Word Count 9,780
Tenth in the Small Matters Series
*Story line suggestion: Doreen Ingerfeld .
* Thanks to my beta for all her help. It was much appreciated!
“Enjoy the little things in life,
for one day you’ll look back
and realize they were the big things”
I know that Pa thinks Scott and me look for trouble.
That ain’t true…mostly. Most times trouble seems to find us, together or alone.
We was congratulatin’ ourselves for stayin’ out of trouble for a coupla weeks.
Heck, I ain’t been tanned by Pa since our little escapade (Scott’s word) in Morro Coyo on Mischief Night in October.
Scott got a tannin’ on New Year’s for bein’ too big for his britches.
He ain’t ‘zactly wantin’ to repeat that experience any time soon, so we both of us have tried hard to be good.
Scott’s a little peeved, though, ’cause he’s one up on me in the tannin’ department.
He likes to think he’s the ‘good son.’
Ha ha…that’s what he thinks!
Here it is, the middle of January and neither of us have been dragged to the barn for a while.
Must be some kinda record!
Trouble is, Pa has all kinds of rules about things.
Scott and me, we try to mind ’em all but there’s so many, we can’t keep ’em straight!
We both wanted to break horses, but Pa feels we’re both too young.
Scott’s gettin’ close to bein’ old enough, but I ain’t.
Pa feels Scott’s too light, though, to stay in the saddle. He wants Scott to gain some weight ‘fore he’ll let him try his hand at breakin’ a horse.
So, Brother’s been tryin’ to eat more, but it’s hard for him.
He ain’t a big eater and food don’t appeal (Scott’s word) to him like it does to me.
Think it’s ’cause I always had to worry about where my next meal was comin’ from ‘fore I made my way to Lancer.
Seems like even though I eat a lot, I never gain any weight.
Pa says it’s ’cause I burn it all off. He says I got ‘ants in my pants.’
Scott, he was raised by his Grandfather Garrett in Boston, so he had all kinds of food to pick from.
He never had to worry about goin’ hungry unless his abuelo sent him to bed without supper for some transgression (Scott’s word.)
I know Scott feels bad about it and kinda guilty about our different situations.
Heck, I don’t hold it against him. He didn’t even know about me so no use for him to feel guilty.
I told him that, but I still think he does…feel guilty, that is. Hope he gets over that soon.
Even with all that food to choose from, Scott never took much interest in it, in Boston or at Lancer.
Me? Pa says I eat like food’s goin’ outta style and I must have a hollow leg.
He’s always tellin’ me “Slow down, Johnny. No one’s going to take your food away from you.”
I looked at him kinda sheepish-like and tried to slow down.
Pa ain’t never mad when he says it, just gets a funny look on his face when he tells me that.
Scott don’t say nuthin’, but he always gets a little half-smile on his face when it happens.
Well, I digress…(Scott’s word)
Walt and Frank had brought a beautiful, glossy, sleek black stallion down from Black Mesa a couple of days ago. He has a blaze on his forehead and four white socks.
Scott and me, we’re both crazy about him! We just stand looking at him.
We’re both taken with him…in fact, we’ve been arguing which one of us gets him after he’s saddle broke.
Frank was startin’ to saddle break the horse in the corral and Scott and me was watchin’ him with plenty of interest and a little bit of jealousy, too, if the truth be known.
Purty soon, I stepped up onto the first rail.
Not long after, Scott was standin’ on the rail, too.
After a few minutes, I stepped up onto the second rail, Scott followin’ soon after.
Well, ‘fore ya knew it, Scott and I was so wrapped up in watchin’ what was goin’ on that we finally climbed up onto the last rail.
Both of us perched our butts on the rail and sat with our arms and legs inside the corral; we was spellbound (Scott’s word.) by the goin’s-on.
Suddenly, outta the corner of my eye, I seen my brother go flyin’ backwards off the top rail!
Before I could even react, someone grabbed me by the back of my belt and I was flyin’ backwards, too!
And, he looked right mad. He had that red face like he’d been chewin’ on some real hot chili peppers.
I don’t mind tellin’ ya, Scott and me looked up at him and the two of us was quakin’ in our boots!
“Boys!” he boomed. “How many times have I told you to stay away from the corral when the hands are trying to break a wild stallion? How many times have I told you how dangerous it is?”
I looked sideways at Scott.
Was we supposed to answer that or was this one of them ‘rhetorical’ questions Scott was always talkin’ about?
Looks like Pa was waitin’ for an answer, though, so Scott spoke up.
“Probably about a hundred, Pa?” he ventured, looking up through his eyelashes.
Wouldn’t a thought it was possible, but Pa’s face got even redder.
“Scott Garrett Lancer! Is that backtalk?” he growled.
Brother got a little pale and gulped.
“No, Pa. I think you really have told us at least a hundred times. I wasn’t trying to be smart,” he quavered.
Pa sez my brother’s very literal, so Scott probably did keep count.
“Well,” Pa boomed. “If I’ve told you that at least a hundred times, why did I catch the both of you sitting up on the top rail with your arms and legs inside the corral? Do you know you could have fallen, been kicked or brushed off by that stallion? Do you know you could have been seriously injured, even killed?!”
Pa was breathin’ kinda heavy and looked kinda green when he finally went on.
Guess those hadn’t been ‘rhetorical’ questions, either.
I looked at Scott, he looked at me, and I knew he was waitin’ for me to take my turn answerin’ Pa.
Oh, I came up with a brilliant explanation, all right!
“Uh…we forgot, Pa….” I said, flashin’ him my most winnin’ smile.
‘Course, it wasn’t cuttin’ no mustard with Pa.
“You forgot? YOU FORGOT? I guess I need to give the two of you something to remind you the next time you’re tempted to do something that foolish again!” bellered Pa.
Whew boy…I don’t think Scott and I was gonna like that reminder much.
Turns out, I was right.
A few seconds later, we was marched into the barn where Pa gave us both a painful reminder right on the seat of our britches!
So much for our record.
Well, once again, Johnny and I found ourselves sprawled across my bed on our stomachs, commiserating over the way Pa had manhandled us.
