Hackamore 2 : Fancy Dan Part 3
Day Fourteen, Tuesday 5 April – Day Fifteen, Wednesday 6 April
San Francisco – StocktonWestern Pacific Railroad
Stockton-Lathrop-Manteca-Modesto-Turlock-Merced-MaderaWells Fargo Stage
Stockton was the first real Western town that Scott had seen. Although only a few hours from San Francisco by train, it was an entire world away from that sophisticated city. Here, with a few exceptions, the buildings in the main street were low, only two stories, and many were no more than fancy fronts that bore no relation to the basic sheds erected behind them. That things were changing was obvious—there was an orgy of building work going on, constructing more permanent and sophisticated buildings down Main street—but the streets were dusty and unpaved, the people… well, the people were positively rustic. He and Nordhoff were the oddities in the street, the ones not wearing calico shirts, big hats and high-heeled boots. Scott hadn't seen so many armed men since the War; he, Nordhoff and one or two other Easterners were the only men not to be walking about with a few pounds of metal tied to their hips.
By the time they had reached Stockton at noon, Scott was over the mild indisposition he'd felt following their carousal the evening before. Nordhoff didn't get off so lightly. For the first time in Scott's experience, Nordhoff had been distinctly surly when he'd stumbled into the cab outside the hotel that took them back to the ferry for Oakland to take the Transcontinental route back East. He'd slept for most of the four hours it took the train to retrace their steps to Stockton, for once not leaping up to exhort Scott to look out of the window or to listen to some pearl of Mr Crofutt's wisdom. Nordhoff was still inclined to squint against the light and complain about his 'unexpected bilious attack' when they made their way to Stockton's Yo Semite House, where he would stay for the next part of his assignment.
Scott hadn't minded Nordhoff's silence. Now that he was on the very last leg of his long journey, he found that he was disinclined for talk, focused again on the real reason coming to California. The long, interesting journey and the small business task for his grandfather, even Nordhoff's chatter, were all insufficient to divert him any longer. The meeting he'd speculated about all his life was almost upon him, and, almost as if he were once again that small, well-behaved lonely boy in his grandfather's house looking to see his father in every stranger, his mind played and replayed a dozen different scenes, all variants on the theme where his father finally welcomed him with open arms, acknowledged him, embraced him, begged his forgiveness for his neglect.
The problem was that he had no more idea now what Murdoch Lancer looked like than he'd had at five or six, despite the last few weeks of thinking about it and dreaming about it. Even when he sat down, wide awake, to rationalise it all, he couldn't come up with satisfactory details.
His dream of a tall man and a voice, well that was probably a memory from childhood made up of any number of strangers, business contacts of his grandfather's and should be discounted. Being logical about it, he could admit the tallness. He himself was tall, so it was reasonable to assume that his father was too, but the figure in his imagination still remained unformed, the details elusive. He could force his imagination to provide a tall shape, but the face was a formless oval. He knew that he took after his mother in looks and colouring, so there wasn't much point in trying to force some of his own features onto the oval and say, yes, that is my father. And Scott couldn't begin to imagine what his father sounded like. Deep voice, light voice, a western drawl, still with a Scottish accent after all these years? How was he to know? He had nothing, absolutely nothing, to go on.
So those variants of the scene where his father finally welcomed him, embraced him, acknowledged him and begged his forgiveness for the neglect... well, they were hard to define and even harder to hold on to. Scott knew that at his journey's end he would walk into his father's house... and there it all stopped. He couldn't fix in his mind what that house would look like, his imagination wavering between the studied elegance of the mansion on Beacon Hill and the rough mud hut that Robinson Crusoe had decorated with goatskins and roofed with palm fronds, and even if the Lancer house was something in between, Scott just couldn't see it, couldn't get it anything like right in his head. Just like in the dream, his father would come to meet him, hurrying with remorse and eagerness, and a voice would say My son! My son! and two strong hands would grasp him by the shoulders and... and... . Scott couldn't get it. Everything blurred and the images slipped away.
That was the worst of dreams. They slithered away like snakes.
Scott took a cordial farewell of Nordhoff on the evening of April 5th, the two sharing a last dinner together at the Yo Semite House Hotel before exchanging addresses and promising to meet again when they were both home in the East. He caught the early stage the next morning, before Nordhoff was awake. He was sorry to lose the journalist's company, not least because now he had no diversion from his thoughts as the coach rattled and swayed its seriously uncomfortable way south.
Despite the physical closeness of his father, the mental image still refused to co-operate, refusing to yield up one atom of information to allow Scott to imagine their meeting. In the end, he gave it up. He talked a little with his fellow passengers, every one of them country people, and opened up the book that he'd bought in a San Francisco store. He knew himself too well to think that it was only nostalgic impulse that had prompted him to revisit his boyhood, but still he lost himself for a while in the archaic density of seventeenth-century prose.
