“Hey, tell me how to say it one more time, Scott!
The tall blond regarded his brother with amused tolerance. “I thought you spoke French, Johnny.”
“Well, sure….! I picked up some words from old Maximilian’s soldiers, but none of them are anything I’d use……talking to her!”
The lady in question was a raven-haired beauty, seated—aloof and enticing—on a bench in a corner of the barn.
Attending this evening’s community social had been Scott’s idea. The two men were stuck in the little backwater of Cold Springs until Murdoch’s stage arrived the next afternoon. A local dance seemed preferable to spending the night in either their dismal hotel room or the sole—unfortunately rat-infested—saloon.
In the beginning, Johnny had viewed all this homespun entertainment with a jaundiced eye, but his attention had been captured immediately when ‘she’ walked in.
Being in unknown territory, he’d conducted a quick reconnaissance to determine that there was no possessive husband or jealous suitor lurking in the background.
A chatty, helpful matron had been more than willing to supply all the needed information. It turned out that Mademoiselle Chenard had traveled all the way from France to make her home with relatives here in California, and her English was almost nonexistent. Of course, more than a few of the young men in town had tried to fix their interest with such a lovely girl, but she remained unaffected by their blandishments.
Scott had tried to convince his younger brother that he might be biting off more than he could chew in this case. But Johnny merely grinned—a slow, confident, wickedly knowing smirk—and insisted, “Come on, brother, I finally found some use for that fancy Harvard education you’re always bragging about…!”
And so, the older man came up with a polite greeting, a cleverly phrased compliment and a respectful invitation. A few minutes of concentrated practice followed, until Johnny proclaimed that he was ready to make his move.
Ladling another cupful of spiked punch, Scott settled back to watch his brother’s progress.
A number of heads turned as the dark-haired cowboy made his way across the busy dance floor, but—whether by true ignorance or feminine wiles—the object of his pursuit appeared unaware of his approach.
While too far away to overhear the conversation, Scott was able to recall the rehearsed dialogue from memory. First came the proper introduction……and the lady saw fit to nod graciously. Then his brother reeled off that carefully thought-out piece of flattery, and she seemed to lap it up as a cat does cream. Finally Johnny extended his hand and finished with a mannerly request for a dance.
That’s when the mademoiselle displayed a set of reflexes that would have made Johnny Madrid proud. She drew back her hand in an instant and delivered a ringing slap.
Speechless in the face of her outraged demeanor, there wasn’t much Johnny could do but retreat gracefully.
Unable to hide a smile at the younger man’s glum expression, Scott murmured, “That went well…..!”
“Hell…! I don’t know what I did wrong!”
“At a guess, I’d say you managed to mangle my beautifully worded invitation to dance into something a whole lot less…..socially acceptable.” Scott slapped his brother on the back and added with exaggerated concern, “Perhaps you should have taken the advice of a very wise man….”
Johnny groaned, “Not George Washington……again….!”
“The man said—“Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in your own language……..”
Before Scott could finish the quotation, his brother interrupted with a vivid demonstration of exactly what kind of French he’d learned from those soldiers of Maximilian.
“………and that as those of quality do and not as the vulgar!”
It only took a few more rounds of alcohol-laced punch to iron out any bad feelings between the brothers, however, and soon after, the two men lost track of each other.
A buxom redhead identified Scott as a stranger in their midst, and made it her mission to see him properly welcomed. Reciprocating her overtures of ‘friendship’ kept him fully occupied, and it wasn’t until the evening was drawing to an end that he once again caught sight of Johnny.
The rear portion of the barn was surrounded by stacks of hay bales that effectively ensured privacy for anyone who sought seclusion there. It didn’t surprise Scott in the least to learn that his brother had taken advantage of this little nook, but his jaw did drop when he saw Mademoiselle Chenard—with flushed cheeks and a few bits of straw left in her hair—tucked neatly into the crook of his arm.
He couldn’t help but stare—open-mouthed—as Johnny bid the Frenchwoman a very, very fond adieu.
Meeting up with his brother again on the street, Scott was unable to contain his curiosity.
“OK, boy……out with it…! How did you work that miracle?”
“I just decided that old George was a smart man, and I should follow his advice,” Johnny answered.
“And exactly how did Mr. Washington’s sage counsel aid you in making that remarkable conquest?”
“Well, he said to speak your own language and that’s what I did. It wasn’t French, English or even Spanish, but it sure did the trick!”
The gleam of understanding in Scott’s eye matched his brother’s tone of smug arrogance.
“Not only that, brother, but you just proved the importance of the rest of the maxim…..?
Johnny cocked an eyebrow and waited.
“Sublime matters treat seriously…!”
There was a brief pause, and then both brothers began to laugh.
Johnny recovered first, and—between snickers—stammered out, “I was real serious about it…..no question. And I sure can’t argue that it was pretty sublime…..!”
With a final chuckle, he threw an arm around his brother’s shoulders, guiding both of their footsteps back to that dismal hotel—with the memory of a far-from-dismal night to see them through til morning.