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Esprit de Corps

Updated: Sep 13


“S-s-simply marrying one.” The shake of Seth’s head released a snort over the retelling of Harlan Garrett’s earlier comment. “Tell me. The man’s way with an S … is it what earned him the nickname I hear tumble out of your father’s mouth from time to time?”


“No. It’s only a slight reminder that Grandfather earns the moniker from time to time.” A slow exhale borderlining a heavy sigh introduced an afterthought. “Actually more times than I care to remember, which leads us back to divide and rule.” Scott righted himself to rest elbows and clasped hands on the table. “Look, Seth, I’m speaking from past experiences with my grandfather and not implying your mother also has intentions we need to be concerned with.”


Westcott’s finger tapped Roberta’s letter in front of him. “Trust me sir, the concern is well placed. She’s s-s-still s-s-smiling and I certainly need a clearer picture of just how wide the smile is. Having said that” - A hand scooped up the correspondence and stuffed it back into its envelope - “My conscience is now reminding me Kinsey and I agreed to be completely forthcoming with each other. However… ”


“Your gut is suggesting otherwise. Understood.” Scott pointed to Raffensperger, Martinson and Finkenbiner. “In my opinion, us wanting a few extra days to get a firm hold on the reins steering questionable motivations is a good decision. My cousin will be given the chance soon enough to roll her eyes at those three gentlemen’s names and voice her sentiments, which I’m confident will back up my earlier statement addressing colorful and enlightening.”


A smile accepted reality. “Of course, that may be damn near impossible considering the little lady’s reaction to remaining behind on this trip. Delaying the first gathering of the two families will be a challenge.”


Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Scott raised his glass to Emerson’s advice and swallowed the last of what Winnie called liquid confidence. “Not to worry. I’ll manage a diplomatic stall.”


********


Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. The sun streaming through the hotel’s beveled-cut window panes insisted on having the prolific poet’s words ring true by creating a flickering prismatic streak on the dining table’s spotless white cloth. Sipping a cup of morning coffee which had successfully dissolved a few bourbon-spun cobwebs, Scott watched the magic of science and revisited his childhood fascination when spying a rainbow, a rare occurrence among Boston’s low-hanging gray clouds.


In contrast, the expression of slight discomfort seating itself from across the table had chosen the black and white view of a newspaper to focus on. Seth’s hand briefly massaged his temple before reaching to an empty mug. Smiling, Scott motioned for the assistance of a waiter and his silver coffee pot.


“Yes, sir. Excellent morning! May I refill your cups?” The bright-eyed server obviously had the good sense to retire early the night before.


Scott nodded his appreciation while pointing to the silver savior for over-indulgence. “It might save you a few steps in the future if you could see your way clear to leaving us the pot.”


“Of course.” The waiter gifted his finely brewed remedy and retreated, no doubt to replenish the supply for the hotel’s early morning mission of mercy.


“You're a thoughtful bastard.” Seth’s grin struggled against a headache.


“And you’re a miserable one. By the look of things, I’d say that’s one helluva long and painful political editorial you’re reading.”


“You know damn well it’s not politics giving me misery at the moment. And as far as long and painful goes, that will be my ride home to the vineyards with Queen Victoria.” Westcott sat back and ran fingers through his hair. “Tell me, is someone banging on a bass drum to the cadence of a military march?”


“Yes. I believe it's a rousing rendition of When Jameson Comes Marching Home. No, wait. Correction. Battle Hymn of the Rye.


Seth cocked his head with a smirk. “Has that sharp wit of yours provided an excuse to delay anticipated family affairs?”


“No. But when the epiphany occurs I will pass it along and with that I have a solution. His name is Benjamin, my private Pony Express entrepreneur. The lad recently reached the age where girls are no longer boring and extra change in a fella’s pocket for sasparillas comes in handy.”


“Ah, those were glorious days.”


“Indeed they were, sir. And the last I took note, still are - only a bit more expensive to keep in step with a young lady’s taste, which Ben figured out much sooner than I did at his age. So for a reasonable price, I can have a letter hand-delivered to Westcott Winery.”


