New Fiction: Lancer AR
(6th story in the 'Small Matters' series)
Lancer has been my home for almost six months now. You see, I ran away from my Boston boarding school, hopped a clipper ship, and sailed to California where I was born.
My father was surprised to see me, since he didn't even know I was coming. After he told me to never run away again, he let me know how very happy he was to have me home.
Soon my Grandfather Garrett came to California to take Pa to court. He wanted to regain custody of me, but the judge ruled in favor of Pa.
So, here I am!
Then a couple of months later, my little brother, Johnny, showed up at Lancer. He wanted to shoot our father because his Mama told him lies about Pa.
There was trouble for a while, because I didn't much take to Johnny for trying to shoot our Pa!
So we fought for a while until Pa laid down the law and now Johnny and I are brothers as well as best friends.
I love my new home here at Lancer. I have a new family: my Pa, my brother, Mia, Cip, Mr. O'Brien and his daughter, Teresa.
We have very nice neighbors and our teacher, Miss Garvin is nice. She's really pretty, too.
Shortly after I came to Lancer, Pa let me pick out a horse. I picked out a dapple gray and named him Shadow after the horse I had in Boston. Johnny picked out a lighter gray horse and named him Smoke.
I have a rifle, but no gun. Pa thinks I'm too young, sadly.
Johnny had a gun when he first came home to Lancer which upset me very much at the time.
I mean, here he was three years younger, and he had a pistol!
However, Johnny didn't get to keep it very long because Pa locked it in his safe. Johnny was mad!
I like all the ranch hands. I get to help them out on Saturdays. Weekdays, I have school and chores before and after and Sunday is for church and family.
I don't mind chores much as long as it isn't mucking out the chicken coop or pigpen. Pa usually reserves those chores as punishment for our many misdeeds, as he calls them!
I sure get tired a lot easier at Lancer. I didn't have chores to do in Boston because we had servants to do everything for us. I go to bed and I get up a lot earlier on Lancer.
I'm not good at getting up early and Pa's constantly yelling at me about it. I'm getting better, but it’s not easy for me. I think I'm still on Boston time.
Johnny doesn't like getting up early, either. So Pa yells at the both of us. Maybe Johnny's still on Mexican time?
Another thing about Boston; Grandfather was never strict with me. He gave me everything but attention. Pa listens to Johnny and me and he keeps his promises: good or bad! Grandfather never laid a hand on me but Pa doesn't seem to have a problem with it, though.
Johnny and I have both been tanned, twice in fact, by Pa. We don't like it, of course, but when we get over being mad, we realize that he does it to keep us safe and to teach us right from wrong.
It means he loves us enough to care about what we do. We know that, but we won't ever let on to Pa. Johnny and I figure if we mope around long enough afterwards, our father might think twice before giving us another tanning. I doubt it, though.
I don't really miss Boston. I guess if I was being honest with myself, I'd say I miss Grandfather, a little. However, I can't forget that he lied to me about my father. Pa says I need to forgive him, if not for Grandfather's sake, then for my own. Maybe someday I will, but right now, I can't.
There's one thing I miss about Boston though; I miss the change of seasons. In Boston, we had all four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. Here in California, we seem to have only two: Summer and Winter. My favorite season of all was Autumn. I loved the crisp air, the bonfires and the smell of smoke and the crunch of the leaves under my feet. The colors of the leaves are so beautiful: reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and purples. Here at Lancer, we have one color: Brown, brown, and brown! Grandfather's gardener used to rake up piles of leaves for me and my friends to jump in. Johnny just gave me a puzzled look when I told him about it. Poor Johnny, he's never known the fun of jumping in leaves.
Back in Boston, we always celebrated Thanksgiving. So I was shocked to find out that no one here really knew about the celebration. I found out that Mother and Father celebrated their last Thanksgiving together, a month before I was born, because Mother insisted upon it. She'd grown up in New England, and expected to celebrate it, but when she died shortly after having me, my father never celebrated it again.
