I don’t, of course, own the characters or any rights beyond the pleasure of sharing this story with other Lancer fans.
Scott Lancer gave a final twitch to his brother’s tie and stood back to survey the result of more than an hour of concerted effort and cajoling, interspersed with the occasional threat. Before him stood an immaculately turned out man in a fashionable dark blue suit, starched white shirt, waistcoat (sporting a gold watch chain), and a perfectly tied cravat. With a broad smile of satisfaction, the former Boston dandy pronounced “Brother, vous êtes bien!”
Johnny fidgeted, hand going to his throat. “Awww, Boston . . .”
Scott swatted the hand down. “Don’t. Even. Think. About. It. You are perfect – leave it be.”
Johnny fidgeted, flexing his shoulders and shooting his cuffs. The hand made another move toward his throat only to be lowered with self-conscious effort at Scott’s baleful look.
“I feel like I’m dressed for my own funeral,” the dark-haired Lancer complained.
Scott snorted. “You are dressed for a wedding, Johnny. This is a happy occasion.” Scott paused, sweeping one more glance over the restive man. “You are happy, aren’t you?” The jovial tone clearly assumed an affirmative answer.
Johnny squirmed some more, making another abortive move toward the tie. “Yeah, I’m happy. Mostly. I think.”
The elder brother’s face clouded and his voice rose on a note of incredulity. “You think?”
Refusing to look at Scott, Johnny studied his highly polished boots while his hands fiddled with the buttons on his waistcoat. “I’m happy but . . . it’s hard . . . ya know? I’m givin’ up a lot. Nothing’s gonna be the same.”
The barest hint of a grin twirked one corner of the blonde’s mouth. “It was bound to happen sooner or later, Johnny. Concentrate on the positive; the things you’ll gain. And you’d better get a grip on yourself. If you go out there looking like you’re being dragged to the gallows, it will be the talk of the valley – for months! Do you really want to do that do her? To the family?”
The twirk became something of a grimace. “Worse – far, far worse - we’ll both be in very hot water with some lovely ladies whom I would rather not have thirsting after my blood. Give me a break, brother. I was ordered to have you ready and, if I fail in that mission, it will be weeks – maybe months – before Constance will even speak to me again, let alone permit me husbandly prerogatives.”
Despite his best efforts, Scott couldn’t completely hide his amusement at his brother’s dismay. My brother the gunfighter – famed from California to Texas, on both sides of the border – nearly as much for his steel nerve as for his deadly gun - wouldn’t look this terrified staring at noose.
“Scott, you know I ain’t no good at this sort of stuff. What if I make a fool of myself?” A second’s hesitation was followed by a minute smile. “Constance’d really do that?”
Exasperation showed on the older man’s face but he persevered, ignoring the attempt to sidetrack the conversation. “Now, listen, brother. You can do this.” Inspiration born of his previous train of thought brightened Scott’s face and he plunged forward. “Just think of it as a gunfight. You are going to walk out there in front of all those watching eyes . . .” Scott’s hands waved expansively. “Every living soul for fifty miles around and all those sophisticated representatives of San Francisco society who already think they’ve journeyed to Ultima Thule – with your head held high and coldly, calmly do what you have to do.”
It would have been impossible to say whether Johnny’s flashing blue eyes held more threat or panic. “Boston, you ain’t helpin’!” Pause. “Journeyed where?”
“Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle! Here in thy harbors . . .” Scott’s voice trailed off when the younger Lancer turned away and walked to the window.
The quiet voice that floated back held a note of shy uncertainly. “What if she thinks I’m not gussied up enough? What if I embarrass her in front of all those . . . representatives of San Francisco society?”
Scott’s gray-blue eyes dropped lest the object of his drollery turn and catch their roughish gleam. Little brother, you are in worse shape than I thought. Once more unto the breach, dear friends . . . The voice addressed to the man by the window was perfectly sober. “I promise, she’ll think no such thing. Trust me, Johnny. She’ll think you look very nice . . . handsome . . . dashing . . . dapper . . . elegant . . . downright . . . pretty.” The last word popped out like a cork from a champagne bottle.
Johnny whirled to confront his brother, radiating ire mingled with agitation. “Boston, so help me, I’m gonna shoot you! You are not helping!”
