“I was told you enjoy a good Havana.”
“I do.” Scott slowly spun the cut tip of a good Havana above a lit cedar sill, taking care that it didn’t touch the flame.
It was called priming, a step which couldn’t be rushed. Evenly heating the cigar’s end relaxed the dried, rolled leaves and released their full potential.
Aromas of toasted tobacco and burnt cedar mingled with the scent of Jane Stanford’s evening primrose. Unlike his views on a properly executed formal dinner, Scott found the correct lighting of a cigar satisfying, promoting thought and purpose. He once mistakenly commented to his little cousin that lighting a superb belvedere was a ritual shared only among true gentlemen. The rest of the evening had been spent teaching Kinsey how to properly light and smoke a cigar. A private grin tagged along with the memory.
Patience paid off. Warm embers winked, then glowed from the heated tobacco, signaling the required four or five puffs from Scott until the Havana produced thick white smoke.
Thoughtful. Purposeful. Satisfying.
Scott raised an eyebrow with an observation of admiration. “This is indeed a good cigar, sir. I appreciate that the knowledge of my fondness for them was shared. Extend my gratitude to… the little birdie?”
“Not a little birdie, more like a cocky rooster.” Swirling smoke framed Leland Stanford’s coy smile. “And don’t stand there pleading ignorance on how you and Westcott turned El Pinal’s rooster into a squawking gander when he discovered your sidebar cigar-smokin’ negotiating with the vineyard owners.”
Meant to be sipped like a fine wine, Scott not only enjoyed relaxing with a good cigar but what the act of doing so provided - opportunities to pause between puffs and choose paths of a conversation. “El Pinal Vineyard excels in oak-paneled boardroom discussions while Westcott Winery prefers outdoor dialogues. Fresh air helps clear up the staleness of old ideas.”
“Hmmmm.” Stanford nodded in the direction of an approaching butler focused on serving two poured brandies. “I was beginning to think you’d lost your way, Ridgewell.”
“My apologies, sir.” The man’s slight bow served his employer’s drink before turning to the evening’s guest. “Mr. Lancer, your brandy. And again, my apologies for its tardiness.”
Scott claimed his glass from the man sporting another name a future Lancer boy wouldn’t be saddled with. “Thank you, Ridgewell, but an apology is unnecessary. Aged brandy deserves a moment or two more for the anticipation.”
Gratitude reflected in the butler’s eyes as he turned and left.
“Ever consider throwing your hat into the political ring, son?” Leland’s gaze followed his manservant’s exit through the garden gate. “I believe you would do well with the honest working man’s vote.”
The honest working man’s vote? Scott felt the urge to point out that most of the honest working men who sweated their lives away while laying the rails of Stanford’s empire were denied the privilege to vote. A draw on the cigar held his tongue to choose different words. “I prefer to remain one of those working men, sir, and cast my vote for honest politicians.”
“Ho-hoooo!” The former governor’s abrupt guffaw ended in a smoky cough. A swig of brandy brought it under control. “I see why my wife enjoys your company, Scott. She would prefer to support honest politicians too.” Stanford winked. “Damn shame there aren’t any.” The man glanced at his surroundings as if seeing the impressive flora for the first time. “Come. Let’s walk off some of that meal.”
“Southern railroad expansion.” Leland’s hand-held cigar pointed down the garden path as if tracks would appear beside the roses. “Much has been accomplished already.”
“Accomplishments made possible with your recommendations as president of the Central Pacific Railroad.” Scott smiled. “Which is why the Cattlemen’s Association wishes to meet with you for discussions and guidance.”
“There’s a fine line between guidance and influence, son.”
“Agreed. Drawn with the sharpened Pencil of Profit.”
“Sharpened Pencil of Profit.” Stanford smiled and shook his head. “My God. I need to write that one down.”
“Sir, I can’t speak for the cattlemen as a whole. I’m here representing my father in requesting a meeting between you and the association.”
“Your father must be quite proud of you.”
Scott gently swirled the brandy in his snifter. “I try to give him reason to be.” A sip was taken. “As I’m certain your son does, even at his young age.”
“He is my life.” The smile on Leland’s face made the gentleman appear ten years younger. “And your father - he applauds your involvement with California's wine industry?”
“Well…yes.” Puff. “Although, I have yet to receive a standing ovation for my decision.”
“You strike me as a man who doesn’t necessarily need one when he believes his decision is correct.” Sip. “It’s a good investment, Scott. I’d give you that standing ovation. Unfortunately,” Stanford held up his cigar and snifter. “My hands are full.” Puff. “Tell your father to send me a few dates - make it next month. I welcome sharpening my pencil with these cattle ranchers.”
“All involved appreciate your consideration.” Relief or brandy - it really didn’t matter what caused Scott’s shoulder muscles to finally relax.
