Scott’s behavior in his first scene in The High Riders has always seemed at odds with how he behaved in the rest of the episode(s). Or maybe since I have a crush on him I just don’t want him to have been a callous cad. I’m sure a lot of writers have offered an explanation. This is mine. This scene probably takes place soon after Dr. Jenkins brings the mail in An Observant Eye.
Lancer still belongs to who ever it has belonged to all these years. No profit being made
Johnny Lancer burst through the tack room door, slamming it so hard it bounced against the wall. “There ain’t nothing evil that old man don’t think I’ll do!” he muttered angrily as he pulled his saddle off its rack.
His brother Scott entered the barn more slowly. “Johnny,” he said for the sixth or seventh time since he’d followed Johnny out of the great room.
“I’m no saint about women,” raged the dark haired young man snatching a bridle off a hook, “but I’ve never hurt one and I sure know not to mess with the daughters of my friends an—”
“Shut up, Johnny, and listen to me!” roared Scott in a voice as loud and furious as Murdoch Lancer in high dudgeon.
Johnny fell silent, his mouth agape in surprise. His brother was standing in front of him with his arms akimbo, the veins in his neck bulging and his slate blue eyes narrowed to slits. Even though he knew Scott had a temper, it always took him a little by surprise when it suddenly erupted.
“That lecture,” snapped Scott struggling to lower his voice, “was meant for me not you.”
“You?” sneered his brother. “Oh, pull the other one. Murdoch Lancer ain’t gonna think he has to warn his good son away from the girls.”
Scott took a deep breath and blew it out over his teeth in a whistle. Good son, he thought as he closed his eyes briefly, that’s ironic. Then he said with false calm, “He does if he’s had a letter or perhaps a Pinkerton report from Boston.”
Johnny stared at his brother. He had never seen Scott flush with embarrassment, but there was no mistaking the telltale color creeping into his cheeks. “You trying to tell me you left a string of broken-hearted little girls back east, Boston? Or a half dozen little bastards?”
“No,” Scott shook his head. “No bastards. I may not be discreet but I am careful. And not exactly broken hearts. More like a mob of angry fathers.”
Johnny pushed his saddle back up on the rack without taking his eyes off Scott. His deep blue eyes narrowed as he studied his brother for a minute then shook his head. “Angry fathers because you ruined their daughters? I don’t believe you.”
It was Scott’s turn to stare. “Why not?” he asked with a trace of annoyance in his voice. “You think I can’t catch a girl’s interest?”
“Catch her interest,” Johnny shrugged his broad shoulders. “Sure. Maybe even break her heart a little when you moved on to someone new, but do something bad enough to get her father angry at you? Nope, I don’t believe it. I’ve seen you with women. You treat every one of them from old Abuela Mariah to baby Ana like a lady.”,
“You are confusing good manners with good character.”
“You got both.”
Scott’s blush deepened. Johnny didn’t exactly hand out compliments on a regular basis. Any other time Scott would have been touched by the spontaneity of the remark. At that moment, he just wanted Johnny to accept that Murdoch’s lecture on keeping a polite –what a quaint way to put it-distance from the women and most importantly the girls of the ranch was meant as a warning to the elder not the younger son.
“You want me to believe this tall tale you’re gonna have to spin it out for me.” As he spoke Johnny sat on a sawhorse and gestured towards the work table, the only other place to sit in the narrow room. “So just sit down there and tell me all about your wicked life in Boston.”
Scott’s mouth twisted. There were a great many things he’d be happy telling Johnny about his life in Boston-sailing with his cousin Daniel on the bay, his favorite professors at Harvard, sledding on the Common when he was a child. Lots of stories he’d like to tell; how he’d become the willing pawn in the machinations of spoiled debutantes was not one of them.
Even in the darkness of the tack room, Scott could feel Johnny’s intense blue eyes gazing at him- making him feel like an insect pinned down for observation. It was clear he was not getting out of there without offering some sort of explanation.