Shortly after Johnny showed up at Lancer, he and I fought like cats and dogs.
When we ended up rolling under the sideboard and breaking a bottle of Pa’s Glenlivet, he tanned us both because he was afraid we’d cut ourselves on flying glass.
Afterward, Johnny ended up in my bedroom and we made up as we were both most unhappy with our father.
The first time, though, I defended Pa.
Not this time, however. I felt he had been hasty and most unfair in tanning us this time.
“He didn’t need to tan us, Johnny,” I complained. “It wasn’t like we were completely inside the corral.”
My little brother looked at me silently, but nodded his head in agreement.
“Johnny,” I questioned. “Do you think Pa has been grumpy lately?”
Johnny raised his eyebrows. “Lately?” he asked, dryly.
“Oh, he’s not always grumpy, Johnny,” I said. “But lately, he seems to be really grumpy all the time!”
A thought then occurred to me.
“Johnny, do you think Pa’s lonely?”
“Lonely?” questioned Johnny, incredulously. “He’s got us, ain’t he?”
“Yes, but that’s not what I meant. I think he needs a woman in his life,” I said, with a snap of my fingers.
Johnny looked at me, puzzled. “He’s got Mia, Mrs. Conway, Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Nichols…”
Scott interrupted me. “That’s not what I meant! They’re merely friends…He needs someone to court…”
“COURT?!” Johnny screeched.
“Yes, ‘court,’” I retorted. “If he had a ‘special’ lady friend, he probably wouldn’t be so grumpy. That could only be good for the two of us.”
Johnny looked disgusted and said, “Just ’cause you like that old Laura Murphy and wanna woo her, don’t mean Pa is lookin’ to woo some gal, too!”
I snorted. “Johnny, I’m fourteen…I’m too young to ‘woo’ anybody.”
Johnny got a devilish glint in his eye and started to warble, “Scott and Laura sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…”
“Shut up, Johnny!”
“You gonna make me, Scott?”
“SHUT UP, JOHNNY!”
We both jumped to our feet, fists balled up, and ready to do battle.
‘Course we’d forgotten about the tanning we’d just gotten, and jumping up so quickly rekindled the fire on both of our backsides.
Then, as the older and wiser brother, I knew I had to deflect trouble.
Lowering my arms and unclenching my fist, I sighed.
“Johnny, if Pa catches us fighting, we’ll both get another tanning. You know he hates us fighting!”
Johnny unclenched his fists, blinked, and said, “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t aim to get another tannin’ so soon. My butt is still on fire!”
I sighed as we both laid back down across my bed, still on our stomachs.
“Well, it’s worth a try, don’t you think? Let’s try to find a lady friend for Pa. Then maybe he’ll be in a better mood,” I said.
Johnny looked at the floor, which is what he does when he’s mulling something over.
Raising his head, he said. “She’s gotta like boys and she’s gotta be a good cook and make good desserts!”
“Why is that important?” I asked. “Mia does that already.”
“Yeah, but Mia could get sick or take a day off or somethin.’ We need backup!”
Sighing deeply, I said, “You and your stomach…Oh, all right.”
“So, how we gonna find this special lady friend fer Pa?” questioned Johnny.
I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
I thought on it for a bit as Johnny waited for me to answer.
“I got it! We’ll take out an ad in the Green River Gazette,” I answered, most confidently. “It costs a penny a word, so let’s put our heads together and figure out what it should say.”
Several revisions and a couple of heated arguments later, we had our ad:
Single wealthy lonely rancher with two boys wishes to meet single lady.
Must be a good cook and baker and like kids.
If interested, direct replies to:
S. Lancer, Lancer Estancia, Morro Coyo.
Johnny wanted to argue.
“Why’s it gotta be addressed to you? I’m in on this, too!”
“Well, we can’t say ‘direct replies to S. and J. Lancer,’ now can we? We want to try to intercept any letters before Pa gets a hold of them but if he does, he’s more likely to believe I’m getting letters from girls than you.”
Johnny snorted in disgust, but had to agree with me.
“Okay, Johnny. A penny a word comes to thirty-four cents. Your share comes to seventeen cents. How much money do you have?” I asked, holding out my hand.
“I ain’t got no money, Scott,” muttered Johnny.
“What? Why not? Pa gives us both an allowance for the chores we do. Where’s your money?”
Johnny shrugged. “Cain’t help it. Ya know I like licorice and stuff.”
“You and your stomach again!” I moaned. “Oh, all right. I’ll pay the thirty-four cents, but you owe me!”
Johnny flashed me his winning grin and said, “I’ll pay ya…I’ll pay ya. So, now what? How we getting into Green River? Pa ain’t gonna let the two of us ride in there alone.”
“Johnny, did you forget Pa’s riding into Green River tomorrow to go to the bank and to see his lawyer about some contracts? He’s taking us both along because we both need new boots being as we’ve outgrown our other ones.”
“Oh yeah,” Johnny looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye.
“I get so proud of you when you’re sneaky, Brother!”
Pa, Johnny, and I rode into Green River the next morning.
Pa let us walk around town and told us to go look at some new boots while he was conducting his business.
Of course, he told us both to behave ourselves.
I don’t think he trusts us in town after the little trouble we stirred up in Morro Coyo on Mischief Night.
“Yes, Sir,” we both sighed and Johnny smirked when he noticed me rolling my eyes behind Pa’s back.
“Better watch yourself, Scott. “You’re gonna forget to do that behind Pa’s back one day and he’s gonna bust your butt,” he leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I’ll watch myself,” I grumbled. “Now let’s go to the Gazette and pay for our ad.”
Johnny and I stepped inside the newspaper office and walked up to the front desk.
A man wearing an ink-stained apron looked over the counter at us and said, “Can I help you, gentlemen?”
I knew that whenever an adult called us ‘gentlemen’ that they were patronizing us.
Still, I couldn’t afford to antagonize the man by protesting.
“Yes, Sir,” I said. “We’d like to post this ad in your fine newspaper.”
The man took the note from me, scanned it and said, “Well, well. Which one of you two is the ‘rich rancher?’”
I felt the color rising to my face as Johnny waited to hear what I would say.
