Updated: Dec 7, 2020
The clouds above appeared mottled and clabbered. Winnie would have called it a buttermilk sky. Evidently, Johnny’s blue-eyed milkmaid from yesterday had knocked over her pail.
Riding alongside the buckboard, Scott cast a slanted glance and satisfied smile at the contented driver who looked slightly out-of-place steering a wagon instead of sitting in the saddle of his best friend, Barranca. The decision had been a good one - delay the Sacramento trip by a day and accompany his little brother to the mission.
Lately, Scott had been feeling a disconnect with Johnny, not to be confused with their need, at times, to reset the clock. Neither brother was at fault. Life simply handed them dissimilar roads to take now and again. So would be the case over the next few weeks with Sacramento and Boston on Scott’s agenda, thus firming his resolve to tag along today. As long as their paths eventually guided the brothers back to a shared journey, concern was minimal.
So far, the discussions between the travelers had been casual and random. Covered were intensely unimportant matters ranging from Johnny’s proof that Henry had started the unethical practice of watering down his whiskey -
“Boston, it used to be a fly would go belly up when it landed in my shot glass. Now the little bastard takes out a bar of soap for a Saturday night bath.”
- to Scott’s medical view of Jelly’s latest bout of lumbago, a condition that inflicted the most pain on innocent bystanders standing within earshot of the whiskered curmudgeon -
“Little brother, that man suffers from toilaphobia: the fear of lifting a finger during physical labor of any kind.”
These thought-provoking topics ebbed and flowed through periods of comfortable silence when each man drifted in his own thoughts.
“You think Half-pint knows what she’s talking about?” Johnny’s abrupt query brought day-dreaming minds back to the dusty road.
“No, not at all.” Scott palmed the crown of his hat for a lower placement on the brow. “Any sensible camel never cooks his goose with a straw.” The straight delivery held on briefly before a grin broke through. “Or are you referring to our father’s wish for little legacies creating havoc in the hacienda?”
“Yeah, that.” Johnny did his own readjusting to his backside on the wagon’s wooden bench by placing a boot up on the kickboard. “Ever think about… you know… about being a father?”
“I’ve given it some thought.”
“It scare you?”
“Maybe a little. Not that a man can put his order in with the good Lord and be certain he’ll listen, but I'd like a boy to be the first.” Scott’s eyebrow raised to his gender-order reasoning. “I’ll need to practice the fine art of fatherhood before taking on the task of raising a daughter.” Raising a daughter possessing Garrett Guts. Scott smiled and shook his head at the prospect. “And what about you, brother? A villa filled with pink ribbons and petticoats?”
“I’d end up grayer than Murdoch.” Johnny’s lopsided grin teased in an observation. “Sounds like a right good way to grow old, though.”
“Indeed, it does. However, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. There’s the required capturing of a lady’s heart.”
“Well, let’s see…” Johnny squinted up at the sky. “I remember my brother mentioning his interest in The Little Minnow of Sacramento?”
Scott’s sigh offered Emily his condolences. The young lady hadn’t met Johnny, yet she already sported a nickname. The Little Minnow of Sacramento. “I’m still navigating the waters. And what news does my brother have regarding The Guadalupe Baker?”
Johnny grinned and winked. “I’m still stokin’ the fires.”
The traditional Guadalupe Mission Welcoming Committee had changed little since Scott’s last visit. A small herd of smiling, chattering children, varying in ages, surrounded the morning guests entering the courtyard. However, Scott noticed a few brief smiles dissolved to frowns with the realization their favorite artist, Miss Kinseeee, wasn’t present.
Scott’s grin also faded with his own awareness of another absent soul - Sister Rosa. Being the backbone of the mission, the nun's presence was thought to be timeless. But timeless isn’t forever. Winifred McLoughlin proved timeless was only a word.
As if praying for the miracle of silence, the mission’s priest, Father Andrew, raised a palm to the heavens while wading through his noisy flock. With the prayer going unanswered, Scott relied on a trick he’d witnessed Sister Rosa use. Dismounting Boots, he raised both hands above his head and clapped out a rhythmic pattern, hoping the memory held true. The babble of broken English ceased as a chorus of hands repeated Scott’s signal for quiet.
“A practitioner of thaumaturgy is amongst us!” Father Andrew extended his hand over the tops of small heads. “Scott Lancer. A savior during a moment of joyous chaos.”
Respectively removing his hat, Scott accepted the welcoming handshake. “Sir, a pleasure to see you again. Some time has passed since we last spoke.”
“I spend too much of my life sitting in a room full of priests discussing how we can do our work better. I tell them - let me stay at my mission so I can show you how it’s done.”
“Well, you’ll have an extra pair of hands over the next few days to help you with that work.” Scott’s held hat gestured toward Johnny as he jumped down from the wagon. Tousling the hair on a few curious bystanders, the younger brother made his way across the courtyard.