I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family at Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Keutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our Selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call'd me.
He was jerked out of the narrative every time the coach hit a rut or a stone, clutching at his hat or his book or whatever threatened to be dislodged on each bone-jarring convulsion.
His grandfather was quite right. Coaches were an instrument of the Devil.
Day Sixteen Thursday 7 April
Madera – FresnoWells Fargo Stage
Fresno – Morro CoyoFresno County Stagelines
The Madera way-station was the first place where Scott had stayed that didn't offer the sort of accommodation that he was used to. The train had been cramped, but the quality of the fittings in the Pullman cars had been beyond criticism, every bit as snug as his bedroom back in Boston. The hotel in San Francisco had been the equal of anything back in the East, and even the Yo Semite House had been one of the most sophisticated buildings in Stockton and almost hedonistically luxurious.
But the way station!
Scott finally realised that he'd had the most privileged journey so far and he began to see why travel in the West was seen as such an adventure. In Madera there was no private, luxuriously-appointed room with his own bathing room and lavatory attached. Madera boasted nothing more than a rough adobe building with an odorous outhouse that had Scott gagging from the stench. He wasn't expecting it and it took him unawares. He stood for just an instant inside the outhouse door, his hands clenching and unclenching, before he veered away from the outhouse into some of the scrubby bushes behind it. He heaved and heaved to get the remembered smells and taste of Libby out from where they were buried, just under the skin.
Libby didn't often come back because of words, because of someone speaking of the war or their experience or asking Scott what he'd done or where he'd served. Scott had learned to guard against words, to shield himself against the memories that mere words might provoke. Instead, Libby came back in ways that he couldn't expect or guard against: the angular shapes of shadows cast by the summer sun, an unexpected touch, or smell, or sounds. Once he'd spent a week shaking after hearing the voice of a stranger in the street, the words indistinguishable but the tone and intonation all too potent. For months after his return home, Mrs Reynolds had had to show him the ingredients of her kitchen to let him see for himself, over and over, that there was no vermin in them. Even after all these years, he couldn't bear the smell or taste of oatmeal. In these things, Libby had never left him and perhaps never would.
Still, it took less and less time now to safely lock away everything that was in the past. A few minutes retching in the bushes, another few minutes sitting back on his heels and telling himself that he was an idiot, another few minutes for the ridiculous tremor to stop and Scott Garrett Lancer, gentleman of Boston, was his usual urbane self again and he could get up, brush the dust from his clothes with hands that were steady once again and go into the main building to rejoin his fellow passengers as if nothing had happened.
The other passengers were already at supper, heads down over their plates at a common table. Scott blinked at the sheer amount of the food there. It wasn't presented in an elegant manner, but there was certainly enough of it. The wooden table top had a low sheen to it, not highly French-polished like the one in his grandfather's dining room, but it was clean and big enough for a dozen or more platters under wire-and-net screens to keep off flies. The platters held beef or vegetables, plainly cooked—Scott couldn't see a sauce or jus anywhere—but to go with them were dishes of sweet-sour pickles, or finely chopped onion, or strange little green vegetables as long as his little finger, or what looked like chopped tomatoes.
The woman who seemed to manage the way station warned him off the little green vegetables—"They're jalapeno peppers, Mister. If you ain't used to 'em, they'll burn your lips right off. The salsa's spicy too, but it won't kill yer."—and Scott nodded his thanks, and picked his way through the food. To his surprise, it was better than it looked. He made a reasonable meal despite his earlier brush with unpleasant memory, listening quietly to the conversation around him. It seemed that cattle prices were up; planned discussions by the legislature in Sacramento about damming the San Joaquin River had died unspoken face by the vigorous opposition of something called the Cattle Growers Association; the Southern Pacific Railroad was only fifteen miles short of joining the Western Pacific at Sacramento and completing the Los Angeles-Bakersfield-Sacramento route; some men were spoken of in hushed terms as having returned to Fresno County from around Modesto in the north, where the sheriff had apparently been killed, and were now causing trouble near somewhere called Spanish Wells and (and here Scott looked up, interested) Morro Coyo; there was an outbreak of black fly fever over in Cantua Creek, wherever that may be; and it seemed some smaller railroad companies were making headway in joining up their spur railroads to the new Southern Pacific line around Modesto, having overcome local opposition.
Except for the railroad news, which chimed with what Scott had learned in San Francisco during his business discussions, Scott thought that they might as well have been discussing the affairs of Uttar Pradesh for all the sense they made. And did one really grow cattle? Still, he wasn't called upon to say very much himself, and although everyone gave him frankly curious glances, no-one asked outright what his business was in this place where he stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Perhaps it would be some breach of that strange Code of the West that the dime novels made so much of. Well, he was grateful for it; he finished his meal in peace and went to look at the rest of the accommodations.
