Maura Talbot, Woman of the Year
“That was a dumb, greenhorn stunt you just pulled brother,” Johnny Lancer scolded his brother.
“Johnny could we talk about this some other time? My hand is hurting very badly.”
“Only a greenhorn would handle a porky without no gloves on! What’s the matter with you brother?”
“I told you already – I never saw a porcupine before. How would I know it was only playing dead? Can we cut the chatter and concentrate on getting into Green River so Doc Jenkins can take care of this?”
The Lancer brothers, dark haired blue-eyed Johnny and his fair-haired blue-eyed brother Scott, were riding toward the town of Green River to have Scott’s right hand looked after. While resting in a small patch of woods about ten miles from their ranch house the Boston raised blond had reached out toward what he perceived to be an animal in distress. Unfortunately, for all his camping experiences as a child with friends, he’d never seen a porcupine and had no idea how painful an encounter could be. He’d been less than an inch away when something startled the animal and Scott found himself with a hand full of barbed quills when it suddenly raised up with its quills in the upright, defensive position.
Johnny had done the best he could to remove them but it was plain that
some of them were fairly deeply imbedded and would require a pair of tweezers at
the very least to be removed. Doctor
Jenkins divided his time between the three towns in the area – Green River,
Morro Coyo and Spanish Wells. This
being a Tuesday he was in Green River. The
horses moved along at a fast walk. Much
as he wanted to get to the doctor’s office his hand hurt too much to go any
“Doc? Hey doc!” Johnny called as they entered the storefront office of Sam Jenkins, MD. “You here?”
“You don’t need to yell Johnny,” Sam Jenkins said as he exited a back room. “I’m right here.”
“Sorry.” Johnny grinned. “Scott, here, needs to have you take care of his hand. As you can see,” he said with a teasing grin at his brother the “greenhorn”, “he got too friendly with a porcupine a little while ago. I got as many of the quills out that I could but some of them are really stuck in him good.”
“So I see,” Sam said with a frown. “Come in the back room. Maura Talbot’s just finishing straightening up after my last patient. I don’t know what I’d do without her help some days.”
At the mention of their surrogate mother’s name Scott went pale. It was bad enough that Johnny thought of him as a greenhorn – a tenderfoot even after a couple of years in California on the ranch but he sure as heck didn’t want Maura to know he still did stupid things that only a rank amateur in the woods would do. A rare surge of pride had him ready to bolt for the door. The only thing that stopped him was the fact that Johnny was right behind him blocking the way. The fact that his hand was really hurting him had something to do with it as well.
“Scott! Johnny!” Maura exclaimed with delight. “What brings you two here?”
“Ole Scott here got a mite friendly with a porcupine Miz Talbot,” Johnny explained. “I got as many of the quills out as I could but he needs an expert.”
“Well sit right down here Scott,” she said indicating a chair near the wall. “Let’s let Sam have a look at you.”
Reluctantly Scott did so and braced himself for what he thought was coming. Instead of more teasing he got nothing but sympathy and as for Sam he was all business. Porcupine quills were nothing to play around with. It could be serious if they didn’t get them out.
One look and Sam knew he and Maura had their work cut out for them.
“Maura, we’re going to need more light, a magnifying glass and some pliers,” he said to his nurse.
“Pliers Doc?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, Johnny, pliers,” the doctor replied. “It’s the only way to get those quills out of your brother’s hand. And I don’t have any on hand because my patients with the quills in them are usually animals – family pets that the children in the valley have brought to me when I’m visiting their homes. You go over to the blacksmith shop for me and tell Frank I need that pair of needle nose pliers he’s been working on for me. I need them now.” Taking another look at Scott’s hand he added, “If mine aren’t ready borrow some from him or get a pair at the general store. And hurry if you would. The longer those quills stay in the bigger the risk of infection.”
Johnny quickly made his way out the door and to the blacksmith shop.
Fortunately the man had Sam’s pliers repaired and in good working
order. He told Johnny that he’d
see Sam about payment later.
In the meantime Scott was sitting in the doctor’s office silently cursing his lack of knowledge and the pain in his hand. It was severe enough to make his hand tremble and consequently his arm as well. Beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead and his face was somewhat ashen. He was beginning to think that being bitten by a rattlesnake couldn’t possibly be any worse than this.
“Here ya go Doc,” Johnny said upon his return. He handed the pliers over to Sam who promptly put them in a basin of boiling water that he’d had Maura get while he found a place for a couple of more lamps to light the area around the table where he would be operating on Scott’s hand.
“Thank you Johnny.” Turning to his miserable patient he said, “Now Scott I need you to hold perfectly still. I’ve got to use those pliers to pull the quills out and I must, repeat, must pull them straight out or you could have a serious problem on your hands. And I don’t mean to be funny about it.”
Johnny watched as Sam and Maura got ready to remove the quills from Scott’s hand. In spite of his teasing he knew how much it had to hurt and he winced as he watched Sam take the pliers and grab hold of one of the quills.
Scott nearly bit his lip through as he tried to keep was crying out. He couldn’t sit still either and Sam nearly bit his head off when he resisted while Maura tried to calm both men down. In the end Johnny ended up having to hold his brother’s arm still so that Sam could finish.
When the quills were finally all removed and Sam had assured himself, and his patient, that there were no pieces missing to any of them by examining them one by one out of the dish that he’d dropped them in before putting them in a different bowl, he soaked Scott’s hand in hot water for fifteen minutes. The hot water was to clean the myriad of tiny wounds left by the porcupine quills. Then he soaked it in cold water for another fifteen minutes to try and bring the swelling down some. Finally he had Maura apply an aloe-based salve and wrap the hand up.
“How much do I owe you doc?” Scott asked as he cradled his sore hand in the uninjured one.
“I think two dollars and two bottles of your father’s best brandy ought to cover it,” Sam said with a twinkle in his eye. “It’s the least he can do to pay me for treating you two walking disaster areas.”
“That’s Scott all right!” Johnny chortled even as Maura glared at him.
“It seems to me young man,” Maura said to the younger Lancer, “that you’ve had more than your share of accidents lately. I seem to recall a bout with pneumonia, a knock on the head, dust and stone fragments in your eyes and any number of other bruises and scrapes over the last couple of months.”
“She’s got you there John,” Sam said. “Now pay me my two dollars and bring the brandy next time you’re in town.”
Johnny just gave the two of them one of his cheekiest grins as Scott managed to fish two dollars out of his pocket. When they were dismissed the boys headed outside to their horses where Scott required a little assistance from his brother as his sore hand would not allow him to grip the saddle horn.
“Not a word out of you little brother,” Scott said warningly. “I’ve had just about enough of your jokes about me reverting back to being a greenhorn.”
“I didn’t say anything. Did I say anything?” Johnny protested his innocence all the while grinning at his brother as they headed toward home.
“Well, it’s about time you two showed up,” Jelly Hoskins said as the boys rode into the yard. “Your dad was just about to send a search party out lookin’ for ya.”
“Jelly we would’ve been home sooner, and got more done, ‘cept old Scott here had a run in with a porcupine.”
“What? What do ya mean he had a run-in with a porcupine?”
“Yes, I’d like to know that too.” Murdoch Lancer had exited the French doors from the great room of the house just in time to hear that remark and had joined his sons and the grizzled handyman.
“It’s nothing,” Scott said dismissively.
“He got too friendly for his own good,” Johnny said not even trying to stifle his laughter.
“Look Johnny I told you back in Green River I’m tired of your jokes at my expense.” Scott was more than a little irritated. Now that Jelly was hearing about what had happened he could foresee it being up and down the whole San Joaquin valley before nightfall.
“Sam says you owe him two bottles of your best brandy.”
“Oh?” Murdoch’s eyebrows went up.
“Yeah he says it’s for treating Scott again.” Johnny deliberately left out the part about the “walking disaster areas”.
“What he said was,” Scott said with a glare at his younger brother, “that we owed him two dollars and two bottles of your best brandy the next time we’re in town. Because we owe it to him for treating the ‘walking disaster areas’ as he put it.
Murdoch threw back his head and roared. “I can believe that! You two have kept Sam, and Maura Talbot, extremely busy over the last year.”
“So how did you hurt your hand Scott?” Jellifer B. Hoskins was one very curious man.
“You don’t need to know,” Scott answered him shortly.
“Oh go on and tell him,” Johnny said to his brother. “You know he’s just gonna keep diggin’ until he gets it out of ya.”
“Then I’ll tell him.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Boys!” Murdoch laughed as he settled the argument. “Scott you might as well tell us and get it over with.”
“I got porcupine quills in my hand,” Scott mumbled under his breath.
“What was that? I don’t think I heard ya right,” Jelly said with a grin. “Did I hear ‘porcupine quills’?”
“That’s what I heard too Jelly,” Murdoch confirmed. “Now how did you manage to get porcupine quills in your hand?”
“Big brother here thought the porky was hurt and reached out to help it. Mr. Porky didn’t take too kindly to it and rose up with his quills upraised before Scott could pull back.” Johnny enjoyed watching his brother’s face turn red in embarrassment and anger.
“Of all the dumb, stupid, greenhorn things to do! Why any fool knows better…”
“I’ll tell you what I told my little brother with the big mouth over here,” Scott hissed. “I never saw a porcupine before. I had no idea what it was capable of. And I thought the animal was hurt and needed help. That’s how I got the quills in my hand!”
Murdoch, seeing how irritated his older son was getting, called a halt to the teasing very quickly. Walking over to Scott he put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder and led him toward the house.
“When you two can get yourself under control,” the tall man told his younger son and their friend, “you can take care of the horses and get cleaned up for dinner. You were planning on joining us tonight weren’t you Jelly?”
The other two stopped snickering with difficulty and did as Murdoch instructed. Johnny was a good seven inches shorter than his father. While not exactly afraid of him – most of the time – he also knew when his father meant business and this was one of those times. Any more nonsense from him and Jelly about Scott’s injured hand and they might both find themselves with extra chores, the most onerous jobs that were in need of doing or a combination of the two.
Dinner that night was a quiet affair. It was obvious, that despite the treatment accorded him by Sam and Maura, that Scott was in a lot of pain yet. His hand was still quite swollen and the teasing he’d gotten from Johnny and then from Jelly had put him in a foul mood. Eating was difficult without the use of his right hand to cut the steak on his plate. Maria tried to help by having it cut for him before it arrived at his place at the table but it was too humiliating. It made him feel like he was a small child in need of an adult’s help to manage his dinner. Having consumed barely half of his supper Scott headed for his room to try and get some sleep. Murdoch and Teresa watched him with concern but Johnny and Jelly paid little attention.
Sleep was elusive to Scott. He’d managed, with difficulty to remove his boots and clothes and get a nightshirt on but he was unable to find a position that was comfortable without making his hand throb. For three hours he dozed fitfully before finally awaking, unable to sleep, around two in the morning. Grabbing a robe and sliding into slippers he made his way silently downstairs. Or so he thought. His father, concerned over how he was feeling, wasn’t exactly sound asleep either. From his room two doors down he couldn’t help hearing Scott’s door open and the sound of his elder son’s footsteps as he tried to quietly walk down the hall to the stairway.
Wisely he left Scott alone for a while. He himself had never tangled with a porcupine but he’d had enough splinters and rope burns to know how painful it must be. However, when an hour later, Scott still hadn’t returned to his room, Murdoch rose and made his own way downstairs to check up on him. He found him in the great room staring at the empty fireplace.
“Something wrong Scott?” Murdoch entered the room quietly. His voice startled Scott who’d thought he was alone.
“Murdoch! You startled me!” Scott jumped.
“I’m sorry son. I heard you leave your room. When you didn’t come back right away I got a little worried.”
“I just can’t sleep is all. My hand is still throbbing and I can’t seem to fall asleep for more than a few minutes at a time.”