“We’re posting this for a friend,” I replied. “Now if I understand correctly, the price for this ad will be thirty-four cents.”
“Yuh,” said the man. “Penny a word.”
I reached into my pocket, glaring at Johnny all the while, and took out the money to pay for the ad.
Johnny just raised his eyebrows and gave me his most innocent look.
“When will the ad be posted?” I inquired.
“Saturday,” said the man.
“Come on, Johnny. We better get over to the mercantile and look for some boots. Otherwise, Pa will get suspicious.”
Pa met us shortly afterward over at the mercantile.
Johnny and I had both picked out new boots, which Pa paid for, and then we went over to the hotel for lunch.
We rode back home, with Pa being none the wiser.
We were both on pins and needles until Saturday arrived.
It had been another long, hard day of physical labor at Lancer.
So, there’s nothing I like better than a nice long soak in the tub, dinner with my boys, and then relaxing in the Great Room with the Gazette and a glass or two of brandy.
Sitting down to the evening meal, I surreptitiously watched my sons.
It hasn’t been a full year yet that I’ve had them with me and I still can’t believe my luck that here they sit, both in front of me.
I don’t let them catch me drink in the sight of them. They would probably think they were in trouble.
Of course, they often are. They are good boys, but both of them together can dream up twice as much trouble.
I’m fairly new to this ‘Father’ thing so I don’t know if it’s ordinary shenanigans, testing the boundaries or both.
I’m hoping they learn my rules soon as I’m not sure that any of the three of us are anxious to have another ‘discussion’ in the barn.
Still, I wouldn’t trade either of them for all the gold in California. My life is no longer dull and predictable as they both keep me guessing.
Johnny is shoveling food in like it’s going out of style.
I shudder to think how he’s had to grow up, never knowing where his next meal may be coming from.
I’ve tried to reassure him that he need never worry about that any more, that he’s safe to slow down and enjoy his meal.
And, that youngest son of mine? He can really pack it away! I swear he has a hollow leg. No, make that two hollow legs!
“Johnny…Son, please slow down. No one’s going to take your food away from you!”
He looked up at me, gave me a sheepish grin and, temporarily, slowed down the tempo of his fork.
I heard a suppressed snicker and glance over to my older boy.
Scott was brought up in the lap of luxury back East with his maternal grandfather.
He never had to go hungry…for food, anyway.
There were other things my son was hungry for: discipline, fun, and physical affection, to name a few.
As a result, he is a rather poor eater.
He isn’t picky, but he doesn’t eat enough to suit me and Mia has fits about it.
He was about halfway through his meal, pushing food around his plate, while Johnny had done everything but eat the dish.
“Scott. Please finish your supper. You haven’t eaten nearly enough. If you don’t eat, how do you expect to be heavy enough to break horses when I decide the time is right?”
He raised his eyes to me and with a look of pain, he sighed and said, “Yes, Sir” and picked up his fork again.
I can sense that he really wanted to roll his eyes at me, but I’ve given him a few painful reminders that I find it disrespectful.
This is a daily occurrence for all three of us at meal time.
Finally, we had all finished supper and a delicious custard pie.
We are indeed lucky to have Maria (or Mia as the boys call her) as she is a wonderful cook and mother figure for the boys.
I poured myself a snifter of brandy and sat down in my favorite armchair by the fireplace.
I picked up the Saturday edition of the Green River Gazette and noticed something odd.
There had been an article cut out of it.
I looked at my boys who were playing checkers on the floor in front of me.
“Boys, do either of you know what happened to my paper?”
They looked at me, looked back at each other, then looked at me again.
They were the pictures of innocence.
Johnny, was the first to speak up.
“I needed an article for a school report. I’m the one who cut it out…Lo siento, Papi.”
He threw me his patented ‘Johnny’ smile. His brother calls it his ‘puppy dog’ look.
I have to give Johnny credit, it usually causes me and everyone else who comes in contact with him to melt.
I tried to look stern, but I was delighted that Johnny was making the effort to do his schoolwork.
He’s a bright enough lad, but school and books do not hold the charms for him that they do for Scott.
“All right,” I conceded. “Just let me read the paper first next time. Understood?”
“Yes, Pa,” they both assured me and turned back to their game.
The look they had thrown each other for a split-second made me wonder if there was something else going on besides schoolwork.
Oh well, if they were plotting some kind of mischief, I would find out later.
The boys haven’t yet figured out that they’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull the wool over their father’s eyes.
Later the next week, I happened to find myself standing in front of the hacienda when Walt rode up with the supplies and mail from Morro Coyo.
As I reached to take the mail packet from his hand, he remarked, “Mr. Lancer, those boys of yours sure are helpful.”
“Yes, I replied, “They are a big help to me. Why do you bring that up, though?”
“Well, either Scott or Johnny have been waiting for me when I ride up and they take the mail into the hacienda…saves me some time.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth, when Scott came tearing around the corner of the house.
As he noticed me standing there with Walt, his eyes widened as he skidded to a halt.
Taking a few seconds to gather his wits about him, he shrugged his shoulders and strode up to me.
I eyed him suspiciously.
“Walt here tells me that you and Johnny have been very helpful in retrieving the mail from him this week.”
“Sure. We just thought we’d save him the trouble of taking the mail into the house.”
“I see. How thoughtful of you both, seeing as how that little chore would take a lot of time out of Walt’s day,” I said, with a touch of sarcasm.
If Scott noticed, he pretended not to understand.
“Is there anything in there for me, Pa?”
I thumbed through the pile of mail.
“Why yes, there is. It looks like you have three letters here addressed to S. Lancer. I’m assuming that’s you?”
“Yes, Sir,” he assured me as he reached his hand out for the letters.
I gave over two of them but when he reached out for the third, I held onto it.
“Son, I can’t help but notice that your letters seemed to be addressed in a feminine hand. And, this one..” I said, as I inhaled,
“This one smells like it’s perfumed. Scott, why are you receiving letters from girls? And what young girl your age would perfume their letters to you?”
Scott raised his eyes to me.