The way-station offered a common dormitory fitted out with old campaign beds that had probably seen service in tents at Shiloh, covered with equally old Army blankets of very doubtful cleanliness. Scott was deeply suspicious of those blankets. He suspected that they'd almost have enough life in them to move around by themselves, and he'd had enough of lice and bedbugs in Libby. If he was fastidious now, he had good reason. He spent the night in a chair in the other room of the station, half-kitchen-half-saloon, dozing uncomfortably in front of a low fire, fearing to dream. He woke itching at dawn from a short, restless doze. He hoped the itching was more imagination than fleas but he had a miserable two or three hours to Fresno while he fretted about it.
Fresno was another adobe-built dormitory and stables. There were barely buildings enough around to qualify Fresno as a hamlet, and Scott was hard put to it to understand why it had been chosen as an intersection point for the Wells Fargo line and local stage coaches. Another of the smaller spur railroads would come through it to join the Sacramento line soon, the Fargo driver said, with a wave towards the south-west where the railroad construction crews laboured, and he spat angrily into the dust not far from Scott's feet. Scott could see the pall of dust in the distance, hanging like a grey cloud, but wisely said nothing about the superior comfort of the railroad as he climbed out of the big Concord coach used by the Wells Fargo company and, not without a sinking of the heart, got himself and (after some grumbling from the Fresno drivers about the amount) his luggage into the smaller coach used by Fresno County Stagelines.
Scott thought that the sooner the railroad appeared, the better for everyone. He would have paid a very great deal for a Pullman Car at that moment, a very great deal, and was almost sorry that Murdoch Lancer hadn't waited a month or two to contact him. He couldn't find it in himself at all to sympathise with the Well Fargo driver; the man smelled of horses and had an obvious aversion to soap and if it were his habit to spit at his passengers boots, it wasn't an endearing one. Scott did tip him to carry his luggage over to the Fresno County coach, but that was about as far as he could bring himself to empathise.
If the Concord coach was his grandfather's Purgatory, then this little locally built and owned coach was Hell itself. The seats were hard and uncomfortable and the space limited, with room inside for only six passengers. Scott thought they were lucky that the coach wasn't full. He sat on the forward-facing seat beside a black clad priest who barely looked up from his missal and who, when he did deign to notice the other passengers, seemed only to speak Spanish. On the opposite seats were an elderly couple and a woman who Scott assumed was their middle-aged and probably unmarried daughter. The old man had the austere face of an Old Testament prophet and the beard to go with it; the two women were thin-faced, nostrils pinched and white, and mouths in a thin, sour line as if in living proof that prophecy didn't pay much. None of them responded to Scott's greeting past a stare and a nod and if the prophet's nod was cursory, his thin-mouthed wife barely moved her head at all.
With a sigh, Scott settled down with Crusoe for the last few uncomfortable miles. He felt nauseated, something he tried to tell himself was undoubtedly to do with the fried potatoes served with supper at the Madera way-station the previous night with the left-overs warmed up for breakfast, or the bone-jarring jolt the coach gave him over every stone or patch of rough trail. It had nothing whatsoever to do with nerves jangled almost beyond endurance with the thought that he'd finally meet his father that day. Every time that thought rose, unbidden, his gorge rose a little with it and he had to swallow hard, feeling his heart thud uncomfortably.
The book in his hands shook a little. He forced himself to concentrate on Crusoe, who was coming home at last after a long journey and a lifetime in exile.
Having done all this I left them the next day, and went on board the ship. We prepared immediately to sail, but did not weigh that night. The next morning early, two of the five men came swimming to the ship's side, and making the most lamentable complaint of the other three, begged to be taken into the ship for God's sake, for they should be murdered, and begged the captain to take them on board, though he hanged them immediately. Upon this, the captain—
The coach lurched to such a sudden stop that Scott's hat fell into his eyes and he was almost thrown onto the knees of the prophet's wife.
"My deepest apologies, Ma'am!" he said, sitting up hastily and putting out a hand to steady the priest, who likewise had almost ended up on the knees of the prophet himself. His grandfather's training and the good manners that had been drummed into him ensured that Scott didn't allow himself to laugh out loud over how ridiculous that religious faux-pas seemed, much as it amused him. Instead, he swiftly unlatched the window and slid the glass panel down, and stuck his head out to see what was going on. At the same time, he relieved his feelings with a grin and a grimace at the dusty trees lining the roadside, none of which could assume Harlan's voice and chastise him for being rag-mannered.
A man had stopped the coach. He had a big saddle tucked under one arm and appeared to be negotiating with the drivers for a lift into Morro Coyo: successfully so, for he handed up the saddle and a pair of saddlebags to be put in the luggage space on the roof.
"We'll take care o' that gun of yours," said the driver.
From the side, Scott could see very little of the man's face, half-hidden as it was by the wide-brimmed hat that seemed to be the fashion out west. He could see that the man's jaw tightened and that he hesitated to give up his gun.