“There’s not much I can do about that son,” Murdoch sympathized. “Have you tried reading? The Sacramento and Stockton newspapers are on my desk from yesterday. I never got around to finishing them. I think there’s a San Francisco paper as well. Jim Talbot gets them and sends them over to me when he’s through.” Murdoch chuckled. “We’ve been doing that since before you were born. Some things never change.”
“You and Mr. Talbot have been friends for a long time haven’t you sir?”
“Yes, we have,” his father replied. “Jim and Maura were already living on the Bar T when your mother and I moved here. They’d been here for a couple of years already. Maura and your mother took to each other right away. Maura was as sad as anybody when your mother died giving you birth. And she was only a month away from giving birth to her oldest son.”
“They’ve done a lot for us. I wish there was someway to repay them.”
“They don’t want to be repaid Scott,” Murdoch told him. “It gives them great pleasure to do things for people. And Maura has adopted you and your brother. She knows in her heart that you could never take the place of her own sons but you both hold a special place in her heart next to them.”
Yawning he rose from where he and Scott had been seated on the sofa. “I’m going back to bed. Don’t stay up too long Scott. If you’re half asleep in the morning your brother’s going to be all over you and you won’t be in any condition, or mood I might add, to deal with his nonsense.”
“I won’t,” Scott assured him. “Good night sir.”
Murdoch retired to his room satisfied that his older son would be fine. It would take some time for the hand to heal but he most certainly had learned a valuable lesson. Never again would he reach out to a wounded animal – at least not without gloves on. As for fretting over repaying the Talbots for their help he hoped he’d set Scott’s mind at ease. Jim and Maura had raised three sons to young adulthood only to lose them in the war. It gave both of them great pleasure to do things for the young people in the valley. Neither of them expected, or wanted, to be repaid for their acts of kindness.
Scott went back to his room fifteen minutes later. It wasn’t easy but he finally managed to fall asleep again. When the rooster crowed at dawn he was groggy but managed to crawl out of his bed and dress himself slowly and painfully. It took him three times longer than usual but there was no way he wanted help from his little brother. He was going to be a long time living this down without having to ask for help getting dressed.
Breakfast that morning, consisted of bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, biscuits with plenty of butter, honey and preserves to spread on them, and hot coffee for those who wanted it. Johnny opted for several glasses of milk – a holdover from his underprivileged childhood when milk was hard to come by.
After breakfast was served and the dishes cleared Maria quickly returned from the kitchen bearing a basin of cold water and a towel. She ushered Señor Scott to a corner of the table and set the basin down on the towels. Quickly she explained, partly in English and partly in Spanish, that he was to soak his hand for at least fifteen minutes or until the water became warm instead of cold. Then she would spread her own aloe salve on the palm and fingers and wrap it up again. She knew from experience that this is exactly what Sam would order. Even Juanito did not know that the Lancer Segundo, Cipriano, had done the same thing a couple of years earlier. Only Cipriano had acted out of anger when he found a porcupine chewing on an axe handle. Acting without thinking he’d grabbed the rodent only to wind up with a hand full of quills. His secret was safe with her but she was determined to take care of the patron’s son. And if Juanito thought he was going to get away with teasing his brother about such a painful injury …well she’d just remind him that it wasn’t just painful but the possibility of infection was very real as porcupines had a bad habit of making their routes go through outhouses and such and picking up all manner of infectious material in their quills.
Half an hour later Maria returned from washing the dishes to check on Scott. Satisfied that he had done as she had told him she had him take his hand out of the water and dry it. Then she applied her salve and re-bandaged it for him.
“Gracias Maria,” he said in his limited Spanish.
“De nada,” the matronly housekeeper said. “Tia Maria says to do this twice a day so you come back to see me tonight before I go home and we’ll do this again.”
“I will,” Scott promised.
The day went slowly for Scott. Being right handed there wasn’t much he could do with his left hand that he wouldn’t make a mess of. He worked on the books with his father for a bit, took a walk to see how the repairs were progressing on the storage shed that had been damaged in the last severe rain storm they’d had and watched his brother work with some new horses they’d just rounded up. One of them, a very strong willed sorrel mare, was giving Johnny a very hard time of it. She had such a contrary nature that she did just exactly the opposite of anything Johnny asked her to do. If he said walk she ran, if he said run she walked. If he said stop she went even faster. It was plain to see that even Johnny, the most patient of men when it came to children and animals, was getting frustrated.
“Having a little trouble brother?” Scott asked with a gleam in his eye.
“Nothin’ I can’t handle,” Johnny retorted. “I’ll get her to do what I want yet.”
Scott decided to leave well enough alone and wandered away from the dusty corral down to the barn. There were a couple of new foals he wanted to look in on. He had his eye on one of the yearlings as well. After several bad experiences with his current mount he was looking to replace the sorrel gelding as soon as it was possible. He’d had his fill and then some of being stranded when the horse ran away frightened by loud noises. For all its easy riding gaits the horse was proving to be unreliable. However, stubborn Scotsman that he was, on his father’s side at least, he had refused to give up on the animal. But Scott Lancer was also a realist and knew that sooner or later that horse would take off on him when he was a very, very long way from home – even further than when he’d run off from Hawk Valley last fall leaving him to try and find his way home on foot.
The interior of the barn was dim and cool as opposed to the blazing sun and heat outside. With spring had come the promise of a very hot summer. The fair haired member of the family would be wise to keep that in mind and be sure to wear a hat if he were outside for any length of time.
Late that afternoon Scott sat in the Great Room reading the San Francisco Chronicle, Harper’s Weekly and the Boston Traveller when he spotted something very interesting in the San Francisco paper. Here was the opportunity he’d been searching for to repay the Talbots, especially Maura, for all their help and kindnesses!
of the Year Contest
The San Francisco Chronicle is pleased to announce their first annual
Woman of the Year Contest.
Is there a woman in
your life who has done amazing things for you or for your community?
Would you like to find a way to repay her?
Then this is the opportunity for you.
Send us a letter explaining who you are nominating and why.
The winning entry receives an all expense paid trip to San Francisco
including transportation and lodging for four days and five nights.
They will be honored at a dinner dance on May 15th.
The winning letter will be read at the dinner.
The guest of honor will preside over the head table.
The writer of the winning letter will be notified by telegram once the
judges have made their decision. Judges
include the editor of this paper, the mayor, the police chief, Rev. Carl Bradley
of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Mrs. Jane Stanford, wife of former Governor
All entries must be received by April 30.
Excited Scott folded the newspaper so that the announcement still showed but on a much smaller scale. He couldn’t wait to talk to Johnny about this and he didn’t have long to wait as his younger brother came in to see about some lemonade while he cooled off, mentally and physically, for a few minutes from his battle with the young sorrel mare.
“Johnny? Come here a minute,” Scott called as he saw and heard his brother enter the house. “I want to show you something.”
“What’s so important?”
“This,” Scott said waving the newspaper in Johnny’s face. “It’s the perfect opportunity to repay Mrs. Talbot for everything she’s done for us since we came to live at Lancer!”
Johnny snatched the newspaper his brother was holding. “I can’t read it if you keep waving it in front of me like that! Give it here!”
Quickly Johnny read the announcement. A grin lit up his face as he thought about what this would mean to Maura Talbot, and by extension, the whole Morro Coyo, Green River, Spanish Wells district. One of their own winning a contest like that.
“Well? What do you
“Let’s do it!” Johnny handed the paper back to his brother. “We’ll write that letter after supper tonight.”
“Agreed. Only you’ll have to write what I tell you or they’ll never be able to read it. My hand is still much too swollen to manage a pencil or a pen.”
“Do ya think we ought to ask Mr. Talbot what he thinks first?” Johnny asked Scott.
“Normally I’d say yes,” Scott mused, “but we should keep this a surprise. If the wrong people hear what we’re up to it won’t be a surprise for very long.”
“Got somebody specific in mind?” Johnny queried with a grin.
Scott just gave him a look.
“I know, I know,” Johnny laughed. “We especially don’t want to say anything around Jelly.”
“Say what around Jelly?”
Both boys turned around – startled at the sound of the grizzled handyman’s voice.
“None of your business Jelly!” Johnny retorted.
“What isn’t any of my business?” the old man asked his curiosity now piqued.
“We’re not going to tell you a thing Jelly,” Scott answered. “You remember how you were with Willie Sharpe when I told him I was going to Onyx even though I wasn’t really planning on it until he stumbled on our camp? You told him I didn’t tell you that.”
“Yeah and I asked you if you knew why Scott didn’t tell you everything. And you said it was because you talked too much sometimes.” Johnny added his two cents worth.
“So whatever it is we’re up to,” Scott said, “and we’re not telling you, is going to remain a secret between me and Johnny.”
“What do I care what a couple of wise acres like you are up to?” Jelly huffed to the boys’ amusement. “See if I care.”
The boys burst into laughter the moment Jelly walked out the door. They couldn’t help themselves. Jelly was just so predictable sometimes and this was one of those times. They both knew that he’d be after them and nosing around until he had some idea of what their secret was. But they also knew that the newspaper would be safe in Scott’s room, or Johnny’s, for that matter because Jelly wasn’t doing the housekeeping this week. Their regular housekeepers and cook were both in residence so they decided to put the newspaper containing the announcement in Scott’s room for safekeeping. But they would take the precaution of hiding it. After a few moments thought they figured that the best place would be in one of Scott’s books. Jelly would never think to look in a book for anything. He just wasn’t the reader that Scott and Murdoch were.
After dinner the boys excused themselves and retired to Scott’s room to work on their letter. It was Scott’s habit to keep paper and pen and ink in his room so that he could prepare personal correspondence to his grandfather and friends back in Boston privately. It was with this personal stash of stationery that he and Johnny set about writing their letter nominating Maura for the Woman of the Year contest.
Johnny sat at the table with paper and pen while Scott paced and thought out loud.
“Dear Sirs and Madame,” he started. “We would like to nominate Mrs. Maura Talbot of the Bar T ranch near Green River for Woman of the Year. Mrs. Talbot has consistently…”
“What’s consistently?” Johnny wanted to know. It wasn’t a word he was familiar with.
“Consistently? It means constantly or on a regular basis.”
“Then why don’t we just say ‘on a regular basis’?”
“Because it doesn’t sound as good and we want this to be good.”
“Yeah but ‘consistently’ ain’t a word I’d use and this is supposed to be from the both of us.”
Scott glared at his brother. “Will you just write what I tell you?”
“Why not?” Scott sighed in aggravation.
Johnny grinned at him. “I can’t spell ‘consistently’.”
“C-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-t-l-y,” Scott spelled it out for his brother.
“Got it,” Johnny said.
“Where was I? Oh yes. Mrs. Talbot has consistently…”
“You already said that.”
Johnny subsided. Big brother sounded irritated.
“Mrs. Talbot has consistently, in the years that she has lived in the San Joaquin Valley, committed herself…”
“How do you spell ‘committed’?” Johnny was only half kidding. While not exactly illiterate he didn’t have the vocabulary skills that his brother possessed. He wanted to be sure he spelled everything right and that he knew what he was saying.
“Are you going to keep interrupting me?” Scott asked.
“Only when I don’t understand you – which is almost every other word you’ve said,” Johnny told him.
“All right, all right! We’ll start over again and I’ll use words you can understand – and spell! Satisfied?”
Johnny gleefully tore up the first draft, which they had barely started. If he was going to sign his name to this then he wanted to know what he was signing. He took another clean sheet of paper and they started all over again from the beginning.
“Dear Sirs and Madame,” Scott started. “We would like to nominate Mrs. Maura Talbot of the Bar T ranch for Woman of the Year. Mrs. Talbot and her husband moved to the Morro Coyo/Green River/Spanish Wells area more than twenty-five years ago. Since that time she has devoted many hours to nursing, homemaking and charity. Got all that?”
“Yeah.” Johnny said.
“And you understood it all?”