“Well, you see, Pa. They’re from my pen pals. It’s a school project Miss Garvin assigned our class. And the girl who sent me that letter must have borrowed her Ma’s perfume to put on the letter.”
This was said as he forcefully pulled the envelope from my hand.
A school project? I thought to myself. That seemed mighty suspicious.
Looking down into my son’s face, he gave me an innocent look and smile.
Well, I couldn’t prove anything at this time.
I’d just wait a while and give my son enough rope to hang himself if he wasn’t exactly on the up-and-up.
Scott took the letters from me and dashed inside as Walt and I looked at each other,
I was sure Pa wasn’t buying my story about the pen pals, but he didn’t ask any questions.
I noticed Johnny was in his room so I walked right in.
“Hey, Johnny. We got about ten replies, we need to go through them and weed out the best ones so far.”
Johnny reached under his bed and pulled out the box of letters we had already received and I added the three new ones to the bunch.
We went through them one by one, accepting or rejecting them for one reason or another.
“Here’s one from a widow with ten kids! No! You’re tough enough to deal with, I don’t need ten more siblings. No to this one!” I said, pitching it away.
About a half-hour later, we had whittled the pile down to five possibilities.
“How we gonna whittle them down some more, Scott?”
“Simple. I asked Laura to come over next Saturday. I figured since she’s a woman she can give us good advice on which ladies are the best candidates. If we can whittle them down to three or four ladies, that should be a good number.”
Johnny moaned. “Scott, Laura Murphy’s thirteen….she ain’t no woman, she’s a girl. And, you only want her over here ’cause you’re sweet on her…Scott and Laura sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…”
“Shut up, Johnny!” I bellowed, thumping him on the back of his head.
He got mad and socked me in the arm.
“Don’t tell me what to do, Scott! This is my room!”
And, the fight was on.
We rolled and tussled and ended up on the floor, looking up into the angry eyes of our father.
He grabbed both of us by the collars and hauled us to our feet.
Giving us each a little shake, he bellowed,
“What is the meaning of this? You boys know I don’t want you fighting each other!”
I looked at Johnny and he looked at me.
We both looked up at Pa as Johnny said, “Aw, we was just funnin, Pa. We wasn’t really mad at each other. Right, Scott?”
We jumped to our feet.
“Oh..yes…right, Johnny.” I agreed as I threw my arm over his shoulder.
“We weren’t really fighting, Sir. We were just tussling a little.”
Pa looked as if he wasn’t swallowing our line of bull, but he let go of us.
“All right…this time. But I don’t want to catch you at this again. You know how I feel about you boys fighting each other!” he growled.
Yes, Pa,” we chorused together.
“Humph, get cleaned up for dinner and don’t be late!”
Saying this, Pa turned on his heel and marched from the room.
“Yes, Pa,” we chirped, again, in unison.
Then looking at each other, we both said, “Phew! That was close!”
A week later, Scott and me had gotten a total of twenty replies to our ad.
We had weeded through them and whittled our choices down to half.
Scott laughed, “Can you believe the Widow Hargis replied? Why, she’s a hundred if she’s a day!”
“Yeah, Scott…but she’d go after anything in pants!” I snickered.
I got a look from Scott. “How would you know something like that? You’re only eleven!”
“So, just ’cause you’re fourteen don’t mean you know it all; I had to grow up fast ‘fore comin’ to Lancer!”
“Humph,” snorted Scott.
He was always lordin’ it over me ’cause he was three years older than me, but he ain’t the only one who knows things.
“Laura’s coming over tomorrow to help us go through the replies and pick the best ones,” Scott informed me.
“Helpin’ you, you mean! You’re just hopin’ to kiss her!” I said as I crossed my eyes at him.
“I am not! And she’s bringing her little sister Missy with her.”
“So, you have to be with me and Laura because Pa won’t let us be alone together.”
“Forget it, Scott. I already told you my picks for Pa’s gal so I don’t care who you decide’s best. And, I ain’t hangin’ around with some dumb girl!”
“Yes, you are!”
“No, I ain’t!”
We went back and forth arguin’ ’til Pa bellered up the stairs and told us to get our fannies down to dinner.
Next day, sure enough here comes Mr. Murphy in his buggy, droppin’ off Laura and Missy.
Scott ran over to Laura, nearly tripping over his feet, all eager to help her down.
He looked over at me like I was ‘sposed to help Missy down.
I crossed my arms over my chest and stared him down.
He glared at me and went to offer his hand to Missy.
She just ignored him and jumped down off of the buggy.
Scott stared at her in surprise and I thought maybe she wasn’t so bad….for a girl.
“Girls, I’ll be back to pick you up later this afternoon,” said Mr. Murphy.
“Oh, you needn’t bother, Mr. Murphy. Our father has offered to drive Laura and Missy back home later,” Scott informed him.
“Well, much obliged, young fella. Have them back before supper and much obliged to your Pa.”
The four of us stood and watched him drive away towards the Lancer arch and off the estancia.
Scott turned to Laura,
“Please come in, Laura. I’ll show you the house and then we can go through the letters.”
“All right, Scott. I look forward to seeing your home and meeting your father, as well as helping you pick out the best candidates.”
She batted her eyelashes at him and looked all lovesick.
Just as disgustin,’ my brother was lookin’ at her in the same way.
Scott held out his bent arm to Laura and she latched on.
They began to walk in through the french doors when Scott turned around, frowned at me, and said, “Coming?”
“No need,” I said.
“Yes, need,” stated Scott, his eyebrows disappearing up under his bangs.
I blew out a breath….”Oh, all right! But you owe me!”
With that, I stomped in behind them, Missy at my heels.
We sat down at the table in the Great Room and Mia brought us a plate of cookies and a pitcher of lemonade.
Things were lookin’ up!
I helped myself to the refreshments, then hollered in to Mia.
“Hey, Mia! You gonna be here for a while?”
Mia came into the room, wiping her hands on her apron.
“No need to yell, Jaunito. Sí, I will be in the kitchen. It is my day for baking.”
“Well great! Then you don’t mind chaperonin’ Scott and Laura, do ya? Ya know, in case Scott decides to kiss her.”
Scott turned purple and Laura blushed bright scarlet.