Scott was getting used to the western style of dress; the heavy-duty workpants and calico shirts were obviously more in keeping with working the land or working cattle than his own town clothes. The styles worn by the wealthier townsfolk in Stockton, much like those of the prophet and his family, might be more formal than a cowboy's clothing, but to Scott's eyes were still dowdy and old-fashioned, as narrow and as pinched as the prophet's wife's nostrils. There was a no-nonsense sparseness about it all that in no manner could be described as fashionable; they all dressed badly and would be laughed at back in Boston as unlettered yokels, countrified nobodies.
This cowboy was different. Sparseness was not a word that this young man would recognise. Scott took in a rose-pink shirt, heavy with embroidery, and pants that were decorated with silver buttons down the outside length of each leg, and he found himself grinning. He hadn't seen anything like this in Stockton, and he wondered if he'd ever seen such a peacock anywhere—a rustic, western peacock, to be sure, but Good Lord, that shirt!
He pulled his head back in. "Seems like we're picking up another passenger," he said, addressing the prophet's wife and touching his hat respectfully as he spoke to her. She sniffed in response, unimpressed. Scott, amused all over again, stuck his head back out of the open window to watch the rest of the little scene, just as the man came to a decision.
"Sure," the rose-pink peacock said. He drew his pistol, reversing it to hand it up to the guard, butt-first. "Take care, Mister, it has a hair-trigger."
The driver didn't respond verbally, although the smile on the young man's face suggested that the driver's expression said everything needful. The new passenger shrugged his way into a very short-waisted jacket trimmed with a dull gold braid, and wrenched open the stage door. He paused on the step to nod a genial greeting to them all, and fell ungracefully into the narrow strip of seat between Scott and the priest as the coach started off with the same nauseating lurch as when it stopped.
He fell onto Scott mostly, and Scott became acutely aware that it was a warm spring day and the cowboy had quite evidently been carrying that saddle for some considerable distance. The man smelled of horse and sweat.
The new passenger wriggled his… his derrière into the small space between Scott and the priest, not seeming to care about the fact that he was pressing against both of them with a portion of his anatomy that a gentleman didn't normally obtrude onto people's notice. Come to think of it, those fancy decorated pants were pretty tight... Scott sighed and squashed himself into a smaller portion of the seat, and he heard the priest sigh almost in unison with him.
The rose-pink peacock gave him a smile, but the brilliant blue eyes, such a surprise in that darkly tanned face, were cool and appraising. "Sorry," he said, the smile broadening. A gloved hand dabbed at Scott's sleeve. "Didn't mean to mess up your outfit."
Scott shot him a sharp look and refused to rise to the provocation. The savage wasn't sorry at all. "Can't be helped," he said, curtly.
The peacock inclined his head and wriggled his shoulders until he was firmly jammed in the seat between Scott and the silently-suffering priest. "Still," he said. "Those is mighty fine duds. Sure is a shame to get them all over dirt."
Scott managed a thin smile. He was not going to rise to the ridicule of some bumptious yokel, who, from his words and accent, was an uneducated lout. Despite the prickle of unease that this could escalate further, he raised his book, pointedly, and buried himself in Crusoe's dilemma over the two defaulting sailors.
...begged the captain to take them on board, though he hanged them immediately. Upon this, the captain pretended to have no power without me; but after some difficulty, and after their solemn promises of amendment, they were taken on board, and were, some time after, soundly whipped and pickled; after which they proved very honest and quiet fellows.
Beside him, the rose-pink peacock chuckled softly, tipped his hat down over his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest and seemed to go to sleep, relaxed and boneless against the swaying of the little coach. Scott sat tensely beside him and all the time he pretended to read his book, he thought he could feel that intense gaze on him, weighing him up and laughing; but every time he looked up, expecting to meet amused blue eyes, all he saw was the tipped down hat and the line of a strong jaw below it.
He hadn't felt this uneasy since the Indians on the plain; and, he suspected, for entirely the same reason. The sense of difference, the sense of danger, disoriented him.
He didn't think that this was his place. This wasn't the place of Scott Garrett Lancer, gentleman of Boston.
Morro Coyo was as dusty as Stockton, but there the resemblance ended. The stage didn't come to a halt on any old spot on a busy main street, but drew into a sort of plaza or square lined with adobe buildings—white or grey or a sandy earthy colour—interspersed with the wooden-fronted stores and offices Scott had grown used to in Stockton. Morro Coyo felt different, more Spanish, particularly in architecture. The huge, decorative church that stood at one side of the square was in a style like nothing Scott had ever seen before. It was massive and imposing and an inescapable reminder of California's Mexican-Spanish heritage.
