Heart and Desire

Scott reached into his shirt pocket and fished out the second pilfered biscuit from Maria’s kitchen. The first had been devoured in two bites. Not the breakfast he’d anticipated on his initial morning home. The ride, the view and the company helped make up for it.

“Mind telling me where we’re headed, little brother?”

“Well.” A hat brim lowered on a brow. “Thought we’d go down the road a spell.” The slow reply kept in time with Barranca’s gait. “Then maybe around the bend.” Johnny’s spreading-butter-on-bread grin suggested no further details would be offered. A redirection confirmed it. “Those biscuits as good as the ones that Little Minnow of Sacramento puts in your breadbasket? What was her name again?”

“Emily Browning.” Like many others, Johnny had targeted Emily with a moniker. Calling her lobster canapés minnows on a biscuit had inspired the nickname which now appeared to be written in stone.

“Does she know you can still read her menu?”

“She’s aware all my facilities are intact, including eyesight if that’s what you’re asking.”

Considering the sensationalism of the Jupiter catastrophe, Scott easily guessed the story would land on the front page of more than one Sacramento newspaper, which prompted Miss Browning’s telegram to be tapped out over the wires along with Murdoch Lancer’s and Harlan Garrett’s. To date, the Arcade’s chef hadn’t sent an acknowledgment.

Emily didn’t stand alone in a lacking response. No word from Boston kept her company. But knowing his grandfather’s opinion on the proper form of correspondence, Scott’s concern regarding the gentleman’s delayed reply was minimal.

Harlan abhorred telegrams. Many a conversation that centered on society’s rejection of a finely penned letter in the name of progress began with a delivered telegram to the Garrett residence.

As a young boy, Scott assumed his grandfather’s dislike for this method of communication was quite simple. A man named Morse had sent the very first telegram to, of all places, Baltimore: a haven for blowhard politicians who couldn’t rent a room in Washington, according to Harlan. Yes, anyone with an ounce of sense would have known better, gotten a longer wire and sent the dot-dash biblical wonderment to Boston.

But as discovered issues of penny dreadfuls caused Scott to endure more than one lecture on the value of money, the basis for his grandfather’s telegram distaste gradually became clearer.


For the cost of one postage stamp, a man could pack as many words as he wanted into an envelope and these words could be privately written in eloquent script on linen stationery.

Unlike the lowly telegram where an office Scrooge counted every penny disguised as a word before clicking and clacking them across the country only to have on the other end a telegraph town crier scribble the message on flimsy paper not suited to wipe a gentleman’s ass. Scott waited patiently after each Beacon Hill telegram delivery for Harlan to demonstrate his opinion on paper quality. If the Garrett patriarch ever did, he did so behind closed doors.

And then, two simultaneous changes occurred in Scott’s life.

Distance and maturity.

Harvard was the first to provide some distance from Beacon Hill for Scott, although late nights at a local pub during this time did slow the maturity down slightly. However, it eventually caught up. The war saw to that. Not only did it provide uncertain miles between a Union soldier and Boston, it also insisted the young man possess wisdom beyond his age. Now, the San Joaquin Valley’s offering of a different life pushed the separation between grandfather and grandson even further while still fine-tuning Scotty’s maturity.

Through it all, letters from Boston arrived displaying impeccable penmanship on expensive stationery. Letters speaking in eloquent words of encouraging advice sprinkled with a grandfather’s relentless need for control and apéritifs of an old man’s loneliness possessing an after-taste of guilt. Gradually, it was these letters that stood as testimony to Harlan Garrett’s rejection of the telegram.

It was rather obvious when Scott finally stopped and thought about it. The simplistic design of this questionable correspondence forced a man to be more honest.

A telegram had no room for lengthy paragraphs, made up of words saying one thing but meaning another. Flimsy paper couldn’t support manipulation. Instead, it only provided space for limited words forming straightforward sentences. Certainly not Harlan Garrett’s cup of tea.

No, Scott wasn’t concerned over the absence of a response from his grandfather. The letter would ultimately arrive, penned in eloquent script on fine linen stationery.

“We best pick up the pace.”

Johnny’s matter-of-fact statement filtered through thoughts on telegrams. Before questioning his brother, Scott plopped in his mouth the last of his grab’n’go breakfast, muffling why to whaaa. The act reflected a total disregard of embedded social graces but, for the moment, the childish rebellion somehow felt right.

