The first part is The Saint Anne
This is part 2
Part 3 is Red Sky at Night
For those that haven't read The Saint Anne is in the files. You may want to read that first.
Thank you to Cat and Anne, whose patience and skill knows no bounds. Thank you for all your hard work. The mistakes belong to me alone.
A Sinking Feeling
The wagon bumped and clunked along the rutted road that ran from the beach to the tiny strip of homes and businesses and hotels that overlooked the bay. It took less then twenty minutes to get there and then the horses came to a stop before a small hotel with faded white shutters and pale green paint.
Murdoch was the first off the wagon and stood at the tailgate, waiting for Johnny and Scott to make their ungraceful exit.
Johnny took a shuddering breath as he gripped the side of the wagon, making sure that his legs would support his weight. He looked up at the hotel and his gaze lingered on the wide porch and its seven steps that led to the front door. A black crepe wreath hung on the door in remembrance of all those that had died. Closing his eyes, Johnny took one more deep breath, marshalling his energy to climb the stairs. Silently Scott stood at his elbow, not touching him, but lending his assistance if needed or wanted.
"Ready to go inside?" Murdoch gently nodded toward the front door.
"I'm sure ready to get out of these wet clothes." Johnny tugged at his shirt, even though the shirt was the only thing that was mostly dry. Together the three of them moved up the wide stairs and into the front room of the little hotel.
Murdoch went in first to talk to the owner of the hotel, a strong-willed widow who had opened her home to guests when her fisherman husband died at sea leaving her alone to raise three children. The building currently was housing twenty-two people – twenty-three once Johnny checked in.
Scott stood beside Johnny at the bottom of the stairs. It was easy to see the fatigue in his brother's stance, but the younger man reached deep inside and put his bare foot on the green carpeted tread and made his ascent to the room on the second floor.
The bedroom was small, designed for one guest. A second mattress, thick with dried sea grass and covered with clean sheets and a blanket had been set on the floor. It made the small room seem even smaller.
Scott sat on the bed and then made a graceful roll to bring his legs over and avoid navigating the narrow floor space to get to the window. He pulled back the curtain to let in a sliver of pale light from the setting sun and stayed there, looking out the window over the back garden.
"I don't have anything to change into." Johnny moved to sit on the bed and then pulled himself upright. His leather trousers were still wet and he didn't want to get the bedspread damp.
"I'll see if I can get something for you." Murdoch was in the doorway, having come up the back stairs. "Supper will be ready soon. I'll be back as quick as I can so we can eat." He pulled the door shut and the two brothers stood together in silence as they listened to the heavy tread on the stairs.
"You'd best get out of those clothes," Scott continued to stare out the window.
"Put the lamp on will you? I'm not ready to be in the dark."
"Was it bad?" Scott turned away from whatever had been holding his attention and stepped on the edge of the mattress to light the overhead lamp. When he got no answer he tried again. "Was it bad out there? Alone, in the dark."
Johnny had heard the question the first time and focused his attention on pushing the small wooden buttons through the damp buttonholes. "Some good, some bad. I can tell you, I don't want to do it again."
Scott chuckled and pulled up the chimney and after striking a match with his thumbnail, lit the wick.
"There's a time between when the sun sets and the moon rises when it's very dark. Fill the basin, will you? I need to see if I can get some of this salt off my skin." Johnny had given up unbuttoning the shirt and was now pulling it off over his head.
Scott wasn't completely unprepared for the change of topic. He shook the match out and tossed the stick into a tiny brass can near a battered dresser. Filling the basin he then took the pitcher out to the barrel in the hall to refill it. When he came back Johnny had wrapped a towel around his waist and was running a damp cloth up and down his arms.
"Can I help?" Scott felt useless standing there with the pitcher, but tread carefully about intruding on Johnny's ablutions. Surreptitiously he took in the myriad of bruises that covered his brother's torso and one colorful one on his brother’s calf. Scott knew had a few matching ones of his own.
"Gotta tub with you?"
"No, but I could use one myself." Scott sat on the bed and toed off his boots before resting his legs on the coverlet. It, too, had seen better days, but he wasn't complaining. He scrunched up two small feather pillows and put them against the headboard and then rested his back against them.
As Johnny bathed, Scott took in the room. Murdoch had acquired it the day he'd arrived. This metal bedstead was where Murdoch had slept; Scott and Johnny would be sleeping on the mattress on the floor. The room was clean and the sheets were fresh washed and a small picture of a young girl in a patch of daisies hung beside the window adding a little cheer to the room. It looked like what it was: a small hotel, at the edge of town, being used far beyond its capacity.
Scott had been amazed, when he'd had time to notice, of just how many people had turned out to help and open their homes providing food and shelter for the survivors. Now he sat back and watched as Johnny finished up with the best bath he was likely to get until they got to San Francisco and used a second towel to dry his skin.
"Poor this over my head, will you?" Johnny waved the half-filled pitcher in Scott's direction. Setting it down, Johnny picked up the basin and moved to the window. Checking to be sure there was nothing below in any danger of getting soaked, he tossed the contents over the lawn.
Scott moved up beside Johnny as he stuck his upper body out the window and emptied what was left of the water in the pitcher over the dark head. Johnny scrubbed at his hair as the water rushed over him and shook, sending drops of water flying.
"Feeling better?" Scott asked as Johnny pulled his head back in the window and used the towel over his shoulder to dry his hair and face.
"I'm feeling hungry and to tell you the truth, a little light headed."
"We'll get some food in you and you'll feel better."
The heavy tread was again heard on the stairs and a moment later the door pushed open slowly. Murdoch looked around the doorframe, checking that he didn't hit anyone while opening the door into the cramped quarters.
"This was the best I could do." He tossed a bundle of heavy brown material across to Johnny who dropped the towel he'd been holding to catch it.
Johnny shook out a pair of dungarees and a plain white cotton shirt. The overalls looked to be close to his size, but he grimaced as he held them up to his chest. "Well, it's better than nothing." Quickly he flashed a glare at this brother. "Not one word. I don't want to hear any jokes about country bumpkin or anything else that fertile mind of yours can come up with." And then he turned toward his father and glared at him, too. "You either."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Murdoch barely suppressed a smile as Scott blustered in his own defense.
"Do something useful and re-fill the pitcher." Johnny glared at Scott who took the scowl in with great amusement.
"Golly, take a fella on a boat and he completely loses his sense of humor." Scott flashed a grin first at Johnny and then his father. Murdoch smiled then backed out of the room. Scott quickly followed with the pitcher in hand. They left Johnny alone to change as Murdoch followed Scott to the water barrel at the end of the hall.
"How is he, son?" Murdoch ran a finger over the window casing as Scott refilled the pitcher.
"He's okay. A little battered, but I don't think there's any real physical damage done." Scott had to go more than half way down into the barrel to fill the pitcher.
"How is he otherwise?" Murdoch couldn't read Johnny as well as Scott could and he knew it.
"I think he'll be fine. Johnny's resilient. Give him a hot meal and some sleep and then don't push him to tell you what he doesn't want to say. Trust me, sooner or later he'll talk about it, but it has to be in his own time."
"Oh, that's one lesson I have learned," Murdoch shook his head with an abashed smile. "Why do you think I'm in the hall talking to you and not him?"
"Oh," Scott said with a frown. "And here I was thinking it was that you liked my company better."
Murdoch shrugged one shoulder and then patted Scott on the back. "Well, you're entitled to think what ever you like."
Scott chuckled and then headed back to the room. He didn't bother to knock, only because Johnny never did, and burst into the room. He was hard pressed not to laugh. Johnny sat on the bed looking very much the country bumpkin, his bare feet sticking out beneath rolled up pant legs.
"This is just pitiful." Johnny moaned holding out his hands. The sleeves of his shirt came down over his fingers.
Murdoch had to turn away for a moment while he schooled his features. Johnny didn't miss the expression, but decided to let it go. He got to his feet in a rush. "Let's eat."
A swelling of pride filled Murdoch's chest as he watched his sons. The two of them had been through an ordeal, the most dreadful of ordeals, and yet they were both shrugging it off as if they had only been delayed by a wheel coming off a wagon.
The dining room of the hotel was filled to capacity and then some. The front parlor had been opened and every table had been cleared to allow the guests a place to eat. Scott recognized one or two of the people around the table from the Saint Anne and he nodded in acknowledgement.
The fare was simple and the cooks did the very best they could, making sure that no one went hungry. As a person finished there was no lingering around the table to chat, they cleared their own place by taking their dishes out to the kitchen.
Murdoch found a place in the parlor for the three of them to sit and the owner brought out a plate of fried potatoes and a variety of vegetables with strips of both beef and pork mixed in. Fresh dinner rolls were set on a nearby table. He offered to pay the lady of the house for the bountiful fare, but she only smiled and pushed back a stray lock of graying hair.
"Don't you worry, Mr. Lancer, the shipping lines will get the bill."
Still, Murdoch was sure to slip a gold piece between the sofa cushions before the left. After they cleared their places they moved out to the back porch. A small group of the guests had gathered there, some out on the meager lawn.
The night air had turned cool and extra lamps had been lit to chase the darkness off the porch. But when the conversation turned from idle chatter to the wreck, Johnny excused himself.
"I'm gonna go on up," he said quietly. "You can stay here if you want."
"I'll go up, too." Scott got to his feet and, putting his hands to his lower back, stretched. "Good night."
Many of the other guests wished them goodnight.
"I'm going to stay up for just a bit. Leave the light low and I'll try not to wake you." Murdoch had just lit his pipe and it would be a half hour or so before he was ready to go to sleep.
The upstairs bedroom seemed smaller in the darkness. Scott turned the lamp down low and made sure the window was closed and the curtain pulled shut against the night. Johnny shucked his borrowed dungarees and, keeping his borrowed shirt on, slipped under the sheet.
A minute later Scott, too, removed his clothes and left then in a neat pile on the chair beside the bed. He pushed the blankets down to the bottom of the mattress and slid under the sheet beside his brother. He cradled his neck in his hands and stared up at the ceiling.
"It's nice to be in the quiet." Scott said softly into the darkness.
"Yeah," Johnny agreed. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, but he fidgeted.
"How are you feeling?" Scott shifted and tried to work out the tension that filled his body from head to toe.
"I'm bone tired, but I can't seem to get the sound of the ocean out of my ears, and it kinda feels like everything's still rocking."
"I'm so sorry, Johnny." Scott spoke in a low tone, still half-afraid that his brother might not forgive him. He stared up at the shadows that danced on the ceiling.
"Did you carry dynamite with you?" Johnny shifted and turned on his side, his back to his brother, facing the door.
"Did you throw those boulders in the path of that boat?"
"No," Scott finally caught on to the drift of the conversation.
"It wasn't your fault, big brother. Things go wrong and you can't steer every stage."
Scott thought over his brother's words for a moment. "Are you sure?"
"What?" It was Johnny’s turn to be confused.
"Are you sure I can't steer every stage?" Scott grinned in the darkness. "Maybe if I try very hard, I can control absolutely everything."
Johnny rolled back over so that he could see his brother and in the half-light he could just barely see the glint of amusement in Scott's eye. "Well, if you're going to control everything, can you make sure the weather is good and the stage is roomy tomorrow?"
Scott gave a low, warm chuckle. "I'll work on it. But since it's my first day running the world, will you cut me some slack if I don't get it just right the first time."
"Well, as long as you do one or the other, okay?"
"Deal." Scott turned on his side and in the half-light they were facing each other. Scott could tell that honestly, deep down, Johnny didn't hold the disaster against him. It was a weight off his shoulders. It wasn't Johnny's style to hold a man guilty for things beyond their control, but still Scott couldn't shake the feeling that if hadn't bought those tickets, all this wouldn't have happened.
"There might have been a mud slide." Johnny voice was warm and low and tinged with the first hints that he was dropping off to sleep. "Or a flash flood or…"
"I get the hint, brother-mine. Something else bad may have happened or nothing might have happened and the ship would still have gone down, whether we were on it or not."
Johnny was silent, but Scott could tell he was still listening.
"I almost lost you, brother, so soon after finding you."
"You can't lose me, brother-mine." Johnny liked the sound of that phrase. "I'm a bad penny that keeps turning up."
"If I like you turning up, does that make you my lucky penny?"
This time Johnny chuckled. "I think it means you were out in the sun too long with out a hat. You've gotten addled." The silence hung between them, but it was warm and close like the night air. "Scott, I never let myself think that you hadn't made it to a lifeboat. It was just that I had to believe you were all right."
"Tell me what happened to you." Johnny rolled over onto his back and reached down to the foot of the bed and pulled the blankets up over his chest.
"I got into a lifeboat. I don't remember getting into it. I was just in and it was going over the side. The noise was something awful, but the silence afterwards was worse."
"I remember that silence," Johnny said softly.
Scott remembered it too. The silence that seemed to press down on him. His palms were sweaty and he stared up into the dark. "We picked up as many survivors as we could. We looked, but we couldn't find any others. "Scott paused and flicked his gaze over to Johnny and cleared his throat. He didn't have to say that he hadn't found his brother. "So, we headed in to land - to wait."
"I'm betting you didn't take up knitting. What did you do?"
"I made myself as useful as I could. Toted and carried and helped with whatever needed doing. And waited, for you and for Murdoch. I'd sent him a wire, to tell him what happened. I don't like waiting; I'm not very good at it."
"Patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait."
"I'm not sure. I was patient and waited and all that washed ashore was you."
Johnny's smirked. "What were you hoping for?"
"Well, what else - a mermaid." Scott grinned up at the darkness. For now, his fears were gone, drifting away with the lamp smoke. Johnny's breathing slowed as he slipped off to sleep and Scott let the rhythm lull him to sleep.
Murdoch came in a while later and stood silently in the doorway looking down at his two sons - together. While he'd been building his ranch he'd often created this very image of his sons sharing a bed while they grew up together. The mattress on the floor increased the image of them as young boys; it was only slightly marred by the sound of his elder son's snoring.
As silently as he could he changed from his clothes and into his nightshirt before turning the lamp all the way down, watching the tiny red glow before the wick went cold. His eyes adjusted to the moonlit darkness quickly and he watched the shadows on the walls, shadows that seemed to be getting thicker with each passing minute. The stillness of the night and the steady even breathing of his sons were just about to lull him to sleep when he heard Johnny roll from the bed, the ticking rustling with the movement. In the half-light he could see his younger son pull on the borrowed coveralls and move out the door.
Grabbing up his robe, Murdoch followed a few paces behind. He stood on the porch as he saw Johnny go to the out building. The moon was nearly full, and the little garden was alive with shadows. The air had a different smell here, of salt and sand and dampness. It was a smell from his youth on the docks of Inverness and he didn't think he'd ever forget it. A noise came to him across the yard. Perhaps it was the stillness of the night, perhaps it was that his senses had been stretched beyond the usual, but in seconds he was across the yard.
Johnny was on his knees behind the privy, throwing up the contents of his stomach. Murdoch knelt and put a strong warm hand on his son's back, offering what little comfort he could.
A minute later Johnny looked back over his shoulder and wiped his lips on his shirtsleeve. "I'm okay."
"Sure," Murdoch replied non-committaly. "Are you done?"
"Yeah, I don't think there's anything left."
Murdoch offered his hand and helped Johnny to his feet and led him to a chair. Murdoch moved to the end of the porch and filled a glass from a pitcher of water that had been left out after supper. He passed it across to Johnny who nodded gratefully before taking a sip and then spit it out over the railing.
"I think the potatoes were a little greasy." Johnny said and took another sip of the tepid water.
"I hadn't thought of that. It's been awhile since you've eaten. Could it have been anything else?"
"No, I don't think I'm sick."
"It's cool out here. Should I get you a jacket?"
The door from the kitchen squeaked open and Scott came out onto the porch. In his hands was a knitted throw blanket. "I thought just in case," and tossed it onto Johnny's lap. "I've put the kettle on, too."
"My big brother, in control of the world." Johnny grinned and his eyes shone in the moonlight.
"I'm off to a great start, aren't I?"
"Am I missing something?" Murdoch took one of the other chairs on the porch and eased on to it.
"Johnny is allowing me the honor of controlling everything about our lives from now on."
"Really? And just how do you plan to do that?"
"I'm not sure," Scott said as he perched on the porch railing. "But Johnny said it was okay if I just went ahead and ran the world to assuage my guilt over not stopping the sinking of the St. Anne."
"I see," Murdoch was amused by the logic and turned to Johnny. "And what do you plan to do when he becomes a tyrant?"
"Knock him down a peg or two."
"It's a plan. Not much of a plan, I'll grant you, but at least it's a plan." Murdoch smiled slightly and watched as Johnny wrapped the blanket around his bare feet and then pulled the loose end up to his waist.
The night air settled between them like a heavy fog until the kettle began to whistle. Scott went in and pulled it off the front of the stove. The sounds of him moving about the kitchen came through the open door.
"He's quite domestic, our Scott." Johnny smiled into the dark.
"I heard that," Scott grumbled as he brought three mugs of tea out onto the porch.
"It's good to know our adventure hasn't harmed your hearing."
"Murdoch, tell me again why you sent for him?" Scott passed the tea across to his father and retook his seat on the porch rail.
"So that he could keep you line when you get out of control running the world." Murdoch was enjoying the banter between his sons, but he still couldn't shake his worry.