Well, I can't have that. I'm going to bring back Thanksgiving, for me, and for my mother’s memory!
I told Johnny all about the celebration and he didn't really understand it and furthermore he didn't seem to care either, but when I told him about all the food, he got real interested. He loves food! Pa says he has a 'hollow leg.' Me, I just think he's a hog! He has atrocious table manners, but we're trying to teach him better. Pa says we have to be patient with him, because he was brought up differently. He says he’s only just beginning to learn about ‘niceties’ and things like that, and in time, we should have him acting like a proper gentleman… Yeah right! Of course, all of this simply means, Johnny gets away with murder, and I don't!
I’ve been telling everybody I know about Thanksgiving. I talked about it at school and Sunday school. They all gave me puzzled looks, but I knew they would like it. Mrs. Murphy, our Sunday School teacher, said she liked the idea of Thanksgiving: a time to gather together with family and friends and give thanks to God. So she asked me if I would like to do something to tell the locals about Thanksgiving, say at church. She asked me if I would like to write a play perhaps, so that all the other children could be involved. She told me it could be my own personal assignment.
The play would be called, ‘The First Thanksgiving.’
I was to play the part of Captain Miles Standish, Laura Murphy was to be Priscilla Alden, and Johnny was going to be Chief Massasoit. I like Laura a little bit, but if I tell Johnny, he'll tease me no end!
I told Pa and Johnny about the play and Pa thought it was a great idea. Johnny kicked out about playing Massasoit. I told him he'd be perfect for the role, with his black hair and his tan skin and I begged and begged but he just dug his heels in and said, “NO!”
Pa tried to appeal to him at first by telling him that he should want to help his brother, but Johnny still said, “NO!” So Pa then tried bribing him, and then, he simply threatened him and Johnny finally agreed. I don't think he was too happy about it, but reluctantly, he said he would do it.
Pa helped me with the play, but I wrote most of it myself. He said I did an excellent job and Mrs. Murphy decided we would put it on for the congregation on Sunday afternoon.
Many of our friends were going to play main roles: Squanto and John Alden was to be played by Jimmy and Josh Johnson, and Governor William Bradford was to be played by Joe Butler. William Brewster was going to be Matt Anderson.
I was pretty sure Pa was a little worried about our friends having major parts in the play. You see, we all of us, recently got into a little trouble on Mischief Night, and Pa didn't like to let us forget!
I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving since Catherine died. I just never had the heart, but since Scott wants this so badly, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving at Lancer this year.
We’ll have a big dinner on the Sunday following Scott's play at church. Yes, my elder son wrote a play about Thanksgiving and all the children in Sunday School will be participating.
Sunday afternoon saw us all in church, awaiting my son's debut as a playwright. I was proud of him and I was proud of Johnny for agreeing to be in his play. Johnny had argued about it, but I had managed to ‘persuade’ him!
The play was going to take place up at the altar and the stage was set in front of a long curtain, which served as backstage. Scott or 'Miles Standish' came from backstage and started his narration. He’s an eloquent boy and he was doing a fine job; I nearly burst my buttons with pride.
Little Laura Murphy was playing Priscilla Alden. Scott doesn't think I know that he's sweet on her, but he hasn't been good at hiding it. He talks about her continually and he thinks Johnny doesn't know about his attraction to her, but Johnny’s no dummy. I know he knows and I'm waiting for the explosion when he starts to tease his older brother about it.
Johnny is playing Chief Massasoit and he makes a fine-looking Indian chief with his black hair and his tan skin. Of course, I don't know too many blue-eyed Indians but that doesn't detract from his part at all.
The remainder of the Sunday School children are also performing. Half are playing the Pilgrims and half are playing the Indians.
Little Teresa is playing a little Pilgrim girl. I must confess she makes a very cute little Pilgrim with her long brown curls and Pilgrim costume. Paul’s sitting here beside me and I just know he's about to burst his buttons, too.