“Well…” Johnny tugged at his earlobe. “I may have just remembered about having the old man’s chore list currently riding in my back pocket.”

An eye roll spurred the horses forward.

The sun’s gradual rise had evaporated the morning clouds touching the horizon, allowing a seamless sky of blue to rule over rocky outcrops and ochre grasses.

Mr. Emerson, the health of the eye does indeed demand a horizon.

A slight breeze combed over the prairie dropseed and carried with it the aroma of a distant memory. Licorice whips. Scott smiled. The health of scent and taste should also be considered. He’d have to see to that the next time he stood in front of Widow Hargis’ penny candy jars.

With Johnny’s wink and a whoop, Barranca galloped ahead before coming to an abrupt halt at the top of the next rise. An arm sweep from the self-appointed scout signaled the answer to their mysterious morning jaunt was near. Grinning, Scott allowed Boots a more casual approach. Let anticipation sink in a bit before the actual event.

Arriving beside his brother, Scott’s smile of suspense morphed to surprise when spying the scene below. In a valley, Mother Nature had drawn a raised U from crags and coyote brush. A jury-rigged fence of gathered wood and wire closed off the landscape letter’s open end to create a convenient corral for a much sought-after guest.

The brindle.

Cipriano had been the first to spot the brindle horse. Scott remained respectful of his friend’s claim. A mindful task given how rare a sighting this would be which doubted its existence. Even after describing the horse in detail - tawny base coat with chestnut streaks - everyone decided lighting had played tricks on the man’s eyes. Everyone, that is, except Johnny. Whether it be riding the line or moving the herd, Scott would catch his brother scanning the crests and valleys, hoping to spy the brindle.

Gradually, Johnny’s off-handed comments and afternoon absences hinted at his plan if he were to spot the elusive horse. And now, seeing the brindle grazing in the confines of his makeshift corral, thought and effort had paid off.

“So, whadda think?” The need for a big brother’s approval flickered just beneath the surface of the younger brother’s lackadaisical query.

“Well…” Scott rested his crossed gloved hands on the saddle horn and settled back. “I think I’d like to take a closer look.”

The saying once you see a brindle, you’ll never forget it certainly held true. Its markings suggested someone had spilled dark paint over its buckskin coat. The contrasting result was indeed memorable. Not wanting to spook the wild horse, Scott dismounted several yards away and approached with care. Johnny followed suit a few steps behind.

With closer inspection of the brindle, the horse displayed a compact, muscular but refined build with an expressive head and well-arched neck. Scott recognized the characteristics which suggested one possible contribution to its lineage.

A Morgan.

The cavalry on both sides of the war had chosen this particular breed and for good reason. In battle, Morgans were consistently calm and fearless under fire. They were also known to be easy keepers, able to be maintained successfully on a forage-only diet.

Scott had admired the remarkable personality of his cavalry mount. The Morgan had the heart and desire to work hard for his soldier which allowed them to move and think as one until the very end. Afterward, Scott felt his loyal friend could never be replaced and so he never tried to. “When did you finally convince this fella to be lassoed?”

“The day we got the news about the wreck.” Removing his hat, Johnny wiped a shirtsleeve across his forehead. “Got ‘im corralled in the morning. Rode back to the ranch to find Jenkins standing in the courtyard holding a newspaper. Me and the old man were in Stockton by nightfall.”

“Have you told Murdoch about your prize?”

“Nah. Didn’t seem like a good time all considerin’.” The hat returned to its owner’s head. “Cipriano knows. He was so damn happy people would now stop thinkin’ he’d gone loco, he offered to keep an eye on things ‘til I got back.”

“Little brother, I commend you and your perseverance.” Scott watched the graceful animal trot around its temporary home. “The brindle is a fine catch that will put quite a few gold pieces in your pocket.”

“Not sellin’.” Johnny’s head cocked as if the decision had just been made. “Given’ ‘im to Half-pint. Thought she’d like to lend a hand with breaking the brindle in. Learn the ropes, so to speak.”

“I see.” Scott mentally commended his little brother once again, this time for a perfectly executed ambush. Johnny’s unexpected intentions for the brindle fell out of the sky like a brick and landed with a thud. “Well…” The brick was lobbed back to the sender. “I think this horse will make a fine wedding gift.”

Silence hung like a wisp of pipe smoke before dissipating.

“Hadn’t given it much thought in that direction.” Johnny’s hard grin did little to soften the lines kissing the corners of his eyes. “Though I guess it would get me a second piece of fancy cake.”