Scott took this in with one glance, wondering if he'd spot his father in the people waiting in the square or walking or riding through it. He couldn't tell, he realised, feeling the familiar sense of resentment and frustration. He couldn't tell. His father might be that tall man with dark hair crossing the plaza towards a building with a Stockton and Sacramento Bank sign hanging from it, or that grey-haired man leaning against the posts of the sidewalk outside what looked to be a cafe of some kind, or the man loading a wagon outside a store with Baldomero's Emporium written above the door in florid script. He didn't know. His father could be any one of them, or none of them, for all he knew.
Frustrated, he turned his back on the square and concentrated on getting his valises down from the top of the coach unscratched and undamaged. Murdoch Lancer was going to have to make the first approach; Scott certainly wasn't going to go up to every middle-aged man in the square and ask if he were his father. Scott had dutifully telegraphed confirmation of his arrival time to Dr Jenkins of Green River and his father had absolutely no excuse for not being one of those middle-aged men in the square. None at all.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as the rose-pink peacock took his gun back and slid it into the holster tied very low down on his right hip, and hefted down the saddle.
"Mister Lancer?" asked a voice. A young voice. A girl's voice.
"Yes," said Scott, turning, just as the peacock said something that, impossible as it was, sounded like That's me.
She was about sixteen, Scott thought, the young woman who had asked. She was wearing—good grief, what was she wearing? Something that Barbara or Julie may have worn to a costume ball, he thought, if they were going as milkmaids; and then almost immediately he repented of his unkindness. It wasn't fair to make her pay penance, however unconscious, for the absent and neglectful Murdoch Lancer. She was dressed in the same style as every other woman he could see in the street, and with more girlish prettiness than most.
She frowned at them. "I'm sorry. Which one of you spoke?"
"I did," said Scott, and this time the peacock's identical response was unmistakable. Astonished, he turned and glared before forcing himself to return his attention to the girl.
"You're Johnny," said the girl to the peacock
"Then you must be Scott Lancer!"
Scott could only stare.
"No, Ma'am. He's no Lancer." The cowboy took a step towards Scott, pushing the stage door closed as he came. "My mother only had one kid, and that was me."
Scott turned his head, annoyed now at what had to be the most elaborate practical joke he'd ever come across. "Likewise!" he snapped.
"Well, we didn't expect you both at the same time, but actually you're right. It's Mister Lancer that had two."
"Two what?" demanded Scott.
"Wives," said the girl. "And sons. You two."
The rose-pink peacock looked Scott up and down and laughed, quietly. But he looked, briefly, as though Scott were as great a surprise to him as he was to Scott, and as Scott could aver, that surprise was complete and almost overwhelming.
And it certainly wasn't welcome.
"We'll be at Lancer soon," said the girl.
Scott was so bemused that he barely spared a second or two to be cynical about what sort of man called his land after himself; Lancer was the place, it seemed, as well as the man. His father... their father, his and Johnny's father, was evidently not a man of overweening modesty and self-doubt.
Scott was so busy trying to (metaphorically) catch his breath that he didn't say much on the way to the Lancer ranch. Instead he tried to work Johnny out and how Johnny fitted into Murdoch Lancer's life and into Scott's life, and who in heaven's name had his mother been? And had his grandfather known about him and yet said nothing?
He and the peacock—Johnny—hadn't talked much while two cowboys who seemed to have escorted the girl had put Scott's valises and Johnny's saddle into the wagon. Johnny had looked Scott up and down again.
"Well," he'd drawled. "I guess you didn't grow up around these parts neither." There was a measureable pause. "Brother."
Neither? How many sons had Murdoch Lancer abandoned, anyway?
"I'm from Boston." Scott could give pause for pause. "Brother."
"That's way east of here, right? Figures. I grew up around the border." Johnny had paused, mouth curving into that slight, insincere smile again. "That's way south of here."
"Could have just as easily been north," Scott had said, stung. "Except you don't sound very Canadian."
The insincere smile had broadened. "Guess I don't, at that," Johnny had agreed, and got uncomplainingly into the back of the wagon, leaving Scott to hand the girl up into the seat and join her there. For some obscure reason, Scott felt aggrieved by that exchange. He couldn't tell why—but the for pauses, it had been fatuous enough. The slight smile on the peacock's face was infuriating.
The girl drove the wagon competently. Teresa O'Brien was the daughter of the ranch's dead foreman: murdered about six months previously, she said, the same time as Murdoch Lancer was shot. She didn't elaborate, and Scott, whose mind was reeling too hard at the prospect of a brother to do more than register the fact that his father had been shot by someone, just like the sheriff mentioned at supper at Merced—My God, were they living in one of those wretched dime novels?—didn't press her when she said that his father wanted to make the explanations himself. He was lost for a few minutes when she revealed that she had grown up on Lancer, when he realised that she knew his father and he didn't, and for a moment the old anger and resentment warred with the new bewilderment he felt about his unexpected brother – his brother! – riding in the back of the wagon.
My brother, thought Scott, still trying to put some edges on that amazing notion. He doesn't look anything like me.