“Well, rest assured when this young man comes galloping in he will be offered a fine meal, overnight accommodations and a generous tip.”


An older voice interjected. “I’ve spoken my displeasure to these elderly bones which are requiring more time spent in the comfort of a soft bed each morning.” Upturned corners of Harlan Garrett’s mouth prepared the punch line. “They continue their refusal to listen. My apologies. I’ve overslept.”


In time with Seth, Scott rose to greet their table’s latest guest. “It was a long journey, sir. I believe your bones have earned a good rest.” An offered empty chair filled along with its waiting cup. “And we can report the hotel’s coffee is a fine elixir.”


Seth grinned. “No matter what the malady.” Seated, sound advice was given. “Although, I suggest, gentlemen, the subject of elderly bones is not mentioned upon my mother’s eventual arrival. Nothing known to mankind alleviates a female’s scorn.”


“Quite true young man, but haven’t you learned?” Harlan’s chuckled question held no condescending tone. “It doesn’t matter the time of day or the importance of an event - a lovely woman is always fashionable late. I’m certain my niece proves that time and again.”


“The lady does have a tendency for tardiness but she’s well worth the wait.” Seth’s inflection of sincerity dared to be contradicted.


“What a lovely compliment for a son to gift his mother.” Impeccably dressed Roberta Westcott smiled as the three gentlemen stood, her congeniality coming to rest on the Garrett patriarch. “And this dear man endured my tardiness from one coast to the other.”


Pulling out a chair for the woman, Harlan beamed. “I hope you rested well.”


“Yes, the accommodations provided superb relaxation. Oh.” A hand massaged the small of a back. “My lumbago.”


Scott’s chin dipped. Roberta Westcott continued to make it difficult to suppress a laugh …


“Here, mother. Have some coffee. It’s fit for a queen.”


… while her son made it damn near impossible.


********


“Ah, Scotty. Such openness of this land. So unlike the sheltered life of your Boston home. You must have felt like the proverbial fish out of bay waters.”


“Perhaps a little in the beginning. But with all due respect, sir, let’s remember my travels had given me a rather unsheltered view by the time I arrived here.”


Assuming their trip from Stockton would be similar to Seth’s - long and painful - Scott had so far been proven wrong, a miscalculation he thankfully accepted. Reminiscing took a seat between grandfather and grandson as they journeyed to Lancer, providing fond memories of friends and family weaving throughout the tales. Winifred MacLoughlin’s blessed wisdom along with her hidden bottle of Jameson highlighted many of the retellings.


But like the buggy they sat in, reminiscing had bounced down its particular stretch of the road and the current surroundings now became the topic of conversation.

“You’ve done well in California, Scotty. You’ve accomplished much through integrity and hard work.”


“I had an excellent mentor.”


“Well, perhaps excellent is a rather generous compliment. I was, as Mrs. MacLoughlin would say, goodenough.” Harlan rubbed his palms across his thighs. “I’m proud of you, young man, and I’m at fault for not expressing that sentiment more often.” A dose of embarrassment coated the elder Garrett’s inflection.


“Sometimes words aren’t necessary, sir, when actions speak for themselves.” Although smiling, Scott hoped his statement carried the serious weight he intended.


“So California continues to suit Kinsey as well as it does you?”


“It does. She embraced the land the moment she stepped off the stagecoach. However, that enthusiasm has kept me on my toes at times.”


“I commend you, Scotty. You’ve filled your role as Kinsey’s protector quite admirably. Not an easy task when your charge possesses a stubborn streak.”


An eyebrow raised. “Are you speaking from past experience?”


“Need you ask?”


Scott grinned. “No, sir. I don’t believe I do.”


“Well, you’ve done a fine job of keeping the lass out of harm’s way and offering her sound financial advice, in spite of my initial misgivings.”


