Scott slipped through the partially open barn door. He knew exactly where his sibling was; and exactly what he was doing: licking his wounds. Softly, his booted feet whispered across the straw, until he came to his kid brother’s favorite hiding place: Barranca’s stall.
Johnny was grooming the big palomino; the soft swish of the boar-bristled brush coming in smooth, rhythmic strokes that varied in neither tempo or in length. So intent was he on his chore that he had not even noticed his brother’s approach.
“Johnny,” Scott called out softly. He saw the immediate tensing of his brother’s right shoulder.
“So, you here to do your share of the hollerin’, or what?” Johnny groused, not turning around.
The brunet, Scott knew, was pouting. “No, little brother. Murdoch, Maria and Jelly were quite proficient and verbose in taking you to task over your little misadventure,” he replied.
Johnny spun around and tossed the brush into the wooden bucket on the far side of the wide corridor that separated the long row of stalls. It landed dead center without striking the rim. “Is that Boston talk for them chewin’ me a new asshole?” he snapped.
Scott nodded his head. The vision of the pandemonium in the kitchen was still vivid in his mind. “Yes,” he answered. “You broke a new record, you know.” When his brother didn’t respond, he continued. “I’ve grown quite accustomed to Murdoch sending you away from the table at the beginning of a meal, or in the middle of a meal,” his tone was light, teasing, “even before you get dessert. But this is the very first time he’s ordered you out of the kitchen before the cooking has even commenced!”
Johnny’s frown was a good indication he didn’t think anything was funny. “T’resa’s fault,” he said.
The blond snorted. “Of course,” he laughed. “It’s her fault you told her to go soak her head, and that you actually dunked her head first into the pot of water Maria just put on the stove!!” He slapped his right hand against his forehead. “How foolish of me to not see that.”
The younger man was studying the pile of steaming horse apples that Barranca had just dumped onto the fresh bedding. Great, he thought. Even Barranca’s hintin’ I’m full of shit. “She said she had a headache,” he countered. “Even Maria says cold water is good for a headache.”
Scott was shaking his head. “I believe what Maria suggested was that Teresa go lay down and put a cold cloth on her forehead.” His brother had done an excellent job of giving Teresa a good and rather prolonged dousing.
Johnny kicked at the pile of fresh manure; regretting the move when the toe of his boot was now covered with a gob of still warm horse shit. “Just tryin’ to help,” he said, wiping the boot on the back of his left pant leg.
The blond fought the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Johnny, there are a few things you really need to know about women…”
Johnny’s blue eyes opened wide, an incredulous look of annoyance firing his blue eyes. “Huh!” he snorted in disbelief. “Like you could tell me anything about women…”
Scott refused to be deterred. Granted, his nineteen year old brother knew much more than anyone should know about certain types of women, but there were still the finer points that were sadly -- woefully -- lacking. “Johnny, I’m not talking about the…ladies…you are acquainted with at the Silver Dollar or the Red Dog. I’m talking about women, and certain maladies you might not be acquainted with.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed. “Ma…ladies,” he drawled. “What the hell do you mean maladies?” he asked.
Scott arms were folded across his chest and he was now leaning against one of the twelve by twelve timbers that supported the massive roof. “Have you ever noticed,” he began patiently, “that every so often,” he was thinking once a month, “Teresa sometimes seems out of sorts, her moods tending towards cantankerous and short of temper?”
Mirroring his brother’s casual stance, Johnny was resting against the planking that separated Barranca’s stall from Scott’s bay, Cheval. “You mean all that bitching and moanin’?” he asked.
The blond failed to suppress the smile. “Yes, brother, the bitching and the moaning,” he acquiesced. When he saw his brother was about to make a smart-assed remark, he held up one hand. “Once a month,” he began, “women -- well, women of child-baring age -- experience a physiological change wherein their bodies…” he hesitated, genuinely sorry now he had started this conversation, “…expel something that doctors refer to as their monthly flow, which cumulates in a discharge of blood …”
Johnny’s posture changed as he came to attention. “Women go into heat?” he asked, truly astounded.