“Well, after I finished at Harvard, I spent a couple of months traveling in Europe,” he said thinking he would start with the easy part.
“Harvard is that fancy school?”
Scott nodded. Growing up in Boston there had never been a time Scott hadn’t known about Harvard. For generations the men in his grandmother’s family had gone to Harvard. Having matriculated at the school was perhaps his grandfather’s proudest achievement; far more important to him than his successful businesses. To this day Harvard professors frequently dined at his Beacon Hill house. As a boy there had been nothing Scott wanted more than to go to Harvard. It occurred to him that Johnny might well have gone his whole life never having heard of the school. “When I came back I was expecting to join my grandfather’s business.”
“Railroads, right?” asked Johnny recalling a conversation they’d had not long ago about Scott’s grandfather and his businesses.
Scott nodded. He was playing for time; still trying to come up with a clear explanation for why their father’s lecture was likely to have been provoked by a report on his past behavior. “He has interest in a bank, and he still has part ownership in a steamship line, but these days his primary business is railroads.”
“So what’d you do?” asked Johnny with a wide grin. “Engineer or brakeman?”
A smile passed over Scott’s face.
“When I was little I did want to be a train engineer. But no, it was office work I was to do, it was -” Scott looked at Johnny and realized that there were no words that could possibly explain how the firm of Garrett-Lowell functioned to Johnny.
“You mean like doing Murdoch’s books?” asked Johnny frowning. Thus far, he had managed to avoid his father’s suggestions that he, as Scott had, take a look at Lancer’s account books. He was good with numbers, but the idea of sitting down at that big desk and spending hours writing them down, adding and subtracting them instead of being out on the range made his head ache.
“Well, sort of like that,” said Scott slowly.
“Guess that didn’t last long.” Johnny knew people looked at the two of them and thought Scott was the calm one. But Johnny sensed a restlessness in his brother that matched his own. He could not imagine Scott shut away inside four walls day after day.
Scott grimaced. Johnny’s perception always seemed to surprise him more than it should. He realized then he had reduced the complicated business of buying, building and running railroads to a tally sheet. “It is considerably more interesting than that. It takes a lot of attention to detail to do the job well. I-um, I couldn’t seem to give it the attention it required.”
“I reckon that upset your granddaddy; I mean, it is what he brought you up to do.”
“Yes, he -” Scott shook his head remembering the series of discussions he’d had with his grandfather on the matter. For the life of him, Scott could not understand why he couldn’t settle down and do the work he’d planned his whole life to do. What his grandfather had expected of him had been so reasonable; simply that he showed up and did what he was paid for; what he should have been very good at. “He wasn’t pleased of course. It’s a family business. Grandfather and my grandmother’s brother started it years ago. Now his nephew is Grandfather’s partner and the expectation has always been that at least one of my cousins and I would take over from them. But,” Scott paused and ran his hand through his fair hair. “Well, Grandfather said he understood that young men need to sow some wild oats, as he put it. I did work in the office, I just didn’t do enough to justify what I was being paid. And before you get the wrong idea about my grandfather –that was not a situation that was going to last very long. In that way he is very much like Murdoch-he expects to get what he pays for - even from me.”
Scott paced the narrow space between Johnny and the door. Johnny watched him with his head cocked to the left.
“What’s all that have to do with breaking girls’ hearts?”
“Well,” Scott paused in his pacing, frowned and said, “Instead of getting up early and going to the office, I stayed up late and went to the theater and parties. It seems to be a rule of nature that a single man is always a great favorite of hostesses; there was never any shortage of places to go.”
Johnny was still looking at him with interest. Scott felt ridiculous. If he couldn’t explain something as straightforward as his grandfather’s business to his brother, how was he ever going to explain Boston society?
“You have to understand,” he began slowly, “Boston was a long way from the battlefield during the war. The people there tended to romanticize the war; they saw any soldier who came back as a hero. I was young, unattached, heir to a successful business and at least in the eyes of some a war hero. I won’t say I was the most eligible bachelor in town, but I did find myself very popular.”
