By all logic Scott should have been the Lancer brother to become involved with the Widow Morris. The two shared an Eastern background, a high level of education, and a reputation for being sensible and level-headed. But it was Scott’s volatile younger brother Johnny who was courting the quiet young widow.
At first Scott thought Mrs. Morris too ordinary for a man of Johnny’s complexity. He knew the outwardly cynical former gunfighter possessed a core of decency and compassion unsuspected by most. But Scott watched the two develop a deep and abiding interest in the well-being of the other, and he realized that Johnny trusted Emily Morris. That was good enough for Scott.
Besides, he liked seeing Johnny in love with a woman who calmed his restlessness without demanding that he be still. She accepted his temper without permitting it to harm her. Most importantly, she loved him for the man he was.
So when Johnny came to him with questions about courtship, Scott did his best to help.
The ride to Black Mesa was familiar enough for the brothers to settle into a rhythm of easy conversation. They enjoyed catching up on the latest gossip from the ranch hands, sharing the best dirty jokes they had heard recently, telling tall tales. Sometimes they even discussed matters of importance.
“Scott,” Johnny began. “Can I ask you for some advice?”
“Sure,” Scott replied. “Get a haircut.”
Johnny flashed a grin. “Nah, I’m serious, now, Boston. You know Emily…”
“Ah! Emily Grace, the young Widow Morris.”
Johnny chuckled at his brother’s pretentious tone. “Well, I want to give her something.”
Scott raised an eyebrow teasingly. Johnny caught the innuendo. “Like a present, Scott, that’s all. A gift, y’know?”
“All right. What’s the occasion?”
Scott considered teasing his brother further, but decided against it. “Well, brother, gifts given for nothing special are usually small mementos which the giver has stumbled upon and which have reminded him of the recipient. Has something recently reminded you of Mrs. Morris?”
“Everything I see these days reminds me of her,” Johnny admitted. He wore that small smile, the one that meant he was thinking about her.
“Well, that certainly narrows it down,” Scott replied. He thought ‘Oh, brother, you’ve got it bad!’, but didn’t say it out loud. “Let me ask you this: have you given her any gifts yet?”
“Uh-huh. She likes flowers, so I picked some to give her when I knew I was going to see her.”
“Flowers are always a good choice. Has she given you any gifts?”
Johnny shook his head. “No…unless do cookies count?”
“Hmmm. I guess that depends on if she made them specifically for you.”
“Since she lives alone I have to figure she makes them ‘specially for me. Where’s all this going, Scott?”
“I am merely trying to ascertain the current level of gift exchange in your relationship. And I must say, it isn’t very impressive.”
Johnny snorted. “That’s why I’m asking for your help. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy-just something to let her know I’ve been thinking about her. Something that when she sees it she thinks of me.”
Scott considered this. “A locket, perhaps?”
Johnny shook his head. “She don’t wear any jewelry that I’ve ever seen.”
“That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t treasure such a gift from you. I've never known a young lady who didn't adore jewelry.”
“I don’t know…it seems kind of impersonal, you know?”
They turned the horses off the main trail. Not exactly a shortcut, the flat surface of the meadow they were crossing invited a faster pace. They let the horses lope until they were across and the ground became uneven. When they slowed once again to a walk, Scott spoke. “Let’s try another approach. What do you two do when you’re together?”
Johnny thought for a moment. “Oh, we ride. We do chores at her place. We talk. We take walks. Sometimes she reads out loud.” There was that little smile again.
Scott pretended to stifle a yawn. “No offense, but it doesn’t sound like you and Mrs. Morris have a very exciting time of it.”
To his surprise, Johnny’s smile turned into a huge grin. “I guess not, but it’s OK with me. I figure ‘exciting’ is just another way of saying ‘dangerous’, and I’ve had enough of that to last me a lifetime. Besides, I’ve known women who are ‘exciting’ and they’re just plain difficult to get along with. Me and Emily Grace just like being together, and we both like how easy we feel.”