“Good. Now let’s see.” Scott chewed on his lip for a moment and then continued where he’d left off. “The Talbots own an eighty-thousand acre cattle and horse breeding ranch but this has never stopped Mrs. Talbot from helping anyone who needed her. She raised three sons only to lose them all in the war. She spends many hours at the mission in Morro Coyo helping to clean the sanctuary, plaster walls where needed and bringing offerings of fresh flowers from her garden for the altar.”
He paused briefly to allow Johnny to catch up. “She was the only medical help in the area of her ranch and ours for several years before Dr. Sam Jenkins started his practice. Even now she still nurses friends, neighbors and complete strangers when they need it. Money, ethnic background and religious beliefs play no part in how she treats those who need her. Several days a week she can be found at Dr. Jenkins’ office helping with his patients during office hours.”
Here he paused again and had Johnny read it back to him. Johnny stumbled slightly over a couple of words but mostly he managed just fine. He dipped the pen in the inkwell again and started writing as Scott began to speak again.
“A little over a year ago she had occasion – that’s o-c-c-a-s-i-o-n – to treat me. Scott Lancer, when I sustained – that’s s-u-s-t-a-i-n-e-d - a bullet wound to the side of my head when my grandfather and I were bushwhacked on the way to the train station. A few weeks later I came down with a bad case of influenza, which soon turned to pneumonia. My brother John had ridden to Morro Coyo only to discover – find –“ Scott changed his wording at the glare from his brother, “that Dr. Jenkins was out of town taking care of some miners who were injured in a cave in. Mrs. Talbot was filling in for Dr. Jenkins on his easiest cases and immediately took charge of things. Stopping only long enough at her own home to leave a note for her husband and gather some clothing and other personal belongings she came to Lancer and tended, first to me, then to my father’s ward and my brother when they became ill as well. It was her onion poultices that broke up the congestion in my brother’s lungs and put him on the road to recovery. She stayed with us for a period of time of almost one month making sure that we all recovered properly before she would leave for her own home again.
Last summer there was a large fair held in the valley. Mrs. Talbot went out of her way to make sure that all residents of the valley were involved. She made a point of asking our Mexican housekeeper to run a booth selling chili and tortillas and the like and to encourage others, including Indians living in the area, to set up shop selling their rugs, blankets pottery and special foods or whatever else they might have that fairgoers would be interested in.”
Scott went on for another five minutes before he and Johnny were both completely satisfied with what they had come up with. Then Johnny folded the letter and placed it in an envelope to be mailed in town the next morning. Both young Lancers went to bed content in their scheming to reward the woman who had done so much for so many without ever asking anything in return.
The days went by agonizingly slowly for the two young men as they waited to hear whether they had won the contest or not. No amount of hunting strays, bailing them out of brambles and mud puddles, surveying or any other chore that required their attention could keep their minds occupied for very long a period of time.
Finally, on a bright sunny Wednesday, two weeks later, a telegram addressed to Mr. Scott Lancer and Mr. John Lancer, Lancer Ranch, Morro Coyo, California, arrived. Eagerly Scott tore open the envelope after swearing the messenger to secrecy for a couple of days.
“Well? What does it say?” Johnny was anxious to know. “Did we win? Does Mrs. Talbot get that trip to San Francisco or not?”
“We won! We won Johnny!” Scott exclaimed.
“Well what does it say for cryin’ out loud?”
“’Gentlemen. We received your letter dated April 4. Stop. Have investigated your nominee. Stop. We are pleased to announce that Mrs. Maura Talbot is our Woman of the Year. Stop. Arrangements are being made for the three of you, to stay at the Lick House hotel for four days and five nights. Stop. A letter explaining all the details will follow shortly by special messenger. Stop. Our heartiest congratulations on a well-written letter. Signed Woman of the Year Committee Mrs. Jane Stanford, Chairwoman.’”
“That’s great! When do we tell her?”
“No time like the present brother. I’ll go square it with Murdoch for us to take a couple of hours. You go saddle the horses.”
Fifteen minutes later the brothers were on their way to the neighboring Bar T ranch. Whooping and hollering excitedly they rode into the yard and reined up in front of the house. Jim Talbot, a blond man slightly taller than Scott, heard them from the back of the house where he was turning over his wife’s garden plot.
“What’s all this noise?” he laughed as he came around the corner of the house and saw who it was. “You two are making enough noise to be heard all the way from here to San Francisco and beyond!”
Scott was the first one to calm down and it wasn’t easy – he and Johnny were as excited as a couple of schoolboys playing hooky from school.
“Is your wife around Mr. Talbot? We’ve got something to tell you – show you. Both actually.”
“What my silver tongued brother is trying to say, Mr. Talbot, is that we have something important to tell you and it’s about her – and us.”
Jim just looked at his two young friends in confusion. He had no idea what they were trying to say. Stepping to the door of the house he called to his wife who, at his summons, came out. Wisps of red hair clung to her damp face for she’d been in the process of making candles the old fashioned way – by dipping wicks into a pot of melted wax hanging over a fire.
“What is it Alex? I’m busy!”
“Scott and Johnny here say they have something important to tell us or show us or both,” he grinned at the Lancer men. “I get the distinct impression they’re excited about something.”
The boys looked at each other and grinned. Jim Talbot loved to give them a hard time and often gave one to their father, with whom he’d been a friend for almost thirty years, as well. Scott withdrew the telegram from his pocket and handed it to Jim to read. The rancher’s eyes got wide as he read the brief message.
“What’s this all about?”
“We entered Miz Talbot in this contest, you see, and we won,” Johnny explained.
“There was a notice in the San Francisco Chronicle about a Woman of the Year Contest. We decided to write a letter nominating your wife for all the things she’s done for everyone in the tri-town area – the whole valley in fact – and we were just notified that we’ve won. Four days and five nights. Theater. Dinners. Shopping. Museums. Everything you can imagine. All expenses are paid and there’s a dinner dance the last night.” Scott filled in the details.
“I don’t know what to say,” Maura said rather breathlessly. “You boys are something – I don’t know what...” Maura, touched, began to cry.
Scott and Johnny both went to her and took a hand. Then they kissed her cheeks.
“There’s nothing to say,” Scott said. “Just be ready to leave on the eighth. We’ll pick you up in the surrey and drive to Cross Creek to get the train.”
“You will go won’t you?” Johnny asked anxiously. “You don’t want me to have worn out my fingers writing ‘cause Scott couldn’t? I think I wore out three pens and ten pieces of paper before he was satisfied.”
“She’ll go,” Jim said firmly. “I’ll see to it that she’s ready.”
“Good. It’s all settled then. As soon as we get the letter we’ll come over and make definitely arrangements as to what time we’re going to get the train and all that.”
“And we’ll have the best, prettiest, smartest, nicest of all the contestants at this shindig,” Johnny added with one of his biggest, brightest and most endearing smiles.
“I don’t know what to say,” Maura started crying again.
The boys decided that this was the best time for them to make their exit so they said their good-byes and mounted up. Waving as they left they could see Jim hugging his wife while she cried her eyes out at what her friend’s two boys had done for her.
At dinner that night the boys told the family, and Jelly, what they had done and the results. Teresa was especially thrilled. She’d only briefly met her own mother and Maura Talbot was much more of a mother figure to her than Angel Day ever could be.
“Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing?” she moaned. “I would have helped you write that letter. Or I would have written one myself!”
“I’m sorry Teresa,” Scott said with a smile. “I saw the notice in the paper and I thought it was the perfect opportunity for Johnny and me to pay her back for all her nursing and, in a way, Mr. Talbot for helping us as well those times when my horse ran away and Johnny and I were stranded off the road through the mountains in the rain. Me with a bruised hip and Johnny temporarily blinded. I wanted to get the letter written and off.”
“Well, I’m sorry too,” Murdoch said.
“You? Why?” Johnny asked his father.
“I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention when I saw that notice in the Chronicle and write a letter myself,” was the answer he got. “Maura’s been a wonderful friend for almost thirty years. She more than deserves this honor.” He paused for a moment and then added, “I know the paper is paying your expenses but I’d like to contribute toward a gift for her. You find it and I’ll put in some money for it.”
“That’s not necessary Murdoch. Johnny and I will take care of it out of our own money.”
“What does Mr. Talbot have to say about you two runnin’ off with his wife for a week?” Jelly wanted to know.
We ain’t runnin’ off with her Jelly,” Johnny retorted. “You know as well as I do that Mr. Talbot likes us.”
“Sure, sure he likes you,” the old man jibed. “But does he trust you two scalawags?”
“You know what you’re problem is Jelly?” Scott asked him with a wink at his brother who grinned back at him. “You’re jealous.”
“Jealous! Why you young….”
Johnny added his two cents worth. “Yeah Jelly. You’re jealous ‘cause Miz Talbot likes us more than she does you. You’re like a little kid who’s jealous of the attention some other kid gets.”
“That’s right Jelly,” Scott said with another wink – this one aimed at this father and Teresa. “You’re far too old to be one of her children while Johnny and I are just the right age.”
“And she don’t exactly go out of her way to send cookies home to you like she does Teresa.” Johnny couldn’t resist adding that little dig.
Murdoch roared and Teresa nearly choked on her water as Jelly reacted to Scott’s teasing. Jelly’s face turned red as he realized he was being put on.
“Hmph! Seems like a man could get a little respect around here from the younger generation.” Jelly wiped his mouth, threw his napkin on the table and stumped away in a huff.
The expected letter arrived, addressed to Scott, two days later by messenger as they had been told it would. It detailed the dates that they would be expected in San Francisco and which hotel they would stay at. Enclosed were tickets for the train from Cross Creek to San Francisco and an itinerary. Most of the planned activities were scheduled for evening leaving the three of them time to explore the city. Someone had taken the time, possibly Mrs. Stanford, to point out areas that they might like to visit such as the mission of St. Francis. Names of different shops such as the Ghirardelli Chocolate shop, a dressmaker and bookstore were given. Johnny was somewhat disappointed, or so he said, that they didn’t point out any of the places he might find interesting on the Barbara Coast. His remarks earned him a dirty look from his brother who reminded him that this trip was about Maura having a good time and being presented with an award. It wasn’t about his need to explore the areas they’d be wise to avoid. On the other hand, there was the Presidio where he, Scott, could possibly meet up with some old friends that were still in the army. That didn’t particularly make Johnny happy but he did concede that Maura probably wouldn’t enjoy the Barbary Coast and would prefer that he stay away from there lest he risk being shanghaied. Many a sea captain would pay good money for a likely looking specimen such as Johnny or Scott to fill an empty place on his clipper or freighter.
The days passed in a haze of preparations. Clothes were washed, pressed, neatly folded (as long as Maria or Teresa did the packing – especially for Johnny) and packed in suitcases. Arrangements were made for Jelly to drive the boys and Maura to the train station at Cross Creek and he would pick them up when they returned.
Scott visited Zeek the barber in Green River for a haircut and coerced his younger brother into doing the same by paying for it himself. Johnny and Zeek had been feuding somewhat since Clay Criswell had wormed his way into Zeek’s good graces with his talk of making Green River a non-violent town where no man wore a gun only to find out that he was only after the bank’s money and wanted all other guns out of the way so he could get it without interference from the townspeople. Johnny had also been disgusted when Zeek raised the price of a haircut from 10c to 25c and made no bones about it. He’d gone to another barber and Zeek didn’t think very much of the man’s handiwork. Didn’t make a bit of difference to Johnny then and it didn’t make a bit of difference to him now. If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were taking Maura Talbot to San Francisco he would have gone to her for a haircut before he’d have gone to Zeke. She was always teasing him about how shaggy he was getting and offering to cut his hair.
The big day arrived. Jelly pulled up in front of the house with a pair of matching bay Clydesdale mares hitched to the black surrey, which he had spent hours cleaning and polishing until it gleamed. The horses had been groomed until their coats were immaculate and the white feathers on their feet had been washed and the feet wrapped in bandages to keep them clean until they were ready to go.