He tried to listen to the girl while wondering if his brother, if Johnny, were older than he was or younger. Younger, he thought, although he didn't think that there was much in it; no more than two or three years, perhaps. His grandfather had to have known… for a second or two, Scott was tempted to put his head in his hands and groan aloud, but Harlan's training and dislike of theatricals held true. His grandfather had to have known, and said nothing, and Scott just didn't know what to make of that.
Does he look like our father?
Scott turned his head to look at Johnny for about the twentieth time, but mostly Johnny kept his head down, seemingly intent on staring at his boots. Scott, frustrated and getting angry, looked beyond him to where the two... what was it Miss O'Brien had called them? Faqueroes, or something? Some Spanish word for cowboys, anyway, and the two of them rode behind the wagon like guards. Both were watching Johnny intently. Johnny appeared to be ignoring them as well as ignoring Scott and he did his ignoring very well.
Once, when Miss O'Brien got a little sentimental about Murdoch Lancer's paternal feelings and how delighted he'd be to see them—"But he won't tell you that or show it," she warned—Scott's anger that this chit knew his father, really knew him when he had nothing of Murdoch Lancer at all, threatened to overcome his good manners. He looked back just as Johnny twisted his head and their gazes met. Scott's breath caught in his throat. Johnny's face was expressionless, but his eyes were bright with an anger that was almost incandescent. Scott realised that Johnny was fairly thrumming with it, that the fury was barely under control. Johnny looked away quickly, absorbed in his boots again.
Scott looked away himself, not least because he didn't any have answers for the questions in those angry blue eyes. Only Murdoch Lancer had answers. All Scott had was an anger as great as Johnny's own.
The girl drew the wagon to a halt on the side of a steep rise before Scott could think of anything to say. "There it is," she said. "As far as the eye can see. The most beautiful place in whole wide world… Lancer."
Scott stood up and could only stare out across a wide flat-bottomed valley to the mauve-blue mountains on the horizon, and see the green pastures, the rivers and a large pond, the cattle grazing in the middle distance. And sitting four-square in the middle of it all, a grand white house in an unfamiliar style, but big and substantial and rich, with gardens and barns and what looked like a small village in a field behind. This was no poor man's hut, made like Crusoe's from the mud he laboured in. This was... this was something that Scott was having a hard time taking in.
The wagon rocked slightly as Johnny stood up as if to see better. Scott turned to look at him. All he could see was Johnny's profile, but he saw that Johnny's mouth tightened until his lips were no more than a thin line. The fingers of Johnny's right hand tapped out a restless little pattern against the grips of the pistol at his hip, patterns that spoke of anger and something more. Distress, maybe.
Neither of them said anything.
Scott was aware of the girl, Teresa, watching them expectantly, her expression eager and open. He sat back down and looked forward, setting his shoulders into the stiff carriage he'd been taught in the Cavalry. Beside him, the girl sighed slightly and slapped the reins, getting the horses moving down the long winding road that led down the bluff to the valley below. She kept giving him little sideways glances, but he stared fixedly at the ears of the nearside horse. Behind them, Johnny was silent and brooding.
Scott looked down into his lap, and watched as the Garret hands he was so proud of clenched and unclenched. Not Robinson Crusoe, then. Whatever had kept Murdoch Lancer from bothering with his son, it wasn't hard, relentless work and poverty. Scott couldn't imagine what the reason was.
It had to be something to do with him, after all.
The road was little more than two parallel wheel ruts, dug like balding lines into the grasses, rough and uncomfortable. The potholes were filled with little stones, pounded down hard, but still the wagon jolted every foot of the way. Scott raised his head when they reached level ground at the foot of the hillside and started across the level valley bottomlands, the road straight as a die now but barely more than a scar on the land. He blinked at the huge adobe arch spanning the road with the Lancer name incised into it… well, no, his father didn't suffer from lack of self esteem. He supposed it was all of a piece with calling your ranch after yourself.
Now they were almost there, Scott saw that all was not well at Lancer. Close to, the house was even more solid and imposing than it had looked from the road back on the top of the bluff. It had looked to sit peacefully in the spring green meadows from there, the scene almost idyllic, but as the wagon neared the house Scott saw unmistakable signs that something was amiss. Where it cut through the fences of the paddocks near the house, the road was blocked by an old wagon and a group of armed men stood around it, watching them approach. Scott, staring, caught a glimpse of another man standing on the house's roof, waving his hat, a rifle in the crook of his arm.
Scott straightened in the wagon seat, feeling the warning prickle at the back of his neck. There was a wariness about the place, a preparedness for trouble that he hadn't seen for years, not since he was a raw lieutenant leading raids against the enemy. It had been a long time since he'd felt so wary and on edge, back in the days when his life and that of his men had depended on reading situations right. He thought he was reading this one. His grandfather had been right to be suspicious of Murdoch Lancer's motives; it was obvious that the shooting the girl had mentioned hadn't been the climax of whatever was going on here.
