The young brunet headed to the kitchen to finish off the cake that Teresa had baked the day before. Entering the room he found his brother Scott seated at the table. At his right hand was a liquor bottle, half-empty. "Bit early in the day for that, isn't it, Boston?"
Johnny looked intently at the older man. Despair radiated from the cerulean eyes and hunched shoulders.
"Hey, Brother, what's the matter?"
Standing up, the blond headed for the door. "Nothing. I just needed a drink. I won't bother you anymore."
Puzzled by the remark, Johnny reached out to grab his brother by the arm; however, Scott just kept walking, right out the door, and over to the stable where he saddled his horse and rode off.
Dumbfounded by the blond's attitude, the brunet just stood there. Then he noticed something wadded up next to the liquor bottle. Smoothing it out, he realized that it was an envelope, postmarked 'Boston'. For one moment, he thought Harlan Garrett had a written a letter to his grandson, but no, the return address was unfamiliar. C.K. Cunningham--now who was that and what had he or she written to Scott?
Several hours passed without the older Lancer's return. Finally, Johnny couldn't stand his own pacing anymore so he saddled Barranca, knowing that it would be fairly easy to find the trail and track his man. He was right because the trail led to an old graveyard, a very old graveyard.
At one time some of the wagon trains going west had passed this way. Many of those travelers had settled in this lush valley. But not all had lived to see their own homesteads. Some had perished here just in sight of their dreams. Eventually some kind-hearted citizens had gathered the bones from the isolated graves to create a new cemetery named Traveler's Rest.
The former gunfighter dismounted to walk through the broken gate. Most of the makeshift headstones were cracked from rain and wind. A few had been there so long that the names had worn away. It was by one of these that Johnny found his brother.
Sitting on the hard ground with his back resting against one of the weatherbeaten stone, Scott Lancer merely murmured, "Go away, Johnny. I just need to be alone."
"But why? Who's buried here?"
"I have no idea."
"That doesn't make sense," protested the other man.
Scott, eyes bright with tears looked up into the sapphire eyes of the dark-haired man. "Let's just say that since I...can't visit my mother's grave, sometimes I come here instead."
His brother nodded. "I can understand that."
This time it was Scott's turn to nod. "I suppose you do." The story of Johnny and Maria lay heavy in his memory.
"All right. I'll leave you alone if you tell me what this is." He held out the crumpled envelope.
The blond remained silent and as still as a statue.
"Who's C.K. Cunningham?"
In an almost whisper, the blond replied, "Someone I thought was a friend."
"And he's not?"
"No. She definitely is not."
"Was she your girlfriend or something?"
"Her family lived next to mine when I was growing up. Cunningham is her married name."
"I still don't understand. Why is she writing to you after all of this time?"
Scott clasped his hands together, released them, then clenched them again. "She wanted to..to tell me something about a person I cared for."
"No, someone else."
The cerulean eyes came up to look into those of sapphire. "SPIN."
The gunfighter looked at his sibling blankly. "Who?"
"Sarah Penelope Inez Nicholson."
"That's quite a name."
"She was quite a lady."
"How'd you know her?"
"She was my nanny.'
Johnny grinned broadly. "Your nanny?"
"Yes, My grandfather hired her to take care of me since he was away so much on business. She stayed with me until I started school. Even after that she stayed on as housekeeper, and so there would be someone to keep an eye on me."
Now that getting information out of Scott was not like pulling teeth, Johnny could feel some of the tension leave their conversation. "She must have had her hands full with you."
Scott started to smile as the fleeting memories touched his mind. "She did. I was a hellraiser--when I got the chance."
"Why am I not surprised?"
The smile continued as Scott remembered those happy years before the upheaval of civil war. "She stayed with us until I was in my teens. At night she'd tell me stories about her life. As a girl, she had crossed the country by wagon train. She was so damned independent. She even attended that Women's Convention in Seneca Falls."
"Why'd she leave?"
"Oh, SPIN said I was too old to need someone like her and then, she said she missed her life of travel. I remember hearing the wistfulness in her voice as she talked about all the beautiful places in this country that she hadn't seen. I begged her to take me with her, but of course that was impossible."
"Did you ever see her again?"
"Once--after the war. From time to time she'd send me letters telling about the places she had managed to see. I even received one letter in Libby Prison. She managed to have the note smuggled in because one of the prison guards was the brother of a friend. She said she was acting as a nurse in the Union Army. She was always taking care of people."
"She sounds like a mighty fine woman."
In a shaky voice, Scott continued, "Her fifty-fifth birth was April 9, 1865, the day Lee surrendered at Appomattox. It wasn't long after that she showed up at our house in Boston. SPIN wanted to see for herself that I had survived. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she thought I wasn't much more than a scarecrow. She made me some of her special dishes, and we talked. That wonderful woman stayed not much more than a week, but it was the beginning of my recovery. . . . I never saw her again although I did receive a couple more letters."
Silence settled into the late morning air until Johnny prodded further. "That's all?"
"It was until today." Scott removed a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. Unfolding it, he took out a bit of newspaper, handing it to the younger man. "It's an obituary for SPIN. She died over three months ago."
Johnny looked down into his brother's stricken eyes. "I'm really sorry, Scott. She must have meant a great deal to you."
"She did. My grandfather may have paid her to take care of me, but he didn't have to pay her to love me. I'm not even sure I'd know what love is if it hadn't been for her."
The brunet handed back the newspaper article. "I'm going back to Lancer now. Are you coming?"
"Soon. I think I'll sit for awhile longer--and thanks."
"Sure. Take your time."
Scott watched as his brother rode off. Then, he opened the letter that had come with the article.:
How do you like it out there in the wilderness? Your grandfather told me where you were living. I thought you might be interested in this newspaper column. Of course, what it doesn't say is that Miss Nicholson killed herself! I knew she'd get herself into trouble one day. She was always speaking up for the darkies or against drink or for womens' rights. Rights? What did she know? She couldn't even catch a husband.
Anyway, I heard from a friend that your SPIN wrote some letters to the newspaper, and when it finally came out that S.P. Nicholson was a woman, there was an uproar. Well after all, what kind of woman would write about a topic like that? I was so embarrassed when I saw the mention of, well you know...what a man and a woman do together and I'm a married woman! How could an old maid even think of talking about not having a precious child or even worse--those unmentionable diseases.
Not long after her identity was discovered, rocks were thrown at her. I even heard vandals trashed her house. Heaven knows why she came back to Boston. She should have stayed out there in the West where they have no morals anyway.
Of course, I should have suspected she would come to no good end since she was so insubordinate. Remember that time she asked me to leave your house just because I reprimanded that Irish maid of yours? The fool girl ripped the lace on my dress when she stepped on it. That little snip deserved that slap.
I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but did Miss Nicholson really expect decent folks to stand for those letters? Of course, I can't say I'm surprised she took too much laudanum. I suppose it was her way of saying she was sorry for what she had done.
I must go now. My husband will be home soon. Stop by to see us if you're here visiting your grandfather.
Scott ripped up the letter. He watched as the breeze caught the pieces, blowing them away. He returned the obituary to his pocket and then set off for Lancer.