The day had started out hot and muggy. Even at dawn the sun had come up in a mist that resembled steam. Now in the late morning the promise of stupefying heat had been fulfilled. It seemed to be the perfect day for an afternoon-long siesta--if you were able to sleep. However, at the great white hacienda no one thought of rest. After all, it was the 4th of July and nearly everyone from the ranch would be heading to Spanish Wells for the huge celebration. The nearby towns were having small festivities as well, but it had been decided to have the fireworks display at Spanish Wells when darkness fell.
Teresa O'Brien, face flushed and hair flying, rushed out from the kitchen. "I need someone to take all of this food into Morro Coyo to Reverend Baker. I promised him it would be there in the early afternoon, so who's going to do it?"
"I will, Teresa."
"Thanks, Scott. Now be careful with it. Most of it is for the Orphanage picnic, then we're going to take them over to Spanish Wells for the fireworks."
"I know. I'll help you do it."
"Thanks again. I'm glad I can count on someone around here," she said while glaring at the dark-haired Lancer.
"Oh, I'd be glad to help too, but I wouldn't want to deprive Boston here of his chance to do his civic duty."
Scott started to laugh.
"What's so funny, Blondie?"
"I just didn't know you even knew what civic duty was."
"Hey, I do too and just to show you--Teresa, I'll be glad to deliver the chocolate cakes to the picnic."
"Johnny, there are no chocolate cakes, and even if there were, I wouldn't let you deliver them!"
Stepping back in mock horror, the young man questioned, "Why, Teresa, whatever do you mean?"
"She means that would be like letting a fox loose in a hen house."
The brunet grinned. "Well, I am as smart and cunning as a fox."
The blond and the young woman exchanged glances in disbelief. "All right, Foxy, if you want to help, there are two women who need a ride into Morro Coyo with their cakes. Could you get the buggy and take them in since Scott and I will be using the buckboard?"
"Sure. Just tell me their names and I'll get them there faster than a jackrabbit."
"Just make sure you get them there safely!"
"Oh, I will. Now who are they and are they pretty?"
"Johnny! They're new to the area and I don't want you flirting with them. Their names are Abigail and Hannah Palmer. They're sisters and just took over the old Thompson place."
"Hmmm! Well, I'm sure I can handle two at a time."
"All right, all right. I'll get them and I'll meet you at the orphanage."
"Come on, Scott, we've got to get going. I told Reverend Baker that I'd help him get the picnic all set up."
Three hours later the picnic was in full swing. Food had been consumed in vast quantities. In fact, in such quantities that Teresa had her hands full with sick children. Since the Reverend Baker's wife was pregnant, Teresa had tried to help even more than usual.
Scott had rounded up some of the older boys for games. Along with some of the Morro Coyo citizens who had come by to help out, the forty orphans had a pleasant picnic--except for the few with upset tummies.
After the food was gone, Teresa insisted that some of the younger children take naps so that they would be able to stay up for the fireworks. One little girl fell asleep in Scott's lap so Teresa found a blanket for her to sleep on. Just as the older Lancer lay the little girl down, he turned around to find the buggy pulling up with Johnny driving.
Walking over to the younger man, he inquired about the reason for the brunet's late arrival. "Good to see you, Brother. I thought you were lost or had taken off with the Palmer girls."
"Girls? Scott, did you see them? Teresa set me up. They both must be 100 and every time I tried to get the horse to move at mor'en a crawl, they told me I was divin' too fast! I thought we'd never get here. And worst of all--they brought two angel food cakes as their donation!"
Scott chuckled. "Now Johnny, remember your civic duty!"
"Civic duty is one thing. Torture is another! I'm goin' over to the cantina for a coupla cold beers."
"The cantina's closed. It's the 4th, remember?"
"Now whose dumb idea was that?"
"Your father's. Don't you remember that he urged that the bars be closed so that no one got drunk and spoiled the celebration?"
"Did you say something, Brother?"
"I said it's a good thing I brought my own." Taking out a small flask, he took a swig. "Not as good as a cold beer, but it'll do I guess."
"Johnny, you finally made it!"
"Teresa, you are in trouble."
"Now, Johnny, what is the matter?"
"You know what it is--the Palmer sisters. They're older than the hills."
"Oh, they're not much older than Murdoch"
"So? You told me they were young and pretty!"
"I did not, you just imagined it!"
"Oh, don't worry, you don't have to take them home. They're staying in town overnight, but could you take Winifrid and Penelope over to the fireworks later?"
"Winifrid and Penelope? Who'r they?"
"Friends of mine from church. They could really use a ride."
"NO! I refuse. I'm going to ride over on Barranca. At least, I brought him tied to the buggy."
"NO! You're not catchin' me twice."