The play began, Scott delivering an excellent introduction. Now the Pilgrims and Indians alike were gathering for the first Thanksgiving and Scott or should I say, 'Miles waited for Chief Massasoit to enter the scene.
There was a long pause then, and still no Johnny...
Finally, Scott lost patience and stomped backstage.
“Johnny, you're supposed to come on and say your line!” he hissed.
Then my little angels began cursing each other in stage whispers, but loud enough to wake the dead! I wanted to crawl under the pew. All of a sudden the yelling stopped and Johnny came flying through the curtain, followed closely at his heels, by Scott. The boys faced each other and Scott said his first line, waiting for Johnny to say his. He waited and waited and…waited!
Johnny had that look on his face that said he wouldn't budge, bribes and threats not withstanding.
Scott stood there, incredulous now, and then he got that all too familiar look that I recognized very well. He was mad and it became clear he wasn't going to take Johnny’s rebellion much longer.
In a stage whisper, Scott said, “Johnny, it's your line!”
Johnny stood with his arms crossed and his lower lip jutting out.
“Not gonna say it,” he said. “It's stupid!”
Scott's mouth dropped open. “You… are… going to say it; you promised!” he hissed.
“Nope,” replied 'Chief Massasoit' then 'Miles' went for him.
My two sons were rolling around the stage, wrestling, yelling, and throwing punches.
I wanted to hang my head.
Then, all of a sudden, the Pilgrims and the Indians began fighting too and what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering, turned into a full-scale war!
That was it!!! I leapt from my seat and headed for the stage, grabbing up my Pilgrim and Indian. I then hauled them backstage just as Mrs. Murphy and assorted parents, dealt with their warring Pilgrims and Indians!
Mrs. Petersen, Store Proprietor and Congregant:
Oh my, but Murdoch was elated when Scott came to Lancer and when he’d managed to win custody of Scott against Scott's maternal grandfather, I thought the man would bust. Then Johnny came to Lancer, and Murdoch's happiness was complete.
But, oh my, I think Murdoch’s getting grayer by the day. His boys do lead him a merry chase! Still I know he wouldn't have it any other way. He’s much happier now that his sons are home.
So there we sat, the congregation, waiting for the little play to begin.
On that first meeting, my husband and I fell in love with Scott, then Johnny came along and we fell for him as well. I guess we kind of like to think of them as our boys too, probably because my husband and I have never been blessed with children of our own.
The little Pilgrims and Indians trooped from backstage and waited for the stars of the show. Scott came on stage, dressed in Pilgrim garb: shirt, doublet, breeches, stockings, boots and hat that both had buckles. Maria or the boys' 'Mia' must’ve made his costume and she’d done a wonderful job.
I noticed that Scott was playing the part of Miles Standish.
Scott gave his introductory speech about the background of the Plymouth Colony and the first Thanksgiving…
“The 1621 voyage from England to America on the Mayflower was more than 3,000 miles and beset by storms. The Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter, which made it very difficult for them to find food and build shelters; already weakened by their two-month voyage, most of the passengers, failed to survive the first two months in their new home. Fortunately, native people called Wampanoagan or 'Eastern people' already lived in the Massachusetts Bay area and they shared their knowledge of local crops with the 'coat-men' as they called the English and helped the colonist survive.
Ten months after arriving at Plymouth, the Pilgrims had built houses; a common meeting place and three storehouses for supplies and food from their first harvest. They had much to be thankful for after barely surviving their first winter. The Pilgrims would not have survived without the help of the native Wampanoag people and their leader Massasoit. So it was fitting that he and the men joined the Pilgrim's feast.
Massasoit sent several men to hunt deer as a gift to the English for their feast. The 1621 feast was not one big sit-down dinner. Meals were eaten throughout the colony, both indoors and out for almost a week. The High Table would’ve been impressive with Massasoit, Squanto; the Wampanoag Chief who’d taught the pilgrims to plant native crops and Governor William Bradford Captain Miles Standish, and William Brewster; the Pilgrim's religious leader, all present…”
My goodness, but that was a long speech Scott had memorized. We were all very impressed, and gave him a round of applause.
