The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Dori

 

 

Cousin Kate

“No, Miss.  I’m sorry, Miss, but I just cain’t do it.”  

Jake shook his head at the petite blond who faced him with a determined set to her chin.

“I ain’t got no extra rig to let right now, ‘n even if I did, I’d need a hefty chunk o’ cash to hold til the rig gets brung back from Lancer.”

The young woman had just opened her mouth to make some further plea when the burly livery owner pointed over her shoulder.

“Well, hey now.  This oughta take care o’ your fix.  There’s young Lancer hisself jist walked in.  Reckon he can see bout getting ya to his daddy’s ranch.”

Before he even finished speaking, Jake saw the expression on the gal’s face change from stubborn determination to joyful expectation.  She whirled around with her arms outstretched.

Johnny Lancer stepped inside the dusty livery stable just in time to overhear Jake’s final statement.  The next thing he knew, the attractive, young woman came very close to throwing her arms around him.  He watched in amusement as she blushed and stammered, “I’m so sorry.  I thought you were Scott.”  Then her confused look was replaced with a friendly smile as she exclaimed, “But, of course, you must be Johnny!”

“Well, that’s true enough, Ma’am.  And I gotta say, if that’s the kind of greeting he has to look forward to, my brother’s a lucky man.”

The girl’s smile widened.

“I’m Katherine Darrington and Scott is my cousin.”

“Of, course.” Johnny’s expression now was warmly welcoming. “You’re Cousin Kate.”

“That’s right, and I’m so pleased to finally be able to meet the brother Scott has written so much about.”

“Well, he’s told us a lot about you, too.  But I have to say, from the way he talked, I was picturing more of a…”

“A little kid?”  Kate laughed, “Well, Scott sometimes has trouble remembering I’m not still the twelve-year-old who was always getting underfoot and landing in some kind of trouble.”

Another sympathetic grin from Johnny. “But how come Scott never mentioned anything ‘bout you coming out here?”

Kate looked down at the dirt floor for a few moments before casting a glance through her lashes.  In a small voice she admitted, “He doesn’t really know about it yet.  It was a kind of sudden decision.  I hope your father won’t be upset about my coming here uninvited and with no advance warning.”

“Well, Kate, I sure don’t think he’ll have a problem, but if you’re worried about it, the best thing to do is get it over with.  So let’s get all your gear stowed in the wagon here and head on back to Lancer.”

Some time later Kate found herself seated next to Johnny on the buckboard, admiring the truly majestic countryside.  As the buckboard bumped and bounced its way along the rutted roadway, Kate glanced side ways, observing the man handling the reins.  She had enjoyed her conversation with Johnny as they traveled.  It mostly consisted of Johnny’s commentary on the countryside they were passing through.  He pointed out various landmarks and informed her when they crossed onto Lancer property.  Kate was surprised by its vastness when Johnny informed her that even though they were on Lancer now, it would still be another hour’s travel before they reached the ranch house.  Kate had also told him some amusing stories of her trip from Boston and had felt rewarded by the flashing smile and twinkle in his blue eyes.  They had driven for some time in companionable silence, and Kate’s thoughts turned toward what she knew about the man beside her.

Scott, in the past two years, had written much about Johnny Lancer.  For example, she knew about Johnny Madrid.  Scott had gone into detail about his first meeting with his brother and his feelings upon discovering that he had a brother he’d never know about who also happened to be a notorious gunfighter.  Scott’s subsequent letters had revealed even more about Johnny.  She knew about Johnny’s childhood and how he had found it necessary to develop his skills as a “gunhawk” to survive on his own.  As Scott spent more time here in California, his letters were a testament to how much he had come to trust, admire and care about his new-found brother.

Now, sitting next to Johnny, she wondered what his first impressions were of Scott and how things felt from his side of the relationship.

Johnny seemed to be aware of her silent regard. (Actually, although he gave every appearance of total relaxation, Kate had a strong impression that he was always totally aware of his surroundings and was always prepared to react with lightning speed to any threat.)

He turned to grin at her with a quizzical look in his blue eyes. “Something you wanted to ask me?

Kate blushed slightly. “Oh, you really mustn’t encourage me.  Scott says I have an unfortunate tendency to ask people questions that are none of my business.  I just enjoy talking to people and I’m naturally curious.  Put those to things together and you have me --- Nosy Nellie. So don’t be afraid to tell me to back off if I’m getting too personal.”

“I’ll keep that warning in mind, but you haven’t really asked me anything at all so far.”

Kate’s gaze swept over the passing landscape.  “Well, I did have a question about the creek we have been following for the past mile or so.”

Johnny lifted an eyebrow.

Kate went on, “Scott told me about his first few days here.  He mentioned that he, you and Teresa spent some time next to a creek like this one.”

This time Johnny laughed out loud.  Pulling on the reins, he brought the wagon to a halt and jumped lightly to the ground.  He walked around and helped Kate descend, also.  With Johnny in the lead, they made their way to the bank of the small stream.

“Yep,” he admitted, “me and Boston got into it pretty good back then.”

As Johnny continued describing the events of that day, Kate’s imagination allowed her to picture it quite vividly.  The tall, blonde Easterner, self-possessed but stubborn, reacting to what he considered a betrayal.  The passionate young gunfighter, violently rebelling against the idea of any emotional ties to this place and these people.  And both using their fists to do it.

“Teresa was there, though, and she gave both of us a piece of her mind for the way we were carrying on.”

Johnny grinned reminiscently, but the grin faded.  Kate wondered if he was recalling the part of Teresa’s diatribe when she insisted that his father had loved his mother and hadn’t thrown them out as Johnny had been told.

He continued, “I guess I was ….”

She never got the chance to hear what he would have said next, however.

One second he was talking, then, before she could blink, his pistol was in his hand and he was firing.  She had heard the menacing rattle, but her brain had no time to register the danger.  The snake, coiled on a rock a mere foot from where she was standing, was blown several yards away from the impact of the bullet.  She simply stood there, unable to move, while Johnny replaced the gun in his holster.

He closed the distance between them in just a few steps.  Placing his hand on her arm, he asked, “Are you all right?  I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Kate gave herself an inward shake.  “You didn’t scare me Johnny.  You saved my life.”  Looking at him in awe, she marveled, “That was amazing.  Scott told me how fast you were, but I guess I thought he may have been exaggerating.  Now I can see that he wasn’t”

Johnny ducked his head and looked for all the world like an embarrassed schoolboy.  “You know, we should probably head on back to the hacienda.”

Kate let him assist her in mounting the buckboard and they set off again.

They traveled down the road some distance, and this time Johnny was the one to study Kate in silence.  And this time she looked at him with a quizzical gleam in her eye and said, “Is there something you wanted to ask me?”

“O.K.,” he nodded, “Why are you so nervous about telling Scott you’re here?”

Kate settled back and thought about it.  “It’s not that I don’t think he’ll be glad to see me,” she began.  “I think when I explain, he’ll understand the reasons for my decision. At least I hope so, because I did take some risks making this journey on my own and Scott has definite opinions about putting one’s self in danger for no good reason.”

Johnny’s grin was sympathetic.  “Yep!  My big brother has been know to deliver some pretty blistering lectures about taking stupid risks or dangerous chances.  And it sure seems like a lot of them get aimed at me.”

Kate sniffed and directed a darkling glance at him.  “Well, at least since you were a grown man when the two of you met, the most he could do was lecture you!”

Johnny looked at her more closely. “Now I know there has to be a story behind that statement.”

Kate looked away, but Johnny persisted.  “Hey, I told you all the details about our fight when you asked.”

Sighing, Kate resigned herself to sharing an embarrassing episode from her past.

“It’s pretty simple really.  When I was fourteen, a friend dared me to sneak out of the house and spend one hour at a dance hall in a less than reputable part of town.”

Johnny whistled,” Pretty gutsy for a little girl from Boston!”

“More like, pretty stupid,” Kate shook her head.  “Scott found me just in time.  He was bruised and bloody before we got out of there.  I actually broke a beer bottle over a man’s head.”

“So, did Scott tell your grandpa what you’d done?”

“No,” Kate gave him a rueful grin. “He took care of it all by himself.  He used my mother’s hairbrush and I couldn’t sit down for a week.”

Johnny kept his mouth serious, but his eyes were laughing.  “That’s Boston, all right.  You sure don’t want to get him riled at you.”

“Well, I’m hoping this time he’ll understand there was a reason for any risks I took.”

“Guess we’ll find out pretty quick.  That’s the ranch house right over there.”

*********

“Do you know if Johnny’s back from town yet?”

As Teresa entered the room, Murdock looked up from the stack of paperwork he was reviewing.  “I haven’t seen him.”

Scott lowered the book he was reading. “The wagon wasn’t back yet when I left Charlemagne in his stall.”

“Well, it’s back now.”  Johnny sauntered into the room, pausing to give Teresa a brief hug.  He put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the stone fireplace as his father and brother turned to look at him.

“Did you get all the supplies on the list?” his father inquired.

“Sure did. And I even brought something special from town just for you, big brother.”

“Were the books I ordered from Mr. Conners in already?  I wasn’t expecting them for several weeks.”

“Nope, no books.”

Scott raised one eyebrow.  His younger brother had a mischievous expression on his face. “So what did you bring me?”

“That!”

And Johnny pointed in the direction of the door.

Kate felt four pairs of eyes on her, but only one was the pair of blue-gray eyes she had travel clear across the country to see again.  She rushed across the room and threw herself into his arms.

“Oh, Scott, I missed you so much.”

Shocked as he was, Scott didn’t hesitate before folding his arms around his little cousin.  “Kate, I don’t believe it.  What are you doing here?”

She smiled and blinked back some tears.  “Just being thankful I get to see you again.”

Johnny spoke up.  “Hey, Scott, I’ve already met your pretty cousin, but you might want to introduce her to the rest of the family.”

“Of course. Kate, this is Teresa.  Teresa, I’d like to introduce my cousin, Kate.”

Kate smiled and exchanged friendly greetings with the dark haired young girl.

Next Scott led her to stand before his father.  “Kate, this is my father.  Murdock, this is Kate.”

Kate extended her hand.  “It’s a pleasure to finally meet Scott’s father.”

Murdock took her hand and folded it in both of his.  “Rebecca named you after her sister?”

Kate nodded.

“My dear, you are just as lovely as your mother was.  I will always remember the first time I saw Catherine, she and Rebecca were walking together in the park.  The two of them together were the most beautiful sight I could have imagined. It took me breath away.”

Kate smiled up at him.  “Well, according to my mother, you pretty much took her sister’s breath away, too”

Taking a step back, Kate gave him a more serious look.  “Sir, I do apologize for showing up on your doorstep with no invitation and no warning.”

She would have gone on, but Murdock stopped her. “You are Rebecca’s daughter, Catherine’s niece and Scott’s cousin.  That makes you a part of this family and you are always welcome.”

“Does that mean I can call you Uncle Murdock?” Kate asked with a smile.

“I would be honored, my dear.”

Scott spoke up.  “But that does bring us to the question I asked earlier.  Naturally, I am glad to see you, but why are you here now and all alone?  I assume Grandfather isn’t with you.”

“Definitely not!”  Kate gave her cousin a measured look.  “Let’s sit down and I’ll try to explain everything.”

Murdock cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should give Kate and Scott a little privacy.”

Before anyone could move, Kate shook her head.  “No, I have no secrets here.  You have offered me the hospitality of your home and you deserve to know the details of my story, too.”

Kate turned again to Scott.  “You know that Grandfather and I have always had some problems getting along”

Scott’s grimace showed his agreement to that statement.

She went on.  “Well, in more recent times, we hadn’t been dealing too badly with each other.  Since I put my hair up and my skirts down, I have been managing his household and acting as hostess for his dinner parties and such.  For the most part, as long as I didn’t do anything he felt would publicly disgrace the family name, he pretty much let me live my life with out much interference.”

“But then,” Kate hesitated, “You remember when Grandfather came out here to visit a few months ago?”

The expression on each person in the room indicated their opinions of Harlen Garrett and his actions during that visit, but Scott was the only one who spoke.  “Grandfather said you weren’t able to accompany him because you had been sick and the doctor refused to let you make the trip.”

Kate’s face was grim.  “He lied.  He was the one who refused to let me make the trip.”

Scott’s face reflected his concern.

Kate shrugged.  “He wanted me to help persuade you to return to Boston.  Grandfather said I was the cousin you’d loved all your life you would certainly have more feelings for me than for an unknown father and a brother who was a…” She glanced involuntarily at Johnny and her mouth formed a thin line.  “Sorry. I’m a lady and I don’t use that kind of language.”

“Anyway, I was honest and told him I wouldn’t cooperate, so he refused to bring me along.”  She scowled.  “I only found out that he brought Julie after the fact.  She paid me a visit and told me about Grandfather’s attempt to blackmail her.”

Kate gave a slightly defiant look.  “I found out about the rest of Grandfather’s blackmail attempts, the ones a few months ago and the ones that happened twenty years ago, when I read his journals.”

Scott gave her a look of unbelief. “You read Grandfather’s private journals?”

“Well, it wasn’t on purpose.  When I made my decision to leave, I had to find out exactly how I stood legally with regard to the inheritance from my parents.  Since we now know how truthful Grandfather is when he is trying to manipulate someone, I broke into his safe to see what I could find.  Besides the legal papers I needed, I found his private journals. “She returned Scott’s look with one of indignation. “Twenty years ago your father came to Boston to claim you, but Grandfather threatened to put you through a horrible court case which would have made your life miserable.  The only reason your father didn’t proceed with his claim was to prevent you from suffering.”

Scott and his father shared a look, and Murdock’s expression confirmed what Kate had just revealed.  Scott turned back to Kate.  “Over time, I have come to suspect that something like that must have happened. So you left Grandfather’s home because you were angry with him about his actions in keeping me away from my father?”

Kate stood and paced across the room.  “Well, I certainly was angry with him, but that wasn’t the whole reason.”

She regarded Scott and Murdock for a moment. “What he did to you was wrong, but you are grown men and how you deal with him is your business.  But when Grandfather returned from his failed attempt to retrieve Scott, something had changed.  I guess he finally realized he was not going to be successful in convincing Scott to return to Boston.  So he needed to secure a new heir.  As a woman, I didn’t qualify for that role, but I could provide him with a great-grandson to follow in his footsteps.  All he had to do was get me suitably married off.”

She began pacing again. “He finally narrowed my choices down to a few candidates he approved of.  I was given no peace.  Grandfather was constantly reminding that it was my duty to the family to marry well.” She glared at them. “He did that to my mother and I’m not going to let him do it to me.”

Sitting down again, she went on, “Grandfather is in Europe right now.  I was supposed to go with him as a gift for my twenty-first birthday.  He withdrew that offer when I refused to marry any of the men he had picked out.”

She chuckled, “As it turned out, it was for the best.  Grandfather was in Europe when I attained my majority.  As soon as it was legal, I hired my own lawyer.  We made a swift visit to Grandfather’s attorney and I was able to take possession of my inheritance and leave Boston immediately.  I left a letter for Grandfather telling him that I was coming West and would no longer reside under his roof.”

She gave Scott a serious look.  “I guess you could say I have pretty much burned my bridges.  All I could think to do at first was come here.  I hope you aren’t angry with me for being impetuous and thoughtless, but I just didn’t see any other solution.”

Scott took her hand. “I do wish you had sent a wire letting me know you were coming.  If anything had happened to you during the journey, no one would have known where you were.  But setting that aside, you did what you felt you had to do.  I would never want you in a situation where you were coerced into doing something you hated.  Grandfather will just have to learn to accept your decision. You are an intelligent, capable young woman and I know you can accomplish whatever you set out to with your life.”

Kate struggled for a few moments with the emotions that threatened to overtake her at her cousin’s words.  She was saved from breaking down completely when Johnny leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Hey, at least I don’t have to come to your rescue by hiding all the hairbrushes in the house.”

Laughing instead of crying, she tried to thank them all for the welcome she had received.  She didn’t know what she was going to “set out to do with her life”, but hoped each of these special people would be a part of it.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 2)

Kate’s gaze took in the varied landscape visible from her little hillside perch.  She had really needed this time on her own today.  It had given her an opportunity to think about the past two months here at Lancer.

Leaning back, Kate watched the cotton-candy clouds floating in the sky and let her mind drift back to her first evening at Lancer.  Everyone had gathered around the dinner table that first night.  She was introduced to Jelly, who joined them for the evening meal.  While enjoying their supper, Kate took special note of the good china, snow-white table linens and fresh flowers.  It was apparent to her that Teresa had gone to a great deal of effort over this table and it was appreciated.  However, after thinking long and hard that night, Kate stood, in nightgown and robe, knocking on Teresa’s bedroom door.

“Why, Kate,” Teresa said in surprise, “is there something you need?”

“No, Teresa, I’m fine.  I just wondered if I could come in and talk for a little while.”

“Of course.”  Teresa stood back to let her enter.

There was one chair in the room, next to a serviceable dressing table.  Kate was hoping for a discussion that was more intimate and less formal, so she climbed onto Teresa’s bed and hoped Teresa would follow suit.  When both girls were comfortably cross-legged on the bed, Kate began.  “Teresa, I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things.”

Teresa waited expectantly.

“It was so kind of Uncle Murdoch to make me welcome here, inviting me to stay while I make up my mind what to do with my life.  But I know that he has this whole ranch to run and I’m sure he leaves most of the everyday domestic details up to you.  I ran my grandfather’s household for several years, so I know that any additional guest just adds more work.”  She paused slightly. “What I really want to say is, please don’t treat me like a guest.  I want to do my share and I’m quite capable of whatever work you need done.  Grandfather believes you need to know how to accomplish the basics of cooking and cleaning yourself if you’re going to adequately supervise the servants.”

Teresa was shaking her head. “Well, I’m sure not turning down an offer like that, but are you sure you realize what you’re letting yourself in for?  Even with Maria doing the cooking and several of the other women helping out, there’s a lot to get done every day.  Some of it is pretty dirty work, too.”

“Ah,” said Kate, “that’s another thing I wanted to ask.  Would you mind taking me to town to get some more ranch-appropriate clothes?  I really want some of those jeans you were wearing when I first arrived today.”

Teresa reached over and patted her shoulder.  “Tomorrow we’ll get you settled in, and the next day we can make the trip to Morro Coyo.  You’ll be set up in no time.  Then we’ll really put you to work.”

And that was true, Kate reflected as she lay watching the sky.  She had thrown herself into the domestic routine at the Lancer ranch and didn’t think she had done too badly at most of her assigned chores.

Except…. Kate felt her face grow hot as she remembered one task that had been a little bit of a challenge.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if only she hadn’t had an audience.

On several mornings when Teresa and the other women were busy, Kate had been asked to gather the eggs from the henhouse.  There was on major obstacle to overcome before completing this job, and Scott had named her Attila the Hen.  Oh, they all laughed about it, but the truth was- that chicken was vicious. Each time she attempted to gather the eggs, Kate would return with severe cuts and scratches on her hands, arms and even face.  On the morning in question, Teresa asked if it would be better to have one of the children gather the eggs, but Kate refused to be bested by a feathered tyrant.  So she confiscated a broom from the kitchen and entered the fenced chicken enclosure prepared to do battle.

What she didn’t know was that Scott and Johnny were coming around behind the house looking for some extra barbed wire that had been misplaced.

It was Scott who first noticed Kate’s voice.  Pausing for a moment to listen, he reached out and grabbed his brother’s arm.  At the same time he signaled for quiet.

Kate’s voice was clearly audible, coming from behind the fence.  “All right, chicken, this is the way it’s going to be.  My job is to gather those eggs and if you think you’re going to stop me, then there is going to be a show-down here and now!”

Scott refused to meet Johnny’s eyes, sure that if they shared a glance, they would be unable to contain their laughter. The show-down in the chicken coop continued.

“You may think that people from Boston are pushovers, but if you get in my way you are going to find out that Boston or not, I ain’t backing down.”

Kate moved deliberately towards the nests, keeping one eye on the feisty fowl at all times.  Just as she reached for the first egg, Attila attacked.  But Kate was ready for her.  Wielding her broom like a broadsword, she knocked the hen away only to have it resume its attack immediately.

Scott and Johnny watched in delight as Kate and the chicken circled each other.  Every time the hen attempted to close in, Kate would again lambaste it with the broom.  Finally it became apparent that the bird was losing some of its energy.  It fell back and waited at a distance as Kate put the eggs in her basket.

“That’s better!  If you don’t want to end up as Sunday dinner, from now on you’ll remember who’s in charge here,” Kate sneered just a bit as she turned to leave the coop.

Hearing a squawk behind her she whirled around to find the hen aiming for her face, claws outstretched.  Unprepared, Kate took a step backwards, tripping over a stray piece of firewood.

Johnny leaped forward, catching her and the basket of eggs as Scott stepped in front of her and dispatched the chicken with one good kick.

Setting her back on her feet, Johnny laughed, “Now, Kate, you just have to remember never to turn your back on an hombre like that, especially if you’ve just backed ‘em down.  You can never tell if there’s a backshooter amongst “em.”

Kate had to admit that with the perspective a little time can give, the incident had its funny side.  Maybe!

Not all her free time was spent doing chores.  Soon after her arrival, Scott and Johnny had asked her to come down to the corral.  They introduced her to a beautiful bay mare.  Johnny had broken and trained the elegant looking animal and Scott purchased a new saddle, bridle and the remaining tack.  Kate was pleased to see that her preference for riding astride rather than sidesaddle had been noted.  She chose to name the graceful steed, Athena.  Clad in the jeans Teresa had helped her buy, she spent many hours on horseback.  Accompanied by Scott, Johnny or Teresa, she became more and more familiar with the ranch.  She found many lovely retreats, such as the one she was enjoying now.

No, Kate had no regrets concerning her decision to come west and spend time with Scott and his new family.  Thinking about it, Kate smiled.  They were a family.  It was obvious in so many ways.  Scott and his brother had developed a meaningful relationship, closer than just friendship.  Each seemed to fill a need in the other’s life that neither had even known was there.  Teresa had been, for all practical purposes, adopted as the kid sister they both adored.  The two brothers and their father were also finding their way to a relationship which included respect and affection, along with noisy clashes that were unavoidable between these strong-willed men.  Murdoch sometimes expressed his paternal nature by way of stern lectures and tongue-lashings, which while not appreciated by the two grown men (especially Johnny), were tolerated because of the love they could see behind their father’s harsh words.  With a suppressed giggle, Kate thought that even Jelly, with his crusty, outspoken ways and crazy pet goose, was a valued member of the family.

And that, Kate thought, shaking her head, was the crux of the matter and the concern that had brought her out here on her own today.  If truth be told, her dearest wish was to feel that she was a real, true part of this family she was growing to love.

In Boston, with her mother gone, Kate had come to regard Scott as her only family.  Her relationship with her grandfather was one she would rather not even think about.  But, here and now,  these people were, more and more,  filling what she had come to regard as an empty place in her heart.  The problem was: how did they regard her?  Of course she knew Scott loved her, and the others had all done so much to make her feel welcome.  They had been kind, friendly, and polite and she was certain they did care about her, but being a real part of a family was much more.

Kate was startled to notice that the sun was much lower in the sky than it had been when she began her musings.  Pushing to a standing position, she began her scramble down the slope.

Her rush to descend was due in no small part to feelings of guilt which were beginning to prick her as she remembered that she had left the ranch earlier without telling anyone of her plans.  Teresa was spending a few days helping out on a neighboring ranch where the mother of two young children had just been delivered of a third.  Scott and Johnny had worked the last several days leading crews on a massive round-up on the north range.  Murdoch had left this morning to check their progress.  Kate knew she should have sought out Jelly or at least left word with Maria or one of the few hands left at the hacienda, but at the time she had surrendered to her overwhelming urge to get away and do some thinking.  The important thing now was to return to the ranch house before anyone noticed she was missing.

Reaching her destination, Kate gazed with disbelief at the empty clearing.  “Oh, no,no,no!”  Where was Athena?  She was certain this was where she had left the mare.  Closer examination revealed hoof prints and some broken twigs.  Obviously the shrub she chose hadn’t been strong enough to hold the horse.  Her thoughts flashed to warnings issued by both Scott and Johnny concerning the importance of tethering her mount securely.  With a groan, she began trudging down the trail.

********

The only person to notice Athena’s return to her stall was Jelly.  He was in the midst of one of his usual tirades about being overworked and underappreciated when he spotted the mare trotting, riderless, into the barn.  After looking her over for any evidence of injury to her rider, he headed toward the house.  He had a quick word with Maria, then set out to find Murdoch.

Scott and Johnny were each in their room changing when they heard their father shouting on the stairs.  Entering the hallway half-dressed, they listened to his explanation.  “Jelly says no one saw her leave.  Maria hasn’t seen her since breakfast.  I’ve sent Jelly back out to round up some of the hands and begin saddling the horses. Meet us out by the barn.”

Johnny turned toward his brother with a worried expression. “This ain’t gonna be easy without at least knowing which direction she was headed.”

Scott’s face reflected his concern as he nodded his agreement and returned to his room to scramble into his clothes.

*******

Kate breathed a sigh of relief as she climbed down from the buckboard.  “Thank you again for the ride, Mr. Andrews.  I’d still be walking if you hadn’t come along.”

“I was glad to help, Miss Kate.  Surely lucky I came along before something worse happened to you all alone out there.”

Seeing no one in the stable yard, Kate made her way to the house.  Opening the door, she slipped inside and started across the room.

“Kate!” Her cousin’s voice stopped her in her tracks.  He and Johnny hurried down the stairs.  “Where have you been?”

Without giving her a chance to reply Johnny added, “And why didn’t you let someone know you were leaving?”

Kate forced a smile on her face.  Two pairs of eyes, one blue-gray and one deep sapphire, regarded her with steely determination.

“Now, boys,” Kate began walking toward the stairs as she talked.  “It was just a kind of oversight.  I only planned on a short, little ride and accidentally got separated from Athena.  I’m just glad she’s all right.  I’ll just change and get supper ready for everyone.”  She was getting closer to the stairs, but the expression on their faces didn’t lead her to believe she was likely to make an escape.

But before either brother could open his mouth to remonstrate further about her actions, all three of them were frozen in place by a loud bellow from directly outside the door.

“KATHERINE!’

Kate stiffened her spine and turned toward the door as Murdoch entered.

“Yes, Uncle Murdoch?”  She caught her breath as she took in the stern expression on his face.

“Young lady, I want to see you in my study immediately.  We are going to have a serious discussion about your lack of judgment, not to mention blatant disregard for your own safety.”

Kate moistened her lips.  “Oh, Uncle Murdoch, I don’t think …..”

“Katherine Darrington, in my study, now!”

Kate swallowed, “Yes, sir.”  Her voice was barely audible.

Murdoch turned his back and strode into his study.

Kate turned and directed a piteous look at her cousin.  Scott crossed his arms and regarded her with a slight smile playing about his lips. “Oh, no, little cousin,  you’re getting no help from me on this one.  You were foolish and reckless and you deserve every bit of the dressing down you’re about to get from Murdoch.”

In one last bid for support, or at least sympathy, Kate turned to Johnny.  There was a wide grin spread across his face.  Speaking in a conspiratory tone, he said, ”I’d get in there if I was you, Kate.”  He laid a friendly hand on her shoulder.  “I can tell you from experience, Murdoch don’t like to be kept waiting.”

As if to emphasis his point, Murdoch’s stentorian voice reached them. “KATHERINE!”

Kate flinched.  “Yes, sir.”  After one last mournful look, she stepped into the study, closing the door behind her.

Scott and Johnny looked at each other.  The strident tones of their father’s voice could be heard, even through the closed door.  “Drink, brother?” Scott asked.

“I could sure do with one,” Johnny answered.  “I think your cousin took about five years off my life with that little stunt.”

As they both sat down with a glass of Murdoch’s second best scotch, Johnny nodded in the direction of the closed study door.  “You think we were a kind of hard on her?  I’ve been on the receiving end of enough of Murdoch’s “discussions” to wonder if we should have given her just a little sympathy.”

Scott looked in the direction of their father’s voice.  “Kate won’t be any the worse for having to realize that taking risks and being irresponsible are going to get her into trouble.”  He gave his brother a meaningful glance.  “Some of us are still learning that lesson, aren’t we?”

Blue eyes dancing with mischief, Johnny protested, “You can’t be talking about me, brother.  It’s been a month of Sundays since Murdoch had to tear a strip off me like he’s doing to poor Kate there.”

Scott’s expression left no doubt as to his skepticism concerning his brother’s supposed innocence.  He glanced at the door again.  “Sounds like Murdoch might be winding down in there.”

Inside the study, Murdoch was indeed coming to the end of his long discourse.  Kate had spoken not at all apart from an occasional “No, sir” or “Yes, sir”.  A lot of ground had been covered, from her lack of common sense in leaving the compound without telling anyone to her carelessness in failing to secure her horse.  Murdoch came around his desk to stand in front of her.  “So it’s understood, young lady, you won’t be leaving here at all unless you are accompanied by me, Scott, Johnny or one of the hands.  That order stands until you have shown that you can behave in a responsible manner.”

Kate looked up.  “Does that mean I can stay?”

Murdoch looked puzzled. “ What do you mean – stay?”

“You’re not going to send me back to Boston?”

The gentle touch of Murdoch’s hand on her cheek was at odds with the stern tone of his voice as he said,” You’re not getting off that easily.  I expect your best behavior, so get any notion of leaving out of your mind.”

Before opening the door to leave, Kate turned to face her uncle one more time.

“Uncle Murdoch?”

“Yes?”

“I really am very sorry.”

Murdoch chuckled, “I’m sure you are, dear.  Now go get cleaned up for supper.”