"Don't worry, Teresa, I'll take them. It's not like I have to marry them."
"Thanks, Scott. YOU are a gentleman."
The next few hours were spent cleaning up from the picnic. Small hands had to be washed, stained clothes changed; but finally all forty children were in buckboards and buggies ready to head to Spanish Wells.
Johnny had even been persuaded to take Reverend Baker and his wife over to the fireworks display since their own buggy was none too comfortable. As they all pulled out, Johnny saw Scott driving the buckboard with children sitting on hay in the back. Up front were two raven-haired young women. Both were full-figured and quite pretty.
"Did you say something, Johnny?"
"Er, no, no, Reverend Baker. Just...coughing."
"I see. Well, we do appreciate your taking us over to Spanish Wells. I must say it has been awhile since we've seen you...at church."
Fortunately Mrs. Baker joined the conversation. "The springs on this buggy are so much better than the ones on ours. I'd probably have had the baby on the road over there."
A look of horror crossed the brunet's face. "Oh M'am, don't do that!"
"Relax, Johnny, she's not due for several months."
"Oh good!" he said with a sigh of relief.
The various contingents began arriving at Spanish Wells. There was much to see even before the fireworks began. Vendors hawked their wares while tables were piled high with all types of food. There were even games and gambling activities for those so-inclined. Everywhere there seemed to be contented people, happy to be celebrating another birthday in their country's history. After all, just a few short years before, it had looked like there might not be anymore birthdays for the United States.
Johnny found an open bar and had a few beers then he wandered around looking at the games and other activities. Everyone seemed in a good mood, just waiting for darkness to fall.
The young man even struck up a conversation with Penelope Wilson who agreed to go with him to a dance the next Saturday night. The two young people talked some before Winifrid Wilson came to get her sister. Teresa and Mrs. Baker needed their help with the orphans as everybody seemed to be assembling for a good view of the fireworks display.
Johnny started to head in the same direction when a familiar shape caught his eye.
The lean figure of his brother seemed to be moving towards the other end of town. Deciding to follow, the younger Lancer kept the blond in sight. Suddenly, the first of the fireworks crashed out from behind him. It flared in blue and red, but Johnny just glanced back and then kept to his route.
Scott kept walking until he finally stopped near a tree. There he sat down and covered his head with his arms.
For a second the blond didn't respond, then he looked up. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you watching the fireworks?"
"Why aren't you?"
"I've seen them before--the real things."
"During the war, you mean?"
The older man nodded. "Once you've heard the roar of an artillery barrage. . . well let's just say I' not real fond of fireworks."
"I guess I can understand that." He sat down beside his brother.
Silence surrounded them though at the other end of town the light display went on in muffled glory.
"On July 4, 1863, I was in Vicksburg. A year later I was in Libby Prison. After our escape attempt, they put me in solitary so I wouldn't make anymore tries to get out. It wasn't so bad--except for the nightmares--but I could still hear the moans and cries of the other prisoners. I could hear shots from time to time. When they finally let me out into the area with the other men, the noise seemed deafening. By this time food was so scarce men were attacking other men for their pitiful ration. Some officers even ran gangs so they could keep control of the food and then hand it out in return for favors.
"At one point I thought about trying to
escape again--even dying had to be better than that hellhole. Then we heard
the explosions as the Confederates began to evacuate Richmond and started
to blow up their powder stores. Seven days later, Lee surrendered. I guess
fireworks will always bring back those memories."
"Mebbe but time has a way of changin' lots of things."
I hope so. It's not a period of my life I like to remember. You know what's strange, it wasn't even the war itself as horrible as the death and destruction was. It was being a prisoner, being made to feel less than human. By that time Grant had refused to exchange prisoners so we knew there was no hope of getting out. After the war, we heard about the Kilpatrick Raid. All that served to do was get Dahlgren killed and made the Rebs harder on us. Sometimes it seemed that death would be the only way out."
Again the silence set in, this time on both ends of town.
"Well, Brother, the fireworks seem to be over for this year so we'd better go collect our charges and head for home."
Walking slowly back towards the burgeoning crowd, Johnny looked at the blond. "Scott, I know that was a terrible time in your life, but I'm sure glad you survived. I like having you as a brother."
"You're not too bad as a brother either."
"Why thank you. Now what do you say we go find the Wilson sisters and see if they need a ride home? I've got a date with the younger one on Saturday."
"Well, good luck!"
"Her sister told me that Penelope has a fiery temper."
"Whooee! That's the kind I like--a hot tamale!"
Scott laughed. "Looks like I was wrong then."
"I have a feeling tonight's fireworks will be nothing compared to the ones on Saturday night!"
Laughter filled the hot, sulfurous night air.