“And the girls just flocked to you.” Johnny didn’t have any trouble believing that. Scott was good with flowery words and one thing Johnny knew from experience flowery words could turn a girl’s head quicker than a handsome face any day.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“That still don’t explain why there would be a mob of angry fathers after you.”
“Mob might be an exaggeration.” Scott glared at this brother. Once Johnny wanted to know something he stayed at it like a dog with a bone. Scott took another deep breath and blew it out slowly. “I was eligible, but I also was thought to be rather wild.”
“What’s it take to be thought rather wild in Boston?” asked Johnny making no effort to suppress his grin.
Scott shrugged. “Much the same as anywhere else: drinking, gambling and in my case riding a very large horse far too fast through the quiet streets of an old city.”
“No fights, no pistols at dawn-ain’t that how you eastern fellows have a gun fight?”
“Dueling has been outlawed,” said Scott tersely. In his opinion, Johnny was enjoying this discussion far too much. “Yes, if you must know, I occasionally got into a fight. I would have gotten into a lot more, but my cousin Daniel is a very even tempered fellow and he often managed to defuse situations I got myself into. Boston is a big city. It has a great many places to get into trouble if one wants to.”
Johnny frowned. That didn’t sound right even though he knew Scott had a temper and that he was unlikely to back down from a fight. “Why would you want to get into trouble, Scott? You just don’t seem the type to go looking for it. Hell, even I don’t go looking for trouble.”
“I don’t think I can explain it,” said Scott wearily. This was hard for him; harder than it should be. He’d like to walk away. But there were things he wanted badly to know about his brother. Scott knew that if he wasn’t willing to share his own past, he could not expect Johnny to ever trust him enough to share his.
He swallowed hard, straightened his shoulders and tried again. “My cousin Constance was a nurse during the war. Since the war she’s spent a great deal of time visiting veterans around Boston; trying to help the families care for the men who had come home missing a leg or an arm. She said many of them still seemed to be at war in their minds. I didn’t react very pleasantly when she suggested maybe that was why I –well, why I couldn’t really settle down even while I was at Harvard. I’d gotten through the war all in one piece. I wasn’t going to use the war as an excuse for why I was so hell-bent on what the family saw as destructive behavior. I don’t really know, but Constance-” he shook his head, almost smiled in a sad sort of a way. “Constance knows me as well as anyone does. Maybe she was right.”
Johnny waited. Scott had gone somewhere in his memory; somewhere Johnny had seen him go before. Johnny had a few memories of his own he wouldn’t mind forgetting, but somehow he didn’t think his plagued him in quite the same way Scott’s did. As he watched, Scott shook off the memory and went on.
“None of that really answers your question,” he said with a quick, forced smile. “Um. . . like I said I was thought of as sort of wild. I, um . . . if I’d been seriously courting a girl my behavior would probably have been overlooked. I really was a good catch as long as I was in my grandfather’s good graces and no one who knew us believed I could do something so horrible he would disown me.”
“Did that include coming out here?” asked Johnny. He was relieved when Scott laughed, his face relaxing.
“According to the letter I got recently, that is an open question. Where was I? Oh, yes, well, rich men have a tendency to look at their daughters as assets. ”
Johnny’s face darkened. That definitely didn’t sound right to him. “As what?”
“Um . . . well, it sounds harsh but they tend to see their daughters as a way to connect with other rich businessmen.”
Johnny nodded. “Like some big rancher marrying his daughter off to the fellow on the next ranch even if he’s old enough to be her granddaddy in hopes of getting hold of his land.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen that down in Mexico. I reckon it happens everywhere. Don’t pay much to be a girl, does it?”
“It depends on the girl,” said Scott thoughtfully, a faraway look in his eyes. Then he focused on Johnny. “You’re right of course, women have so few of the rights we take for granted. But I’ve known some who never let being a woman hold them back. In fact, I’d have to say they used it to their advantage. The most impressive business person I know is a woman.”
