYen shook her head, her eyes rimmed with tears.. “No need to tell SuYen. I see it in your eyes.”
“SuYen, we must go now.” Ming Hoa said. SuYen smiled as Johnny helped her up into the buggy. Sitting ramrod straight, she focused her eyes straight ahead. Ming Hoa gently slapped the horses with the reins and the buggy moved toward the driveway. Johnny gave up trying to hold back his tears and they fell freely, dripping off his chin onto the front of his shirt. Suddenly the buggy stopped. SuYen jumped down and began running back to Johnny with her arms spread wide. He sprinted forward and met her halfway, SuYen threw her arms around him so forcefully that she almost knocked him over backwards. She laid her head against his chest as Johnny lifted one hand to cup the back of her head.
“Tian zhu he hu Master Johnnysun.” SuYen whispered. “That means God Bless and take care of you.”
Johnny dropped to one knee and held her face in both hands. He placed a gentle kiss on SuYen’s forehead. “Tian zhu he hu SuYen.”
SuYen smiled, turned and ran back to the buggy. Johnny stood, wrapped his arms tightly around himself and watched the buggy until he could no longer see it. Murdoch walked up behind his son, his hands tucked in his front pockets. He wanted so badly to reach out and pull Johnny into his arms and comfort his youngest. Finally Johnny turned and started walking toward the front door. Murdoch extended one arm, dropped it around his son’s shoulders, gave a good squeeze and followed Johnny into the house closing the door quietly behind him.
Two years later:
Teresa drove up, parking the wagon near the barn. She had gone into town to get the mail and some foodstuffs. Hopping down, she pulled one letter out of the stack of envelopes. “Have you seen Johnny?” She asked the stable master. Juan Carlos pointed inside. Teresa found him brushing Barranca. “Should have known I’d find you with that horse. I’ve got a letter here for you.” She handed the envelope to him, turned and walked toward the house.
Johnny put down the brush, exited the stall and crossed over to sit down on some hay bales. He stared at the letter for a few minutes. Finally he slid his finger under the flap and tore it open. Pulling out the paper inside, he unfolded it and read:
I am most happy to tell you that Ming Hoa and I had beautiful wedding and are
very joyful in married life. Ming Hoa will graduate as medical doctor in a few
months and has a position in Baltimore. I also happy to tell you that we have a
son. He was born last December twenty-third. We named him Yao Han which
is John in Chinese. We take your name for him. It is our wish that he grows up
to be like you. Honorable, kind, caring and funny. Hope you and family are in
good health and as happy as we are.
Johnny couldn’t help but smile. What an honor to have SuYen and Ming Hoa name their baby after him.
“Oh there you are son,” Murdoch said as he entered the barn. “What you got there?”
“Letter from SuYen.” Johnny replied, moving over so his father could sit beside him.
“Well, what does she have to say?”
“She is very happy. Ming Hoa has a job in Baltimore. Here,” he said handing the letter to his father. “Read it yourself.” Murdoch took the paper, his lips moving as he read. Johnny rested his forearms on his thighs and leaned his weight forward, his hands clasped between his knees. He stared at the toe of his boot. When Murdoch finished reading, blinking away a tear, he put his hand on Johnny’s back.
“It’s a very special thing to have a child named after you and very flattering that they hope he grows up to be just like his namesake. Yao Han was even born on your birthday son.”
“Yah, I read that. You know, I’d like to send him a gift or something but I’ve sittin’ thinkin’ and I just can’t come up with anything special enough.” Murdoch stood and handed the letter back to his son who folded it and stuffed it in his shirt pocket.
“Follow me.” He said. Johnny followed him into the house and up the front staircase. Murdoch opened the door and entered his bedroom. “Come on in son. I think I have just the thing.” Murdoch took the lamp and the ashtray off a trunk in the corner and set them on the floor. Pulling out a key, he unlocked it and braced the hinges so the lid would stay open. He rummaged inside for a moment and pulled out a box. Holding it almost lovingly, he crossed to his chair and sat down, patting the ottoman signaling Johnny to join him. After his son was seated, Murdoch gently pulled the cover off the box and folded back some tissue paper. With great care he lifted out a small cast iron bank which he handed to his son. Johnny examined the object, turning it every which way. “You see son, you put a coin in this slot and the dog jumps through the hoop and knocks it into the basket.” Murdoch dug a coin out of his pants pocket and handed it to Johnny. Johnny sat the bank down on the edge of the table, dropped the coin into the slot and pulled the lever. Sure enough, the dog jumped through the hoop, his nose knocking the coin into a small red basket. He smiled.
“Where’d you get this?” He asked, reaching into his own pocket for another coin.
“I bought it for your first birthday. I almost went broke you begged for so many coins!”
“Wow! This was mine?” Johnny’s eyes glistened with a tear.
“I thought it would make the perfect gift for SuYen’s son with a note explaining its history.”
“Gosh Pa, don’t you want to keep it? I mean you’ve had it all these years.”
Murdoch leaned forward and put a hand on Johnny’s left knee. “It’s yours. I gave it to you as a gift. Besides, it’s not the bank itself that means so much to me, it’s the memories. You have to decide.”
Johnny thought a minute then smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. “I think it’s a great idea. I’m sure little Yao Han would love it.”
“You could even tuck a little money inside to get him started.”
“Yah, I think I’ll do that.” Carefully laying it back in the box, rewrapping the tissue around it and replacing the cover Johnny murmured. “I think I’ll do just that.”
FICTION - A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact. www.thefreedictionary.com
In 1596, a flush toilet was invented and built for Queen Elizabeth I by her Godson, Sir John Harrington. The first patent for the flushing toilet was issued to Alexander Cummings in 1775. During the 1800s, people realized that poor sanitary conditions caused diseases. Having toilets and sewer systems that could control human waste became a priority to lawmakers, medical experts, inventors, and the general public. In 1829, the Tremont Hotel of Boston became the first hotel to have indoor plumbing, and had eight water closets built by Isaiah Rogers. Until 1840, indoor plumbing could be found only in the homes of the rich and the better hotels. Beginning in 1910, toilet designs started changing away from the elevated water tank into the modern toilet with a close tank and bowl. www.inventors.about.com
PLEASE NOTE: I don’t know much about poker and even less about breaking horses so be kind and remember the definition of fiction – not necessarily based on facts!