"Murdoch, can I ask a question?" Johnny worried the edge of the blanket.
Murdoch sipped his tea, pleasantly surprised to taste a hint of brandy. "You may ask."
Johnny nodded his understanding that there were still a lot of things unsaid between them. "Did you enjoy your trip over from Scotland?"
Murdoch took another sip of his spiked tea and stretched his legs up to rest on the porch railing. "I worked my way across, signing on as a hand for the trip. I wasn't prepared to just sit and drink tea and play cards for the next three months. So, I signed on to work. And it gave me money when I first landed in Boston."
"And what was Boston like when you got there?" Scott asked that question doing a poor job of hiding his curiosity.
Murdoch smiled as he thought back to those early days. "Well, the docks aren't the best place to judge the rest of the city. It was a rough and tumble place. And I must admit that a good portion of what I saw of Boston did not impress me much."
Scott raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Scott, I come from a town that hosted Kings. I've been to London and Edinburgh and a few cities in between and I have to admit that Boston was a little," he waved a hand as he searched for just the right word, "juvenile."
Murdoch turned in his chair to face his elder son. "I know that sounds silly. But this whole country is young. It's young and sprawling and wide open. But there was a magnetism of the city. Inverness and all of Scotland is old and set in its ways. I felt trapped there, stuck in a box not of my making, with no way out. America was my way out." Murdoch looked down into this his cup, now less than half full. "This land, this country, was and still is big, sprawling and young, but the best part of that is that there are so many ways it can grow and change and we can be a part of that. At least that was how I felt at the time, but thinking back, maybe Inverness wasn't so old fashioned, and Boston wasn't so young." He shook his head knowing they'd never understand. Murdoch drained his cup and looked over his shoulder and saw that Johnny was trying to stay warm under the thin blanket.
Scott noticed, too and got to his feet, holding out his hand for the now empty cup. "Perhaps we should go back inside."
Murdoch also rose and extending a hand to Johnny. "Let's go on back to bed, son."
Johnny nodded. He untangled the blanket from around his feet and then pulled it up tight around his shoulders. The three of them trudged back up the stairs.
Morning seemed to come early and all three men were up at the first light of dawn. When Johnny put back on his own clothes, the leather pants were still damp and his bare feet showed, but his shirt was dry. He was uncomfortable in his current disarray and it showed in the slump of his shoulders.
"As soon as we get to San Francisco we'll do some shopping." Murdoch intended the statement to make his younger son feel better, but it was apparent from the deeper slouch of Johnny's shoulders that it was the wrong thing to say.
"Let's get some breakfast and see if I made the day nice." Scott tucked in his battered shirt. He was looking forward to doing some shopping himself and to get out of his clothes and then maybe burn them. He was sick of the smell of salt and seaweed.
Murdoch stayed behind to pack up his belongings. Out of habit he checked the room to make sure nothing was left behind and he was struck again at how much his sons had lost in the sinking of the ship. Between them they didn't even have enough to put into a bag.
Johnny had lost his hat and boots and jacket. Scott's jacket and vest had made it off the boat with him, but he'd lost them sometime once he'd made it ashore, giving them to someone in more need. Neither of them had a shaving kit or a change of clothes.
Murdoch shook his head in regret for his sons' losses and vowed to himself to show them a good time in the city by the sea, and the expense be hanged. He shut the valise with a snap and then carried it down the stairs and set it by the back door.
The chatter in the dining room and front parlor was lively and boisterous. Johnny and Scott were sitting at the same small table they had eaten at the night before. Scott was pouring coffee into three unmatched cups without saucers. One of the kitchen staff moved between the tables, setting out small baskets of biscuits.
Murdoch pulled out the spindle-backed chair and took his seat. For a brief moment he hesitated and then quickly said a short grace. Their plates were loaded with eggs and fried tomatoes and more fried potatoes.
Johnny stared at this plate for a moment and Murdoch was sure that he saw a gray tint come over his son's cheeks.
"Johnny?" The blues eyes turned up, still a little glassy over the sun burnt cheekbones.
"How about a biscuit?"
Johnny pounced on the basket, the flaky biscuits a balm for his empty stomach. In the end, Murdoch and Scott divided up Johnny's plate and he ate all the biscuits. He looked better after his meal and his spirits were better, despite his disreputable appearance.
Murdoch paid his respects to the owner of the hotel, again trying to pay, and in the end only giving her his address and saying that if she was ever in need of his help, to write. She took the paper with a smile and firm handshake. "Farewell, Mr. Lancer. I hope the rest of your journey goes better than the start."
Johnny stood on the platform of the stage depot. The sky was gray and cloudy and damp.
"Son, come inside out of the wind." Murdoch hovered at the doorway to the station.
Johnny had his back to the door, his arms over his chest, staring down the dusty road toward the town. Wagons were still leaving the warehouse, draped with tarps and driven by pale, gaunt men.
"John, your clothes are still damp. Come stand by the fire."
Johnny looked back over his shoulder. It wasn't hard to see that his father was worried, so he nodded and moved inside. The stationmaster was poking up the fire in a little black stove. Scott had saved a seat on the long pine bench, close to the pot bellied stove. Ladies in heavily layered traveling clothes were sitting further away from the heat.
Johnny went to stand next to it, turning constantly as it warmed the damp leather. "Let me know if I start to steam." He rubbed his hands over his backside, warming his hands at the same time. He didn't have time to raise any steam before the stagecoach arrived pulling to a stop right at the doors of the depot.
Three passengers got off with a look that was recognized by all as controlled panic. They headed down the road to the warehouse and Johnny felt a knot in the pit of his stomach as he watched them go.
Scott moved close, putting a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Let's go." Scott said softly as he watched the trio of strangers navigate the rutted road.
The stage was plush. The red leather upholstery was new enough not to have lost its shine. The coach was highly lacquered and the guilt lettering proudly displayed the name "Coastal Stage and Freight". Inside the stage were three well-sprung seats, two facing forward and one facing back. It was designed to hold eight passengers comfortably.
Unfortunately, there were eleven people headed up the road to the San Francisco. With considerable patience the seating arrangements were made based on the size of the patron. Johnny mentioned twice that he'd gladly ride up top with the luggage and was quelled firmly once by his father and once by his brother.
Finally they were underway, packed in tightly and swaying in unison. The team was smooth, which was more than could be said for the road, but at least they had started the journey. It was a four-hour ride from here to the city, and with two short stops they all felt they could make it with only a modicum of discomfort.
Twenty minutes into the ride, however, one of the ladies determined that there was no possibility she could ride backward. Covering her mouth with a handkerchief, she barely fought down her nausea. With much jostling and maneuvering, stepped on toes and elbow jabs, they managed to get the young lady moved to the center seat and Johnny and Scott ended up sitting on the floor of the coach, their backs against the side with their legs in the rows between the seats.
Slowly soft conversations were started about where people were coming from and where they were going. Johnny avoided joining into the conversation by tipping his hat over his face and leaning back against the coach, the rocking motion letting him drift off to sleep.
He'd almost succeeded when the overcast day took a down turn. Rain began to wash down the side of the coach, and sliding over the window frame and dripped down onto his neck. Wiping a hand under his collar he glared first at the window and then over at his brother. "You're fired."
"Fired?" Scott's eyebrows lowered quizzically.
"As controller of the world. I asked you only for a nice day and a nice coach ride. You failed in both cases, so you'll have to be let go."
Scott bit his lip for a moment and shrugged. "Well, I'm not usually a quitter, but I wasn't really up to the job, anyway."
"Glad you see it my way."
Johnny shifted away from the trickle that was again coming in the window and sighed. There really wasn't much going right on this trip.
They made two stops on the way to the city to change horses and give the passengers a chance to stretch their legs. Scott watched Johnny and it was easy to see how uncomfortable his brother was with his disheveled appearance. Scott was disconcerted himself, but he was better at hiding it.
Finally the houses and shops came into view. At the stage depot, on the outside edge of the city, they stepped down and waited for Murdoch's bag to be handed down from the roof.
"We'll take a hack and head to the Ambassador Hotel."
Johnny frowned, but didn't say anything as he glanced at Scott. It was obvious that Scott was feeling just as uncomfortable in his appearance as he ran his hands over his dirty shirt. The carriage moved through the streets of the city past affluent businesses and then into the hotel district. Wide streets were lined with smooth boardwalks; building fronts were freshly painted and well decorated.
A doorman stood outside the hotel in a fancy uniform with gold braid on his shoulder. The elderly black man held open the door and barely blinked at the strange appearance of the three guests.
"We're making a pretty poor showing, ain't we?" Johnny whispered to the man holding the door.
"Seen worse, sir," the man said with a jovial smile.
"Bet not here," Johnny grinned back.
"Well, sir. I've seen some hard luck cases in my time."
"John." Murdoch and Scott had moved into the hotel and were now waiting for Johnny.
Johnny grinned again at the man holding the door and stepped inside. The interior of the hotel was well appointed. The walls were covered in well polished oak draped with heavy red velour. Potted plants filled tall glazed pots and the floor was covered with thick carpets. Every surface in the hotel glistened with the reflected light from hundreds of thick white candles.
Murdoch had moved up to the front desk to be met by a man behind the counter in a tailored black wool suit and a grey silk tie. Scott was standing near by, only the opening and closing of his hand showed just how uncomfortable he was with his appearance in the high-class establishment.
Johnny came to stand next to Scott while his father talked to the clerk. "Can we have baths brought up and some food?"
"Of course, Mr. Lancer. The baths can be up in your room in about thirty minutes."
Scott leaned in. "Is there a place, near by, where we can get a change of clothes?"
"I can have a tailor sent up as well." The concierge made a note on a pad.
"No, we'd like to go to a tailor," Scott tugged at his shirt. "But I was thinking of something to wear when we see the tailor."
The man behind the counter nodded. "There's a little store just down the street and around the corner. It's nothing special."
Scott nodded and grabbed Johnny by the arm. "We'll be right back."
Murdoch finished signing in and gave his bag to the bellhop. "If you can have the baths sent up right away, we'll be back soon." He looked over his shoulder. "I'd better go with them. It won't take long before they realize they don't have any money."
The desk clerk seemed to be an understanding man and waited until they were all out of the lobby before sharing a bemused chuckle with his assistant.
The doorman again opened the door for
Johnny and Scott and started to reach for a whistle to call over a hack.
"I understand there is a store near here where we can get some clothes," Scott addressed the doorman, looking up and down the street.
"There's a little place some of the workers use." The doorman pointed to the east. "Just there, and around the corner. Henderson's General Store."
"Thank you." Scott didn't stop to wait for the cab, but instead set off at a quick pace.
"He's in a hurry." Johnny explained with a smile. "Being under dressed for society makes him nervous."
"How'd you boys get in such bad shape, sir?" The doorman ventured to ask.
"Would you believe a girl?" Johnny started to follow after his brother.
"If you say so, sir."
"I'll tell you about it." Johnny called over his shoulder and had to set off in a lope to catch up with his brother's long strides.
Murdoch exited the hotel just in time to see Scott and Johnny turn the corner.
Scott was shopping in a most hurried and haphazard fashion. He'd tossed two pair of trousers on the counter and went back for shirts. He grabbed the clerk by the arm and directed him to show him where under things were kept behind the counter.
Johnny saw a small section that held boots. They were nothing like what he'd usually wear, but it was better than bare feet. He found a pair in his size and grabbed them off the shelf, then got a couple of pairs of good thick socks to go with them. He’d wait until he got home to go to the cobbler, and Baldamero stocked good quality hats.
Murdoch said nothing, watching them shop, and simply dug into his wallet to pay the bill.
The clerk seemed befuddled by the hasty shopping spree and by the three disheveled men, but he quickly wrapped the purchases in brown paper and tied the bundle with heavy string.
While Murdock waited for his change, Scott went back outside to hail a hack. He didn't want to walk back into the hotel and he hadn't thought of Johnny on the boardwalk in bare feet in his haste to get to the store. Johnny started to pick up the packages stuffing them under his arms. He passed a glass jar filled with penny candy and stuck his hand in, pulling out two pieces. He showed them to the clerk who nodded and added them to the bill. Johnny moved outside and dropped the packages at his feet. "Thank you for this."
"It's not just for you, brother. I don't fancy the idea of being in public looking like this."
"You don't look too bad," Johnny grinned and held his fingers to his nose. "You don't smell too good, though."
Scott ignored the comment, but smiled good-naturedly.
Murdoch came out just as the carriage pulled up. They piled into the hack for the short trip to the hotel. It had started raining again, this time a heavy downpour.
The doorman was grinning broadly as he held open the carriage door for his three scruffy patrons. He took the packages from the driver and then flagged a bellboy. "Take these up to 302 for these gentlemen." The bellboy, a freckle-faced young man that who didn't look a day over 15 bobbed his head and took the packages.
Johnny extended a hand to the doorman. "Johnny Lancer."
The man looked startled and wiped his hand on the side of this fancy coat before returning the handshake. "Micah Jefferson, sir.
"See you around?" Johnny asked as Scott held open the door for him.
"I work here every day but Sunday,
Scott watched the interaction between the two men and smiled indulgently. "Do you really need to know the doorman's name?"
Johnny frowned as if the reason for the question was odd. "What if I want to ask him a question sometime?"
Scott shook his head and moved to the staircase. There were some things about his brother that he greatly admired.
Three large copper tubs, three quarters full with steaming water, sat in the center of the floor of the sitting room in front of a nicely banked fire. The sitting room was as well decorated as the rest of the hotel. Thick, plush carpet was soft under Johnny's bare feet. For some reason he had the feeling he should bathe before he got into the bath. He moved through the room to look out the window. The view from the third floor overlooked a well-tended park and in the distance he could see the masts of tall ships.
"Our room," Scott indicated one of the rooms from the doorway. The suite had a room on each side with the sitting room in the middle. Johnny followed his brother. Two brass bedsteads filled the room; each was covered with thick comforters and what appeared to be freshly starched sheets. Johnny pressed his hands flat on the mattress and gave it a bounce. The ropes gave with only the faintest of squeaks and the mattress depressed softly under his hands. The thick, soft mattress was making him feel tired already.
He pulled his shirt off over his head with out even bothering to unbutton it. His shoulder muscles ached and he felt every inch of his last few days' ordeal. There was a thick robe on the end of each bed and Johnny grabbed one and headed back to the sitting room.
He was alone. Murdoch was in his room; Scott was still behind him in theirs, he stood before the fire and poked it up with a heavy iron poker, then dropped a log on the red embers.
Wasting no further time, he pulled off his trousers and left them in a heap on the floor. He tested the water with his hand and found that although it was warm it wasn't too hot. He slid into the water and sighed as the water lapped at his collarbones. Tipping his head back he rested against the rim of the tub. He lay there for a second and then sat up and reached for a towel. He soaked it in the water before folding it over into thirds and then putting it over the edge.
He lay back again, the back of his neck resting on the folded towel. As his eyes drifted shut he could hear a faint drip on the thick carpet. He was thinking he should wring out the towel better, but he didn't seem to have the energy. Four breaths later he wasn't thinking anything at all.
Scott exited the bedroom wrapped in the robe. Johnny was already soaking up to his neck in the tub, his eyes shut, his breathing regular. Scott took a few minutes to observe his brother without reservation. Johnny's cheekbones were burned so badly that the skin was puffy and red over his tan, dark circles made smudges under the charcoal colored lashes.
There was a knock at the door. Johnny's eyes opened slowly, looking first toward the door and then at Scott.
Scott couldn't help but smile at his brother. "Don't get up." His witty remark was met only by the barest of nods. Scott headed for the door, pulling his robe tighter and snugging the sash firmly. A boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen and looking to be the younger brother of the bellboy, with a face covered in freckles, was carrying two pails of hot water. Scott stepped back and let the boy enter. The boy moved to the hearth and set the pails before the fire. "What's your name, son?"
"Jimmy Donnelly, sir."
Scott gave the boy a dime. The boy's nodded his gratitude. "Jimmy, can you see that the food is sent up."
"Yes, sir. Right away sir."
Scott turned back toward the tub only to see that one side of Johnny's mouth was tipped up in a smile. "What?"
"Did you really need to know the bellboy’s name?"
"Shut up." Scott growled, but his words held no sting. The tub looked inviting. The sides were almost as tall as his waist and he swirled his hand around in the warm water.
Johnny's eyes were closed again and just the hint of a smile on his face.
Scott let the bathrobe drop to the floor and slipped into the water. A small table fit across the center of the tub, and Scott was wishing he'd brought over a drink as the warm water brought a sweat to his brow.
"Either of you need anything before I get in?"
"A glass of water would be nice." Scott settled deeper into the tub and pulled the little table closer. The legs of the table fit over the lip of the tub and slid on the rails smoothly. With strategic placement he covered his modesty before Murdoch set a tumbler of water on the table. He averted his eyes as his father slipped out of his robe and into the tub.
"My, this is nice," Murdoch sighed.
"Gotta admit these deep tubs are a lot nicer than the ones we have at home." Johnny shifted to wring out the towel at the back of his neck before replacing it and settling back down.
"Yes, very nice indeed," Murdoch sighed again.
Scott sipped at his glass of water and stared into the fire. The three tubs were lined up in a half circle with the foot of the brass tubs close to the flames. The fire would help to keep the water warm longer and Scott could feel the heat against his feet. The flames from the fire sparked and jumped with happy popping noises.
