With apologies to my 'sisters' and 'cousins' . . . lol . . .you know who you are!
Teresa O'Brien was a gracious hostess, and everything in the great room at Lancer reflected that as the room hummed softly with the chatter of feminine voices. The ornate wood work gleamed benevolently in the pale afternoon sunshine, buffed and polished to within an inch of its life. The air was fragrant with the scent of freshly cut flowers, artfully arranged in vases and placed strategically around the room.
The gentlewomen of the District Ladies Circle sat decorously on chairs and sofas in their Sunday best attire; not unlike cut blooms themselves, chintz and tarlatan skirts spread out around them like blowsy peony petals.
Teacups rattled and china plates were passed. The ladies had quilted, swapped recipes, and dealt with the somewhat ticklish task of selecting a new committee for the Spring Fayre. It was down to serious business now as the conversation moved onto more interesting matters, the topic of choice being instigated in the main by Miss Clara Godrich from Philadelphia, who was once more visiting her aunt in Morro Coyo.
Clara looked at Teresa, her lips parted in rapt interest. "So Tessa dear, just how big is it exactly?"
Teresa thought hard for a moment as she considered the question carefully. "Well, I suppose it must be at least nine inches long, maybe ten . . ."
Clara's eyes widened, "that long?"
"Oh yes." Teresa nodded definitely. "I've looked at it really carefully when he takes it out," she paused, "of course, he doesn't like to get it out in public very often. Especially not in front of me. I don't know why not, but I can guess."
"He's most likely ashamed of it," said Jane Hutt briskly. "And so he should be, nasty, dirty thing . . ."
"But he's so good with it," murmured Miss Cottar dreamily. "He wields it like Sir Lancelot - just like a big sword."
"Oh really, Amelia," tutted Miss Ellen, as she shook her head and wondered for the umpteenth time about the secret passions that raged in Miss Cottars breast. Amelia really should stop sending for all those dubious bodice-ripping novels from San Francisco and stick to making jam. It was far safer for a spinster, having reached that 'uncertain' age. She cast her a reproving look. "Just because he's good with it doesn't mean we all want to see him in action."
"I don't know . . ." Clara bit her lip hastily. "I should like to see him draw it out and hold it in his hand."
"Clara!" Miss Ellen rapped her knuckles sharply. "It's no sight for a gently bred young lady like yourself, and you shouldn't even be thinking of things like that. It isn't fitting."
Clara made a slight face. "I didn't say I wanted him to use it."
"He takes very good care of it," interrupted Teresa hastily, as she watched Miss Ellen frown at Clara once again. "He's always handling it whenever he has a minute, he treats it with such loving care. . ." She smiled reminiscently, and shook her head. " He always insists on using the softest piece of leather to wipe it clean when he's used it, any old rag just won't do. I offered to clean it for him once, but he prefers to do it himself."
"Does he let you touch it, Cherie?" Lili Tigg asked curiously in her soft, French accent. "I know some men can be very sensitive about that."
Teresa shook her head decisively. "No - I did put my hand on it once but he stopped me straight away. He got all stiff with me, so red-faced and rigid, I thought he'd explode . . ."
Clara shuddered delicately. "He might have used it on you."
Amelia Cottar choked and spluttered on a piece of cake, and everyone looked at her disapprovingly.
"Well really, Amelia . . ."
"You shouldn't gobble so . . ."
"Careful don't choke on it, dear . . ."
Miss Cottar flushed bright scarlet. "I do beg your pardon, ladies. Please excuse me . . . it was just the thought of him pointing it at Teresa."
Teresa smiled gently and shook her head. "There was a time I worried he might be tempted to use it on Murdoch."
"On Murdoch?" Miss Ellen was aghast. "His own father? Why, it's positively unnatural!"
"Thing were so hard between them at first," said Teresa with a slight frown. "They were always rubbing each other up the wrong way, and things came to a head several times. I really thought they might boil over, but thank goodness Murdoch's softened now."
"How does he keep it clean?" Clara changed the subject and steered the conversation back to the subject that really interested her again. "Does he wash it?"
"No." Teresa took a sip of her tea. "He always rubs it with oil. He does it so often that it's smooth from years of use. Satiny to the touch."
Clara's bosom heaved. "Oh, I wish he'd let me touch it just this once, to hold it in my hand, all nine inches of it . . ."
"Maybe longer," sighed Amelia Cottar wistfully. "To actually hold the legendary Johnny Madrid's . . ."
"Amelia!" Hissed Miss Ellen warningly.
Miss Cottar took a hurried mouthful of tea, cheeks unbecomingly pink as she replaced the china cup back into the saucer with a shaky hand. She stared back a little defiantly, and straightened her shoulders.
"Well, of course, one is always aware of it whenever one sees him."