As quickly as it had come, the anger deserted him and Johnny Lancer collapsed into a chair. “I need a drink. Do something useful and find me some tequila.”
Two blonde eyebrows ascended in unison. “First of all, brother mine, you are not – fortunately for me - armed. And secondly, just where do you suppose I might find a bottle of tequila in a church?”
Johnny didn’t look up. “I don’t know! I just know if I don’t get something to settle my nerves, I ain’t gonna make it through this. Come on, Scott, a little support here!”
Scott considered the lowered head, bitten lip, and hands busily polishing the chair arms. Barely managing to convert an unseemly chortle into a throat clearing, the older brother schooled the humor from his voice. “How about some sacramental wine? There should be some of that around here somewhere.”
Still not looking up, Johnny replied “At this point, I ain’t picky.” Chuffing out a deep breath, he rested his head against the chair back, closed his eyes, and ran a shaky hand through his black hair.
Two quick steps and Scott seized the offending hand. “Stop that! Now I have to comb your hair again.”
Johnny jerked free. “Leave off, Boston! I don’t need you to comb my hair. Dios! I ain’t five!”
A huff greeted that statement. “Could have fooled me. Now I mean it. Sit there. Keep your hands on the chair arms. Do not mess with your tie or your hair or anything else. I will be right back.”
“Alright, alright!” Johnny snapped. The fire fizzled as quickly as it had flared. With another chuff, he leaned back again, hands firmly gripping the chair arms.
Scott nodded approval. “Okay. I’ll see what I can find.” Moving to the table on which lay an assortment of towels, soaps, and grooming accessories, Scott snatched up a large towel before turning to the corner in which lay two carpetbags. Dropping the towel to the floor, he knelt and proceeded to conduct an ostentatiously thorough search of both bags. The performance was wasted as his brother’s eyes remained closed.
Johnny was fretting. All those people – he had never liked crowds. Safe and secure as he felt at Lancer, the habits of a gunfighter were too deeply ingrained to ever be completely overcome. Besides, I’m not at Lancer. I’m here and about to be trotted out like a horse at auction in front of all those people. Damnation, there have to be two hundred of ‘em out there. And those high falutin’ folks’ll all be watching me . . . I’ll do something wrong . . . I’ll ruin everything for her . . . I’ll disgrace all of us. Dios, I’d almost rather face that firing squad again!
“Here, see if this helps.”
Jolted from his despondent ruminations, Johnny put out a hand into which the elder Lancer placed a heavy ceramic coffee cup. Promptly tossing back the contents, the younger man gulped, gasped . . . and bolted upright, choking and spluttering as the fiery liquid scalded down his throat.
“Dammit, Scott” he wheezed between barking coughs. “Why . . . didn’t you . . .” The harangue was cut off by a new spate of coughing.
Grinning unrepentantly, Scott stood before his brother, now holding a silver flask openly in his hand. “What? You said you needed a shot of tequila. I’m just doing what big brothers are supposed to do. You should be thanking me for having the foresight to bring along the tequila. I even brought a cup!” he concluded brightly.
Wet – and threatening – blue eyes glowered at the beneficent brother as Johnny continued to wheeze and cough. The former gunfighter wagged an unsteady finger at his tormentor. I . . . will . . . get . . . you.”
“Not today.” The brotherly nuisance pulled a watch from his waistcoat pocket. “It’s almost time.” Plunking the flask on a side table next to the empty glass, Scott pulled his charge to his feet and hauled him across the small room. Picking up the comb, the ex-cavalry officer commanded. “Stand still.”
Johnny threw up an arm and drew back, staving off his brother’s attempt to smooth the mussed hair. “I told you I can comb my own damn hair!”
Clutching his last shred of patience, Scott handed over the comb. “Then stop whining and do it.” A slight pause. “And you’d better watch your mouth. We are in a church, you know.”
Snatching the comb, Johnny turned to the mirror fully aware that his brother could see his reflected smirk. “You worried about lightning striking us?”
With a sardonic smile of his own, Scott parried. “Forgive me if I’d rather not take chances with being collateral damage just because you, baby brother, are having a tantrum.”
The comb smacked back into Scott’s hand. “You wanta see a tantrum, big brother? Just keep crowdin’ me. I’m not in the mood.”