Amid much well wishing and hugs from family and friends the boys climbed in and off they went to pick up Maura. The lady was ready and waiting for them when they arrived but full of last minute instructions for her husband about what she had prepared for him to eat for the few days that she would be gone. She’d even arranged for a neighboring girl to come in and do the housekeeping and baking while she was gone despite her husband’s insistence that he would be fine on his own. They’d never hired a housekeeper when they’d bought the place. Maura did all her own cleaning and cooking and the like. The hired hands had their cooking done by a cook and a couple of the wives did all the laundry and special baking for them.
“Now Alex don’t forget….”
“Maura, dear, the boys are waiting and so is Jelly,” Jim interrupted gently. “I’ll be just fine. You’re only going to be a few days and Mary Jo will be here to do the cleaning for me. Now go on and get in the surrey or you’ll miss your train.”
Leaning he kissed his wife on the cheek and then handed her bag to a patiently waiting Johnny. Scott took her arm and helped her into the surrey where she would sit in the back seat with him while Johnny sat up front with Jelly.
“Take good care of my girl,” Jim told the boys.
“Don’t worry Mr. Talbot,” Johnny reassured him, “we will. Big brother there is very responsible.”
“I know it,” Jim answered him with a grin. “But don’t sell yourself short John. I trust you with her just as much as I trust Scott and I trust Maura even more. I suspect she’ll spend most of her time looking after you two.”
Before Maura could protest Jim had signaled Jelly to move along and with a cluck and a jiggle of the reins they were on their way. The day was warm and the sun shone brightly as they pulled away from the Bar T ranch house and headed on the road that would take them to Cross Creek. The bells on the harness the horses wore jingled merrily.
“Bells Jelly?” Maura asked curiously.
“Bells ma’am,” Jelly said. “It ain’t every day that someone from ‘round here goes off to San Francisco to be honored at a dinner. Too bad you have to be escorted by these two scalawags instead of your husband though.”
“Now Jelly,” Maura laughed. “The boys and I will get along just fine don’t you worry. I’ll look out for them and they’ll look out for me.”
“Well – mebbe,” Jelly said. “But you watch them close Miz Talbot. There ain’t no tellin’ what kinda trouble they’ll find while they’re in the big city. They just seem to find trouble without even tryin’.”
With a bit of grumbling under his breath Jelly clucked to the horses and got them to pick up the pace to a steady trot. There was no need to worry about being late – they had plenty of time but Scott was anxious that nothing go wrong. This was Maura’s special time and he intended to see that it was as perfect as it could be.
The train was waiting for them when Jelly pulled the team to a halt in front of the depot. Its smoke stack sending out a plume of black smoke from the fire and it’s brakes hissing as the engineer released some of the steam. A dozen or more people bustled about seeing to their luggage and bossing the porters and/or conductor as well. The conductor, a fiftyish acquaintance of Murdoch’s from his many trips to Stockton and Sacramento bore up as well as he could under the verbal onslaught of one nasty tempered matron with two teenaged daughters. It seemed that the conductor could not, or would not, upgrade their seats so that they would not have to ride with the “common folk” that she’d found altogether too boorish and uncivilized during her visit to this part of California. Johnny and Scott gave the man sympathetic looks as they descended from the surrey and helped Maura down while Jelly collected their luggage.
Scott reached into the inner pocket of his brown suede jacket and retrieved his wallet in which he had tucked the letter of instructions, the itinerary and their train tickets along with his expense money. Jelly bustled about getting their bags onto the train and making sure that the seat was clean. He wasn’t about to let a “fine lady” like Maura Talbot dirty her skirts on a train seat that was covered in soot “no siree”.
“There ya go Miz Talbot,” the bewhiskered one said. “I cleaned that seat good. Now you just make sure these two scalawags keep that window shut as much as possible so you don’t get bothered none by the cinders from that smoke stack.” Jelly fixed the boys with a fierce glare. “And make sure they mind their manners. This bein’ the first time they’re alone with a real lady they might not know how to act.”
“Thank you Jelly and don’t pay any attention to these two,” Maura said as the boys started laughing. “It was very sweet of you to take such special care that I won’t get my clothes all messed up. I’m sure we’ll do just fine. Now you’d better run along – the train is getting ready to leave. We’ll see you here next Sunday when we get back.”
Jelly left with the boys’ laughter and jibes still ringing in his ears but comforted by the fact that Maura appreciated his efforts on her behalf. Not five minutes after he departed the coach they were in the train pulled out of the station with a jerk and a squeal and a chugging sound. They were on their way.
The countryside changed as they sped along. First it was the fertile farms and grazing land of the San Joaquin and then mountains. A few small towns where they stopped to let off or pick up passengers. At one such stop Johnny got off to buy sandwiches and cold drinks for the three of them. They hadn’t allowed Maura, no matter how much she had fussed, to bring any kind of a picnic lunch with her. This was their treat and that’s all there was to it. Any snacks or meals before they got to San Francisco were to be paid for by Johnny and/or Scott and not Maura herself.
Man sized ham and cheese sandwiches, tomatoes; hard-boiled eggs and icy cold lemonade were topped off by oatmeal raisin cookies. Johnny took one bite and declared that the cookies weren’t nearly as good as Maura’s were which earned him a smile and a kiss on the cheek. She knew he was buttering her up for more when they got back home but she loved spoiling these two boys more than any other young people in the vicinity of Morro Coyo, Green River or Spanish Wells. She had seen their father grieve at the death of Scott’s mother and the custodial interference of her father, which had resulted in Scott’s being raised in Boston by his maternal grandfather. She had seen him fall apart when Johnny’s mother up and disappeared one night taking their not quite two year old son with them only to have him return some twenty years later using the name Johnny Madrid and having earned a reputation as a gunfighter of some renown. Her own sons, had they not died during the war, would have been around the same age. Her oldest and middle sons had played with Johnny until the day he and his mother disappeared. In some ways Maura had adopted her friend’s two sons as replacements for her own lost sons. They, in turn, loved her as the mother Scott had never known and Johnny wished he had had for all he had loved his own mother Maria. Jim was very fond of the young men as well and had come to their aid several times since their return home.
As the day wore on the trio grew tired. The train would not stop for more than fifteen minutes to half an hour along the way at the appointed stops before arriving in San Francisco late the next morning. The boys did all they could to make Maura comfortable to the extent of sacrificing one seat to be hers exclusively and making a pillow of their jackets for her. As she dozed off leaning against the window Scott found a blanket in an overhead compartment and tucked it around here before leaning on Johnny, who was leaning against the window and falling asleep himself. It wasn’t the most comfortable position but it would have to do until they got to their hotel the next day.
It was ten the following morning by the time they pulled into the train station in San Francisco. While Scott looked into transportation to the hotel for them Johnny saw that Maura was comfortably seated on a bench near the depot while he retrieved their luggage.
“Good news,” Scott said as he returned to his brother and their friend. “The contest committee has a carriage waiting for us. The driver has been commissioned to take us to the hotel and anywhere else we’d like to go while we’re here. We won’t have to worry about hailing a hansom cab all week. We just tell the driver where we’d like to go and what time we’d like to leave and he’ll be here waiting for us. His name’s Callahan by the way – James Callahan.”
“Right now I’m thinking that a trip to the hotel followed by a hot bath and a short nap sounds like heaven,” Maura said. “After that we’ll see about some lunch and maybe we could see some of the city while we’re about.”
“Sounds good to me too,” Johnny said, “except the part about the nap. I ain’t tired but I sure am dirty and sore after bein’ on that train since yesterday.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Scott said. “I think it’ll do us a world of good just to get cleaned up and relax a little. And follow that up with some lunch and a little tour of the city. We can get an idea of where you’d like to go while we’re here.” This last part was for Maura’s benefit. He’d already laid down the law to Johnny about visiting the Barbary Coast – or any other disreputable part of the city for that matter.
The trio made their way to the waiting carriage. James Callahan, a short middle-aged man with graying brown hair clad in a top hat and tails over black and gray striped trousers took the luggage from the boys and stowed it in the back. Meanwhile Johnny and Scott assisted Maura up into the vehicle and climbed aboard themselves. Within five minutes they were on their way to the hotel that would be their home away from home for the next few days.
Callahan deftly maneuvered the carriage through the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, in the city street and made his way to the Lick House in a relatively short amount of time. Johnny was as in awe of the place, if not more so, than Maura when they pulled up in front and entered the lobby. Begun in 1861 it was regarded as the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River. Of this Johnny had no doubt – especially a few hours later when they made their way to the dining room.
Scott approached the desk clerk and inquired about their rooms.
“Do you have a reservation?” the clerk asked.
“Yes, it should be one room for Lancer and one room for Talbot. Or a suite,” Scott answered the man. “The arrangements were made for us by the Chronicle.”
“Ah yes,” the man said. “I see it. The largest suite in the house for Mrs. Maura Talbot and Messrs. Scott and John Lancer. Three bedrooms and a large sitting room with a private bath for each bedroom.” Turning the man took a key from a box behind him. “Here is the key.” Turning to the young bellhop on his right he said, “Show these people to the Rose Suite.” Turning back to Scott he said, “I hope your stay is a pleasant one sir. If there is anything you require…”
“Yes, the lady has expressed a desire to have a hot bath before we come down for lunch in the dining room. Do you think that could be arranged?”
“Certainly sir. I’ll see to it that a bath is drawn for her immediately.”
“For all three of us please,” Scott said with a wry grin. “I’m afraid train travel isn’t very comfortable or very clean.”
Looking the travel weary guest up and down and taking in the sooty features that were also weary looking and red-eyed the clerk agreed. “Yes, sir. For all three of you. And we can have your clothes cleaned for you if you’d like.”
“I would but I don’t know about my brother,” Scott said. “You’ll have to ask him.”
“Ask me what?” Johnny inquired of his brother having overheard that last comment.
“The desk clerk here was just telling me that they have someone that can clean our clothes for us.”
“Oh. That ain’t necessary,” Johnny said. “I’ll take care of it myself. I’m used to it.”
Signaling the patiently waiting bellhop that they were ready, Scott accepted the key from the clerk, whose name was Belden, and turned to escort Maura toward the stairs. In less than ten minutes they were at the door of the suite they would be living in for the next few days.
Scott, accustomed to such luxurious surroundings, didn’t so much as bat an eyelash when he took in the thick carpet, plush velvet drapes and overstuffed chairs and sofa all of which were a dark red with gold tie backs on the drapes. A small round table stood next to the sofa and on it sat a white glass lamp with red roses on it. The lamp itself sat on a white crocheted doily.
A painting of snow capped mountains hung on the wall nearest the bedrooms and another one depicting a mill by a gently flowing stream hung on the wall to the right of the door to the suite as they entered.
The walls were covered in dark red wallpaper the same shade more or less as the drapes. The windows in the sitting room area looked out on the street that ran in front of the hotel. A fireplace took up one wall in a corner and logs and kindling were in it just waiting for a match to be lit in order to start a cozy fire.
Johnny whistled and his eyes grew big as he looked around. Here he’d thought their home at Lancer was pretty fancy considering his rough upbringing but this was something else again. He was slightly ill at ease but Maura’s warm smile soon had him relaxing.
Having placed their bags in the bedrooms according to Scott’s directions the bellboy now inquired if there were anything else he could do for them.
“No, thank you,” Scott said handing the boy a generous tip with a smile. “That’ll be it for now. We’re expecting someone to come and fill the tubs for us.”
“That would be Lizette, for the lady,” the bellboy said, “and Mark and Tim for you gentlemen.” Then he turned and departed closing the door behind him quietly.