Scott and Johnny both rose as Kate left the study.  She crossed the room and stood before them.  Looking up into their eyes, Kate took a deep breath.  “I want to apologize to you both.  It was inconsiderate of me to cause you to worry and,” she faltered, “when you tried to talk to me about it I was careless and flippant.”  Eyes cast down to her feet she concluded, “I’m very sorry.”

Scott put his finger beneath her chin and lifted her face until he could smile down at her.  “As long as you’ve learned your lesson about not placing yourself in a dangerous situation, you are definitely forgiven.”  He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Johnny reached out to pat her arm.  “I think you should go change so we can eat before Murdoch decides that sending you to bed without supper might be a good idea.”

Scott turned her around and sped her on her way with a sharp, swat on her jean-clad bottom.

In her room Kate paused in the midst of changing her clothes.  A tremulous smile crossed her lips.  “Well,” she thought, “they weren’t really welcoming, friendly, nice or polite, but I sure don’t have any doubts about being part of this family.”

 

Cousin Kate (Chapter 3)

Kate observed the other occupants of the room.  Teresa and Scott were absorbed in their chess match.  Murdoch had received a beautiful leather bound set of the complete works of Shakespeare as a birthday gift from his family and was enjoying some rare leisure time reading just for pleasure.

While her hands were busily engaged in embroidering a design for a new tablecloth, Kate’s thoughts were miles away.  Well, maybe not miles, but at least as far as the barn, where Johnny was tending to an ailing mare. It seemed, lately, that more and more often, Johnny had been finding a variety of excuses that kept him from joining the family when they gathered to share some time together in the evening.

Kate didn’t know if anyone else had noticed the same thing, but then, she admitted, she had her own reasons to be preoccupied with Johnny’s whereabouts.  Those reasons weighed heavily on her mind this evening.

She didn’t know exactly when or how it had happened, but there was no doubt in her mind that she was falling in love with Johnny Lancer.  Certainly, she hadn’t meant for it to happen, but there it was.

Kate remembered one incident just a few weeks ago.  She had finally convinced Scott and Johnny to give her some basic training with firearms.  They had both been drilling her in safety procedures, cleaning and loading, and had finally agreed to let her begin some target practice.  Scott had given her several lessons using the rifle, and Johnny had agreed to let her try shooting a pistol.  He had been explaining about proper stance and how to position her hands correctly on the gun.  At one point he put his arms around her, placing his hands over hers to adjust her aim.  Kate had to admit that most of his instructions had gone to waste, since she was unable to hear over the sound of her own heart pounding.  When he finally released her, and she turned to face him, Kate had been so sure, for a moment, that he had been similarly affected.  There was just something in his expression, but it was so fleeting and then it was gone.

In the days that followed, Johnny’s behavior had veered between maddeningly correct and just plain surly.

Kate caught her breath as the object of her hidden thoughts strode into the room.  His shirt was unbuttoned and Kate was guiltily aware of her inability to keep her eyes from lingering where they shouldn’t.

Coming to a stop in the middle of the room, Johnny asked, ”Teresa, I’ve got some scratches on my shoulders from clearing the brush in the riverbed, could you put some of your salve on to keep’em from getting infected?”

Teresa said distractedly, ”Sure, Johnny, I’ll just be a minute.  I’ve got Scott, here, almost ready to admit defeat.”

Scott sat back and directed a smug look at his opponent. “Oh, I think you might be in for a surprise, young lady.”

As the two of them gave their attention to the board, Kate laid aside her sewing.  “I’d be glad to put the salve on for you, Johnny,” she said.

His piercing glance was almost impossible to read, but his words were very plain.  In a harsh voice he said, “Hey, I don’t want to put anybody to any trouble.  I’ll just get Jelly to do it.” And he left the room as abruptly as he’d entered it.

There was silence for a moment as Scott and Teresa both stared toward the door Johnny had just slammed.  Murdoch, however, was beginning to rise, blustering, from his chair.  “I’ve had just about enough of his attitude.  Lately he’s been acting like a bear with a sore paw.  I’m not going to put up with rudeness towards ….”

While he was still speaking, Kate knelt by his chair.  Interrupting him she said, “Now, please, Uncle Murdoch, don’t get yourself all upset.  You and Teresa will be leaving on your Sacramento trip day after tomorrow.  You don’t want to spoil your last days here by getting into an unnecessary fight.  Johnny’s just being a little moody.  I’m sure he’ll be over it by the time you get back.”

Scott added his advice.  “Let me talk to him, Murdock.  I’ll try to see if he’ll tell me what’s bothering him.”

Murdoch settled back down in his chair.  “Well, I guess I’ll leave it up to you.  But if he’s still acting this way when I return next week, the two of us are going to have a serious discussion.”

The three younger people in the room shared some surreptitious eye-rolling as each recalled situations where they’d had a sample of Murdoch’s “serious discussions”.

The chess game ended with Teresa pleased by her victory and everyone turned in for the night.  Pausing in the hallway for a brief private word with her cousin, Kate said, “When you talk to Johnny, please tell him that if I’ve done anything to offend him, I’m truly sorry.”

Scott reassured her, “Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing serious.  He just needs a little talking to from his big brother.”

So Kate retired to her bedroom to spend yet another night tossing and turning with no resolution to her problem.

The next day found Kate very busy as she helped Teresa pack and made certain all the domestic details were organized for the next week.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Kate found herself in the barn climbing the ladder that led to the loft.  Once there, she began looking through a large trunk for the battered old carpetbag Teresa had described.  Concentrating on her search, she didn’t notice the voices in the background getting steadily louder until she heard Scott say, “…. like a pony with a burr under its saddle for over a week.”  There was a pause and just as Kate was about to make her presence known Scott continued, “Kate thinks maybe she’s done something to get you riled, and if so, she’s sorry.”

This time Johnny replied and Kate was startled to hear the venom in his voice.  “So the two of ya been talking about me behind my back?  As if you hadn’t already shot off your mouth enough.”

Scott’s voice sounded puzzled.  “What the hell does that mean?”

Johnny, still sounding furious, continued, “All those letters you sent her durin’ the first couple a years we were here, you just had ta tell her everything, right?  All about how bad I had it as a kid, about the things Madrid’s done… I’ve done.  The kind of life I’ve led….”  As his diatribe ended, his voice sounded simply hollow.

There was a rustling sound and from the corner of her eye, Kate saw Scott sit down on a bale of hay.  “You’re right,” He spoke as if from a great distance.  “It started when I was serving in the war.  I would write long letters that detailed my experience and send them to Kate.”  There was pain in his voice now.  “It was an unforgivable thing to do, burdening a girl of that age with the haunting images of that war.  But at the time, sending her those letters, and receiving he calm and loving replies, well, it was a life line.  I felt like I was still connected to the man I had been before going through the horrors of that war.”

“So”, he went on in a conciliatory tone, “when I arrived here at Lancer, I’m afraid my old habit continued.  But, of course, I can see your point. I may have been writing to a trusted confidant, but she was a stranger to you and I had no right to reveal anything about your personal life without asking your permission.  I’m sorry.”

Kate could tell by the rustling that Johnny had seated himself on the hay bale, too.  “No, Scott, it’s OK.”  I’m just glad you had someone who was there for you when you needed it.”  There was a pause.  “She is something, isn’t she?”  There was something in the inflection of his voice that set her heart pounding once more.  Scott’s voice held an obvious question when he said, “Johnny?”

“Oh, hell, Scott, it just snuck up on me.  I don’t know how I let it happen.”  He gave a grim chuckle. “It may have started back when we watched her going at it with that damn chicken.  She’s feisty!  She has courage and determination, and she’s sweet and smart.”  He broke off then began again.  “But I don’t want you to worry.  It hit me hard to begin with but I got it under control.  I’ll go back to treating her just like I always did and she’ll never know.”

Scott’s voice, confused, “ Wait, Johnny.  Why don’t you want her to know?  Seems like you’d want to find out her feelings and….”

She heard Johnny jump up from his seat.

“So I can do what, ruin her life””

He began pacing. “A girl like that, raised like she’s been raised, like you’ve been raised.  She has money, brains and a good background.  How could I let her throw that away for a has-been gunhawk?”

There was more than a hint of emotion in Scott’s reply.  “Johnny, I’ve said this before but I guess you just need to keep hearing it.  Not only am I proud to call you my brother, I am lucky to count you as my friend.  You are an honorable and loyal man with an innate intelligence that doesn’t rely on mere education.  There is no reason that any woman would be ashamed to encourage your advances, if she loved you.”

Johnny’s voice expressed his gratitude, but his words were firm.  “I appreciate that more than I can say, brother.  But the fact remains, I’ve led the kind of life I have and hers has been totally different.  She doesn’t know what she’d be getting into and I’m not going to let her make that sacrifice.”

He spoke with firm decision. “Please, Scott, promise me you won’t say anything about this. Let me handle it my way.”

As the two began leaving the barn, she could just hear Scott saying, “Well, I still don’t agree with your thinking, but it’s your life.”

Kate remained seated for some time, coming to terms with all she had overheard.  So many emotions were warring within her that she needed a while to process them.  There was definitely joy; to hear Johnny declare his love for her had set her pulse racing.  But, after a bit, she was overcome by a feeling of righteous indignation.  “So he’s going to save me from myself,” she muttered. “How noble!  Never mind that I don’t get any say in the matter at all.  It’s just my life.  Well, Johnny Lancer, you may be willing to be a martyr for love, but I’m not going to let sacrifice either of us.”

Soon she was busy considering and discarding various strategies.  Simply declaring her love for him was not an option.  It was possible he would even leave the ranch if he thought he’d be doing it to protect her.  Kate was also determined not to involve Scott.  It would never do for Johnny to believe his brother would betray him in that way.

Finally she picked herself up, dusted herself off and retrieved the carpet bag, confident in her ability to come up with some kind of a plan.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 4)

By the next day, Kate had to concede that Johnny was as good as his word.  He seemed to be back to his old self.  Even Murdoch commented on the improvement.  His behavior towards Kate was back to the teasing manner of an adopted brother or cousin.

The arrangements for the day’s trip to town had been laid out the night before.  Scott was needed on the ranch to supervise some repairs.  Murdoch, Teresa and Kate were driving to town in the buckboard with Johnny accompanying them on Barranca.  After seeing Murdoch and Teresa onto the stage, Kate and Johnny would each attend to various errands in town and meet at the general store.

Kate had just left the dressmaker’s shop.  After her fitting, Miss Emily had urged her to stay for tea, but she was able to politely refuse the dressmaker’s invitation explaining that she had to meet Johnny at the General Store. Hurrying down the street, she was startled to hear an unfamiliar male voice behind her, calling her name.

Turning, she faced a tall, dark-haired man.  “Drew!“ she exclaimed.

He crossed the distance between them in two long strides and enveloped her in a hug, which she returned enthusiastically.  However, as he showed every indication of prolonging the embrace indefinitely, Kate placed her hands on his chest and pressed firmly.  She stepped back and gazed in surprise.

“Drew, what in the world are you doing here in Morro Coya?”

“Why, darlin, I’ve come looking for you, of course.  How could you doubt it?” The man had a strong, but seductive voice with just a hint of an Irish accent.

Kate’s face conveyed all the skepticism she felt as she told him, “If, by that, you mean you found out that I’ve turned twenty-one and have taken possession of my parent’s inheritance, you’ve wasted your time.  I’m not going to marry you.”

Looking wounded, Drew said, “Kate, love, what would make you say such things?”

Using her fingers to tick off each item, Kate listed her reasons.  “You’re a womanizer, a gambler and a fortune hunter.  You have no ethics and a most self-serving set of morals.  Add to that a tendency to drink too much and a taste for brawling and ….”  Kate shrugged.

Drew tried hard to assume a crestfallen expression but only succeeded in looking a bit sheepish.  He gave a rakish grin.  “Oh, well, you never gain anything if you don’t at least make the attempt.  And I was planning on going to San Francisco anyway, so this little detour was barely out of my way.”

Kate had been thinking furiously as he talked and when he finished she said, “I may have an opportunity for you to walk away with a little profit from your time here.  Say a hundred dollars”

“And what would I have to do to earn this little windfall?” he inquired cautiously.

“Just be my “fate worse than death” for about a week,” Kate replied.

Taking his arm, Kate led him to a bench outside the hotel and spent a few minutes explaining her situation and his role in resolving it.

“So let me be sure I understand you,” Drew rubbed his chin.  “You want me to make this Galahad of yours jealous?”

“His name is Johnny,” she reprimanded him.  “And making him jealous is just part of it.  There are many fine, upstanding young men around here who would probably respond to any interest on my part, but that wouldn’t be enough.  Johnny needs to believe that I am getting into a situation that would be worse than what he thinks he has to offer.”

“In others words a reprobate and a scoundrel.”

Kate nodded, “See, I told you you’d be perfect for the role.”

Drew looked at her very closely.  “This would sound like a very easy way to earn that one hundred dollars, except I think there is a little something you left out of your explanation.  I did a little checking when I came into town.  I wanted to know your exact situation before approaching you.  People here were happy to talk about the Lancers, how the old man brought his two sons back to be partners in his ranch.  I realized the son from Boston had to be your cousin Scott.  They also told me that while the younger son goes by Johnny Lancer now, Johnny Madrid was hell in a handbasket when it came to that gun of his.”

Firing up, Kate said forcefully, “Well, they would never tell you that Johnny, Madrid or Lancer, is a backshooter or would force any man into a gun battle if he…”

“Whoa, now!  Whatever you say, I’m sure he’s just a paragon of virtue.” Drew soothed her.

Kate gave a small laugh.  “Well, I’m not going to go that far.”  She considered his concerns a bit further.  “I really don’t think Johnny would threaten to shoot you, but I don’t want you taking any chances with either of your lives.  If there is a confrontation and you believe there is any chance of gunplay, you tell him the truth about what I did.”

Drew looked dubious.  “You think he’d believe me?”

Looking a bit abashed Kate replied, ”He knows me pretty well.  He’ll believe you.  But I can’t guarantee that he won’t try to warn you off by using his fists.”

“I may not be a match for Johnny Madrid with pistols, but there is no man I back down to when it comes to a lovely, down-and-dirty bare knuckles brawl.” Drew bragged.

After arranging a few more details, Kate and Drew walked down to the general store.  Johnny had finished loading the wagon and was talking to the storekeeper about ordering some additional supplies as the couple entered the store.  His eyes narrowed at he noted the familiar way this man had his arm around Kate’s waist.

“Johnny, you won’t believe what just happened.  I just ran into an old friend from Boston.”  As the two men faced each other, she said, “Johnny, this is Andrew Kennedy.  Drew, this is Johnny Lancer.”

Andrew extended his hand and Johnny clasped it after only a momentary pause.

“It’s certainly wonderful to meet part of Kate’s new found family out here.  She really seems to be enjoying her visit out west.”  Drew smiled in a friendly manner.

Johnny was studying the man carefully as he replied.  “We’re all real pleased that Kate’s decided to make her home here at Lancer.”  He continued, “So just what brings you all the way out here from Boston?”

“Oh, I’m on my way to San Francisco on business, but I think I’ve found an even more important reason for staying here in Morro Coya, at least for a week or so.” Drew smiled at Kate.

Glancing at the two men, Kate said to Drew, “I’ll meet you outside your hotel tomorrow at noon.  You can rent a horse from the livery stable and I’ll give you a tour of the countryside.”

Drew took her hand in his.  “I’m looking forward to it.”  As he turned to leave, he nodded in Johnny’s direction.  “Nice to meet you, Lancer.”

Johnny nodded back.  “Same, here.”

The trip to Lancer was accomplished for the most part in silence and when they arrived, Kate left Johnny to supervise the unloading of the supplies and went to help with supper preparations.

As she, Johnny and Scott ate supper together, Kate brought up the topic of Drew, describing for Scott their meeting in town.

Johnny’s head came up.  “So, how’d you meet this guy anyway?”

Kate considered.   “I’m sure I met him at some function or other, although I can’t even remember for sure right now who introduced us.  Drew is really a fascinating character.  He’s led such a varied life.  His family came here from Ireland when he was very young.  Unfortunately, he was orphaned not too long after their arrival, and he’s really been on his own ever since.  He certainly didn’t have an easy life when he was young.  I guess you could say Drew has done a little bit of everything, including serving for a time in the army of the Confederacy during the war.” She smiled.  “When it comes to making money, Drew just seems to manage to come out on top.  I’m not sure how.”

“I’ve seen his type a time or two,” Johnny sneered, “and I’d be willing to bet gambling is how he gets a biggest share of his bankroll.  That along with other things that are even less legal.”

“That’s a pretty big assumption.” Kate said mildly.

Johnny stood up and threw his napkin on the table. “Well, maybe you should be finding some things out for sure, then nobody would be having to make assumptions.”  He looked at Scott.  “Seems to me you ought to be finding out what kind of man your cousin is going to be off spending the day with alone.”  And on that he strode out of the dining room.

Scott looked at Kate who had sat calmly through this tirade.   His eyes were intelligent and questioning.  “I sure hope you know what you are doing, little cousin.”  He finally said quietly.

Kate stood and began clearing the table.  “I hope so too, Scott, more than you know.”

******

Over the next several days, Kate and Drew met often.  They went riding, had dinner in town, and went on picnics.

At the same time Johnny was working harder on the ranch than any two hands put together.  He came home exhausted, said little at the supper table and went to bed immediately after.

One morning, Kate mentioned that she had invited Drew to have supper at Lancer that evening.  Johnny stated sullenly that he had to check some fencing on the north range and would be spending the night at the line shack there.

That evening Kate, Drew and Scott had a quiet evening of dinner and conversation.

The next day, Scott rode out to help Johnny with the fencing.  The job was almost complete.  As they were taking a break together, Johnny turned to Scott.  “So, what do you think is going on with Kate and this joker?”

Scott replied seriously, “She certainly seems interested in him, but she hasn’t confided in me as far as her intentions.”

Johnny snorted.  “His intentions seem pretty clear.  He’s interested in her money and taking it any way he can.  How can you allow Kate to even go near a loser like that?”

“Well, Johnny, you made a decision about how you wanted to handle your relationship with Kate.  I respected that and agreed to let you run your own life.  I have to accord Kate that same respect.  She’s a grown woman now and I have to let her run her own life, too.”  Scott grinned.  “The time when I could lock her in her room or take her over my knee has past.”

Scott stood up.  “Of course, how you decide to handle things is up to you.”

Johnny rode into town that night, and it was very late when Kate heard the door to his room slam shut.  Johnny was already gone when Kate went down to make breakfast that morning.

That afternoon Kate met Drew for a picnic and learned where Johnny had been the previous evening.

“Well, my dear, I had a visit last night from your young Galahad… I mean Johnny,” he amended at her sharp glance.

“I was sitting in the saloon when young Mr. Lancer pulled up a chair at my table.”  Drew looked at her.  “I’m sure Johnny Madrid has been able to intimidate many a man with a look from those steely, ice-cold eyes.  You almost fancy you see death looking you in the face.”

Kate nodded.  “Obviously, since you’re sitting here, death didn’t visit.  So what did happen?’

“We had a discussion.  He attempted to convince me that it would be better for my health if I left Morro Coya and didn’t try to see you anymore.”  Drew grimaced.  “I relied greatly on your estimation of his character when I faced down that threat.  I told him that I thought it was up to you who you could see.”

Drew looked at Kate.  “I also hinted that I had made an offer to you and if you accepted you might be leaving with me.  I hope I didn’t overplay your hand, my dear.”

Kate stared off into the distance.  “What did he say to that?”

“I really did see my life pass before my eyes for a moment.” Drew admitted, “But, he ended by warning me that if he ever heard I’d done anything to hurt you, he’d hunt me down and but a bullet between my eyes.  Let me tell you, I believed him.”

Kate stood, brushing the dirt from her skirts.  Drew stood also and said.  “Well, darling, a week’s time is almost up.  Where do you go from here?”

“Away from Lancer, if this plan doesn’t work.”  She finally got the words out.  “Could you come out to the ranch this evening?  I will have your hundred dollars for you.”

There were tears in her eyes as she finished.  “I just can’t stay at Lancer any more unless things change.  If all this has been for nothing, I’d like to ask for your escort to San Francisco.  Once I’m there I’ll decide what do to and where to go.”

Drew took her hands.  “Of course, I’ll do that, darling.  But don’t give up yet.  The game’s not over till the last card’s been played.”

*******

When Kate arrived back at the hacienda, she went to her room and started packing some things.  She could by the sounds of footsteps and doors opening and closing that Scott and Johnny were changing for supper.

Both men were in the great room when she entered.  Scott sitting on the sofa reading and Johnny had a drink in his hand.

“I have something to tell you both,” she began.  “This isn’t easy and I suppose it will come as a big surprise to you both.  I am counting on you to tell Teresa and Uncle Murdoch how much I am going to miss them since I won’t be here when they get back.”

 

Before she could continue, Johnny flung his glass down where it shattered on the stone fireplace.  The words seeming to be torn out of him he groaned, “If you had to take up with some fool who wasn’t worthy of you, why……?”  His words trailed off and he headed for the door.

But Kate was there before him.  She placed her hands firmly on his chest.  “Oh, no you don’t, Johnny Lancer.  You’re not leaving here until you finish that sentence.  If I had to take up with some fool who wasn’t worthy of me, why what?”  she demanded.

He refused to meet her eyes.  “Why not me?”

Kate put her hands on his shoulders.  When he finally did look at her, she wasted no time in bringing her lips to his.  Her mouth more and more insistent, she wound her arms around his neck.  Then his arms tightened around her and she found her kiss being returned with great passion.  When she had the breath to speak again she whispered, “The answer to your question is that you never asked me.”

At Scott’s gentle throat clearing, they stepped back from one another, but still held hands.  Johnny looked as if he still didn’t believe what had just happened.  Kate smiled at him.  “You have held my heart for such a long time.  But I didn’t know if I could convince you to keep it.”

It was at this point that Drew entered.  He swept the room with a glance and looked questioningly at Kate.  “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

With a final squeeze of Johnny’s hand, Kate turned toward Drew.  She took an envelope from her pocket and handed it to him.  “The best hundred dollars I ever spent. Have a safe trip to San Francisco.”

Drew accepted the envelope and looked down at her.  “Ah, darling, I would be willing to give up the hundred dollars if I could convince you to come with me.  I’d  even be willing to give twice that amount if I could get you to look at me like you look at young Lancer there.”  He started making his way towards the door. “But since that obviously is not to be, I’ll take this money and be happy to be leaving with my skin in one piece.”

At the door he stopped for a moment and said with a twinkle, “Of course, if you do change your mind, I’ll be in San Francisco for some time to come.” On those words, he left.

Kate watched the dawning comprehension in Johnny’s eyes. “So that was all some big plan?”  he glared at her.

“Well, it wasn’t great, but it was the only plan I could come up with to get you to stop acting like the biggest fool God ever put on this earth.” Kate was starting to work up a little wrath of her own.  “I overheard your noble intentions of giving me up, for my own good, without even letting me have any say in the matter.”

“Then you never even planned to go off with him?”  Johnny growled.

“Oh, I was going off, all right.  Maybe not with him, but I wasn’t going to stay any longer at this ranch loving you and having you just …..”

Johnny began talking at the same time.   “What kind of a hare-brained scheme was that anyway.  What did you think…”

At this point Scott interrupted both of them.  “I don’t think you two need a chaperone for this.  And since there may be a time or two in the future when you will need one, I think I’ll go start resting up right now.”  And he turned his back and walked toward the door.

Pausing, just before he pulled the door closed behind him, Scott took a final glance back.  His cousin and his brother were once more in each other arms and were wasting no more time with talk.

Scott closed the door and climbed the stairs with a satisfied smile on his face.

 

Cousin Kate (part 5)

“Damn, damn, damn!”

The words seemed loud and stark in the quiet of the clearing.  Kate was conscious of a feeling of relief that no one was present to witness her lapse from lady-like behavior.  However, as the throbbing pain in her hand reminded her, that would not be true for much longer.  She had been kneeling next to the creek, soaking her hand in the ice-cold water for some time now, and she knew it was time to go home and face the music.

Suppressing a groan, she stood up and examined her hand.  Nobody was going to be happy with her, Uncle Murdoch, Scott, Johnny….. Johnny.  Even now, with her whole arm aching worse than anything she’d ever felt, all it took was the thought of him to make her knees weak and leave her feeling giddy.  Johnny—when he smiled at her with those deep blue eyes….  Kate shook her head.  Johnny was unlikely to be smiling at her anytime in the near future.  He would probably have no compunction about turning her over to Uncle Murdoch for the lecture she deserved.  Stifling a sigh, Kate mounted her horse and headed back to Lancer.

There were voices coming from the open door as Kate approached the kitchen.  She could hear Teresa’s laughter ringing out and her cousin’s voice followed.  “Well, be that as it may, little brother, I’d like to hear a bit more respectful tone coming from you.”

Johnny’s answer was a slow drawl.  “Why, Scott, I got nothing but respect for a man who can handle Miz Henderson like you did.”

Kate moved into the doorway.  Johnny was seated on a kitchen chair which he had tipped back, balancing himself on its two rear legs.  Scott was leaning against the table.  In a voice dripping with sarcasm he remarked, “Well, I didn’t see you getting anywhere in range of that damned harridan and her double barrel shotgun.”

Johnny’s eyes danced.  “Hey, I’m younger.  That don’t make me stupid.”

Any retort Scott may have planned was interrupted when Teresa spotted her standing at the door.  “Kate, I was expecting you back from town a while ago.  Did your fitting with Miss Emily take longer than you expected?  She gossips more than any two women I know.”

Johnny’s chair landed on the floor with a thump as he turned to face the door.  Meeting his eyes, Kate knew that he was instantly aware that something was wrong.

However, it was Teresa who first took note of her swollen hand.  “Kate, what happened?”  she exclaimed.

Before Kate was able to open her mouth to speak, the three people in the room took action.  Johnny seated her in the chair he had just vacated, Scott began to gently examine her hand and Teresa started gathering those medical supplies that might be needed.

Scott finally repeated Teresa’s inquiry.  “I think a couple of these fingers may be broken.  What happened?”

Kate swallowed.  “Well, I hit something…..”

A voice interrupted her.  “She sure did!”

No one had noticed Murdoch enter the room with Val Crawford, and Val’s comment produced silence for a moment.  Then Murdoch rumbled, “Val here came out from town to see Kate.”  His eyes took in the scene at the table.  There was concern on his face, but his voice was firm as he asked, “What’s this about Val?”

Kate gazed uncertainly at the lawman.  “You haven’t come to arrest me, have you, Val?”

The sheriff tried unsuccessfully to hide the grin on his face.  “Well, I reckon I’d have cause for it if I did.  Don’t know how they do things back East, but in Green River, we have laws against brawling in the public streets.”

As everyone in the room stared at her in disbelief, Kate felt her face grow hot.

Grinning even more broadly, Val continued, “But I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I ain’t never seen a sight quite like that before and I don’t reckon I ever will again.”

Murdoch cleared his throat loudly and Val hurried into speech once more.  “I was sitting in my office when Hal rushed in all excited.  It seems Griff Peters….”

Murdoch broke in.  “Griff Peters?”

Scott spoke up.  “He’s the hand we fired a couple days back, Murdoch.”

“We gave him a try because we were short some men.  We’ve needed extra help in the north range.”  Johnny’s voice hardened, “He was purely a waste, though.  Lazy, drunk on the job a couple times and caused more fights than any two hands on the place.”

Val continued, “Hal said Griff had been drinking hard and had caused such a ruckus at the saloon that Joe, the bartender, tossed him out.  According to Hal, Griff was out in the street ranting and cussing everything Lancer up one side and down the other.”

 

“I headed out to the street aiming to settle him down, maybe toss’em in a cell until he sobered up.  There was quite a commotion coming from the front of the general store.  As I got closer I could see Kate on the porch.  Griff was standing on the steps between her and her horse, and it was just like Hal said.  He was calling Murdoch, Scott and Johnny about every kind of low down scum he could think of.  I was just pushing my way between the folks standing around when I heard him start in on Miss Teresa.”

Val looked towards where Teresa was standing and ducked his head.  “If I’d got my hands on him I reckon I’d of done a bit more than was legal myself, but I didn’t get a chance.”

He looked back towards Kate.  “I never seen anything quite like it.  She threw one almighty punch; landed a strong right square on his jaw.”  He shook his head. “Ole Griff, he went over backwards, landed flat on his back and never stirred after that.  Kate just stepped over him, mounted up and rode out of town, never lookin back.”

The silence that followed his words was broken when Johnny made his comment, with equal parts awe and amusement.  “One punch!”

Kate rolled her eyes.  “He was so drunk he was ready to fall over on his own.  I just gave him a little help.”  She paused a moment and then said uneasily, “And besides I….”

Her voice trailed off as Val tossed a small metal rod on the table.  It was about three inches long and an inch in diameter.  “After I’d told a couple of the boys to carry Griff over to the jail, I noticed this lying on the porch just where Kate’d been standing.

Scott picked it up, measuring its weight.  “You hit him with this inside your fist?  Not exactly Marquis of Queensbury rules, cousin,” he grinned.

Taking the lead weight from his brother, Johnny demanded, “Dios, Kate, didn’t you realize what would happen to your hand if you used this?”

Kate lifted her chin.  “I didn’t think.  I’d found that on the porch.  I thought someone had dropped it and was planning to return it to the store.  Before I could do it that idiot started in on all of you and I just reacted.”

Val picked the weight back up.  “Well, I just wanted to make sure Kate made it back here OK.  Figured she might of had some trouble controlling her horse with a broken hand.  I’ll be keeping Griff overnight, and in the morning I’ll set’em loose with a warning to move on.”  He chuckled.  “I don’t reckon he’ll be anxious to stay around anyways.  He won’t be living this down for quite a while.”

Murdoch put a hand on his shoulder.  “We thank you for looking out for Kate.”  He looked around the kitchen.  “I’ll leave it to you all to see that our heavyweight champ there gets proper medical treatment.”