“Ah, Johnny! Welcome!” The priest’s smile was as wide as his outstretched arms. “I can’t thank you enough for your sacrifice to assist with the needs of others.”
Johnny tipped the brim of his hat. “A man can’t ignore it when he gets the callin’, Father.”
The calling? Scott silently mouthed the words with squinted eyes. Verbal redirection was required. “Sir, Sister Rosa. I can’t help noticing her absence.”
“Oh, yes.” With a slow nod, Father Andrew crossed his arms. “The poor sister is laid up with a sprained knee.”
“Well, Padre.” Johnny grinned. “I guess that’s what happens with too much kneelin’.”
“John.” A pious hand landed on the young man’s shoulder. “I believe we’ll find, during your stay, a few hours to set aside the physical labor to work on the spiritual kind.”
“Rounders?” Scott’s incredulous tone posed the question to an indignant patient. “You were playing a game of Rounders?”
“And winning.” The nun sat in bed, clothed in a plain white robe, the lace shawl donning her head cascaded down to cover her shoulders. The rest of her tiny frame disappeared underneath an uneven quilt due to a pillow-supported knee. Resting an open Bible in her lap, Sister Rosa sipped tea from a china cup.
“Don’t you think you’re too -”
“Choose your words wisely, young man. I have a sturdy wooden ruler hidden beneath this blanket.”
“Noted. But, don’t you think you’re…” A moment was taken to calculate the odds of a hidden ruler. “Playing unfairly considering God’s on your team?”
“Should I be penalized for an advantage that comes with my chosen profession?”
Scott pointed to the sprained knee. “It appears the answer to that is yes.”
Sister Rosa pointed to her tea service on a small table. “Instead of further submerging yourself in hot water, pour yourself a cup of hot tea and join me. I’ve been bending the Lord’s ear for two days, lying here. He needs a rest.”
“Has Doctor Jenkins paid you a visit?” Scott turned and followed the nun’s directive while his grin helped pour the tea - a Green River Gazette laid neatly folded by the pot.
“He has and I question his medical prowess.”
“And why is that?” Balancing the teacup on a saucer, the inquirer slid a chair closer to the ill-fated ball player and sat.
“He began his examination with a woman your age.”
“Ah.” A smirk hid behind a sip. “Was there any part of this charlatan’s diagnosis you did agree with?”
“He said I should be as good as new in a week. Of course, I’d reached the same conclusion without being reminded how many years I’ve been walking the earth.”
Scott returned the cup to its saucer. “Of course.” He had spoken to Sister Rosa only occasionally until Murdoch saw fit for Kinsey’s necessary volunteer work at the mission. Since then, he’d gotten to know the nun better and found her witty insights enjoyable. Their casual acquaintance was solidifying into a lasting friendship.
“One must drink the tea before he can read the tea leaves and his future.”
Being caught staring at his teacup raised Scott’s eyes to meet the sister’s with an acknowledging nod of the head. “I understand a new oven is in your future.” An additional thought cocked an eyebrow. “No tea leaves required.”
“Well, you know what they say…” Sister Rosa placed an empty cup on the bed’s side table and patted her open Bible. “God works in mysterious ways.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Stretching out his arm to the right, Scott snagged the newspaper spotted earlier by the tea service and placed it next to God’s word. “Are you and the good Lord avid readers of Miss Providence?”
Playfulness danced across Sister Rosa’s eyes before settling into a smile. “The good Lord appreciates any assistance in guiding lonely hearts through the Labyrinth of Love.” The nun unfolded the paper to Kinsey’s picture featured in her Gazette column. “Even behind a mask, the dear child’s compassion shines through in her eyes.”
“I would call it convincing compassion that got Will Jenkins parting with his pennies.” Scott still shook his head over the editor’s agreement to funnel seven percent of the newspaper's profit from Miss Providence’s popularity into the mission’s account.
“The reluctant Good Samaritans are the sweetest victories.”
“Followed by a winning ball score.” Rising, Scott returned his cup and saucer to the room’s small table. “I best check on Johnny. Thank you, Sister, for a fine cup of tea any Bostonian would be proud of. By the way…” The stance of a rounder player at the base was assumed. “You want to lead with the left leg and follow your swing through.” Scott demonstrated with an imaginary stick and a wink. “You’ll be less likely to twist your knee.”
“I’ll certainly take that advice into consideration.” Sister Rosa’s youthful smile guaranteed she would continue to be the backbone of the Guadalupe Mission for years to come.
As Scott turned to leave, his hostess offered her own piece of advice.
“Enjoy those lobster canapés, young man.”
With a heavy sigh, Scott dipped his chin with a surrendering grin. My little cousin talks too much.