After soaking for a bit Scott finally reached for a cloth and a bar of soap and began to scrub his skin. He found himself wishing he could scrub away the memory of the shipwreck, the fear of that afternoon still haunting him. He flicked his gaze to his left, to see Johnny still soaking and it looked as though his brother had slipped off to sleep.
Looking to his right, Scott watched his father from under hooded lids. Murdoch looked tired. His gray hair had been slicked back from his face with wet hands. There was strength in that face, a man that had worked hard to get where he was, but at this moment he didn't seem happy with his accomplishments.
Scott was surprised when Johnny sat
up suddenly and pulled himself into a tight ball.
"Cramp in my leg."
Murdoch was sitting forward, too, looking at his younger son with concern.
Johnny took no notice of the two of them, and instead rubbed at the leg muscle. Finally he stopped and leaned back. He took handfuls of water and splashed his face and hair before finally reaching for the bar of soap and began to wash off as if nothing had happened.
Scott leaned back again, his concern for his brother simmering in the water. Murdoch watched for a few more minutes, his concentration split between his sons and the fire.
A knock came at the door as the porter announced his arrival with dinner and Murdoch called out to enter. Jimmy Donnelly and another boy of the same age entered with a trolley with covered plates of food. "Would you like to eat there, or at the table?" Jimmy stood just inside the doorway.
"On the table please," Murdoch directed.
The two boys set up the table as the three men continued to soak. Finally the boys left. Murdoch picked up a towel, discreetly wrapped it around himself and then pulled on his robe.
"If we're eating at the table that means I have to get out." Johnny groaned and slid under the water.
Scott took the opportunity to get out of the tub and pull on his robe. He stood at the side of Johnny's tub until his brother surfaced and then poured half a pitcher of water over his head.
Johnny spluttered and spit. "Hey!"
"Just trying to help."
"Don't help." Johnny scrubbed the water from his hair and shook, spraying drops of water. "Hand me the towel, will you?"
Scott smirked and headed for table. "You said not to help." He lifted a cover off a plate and pulled out a chair.
Murdoch and Scott set up the table and prepared to eat. The cooks had sent up a small pot roast, corn bread and fried turnips. Murdoch salted his turnips while Scott reached for small pats of butter cut into the shapes of leaves.
Out of the corner of his eye Scott
saw Johnny head into the bedroom wrapped in one towel, another over his head.
"Come eat, son." Murdoch called over his shoulder.
There was a grunt of acknowledgement from the other room.
Scott poured out three cups of coffee as Murdoch put slices of meat on each plate.
"If there are any fried potatoes on my plate, I'm jumping out the window." Johnny came in buttoning one of his new shirts. Tucked under his arm were his leather trousers, which he dropped into the tub.
"Those were almost dry, why are you soaking them?" Scott asked as he scooted his chair closer to the table.
"To see if I can get any of the salt water out of them before they're completely ruined." Johnny sat at the table and poked a fork at the turnips, but left them alone. The only sound for the next few minutes was of cutlery on china as the three men ate. Finally Johnny pushed back from the table, the turnips untouched.
"Are you going to keep that down? I don't think I've ever seen you eat that fast." Scott buttered his cornbread, his plate still half full.
"I was hungrier than I thought." Johnny got up from the table and went to the window. He pushed back the curtain and looked out at the view. Beyond the buildings he could see the masts of the tall ships in the bay. The sight of the deep blue waters of the bay left him with an uneasy feeling. He let the curtain close and cover the window.
Murdoch was doing his best to watch his son without being caught. Johnny hadn't been eating much and, like Scott, he was worried that Johnny wouldn't be able to stomach this much food so quickly.
There was also an anxiousness surrounding his younger son that was unusual. Johnny was always active, but now his energy didn't seem to have an outlet and it was disturbing to see how he paced the large suite.
"Why don't you go get a shave, son, while Scott and I finish eating, then we'll do some real shopping."
Johnny was stabbing the fire with a brass poker. "Okay." He moved into the bedroom, and then came out a second later. "I don't have a shaving kit." The first time it was said softly, the second time it was a shout. "I don't have a damn shaving kit."
Scott was on his feet a second later, his silverware clattering on his plate. Murdoch stood, too, but he was puzzled by the outburst.
"Johnny," Scott's tone was placating, as if talking to a spooked horse. "We talked about this earlier. Murdoch will lend you his shaving kit, won't you, sir?"
"Of course," Murdoch stood still.
Johnny was pacing, his hands opening and closing making tight fists. "Everything. Absolutely everything I had is now at the bottom of the sea."
"I know," Scott's tone was still soft.
Murdoch couldn't understand what Scott was trying to do. He and Johnny were just inches apart and Scott seemed to trying to calm his brother's outburst, but his soft words seemed to be agitating him further.
"I…I," Johnny stammered to a stop.
"Say it, Johnny."
Johnny stopped his pacing, his hands clenched.
Scott watched, waited, but still Johnny said nothing. "You felt helpless." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes," Johnny's fist struck his palm.
Murdoch watched, fearful that Johnny might strike his brother.
"You didn't know what to do, and if you did, you couldn't do anything."
"And you're angry because you still feel like you can't do anything."
"Yes." The anger left Johnny suddenly and his head dropped to his chest.
"Thank heaven," Scott chuckled. "I wasn't alone feeling like that."
Johnny's head came up, and he looked Scott square in the eye. Confusion crossed his face as Scott's words sunk in. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. "Just when I think you know everything…" he stopped and shook his head.
"Don't worry, brother. I still do." Scott moved back to the table and picked up a square of corn bread. "Murdoch?"
Murdoch snapped his attention away from Johnny and back to Scott.
"Can we borrow your shaving gear?"
"Yes, of course." He snugged his robe tighter and went into his room. He came back a moment later with the small bag.
Johnny took it and hefted it in his hand. "Thanks."
"We'll get a new one while we're out."
"Sure." Johnny sighed and hefted the bag again before disappearing into the room he shared with Scott.
Ten minutes later Scott knocked on the door. "Johnny? May I come in?"
"It’s your room too."
Scott pushed open the door.
Johnny stood next to the window, staring down at the street. Fine black carriages clattered down the cobblestone street. He had shaved and the lower half of his face was pale compared to his sunburned cheeks.
"Feeling better?" Scott shook out his new drawers and pulled them on under the robe. The trousers were stiff, and had a crease down the front of each leg that showed they'd been purchased off the shelf. He pulled off the robe and draped it over the edge of the bed. He had mixed feeling of changing his clothes with his brother in the room.
He'd had lost a lot of modesty in his military years, but his Puritan upbringing had rigid sensibilities. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Johnny was still staring out the window. He shook out the shirt. It was a deep blue chambray and fit fairly well, if a little big. The only other time he'd worn store bought clothing was just after the war, when he'd shed his tattered uniform and bought the first clothes he could find. At the moment he felt almost as battered as he had then.
Feeling reasonably presentable he moved to the side table. There was still lather in the shaving mug and he whisked it over his cheeks. He watched his brother in the reflection in the mirror. Johnny was still looking out the window.
Scott opened the well-used straight razor. The handle was a piece of oak, with a stag carved into one side and the initials IL on the other. It was smooth and shiny from years of handling.
"Who do you think IL is?"
"I don't know, maybe Murdoch's father or grandfather." The blade was sharp and easily scraped away the stubble that clung to his jaw line. "Why don't you ask him?" Wiping the blade on the towel his reddish-brown stubble lay alongside the black streaks that belonged to his brother.
Johnny pushed away from the window and headed out to the sitting room. Murdoch was still in his room dressing, so he wandered over to the table. Breaking off a piece of the corn bread he dipped it into the gravy on his plate.
Murdoch came out a minute later, buttoning his vest. He gave Johnny a quick look over trying not to look like he was checking on him.
It wasn't a question Murdoch could have possibly expected. "I.L?"
"His initials are on your razor. Did you lift it off someone?" Johnny smirked before popping another corner of cornbread into his mouth.
"Johnny!" Scott admonished as he came out of their room. He wiped the last of the shaving cream off his neck and tossed the towel back over his shoulder on to his bed.
Murdoch, however, was laughing. "No, I didn't "lift" it off anyone. It belonged to your Uncle Iain, and before him, it belonged to my Grandfather Iver."
Johnny sipped from his cup of now cold coffee. "How did you get it?"
Murdoch fumbled with the button on his cuff. The evenings around the fire back home were a time to share stories. Murdoch was never shy about the sharing, although he'd been fairly selective about just which story he decided to share. But the day he'd received that telegram telling him of the shipwreck he promised himself he'd try to be as open with his sons as he could, should they survive. They had survived and it was time to keep that promise.
This was a painful chapter in his life, but neither of them could know that, and neither of them would understand until he told them. He patted his pocket, making sure he had his wallet before he realized he was stalling. "Iain was my youngest brother. The one you were named for."
Scott perched on the lip of a tub, watching silently. Johnny leaned back against the table.
Murdoch smiled, slightly, still stalling, but sharing just the same. "Your mother wanted to name you, Juan. I wanted to name you Iain. Iain means "Gift from God", did you know that?"
Johnny shook his head, "I never thought about it."
"We couldn't agree. I wanted to name you." He turned to include Scott in the conversation. "Your mother named you, Scott. I didn't get a say in it." There was an amused smile on his face as he turned back to Johnny. "I wanted to name you. Give you my brother's name." He shrugged feeling lost in his memories. "We agreed to call you John. She wouldn't call you Juan, I wouldn't call you Iain, you were the only one of us born in America, and we'd give you an American name."
"Sounds reasonable." Scott watched Johnny and he seemed to be just as interested in the information he was getting.
"It's the same name in all three languages, right?" Johnny asked as he crossed his arms over his chest. When both his father and brother nodded he continued. "But you're not answering the question."
"Why do you have your brother Iain's razor?"
"Oh," Murdoch fumbled again.
Scott noticed how uncomfortable his father was and stood, checking to be sure his shirt was tucked in. "Maybe we should let it go for now and get going."
"No, it's all right." Murdoch ran a hand through his hair. "Your Uncle Iain died. It was a tragic accident."
Johnny felt awkward. "Leave it to me to ask the wrong question." He fiddled with the buttons on his new shirt.
"No, it truly is all right. You couldn't know. I'd meant to tell you, tell you both."
Scott had crossed his arms over his chest in a posture that mimicked his brothers, but it was a loose-armed gesture and Murdoch took it that there was no hostility. Johnny was still looking decidedly abashed and Murdoch hoped to put him at ease. He moved to the table and offered to pour coffee, but both his sons refused. "There was a wedding party. A big celebration with food and cake and dancing. The father of the bride was a friend of my father’s, so our whole family had been invited. I…" he turned away, the images of that day rushing back. "I'd been with my girl." He chuckled when Scott and Johnny made rude noises. "Yes, I had a girl. I wasn't raised in a monastery."
"How old were you?" Scott asked, and then bit his lip, afraid interrupting might have ended the story.
"I was nineteen. Iain was fourteen; my Grandfather Iver had just given him the razor the year before. Not like he had any use for it yet, although he used it more than once." Murdoch smiled at the memory of his little brother, mimicking him as they both shaved in the tiny wash room above his father's shop. He paused in the telling of his story and sipped at his tepid coffee. Images of that day were fresh in his mind. He could still see the sky, hear the music and smell the river. "A little girl fell in the river. Iain, God!"
"Murdoch?" Scott got to his feet when his father covered his eyes with one hand.
"The little girl fell in the river and Iain went in after her. He managed to get her to the shore and then he just vanished. We found his body the next morning. He'd drowned." There - it was said, and although the pain seemed fresh, he felt strangely relieved for having shared the story.
Scott suddenly felt a little nauseous. What must his father have felt after having lost his brother to drowning to think he might lose his son in the same manner?
"Is that why you left Scotland?" Johnny's tone was soft and he wasn't looking at his father or brother, but instead seemed very interested in the tablecloth.
"It was one of the reasons, but not the only one."
Johnny's head was tipped down and he was looking at Murdoch out of the corner of his eye. "Your girl." It was a statement, not a question.
"My girl." Murdoch felt better, now that he was in less painful territory. He let out a long sigh. "Her name was Blythe. A prettier girl wasn't to be found in all of Scotland. Red hair, a spate of freckles across her nose and fiery green eyes."
Scott ventured his own guess. "And she married your brother?"
"No," Murdoch chuckled, "my best friend. I'd been away visiting my Grandfather in England, and while I was gone I'd asked him to look after her. Keep her from getting lonely and missing the social season. Trust me, a mistake I never made again."
"So you lost your girl and your brother on the same day," Scott could understand the need to get away from those painful memories.
"It seemed that way to me, although I'd lost my girl a long time before. I just found out about it that day. And after Iain was gone I just…I'd talked of going to America before, but after Iain it just seemed like I shouldn't wait any longer."
"Life's too precious for indecision." Scott moved from his perch on the tub over to where Johnny stood.
"My father gave me the money for my passage and I had been working since I was fourteen, so I had money set aside. The rest is history."
"Did you enjoy your trip over?" Johnny knew he'd asked the question last night, but he still wanted to hear the answer.
"Well," Murdoch considered his words carefully, remembering the long hours swabbing decks, coiling rigging robes and hoisting sails. "I worked hard - harder than I ever had before, but honestly, I did choose to become a rancher and not a sailor."
Scott tapped his brother on the arm. "We need to get a move on. I'm ready to do some shopping." He could tell it was the end of Murdoch's story telling for a time.
Johnny shook his head in dismay, but made no argument. They headed for the door together, Johnny tucking in his shirt tails as he went.
Simon Harker was a high paid, high-class tailor. His business was responsible for outfitting some of the most powerful men in San Francisco. He'd learned his trade from his father and his father before him, who had been tailor to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Of course he'd heard of the sinking of the Saint Anne long before this trio of new clients wandered into his establishment, but if he hadn't, the sunburnt condition of the youngest of them would have given him a clue that something unusual had happened.
"We'll need everything." Scott was
comfortable in the shop and it showed as he moved between the bolts of fabric
and racks of dress shirts. "We were hoping to take in a show and we have what
you see." He gestured down to his clothes.
"Oh, that is a sad state of affairs." Simon clucked his tongue mournfully.
"I know this is a rush, and a dreadful imposition, but we're willing to pay for the inconvenience."
Simon liked clients that understood business. "I have a few things we can do up. I'll need to start with your measurements." He took out a small card and began to write on it with a stubby black pencil. "Are you living in the city?"
"We're staying in the city," Scott continued dealing with the tailor, Murdoch seemingly as out of place as Johnny. "We're staying at the Ambassador. We visit about twice a year."
"I see," Simon continued. "And will this be a continuing relationship once you've left the city?"
"For me, certainly. For my brother and father, we'll have to see." Scott was fingering a fine lawn cotton, knowing it was the type his father preferred for his shirts.
"Well, first things first. Step over here young man." Simon pointed to a low round platform, and then called into the back. "Jason, come on boy."
Jason, a young man of maybe fifteen, had the same dark curly hair and pale brown eyes that instantly showed him to be his father's son.
Johnny moved to stand on the platform feeling decidedly uncomfortable. His eyes surveyed the room, unconsciously noting every door and window and, without thinking, planning his escape routes.
Jason took the card and the pencil and sat on a small stool. Simon moved behind Johnny and started calling out numbers. Simon came around to measure Johnny's inseam and found his wrist clutched in a strong hand. "Sir?"
Scott came to the rescue, casting a dark glare at his father who was laughing outright.
"Johnny, he's just measuring you so that your trousers fit correctly."
"Nobody puts their hands…there…unless, unless…" Johnny stammered to a stop.
"Unless some kissing has been involved?" Murdoch sat in a dark blue velvet chair, still laughing.
"Murdoch!" Johnny gasped.
"Sir!" Scott said at the same time, both shocked at their father's ribald humor.
Simon Harker didn't seem to be paying much attention but as soon as his hand was released he made a quick measurement and rose to his feet. He and Jason conferred for a few minutes and then the younger man scurried into the back and then came back out with a new card. "You can step down, sir. I have everything I need."
Johnny stepped down off the platform and bee-lined across the room toward the window. Scott took his place. "Johnny, look over those shirts and see if there's something you like."
Murdoch rose and stood next to him. "When I was a boy it was a badge of honor to have your clothes made by someone other than your mother. Only poor people made their own clothes. I was in your position for the first time when I was staying at my Grandfather's home in England."
"And did you feel like…"
"Like I'd been man-handled? Yes, and I can't say I don't still have that feeling, which is why I don't have my clothes made for me."
"I thought it was that you were too tight with a buck." Despite the rude comment, Johnny's tone was light.
Murdoch shrugged. "There is that."
"I need to stretch my legs," Johnny headed for the door. "I'll just walk around the block. I won't be long."
Murdoch nodded, but grabbed his arm. "Do you have any pocket money?"
"I don't think I'll need it."
Murdoch reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. He passed a five-dollar note over. "I don't like the thought of you penniless in the city. With your luck you'll be picked up as a vagrant and I'll have to bail you out of jail."
Johnny looked at the bill, rubbing it between his fingers. He folded it over twice, into a small rectangle and then shoved it into his pocket. "Be back in just a few minutes."
"Where's he going?" Scott called from his perch as Simon continued his measurements.
"He's stretching his legs." Murdoch flipped through stacks of linen shirts. He could see that Scott was struggling to stand still and finish being measured. "He'll be fine; he just wanted to go for a walk. He said he was just going around the block."