Maria brandished her wooden spoon at me.
“Su hermano mayor pobre; por que le embroma asi? Es muy malo!” (Your poor big brother; why do you tease him so? You are very bad!).
I thought I’d better get while the getting was good and Missy dogged my heels.
Come to find out, Missy wasn’t so bad….for a girl.
She and I watched the hands break some horses, went to the barn and jumped out of the hayloft, went riding on Shadow and Storm and raced each other once we got outside the compound.
‘Course we didn’t ride far.
Another one of Pa’s endless rules was “no leaving the ranch unless you tell someone where you’re going and no racing inside the compound!”
I have to say Missy’s good on a horse. She nearly beat me racin!’
Of course, I could never live it down if I let a girl beat me!
We did all kinds of fun stuff while Scott and Laura stayed inside, doin’ their homework.
Mia called us in for lunch. While we was eatin,’ I asked Scott if he and Laura had finished their list of candidates.
“Almost,” replied Scott.
“After lunch is over, it’ll probably take us just a little while longer. When you’re finished there, take our plates into the kitchen for us, will you?”
I wrinkled my nose up at him.
“Well, yessir, ‘Mr. High-and-Mighty.’ I forgot I was your servant, bein’ younger and all!”
Missy giggled while Scott and Laura glared.
“Oh, quit it, Johnny,” hissed Scott. “It’s the least you could do since you couldn’t see fit to help us out.”
I knew if I said what I wanted to say, we’d light into each other again.
So, I grabbed up the plates, stomped to the sink, and retorted, “Fine!”
After that, Missy and me went back outside to scare up some more fun.
We ended up in the big oak tree right outside the house.
I never knew a girl could be so good at climbin’ trees, but Missy was great at it.
We was sittin’ together in the fork of the tree when who do we see, but Scott and Laura.
They couldn’t see us ’cause we was hidden by the leaves of the tree.
They walked up under the tree and kissed!
Missy and I was snickerin’ so hard we nearly fell out of the tree.
My brother had a goofy lovesick grin on his face and Laura was flutterin’ her lashes up at him.
I looked at Missy, she looked at me and we both sang out, “Scott and Laura sittin’ in a tree…k-i-s-s-i-n-g…First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Scotty in the baby carriage!”
My brother looked up in the tree, spotted me and Missy, and whooey…did he look mad!
“Shut up, Johnny!” he yelled at me, his face all red.
I knew ‘sides teasin’ him, he hated to be called ‘Scotty!’ “
“Come up here and make me, Scott!” I taunted.
He looked like he was considerin’ it and I looked over at Missy and we was both laughin.’
“John Fraser Murdoch Lancer, get down here!” yelled Scott, at the top of his lungs.
Dammit, he knows I hate it when he uses my middle names!
“Melissa Josephine Murphy, come down here!” demanded Laura.
“No!” we both replied, then grinned at each other.
But when I turned back to face Scott, I felt something hit me smack dab between the eyes…and damn, did it hurt!
My stupid brother had hurled an acorn at me, hit me square between the eyes.
I tell ya, I nearly fell out of the tree!
It was on!
I jumped outta the tree and faced down Scott.
“Dammit, Scott! That hurt!” I yelled.
“Well, you had it coming! I told you to shut up about teasing Laura and me!” he roared.
And, we woulda come to blows, but wouldn’t ya know it?
Who shows up right then and there, but our pa!
“What the devil is going on here!” he roared, grabbing me and Scott by the collar.
I glanced at Laura and she looked shocked.
Missy just smiled like she thought it was funny.
“Pa, Johnny and Missy were teasing Laura and me saying we were ‘k-i-s-s-i-n-g!’” complained Scott.
“Yeah? Well, Scott hit me right between the eyes with an acorn and they were kissin!’ I snitched.
Laura turned bright pink and both Pa and Scott’s mouth dropped open.
Pa glared at Scott, then turned it on me, then turned back to Scott.
“Scott, what were you thinking? You could have put your brother’s eye out!…And, Johnny, I’ve told you before to stop teasing your brother!”
Well, that took the wind out of our sails, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
“Pa, did you hear me say Scott and Laura was kissin?’ I tattled.
Oh, older brother was steamed and he was lookin’ at me like somethin’ he mighta scraped off the bottom of his boots!
“Yes, Johnny, I heard you. Your brother and I will have a little talk about that subject later.”
Scott looked like he could have cheerfully throttled me at that point.
I think I just forced Pa’s hand and Scott would be gettin’ ‘the birds and bees’ talk soon.
Pa fixed us with another glare.
“Since you two can’t get along, I think it’s time your friends went home and the two of you go up to your rooms,” Pa ordered, pointing towards the house.
Scott was right peeved at that, but he knew he didn’t dare push it any further.
He was already in enough trouble for throwin’ an acorn at me and kissin’ Laura.
So, we dragged our sorry carcasses up to our rooms to await the ‘wrath of Murdoch’ when he returned from taking Laura and Missy home.
And, I couldn’t resist jammin’ my elbow in Scott’s ribs as he passed by me on the way to his room.
He turned to catch me, but I ducked inside my room and held the door closed as he pounded on it, yelling “Let me in, damn you!”
Not on your life!
Scott finally gave up and went to his room and I flopped down on my bed and started to mope.
I hated bein’ stuck inside!
After a few minutes, I heard a sharp knock on my door and Scott barged right in.
“G’way, you heard what Pa said! We’re supposed to stay in OUR rooms!”
“He’ll be gone a while before he gets back from driving Laura and Missy back home…Listen, Johnny…I’m sorry I hit you between the eyes with an acorn,” Scott apologized.
Bein’ in a contrary mood, I remained silent for a minute, but then I spoke up.
“Yeah. I’m sorry too, Scott, for teasin’ you and Laura.”
Scott perked up. “Okay, Laura and I whittled down the candidates for Pa’s possible lady friend.”
“Who’d ya pick?”
Scott flopped down beside me and handed me three envelopes.
“Okay, we picked Miss Reese, the schoolmarm in Green River; Mrs. Healy, the widow from Green River, and Miss McIntyre, the dressmaker in Morro Coyo.