Misgivings? Scott shot a side glance to the man sitting next to him. Threats of bouncing Kinsey back to Melbourne while Garrett lawyers dragged Fletcher’s will through the courts was far from misgivings. “We all have experienced our doubts, sir. I’ve found some hang on longer than others but eventually they’re resolved.”

A period of silence between the two men eventually returned their verbal buggy to a smoother stretch in the road for the rest of the way.


Arriving at the hacienda, one of Scott’s more recent doubts presented its answer in the welcoming committee of two but remained far from being resolved. Disappointment creased his lips to a thin line. Goddammit, Murdoch. Where are you?


Teresa and Johnny stood side-by-side in the courtyard as visual opposites. The young man’s lopsided smirk and off-centered casual stance with crossed arms rivaled the young lady’s bright smile, erect posture, neatly folded hands and warm greeting. “Mr. Garrett. Welcome back to Lancer.”


“Miss O’Brien.” Harlan gently encircled Teresa’s hand with both of his. “My how I’ve missed the kindness of your voice and the dance in your eyes. I must ask - did you enjoy the croquet game I sent Kinsey?”


“Very much! Although …” A sly grin graced Teresa’s face. “I can’t speak for Johnny.”


“Ha! And therein lies a good story, I’m sure.” Harlan winked and extended his hand. “John, perhaps you’ll share it over a brandy this evening.”


“Sir.” Unwrapping his arms, Johnny accepted the greeting with a nod. “It’s gonna take more than one drink.”


Refusing to deal with another elephant in the museum, Scott turned to his brother. “Where’s our father?”


“Now, Scotty. I believe a ranch doesn’t run on its own.” The Garrett paternalist’s wide-eyed guffaw delivered a deserving jab to the Lancer patriarch's snub. “However, it appears our Miss Furlong has chosen to be fashionably late.”


Scott glanced around. “Fashionably late, indeed.” Realizing the observation wasn’t receiving a response, his gaze settled on a sheepish expression. “Teresa? Best spit it out and please don’t sugar-coat it.”


“Kinsey fell off the brindle.” Palms raised to ward off the inevitable Gatling gun of questions. “Sam said not to worry. She’ll be fine.”


“Fell? How far?” Harlan’s demanding tone suggested not to worry held little significance. “How far up is this brindle? Ten feet? Twenty?”


“A brindle is a horse.” Although as humorous as his grandfather’s questions were, the situation squelched any possibility of laughter. “The brindle was a wedding gift from Johnny to Kinsey. They’ve been training the stallion -”


“Training? We’re talking about a wild horse? What kind of man gives a wild stallion to a proper young woman as a wedding gift?” Harlan’s blustering gained momentum. “Obviously no intelligent thought was given to the endangerment this gift presented.”


“Hold up there.” Taking a step forward to address the barb, Johnny met his brother’s back as Scott stepped between the two men.


“Kinsey Rose is an accomplished equestrian.” Harlan’s manipulation of an s flourished. “The odds of her falling out of the saddle -”


“There was no saddle.” The monotone statement shot over Scott’s shoulder and hit its target.


“No saddle? My God!”


“All right! Enough.” Scott’s abrupt directive halted the rockslide of words tumbling down a mountain. “I’m certain there’s a reasonable explanation which will come to light when I speak to Kinsey. Sam has said she’ll be fine -”


“What’s a Sam? Another horse?”


“No. A doctor.”


“Qualified?”


“Well, sir, he enjoys a good bourbon with a fine cigar so, yes, he’s qualified.”


“Your choice for levity is not appreciated.”


“Mr. Garrett.” Teresa’s soft voice of a hostess corralled spirited tones. “Jelly has unloaded your luggage. Let me show you to your room. I would imagine you’d like to unpack and freshen up after a dusty journey.”


“Your hospitality is well timed, my dear.” A smile slid across Harlan’s face. “And then I’d like to see my niece.”


Scott mouthed a thank you to his blue-eyed rescuer, pinched the bridge of his nose, counted to ten and turned to dive down the latest rabbit hole.


