The Feast of St. John
With thanks to Cat for her last minute advice and council and marking – even on her day off.
For Di – who insists there is a river, and now I know she's right.
Ah, it's a lovely summers evening and it's been an eventful summer day. I'm sitting on the edge of a blanket, to the side of the meadow. The dance has just started, and I can hear the band from here. I've been set to mind the little ones. There are three little girls and two little boys, all toddlers, napping on blankets in the shade of an oak.
The other one I'm minding is a bit older. Johnny Lancer is laid out in the sun on an Irish Chain Quilt, his leather trousers are still wet and he's got his arm over his eyes, shading them from the late afternoon sun. It takes a long time for the sun to set this time of year. It will still be hours before it's dark. Davy Davenport has brought over two plates of food.
"How is he?" Davy asks me.
"He's fine, lad, just sleeping."
Davy sets the plates down and backs up to leave. "I just don't know what to say."
"You don't need to say anything, Davy-boy. He knows."
Davy nods and leaves, with those jerky movements of a boy, almost a man, who wants to say something more, but doesn't know what.
"I'm not asleep." Johnny rolls to his side and rests himself on one elbow.
"How ya' feeling lad?"
"Oh, I'm all right. One of those plates of food for me?" With out waiting for my answer he reaches out a hand and drags the plate closer to him. His shirtsleeve is half rolled up, showing his thick wrists, but I see a bruise there, too. The shirt has dried during his rest, and his hair, too, but it's all disheveled, sticking up at odd angles. The poor boy looks like he's been half-drowned, and that's
pretty close to the truth.
He is kind enough to wait while I say a blessing over the food and then picks up a leg of chicken. He's turned to sit facing me, his legs crossed, the plate balancing on one knee. He's a study, this man before me. He's the hero of the day, but instead of being off at some celebration in his honor, he's sitting here off from the crowds, quietly eating fried chicken with me. I think he'd avoid the celebration anyway, he said he hadn't done anything any one else would do; only he did it first. And I think he's family has something to do with him taking it easy this afternoon. He knows they were
worried. I wonder if he gave himself a bit of scare like he did the rest of us.
I couldn't help but think of earlier this afternoon with my heart pounding. Two little children had been playing at the water's edge. What ever possessed them to wander further into the river, I haven't learned, but they did and were swept up in the current. Johnny had been near by, so I'd heard, all though different stories said others were closer, he was just quicker. After having grabbed the one closest to shore and shoving her to safety, he'd headed deeper into the river after the other child.
It's one of those moments that is burned into your memory, and yet when asked you can't form the words to say what happened. Johnny had caught the child, Davy Davenport's little sister Mary, and pulled her up from the depths of the river.
Morro Coyo's river is contrary. The surface is smooth and calm and pretty as it rolls through town, but below that surface is a quick undertow, dangerous and dark, a swirl of motion and movement that reminds me very much of the man across from me.
But Johnny had found Mary, and pulled her up. She was coughing and crying, so we knew she was all right, and headed back towards shore, but the girl's squirming and kicking, the currents and the moss, and all the elements seemed to work against him. He literally tossed the girl into the arms of someone on shore just before his legs were swept out from under him.
He vanished from the view of all of us gathered on the bank, only to bob up further down. We could all hear the impact of his body on the boulder and we all waited with collective held breathes as he floated down stream, tossed this way and that, until he found his feet and a bit of luck, and hauled himself ashore.
Like a drowned rat he looked, but a hero he was, and will be forever to the Davenport family and half the town. After he coughed up a bit of water his family took a hold of him. My dear friend Murdoch looked like he'd seen a ghost, and the look of fear he shot me, told me there's a story there I've yet to learn. But the Lancer men crowded around each other and brought their boy here to dry out in the sun.
I'd checked on the two Davenport girls, who were none the worse for wear after their ordeal and patiently waited until the doctor checked over Johnny, proclaiming to one and all, that since he'd only hit his head there was no harm done.
But Johnny had taken a lie-down here in the meadow, under the guise, he said, of letting his clothes dry. I could tell his family wasn't completely convinced. The doctor didn't seem to think there was a
concussion, but I'm sure, from the bruise on his face that he must have a wonderful headache. Murdoch had wanted to find Teresa, before she heard the news from someone else, but I could see he didn't want to leave his son, and so I had volunteered to mind the children.
Johnny tossed the chicken bones into the berry patch, knowing full well there was a critter or two out there to clean them up, and put his plate down beside him and gave a good stretch. "Seems like you had a good turn out."