Within five minutes the hotel employees had arrived and the baths were drawn. Tempted though they were to soak for a long while the weary travelers bathed and changed their clothes within an hour. All three of them gave in to their fatigue as soon as they were dried off and stretched out for “a few minutes” which lengthened into several hours. By the time they had all awakened and got themselves neatened up and organized it was almost dinnertime.
“Whooey! Would ya take a look at this place?” Johnny’s eyes nearly bugged out at the sight of the Lick House’s dining room. The room, large enough to seat 400 people, was paneled in exquisite wood inlay, which James Lick had meticulously cut and placed with his own two hands. Not many hotels could boast that the builder was also the owner.
“Johnny!” Scott hissed. “Pipe down! Someone will hear you!”
“So what if they do?”
Maura said heading off a potential argument over the difference in their manners
and demeanor. “Scott calm down. John it would be best if you kept your comments to yourself
until we’re back in the privacy of our room.
You don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of the staff do you?”
“No ma’am,” Johnny replied. “But it sure is fancy ain’t it?”
Maura smiled indulgently. “Yes it is. I daresay even the Parker House in Boston isn’t as fancy as this. What do you think Scott?”
“I daresay you’re right,” Scott replied. He’d been thinking much along the same lines himself. “I don’t think there’s a hotel this side of Paris that’s as magnificent as this one.”
The maitre’d appeared before them. “Three for dinner madam? Gentlemen?”
“Yes, please,” Scott answered. “A quiet corner if you please.”
Nodding the man led them to just such a table. He seated Maura and handed all three of them menus as soon as the boys were seated as well. Johnny’s eyebrows rose when he got a look at the names of the dishes and the prices. An inch thick steak would have been good enough for him.
“The committee is picking up the tab so order whatever you like Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said. “The letter we got said that the hotel would keep track and settle up after we leave on Saturday.”
Maura studied the menu intently finally settling on French onion soup to be followed by roast pheasant with asparagus and roasted potatoes. Scott decided that he would have the same. Johnny, after consulting with his brother over what some of the items were, ordered the prime rib. He was definitely a meat and potatoes man. But he did order some green beans to go with his meal at Maura’s insistence. She was enjoying the chance to mother him by seeing that he ate right.
When they had finished dining, topping off their meals with coffee and apple pie a la mode, they decided to go for a walk and explore the neighborhood around the hotel a little. In this way they would be able to get an idea of what they wanted to see and do in the morning. It was getting dark and the fog was starting to roll in off the bay. Having been raised in Boston Scott had a pretty good idea of how chilly and damp a coastal city could be after dark so he had insisted on going to their suite to retrieve coats of some sort.
Having lived in the country all their lives Maura, and even Johnny, were fascinated as the watched the lamplighter make his appointed rounds up and down Montgomery and all the other streets near the hotel. Their explorations along Montgomery and Sutter streets showed them that they weren’t very far from the mission San Francisco de Asis or Mission of St. Francis, Chinatown, the Barbary Coast (which brought a gleam to Johnny’s eyes matched by the look of determination on both his brother’s and Maura’s faces to keep him out of that area), the theaters and Nob Hill. Scott had done some research and found that Nob Hill, commonly known to some as Snob Hill, had originally been spelled with a “k” but it had been dropped somewhere along the line.
“I think a visit to Chinatown is in order tomorrow,” Maura said. “The Chinese people I’ve met have been very gracious and kind and I’ve enjoyed doing business with them. There must be a shop where I can purchase some silk for dresses for Teresa and Maria.”
“Only if you promise to buy some for yourself,” Scott said. “Remember this trip is supposed to be for your benefit – not everyone else’s that you can think of.”
“Oh fiddle!” Maura exclaimed. “It’s more fun for me to buy for somebody else than it is to buy for myself. Don’t be thinking about spoiling my fun Scott Garrett Lancer! You’re not too old for me to take over my knee you know.”
Johnny chortled when he heard this. Not so long ago she’d threatened him with the same thing when he’d rebelled against her orders to get some sleep when Scott was ill with pneumonia. The image of five-foot-four-inch Maura Talbot taking his six-foot-one-inch brother over her knee was very funny.
“And as for
you John Luis,” she continued, “you just get the idea of visiting the Barbary Coast right out of your mind.
I’m not of a mind to be explaining to your father, my dear friend and
neighbor, how I came to San Francisco with both of his sons and returned with
“Yes, ma’am,” a subdued Johnny replied all the
while looking longingly back toward that part of the city.
“That settles it,” Scott said.
“Tomorrow we’ll visit Chinatown and Nob Hill. We can eat lunch at one of the little restaurants in
Chinatown. I used to sneak into the
Chinatown section of Boston when I was going to Harvard.
I don’t speak the language but I do know the food.
Some of it’s pretty good. And
The two Lancers and their friend were settled for the
night in their suite at the Lick House. Maura
was sitting in one of the parlor chairs working knitting some socks for her
husband and the ranch hands. Never
one to be idle when she was sitting she always had some sort of needlework in
her hands be it knitting, embroidery or mending.
It was she who had taught Teresa, with help from the senior Maria
Escobar, the aunt of the Lancers’ housekeeper.
“And for supper the committee has reservations for us
at a restaurant near the theater Scott?”
Maura asked for verification.
“Yes and we have tickets for a show as well.”
“What’s on the agenda for Wednesday Scott?”
“Nothing special that I can see.
They’re mostly letting us have the days free to see the city.
Evenings they have us having dinner at certain restaurants or visiting a
museum or something along that line.”
“Good,” Maura said.
“There’s one thing we absolutely must do tomorrow and that’s
see that your brother gets a decent suit to wear to that dinner dance on Friday
Johnny had only been half paying attention until he heard the words
‘brother’ and ‘suit’. Since
she was talking to Scott that had to mean she intended to get him into a suit
– something he wanted no part of.
“Now John,” Maura chided him gently.
“You can’t go to that dinner dance on Friday night wearing your
working clothes and your gun. You
can’t even wear your gun while you’re in the city.
You know that.” She smiled
at him encouragingly. “Don’t
worry dear, we’ll find a tailor here in the city that will fix you up right by
Thursday afternoon. If I’m going
to be the guest of honor at this little shindig, as you’d call it, I want my
handsome escorts to look as nice as they can.
You don’t want to disappoint me do you?”
“No ma’am,” Johnny mumbled.
Then he protested vehemently once more, “But a suit? With a ruffled shirt like Scott wore when he first came here?
“Never you mind Johnny,” Maura said with a warning
look at Scott who was threatening to burst into laughter at the sound of his
brother’s indignant protests. “We’ll
find you a tailor that will fix you up with something you’ll like.”
And that was the end of Johnny’s protests - the
verbal ones at least. Mentally he
may have continued protesting but when he saw the look on his brother’s face
and the determination on Maura’s he knew he was out of luck as far as not
getting a suit was concerned. So he
did his pouting silently. The last
thing he wanted was to get stuck in some fancy suit like Scott had been wearing
the day they arrived on the stage in Morro Coyo.
Standing in front of the building on Jackson Street
Maura and the Lancers could see the sign Mrs. Ghirardelli & Co.
The smell of chocolate coming from within, and the sight of the
chocolates in the window and the display cases they could see through the front
windows were enough to torture anyone with a sweet tooth.
Leaving the packages Maura had already acquired in
several other stores on the floor of the hired carriage with Mr. Callahan, the
driver, they went in. All three of
them felt like school children being let loose in a candy shop.
Adults though they may have been the thrill of being around so much candy
at once was almost more than any one of them could stand.
Soon they had small sacks of chocolates for themselves
to munch on at that time and several boxes to take home to Morro Coyo with them.
One for Teresa, one for Maria and one for the young woman who was keeping
house for the Talbots for the duration of Maura’s stay in San Francisco.
When they were settled back in the carriage Maura asked
James Callahan if he knew of a good tailor in the city that could have a suit
made within two days.
“Yes, ma’am,” was the answer.
“There’s a fellow over on Van Ness Avenue that does good work and
he’s quick too. He does
alterations and repairs as well.”
exclaimed. “Take us over there
would you please? We need to see
about a suit for Johnny.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the carriage driver replied. “I’ll ye there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail!”
“Please, Mr. Callahan,” Maura smiled.
“Don’t mention sheep in front of these two wild cowboys!
They might throw you off of one of the piers at the waterfront.”
“I’m sorry Mum!” came Callahan’s laughing
reply. “I’ll do better next
All four occupants of the carriage had a good laugh.
But Johnny was, in the back of his mind, plotting a way out of this.
Or so he thought.
“Johnny hold still!” Maura scolded him.
“How can I hold still when this fella keeps sticking
The younger Lancer and Maura Talbot were in the tailor
shop of one Kevin Kennedy and Son where Johnny was being fitted for the suit
Maura expected him to wear to the dinner on Friday night.
Scott was off on a mysterious errand of his own.
“If you’d stop squirming like a child, John Luis,
Mr. Kennedy could get that suit fitted a lot faster.”
Mr. Kennedy stood back frowning at his client. He’d never fit a suit to a young gentleman who squirmed
like a small boy as much as this one did. He’d
had some squirmers and most were actually children but this one – he took the
cake! He was ten times worse than
any six-year-old society brat!
“Mrs. Talbot, if this suit is going to be ready for
the young gentleman to wear on Friday night he simply must stop
“I know, Mr. Kennedy, I know,” an exasperated Maura
Stop that wiggling this instant! You
need a proper suit for Friday night and you’re going to get one!
I saw what you brought with you – not a suit of any kind in the whole
suitcase! Now stop acting like a
child and cooperate with Mr. Kennedy! The
sooner you, do the sooner we’ll be done here!”
“Yes, ma’am,” a subdued Johnny said.
The last thing he wanted was for Maura to be upset with him but this suit
business was driving him crazy.
At last, two hours later, the suit material had been
chosen, the pattern chosen and laid and the suit cut out and pinned. Kennedy was sweating as if it were summer by the time the
suit was fitted to Johnny’s lean frame and pinned together.
Johnny himself wasn’t in much better shape.
He felt like a child who had been freed from the prison of a schoolroom
or something. Maura looked a little
frazzled herself. It was to this
scene that Scott returned from his errand.
“Well, you two look like you’ve had some fun,” he
chuckled. “Was he very difficult
“Yes, but we persevered Scott and the suit is being
basted together now. We need to
come back after lunch to see how well it fits and have minor adjustments made
before they sew it up proper. It’s
a good thing that Mr. Kennedy has several of those Singer sewing machines to
use. We’d never have Johnny’s
suit in time if he didn’t.”
“Well then shall we see about lunch somewhere and
then come back to finish up at the tailor?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea dear boy,”
Maura said. Turning to Johnny she
said, “Come along Johnny! We’re
going to go get some lunch and relax a little while before we come back to see
how your suit is progressing.”
Lunch was at a little restaurant in Chinatown. After they’d eaten and had a good laugh over their attempts
to eat with chopsticks, a “contest” that Johnny had won hands down, they
explored the area a little while. Maura
made purchases in several shops including the silk she’d mentioned the night
before. There was a bright red for
Maria, jade green for herself and a midnight blue for Teresa.
In Green River Maura knew the ladies shop would have just the right
pattern or else they could look through Godey’s Lady’s Book to find one.
She also purchased some black velvet ribbon and white lace in another
shop outside of Chinatown to use for trim.
The buttons she would get when they got home.
The three of them were laughing and enjoying themselves
immensely. It wasn’t often that
the boys got to go somewhere on a pleasure trip – ranch life was very
confining and business trips could be very boring.
Neither did Maura get away very often.
Her life was spent making sure that her husband and their employees were
well taken care of. And she also
spent some time keeping up the small family plot where the three boys were
buried. It was good for her to get away.
She never seemed to want to take any time for herself.
That was one of the reasons that Jim had had such a big party for her on
St. Patrick’s Day. She couldn’t
run away from a party at their own house.
