28 June 1931 – 12 May 2009
"I haven't seen you this enthusiastic about anything for some considerable time, Scotty."
Scott started at the unexpected sound of his grandfather's voice. The big library table was covered in the guidebooks, maps and printed timetables in which he'd been absorbed for... he glanced at the black marble mantel clock with the ornate face held up by demure bronze nymphs, and was surprised to see he'd been lost in the enjoyable task of planning a journey for almost three hours.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, getting politely to his feet. "I didn't hear you come in."
"No," agreed Harlan Garrett, "I don't suppose you did. Sit down, my boy, sit down."
Scott obeyed, once he'd pulled out a chair and waited for his grandfather to join him. He watched for a moment as the old man turned over the maps and papers, admiring, as he usually did, the precision in the touch of those fine, patrician hands. He was proud of inheriting the Garrett hands, come to him through his mother along with his dusty blond hair and the typically narrow Garrett face with its high cheekbones.
He wasn't certain what traits he might have inherited from his father since he'd never met the man. He'd never met his mother, either, of course, but at least he had her portraits to go by.
It was more than Murdoch Lancer had ever granted him.
"I don't know that I'm enthusiastic, exactly, Grandfather," he said, responding to Harlan's greeting. "Intrigued, perhaps."
His grandfather picked up The Traveler's Own Book: A Panorama of Overland Travel, from Chicago to San Francisco, carefully unfolding the long thin map inside its covers. Harlan's bright grey-blue eyes were still as sharp as those of a man forty years his junior: he examined the fine print without any sign of strain.
"I suppose I would be intrigued too," he acknowledged, refolding the map and putting down the book before allowing his mouth to twist slightly into a moue of distaste. "I would be very intrigued as to why, after twenty-five years of silence and neglect, my father suddenly wanted to see me. I think, Scotty, that I would be very intrigued and very suspicious."
"Suspicious? Well, yes, something has obviously happened to make him decide to invite me to California." Scott added wryly: "Something cataclysmic, I dare say, for him to bother."
"You mentioned that the Pinkerton agent assured you that the man wasn't dying," said Harlan, his tone acidic. "Perhaps that's just as well. A deathbed reconciliation scene would be rather too like a cheap novel; an experience to be avoided, I suggest."
Scott laughed. "I can't imagine anything more unlikely, or more uncomfortable! But you're quite right, grandfather, the agent did refuse to elaborate on the reason for the invitation. I can't imagine why he's sent for me now. He must want my help with something."
"It could be anything, I suppose," said Harlan. "But I doubt if it's anything good. California is a barbarous place. The west is lawless and savage. He's survived it this long, however."
Scott's lips twitched as he hid a smile at the implication that his absentee father was as lawless and savage as the land he lived in. He wasn't surprised at the tone; his grandfather's animus against the land and the man who, in Harlan's opinion, had stolen his daughter at the cost of her life, was still bitter-sharp more than twenty-five years later. "Well, whatever it is, he's serious about the invitation. As I told you, sir, the Pinkerton agent explained that he is willing to offer me a thousand dollars for the privilege of an hour of my time."
It was unlikely that a refined Bostonian gentleman was even physiologically capable of snorting derisively, but Harlan Garret made a sound that was suspiciously like it. "Scotty, that's barely half-a-year's salary for you in the business—or would be, if you would apply yourself—and you know it. You can't want the money!"
Scott ignored the criticism, mild as it was; he did well enough in the business to get by and that took all his energy and enthusiasm. "No sir, of course not. I have more than enough to live comfortably. It's just that I remember what you've always said about the squalid and uncivilised place to which he took my mother. From everything I've read, the West still seems very primitive. I assume it's a sort of hand-to-mouth existence out there."
"He took her to a ruined mud-walled house, Scotty; a mud hut, a hovel! My poor Catherine, labouring on the land like a peasant!"
"I know, sir," said Scott, patiently listening to the old complaint.
When Scott had been a child, one of his grandfather's visitors had given him Robinson Crusoe for his birthday; a handsomely bound book with an embossed blue cover and gilt-edged pages and the most wonderful woodcuts of Crusoe and Man Friday. He'd been a little young to appreciate it when he'd first got it—he'd been five, he thought; perhaps six, at most—but he'd learned to love the book as he grew older. He had imagined his father living like Robinson Crusoe in a mud hut roofed with palm fronds and surrounded by savages. He'd look around the big house on Beacon Hill where he and his grandfather lived, and wonder if his father's mud hut had furniture and if it were like the crimson velvet sofas and chairs that he sat on, and if his father looked like the pictures in the book, big and bearded and dressed in animal skins. He had been quite old, fourteen at least, before he realised that the mud-walled hovel of his grandfather's complaints could be translated, possibly more accurately, into an adobe-built Mexican-inspired house, size and condition unknown.