"Huh," said Johnny, very quietly, from behind him.
Scott twisted to meet his brother's very blue eyes. Johnny glanced from him to the man on the roof, to the now scurrying group of cowhands moving the old wagon out of the way, to the two ranch hands riding guard behind the wagon. When his gaze returned to meet Scott's, he was poker-faced, giving nothing away of what he thought. Scott nodded and after a second or two, the corner of Johnny's mouth lifted and he nodded back before his expression smoothed back into a cold, aloof impassivity in which only those extraordinary eyes seemed alive.
Scott felt a fleeting sense of satisfaction; they were on the same page then, he and this brother of his. He had no idea what the page was, though. He wasn't so sure about Johnny. Johnny might know.
As soon as the old wagon had been manhandled out of the way, Miss O'Brien slapped the reins and got their own wagon moving again. The men crowded over to one side of the road. Most of them were olive-skinned Mexicans wearing the same sort of clothes that Johnny did; bright shirts and dark pants with the silver buttons down the sides, and the short-waisted jackets. His brother—was that actually getting easier to say and think?—wasn't alone in being a peacock, then. It was evidently the fashion of the country.
The cowboys whistled and yelled and waved their hats as Miss O'Brien drove through the gap. Scott, brought up to understand his obligations to dependents and to meet them with grace, and realising that the arrival of sons might be seen as a special occasion, gave them nods and a smile. The smile grew tight when he realised that the main focus was on Johnny, who just stared back at the group with, so far as Scott could tell, a face that still lacked any expression whatsoever.
When the wagon lurched to a stop outside the imposing carved door of the house, Scott's stomach lurched with it. He swallowed hard, biting back the sudden acid choke in his throat, annoyed at his own apprehension. It made him slower at getting down from the wagon than he should have been, and one of the Mexican cowhands, an older man, was already at the side of it, arms raised to lift Miss O'Brien down. Johnny jumped down behind them, making the wagon rock.
"Thanks, Cipriano," said Miss O'Brien.
"Did all go well, Señorita? You had no trouble in town?"
"No. It was very quiet. We didn't see anything of them." She smiled brightly and indicated Scott and Johnny. "As you see, both came! They were both on the stage."
"I see," said the man.
"This is Cipriano Roldán," said Miss O'Brien. "He's segundo here and Mister Lancer's right hand man."
Cipriano had very dark eyes, appraising and rather severe. He nodded at each of them but Scott had the feeling that his gaze lingered on Johnny for a instant longer. "Señor Scott. Señor Juanito—"
"Johnny," said that worthy, and there was a sharpness under the drawl.
The severe dark eyes narrowed before Cipriano nodded. "Señor Johnny," he amended. "You are very welcome, Señors."
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," said Scott, shaking hands and wondering what a segundo was. He remembered enough of his Latin to think that it had to be derived from secundus, second. Second in command at the ranch, he assumed; something that accorded with the air of authority and Miss O'Brien's words.
Johnny had turned slowly in place while Scott was being polite, taking in the entire scene: house, gardens, pastures... his right hand brushed against the butt of the gun on his hip. When he came to halt, he nodded back at Cipriano, but he didn't offer to shake hands. Ostentatiously, he looked up at the man on the roof and the group of cowboys moving the wagon-cum-gate back into position. The smile he gave Cipriano was no more than a cold twist of the lips, not reaching his eyes. His eyes were colder still.
Cipriano's mouth twitched in some sort of acknowledgement, almost an answering smile. Scott, getting irritated that whatever was being unsaid was both significant and incomprehensible, took a step towards Johnny; but before he could speak, Cipriano did.
"The Patrón will explain. He is waiting in the hacienda." He half-turned to go, then paused. "He has been waiting for a very long time," he said, over his shoulder. "A lifetime. Do not keep him waiting any longer, Señors."
Scott clamped his jaw shut to stop himself from saying something inappropriate in front of strangers and servants and pointing out the fault could hardly be laid at his door. Johnny moved until he was at Scott's shoulder. He stood and watched as Cipriano walked away, before glancing up at Scott—he was a couple of inches shorter—the cold smile fading.
"Must have bin waiting for you, Boston," he said, and turned abruptly to follow Miss O'Brien to the very imposing door.
Scott followed, biting back the irritation. He knew better than to allow this kind of thing to get in the way of a social duty. He had a very important interview to get through… he stopped dead just inside the doorway as the realisation came, and he had to wonder at why it had taken him so long. It wouldn't happen. All those imagined reunions, the tall shape coming to put hands on his shoulders, the remorseful voice saying My son, my son!—none of that was going to happen. It couldn't happen, not with this unaccountable brother there to witness it.
"Damn," he said, very softly.
Johnny heard. The side of his mouth quirked up in that little smile that Scott couldn't help feel was understanding, for all its smugness irritated him. He realised that this homecoming couldn't be what Johnny had expected, either. They both were disconcerted, then, wrong-footed by the other's unaccountable existence.