As the merry trio ascended into their waiting carriage
Johnny’s attention was caught by a man walking down the street toward them
wearing what appeared to be a blue uniform with gold epaulettes, a plumed hat
and a very shiny sword at his side.
“Well will you look at that?
Looks kinda like that picture of General Sheridan you got back home
Scott. Who do you reckon he is?”
“I have no idea,” his brother replied.
“That’s not a regulation uniform the gentleman is wearing.”
“That be Emperor Norton I,” their carriage driver
“That’s Joshua Norton?” Maura asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I
take it you’ve heard of him?”
“Oh my yes. Joshua
Norton came to California during the gold rush of ’49.
Unlike many others he brought quite a bit of money to California.
But, unfortunately, he lost his money in the bank failure of ’54 and
’55. He apparently had tried to corner the rice market but lost all his money
instead. The blow was just too much for the poor man and he lost his reason.
I believe he calls himself Norton I, Emperor of California and Defender
“That would be him ma’am,” Callahan said.
“Where did you learn all that about the gentleman?”
Scott asked his friend.
“Friends of Alex have written him letters about Mr.
Norton,” Maura explained. “And
I believe Alex met him once very briefly when he was in San Francisco for a
cattleman’s convention. He’s a
very nice man Alex said, but a sad case.”
“Mr. W. C. Ralston, of the Bank of California,
finances the ‘emperor’ without his knowing it.
I’m afraid one of these days Mr. Ralston will find himself in danger of
bankruptcy but it’s very generous of the man,” Callahan added. “Actually
the whole city looks out for him. They
allow him to eat, drink and attend the theater at no charge.
He’s usually very gentle and easy to get along with.”
Norton I turned east toward Telegraph Hill and was soon
out of sight. Callahan started the
team moving and they headed back toward Kennedy’s tailor shop to see about
Johnny’s suit. Maura was paying
him a considerable sum of money to see that the suit was fitted and finished in
plenty of time for that dinner dance even if it was last minute.
Later that evening, after a sumptuous meal of veal,
potatoes and corn along with fresh bread and butter and coffee – all of which
was topped off by generous wedges of lemon meringue pie and a cup of coffee
apiece, the Lancers and Maura relaxed in their suite at the hotel.
Around nine o’clock Maura called it a night. All the wandering around the city had made her very tired and
she was accustomed to being in bed around that time anyway.
She bade the boys good night and retired to her bedroom.
Not too long afterward Scott, too, decided it was
time to retire. Not Johnny though. The
youngest Lancer had plans – plans that he’d kept secret from his brother and
Maura all day. Scott looked at his younger brother somewhat suspiciously
when he said he was going to sit up and read a while longer. Reading was not something Johnny was noted for doing as a
means of relaxation. He wasn’t as
well educated as his brother and therefore just didn’t enjoy books that much.
He’d rather be in a poker game with Val and some others in town or out
for a ride on Barranca or squiring a young lady to dinner – anything but
reading a book!
As soon as he was sure his brother was asleep he
grabbed his jacket and his gun belt, which he’d kept in their suite all this
time, and slipped out the door taking the key with him.
Once out on the street he found a cab to take him to his destination –
only problem was that the cabby refused to go any closer than Stockton Street.
If the young cowboy wanted to go to the Barbary Coast he was on his own
from that point on. Shrugging his shoulders Johnny paid the cabby and head off
for his own personal adventure.
Three hours later, around midnight, Maura Talbot woke with a start. She was unsure what was wrong but had a feeling that one of her boys was in trouble. Quickly she rose and pulled on a robe and slipped her feet into slippers. Then she exited her bedroom and went out into the sitting room. There was no sign of any trouble there and the door to the suite was tightly closed but she knew there was something.
Crossing the room she went to the door of Johnny’s bedroom first. It was slightly open so she pushed it open the rest of the way and softly called his name after listening for sounds of distress. Hearing nothing and receiving no answer she walked into the room. The light from the street lamp shone in through the windows enough for her to see that his bed was empty. Becoming somewhat alarmed she exited Johnny’s bedroom and went to Scott’s.
“Scott! Scott wake up!” she called knocking on his door.
A tousle haired, sleepy eyed Scott answered her call similarly clad in a robe only he was barefoot.
“What is it Mrs. Talbot? What’s wrong?” he asked in concern.
“Johnny’s missing. He’s not in his room.”
“What?! He told me he was going to read a little bit and then go to bed,” Scott said. “I’ll strangle him! I swear I’ll strangle him! I knew he was up to something! Johnny doesn’t like to read much. It was a trick and I fell for it!”
“Scott you know where he went don’t you?”
“I suspect,” Scott answered reluctantly, “that he’s gone down to explore the Barbary Coast. He’s been wanting to go there ever since he found out we were coming here.”
“Oh dear! You mean he totally ignored our warnings?”
“Mrs. Talbot, my little brother is very good at hearing what he wants to hear. He heard us say it would be best if he stayed away but we never told him not to go at all. He’ll be lucky if I don’t wring his neck when I catch up with him!”
“Do you think you should go look for him?”
“I think I’d better – for your sake,” Scott smiled. “You can have the pleasure of reaming him out when we get back.”
Scott turned to go back to his bedroom to get dressed. Hardly had he done so and returned to the sitting room when the door opened and a very disheveled but grinning Johnny entered stopping up short when he saw the reception committee and the grim look on his brother’s face.
“Oh, hi,” he said the grin fading from his face.
“Is that all you have to say little brother?” Scott asked angrily. “’Hi’?”
“What else is there?”
“Do you mind telling us where you’ve been? As if I don’t know?”
“I went for a little walk,” Johnny said.
“To the Barbary Coast?”
“Yeah! Something wrong with that?” Johnny asked defiantly.
“Didn’t Mrs. Talbot and I both tell you to stay away from there?”
“No.” Johnny answered truthfully. “You just told me it would be a good idea and she said she didn’t want to go back home and explain to Murdoch how she came here with both of us and returned with only one of us.”
“What? I’m here ain’t I? And I’m in one piece.”
“I ought to wring your neck! You had Mrs. Talbot worried half to death!”
Suddenly Maura started laughing. The boys looked at her puzzled.
“You two! If you don’t sound just like my boys did! Blair hated to be bossed around by his brothers and let Rory and Kendall know it. And Ken thought it was his duty, as the eldest of the three, to keep his little brothers in line.” She laughed some more at the looks on Scott and Johnny’s faces. “You’re just like them!”
Johnny, in particular, looked very comical as she laughed at them. His hair was mussed, he had a slight bruise on his right cheek and his bolero jacket was extremely dusty. The comparison to Scott who, though he had dressed hastily, was as neatly clad as ever, was Maura’s undoing. Besides that there was the twinkle in Johnny’s eye. He was completely unrepentant for his little side trip.
“Well you might as well sit down and tell us what happened John,” Maura said. “You know you’ll spill the beans to me sooner or later if your brother doesn’t shake it out of you.”
“There ain’t much to tell,” Johnny said relieved that she, at least, wasn’t really mad at him. “I got a cab in front of the hotel but the driver wouldn’t take me all the way. He dropped me off a couple of blocks away at Stockton Street. I had to walk the rest of the way.” Johnny paused to reflect on his adventure. “I walked around some and had a drink in a couple of saloons down by the waterfront. Then two fellas decided they wanted what money I had on me. When I refused to give it to them they jumped me.” Grinning he added, “You should have been there Scott! It was a great fight until the police broke it up and hauled them off. I ain’t the first one they’ve tried that with.”
“And the police just let you go? What about your gun?”
“Oh, I had ta let them take it for now. The officer, I think he said his name was Muldoon, said I could pick it up at the station over on Van Ness tomorrow.”
Maura chuckled. “I’m just glad you’re all right Johnny but, please, don’t scare me like that again.”
“Don’t you think you’re letting him off a little easy Mrs. Talbot?” Scott asked their friend. “You were pretty worried when you woke up and he wasn’t there.”
“Gee, I’m sorry,” Johnny said contritely. “I didn’t mean to scare ya. It’s just that I’ve heard about the Barbary Coast ever since I came back to California and I just had to see it for myself.”
“It’s all right lad,” Maura said. “What you did isn’t anything any worse than what one of my three would have done.”
“Really? Your three would have done the same thing?”
“Oh I think so,” Maura said. “It might not have been a visit to a notorious section of a town or city but they’d still find something to get into.”
Seating himself in one of the chairs while Johnny pulled Maura toward the couch Scott said, “Since we’re all wide awake anyway why don’t you tell us about them?”
“Yeah,” Johnny chimed in. “We know very little about your boys except that they were about our age. And you used to come over to Lancer and visit my mother when I was a baby so that she could get some work done.”
“Aye, that I did lad,” Maura said with a smile. “Once you learned to walk, and you weren’t much more than a year old, there was no holding you back. You were forever under your poor mother’s feet or else you were missing and nobody knew where you were.”
“So tell us about them,” Johnny urged.
“What’s to tell?”
“What were their names? When and where were they born?” Scott prompted her.
“Well, my oldest son was Kendall James. He was born September 5, 1840 just a few years before you were born Scott. Only he was born at home at the Bar T. Rory Thomas was born December 10, 1841. He was born during one of the worst winter rainstorms the valley had seen since we moved here. Stubborn and independent he’d had his own way about his birth too! He couldn’t wait until the storm passed and let his poor father travel to Morro Coyo in decent weather to get Sam Jenkins. Oh no he waited until it was pitch black and the wind was howling and the rain was blowing all about and then decided that he wanted to enter this world. It took poor Alex hours to get to town and by the time he got back it was almost too late. Rory arrived about fifteen minutes after Sam did.”
“What about your youngest?” Johnny asked.
“That was Blair. Blair Patrick. He was born just eight days after my own birthday, March 25, 1845.”
“What were they like – these boys of yours?” Scott asked gently.
“Kendall, my oldest, he was good with people and with animals both. He grew up to be a tall blond just like his father. Only he had some reddish highlights in his hair. Dark blue eyes. A roguish smile. He’d get into some sort of mischief and I’d try to scold him but then he’d turn that smile on and my heart would just melt.”
“Sounds familiar,” Scott jibed. “Johnny does the same thing. I’ll bet he got away with a lot when he was little.”
“Oh my yes,” Maura said. “Johnny and Kendall adored each other. I’ve often wondered if Johnny learned that little trick from Ken.”
“I don’t remember that,” Johnny said.
“Of course not child,” Maura said. “You were only a baby and Kenny absolutely adored babies. You were the one he’d smile for all the time. And if he heard you crying he’d beg to hold you and you’d stop crying as soon as he had you in his arms or lap.”
“How did he manage that Mrs. Talbot?” Scott wanted to know.
“We never did figure that out, but we decided that Johnny just knew that Ken loved him and wouldn’t let anything happen to him. They became best pals for the two years that Johnny was at Lancer.”
“What about the other two?” Johnny prompted her.
“Blair was quiet, mannerly and studious. Much like your brother here he could often be found with his nose in a book when his chores were done and after dinner. He always did well in school. He enjoyed it and would have graduated from Yale if he hadn’t gone into the army. He was planning on being a lawyer and he would have been a good one. Once he got to talking it was hard to stop him. He talked his father and me out of many punishments for himself and his brothers with his gift of persuasion.”
“What did he look like?”
“Blair was a brunet with brown eyes. His brother Ken used to tell him he had doe eyes. Blair was quiet but that would set him off every time. He hated to be compared to a doe. All he could think of was that they were girls and he didn’t want to be thought of as girlish in any way whatsoever. We broke up many arguments over that.”
“Those two sound like they were quite a handful,” Scott remarked.
“Oh they were, they were,” Maura said, “but I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. It was just a part of their growing up. Ken grew to be about six feet tall but Blair gained a couple of inches on him to be as tall as his father. Ken had to back off a little when ‘little brother’ ended up being taller than he was. Up until that time he liked to call his brother ‘runt’ and that didn’t set very well.”
