The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Barb

 

 

FTimestamp: Special Delivery
Part of a sequence of stories, following 'In Earnest' and "Man Plans, God Laughs". Follow the link to see the story order.

In which Great-Aunt Elizabeth's letter to Murdoch Lancer is met with some difficulty.

Green River, 1863

"Esmeralda!"

The cat turned her head, one orange ear flicking away an invisible fly. Her paw, however, remained poised on the catalog. The piece of paper teetered between safety and forever obscurity if caught between the brick wall of the post office and the long wooden counter. She twitched and her paw moved. A dare if he ever saw one.

"Now come on, Esmee." His voice had a whine to it, even to his ears. "Be a good girl. Didn't Mrs. Charles have a fit when you dropped her husband's letter into that crack?" He looked to the pile of correspondence directly to the left of Esmerelda's paw and groaned. Murdoch Lancer's mail. Including the letter from Boston. He'd do more than pitch a fit.

He dropped his shoulders and raised his hands, trying another tactic. "Fine. If you want to play with that catalog, go ahead. Doesn't make any difference to me."

Esmeralda sat back and blinked her solemn grey eyes. A decision had been made. She turned and jumped off the counter to the chair and settled down on the plump cushion with a great yawn. Crisis averted.

He heard the snap of the stagecoach driver's whip and went to meet the mail drop.

*****

Murdoch squinted, glad of his hat; the valley sunlight was clear and jagged as smashed glass. Well, that hadn't taken long. The stage customers had swarmed out of the coach in a hurry. He imagined them dusty and tired, riding without reprieve until they hit Green River. Nothing substantial here to keep their interest, just a bit of a rest and perhaps a drink of something wet.

A young man was last to clamber out of the coach. Awkward and hesitant in his Union blue. He twisted around and Murdoch saw why. The right sleeve of his jacket was pinned up to the shoulder, compensating for the lack of limb.

He saw Malcolm Warner receive a pouch of mail from the driver, and talk to the soldier for a few minutes until he finally turned toward Murdoch.

Malcolm hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Says his name is Berg. Corporal Josiah Berg. Say, aren't there some Bergs out your way?"

"Not that I know of. There's a couple that bought out the Hanscom farm by the name of Bennington, but they're too young to have a son that old."

"Old? He's just a boy, isn't he?" Malcolm's mouth twitched, beard dark against sun burnt skin, eyes guarded. "Seems like they're all boys going to that war back east. I wonder if he was one of those hundred that left off the coast in '62. The papers say it'll all be over soon, that Lee's running with his tail between his legs. Too late for that one, though."

Murdoch gave a small half-shrug, not committing to any argument.

"I don't know how he does it." Malcolm's voice was low, almost like he was talking to himself. They both watched as the boy managed to tie his loosened cravat with one hand. It looked to be a practiced habit.

The station manager came out to shake the soldier's hand, proud as a peacock to have a Union man on his coach.

Malcolm sighed. "Well, I know what you're here for Murdoch. I have your mail all ready."

They entered the post office and Malcolm went behind the counter.

Malcolm flinched, looking down at the jumble of letters and papers. Then up and over to the sleeping cat, eyes earnest beneath their dark brows. He frowned.

"Ah, what's the matter, Malcolm?"

Fingers raked through his beard in a worried gesture. "It's just that…well, it's just that I could have sworn there was a special letter for you. From back east. Had some fancy handwriting." He sorted and picked through the mess and handed a bundle to Murdoch.

He rifled through it. Nothing from Boston. "Plenty of people from back east here, are you sure it was for me?"

Malcolm's mouth quirked and he shook his head like he had water stuck in his ears. "Maybe not. Guess I was mistaken at that." He snuck a second look to the cat. "But if I do happen to come across anything else for you, I'll run it right out to the ranch."

Murdoch nodded. "That'll be just fine." He pushed his mail into the pocket of his coat.

By the time he exited from the post office, a small crowd had gathered around the corporal.

The soldier's jaw worked a little, but he straightened himself to his full height, face flushed. He was very fair and colored easily; the noon sun was full and its brightness filled the street, so Murdoch could see the expression on the boy's open face.

Under the faded Union jacket—cavalry, if he wasn't mistaken—there would have been bandages. And now scars. Outside. And worse, in.

He lifted the cover of his pocket watch, just as the stagecoach driver announced that it was time to board and a cacophony of shouts and back slaps kicked in and the boy was manhandled from side to side with wide smiles for the Union until he reached the open door and was practically thrown into his seat. The boy nodded his thanks as the driver cracked his whip with an extra flourish for the appreciative crowd.

He could see him for a minute in the window of the stage, young, blond, good-looking in the way that strapping sons of immigrant stock tended to be. Then, he wasn't just a young man anymore. Ten seconds that felt like forever. Without a word, Murdoch staggered back until his head hit the hanging post office sign and sent it rocking on its chain.

His hands fisted by his side, then unclenching, he smoothed out his hair, collecting himself. "He doesn't need me." And there was the lie, the big lie that Murdoch had constructed. "He needs something else, something more. And…" His murmur lifted like a bird, caught, flapped, fell back into place.

He looked after the departing coach with its tail of dust wagging behind. Murdoch's face dipped to the boardwalk. An idle thought niggled, making him go cold. No. Surely not. Harlan would have never let the boy join up.

Would he?

 

 

~end~
9/1/'17

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