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Dithering Small Talk

Updated: Jul 16




Over the course of days leading up to his grandfather’s arrival, an Emerson quote had been filtering in and out of Scott’s thoughts. It was a lengthy passage and, although memory provided him with a general sentiment, Scott wanted to be certain of the accuracy when writing it down word for word. The search involved a bit of page flipping for discovery, but well worth the effort. A sharpened pencil agreed.



San Joaquin Valley

Lancer Ranch


Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. ~ RWE


Indeed. ~ SGL


********


“I appreciate that nod on the little lady’s poker playing ability. I thought she only cheated at croquet.” Seth’s gaze wandered down the empty train tracks.


“Consider it an early wedding gift.” The creaking Stockton Station sign, swinging in a slight breeze on its rusty hinges, promoted déjà vu. “I learned my lesson regarding her creative card dealing the hard way and ended up boarding a train to Philadelphia from this very spot.” Scott fished his watch from a coat pocket and checked the time. “Looking back, I should have passed on her poker game and insisted we arm wrestle.”


“Oh?”


The watch returned to its proper place. “I fare better with arm wrestling.”


Taking into account the uncertainty of unpredictable dispositions stepping off the Transcontinental from Boston, Scott thought it prudent for Roberta Westcott and Harlan Garrett to be initially greeted by son and grandson, respectively. Testing the waters, so to speak.


“Your father was right. Getting the word no to stick with that little girl is a challenge.”


“It is a fact. A vein of muleness runs in the Garrett lineage.”


What best approach to take when meeting Grandfather’s train had been nagging at Scott since receiving the letter from Boston. Westcott’s unexpected delivery of an important investment document tipped the scales regarding who should be waiting on the station platform.


Where Seth readily agreed to Scott’s proposal, Kinsey had balked. No surprise there. However, the young lady’s timely change-of-heart acceptance of the gentlemen's decision did qualify as a surprise. Her minimal protests brushed a satisfied grin on one business partner’s face while it cocked a suspicious eyebrow on the other's.


Suspicion was validated later in the day of Seth’s visit when discovering the future Mr. and Mrs. Westcott at the courtyard’s checkers table, partaking in a friendly game of cards. Poker, to be exact. Spying slips of paper piled between the two players, Scott had no need of mind-guesser foresight to know one written bet read: Kinsey meets train in Stockton.


Seth’s smile spoke of the confidence regarding the hand he held while Kinsey’s subtle smirk dissolved with the unfortunate timing of her cousin’s presence. Unfortunate, indeed. Scott swiftly put a halt to the shenanigans by pointing to Westcott and stating: Four gentlemen - all named Jack. Focusing on the little card shark, additional clairvoyance ensued. Four ladies - all named Luck.


The throwing in of a losing hand, followed by the wag of a fiancé’s finger, initiated a long reflective stroll for the young lady with her intended. By the time Lancer’s guest seated himself for an evening meal, the confusion on who would ultimately be traveling to the Stockton train station had reached an amicable yet firm end-of-discussion resolve.


Later, Scott presented a well-rolled Cuban cigar to Mr. Seth Westcott for finally mastering the Fine Art of Counting to Ten.


A passing cloud’s shadow drifting across the tracks hooked Scott’s attention and reeled it in. “Weather’s going to favor us today.”


“Yes it is.”


Dithering small talk. It’s what Harlan Garrett liked to call ‘polite words of no substance’ spoken only to fill moments of unwanted quietude. As they waited for the arrival of the 1:15, Stockton's self-appointed welcoming committee had been relying on such talk to push away the presence of awkward silence, an unusual occurrence between the two gentlemen. Scott wrote it off as anxious anticipation.


An urge struck again to reach for the pocket watch. The habit, which stemmed from Scott’s need to fend off impatience by keeping a busy mind, had yet to be conquered. The hand won and slipped into a coat pocket.


“First time for your grandfather to set foot on California soil?”


It appeared small talk just took a backseat in the buggy, suggesting the watch could remain in its silk-lined residence. “No. He bravely journeyed to this wilderness filled with uncivilized heathens once before.” A grin softened the few hard edges Scott’s reminiscing still carried. “A stay which is responsible for the current lack of a rousing round of applause from Murdoch Lancer.”


“A standing ovation didn’t occur for this visit at the vineyards, either.” A pause redirected the conversation. “We buried my father 10… no wait… 12 years ago.” Seth adjusted his hat to shade the eyes. “Hell, I can’t believe I lost count there.” Phillip Westcott’s gravelly voice tumbled out of his grandson’s mouth. “Age sneaks in through a man’s front gate while memory takes a leave out his back porch door.”


Scott rolled his eyes. “Don’t let my little cousin get a hold of those words of wisdom. The possibility of her verbal slaughter sending them straight to London's Holywell Street is quite good.”


Although genuine, Seth’s laughter dwindled quickly. “Three months to the day. That’s how long my mother mourned. Then the woman packed bags and returned to the life she knew best. The engagement celebration in Boston was to be her moment in the sun. Old Leland and his shoddy train pulled the rug out from under her on that one. She’ll never forgive the bastard.” Arms crossed with a shift in Westcott’s stance. “Ever been back?”


“Where? Boston? A wilderness filled with civilized socialites?” Scott’s hints of sarcasm hoped to lighten the moment.


“The only place where a true civilized society can exist.” Seth shot a wink. “Or so my mother has stated more times than my ears requested.”


Success.


“Well, let’s say my grandfather’s interference with his brother’s will and Kinsey’s inheritance has carried me east more times than my feet intended.”


“Just once for me when I turned 18. The visit confirmed I’d made the right choice not to follow her five years earlier.”


Like a flash of lightning moments before thunder's rumble, slight vibrations through the soles of boots soon introduced the forlorn echo of a train whistle. Simultaneously, both gentlemen uttered their mantra regarding Leland Stanford’s Continental Railroad.


“On. The. Dot.”


“Never thought I’d be seeing Roberta Westcott stepping off a train in Stockton.” Seth’s thumb pushed the brim of his hat back to get a better view of the locomotive now visible at a distance. “Your grandfather must be a rather persuasive fella.”


“He does have a way with words.”


The rhythmic huffing of smoke and fume being emitted from the engine’s stack gradually transitioned from a lively two-step to a labored waltz, giving one final sigh of hissing steam to end its dance across the country.


Passengers didn’t immediately disembark. Having made the long journey between two coasts himself, Scott guessed the travelers, no longer compensating for a moving train’s cadence, were regaining their land legs. The askew sensation always provided good humor amongst people who had shared confined quarters for an extended period of time.


Porters, first to exit, provided hands for steadiness and nods for well wishes to the passengers negotiating steps off the Pullman cars. Scott squinted at faces now crowding the station's platform. It had been almost 2 years since his last less-than-stellar visit to Boston. The vision of Harlan Garrett, older, frailer, perhaps relying on a cane, had established itself as true in Scott’s mind.


But, then.


Scott spotted the traveling couple first. An attractive woman, her hand delicately placed in the crook of her companion’s offered arm, was engaged in a pleasant conversation. Her head slightly tilted suggested casually familiarity with the older gentleman's shoulder.


Patting the female hand nestled in his bent elbow, the well-dressed gent sported a smile and a spring in his step, giving him the appearance of a much younger man which Scott knew as a fact not to be. An eyebrow raised. “Well, I’ll be damned.”


Harlan Garrett and Roberta Westcott had arrived.


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