“Runt? Hmm,” Scott said with a twinkle in his eye. “ I’ll have to give that some thought. Could be a good nickname for Johnny seeing as he’s three inches shorter than I am and seven inches shorter than Murdoch.”
“And what about Rory?” Johnny asked with a threatening glare at his brother.
“Rory was my firecracker,” Maura said. “He had red hair and the temper to go with it. But with you he was always gentle no matter how many times your little hands got tangled up in his hair or you pulled at his nose or got underfoot. In fact all three of my boys loved you and would have loved to have you and Scott for playmates. They had each other and a few friends in town though. That seemed to satisfy them. They’d go fishing and hunting together. Nothing pleased them more than to catch a dozen trout and bring them home for me to cook.”
“What else?” Johnny wanted to know.
“Rory hated vegetables except for corn, butternut squash and carrots. His brothers were a little better about that. But they never cared for raw tomatoes. Fortunately an Italian immigrant I met in New York City taught me how to make something called marinara sauce and pasta and they’d eat that like it was going out of style.” Maura laughed. “Alex was the bad influence there – he visited Italy once when he was a teenager and fell in love with the food. He got acquainted with the folks in the Italian section of New York City and collected recipes. I’ll have to have you boys, your father and Teresa over for spaghetti and meatballs some night.”
“I’ve had it,” Scott said, “in the North End of Boston. It’s very good! Especially with crusty bread with lots of butter and grated Romano cheese on top of the marinara sauce.”
“As I was saying they had a strong dislike for the vegetables that were good for them but they were very fond of sweets. Blair had a definite weakness for butterscotch pie, Rory was very fond of chocolate – just as you are Johnny and Ken – well he just liked anything sweet. Anything chocolate, vanilla, lemon, sugar cookies, pound cake he’d devour as fast as I could make it. You name it I made it to keep up with them. And they were hard to keep filled up. They worked hard and they played hard and they were always hungry. It seemed that about the time they got into their teens they suddenly developed two hollow legs!”
“They sound like they were great boys,” Scott said. “I know it was very hard on you to lose them like you did.”
“Oh, Scott,” Maura said with a hint of unshed tears in her eyes. “You have no idea. Ken would have been twenty-five the September after the war ended. The other two were also in their early twenties. All three of them wanted to join the army as soon as they heard about the secession of the southern states but their father and I made them wait until they were of age. None of them ever got home again until the day we buried them in our little family plot on the North hill after they joined. They were too far away to get home and back to their units in time.”
Scott and Johnny both embraced her and steered the conversation back to happier times with the boys. Both swore to themselves that they’d find some way to honor the fallen sons. They figured a talk with Murdoch would help – he was bound to have an idea. After all he’d seen the boys grow up and leave home and had mourned them every bit as much as their parents had.
The next hour was spent reliving childhood and teenage years. Talk of the boys and their first ponies and the tricks they’d tried to teach the ranch dogs. Near misses with drowning and snakes and being caught out in storms. The Talbot boys had been very adventurous and their parents had sworn that they would turn gray before the boys grew up. Ken had fallen out of a tree and broken his right leg when he was eight. A tree he wasn’t even supposed to be in. Blair had tried to keep a mountain lion cub for a pet only to encounter an irate she lion that his father warned off after releasing the cub and with his son’s hand in his had backed away. Rory had had a passion for snakes, frogs, toads and other amphibious and reptilian creatures much to his mother’s dismay. She never knew what she’d find in his pockets when she undressed him for bed at night.
Ken had been a collector of arrowheads. Blair had a small rock collection but Rory collected junk that he found and traded for in one of the three towns whenever he was privileged to go with his father. Pieces of glass, string, marbles and all manner of odds and ends cluttered his room no matter how much his mother picked up. And he’d kick up a big fuss if she tried to discard any of it.
Finally, around one-thirty that morning the three travelers decided that it was time for bed. The boys were immensely happy to have had this chat with Maura. Now they understood more why she seemed to spoil them and dote on them more than anyone in the valley. But anyone who was the same approximate age as her dearly departed sons was always welcome in her home. And not just them. The Talbots were very gracious hosts and loved to have get togethers whenever their workload allowed it. The Lancers were always first and foremost on the guest list.
For the rest of their stay, two days to go, Johnny was very subdued. He’d come to realize that he had given Maura a fright and was truly sorry. He stuck close to her and Scott as they toured the city and had dinner at the Cliff House overlooking the bay on Thursday night.
Finally it was Friday. They had the morning and afternoon to themselves. However, the evening was the culmination of their visit with the dinner and dance, where Maura would be awarded her certificate in front of a crowd of influential Californians. Scott was sure the press would be there for it was a significant event and sponsored by one San Francisco newspaper with the editor of another one as one of the judges.
They were relaxing in the sitting room when there came a knock on the door. It was a bellboy from the hotel with a note and a package for Scott. He signed for them, gave the boy a generous tip and closed the door behind him.
“What’s in the note Scott?” Johnny the curious one asked.
“Hmm? Oh it’s just a note from a friend I plan on meeting while we’re here.”
“With the party tonight? When do you plan on meeting this ‘friend’?”
“At the party. He’s one of the attendees. I told him I’d look him up.” Scott planned on telling his brother everything as soon as they were alone. But right now Maura was sitting there reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men, which had been published in 1871.
An hour later Maura decided to put her book down and retire to her bedroom for a brief nap before taking a bath and washing her hair so she’d look just right for the party. It was then that Scott showed Johnny the necklace he’d bought for Maura from the two of them and Teresa. And he told him whom the “friend” was that he was meeting. It was their secret until they arrived at the dinner.
“Johnny? Are you ready yet brother?” Scott knocked on his brother’s door.
“Just about,” was the reply. “I’m having trouble with the studs on this shirt collar.”
“Scott! How handsome you look!” Maura exclaimed as she exited her own bedroom.
Scott was dressed in black wool trousers, a white ruffled shirt, a low cut, three-button white pique vest and a double-breasted frock coat with long tails. On his feet he wore low-heeled, low cut slip on pumps. Around his neck was a bright red ascot tie. A gold watch was in the pocket of his vest and the chain reached across the front of it from one pocket to the other. Contrary to his brother’s teasing suggestions of earlier that week he was not going to wear a top hat and carry a cane. He would wear a black wool cape lined with scarlet satin. Nights were rather chilly in foggy San Francisco.
Then Johnny came out of his room also wearing black wool trousers but, contrary to popular style, he was wearing a bright blue shirt with pleats rather than ruffles. Maura had compromised since he’d been so reluctant to wear a fancy suit to begin with. He wore a frock coat with squared tails and short boots rather than pumps. He wasn’t wearing a vest either – it wasn’t his style any more than this was and, again, Maura had agreed. She didn’t want him to be completely miserable.
“Johnny, dear, you look splendid!” she exclaimed when she set eyes on him.
“Thanks,” he said with a grimace. “No offense, Miz Talbot, but I sure will be glad when this is over and done with. I feel ridiculous – like some eastern dandy or something.”
“You’ll survive,” Maura said with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s only for one night. Tomorrow you can wear your old clothes again when we leave for home.”
“And might I say,” Scott interjected, “that you look lovely tonight Mrs. Talbot? Don’t you agree Johnny?”
“Huh?” Johnny was absorbed in his efforts to finish fastening his studs and squirming a little at the snug fit of the coat. He finally focused his attention on Maura as the petite redheaded Irishwoman fastened his studs for him and adjusted the coat so that it didn’t fit so snugly. Johnny obviously had no concept of how to dress in fancy clothes. She loved him, dearly, in spite of it. With Johnny what you saw was what you got and that was all there was to it. “Oh, yeah! You look very nice yourself Miz Talbot.”
“Thank you boys. That’s very sweet of you.”
Maura was wearing a simply-styled royal blue brocaded dress with a full skirt, high square neckline and puffed sleeves that came down about to her elbows. Several taffeta petticoats were worn underneath to make the skirt look even fuller but she wore no bustle. Maura was an unpretentious woman and felt that bustles were a ridiculous invention. On her feet she wore black kid slippers with low heels. Her hair was piled up on her head and fastened in place with several gold combs. Tiny sapphire earrings in gold settings dangled from her ears.
Reaching into his coat pocket. Scott smiled and handed a small package to her. “This is a little something from me, Johnny and Teresa. You’re to wear it tonight.”
Opening the box Maura found a gold Claddagh pendant on a long chain. On the pendant were a tiny garnet, an amethyst and a diamond chip – the birthstones of Scott, Johnny and Teresa. While not her birth children they were as dear to her as her own boys had been and she was as dear to them as their own mothers. Especially Scott who’d never known his mother at all. Teresa’s mother had abandoned her and Paul when Teresa was very small and Johnny hadn’t had a mother since he was ten years old. They were family without being related. It was while Johnny had been getting fitted for his suit that Scott had found a jeweler that sold Irish jewelry and had the necklace customized with the birthstone chips.
“Oh, boys! It’s beautiful!” Maura started to cry again as she had the day they had ridden to the Bar T to tell her about the contest they had won.
“Now, don’t be cryin’,” Johnny said. “I got all dressed up to go to this here shindig and I don’t want my ‘girl’ to have red eyes and a messy face,” he joked as he fastened the clasp of the necklace behind her neck and gave her a kiss.
“No need to be sorry,” Scott said. “Now wipe your face madam,” he said with a smile and a kiss to her cheek, “and let’s be on our way. We don’t want the ‘Woman of the Year’ to be late for her own party!”
So saying Scott picked up his cape and put it on and then draped Maura’s black, fringed silk shawl around her shoulders. Johnny was wearing a black great coat that Mr. Kennedy had altered to fit him. They’d found it in one of the bigger department stores in the city.
When they arrived at the ballroom of the hotel where the dinner and dance were to be held Johnny was overwhelmed at the sight. In fact, he was practically speechless.
“I ain’t never seen anything like this before,” he whispered to his brother who seemed unfazed by the sight.
Wood paneling shone in the light cast by the ten six-armed gas chandeliers that hung, five to a side, down from the fifteen-foot high ceiling. Two six-foot long tables draped with cheery red tablecloths were festooned with white roses and yellowy-white orange blossoms. A small hurricane lamp with a single red candle in it adorned the center of each of the smaller tables for parties of six that were for the other guests and the press as the larger tables were for the guests of honor and the committee and spouses.
The tables were set with crystal glasses and well-polished silverware. The smell of roast pork, potatoes and gravy wafted from the kitchen as the doors opened and closed while black-coated waiters set baskets of fresh rolls and dishes of butter on the tables. Silver pitchers filled with icy cold water were in place as well.
When the Lancers and Maura Talbot entered the room Mrs. Stanford and the other committee members immediately escorted them to the head table and made sure they were comfortable. Within fifteen minutes everyone who had been invited was seated at his or her respective tables and the meal was served. Johnny was still nervous about having so many pieces of flatware to use but Scott coached him quietly by pointing and getting his attention as he picked up his own for each of the courses. The dishes used to serve the meal were Bavarian china in a green, gold, black and white plaid pattern. The plaid being around the rim of each dish and the top of the creamers and sugar bowls.
At long last dinner was over. Everyone had had their fill of the marvelous roast pork and topped it off with cherries jubilee. The flaming brandy had startled Johnny but when he saw that his brother and Maura were not unnerved by their dessert being on fire he relaxed. Everything about this dinner was a novel experience for him.
At long last Mr. Edward Miller, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, rose to address the crowd. Standing behind the podium he tapped his water glass with his knife until he got the crowd to stop talking among themselves. Everyone’s attention was drawn to him and gradually the clinking of silverware and the hum of the chatter of those in the room ceased.
“Good evening everyone. As you know we are here tonight to honor a woman, chosen by Rev. Bradley, Mrs. Stanford, Mayor Turner, Chief Gordon and myself, for her selfless work in her community, regardless of cost to herself.
