The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link | subglobal1 link
subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link | subglobal2 link
subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link | subglobal3 link
subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link | subglobal4 link
subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link | subglobal5 link
subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link | subglobal6 link
subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link | subglobal7 link
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Barb

 

 

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

The dry spring air shimmered against the green of the trees, giving off tiny sparks like mica. His grin was quicksilver, gone almost as soon as it appeared. Scott pushed the hammer and bag of nails into his saddlebag and tightened the girth, looping latigo through cinch ring until reasonably tightened. He waited for his mare to blow out—a particular habit of hers, hard learned—and tightened some more. More for self-satisfaction than anything else, he sighted down the line of wooden fencing, and although it wasn't as straight as he'd like, it was intact.

And that was all that mattered.

The uneven ground was buckled by old roots of poplar trees long since gone in this part of the eastern pasture. His gait was unsteady as he led his horse, the stomp-stomp-pause and sway making him feel drunk, or like he was dancing to an out-of-time orchestra.

He had such an easy sense of self here. The longer he spent away from Boston, the longer he wanted to stay away. The feeling was only enhanced by the long missive received from one Carter Willoughby, Esq. that came in yesterday's mail. He regularly sent home letters to his Grandfather and friends, but never spoke of going back.

Lancer was the perfect place to disappear, with its hidey-holes of sinewy valleys and pastures. The first week of his arrival was spent getting lost for hours, ending up in a strange bit of yellowed wheat, or at an intersection of hastily built signs with wobbly painted arrows that led straight up to the blue sky. Western humor at its finest. More often than not, Scott wouldn't get back to the ranch until after sundown. He would enjoy a cold plate of whatever the evening meal had been—foregoing any talk with his father—then curl up in wrinkled sheets until daylight came with a new set of instructions.

Today, he definitely did not get lost. For over a year, he had been traversing these pastures and fences. Even in the dark, he began to recognize the odd spidery oak that signaled Tio's Meadow, the earthen footpath that led to Cinnabar Ridge, the faint moldy smell of the sleek marsh that preceded the creek on the uppermost boundary of Lancer. There were various points along the valley he knew just by the roll of the land. And he couldn't bring himself to talk about Boston yet.

And so Scott's grandfather and friends would have to wait a while longer, even though Carter's letter was most effusive and therefore tantalizing in its own right. There was to be a reunion of comrades, those that had made up the parts of the whole, known collectively as the Second Regiment of Cavalry.

You must return, Carter wrote, it won't be seemly if you're not thereI've had several inquiries as to the "Lieutenant's" whereabouts. If I know you correctly—and I do—I can only surmise you are up to your armpits in mud, manure and ménage. So I will make an excuse, a rather pitiful one that you are unable to attend due to circumstances. But Scott, I'd much rather you come, if only to see the others, and not my ever-so-humble self. As added inducement, I should like to introduce to you someone very near and dear to me. I have told her of your exploits and yet she still wants to meet you. (I shall take the vagaries of her state of mind into account before producing a ring.)

He had envisioned Carter smiling like the Cheshire cat as he stumbled over the word 'humble'. For his friend had indeed accomplished things: graduation, a successful medical practice and now, it seemed, a fiancée. That poor, poor woman.

If he just kept busy enough, maybe he could ignore the anxious fluttering under his skin and the tingling in his fingers when he held the letter.

*****

The house ticked and settled. Scott sighed and put down Carter's letter, then scooted his chair to the very edge of the large trunk pushed to one side of the bedroom, where he could lean back and see out the window to the stars beyond. He often did this, to watch a quiet corner of the valley. There were even scratch marks on the floor from pulling the chair to his spot, though he was loathe to admit he'd created them.

Instead of looking out, he hooked a finger under the trunk's lid and gave a push. Cedar came wafting out reminding him of the times he had absconded into his closet at the house on Tremont Street as a child, ostensibly to read the Dickens periodicals he had foisted off the cook. Coming out west had been the best thing he had ever done. Because after the war was quite different than what went on before. Indeed, he had found himself on patrol one night, pushing Mortimer through a slog of rain and mud destined to take off all four horseshoes, trying to remember his life before taking the oath at Readville—and coming up empty handed. As young and as idealistic as he'd been, Scott still wished he'd been prepared for the after.

He shook his head. Never in his wildest dreams imagined himself on a ranch in California at twenty-four.

Twenty-four.

Good God, how did that happen? Yesterday he was nineteen, in full command of B Company and all its constituents. He bent over the trunk and pushed Aunt Elizabeth's knitted blue scarf out of the way. Several books were laid upon their spines and shoved to the side. Under the lot of it, he found what he was looking for—a well-used haversack cracked and burnished with age laying atop what was left of his uniform.

In the haversack was an item he hadn't seen in ages. Not since Private Reese carried it into the military court as evidence for the trial. He found the overly large envelope and forced his fingers to pry it open, taking out the sketches one by one. He rubbed the rough edge of the top drawing between two fingers. Hardly recognizing the man caught in the buck and gag. He hadn't thought about him in ever so long. Firmly dismissing him in fact, so as to get on with life.

He'd kept it as a memento of his spectacular failure. Self-punishment, perhaps, for a crime he had no control over yet still felt responsible.

Suddenly, the door to his bedroom flew open and Johnny walked in on a gust of horse sweat and liniment oil. Scott gave a start and jostled the sketches on his lap.

He raised a finger and pointed at the door. "Ever hear of knocking? Or are you trying to give Teresa a run for her money?"

Johnny looked back at the door like it was the first time he'd seen it. "Well, it's open now. So what about it?"

"What about what?"