Stanford’s gaze drifted toward the lighted mansion windows. “Do you think they’re discussing the latest Paris fashions?”
“Sir, that subject won’t be given an honorable mention.”
“I concur. Stroll around these gardens a few more minutes with me, son. Maybe you can help figure out why these flowers are so damn expensive to grow.”
Scott’s cigar tip brightened with a puff.
Thoughtful. Purposeful. Satisfying.
“I’m afraid at this time of the night only one carriage could be acquired.” Even with her poker face, Jane Stanford’s gleeful fib revealed itself. “I do hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”
“Oh, not an inconvenience at all, Mrs. Stanford.” Emily adjusted the capote’s tied bow under her chin. “It has been a perfect evening.”
The hostess’ playful concern continued. “I fear, Mr. Lancer, the ride home might be a bit of a tight fit.”
Scott retrieved his hat and the devilment he’d left at the front door earlier. “Rest assured, Mrs. Stanford, at Miss Browning’s first sign of distress, I will gladly run alongside the cab.”
“Scott,” Leland Stanford extended his hand. “The pleasure has been ours.”
“Thank you, sir.” Accepting the parting handshake, Scott confirmed the outcome of their discussion. “Until next month.”
“Yes, next month. And, son” - the host held on - “that cocky rooster won’t remain a squawking gander much longer.”
Scott delivered a quick nod of acknowledgment.
Offering his arm, Scott escorted his dinner partner down the mansion’s staircase in unattainable silence.
“Do you think they’re watching us?” Emily’s hushed question exited the side of her mouth.
“I do.” Pulling from his boyhood Bible studies, Scott offered timely advice “Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of salt.”
“Good evening, Mr. Lancer.” The driver removed his hat and bowed.
“Fitz-Lloyd!” Scott’s smile welcomed the renewed meeting. “Miss Browning, I present to you Fitz-Lloyd.” Pinching together his raised index finger and thumb, an explanation followed. “The two names are one.”
“A pleasure Miss Browning.” The driver’s hand assisted Emily into the carriage. “A fine night for a ride, sir.”
“Indeed it is.”
The first snorts of laughter stayed contained until the hansom had safely turned the corner of N street.
“Stewed eels?” Emily wiped a laughter tear from her eye. “I thought you were going to upchuck right then and there.”
“I would have, but someone already did… in my bowl. And what, may I ask dear lady, is the Sacramento Slither?”
“It’s very similar to the Healdsburg Hurdy-Gurdy.”
Scott raised an eyebrow. “And the name of the dance hall you patronize?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Emily glimpsed at her passing surroundings. “Speaking of knowing, is the driver privy to the location of my street? We seem to be going in the wrong direction.”
Scott’s brow dipped. “We are.” Briefly pounding on the roof of the cab slowed it to a stop. Leaning out, Scott spoke to the driver above. “Fitz-Lloyd, this isn’t the correct route.”
“Yes, sir.” The gentleman cleared his throat. “Mrs. Stanford insisted your ride home last an hour. This is the best way I know how to honor her request.”
Scott settled back into the leather upholstered seat as the carriage resumed its journey. “It appears we’ve been granted extended time for conversation.”
“Well, then I move we retire the formal protocol of surnames in order to use this extended time more efficiently.”
Scott slowly nodded. “Seems reasonable. I second that motion, Emily.”
“Do you wish to submit your own motion regarding the efficient use of time, Scott?”
“I do.” Cupping Emily’s chin with a hand, Scott leaned down slightly and gently pressed his lips against hers, lingering longer than their first kiss before ending the fragile moment of familiarity.
“I second that motion.” The young lady placed her palms on each side of Scott’s face and guided him back to her lips.
A young boy whose multi-octave voice currently struggled with adolescence had replaced the condescending concierge behind the hotel front desk. No doubt the lad belonged to the night shift.
Scott’s whistling carried him across the lobby. “Yes?”
“A telegram, sir. The man at the telegraph office delivered it while you were out.”
Now what did Kinsey do? Scott felt a tinge of guilt while staring at the envelope the boy placed on the counter. He shouldn’t assume his little cousin had pulled another one of her stunts.
A letter opener made quick work in releasing the telegram inside.
OLD MAN LAID UP. BEST COME HOME. J.
Scott reread the typed words.
Dammit Johnny. Laid up? Sometimes his brother’s vagueness could be annoying. In a telegram it was downright maddening.
He’d leave tonight.
Snagging a pencil and a sheet of stationery at the counter, Scott penned a brief explanation regarding his abrupt departure. “Would it be possible to have my message delivered to this address?” Emily’s name and the street number were quickly jotted down on the folded note.
“Yes sir. I’m done here at daybreak. I can deliver it personally.” The lad’s concern wrinkled his forehead. “I hope your news wasn’t serious.”
Scott tucked the telegram in his coat pocket and left for his room to pack. “So do I.”