Johnny’s arm swept out to follow his gaze directed at the corral housing the brindle. “Like a dog with a bone, Scott. I don’t need to tell you that.”


“You just did.”


“Pig-headed ‘n reckless. A spoiled brat who’s bent on knowin’ better.”


“Are we talking about my little cousin or my little brother?”

Scott’s casual, matter-of-fact replies nudged through Johnny’s expressed frustration. “Tryin’ to make a point, big brother?”


“I believe it’s been made.” A subtle smile hooked up to the discussion.


“God dammit, Scott.” Removing his hat, Johnny swiped a shirt sleeve across forehead sweat. “I lost count a how many times I handed that girl no on her idea to ridin’ bareback.”


“Trust me. I understand about losing count.”


“She kept repeatin’ some cock ‘n bull story about it bein’ perfectly natural.


“Right.”


“Then the little magpie starts in about female warriors ridin’ bareback up a mountain shootin’ arrows. Told me these ladies couldn’t marry ‘til they killed a man in battle.” With a shake of his head, Johnny’s eyes narrowed under the pain of confusion dunked in concern.


“You’re not the only one struggling to follow the logic here.” Silence requested additional affirmation. “But rest assured, Will Jenkins tops the list of matrimonial sacrifices.”


“Good to know.”


With a slow exhale, Scott glanced up at the heavens to gather a sensible statement. “This happened yesterday.”


“Yep. Me ‘n the ol’ man were out spottin’ a herd. It was Gus comin’ out a the stables who saw Kinsey ridin’ too damn close to the rail.”


Scott rolled his eyes. More fodder for Chenoweth’s bunkhouse stories.


“Said she caught her leg on a post. Guess the kid went down hard off the brindle’s side. Cipriano got ahold of Sam by the time Murdoch and I rode in. Doc made it pretty clear Half-pint’s lucky she got away with only a twisted ankle and sprained wrist.”


“I’m betting her luck ran out once our father started talking.”


“She got an ear full from both a us.”


“Well…” A palmed crown readjusted a hat. “I have a few words in my bucket the young lady still needs to hear.”


“Scott.” Licking his lips, Johnny’s attention returned to D'Artagnan’s corral. “What your grandfather said -”


“Not your fault, brother. The brindle’s a good gift. Nothing’s changed.”


Johnny’s terse nod of his head suggested Harlan Garrett’s words rang louder than Scott’s. The damage had been done.


********


“Maria. Wait.” Cutting through the kitchen, Scott pointed to the glass of lemonade in the woman’s hand. It didn’t take a seasoned tracker to figure out what path the beverage was on. Chances were Lancer’s mother hen had climbed up and down the wooden hill leading to the patient’s room more than once. “Why don’t I make the journey this time and give niñita a change in scenery?”


As tempting as it was to not offer the little daredevil a courtesy knock before entering, Scott resisted. Instead, he rapped his knuckles on the young lady’s bedroom door and waited for an acknowledgment.


“Come in, Maria.”


An eyebrow raised in time with a smirk. This isn’t your box of cigars, Kinsey Rose Hoskins.


A turn of the knob allowed the door to swing wide with an announcement. “Two.” Displayed fingers confirmed the spoken number. “I’m gone two days -”


“I wish to not talk about it.” The bed-ridden rider rolled to her side, dismissing the unwanted tally.


“Well, that works out just fine since you’ll be fulfilling the role of the listener in our upcoming discussion.”


“Honestly, Scott, I don’t need another lecture. Both Murdoch and Johnny have aptly pointed out my brief loss of sound judgment.”


“I beg to differ.” Shutting the door, illumination commenced. “It’s a known fact that my lectures are a cut above the rest. And considering the stunt you pulled in my absence I’d be remiss if I didn’t deliver a high-quality backside-nailin’-to-the-barn-door reprimand.” Setting the glass on the room’s small night table, Scott reached down and snagged an escaped bolster off the floor. “Sit up and look at me.”