Kate slumped in her chair as her cousin turned to her.  “I’m going to have to wrap that hand tightly to immobilize it,” he explained.  A look passed between Scott and his brother, and Johnny took her uninjured hand it his.  “Querida, you just look me in the eye and squeeze my hand as hard as you need.”

Thus began the painful process.  Scott did his job as gently as possible, but Kate thought she had never felt such pain.  Through it all she lost herself in Johnny’s blue eyes, squeezing his hand and listening to him murmur endearments in Spanish.

When it was over, she sat there, drained.  Teresa stood with her hands on her hips.  “You look exhausted.  We’re going upstairs.  I’ll help you get ready for bed and bring up some stew for your supper.”

A short while later Kate was sitting up in bed while Teresa adjusted the pillows behind her back.  On the table was a tray with a bowl of stew and some fresh baked rolls.

The door opened and Johnny stepped inside.  “I’ll sit with her and bring the tray down when she’s finished.”

Teresa smoothed the quilt and gave Kate a gentle hug.  “Rest well, and thanks for defending my good name.”  Smiling, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

It wasn’t until Johnny sat in the chair at her bedside that Kate noticed he was holding a brown bottle and spoon.  “Oh, no, Johnny, I don’t need any laudanum.”  Her voice trailed off as she took in his expression.  He wasn’t going to give an inch.  Meekly she swallowed the dose of vile tasting liquid.  Looking just a little resentful, she muttered, “You’re the one who always digs your heels in and refuses to take that stuff.”

Johnny set the tray with her food across her lap.  “Yep, and Doc Jenkins always cusses me out good n’ proper when I do.  You don’t want him chewing you out when he examines you tomorrow.”

Kate hesitated in the process of clumsily feeding herself with her left hand.  “But I don’t need to have Doc …”

Implacably, Johnny interrupted her.  “I want Doc to take a look at that hand.  Tomorrow I’ll drive you into town so he can examine it.”

This time Kate put the spoon down as she looked at him in dismay.  “I can’t go into town tomorrow.  Everyone will have heard what happened.  They’ll all be talking about me, and….”

With a crooked smile, Johnny nodded, “Getting a reputation can be easy; living with it can be the hard part.”  He put the spoon back in her hand and patted her cheek.  “I’ll be with you, querida.  Just remember that.”

And that is the thought she took with her as the drugged induce fog overcame her, and she just barely felt his kiss on her lips.

********

Kate actually enjoyed the ride into town the next day.  The ranch was a big place, but with so many people around, the chance to be totally alone with Johnny never went unappreciated.  They traveled in a leisurely manner; Johnny with his arm around Kate and she with her head on his shoulder.

The visit to Doc Jenkins was painful in more ways than one.  As he gently examined her injured hand, she received the mandatory lecture.  “I had hoped that you would be a calming influence on that one,” nodding at Johnny, “and he would be less of a magnet for trouble.  I didn’t think it would work out the other way, and I’d be having to patch you up every other day because of some wild stunt or other.”

“You have broken bones in at least two of those fingers.” Doc informed her.  “I’m going to wrap these securely and I want you to wear a sling for the time being, to help keep your hand immobilized.”  At her grimace he said more firmly, “You WILL wear the sling at all times, except when you’re in bed.”

Johnny laughed.  ”I’ll see to it,” he promised.  “Can Kate stay here and rest while I go load up some supplies and check on a job the blacksmith is doing for us?’

“Of, course,” Doc said.  “I have to go pay a few calls, but she can stay here as long as needed.”

With a quick kiss, Johnny left her in Doc’s capable hands and headed out the door.

**********

Hours later, Doc Jenkins returned to find Johnny pacing his floor.  “Doc, I can’t find Kate anywhere,”

Startled, the doctor stared at him blankly.  “What do you mean, you can’t find her?”

“When I came back here to take her back to Lancer, she wasn’t here.”  Johnny spread his hands helplessly.  “I have spent the last few hours searching everywhere in Green River. Val’s been helping me.   We’ve asked everyone and no one has seen her. There are search parties checking some of the outlying areas.  Val sent one of his men out to the ranch to make sure she didn’t go back there somehow.”

Just then the door burst open.  Scott and Murdoch strode in, both looking anxious.  “What’s happened,” Scott demanded.  “Hal rode out and told us that Kate has disappeared.”

Johnny explained the circumstances.  “Well, she can’t just have dropped off the face of the earth.”  Murdoch chimed in, “What is being done to find her?”

When the door opened again, Val entered.  Everyone in the room knew from the expression on his face that the news was bad.  “Johnny, Scott, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but I’m afraid sometime terrible has happened.”  Each man in the room seemed frozen in place as Val revealed the tragic facts.

“One of the search parties spotted smoke and tracked it down to the old Matthews place.  It’s been deserted for years.  By the time they got there, the house had burned pretty near down to the ground.  They searched the grounds and found Griff Peter’s body in the barn.  He’d been trampled to death by his horse.  Maybe he was drunk and on the ground when the animal spooked.  We don’t really know.  They went through his pockets and found this.”  Val pulled out a heart-shaped necklace with several inlaid diamonds.

“That’s Kate’s necklace,” Scott added, “It belonged to her mother.  She never took it off.”

Val’s voice shook a little as he went on.  “They also found this.”  This time he showed them a blouse covered in blood.

Johnny swore. “No!”

Swallowing hard, Val went on, “They were able to get far enough into the house to tell there was a body in there.  Not much left of it, but it appears to be a woman.”

*********

The horses pounded steadily, pulling the coach down the road at a clipping rate.  A lone horseman raced alongside and signaled the driver to stop.  As the rider dismounted, the door to the coach opened and an older woman descended.  Have you taken care of all the details?” she asked the man.

“Everything went as planned,” he replied.  “How about the girl, she still unconscious?”

The woman gave him a severe look.  “I know what I am doing,” she stated.  “She will be sedated for hours yet.” 

“Good,” the man nodded, “by that time we will be on the private car.  Once the train is headed east, we won’t have anything to worry about.”

The woman entered the coach once more and both rider and wagon continued to travel east.

 

Cousin Kate (Chapter 5)

Johnny blinked as the sunlight flooded his eyes.  He struggled to clear his sleep-fogged brain.  Clarity returned to him slowly, and he felt more than a little annoyed by this. During his past life as Johnny Madrid he had trained himself to be alert immediately upon waking; his survival had often depended on that ability.  Even a night of heavy drinking, the effects of which he could now feel physically, should not have made any difference.  

It was only as he glanced around the room and saw Scott passed out in the nearby overstuffed chair that the memories came rushing back.  He sucked in his breath and fought against the empty ache in his heart, an ache that intensified as he recalled the events of the previous day:  Val reluctantly informing them of the grisly discovery at the Matthews place; the harrowing journey to town with the wagon bearing what remained of the two bodies, going over and over the evidence and each time coming to the same unthinkable conclusion.  Kate was dead.

With no way to identify the body, they had to rely on the facts they did know.  Doc Jenkins had left Kate sleeping in his office.  Val had released Griff Peters that morning with a warning to clear out of town.  It was reported that Griff had delayed his departure long enough to get drunk at the saloon and threaten all the Lancers, Kate in particular, with violent revenge.  While positive identification could be made of the necklace and bloodstained blouse found near Peters’ trampled corpse, the body in the house was too badly burned to make any identification.  But nobody had held out any hope.

Johnny sat with his head in his hands.  They had returned to the ranch and broken the news to Teresa and Jelly.  When Teresa’s tears had finally dried, Murdoch had tenderly accompanied her upstairs, insisting she at least try to get some sleep.  That left Johnny and his brother together in the great room.  In silent accord, Johnny just watched as Scott brought the bottle of brandy and poured two generous portions.  That night they grieved together, talking some, sharing stories and drinking until sleep finally brought them a measure of peace.

Now Johnny could hear sounds coming from the kitchen.  He knew Teresa and Maria were dealing with their pain in the age-old way of womankind, preparing food for the upcoming period of grief.  The noise caused Scott to stir and then fully awaken.  The brothers’ eyes met, though no words were spoken, and silently acknowledged their determination to somehow help the other get through this day.  The sound of leaden footsteps drew their gaze to the stairs, and they watched Murdoch descend.

As they stood there, it seemed that each was waiting for one of the others to speak of the grim tasks that needed to be undertaken.  Their silence was broken by the sound of horses approaching, soon followed by a knock at the door.

Murdoch led Val Crawford and Doc Jenkins into the room and it was immediately apparent that something had changed.  Sam spoke first.  “I’ve come to tell you that it’s my professional opinion that the body sitting in my office is not Kate.”

The three men looked at each other, hardly daring to believe.  Johnny said, “What do you mean, Sam? How can you know that?”

There was compassion in Sam’s voice as he replied, “I knew how hard it was going to be on all of you not to have a positive identification; that you could never really move on with out knowing for sure.  I decided see whether a post-mortem examination would help me make that determination.”

Scott’s voice betrayed his emotion.  “But how could you tell anything from what was left.”

“But the bones remained, and it was the bones that told the story.”  The doctor explained, “First I closely examined the fingers of the hand Kate had broken.  The bones in that hand were intact.  Then I conducted a complete examination of the remaining skeletal structure.  The bones in the hand may have been intact, but this woman had evidence of multiple fractures.  Her arm, ribs and jaw all showed signs of having been broken and healing badly at some point in her past.  That’s when I went to Val.  I had a strong suspicion I knew who this woman really was.”

He gave them all a steady look.  “You know that I provide examinations for the women who work at Nancy’s place.”

The men nodded.  Most in town looked down at the inhabitants of the local bordello, but Doc encouraged them to come to him for treatment, charging little or nothing for his services.

“I have had occasion to examine Delores more than once and I was able to convince her to give me a brief version of her medical history.”  Sam grimaced, “She was not much older than Kate, but a life of abuse had left her with a badly battered body.  And the old injuries she described matched exactly the condition of those remains.”

Val continued, “Doc asked me to do some checking and it turns out that Delores left town just two days ago.  She told a couple of the other girls that she had met a real well-to-do man who had promised to take care of her in style.  She didn’t give no other description, but nobody with eyes could have described Griff Peters that way.”

Still confused but with dawning hope, Scott expressed what they were all thinking.  “But if that body is Delores…..”

Johnny interrupted, his thoughts pushing ahead, “Someone must have planted Kate’s things there.  This has all been a set up.”

It was at this point that Hal rushed into the room and announced, “Val, you gotta come back to town.  We got a witness!”

*********************

The sheriff’s office was extremely crowded at the moment.  Val and Sam were there along with all three of the Lancer men.  And the object of their scrutiny was quaking in his shoes, his demeanor clearly indicating that he expected to be thrown into one of the empty cells at any time.

It was Johnny who got down on one knee and spoke to him at eye level.  “Now, Tommy, I want you to take it easy.  Nobody here is going to hurt you.  We just have a couple of questions for you.”  He cast a questioning glance at the woman standing with her hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Etta Chambers spoke with real regret.  “Mr. Lancer, I am so sorry.  I didn’t even hear about the young lady’s disappearance until my neighbor, Mrs. Anderson, told me about it this morning.  That’s when I realized I had to come to the sheriff.”

Scott requested calmly, “Please just tell us what you know.”

“Tommy came home yesterday afternoon.  He was already in trouble because he was late doing his chores.  His clothes were torn and he had a pocketful of apples.”  Mrs. Chambers frowned, “He has been warned several times about not climbing the apple tree in the Doctor’s back yard and stealing apples.  This time he knew he had more than just a warning coming.  I told him to go cut a switch and meet me back behind the barn.  He starting spinning me a tale about being up in the tree and seeing a big fancy coach pull up behind Doc’s place.  He said a man went in and came out carrying a lady; and that he put her in coach and drove off.” Her eyes were pleading.  “I thought it was just another of his cock-and-bull stories to keep from getting a licking.”

Tommy piped up now, “I told ya, Ma.  I told ya I wasn’t lyin.”

Johnny looked at the boy seriously.  “Tommy, can you tell us everything you remember about what you saw?”

The boy added some details to what his mother had already told them.  He described the coach as “fancy” explaining that it had some pretty gold trim and was being pulled by six horses he claimed were “proper good’uns”.  He hadn’t paid that much mind to the man, but thought he seem pretty tall and strong looking and was dressed in a way he would also describe as “fancy”.  The lady wasn’t moving when she was carried to the carriage and it was headed east when it left his sight.

Johnny solemnly shook his hand and thanked him for his help.

As his mother took his hand and said, “Tommy, I’m sorry about switching you when you were really telling the truth.”

Tommy looked down and scuffed his shoe on the floor.  “Well, Ma, I reckon that’s OK.  I did climb the tree and steal the apples.”  He looked up, “And I prolly done some other things you don’t know about that were worth a lickin.”

His mother patted his head and led him towards the door.

As the door closed behind the pair, the men in the room looked at each other.

Johnny’s face expressed his conflicting emotions.  “She’s alive.  She’s out there somewhere and she’s alive!”

He turned to Scott and once again their eyes met in unspoken agreement.  “That’s right, brother,and you and I are going to come up with a plan and find her.  Together!”

 

Cousin Kate (Part 7)

Rock Creek wasn’t a large town, but it was prosperous.  Lady Luck had smiled upon it when the railroad laid their track and chose the formerly sleepy community as one of their stops.  The livery stable reflected the status of the town, not large, but prosperous enough.

Inside the barn, Hiram was busy stacking bags of grain and barely glanced up at the sound of the two horses being led by their riders.  With the air of one reciting an oft-repeated mantra, he said. “Two bits a day for each horse.  That’s for a stall‘n one bag a oats.  If ya want tack cleaned or the horses groomed, that’ll be extra.”

“Well, I guess what we’re looking for would be considered something extra.”

Hiram looked up; his attention caught more by the soft-spoken, polite tone than the words themselves.

The tall, blonde stranger stood ramrod straight, removing his leather gloves.  His dark-haired companion leaned against one of the empty stalls.

As his indifferent gaze passed over both of them, Hiram spit and uttered, “Yeah?”

The fair-haired man spoke again.  “That’s a pretty impressive rig you’ve got out back.”

Hiram nodded and hitched up his pants.  “Yep, belonged to some high-toned gambler.  He lost his shirt hereabouts and sold it to me for a good price.”  He squinted, “If you’re want’n to hire it, it’s gonna cost ya a pretty penny.”

“Actually, we’re more interested learning  about whoever hired it recently.”  The blue-grey eyes watched him steadily.  “We understand the coach was returned to you just yesterday.  Could you give us a description of the person or people involved and any information about where we could locate them now?”

A wary look in his eyes, Hiram blustered, “I’m way too busy around here to be keep’n track a every joe who comes in here to hire a rig.  I don’t rightly remember nothing ‘bout anything I rented in the last couple a days.”  A grudging, “Sorry.”, and he continued hefting the bags.

With his back turned, he missed the subtle look that passed, fleetingly, between the two men.  The fair man gave an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders.

“You know, you might want to think about that just a little bit harder.”  This voice was a quiet drawl.

Hiram cut his eyes over to the dark-haired stranger who hadn’t changed his casual stance, leaning against the side of the stall.  His first impression had been an inner sneer-- “Greaser”, but his gaze was drawn, almost involuntarily, to the deep sapphire eyes.

“We’re real anxious to find the folks who hired that rig.”

If anything, Hiram assumed an even shiftier demeanor.  “I done told you fellas,  I don’t know nothing about it.”

“I suppose somebody may have given you a warning, told you not to answer any questions, maybe even threatened you a little.  And if that’s so, I guess there’s just one thing you gotta consider.”

As Hiram watched, the man seemed to smile just a little bit wider.  His stance was visibly more relaxed, his hand nowhere near the gun worn low on his hip.  When he spoke, his drawl was slow and lazy.  Somehow, Hiram was not reassured by any of these observations. He noticed the second man had changed his position slightly and was now standing, a surprisingly large presence, blocking the doorway.  As his attention returned to the words being spoken, he resembled nothing so much as a rat in a trap.

“You gotta consider which is worse; the threat that’s been and gone, and just maybe might show up again, or the one that’s right smack dab on your doorstep.”

*********

As the two men made their way down the street, Johnny was conscious of his brother’s surreptitious glance.

“OK, what?” he demanded.

“Just admiring your abilities, brother,” Scott said blandly.  He gestured back at the livery stable.  “Persuading our friend there to talk using only,”—a pause—“the force of your personality.”

Johnny shrugged, “Comes with practice.”  He grinned at his brother, “I never heard it put quite like that before, though.  ‘The force of my personality’, you make it sound kinda elegant, Boston.”

For a moment they enjoyed the resumption of their familiar banter, which both had missed during the nightmare of the past few days.  Slowly, though, a serious expression returned to each face.

“The description he gave of the two men who hired the coach was pretty vague,” Scott sounded doubtful.

“Well, Johnny considered, “I reckon they’re just hired hands anyway.  No one with the brains to plan this operation would be stupid enough to talk so freely in front of a stranger.  Mentioning the private railroad car that was waiting for them led us right here.”  They came to a stop outside the train station.

“Let’s hope we find someone here who is susceptible to the force of your personality.”  Scott gave his brother one last brief smile as they entered the building.

As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary for either of them to exert special effort to get the information they needed.  They both agreed that Mr. Hooper, the stationmaster, talked more than any two men they’d ever met.  Having worked for the railroad all his adult life, as he told them more than once during their conversation, he obviously was convinced that all aspects of the business were fascinating …… to everyone.  Johnny complained that he now knew as much about train schedules, the mechanics of steam locomotives and the repair and maintenance of track than half of the railroad employees.  It hadn’t been difficult to convince him to reveal what he knew about the private car, the only problem was getting him to stop talking.

The private car arrived two weeks ago from back east.  While there was no owner’s name included in the paperwork, whoever he was, he must have great influence with the railroad company.  The stationmaster had received orders that requests made by the small staff who attended the car were to be granted immediately.  Mr. Hooper admitted he couldn’t tell much about these individuals, since they’d left the car almost as soon as it arrived.  He was able to inform the Lancers that yesterday several passengers boarded the car, including two women, one older and one who appeared to be an invalid.  He was given orders to have the car connected immediately to the first eastbound train, which had departed yesterday afternoon.  When asked if he had any information about the car’s ultimate destination, he was able to reply with complete certainty…..Boston!

**********

Kate groaned.  She tried desperately to focus, but the inside of her head felt like it was stuffed with cotton.  Lying quietly, she tried to gather what information she could about her surroundings.  She had awakened just briefly a few times in the past few days, and then as now she was sure that she was traveling.  Her hand ached, but not with the intensity she had felt the last several times she woke.  Thinking seemed to make the pain in her head worse, but she forced herself to concentrate.  She had been at Doc Jenkins’ place waiting for Johnny.  Then she remembered nothing, just blackness.  During her few brief periods of wakefulness she remembered pain, movement and unfamiliar voices.  Wait!  She thought hard.  There had been a voice that was familiar; a voice she recognized.  “Who?” she thought.  “Whose voice?” But before any answer could come to her, she was lost once again in oblivion.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 8)

Rock Creek was a quiet place at night, its streets mostly deserted.  The only sounds Johnny heard were the echoes of his own booted footsteps on the wooden sidewalk.  Still, the habits of a lifetime die hard, and every dark corner was scrutinized for any sign of danger.

Mentally, he reviewed all the preparations that had been completed that day, trying to insure that no detail had been forgotten.  After he and Scott had determined the final destination of the car carrying Kate away, they made plans to follow.  Their wire transfer at the bank provided enough funds to purchase tickets for tomorrow’s eastbound train, and pay for their traveling needs for the foreseeable future.  An urgent wire, dispatched to Green River, received an immediate reply. Riders from Lancer would arrive in the morning, bringing the various items requested in the message such as extra clothes and firearms.  Barranca and Charlemagne would accompany the hands when they returned to Lancer.  While Scott had returned to their hotel after a meal at a local restaurant, Johnny decided to look in on the horses.  He realized now the errand had been an excuse to do some thinking.  He needed to have a serious talk with his brother and feared it would not be pleasant.

Upon entering his room, he noted that the door to the adjoining room was open.  He leaned on the doorframe for a few moments, observing his brother.  Scott was lying, fully clothed, on top of his bed and staring, wide-eyed, at the ceiling.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Johnny asked, “You ready to talk about it, brother?”

There was no answer from the man lying on the bed.

Johnny walked into the room and straddled the straight-backed chair.  Resting his chin on his folded arms, he leaned on the back of the chair and regarded his brother.

As the silence stretched out, the tension in the room increased until Scott finally spoke.  “It can’t be him.”  The words were barely a whisper. He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed and repeated the words, this time his voice louder and more insistent.  “It can’t be him!”

Johnny sighed.  “Well, we don’t know it’s him, but we can’t rule him out.”

As Scott stood up and strode to look out the window, Johnny continued, “We know that he used blackmail twice when he tried to force you to return to Boston.”

Scott turned, “Two innocent people died because of this insane plan.”  He gave his brother an almost pleading look.

Johnny’s gaze didn’t waver.  “A prostitute and a drunken trail bum, think your grandpa’d worry overmuch about their kind?”

The torment was clear in Scott’s expression.  “What kind of monster would do something like that to his own granddaughter?”  Why?”

This time Johnny looked down at the floor as he asked his question. “You written anything to your grandpa about me and Kate?”

Scott recoiled as if he’d been struck.  “I didn’t figure it was any of my business to do so, and I know Kate hasn’t had any contact with Grandfather since leaving Boston.  I was the one who wrote to inform him that she was staying with us indefinitely.”

“There’s nothing to say he couldn’t have had other sources of information.”  Johnny’s voice was calm, “You must know how he’d feel about the idea of Kate and your half-breed brother.”

Nodding Scott admitted, “I realize how Grandfather feels, and although I was ashamed of his prejudices and fully expected that he might come out here and make his objections known if he learned about the two of you, the idea of him coming up with a plan like this is beyond belief.”

Johnny shrugged.  “We don’t know anything for sure, but we need to be prepared and consider the possibilities.”  He looked grim, “I know he’s your grandpa, but if he’s done anything to hurt Kate….”  His voice trailed off.

There was silence for several more moments.

Scott slammed the wall with his fist.  “If it is true, how do I live with that?”  How do I live with the fact that my grandfather, my flesh and blood, the man who raised me, is capable of that kind of treachery?”

Walking over to stand beside his brother, Johnny replied quietly, “I lived most of my life believing my father, my flesh and blood, was a bastard who threw me out of his home and condemned me to a miserable life.  When I found out that wasn’t true, I had to live with the fact that my mother lied to me.  How do you live with it? You do it one day at a time.”

He reached over and clasped his brother’s shoulder with a firm grasp.  “One thing I have found is that it makes a difference knowing you’re not in it alone, and neither of us has to make it alone any more.”

*********

When Kate awakened this time, she immediately sensed that something was different.  “I’m not moving,” she thought.  Although the fog that had surrounded her brain for ---she really didn’t know how long--- was receding slowly, she felt that this time it was making a more permanent exit.

It felt like all of her senses were returning to normal.  She began taking stock of her surroundings.  She was lying in a soft comfortable feather bed complete with fine cambric sheets and an ornate brocade coverlet.  Her prison (for she immediately thought of it as one) was a spacious room with elegant furnishings, including an elaborate dressing table, exquisite paintings on the walls and majestic brocade draperies.

Testing herself physically, she began to move carefully, noting only slight pain from her injured hand.  She found she could assume a sitting position and from there was able to swing her legs over the side of the bed.  Looking down, she observed that the nightgown she was wearing was made of the finest silk.  A pair of embroidered slippers lay on the floor next to the bed.  After donning them, she steadied herself by leaning against the bed for a few moments.

“Alright,” Kate thought, “let’s try a little exploring.”  She walked slowly to the nearest window and drew aside the floor length draperies.  Her gaze took in a glorious sun-filled day, a beautiful well-groomed garden and a set of seemingly impenetrable cast-iron bars.  “Well, I was right about this place being a prison.”  She stood at the window a little while longer, able to glean no further information from the view it afforded.

Her senses soon revealed one other piece of information: she was hungry.  No, not just hungry, she was ravenous!  While she couldn’t be certain how long she had gone without eating, she instinctively felt that her weakness resulted not only from the drugs she was sure had been used on her, but also from a lack of food.

Just as she was on the point of searching the room to see if anything edible was secreted somewhere, she heard the sound of a key turning in a lock.  Whirling about, she saw one of the massive doors begin to open.  Clutching the window frame for support, she watched as a middle-aged woman in a crisp black uniform entered the room.  She was bearing a tray laden with several covered dishes along with a teapot and teacup.

“Oh, Miss, you’re up.”  She carried the tray to a small table and chair near the window.  “I’ll just bring you some nice hot water so you can wash up before enjoying your breakfast.”

“Wait a minute!”  Kate tried to move quickly to place herself between the woman and the door, but found she had too little strength to accomplish the feat.  However, the woman stopped at her words and turned to face her.

“Is there something else I can bring you, Miss?” she enquired submissively.

“I want you to tell me where I am, how I got here, who is holding me prisoner.”  Kate felt she couldn’t get the questions out fast enough.

“Why, Miss, I’m sure Madam will be happy to answer all your questions.  She said she was planning to call on you just as soon as you had eaten and freshened up.”

She began walking toward the door again, but this time Kate found some inner reserve of strength and launched herself at the woman, grabbing her arm.  However, before she could do more than that, the door opened again.  A man in dark livery walked quickly over to the two women.

“Now, Miss, that’s enough of that.”  With very little effort he was able to force Kate to release the woman.  Exhausted from the effort, she subsided into the nearby chair.

“Madam will be in to see you soon,” the man admonished.  Both he and the women began walking toward the open door.

Kate could hear another voice in the hallway.  “Marston, Gertie, where are you?  I want my breakfast.  Then I want to go ride Midnight.  Can I have my special pancakes with strawberries?”

The words were plaintive and childlike and contrasted with the voice which was a strong tenor.  Before Kate could hear more, the couple had left the room, closing the door and locking it behind them.

Sitting at the table, Kate felt her head spinning. Despair seemed to overcome her suddenly.  Johnny, Scott, Murdoch!  Were they looking for her?  Surely they would come to her rescue.   She put her hands to her temple and willed herself to concentrate.  None of this made any sense.  What was happening and why?  Then the memory flitted back once again –that voice, that familiar voice.  She tensed as the certainty came to her.  It had been his voice.  She was sure of it.  She had not been able to make out the words, but knew without doubt she recognized the speaker.  What was he up to?  What kind of bizarre plan was this?

Staring at the food, Kate sat up a little straighter.  She began eating, slowly but with growing resolve.  “I need to eat,” she thought, “I need to get back my strength and gather my wits about me.  I don’t know what this is all about, but damn it, I will not let the son-of-a-bitch succeed, whatever he has planned.”

**********

Not that many miles from where Kate was sitting, a train pulled into a station.  As conductor made the announcement that Boston was the final stop, Scott and Johnny gathered up their belongings.  Johnny stopped for a moment and looked out the train window, lost momentarily in his thoughts.  “Kate, I know you’re here someplace.  Please, just hold on.  I’m going to find you. I’m going to bring you home.”

 

Cousin Kate (Part 9)

The train depot in Boston was busy, loud and crowded.  The throngs of people, all intent on their various activities, contributed to the tumult almost as much as the clanging of the trains traveling the rails and the hissing of the steam locomotives.

As they made their way through the depot, Scott was extremely aware of his little brother’s barely contained tension.  Johnny had little experience with large cities like Boston, but Scott sensed that the cause of his brother uneasiness went deeper than a mere lack of familiarity,  Johnny Madrid’s survival had been, in large part, due to his perception and control of his environment.  During the past two years, this capability had been demonstrated in many ways.  Always choosing a seat facing the door, closely examining the occupants of any room before entering it and keeping his pistol within easy reach were deeply ingrained behaviors.  Now they were in a situation where control was less achievable, and Scott felt compelled to ease his brother’s stress by ensuring a quick departure from the chaotic terminal.

Even as he was doing so, Scott had to smile, inwardly, at the irony.  In his head he knew that Johnny Madrid Lancer was a formidable opponent for any enemy, but he could not deny the instinct of his heart to protect his younger brother.  With the exit at last within easy reach, he put an arm around Johnny’s shoulders and guided him toward the street.

As the two men waited for their gear to be loaded into the hansom cab, Johnny gave his brother a sidelong look. “I know Boston’s your town, Scott, so I’m leaving it up to you where we bunk down, but I’m sure hoping it ain’t someplace too fancy.  Some of those hotels you pointed out from the train looked like places where you’d need a ‘purty ruffled shirt’ just to get in the door.”

Scott caught the teasing reference to the way he was dressed the first time they met.  With a longsuffering look he said, “Don’t worry, brother, I wasn’t actually planning on a hotel at all.”

Johnny frowned.  “You’re not expecting us to stay at your grandfather’s are you?”

“No, we agreed that it would be best if he didn’t know we were in town, not until we figure out just who is responsible for Kate’s kidnapping.”

Gesturing for Johnny to precede him into the cab, Scott gave the driver an address.  As the cab began moving he said, “I have a friend who, I believe, will be happy to put us up.”

******

Climbing out of the cab, Johnny took stock of his surroundings: a clean, cobblestone street lined with what looked like prosperous businesses and comfortable residences.  Probably the most imposing of those residences was the brick façade toward which Scott was directing his steps.  The blond plied the brass doorknocker vigorously.  After a few moments, the door swung open and a swarthy man in the dark livery of a servant appeared.  He looked them over in a condescending way before announcing, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, this establishment does not entertain visitors before the hour of…..”

He was interrupted by the arrival of another man, also in servant’s livery, his skin as dark and smooth as ebony.

“Why, Mr. Scott, as I live and breathe, it is you!”

Scott extended his hand saying, “Hello, Joseph, it’s good to see you again.”

