Talbot's Halfway House
Be mindful not to forget to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. Hebrews 13:3.
Scott Lancer moaned as he got up off the ground. His regular mount, Ranger, had pulled up lame that morning and Scott had had to replace him with a dappled gray gelding that wasn’t nearly as sure footed. That had proven to be a decision made in haste that he was now regretting.
Every muscle in his body ached from the rough gaits and the fall he had just taken. Worse still he was miles from home and his horse had taken off. Well, there was nothing else to do but start walking so that’s what he did. He started walking.
Three hours or so later Scott found himself on a familiar trail – one that led toward the ranch house at the Bar T. The Bar T being home to his father’s best friends Jim and Maura Talbot who were also good friends to Scott and his brother, Johnny.
Pausing to catch his breath, momentarily, after climbing one steep hill after another, Scott resolutely put one foot in front of the other and headed down the trail that would lead to the road between the Bar T and Spanish Wells. He stumbled and fell a few times, leg weary as he was – and sore footed – which added to his bruises and the scrapes that he had from clinging to vines and saplings while trying to keep from falling down the steepest hills.
Not five minutes later, the threatening storm that had spooked his horse broke loose. Within a matter of minutes Scott was soaked through to the skin, which only served to make him more miserable than he already was. He kept moving and was finally rewarded with a glimpse of the house, which at that point in time, was only about a quarter of a mile away beyond the trees he had tried to take shelter in. It was Jim Talbot, who had been working on repairs to his front porch, who spotted the young Lancer.
“Scott! What on earth?” Jim ran out in the rain to meet his friend’s son.
“Afternoon, Mr. Talbot,” Scott said with a weak grin. “Sorry to drop in on you unannounced…”
“Where’s your horse, son?”
“He ran off on me right after lunch.” Scott’s knees buckled and he would have fallen if not for Jim’s strong grip. “Spooked by some dry leaves blowing in the wind.”
“Ranger did that?” Jim was astonished.
“No, I wasn’t riding Ranger today. He pulled up lame so I took a different horse today.”
They were nearing the house where a fire was going in the stove and the coffee pot was always hot. Maura was bustling about preparing for her week’s bread baking. She looked up as her husband helped Scott into the house.
“My goodness, child! What on earth happened to you? You’re soaking wet, your face is scratched and your clothes are torn.”
“His horse ran off on him, Maura,” Jim explained. “You can look him over if you like but I think some hot coffee and dry clothes would go a long way toward making him feel better.”
“He’s right, Mrs. Talbot,” Scott acknowledged. “I’m really just tired, wet and cold. Some coffee sounds wonderful.”
“Never mind the coffee!” Maura exclaimed. “You’re going to have a nice hot bowl of soup.” Turning to her husband she said, “Alex take him to the guest room and get him some dry clothes. It seems to me that we have some hand-me-downs I collected for the mission that should fit him.”
“If we don’t, Maura my love,” Jim replied, “I’ll fit him with some of my own. We’re close enough in size as far as length in pant legs is concerned. I’m a bit heavier but I’m thinking Scott won’t argue. Will you, Scott?”
“No sir,” Scott said. “Dry clothes- even if they’re too big - and hot soup sound wonderful.”
“Come on, then,” Jim said after helping Scott get his wet boots off. “Let’s find you some dry clothes.”
Jim led the young man to a guest room across from his and Maura’s own room. None of the hand-me-downs were the right size for Scott so Jim got him a pair of trousers, a shirt, long underwear that he had just brought home from Baldomero’s the day before and a pair of socks. He also provided him with a thick towel to dry himself off with as best he could.
“Here. Put these things on and then come back out in the kitchen. Maura will have the soup ready and waiting for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Talbot,” Scott said through chattering teeth.
“You’re most welcome, Scott.”
Five minutes later Scott entered the kitchen to find Rico Portillo seated at the kitchen table eating a sandwich.
“What are you doing here, Rico?” Scott asked.
“I came to deliver the horses Señor Malcom left to have new shoes put on yesterday. It started to rain and I do not have a raincoat with me. So I came here and the Señora told me to come in and have something to eat while I wait to see if the rain will let up.”