I took the envelopes from Scott, skimmed through them, and shrugged.
“Yeah, they seem okay. Now what?”
“Now, I write a reply to them, asking them to meet me, well Pa, at the hotel at lunchtime a week from Saturday. Pa’s gonna take us in to Green River with him if we can stay out of trouble until then. We’ll give each lady twenty minutes to spend with Pa and then we’ll see who we like best.”
“Don’t you think we oughta let Pa decide?” I asked.
Scott frowned at that for a minute.
“I didn’t think of that. Okay, but I hope we like her, too.”
“Tell her to bring chocolate cake with her when she comes!”
Scott stared at me in disbelief.
“Johnny, I can’t come right out and ask her to bring chocolate cake with her. That would be rude!”
“Well, I ain’t gonna make a decision unless I know she can cook,” I said, stubbornly.
“Okay, when I write back to them, I’ll figure out some way to slip in the part about the chocolate cake. I’m going to write the letters in my room right now and I’ll show them to you before I give them to Walt to post tomorrow…I better get back to my room before Pa catches me.”
“’Kay, see ya at dinner, Big Brother,” I said, flopping back down to get back to some good mopin.’ “
Well, I’m happy to say that Scott and me didn’t get marched out to the barn, but we both got a lecture to end all lectures at the evenin’ meal.
Next time I use swear words, I’ll be eatin’ soap again.
And, I’m not to recite the kissin’ song around Scott and Laura, ever again.
Scott’s never supposed to throw another acorn at my head and Pa wasn’t to ever catch him and Laura kissin’ again, either.
Ol’ Boston was pretty peeved at that.
“Never?!” he squeaked.
I stifled a snort of laughter, his voice was beginnin’ to crack whenever he got upset, much to his embarrassment.
Pa gave him ‘the look’ and Brother wisely shut his mouth and kept it shut.
In short, Pa chewed us both up one side and down another fer so long, mebbe a whippin’ would have been kinder.
That night, before we went to bed, Scott slipped back into my room to show me the letter he’d written to each lady.
Dear _________________ :
I would dearly love to meet you as your response to my ad was quite charming. My sons and I will be having lunch at the Green River Hotel a week from Saturday. I hope that you can join us at _______________o’ clock.
I look forward to meeting you.
P.S. I should mention that I dearly love chocolate cake.
I looked it over and nodding, gave it a nod of approval.
Scott sent the replies on with Walt to post the very next day.
Now, we waited.
The appointed day arrived and Johnny and I looked around Green River while Pa conducted business in town.
We would meet him at the hotel for lunch.
Noontime found the three of us, seated at a table and waiting for our meals to arrive.
Pa sipped on a cup of coffee while Johnny and I kept watching the entrance to the dining room.
Shortly past noon, a very nice looking lady walked into the room, carrying a plate of chocolate cake.
This had to be her!
She had curly blonde hair, blue eyes, and a trim figure. She was very pretty.
She was wearing a green dress with white flowers and she stood looking around the room.
Glancing around, her eyes finally lit upon Pa, Johnny, and me. She smiled and walked over to the table.
Giving Pa her hand, she said, “Mr. Lancer. It is so nice to finally meet you. I’m Miss Reese, but you may call me Hannah.”
Uh oh, I winced. She had a high squeaky voice that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard!
Looking surprised, Pa took her hand, and rose to his feet.
So did I, and with a glance from both Pa and me, Johnny stood up, too.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Reese, I mean Hannah. Would you care to join me and my sons for lunch?” Pa offered. “Oh, and please call me Murdoch. These are my sons, Scott and Johnny.”
“Oh, no,” she demurred.
“Nothing to eat for me, thank you. I will have a cup of coffee, though…Oh, and I brought you some chocolate cake.
“Well, thank you…Hannah. That was quite nice of you.” Pa replied, looking surprised.
She sat the cake plate down in front of her and Johnny slowly and slyly slid it his way, sneaked a bite and made a face.
She looked puzzled. “Your name is Murdoch?” she asked, but didn’t elaborate.
“Yes,” replied Pa. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” she answered.
I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I let it back out again.
Pa and Miss Reese continued to talk when I heard something clatter to the floor.
“Oops, I dropped my fork on the floor. Please excuse me,” said Johnny, giving me a sharp look.
“Oh, let me help you, Johnny,” I said, as we both ducked under the table.
Whispering, Johnny said, “She’s nice enough, but her chocolate cake is horrible!”
“I know, and her voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard. She’s not the one.”
Johnny agreed, “Let’s hope she’s out of here in a few minutes. It’s almost time for the Widow Healy to show up.”
We both surfaced and found Pa staring at us.
“What’s the matter, boys? It sure seemed to take a long time for the two of you to find one fork under such a small table.”
What could we say?
We both gave Pa a sheepish grin and shrugged our shoulders.
He looked plenty suspicious, though.
Johnny and I kept glancing nervously at the clock.
Miss Reese should have left by now; what if the widow Healy showed up before she left?
We started to sweat bullets, but to our relief, she stood, thanked Pa for the coffee and said, “Well, I hope to see you again sometime.”
Pa stood again and so did we. “My pleasure, Hannah. I’m sure we will.”
She smiled up at Pa and batted her eyelashes at him, before leaving the table.
We watched Miss Reese walk out and pass a rather largish woman who was entering the room with another chocolate cake.
She had brown hair drawn up in a bun at the nape of her neck, wore spectacles, and a brown dress, that was belted at her ample waist.
She looked like a stuffed sausage with a string tied around the middle or a fat brown wren!
This must be her and that was entirely too close for comfort!
She looked around, noticed us, and made a beeline for our table.
“Mr. Lancer, how nice to meet you. I’m the Widow Healy, but please call me Matilda. Oh, and I brought you some chocolate cake.”
Pa introduced us and then fixed us both with a look; I think he was beyond suspicious at this time.
All three of us rose again.
“Would you care to join us for a meal, Mrs. Healy, I mean Matilda?” asked Pa.
“Don’t mind if I do, I’m a bit peckish,” she replied.
Pa waved a waiter over and the Widow Healy placed her order.
Great, I thought. She’s ordering a meal.