Joseph took the proffered hand in both of his and shook it enthusiastically.  “You are just a sight for these weary eyes, you are indeed.”

Indicating Johnny with a nod of his head, Scott made introductions.  “Joseph, this is my brother, Johnny.  Johnny, this is Joseph.  Joseph, here, knows more ways to cure a hangover than any man I’ve ever met.”

Taking the man’s hand Johnny said, “Guess that sure makes you a pretty useful sort of friend.”

Joseph nodded his head, saying, “Real nice to me Mr. Scott’s brother, yes it is, sir.”

The black man turned to the first servant and spoke in a hectoring tone.  “What you doing there standing with your mouth agape?  Catch’n flies? You see to the gentlemen’s baggage, you hear?”

Pausing only long enough to hear the man’s respectful, “Yes, sir.”, Joseph turned back to the two visitors.  “Now you two come on in here and make yourselves ta home.”  He led them into an elegantly decorated foyer.

A door opened and a young woman stood before them.  She was attractive and wearing a charming, but flimsy garment that displayed her ample charms.

“Maisie, go tell Miss Rose she’s got visitors wait’n on her in the large salon.” Joseph requested.

“All right, Joseph.”  After one last curious look at the two men, Maisie closed the door.

With the appearance of the young woman, Johnny felt his sneaking suspicion turn to dawning awareness.  He tried to catch his brother’s eye as they walked down the hall, but Scott was deep in conversation with the talkative servant.

Joseph ushered them into a comfortable parlor.  They had only been there a few moments when the door opened and a woman entered saying, “Joseph, Masie said …..”

Her words trailed off as she caught sight of the two men and a welcoming smile lit up her face.  “Scott Lancer!”  She hurried over, reaching up to embrace him.

Scott received her with open arms, lifting her off her feet in an enthusiastic hug.  “Rose!”

Johnny used the opportunity afforded by their little reunion to study the woman closely.  She was petite, but with a womanly figure.  Her dress, while expensive looking, was fairly modest.  With red hair arranged in curls and a lovely, fair complexion, she was extremely good-looking, but not in the first blush of youth.  At a guess, Johnny figured she was maybe ten years older than Scott. His attention snapped back as he realized Scott was beginning to make introductions.

“Rose, this is my brother, Johnny.”  As Johnny shook her hand, he noticed she didn’t seem surprised by this announcement and assumed that Scott must have written her of his recently acquired sibling.

“Johnny, this is Miss Rose Appleton.  She and I are old friends.  I’ve known Rose since I was,” -- the tiniest pause, -- “just a boy.”

There was just something in his Scott’s voice that made Johnny believe there was an untold story behind those words.  But even if his suspicions were true, he knew his gentlemanly brother would share no details.

Johnny’s attention was drawn back to the conversation.  Scott was saying,”…..place certainly seems to be thriving.”

“It’s come a long way, and so have I, “Rose stated with obvious pride.  “I now own a large portion of the property I can see from my front door, although most of my neighbors have no idea I’m their landlady.”

She looked at Johnny.  “I have your brother to thank for helping me become a successful business woman….”

Scott interrupted, “You owe your success to the fact that you have a better head for finances than the majority of businessMEN in this city.”

“Ah,” Rose countered, “but back in those days, none of them were the least bit willing to take a chance on doing business with me.”

She explained to Johnny, “Scott was my intermediary in completing some of my first business transactions.  He continued to help me until my financial position was such that very few considered turning me away when I had a business proposition.  I will always owe your brother for his help.”

“Now, you don’t owe me anything, “Scott contradicted, “but, if you’re willing, I do have a favor to ask.  Two favors, really.  First, Johnny and I need a place to stay…”

Rose broke in, “Why, you don’t even have to ask that question.  You know your room is always ready and waiting for you anytime.”  She turned and gave instructions to Joseph.  “See that Mr. Scott’s room is aired and ready and prepare the green room, next door, for his brother. Let the girls know that room will be off limits for clients until further notice.”

As the servant left, Johnny asked in a deceptively innocent voice, “So you’ve got your own room here and everything, huh, Scott?”

His brother managed to preserve an air of dignity as he answered.  “Sometimes it was convenient for me to have quarters separate from my grandfather’s residence.  Rose was kind enough to make a room available that I could use when necessary.”

Johnny said nothing, but the wicked gleam in his eyes reflected his amusement at his brother’s discomfiture.

Rose had been watching this exchange closely and nodded to herself as if reassured about something.  “I am sure it was convenient sometimes, “she added mischievously.  “When you have to climb out a young lady’s window and down her balcony because her daddy’s like to break down the bedroom door, you really need a place to rest up afterward.”

Grinning from ear to ear, Johnny snickered, “Hey, I always thought you found more to do with your time than attending grand balls and society teas, brother, but I guess I didn’t know the half of it.”

Scott directed a quelling look at his brother, who continued to snigger.

In a mock exasperated tone he said, “Rose, how can I manage to teach him a proper, respectful attitude toward me, as his older brother, if you divulge every disreputable incident in my past?”

Rose giggled a little, “Oh, I don’t think we’d have enough time for me to divulge every incident.”

Johnny’s snickers turned to guffaws.

Just then Joseph entered the room bearing a tray of refreshments.  By the time these had been served, Rose and Johnny had managed to regain at least an appearance of decorum, and Scott had ceased to glare at them both.

“Now, Scott, you mentioned a second favor,” Rose reminded them.  “What would that be?”

This effectively ended the lighthearted atmosphere of only moments ago.  Scott gave her all the details of Kate’s disappearance and Rose expressed her shock and dismay.

“So what can I do to help?” Rose demanded.

“This private railroad car is our only clue right now.”  Scott admitted.  “We need to investigate it from every possible angle.  We need someone with influence in the company who can try to ascertain the ownership of the car, or who made the travel arrangements for the journey.”

Rose nodded, “I have stock in that railroad.  Let me put some people on it.”

Scott continued, “We know which train conveyed the private car back to Boston.  Johnny and I can question every employee and passenger who was on that train.  Somebody must have seen or heard something.”

With a look of dogged determination, Johnny vowed, “We know she’s here.   We won’t give up until we find her and whoever did this will pay.”

There was a short pause as they all silently agreed to this vow, then Rose spoke up.  “Scott, I don’t think I ever told you about the visit your cousin paid me.”

Scott looked surprised.  “Kate came to see you?”

Rose looked pensive.  “You remember how things were when you came back from the war?”

Johnny watched his brother with concern.

Scott spoke, wearing the haunted look that came when he was remembering that period in his life. He looked around the room.  “That is another reason why Rose owes me no debt for any help I gave her.  She provided refuge for me in this place.  When the nightmares and restlessness got bad, I couldn’t be around the people at home.  I loved them, but I just needed time and space. Rose allowed me to come and go, to use “my room” whenever I felt the need.“  He looked at Rose.  “You mean Kate knew about that?”

“She did.”  Rose confirmed.  “She called on me one afternoon.”  Rose shook her head.  “I’ve had “ladies” from this city call on me from time to time.  Mostly they have come to ask for one favor or another.  All of them came to my door heavily veiled, ashamed to be seen here.  Not Kate!  She came to the door, her head held high and politely asked to see me. Treated me as respectful as if I’d been royalty.  She told me she knew how I’d been helping you and she wanted to convey her gratitude.  I asked her to tea and we spent an hour visiting as comfortable as you please.”

Rose smiled remembering.  “Any help you need, you just be sure to tell me!”

*******

A short time later, Scott and Johnny were settled in their rooms. They had cleaned up and changed clothes, and planned on spending the afternoon questioning possible witnesses to Kate’s train journey.

As Scott finished dressing, he noticed a mischievous grin on his brother’s face. He raised one questioning eyebrow.  “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” came the bland reply, “I’m just imagining the look on Murdoch’s face when he finds out you forced your little brother to bunk out in a brothel during our stay in Boston.”

Johnny wasn’t quite fast enough to duck as the pillow came sailing through the air and struck him square on the head.  He laughed and threw the pillow back on the bed.

And with that both men turned their attention back to the search for Kate.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 10)

The phrase “a caged tiger” came to her mind, and Kate decided that described exactly how she felt.  She had passed what seemed like hours pacing, traversing the rose-patterned carpet, stopping only to stare at the imposing door, willing it to open.

Whether due to the substantial breakfast she had eaten or the fact that the drugs had left her system, her strength and energy had returned.  After finishing her meal, she had explored the room more fully.  The dressing table held lotions, perfumes, cosmetics and a variety of other personal items, all of which looked new and expensive.  Likewise, the chest of drawers and large armoire contained an array of clothing, including undergarments.  A cursory examination revealed that they would fit Kate perfectly.

It was while she was considering the ramifications of this discovery that the door opened for the second time that morning.  The same woman who had brought the tray of food, now entered carrying a pitcher of hot water.  Setting it next to the basin, she turned toward Kate.  Judging the distance between them to be too great to allow for any chance of overpowering the servant, Kate contented herself with directing an hostile stare at her.

Maddeningly, the woman just smiled, dropped a curtsey and headed for the door.  Before she could leave, however, another person entered the room.  The young man standing near the door appeared to be about Kate’s own age.  He could have been described as handsome in any company; tall, blond with striking blue eyes.  His attire was that of a gentleman, casual, but well-tailored.  When he spoke, Kate recognized the voice she had heard in the hall earlier that morning.

“Gertie, when can I change out of my good clothes?  Wyndham promised I could ride Midnight today if it stopped raining.  See how nice it is outside.  Why can’t I go riding?”

Before Gertie could answer him, he caught sight of Kate.  “Who are you?” he asked.  “Why are you in your nightgown?  Don’t you know it’s daytime?”

Kate was still trying to reconcile this childish speech with the appearance of the man standing before her, when Gertie took him by the arm.  She spoke to him in a firm but soothing voice.  “Now, Master Jacob, you know your grandmother wants you to wear your good clothes for the special tea this afternoon.  And you know you aren’t supposed to be in this wing.   Let’s get you back to your room and I’ll find some of your favorite picture books.”

But the young man was resisting her urging, his attention focused on Kate, who still stood rooted to the spot.

Gertie’s voice took on a bit more strident tone.  “Master Jacob, your grandmother is going to be very angry with you if she finds out you’ve disobeyed her orders!”

This statement got his immediate attention.  An expression close to panic came over his face.  “You won’t tell her will you, Gertie?  Please don’t tell her.  I’ll be good, I promise!”  He was led, still pleading, out the door.

As she heard the key turn in the lock, Kate dropped onto the bed, astonished.  Obviously there was something wrong with the young man: his physical appearance so mature and his speech and behavior so childlike.  But try as she might, Kate could find nothing in this new development that helped explain her predicament.

She did decide, however, that she would be at less of a disadvantage with any further visitors if she was dressed in something other than a nightdress.  Choosing a simple muslin gown from among the many garments in the armoire, she washed and dressed quickly, only to find herself waiting impatiently while nothing happened.

She continued her pacing and finally the door opened once more.

The lady who swept into the room was dressed in black from head to toe.  Her silk dress rustled as she came to a stop.  Gray-haired, with a lined face that revealed her considerable years, she never-the-less stood ramrod straight as she fixed Kate with an unflinching stare.

Kate’s chin came up and she leveled her own challenging glare back at the woman.

The old lady seemed almost pleased by the younger woman’s refusal to be intimidated.  She spoke in a cultured, well-modulated voice.  “I am Mrs. Matthew Fairfield.”  Her expectant look indicated she was expecting some sort of reaction.

As Kate searched her memory in vain, the woman displayed a bit of impatience.  “Come now, you were born and raised in Boston.  The name of Fairfield should be known to you.”

Kate nodded her head hesitantly.  “The name Fairfield is familiar to me, but I am sure we have never met.”

“Indeed, no,” came her reply.  “My husband died before you were ever born, and my son and his wife were killed when a fire destroyed their home. I retired from polite society, as is only proper for a grieving widow and mother.”

Anger and outrage had been building up in Kate as the woman droned on about her family background.  “So now I know who the hell you are.  When are you going to tell me what the hell I’m doing here?  Why was I kidnapped? “She fired off the questions with more and more hostility.

Mrs. Fairfield stood calmly in the face of her wrath.  “You need to know the importance of the Fairfield heritage to understand the situation you find yourself in right now, young lady, so I suggest you listen carefully.”

“The Fairfield ancestry can be traced back to the time of William the Conqueror.  In all that time their legacy, the family name and the family fortune, has passed in an unbroken succession from father to son.  There has ALWAYS been a son to carry on the family name.”

Kate suppressed a shudder.  The uncanny light in the old woman’s eyes spoke of obsession and insanity.

“Until a few years ago, I had no doubts that this magnificent tradition would continue to the next Fairfield generation.”  Mrs. Fairfield’s voice shook, “But, alas, it was not to be.”

A memory nudged at the corner of Kate’s mind.  “An accident,” she murmured, “I do recall hearing something – a young man named Fairfield was killed when he rescued a child from being struck and killed by a runaway coach.  It was the talk of Boston at the time.  I do remember that.”

“A young fool, you mean!” was the scornful reply. “How could he have risked everything, his heritage, the birthright of generations unborn, to save an unwashed urchin.”

The old lady stiffened her spine.  “I’ll will not have it said that I spared any effort to avert the tragedy that looms over this family.  There will be an heir.”

Her expression changed to one of complacency.  “Fortunately, all is not lost.  There is still hope.  I have another grandson.  I believe you have met Jacob.”

Kate was momentarily confused.  “Jacob?  The young man who was here earlier?  But he was …..”  Her words trailed off.

Mrs. Fairfield continued for her, “mentally deficient?  Yes, poor child.  But you must not think there is any taint in the blood.  Jacob was born normal.  He developed into strong, healthy boy, but tragedy struck when he was only ten years old.  He was thrown from his horse and sustained a serious head injury.  Although he recovered physically, he has never progressed to adulthood in the mental or emotional sense.”  In a self satisfied voice she emphasized, “He is perfectly capable of producing offspring, however.”

Dawning realization brought a look of horror to Kate’s face.  “You can’t mean you have brought me here to …..   You must be insane!”

“I’m afraid, my dear, you are to be afforded no choice in the matter.”  The contrast between the woman’s matter-of-fact tone and the bizarre plan she outlined was chilling.  “You and Jacob are to be married as soon as possible.  There will be a Fairfield heir!”

“Why me?”  Kate choked out the words.  “How did you come to choose me as a part of your mad scheme?”

“There are not that many young women who can fulfill the requirements necessary to be included in the Fairfield lineage.”  She shrugged,” I made my requirements known in certain quarters and you were brought to my attention, a girl with excellent bloodlines, in both the Garett and the Darrington parentage.”

<< You were brought to my attention.>>  At those words, Kate was again reminded of that familiar voice heard during her abduction.  Although she fought against believing it, her mind insisted this might be the connection.  She kept the thought to herself, hoping that the knowledge might provide her with an advantage at some time in the future. Instead she declared confidently, “You won’t get away with this.  Scott, Johnny, Murdoch, all the people who love me, they are going to be searching for me!  They won’t let you get away with this.”

With a contemptuous smirk, Mrs. Fairfield contradicted her, “No, my dear, no one is searching for you.  They all think you’re dead.  It was not so difficult to fool them, you know.  An unidentifiable dead body and enough clues to convince some country yokels that it was you, and we left your fine family too busy mourning their loss to think about anything else.”

 “A dead body?” Kate recoiled, “You killed someone to carry out this horrible plan?  Who?”

“A nobody, two nobodies actually: a man and a woman whose lives could have served no nobler purpose that to help consummate this sacred achievement.”  The old lady shook out her skirts.  “I think you have been given enough to think about for the present time.  Please rest assured that the security on this estate is sufficient to defeat any foolish plans you may  have to undertake an escape.”

Kate watched her leave.  Horror, revulsion, panic and dread: all these emotions and more threatened to overwhelm her.  She forced her mind to remain calm.  “I will get out of here,” she promised herself.  “Somehow I will find a way to escape.”  It was only when she felt some of her self-possession returning that she allowed herself to think of her loved ones.  “They are out there looking for me,” she told herself.  “They don’t, they can’t believe I’m dead.”  Looking out the window she whispered aloud, “Johnny, I’m here.  I love you.  I’ll always love you.  Please come find me.”

 

Cousin Kate (Chapter 11)

As the hansom cab bounced over the cobblestone road, Scott and Johnny discussed the results of their respective interviews.  A judicious bit of bribery had produced a list of employees on duty when yesterday’s eastbound train arrived.  The brothers had divided the list and proceeded to question anyone who could possibly have pertinent information.  Although they admitted to being somewhat disappointed in the results, they held out hope that tomorrow would be more successful.

The occupants of the private car had stayed secluded for the entire trip, according to the various porters and conductors who spoke to them.  The only details that could be confirmed were that the party consisted of two females and three males.  One female seemed to be an invalid, and it was assumed that the older woman was a nurse or companion.  The three men gave the appearance of being bodyguards.

Several of the staff members questioned recalled that there was one particular porter who handled any necessary interaction with the occupants of the private car.  Unfortunately, the porter was not on duty today, having taken a day’s leave to visit an ailing parent.

Scott and Johnny agreed that if the employee in question wasn’t at work tomorrow, they would obtain a home address and track him down there.

Once they had reached their destination, Scott used the key Rose had insisted on giving them.  Joseph greeted them as they entered the vestibule, “Evening Mr. Scott, Mr. Johnny.  Miss Rose is in her parlor if you’d like to join her.”

Rose was seated at a desk covered with papers and ledgers.  She abandoned her work and crossed the room, urging them to be seated on the comfortable sofa.  While listening to the results of the search, she poured a glass of brandy for each of them.

“Well, it sounds as if you have some reason for hope, then.”  She tried to sound optimistic.  “I put some discreet inquiries in motion using contacts with the railroad company management.  I may also have additional information tomorrow.”

Joseph opened the door, “Scuse me, Miss Rose, but you asked me to remind you that Reverend Curtis is coming to meet with you ‘bout the orphanage.”

“Thank you, Joseph,” Rose replied.  “He should be here shortly.  Please show him in when he arrives.”

Scott started to get to his feet.  “Perhaps we should leave and give you some privacy for your discussion.”

Rose gestured firmly for him to stay seated.  “There’s nothing private about it.  The reverend is in charge of the Blessed Lamb Orphanage.  We meet together whenever he has concerns about the orphanage and I can be of help.”

“Another of your charitable undertakings, Rose?”  Scott’s smile was warm and approving.

“Many of those so-called orphanages are nothing but a cover for white-slavery,” she announced briskly.  “I did some investigating and Reverend Curtis truly does his best for the children under his care.  He tries hard to find, if not an adoptive home, at least a good job or apprenticeship for each one.  Doesn’t just hand them over and forget about them either.  He monitors each situation and makes sure the kids are well-treated in a good environment.”

Rose shook her head, “Most of those places couldn’t have cared less who I was or what I wanted of them, as long as I lined their pockets with my money.  The reverend, though, he made real sure I didn’t have any ideas about taking girls from his orphanage and putting them to work here.”  She rolled her eyes upward, indicating the upper floor of the establishment.

“I’m sure you set him straight on that.”  Scott said in a soothing voice.

There was a long pause and Rose’s eyes had a far-away look when she resumed speaking.  “I was just twelve, no older than some of these girls, when I was left on my own.  Just a child, with no one to turn to…..”  She found herself staring into a pair of sapphire eyes, eyes that seemed to reflect and share the painful memories she tried to keep buried.

“You find yourself doing whatever it takes to survive,” Johnny continued her very thought.  “You don’t worry about what’s right or wrong.  You figure out what you’re good at, and you do it.  Then you keep doing it, because you don’t know how to do anything else.”

Rose found herself nodding.  She didn’t know how, but she knew this young man understood.  Somehow, he shared some of the experiences that had left lasting scars on her soul.  “But I was lucky.”  She turned a grateful face to Scott.  “I discovered I was good at something else, very good at it.  I want the children at the orphanage to have a chance to make that same discovery.”

She indicated her surroundings with a wave of her hand.  “It may seem hypocritical of me to make such a speech in this place, but the decisions I’ve made about myself and my life aren’t shared by all the ‘ladies’ here.  I know the importance of a safe, secure workplace for them, and I just can’t turn them out.”

With a self-deprecating chuckle, she went on, “Running a ‘charity brothel’ – I know that must sound absurd.”

“No, ma’am,” came the soft drawl from the dark-haired man, “it just sounds like you’re trying to help some people who need help.”

“Indeed, offering help to those in need is what Miss Rose does best!”

All eyes turned to the door where an elderly man in a dark suit stood beaming at them.

Rose smiled and took his arm, leading him into the room.  “Reverend Curtis, may I introduce Scott and Johnny Lancer.  Scott is an old friend, and he and his brother are staying here during their visit to Boston.  Boys, this is Reverend Curtis.”

After shaking hands with both visitors, the reverend turned to Rose and said with a sigh, “I am so sorry to intrude on you when you have company, but we are having some difficulty with a placement.   Your sage counsel is such a help in these situations.”

He explained to the two Lancer men, “Miss Rose is such a boon to us at Blessed Lamb.  Not only does she make substantial monetary contributions, but she is also invaluable when it comes to helping us place our children.  If we arrange for a young person to be an apprentice in one of Miss Rose’s businesses—and she has a controlling interest in many—we know they will be well treated.  And she has an unerring ability to direct us to households which will provide care and direction to our youngsters.”

With a cynical grin, Rose remarked, “Well, it must be a doozy of a problem to warrant all that soft soap!”

Reverend Curtis looked just a bit shamefaced.  “You see, we have just about come to the end of our options with ….,” he hesitated.

“Let me guess, “Rose looked resigned, “Davy?”

Signing deeply, the reverend admitted, “We’ve been asked to take him back again.  This is his fifth position and none of them have worked out.”

Laconically Rose inquired, “Same problem?”

“Yes,” the older man shrugged.  “In each case we’ve been told he has great difficulty respecting authority.”

Rose snorted, “Uh, huh, the kid has a real smart mouth.”

Reverend Curtis went on, “And this time there has been a problem again with fighting.”  He rushed to add, “The boy is no bully.  We’ve never known him to attack a smaller child.  Just the opposite, he’s likely to take on some one larger and stronger or maybe to challenge more than one opponent.  It’s like he needs to prove …”

“That he’s a man,” Rose finished his sentence.  “But he’s never had anyone to teach him how to go about it.”

“You know how overcrowded we are at the orphanage right now.  Until we place some of our other children, we don’t have any spare beds.”  Reverend Curtis appealed to her.  “I was hoping he could stay here, just temporarily.”

Rose frowned, “You know we have never placed any of your orphans here.  It’s just not a good idea.”

“I realize that,” conceded the reverend, “but it’s only until we can make other arrangements.  Besides,” he smiled ruefully, “you’re one of the few people he does seem to treat with a modicum of respect.  Lord knows, he’s made it clear that he thinks I’m a doddering old fool.”

With a decisive nod, Rose gave her decision.  “All right, we’ll try it for now.  He’s not even fourteen, and we’re not giving up on him yet.”

As a sudden commotion was heard in the hallway, Reverend Curtis said quickly, “I was positive you would be willing to help, so I ….”

The sounds from the hallway became louder, and a distinct voice could he heard.  “Take yer dirty hands off me!  I can walk on my own!”

The door swung open and Joseph, looking harassed, pulled a struggling boy into the room.  Released from Joseph’s grip, the boy looked defiantly around the room while continuing to voice his displeasure.  Torn clothes hanging off a slight frame, he sported a burgeoning black eye and an assortment of bruises.  When his gaze came to rest on Rose, his eyes widened and he fell silent.

Rose moved to stand directly in front of the boy, “Well, Davy, once again trouble’s come looking for you and it’s found you.”

Davy’s head came down, his eyes studying the floor beneath his feet.

Putting her hand beneath his chin, Rose gently lifted his head until she could look sternly into his eyes.  “Well, it’s going to stop now.  Until other arrangements can be made, you’ll be staying here.”

The boy’s face seemed to take on a more hopeful look.

“Let me explain to you exactly what the rules are going to be.”  Rose crossed her arms.  “Joseph’s wife, Sarah, is my housekeeper and cook.  Every day she or Joseph will assign you chores.  They are to be completed with no back talk or arguing.  In the afternoons, you will come here, and you and I will work on your studies.  My reading, writing and arithmetic skills aren’t perfect, but I’m sure I can teach you a thing or two.”

Before she even finished talking, Davy was making vocal protests.  “I ain’t no housemaid.  I don’t need no more schooling.  ‘Sides I can take care of myself with no help from no one.”

“Is that what you want?”  Rose spoke in a voice like granite.  “You want to leave, make it on your own out there?”  She pointed at the door.  “Help yourself.”

There was just a flicker of fear in the boy’s eyes and Rose knew she had called his bluff.  She placed her hand lightly on his drooping shoulder.  “We are going to patch you up.  Then, after a bath and a good supper, it’s straight to bed.”

Suppressing laugh at the boy’s mutinous look, Rose shepherded him from the room, accompanied by Joseph and Reverend Curtis.

The two Lancer men exchanged glances.  They had been silent witnesses to the whole scene and now took time to compare their reactions.

Johnny shook his head.  “She’s got her work cut out for her there.  Boy’s stubborn, angry; just spoiling for a fight.”

“That’s true,” Scott agreed, “but my money’s on Rose.  She can be pretty stubborn herself.”  He refilled their brandy glasses, saying, “We have another big day tomorrow, and our own work cut out for us.”

Johnny raised his glass in a toast, “To tomorrow—bringing us one day closer to finding Kate.”

 

Cousin Kate (Chapter 12)

Kate wasn’t sure how long she had been staring out the window, but judging by the position of the sun, it was now late afternoon.  Earlier, while she had still been sitting, dazed by the revelation of Mrs. Fairfield’s bizarre plan, Gertie had silently delivered lunch to her room.  Kate had watched her deposit the tray and depart.  Remembering her vow to keep up her strength, she had eaten the food.  She’d spent the intervening time scrutinizing the view from her window and considering various escape plans.  Nothing brilliant had occurred to her by the time she once again heard the key turning in the lock.

This time when Gertie entered the room, there was nothing in her hands.  Kate expected her to simply remove the lunch tray, but she stood clearing her throat.  “Miss Kate?  Madam and Master Jacob would like you to join them for tea.”  She appeared a bit nervous as to how Kate would react to this.  Kate wasn’t sure how to react herself, but decided this was at least a chance to get familiar with more of the house.  With a brief nod she followed Gertie out of the room.

They traversed a number of hallways and descended a grand staircase leading to a vast foyer.  Kate’s eyes lingered for a long moment on the massive doors that certainly led out of the house, but she resolutely followed the servant into an elegant parlor.  

Mrs. Fairfield was there, seated on a brocade loveseat, and standing by the window was the young man who had been in Kate’s room.

In her autocratic voice, the old lady ordered, “Gertrude, you may serve tea immediately.”

“Yes, madam.”  With a bobbed curtsey the servant was gone.

In the same tone of voice, the old lady gave orders to her grandson.  “Jacob, come away from that window.  I want you to meet Miss Darrington.”

The young man, dressed as he had been earlier, made his way across the room with obvious reluctance.

“Say how-do-you-do,” his grandmother prodded.

“How do you do, Miss Darrington.”  He spoke in a monotone, his gaze never leaving the floor.

Kate managed to reply in a level voice, “I’m pleased to meet you, Jacob.”

With the entrance of Gertie with the tea tray, Jacob managed to flee to a chair in the farthest corner of the room.

After making short work of serving the tea, Gertie again disappeared.  While Mrs. Fairfield made idle conversation, commenting on the history of various items in the room, Kate observed Jacob.  The young man was busy devouring a great number of tea cakes, at the same time casting apprehensive glances at the two women seated across the room.

Finally his grandmother once again barked out orders.  “Jacob, you may be excused now.  I need to speak to Miss Darrington in private.”

Almost tripping over an ottoman in his haste, Jacob fled the room.

Mrs. Fairfield turned her attention to Kate.  “Well, Miss Darrington, I hope you have taken some time to consider your position here.”

Kate replied in a spirited voice, “I’ve had time to consider just how insane your plan really is.  You must realize it will never work.”

“On the contrary, my dear, I think you’ll find I have taken every possibility into account.”  The old lady seemed to take great pride in explaining the details of her scheme.  “As I said, you will find escape to be impossible.  This estate is miles from any inhabited area.  Guards are posted everywhere.  Don’t think you will receive help from anyone on this property.  I have found that the proper use of bribery and blackmail ensures complete loyalty.”

The malevolent eyes narrowed as she went on.  “I have a clergyman, duly bought and paid for, who will perform the ceremony when the time comes.”

Kate experienced a brief flicker of hope at the words “when the time comes”.  It seemed to indicate the forced marriage wouldn’t take place immediately.  She focused again on what the old lady was saying.

“….can’t be too careful.  All of my efforts would be in vain if there was the slightest possibility of a mixed-blood mongrel being mistaken for a true heir of the Fairfield lineage.”

Comprehension dawned as Kate exclaimed in disbelief, “You’re worried I may already be pregnant.”

Mrs. Fairfield’s expression grew even haughtier.  “I have been informed of the extreme lack of breeding and judgment you displayed by entering into a liaison with a half-breed whelp who…”

“How dare you!” came Kate’s impassioned response.  “You are not worthy to so much as speak his name, much less utter such vile filth.”

Ignoring this outburst, Mrs. Fairfield went on, “Obviously, relying on your word in the matter is out of the question.  However, in time your very body will reveal the truth as to whether such misbegotten life lies in your womb.”

Mentally, Kate made rapid calculations.  She knew that in approximately two weeks time, there would indeed be proof that she was not with child.  Within the intrusive bounds of the prison, she held out no hope of keeping this knowledge from her captor.