"He doesn't know the city." Scott strained to see out the front window, which was beyond bolts of cloth and the gold gilt paint on the glass.
"I'm sure he can walk around the
block by himself."
"Sir, I just don't think he'll know what to expect in a city this size."
Murdoch glanced out the window. A pale blue sky showed between the rows of buildings. "Scott, he's been to Galveston and Santa Fe, he's been to Mexico City and Stockton and every town in between. I think he can make it around the block." His words were confident despite the knot in his stomach.
It was a clear afternoon without a cloud in the sky, but a cold breeze blew up from the bay. Johnny rubbed his hands over his shirtsleeves. The green corduroy was warm, but he missed his jacket. He missed a lot of things that were now at the bottom of the sea. He ran a hand over his hip, missing the weight and feel of the heavy, well-worn leather.
The streets in this section of town were wide and clean. The buildings were freshly painted, the windows freshly washed, the walks freshly swept. At the end of the block was a small café. A crowd had gathered around a bearded man at a tiny round table.
Johnny was working his way through the crowd when he heard the man at the table raise his voice. "I decree on this day that a fee shall be imposed on any person or persons that are found to allow their dogs to run loose to soil the walkways of this fair city." A small round of cheers went up from the gathered assembly.
"Who is he?" Johnny whispered in the ear of man in an over-starched white collar and a coal black suit.
"The Emperor of America," the man whispered back.
Johnny nodded, not really understanding, but not willing to ask more questions. He stepped off the walk to get around the crowd only to hear, "You there!"
Curiosity got the better of him and he looked over his shoulder at who was being summoned only to see most of the people in the crowd were looking at him. "Me?"
"You there, young man. What's wrong with your face?"
Johnny touched a finger to the blisters on his cheekbone. "It's just a sunburn, your, uh, highness."
"Are you a sailor?" The Emperor gestured for him to come closer. "Your clothes make you look like a cowboy; your face is that of a sailor, your tone is respectful, so you can't be a local businessman." The crowd laughed appreciably.
"I'm a cowboy that just came in on a ship," Johnny stepped a little closer as the assembly parted for him.
The Emperor, at first look was a nicely dressed man, but on closer inspection, Johnny saw that his collar and cuffs were just a tiny bit tattered. His shoes, while highly shined, were a little thin at the heel. "Come, you are privileged to sit in my court." He gestured to the portly man on his right. "You, get up and give this boy your chair."
"I really should be going," Johnny said with a glance back down the street the way he'd come. "My family will be looking for me."
"You will be easier to find if you sit in one place."
"Hard to argue with logic like that."
They sat and talked for almost twenty minutes before Murdoch and Scott found him. Most of the crowd had been dispersed by royal decree. Johnny had found that most of them had been newspapermen, a few had been local politicians who used the publicity of meeting with the Emperor, and his notoriety with the press, for their own political gain.
Johnny quietly faded into the background yet still staying in his same chair while Emperor Norton and Scott began to talk politics. Murdoch was gracious enough to buy ham sandwiches for everyone. Johnny sat and quietly ate as he watched the crowd thinned now that the Emperor was no longer holding court with the press.
"We should get going," Murdoch paid the bill. "Before your brother costs me more money." Murdoch frowned as Scott leaned in to discuss foreign affairs. Every time Scott disagreed with the Emperor it cost Murdoch two dollars. "Your Highness, if you will forgive us," he stood and pulled his jacket off the back of his chair. "It's been a long day and we have plans for the evening."
"I give you leave," Emperor Norton grabbed Johnny's arm as he started to rise. "Your family and friends are the one true treasure in life. They are the riches you cannot lose."
"Yes, I know that. Thank you Your Highness, for a memorable day."
They got back to the room just at dusk. The tubs and the table had been removed. Clothes had been delivered to the hotel and been laid out on the bed. Brass lamps lit the room with a soft, warm glow. The curtains had been drawn and the fire was crackling merrily.
"Where are we going?" Johnny fingered the black suit laid out like a flat person across the bed.
"To dinner and the theater."
"Theater." Johnny hesitated. The last time he'd been to the theater with Murdoch and Scott had been when a traveling group had come to Green River. It had been a dark play and most everyone was dead by at the end. "Do you know what the play is?"
"I'm not sure," Scott picked up one of the dress shirts and ran his hand over the neat tight seams. "I'm sure it will be entertaining."
"Entertaining." Johnny said the word as if tasting it. He rubbed a hand over his jaw. He'd shaved late in the day, so he felt he could make it through the evening. He heaved a sigh and began to unbutton his shirt.
"Don't be like that, Johnny. Not every play is like Hamlet."
"Oh, I hope you're right. If everyone dies, I'll never let you drag me to another one."
Scott's hands stopped on his belt buckle. "I'll be right back; I need to talk to Murdoch."
Johnny chuckled and unbuttoned his
fly. "Quit trying to improve me, brother. You can't improve perfection."
Scott snorted a laugh. "Oh yes. You're perfection, and I'll be the next pope."
A glint in his eye, Johnny pulled on the stovepipe black trousers. "You better start practicing your catechism, brother."
Murdoch read the note that was laid on the top of his new shirt. The tailor had sent over these dress clothes for tonight as well undergarments and sleepwear. The rest of their clothing purchases would come tomorrow. The bill showed no fee for the hurry and there was a note explaining that he'd heard that they were survivors of the wreck. Murdoch was grateful. He didn't know if the shipping lines would really pay for any of this, as they promised. He wasn't sure if, after all was said and done, that the company wouldn't be bankrupt.
"Murdoch?" Scott called from the sitting room.
Murdoch jammed the note into his pocket and pulled open the door. "Scott?"
"I was just wondering what play we were seeing tonight."
They had dinner at the hotel restaurant and then took a rented hack to the theater. The evening had gone well. The menu consisting of thinly sliced and marinated strips of beef and sautéed vegetables followed by a light desert of peaches in cream.
"Teresa's gonna love that her favorite desert is served at a fancy place like this." Johnny folded his napkin and set it next to his plate.
"She doesn't put brandy in her peaches." Scott scooped one last piece of a peach out of the bottom of the bowl.
"It's good either way." Johnny sat back in his chair and looked over the room. Crystal chandeliers flickered overhead and small candles glowed on each table. Ladies in fancy dress and men in black suits filled every seat.
The theater on Hope Street was less than five years old. Murdoch had kept his knowledge of the evening's entertainment to himself afraid that either one of his sons might attempt to dodge the event. A light mist was making the street glisten under the yellow lamps.
The finely dressed patrons didn't bother to stop and socialize outside, instead moving into the lavishly decorated lobby. Scott and Murdoch met more than a few old friends here. Johnny stood silently to the side, but neither man gave him the opportunity to wander off. He was introduced to dozens of people he'd be hard pressed to remember the next day.
By the time the head usher announced for them to take their seats, Johnny had heard the story of the sinking more than ten times. Murdoch held his tickets in his hand, tickets left for him by one of his business associates. An usher glanced at the tickets, then led the way to a narrow set of steps and the three Lancer men followed behind.
The seats turned out to be a box to the right and above the stage. A well-appointed box with plush seats and low tables to hold their wine glasses. Johnny scooted his chair forward so that he could look down on the other guests and the orchestra.
"There's a band," Johnny whispered over his shoulder.
Scott was still standing after having hung his cloak on a peg to the side of the door. "An orchestra."
"There wasn't an orchestra in that last play."
"No, there wasn't, which should give you hope that it's not the same."
Murdoch watched not only the crowd but also his sons. He was fairly sure Scott had figured out what they would see, but if he had, he'd kept it to himself. They both cut a fine figure in their coal-black suits with long tails, starched white shirts and black string ties. More than one person had commented on Johnny's sunburned appearance, but Murdoch noticed that both Johnny and Scott were getting a fair share of admiring glances as well. Murdoch could see how uncomfortable Johnny was each time the wreck was brought up so he and Scott took over the telling of the story.
"Johnny, I know you may not enjoy this, but I hope you'll sit quietly until it's over."
Johnny rolled his eyes. Murdoch made this request at almost every new thing he tried to show his son.
"It's just this isn't everyone's cup of tea," Murdoch continued.
The orchestra had finished warming up and began the first notes. The overture was light and fast paced. Johnny was still sitting forward in his seat, his arms resting on the railing watching the last few people as they moved through the rows to their seats.
Scott leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "When I was a boy I used to bring peanuts to the show and drop them on the people below."
Johnny laughed and then ducked his
"What did you say?" Murdoch hissed.
"Sh!" Scott held his finger to his lips and pointed out that the curtain was going up.
Three hours later they were back out on the steps of the theater. Sometime during the performance the mist had become a rain and then blown clear. The steps were wet and slick and there was a crisp bite to the air. The patrons milled about the landing, talking about the show, pulling their cloaks and coats tighter about them. Johnny hung back for a few minutes watching Murdoch and Scott as they shook hands and socialized with friends.
He'd enjoyed the opera. His Spanish allowed him to follow the Italian well enough, although more than once he'd been lost when all the singers were on the stage singing at the same time, but he'd kept up.
He'd liked the costumes of the actors, but he had to admit some of the outfits on the people out here on the steps were almost as bold. One of them, a young man wearing a bright yellow cravat and a hat with a feather, was leaning against one of the walls of the theater, failing to get a match to light.
"Do you have a match?" the man asked when his sulfur stick broke.
"No, sorry." Johnny replied.
The man sighed and stuck the cigar into his inside pocket. "Did you enjoy the show?"
"I did," Johnny shrugged one shoulder. "I have to say it's not my usual fare."
"You're lucky. This is the sixth time I've seen The Marriage of Figaro. Seems if any family members come to the city to visit, my father feels the need to bring them here."
Johnny moved backward hoping up to sit on the broad stone step railing. "Johnny Lancer."
"Brandon Haight," they shook hands.
"Haight, like the ‘Governor of California’ Haight?"
"Don't tell me you’re a political crony?" Brandon frowned and shook his head.
"No, never met the man, but my brother plans to vote for him in the next election." Johnny let one leg swing as he watched the carriages pulling away from the front of the theater only barely bogged down by the muddy street.
Johnny looked over at the man who was only a few years younger than he was. "I haven't decided."
Brandon laughed. "No, you're not in politics. Most will say they are going to vote for my father, even if they're not."
"And what do you do?" Johnny waved to Scott who was looking to make sure he knew where his brother was.
"Do?" Brandon asked. "What do you mean?"
"What do you do for a living, or are you going to college?"
Brandon seemed to squirm. "I don't really do anything. My father is the governor; I'm part of his staff." Brandon seemed to find his thumbnail very interesting.
Johnny gave one tail of his string tie a pull and let it hang loose around his collar. He then pulled out the stud holding his collar closed, rolling it in his hand a moment before putting it in his inside jacket pocket. "Are you planning to run for office? Follow in your father's foot steps?"
"I hadn't given it much thought." Brandon frowned. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason." Johnny now waved at Murdoch who was checking on him this time. "I just can't imagine not doing something."
Scott and Murdoch seemed to know quite a few friends that were here at the show tonight. Idly, Johnny wondered how many friends of his might be in the city, although enjoying an entirely different kind of entertainment.
"What do you do?" Brandon's thought broke into his musings.
"I'm partners with my brother and father in a cattle ranch."
"Sounds just dreadful." Brandon said then covered his mouth as if he couldn't believe what he'd just said.
"Best job in the whole world. I like what I do, and where I do it. Doing what I like gives a man a real feeling of pride." Johnny thought of home, and wished they were going there instead of back to the hotel.
Brandon's question brought him back from his wistful memories of the ranch. "Hardest part is keeping the politicians out of your business."
Brandon recognized he was being teased. "Can't be done, Mr. Lancer. They love to stick their nose in where it's not wanted."
"Brandon?" A man in a well-tailored suit with a peach colored ascot waved to the young man.
"That your father?"
"Yes," Brandon pushed away from the wall. "Want to meet him?"
"What do I do if he asks me to vote for him?"
"Tell him no and see what he says."
Johnny stayed where he was, watching the crowd thin as Brandon headed over to his father. The two talked for a minute and then Brandon brought his father over. Johnny scrambled to his feet, wishing he hadn't pulled his tie loose.
"My son tells me you want him to get a job and you might not vote for me." Henry Haight was a big man, coming in at well over six feet tall with a full beard, but there was a smile on his face as he extended his hand.
"Brandon and I were just talking about what we do for a living; he said he worked for you." Johnny shook the governor's hand and found the man had a good, strong grip.
"And are you going to vote for me?"
Johnny flicked his gaze over to where his father and brother were talking to friends, praying they'd come and save him. "My brother admires your work on the University of California and my father applauds your efforts with the merchant's subsidies."
The Governor clapped Johnny firmly on the shoulder. "You have very carefully told me what your brother and father think, what about you?"
Johnny tipped his head and toed the crack between the stone steps. "You sure are hanging on to this like a dog with a bone."
"Son, I'd like you to come work for me, you can say nothing and dodge an answer with the best of them."
"I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing." Johnny liked the man, with his honest smile and good nature.
The Governor had a big booming laugh and he looked over to his son and winked. "So, Brandon, care to work for Mr. Lancer instead of me."
Johnny raised one eyebrow and met the young man's eye. They stared at each other for long seconds as Brandon thought over the proposition. Johnny could see when the dark-haired young man had made his decision, his shoulders squaring and his chin lifting. "I'd like to go to medical school."
Both men were stunned into silence, then looked at each other. "That was not an answer I was expecting," the Governor said softly.
Johnny shrugged, "Is it workable?"
The senior Haight nodded his head. "Yes it is. I think it's quite a fine idea."
"Truly?" Brandon seemed very surprised by his father's acceptance of the idea.
"I don't see why not," Governor Haight watched his son very carefully. He'd worried that Brandon didn't have any goals in life and might be a hanger-on, or worse, one of the shiftless men of money that seemed to be plaguing society these days.
"Father," Brandon paused and gathered his thoughts, surprised at his dream come true.
Governor Haight just grinned and laid his hand affectionately on his son's shoulder. "You, sir, are a good influence on my son."
Johnny looked down, abashed. "I don't think any one has ever said that about me." Then he looked up grinning. “Go tell my father that, will ya?”
"So, you've managed to send my only son away for more schooling, probably to some eastern university that will cost me a fortune. What will it take to get your vote?"
Johnny considered his words carefully. He wasn't good at this type of conversation. His father said he spoke first and thought second. Scott said he didn't look at things from all points of view before making decisions, and Johnny had to concede that they were both right. He'd lived on gut instinct for far too long, but here and now, these were not the sort of people to whom you just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Johnny was dreadfully afraid that something he said would affect his father and the ranch in some way.
The Governor seemed to sense his hesitation. "No matter, boy. I was just teasing you a bit. Brandon seemed to like you right off."
Brandon was watching him, his dark eyes intent. "I said what I wanted. You should too."
Johnny thought about Brandon's words, and his brother's and father's, but he'd lived on instinct too long. "It's the Chinese, governor. I don't think they're treated very well," Johnny finally blurted out. Inwardly he cringed when he saw Scott leaving his friends to come over, wondering if he'd said something too loud or rude. He continued on when the politician said nothing. "They helped to build this country, working the railroads and the mines, but we treat 'em worse than the Negroes, and that's saying something. I hear the Mayor wants to burn Chinatown, saying that it causes disease, and you and I both know that's a lie." There! He'd said his piece and he'd pray his family didn't stick him back on a boat and ship him to China.
The governor was nodding now, his thin lips pursed. "I agree with you," he said slowly, "and I am working to address the situation."
"Good," Johnny nodded, feeling slightly overwhelmed that someone like the Governor of California was listening to what he had to say.
Brandon seemed to puff up, proud of both his father and his new friend.
"Johnny?" Scott had pressed through the crowd to stand next to Brandon Haight.
"Oh," Johnny was actually relieved his brother had finally showed up. "Governor Haight, this is my brother, Scott Lancer. Scott, Governor Haight and his son Brandon."
Introductions made, the three men struck up a lively conversation and Johnny slowly pulled back to again sit on the stair railing. Murdoch made his way over and again introductions were made all around. Johnny watched his brother and father exchange political ideas. Eventually, Brandon came over to lean against the railing next to Johnny.
"That is what cronies do. They talk about changing the world." Brandon shook his head with a heart-felt sigh.
"And don't you plan to save the world? Being a doctor is a tough job, and you won't die a rich man." Johnny was tired, and he hoped it didn't show. This many people, even as the crowds thinned each time a sleek black carriage pulled away, were wearing on him.
He longed to go back to the hotel where it was quiet, and honestly he just wanted to go home. He was tired of sitting still and being told where to go and when to be there, but somehow, he just couldn't find the energy to do anything but go along.
Brandon seemed to sense his mood; maybe he too, had been too long at his father's side. "I won't save the world, Johnny Lancer, but maybe a person or two."
"What made you decide to tell him tonight?"
"Me?" Johnny was surprised and it showed on his face.
"Everybody knows you're the survivor of the St. Anne wreck. Three days adrift out there. And I kept thinking, what if I never do what I want before I go down in a shipwreck or something? Can't live my life doing what other people want. Oh, my carriage is here. Good night, Johnny, I hope we meet again."