Scott turned away to place the comb back on the table, which also served to conceal a telltale face. Oh, Johnny, you do make this so easy; not to mention a whole lot of fun. Keeping his back to the younger Lancer, who was now fingering his cuff links, Scott pressed on.
“Like I’ve told you at least a dozen times in the past few hours, you’ll be fine. She’s going to think you look so fetching she won’t even notice when you trip over her train . . .”
“Damn you to hell, Scott, you ain’t helpin’!” The anguished voice came from the vicinity of the chair and Scott turned just in time to see Johnny heft the flask. A single graceless lunge and an iron hand gripped the miscreant’s arm just short of its goal.
“You’ve had enough. You really will make a fool of yourself if get drunk.”
“I don’t get drunk,” was the cold, affronted reply.
“Oh, really. I distinctly remember one occasion when I hauled you out of the saloon singing Sweet Betsey from Pike at the top of your lungs.”
Johnny shrugged. “You said you didn’t know it so I was singin’ it for you. Besides, it was a long time ago and I wasn’t drunk . . . much.”
“When it happened is immaterial.” Scott clipped. “You were drunk. It took two tries to get you up on Barranca and you barely managed to stay in the saddle until we got home. Then, I dragged your sorry, drunken backside into the house and put you to bed.”
“You put me on the sofa. That’s not puttin’ to bed.”
Rolling eyes accompanied the shaking head. “We seem to have strayed from the salient point. No more tequila. Stop cursing. And relax. This is wedding; not a funeral; not an execution; not a gunfight. You are happy. You are as well dressed as anyone out there. You will be fine.”
Johnny flung his arm up in a gesture of negation. “You don’t know that! What if I mess up?”
What if I can’t remember what order to do things?
What if I do step on her dress . . . or trip over my own two feet?
Johnny stood directly in front of his sage advisor, the words rapping out like gunfire. “What if I forget what I’m supposed to say?”
The smile was subtle, but it was there . . . the chance too good to miss. “Well, I can suggest a few things not to say,” the elder brother quipped. “For instance, I damned well do or I sure as hell do or Bet your sweet . . .”
“Boston, you are not helping!” The younger Lancer threw up his hands and pivoted away to stand once more at the window.
“Ssshhhh! For God’s sake, Johnny. They’ll hear you in Stockton!” Realizing that the situation was getting out of hand, Scott decided it would be better to bridle his wayward sense of humor before he precipitated a complete disaster.
Aware that Scott was now standing directly behind him, the flustered man took a calming breath before continuing. “Maybe I don’t care if they hear me.”
Not touching the tense form, the blonde said “You are not going to mess up. You are going to pull yourself together. You are going to go out there. And you are going to do exactly what is expected. I know you’re nervous. I know you have mixed feelings; any man would. But you can do this, Johnny. You can do it for Becky.”
The dark-haired man didn’t look up, seemingly intent on his fingers playing with his watch chain. “What if it doesn’t work out? What if she’s not happy?” The blonde man was certain he heard a quaver in that voice.
In the same calm tones he would use with a fractious horse, Scott replied “It will work out, Johnny. You’ll see. When two people love each other, they work together, face challenges together. They make things work out. You know that. Trust me; everyone will be very, very, very happy.”
Still Johnny refused to meet his brother’s eyes. “Gettin’ married changes things, Scott. Everthing’s gonna be different from now on; you know that.”
Only too aware of how volatile his brother’s emotions could be, Scott maintained his soothing tone while deliberately choosing his words. “Of course things change. Things change all the time; sometimes for the worse. But you should know better than most people how good change can be.” He tentatively put a hand on Johnny’s arm and turned him from the window.
There was no answer. Abruptly pulling away, Johnny began to pace. Six steps to the door, six steps back to the window, Scott’s head swiveling as he followed the march. After a few circuits, Johnny said “And what if the man’s just not good enough for her? Becky deserves the best.” Another lap was completed. “What if I was to just go out there and tell everybody I changed my mind? That it’s all off.”
Preoccupied with his pacing, Johnny failed to notice the other man’s chagrin. Scott’s voice was a trifle choked. “A little late for that, isn’t it?”
The pacing came to precipitous halt and the Johnny’s head cocked to one side. The look turned on Scott should have frozen his blood in his veins. “No, Scott, it ain’t too late. It’s never too late until the priest says ‘amen’.”
