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Men of Few Words


Their telegrams had arrived in Auburn the same afternoon as the last of Jupiter and its Pullman Palaces were dragged off the tracks, clearing a route back home. Although the robber barons’ newsprint quotes reflected sympathy for passengers’ lost lives, Scott guessed it was lost revenue that truly motivated the speed in which timely train schedules returned to their on-the-dot accuracy.


The steam engine’s forward motion slowed slightly. Shudders in the car’s flooring, barely detectable, tensed Scott’s muscles into a noticeable twitch. Donning an embarrassed grin, he spied his companions displaying their own sheepish expressions inspired by the common vibrations which occur during rail travel. No denying, all three had been skittish since the train pulled out of Auburn.


“Stockton.” The conductor and his gold pocket watch strode up the aisle. “Next stop, Stockton. Ten minutes.”


Scott’s hand brushed the front of his jacket. There wasn’t a reason for the gesture except to mentally reconnect with one of the telegrams tucked into the coat’s inside pocket. Nor was there a reason to pull out the correspondence and reread it. Memory easily retrieved its short message.


Son,

We await your arrival in Stockton. Good to put long days of worry to rest.

Father


When it came to expressing sentiments, a telegram’s abbreviated format certainly suited the Lancer patriarch. Actually, Scott didn’t mind the lack of words. The final one spoke volumes.


Seth had read his own telegram over the first of two calculated cool beers. Even though high marks were given to her male-selected ensemble, Kinsey felt a personal visit to Madame Fitzwalter’s dress shop was in order. The gentlemen gladly escorted the young lady to the emporium’s front entrance and promptly did an about-face.


********


The telegram from Phillip Westcott prompted a laugh from his grandson. “Sounds like Isabella is fixing all of my favorite meals to be served in one sitting.”


Scott grinned with a nod, followed by a sip. “Odds have it Teresa and Maria are busy doing the same. Maybe we should exchange these new britches for a larger size.”


Folding the paper warning of massive food preparation, Seth stuffed it in his shirt pocket. “So the tracks are clear and we head home.” The statement, although not posed as a question, tickled the need for confirmation.


“Tomorrow morning. Nine-o-five.” Scott leaned in for emphasis. “On-the-dot.” Beers were raised to toast the phrase often used by Transcontinental employees.


“Well then, good news all around from Auburn’s telegraph office. God knows we deserve it.”


Scott sipped at his beer while considering the third Stockton telegram residing in his jacket. Addressed to Kinsey, it remained unopened. No doubt from Murdoch, however… a brain itch handed out a small dose of disquiet.


Seth drained his mug, signaled the barkeeper for two more and winked. “I’m relying on your claim of being good with numbers.”


Shoving the itch away, Scott smiled. “Trust me. The young lady has yet to make it past the silk stockings.”


********


Scott’s knuckles revisited the brass number nine with a knock on wood.


“Come in!”


Come in? The greeting dipped a chin and raised a brow. Quite the difference from yesterday’s locked door and rapid-fire interrogation.


In the past, the room’s familiar sight would’ve demanded an eye roll, but not today. The explosion of lace and satin scattered about proved life was returning to its normal rhythm. “I see you’ve depleted Madame Fitzwalter’s inventory.”


“She’s such a lovely woman.”


An eye roll made a showing. It couldn’t be helped. “You took the words right out of my mouth, Freckles.” Fingers fished Kinsey’s telegram from a coat pocket. “This came for you earlier. I thought it best to let your bloomer-buying conclude before handing it over.”


Bloomer Buying?” With a tsk, Kinsey plopped on her bed beside a newly acquired travel bag. “Honestly, Scott. How gauche.”


“All right. Petticoat Purchases. Wait. I have it.” Arms crossed as the perfect descriptive materialized. “A Corset Coup.”


“You were raised in a Beacon Hill Barnyard.”


“Touché, young lady.” Scott watched his little cousin rip open the envelope. Her eyes scanning the telegram gave little indication of its contents. Although he had a fairly good guess, a ploy to identify the sender would confirm. “You’ll find Murdoch is a man of few words.”


“So is his youngest son.” The correspondence was held out to be shared. “But I think you already know that.”


Focused on maintaining a neutral countenance, Scott accepted the gifted telegram and reticently read.


Little Magpie,

Fly home where you belong. Too damn quiet.

J.


The brain itch returned with a slow exhale.


“Ah, ye be havin’ a look on yer puss, ScottyGarrett.”


So much for neutrality.


Kinsey’s rendition of Winnie brought a smile and Scott’s own attempt at the dialect. “And can the wee lass tell me what that look might be sayin’?”


“Hmmmmm.” Eyes narrowed. “Unwarranted concern with a touch of gratuitous advice giving.”


“I see.” Scott snagged the desk chair and settled in. “Well, Kinsey Rose, your puss also has a look.”


“Oh? And what is it saying?”


A moment of scrutinizing took place. “Warranted concern with a hint of imperative advice asking.” Scott handed the telegram back to its recipient. “But I think you already knew that.”


“Touché, sir.” A soft smile opened the way for a confession. “Truth is your advice is never gratuitous. I just make it terribly difficult for you to give it.”


“You’re in luck. I seldom walk away from a good challenge. And when it comes to my little cousin, I do believe I rather enjoy the undertaking. Damned if I know why.”


“I am lucky… and grateful.” Staring at the paper in her hand, Kinsey’s shift to a sobering mood enveloped the teasing. “Tell me, what words do you read between Johnny’s lines?”


Scott let silence fill the room while deciding how to proceed.


“Whoever said speech is silver, silence is golden had limited conversations.”


A raised eyebrow acknowledged the statement. The young lady could certainly quote accurately when she wanted to. “Let’s say reading glasses just might be in my future because I find the words between those lines a bit blurred.” An ankle crossed to a knee. “Although I do agree with the ones we both can read clearly. Lancer will always be your home, so, for now it is where you belong. And, in the future, I hope Mrs. Seth Westcott will return to Lancer often, seeing as it will be too damn quiet in her absence.” With a head nod gesture aimed at the telegram, Scott held out his hand. “Let me take another look.”


Examining the surrendered correspondence, a smile spread across Scott's face. “Well, what luck! I don't need spectacles after all. It appears there were never any words between these lines in the first place.”


*********


Kinsey hadn’t asked for the return of her telegram and an offer to do so hadn't been given. Scott’s hand brushed the front of his jacket. There was no reason to pull out and ponder Johnny’s correspondence traveling next to their father’s. Memory easily retrieved the short message. Time would tell if Scott had read those blurred words between the lines correctly.




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