"Bye, doc." Johnny grinned at the young man's startled expression at the moniker but he was proud, just the same. Again, Johnny sighed, before realizing his father and brother were both looking at him. "I'm gonna walk back to the hotel. I've been sitting too long." He wanted to be by himself, for just a few minutes.
"No, Johnny, our carriage is here. And it's too far to walk. It's at least ten blocks." Murdoch was using the tone that said he'd win this argument, so again Johnny went along with his request.
Scott had him by the elbow and it was all he could do to keep from jerking his arm from his brother's grasp, he let himself be led to the rented hack. He was too tired to argue.
He looked out the window as the houses rolled past the window, desperately wishing he was on his way home instead of to the hotel.
The bed was soft and the sheets clean, but as tired as Johnny was, he couldn't sleep. The sound of the surf and seagulls seemed to echo in his ears. That and the sound of his brother's light snoring.
The light was still burning softly in the sitting room, and Johnny lay there, with his hands cradling his neck, trying to decide if he dared to get up. Both his brother and his father weren't known to be light sleepers, but they had also been keeping a close eye on him lately.
He was over-tired, he knew. Knowing that if he could just get his mind to stop jumping from image to image maybe then he could sleep. The image of the ship, lurching to one side, the feel of the spray on his face, the clear blue sky, painfully bright as he clung to his raft, and that big full moon, watching him, or watching out for him, depending on his mood. And the way he felt, still felt, like the skin on his face was too tight and stiff like leather that needed to be oiled, his lips chapped, his eyes tired from the glare.
He practiced long learned techniques to force his body to relax, starting at his toes and working his way up his body. Usually he was asleep before the tension left his mid-section, but this time he was working on the fingers of his left hand before he finally dropped off.
It seemed like only minutes later, when Johnny felt his shoulder being shaken. Fog-shrouded light filtered through the curtain filing the room with a hazy light. Scott was standing beside the bed, a furrow of worry marring his forehead. "I wanted to let you sleep, but Murdoch has friends joining us for breakfast."
Johnny blinked. The room seemed dull and half colored, but he wasn't sure if it was the early hour, or the grittiness of his eyes. Letting a breath puff his cheeks, he rolled out of bed. He stood for just a moment, the woven rug scratchy beneath his feet. His morning routine was already broken and he felt distracted. He just stood, rubbing his cheek and blinking until Scott began to chuckle.
"Don't say anything," Johnny grumbled and snatched up his robe. The white cotton wrap had wedged down between the mattress and the footboard, but with a twist of his wrist it broke free and was on his way to the little closet to relieve himself.
When he came back, Scott was at the basin, just starting to shave. Johnny perched on the edge of the bed and watched his brother's even strokes as he took off the morning stubble.
"What does Murdoch have planned for today?"
Scott tilted his head, to shave his neck, but it also gave him a view of his brother in the mirror. "I'm not entirely sure."
Johnny rolled his eyes, but nodded. "I want to get my own shaving gear today."
"We will," Scott turned, wiping the last few spots of lather off his neck. He didn't like the look around Johnny's eyes. There were still dark circles, and Scott had heard him tossing and turning last night. Too few hours of sleep, not enough exercise and not enough to eat were showing on his brother's tight features. "Johnny…"
"When do we go home?" Johnny moved around his brother, not meeting those questioning blue eyes.
"I think we leave Wednesday."
"Two more days," Johnny sighed and ran his finger over the carved handle of the razor.
"Johnny," Scott started again. They really hadn't said much of anything about the wreck and he knew that Johnny would take his own sweet time to bring the subject up, but Scott needed to know how his brother was doing. Scott had his own guilt, and it weighed heavy.
"Go check on breakfast, will you. Make sure there aren't any fried potatoes on my plate."
Scott smiled and draped his hand towel over his brother's shoulder, giving a gentle squeeze before leaving Johnny to his ablutions.
"How is he?" Murdoch was looking out the window, but he wasn't seeing anything in the swirling fog. He was tired, too, and the late nights and worry were beginning to show.
"He's antsy, tired of being cooped up, and wants to go home."
Murdoch sighed and sat down on a red brocade divan. "Him and me both."
"Can we leave any earlier?" Scott moved to the window and pulled back the drapes. The murky gray fog was beginning to lift, but hadn't burned off yet, draping the street and the pedestrians below in the velvet mantle of gray.
"I checked the schedule. The only way we can leave today is if we take a stage and then we get stuck in Wapapego for three days before we can make the connection to Green River. If we leave tomorrow on the stage, we get stuck in San Dominguez for two days before we end up in Spanish Wells. If we stay here until Wednesday we can take the train to Cross Creek and then take the afternoon stage to Morro Coyo. I just assumed we'd be better off here, than stranded in a mud hole for days with nothing to do."
Scott looked down to the street below. Carriages were coming and going behind sleek well-fed horses. Big draft horses were pulling heavy wagons around to the back of the hotel. "You're right, of course."
"What are you right about this time?" Johnny asked as he walked in on the tail end of their conversation.
"Everything," Murdoch rose. "As always."
Johnny snorted his acceptance of that idea. "Who are we having breakfast with?"
"Some friends of mine, David and Jeremy Brisco. They are in the tallow business. I've known them for years."
The tallow business was an understatement. The Brisco Brothers were the biggest sellers of tallow in the state of California. The Lancer men set out to walk the four blocks to the high-class restaurant on Market Street. Beveled glass windows reflected the pale morning sunlight across highly waxed tables.
Coffee was delivered in sterling coffee pots and served up in bone china cups. The breakfast fare, much to Johnny's delight, didn't have a single fried potato anywhere, but he wasn't hungry. The men at the table discussed the sinking of the St. Anne and the financial ramifications in what seemed, to Johnny, to be endless boring detail. He shifted in his chair he could watch the people walking by while nibbling at the buttered toast stacked on a plate in the middle of the table.
"What do you see?" David whispered as Jerome and Murdoch argued over the merits of pen feeding herds.
"Seems like a lot of folks are headed down the street and not so many up." Johnny motioned to the ladies walking down the street, in groups of twos and threes, many in starched black dress and simple hats.
"Every morning all the local farmers bring their crops in to the meadow at the corner of Market and Battery. There - all the local restaurants, like this one, go early and buy what they need. After that, the servants and thrifty housewives all come down and do their shopping."
"I wouldn't mind seeing that," Johnny sighed, already knowing that he'd never get the chance, even as he voiced his thoughts.
"We don't have time for that," Murdoch had finished his conversation with Jerome and had eavesdropped on David and Johnny. "We have a lot to do today."
"Oh," David frowned. "Shame, it's a great way to kill an hour or two." David grinned and nodded to the window as two giggling girls walked past carrying empty baskets, soon to be filled with fresh vegetables. "But I do have tickets to the Theater for tonight if you'd like to attend."
"Will there be singing?" Johnny sighed again, knowing that it wouldn't matter. Scott and Murdoch seemed to enjoy the theater and he was sure one, or both of them would accept.
"No," David laughed. "Not a song in sight." He frowned and turned to his brother. "Does it? I've slept through it the last two times."
"Oh, gee, I can't wait."
"He's kidding, Johnny." Scott laughed
"Oh sure," David smiled and winked, but rolled his eyes making Johnny wonder if maybe he wasn't joking after all.
The day was busy, starting with the trip to the dry goods store. Johnny stopped just inside looking up at the shelves that lined the walls from floor to ceiling. A ladder perched against rails let clerks climb to the highest shelves to bring down merchandise.
Scott had headed directly over to a glass case that held razors. He squatted down, tipping his new hat back from his face to get a better look. "I like this one."
A clerk, in a starched white shirt and a dark black apron came over to assist his new customer. He slid open the back of the case and pulled out a silver razor nestled in a small wooden box filed filled with cotton.
Murdoch leaned against the counter, watching both his sons. Johnny was wandering up and down the aisle looking at all the goods. He didn't linger on any one thing, just taking in the variety of items that was triple what they had even in Green River.
Scott was hefting the razor in his hand, turning it over to look at the craftsmanship. The hustle and bustle of the city seemed to agree with Scott's demeanor; the tired look was gone from his eyes, even if the sparkle hadn't yet returned.
Johnny had come to the end of an aisle and stood watching Scott fingering the fancy razor. "How much for something like that?" Johnny asked the clerk.
"A dollar-ten." The man said with obvious pride.
"You can buy three razors for that price back home," Johnny shook his head.
"Can't buy one like that back home, cowboy." The clerk held the box up. "That blade was twice forged. It'll hold an edge like none other. That's real pearl on the handle, and the workmanship is guaranteed to last. You wont break a hinge for the all the time you own it."
Scott flipped it over again in his hand. "I'll take it."
The clerk grinned and took the razor from Scott's palm, resting it back in its place in the box.
"What about you, Johnny? Which one do you want?" Murdoch was silently horrified by the price Scott was willing to pay for the razor but he kept from saying so. Johnny was shaking his head. "You can't wait until we get home, Johnny, if that's what you are thinking." Johnny nodded, admitting that was just what he was thinking. Murdoch tapped the glass pointing to a plain razor near the back of the case. "Can I see that one?"
The clerk pulled it out and laid it on the counter. "You have a fine eye. It's a simple razor, but well made."
Murdoch hefted it and unfolded the blade. It was good steel and would hold a sharp edge. He looked at the price and it was more than reasonable. "Seems like a good one."
Johnny shrugged and nodded.
Murdoch motioned to the clerk to add it to the pile. Scott had moved off, down other aisles and Johnny followed behind, not much caring what was purchased. Murdoch found himself trailing behind the two of them, picking out things for Johnny when Johnny wouldn't decide for himself. Finally they finished and Murdoch had the packages of goods sent to the hotel.
"Where to next?" Scott smoothed down his jacket and headed for the door.
There was clothing shopping again, replacing things not purchased from the tailor. Scott made sure that all three men replaced all their under things. Johnny tagged along behind and Murdoch watched his youngest son, noticing just how many times Johnny stood by the window, staring outside.
"I'm starting to feel cooped up."
"I know, we'll be going home soon."
Johnny shrugged and looked out the window again. "Not soon enough for me." Johnny grinned. "I sound like a spoiled kid, even to me."
Murdoch laid his hand on Johnny's shoulder and smiled. "I think you've a right, and to tell the truth, I want to go home too."
"I'd like to walk. Go somewhere."
Scott had come over while they were talking. "I have just the place." Scott gave a tug on Johnny's shirtsleeve. "A place where you can walk and you won't get lost."
Johnny frowned. "I ain't never been lost in my entire life."
"Well, where you can't wander off and Murdoch and I can't find you."
"I'm pretty sure he just said 'so I don't get lost'."
Murdoch nodded his agreement. "I'm pretty sure you are right."
Scott flagged down a carriage and a few minutes later they were headed down Market Street and over to Third Street. There, just beyond a magnificent garden stood a squat, red Greek-styled building.
Johnny followed Murdoch and Scott in through a set of intricately carved mahogany doors. Inside was lit by not only dozens of oil lamps, but by hundreds of windows. The walls were lined with paintings, the floor space held statues, some of them 20 feet tall.
"A museum? This is the place I can walk with out getting lost?" Johnny smelled the air, as if expecting it to be musty.
"A place to stretch your legs and your mind." Scott gave his brother a friendly pat and then a gentle shove toward the wall.
They walked the length of the room, Murdoch following behind, and then entered a small room. This one held smaller portraits.
"Tell me what you see." Scott spoke in low tones as if to disturb the feeling in the room.
"Nameless heads." Johnny pursed his lips and continued looking at the portraits. He smiled a little when he heard his father's snort of laughter. "Why don't they put a little piece of paper up, to tell you who it is or why this person was important enough to have his picture painted?"
"It's not important who the painting is of, so much as you appreciate the talent of the artist, and to see if the painting moves you in any way."
"Maybe they don't write anything on paper, because no one knows who this man is." Johnny didn't fail to miss his brother's eyes rolling.
Scott pointed out the subtle shadings. "See how the artist makes the person look so lifelike?"
"How do I know? Maybe the man in this picture looked like Charlie Franklin after a three day drunk, and this was the best the painter could do."
Murdoch did more than snort his amusement at this.
"Perhaps portraits aren't what we should be looking at." Scott was disappointed that his father and brother weren't appreciating the art, but he wasn't surprised.
The next room they entered was of landscapes and Johnny could at least appreciate these.
"I still don't see why we can't know something. I mean, what if I like this painting so much I want to go there?"
"It's New York," Murdoch said. There was a wistful tone in his voice as he looked at a painting of a bluff beyond a meadow across a large river. "But it doesn't look like that anymore."
"You were in New York?" Scott asked. "Why would you go from Boston to New York?"
"I went to look at a farm outside Albany. It was a possible alternative." He nodded toward Scott. "Your mother insisted I check it out, that it would be a shame to travel all the way to California, only to miss out on a perfect opportunity so close."
"And how was it?"
Murdoch thought back on the farm he'd been to. A pretty enough setting, the house was a rustic colonial home, but it was in such disrepair he'd have had to tear it down. "For a start - it was a dairy farm." He was grinning and scratched his cheek. "I'm not a dairy farmer."
"You weren't a cattleman at the time." Scott pointed out.
"True enough, but I had no desire to learn to be a dairy farmer." Murdoch spotted another painting, one of an idyllic scene that could have been the farm he'd seen, only after years of restoration. "It was a bit like this." White and black cows grazed in a grassy meadow, a red barn on the hill behind. "But the house and the barn were in shambles, the fences down, and the snow." He shuddered. "I'd left snow behind in Scotland."
"Did you know California wouldn't have snow?"
"I'd been corresponding with a friend who'd come west in '41 with Fremont. He wrote letters the like of which I'd never read before." The three of them shifted around, letting other patrons past, and went to stand near a window. "According to my friend, MacDonald, fish jumped in your boat and fruit fell from the trees right into baskets. I read those letters for three years. He was here when I, we, your mother and I, landed in Yerba Buena in '45. He's the one that arranged for me to buy the ranch from the Mexican Government." They were standing in a line now, their backs to the wall, their arms crossed over their chests in a matching pose, Murdoch in the middle, one son on each side. "Your mother," he continued, "she insisted that I check out other options, before we came, and so I went to New York."
Scott nodded sagely. "I'm guessing she thought some of those tales were a little too tall?"
"I had my own doubts. It couldn't be so wonderful, but it was - it is. And that's how I came to be in New York."
"When were you there?"
"Just a few months before we were married. So that would be January '44." He shuddered at the memory. "The absolute worst possible time to be in upstate New York. It was colder than Boston, with more snow and ice. No - it was much too cold, and I wasn't about to live there. Fortunately your mother agreed when it took me two extra weeks to get home from being snowed in."
Johnny rubbed the toe of one boot against the back of his pants leg, buffing up the shine.
"How does all this make me like looking at nameless heads?"
Scott rolled his eyes again. "I have just the thing." He went to talk to the docent, a tall thin man, with a dour expression. The man pointed to a small low wall. Scott came back.
"Remember, art is something you feel. Follow me." They did. Around the low wall to a room set aside where ladies and youngsters wouldn't stray in by accident. Johnny stopped so suddenly that Murdoch bumped into him, his hands resting on his son's shoulders. Scott turned and watched. Johnny was actually blushing, the color red creeping up his neck to match the sunburn on his cheeks.
"Do you care who they are?"
Johnny had no words; he stared for a long time and then moved further into the room. The paintings were magnificent. Some of them he could recognize without a piece of paper telling what who was who. The bible stories were easy to spot, but the tales of the Greek myths took him a little longer to figure out. "Is this legal?" He finally got out with a splutter.
"This, my dear brother, is art."
Murdoch kept his own council on whether what he was seeing was art or not, but he had to admit, it might not be as hard to get his younger son into a museum the next time.
Outside the museum was an expansive garden. Hedges boxed in rows of flowers in long lines. Trees were cut and shaped in interesting patterns. Jays and magpies hopped on the expanse of lawn, competing over worms brought up with the morning rain.
Johnny sucked in a breath of the cool afternoon air. From here there was a good view of much of the city. Above and behind him, were the large houses of Rincon Hill. Below him was a cut in the landscape where construction was beginning to open up a road through the hillside, making it easier to get from those opulent houses to the business district and Market Street.
The air had a salty feel to it, making Johnny's sunburned cheeks feel tight. Off in the distance he could see the masts of tall ships in the bay, a few of them with their sails billowing as they set out on the evening tide, others only dark shadows anchored against the skyline, their cargo waiting to be offloaded.
A gull flew overhead and its call broke his reverie. With a start he turned to find his father and brother watching him. He ran a hand roughly through his hair. "I'm hungry."
Murdoch pulled out his watch and checked the time. "Let's go back to the room and get cleaned up. We'll have something sent up to the room."
"We're going out again?" Johnny knew they were, knowing that another outing at the theater was planned for tonight. There was a tiny hope in the back of his mind that maybe he'd be able to get some sleep during this play.
Scott waited for Murdoch to lead the way out of the gardens, hovering at his brother's elbow. "I'm sure I can convince Murdoch to stay in, if you really want to."
Johnny looked up at the painfully blue sky. A bank of clouds was building out on the horizon, promising another drizzly evening. A fly buzzed past his face and he waved it away. "No, we'll go out. I'm thinking I won't be able to sleep anyway." They followed a few paces behind Murdoch, and the thought of being in the hotel, alone with his thoughts did not seem like a good idea.