There was a knock at the door as Scott sat down to a steaming bowl of chicken soup. Jim went to answer it. A moment later his voice, and that of Willie Mays, could be heard coming down the hall from the front door.
“Why, Willie Mays, what are you doing here?” Maura asked.
“Mama sent me over with the clothes she promised you for the mission,” the young Negro explained as he removed his slicker. “I wrapped them in oilcloth to keep them from getting wet.”
“Have something to eat before you head back,” Maura said as she placed a plate with a thick ham sandwich and a steaming cup of coffee in front of him.
“Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said, “it seems to me like you’re always taking care of one of us. Or supplying someone with clothes or medicine.”
“Or feeding us and every saddle tramp or drifter that passes through,” Willie added.
“Si, Señora,” Rico said. “Papa says you are an angel in disguise.”
“Don’t be silly!” Maura exclaimed. “I’m just doing my Christian duty.”
“Hello the house!” Johnny’s voice could be heard outside the kitchen.
Embarassed by the words of praise spoken by the three young men at her table, Maura went to the kitchen door to let Johnny in.
“Afternoon Mrs. Talbot. Is Mr. Talbot here? I need some help to look for Scott. His horse came…”
“I’m right here, Little Brother,” Scott said.
“You all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m just footsore and tired.”
“That flea bitten gray I decided to ride this morning spooked and threw me. He ran off before I could get hold of the reins.”
“Yeah, well he came home in a big hurry. He’s eating his fool head off in the barn.” Johnny grinned at his brother, relieved that Scott was none the worse for wear. “That’ll teach you to choose a horse in a hurry. That’s not like you, Brother.”
“Johnny, sit down,” Maura commanded as she put a sandwich laden plate at the extra space at the table. “Have a sandwich and some coffee. Scott’s clothes won’t be dry for a while yet. He can wear Alex’s things and pick his up later.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Talbot,” Johnny said as he took his seat. “So you’re really ok, Scott?”
“Yes, Johnny, I’m ok,” Scott reassured his brother. “Just a little tired and footsore. The soup Mrs. Talbot gave me warmed me up once I got dry clothes on.”
“I brought your slicker with me,” Johnny told his brother. “When I’m done eatin’ we better be gettin’ home. Teresa will be worrying about you. So will the old man.”
“Johnny Lancer! That’s no way to talk about your father!” Maura always scolded him when he referred to Murdoch in that manner.
“Sorry – I mean to say Murdoch will be worryin’.” Johnny grinned impudently as Maura who shook her finger at him.
The young men finished their sandwiches and coffee and got up to leave. Jim Talbot lent Scott a pair of boots that he said he would reclaim the next time he came to Lancer. As they were leaving to go their separate ways, Kevin Millar, the one member of the Prankster Posse who had not been there the whole time, arrived leading his horse who was limping due to a missing shoe.
“Leave him in the corral by the barn, son,” Jim told him, “and saddle that chestnut. He’ll get you home and you can pick your horse up in a few days when his foot has had a chance to heal.”
“Thanks, Mr. Talbot,” Kevin said gratefully. “I’m sure glad your house is halfway between the Rocking M and Lancer. It’s a long way to walk in boots.”
“You didn’t have to walk very far did you dear,” Maura asked as she gave Kevin a sandwich to eat on the way home.
“No ma’am,” he replied. “We were only a mile or so from here when he threw that shoe.” Gratefully he accepted the sandwich. He would have chores to do when he got home and it would be a while before his mother put supper on the table.
Thinking on what Kevin had said, about the location of the house at the Bar T in relation to Lancer and the Rocking M, Scott had an idea for a name for the house.
“I think we should all be glad that the ‘Talbot Halfway House’, and its owners, are where they are,” he said. “Without it a lot of people would be in a lot more trouble than they already are.”
His brother, Kevin, Willie and Rico all agreed and, after kissing Maura good-bye and shaking hands with Jim, they all mounted and went on their way. Word soon got around the tri-town area of what Scott had said and pretty soon a lot of people were referring to the Talbots’ house as the Talbot Half Way House.