"He's waiting in the Great Room," said Miss O'Brien, and Scott could tell the words had to be capitalised. She paused on the step, one hand outstretched to touch the carved oak door. She hesitated, biting at her lower lip, worrying at it, looking nervous for the first time. "Listen," she said in a little rush. "We're all really, really glad you came. So very glad. He may not… I don't know… please be patient and know that all of us are very glad. All of us."
Scott smiled with a thin politeness and Johnny glanced down at her. "Uh-huh," he said.
She sighed, perhaps a little exasperated with their lack of enthusiasm and pushed open the door. "The Great Room's through there," she said, gesturing to a pair of closed arched doors to her right, and disappeared into the house, passing the doors and vanishing into the shadows beyond the staircase in front of them, calling for someone called Maria.
Neither of them moved to follow her. Instead, Johnny turned to face Scott.
"You older'n me, you reckon?" he asked. "I mean, are you the first one, or am I?"
"I don't know," said Scott. "My grandfather never mentioned you. He never said if my… our father was married before he met my mother." He reviewed what he did know of his father. "I think I must be," he said. "I think he married my mother soon after he arrived in America. You look younger than me, too."
"My mama didn't mention you, neither." Johnny took another of those all-embracing looks around the yard. "I was born here," he said, suddenly.
Scott let his mouth close on all the things he would like to say about that, about people like this… this brother of his and Miss O'Brien who had been born on this land when he'd been born somewhere else, somewhere that was not here as if he hadn't been worthy of being born on the ranch, on Lancer.
"Then definitely you came after me," he said, keeping his tone as disinterested as he could manage. "But you weren't brought up here, either." He felt some satisfaction about that.
Johnny shook his head, but he didn't seem to be denying Scott's conclusion about their relative ages. "I don't underst—" He chopped the word off, and took a deep breath. His darkly tanned face was expressionless again, and Scott wondered if he'd practiced it in front of a mirror until it was perfect and null. "Well," Johnny said, and the drawl was even more pronounced, "I guess the old man's still waitin' on us. If you're the eldest, it's more seemly you go first." He gestured to the doors and sketched out a half-bow. That irritating half-smile was back.
Scott didn't see what might be gained by hesitating. This had to be done. It was going to be even less satisfactory than the worst of his imaginings, but it had to be got over. In the cavalry, they said to get over the heavy ground as fast and as lightly as possible; to hesitate was to mire down the horses. He squared his shoulders and walked into his father's house before his horse mired irretrievably.
He was struck at once by how cool it was inside the thick walls, and how quiet. He could hear the slow, ponderous ticking of a clock somewhere in the distance. He was conscious of Johnny close behind him.
He licked suddenly dry lips and looked at Johnny. His brother shrugged and waited for him to take the lead. There was no help there.
He took off his hat, raised a hand, and knocked. There was a rumble of a voice beyond, and after one more glance at Johnny, whose hat was still very firmly on his head, he opened both doors and walked down three steps into the room to meet his father for the first time, keeping his back as straight as if he sat in his cavalry saddle on inspection.
Murdoch Lancer stood up from behind a huge desk, and stared at them. He stared at Scott and he stared at Johnny, and they stared right back.
Murdoch Lancer had to be the tallest man Scott had ever seen, six and a half feet if he were an inch, and broad with it. He made Scott feel small. He had to make Johnny feel small, because Scott half-sensed Johnny drawing himself up and straightening his shoulders to stand taller.
He didn't look like either of them. Scott could see little of himself in that huge frame and nothing of Johnny, either; thankfully nothing of Johnny, who was dark and quick like a flame, with none of Murdoch Lancer's bulk. Scott wasn't sure why he was relieved by that.
Murdoch Lancer looked from one to other again, his expression something like Johnny's: both were unreadable. He nodded and straightened up, reaching for a cane to support himself. He opened his mouth, and Scott's breath caught in his throat. This was it, this was it at last. At last Murdoch Lancer would have something to say to his son—to his sons. Beside him, Scott felt Johnny tense. His heart felt as though it would thud its way out of his chest with the tension.
Murdoch Lancer spoke.
"Drink?" he said.
The version in which Scott's train journey is illustrated with pictures taken from contemporary guidebooks and travellers' accounts is at my website www-celestialdome-com (you'll have to replace the - with . fanfiction-dot-net refuses to allow me to put in real URLs). When you've navigated your way to the Lancer fanfiction there and found Fancy Dan, Part 2 covers the train journey. There's also a full itinerary with train times etc and a note about Charles Nordhoff.
BE WARNED – all the Lancer stories on my website are gen stories, but those relating to Battlestar Galactica (BSG) and Stargate Atlantis (SGA) are slash fiction, that is concerned with the relationship between two gay men, and some are explicitly erotic. Just be aware of that if you navigate away from the Lancer pages.