"When was the last time you got a good night's sleep?"
Johnny rubbed one gritty eye with his index finger and thought his answer over. He was tired, so very tired, but sleep had been elusive. He'd tossed and turned every night, the sound of the surf in his ears, and other sounds as well. The crack and moan of the ship breaking up seemed to haunt him. He realized that Scott was waiting for an answer.
"How long ago did we leave Los Angeles?"
"Johnny, you're going to drop from exhaustion."
"I'm sleeping, Scott."
Scott shook his head. He knew it was
true to some extent, for he woke his brother up each morning, but the dark
circles under Johnny's eyes told another story. Johnny might be sleeping, but
not enough, not nearly enough, and Scott suspected, not eating nearly enough
either. The walked as far as the corner before Murdoch flagged down a hack.
"For the love of Pete, doesn't anybody walk in this town?" Johnny rolled his eyes and got up into the sleek black carriage. It wasn't as nice as the one they'd ridden in last night, or perhaps, in the light of day it was easier to see the scuff marks of too many boots and the threadbare seats.
"Now Johnny, I've seen you ride your horse across the street," Scott chided as he got in to sit beside his brother.
"That's different." Johnny looked out the window, pushing aside the black window covering. "The streets of Morro Coyo can be dangerous. I might get run over by wagon or drunk cowboy."
Murdoch watched his sons, sitting across from him, as they debated the relative dangers that lurked in lawless towns versus booming cities. It was a friendly debate, and Murdoch enjoyed it, but it seemed like Scott was working hard at keeping Johnny engaged in the conversation. He almost decided then and there to cancel their evening plans.
As the hack stopped in front of the hotel, Murdoch was the first one out. He headed for the front desk to talk to the manager.
Johnny was stopped by the doorman
waving him over. "Mr. Jefferson, how are you today?"
Micah Jefferson was surprised at being called 'mister' by this young man, but he smiled at the compliment. He picked up two jars that were sitting on the cool paving stones. "A Mr. David Brisco delivered this and asked me to give it to you. He said it was for your pants."
"My pants?" Johnny looked at what looked like a jar of yellow lard. He gave it a sniff and winced at the smell before touching it with his finger. It was as soft as warm butter. He realized that with David in the tallow business this was something he could work into his trousers and maybe save them from ruin from the seawater. "Thank you." He put the glass lid back on the jar and fumbled with the closure.
"This is from my missus." Micah handed Johnny another jar. This one looked like lard too, but had a distinct green tinge to it. It smelled a bit like beer.
"It's for your sunburn." Micah reached up, almost touching Johnny's cheek. "It should keep those blisters from scarring. My missus, she's good with potions and such."
"Well, thank you Mr. Jefferson, and thank your missus, too."
"Johnny." Scott was holding the door open.
Johnny nodded to his brother and then turned back to the doorman. "I can't say thanks enough."
"No thanks necessary, Mr. Lancer. Just don't get those jars mixed up." Micah stepped over to take the handle from Scott and pulled the door open wide.
Johnny grinned and entered the hotel, Scott right behind him.
Their hotel room was warm, the fire burning cheerily. On the hearth beside the fire, Johnny's trousers were still rolled tightly and resting on a white towel. Johnny set the two jars down on the coffee table and poked up the fire.
"We need to dress for the theater, son, unless you'd rather not."
Johnny set the poker back and then turned to face his father. "Does that mean we can go someplace besides the theater?" His eyebrows rose, not believing it for a minute.
Murdoch could see that fertile mind working. "I thought you were tired."
Johnny was grinning, crossing his arms over his chest. "Not too tired for the right kind of entertainment."
Murdoch nodded knowingly. "I think the theater is the "right" kind of entertainment, because if you head to a saloon, your brother will follow you, and then I'll have to follow him, and a saloon in a strange town in not the right place for your feeble ol' man."
Johnny snorted. "Feeble, you? That's a laugh."
"But you'll stay out of the saloons, and off the waterfront, just to keep from worrying me half to death?"
Johnny didn't find this joke particularly funny. "I forget that these last couple of days have been as hard on you as it has been on Scott."
Murdoch turned away with a jerky movement and went to the sideboard and poured out three drinks.
Feeling like he'd suddenly stepped in quicksand, Johnny turned back to look at the fire. Yellow and blue and orange flames danced around the edges of the logs. Squatting down, he set one more round on the top of those already there and waited, listening to the crackle and pop of pine tar. A glass came into view out of the corner of his eye, and still squatting he turned to look up at the man offering him the drink. Turning just a bit further, Johnny sat on the hearth. Sipping the amber liquid, it burned a path down his throat. He wanted to say something, something about Iain or the shipwreck, but he couldn't seem to find just the right words.
"I've enjoyed these few days in the city," Murdoch sat on the settee, stretching one arm across the back, the glass held loosely in his hand. "I don't expect there will ever be a need for all three of us to be here again."
"No, probably not a good idea to leave Jelly in charge of running the ranch too often." Johnny felt better, now that they were back on familiar ground, teasing Jelly and talking of the ranch.
"At least Teresa is there to keep him from moving the house closer to the barn."
Johnny looked up, seeing Scott standing in the doorway between of the room they shared. He held a towel in his hand and he was freshly shaved again. He'd taken off his jacket and vest, and was leaning against the doorframe in just his shirtsleeves.
"I left you a drink on the sideboard." Murdoch pointed toward the table.
"Have we decided if we are going out?" Scott threaded his way through the furniture and over to the cherry wood table. He could feel something in the air between the two men, but it didn't spark like an argument, it was almost thick in the air, feeling like despair or sorrow. He sipped at his drink and just flicked his gaze between the two.
"We were just discussing that, trying to decide if Johnny was too tired to go out." Murdoch sipped at his drink, but kept his eyes on Johnny. "We can stay in, go to bed early."
"Not this early." Johnny seemed outraged at the idea. "I haven't gone to bed before dark since I was 8 years old."
A knock at the door brought lunch and interrupted whatever else might have been said. A silver trolley held three covered plates. It was only roast beef sandwiches, but the smell made all three of them realize just how hungry they all were. Johnny picked the meat off the bread, and it didn't go unnoticed by this father and brother, but neither said anything, both knowing that Johnny didn't need them criticizing him.
After eating they opened all the packages, and separated out the purchases, making piles for each of them. "Why is it that we left with two saddlebags and one valise of stuff and now we'll need a trunk to get all this home?" Johnny fingered a new blue cotton shirt, custom made just for him. The stitches were neat and firm, the black buttons sewn on with four threads.
"Well, just the sight of you in a French cuffed white shirt has been worth all this bother." Scott teased as he watched Johnny hold up that shirt. It was simple and tasteful, with none of the ruffles currently the fashion.
"Speaking of French cuffs," Murdoch was standing in the doorway of their room, watching as they sorted through their new clothes. They both turned to look at him. He was holding two small brown boxes when he moved to sit on the bed. He handed one to each of them.
Scott and Johnny exchanged a glance and then opened the boxes at the same time. Nestled in white silk were a set of cufflinks in matching designs. The metal was carved in the shape of a sailing vessel; the rest of the oval button was inlaid in varying shades of blue enamel.
Scott stared at his, a lump in his throat that threatened to suffocate him. He knew it was meant to be something special, but he had a strange feeling of dread when he looked at it. He risked a glance over at Johnny to see him grinning as he traced the outline with his finger.
"A keepsake?" Johnny looked up, smiling, crinkles deepening around his eyes. "You think I'd forget?"
Murdoch was smiling, too. He knew it was risk to buy the reminder. "I couldn't resist."
Scott got to his feet and shook a finger at both of them. "You two have the strangest sense of humor." But he was seeing the humor in it, but he wasn't about to let them know it.
Johnny toyed with the little chain that connected the two buttons together. "I think it's that you have no sense of humor - at all." But a smile softened his words.
"I have nothing to say to either of you." Scott was starting to see the reason for the gift, but he was still uncomfortable with his new keepsake. There was no way he'd ever forget the day the St. Anne sank, and no way he'd ever forget the days after.
"If you don't want it…" Johnny reached out to grab the box, but Scott pulled it out of reach.
"No you don't." Remembering his manners, Scott held the box to his father. "Thank you, sir."
"Yeah, thanks," Johnny added. "This'll be something to show off."
"I'm looking forward to you wearing them to church," Murdoch was doing a very poor job of hiding his amusement.
"I'm not wearing these to church." Johnny again ran a finger over the blue enamel stud. "But I'm going to wear them someplace special."
"Well, wear them tonight, if you still want to go out," Murdoch backed out of the room.
Scott flicked out one of the new dress shirts, admiring the fine weave. He did actually see the humor, and since Johnny was looking at him, he flashed a smile to let him know he liked the gift. And watching Johnny, he didn't see any real reservations about going to the theater, he was even looking like he'd gotten his second wind since eating lunch.
If Johnny did have any reservations about going to the theater he kept them to himself, but he made is quite clear he still didn't like his new black suit. Every step down the three flights of stairs from their room to the lobby of the hotel he told them the collar was too tight, too high and too stiff. The coat was too heavy, too thick and warm. The vest was too tight, had too many buttons and was too dull a color. The pants were too long in the leg, too narrow in the cut and had suspenders that were too short.
Scott was half tempted to toss Johnny down the stairs to end all their misery and made the offer to his brother in a light-hearted tone.
"No, that's fine. Don't put yourself out."
"No really, I'd do it just for you."
"You're such a friend."
"Aren't I though?" Scott made a mock lunge for his brother, but Johnny just jogged a few steps down and out of reach.
"If you're going to end his misery, Scott, the least you could do is push him under a delivery wagon. Down the stairs he might only hurt himself and delay our trip home."
Murdoch was checking his pockets, making sure he had the room key and his wallet.
"I hadn't thought of that." Scott continued on in the serious tone. Johnny was in front of them, only a few steps ahead but close enough to hear the conversation. "Of course if he were dead he'd delay our departure, too."
"But not for as long as if he were only injured."
Checking his cravat one last time, Scott seemed to be strongly considering his father's words. "I guess we'll just have to be sure he stays healthy."
"At least until we get home." Murdoch could tell from the set of Johnny's shoulders that he was taking the teasing well. "Then you can push him down the stairs at home."
"If you two aren't careful, I'll throw myself under a wagon, just to put a hitch in your plans."
"Heavens!" Murdoch gasped dramatically. "We wouldn't want that."
Scott raced down the steps and took his brother's elbow as if helping an elderly aunt down the last few steps to the lobby.
Johnny smiled, but jerked his arm out of Scott's grasp.
The mood at supper was light and for once, Johnny finished everything on his plate, and even sneaking pieces off Scott's plate. It didn't go unnoticed by his companions, but neither said anything. The mood at the table was leisurely and went well with the delicate bone china, cut crystal glasses and fine food.
It was raining when they left for the theater. The lobby was again packed with revelers. Johnny lagged behind and observed the patrons. The cream of society was out tonight. Ladies were dressed in low-necked, tight-waisted dresses with expensive jewelry around their throats and in their hair. Men wore the latest styles, too, and rubbing a hand over his shirtfront, Johnny realized he was one of those fashion plates. Despite all his earlier grumbling, he knew he looked good. If there had been a photographer he'd have had his picture taken. This theater was even more lavish than the one they'd been to the night before. The walls were covered in a red-flocked paper; the floors covered in thick burgundy rugs. The walls were polished, reflecting the light from hundreds of lamps that lined the walls.
Johnny noticed a painting on the wall, and wondered briefly if he'd have noticed it before the afternoon trip to the museum. The painting was of a castle, with a pageant in the foreground, with people playing instruments and dancing. He'd never seen the like of the clothes on these people, but he had to admit, if only to himself, that the painting intrigued him. He tried to take a step back to get a get perspective on the painting, only to bump into the person behind him.
"Sorry." The man he'd jostled barely even acknowledged that he'd been bumped.
Murdoch was watching his younger son out of the corner of his eye. Scott was off socializing with friends, but Johnny was on his own. Murdoch knew that Johnny didn't like the press of crowds, but he'd been a good sport about this entire delay going home. Part of that worried Murdoch. He'd been waiting for the blow up. Waiting for the reassertion of Johnny's own strong personality.
He'd waited and hoped for it to resurface, but so far, Johnny had been very accommodating the entire time. The resentment had shown, Murdoch realized, a few times, but Johnny had given in. With a pang of regret, Murdoch considered that Johnny was still more concerned about their feelings than his own.
They were doing the things they wanted, and just a bit, forcing those things on Johnny. Johnny moved from looking at the picture, to standing next to it, watching the crowded lobby. San Francisco's elite was out tonight, dressed to the nines in the highest fashion. With pride Murdoch watched Johnny as he leaned against the wall. He looked good in the black suit, even with his sunburned cheeks. The combination of the dark clothes and dark hair made his blue eyes seem deeper, brighter.
Scott was looking good too, but as usual, he seemed very comfortable in these surroundings. He was moving in a circle of young men, about his same own age, and he seemed to be almost holding court.
Murdoch watched them both, with a feeling of both pride and dread. He'd almost lost his sons, and that feeling was sitting like a lead weight in his stomach. He moved through the crowd and leaned against the wall next to Johnny.
"Tomorrow," Murdoch stopped and cleared his throat. A waiter was passing between the guests, holding a silver tray half-full of champagne glasses. Murdoch snagged two and handed one to Johnny. "Our train doesn't leave until noon. Is there anything you'd like to do before we leave?"
Johnny stared deep into his glass before poking a finger into the bubbles. He slid his glance sideways, watching both his father and the people milling beyond him. "What play is this?"
"Henry the Fifth, and you didn't answer my question."
"This is the play about war and loyalty." Johnny sipped the champagne from his glass. He didn't dislike the taste, but it was too sweet to be a favorite.
"Yes, and you're avoiding my question."
Johnny gave a shake of his head, knowing he'd been caught. "Only 'cause it's not worth answering, you're only gonna say no. Let's find our seats." Johnny pushed away from the wall, but his father's hand on his arm stopped him. It wasn't a harsh grasp, only resting lightly on his bicep. Johnny looked down, noticing the flash of gold in the shirtsleeve. He touched the sleeve, noticing that the cufflinks were simple gold buttons with a carved "L", very similar to the crest over the fireplace back home.
"What do you want to do tomorrow?" Murdoch tried again a little more firmly.
Johnny shook his head and let out a sigh. "I want to go to the waterfront." Murdoch frowned, but Johnny cut in before he could before he could voice his objections. "It's my bronc, Murdoch. I've gotta get back up and ride." Murdoch was again interrupted before he could express himself. "I don't intend to get on a boat or anything, but I want to see the ships. I want to see the men that work there."
Murdoch thought about it. The idea had merit. "You know you'll get an argument from Scott."
"If you back me, he'll go along." Johnny fiddled with his own new cufflink. Risking a look up at his father's face it was easy to see the disbelief that statement engendered. "Okay, he won't like it, but he will go along."
"We'll see, won't we?"
The usher called for everyone to be seated and again Murdoch led the way to a nice box on the right side of the theater. Four plush red seats with high backs sat along the rail, a small end table beside each one. Behind them were three more chairs, staggered to be able to see over the tables and between the chairs. They had the box to themselves.
Johnny stood at the rail, looking down on the crowd as they found their seats. "Is there singing and dancing in this?" Scott had quoted more than a few passages from the play while they rounded up cattle, but he'd never seen it on the stage.
"No, not like your thinking." Scott settled into his seat, his glass clinking against Murdoch's on the table they shared between their two chairs.
"If you already know the play, why do you want to see it again?" Johnny was kneeling next to the rail, his arms across the top, his chin resting on his forearm.
"Johnny, you're going to ruin those trousers," Murdoch chided, but not too strongly, as he didn't expect his son to get too much more use out of that suit. Johnny took the hint and got back to his feet, leaning against the wall that separated this booth from the next. He watched the patrons as they took their seats enjoying the view of the ladies from above as they removed their cloaks.
He didn't realize how noisy it was until the crowd settled just before the curtain went up. He looked down at the playbill in his hand, reading the notes about the story. He was tired, tired of the city, the people and the noise, but tomorrow they'd be going home.
Johnny took his seat on the far side of Murdoch and settled in to watch. His arms crossed over his chest and squinted. It sounded like English, but whatever they were speaking, it sure didn't sound like anything he'd ever heard before. By the time the Ambassadors from France had arrived in Act I, Scene II Johnny had asked, "what'd he say?" eleven times and had given up any hope of understanding.
By Act II he was wishing he was back at the theatre that was playing the Marriage of Figaro, because at least he understood the language.
He made it to the intermission without saying another word, but he was completely bored stiff. He was hoping to go home at the intermission, but with one look outside, where the heavens had opened and it was pouring buckets of rain, told him that even this boring play was better than sitting in a hotel room by himself. Somewhere after two brandies and before the war broke out, he was fast asleep, his head lolling to one side, pressed up against the wing of the plush wingback chair.
Murdoch had tried to wake him once, but after that, he just let him sleep. Scott found it amusing that Johnny slept through the great battle scene, but not surprising. Johnny often said he could sleep anywhere and with his last few sleepless nights, and the exhaustion of the three days on the water, it wasn't any wonder.
Johnny woke before the closing curtain but he didn't much care what was going on down on the stage. All he wanted at that moment was to get out of the hot, stuffy theater and go back to the hotel. He made tight fists and curled his toes inside the new kidskin boots trying to stretch in his chair without moving. He rubbed the heels of his hands against this his eyes.