Still, even knowing that Harlan's view was a little prejudiced, Scott had always assumed that abject poverty had prevented Murdoch Lancer from coming to see him or claim him. The same excuse didn't quite hold true for the silence, of course, and Scott had never understood why his father had never tried to contact him at all, since the poorest man should be able to afford to send one or two letters over twenty-five years if he saved hard enough to pay the postage. When he'd been a child he'd watched every delivery of letters for something from his father, had looked at every visitor to see if this was the one who'd catch him up in a pair of arms while a voice choked out My son! Scott! in his ear. Scott wasn't sure how old he'd been when he'd put aside that silly childish fancy and taken a more mature and thoughtful view of Murdoch Lancer's silence and neglect; perhaps the same age that he'd realised that his father's mud hut may not really be Robinson Crusoe's.
While not forgiving it, Scott had tried to rationalise his abandonment: he had everything in Boston and Murdoch Lancer had nothing in California, half a world away. The offer of a thousand dollars and his expenses gave him pause, though. A poor man labouring on the land couldn't offer that.
He filed the thought away to be considered when he was alone and added, mildly enough, "It seems to me that in those circumstances, one thousand dollars must represent a great deal to him and perhaps he's had to sacrifice a lot to amass that kind of money. If he's willing to offer so much to get me to go there ... well, it adds to the intrigue."
Again the almost-snort. "Well, he could hardly appeal to you on any grounds other than financial! There are no ties between you, other than blood. He abdicated all responsibility as your father long ago when he abandoned the... when, forgive me, Scotty, when he abandoned you."
"I know, sir." Scott poked at the heap of maps, and said, suddenly tired enough to be honest, "Still, it's come at a time when I think I'd like to get away from Boston for a little while."
"Why?" asked the old man, sharply.
Scott didn't shrug, because such an uncouth action would certainly have met with a reproof, but he did allow his shoulders to relax. At any other time his grandfather would have called attention to his ungentlemanly slumping, but he knew that whenever he displayed the world-weariness that had plagued him since the War, Harlan's tolerance levels rose. He was a little ashamed that he sometimes made use of the seldom-expressed, but evident, sympathy and affection.
"It's never really been the same, sir," he said, and looked away, afraid that his face would show just how far from 'the same' Boston had been since his return.
Harlan returned to looking over the traveller's detritus that Scott had strewn over the table, letting the silence lie between them for a moment or two before responding. "If it means that you don't marry Barbara Llewellyn out of sheer ennui, then you may have some time away from Boston with my blessing. Why don't you think about a trip to Europe? I intended to send you there when you finished Harvard but... well, you know."
Scott did indeed know. He'd not been able to return to Harvard to finish his degree for a couple of years after coming home from the War, and his grandfather, thoroughly frightened by the time it had taken for Scott to regain his health and by the thought of how nearly he'd lost him, had been unwilling to let him out of his sight to go so far as, say, New York, much less the Old World. Scott had never summoned up enough energy to care about the coddling, much less protest. This volte-face by his grandfather was surprising.
All he said now was, "I have no intention of marrying Barbara."
"Walter Llewellyn spoke to me at the Club today, when I went there to lunch. He was rather agitated. He claimed that he almost caught you in her room last night."
"Almost is not quite," said Scott. "He can't be certain who it was."
Harlan shook his head and said, reproachfully, "Scotty!"
"Did you imagine that she's an innocent, sir? I wouldn't say this to anyone other than you, of course, but Barbara knows how the game is played."
"As does Walter Llewellyn, but he's determined that it's a game you won't play with his daughter."
"If not I, there'll be someone else within the week," said Scott.
"That is not very gallant, young man."
"I'm sorry, sir, if you find that a little too candid. I don't mean to impugn Barbara or her reputation, but it is the truth. I don't seduce innocents, grandfather. I'm not a cad."
"Llewellyn seems to think you're a libertine, however. He's taking steps to rescue her reputation, such as it is. He has banned Barbara from seeing you again." Harlan peered at him, eyes bright and sharp. "Well, I'll admit that I'm relieved that you don't seem heartbroken by that."
"Barbara's an amusing diversion, sir, as I am for her. It isn't serious. Barbara's far too clever to allow it to be serious or to admit to anything indiscreet. As I said, she's played the game too long for that and she knows when to weep and tremble and claim ignorance about what her father's talking about and bamboozle him." He added, wryly, "She gave a splendid performance last night, from what I could hear from the shrubbery."