How are we going to get her out of here when her time’s up? Sure hope she eats fast!
Besides, it looks like she could afford to miss a meal or two!
Johnny had, again, slid the cake dish over his way and sneaked a bite.
He smiled so it must have passed muster.
“So, you’re a rancher, Mr. Lancer?”
“Yes, I am. I own a spread outside of Morro Coyo and please call me Murdoch.”
“Murdoch?” she questioned. “Oh, that must be your middle name, not your Christian name.”
“No, Murdoch is my given name.” replied Pa.
“Well, my mistake then. I thought the letter came from an ‘S. Lancer.”
Uh oh. I better say something quick.
“Our ranch is 100,000 acres!”
Johnny jumped in, “And, we have 20,000 head of cattle!”
Pa was staring a hole in my forehead when the Widow Healy sniffed and said, “Children should be seen, and not heard.”
Pa turned away from us and replied, “Matilda, I do not subscribe to that philosophy. My sons are encouraged to speak their mind as it makes for interesting discussions at mealtimes. They are, however, not to interrupt adults while they are speaking.”
It was my turn to create a diversion by dropping my spoon under the table.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I dropped my spoon under the table, please excuse me,” I said as I quickly ducked under the table.
“I’ll help,” said Johnny, as he dropped down beside me.
“Not her. She doesn’t like children. She lied in her reply,” I whispered.
“Her cake is good, but I don’t like her. She’s not the one!” Johnny replied.
And, miserably, I said, “I think Pa may have figured out what we’re up to.”
Johnny nodded soberly and we came up for air.
Pa gave us both a cool look and said, “My, you boys are certainly fumble-fingered today, aren’t you?”
We gave him a weak laugh and looked at the clock.
Oh no, it was past 12:40 and there was a redheaded lady walking towards our table….with another chocolate cake!
She was awfully pretty.
She had auburn hair that fell in waves around her face, green eyes, and wore a blue (my favorite color) with red (Johnny’s favorite color) flowers on it.
I figured it to be a good omen, but the timing was terrible!
The beautiful lady looked around and her eyes lit up when she spotted us at our table.
Johnny and I looked at each other, then slid down in our seats until all you could see were our eyes over the top of the table.
She came over and introduced herself.
“Mr. Lancer, how nice to finally meet you. My name is Miss McIntyre, but you may call me Nancy.”
Pa rose to his feet and took her extended hand.
He looked over at Johnny and me and gave us ‘the look,’ the one that said ‘you two are in big trouble!’
We looked at each other again and quickly stood up.
No sense in getting Pa more upset with us than he already was.
Pa cleared his throat and said, “Please call me Murdoch. These are my sons, Scott and Johnny. Won’t you please join us, we’re just finishing our meal.”
“Oh, I’ll just have a cup of coffee, if you please,” she said as she sat down at the table and placed her cake on the table.
I watched Johnny slide the plate over and sneak a forkful.
He looked at me in delight.
“It’s real good!” he whispered.
I didn’t care about the cake, but I did like Miss McIntyre.
There was no need to drop any silverware under the table this time.
Johnny and I looked at each other, smiled and nodded.
She was the one!
Pa hailed a waiter and ordered a cup of coffee for her.
They began to chat when Miss McIntyre gave Pa a puzzled look.
“I’m curious, she said. “Is Murdoch your middle name?”
“No, Ma’am, my Christian name is Murdoch. Why do you ask?” Pa asked, puzzled.
“Oh, the advertisement in the Green River Gazette and the reply I received to my letter were from an ‘S. Lancer.’ “
Oh no, I was in for it as realization dawned on Pa’s face.
I slid so far down in my chair that I nearly landed on the floor.
“Scott, sit up!” barked my father. “I think you have some explaining to do. I think Johnny is involved in this, also. Am I right?”
I glanced over at Johnny; I didn’t want to be the one to rat my brother out.
He couldn’t look Pa in the eye as he mumbled, “Yes, Sir.”
All this time, Mrs. Healy was looking madder than a wet hen!
Miss McIntyre’s eyes sparkled as she put her hand over her mouth and I swear she was trying to hide a smile.
“Boys, explain yourselves and start at the beginning. This better be good!” growled our father.
I looked at Johnny and he looked at me as if to say, ‘It was your bright idea and you are the oldest; you do the talking.’
So, I told the whole sorry tale from beginning to end and added, “But, Pa…we did it for you!”
“Humph, I can’t wait to hear that story!” Pa snorted as Miss McIntyre put her hand up to her mouth again.
It was then that the Widow Healy erupted, all three of her chins quivering.
“Why you horrible little brats! If I were your father, I’d drag you both out behind the hotel by your ears and tan you good!”
Pa spoke up.
“Boys, apologize to Mrs. Healy.”
We mumbled our apologies, but we really weren’t feeling very apologetic.
“Boys, that wasn’t very sincere. Try again,” demanded Pa.
“I apologize, Mrs. Healy,” I said, hanging my head.
“Yeah, me too, Mrs. Healy. I’m sorry.” Johnny was also staring down at the floor.
Pa looked slightly mollified, then turned to the Widow Healy.
“The boys have apologized and I will deal with them later. I do not appreciate anyone else telling me how to discipline my children, however.”
“Well, I never!” she snapped, grabbing up her cake and making a hurried exit.
I bet she never did either, I thought to myself.
“Her cake wasn’t that good, anyway,” Johnny grumbled under his breath, but Pa heard him and shot him ‘the look.’
Miss McIntyre put her hand up to her mouth again and there was another twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, Mr. Lancer…Murdoch. What say we have some of the chocolate cake I brought along with our coffee?”
Pa glared at us. “I don’t really think my boys deserve a piece of cake, but since you were kind enough to bring it…just make sure to give them both small slices.”
Johnny frowned at that, but Pa ignored him. Hailing the waiter, he asked for refills of coffee for himself and Miss McIntyre and two glasses of milk for Johnny and me.
I really would have liked coffee; Pa lets me have some once in awhile.
But I knew now was not the time to ask.
Miss McIntyre went to cut the cake and saw where Johnny had already sampled some of it.
