Western wilderness? The comment hinted a dime novel or two had been shelved next to leather-bound first editions of Hawthorne and Copperfield in the Garrett library. To stall a justified eye roll, Scott focused on a slight crack snaking across the stucco wall above Kinsey’s headboard before surrendering the room’s only chair to the arrival of her opinionated visitor. A mental bet was placed that land of heathens would eventually slither into the conversation.
Seated, Harlan patted the patient’s hand and offered an ominous observation. “You have fallen victim to the perils of a savage land.”
Savage. Close enough. Wager won. Eye roll dispatched.
“Honestly, Uncle Harlan, this accident could have happened to anyone.”
Clearing his throat, Scott hooked the young lady’s attention while making a circle with his extended index finger, implying her honestly required a tad more clarification with honesty.
“And when I say anyone…well, what I mean by that is anyone who momentarily misjudged the distance between a leg and a fence post…”
The finger remained on its twirling path.
“While riding… a newly trained brindle.”
A dubious dipped chin below pursed lips accompanied the circling finger to extract one more piece of crucial information.
“All right! Bareback!” Kinsey huffed at a nose-tickling stray curl which had fallen from her tied up tresses due to strenuous honesty. “And I apologize for my untimely foolishness.”
“My dear child, trust me. You are the last person under this roof who owes me an apology.”
Spying his grandfather’s subtle glance over a shoulder, Scott felt certain he was in the running for the prestigious title of The Last Person.
“I have a marvelous idea.” Harlan’s arched eyebrows emphasized his agog expression of enthusiasm. “Perhaps another refreshing lemonade could find its way here so I may join Kinsey in a drink as we catch up.”
“I believe that could be arranged.” Scott grinned. “In fact, allow me to do one better - may I suggest reading to our patient as she recovers?”
“Splendid!” Garrett slapped his palms on thighs to confirm approval. “We’ll leave it up to you, my boy, to select the perfect novel.”
Through a frozen smile, Kinsey offered her appreciation. “How thoughtful, but not necessary.”
“Nonsense.” The grandfather leaned in to share a memory. “Oh, how Scotty loved to have me read to him when he was a lad. He couldn’t get enough of The Iliad and The Odyssey.”
“Oh?” Kinsey's eyes drifted up to her older cousin. “Well, that certainly explains a lot.”
“In the meantime, my dear, tell me more about this fiancé of yours.”
Scott stepped out into the hallway and closed the door, satisfied with the finishing touches to his bareback riding reprimand.
Murdoch Lancer’s return had seated him behind the man’s carved oak domain. Entering the Great Room, Scott pushed aside any spoken acknowledgment regarding his father, but instead scanned over the titles residing on bookshelves, searching for one particular novel.
The clock’s always present tick-tock counted down a few minutes of uninterrupted quietude.
“Is my oldest son’s silence expressing his anger or stifling it?”
A turned back addressed the query rumbling across the room. “I’m not angry.”
“Stifling it.” Titles read. Titles rejected. The quest continued.
“My absence upon your arrival -”
“Is due to a ranch not running on its own. I believe you’ve mentioned that fact… quite often.”
“What I’d planned to say was couldn’t be helped. An excuse you have used… more times than necessary.”
Ho, ho, Lancer. Best turn around. It appears paternal buckshot just hit you in the ass.
Glad you’re amused, MacCallister. Now help me find that book.
Scott’s focus lifted. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. A smile blessed the discovery. Thank you, George.
My pleasure. Now quit being a stubborn sonofabitch and talk to your father.
Snagging the book down from its literary residence, Scott half-turned. “There was a problem earlier?” While studying Shelley’s gold embossed title, his peripheral vision captured the patriarch.
“Dottie. Breech birth. We lost mother and calf. I’ll tell the girls later.”
The young ladies would not take the news well. Disregarding Murdoch’s warnings of attachment, anticipation of a new addition to the ranch’s milking shorthorns had become a subject of constant conversation between Teresa and Kinsey, the latest being name selections. Noting his father had ignored his own advice and referred to the cow as Dottie, a nod of dismay carried Scott to a chair near the desk. The fairer members of the family had lassoed all of them into the excitement of a newborn calf.
Simultaneous contrition from father and son overlapped into one combined statement.
“I jumped to conclusions when -”
“Misjudging a ranch -”
“Can’t be helped -”
“Running on its own.”
“Right.” Scott allowed a jest to assist in steering the conversation. “No truer words spoken by two men, sir.”
Murdoch’s slight smile indicated the air had been cleared. “Has our house guest settled in?”
“He has and is currently offering his condolences to the laid-up young lady: a victim of this savage land and western wilderness.”
“That young lady’s lucky she wasn’t the victim of a trip to the barn.” Murdoch’s attention settled on Scott’s choice from the bookshelf. “What have you there?” A hand extended across the desk.
Surrendering the book, Scott offered an explanation. “I suggested Grandfather might read to my convalescencing cousin to pass the time.”
With reading glasses once again deserting their call to duty, an arm adjusted the distance between title and aging eyes. “Frankenstein.”
“Kinsey mentioned Sam's techniques rivaled that of Mary Shelley’s good doctor.”
Murdoch’s spreading boyish grin favored Scott’s reasoning with his own insight. “I requested Sam add extra layers of gauze. Weigh that girl down so she’ll stay put for a week or two.”
Reflecting on his own experiences and those of Johnny’s with Sam’s handiwork, Scott silently questioned the number of times his father’s bandage beseechment had been honored. “Let’s hope your strategy is effective.”
The boyish grin widened. “It has been in the past.”
The tale of Frankenstein’s creature journeyed back over the desk’s pasture of papers. “I understand there was some Beacon Hill tail-rattling soon after your arrival.”
Scott paused two ticks before accepting the book. “You’ve talked to Johnny.”
Well, at least his father had heard a softer version retelling Back East opinions of a proper wedding gift. “A discussion took place.”
“Murdoch, your hospitality continues to be unmatched.”
“Harlan.” Lancer’s head of the family rose and, with a few long strides, met the Garrett patriarch’s offering of a welcoming gesture. “I apologize for my absence earlier.”
“Totally understandable, thus an apology is completely unnecessary. In fact, you are the last person who should be thinking otherwise.”
Scott donned a smile of resignation at his father’s brief peer aimed at his son. Yes, sir. S.G. Lancer - The Last Person, at your service.
“Ah!” Dismissing his host, Harlan targeted the book in his grandson’s possession. “I see you’ve found the perfect literary narrative.” Squinted eyes took in the title which weighted down the elder’s brow. “Frankenstein? Scotty, you can’t be serious.”
“Kinsey admires progressive women authors.” A hand patted the book’s fine leather-tooled cover while a wink of confidence confirmed the selection and feet turned to leave. “I’ll place it on her nightstand.”
“Well, be quiet about it. The poor exhausted girl fell asleep just as I was about to discuss my thoughts on her role as Mrs. Seth Westcott.” Harlan rubbed his hands together. “Murdoch, the lemonade you serve here is quite good, but I believe my thirst requires a bit more.”
Turning the knob, Scott slowly opened the bedroom door to view a picturesque patient in proper repose. A judge whispered his verdict. “You’re not sleeping.”
Followed by damning evidence. “I know because you’re not snoring.”
“I don’t snore!”