It earned him a stern look. "Llewellyn was talking about horsewhips, Scotty! You have got to stop being so foolish and taking such risks."
Scott nodded, but he knew that at least these little risks made him feel, for a few minutes, as if he were awake again.
"I was able to—" His grandfather paused then nodded as he found the right word, "—to placate him."
Scott glanced at Harlan, seeing the slight curl of the lip and the half-smile. "Placate him, sir?"
"His business interests and mine intersect, here and there."
"Ah," said Scott. "Of course."
"He is quite serious about ending the connection and I don't disagree with him. Really, my boy, you just cannot play that game with women of our class." Harlan waved a dismissive hand. "Not that the Llewellyns are quite of our class, of course, but you know what I mean. You can't buy off the Llewellyn girl in the way you might a scullery maid, despite her having the morals of one."
"I think you wrong the scullery maid, sir, whose behaviour has always seemed to me to be beyond reproach. But Barbara's morals are no worse than mine, surely?"
"That's very different," said Harlan. "I expect any man your age to have his adventures with the immorata, but one doesn't marry such a girl, naturally."
"Naturally," agreed Scott.
It earned him a sharp look. His grandfather sat for a while, frowning, tapping his long white fingers on his knee. Harlan fixed his eyes on the portrait of his daughter above the mantelpiece; Scott followed his gaze. Catherine Laura Garrett Lancer stared back with the same pretty indifference with which her portrait had always regarded the living, whether it be her father or the son she'd died birthing.
"The Pinkerton agent you spoke of at breakfast this morning—I assume he accosted you after that little romantic interlude?"
"Yes, sir." .
Harlan continued with the frowning and the finger-tapping. Scott eyed this evidence of perturbation with a little surprise at how obviously affected his grandfather was. Harlan's reaction to the message from Murdoch Lancer had been predictably acerbic, but his behaviour now spoke of deep distress or anxiety. After his initial surprise, Harlan hadn't said a great deal at breakfast, but this early return home and the barely-concealed agitation suggested that Harlan invested the message with a greater significance than he'd first revealed.
I'll speak plainly, Scotty," said Harlan at last. "There's no denying that you haven't really found your way since the War ended, but it's almost five years and I think I've been patient long enough, don't you?"
Startled, Scott met the cool, clear-eyed gaze. "You've been very patient," he acknowledged. "And very supportive. I couldn't ask for more, sir. It's just... it's just that everything has seemed so unimportant and paltry since... since Libby. I can't explain it—"
Harlan's hand closed briefly over his. "I know, my dear boy. I know. You don't need to explain it. You were ill for such a long time afterwards. I've watched you struggle with it and I've regretted that I've not been able to do more. And perhaps my foolish fears have kept you back. I couldn't bear to lose you, you know and I was very afraid that I would."
Scott was touched at this unexpectedly honest avowal. "Even after I got home?"
"Do you know, Scotty, I've sometimes wondered if you've ever let yourself believe that you are truly home."
This hit so true in the mark, that Scott drew a sharp breath. "I have tried, sir."
"I know. And forgive me, my boy, for mentioning this, but the added grief of Julie calling off your marriage—"
"She didn't have your patience, sir. And really, she isn't to be blamed for that. It wasn't right to ask her to take on so much; she's entitled to so much better."
This time there was no mistaking the snort. "Indeed? Well, that's over and done with, but there's no denying that you're drifting badly."
"Oh," said Scott, rather blankly. He felt slightly offended. It was an ungenerous analysis, he felt; his life was no different to that of many another of his age and class.
"It's not a criticism. I can't truly understand how your experiences affected you, although I've tried—"
"No-one could have tried harder, sir."
"Thank you, my boy, but I couldn't do less. You know that."
Scott nodded. He did know that.
"So, I would be happy to send you to Europe, if that would help give you more time, in a different place, to find yourself again. I'd rather like my boy back, Scotty, and not the polite stranger who's been living in your clothes these last five years."
A part of Scott wanted to squirm with embarrassment and mutter something brash and fashionably cynical about old men giving way to sentimentality being a sign of their dotage. The other part, possibly the better half of him, had to clear its throat and felt a slight difficulty in speaking, and when he did speak, it wasn't just about the offer to fund his travel. "You're very kind, Grandfather."
"Nonsense. It's for purely selfish reasons." He patted Scott's hand. "I look after my own, you know."
Scott glanced down to focus on the Traveler's Own Book—by Alfred A Hart, showing, by a system new and comprehensive, all the minutiae of railway travel and all interesting points and illustrated by fine photochromic views—and took a moment to respond, steeling himself to match his grandfather's directness. Perhaps five or six years ago, the prospect of a trip to Europe would have been exciting and energising; now it left him as indifferent as the thought of staying in Boston.