He hadn't been deeply asleep. The rise and fall of voices, the flicker of the lamps, the sound of applause, had been at the edge of his hearing, but he'd given up any attempt at following the dialog. He'd caught on now and again, but except for the King's speech, which he'd heard before from Scott, he really wasn't interested.
Waiting for the final bow of the actors, Johnny looked at the intricately carved walls. The carvings were pieced together with fine craftsmanship. Carefully tucked into the ivy and vines were flowers and even birds. Johnny believed that the walls themselves would have been better displayed at the museum than in this dark hall.
It took a good twenty minutes to make it down the narrow staircase, through the lobby and out into the courtyard, the patrons moving slowly and discussing the show. The sky had cleared and the streets smelled of fresh rain and mud and hibiscus.
This night was another repeat of the night before except that Johnny didn't find a place to sit. Instead he leaned against the pale pink brick building and watched the crowd.
Murdoch and Scott were talking with friends and associates, again. The night air was bracing and cleared his sleep-fogged mind. He was feeling antsy and wanted to walk, but he knew his father and brother would never go for the idea. Walking back to the hotel down dark, wet streets in a strange town was asking for trouble he didn't want.
Pushing away from the wall he walked over to the stairs and back, moving slowly so as not to disturb his family from their conversations. He could almost feel them watching him. He retook his place by the wall and waited for their carriage.
Johnny passed the time counting the different colored ascots. Blue, cream, white, yellow, peach and a half dozen other colors besides. Johnny was very grateful for his string tie, which he pulled loose with a jerk and stuck in his pocket.
It wasn't long before their carriage arrived and they were on their way back to the hotel. Johnny flicked back the curtain and looked out at the muddy street and the boardwalks. Tall iron posts held baskets of firewood, casting damp yellow rings of light. Johnny found his attention wandering, ignoring Scott and Murdoch's discussion of the merits of the lead actor and the staging.
With half his attention he heard his father's telling of going to the Drury Lane Theatre and seeing A Midsummer's Night Dream. Apparently they both enjoyed this play more than that one, but Johnny wasn't convinced he'd feel the same. Somehow light comedy seemed to be much more preferable than the play about loyalty and honor.
He realized that he had let out a sigh when both his father and brother stopped their conversation to look at him. "Nice night," he added with a half-hearted attempt at a smile.
"Yes, it was." Murdoch tried to judge
his younger son's mood, but in the darkness of the carriage it was hard. "Did
you enjoy the play?"
"The parts you were awake enough to enjoy?" Scott added, nudging his brother.
"Well, let's just say it was something I can tell my grandchildren about."
Scott looked across at this father, the teasing more evident. "The night you slept through one of Shakespeare's greatest works?"
"Why is it that every play by him you all talk about is one of his greatest works?" Johnny let the window covering drop and the interior was suddenly much darker. "Why don't we go see a play of one of Shakespeare's terrible works?"
"Oh, now that would be an evening to remember." Scott laughed. "Paying good money to see something you already know is dreadful."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Murdoch joined in. "How many times have you both gone to see that woman sing at the Empress Hotel in Green River?"
The carriage came to a stop, and before it even stopped swaying Johnny had reached for the door, and with an exasperated sigh he shook his head. "Sometimes it's not worth talking to you two." She wasn't that bad of a singer. He's thoughts wandered back to the Empress Hotel, thinking off her other assets, knowing that it probably wasn't her singing that kept them going back.
The hotel was quiet; the lobby empty except for the clerk behind the desk and one bellman, asleep in a chair by the stairs. Long shadows filled the hotel as if welcoming slumber to its patrons. They climbed the three flights in silence, as if afraid their voices might wake other guests, but Murdoch and Scott started their conversation up again as soon as the door shut.
The fire had been stoked up and the lamps lit and there was coziness to the sitting room. Johnny pulled off his suit coat and carelessly tossed it over the back of a chair. Tomorrow he would pack the suit, and with any luck, he'd never wear it again. It wasn't that it wasn't a nice suit, it was, and it fit him very well, despite his grousing, but there was something about the formality of all that black wool that kept him thinking of funerals.
He undid two more of the pearl buttons at his throat as he walked to the window. Pulling back the heavy drape, he looked out over the quiet street. He longed to walk these streets, see the people up close, not from a carriage as they rushed from one place to another, but on foot, looking in the shop windows and seeing them. That had always been the best part of going to a new town, the people. Looking at the clothes and the homes, see what was important in each little community. He'd been here two full days and didn't feel as if he'd seen anything at all. He was brought back into the room suddenly, when a drink was put in front of him.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Scott looked out the window before Johnny let the drape drop closed and all he'd seen was his own reflection.
"Not worth it." Johnny looked down at the brandy in the cut glass tumbler. The glass felt cool in his hand. The room had a comfortable feel to it, and Johnny watched his father as he took a place at the end of the sofa, in just the place he'd sit back home. Scott was settling in at the other end, but he didn't look any more comfortable than Johnny felt. Johnny took a seat on a petit-point covered footstool and looked into his glass. It was late, and the last few nights were beginning to show on all their faces.
"It'll be good to get home." Murdoch finally said. "You boys need to make sure you're packed up early so we can get our luggage to the train station."
"What time does our train leave?" Scott put his drink on a side table before unwinding his intricately tied ascot.
"11:45 and we need to be at the station early." He looked over at Johnny, but his younger son was staring into the fire. "We need to make sure we have our tickets."
"I wonder how long it'll be before Buck Addison puts in his rail spur?" Scott ran his hands over the silk in his hands.
"I'm not sure he'll ever really get it put in. I have to think it's easier to move cattle the twenty miles to Cross Creek than it is to build a railroad over those same twenty miles. And I'd have to think that building a trestle over the Sage River would cost a fortune."
"Not to mention that he'd have to get your permission for the easement across our Horse Creek Meadow."
Murdoch smiled and raised his glass in a silent toast. "Yes, Addison thinks he'll charge me to get my cattle across his land to the spur, but I could charge even more for his easement of my lands to get his train to his land. There is no way he could ever go over Red Mesa."
"You two…" Scott shook his head, not finishing the thought. He'd thought the friendly rivalry between Aggie and Murdoch was bad enough, but this battle between the two powerful businessmen was just barely on the friendly side of a feud. "I don't see why you two can't come to a compromise."
It was a discussion that they'd had many times before. Scott and Johnny both thought the train should come as far as Morro Coyo and then everyone would be happy. Every one that is, except a group of town fathers who thought that a train to town would bring crime and more trouble than it was worth. It was only part of the dispute that was holding up Buck Addison's train spur. That, and Murdoch Lancer and negotiations over easements.
Johnny drained his glass in one gulp and then stood and put the glass on the mantle. "If you two are going to have this discussion again, I'm going to bed." Scott stood up as well, leaving the silk scarf on the cushion.
"Good night," Murdoch called after them. He sat in the quiet sitting room for a long while, sipping his drink. He could hear his sons in the other room, the soft noises as they prepared for bed. The light flickered under the door and then went dark. Murdoch sipped his drink, thinking over the last three days. Johnny hadn't brought up his morning trip to the docks to Scott, and Murdoch didn't feel compelled to broach the subject. In the pit of his stomach he was still hoping Johnny might back out, or they'd get too busy, but he didn't believe it.
When he finished his drink, he moved through the sitting room, turning the lamps down. He picked up Scott's ascot and ran the cool silk through his hands. He still couldn't shake a feeling of dread, as if there was still something going to happen, still something unfinished. And he knew that feeling wouldn't pass until he got home, away from this town, away from the memories that haunted him here.
Moving through the darkened sitting room, he moved to his own room and prepared for bed, not realizing he was still clutching the silk scarf.
Johnny lay in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, watching as shadows grew across the ceiling. He waited until he heard the rhythmic breathing of his brother in the other bed. He'd hoped it would lull him to sleep, but the night seemed hot and cloying, even with a breeze through the window. The sunburn ointment given to him by the doorman had eased the tightness across his cheeks, but the smell made his eyes burn. Every shift of his body under the cotton sheets made the bedsprings squeak and he'd wait again, to see if Scott woke.
The next time he shifted he combined the squeak with a roll out of bed. He stood in the pale moonlight between the two beds, waiting for Scott's reaction. When there was none, Johnny grabbed his suit trousers up and eased the door open.
The sitting room was dark and he had to wait for his eyes to adjust. As he did he slipped on his trousers under his nightshirt. On the far side of the fireplace was a door with a glass window covered by a short curtain. Johnny made for that, knowing that beyond was a balcony that over looked the street. He scooped up his leather trousers and the pot of tallow on the way.
The night air was brisk and biting, but refreshing after the stuffiness of the hotel room. There were chairs on the balcony and after making sure the chair was dry of dew he sat in one where he could see the street below. The roofs of the buildings were outlined clearly in the moonlight. The nearly full moon was high in the sky, showing Johnny that morning was still a few hours away.
He dipped his fingers into the cool thick tallow and began to work it into the salt-stiff leather. It was such a simple job, but it seemed like the first time in ages he'd done something useful. He let his mind drift back to the days before the trip; it was almost a month since he'd been home. He longed for home, for his own bed and the things he'd grown familiar with around him.
"Penny for your thoughts." Scott's voice was soft and gravely with sleep as he stood in the doorway.
"That's twice now," Johnny said with a grin. "This time – pay up."
Scott patted where his pockets must be. He was attired just like Johnny with his trousers pulled on under this nightshirt. "I'll owe you."
"Welsher." Johnny's tone was light, though, with no expectation of payment.
"May I join you?"
"Sure," Johnny nudged one of the other wrought iron chairs. The sound of metal on pine was sharp in the silence of the night.
Scott just sat and watched as Johnny worked on his trousers, his fingers dipping into the pot every so often, his eyes not on his work, but on the skyline and the street. Twice Scott tried to think of someway to start of a conversation, but nothing came, so he just hugged his arms around his chest to ward off the chill and watched his brother work.
There was something about Johnny, the way he could sit quietly, that Scott admired. Too many people seemed to think that idle chatter was necessary to fill any silence, but Johnny wasn't one of them. Scott shifted in his chair and put his elbows on his knees, letting his hands hang loosely.
"Spit it out," Johnny watched Scott out of the corner of his eye. "I can see you're dying to say something, just go ahead and say it."
There was something about the night, the half-light, the stillness from the street that finally loosened Scott's tongue. "God, Johnny I'm so sorry. This was all my fault."
"That's just nonsense." Johnny shook his head, dismissing the idea, but not his brother. "Scott, you couldn't have known." A little sly grin graced his face. "Unless you planned all this, and this was just a wild hare-brained plot to get my share of the ranch. Cuz if you did, it's too late; I'm leaving it to Jelly in my will."
"You don't have a will."
"Well, true enough."
"Johnny, I shouldn't have forced you onto that boat." Scott continued on, not sharing in his brother's playful teasing.
"Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do." Johnny was just as forceful.
"Johnny - you know you didn't want to go on that boat." Scott worried a cuticle on his thumb. "I shouldn't have forced you."
"Scott," Johnny was shaking his head. "For the love of heaven. You can't take this to heart. It wasn't your fault." The silence hung in the air, like the mist, thick and heavy. Below them on the street, a black buggy, its curtains drawn tight, pulled up to front of the hotel.
A tall man, dressed in eveningwear stepped down first and held up his hand. A pretty lady, dressed in a dress cut a little lower than fashion required stepped out, flashing her ankle as she held her skirt away from the step. Her laughter, high and sweet, reached them across the walkway. They both leaned forward, watching her for as long as they could. Johnny shared a conspiratorial grin with his brother, but the moment was over quickly when a cloud darkened Scott's face.
Johnny shook his head and sat back in his chair. Scott's head was down, as if the grain of the wood was very interesting. Johnny picked up a rag and dried his hands, then rolled his trousers into a tight roll. He put the bundle down and then rubbed his hands through his hair. "I feel like I can't get the ocean out of my hair." He scrubbed at his face. "And it's on my skin." Johnny stared over the balcony at the moon, its light hazy behind the fog. "When I close my eyes, I can still feel the rocking. It's like I'm still out there."
"What," Scott cleared his throat and swallowed the lump that came right back. "What was it like – out there?"
Johnny tipped his head against the seat back. He could just make out a few of the stars beyond the eaves of the roof. There was a long silence while Johnny thought about those three days. Those long, slow days. "At first, the silence was so loud." Johnny started, then stopped and a little smile tugged at his lips. "Until those two kids showed up." Johnny chuckled to himself. "Might make a man swear off having kids, being stuck with those two little ones for two days."
Scott rewarded his brother with a
weak smile at the attempt at humor. "Johnny…"
"Scott." Johnny's tone was soft, but firm. "Let it lie. All your worry and fussin' won't change a thing."
Scott was looking back down at the boards under his feet, and Johnny found himself looking at the crown of his brother's blond hair. "You tell me, Scott. What was it like those few days?"
Scott's head came up, a haunted look in his eye. "God, Johnny." Scott got to his feet and paced the little deck. "When the ship first hit the rocks… when at first I couldn't find you. I knew you'd turn up, but then you didn't." He leaned against the railing, looking down into the street. "I have to admit that day and the next one are a little hazy in my memory." Scott's hands clenched on the railing. "Except the dead house."
Johnny could hear the despair, but he knew that Scott needed to say these things, needed to get them off his chest. "I just kept thinking I'd find you. And I'm not sure what was worse, the finding you or the not."
Johnny nodded, understanding completely. He could only imagine the bodies, lined up in rows. Out on his raft, he'd wondered if Scott was safe, if he'd made it to dry land. The thought of having to search through the dead for his brother was chilling.
"It was dreadful, the not knowing." Scott kept his back to this brother, looking only at the street.
Johnny knew there were no words, nothing really to say, so he pushed himself out of his chair and stood next to Scott, their arms just barely touching. "But you know now, so come on to bed."
Scott shook his head. "No, I'll stay out here a bit."
Johnny put a hand on his brother's shoulder and gave a little squeeze. "No, it's late and we should both be in bed. Come on, big brother. I'll let you tuck me in."
Scott smirked and shook his head, then let is his chin drop to his chest. "All right, shall I sing you a lullaby, too?"
"No, I said I wanted to sleep - not have nightmares."
Johnny led the way back through the sitting room and into the bedroom they shared. Standing next to the bed he shucked his trousers leaving them in a pile on the rose colored rug and climbed into the bed, the ropes giving a welcoming squeak.
Scott folded his trousers and set them neatly on a chair. Even in nothing but the moonlight he could see Johnny, on his back, his hands tucked under his head staring up at the ceiling. Scott pushed back the covers and slid between the cotton sheets. They were cool and soft against his legs. He matched Johnny's pose and cradled his head in his hands. "I wonder what Murdoch has planned for tomorrow?"
Johnny gave a little cough and rolled over onto his side. "I guess we'll see tomorrow."
Scott could tell he was missing something important, but he wasn't quite sure what and he fell asleep quick enough that he didn't give it another thought.
"We are going where?" Scott had heard the answer, but his incredulous look at his father and brother clearly showed he didn't believe it.
"The waterfront." Murdoch ran his hands down his shirt sleeves, then tried to change the subject. "Make sure your bags are packed and ready to go. I'd like to have the porter take them to the station."
"The waterfront?" Scott tried again.
"Johnny, you have something of mine?" Murdoch tried to lead his younger son out to the room to give Scott a chance to digest the information.
"Excuse me," Scott slapped a hand down on the tabletop. That got both men's attention.
"Just tell me why we are going to the waterfront."
Murdoch started to speak but Johnny laid a hand on the bigger man's forearm gently. "I want to go, Scott. I want to see the ships."
Scott started to speak, then shut his mouth with a snap. He wasn't quite sure if his objection was for Johnny or himself. A small knot of panic was bubbling in his stomach.
"It's not as if I want to join a crew and sail to the East Indies," Johnny shook his head and smiled. Scott wasn't quite sure if there was a bit of a blush under that sunburn. "I got knocked down Scott, I gotta get back up."
Scott nodded, understanding at least a bit; maybe it would be good for him, too. "I can understand that. No need to spring it on a man."
Johnny's smile became a grin. "Well, I admit, I wasn't sure how you'd take it."
Scott's attention was focused on both Johnny and Murdoch. Their father seemed almost as uneasy about the idea as he did, but he seemed willing to go along.
"I'm a reasonable man, if you present me with an offer, I'll look at it…" he waved a hand vaguely.
Scott rolled his eyes, and turned back to the table. He poured out three cups of coffee into bone china cups and added a little sugar to his.
"You should never have told him before his first cup of coffee." Murdoch chided in a fake whisper. "You know how he is before his coffee."
Johnny rubbed his fingertips into his eyes. "I don't know what I was thinking."
Murdoch took Johnny's arm and steered him back to the room his sons shared. "You do have something of mine I'd like before you pack up."
Johnny frowned but let himself be led into the bed room.
"I'd like my razor," Murdoch said simply and held out his hand.
"I gave you back your razor yesterday." Johnny frowned. He remembered it clearly, when the new delivery had been made, he'd made sure to get the new razor so he could shave before going out on the town.
"No," Murdoch reached into his pocket and pulled out his old razor. His thumb traced the familiar lines of the stag without even thinking. "This is yours."