Mrs. Fairfield was rising, straightening her skirts.  “In the interim, Miss Darrington, it will no longer be necessary to confine you to your room.  This house and its grounds are all open to you.  I suggest you take the opportunity to acquaint yourself with your new home.”

With these final words, she left the room

Watching her leave, Kate realized this casually given freedom chilled her more than the threat of a return to her locked room.  It spoke of the confidence this woman had in the strength of her security.  Be that as it may, however, the opportunity to escape the confines of this oppressive mansion could not be ignored.

Kate let herself out the front doors and took a deep breath of fresh air.  There was no one to be seen as she gazed at the manicured lawn and the winding drive which led to a deep forest.  Walking around to the side of the house, she came across the garden she’d seen from her window.  Its design incorporated large shrubs and hedges to provide numerous private areas within its borders.  As Kate was approaching one of these little alcoves, she could hear the sound of someone sobbing.  Stopping to listen for a few moments, she became certain it was the young man, Jacob.  On the verge of turning to leave, Kate hesitated.  Even with the weight of worry over her own situation, she was not proof against the abject misery she heard in his voice.

Kate cleared her throat loudly and broke several twigs with loud snaps.  She waited until she heard the sobs subside into sniffles before she proceeded into the small glen.

Jacob was seated on a stone bench.  His eyes, though red-rimmed, were dry and he was in the process of wiping his dripping nose on the sleeve of his well-tailored jacket.

Kate thought he resembled a frightened rabbit, ready to bolt at the sight of a predator.  She stopped some distance away and spoke in a comforting voice, “Hello, Jacob.  Do you remember me?  I’m Miss Darrington, but I hope you’ll call me Kate.”  When the boy made no reply, she continued, “This is certainly a very lovely garden.  I hope you don’t mind if I enjoy it with you for a bit.”

Jacob hunched his shoulders.  “I wasn’t crying.”

“I’m sure you weren’t,” came Kate’s soothing reply, “but even if you had been, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Sometimes crying can help us to feel better when something very sad or scary has happened.  Then, we finish our crying and deal with whatever caused it.”

“That’s what James used to say,” he gulped.

Kate thought he looked a bit less skittish than he had earlier, so she chanced moving closer.  When he didn’t flinch at her approach, she seated herself on the stone bench, as far from him as possible.  A memory flickered and she asked, “Was James your brother?”

Kate thought for a moment his tears were about to start again, but he took a deep breath and said proudly, “Yes, James was my brother, and he was very, very brave.  He died saving a little boy who would have been killed by a runaway wagon.”

“Yes, Jacob, it certainly takes a special man to do something like that.”  Kate said gently.  “He must have been a wonderful brother.”

Jacob sighed, “He said the most important job a big brother had was to look after his little brother.  He promised to always keep me safe, but ….” His voice trailed off for a moment.  When he spoke again, his voice was filled with loathing.  “Then SHE came.  She made Hannah leave, and Daniel.  Everybody who’s here now works for her.”

“Who were Hannah and Daniel?”  Kate asked.

“Hannah took care of me.  She sat with me when I was sick and knew all my favorite desserts.  Daniel ran the stable, and he taught me and Midnight to jump.”  A fresh terror came upon him.  “Midnight!  James gave him to me just before he ….,” his voice broke off.  “Now she says if I don’t do what she tells me, she’ll sell Midnight. I’ll never see him again.”

Kate’s heart broke at the pain in his voice.  “What does she want you to do?” she asked gently.

“I don’t know.  She won’t tell me yet, just says she is going to save the family and I must help her.”  He took a gulping breath.  “But I don’t have a family anymore.”

Almost without thinking, Kate moved to sit closer on the bench.  She patted the boy’s hand with her bandaged one.

Jacob whispered, “She IS very bad, isn’t she?”  I heard some of them talking.  She made you come here, didn’t she?  She’s trying to make you do something, too.”

“Jacob?” Kate spoke firmly now, “you’re right.  Your grandmother is trying to do something bad, but I want you to try to stop worrying about it.  It’s not going to happen right away.  There are people looking for me, to help me, and I will ask them to help you, too.”

There was the tiniest bit of hope in his eyes as he said, “There are?  You will?”

“I never had a big brother, like you did, but I had my older cousin, Scott.  He was just like a big brother to me.  He was always getting me out of some kind of scrape.”  Kate’s voice was warm and reassuring as she began to tell stories about her childhood, actually making him laugh at tales of her antics and the many times Scott came to her rescue.

“Now,” she said finally, “Scott and the rest of the people who love me are looking for me.  And any one of them could beat your grandmother with one hand tied behind his back.”

Kate could see she had succeeded in banishing the fear from his eyes, at least temporarily.  “Scott, Johnny,” once again a silent prayer went up, “it’s not just me now.  We have to save this boy from the monster, too.  I’m going to do everything I can, and I’m going to trust that you are out there trying to help me.”

She stood up, taking Jacob’s hand and pulling him to his feet.  “We better go back now, but remember what I said.  We are going to get through this together.”

And she led him back to the house.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 13)

Johnny made his way down to the kitchen for breakfast.  A little while earlier, while he was still dressing, Scott had stopped by his room.  Since the younger man wasn’t quite ready, it was decided that Scott would go down to breakfast, then see Rose, who was going to cash a bank draft for them.  When Johnny finished eating, they would leave for the train depot again.

Sarah, Joseph’s wife, was walking down the hallway carrying a food-laden tray.  Refusing Johnny’s offer of assistance, she said, “I’m just taking this to one of the ladies who’s feeling poorly.  Mr. Scott’s in eating his breakfast now.  Everything’s ready for you on the table.  Like I told Mr. Scott, if you need something more, you just ask that boy to help you.  Not that you’ll have much luck with that.  He’s as ornery as a bear with a sore paw.”  She walked on down the hall, shaking her head.

As Johnny approached the kitchen, he heard a sneering voice “….. got better things ta do than waitin’ on a la-de-da, stuck-up dandy what can’t raise a finger to wipe his own ass.”

“I hardly think a request for more coffee justifies that kind of outburst.”  His brother’s voice was calm, but he could hear the undercurrent of displeasure.  “I also think Rose would find your manners to be quite unacceptable.  Remember that you are a guest in her house and act like it.”

Johnny looked into the kitchen just in time to see Davy stick his tongue out as Scott’s back disappeared through the door.  He studied the boy for a moment.  Davy had obviously been well-scrubbed from top to bottom.  He was wearing clean clothes with a large towel tied around his middle, apron-style, and had evidently been engaged in his assigned task of peeling potatoes.  Johnny gave a small smirk.  He was sure that, in no small part, the boy’s outburst was due to his humiliation in having to assume what he saw as the duties of a scullery maid.  Scott’s forbearance probably meant he had come to the same conclusion.  Still……

“Ya know something, boy?”

Davy’s head jerked up.  He whirled to face the dark-haired man who was entering the kitchen.

“Sassing him like that, that was a bad decision--for three reasons.  First of all, he’s a good friend to Miss Rose.  She sets a lot of store by him and I know she’d be real upset to hear how rude you were to him.”

The man sat in the kitchen chair, leaned back—all comfortable-like—and continued speaking in a soft, slow drawl.

“Second, you really got to get to know a man before making the decision to show him that kinda disrespect.  Does he deserve it?  Is he the kinda man you can get away with talking back to like that?  I think you’da found the answer to both those questions was no, if you’d taken the time to check it out.”

“And then the third reason…..”

There was a pause, but Davy found himself unable to look away.  Whatever comfort he might have taken from the lazy grin on the man’s face was totally contradicted by the steel in those blue eyes.

“I reckon Boston’s nothing like the places I grew up in, but I expect they have woodsheds here, too.”

Now the smile did leave his face.  “That man is my brother, and if I ever hear you speak to him like that again, you and me is gonna be headed straight for the nearest woodshed. And I can promise it’ll be the last time you sass him.  Is that clear?”

The boy swallowed hard and muttered a reluctant “Yes, sir” before turning back to his hated chore.

As Johnny began eating his breakfast, he recalled Scott’s words and grinned.  Once again he had managed to pull it off using only “the force of his personality”.

Finished with his breakfast, he left the room in search of his brother.

***********

It was close to noon when the two men returned to Rose’s house.  Their interview with the porter, while not as successful as they had hoped, had yielded at least one other lead for them to follow.  As the hansom cab sped away, their attention was drawn by the sounds of some kind of altercation in the adjoining alley.  Johnny directed an enquiring look at his brother and, in unspoken agreement, both men headed toward the source of the disturbance.  Over the clash of metal dustbin lids a jeering voice could be heard.  They turned the corner and stopped for a moment, quietly observing the scene.

Davy, still wearing the towel around his waist, was emptying trash cans and arranging the dust bins in the alley.  Leaning against the neighboring building was a young man, maybe seventeen, wearing a servant’s livery.  As Davy busied himself with his task, the older boy was delivering sneering comments to his back.

“Guess dealing with the garbage is the best job they can find for a bastard orphan like you.”

Davy continued working.

“Don’t worry about how they got ya dressed.  I bet tomorrow they find ya a real frilly apron with lace on it,” the boy snickered.

Still no reaction from Davy.

“Well, if it was me, I’d find a better job that working for that whore, Rose.”

The next instant Davy had launched himself at the older boy, making contact with a head-butt to the stomach.  They both went down, with Davy taking advantage of his victim’s loss of breath to deliver a flurry of punches.  However, the older boy had fifty pounds and a foot and a half on the young orphan, and soon reversed their positions, pummeling the younger boy with his fists.

Scott and Johnny determined it was time to intervene.  Stepping into the fray, Scott hauled the liveried servant to his feet.  Meanwhile his brother gave Davy more gentle assistance in arising.

Before either combatant could say anything, Scott turned to the young man, who was wiping the blood from his mouth.  Ramrod straight, the older Lancer was every inch the veteran Cavalry officer, his voice cracking like a whip.  “Is this what your employer is paying you for?  Does he realize you are spending your time brawling in alleys?  Do you think he would be pleased to learn you are harassing a member of his neighbor’s household?  I suppose you think this is brave, forcing a fight on an opponent half your side.”

Now Scott’s voice took on a haughty patrician tone, “How dare you speak in that vulgar and insulting way concerning the lady who owns this home.  If I ever hear that you have paid Miss Appleton anything less than complete respect, you will have me to deal with.”

By this time the young servant was quaking in his boots.

Scott pointed to where Johnny stood with his arm around Davy’s shoulder.  “You owe this young man an apology, immediately.”

The boy stammered out, “I beg your pardon.  It’ll never happen again, I’m sure.”

“Very well,” Scott growled, “see that it doesn’t.”

The servant fled, slamming the door to his employer’s residence behind him.

Turning back to his brother, Scott ruffled Davy’s hair and said, “So, how does he look?

Johnny grinned, “A few more cuts and bruises to add to his collection, but not so many anybody’d notice.”

Scott nodded, “You know, this kind of thing does work up an appetite.  I noticed a beer parlor down the street that serves lunch.”

“Maybe the serve sarsaparilla, too,” Johnny added.

“So what do you say, Davy?” Scott asked.  “Ready for some lunch?”

For a brief moment, the boy’s eyes shone, then his face fell.  “Well, sure, Mr. Lancer, but ……”

Scott interrupted, “You know, Davy, it’s kind of confusing with both of us being called Mr. Lancer.”

Johnny put in, “Besides, when I hear someone talking about Mr. Lancer, I start looking around for my old m—I mean my father.”

“How about you call me Scott?  And this is Johnny.”

“Sure, Scott, but I was gonna say, I reckon I shouldn’t leave without get’n someone’s say so.”

Scott looked pleased.  “I’m proud of you for remembering your responsibilities like that.  I’ll tell you what….”

He spun Davy around and began untying the knot in the towel.  “You start on over with Johnny, and I’ll return this and let them all know where you are.”

Wearing a huge grin, the boy walked down the alley with Johnny, while Scott disappeared into the house.

************

It was about two hours later when the three of them returned.  As they approached the house, Davy couldn’t hide his pleasure over the time he’d spent with the Lancer men.  Aside from providing all the beef stew and sarsaparilla he could devour, he felt Scott and Johnny had treated him almost as an equal.  They shared stories, both from their time together on the Lancer spread and from their individual childhoods.  There had been no lectures, but Davy was wise enough to realize that the purpose of some of the stories was to point out the importance of changing some of his behavior.  They listened well, too, never judging him as he revealed what he saw as some of the shameful parts of his own past.

Just before reaching the house, however, the boy came to a full stop.  As the two men halted and regarded him questioningly, Davy looked up at the blonde Lancer.  He brought his chin up, squared his shoulders and said resolutely, “Scott, this morning….. I shouldn’t never have talked ta ya that way.  It was rude and disrespectful.  I’m real sorry about the way I acted.”

Scott looked at him gravely, “Yes, your behavior was insolent and vulgar.  But you did the right thing, facing up to me about it man-to-man.  I accept your apology.”  Taking the boy’s hand in his, he shook it firmly.

“Now,” he patted the boy on the back, “I think we’ve returned just in time for you to spend a good couple of hours on your schoolwork.”

Again Davy came to a full stop.  This time it was apparent he was about to launch into a fierce protest.  However, after one look at the faces gazing down at him, he uttered a meek, “Yes, sir.” and followed them into the house.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 14)

Davy sat, hunched over Miss Rose’s desk.  There was a glass of milk and a plate of cookies next to his arm.  In front of him lay the arithmetic exercises Miss Rose had assigned, with the firm admonition that they were to be completed this afternoon.  Seated across the room, Johnny, Scott, and Rose were engaged in conversation, their voices too low for Davy to overhear.  He found himself staring at them aimlessly, until his attention was caught by the stern expression in Scott’s blue-grey eyes.  Shifting his gaze quickly, he decided Johnny’s grin, while sympathetic, held no hope for a reprieve.  Signing, he began munching a cookie and again focused his attention on his despised multiplication tables.

This silent exchange didn’t go unnoticed by Rose.  She smiled at the two men, shaking her head.  “I don’t know what you did to that boy, but that’s the most cooperative I’ve ever seen him.”

Scott slanted a look at the small figure laboring over his schoolwork.  “He’s a good boy.”

Johnny added with a grin, “Just don’t be look’n for him to turn into a saint overnight.”

Rose and Scott briefly shared his amusement over this unlikely event, then their expressions became sober, and Scott related the information gleaned from the morning’s interview.  “The porter, Jack Harper, admitted that he had only caught a glimpse of the two women, but he was able to recall that the younger woman had a bandaged hand.  He delivered meals to the man he considered the head guard, and was able to give a description of him: tall, dark hair and a slight Irish accent.”

There was a certain emphasis in his voice as he glanced at his brother and said, “That could describe any number of men, just here in Boston.”

Johnny only grunted.

Scott continued, “Harper was confident he could identify this man if he saw him again, and he also had one other clue.  He overheard a conversation between the guards.  They mentioned a place called Harrigan’s, One of them joked that they should spend more time there if it meant the chance of another easy job like this one.”

Rose nodded, “I’ve heard of Harrigan’s.  It’s not exactly a high class establishment but is know for the availability of high-stakes gambling.  And with the kind of clientele they serve, it would be a likely place to try if someone was looking to hire thugs as guards.”

“We asked Harper if he would be willing to go to Harrigan’s with us to try to identify the guards.  He was nervous about the idea at first,” Scott slid a glance at his brother, “but he seemed to be convinced we could keep him safe.  Unfortunately, he is on duty and won’t be returning to Boston until tomorrow.  In the meantime, Johnny and I figured to go to Harrigan’s tonight and check things out.”

“Well,” Rose began, “I also have some information.  My contact at the railroad company came up with a name.  The arrangements for the private car were made by a man named Amandus Conroy.”

The name produced blank looks from both men.  Rose went on, “Conroy is an attorney.  More importantly, he is an attorney with only one client.  Conroy is the sole agent, manager and legal representative for the Fairfields and claimed to be acting on their behalf when he ordered the special car.”

Scott wrinkled his brow.  “The Fairfields!”

At Johnny’s inquiring look, he went on, “The Fairfields are a rich, old Boston family, one of the bluest of the blue-bloods.”  He looked at Rose, “If memory serves me correctly, the family line is dying out.  James died just before I left Boston.  I remember thinking at the time what a tragedy it was.”

“So you can’t think of anything connecting this Fairfield family to Kate?” asked Johnny.

As Scott looked to be at a loss, Rose interjected, “I hired an individual to investigate the Fairfields.”  She gave a sly smile, “This gentleman is discreet, thorough, and much more inventive in his methods than the Pinkertons could ever hope to be.  By tomorrow you will know everything humanly possible to know about the Fairfields.”

************

Seated at a table set with fine china, polished silver and snowy-white linens, Kate regarded the other occupants of the formal dining room.  Jacob sat at the foot of the table.  Dressed in sophisticated evening wear, he could have passed anywhere for a cultured man of the world, except for his expression of child-like pouting.  He was concentrating on his meal, silent and withdrawn.  Kate had come to realize this was his demeanor anytime he was in his grandmother’s company.  Having spent the day listening to, and reading between the lines of, his artless confidences about his life the past two years, Kate didn’t find this surprising.  Her gaze shifted to the old woman sitting at the head of the table.  Evidently Mrs. Fairfield had other matters on her mind, since she was also eating her meal in silence.

With an inward shrug, Kate allowed her mind to recall the events of the past day.  She’d spent the morning becoming familiar with the layout of the large house, committing the various floor plans to memory, in case some kind of escape plan might require that knowledge.

Having accomplished that, she made her way outside.  The sounds of pounding hooves led her to a stable at the rear of the grounds.  A large training area had been set up and Kate realized the rider guiding the coal-black stallion over the hurdles was Jacob.  She watched, truly impressed with his skill, as he and his mount flew effortlessly over jump after jump.  Whatever mental or social limitations the boy possessed, his horsemanship was beyond question.

She was startled to hear her thoughts echoed aloud.  “Boy may not be much for brains and such, but he sure has a magic touch when it comes to horseflesh.”  The ruddy-faced man lifted his hat.  “Name’s Wyndham, Miss.  I’m in charge of the stables here.  Madam wanted me to inform you that you are welcome to use any of the horses you care to.”  His face was impassive as he went on, “Of course, anytime you ride out, you’ll be accompanied by two armed guards, for safety’s sake.”

Kate mulled over the veiled warning in his statement.  Not much hope of escape under those conditions.  Still, it was a chance to explore the estate and become acquainted with its boundaries and any possible hiding places it might afford.  When Jacob cantered near the fence, she invited him to be her guide for a tour of the estate, and his face lit up as he agreed.

A short time later, the two of them were riding together.  There had been no jeans provided in the wardrobe available to her, but Kate found a riding habit with a split skirt and refused the offer of a side saddle.  Her saddle bag contained a picnic lunch which she had ordered Gertie to obtain from the kitchen

The two mounted guards, each bearing both sidearm and rifle, followed at a distance which was close enough to foil any escape attempt, but still allowed Kate and Jacob privacy for their conversation.

While one portion of her brain kept track of landmarks and possible hiding places, Kate also listened to Jacob’s prattle, using it to draw conclusions about his life before and after his brother’s death.  She encouraged him to talk about whatever pleasant memories he had of growing up on the estate.

His parents had died not long after his accident and he had little memory of them.  It was obvious the boy had adored his older brother, and when he spoke of Hannah and Daniel, even though they were servants, it was with the love accorded a true mother and father.  Kate noticed mention was also made of Anne and William.  Jacob said they were cousins and it appeared they had been frequent guests.  It also appeared that Mrs. Fairfield had not visited often.  Jacob had an explanation for this.  “James didn’t like her either.  He said now that he owned our home lee-ga-lee, “--the boy stumbled over the word remembered, but not really understood--, “he didn’t have to let her come around.”

Grinning he went on, “James had a special name for her.  It was very funny, but when Hannah heard me use it, she washed my mouth out with soap.”  He made a grimace as if remembering the nasty taste.  “James tried to tell her I shouldn’t be punished since he was the one who taught me the name,” again a spark of mischief, “Hannah said that was true, so she washed his mouth out with soap, too.”  He and Kate both laughed.

Recognizing the safe and happy life Jacob had been able to enjoy under the care of James and the people who loved him, Kate was even more horrified when she listened to his description of the past two years.  Taking control of the estate after his brother’s death, his grandmother had systematically removed every person who was loved or familiar from Jacob’s orbit.  She obtained obedience from him by threatening to sell or destroy his beloved stallion, Midnight.

Now as she looked at the old woman sitting just down the table, Kate could only think of her as an evil spider, spinning this web of suffering for years.  As Kate was renewing her own vows to thwart this plan, Mrs. Fairfield spoke.

“I’m going to be going into Boston tomorrow to see to some important business matters.  I’ll probably be there for at least one night.  Please remember that my security will be fully in place, and I will be informed of any pertinent information.”

With that she rose and left the room.  Kate gave Jacob an encouraging smile.  “Remember, you’re not alone any more.  Together we’ll get out of this mess.  Just trust me and the people I know are looking for me.”

As they left the room, she was pleased to see his spirits were a little higher, and she wished she could say the same of her own.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 15)

Harrigan’s would never be described as elegant or high-class.  However, it was snug, comfortable and gave the impression that it had been in existence almost as long as the games of chance which took place within its walls.  Indeed, many of the furnishings had been brought from the old country where they had served this same purpose for untold years.

The bartender was both experienced and observant.  He was instantly aware of the two men standing slightly in the shadows of the entrance.  One dark-haired, one blonde, they were obviously scrutinizing the room and its occupants.  Although he continued to monitor their actions, he felt no particular alarm.  It was not uncommon for patrons of this establishment to display such caution before entering, and if this was a prelude to some kind of trouble, he had a billy club and sawed-off shotgun close at hand.

 

The dark-haired man let his gaze wander to a table near the window where a group of men were playing poker.  The expression on his face, as he watched the players intently, had the bartender unconsciously inching toward his gun.  However, after wordlessly exchanging a glance with his companion, he turned and they both walked out the door.  The bartender shrugged and resumed his duties of serving drinks and surveillance.

Drew Kennedy signaled for another drink from the bar as he simultaneously eyed his cards and the other players seated around the table.  He had been on a hot streak tonight, and this hand was no exception.  He threw his cards down and gathered the money from the center of the table.  “Thank you, gentlemen.  I guess this belongs to me and my full house.”

Two men gathered their chips and left the table.

“So, is there room for another player here?”

At the sound of the feminine voice, Drew’s head swiveled.  He was on his feet before the extremely attractive woman had finished her question.  He made a slight bow and said, “Ma’am, it would be an honor,” while pulling a chair out for her.

It was not uncommon for women to frequent Harrigan’s as guests of the male patrons, and women were welcome to gamble here, although that happened less often.  The owner of the establishment, Terrance O’Reilly, (Harrigan’s hadn’t been owned by a Harrigan in generations) had a hard and fast rule:  You could come to Harrigan’s to get drunk and to gamble.  It you wanted to get laid, however, you had to do it off the premises.

While seating the lady in a chair next to his, Drew took a mental inventory of her obvious attributes:  striking red hair, a trim figure and an air of sophistication.  As the game progressed, he added skilled poker player to the list.

Drew, himself, was too good a player to allow his game to suffer because of the distraction she provided, but then flirting came so naturally to him it didn’t really interfere with his concentration.  And the lady’s expertise when it came to flirting was at least equal to her poker playing skills.

The introductions he instigated revealed her name was Rose Appleton.  After continued signs of mutual attraction, Drew invited her to join him for a late supper at an expensive Boston restaurant.  Rose gave her smiling acceptance, and he excused himself momentarily.  Smitten he might be, but Drew was hard-headed enough to ensure that his winnings were locked up in Harrigan’s safe.  For a small fee, they would remain there until claimed by their owner with a signed receipt.

As the couple left the building, Drew offered his arm to the lady.  He idly noticed a carriage standing in the street with a black servant holding the horse’s heads.  At that moment Rose spoke, saying something provocative in a sultry voice.  Drew heard the sound behind him a split second too late.  Before he could react, his head exploded in pain.

**************

It was the voices that brought him back to consciousness.  His eyes were closed against the throbbing in his skull.  At first the voices were just noise—familiar—but just noise.  Gradually he found his ability to concentrate returning.  He kept his eyes shut and worked on following the conversation and identifying those familiar voices.

“I hope you didn’t hit him too hard.  We want to be able to question him tonight.”

“I didn’t hit him any harder than necessary.  Just make sure you tie him securely.  We don’t want him attempting to escape and maybe succeeding.”

“When I tie someone up, I reckon they stay tied.”

A third voice chimed in, “If you want my opinion, I think he’s awake and just playing possum.”

At this point Drew’s eyes flew open, not because of Rose’s statement, but because he had finally been able to place the owner’s of those two voices.

“Lancer!!!”

Drew winced as the sound of his own shout reverberated inside his pounding head.

Johnny ensured the prisoner’s bonds were secure and stood next to his brother.  Both men watched as Drew once again closed his eyes, dealing with the pain.  In a few moments he looked at them and spoke in a quieter voice.  “What the hell is going on here?  What are the two of you doing in Boston?  And why in hell am I tied up here?”

Scott’s reply was curt, “Just what are you doing in Boston, Kennedy?  I thought you were headed for San Francisco.”

“I did go to San Francisco,” Drew’s pain was lessening slightly and he found the strength to glare at his captors.  “While I was there I got into a high-stakes poker game with a very rich and influential Nob Hill gentleman.  I won a small fortune from the man; he just couldn’t resist drawing to an inside straight.  He was also a very poor loser, and I decided returning to Boston with my pockets full of gold seemed a good plan.  But I still don’t know what the bloody hell is going on here.”

Johnny ignored his demand.  “Well, that’s a pretty good story.  It even explains all the extra cash you suddenly seem to have.”

“And just how do you think I got the bloody cash?”  Drew snarled.

In a level tone, Scott told him, “Tomorrow we have a witness coming here to identify a man who was an accomplice to kidnapping.  If you’re innocent, we’ll find out then.”

The confusion was evident on Drew’s face.  “Kidnapping!  What kidnapping?  Who in blazes am I supposed to have kidnapped?”  He directed a searching look at both brothers and sudden comprehension dawned.  “Kate!  It has to be Kate to have both of you sweating like this.  How?  What happened to her?  Tell me, damn you!”

Fists clenched, Johnny advanced on him.  “We ain’t telling you nothing.  You sound real innocent and concerned, but maybe that’s all just an act.  Maybe you wanted revenge because she turned to down flat.  Maybe it was just a chance to earn a whole lot more than the hundred dollars she paid you.  Maybe it’s some of both, but I don’t have to believe anything that comes out of your lying mouth.”

Now Drew was struggling against his bonds in earnest.  “I never touched her, you damned idiot.  Revenge!  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  I may be many things, scoundrel and rogue among them, but I wouldn’t have harmed a hair on her head for any amount of money.  And what about you?  She thought you hung the moon and stars, and you couldn’t even keep her safe.”

Positioning himself firmly between the two men, Scott put his hands on his brother’s shoulders.  “Johnny, this is doing no good.  Tomorrow we’ll know the truth, and if we find out he’s involved, I won’t hold you back.  Hell, I’ll hold him down for you.”

“I won’t need anybody to hold him down.”  The anger was still apparent in his stormy expression, but he let his brother lead him from the room.

Drew was left alone with Rose, who had been silent during the whole confrontation.  “So I suppose you think I’m guilty, too.”

Rose shrugged.  “How would I know?” she asked.  “We’ve only just met.  I know you’re charming.  I know you bluff well.  I’d like to believe I can’t see in your eyes what would have to be present for a man to be capable of this, but…..”  She started for the door, stopping just once to say, “I hope, for your sake, you’re telling the truth, because if it turns out you’ve helped to harm Kate, Johnny Lancer will kill you without blinking an eye.”
 

Cousin Kate (Part 16)

When Kate came down the stairs in the morning, she found Mrs. Fairfield on the point of departure.

“Ah, Miss Darrington, I’m pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you before I leave for the city.”  She indicated the stern-looking woman beside her.  “This is Mrs. Dobbins.  I don’t know if you remember her, she accompanied you on your journey from California.”

Kate looked at Mrs. Dobbins and shivered.  While she had no memory of that face, there was something about the woman’s presence that chilled her to the bone.

Mrs. Fairfield went on, “I think it’s only fair for you to know that Mrs. Dobbins has instructions to use sedation if there are any problems with either you or Jacob.  She is very experienced in its administration and use.  I’ll be returning as soon as my business if completed.”

She left without a backward glance, and Kate, totally ignoring Mrs. Dobbins, went in search of breakfast and Jacob.

***********

Drew groaned and shook his head.  Despite his discomfort, he had managed to get some sleep, but hunger and other needs were becoming more and more insistent.  At the sound of the door opening, he became instantly alert.

A boy came into the room carrying a tray.  He was followed closely by Rose, who leveled a pistol in Drew’s direction in an extremely confidant manner.

“Now, Davy,” she instructed, “be sure that you don’t get between me and my target there.  Pull that little table up next to him and set the tray on it.”

After the boy had followed these directions, she continued, “Now, Davy is going to untie your hands and I want you to stay seated until he is back standing next to me.  Is that clear?”

“Understood.”  Drew returned her gaze.

Rose nodded to Davy.  Giving the prisoner a wide berth, the boy slipped behind him, loosed his bonds and scurried back to stand behind Rose.

“Now, you may walk behind that screen and take care of any necessities.  You have three minutes.”

Drew was back to his seat in two.  He ate his breakfast with Rose standing over him, her pistol never wavering.  When he was finished, Rose directed the boy to retie the ropes.

“So, Davy, is it?  I can see you’re a useful lad.  You’re doing a fine job, there, with those knots.”  He winced at a sudden tightening of the ropes at his wrists.  “Yes, a fine job.”

The boy, eyeing him suspiciously, went back to Rose’s side.