He grinned and bowed slightly at his waist in acknowledgment. Murdoch was beaming with pride.
The play then began. Scott and Johnny were joined by the Johnson brothers, Joe Butler, and Matt Anderson, who played Squanto, John Alden, Governor William Bradford, and William Brewster, respectively.
They were all good friends and classmates of Scott and Johnny and they were also the same boys caught playing pranks in Morro Coyo on Mischief Night. All had suffered the consequences that night and I was quite sure Murdoch was a might worried about the boys being together on the same stage. However if he was, it didn’t show.
Johnny was given his cue and Chief Massasoit was supposed to come on and play his part.
Scott waited, in vain, his face turning redder by the second. Finally he grew impatient and stomped off behind the curtain. Then we heard arguing going on backstage.
The first voice sounding like Johnny's. “I ain't gonna do it, Scott!”
The second voice we heard was Scott's.
“Yes, you are! You promised me and you promised Pa!”
“Hell no, I ain't gonna do it, Scott!”
“Damn it! Yes, you are, Johnny!”
Chief Massosoit or Johnny then came flying out from backstage and nearly fell on his face. It was pretty apparent that he’d been helped along the way, by a not so gentle shove from his older brother.
Johnny was adorable dressed in deerskin breech cloth and leggings, moccasins, belt, and beaded necklace. His face was painted in red, yellow, and black. Maria had done a wonderful
job on his costume, too! He was quickly followed by 'Miles' or Scott, who’d stormed out with a face like thunder, his fists balled at his sides.
I noticed Murdoch out of the corner of my eye then and he’d buried his head in his hands,groaning. I'm sure he couldn't believe his two little angels were swearing in church! It took my husband and I all we had not to laugh out loud!
Then the play began again. Scott, frowning, and delivering his first line to Johnny, who was playing dumb and Chief Massasoit! Johnny refused to say his line and Scott finally reached the end of his tether, and launched himself at his brother. The two brothers rolled around the stage; yelling, scuffling, and trading punches. Then the mêlée began and the little Indians and Pilgrims began to swing at each other too!
Cute little Teresa O'Brien ran up and tried to separate the Lancer boys. “Shame on you,” she scolded, stomping her little foot. “Brothers fighting!”
Murdoch reached the stage and grabbed his little Pilgrim and Indian and hauled them both backstage by the scruff of their necks. Mrs. Murphy, the Sunday School teacher, and some of the other parents finally restored order and instructed the rest of the little Pilgrims and Indians to sit at the side of the stage to wait for the play to start again.
There was silence and then we heard Murdoch from behind the curtain, scolding his boys. “What’s the matter with you two? Johnny, you promised to play Chief Massasoit, so do it! Scott, this play was your idea and your responsibility. You both need to get out there and perform.”
Murdoch probably thought he was using a stage whisper, but Murdoch's whisper was more like a low roar.
I heard Johnny complain, “I told you this was a stupid play; I don't want to do it!”
Then Scott whined, “Johnny, you promised! Pa, he promised! You gotta make him get out there!”
Then Murdoch hissed, “You’re embarrassing me in front of our entire congregation. You’ll get out there, play your parts, and then we'll talk about your swearing later!
Then we all heard what sounded like a couple of swats, and two, ‘OW’s!’ from Miles and Chief Massasoit and then they came flying out from backstage, both of them rubbing their backsides!
The play went fairly well from then on!
That was until little Laura Murphy, Priscilla Alden, came onstage to play her scene. She was soon interrupted by Johnny. “Scott loves Laura! Scott loves Laura! Miles loves Priscilla!” he teased in a sing-song voice, sticking his tongue out at his older brother.
Miles and Priscilla both blushed as the audience tittered.