Leave it to the boy to reduce human sexuality to the rawer functions of animal behavior, Scott sighed, the sound unusually loud in the quiet of the barn. When he resumed speaking, he reminded himself of the professor at Harvard who had lectured in much the same tone of voice. “Human females experience a monthly cycle.”
There was a sound a Johnny sniffled; Barranca’s pawing raising a small puff of barn litter as the animal became restless. “Monthly,” he frowned.
“Lunar months,” Scott intoned. “Generally every twenty-eight days.”
Johnny’s mouth turned down in an immediate frown as he did the math. “Thirteen times a year,” he calculated, grimacing. No wonder the number was unlucky.
“Unless they are impregnated,” the blond said. “Their cycles cease when they are with child.”
Johnny’s expression changed once again. Scott could almost see his younger brother’s mind at work. It was a marvelous thing. He could actually see the parade of soiled doves that were being quickly catalogued in the youth’s mind; the same saloon maidens Johnny -- when ranch duties, or when Murdoch actually allowed his brother off the leash -- had romanced with unabashed gusto. When Johnny’s face suddenly flushed and then totally blanched of color, Scott felt his stomach roll. “Is there something you need to tell me, little brother?” he asked warily.
“No!” Johnny answered immediately. Then, realizing what his brother was asking. “Hell, no!” The brunet dropped his eyes and was seriously contemplating the dirt at his feet. “Where’d you learn all this stuff, Boston?”
Scott was still lounging against the post, looking much more relaxed than he was feeling. “I took an anatomy course at Harvard,” he answered. “The study of the human body.” He smiled across at his brother. “I was sixteen, and I was curious. It seemed a better idea than asking my Grandfather.”
Johnny was on the move. He stepped out of the palomino’s enclosure. “Maria calls it the curse,” he murmured. He was closer to his brother now. “I heard her talkin’ to T’resa…”
Scott reached out, laying a firm hand on his sibling’s shoulder. “You were eavesdropping,” he scolded. Johnny had an annoying habit of hovering in the background, usually to find out some juicy bit of gossip or secretly picking up on someone else’s mischief; so he could trot the information out to tease or outright blackmail some of his companions. He especially loved tormenting Jelly, Maria and Teresa; and -- on occasion, when he was feeling really cocky -- his big brother.
The brunet didn’t even have the good grace not to smile. “When you were fightin’ in that war, you would have called it spyin’.” He saw the stern look on his elder brother’s face, and felt a dire need to vindicate himself further. “It ain’t like I heard everything! Just somethin’ about headaches, bloatin’ and…and…” He lifted his hands to his chest, cupping them in front of his shirt, unable to voice the words. Although it was never a problem when he and his amigos were talkin’ about tits, melons and pillows.
“Breasts,” Scott prompted.
Johnny brightened. There were times when he really admired his brother’s vast vocabulary. “Yeah! About bein’ sore, and…and bein’,” he was stuttering again.
Why, the blond wondered belatedly, hadn’t he just left this particular discussion to their father? “Swollen and tender?”
“Right,” Johnny answered, plopping himself down on a bale of alfalfa.
Scott joined his brother, smacking him hard on the right knee. “Well, thank God for small miracles,” he breathed.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Johnny demanded. He sure hadn’t felt like thanking God when Murdoch was at full bellow and Maria smacked the hell out of his ass with that damned spoon! And T’resa, when he’d finally let go of her hair and Jelly had pulled her head out of the pot… Without realizing he was doing it, he rubbed at the swollen spot beneath his left eye where Teresa’s first punch had landed.
The blond reached out, his thumb rubbing against the still tender flesh on his brother’s face. “I was thanking God you hadn’t decided to relieve any of Teresa’s other pains,” he murmured, mischief firing his eyes. “Her breasts, for instance.”