She smiled at him.  “That was very good, Davy.  You go back and work on your chores.  I’ll be fine.”

Davy hesitated.  “If you, or Scott or Johnny need me for anything, you’ll come get me, right?”

“Of course.”

With one last backward glance, the boy left the room.

Now that Drew was once more immobilized, Rose no longer had the gun aimed at him, rather she held it loosely at her side.

Drew’s smile was charming.  He nodded at the pistol.  “Took some backbone to handle that all on your own.”  His grin widened.  “I surely do admire a woman with backbone.”

Rose’s answering smile was cool.  “Scott and Johnny will be returning with their witness soon.  Guess we’ll see then just how much “admiring” you’re going to be free to do.”

She became still for a moment, listening, then said, “Sounds like them now.  You shouldn’t have much longer to wait.”

The door opened and the Lancers entered the room along with two other men.  Drew recognized the black servant he had seen on the street the evening before.  The other man, wearing the uniform of a railroad porter, looked distinctly nervous about his surroundings and didn’t appear happy to be confronted by a prisoner bound hand and foot.

Scott’s voice was calm and matter-of-fact.  “Now, Mr. Harper, just take your time and look carefully.  Is this the man you saw, the man who traveled in the private car from California?”

Harper followed his advice, looking long and hard before shaking his head and answering simply, “No.”

Johnny spoke urgently, “Harper, are you sure?”

The porter was firm.  “It’s not the same man.  They may both have similar descriptions, but this isn’t him.”

“Joseph,” Scott asked, “can you please see Mr. Harper out and hail him a cab?”

After the two men departed, Scott and Johnny exchanged grim looks.

“We’re back where we started,” Johnny’s voice was tinged with a bit of desperation.

“Now, that’s not true,” Rose insisted.  “My man will be arriving shortly with the file on the Fairfields.  Somewhere in that information, we will find some kind of clue we can act on.”

Deciding they needed a reminder of his presence, Drew growled, “How about somebody getting these bloody ropes of me!”

Wordlessly, Scott released him.  “You’re free to go, Kennedy.”

Drew stood and shook off the ropes, then faced his former captors with his hands on his hips.  “Oh, I’m not going anywhere, boys.”  He spoke right over their protests.  “I don’t know the whole story of this kidnapping, but I’ve gathered that you’re fighting in the dark here, looking up blind alleys and under rocks.  Well, I’m familiar with a lot of blind alleys and know just what rocks to look under in this city.”  Determination rang in his voice.

The two brothers looked at each other, with Johnny shaking his head.  “No! No, I don’t want him having anything to do with this.  I trust him about as far as I can throw him.”

“Johnny.”

Johnny hated it when his brother insisted on being the voice of reason.

“Johnny, we don’t have to like him.  We don’t even have to trust him.  We just need to use him.”

Sapphire eyes met blue-gray eyes in reluctant agreement.

“All right, Kennedy, but just remember we are calling the shots here.”  Mastering his frustration, Johnny left the room, followed by his brother.

Rose looked at the remaining man with speculation.  “Very impressive!  I wouldn’t have figured you for the noble type.”

“Maybe I’m just not the type to walk away when a friend is in trouble.”  A small spark of mischief danced in his eyes for just a moment.  “Then again, maybe I’m just doing it to annoy that young firebrand.”

Shaking her head as she led him from the room, Rose said, “Well, I guess either way, you’re a man who likes to live dangerously.”

**********************

The gray-haired man sat behind the massive mahogany desk.  Shelves of leather-bound books lined one wall and the paintings and other furnishings in the room were evidence of expensive, if masculine, tastes.  His head came up at the sound of the firm knock on the door and he took a moment to place the papers he’d been studying in a folder before calling, “Come in.”

Mrs. Fairfield, dressed in her habitual black, entered briskly.

The man behind the desk stood automatically.  If asked, he would have contended that good manners, like good breeding, were an intrinsic part of his make-up.  He seated his visitor in a comfortable chair before resuming his place behind the desk.

“Millicent, do you really think it’s wise, meeting here like this?”

“Come now, Harlan,” Mrs. Fairfield’s expression was complacent.  “The Fairfields and the Garretts are both respected old Boston families.  As the elder representatives of those families, we have many common interests: businesses, charities and societal obligations.  No one would be suspicious of our meeting.”

She went on in a more accusatory tone.  “It was, however, very rash of you to meet the train when it arrived.  I thought we’d agreed you were to have no contact with your granddaughter until our endeavor has been successfully concluded.  What if she had awakened and seen you?  You’re the one who wanted to ensure that your participation in this plan was kept secret.”

Harlan shrugged impatiently.  “Well, she didn’t wake up, and I simply wanted to be assured that this time the arrangements hadn’t been bungled.  Remember this was all supposed to have taken place while I was in Europe.”

“We’ve been over this before,” Mrs. Fairfield said impatiently.  “Your granddaughter planned her escape from Boston most efficiently.  She was gone before there was any chance to carry out our plan and it took time for my agents to locate her and gather enough information to formulate an alternate method of abduction.”

The old man winced at the bald word.  “That’s another thing,” he expostulated.  “Was it necessary to commit not one but two murders in aide of your scheme?”

“Yes, it was,” Mrs. Fairfield almost hissed.  “Unless you would have preferred that your precious heir be the spawn of a half-breed guttersnipe.  And if that had happened, what chance would you have had to wrest the child from his grandfather’s sphere of influence?  You’ve certainly not had any success in doing so with your grandson.”

Harlan Garrett’s face grew red with anger, however, he held his peace.

Withdrawing papers from the satchel she carried, Mrs. Fairfield placed them on the desk.

“My attorney has drawn up the contracts we agreed on and I felt it was important that we sign them immediately.”

Harlan glanced at the papers.  “These contain all the details we’ve agreed on?”

The old woman nodded, “This child, union of the marriage between Jacob Fairfield and Katherine Darrington, will be the sole heir of both the Fairfield and Garrett estates.”

“And?” Harlan prodded.

“Sole custody shall be awarded to the child’s maternal grandfather.  As the father is certifiably of unsound mind, his guardians—myself and the designated lawyers—have stipulated this in the agreement.”

As Harlan settled in to read the contract carefully, Millicent Fairfield commented, “At the very least, these documents will give you ammunition for an extremely protracted legal battle for custody.  I believe you have experience when it comes to using that threat, combined with a parent’s concern for a child’s well-being, to retain possession of your heir.”

For a moment, Harlan Garrett flashed back to the scene in this very room so long ago.  Murdoch Lancer has been unable to face the prospect of causing his son the pain of an ugly court battle.  Garrett’s expression hardened.  “This time I won’t allow anyone to separate me from my rightful heir.”  And he scrawled his signature several times.  Millicent took the pen and also affixed her signature.

Harlan separated the documents and handed one copy to the old woman across the desk.  “I do have one other concern.  I’m not convinced you’ll be successful in bringing about this union.  My granddaughter can be a very stubborn young woman.”

“The most stubborn individual becomes malleable when the correct methods are employed.”  Millicent Fairfield had no doubts.  “I’ve noticed Katherine possesses not only an overly sentimental nature, but a strong protective streak.  By encouraging her to spend time with my unfortunate grandson, I’ve caused her to direct some of those protective, sentimental feelings toward him.”  Millicent turned black soulless eyes on her partner.  “How do you think she’ll react when I tell her that refusal will result in Jacob being confined to an insane asylum for the rest of his life?”  She shrugged, “Failing that, there are always drugs, physical deprivation, and threats against her loved ones.  I have no fear of failure.”

A slight spasm shook Harlan.  His voice was almost pleading as he said, “It didn’t have to come to this, you know.  If Katherine had agreed to marry any of the suitable candidates I’d suggested, if Scotty had agreed to come home and assume his rightful place as my heir, I wouldn’t have been pushed to these extreme measures.”

Millicent managed to hide her disdain for this weakling who suffered guilt over his part in their plan.  She had no such qualms.  These actions were necessary to save both their legacies.  This fool had no idea how far she was willing to go to ensure the success of her scheme, and since he seemed to retain some sentimental attachment to his granddaughter, he would remain in ignorance.

She stood up.  “I have some other business I must complete before returning to the estate.  You will be contacted when developments warrant it.”

Harlan Garrett closed the door behind his visitor.  Once again seated behind his desk, he remained there for some time brooding over the desperate lengths he had been forced to in his search for a suitable heir.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 17)

Rose’s parlor, normally neat and tidy, bore evidence of the use to which it had been put for the best part of this day.  Almost every surface was covered with papers.  Maps, pages from the detective’s report, and written notes with details of their half-formulated plans littered the room.  Scattered among the papers were empty coffee cups and plates with the remains of an ample supply of sandwiches.

Scott, Johnny, Rose and Drew had begun their “council of war” by analyzing every aspect of the investigator’s dossier on the Fairfields.

The report scrutinized the family’s monetary circumstances, enumerated their business holdings and investments, and gave exact figures as to the size of their fortune.

It also revealed background information on all manner of Fairfields, living and deceased.  Drew was moved to protest against the need to wade through that particular section of the report since, as he put it, “Most dead folks don’t go around kidnapping anyone.”  Scott silenced him with a look and insisted that none of them knew where they might find a clue that could help explain the reason for this complex scheme.

“Well, according to these findings, “Rose commented, “there aren’t that many Fairfields alive to even list as suspects.”

Scott reviewed the notes he had taken.  “This Jacob Fairfield appears to be the last remaining heir, but the information on him is extremely limited.  These doctor’s reports are over ten years old.  They seem to indicate that he was mentally incapacitated as a result of his accident, but there doesn’t appear to be much further information about him.”

“Sounds to me like this old lady’s been running things for the past couple of years, “was Johnny’s contribution.  “She and that lawyer, Conroy, look to be as thick as thieves.  All the legal documents are signed by the two of them.”

When Rose had briefed her investigator, she’d given him enough details about the situation to let him know what they were looking for.  Because of this, part of his report included an exhaustive description of any locations, available to the Fairfields, which would be suitable for holding a young woman as a prisoner.

This evaluation was surprisingly concise, rejecting out of hand various Fairfield-owned business and residential buildings because of their lack of security.  Reading between the lines of this “security evaluation”, it was obvious to everyone that the agents had made use of a judicious bit of breaking and entering to achieve their results.

Johnny exchanged a glance with his brother and drawled, “Well, Rose did say their methods were inventive.”

Scott nodded, “It’s a good thing she was also right about their being discreet.”

It was the section of the report describing the Fairfield’s ancestral estate which really got everyone’s attention.

Scott summed up the details that they all felt were important.  “So we’re looking at a large estate, not far from Boston, very secluded, surrounded by forest.”

“The place is protected by an ungodly number of armed sentries.”  Drew’s expression was grim.  “When you think that these people have a home in town with an impressive inventory of valuable knick-knacks, and Rose’s tame detectives were able to waltz in like they had gilt-edged invitations…”

“Ya have to wonder,” Johnny finished his thought, “what’s on that estate that needs so much guarding?”

By that point, the little group had reached a consensus, and plans got underway to determine whether Kate could be imprisoned on the Fairfield estate and, if so, how she could be rescued.

The ideas under discussion ranged from all out armed assault to a surreptitious attempt to infiltrate the property.  Drew eyed Scott with some speculation as various plans were debated.  “You know, I’m surprised you haven’t made any suggestions about going to the authorities and getting their help in searching for Kate.”  He nodded in Johnny’s direction.  “I’m not so surprised at your brother’s lack of enthusiasm for enlisting their assistance, but I figured you for a pretty law abiding fellow.”

“That’s true in most cases, “Scott met his gaze, “but in the past few years, I’ve discovered that there are instances where that just isn’t feasible.  Sometimes there is no law to turn to, and you have to fight to protect your own.  Sometimes the only law is bad law, and again, you have to take things into your own hands.  And, in this situation, the authorities here in Boston are hardly likely to act against a family as old and respected as the Fairfields with the flimsy evidence we can provide.”

Johnny interjected with a faint smile, “Hey, don’t be fooled there.  Ol’ Boston does a pretty good job of running rings around the law when there’s a good reason to do it.”

Drew caught a look that passed between the two brothers, a reminder of some shared memories, and then they quickly returned to their discussion of the matters at hand.

Finally Scott began pacing the room in frustration.  “What we really need, in order for any of these plans to have any chance of succeeding, is information.  The kind of intelligence any military force would require before planning an attack: an estimate of the opposition’s strength and weaponry, the locations of their sentries, the lay-out of that stronghold…..”

“So what we need, “Rose said, “is a spy.”

Johnny turned to her.  “Another one of your investigators?”

Rose bit her lip.  “He’s already attempted to get information with several of his best men.  They were not successful, and might be recognized if he tried them again.  It would take time for him to find someone else he could trust and find some way for them to infiltrate that household.”  She wrinkled her brow.  “How could we find a way to get someone inside to get information for us?”

Every adult in the room was totally taken aback when Davy’s voice piped up, “How about me?”

The boy had been in and out of the parlor all day, bringing food and drinks and clearing up the mess as best he could.  They had made no effort to hide the reason for their discussion from him.

When nobody answered him, Davy reiterated, “I could do it.”

When Scott started to interrupt him, speaking in a soothing tone, the boy just kept on talking.  “No, really, I could.”  He turned to Rose.  “You know how the orphanage is always trying to find places for us to go into household service.  Most folks is real happy to take us on.  They don’t have to pay much of anything and, ain’t nobody worrying about us being treated good.”  He kept talking to forestall her protests.  “I know Reverend Curtis ain’t like that, but these folks you’re talkin’ about, they don’t know it.”

The boy could tell from their hesitation that they were at least giving the idea some consideration, and continued his plea.  “I’m real good at watching and listening and noticing.  I can find out anything you need to know.”

Now the adults were looking at each other, each one with numerous objections on the tip of their tongue, but still realizing it was worth considering.

Scott raised the concern that was probably foremost on every mind.  “Davy, we don’t know just what the situation is on that estate.  It could be very dangerous.”

Chin up, shoulders straight, the boy replied, “I ain’t scared.”

Johnny ruffled the boy’s hair.  “I reckon we can all see that’s true, but you got to give us some time to talk this over.”

“The way I heard you talkin’, this lady, she maybe ain’t got too much time.”

Again the adults exchanged glances that revealed the truth of that statement.

Scott looked at Rose.  “Do you really think the reverend could get Davy placed in the Fairfield’s residence?”

“Well, it’s true he is always knocking on any door he thinks will provide a home for one of his orphans.  I suppose I could get him to try.”  She looked uneasy.  “I still am not sure, though, about sending him in there alone.”

“Ah, now, darlin’, “everyone turned to look at Drew, who had a devious grin on his face as he spoke, “supposing he didn’t have to go in alone.”

********************

All this had taken place some time ago, and the parlor had been sitting empty while each member of the group attended to details necessary for the success of their plans.

Johnny and Scott were the first to return.  Immediately upon entering the parlor, Scott poured two glasses of brandy and handed one to his brother.  “So, I assume the matter of our transportation has been arranged.”

Accepting the glass, Johnny answered, “Two good mounts, all outfitted and ready to go, will be waiting for us tomorrow morning.”

Scott took a seat next to his brother on the sofa.  “I cashed a draft at the bank and wired Murdoch about our progress.  He knows he can contact us through Rose if need be.”

Almost as if on cue, Rose, herself walked through the door.  Accepting a brandy from Scott, she began to recount the results of her day’s activities.  “Reverend Curtis delivered Davy to the Fairfield’s town residence.  He will be accompanying Mrs. Fairfield when she returns to the estate tomorrow.”  She shook her head, “I guess you could look at it as God’s handiwork because, according to the reverend, the timing was just right.  He took Davy to Conroy’s office just like I asked.  He said this Conroy didn’t seem to be going for it, when Mrs. Fairfield, herself, made an appearance.  Reverend Curtis made his pitch to her, told her how Davy was a kind of troublemaker, but they knew a position in a disciplined household could be the making of him.  I consider the reverend to be a pretty good judge of character, and told me when he looked in that woman’s eyes he saw no evidence of a soul.”  She shivered slightly.  “Mrs. Fairfield said she needed a lad to help in the stable and would take the boy when she returned in the morning.”

Johnny looked worried.  “You reminded the kid to be careful?”

“I repeated all the warnings we gave him, several times over.  He knows what to do if things get too dangerous, but I wouldn’t count on him turning tail, no matter what.  Right now, I’m relying on Drew’s plan to provide him with backup.”

“So how did it go tonight?” was Scott’s next question.

“I carried out my part in the plan with no problem.”  With a mischievous grin, Rose reached into her handbag and withdrew a sizable amount of cash.  “I think I did an excellent job of portraying a woman scorned, who was getting her revenge by wiping out a former lover at the poker table.”  Her grin widened.  “Of course, if you listen to Mr. Kennedy, he’ll tell you he had the more difficult role.”

“Well, darling’, it’s true.”  Drew strolled into the room and poured himself a large brandy.  “I mean, first of all, I had to convince a roomful of people that I was the kind of idiot who would turn his back on a woman like you after only one night.”

He sat next to Rose and regarded her teasingly, “And I also had to persuade that same group of witnesses that I’m such a bad poker player that I could loose that whole fortune to you in one sitting.  It takes a very, very good poker player to be able to do that.”

“The question is,” Johnny interrupted impatiently, “did it work?”

Drew answered, his gaze never leaving Rose’s face, “Yes, like a charm.  The people there know me well enough to know there is not much I won’t do if the price is right.  The thing is, they don’t know me well enough to know there are certain things I wouldn’t do for any amount of money.  So when I explained to the bartender that I needed a job to build up another poker stake, he gave me Conroy’s name.”

Finally, turning to face the Lancer brothers, he went on, “I visited Conroy and gave him the bartender’s recommendation.  Conroy agreed to put me to work as a guard at the Fairfield estate.”  Drew looked cynical, “From the questions he asked, I could safely gather that he was looking for someone willing to follow any orders as long as they were paid well for it.  I convinced him I was that someone.  He also made mention of the fact that the estate housed several individuals who were “not of sound mind”, and I shouldn’t believe any nonsense I heard from anyone there.”

“I am supposed to leave in the morning and report to the head guard for duty.”  He stood, swallowing the last of his drink.  “The arrangements for making contact with you remain the same?”

Scott nodded, “Johnny and I will be staying at a small tavern located in Chase Mills, a village near the outskirts of the estate.”

“Don’t you be worrying, darlin’, I’ll make sure to keep the lad out of trouble.”  Drew gave Rose a comforting look.  “And speaking of trouble, perhaps I could trouble you to return my money.” He glanced at the pile of cash sitting in Rose’s lap.

She gave him a teasing look of her own.  “Oh, I thought with the dangerous mission you were undertaking, you might think this would be better protected in my wall safe.  I’ll even trust you with the combination.”

He shook his head, “Now I know you have me bewitched, woman. That is the most money I’ve ever owned at one time in my life, and I am seriously considering leaving it in your possession.”

The two of them crossed the room, carrying the cash to the painting that concealed the hidden vault.

Scott raised his glass and regarded his brother with something approaching hope.  “We are getting closer, Johnny, I can feel it.”

“You’re right,” Johnny clinked his glass with his brother’s, “I can feel it, too.  She’s there and we are going to get her out.”

“Together!” They uttered the word in unison and each drained their glass before leaving the room, ready to face whatever the future held.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 18)

Davy slowed his diligent activity.  He paused, glanced around the stable to be sure no one was present to observe him, and leaned his shovel against the nearest stall.  Wyndham had obviously left after giving Davy his orders.  By working much more industriously than would be expected, the boy had completed most of his assignment, and he had earned himself a little time to do some investigating.

As he made his way cautiously out of the barn, he considered the last forty-eight hours.  After listening to warnings, admonitions and explicit instructions, he had been sent to the Fairfield’s town residence.  The next morning, found him seated next to the driver on old Mrs. Fairfield’s carriage.  He was grateful that he wasn’t expected to ride inside with the old lady, since the few minutes he’d spent in her presence sent shivers down his spine.  Also, sitting atop the carriage had given him a good view of the grounds as they entered the estate, and he tried to memorize whatever information he could about the position of guards, possible hiding places and any landmarks that could come in handy.

After being turned over to Wyndham, he’d been shown a place to sleep and since then had been kept busy with chores around the stables.  However, he was determined to use this little respite to come up with further information.

Edging around the corner of the building, he caught sight of a horse and rider making the rounds of the training course.  Leaning against the rail fence was a young blonde woman.  She shifted her position, revealing her face, and Davy suppressed a gasp.  Johnny and Scott had shown him a tintype of Kate and there was no doubt in his mind that this was the woman he was searching for.

Before he could get any closer, the man on the black stallion cantered up to the fence.  The rider dismounted and stood talking to Kate.  After a moment of indecision, Davy approached the couple.

“….. is a very fine rider.  He learned that when he was in the cavalry.  But you really remind me of Johnny.  When he’s riding Barranca, you just believe he and that horse both know what the other is thinking,” the woman was saying.

They both turned to look at him as he approached.  “Miss, sir, is there anything I can do for you?  Help you with the horse or anything?”

The young man gazed at him with curiosity, and when he spoke, Davy was puzzled.  Somehow it sounded wrong; he was a man but he talked as if he was just a kid or something.

“Who are you?  I haven’t seen you before.  Are you new here?  What’s your name?

“My name is Davy, sir,” the boy answered.  “I just got here yesterday.  They sent me out from the orphanage.”

“Oh, you’re an orphan, too,” the man said. “So am I.  I’m Jacob and this is my friend, Kate.”

The lady smiled at him and gave him a friendly greeting, but Davy could tell by the look in her eyes that, inside, she was scared.  He was trying to think of a way to get Kate by herself, so he could explain who he really was, when Jacob spoke again.

“Kate tells the best stories.  She was just going to tell me some more about Scott and Johnny.  They have exciting adventures.”

Davy thought quickly.  He climbed up on the top rail of the fence and spoke to the man.   “Do you like stories?  Hey, I know a pretty good one.  Want to hear it?”

 “Sure!”  Jacob was enthusiastic.

“Once there was this gal.  She looked a lot like Miss Kate, here. I think her name was even Kate, too. And there was this ornery old chicken called Attila the Hen.”  As Davy continued with his story, Jacob laughed unrestrainedly, but the boy was watching Kate.  Her eyes widened, and she tightened her grip on the fence as if overcome by a feeling of relief.  The boy was sure she had understood his attempt to let her know that help was near.

Kate joined Jacob in his laughter over the humorous tale, then she suggested that he complete a few more jumps so his new friend could see how well he could ride.

As soon as they were alone, Kate began to speak, “Scott and Johnny……”

Davy interrupted, “They’re here, not far from the estate.  I’m supposed to be their spy, gather intelligence.”  He motioned toward the training field.  “I got more to tell you, but I wasn’t sure if it was OK to talk in front of….” His voice trailed off.

Kate nodded, “Jacob needs rescuing as much as I do, but it’s better if we don’t talk in front of him.  He’s so afraid of his grandmother; it isn’t fair to put him in a position of trying to keep information from her.” 

They both heard Wyndham calling in the distance, and Kate told him to go.  “I’ll make some excuse to seek you out later, find some task I need you to do.  We’ll talk more then.”  She hesitated, “They’re both here?  They really did come to find me?”  Her eyes threatened to fill with tears for just a moment, and then she stiffened her back and hurried him on his way.

*************

Hannah Taylor was hanging the clean laundry to dry in the garden behind her small inn.  She found this to be a good, mindless task which kept her hands busy when she had some thinking to do, and right now she had a lot to think about.

She and her husband had only been running this tavern for about two years, but she had been a good judge of character long before that.  It wasn’t often she was of two minds in her appraisal of any individual, but her two newest guests had her in a puzzle.

On the one hand, they were up to something.  She was sure of that.  Their story just didn’t ring true—looking for property to buy in the area---she almost laughed.  She knew the surrounding countryside like the back of her hand, and there was nothing for sale that would interest those two young men.  She had mentioned that very fact, but it hadn’t stopped them from riding out each day and not returning until suppertime.  And, while it wasn’t that uncommon for men here to carry guns on occasion, that dark-haired boy wore his pistol like it was as much a part of him as his eye-color or charming smile.

And that was the other hand.  Blue eyes and charming smiles not withstanding, Hannah trusted her intuition when it came to attributing things like honor and integrity, and that intuition told her that Scott and Johnny Lancer were indeed trustworthy. So she worried about what they were really doing and whether they were in some kind of trouble.

She knew what her husband, Daniel, would say if she shared her dilemma with him.  “Hannah,” he’d sigh, ”it don’t matter none one way or the other.  It ain’t your concern. You’re in charge o’ cleaning their rooms and fixin’ their meals, not runnin’ their lives.”

Which was true, she supposed, but it was just her nature to try to fix things, even when she knew they were unfixable.  And that, she had to admit, was probably the reason she and Daniel were here running this inn.  Hannah just couldn’t bring herself to move any further from the Fairfield estate than she had to.  It still brought tears to her eyes when she remembered that day, almost two years ago, when old Mrs. Fairfield told her she and Daniel were no longer to be employed in the Fairfield home.  Poor Jacob had needed to be restrained, so fierce was his despair.  Well, the old woman could fire them and keep them off the property, but Hannah had convinced Daniel to buy this inn and here she would stay.  She hadn’t been able to catch more than a few glimpses of Jacob in the past two years, but she prayed for him every day.  A body had to have faith, and faith she had.

 She picked up her empty laundry basket and returned to the kitchen, sighing.  Nothing had been resolved during her little reverie, and now there was supper to see to.  Faith, she reminded herself, a body did have to have faith.

***************

As Scott and Johnny rode out of the forest, each was feeling a combination of jubilation and frustration.  The time they had spent on reconnaissance had paid off.  After scouting around the outskirts of the Fairfield property, they had been able to identify the various sentry posts.  Today, Drew had been manning one of those positions, and was able to pass on some information.

He first made the announcement he knew would be most welcome.  “She’s here, boys, and she’s alive.”

The relief on the brothers’ faces was unmistakable.  In the glance they exchanged, it was apparent that both of them had harbored the secret dread that they might be too late, that no rescue would be possible.

Drew gave them a moment, and then went on, “I haven’t been able to get near the main house, but I was able to make an excuse to visit the stable.  Davy was there and he managed to get close enough to tell me he’d spoken to Kate.”

“So when do we go in?” Johnny asked.

Scott turned to his brother.  It hadn’t escaped his attention that even as Johnny spoke, his hand had moved to his pistol.  His impetuous brother had maintained amazing self-control during the long drawn-out search for the woman he loved, but Scott could see this control was being strained now that the end was in sight.

“We still need a little more information,” was Scott’s cautious reply.  “If we just ride in there with guns blazing, someone is bound to get hurt and it could be Kate.”

“Tonight I’m going to sneak on back to the stable.  The lad’s sleeping in a room there.  Let me find out what more he’s learned.  I’ll be on duty tomorrow at this same site.  Meet me here and we can lay some plans.”

As the Lancer men started to leave, Drew spoke again, “There is one other thing you might check out.”

They stopped to listen.

“I’ve been talking to some of the men.  It seems that little tavern the two of you are staying in is the only place nearby to get a pint, so some of the guards frequent it.”  He continued, “They mentioned that the couple who run the place worked for the Fairfield family for years, until the old lady took over.  And when some idiot made a disparaging remark or two about the young Fairfield heir in front of the wife, she was like to take a cast-iron skillet to his head.  From the talk I heard, this couple…,”he paused.

“The Taylors,” Scott supplied.

“Well, they have no great love for old Mrs. Fairfield, “Drew went on.  “Maybe you two could get some background, find out anything they know that could help us.”

The brothers had agreed, and now they traveled back toward the inn, determined to do anything it took to bring this long ordeal to a close.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 19)

“Tomorrow”

Kate woke suddenly, sitting bold upright in her bed, with her heart pounding.  That one word, “tomorrow”, was echoing in her mind.  Forcing herself to breathe more slowly, she lit the lamp at her bedside and consulted the clock on the mantle.  “Not tomorrow,” she thought, dread warring with excitement, “today!”

After days of biding their time and formulating the most effective strategy possible, today would see their plans set in motion.  Success would mean freedom for both her and Jacob, but the risks were very real.

Walking to the window, Kate gazed out at the garden, bathed in moonlight.  She recalled the events of the past few days.

Thinking of Davy, she smiled.  The young boy had been an invaluable ally from the first afternoon when he used that silly chicken story to identify himself as someone she could trust.  He was clever and adroit, managing to carry messages between Kate and her would-be rescuers, undetected.

And Drew—Kate could hardly believe her ears when Davy explained how the gambler had first been suspected of being an accomplice in her kidnapping, then had insisted on joining in the search.  With Davy acting as a go-between, she arranged to meet him in the stable.  The boy acted as a look-out, and she was able to provide Drew with as many details as possible about the reason behind her kidnapping and the kind of security they faced inside the mansion.

She must have worn a look that revealed her desperate need for reassurance, and Drew, being Drew, went about providing it in his own way.  “Now, darlin’, you mustn’t be worrying about this little mess at all.  That young Galahad of yours, he’s spitting fire and ready to take on the hounds of hell to rescue you.  I should know, I’ve still got the knot on the back of my head to prove it.”  There was a smile lurking in his eyes as he went on, “And that cousin of yours!  Don’t let his fancy, well-bred manners fool you.  When it comes to protecting someone he loves, he’s every bit as ruthless as your fire-breathing young gun-hawk.  Between the two of them, they’ll have you out of here before that bitch of a she-demon realizes you’re gone.”

His foolish banter had helped soothe her fears, and she was once again determined to do her part in foiling old Mrs. Fairfield’s evil scheme.

Returning to her bed, Kate reached under her pillow and withdrew a small bottle.  Carrying out this part of the plan had been nerve-wracking.  It had taken more than a little cunning and stealth to discover where Mrs. Dobbins kept her medical supplies and transfer all the laudanum to this bottle.  She’d filled the original container with water, hoping the substitution wouldn’t be noticed until too late.