Scott, who by now was fed up with his little brother, looked sideways at the congregation, rolled his eyes, and groused, “It's NOT supposed to be a comedy!”
Now I know how Murdoch feels about Scott's eye-rolling, so I thought it was probably a good thing for Scott, that he hadn’t seen him do it.
Still long arms reached from behind the curtain to grab them both and drag them backstage. “Scott Garrett Lancer! John Fraser Murdoch Lancer! Get back here...NOW!”
Those Lancer boys aren't dummies, though not by a long shot, and wisely they both kept backing up until they were well beyond the reach of those arms, arguing back-and-forth all the time.
Murdoch burst out from behind the curtain, and it was then, that I noticed his face was an interesting shade of purple! He grabbed Scott and Johnny by the scruffs of their necks and dragged them backstage…again!
“You’re both on thin ice! Get this play done, or I swear to God, I’ll drag you out onto that stage and tan the pair of you good and proper, in front of God and everyone!” roared Murdoch!
We heard a couple of gasps, and a couple more swats, and yet another two ‘OW’s’ and out flew Scott and Johnny, rubbing their backsides, once again.
They stared at the audience like bunnies caught in a trap, neither of them saying a word at first until Murdoch stage-whispered their first lines.
Scott then delivered his line.
Apparently, their father's threats had worked, because the rest of the play went on without a hitch.
Scott did a fine job; he really did. I have to admit, though, the unrehearsed part of the play was the best part. I would never tell Scott that though, to spare his feelings. The audience gave the children an appreciative and enthusiastic round of applause, and the last I saw of Murdoch, was when I saw him drag his errant boys to the door of the church and out to the buggy.
He didn't seem to want to stay around and mingle.
I know he was fit to be tied by his boys bad behavior, but the congregation didn't seem to mind. In point of fact, we had all found their antics highly entertaining. After all, boys will be boys and if Murdoch didn't already know that, he soon would!
After the play was over, Pa dragged me and Scott to the buggy and headed for Lancer. We didn't even get to have any punch and cookies after all our hard work!
We both scrambled into the back of the buggy 'cause neither of us wanted to sit up front with Pa and be within hittin' distance of him!
Pa was so mad, he couldn't even speak! Scott and I knew better than to open our mouths. We knew we was darned close to being dragged to the barn when we got home and we didn't want to make Pa any madder!
We got home and Scott and I tried to jump out of the buggy and make our get-a ways, but Pa was too fast for us.
He grabbed our arms, dragged us into the house, shook us both, then yelled, “Get upstairs and get to bed! I'll discuss your behavior tomorrow when I'm calmer!”
Scott and I looked at each other; then ran for the stairs, each one of us trying to get up them first while guarding our backsides, in case Pa had changed his mind.
The next mornin' we was both at the breakfast table on time.
Pa just glared at us and grunted over his coffee cup.
Scott and me ate our breakfast in dead silence.
After breakfast was over, Pa stood up and said, “I want to talk to both of you in my study...NOW!”
Scott and me eyed each other. It was never good being called to Pa's study. We trailed after him, draggin' our feet, and planted our butts in the chairs in front of his desk. Scott in his chair on the left, and me in my chair on the right.
We’d both been there so often, we had our own chairs!
Neither of us could look at him, we just hung our sorry heads and waited for the shoutin' to begin.
It took Pa a while before he spoke but when he did, he spoke in that low, serious voice. You know, the one he uses before he lowers the boom!
“What do the two of you have to say for yourselves about that sorry performance last night?”
Scott looked at me and I looked at him. Scott spoke up first.
“Pa, our performance wasn't sorry. Everybody liked it because they all clapped loudly afterward.”
The Old Man pinned Scott in his chair with a sharp glance.
“Scott Garrett Lancer...I wasn't talking about the play itself. I was talking about your behavior; yours and your brother's!”
“But, Pa....Johnny didn't want to cooperate....”
“Pa, Scott was bein' bossy! I swear he thinks he's my pa, instead of my brother...”