“I’ll bet I can guess what business she’s in,” said Johnny flashing his white-toothed grin.
Scott chuckled. “I am sure you can. If you should ever go to Boston make sure I give you a letter of introduction to Maggie Doyle. I think you will appreciate her establishment.”
“Ain’t we getting off the subject? I don’t reckon it is the fathers of girls in Maggie Doyle’s establishment,” Johnny rolled the word around his tongue, “that’s after you.”
“No.” For a moment Scott let himself remember the ease of an evening in the discreet brothel. No complications there; no misread intentions, no expectations. Then he sighed slightly.
“I like women.”
“Well, finally,” drawled Johnny, “something we got in common. I like women too. So you weren’t courting these girls and . . ?”
“And when I found myself dancing with a pretty girl I’d suggest a walk in the garden and more times than not the girl was willing. So we’d go for a walk in the moonlight and-” Scott shrugged. “Moonlight and a pretty girl just naturally led to kissing.”
“That’s all it takes to ruin a girl, a few kisses in the moonlight?” asked Johnny in astonishment. He was sure glad he hadn’t grown up knowing them society girls.
“It depends on the family; some really are that strait-laced and they keep their daughters under lock and key. Generally speaking, no. Walking out into the moonlight with a man of dubious reputation is more likely to be something of a dare; a risky bit of fun; even something a girl might brag to her friends about. Most of these girls have led sheltered lives; by the time they’re old enough to get out into society they’re ready to have a little fun. It seems it became a game with a group of them last winter-how far down the garden path dared they go with the wicked Scott Lancer. Who was I to deny them their fun?”
Johnny laughed. “Well, it is a fact that there is nothing girls like better than a man with a dubious reputation.”
So much of the time Scott was so serious; always pushing to get the job done. Lord knows there was always a job to be done on Lancer. Johnny didn’t often see this side of Scott. There was an edginess in his voice, a sort of brittleness but there was humor too; he was poking fun at himself.
“I reckon I can see why their fathers might be glad you left town before their daughters followed you too far down that there garden path, but I don’t see them writing to Murdoch about you.” Johnny paused, pursed his lips and said, “Unless you did go too far.”
“Only once, at least only once that should result in this sort of trouble,” said Scott softly with more than a trace of misery. There was so much of the story he was leaving out. The many nights spent in the snugs of taverns with a half-dressed barmaid on his lap and the equivalent of a cowboy’s monthly pay wagered on the cards in his hand. The affair he had with the widow of an officer in his unit; she’d been good to him and he’d left her with barely a word. And Julie. What sort of idiot pushes a girl like Julie out of his life?
Scott stood in the doorway, looking out but seeing nothing. He glanced towards the house and saw the light still burned in the great room. He gathered his scattered thoughts and returned his attention to Johnny. Softly he said, “I’ll bet you a month’s pay that I know who wrote that letter sitting on Murdoch’s desk.”
Johnny raised a dark eyebrow. “Don’t stop now. Finish the story. Who wrote the letter?”
“A man named Hamilton Henderson, a rich man but not nearly as rich as he’d like to be. He has a very beautiful daughter by the name of Barbara.” Scott dropped his head forward and bit his lip. “She is not only beautiful; she’s clever and used to having her own way. We’d carried on a flirtation throughout the winter. More than once we’d gone for a walk in the garden. Just before I came out here, we were at a ball and during our walk Barbara made a rather shocking proposal.”
“She suggested that I go home with her.”
Johnny might not know anything about Boston society, but he did know that respectable girls don’t make suggestions like that. “Well that is a long ways down that path.”
“Uh-huh. It was stupid;” said Scott flatly. “I knew at the time it was stupid. She snuck me up to her room along with a bottle of very cold champagne. I was letting the champagne do my thinking for me. Damn- but she was so beautiful and she seemed to have a plan so I just went right along with her.”
“Well, did you? Did you bed her?”