Johnny took the razor from his father's palm, his eyes flicking from the well-worn razor to his fathers eyes. "Are you sure?" His voice cracked and he licked his lips. "I mean, don't you want to give this to Scott?"
"No, Iain would want you to have it." Murdoch watched his son. Johnny's thumb traced the carving; he could tell that Johnny would cherish it, and the memory, just as he had. "I have other things to give to Scott; I want you to have this."
"Thank you." It came out as a whisper as Johnny turned it over and over in his palm.
Murdoch watched him for a minute before giving him a quick pat on the shoulder and letting his hand linger there for just a moment. "Get packed son, we want our bags to be ready to go to the station."
"We're going home today."
Home. It was on all their minds.
There was that smell in the air of salt and sand and sea and fog. Johnny stepped down from the rented hack and sucked in lungful of air. His stomach had a knot in it, but his hands were steady. This was good, he told himself. Just down the street aways he could see the docks, the masts of the ships swaying side to side in the tide.
The street they were on now ran alongside a meadow and that meadow was full of people selling their wares from the backs of wagons, makeshift booths and handcarts. Johnny was two steps ahead of his father and brother, looking at everything and nodding to the ladies. He still hadn't bought a hat. Like his gun belt and boots he felt all three would be better replaced at home.
At first he hadn't noticed, but now he found a pattern to the outdoor market. The foodstuffs were in one area, the rest along two other sides. He fished the five dollar note that Murdoch had given him out of his pocket and bought three apples, tossing one to each of the men behind him. "Don't dawdle," he grinned and moved off.
"Need a lead on that boy," Murdoch grumbled, but dutifully followed behind.
Scott took a bite of the apple, the crisp tanginess bursting over his tongue. Apples were a luxury at Lancer, one they didn't get often. "Would it do any good?" Scott finally got out after he swallowed down the bite of fresh fruit.
"Would what do any good?" Murdoch was shouldering his way past a half dozen kitchen maids as they stopped at flats of strawberries. He could only just see Johnny's head and he intended to keep the young man in view.
"Would it do any good to keep a lead on Johnny?" Scott took another bite of the apple and waited for the response.
Murdoch thought a bit of before he finally answered. "No, probably not. I've learned, slowly I suppose, not to keep too tight a hand on the rein." With a shake of his head he realized he was talking about his second son as he would a piece of fine horseflesh. "He seems to know his way home."
Scott went to the left of the knot of people as Murdoch went to the right. Johnny was up ahead, stopped at a booth selling penny candies. Father and son shared a look of relief that he wasn't too far ahead. "He's thinking with his stomach."
"I'm just glad he's eating." Murdoch groaned when he saw Johnny stick a small white bag inside his shirt. "How does he expect to sit still on a train if he's eating candy?"
"Maybe we can keep most of it away from him until we get home."
Murdoch pushed to catch up, but Johnny was moving on. He'd turned back, as if to check on them, but then pushed forward. "Johnny, slow down." Johnny heard, and waited patiently.
"It's like back home at the Fair, only it's so much bigger." Johnny was grinning. "And this happens every day, can you imagine?"
"Yes, I can." Murdoch was trying to get swept up in Johnny's good humor, but he just couldn't. Fortunately, Johnny didn't seem to notice and as soon as Scott caught up to them Johnny was gone again.
"Maybe we should try that lead on him anyway." Scott shook his head. "We'll never keep up with him."
"He'll wind down as soon as he realizes he hasn't had breakfast yet."
And that didn't take long. Johnny had made three tours through the market place and now was standing on the corner. Across the street a building was under construction. Workers scrambled over the wooden framework like ants over a picnic basket. Johnny stood and watched, his hand shading his eyes. The sky was a brilliant blue, the morning fog burning off early. "I'm starved," he said when they finally caught up to him again. He rubbed his hand over his belly, the wooden buttons of his shirt feeling rough in their newness.
"We can head back to the hotel and eat there." Murdoch didn't believe it was going to happen, but he had hope.
"No, I'm hungry now. Let's eat there." Johnny pointed to a little café a little closer to the docks. Its front was unpainted, and it looked rustic and raw, but the businessmen exiting the shop in their three piece suits spoke volumes about the quality of the food.
They took a table along the window and didn't wait long for a full-blown woman in a plain brown skirt and a blouse that had once been white, came and told them what was on the menu. "Ham steak and eggs or corned beef hash?"
"My life is over-full with fried potatoes." Johnny grumbled into his coffee.
"We'll have three plates of ham steak please," Murdoch waited for a confirming nod from Scott. "Thank you."
The lady wiped her hands on her apron and headed back into the kitchen. It was only a few minutes before she came back out with a platter with three steaks and another platter of fluffy scrambled eggs. A boy about eight came out with three clean plates and balanced on top was a basket of golden brown biscuits.
"Those are mine," Johnny grabbed the basket with one hand and ruffled the boy's hair with the other. "Thanks, son."
The boy smiled and scampered back to the kitchen.
While Murdoch served the food, Scott poured coffee. "Where to next?"
"I still want to go to the waterfront." Johnny split the biscuit and spread raspberry preserves over the moist white center.
"Aren't we at the waterfront?" They were only a block away, but Scott felt it was close enough.
Murdoch forked a piece of meat on to each plate. "We can walk down to the docks and look around for a bit. We'll have about an hour. I do not want to miss our train." There was clink of the cutlery as both his sons cut up their meat. "Johnny, I don't want you to get as far ahead of us at the docks as you did in the market."
Johnny rolled his eyes. He forked some eggs into his mouth. "I'm not a kid." He paused to swallow then started again. "I'm not a kid and nothing's going to happen."
"Do it for me, all right?" Murdoch gestured between his two sons. "Do it for your ‘old man’. I have enough gray hairs." They both laughed. "And someday, when you’re my age, I'm going to remind you that you thought I was old. This," he pointed to himself, "is not old!"
"Oh no," Scott smiled at Johnny across the table just before he bowed his head over his plate. "We're about to get the 'when I was your age' speech."
"When I was your age," Johnny pointed at Scott with his knife, "we didn't bring up these topics at the table."
Scott pointed back at Johnny. "When I was your age, we didn't point with our cutlery."
"When I was your age," Murdoch growled, "we didn't mock our elders."
"Of course," Scott covered his smile by eating a piece of ham.
Murdoch paid for the breakfast and they walked the last block to the docks. The buildings were packed tightly together, sharing common walls. As they rounded the corner the shops became warehouses, the sounds of men at work, boxes being loaded, the smell of sweat and horses were barely overpowered by the smell of the ocean.
The docks were long and narrow like fingers sticking out into the water. The big ships, their sails down, were out further into the bay, but up close to the wooden piers were small, flat boats, loaded with cargo being raised up from the water into the warehouses.
Seagulls flew low overhead, eating garbage that was floating in the murky, barely moving water. Johnny walked all the way down to the end of the pier. It was a long walk, the pier boards were warped and didn't match well and Johnny could see the water down below.
There was no railing at the end of the pier, just a large board nailed up as a stop. Johnny put one boot up on the end and looked down into the water. His stomach rolled as he looked into the filthy water and he had to take a step back to relieve the vertigo. He looked out at the bay. He counted five ships anchored and one coming in with one sail up. He watched it, moving slowly closer, realizing it was very hard to judge just how far away it was. He didn't know how long he stood there, wondering how far out to sea he'd been. He could see the ships, but he didn't feel a part of them.
He could feel Scott and Murdoch standing behind him and he turned to look at them. They both looked a little green and like a flash of lightning Johnny realized just how selfish he was being. He was disappointed that just seeing the ships hadn't fixed the strange feeling of unease inside him, but he didn't think it mattered any more. "I'm ready to go."
"That's it?" Scott was almost startled by the suddenness of Johnny's decision.
Johnny gave himself a shake, both mentally and physically, and started to walk back down the dock. He was suddenly almost overpowered by the smell of stale water and dead fish, and the noise of seagulls and dockworkers.
Murdoch followed along, making sure he stayed to the very center of the dock. Scott followed quickly on his heels. They got to the boardwalk and just stood for a moment.
"Where to now?" Johnny asked, feeling a bit let down. He'd expected something from this trip to the docks and what ever it was, he didn't get it. The street was busy, the narrow streets more crowded than the wide roads back home. People bustled along the stone walkways in the usual hurry of daily life.
"We have a little time before we have to head to the train. Shall we just walk?" Murdoch turned right and began to stroll through the busy business district. The shops were long and narrow, cramming a half dozen stores into a block that might have housed two back home. The shops were varied, in both class and quality, but they didn't go into any of them, merely looking at the items displayed in the front window. The display in one shop, of a dressmaker's dummy sporting a brilliant blue dress, reminded the men that they'd want to bring home a gift for Teresa.
"I'll be in charge of that," Scott scowled at his two companions. "One of you will buy her a mermaid with seaweed hair."
"Can we get one of those?" Johnny looked in the shop window as if one might be there behind the glass.
Scott didn't to hide the grimace on his face that clearly showed that he wondered why he bothered. But Johnny's refection in the glass showed he was enjoying teasing his brother.
Leading the way, Scott moved down the walk. The street ended suddenly at the last shop. There was no cross street or egress to the next block, only sandy marshland. A pair of seagulls looked up at the trio and hopped further back in to the tall grass. They crossed over the street and made their way back toward the docks. The shops on this side of the street were a step higher in elevation with a step up into each store. There were also the marks of a water line, showing that at some point the street had flooded.
They had to wait while a team of six draft horses, pulling a wagon heavily loaded with cut stone, passed. As they stood on the corner Scott looked left. Somehow on the way down the street the first time, they'd walked right past a book store. It was tucked between two other buildings, its name painted above the door. They could walk across the street faster than the team- and Scott did. Entering he took a deep breath. It smelled of leather and paper and linseed oil and dust and Scott drank in the smell as if it were of the finest food.
Murdoch was right behind him and having much the same reaction. These were the smells of his youth. He could almost taste the ink. There was a bespectacled man behind a glass counter who bid them welcome. Murdoch couldn't help but look to see what was so precious as to be kept under glass.
Johnny sighed, resigned. It happened every time they hit a new town. There would be hours lost among these dusty tomes. Johnny stood in the doorway and watched as his father and brother each headed off down a row. Johnny trailed behind for a few minutes, looking at books on science, history, shipping and animal husbandry.
His fingers trailed over the bookshelves, having long ago heard the lecture not to run his fingers over the spines of the books. He walked between the rows, reading a few of the titles, listening as Scott exclaimed over some find. He got near the back and he could suddenly tell that the floor under his feet was hollow. He had a sinking feeling, his stomach suddenly lurching. He stared at the wooden floor planks, the way they joined the each other and the walls.
He could still see bolt marks in the floor and he headed for the front door with a knot in his stomach that threatened to choke him.
"Are you alright, son?"
Johnny looked wild-eyed at the man behind the counter. "I just have to get outside." He cleared his throat and got control of his emotions. "Is this…" he gave a whisper of a chuckle. "This sounds stupid - but is this a boat?"
The man behind the counter got up from his chair and took off his glasses. "Ah, you've spotted our secret."
The man gestured Johnny to a little chair next to the one he'd been sitting in. "Are you from here?"
"San Francisco? No, but I was born in California."
"Ah," the man smiled. "Most of the people in this city are from somewhere else, you know. Do you know the history of the city?"
Johnny shook his head. His panicky feeling that he had to get outside finally having retreated just a bit. His foot did tap on the floor, as if making sure it was solid.
The bookseller leaned back in his chair, a man that loved to tell stories showing in the easy way he rubbed his spectacles clean. "Back in the days of the gold rush, the ships would come into the harbor, heavy with men and supplies." He looked up at his audience of one, and Johnny nodded to show he was listening. "The crews, however, would jump ship, looking for gold, and there was no one to take the ships back to the East. Now, this little bay, she's slow and dirty and when the ships didn't move, the silt started to settle around them until they were good and stuck. So, we just chopped off the masts and pulled down the rigging, and filled around them with dirt. And that's how this street was made."
Johnny was speechless. He'd never thought about how the ship had gotten here, inland like this. Only that he didn't want to be on another boat, but then he had to smile – then grin. He was on a boat. Like it or not – he was now on a boat. He'd ridden that bronc.
"Thank you." Johnny said softly, knowing full well that the man would never really understand what he meant.
"Now, do you keep a journal?"
Johnny shook his head again. "No."
"Well you should. Someday, folks will be scouring these shelves looking for books about this time, the way we try to find out about Knights of King Arthur."
"You've read that, haven't you?" When Johnny shook his head again the man replaced his glasses and got to his feet. "Every young man should read ‘La Morte d'Arthur’ at least once." He stopped suddenly and turned to face the younger man. "You can read, yes?"
The bookseller went down the first row of books, stacked from floor to ceiling and pulled down a worn brown-leather volume. The gold-gilt lettering on the spine was almost gone, and many of the pages were dog-eared. "You'll enjoy this."
Johnny turned the book over in his hands and then opened it to the front page. "It's in French."
"No, son, just the title page. It's a wonderful book about Knights and Kings and love and loss and magic."
"Are there boats?"
"Boats? I don't think so."
"Then I'll take it." Johnny pulled out his crumpled wad of notes. "And I'll take one of those journals, too. You really think anybody would care what a cowboy from Morro Coyo has to say?"
"I think they would, yes."
The bookseller reached onto a back shelf and pulled out a thick book. The pages were all blank. Johnny was somewhat intimidated by the white pages, wondering what he'd ever put on the between the covers that anyone would ever want to read. "Can I have one more?"
The bookseller smiled and put a
second blank journal on the stack and wrapped them in brown paper. If someone
was going to be interested in what a cowboy might say, then maybe they'd like to
know what Teresa had to say, too. Johnny took his purchases and the coins he'd
gotten back in change, and thanked the bookseller.
Murdoch and Scott were still lost in the shelves of books, so Johnny went outside. The day had warmed up nicely. A soft breeze came off the bay, still bringing with it the smell of the ocean. Johnny sat down on a stone step off to the side of the doorway. Looking at it with new eyes it was easy to see it as a part of the dock, where long ago the ship had tied up.
He sat and watched the people and horses as they moved across the narrow street. He closed his eyes and just let the sun warm his face. It was then he realized that what he was feeling was what he wasn't feeling. That ache was gone from his chest. Where before he'd been desperate to go, to get as far away from the sea and its memories as he could, now he just longed to go home. He wanted to sleep in his own bed, eat at his own table.
He stood and stretched and scanned the street. The early morning crowds had changed to the late morning crowds. Merchants and buyers had been replaced with grooms and maids running errands. Instead of well-dressed businessmen rushing to get to their office, now they were strolling slowly, having meetings as they walked. Johnny amused himself for a few more minutes watching the people before he finally went back into the shop.
He found Murdoch near the side windows, balancing a large volume in his hands, using the light from the window to illuminate the pages. "I'm hungry." Johnny looked over his father's shoulder, squinting at the tiny print.
"Again?" Murdoch was obviously amused.
"Find your brother, and I'll go pay for this." They squeezed past each other in the narrow aisle and Johnny went further back between the dusty rows.
"Look at this," Scott held up a newer book than his father had been looking at, and Johnny could easily read the title.
"Resistance to Civil Government. Are you planning a revolution? I have some experience with those. It's not good."
Scott frowned at his brother's statement. "No, I'm not planning a revolution. But it is a book by a man that thinks the government should stay out of people's everyday life."
"Well, Murdoch will like that."
"I'm sure he's read it," Scott moved closer to Johnny, holding open the cover of the book. "But look, it's autographed."
Johnny could see a firm hand had written a short paragraph 'To William'. "But you're not named William."
"It doesn't matter. This book was signed by the author himself. It makes it worth more."
Johnny pushed the book shut and gestured to the front. "And it'll probably cost more, too. But Murdoch's up front with his wallet out, so I'd hurry if I was you."
Scott did just that and a few minutes later they all stood out on the street, each carrying a brown wrapped package tied with heavy string. Scott's bundle was by far the biggest.
They made one more stop at one more store so that Scott could buy a gift for Teresa, and then hurried on to the train station. Murdoch checked their seats with the conductor while Johnny and Scott made sure their luggage had been checked and got their claim tickets. There was a quick dash as both young men ran for the car as the train pulled away from the station with a blast of steam and a squeal of breaks.
They stood together on the platform of the train car, the countryside beginning to speed past them. "Finally," Johnny's shoulders drooped with relief.
"We're going home."
"You know, I just had a thought."
"What's that?" Scott leaned back against the railing that surrounded the back platform his legs spread to counteract the rocking.
"I never got a beer." Johnny smiled. "I've been in this town three days, and I haven't had a single beer."
Scott felt the train lurch as it gained speed before going around the corner. Just a few long hours and they'd be in Cross Creek and from there, home. "Maybe we can get one in town."
"You don't believe that any more than I do."
"True enough," Scott felt the burdens of the last few days beginning to slip away. They stood together for a few more minutes. "We'd better go inside before Murdoch starts to worry."
"Scott," Johnny stopped his brother just before he could turn the handle on the door.
Scott waited, but for a long moment Johnny didn't say anything.
"The next time I say I'm not going on a boat, believe me, I'm not going on a boat."
"Brother, you'll be hard pressed to get me on a boat again."
Johnny grinned and reached over to unlatch the door. "I've got news for you – you already have been." He was going to enjoy telling this story.
Continued in Part 3