Raelinda House agreed. "My eyes just seem to be drawn to it."
"Hard to miss it," agreed Lili nodding her head. "Shows up so nicely against those fancy pants of his, n'est pas?"
"Yes it does," Amelia was in her element now. "I always wonder if he's aware of it slapping constantly against his thigh?"
"I doubt it," said Winifreda Plenty, speaking up for the first time as she put down her pen and paper and gave up writing the minutes. Winifreda was the fastest note taker in the whole ladies guild, and known for her quick penmanship. "It must be a extension of him by now. Even something as deadly as that."
"And as for slapping against his thigh," said Teresa earnestly, "He always straps it down. He ties it to his thigh with a strip of leather."
"Doesn't that make it harder to use?" Mary Jane Scott asked quizzically.
But again, Teresa knew the answer to this. "No, apparently not. Easier in fact - it holds it down where he needs it and stops it jiggling about."
"Speaking of deadly," Raelinda looked perplexed. "How in heaven does he stop it from going off accidentally? Things could get very messy if that were to happen."
Jane Hutt nodded breathlessly. "Oh yes, Teresa. I'm sure I don't understand about things like that. How 'do' men control the nasty things - they're so unpredictable!"
"Not really," said Teresa patiently. "Don't forget that Johnny's had years of practise with his. It's something to do with the way he pulls it out - the way he grips it in his hand, it must be firm but gentle. If he squeezes it too hard, it doesn't have the maximum effect, just a small amount of pressure makes it fire."
Queenie Payne smiled knowingly. "My husband Pat always said the grip's the most important thing. Too loose and the aim will be off because it droops. Too tight, and you could fire too soon."
"Don't forget the cock," said Verna Rumm forthrightly. "There's always the cock."
Miss Ellen cleared her throat deliberately and glared at the unrepentant Verna. "Yes, well, Verna. I'm er . . .sure none of us forgot about that."
Her frown widened as she wondered if Verna had been at the applejack again, shuddering delicately as she remembered the incident with the pliers at the last Harvest Home Supper. She wasn't sure if Morro Coyo would ever recover from that little fiasco and she still had doubts about Verna's suitability for the Ladies Guild.
"None of us should ever forget the cock." Poppy English was speaking now in her clear, melancholy accent. "If only my poor dear Horace hadn't, then perhaps I needn't have buried him." She sighed mournfully. "Of course, it didn't have any bearing on poor Geoffrey's death - now there was a man who never forgot the cock . . ."
"Very tragic, I'm sure," said Miss Ellen hurriedly, as she tried to change the subject. Poppy had a habit of killing off her men. She'd buried three of them now, and was perpetually dressed in black. However, from a fiscal point of view, Poppy had prospered, and it was rumoured that she eventually planned to sail back to her native Britain, and set up an establishment in London.
Miss Clara looked enquiringly at Verna. "The cock? Pray tell me, what's the cock?"
Teresa began to speak as Verna grinned. "Oh, it's er . . .very important. You have to place your thumb on it and pull it back gently in order to fire. Johnny's an expert in getting it just right. He can time it to perfection."
"Which gets back to what my Pat says about the grip," said Queenie triumphantly. "You need just the right amount of pressure to achieve the desired result."
Clara looked thoughtful as she took a sip of her tea. "I should really like to learn how to do that. Imagine what a useful skill it be."
"No skill a gently bred young lady like you should learn, Clara," reprimanded Miss Ellen, crossly. "Men can't help it - it's part of their nature. As women, we should try to rise above such things . . . to curb that wanton side of them and help them devote more time to gentler pursuits."
"Like us, for instance," laughed Winifreda Plenty. "It sure would be nice if they devoted as much time to us as they did to their . . ."
"Huh - hum!" Miss Ellen cleared her throat hastily and glared at her. "Thank you dear, I think we all agree."
"Mais vraiment." Lili Tigg nodded her head, eyes sparkling with laughter as she caught Verna's glinting, sidelong glance. "If only."
There was a polite rustle of skirts as the ladies re-settled themselves and Miss Clara placed her teacup down on the tray. "Well, I should still like to learn how - perhaps Johnny would let me hold his while I'm here, Teresa?"
Teresa tried to consider. "Maybe, if you asked him. But he's so attached to it. I've seen him stroke it sometimes - when he thinks no one is looking. I swear he even talks to it."
Winifreda nodded in agreement. "Knew a man once who called his 'Big Frank'."
"And the Marshal of Maguire calls his 'Driller'," added Queenie dryly, "although I don't think he's 'drilled' much in quite a while now."
"Well, that figures," said Mary Jane Scott, acidly. "The man drinks like a fish. I'm surprised he's capable of finding it, let alone using it for anything."