Silence pooled around the two men like cold spring water. Long moments dragged out. When Scott finally spoke, all trace of facetiousness was gone from his voice. “Johnny, think about what you just said. You would really go out there and look into the eyes of a woman who loves you with all her heart – who thinks the sun rises and sets in you – and tell her that you have changed your mind? That you are calling off the wedding?”
“You boys about ready? They’re fixin’ to start.” Both brothers jumped at the emphatic voice from the open door.
Two set of eyes turned on the intruder – one relieved, the other baleful.
“Yes, I think . . .”
Simultaneously – and much louder – “No, dammit, I ain’t ready!”
Looking perplexed – and altogether unnatural in a suit and tie - the sheriff of Green River slipped into the room, closing the door behind him. “What the hell’s the matter with you, Johnny? Everybody is ready to go and waitin’ on you. Nora sent me to find you and get you out there.”
Convinced that he was back on firm ground, Scott replied with a perfectly straight face, “He’s changed his mind, Val. He doesn’t want to go through with it.”
“What?” Val turned wide eyes on Johnny. Are you crazy? You can’t call it off now!”
The younger Lancer looked down and scuffed a boot. “Dammit, Val, I’m not ready . . .” The voice became more strident as Johnny wound up again. “I’m gonna bungle everything and she’s gonna hate me an’ those San Francisco society folks’ll think I’m just a no account cowboy with two left feet and no education and no proper ectic . . . etica . . .” The frenetic flow of word halted squarely in mid-sentence and Johnny turned a quizzical face to his brother. “Scott, what did you call it?”
“Etiquette,” the brother solemnly supplied.
“Edddiwhat?” Val asked, head swiveling from one to the other.
Johnny snapped his fingers. “That’s it. I don’t have any proper etiquette and I’m gonna embarrass her.”
“Johnny, you have very good manners and we’ve rehearsed every move and every word. And your fashionably au courant brother dressed you. You’ll be fine,” Scott put in firmly.
Johnny stared unblinkingly at Scott for a long moment, then turned back to the window. Brother and friend had to strain to hear the soft voice. “I love her. I love her so much . . . I just can’t stand that I could hurt her.”
Ignoring Johnny for the moment, piercing eyes beneath a shock of neatly barbered hair fixed on Scott. “What the hell has been goin’ on in here? You were supposed to have him ready.”
The maligned man shrugged eloquently. “He is ready. Washed, combed, dressed, boots polished, fingernails clean . . . one-hundred percent ready. I even made sure he washed behind his ears. And we rehearsed everything again. He’s just nervous.”
“He’s right here and he can hear you!” came the fractious rejoinder from the window where Johnny was once again gazing out at the garden.
Val glared at Scott for another long moment before turning toward the man at the window. In the process of shifting his attention, Val’s eyes fell on the flask beside the chair. Abandoning inquisition for action, he strode to the table and picked up the container, taking a whiff of the contents. Satisfied, he deftly poured a generous measure of the liquor into the cup. He started to put the flask down, then reconsidered. Raising it again, the lawman administered a substantial dose of fortification to himself before moving to stand beside his friend.
“Johnny, drink this. It’ll settle your willies.”
“Uh, Val, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. He’s already had a double shot. Didn’t seem to help much.”
The rangy Texan cast a single, miffed look at the older brother. “Stay outta this, Scott. Looks to me like you done enough.”
Val fixed his attention on his best friend. “Now, Johnny, you’re gonna be just fine. Drink this and take a deep breath and simmer down . . . for her, for you . . . hell, for me! There’s a whole flock of women got their hearts set on this fandango goin’ just right and we all know there’s only two ways things go when any woman sets her mind to something – let alone a bunch of ‘em. There’s her way and the wrong way. I don’t aim for today to be a wrong way . . . for either of us.”
The barest hint of a smile crooked Johnny mouth, although he didn’t turn around. “You tellin’ me you’re henpecked, Val?”
Something between a snort and a grunt issued from his irascible friend. “Ain’t sayin’ no such thing, ya’ smartass. And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t be tellin’ anybody that. Keepin’ a woman happy just makes a man’s life a whole lot more agreeable; that’s all.”
“He has a point, brother,” Scott put in. “We’ve all been on the sharp edge of a woman’s temper. And, this time, we’re talking about several women with notable tempers.”