“Oh my,” she laughed, “However, it looks as if a little mouse already got to it. I think it will be all right, though.”
Johnny blushed. He’d been caught red-handed, but Miss McIntyre didn’t tattle on him.
Pa just looked confused.
We sat at the table and watched Pa and Miss McIntyre chatter away.
They seemed to be taken with one another.
I was getting tired of sitting, but figured I should enjoy it while I could.
I figured that after Pa got Johnny and me back to Lancer, we may not be able to sit again for a while.
I could also tell Johnny was about to bust out of his skin.
My brother is a bundle of nervous energy.
Miss McIntyre looked up at the clock and said, “Oh my goodness, would you look at the time? I really must be going.”
Pa paid the bill and asked to escort her outside.
She took the arm he offered her and we trailed after them.
“I enjoyed our talk, Murdoch, and I thank you for the coffee and the delightful company. I hope that we run into each other again.” she dimpled, prettily.
“I trust we will,” replied Pa with a smile on his face, touching the brim of his hat.
“Well good-bye, Murdoch.”
She looked at us and smiled, “Goodbye, boys. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
Then she looked back at Pa and whispered, “Don’t be too hard on them. They meant well.”
Pa had a far away look, as he watched her walk away.
He had a big smile on his face which disappeared as soon as he turned around to look at the two of us.
I guess he had decided not to take her advice regarding the two of us.
“In the buckboard NOW and I don’t want to hear one word from either of you on the way home!”
I made sure that Johnny sat in the middle, between Pa and I, in case Pa decided to start handing out swats on the ride home.
It was a very quiet ride back to Lancer.
I coulda swore I heard Pa chuckle a couple of times on the ride back home.
I looked over to Scott and he looked at me.
We was both hopin’ it was a good sign.
But, boy…it was a long ride home!
Pa pulled the buckboard up in front of the hacienda and Scott and me went to jump down.
“Uh uh uh,” cautioned Pa. “Stay right where you are; don’t get down.”
I screwed up my face and I heard Scott’s mournful soundin’ sigh.
Pa began his lecture.
“While I appreciate what the two of you tried to do for me, I do not appreciate the way you went about it.”
I went to open my mouth, but Pa shut it real quick with a look.
“Let me ask you. Have either of you ever heard the quote, ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive? ‘”
Scott spoke up, “I’ve heard that. It’s Shakespeare, right?”
Pa replied, “No, Son. It’s a quote from Sir Walter Scott, an esteemed poet who hails from our homeland of Scotland.”
Scott looked disgusted.
He prided himself on being the ‘smart one’ so he gets right peeved when he gets somethin’ wrong.
Pa looked at me.
“Johnny, can you tell me what that means?”
I looked up in surprise; dang it…why was he askin’ me? I ain’t the ‘smart’ one!”
“Um, I think it means ya shouldn’t lie ’cause it gets ya deeper and deeper in trouble?”
“That’s pretty close. You know, boys, I can tolerate a lot of things. I do not, however, liked to be lied to! And, I think you both know that pretty well by now!”
Dammit, we’d broken Commandment Number One according to the Gospel of St. Murdoch!
‘Thou shall not lie to your father or you will be knee deep in cow shit!’
“Are we in trouble, Pa? You seemed to like Miss McIntyre well enough. I also thought I heard you chuckle a time or two coming home,” I asked pitifully.
“I did not ‘chuckle,’ John. There wasn’t one thing funny about the little stunt you and your brother pulled!”
‘Humph,’ I thought to myself. ‘Why is it we get in trouble for lyin,’ but adults don’t?’
I jest knew Pa had laughed a time or two on the way home, but he denied it!
‘Course I wasn’t stupid enough to point this out to Pa.
“Well, boys. I want you to always remember the Sir Walter Scott quote when you are tempted to lie.
I also want you to remember the little ‘discussion’ we are going to have right now in the barn.”
Pa was giving us ‘the look.’
The one where he raises his left eyebrow so high, it nearly disappears!
“What?” I complained.
“W-h-h-y-y?” Scott whined, his voice breakin’ at the end.
Pa glared at us both.
“You really have to ask me ‘what’ and ‘why?’ You know very well ‘what’ and ‘why!’“ he scolded.
We was going to have to start all over again to try and beat our record!
Well, Johnny and I weren’t too crazy about the ‘discussion’ Pa had in the barn with us.
In fact, you could say it was rather painful.
Lucky for us, we had a couple of days to recover before going back to school.
You wouldn’t believe how hard those old wooden seats can be!
It was Valentine’s Day when we went back to school on Monday and there was a party.
Johnny and I brought frosted sugar cookies shaped like hearts, baked by Mia..
Everybody loves when we bring treats from home.
I received a valentine from everyone in the class, but my favorite one was from Laura Sue.
She signed it ‘xoxoxoxoxoxo!’
I gave her one, too, but it didn’t have as many x’s and o’s on it.
At lunch, we sneaked behind the schoolhouse and gave each other a kiss.
Now I know, I know what Pa said.
He said, ‘Don’t let me catch you kissing Laura again…’
He didn’t say I couldn’t kiss her, just that he didn’t want to catch me kissing her.
Since Pa was back at Lancer, I figured I was safe.
And, Pa does seem a lot happier these days…
Yeah, I was also happy to have a few days to recover from Pa’s little ‘discussion’ before goin’ back to school.
We had a Valentine’s party and I got valentines from everyone in the class.
My favorite was from Missy.
I opened it up and I laughed.
It was a drawing of her and me in the oak tree, teasin’ Scott and Laura Sue.
She signed it ‘xoxo.’
Funny thing is, I had drawn the same picture for her valentine.
I didn’t sign no ‘x’s’ or ‘o’s,’ though.
We met behind the schoolhouse at recess and thanked each other for our valentines.
I asked Missy if, bein’ it was Valentine’s Day and all, should I should kiss her?
She wrinkled up her nose in disgust and said, “Ewww, no!” and then she punched me in the arm.
I like her, she ain’t like other girls!
Pa is a lot less grumpy nowadays and I know why.
He’s seeing Miss Nancy on a regular basis.
But, that’s a story for another day…
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