Person Unknown: Epilogue
The sun was bright in Scott’s eyes after the darkness of the Normile house. Pausing on the porch steps he took a deep breath, not sorry to escape the cloying smell of lavender that apparently Mrs Normile took to be a necessary sign of gentility, while his eyes scanned the farm.
Sure enough, there was his brother, his movements a far cry from his usual fluid grace as he had to quickly lift his right leg before it took too much weight, walking slowly towards the road.
“Hey, Johnny! Hold up!” he called out, hurrying along the path and out the small garden gate to the yard beyond.
He saw his brother pause and turn his head nonchalantly in his direction but instead of stopping, Johnny continued on his way.
Scott scooted on, easily catching up to his limping brother. “You planning on walking home?” he asked wryly, wondering at his brother’s purposeful direction.
“I thought I saw something out there,” was Johnny’s soft, almost musing, reply, his eyes searching intently.
Scott looked out at the acres of green grassland surrounding them. “I think the only thing you’d find out there would be rabbits and gophers.”
“Mebbe,” Johnny agreed brightly, stopping to flash a quick, hopeful smile at his brother or to rest his leg – Scott wasn’t sure which.
“You coming in, Johnny? Looks like Mrs Normile’s keen to make amends,” Scott told his brother pointedly. “She’s even got out the best china. I think she’s got her eye on Murdoch,” he added with a grimace of distaste.
Johnny’s glance flickered back towards the house. Even from this distance he could vaguely hear his father’s deep, rumbling laugh through the door Scott had left open.
“Well, think about it,” Scott went on seriously, “I doubt very much that she’s a woman to accept defeat too easily. Once her plan to blackmail Murdoch or to marry Lucrece off to you or me didn’t work, she’s probably set her cap at him, herself. You know what they say, Johnny...” He waited until he was quite sure that he had his brothers complete attention before finishing profoundly with, “you should always have a back-up plan.”
Johnny met his brother’s eyes with a lazy twinkle in his own before continuing on his way. “That’s what they say, is it, brother?”
“So, how do you feel about a stepmamma?” Scott grinned, waiting for some response.
Instead, Johnny stopped at the chest high fence they’d reached, and leaned his arms along the top rails, looking out at the pasture. The same view he thought at one stage may be his last view of this earth if Tom Nevill and his old man had had their way.
“I’m gonna need some help in there to bring Murdoch out in one piece,” Scott added warningly.
“You go ahead, Scott. Guess I ain’t much in the mood for celebratin’ just yet.”
Scott nodded, his expression quickly sombre. “I liked him too, Johnny,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, well, Tom Nevill sure as hell didn’t.”
Scott gazed towards the house for a moment before swinging back to his brother. “It’s hard to understand what makes a man like that tick.”
“Ignorance, just plain ignorance,” Johnny spat out bitterly before resting his forehead on his arms to stare down at his boots.
“You get the full story of what happened from those other hands?”
Scott waited, looking expectantly at the dark, bowed head. He’d held off asking Johnny this question yesterday after his brother had come out of the sheriff’s office where the various statements had been taken, in deference to his brother’s feelings. But he’d genuinely liked the quiet Mexican - everyone did. He’d been a hard worker, with a lurking sly, sense of humour. Scott could remember one time when…
“Nevill called him a chilli bean, among other things…then he shot him.” Johnny’s softly spoken words broke through his thoughts
“That was it?” Scott found it hard to keep a sense of incredulity out of his voice. Once again, the sheer brutality of the west had caught him by surprise. He thought he was getting used to it…but you never did…just like you never got used to losing a comrade in battle.
“That’s all a snake like Nevill needs, Scott,” Johnny answered in a weary voice as he lifted his head and looked across the road to a grove of spindly trees.
“Well, I can think of a lot of people who’ll be happy to see him hang,” Scott spoke out with feeling.
Johnny laughed unpleasantly. “You heard his old man when the sheriff was hauling him away…what jury’s gonna hang a man for killin’ a Mex?”
“Not everyone thinks that way, Johnny.”
“Nooo,” his brother drawled, “but there’s still enough who do.”
Scott knew Johnny was right…heck, Johnny understood bigotry far better than he himself did. But Scott believed that things could change…people could change. He’d fought in a war on that belief. He just hoped that a whole lot of other innocent men didn’t lose their lives before it happened.
“Go on in, Scott,” Johnny broke the silence, clapping a hand to his brother’s shoulder and giving it a friendly shake. “You gotta save the ole man…remember? I sure don’t want Mrs Normile as my stepmamma.”
“She’s got a pretty daughter,” Scott pointed out temptingly, keen to direct the conversation to other channels. In truth, he was a little curious as to the apparent coolness Lucrece directed towards Johnny. If he knew women, and he was pretty sure he did, he would have bet that Lucrece was more than a little smitten with his baby brother.
A smile crossed Johnny’s face, but his words were purposeful. “Stay out of it, Scott.”
“Lucrece says you shouldn’t be riding with that hole in your leg,” murmured his brother, deciding on a side-on attack.
Johnny gave him a knowing look that said he knew exactly what Scott was up to.
“Maybe you should rest up here a bit longer,” Scott grinned, “Give that leg a chance to heal.”
“I’m just saying…”
“You aimin’ to be Murdoch’s best man at the wedding?” warned Johnny. “Cause it sure as hell won’t be me.”
Scott grimaced suddenly at the picture of Murdoch and Mrs Normile walking down the aisle. “Okay, I’m going, I’m going.”
“Hey, Scott, just don’t let Murdoch start telling any of his stories!” Johnny shouted out with amusement as his brother headed back to the house.
Scott waved a hand in acknowledgement and Johnny’s smile broadened when he heard his quick bark of appreciative laughter.
Johnny was absently watching him walk away, his smile slowly fading from his face, when a flash of movement in the long grass by his feet caught his attention. Slowly he reached down, careful not to frighten his find.
“There you go, little feller,” he soothed the trembling, tiny bundle of grey fur once he held it in his hand. “Looks like neither of us’ll be running too far today,” he told it, wryly, thinking affectionately of Lucrece and her need to mend things as he fingered the incongruous bandage and splint on the rabbit’s leg.
His thoughts went to those big, dark sad eyes that were waiting mournfully for him back at the house. For her sake, he was sorry that he couldn’t give her what her heart so desperately wanted. She’d finally opened the cage and let him go…but she was hurting.
Johnny’s attention was drawn back to the bundle in his hand as a small tremble of shivering apprehension ran through it.
“Yep, I reckon I know exactly how you feel, little feller,” he assured it as he ran a hand soothingly over the length of its body, flattening the long, floppy ears.
He looked up and sighed.
He wondered what he would say to a wizened up old mama who thought the sun rose and fell on her only son; he wondered how, with the toss of a coin, a simple stop at a saloon for a beer and a steak had gone so wrong; and somewhere, deep down out of all of that, he wished that he had Lucrece’s naivety that every hurt in life could be mended with one of her bandages or splints and a pail of water.