It had been. The Feast of St. John the Baptist was a day of celebration in Morro Coyo. We put on a festival with singing and dancing and a bazaar and games. Money raised today went to help the orphans. They were coming in on trains from the East, and filling up every available bed we had in our little mission and more besides.
"It is lad, it is. A good turn out indeed. And how are you feeling, for real and for certain?"
He smiles at me, a little half smile, to show in advance he's teasing. "I told you and I'll tell your twin brother, I'm fine."
"You aren't really seeing double, are you lad?"
"You worry like a maiden aunt," Johnny laughed this time and stretched back out in the grass. "No, Father, I'm not seeing double, my head doesn't hurt. I'm a little waterlogged is all. Nothing serious."
He reached off the edge of the quilt and plucked a dandelion, twirling the stalk and then blowing away the little bits, watching them float away in the breeze.
"Well, if there's nothing wrong with you, what are you doing laying here lookin' at the clouds, instead of off at that dance with some pretty bundle of fluff."
"Padre!" He only calls me that when he's teasing me. "You'd think you were trying to marry me off!"
"And well past time, I think, too." I'm trying to be stern, but it's easy to see he's not taking me seriously. "You and your brother both are much too old to still be single. There should be a half dozen Lancer boys raising caine in these parts."
"According to my old man, the two of us are enough."
"I'm sure he thinks so, but I know different. What settles a man down is a good woman and little ones underfoot."
"You just point out the girl in this town that's marrying me and not one third of the biggest ranch in the valley." He sat up suddenly then, as if surprised that he'd made that comment out loud. I'd known him to be a bit of a cynic at times, but this seemed harsher than even he expected. "So, anything else going on today, beside me going for a swim?"
He's trying to change the subject, and I let him. "Dan Wilson asked Lucy Carlisle to marry him, right out front of the bakery."
"Did he now? Wondered how long it would take him, they've been walking out for six months or so." He looked over at me, head tipped down and looking at me out of the corner of his eye. "Padre, you are talking about marriage again."
"Ha, so I am." I guess I hadn't changed the subject after all.
Scott Lancer came over then, flopping down beside his brother, his long legs stretched out down the length of the quilt. "How ya' feeling?"
He plucks at the legs of his trousers. I think it will take quite a while for that leather to dry. "Fine, soggy."
I like the look Scott gave his brother. It's a look of trust and concern and humor and care. "Murdoch found Teresa, and he is right this minute, try . . ." He paused, looked at me then looked away. "I'm not lying, he's, what's the word?" Scott has his hands out about a foot apart. " The Widow Barker has him holding her yarn while she makes skeins."
"You're not serious?" He's grinning now; his eyes have a spark again.
"I am. And he sent me to fetch you."
"I'm not holding yarn for Mrs. Barker."
"I think we are supposed to come rescue him." Scott was laughing now. He has a warm laugh. "Are you up to a walk, or shall I go tell Murdoch you're on death's door, and he needs to come quick."
I see a sly grin on Johnny's face, as if the thought of lying back moaning has some merit. "Don't even think of it lad, I'm sitting right here." I shake a finger at both of them. "Thinkin' of lyin' to the widow, and with me right here to hear it."
"Right then." Scott got to his feet and the put a hand out to his brother. "Let's get going and see if we can avoid a similar fate for ourselves."
"What is it with the young men of today? No one wants to marry anymore!"
Scott's laughing and his brother joins in. "We want to marry, Father. We just want it to be our decision, and for now we've decided not to."
Johnny motions to his brother to go on ahead, a soft, "I'll be right there," prompts his brother to start across the meadow. "When the time comes, you'll perform the ceremony, won't you Father?"
I'm surprised. I've always got the feeling that he comes to church out of duty more than any religious calling. "I will lad, I will."
"Good." He sets off across the meadow, long strides to take him after his brother. He turns back to me, the sun on his hair, a smile on his face, the resiliency of youth making light of his near drowning. "But first we gotta get Scott married," he shouts back at me, then dashes after his brother with a wave of his hand.
They move out of the meadow and into the street, swallowed by the crowd. I'm left with a smile; it can't be helped when in the company of the Lancer men. I so enjoy the zest they have for life. The
children are waking from their naps, their mother's coming to collect them and I'm only left to wonder, how long before there are Lancer children here. Soon, I hope, but not too soon. I think on his words, his worry of being loved for his possessions, instead of for himself. I think there is a sermon in here somewhere.
June 21, 2004