“Quiet… the pair of you! I'm warning you... I'm this close to dragging you out to the barn, for a long discussion!”
Pa held up his thumb and forefinger about a quarter of an inch apart, to make his point and Scott and me got it, and shut up real fast.
We kept quiet while Pa gave us both an ear-blisterin' lecture; thankful that he wasn't draggin’ our sorry asses out to the barn to give us a butt-blisterin,' too! We knew we’d come close to it, so we weren't gonna push our luck!
Scott and me was still restricted to the ranch, doing extra chores because of the fun we’d had in Morro Coyo on Mischief Night but Pa had tacked on more time to our restriction and yet more chores!
Scott and I eyeballed each other and sighed. At this rate, we’d be old men just like Pa, with long gray beards hangin’ to our knees, before we ever got off of Lancer and had any fun again!
Then there was the little matter of us both cussin' in church. Pa marched us out to the bathhouse and made us hold a bar of soap in our mouths for one whole minute! We stared at one another and I wondered if I looked as miserable as he did? I sure felt as bad as he looked and he was lookin' kinda green!
When our punishment was over, we gagged and spit and made awful faces. We both hoped that by the time we had our Thanksgiving dinner next Sunday, it wasn't gonna taste like lye soap!
Pa sure seems to like to torment us! Just wait until I'm as tall as he is, maybe even taller! I'll show him a thing or two!
We finally sat down to our Thanksgiving dinner. It was me and Pa and Scott and all our guests: Paul and Teresa O'Brien, Doc Jenkins, and Mr. and Mrs. Petersen.
The table was heaped with food. There was turkey, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, sage dressing, green beans, corn, cranberries, rolls, pumpkin pie and whipped cream.
Mia had made all the food that Scott said was served at Thanksgiving. Catherine, Scott's Mama, had brought a cookbook with her from Boston. That's how Mia knew how to cook American food.
I reached for the mashed potatoes, but Pa stopped me cold with a look. “John, we say grace before we eat,” he scolded. Then Pa said the longest grace I think I've ever heard in my whole sorry life.
I was all ready to dig into the food again when big brother piped up. “Back in Boston, we all went around the table and said at least one thing we were thankful for before we ate.”
I groaned and kicked him under the table. If looks could kill, then the one I gave Scott would have him lying dead on the floor, under Pa's feet.
Pa beamed at Scott and said, “That's a very good idea, Son. I'll start.”
Pa said, “I’m very grateful to have both my boys with me this year, even if they do make me crazy a good deal of the time.”
Scott said, “And I'm glad to finally be at Lancer with Pa and my brother, Johnny.”
Teresa said, I'm thankful for my Papa, and the Patron and Scott and Johnny and Maria and Cipriano and my pony, Ribbons....” Jabber, jabber, jabber!
And, I was thankful that Mr. O'Brien finally shut Teresa up and said he was thankful for his daughter, Teresa, and that Murdoch finally had his boys home where they both belonged.
Doc Jenkins was thankful for the invite to dinner and for two of his most frequent patients: Me and Scott. Real funny.
The Petersen's were thankful for the invite to Thanksgiving at our hacienda and for getting to know the two Lancer boys, who certainly made life interesting. Pa snorted at that.
And finally, it was my turn.
“I'm thankful for my Pa and my big brother, Scott, even though he's a pain in the a..., uh...neck sometimes!” If the looks I got from Pa and Scott could kill, I'd be the one layin’ dead under the table alongside my older brother!
Then I added, “And, I'm thankful that we're finally done bein' thankful...!”
Then rolling my eyes, I said, “Jesus, if we don’t eat soon, all the damned food’ll be cold!” Oh, crap.....Wonder how well pumpkin pie goes with soap?
Note: During his administration, on November 28, 1861, President Lincoln ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."
Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln's.
Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise. It was later changed to the fourth Thursday in November.
This year, 2013, is the 150th National Day of Thanksgiving in the United States.