"Sounds like my Horace," murmured Poppy glumly. "Only used it once or twice a year, and the last time he got it out, it killed him. It just goes to show they should practise everyday with it."
Teresa looked up sharply as she heard the back door slam and the clink of a spur rowel on the flagstones. "Why, I think that's Johnny now. Perhaps if we ask him, he'll take it out so we can look at it."
"Oh, yes please," said Miss Cottar breathlessly, as they all looked expectantly towards the archway and watched as a figure appeared through it.
Johnny stopped short when he entered the room. A slight edge of panic flaring briefly on his face as the ladies of the Guild all turned to regard him. He was hot and dusty from a day on the range, salmon shirt undone to his navel and brown chest slick with sweat. There was a collective intake of breath from the ladies as they withheld him, and he reached hurriedly for his buttons, casting a slightly reproachful look at Teresa as he fumbled to do them up again.
Miss Clara couldn't help sighing in disappointment, watching sadly as the delightful view disappeared. "Good day, Mister Lancer. We were just talking about you."
Johnny ran his hand through his hair and nodded his head at the little audience. "Buenas dias, Ladies. If you'll all excuse me . . ."
"Oh, don't go, Johnny." Verna smiled at him warmly and patted the empty space beside her on the sofa. "You look like you could use a sit down, and there's a little something you can settle for us ladies."
Miss Ellen frowned at her quellingly. "I'm sure Johnny would rather freshen up."
"Yep," he nodded gratefully at her and began to slide towards the archway in an attempt to escape. "Wouldn't want to interrupt your tea-party, Ladies." His voice died in his throat as he became slowly aware that all the ladies were staring at him intently.
To be even more precise, they were all staring, not at his face, but at a rather more delicate part of his anatomy. Twelve collective pairs of eyes all riveted to the area below his belt buckle. He froze instinctively, eyes slanting into a slow catlike smile as he cleared his throat a little and thrust his hips to the side.
"What er . . . was it you wanted me to help you Ladies with?"
"We wanted you to show it to us, Johnny." Winifreda's voice was just over an octave higher as her cheeks pinked-up becomingly. "Teresa says it's at least nine inches long."
Johnny's smile stretched lazily. "Nearer ten, I guess."
Miss Clara's eyes widened. "Ten! Could I . . . would you let me hold it?"
He focused that intense blue gaze on her, and shook his head reflectively. "I don't know about that. It's a mighty powerful tool in the hands of someone inexperienced. Liable to go off at anytime - and it sure aint loaded with blanks."
Miss Clara made a moue of disappointment. "Not even if I was gentle?"
Johnny thought about it for a second and shook his head firmly. "Nope. It's way too sensitive. Wouldn't want any nasty accidents."
Jane Hutt nodded grudgingly at him, her plain face still set in rigid lines of disapproval. "I agree. It's far more sensible to keep something as dangerous and unpredictable as that tucked away safely out of sight. I said before I don't hold with them, and I stand by that."
Johnny raised an eyebrow at her. "I guess you've never used one, Ma'am?"
"No," she reddened forthrightly. "I never intend to, either."
He nodded enigmatically at her. "It figures."
"You don't know what you're missing," trilled Verna, her eyes still riveted to the top of Johnny's thighs. "They feel pretty good in your hand, smooth as satin but all that power . . ." She sighed and her voice trailed off regretfully.
"Oh, please Mister Lancer?" Pleaded Clara unashamedly, "Please let me hold your gun?"
There was a deep silence for thirty seconds - so quiet you could have heard a pin drop as she blushed under Johnny's smoky, roguish regard.
"My gun?" He drawled eventually, with a wicked
look in his eye; "you Ladies were talkin' about my gun?"
The Morro Coyo Ladies Guild - Minutes of the Meeting held March 23rd, 1872.
1. The Mission Orphan's Fund - Mrs Ellen Godrich
2. Pickling - Mrs Verna Rumm
3. The Temperance Society - Miss Jane Hutt
4. The Morro Coyo and District Spring Fayre - Miss Teresa O'Brien
5. Improvements to the Undertaking Parlour - Widow Poppy English
6. The Fallen Gentlewoman's Shelter - Miss Winifreda Plenty
7. Corporal Punishment - Mrs Queenie Payne
8. Mister Johnny Lancer's Weapon - Miss Clara Godrich
Proposed Agenda for Meeting to be held; April 13th, 1872.
1. Mister Scott Lancer's weapon - Proposer, Mrs Mary
2. French Lessons - Proposer, Mrs Lili Tigg
3. The Town Cantina - Proposer, Mrs Verna Rumm
4. Town Dogs - Proposer, Mrs Raelinda House
Nothing further tabled. Please contact Miss Winifreda
Plenty with additional agenda items before; April 6th, 1872.
THE END . . .
Lisa Paris - 2003.