Replacing the bottle under her pillow, Kate climbed back into her bed, resolving to try to get at least a little sleep before dawn signaled the beginning of their desperate undertaking.

*************

Johnny contemplated the silvery outline of the full moon, just visible between the branches of the trees outside his window.

“So you couldn’t sleep either?” He asked, his gaze never leaving the moonlit trees.  Although his brother’s approach had been silent, he’d been instantly aware the moment Scott entered the room.

The elder Lancer joined his brother at the window before answering.  “Seems as if I never can, the night before something like this.  It was the same for me during the war, when I knew dawn would bring a major battle.”

“Not me.  I reckon I’ve lost count of the number of nights I’ve spent waitin’ on daybreak, knowin’ that the coming day might be my last.”  Johnny shrugged.  “It never stopped me from getting a good night’s shuteye before.”

Scott slid a glance at his brother.  “Confidence in your abilities?” with just a hint of teasing in his voice.

Johnny’s reply, when it came, was in the measured tone of someone who’s put serious thought into his words.  “I reckon, back then, I just never felt I had that much to lose.”

Scott reached out and put one hand briefly on his brother’s shoulder.  There was silence for a few minutes.

When Johnny next spoke, it was in a decidedly lighter tone.  “Course, neither of us probably has much to worry about.  I reckon once Hannah gets done with that crew, there won’t be much left for us to do but clean up the mess.”

Scott couldn’t suppress his grin at the truth of that statement.  He recalled a conversation that had taken place between Hannah Taylor and the Lancer brothers some days ago and its aftermath.

*************

After their meeting with Drew, Scott and Johnny tried to engage their landlady in small talk, hoping to gain some information about the Fairfields.  It didn’t worked out at all the way they’d planned.

Hannah Taylor was nobody’s fool.  It seemed obvious she’d been somewhat suspicious of their activities from the start, and she was now intent on getting some answers from them.

Scott was put forcibly in mind of his old governess, a lady who inspired great devotion in her charge, but also ruled the nursery with an iron hand.  Lying was not tolerated.  He realized he was not alone in this feeling when he noticed that Johnny Lancer’s famous charm had all but deserted him.  The younger Lancer was responding to her questions with a meek “Yes, ma’am” or “No, ma’am.”

At this point, the brothers needed only to exchange a glance to confirm what they were both thinking.  After requesting that Daniel Taylor join them, the Lancer men related the whole story of Kate’s kidnapping and their now certain knowledge that she was being held on the Fairfield estate.

Daniel absorbed the information quietly, displaying shock, but no disbelief.  Hannah’s reaction was ear-splitting.  Far from being skeptical of their claims, she announced that she wasn’t surprised at all and proceeded to characterize old Mrs. Fairfield in varied and colorful terms that stopped just short of profanity.

When Hannah’s tirade subsided some, Johnny asked a question that had been unanswered since this whole disaster had begun.  “Why, Ma’am? That’s what Scott and I don’t understand.  From everything we’ve heard, this Fairfield woman is capable of just about anything, but what reason would she have to kidnap Kate?”

With a decisive nod, the angry woman gave her explanation:  Old lady Fairfield was obsessed with the idea of continuing the unbroken father-to-son succession of the Fairfield legacy.  Hannah made plain the outcome of Jacob’s accident and how James’s death had impacted the possibility of future heirs. Her final statement—“I am convinced that evil old woman wants to force your Kate and my poor Jacob to produce an heir for her!”—was proven to be correct when Scott and Johnny met with Drew the next day.

Further discussion with Hannah and Daniel revealed another area that the Lancer brothers felt needed to be explored.  It was Hannah who brought up the matter of the will.

“I never did believe that James would have left matters concerning the estate and, especially concerning Jacob, in the hands of that mad old woman.  He hated her.”  Hannah insisted.  “Even though he never spoke of it to me directly, I was sure he was going to name Anne and William as Jacob’s guardians.”  She explained that William was Jacob and James’s cousin.  “But, he wasn’t a Fairfield.  William’s father had been a brother to the young Mrs. Fairfield.  When no will was discovered, the old lady had her lawyers all set.  They pointed out that there were no other heirs with Fairfield blood and forced the courts to appoint her and her shifty lawyer as Jacob’s guardians.”  Hannah snorted.  “We were all sure there had to be a will, but Anne and William weren’t rich.  They couldn’t afford the kind of attorneys they would have needed to fight the issue in court, and certainly, no one was going to take the word of a pair of servants.  There was nothing we could do.”

Scott determined that the matter of the will could be an important factor in the aftermath of whatever rescue attempt they mounted, and when they laid their plans, certain explicit instructions had been sent to Rose regarding Conroy’s office.

The next several days saw intensive planning sessions between Scott, Johnny and the Taylors.  Drew related all the information he had gleaned from Kate and his own observations about the state of security on the estate.  With the same painstaking forethought that would have gone into organizing a major battle, these participants had constructed a complex rescue attempt.

*************

Now Scott’s grin turned into a chuckle as he responded aloud to his brother’s remark about Hannah.  “I said something to Daniel once, while we were setting up this whole crazy scheme.  I asked him if he wasn’t concerned about letting his wife be involved in such a dangerous situation.”

Johnny cocked an inquisitive eyebrow. “And?”

“He gave me that same old calm look.  You know he’s been unflagging and tenacious during this planning ordeal, but I’ve never seen him lose his temper or even appear upset.  He said he was just as concerned about Kate and Jacob as Hannah and, besides, he had learned after twenty-five years of marriage that when his wife got a head of steam up like that, there was nothing to do but stand back and let her have at it.”

The lighthearted moments the two men were able to spend laughing at the mental picture this raised ended as the first rays of sunrise broke on the horizon.

Their plans had been made.  Each participant knew their assigned tasks.  Timetables had been scrutinized.  This day would see the results of their rescue attempt, be it success or failure.

And they headed out the door.

Cousin Kate (Part 20)

By the time the first traces of sunrise were visible, Kate was dressed and on her way to the kitchen, the bottle of laudanum tucked in the pocket of her skirt.

That first morning, when Kate had arrived in the scullery at dawn, the servants had reacted with shock and amazement.  Her explanation—that she’d acquired the habit of early rising during her stay in the west and actually enjoyed visiting the kitchen to obtain coffee and scones—was greeted with thinly veiled disbelief.  However, nobody objected to her odd preference.  Kate was certain Mrs. Fairfield had been informed, and while the old lady probably disapproved of such undignified behavior, she made no protest.  Indeed, in many ways the old woman seemed to be going out of her way to make Kate’s captivity less onerous.  The servants had obviously been ordered to be respectful and obedient to any order that wouldn’t help with her escape.  Old Mrs. Fairfield kept her contact with Kate and Jacob to a minimum, while encouraging them to spend time together.  Certain as she was that this treatment was just a tactic in the old woman’s scheme, Kate didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it to further their escape.

And so the kitchen staff, accustomed to her early morning presence, paid her scant attention and she was able to tip the laudanum into the coffee pot without being observed.

**********************

Drew had also used the last several days to establish his reputation as an early riser, consistently being one of the first of the guards on the day shift to visit the cook shack next to the bunk house.  So, on this morning, no one noticed his slight-of-hand as he added laudanum—conveyed to him by Kate through their go-between Davy—to the morning coffee.

**********************

The sun inched just a fraction higher, lightening the sky, as Hannah waited in the wagon.  Holding the reins in her capable hands, she controlled the restive team with very little effort.  While Daniel loaded the last of the necessary supplies into the buckboard, the woman watched the two Lancer men mount their horses.  Hannah took a certain satisfaction in the knowledge that her instincts about them had been correct.  She had been given plenty of opportunity to observe them during the planning of this little operation, and everything she’d seen confirmed her first impression of their excellent character.

She had, of necessity, learned something of their background when they explained the story of Kate’s kidnapping.  It was her understanding that the brothers had met for the first time only two years ago, but their behavior suggested that they had developed a strong bond in that time.  Their obvious differences could be typified by their disparate appearance on horseback.  Dark-haired Johnny, posture relaxed, seemed to almost laze in the saddle, but this effect was belied by the tension about his eyes and a tendency for his hand to hover near his low-slung pistol.  By contrast, his blond brother sat ramrod straight, alert and watchful.  While Scott displayed the polished, cultivated manners of his more genteel Boston upbringing, Johnny’s social behavior reflected his natural, unaffected style.  Hannah was clear-sighted enough to discern the innate chivalry they both possessed.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to manage alone?”

Hannah was roused from her wool-gathering to find that Daniel had mounted his horse, and she answered Scott’s question firmly.  “Of course, I will.  You all just take care of yourselves.”

She watched them disappear into the woods before setting off down the road in the opposite direction.

**********************

Kate knocked on the door of the small sitting room which had once been Jacob’s nursery.

“I’ve brought you some hot chocolate and scones,” she smiled as he opened the door.

Jacob’s eyes lit up at the sight of this small treat.  Kate entered the room, resolved to do her best to keep him calm and protect him from the events which would take place in the next few hours.

************************

It was Johnny who was first aware of another presence in the woods, and his gun had cleared leather before the other men realized anyone was approaching.

“I’d say it’s time we put that talent of yours to good use, Lancer.”  Drew’s grin was in direct contrast with the grim look in his eyes.  “So far as I’ve seen, our plan is working, but let’s waste no time in seeing to it that this lot is trussed up tight.”

Thus began a procedure that was repeated at each sentry point throughout the estate.  The drugged guards were easily incapacitated and after binding them securely, the rescue party removed any weapons and left them to sleep off the effects of the laudanum.

Daniel parted company with them, leaving to meet his wife at the agreed rendezvous point.

Scott, Johnny and Drew approached the site of the mansion and outbuildings with extreme caution.

“Most of the men on the night shift hit the sack without drinking any coffee.  They may be asleep, but it won’t be a drugged sleep.”  Drew spoke in a low voice.  “And, of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll all be in the bunkhouse.”

They left their horses tethered just inside the woods and, guns drawn, silently advanced on the outbuilding containing the sleeping guards.

Drew indicated, with gestures, his intention of entering by the back door.  Scott and Johnny nodded, and each brother took a stance on opposite sides of the front entrance.  Their eyes met, and in unspoken agreement, they rushed into the room.  Their move coincided with Drew’s, and the majority of the groggy mercenaries, faced with three armed men, made no attempt to resist.  However, as Johnny commented later, “There just had to be one.”  And there was--one man with a gun beneath his pillow.  Only the lightning reflexes of Johnny Madrid prevented the man from achieving his goal—blasting a hole in the back of the blond man walking past his bed.

Drew pointed his gun at the dead man.  “Now didn’t I say that talent of yours would come in handy, Lancer?”

“Very handy indeed.” Scott’s tone was casual, but his true gratitude was conveyed in the look he directed at his brother.  “Thanks, brother.”

“Da nada.”  Johnny flashed a brief but brilliant smile before directing two of their prisoners to tie up the others.  The dead man lying in their midst insured their cooperation.

After completing the immobilization of the subdued guards and gagging each of them, the three men consulted about the next step in their plan.

“We need to secure the rest of the grounds, all the outbuildings and the main house.”  Scott was concise and decisive as he outlined their plan of action.  ‘’After this gunfire, we’ve lost the element of surprise, so speed is important.”

 He turned to his brother.  “Johnny, you’ve memorized Hannah’s instructions about the layout of the house, so you know how to get to the room where Kate and young Fairfield are waiting?”

Johnny nodded, “Yeah, I can find them.”

“Then you take the house,” Scott instructed, “Drew and I will clear the outbuildings and grounds, so they’re safe when Hannah and Daniel arrive.”

Johnny slipped quietly from the bunkhouse, and Scott turned to Drew.  “Davy?”

“His room is in the back of the stable,” Drew replied, “I gave him his marching orders.  He knows he’s not supposed to move from there til one of us comes to get him.”

“Then we’ll split up, go in opposite directions.”  They began walking toward the door as Scott continued.  “Meet me at the stable and after we check on the boy we’ll help Johnny inside the house.”

*************************

Davy had been pacing the confines of his cell-like room since sunrise.  He had argued long and hard with Drew about his role in today’s rescue attempt.  “I can help, “he’d pleaded.  “I know how to fight and I reckon I could shoot a gun if someone showed me how.”

“No, you don’t, lad.  You’re to stay just where you’re told until one of us gives you the word to come out.”  Drew had been uncharacteristically stern. “Davy, you disobey us on this, and I’ll warm your britches for you.  You WILL stay put.”

This threat had been sufficient to ensure the boy’s compliance until he heard the gunshot. He stood on a chair and spent some time staring out the tiny window placed high on the wall.  There wasn’t a soul in sight.  Coming to a decision, he inched open the door that led to the stable and peered out—nothing but silence.  Further emboldened, he crept out, moving cautiously from stall to stall.

A noise caught his attention and he looked behind him in time to see Wyndham enter the stable carrying a pistol.  The stableman seemed to be searching the barn for any intruders.  Davy eyed the distance between himself and the door to the stable yard.  With a sudden feeling of panic, he launched himself toward freedom.

“Hey, boy, where do you think you’re goin’?”  Wyndham roared.

Davy froze.

“I knew you were trouble from the first. You’re part of this ain’t you, kid?” the man snarled.  “I seen you getting friendly with that bitch, and your good friend, that bastard Kennedy, just helped take down a whole roomful of guards.”

As the man’s gun swung in Davy’s direction, Drew appeared in the doorway and fired a shot at Wyndham.  Wyndham took cover behind a stall, while firing several rounds.

Davy looked frantically for cover, but before he could make a move he was knocked to the floor.  Drew grabbed him, shielding him from the bullets that were striking the ground all around them.

Suddenly the gunfire ceased.  Wyndham staggered out of the stall and collapsed in a heap on the floor of the barn with Scott Lancer standing over him, gun drawn.

A cursory glance was enough to assure Scott that their assailant was dead, and he turned his attention toward the pair lying near the door, asking, “Davy, are you hurt?”

“No, Scott, it ain’t me.”  There were tears in the boy’s eyes.  “He jumped in front ‘o me, and pushed me down.  I’d of been hit for sure if he hadn’t.”

Examining the injured man, Scott discovered two bullet holes, both entering his back and exiting through his chest.  Realizing the greatest danger right now was loss of blood, he applied pressure to the wounds and directed Davy to find some kind of cloth for bandages.  The boy dashed off and quickly returned with a stack of clean towels.

Scott made a pad of several towels, placing one beneath Drew’s back and putting pressure on the other in an attempt to slow the bleeding.

The big Irishman gave a low moan and opened his eyes.  He attempted to struggle against Scott’s restraining hold, but quickly subsided.

“Hold still, now,” Scott admonished.  “You’ve got a couple of holes in your back, and you don’t want to move around right now.”

Drew’s eyes were focusing now as he stifled another moan.

“Ah, I remember,” he whispered.  “I sure hope you got the back-shooting son-of-a…….”  He winced.  After a moment he started to struggle again and asked in a stronger voice, “The boy—Davy—is he all right?”

“Don’t move, I said!”  Scott’s tone was sharp.

Drew ceased struggling once again as he caught sight of the boy’s tear-stained face.

“I’m fine, Drew, honest,” Davy assured him.

“That’s good, boy, that’s good.”  Drew seemed to be putting great effort into concentrating and when he spoke again it was to demand information of Scott.

“That brother of yours, he’s in the house looking for Kate.”  He took a ragged breath and went on.  “You need to go in there and back him up.  Don’t worry.  The lad, here, will tend to me just fine.  Won’t you, Davy?”

Scott directed a concerned glance out the door, then turned to the boy.  “Davy, I need to go help Johnny.  Do you think you can stay with Drew for a while?”

There was no hesitation in the boy’s reply.  “Yes, sir!  You just tell me what to do.”

Scott showed him how to keep the fabric pad pressed tightly against the wound.  Then he pointed toward the stable yard.  “Sometime soon, a lady should be arriving here in a wagon.  She’s going to have a doctor with her.  You just shout out nice and loud and get him in here as quick as you can.”

Leaving the barn, Scott drew his pistol and headed quickly for the main house.  He had just reached the front door when he heard a gunshot ring out somewhere upstairs.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 21)

The sun rose higher in the sky.  Kate followed its progress, standing beside the window in Jacob’s sitting room.  It wasn’t until he spoke that Kate realized the boy had stopped eating and was regarding her with fearful eyes.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?”

“Oh, Jacob!”  Kate crossed the room to sit beside him on the loveseat.  She decided that he needed an honest answer.  “It’s not really that something’s wrong.  Remember how I told you that Johnny and Scott were looking for me, and that they would help us?”

Jacob nodded.

“Well, they have found me and they have a plan to rescue us.  But your grandmother has a lot of guards and it’s going to take a little time.  You and I have to stay in this room.  Scott and Johnny will be coming to look for us here when it’s safe.”

Her smile held reassurance.  “And that’s not all.  Someone else is helping with their plan, and they’re coming to help take care of you.”

The young man gave her a questioning look.  “Who?”

“Hannah and Daniel,” Kate replied, “Scott and Johnny will be bringing them here today.”

“Really?” Jacob whispered, a hopeful expression on his face.  “Are they really coming to get me today?”

“Yes, but they may have to do some fighting, and there may be some shooting.  You are going to have to be brave, even if it’s scary.”  Kate gave his hand an encouraging squeeze.  “Can you do that?”

He sat up straight and lifted his chin.  “I can be brave.  James said I was a plucky lad.  That means brave, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does, Jacob.”  Kate glanced toward the window once again.  “Now, it may be a while before anything happens.  I know waiting is hard.  Would you like me to tell you a story to help pass the time for a bit?”

The boy brightened.  “Can you tell me the story about when Scott and Johnny held up the train.”

Kate couldn’t suppress a grin.  “I’ve told you that one so many times, I’d think you’d have it memorized by this time.  Are you sure you’re not tired of it?”

Jacob shook his head vigorously.

“Well, all right, then.”  As Kate had hoped, the retelling of the familiar tale seemed to help the boy relax.  However, they both jumped when a gunshot rang out a short time later.

“Jacob, stay here.  Don’t move.”  Kate rose and moved quickly to the window.  Being careful not to make a target of herself, she stood to the side and peered out the window.  The yard below was empty.

Returning to the boy’s side, Kate reached into her pocket.  According to Drew, the little derringer, though small, was reliable.  It had required a great deal of creative smuggling, but the tiny pistol was in her hands now.  She noticed Jacob’s eyes widen.  “It’s all right,” she assured him.  “This is just to help keep us safe.”

Again the boy made a valiant effort not to betray his anxiety.  “I’m not scared of guns.  James used to let me watch when he practiced shooting.  He was going teach me how to handle a gun when I got older.”

Kate flexed her right hand, assuring herself that although still somewhat stiff and sore, it would be able to pull the trigger, if necessary.  She confirmed that the door leading to the hallway was indeed locked.  Jacob remained seated, but his eyes followed her as she once more took a stand at the window.

Once again gunfire was heard.  This time multiple shots were fired.  Kate’s attention was focused on the yard below the window.  Suddenly an arm snaked around her and she felt the prick of a needle on her neck.

“Drop it!,” the old woman hissed.  “Drop it or I’ll make sure you never see the face of your supposed rescuers.  This poison will kill you before you can squeeze the trigger anyway.”

As the needle was pressed more deeply into her neck, Kate set the gun on the small table nearby.  Mrs. Fairfield’s grip loosened slightly, although the syringe remained close, ready to release its poison.  Changing her position slightly, Kate was able to observe her assailant.  The old lady’s iron-gray hair, normally kept ruthlessly in place, was disheveled.  She was wearing a night-dress and her feet were bare, allowing her to walk noiselessly.  The door to Jacob’s adjoining bedroom was ajar.

When the old woman spoke again, Kate could see the madness, which had always been present under the surface, raging in her face.  Her eyes were hate-filled and bulging, and saliva dripped from the corners of her mouth.  “Their efforts will be in vain!”  She was ranting now.  “My plan may have come to ruin, but they will see you die in front of their very eyes.”

“NOOO!!”

The voice sounded so unlike Jacob’s that Kate was sure his grandmother was as taken by surprise as she was.  That unfamiliar voice continued speaking, and Kate found herself released suddenly from the old woman’s grasp.  “I won’t let you hurt Kate. I won’t let you.”

Kate whirled around and couldn’t suppress a gasp at the scene before her.  Jacob had his hands around his grandmother’s throat.  He held her there, not yet exerting the force necessary to choke the life out of her.  But Kate knew that he was capable of that strength, and she cringed at the thought of this man-child having to live with the memory of taking a life.

The old woman was screeching at him, “How dare you, you useless imbecile!”

Kate watched in horror as the woman began to manipulate the syringe in her hand, bringing it closer to her grandson’s unprotected neck.

The next few moments would always be a blur in Kate’s mind.  The gun was in her hand before she even knew what she was doing.  The only thing that would stand out in her memory was the voice she knew she heard, whispering in her head.  “I can’t do this,” had been her first clear thought. “Of course, you can do it, querida,”  came the familiar, drawling voice. “You do it just like I taught you.  Use both hands.  Aim carefully.  Take a deep breath and hold it.  Squeeze the trigger gently, don’t jerk it.”

The loud report was still echoing in her ears as she watched the crimson stain spreading on the old woman’s white nightdress.  Jacob released his hold, standing in shock as his grandmother collapsed onto the floor.  Kate hadn’t realized she was still holding her breath until she gasped for air.  She approached the boy gently and drew him away from the corpse crumpled at his feet.

With a crash the door burst open.  Johnny rushed into the room, his eyes taking in the scene at a glance.  After assuring himself that there was no further danger lurking in the room, he holstered his gun.

Jacob was shaking uncontrollably, and Kate had her arm around his shoulder speaking soothingly, “Jacob, don’t worry.  This is Johnny.  You remember all the stories I told you about Johnny.  He’s here to help us.”

Johnny resisted the impulse to tear Kate away and wrap her in his arms.  He recognized the boy’s abject fear and spoke softly.  “Kate, are you and the boy both all right?”

Before she could answer, they all heard the sound of footsteps pounding down the hall.  Johnny had drawn his gun and had whirled to face the door, when Scott appeared, breathing hard.

“It’s over, brother.  They’re both safe.” The younger Lancer spoke as he holstered his gun again.

Scott entered the room cautiously and stood next to his brother.  He eyed the bloodied corpse and looked questioningly at Johnny.  The younger man shook his head.  “Nope,” he said softly, “Kate seems to have taken care of that herself.”

Kate continued to address Jacob, “That’s my cousin, Scott, remember.  We’re safe now, Jacob.  No one can hurt you anymore.”

The boy continued to shake and Kate didn’t know if her words were making any impression on him in his traumatized condition.  Then his head came up at the sound of a feminine voice speaking his name from the doorway.

“Jacob, my dear, it’s all right now. Hannah is here.”  There were unshed tears in the woman’s eyes, but she kept her voice steady as she walked into the room.  “You just let Hannah take care of everything.”

”Hannah!”  It seemed, in that instant, that shock and horror were replaced with joy.  He threw himself into her welcoming arms and rested his head on her shoulder.

Leaving Jacob to receive the comfort he so deserved, Kate turned to face her beloved rescuers.

Johnny’s arms were around her before she could form any words, and she allowed herself the luxury of just being crushed in his embrace, of once again hearing that whispered, “Querida!”.

At her heartfelt—“Please don’t ever let me go!”--he held her even closer.

When he released her, it was to bring his lips to hers for a long and lingering kiss.  Then he stood back and smiled that unforgettable crooked grin.  “I reckon I’d better let your cousin get his turn now, or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Scott clapped him on the back and said, “Don’t worry, little brother, you’ll get all the time you need—when I’m done.”

Kate smiled up at her tall blonde cousin.  “Oh, Scott, I knew you’d find me.”

He swept her into an affectionate hug.  “Well, little cousin, as long as you keep getting into these scrapes, I guess I’ll have to be around to get you out of them.” After a quick kiss on the forehead, he stepped back.

All three of them turned when they heard Hannah’s brisk voice.  “Well, now, that was a masterful plan, Scott Lancer, and you boys surely did make a success of it.  But, now, we’ve got a bit of a mess to clean up, so we’d better get to it.”

 

Cousin Kate (Part 22)

Scott and Johnny sat side by side in the richly appointed library of the Fairfield mansion.  The younger Lancer had done some investigating and the results of his search, a decanter of really fine old Scotch, sat before them on a low table, along with two glasses.

The day had been a long one, as they did their part in accomplishing what Hannah termed—“cleaning up the mess.”

*************

Their most immediate concern had been Drew’s injuries.  Fortunately, Scott had prepared for the likelihood of casualties during their assault by sending Hannah to fetch a doctor at daybreak.  Dr. Johnson had quickly determined that both bullets had passed cleanly through Drew’s chest, missing any vital organs.  Barring any complications, such as infection, he predicted a full recovery.  They moved the injured man to a bedroom in the main house and made him as comfortable as possible.

The next major undertaking would be gathering up the various conspirators (guards and servants alike) who lay, drugged and trussed up in various locations around the estate and grounds.  This job became much easier when the reinforcements Scott had arranged for arrived from Boston.

The little convoy reached the main house soon after the assault ended.  Rose’s buggy was accompanied by four armed guards, hand-picked by her creative, discreet and useful private detective.  With the aid of the extra men, the prisoners were soon confined to the bunkhouse, awaiting whatever decision was to be made concerning their fate.

Rose also conveyed two other items, which were necessary components of Scott’s plan.  One was a strongbox containing a good portion of the locked files from Amandus Conroy’s office. A swift and silent early morning raid had been executed by some of the best men employed by Rose’s investigator.  And, to help examine those legal papers, and sort out the criminal and civil complexities of this whole mess, Scott had called upon the services of an old school friend.  Marcus Anderson, a bright young attorney who graduated at the top of his class in Harvard, had been intrigued by the letter he received from his former classmate.  It outlined a criminal conspiracy of incredible proportions and he was excited by the challenge it presented.

Scott had made detailed plans for dealing with the aftermath of what he prayed would be a successful rescue attempt.  There had been just one small aspect of those plans about which he had experienced some doubts.  He admitted to himself that he was a bit concerned about how Hannah Taylor, good-hearted but fairly straight-laced, was going to react to the inclusion of a woman of Rose’s background into their number.  As matters transpired, he needn’t have worried.  Hannah and Rose took to each other as if they were life-long friends.  They made a smooth team, coordinating details of nursing requirements and housekeeping tasks, while still indulging in their mutual need to revile the deceased Mrs. Fairfield for her evil intentions.

************

Johnny took note of the fact that his brother, staring silently into the fire, acted like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Scott had spent the better part of the afternoon closeted with Mark, studying not only the papers found in Conroy’s office, but also the contents of the safe in Mrs. Fairfield’s room.  Meanwhile, Johnny had dealt with other issues, securing the grounds and arranging a schedule for the guards.  This was the first opportunity the brothers had found to meet together alone, and judging from Scott’s demeanor, there were matters they needed to discuss.

“Those guards Rose’s tame detective dug up seem pretty experienced.” Johnny offered, “They shouldn’t have no problems keeping track of that group out in the bunkhouse til we figure what to do with’em.”

“Uh, huh.”  Scott’s abstracted reply confirmed his brother’s belief that something was weighing on him.

“I had a little talk with Davy this afternoon.” Johnny continued.  “He’s still taking it real hard about Drew getting shot, blames himself pretty bad.”

“The boy’s young.”  Scott frowned.  “He made a mistake, but he did help make up for it.  Kennedy might not have made it if Davy hadn’t been so diligent in looking after his wounds until the doctor arrived.  He could have died of blood loss.”

“I told him that.  I think it made him feel a little better, but even so, he’s having trouble dealing with the fact that Drew put his own life on the line to save his.”  Johnny shrugged.  “It can be a shock, having someone risk their life for yours, specially when you’ve mostly lived think’n your life don’t really mean much to anybody in the long run.”

Scott directed an affectionate look at his little brother.  “There are some who seem to need a lot of convincing before they understand how important they are to the people who love them.”  He was rewarded with an answering gleam from those dark blue eyes.

“Well, old Drew may not be my favorite person,” Johnny drawled, “but, I think he could do a good job of convincing the kid of that, when he’s back on his feet.”

Now that he had his brother’s full and undivided attention, Johnny decided to start asking some questions that might reveal just what was causing the obvious tension in Scott’s manner.  “So, how did things go with your lawyer friend today?”

There was a slight hesitation before Scott began speaking in a level tone.  “Well, a large number of those people we have locked up out there can be sent to the authorities on a number of other charges.   The old woman wasn’t lying when she told Kate that blackmail provided her with loyal employees.  She had enough evidence to convict many of them of major crimes, and she left proof of bribery in the other cases.  We should be rid of them soon enough.”

Johnny kept probing.  “And any sign of the will Hannah was talking about?”

“Oh, yes.”  Scott shook his head.  “Neither Mrs. Fairfield nor her lawyer trusted one another.  They tore the will in half and each kept a half to use to blackmail the other.  Mark says it should be an easy matter to have Jacob’s cousins reinstated as his guardians and trustees of the estate.”

Before Johnny could follow up with more questions, the door opened and Kate came into the room.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she smiled.

“Of course not, querida,” Johnny’s eyes were welcoming.  “But, shouldn’t you be getting some rest?”  He and Scott made space for her between them on the sofa.

“I’m not tired.  I’m just having trouble believing the whole thing is really over, “she sighed.

Without asking, Scott found a decanter of brandy and poured some into a small glass.  “How is young Jacob doing?” he asked as he handed her the drink.

“He is doing amazingly well.”  Kate beamed.  “I can’t believe the difference it’s made having Hannah and Daniel here.  He will always be a boy in a man’s body, but without that witch of a grandmother to terrify and oppress him, he’s sweet and adventurous.  He just has a joyful spirit.”