Johnny brushed his brother’s hand away. “Jesus Christ, Scott!” he swore, bolting upright. “You’re talkin’ about our sister here!” Murdoch had made that clear right from the beginning, when his sons had returned home; and his tone had been much like the voice of God. He couldn’t have done a better job of instilling that thought if he had hung a no trespassing sign around the girl’s neck.
Scott was on a roll, and he knew it. “Well, you did try to cure her headache by submerging her head in that pot of water,” he accused, wagging a long finger beneath his brother’s nose.
All this family shit was beginning to be a real pain in the ass for the younger man. His life had been a lot easier when drifted from town to town. Girl to girl. “Just tryin’ to help,” he shrugged.
“And you received your medical degree where?” Scott asked; his right eyebrow arching.
Johnny thought about that for a minute. “Shoulda just gone and found her a bruja,” he sighed. When he saw his brother’s brow furrow, he continued. “Well, Maria did call it a curse,” he reasoned.
Scott stood up and brushed off the seat of his pants. “You’re going to have to apologize to Teresa,” he said firmly. “And make peace with Jelly, Maria, and -- most importantly -- our father. That is, if you ever plan on eating another meal in the house.”
The brunet kicked at the bale of feed. “Could always eat in the bunkhouse.”
The blond eyed his sibling. Johnny’s habitual forays to the bunkhouse to eat with the unmarried ranch hands had been abruptly nipped in the bud when Murdoch went searching for his younger son and walked into the middle of a boisterous free-for-all. “That has about as much of a chance happening as Sam Jenkins taking you in as a partner,” he admonished. He took his brother’s arm. “You know, George Washington had a rule about what you attempted this evening.”
Johnny balked, then gave in and started walking along side his brother. Sweet Jesus, he thought, how many fuckin’ book of rules are there? “So?” He knew Scott was going to tell him rather he wanted to hear it or not.
“Yes,” Scott answered. “‘In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein’,” he quoted. He translated. “Don’t play doctor if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The brunet pulled up short. “So what you’re sayin’, big brother,” he began, “is that unless T’resa gets herself shot,” he could only hope, “I shouldn’t try to help.”
Scott shook his head and tugged at his brother’s arm. “Don’t you even dare suggest that to our father,” he warned.
Together, the brothers trudged towards the house. Johnny was beginning to hang back. “Hate this I’m sorry shit,” he complained. In his world as Johnny Madrid, apology had always been considered a sign of weakness.
“Then I have a suggestion, little brother,” he announced, once again pulling at his sibling’s sleeve. He continued before Johnny was able to interrupt him. “‘Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.’”
Johnny didn’t need a translation of that one. The Old Man had chewed his ass out more times then he cared to remember about respect when he stepped out of line; and he had a bad feeling another lecture was on the horizon. “Another fuckin’ rule, huh?”
“According to George,” Scott answered.
They were at the threshold when Johnny planted his feet firmly on the ground. “Ain’t he the one you told me was the ‘Father of his Country’?”
Scott turned to face his younger brother; recognizing the stall tactic. “Yes. And before you ask; his book of rules is much longer than mine. That could, however, change.” He let the words sink in.
“You think the Old Man knows ‘em?” the brunet asked.
“All one hundred ten,” Scott answered. He opened the door. “And if you aren’t careful, Murdoch’s going to set you at his desk and make you transcribe each and every one.”
Johnny inhaled. He stepped up into the hallway. “You comin’, or what?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t dream of missing yet another of your masterful apologies,” Scott joshed his hand on his brother’s back.
Together, the brother’s stepped down into the Great Room. Johnny’s eyes swept the room, settling finally on his father. Murdoch was seated in the dark leather chair in front of the fireplace. Teresa was in the room, too, seated on the couch. Taking a deep breath, Johnny ventured into the lion’s den. “About what happened in the kitchen,” he began, “when I was helpin’ T’resa get over all that bitchin’ and moanin’…”
~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~
George Washington’s Rules of Civility are available on line at The official site of Colonial Williamsburg: http://www.history.org/Almanack/life/manners/rules2.cmf; all one hundred ten of them.