Scott glanced over his shoulder at his brother. “Johnny, you know a gentleman would never tell,” said he in mock shock. “But no, I didn’t. I still don’t know if that was part of her plan or not. I figured I’d let it go as far as she wanted; whether we’d ever have made it to the bed I don’t know. Barbara was certainly a bit daring but not foolhardy. Things were progressing quite nicely when right on cue her father started banging on the door. Lucky for me a father banging on the door is very sobering. I beat a hasty retreat out the balcony doors.”
Johnny worked the toe of his boot into the soft dirt floor. He grinned at the image his mind had conjured up. Then he frowned and looked up saying, “You’re making it sound like she was trying to trap you.”
Scott had turned back to look out the open door, a pair of deep lines cutting into his forehead. “I’m not sure that she was,” he said slowly. “I don’t want to misjudge her. I like Barbara. She might just have been after a little adventure or she might have wanted her father’s attention. And having a man in her bedroom was a good way to get it. Or hell,maybe she was a lot more daring than I thought. One thing I know for sure, she was not so deeply in love with me she couldn’t help herself. It was all a little calculated. On my part as well as hers.”
Scott remembered the splash of a diamond or more likely paste earring being dropped into a glass of champagne. Where would a Boston debutante get an idea like that unless she read it in a French novel?
“Was that the end of it?” asked Johnny.
“Ah . . . no, but I’d sort of forgotten that part. It was the same night the Pinkerton agent made Murdoch’s offer to me. Henderson sent a letter around the next morning demanding that I explain myself and suggesting that Grandfather make me do the right thing by which I suppose he meant propose. That’s the reason I’ve wondered if Barbara was laying a trap; like I said, I was still a pretty good catch. But by then all Grandfather and I could talk about was Murdoch’s offer.”
“From what you said, I guess your grandfather wasn’t too happy about that either.”
“You guess right,” responded Scott with a tight lipped smile. “He offered me two thousand to stay home.”
“And you still came?” Murdoch’s thousand dollars was the most money Johnny had ever had in his possession by hundreds of dollars. Two thousand sounded like a fortune even now that he was part owner of Lancer.
Scott shrugged. “Like I told you before, I was curious. And Daniel got married last New Year’s Day. Meggie didn’t think being my chaperone was the best use of his evenings,” he said with a half smile. When Scott thought back over the past few years, he realized he probably owed his life to Daniel. Dear dull old Daniel who wouldn’t loan him $20 so he could stay in the game, but was always sober enough to find their way home after a night on the wrong side of town. A part of town Daniel would never have ventured to had it not been for him.
Scott pivoted on his left foot and walked towards Johnny. “It seemed like a good time to leave Boston for a while. And, well, whatever happened with Murdoch, I thought maybe traveling out here would be a way to get rid of some of the restlessness. I never expected to stay here. I thought, even hoped, that by now I’d be back in Boston working in the office. Instead here I am, poking at cows-that’s how Grandfather put it in his letter.”
Johnny grinned. “Why would that Henderson fellow write to Murdoch?”
“Well, he didn’t get any satisfaction from Grandfather. I got a lecture; fairly similar to the one Murdoch just gave us about behaving myself with young women if I didn’t want to find myself bound to one for life. But Grandfather knows Henderson and he knows he is likely to be far more interested in our family’s deep pockets than his daughter’s virtue, certainly than her heart. According to Meggie, Daniel’s wife, why I left Boston has been the topic of conversation at various parties this spring. Henderson may have heard something about Murdoch and the size of the ranch. If my grandfather wouldn’t make me do right by her, he figured he’d take a chance that my father would.
“You gonna explain to Murdoch about Barbara and her father and all that?”
Scott shook his blond head. “No. Whatever Barbara’s motives were, I still knew it was stupid to follow her up those back stairs.” Scott shrugged. “I’m not going to make excuses to Murdoch. I did want you to know- that lecture was directed at me -not you.”
Johnny looked him straight in the eye for a long moment before he smiled and said, “Thanks, brother.”