Johnny turned to survey his companions and the quirk became his trademark cheeky grin. Accepting the cup from Val, he knocked back the liquor. “Who’d a thought it? The toughest lawman in California and a decorated war hero ramrodded by their womenfolk!”
Val’s punch to his arm rocked Johnny back. “Pot callin’ the kettle black. Now trust me, amigo, everything’s gonna be finer’n frog’s hair parted three ways.” He ventured to place a gentle hand on the abused arm, tugging gently. “Come on. She’s waitin’.”
Seeing the younger man regain his composure, the elder Lancer took a step closer. “Johnny . . . look, Johnny, I’m sorry. I got carried away with the teasing. You’re going to do fine and she’s going to think you’re the most handsome, distinguished, suave, absolutely bea-u-ti-ful . . .”
“Boston,” the icy Madrid voice was belied by dancing blue eyes, “when this is over, I am gonna shoot you . . . in the ass.” He took a fortifying breath and puffed it out. “Okay. Let’s get this over with before I lose my nerve.”
Two hands clapped Johnny Lancer on the back and gently propelled him toward the door.
Johnny’s voice trailed back. “Speaking of lookin’ pretty as a speckled pup, Val, what did Nora have to do . . .”
~ L ~ L ~ L ~ L ~
In the front of the church, Johnny stood, straight, proud, and amazingly still. From where he sat, Scott could see only his brother’s profile, but it appeared his prayers had been answered in spite of his somewhat excessive harassment.
Close beside him sat his wife, hand tucked into his arm, her face reflecting both joy in the occasion and the satisfied weariness of helping to make this day everything it should be for the bridal couple.
Beyond Constance sat Murdoch. Scott tried to get a better look at his father’s face only to be frustrated by the profusion of feathers and flowers on his wife’s wide-brimmed hat. No matter, he told himself. You know what you’d see; pride and happiness. More than that . . . I don’t know a word for it. For years he thought Lancer would end with him; now he’s seeing a future, another generation, an affirmation of his accomplishments; of his existence. A man needs to know he’s leaving something behind; a mark on the world.
His earlier words to Johnny about change called to Scott’s mind words spoken on the day that had so drastically altered his own future; given his life the meaning he had been seeking without acknowledging its absence. None of them could have imagined on that day what changes were coming; what challenges and rewards. Lips moving soundlessly, the Lancer son quipped “Well, old man, you have one hell of a lot more gray hairs now and they weren’t caused by blades of grass.”
The voice of the priest drew Scott’s attention back to the ceremony.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate . . . commended of Saint Paul to be honorable among all men . . . Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”
Scott held his breath, acutely aware of Johnny’s oh-so-discreet . . . and oh-so-fiendish glance over his shoulder. Then the moment was past and the clergyman addressed the groom.
“Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
“I will.” There was no hesitation or quavering in the young man’s voice. Remembering his own wedding day, Scott’s smile reflected abundant empathy for the strength of will required to bring that off with such confidence.
“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?
“I will.” The bride’s soft voice was low but firm; no doubts there.
“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?
This time, Scott not only held his breath, but felt his entire body tense up, willing a virtuoso performance. Conscious of her husband’s disquiet, but not its cause, Constance cast a sidelong glance at him, only to feel the muscles beneath her hand relax.
“I do.” The drawling voice somehow carried clearly through the church.
Scott sternly stifled the impulse the leap up and cheer. His pent-up emotions had to make do with a huge sigh of relief.
A calloused, long-fingered hand gently detached a small gloved one from his arm and placed it into another hand – the hand of a man who had never known wire cuts, rope burns, blisters, or guns – but was now supplanting him in the heart of this most precious creature. Where had all the years gone? Where were the tiny hands grasping his fingers as he steadied her first steps; the dark braid flying behind her when she ran to meet him; the slender figure sliding down the banister? When had his little girl become a woman; an incredibly beautiful woman?
A silent blessing was pressed on the joined hands. Then, the silky, dark head – just beginning to gray at the temples – bent to place a tender kiss on a peach-hued cheek. He swallowed the lump in this throat. “Be happy, miel. I love you.”
Sapphire blue eyes – mirrors of his own – sparkled in a frame of delicate lace and the kiss was returned. “I love you too, Papa.”