“Johnny, you are a very wise young man.” Scott was impressed. “Your relationship with Emily Morris may be boring, but I find myself envying you.” Scott paused as he thought of another gift idea. “How about a book of poetry? We know she likes books. Does she like poetry?”
“She might. I sure don’t.” Johnny laughed when Barranca echoed his disdainful snort.
Scott sighed. “This isn’t about what you like. This is about a gift to a special lady. It needs to be something she enjoys. If she enjoys poetry, give her a book of poems that tell her how you feel about her.”
“How do I know they do that?”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “You have to read them.”
Johnny made a rude noise. “Sounds like work.”
“Do you want my advice or not?” Scott was getting a little irritated.
“Yeah, yeah…I’m just feelin’ a little out of my class, you know?” Johnny rubbed his forehead, grimacing, then resettled his hat on his head with a jut of his chin. “Poetry, huh? I suppose you have something in mind?”
Scott nodded. “As a matter of fact, yes. I recently ordered a book of sonnets - love poems. Read it when it arrives, and if it meets with your approval, I’ll let you have it.”
Johnny was not convinced. “Tell you what. If I haven’t thought of anything else by the time that book gets here, I’ll take a look at it. And thanks, Scott.”
“Any time, Johnny, any time.” They continued their companionable journey.
After breakfast the following Sunday Johnny sat alone at the kitchen table with Scott’s new book. He leafed gingerly through it as if it might bite. He stopped to read a few words, frowned, turned a few pages, read some more. None of the words seemed right. He took a sip of coffee and looked at a few more pages. The poems didn’t make any sense to him. Wondering what was so special about poetry, he tried reading aloud-very quietly-to see if the words sounded better than they looked.
To his surprise they did.
He continued to sample the poems, reading parts out loud in a low voice, drinking his coffee. A few lines began to have meaning. Reading more, he began to appreciate an underlying rhythm. He was surprised to realize that some poems conveyed far more than their words alone seemed to say. Gradually, without realizing it, he found the beauty in poetry.
Near the end of the book he came across a poem that started with the words: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
With a jolt he thought of Emily; those words captured her. She was just that straightforward, that plainspoken. Every one of those words counted for something, just like Emily’s when she talked.
“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach…” In his head he could hear her voice saying those words, and he wished she was with him right now.
An idea came to him about the gift he wanted to give her-the gift to let her know he was thinking about her, and which would make her think of him. He refilled his coffee cup, grabbed the book of poems, and made for Murdoch’s desk.
She had spent the day in Green River writing letters for some of the older folks who had difficulty taking up a pen. It was one of her favorite pastimes because it gave her a chance to hear stories and catch up on the latest news. When she rode home just before supper time her old dog greeted her enthusiastically at the end of the lane. When he ran to the side of the porch where the rocking chairs were she dared to hope she would find Johnny there, even though there was no sign of his horse. It had been a while since she had seen him, and she missed him.
Johnny wasn’t there, but on the small wooden table between the chairs was a package wrapped neatly in brown paper and tied with a red ribbon. On top of the package was a rose.
She picked up the rose; he had removed the thorns from its stem. She enjoyed the scent for a moment before setting the flower down and turning to the package. From its size and shape she thought it must be a picture in a frame. Still smiling, wondering what picture Johnny was giving her, she undid the ribbon and opened the package.
Instead of a picture the simple pewter frame held a sheet of stationery. There were lines of writing in a masculine, angular hand. As she read the poem that Johnny had carefully copied onto the paper she realized that the smaller words between the lines were Johnny’s own.
She blinked tears from her eyes so she could read:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I thought of you right away when I read this.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
Our love fills all of me
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I don’t understand this part, but it’s got your name, and it’s pretty
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I need you like I need air and light
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
Loving you helps me be a good man
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
The feelings I used hating are better used to love you
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
There was a time I didn’t think I could love anyone
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
All of me, good and bad, loves you
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Even death won’t stop me loving you