"Why're you running around the ranch doing all the work?" He went for a sly grin." Trying to get on Murdoch's good side? You might be holdin' a pair against a royal flush, because I'm not real sure there is one. Don't you think we would've found it by now?"

He brought up a bottle of wine and two glasses Scott hadn't noticed during the interruption. "I brought supplies."

"Supplies. Meaning you raided the wine cellar."

Johnny hoisted the bottle and glasses onto the bedside table and looked at him curiously. "Sure, sure. Raided could be the word, but since we're all family maybe share is a better one." He chuckled at his joke. "Besides, the old man won't even miss this one."

"Are you positive? I think he sneaks downstairs to count the bottles after we go to sleep."

"Probably keeps a tally in that little green book in his desk," said Johnny. "Right next to those Pinkerton reports."

"Either that, or it's a compilation of all our misdeeds. He writes in it every night. Perhaps we should get him a new one for his birthday since he'll likely be out of pages by August."

Johnny waggled his eyebrows. "Let's shoot for July, huh?"

He laughed at the July remark, thinking they could probably make it to June—if they slowed down a little. Johnny aimed for a seat on the bed, flopping gracelessly onto the coverlet when his right boot slipped on two pieces of paper.

Scott could feel the color leech from his face. Two of the drawings. They had slipped from his hand when the door opened. Before he could say a word Johnny was holding them.

His brother let out a low, long whistle. "That doesn't look too comfortable." He flicked the paper with one finger. "You know' im? This man here?" Johnny didn't look up, but peered intently at the charcoal sketch, head cocked to one side.

How strange it was, that the man in the picture was the very same sitting comfortably in his bedroom trading quips over a bottle of wine. And how unfathomable the man he shared them with was his brother.

"Yes, I knew him. Years ago," Scott said, trying not to seem at all mysterious. He saw the little spasm cross Johnny's forehead, an effort to compile something that sounded tactful.

"Uh-huh," he finally said. "Well, he got himself in a hell of a spot." Johnny shrugged, looked over at Scott as though daring him to say otherwise.

"So, he's just a soldier?" Johnny's questions were flapping away against Scott, falling like moths against a flame.

"Just a soldier," Scott repeated quietly, reaching up to unlatch the window so the evening breeze came into the room like a welcome dip in a cold river.

Johnny shifted the drawings. "And these two?"

It showed him and John in their usual places amongst the other prisoners. The smudges on the paper had grown darker with time, almost pushing out the light. "That's Lieutenant John Baker, with his arm in the air." Despite the violence of the first picture, this one, by contrast, had an almost every day feel to it.

Johnny splayed out his hand. "Wait. Is that you with the book?"

Scott nodded. He saw it then, a little flick of his brother's eye back to the first sketch, comparing. Johnny's face was a storm of emotions, more eloquent than words.

"Maybe it's time for some of this." The cork was pulled and Johnny poured two large glasses. Wearing a decided frown, he offered one to Scott and held his own up to the lamplight. "All this is gonna do is give me a headache."

"Why didn't you browse around in the liquor cabinet instead of the wine cellar?"

"Sometimes I like to rattle the old man's rafters. Just in case he does count those bottles, you savvy?"

"You're perverse, you know that, right?"

Johnny shrugged so elegantly, Scott wouldn't be surprised to find out he was part French. Some days his brother was made of shrug.

"Cipriano told me you got the west end creek all tidied up all by yourself And Frank said you took the fencing job away from him and sent him my way. Not that I don't mind Frank, but I coulda handled that paint job all by myself." Wine sloshing side to side in his glass, he made a crude square with his fingers. "Not enough real estate for two brushes in a chicken house."

"For such silent cowboys, there seems to be a lot of talking going on."

"So what is it?"

Scott traded Carter's letter for the drawings by Johnny's leg.

"A reunion? This is why you're waltzing around with those trunk memories?"

"You know what Murdoch would say: The past is…"

"The past," echoed Johnny.

It was a joke amongst them that they would repeat the things Murdoch sometimes said, but this phrase held no mirth.

"Are you going to go?"

"I've been asking myself if I want to rehash the past in any way, shape, or form. Some things are best left in the dark."

Johnny lifted his wine. "I'll drink to that." Scott toasted him and the clink of the glasses made a heavy sound in the quiet bedroom.

"Never know, might be happier days, seeing them again after all this time." Johnny stood and took his glass, leaving the bottle on the nightstand.

He made it to the door before turning around. "Scott, maybe I'm slow, but I didn't get it before. Those pictures, they might as well be made up because I don't know the man in them. Don't know what he went through. But I do know my brother." He tapped his glass on the doorjamb. "If you want to go to that reunion, go. Seems like they want to see you. And don't worry about the chores back here, I'm your huckleberry."

Scott looked out the window after Johnny left and hundreds of stars twinkled, and they were so beautiful he wanted only to watch them. So he did, he watched until they drifted into and around one another, so close he might lift a finger to catch one.

It was almost as if he'd fallen asleep after the war, and had wakened at Lancer.

Bits and pieces of that summer after he returned to Boston from the command hospital were coming back to him. For years, he pushed and pulled at the memories until they had become gauzy thin, but the extremely real emotions remained. He remembered being terribly unsettled. He could remember that very clearly.

Then he found something hiding there. A face in the window. His reflection. He squinted and the image changed, the cheeks became hollowed, the hair longer, a scraggly beard. It rang in Scott like a bell. The past few years had allowed him to push aside the memory, yes, but he recognized that boy.

And was able to accept him.

He stuffed the sketches back into their envelope and closed the lid of the trunk. Picking up Carter's letter, he leaned towards the light to reread it. A smile ghosted his lips as he catalogued all the outrageous things he would tell his best friend's fiancée.

 

 

~end~
8/16/'19

Want to comment? Email Barb