Taking the prescribed step back, the father of the bride reluctantly turned away from his firstborn and made his way to where his wife waited. Taking his seat, his hand instinctively sought hers . . . and it was there; as it had been – for a great deal of better and some very bad worse - every day for twenty years. He nodded slowly, a smile quirking one corner of his mouth as the ceremony continued.
“I, Rebecca Maria, take thee Thomas Edward to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth”
Johnny’s hand caressed the gloved one he held. She’s lookin’ up at him like he’s the only man on this earth. Guess to her he is – for sure the most important. How do you like that, Johnny Boy? But he’s a good man; you know he is. And they love each other. Scott was right – you knew that when you were spoutin’ off. They love each other and they’ll make things work just like her mother and I do.
He dropped his head and closed his eyes, unaware of his wife’s glance of concern. Abigail Lancer knew how difficult this was for her husband. He and Becky were unusually close and Johnny – despite his ability to hide it from most people - was so easily hurt. She tightened her grip on his hand.
Johnny felt the reassuring pressure and responded absently, his thoughts elsewhere. Lord, I don’t expect I’m exactly at the top of your list when it comes to hearin’ prayers but, please, let them be happy. Bless them with as much love and happiness as her mother and I have known and a whole hell of lot less heartache if it ain’t too much trouble.
“What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not Man put asunder.”
It was fortunate all around that everyone was so engrossed in watching the groom kiss his bride that no one noticed his new father-in-law’s dispassionate face or the fleeting coldness of his eyes. You better be good to her, boy, or there’s gonna be hell to pay – and Johnny Madrid will be collectin’.
The church bells began to peal as the bridal couple headed back up the aisle. Johnny felt a touch on his sleeve, and turned to find Scott beside him, a huge smile plastered across his face.
“Well done, little brother! For a moment there I had doubts, but you did it beautifully. I won’t even say I told you so.”
Johnny’s eyes sparkled with malice and his voice was pitched too low for anyone but Scott to hear. “Nice try, Boston, but I am still gonna make you pay. You won’t know when . . . or how . . . but you will pay.”
Scott affected distress. “Now, come on, Johnny. I was only trying to help. Didn’t I distract you?”
“Is that what you call it?”
The older brother nodded emphatically, hands gesticulating. “Distracting; diverting; encouraging; reassuring; supporting . . .”
Johnny snorted. “Harassing, badgering, tormenting, goading . . .”
They had reached the vestibule and Scott pulled the still-bristling Johnny aside. Planting his brother in front of him, back to the departing guests, the Bostonian put on his best smile for the nodding passersby while addressing his irate sibling.
“Be reasonable. If it hadn’t been for me, you never would have been ready, much less on time. And look how things turned out! Or didn’t you notice? You look like a respectable, successful - even distinguished - rancher. You didn’t trip over Becky’s train. You made all the right moves giving her away. You even got your part of the script right. She’s happy, she’s married, she’s proud of her papa!” He leaned closer. “Abby’s proud of you too, in case you hadn’t noticed. Just think how much domestic tranquility that’s going to buy you! And you owe it all to your loving, experienced, and eminently capable brother,” he finished triumphantly.
Suspicion warred with pragmatism in Johnny face. A moment later he acquiesced. “I guess you’re right. I never have been able to tie that damned noose. Abby usually does it.” The blue eyes held amusement above a tentative half-smile. “Domestic tranquility, huh?”
Scott threw an arm over his brother’s shoulders, guiding him into the dwindling stream of well-wishers making their way out into the summer morning. “You bet, brother! Who knows, Abby’s goodwill might even extend to letting you off the hook the next time there’s a party . . .”
“. . . or not fussing about you losing at poker . . .”
“I don’t lose that often . . .”
Johnny stopped, pulling back to fix Scott with a probing look. “That reminds me, brother, I been meanin’ to ask if you have any idea how Abby always finds out. She not only knows I lost, she knows exactly how much I lost . . .”
“You just said you don’t lose.”
“Everybody loses sometimes, Scott. I said I don’t lose very often. But when I do – damnation – that woman knows every last detail before the next day’s out!”
Scott once again dropped his arm over the stiff shoulders and steered the vexed man on out the door. “Johnny, Johnny, you can judge a man to a fare-thee-well, but you’ve been married twenty years and haven’t figured out that women . . .”
Scott’s was quoting from:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Ultima Thule, published in 1880
Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;”
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