“Mrs. Maura Talbot was nominated by Mr. Scott Lancer and his brother Mr. John Lancer, for the things she has done for them and for their local communities of Morro Coyo, Green River, and Spanish Wells. I would like to read for you the letter they wrote nominating her.”
He proceeded to do just that.
“’Dear Sirs and Madam,’” he read. “’We would like to nominate Mrs. Maura Catherine Talbot for Woman of the Year. Mrs. Talbot has lived in our part of the San Joaquin Valley for thirty years now and has devoted herself to her husband and their ranch, which neighbors ours. Mrs. Talbot and her husband raised three sons only to lose them, one by one, in the war, which just ended a few years ago.
“She did not lose herself in mourning though. She works hard at doing for other people. She decorates the sanctuary of the local mission with fresh flowers from her garden every week and she’s not even Catholic. She takes gifts of toys and baked goods to the local orphanage at least once a month. She does this out of love for the children and not because it makes her look good or she wants them to feel obligated to her for anything. We know that she contributes at least half of her ‘butter and egg’ money to both the mission and the orphanage.
“In the last couple of years she has treated us for gunshot wounds, influenza complicated by pneumonia, broken bones, lingering colds and fevers and many other injuries or illnesses. She works with our local doctor, Sam Jenkins, in his office several days a week while still attending to her housework and gardening.
“Perhaps because she is Irish and has seen prejudice first hand she has gone out of her way to make all of the residents of the three towns, regardless of their skin color or nationality, feel as if they are important to her. When she arrived in this country signs were up in store windows everywhere saying ‘No Irish Need Apply’. Yet she did not let this stop her. She eventually found work in a dress shop until she married her husband Jim.
“She treats us as if we were her own and, small though she may be, has managed to bully our father, who is six-foot-five into telling us about our mothers and how they met. It was her ‘bill’ for nursing us through the pneumonia that almost killed us. She had sacrificed almost two months of her time nursing us when she could have left us in the hands of our family and employees because Dr. Jenkins was tied up with a mining disaster.
“I, Scott, never knew my mother as she died within a day of my birth. I was raised by my maternal grandfather back in Boston. As much as I hate to admit it I actually got more affection from some of the servants than my grandfather. But none of them could take the place of my mother whom I would never know.
“I, Johnny, lost my mother when I was ten years old. She took me from my home when I was no more than two years old and for a long time after she died I drifted around the border towns becoming a fast gun for hire known as ‘Johnny Madrid’. Then the Pinkertons found me and I came back to the home I hadn’t seen for twenty years. Mrs. Talbot has never treated me any differently because of my mother being Mexican than she treats Scott or anyone else. To her I’m not a ‘half-breed’ I’m just Johnny Lancer – Murdoch Lancer’s younger son. She’s always teasing me about getting my hair cut when she thinks it’s getting too long.
“When Scott was sick with a cold, I, Johnny, teased him a lot about not being able to talk. Mrs. Talbot helped him pay me back for all that teasing by setting me up for the pie-eating contest at our big county fair. And it made a mess of me too!’”
This statement drew chuckles from much of the audience. Many of them had small children and those that didn’t had watched, or participated in, many a pie-eating contest so they knew just what Johnny was saying.
“When Scott was on trial for murder not too long ago the Talbots, especially Mrs. Talbot, declared their undying belief in his innocence. Even though they were supposed to be the most important witnesses for the prosecution. Mrs. Talbot even scolded the prosecutor while she was on the witness stand.
“’In short, folks, we think that Mrs. Talbot is the perfect, and only, choice for Woman of the Year. She’s done so much for us without asking for anything in return and we couldn’t love her more if she were our own mother’.”
When he was through the room broke into spontaneous applause for five minutes. Finally Miller got the room quieted down again.
“It is with great pleasure,” he said, “that we introduce to you Mrs. Maura Talbot – our Woman of the Year. Mrs. Talbot? Would you join me here please?”
Maura, with a rustle of her petticoats and tears running down her face from hearing those beautiful words, rose and was escorted to the podium by Scott and Johnny who were beaming with pride. When she got there Miller gave a signal to someone.
“Mrs. Talbot we understand that you made this trip with the Lancer boys and left your husband at home. Well, we have a surprise for you.” Gesturing to his left he drew her attention to a tall blond man with a touch of silver at his temples approaching the group. “Scott Lancer asked the committee to send for your husband so that he could share in this moment. We thought it was a reasonable request so here he is.”
Maura gasped when she saw her beloved husband approach, dressed much the same as Scott only with square coattails rather than the long ones the older Lancer son was wearing.
“Hello Maura my love,” Jim smiled. “Are you happy to see me?”
“Oh, Alex,” she murmured. “You’ll never know.”
“Mrs. Talbot,” Miller said gently, “could we have your attention for just another moment?”
Maura wiped her tears away and turned back to the speaker.
“It gives me great pleasure to present this certificate as ‘Woman of the Year’ to Mrs. Maura Talbot of Morro Coyo, California,” Miller announced to the crowd that was gathered.
The audience rose to their feet and started applauding as Maura was rewarded with kisses from the boys and her husband and they each received one in return. She was beaming, blushing and crying all at the same time, which only made her husband and the Lancer boys, laugh and tease her. And that made her scold them in the Irish for all the good it did her for they laughed even harder.
started playing a popular waltz and everyone in the audience waited expectantly
for the guest of honor to choose her escort to whom she would grant the first
dance. Of course there was no
question in the minds of Maura, Jim or the Lancers as to who that would be and
Maura and Jim started toward the dance floor to lead it off.
Everyone, but especially Johnny and Scott, beamed as the diminutive
redhead danced with her tall, blond Prince Charming – the love of her life.
Her husband of thirty-five years. The
light from the gleaming chandeliers bounced off the gold combs in her hair and
twinkled off the stones in her necklace.
I’ll always remember the song they were playing
The first time we danced and I knew
As we swayed to the music and held to each other
I fell in love with you
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life
Would you be my partner every night
When we’re together it feels so right
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life
I’ll always remember that magic moment
When I held you close to me
As we moved together, I knew forever
You’re all I’ll ever need
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life
Would you be my partner every night
When we’re together if feels so right
Could I have this dance for the rest of my life
Could I Have This Dance
Top Bilboard position #3 in 1980
“Johnny, wake up. We’re pulling into Cross Creek now,” Scott shook his little brother.
The brunet’s sapphire blue eyes fluttered open and he sat up yawning.
“Finally!” he exclaimed. “I swear traveling by train is lots harder than camping out on the trail!”
Jim Talbot, seated with his wife across from the Lancers laughed.
“You’re right about that Johnny. Just be glad you’re so much shorter than your brother and I are. Your legs don’t get as cramped as ours do.” Turning to his wife he said, “Ready to go home my love?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “San Francisco was lovely and I enjoyed myself with the boys but I’ll be glad to get back home to my own house and bed and normal routine.”
The train finally came to a halt with a screech of brakes, hiss of released steam and clanging of the bell. The Lancer and Talbot men retrieved the luggage and they made their way off the train and onto the platform at the station. Jelly was there with the surrey hitched to the same pair of bay Clydesdales that he had driven them to the station in nearly a week ago.
“Well, I see you’re all back in one piece,” Jelly said as he met them descending from their car. “Did these two young whippersnappers give ya any trouble on the way back Mr. Talbot?”
Jim replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Nothing I couldn’t handle Jelly. And if I couldn’t Maura could.”
Scott and Johnny just rolled their eyes. They were quite used to this type of conversation taking place between the Talbots and Jelly or Murdoch every time they got together.
“You know something Jelly?” Scott said with a twinkle in his own eye. “You’re nosy.”
“Why you….” Jelly wasn’t ready for that nonsense to start up again so soon.
“Scott!” Maura exclaimed. “That’s enough and Johnny,” she continued seeing the younger Lancer about to add his own comments, “don’t you even get started.”
The two young men ceased their comments out of respect for her but they both knew, as did Maura, that there would be comments made later when she couldn’t hear them. Johnny and Scott helped Jelly load the bags into the back of the surrey and then climbed in with the Talbots while Jelly ascended to the driver’s seat and started off in the direction of the two ranches.
When they got to the crossroads where the road forked, the south branch going toward Lancer and the west fork going toward the Bar T, Jelly kept going straight down the south road.
“Jelly? Why are you going this way?” Maura wanted to know. “The Bar T is in the other direction.”
“Yes, ma’am I know,” Jelly replied with a wink at Jim Talbot. “But they’s a special reason we’re taking this here little detour. You’ll see soon enough.”
“But I want to get home,” Maura said distressed. “It’s been almost a week.”
“Maura, dear, relax,” her husband said. “I’m sure Jelly has a perfectly valid reason for going to Lancer first. In fact I know he does and you will too as soon as we get there.”
Half an hour later they drove under the Lancer arch. As they approached the house they could hear music and laughter and saw lanterns hanging from rope that had been strung from the house to the trees and back in the yard. Murdoch and Teresa approached as they saw the surrey drive up.
“Welcome home everyone!” Murdoch boomed. “Did you have a good trip?”
“Yes,” Jim replied. “But my wife here is eager to get home. I’m afraid she’s a little put out with Jelly for not going to the Bar T first.” He winked at Murdoch who grinned back at him.
“Oh, well I’m sorry Maura,” he said with as straight a face as he could manage. I asked Jelly to bring you here first.”
“Oh you men!” Teresa scolded. “Mrs. Talbot this party is for you! We all wanted to congratulate you on winning that contest and do something for you. I talked Murdoch into throwing this party and we told Jelly to bring you here before you went home.”
Maura stared in astonishment as her husband and Murdoch and even Jelly started laughing at her. She got down from the surrey with her husband’s assistance and the group headed toward the patio where the party was taking place.
A huge banner, black letters on white paper, hanging over the door read “Welcome Home Woman of the Year Maura Talbot”. The first guests to approach the group as they joined the party were Sam Jenkins and Val Crawford, sheriff of Green River.
“Welcome home Maura!” Sam said with a smile and a kiss to her cheek. “I’ve missed my nurse these last few days.”
“Welcome home Miz Talbot,” Val said. “It looks like you survived in spite of the company you had to keep.”
“Thank you Sam,” Maura said. “Now Val Crawford that’s not nice and unless you want me to start using your proper name in front of this crowd you’ll mind your manners.”
“Yes ma’am,” the gruff younger man said. “Howdy Johnny, Scott. How was life in the big city?”
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you Val,” Scott said. “I’ll let little brother here tell you all about it. I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing about his escapades. Of course I will have pictures of him in a suit for you to see when I get them from the Chronicle.”
“A suit? Johnny Madrid in a suit?” Val laughed. “If they’re any good make sure I get a copy. That’s one I’ll treasure.”
“No you won’t!” Johnny exclaimed. “You ain’t never gonna see that picture – ever! And if Scott thinks he can get one to you without me knowin’ about it he’s got another thing coming!”
Val and Scott just laughed as Johnny ranted and raved about that. Both men knew that, one way or another, there was no doubt that Scott would get a copy of that picture to Val. It was too good an opportunity to miss.
The boys wandered over to the bench outside the kitchen door to wash up before joining their guests. Johnny got a quick peck on the cheek and Scott a pat on the cheek from Maria, the housekeeper, before being shooed away from the kitchen to join the party. No time for any nonsense when she had people to feed.
“Folks, could I have your attention please?” Murdoch asked.
When all had quieted down and were focused on their hosts he made his little speech.
“I wanted to thank you all for coming on such short notice and especially thank the ladies who helped Teresa and Maria put this party together. They could never have had all the food and drinks and decorating done if you hadn’t all pitched in.” Picking up a glass of punch and ensuring that everyone around him had one he said, “Ladies and gentleman I give you Morro Coyo’s own Maura Talbot, Woman of the Year.”