"Do you know, sir, although it is most extraordinarily kind of you to offer, the thought of going to Europe really doesn't intrigue me nearly as much as going to California. I think I would like to accept Murdoch Lancer's invitation, after all."
"I don't think that's wise."
"I don't see it quite like that, sir. I don't think it's unwise. I think it's time. Actually, sir, it's high time that I met him. He is my father, after all, and I have the right to ask him a few questions."
"What is there to ask, Scotty? He took your mother to that barbarous place and couldn't keep her safe. I doubt there was a doctor within a couple of hundred miles when she needed one. He wasn't even there when she die… when you were born. What more do you need to know?"
"Why," said Scott. "With respect, sir, and with deep gratitude for all your care of me, don't you think he had some duty towards me? I want to know why he handed that to you without so much as a backwards glance."
"The land was too important for him to keep Catherine with him, or bother himself with you," said Harlan. "Don't expect to get a satisfactory answer."
"Oh, I agree that there can't be one, but I'd like to see him face to face and ask." Scott smiled slightly. "And it appears that he might have something to say to me, after all, if the thousand dollar sweetener is any indication."
Harlan stood abruptly and went to stand at the mantel, his eyes on his painted daughter. Scott watched him. Harlan was silent for a long time before he nodded.
"I suppose that your curiosity is only to be expected. You never showed much about him when you were a child."
"I felt it, sir," said Scott. "When I saw the other boys with their fathers, then I wondered. But I know who brought me up when my father didn't bother to take that trouble." He added, gently, "I know where my loyalties lie, sir."
"Oh, I don't doubt that for a moment!" said his grandfather. "But that barbaric land took your mother from me, and I can't help but be concerned. He has to want something from you, Scotty. He's had no interest in you all these years and I just don't believe that he'd have such a radical change of heart without some compelling reason. I just don't believe it's a good reason."
"It will probably make for an interesting account when I return home," said Scott and watched as his grandfather relaxed at that reassurance. "It will only be for a few weeks, grandfather."
Harlan's gaze, surprisingly intense, met Scott's. Scott nodded at him in reassurance and let the silence lengthen, allowing the old man the time to accept his decision.
Harlan sighed audibly. "I won't deny that I was rather expecting this, after you told me about the Pinkerton agent. I'm not happy about it, for all the reasons I've given you. Remember that he's abandoned you for more than twenty-five years!"
"I remember," said Scott. "I won't ever forget that, sir, nor what I owe to you." He smiled at his grandfather with real affection. "I want to meet him, grandfather. I want to ask him, face to face, why he gave me up to you without a second thought. I think I have the right to demand an answer from him."
"No-one has a better right." Harlan hesitated. "We've never really talked much about that time, but you know that I fought very hard to keep you here with me."
"Did you, sir? Well, that doesn't surprise me and it looks as if he surrendered without putting up much of a defence and he's never, in these years, contacted me until yesterday. I want to know why."
Another long silence before his grandfather nodded. "Very well, Scotty; very well. It may be for the best, if it's giving you an interest in things again." Harlan took a deep breath and said, more briskly. "It may even be useful to the firm, you going to California. Arthur Campion was saying to me only yesterday that there's a wealth of exciting business opportunities in San Francisco and Sacramento that are worth investigation. Perhaps you could look into that for me while you're out there?"
"Of course," said Scott.
He was surprised by his grandfather's manner. The man who had built one of the most successful business empires in Boston and the Commonwealth was rarely so maladroit and clumsy. Harlan had a shrewd intelligence, a great deal of subtlety and a carefully-nuanced ruthlessness, all masked by civility and courtesy – as Walter Llewellyn could doubtless attest, after having been 'placated'. This patent and rather ham-fisted face-saver showed just how rattled his grandfather was by Murdoch Lancer's unexpected message. Scott was relieved, however, that there was so little real opposition and wondered if he had worn out his grandfather's patient acceptance of his post-War lassitude.
He added, fired with the same interest that had kept him absorbed for most of the afternoon: "I've worked out a route to Sacramento by the new railroad, and then thought about making my way south by stagecoach. Morro Coyo seems to be around two or three days by stage."
"Morro Coyo!" said Harlan, rather dismissively. He retreated to his armchair by the fire and shook open the newspaper awaiting him there. "Heathenish name for a place."