Kinsey’s black eye was the first to demand attention. The shiner, already past red and swollen, had quickly moved on to the dark purplish-blue hue of an over-ripe plum. Good God. That has to hurt. The harshness of his little cousin’s intended scolding began to soften. Returning the bed’s feather-stuffed fugitive to join the rest of the pillows as a backrest, Scott pulled up a chair while the combative convalescent settled in.


The impressive black eye now shared prominence with Kinsey’s injured wrist. Wrapped in layers of white bandages from elbow to fingers, the appendage appeared to have doubled in size, prompting judgment from the recovering rider. “Victor Frankenstein didn’t use this much gauze when piecing together The Creature.” A finger pointed to a quilt-covered lump suggesting her foot had received the same treatment.


“There’s no denying, Sam’s thorough. Be thankful he didn’t wrap your head to heal your brain’s broken common sense. I would have.” Crossing ankle to knee, Scott let his silent staredown speak for a moment before continuing. “Care to offer an explanation on what happened?”


“I thought I was the listener.”


“My kind heart is giving you the opportunity to tell the tale in your own words instead of Johnny’s. Try to avoid pig-headed, spoiled, reckless and brat. They’ve already been used.”


“Thank you for your oratorical guidance.”


“My pleasure.”


“Well, it’s such a simple thing, really. I was riding D'Artagnan bareback and -” Kinsey’s one good hand began to take its customary fluttering flight when relating unwise decisions, giving her the appearance of a lame goose about to be cooked. “Evidently I misjudged the distance between a corral post and my leg.”


“Which evidently caused you to slide off the brindle’s ass and land squarely on your own. I agree. It’s a feat wallowing in simplicity, or should I say stupidity?” Scott’s hitched-up brow dared the young lady to be foolish enough to wrangle.


“I would have appreciated the dignity to state it more eloquently but, yes, that’s what happened.”


“Hmmm.” For reflection, silence and a stare made a brief return visit to the room followed by Scott’s next request. “Perhaps you could share the reasoning behind riding D'Artagnan bareback.”


“Everyone knows the practice of riding bareback is considered quite natural and theoretically has the potential to improve an equestrian's balance. In some circles of transcendental thinking, bareback riding allows esprit de corps to develop between horse and owner.” The self-proclaimed philosopher donned a satisfied smile.


The designated headmaster countered. “It’s also common knowledge bareback riding presents the potential to develop poor form and the possibility of discomfort to the horse’s back due to the absence of any padding. Not to mention a higher risk of injury to the rider’s derrière délicat with the increased threat of gravity.” Scott crossed his arms. “The latter being a fact spoken in scientific circles of thinking and continues to hold true. Just recently.”


“Well, in the 4th century B.C., Samaritan women warriors rode bareback on majestic steeds throughout the Southern Ural Steppes of the Russian Empire.”


“And in the 19th century A.D., young ladies do not ride bareback on newly trained brindles throughout the San Joaquin Valley of California. End of lesson, history or otherwise.”


Downcast eyes admitted defeat. “You’re right.” Fingers fiddled with the bed’s crocheted coverlet. “Scott Lancer’s lectures are a cut above the rest.”


A waiting smile surfaced. “The lecture should be longer but your aches and pains over the next few days will prove my point.” Scott extended his hand to cover the young lady’s uninjured one. “So tell me, what has the good Lord blessed you with today, Kinsey Rose?”


“A vigil guardian angel and a cousin with infinite insight.” A slow sigh introduced remorse. “Look at me. I can’t meet Seth’s mother like this. What will she think?”


“Taking a stab at it, I’d have to say the woman will assume you were raised by a roaming herd of analphabetic Aborigines.” Seeing his cousin’s face fall even further down the road of regret, Scott clarified. “A jest.” Well, not really. “Ill-timed and my apologies, little one. So what was Sam’s prognosis?”


“At least a week of bed rest, perhaps two - my wrist and ankle will have the final say.”


A quick knock on the bedroom door ushered in a voice of concern. “My dear child! What has this western wilderness done to you?”


“Uncle Harlan!”



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