“Also,” she continued with a mischievous grin, “I’ve just come from Drew’s sickroom and Jacob isn’t the only one who seems to be feeling a little joyful.”

At their two inquisitive glances, she giggled and went on, “Drew is acting way too happy for a man with two holes in his chest.  Every time he wakes up and sees Rose sitting by his side, tending to him, he gets the most foolish grin on his face.  And she doesn’t seem to be too anxious to pass the nursing responsibilities off to anybody else.”

“Good!”  Johnny spoke in a firm voice, putting his arm around Kate and pulling her a little closer.  “I was thinking that fellow needed to find a girl of his own.” Kate laid her head on his shoulder and indulged in another fit of the giggles.

There was a comfortable silence for a while, and then Johnny noticed that his brother had once again slipped into a more introspective mood.  Looking down at the girl beside him, he realized that Kate was also wearing an expression of deep foreboding.

“All right, “he rose and faced the two of them.  “Whatever it is that’s bothering the two of you, we need to talk about it!”

Scott appeared ready to deny the necessity for any discussion, but Kate spoke up reluctantly.

“Yes, there is something I have to tell you both.  At first I didn’t know if I should say anything, because I wasn’t completely sure.”  She looked grim.  “But, I have thought and thought, and I’m almost positive of what I heard.”

“When I was being transported on the train, I was drugged most of the time.  I did kind of float in and out of consciousness, though.”  She directed a beseeching look at her cousin. “There was a point when I was at least partly awake and I remember hearing a voice.  It was a voice that I recognized.  I didn’t want to believe it, but I’m convinced it was……..”

“It was Grandfather.”  Scott’s voice was hard.

Kate looked confused.  “You knew, but how…?”

“I didn’t know until today.” Scott slammed his glass on the table, and began pacing the room.  “Johnny and I had a discussion on the way out here.  I conceded the possibility of Grandfather’s involvement, but I believed it was a far-fetched idea.  And when we learned of that old harridan’s vicious plot, I told myself Grandfather would never do something that horrendous to his own granddaughter.”

He returned to the sofa and sat with his head slumped.  “Then I went through the papers with Mark.  There were documents with his signature on them.  He agreed to this travesty in order to secure an heir for his “legacy”.  He spoke that final word with scorn.

Kate laid a gentle hand on his arm.  “Scott, I’m so sorry.”

He looked at her in disbelief.  “How can you say that?” he demanded.  “How can you offer me sympathy after everything that old bastard has put you through, what he planned to do to you?”

“Because,” came her soft reply, “you loved him.  More importantly, I know you believed he really loved you.”  She hesitated, “You see, I never ever felt that connection.  To me, it always felt as though I was just a means to an end as far as Grandfather was concerned.”  Kate shook her head.  “You were his golden boy, his pride and joy, and even with all the lies and deception, I believed he truly loved you.”

The pain was evident in Scott’s voice as he violently denied her words.  “No, it was never me he loved.  It had nothing to do with me as a person.  I was his heir, and when I was no longer available to fill that role to his satisfaction, he was more than willing to commit any heinous crime to provide a suitable replacement.”

Johnny stood behind his brother, laying a hand on his shoulder.  “I’m sorry, too, brother.  You don’t deserve the grief he’s caused you.  But, “his voice was regretful, yet firm, “we talked about this before.  What that old man tried to do to Kate—I’m not likely to just let that slide.”

Scott fixed him with a glare, his rebuke harsh as he jerked away from his brother’s grasp.  “And you think I am?”

For a moment flashing sapphire eyes met stone-cold, slate eyes, and an unspoken issue of trust hung in the balance.

Slowly Johnny’s gaze relented.  “No, Scott, I don’t think that.”

Kate’s voice was calm and composed.  “No one has to make any decisions tonight about how we are going to deal with Grandfather.  We have more than enough to handle right now as it is.  Grandfather has no idea of what’s happened here.  He’ll be waiting in Boston whenever we’re ready.”

The two men agreed, but for all three, the pleasure they had felt upon being reunited was dimmed by the unconscionable actions of a bitter old man.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 23)

It was daybreak and Kate, drawn by the irresistible aroma of Hannah’s cinnamon rolls, made her way down to the kitchen.  Just over a week had gone by since she’d made this same journey with the express purpose of setting in motion their escape plan.  So much had taken place in that time.

*********************

They had begun by “taking care of the riff-raff”, as Hannah termed it.  With the help of their attorney, Marcus Anderson, they had been able to rid themselves of Mrs. Fairfield’s hirelings.  Mark was even able to convince the coroner to hold a private inquest, which cleared Kate of any wrongdoing in the old woman’s death.  With no one to mourn her, her remains had been quickly interred in the family cemetery.

Anne and William Hathaway, Jacob’s cousins, had been a welcome addition to the household.  As Mark had predicted, it had been an easy matter to get a judge to appoint them to their rightful position as trustees to the estate and their cousin’s rightful guardians.  They made it clear from the outset that Hannah and Daniel, far from being relegated to the status of mere servants, were important members of the household and would always be consulted on matters concerning Jacob’s welfare.  One such discussion had taken place soon after the couple’s arrival.

“He’s been alone too much,” Hannah had fretted, “thanks to that harridan of a grandmother.”

“Yes,” agreed Anne, “and, while he now has adults who love and care for him, he’s still a child at heart.  He needs the companionship of other children.  Look how much he enjoys the company of young Davy.”

Anne was a warm, maternal woman.  She and her husband deeply regretted their inability to have children and had already been considering the idea of adoption.  The two of them agreed that there could be no better purpose for the fortune that had been entrusted to them than to use it to provide a loving home for some of the orphans now in Reverend Curtis’s care.  This plan had an added benefit since, as Hannah gleefully asserted, it would have old Mrs. Fairfield spinning in her grave.

***************

When Kate entered the kitchen, she found Drew enjoying the remainder of his breakfast, while Rose cleared away dirty dishes.

“Where is everyone?”  Kate asked, taking a seat at the table.

Rose presented her with a food-laden plate, while explaining the whereabouts of the rest of the household.  “Hannah is busy training the two new housemaids she hired yesterday.  Anne and William haven’t come down to breakfast yet.  Scott and Mark are in the study making sure all the legal documents are in order for today’s trip, and Johnny and the boys are helping Daniel with the horses.”

She noticed the riding habit Kate was wearing.  “Are you sure you don’t want to ride in the carriage with Drew and I?  It’s a long ride to Boston on horseback.”

Kate couldn’t miss Drew’s slightly crestfallen look and realized he had been looking forward to the prospect of spending that time alone with Rose.  She kept a straight face, but her eyes were dancing as she hesitated for a bit before answering.  “No, thanks, I’m looking forward to the ride.”

It was clear from Rose’s expression that she understood Drew’s motives.  In a mock stern voice she remonstrated, “Just remember, Drew Kennedy, the doctor’s orders are for you to rest up and regain your strength.”

Drew slid an arm around her waist and chuckled, “Darlin’, the day I don’t have the strength for ……”

He was interrupted by a loud racket outside, and Davy and Jacob clattered into the kitchen.  They both looked somewhat disheveled and breathless.

“Hannah said we could have some of her cinnamon rolls!” Jacob blurted out.

Davy elbowed his friend as he added in a chiding voice, “Please!”

“So you may, “Rose agreed, “as soon as you’ve cleaned up some.”  She pointed at the kitchen sink.

A small tussle ensued as they both hastened to be the first to accomplish the required washing.  Marginally cleaner and still very hungry, each boy took a seat at the table.

Kate observed, with inward sympathy, how Davy winced just a bit when settling into the hard wooden chair.  Certain events, just two days ago, had produced a drastic change in his whole demeanor.  Everyone had been concerned about the young orphan.  He continued to blame himself for Drew’s injuries.  Drew was enjoying a speedy recovery, and Johnny, Scott, Rose and even the patient himself had attempted to console the boy, pointing out how important his help had been in saving Drew’s life.  Never-the-less, Davy remained moody and depressed.

Things came to a head when Drew was judged strong enough to leave his room for some exercise and to join the others for meals.  They had just finished lunch, and Davy had been even more taciturn than usual.  Drew, who was seated next to him, finally set his coffee cup on the table with a thump.  He pushed back his chair and turned to face the boy, who stared down at the floor.

“All right, lad, we are going to have this out, right here and now.”  He addressed the boy in no uncertain terms.  “Back when we planned our little raid on this place, we gave you certain orders.  The purpose of those orders was to keep you safe.  By disobeying them, you put yourself in great danger.  If I hadn’t been there at just the right time, you could have been killed.  Yes, I was injured, but it was my choice to put myself at risk.  I would do it again if need be, and the only reason I’m sitting here now is because you kept me from bleeding to death.”

“I told you exactly what would happen if you didn’t obey me, but so far I haven’t been fit to carry out that promise.  However, I’ve got the strength I need to march you out to that barn now and tan your backside for you.  And when we’re done, and you’ve accepted your punishment like a man, you’ll also accept my thanks for saving my life and the matter will be ended.  Understand?”

Davy lifted his head and nodded once as a tear traced its way down his cheek.  They both stood and Drew laid his arm across the boy’s shoulders as they made their way to the stable.

****************

Kate watched the boy now, wolfing down a second cinnamon roll and laughing at something Jacob was saying.  The two boys started to leave when Drew called out, “Davy?”

“Yes, sir?”

“You will remember to be on time for your lessons with Anne this afternoon, right?”

There wasn’t a trace of resentment in the boy’s face as he answered promptly, “Yes, sir, I will.  Drew?”

“Yes, boy?”

“You will be coming back from Boston tonight, won’t you?”

“I’ll be here.”

With a final smile, the boy hurried out the door in search of his friend.

Kate couldn’t resist.  “Drew Kennedy—gambler, rogue, adventurer, father.”

When Drew actually blushed, Rose came up and put her arms around him.  “Now you stop teasing him.  We better all get a move on if we’re going to reach Boston by noon.”

*************************

Harlan Garrett was worried.  It had been over a week since he’d last received any communication from his co-conspirator.  Repeated messages to Conroy’s office had gone unanswered, his harried secretary saying simply that Mr. Conroy was out of town until further notice.  He sat at his desk scowling.  Damn, that woman, she had no right to keep him in the dark like this.

There was a firm knock and his door began to open.  Harlan was prepared to deliver a harsh rebuke to whoever had the temerity to intrude without permission.  He stopped short as he recognized the tall, blonde man who entered the room.

“Scotty!”  He rose and hurried across the room.  “My boy, what a surprise!  What a welcome, welcome surprise.”

“Hello, Grandfather.”  Scott placed his leather case on the floor.

Harlan reached for his grandson’s hand, clasping it fervently as he continued to speak.  “Son, why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?  I would have had your room prepared…..”  His voice trailed off as he took note of the somber look in the younger man’s eyes.

“My decision to come east was very sudden, sir.”  Scott gently released himself from his grandfather’s grasp.

“Of course, Scott, I understand.  You felt the need to return here to grieve.”  Certain he had hit upon the reason for his grandson’s uncharacteristic behavior, Harlan patted him on the back.  “Yes, we should be together as we mourn the loss of our dear Katherine.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t rush out and buy any black armbands yet, Grandfather.”

Harlan gasped—this wasn’t possible.  Yet, there was his granddaughter, standing in the doorway, along with Scott’s half-breed brother.

The old man tried to organize his chaotic thoughts.  She had escaped somehow from Millicent Fairfield’s clutches, but there had to be a way he could keep his involvement from being discovered.  They wouldn’t be suspicious of the shock he’d displayed; he was supposed to believe she was dead. He would just have to continue with that deception.

“My god, Katherine, you’re alive!  How is this possible?  My dear girl!”  He staggered towards her, arms outstretched, with the clear intention of embracing his granddaughter.

Before he could reach Kate, however, the younger Lancer moved to stand in front of her, blocking his path.  “Don’t you touch her!!”  The words were uttered in such a tone of menace that Harlan cringed involuntarily.

“How dare you?”  The old man huffed, “I won’t be spoken to in that manner.  You have no right to….”

“Grandfather,” Scott’s voice was cold and harsh, “I think you’d better listen to Johnny, and stay away from Kate.”

“Scott,” the old man put as much hurt and confusion into his tone as possible, “why are you treating me in this way?”

“Because we know the truth, Grandfather.”  Kate shook her head.  “I didn’t want to believe it, believe you could do such a thing, but we all know the truth now.”

“But I –I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harlan’s tone became ever more desperate.

“Then I’ll tell you. Kate’s recollection of hearing your voice during her kidnapping is only the first piece of evidence.”  Scott slammed his leather satchel onto his grandfather’s desk.  “We have all of Millicent Fairfield’s documents.  Documents with your signature, implicating you in the kidnapping of your own granddaughter, a kidnapping during which two innocent people were killed.  We also have the sworn statements of Mrs. Fairfield’s other accomplices, testifying to your involvement. In short, Grandfather, we have enough evidence to send you to prison for a very long time.”

At this point Harlan collapsed in his chair.  Seeing no way to deny the accusations, he began making excuses.  “No, you don’t understand.  I didn’t want it to be this way.  I found many acceptable suitors, tried to persuade her to accept a decent proposal.  The girl wouldn’t listen.  And you,” he directed a pleading look at Scott, “you deserted me, left me for that uncouth lout of a father and his half-breed son.  You were destined to be my heir and you just walked away.”

“And that was my only value as far as you were concerned, wasn’t it, Grandfather?”  Scott demanded.  “You and that Fairfield woman were well-matched.  All either or you cared about was the continuation of your so-called legacy.  Well, that is going to be the price you pay for the atrocity you committed upon your own granddaughter.”

“What do you mean?”  The old man stared at his two grandchildren.

“We’ve discussed this very thoroughly.”  Kate put her arm around her cousin.  “We have no doubt that a trial would result in a guilty verdict for you.  I think a look at the evidence would convince you, also.  However, the two of us have no desire to advertise to the world the kind of monster we have for a grandfather, so you have just one other choice.”

“Exile,” Scott stated, “total and complete exile.  Your precious fortune, your material possessions will be forfeit.  You will live out the rest of your years in the foreign country of your choice.  Comfortable living conditions will be arranged, but you will never return to this country again.  Before you leave, you will sign papers giving up claim to any portion of the Garrett estate.  It’s that, or prison, your choice.”

Harlan’s face grew red.  “You can’t be serious.  You claimed you didn’t want any part the heritage I held for you, and now you plan to take it for yourself.”

“No, Grandfather, you’re mistaken.  I’m not taking anything for myself.  I am returning to Lancer.  It’s my home now.  The estate will be held in trust for future generations, “Scott glanced and Kate and Johnny, “future generations you just might not approve of.”

“But I have businesses, enterprises which cannot just run themselves.” the old man protested.

“Oh, don’t worry, Grandfather.  Your fortune will be well looked after.”  Scott smiled.

The door opened and Rose and Drew entered the room.  “May I present Miss Rose Appleton?  Miss Appleton is a very astute businesswoman, and she is going to undertake the management of all your assets during your exile.”

On the point of apoplexy, Harlan burst out, “You’re out of your mind.  I know this woman, and if you think I’d leave my fortune in the charge of a ……”

“Say it,” Drew challenged, “and it’ll be the last word you ever utter.  Let me introduce myself.  I am your worst nightmare.  How a miserable bastard such as yourself produced two such decent people is beyond me, but it does seem that now, their dearest wish is never to have to look at your face again.   Luckily, I’m not handicapped with their moral scruples. It will be my pleasure to enforce the conditions set down by your grandchildren.”

“The choice is yours, Grandfather.”  Scott’s voice was implacable.  “If you don’t sign the papers, there will be a federal district attorney here within the hour and you’ll never see the outside of prison walls for the rest of your life.”

Cursing, the old man scrawled his signature on the required documents, and then he watched helplessly as his only flesh and blood turned their backs and walked out the door.

 

Cousin Kate (Part 24)

Their final week in Boston was hectic but satisfying.  No one was particularly surprised when Drew and Rose announced plans to be married immediately.  Through the combined efforts of Hannah, Anne and Kate, a lovely wedding was arranged.  It took place on the Fairfield estate, with Reverend Curtis officiating.  The first official action the couple took as man and wife was to sign the legal documents adopting Davy as their son.  Scott, who was chosen to give the toast honoring the newly formed Kennedy family, also presented them with a gift: the deed to the Garrett mansion in Boston.

Drew was a good as his word, ensuring that neither Scott nor Kate found it necessary to have any further contact with their grandfather.  He oversaw every detail of Harlan Garrett’s enforced removal from his residence and arranged for his immediate banishment from the country.  Safeguards were put into effect guaranteeing that the old man would never be able to return.

As fond as she had become of all their friends in Boston, Kate was increasingly anxious to return home to Lancer, and she knew Scott and Johnny felt the same.

The train journey seemed to last forever, but finally the three of them were on the stage headed toward Morro Coyo.  When it arrived, Murdoch and Jelly were waiting.  Kate, with tears in her eyes, threw herself into the arms of each of the older men, hugging them affectionately.  Murdoch explained that Teresa had stayed behind to complete preparations for the feast that had been planned to celebrate their safe return.

Murdoch handed Kate a small parcel.  “Teresa packed some of your riding gear.  You can change over at the hotel while we load the baggage.  Jelly and I will drive the wagon back to Lancer. I left Barranca, Charlemagne and Athena over at the livery.”

Kate changed as quickly as possible, but when she entered the livery stable, there was no sign of Scott, Murdoch or Jelly.  Barranca and Athena were tied next to one of the stalls, and Johnny was adjusting their saddles.

“Where are the others?” she asked, puzzled.

Johnny turned and looked her way.  He didn’t say anything at first, but that crooked half-smile and the gleam in his sapphire eyes were already beginning to turn her knees to jelly.

“You realize that this is the first place I ever laid eyes on you?” His voice was a husky drawl.

“You really think I’d forget a thing like that, Johnny Lancer?” she retorted.  “Especially since I almost threw myself into your arms at the time.”

His grin grew wider, “Like I said then, it would be a lucky man who got that kind of greeting.”

He took her hand and led her towards Athena.  “I told the others to go on ahead, said we’d be following in a little while.”  After helping her mount, he climbed into his own saddle and added, “I don’t think they’ll be expecting us any too soon.”

They rode back at a slow canter, until they reached the spot, next to the creek, where they had stopped on their very first ride to Lancer.  Johnny stopped and dismounted, then helped Kate from her saddle.  Together they walked to the edge of the stream.

“You realize this is the first place you ever saved my life?” she teased.

“You really think I’d forget a thing like that,” came his smiling reply, “especially since I was so busy admirin’ you, I didn’t see that snake til it was almost too late.”

With a grin, Kate answered, “Like I said then, you’re an amazing man.”

Johnny stopped walking and turned to face her.  “It seems like a lifetime since that first day—so much has happened since then.”  He reached down and captured her hands in his.  “When I thought you were dead, that I’d lost you forever, I didn’t know how I was going to face another day.”  He raised one hand to his lips and kissed it gently.  “But I got a second chance, and I’m not gonna waste it.  Kate, will you marry me?”

She had to swallow once, then twice before she felt able to answer.  “Johnny, are you sure you want to marry me?”

His eyes narrowed a bit.  “Do I look like a man who don’t know his own mind?”

“It’s just,” she took a deep breath; “I know I acted kind of sneaky and underhanded, using Drew to fool you like I did.”  Unable to meet his gaze, she found herself staring at the buttons on his shirt as she stumbled on.  “I shouldn’t have done that.  You deserve someone who will be honest with you.  And I’m always getting in some kind of trouble because I lose my temper or act without thinking.”

He lifted her chin, and his smile was tender.  “Yep, I really should’a  waited around for that perfect woman, the one I really deserve, seeing as how I’m so perfect myself.”  There was laughter in his eyes now.  “But, ya see,I went and fell in love with this pretty little gal.  She’s hot-headed, stubborn and impulsive.  Not to mention brave, sweet and loving.  So I reckon when Miss Perfect comes along, it’ll just be too late, on account of—I’m already taken.”

“Oh Johnny, if you’re really sure, I want to marry you more that anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.  I do love you so much, and I’ll always try to make you happy….”

Johnny interrupted her ruthlessly, “Ya know the only trouble with you big city gals?---You talk too much”  He pulled her to him, silencing her with a kiss, and she melted into his embrace. 

The family greeted their announcement with great delight.  Indeed, it was only when the actually planning of the wedding occurred that the discord began.

Kate passed those first few days in such a love-struck fog that she really never gave much thought to the wedding itself.  She just assumed it would be a quiet affair: Scott would be the best man, Teresa would stand up with her, and maybe, Murdoch would give her away.

When she started listening closely to Teresa’s expectations, she was aghast.  “But, I wasn’t thinking of anything so elaborate,” she protested.

But Teresa got support from an unexpected quarter when Murdoch chimed in.  “I think it’s entirely appropriate that such an important occasion be celebrated in a fitting manner, and Lancer will provide whatever is necessary to ensure that it is.”

But Kate dug her heels in, balking at that idea.  “No, I’m not going to let you take funds from this ranch to pay for a big expensive wedding.  You have so many wonderful plans for improvements; I want you to save your money for them.  I have my own inheritance.  I can pay for the wedding.”

Even as the words left her mouth, she saw a slight tension in Johnny’s expression and thought with dismay that such an arrangement might hurt his pride.

There was a fair amount of discussion, back and forth, before Scott claimed their attention.  “Teresa and Murdoch are right; this is occasion which should indeed be celebrated in a suitable fashion. But neither Kate nor Lancer should have to provide the necessary funds.  Tradition dictates that the lady’s family pays for the wedding, and so they shall.” When Kate tried to interrupt, he waved her down.  “No, I’m not talking about me.”  There was a wicked gleam in his eyes as he announced, “I’ll send a wire to Rose immediately, and I just wish I could be a witness to Grandfather’s reaction when I finds out substantial amounts of money from his personal holdings have been used to pay for the lavish wedding of his granddaughter to Johnny Lancer.”

And so his decision stood.  Armed with ample funds to indulge her every whim, Teresa threw herself into planning the most impressive event ever seen thereabouts.  The guest list began growing by leaps and bounds.  It included, to Kate’s joy, a promise from Hannah and Daniel to journey west with the Kennedy family, bringing Jacob with them.

Teresa arranged for tailors and seamstresses, who came all the way from Sacramento, to take measurements for wedding finery for every member of the family.  A hundred and one other details needed to be attended to, and the time flew by.

Between the dawn-to-dusk workdays required by normal ranch work and the extra tasks associated with planning the wedding, Kate felt like she hadn’t spent more than a few hours alone with her husband-to-be all month.  So when Johnny managed to free some time and suggested a ride together, she jumped at the chance.

When they arrived at the scenic, secluded little spot next to the creek, Johnny’s first objective was to demonstrate just how pleased he was to have these private moments together.  Since Kate cooperated enthusiastically with this plan, it was some time before any real conversation passed between them.

Kate did have a few things she wanted to discuss, however.  So, when she was seated comfortably on a fallen log nestled in Johnny’s arms, she began, “Johnny?”

“Yeah?” His voice was a relaxed drawl.

She turned so she could see his face.  “With all this work, I hope you’re not regretting having agreed to this huge wedding.”

“Querida,” he asked in a wounded voice, “have you heard me complaining?”

“No, of course not, I think you’ve been very patient,” she smiled mischievously,  “although your brother may not agree with me.”

She had to suppress a giggle at Johnny’s disgruntled look.  The fittings for the wedding clothes had been very trying for him, a situation that was acerbated by his brother’s behavior.  Scott was definitely exacting some revenge for the numerous times his little brother had teased him about his dandified clothes.  A recent comment, that Johnny—“looked pretty enough to sit up on top of the wedding cake”, had not been well-received.

“If YOUR COUSIN keeps it up,” Johnny growled, “I’m gonna have ta see about teaching him some manners!”

Kate reached up and ran her fingers through his dark hair.  “If it makes you feel any better, I think you look wonderful in your new suit, or your everyday work clothes...// or nothing at all //.”  She told herself that she hadn’t spoken those last words aloud, but she couldn’t prevent the hot blush that rushed to her face.

She could tell by Johnny’s expression, he knew just what she’d left unsaid, and his next words confirmed it.  “I had something I wanted to talk to you about, too: our honeymoon.”  He grinned as she blushed even harder.  “You haven’t said anything about where you’d like to go.  I reckon with your grandpa’s money, we could take a trip just about anywhere you’d please.”

“But I really don’t want to go anywhere.”  Kate bit her lip.  “I feel like we just got back to Lancer.  I have no desire to go off to San Francisco, or any other big city just now.  Besides,” she glanced up at him through her lashes, “that just means lots of people around all the time, and I want you all to myself.”

There was a wicked gleam in his eyes as he whispered, “Kate, I knew you were a woman after my own heart.”

“But I don’t think a room at the hotel in Green River is exactly what we want either.”  He paused for a few moments, and then asked, “Do you trust me to take care of this, to let this be my surprise for you?”

Of course she had answered, yes.  And true to his word he had indeed kept their destination a secret, at least from her.  She had the feeling that everyone else was in on his plan, and they seemed to be making their own surreptitious contributions to it.

And so another month passed in a whirlwind.  A week before the wedding, the guests from Boston arrived, and that week was crowded as they entertained their visitors and took care of last minute preparations for the wedding.

It was a treat watching Davy and Jacob enjoy every minute of their introduction to ranch life.  Hannah and Rose provided valuable assistance as the household prepared for the large number of guests expected to attend the wedding.  And Drew made a memorable contribution to the festivities.  Several days before the wedding, he insisted on organizing a “night on the town” for the male members of the wedding party.  He coaxed and cajoled until all the men agreed to participate.  The women of the party—no fools, they—retired at a reasonable hour with no expectation of seeing their menfolk return until the early morning hours.  This assumption proved correct, but they admitted to being a bit surprised by the impromptu, and very drunken, serenade at two in the morning.  Kate never realized Murdoch could blush, until the next day when a number of the ladies paid him compliments on his fine baritone voice.

*********

Everyone agreed the wedding day was perfect.  Blue skies and sunshine prevailed.  Guests enjoyed a sumptuous feast in elegant surroundings.  More than one young lady caught her breath at the sight of the striking dark-haired groom and his tall, blond, elegant best man.  The bride was radiant and her uncle, tall and proud, as he escorted her down the isle.  No one witnessing this couple exchange vows could doubt their love and sincerity.

And now Johnny and Kate were riding in a buggy which had been well decorated by Davy and Jacob,  As they bumped and jogged down the somewhat rutted track, Johnny guided the team with one hand and with the other pulled his new wife close.  Kate rested her head on his shoulder for a bit, and then shot a suspicious glance at him.  “Johnny Lancer, what are you laughing about?”

“I’m sorry, Kate,” He tried to make his expression serious and failed.  “I just keep remembering the look on Val’s face when he caught those flowers you threw.”

“It wasn’t my fault.  I was trying to throw the bouquet to Teresa, but he stepped in front of her.”  Kate couldn’t help giggling herself.

Johnny laughed even harder.  “He looked like he’d just grabbed onto a live rattler!”

They traveled just a bit further, and then Johnny pulled the wagon to a stop.  “We’re almost there, so I want you to close your eyes until I say to look.”

Kate obediently covered her eyes, and when she felt the wagon stop, waited for Johnny to come and lift her down.  “Ok, you can open your eyes.”

She gave a gasp of amazement.  There in a beautiful glen was a charming little cabin.  The porch, decorated with potted plants and flowers, held a swinging bench.  Johnny led her inside.  Though rustic, the interior had been lovingly decorated with fresh flowers and colorful curtains and rugs.

Looking somewhat anxious Johnny explained, “I remembered coming on this place while I was out riding once.  It was kinda rundown, but everybody helped out with fixing it up.  And Teresa and Hannah filled the larder with all kinds of food for us.  Do you like it?”

Kate had tears in her eyes as she threw her arms around her husband.  “It’s beautiful! I can’t imagine a more wonderful place for a honeymoon.”  She looked up at him.  “Or a more wonderful man to spend it with.”

Her last fleeting thought as he bent down to capture her lips with his own was that she had found the home she had always hoped for—in his arms.

 

EPILOGUE

Mrs. Foxworthy bustled about cleaning the library.  The master would soon be back from his nightly foray to the local public house, and judging by the mood he’d been in when he left, she wanted to be well out of his way upon his return.  She shivered and added some wood to the fire.  London was cold and damp this time of year, with the fog settling in early.  

While running a dust cloth over the various surfaces in the room, the housekeeper pondered her new employer.  Not an easy man to please, with a harsh word more often than not. Still, the money was good, although she had often puzzled over the manner of payment.  Once a month a banker came to the residence and paid all the servants and household accounts.  He also gave the master a small amount of cash, not by any means a lot, just enough to cover his nightly trips to the tavern. 

As she set about tidying up the desk, she gave in to a bit of curiosity.  The master was almost always surly and bad-tempered, but this afternoon had been different.  Even with the solid oak doors closed, she’d been able to distinguish the sounds of his wrath.  Cursing fit to beat the band, he was.  And she’d had to clean up the glass where he had smashed some glass ornaments on the hearth.  This explosion had taken place just after she had presented him with the afternoon post, and there had been only one piece of mail delivered.  So she couldn’t help keeping an eye out for this particular envelope.  She spied it and its contents, crumpled up, laying just short of the fireplace.  She smoothed out the newspaper clippings which had been mailed, according to the envelope, all the way from America.  The article and accompanying photograph described a lavish wedding which had taken place in California between a young lady named Katherine Darrington and a rancher named John Lancer.  “Well,” though Mrs. Foxworthy, “I certainly can’t see why a simple thing like this should have him all in such a rage.  They seem like a lovely couple.”  She shrugged and decided the master must have meant the papers to go in the fire.  After adding them to the blaze, she left the room.

 

~ end ~

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