"Spanish, of course," said Scott. He smiled, enjoying the way that the exotic Spanish name of the town where his unknown father lived rolled off his tongue, and for an instant, his heart beat a little more energetically as unaccustomed excitement gripped him. "As are the majority of the place names. I wonder what it means? Anyhow, it's easy enough to go on to San Francisco and I'd very much like to see the city."
Harlan's smile was a thin and frosty thing. "And since he isn't dying, there's no reason for you not to stay in the city for a few days and explore it."
"None at all." Scott added, thoughtfully, "Although, despite not having been given a reason for undue haste, I don't think he would have sent a Pinkerton agent unless there is some urgency to his request. I have one or two engagements that will be difficult to break, but I could leave next week."
His grandfather merely made that not-quite-snorting noise again, and Scott, deciding that discretion was definitely the better part for the moment, especially when he'd won a major battle with barely firing a shot, lost himself again for a few minutes in the pleasures of maps and timetable and schedules.
"I have it, sir. If once your business in San Francisco is concluded and I backtrack to a town called Stockton, I can then take the stage south as I originally planned. I don't have to go all the way back to Sacramento. I should reach Morro Coyo with very little in the way of extra time and effort, and I'll be very happy to carry out whatever commissions you or Mister Campion have for me."
"A stage coach," remarked his grandfather, "is the invention of Satan to be a special purgatory for the very sinful."
Scott laughed. "Have you ever travelled on a public stage coach, sir?"
"Once. After that experience, I gave in to your grandmother's wheedling and bought the travelling carriage. It made me very popular with her, I assure you."
Scott had been brought home in that same carriage after the war, so sick, emaciated and covered in sores that he barely remembered the journey except as an endless haze of pain and fever and his grandfather's soothing, calm voice and cool, capable hands; but the carriage had made his return home so much more comfortable than if he'd waited for official transport, that he could understand his grandmother's delight.
"I'm sure it did, sir!" He added the obligatory: "I wish I remembered her better. She was a remarkable lady, but I'll have to hope that my wife, if I marry, is content with something less elaborate." Scott flourished a timetable at his grandfather. "I don't think that I'll be able to avoid some stage travel on this journey, however."
"What route do you intend to take?"
"I'll go to Buffalo, and from there to Chicago. I'd rather that than waste time going to New York. What I might gain in a faster train journey from New York to Chicago, I'd more than lose by having to travel to New York first."
"Not to mention having to travel with hundreds of immigrants," said Harlan.
Scott hid a smile, suspecting he wasn't the only one who had whiled away an hour or two with the guidebooks and maps; his grandfather's club, he remembered, had an extensive library. "I don't mind that so much, sir. But still, I might as well go direct to Buffalo and join the New York-Chicago train there. There are daily trains from Chicago to San Francisco. It will take about a week all told, which is quite astonishingly quick, don't you think?"
"I think it will be quite astonishingly uncomfortable," said Harlan, peering at him over the top of the newspaper. "Although you will be travelling first class, of course."
"Of course. The guide books say that the Transcontinental Express is very well appointed, actually, with every comfort."
Harlan merely sniffed and shook out the folds of his newspaper. Scott didn't think that his grandfather was actually reading it.
Scott glanced down at the timetable and tariff sheet. "My... Murdoch Lancer is paying my expenses, as well as offering me the one thousand dollars. A two-way ticket to San Francisco alone is more than three hundred dollars."
"Scandalous," said his grandfather, placidly.
Scott's mouth twitched at the tone. "I take it that you have shares in the railroads, Grandfather."
"Of course. I have a considerable investment there. So do you."
"I do? Then perhaps I should ask for a discount? They already offer some: this timetable for Central Pacific Railroad shows that the fare is lower if paid in coin, not currency."
"Well, would you put your trust in some fly-by-night Californian bank, or in gold and silver?" Harlan did snort this time, but he was talking about gold and good business practice and that made even a Boston Brahmin think about practicalities and exercise due diligence. "You might bear that in mind when you come to collect your thousand dollars, Scotty."
Scott smiled at the old man with real affection. "Don't worry, Grandfather. I'll demand it in gold and take an empty carpet bag to carry it."
Harlan smiled back at him, thinly, and Scott realised that the old man may have been reconciled to his trip west, had even seemed to be unsurprised that Scott had decided on it, but he didn't like it. Harlan didn't like it one bit. "Just take good care of it, and yourself, on the way back, my dear boy. You had better take your revolver, by the way. I hear that there are all sorts of brigands and gunmen and train-robbers out there."
"Train robbers? Good lord," said Scott, "Who would be mad enough to rob a vehicle moving at twenty-five miles an hour or more?"
"I believe," said his grandfather, "that the local term is desperadoes."