The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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MargaretP

 

 

Circumstances
With thanks to my betas, Suzanne Lyte and Terri Derr

‘On the first evening…Murdoch had risked voicing his disappointment that Scott had not come in more settled times. The boy had muttered something about ‘circumstances' before gulping down what was left of his brandy and going to his bed.'
( From Highlands to Homecoming, Chapter 51: Highriders, 2015)

 

Chapter One

“Damn you, Murdoch Lancer!” It was nothing more than Harlan had expected, but up until now there had always been hope.

A knock interrupted his thoughts, and the door to the study opened.

“I'm back, Grandfather, but I'm off again to collect Julie. I shouldn't have stayed out so long. I'll need to change on my return.” Scott Lancer stood in his great coat, dripping on the Persian rug as a light dusting of snow melted on his shoulders. Picking up some papers from his desk, Harlan slipped his left hand into his pocket. Scott approached and started examining the pile of telegrams neatly stacked on the top edge. “I met some old friends from school and lost track of the time. Are these for me? I didn't realise I was so popular.”

“They've been coming all day, and many from very influential people. Fortunately, I took the precaution of asking the telegraph office to write the sender and place of origin on the back of the envelope in case you were short on time. You should sort through them and open the more important ones before the party. They need to be read out. Men like Edgar Harraway rightly expect their good wishes to be acknowledged publicly.”

“I don't know why you invited Harraway and his ilk, or why they feel the need to wish me a happy birthday, if they have the good sense not to come. I don't have anything to do with them.”

“But I do, Scotty, and as my heir they naturally pay their respects on your coming of age. As I've explained to you before, it's important to keep track of who makes the effort to court your acquaintance.”

Scott grimaced.

“You have the makings of a good business brain, but you're too idealistic, my boy. Have your professors at Harvard taught you nothing?” Harlan smiled at his grandson: tall, fair and strong-willed, just like his mother. “I suppose, if I think hard enough, I can remember a few follies from my own youth. You'll learn.”

But Scott wasn't listening. He was shuffling through the telegrams. “Mostly from out of town well-wishers.” He reached the bottom of the pile. “No surprises, I see.” His face was grim, and Harlan's hand sweated on the message in his pocket.

“California is a long way off.”

“Not too far for a telegram to reach its destination if someone thought it important to send one—not that it would compensate.”

“No, I'm pleased you say so. I should be disappointed if you were swayed by a solitary greeting to consider…well, no matter. I thought you said you were away to collect Miss Dennison. You'd best be quick or you'll have to rush to change when you get back. You can't greet our company dressed in tweeds and galoshes, even if you are the guest of honour.”

Scott left immediately, closing the door behind him. After a minute, Harlan opened it again. He left it ajar so he could hear when his grandson returned. Then he extracted the telegram from its hiding place. Murdoch was nothing if not persistent. He would naturally take the first opportunity to make contact with his son now the legal barriers were gone.

Harlan had deliberately worked from home that day. He'd encouraged Scott to go out as soon as he'd eaten breakfast, and the butler had brought the telegrams to the study one by one. After nine out-of-state messages had passed inspection, the telegram Harlan had been waiting for was finally delivered while he was changing for the evening's festivities. When he came downstairs, Jordan presented it and two others face down on a silver salver alongside his usual early evening brandy. Harlan instantly saw the words ‘Lancer' and ‘California' written in pencil on the flap, but pretended indifference. As soon as Jordan departed, he pounced.

“Damn you, Murdoch Lancer! Why will you not give up?”

Scott had been six or seven when he'd first realised an absentee father marked him as different. Harlan had told him the truth. Not the whole truth, but the truth all the same, and it satisfied his curiosity for a time.

Until the hunger years when the boy yearned so badly for his father that Harlan feared at times he would run away. Time, silence, and a few carefully sown seeds bore fruit eventually. Desire turned to resentment, and Harlan nurtured the feeling of separation.

Some things became routine. Every December, Christmas and birthday presents arrived from California, and Harlan would spend an evening cursing Murdoch Lancer, the Scottish immigrant who had enticed his beloved Catherine to her death in a far off land. Harlan only had one small part of his daughter left, and he'd go to his grave before he'd let Murdoch steal that treasure back. Scotty belonged to him and to Boston. Once Harlan had downed enough brandy to convince himself of that fact, he would remove the letters, photographs or cards from the parcels. Sometimes he looked at them, but often he just burned them in the grate, watching their edges curl black and burst into blue-red flames, before adding the gifts to the mound of unlabelled packages from Father Christmas under the tree.

Harlan's conscience was clear. He could honestly say Scotty had received every present his father had ever sent him.

But the Great Rebellion had thrown everything topsy-turvy. “I should never have contacted Murdoch when Scotty ran off. I should never have shared so much information with him.”

His mistake could have been costly. If Scott hadn't been captured, the letter Murdoch had sent care of the army would have been delivered to him, not diverted to his grandfather as next of kin. Harlan shuddered, but God had been on his side. The Almighty knew what was best for Scott, just as Harlan knew, and it wasn't life as a cowboy on some barren stretch of land out west, surrounded by foreigners and cattle. Harlan had battled and schemed to keep Scott by his side for twenty-one years, and he was damned if he would lose him to Lancer now.

“He belongs here, my dear.” Harlan stared at the miniature of his late wife by the fireplace. “But I must be on my guard. He ran off to join the army, and he's still unsettled. Harvard is helping, I think, but I can't take the risk.” Scott would have been safely abroad by now if it weren't for the war. That had been the plan. Out of reach of the message now threatening to explode all Harlan's carefully cultivated myths. If he let Scott make contact, Murdoch would tell him his truth. “And if Scotty believes him, I could lose him.” All Harlan's hopes for the future, both business and personal could come crashing down around him. It must not happen. It must not—but how to stop it?

Harlan frowned at the flames flickering over glowing coals in the fireplace. It would be so easy. “If only you were here, my dear. A man forgives the misdeeds of a woman.”

But his wife was not there. She had not lived to see Scott, and thank God she had not lived to see her daughter die at the side of dirt road in a covered wagon in the middle of nowhere. His beloved Catherine was buried on a hillside, just outside a God-forsaken hamlet called Carterville; a fine resting place for the only daughter of Harlan Garrett of Boston. The memory of poor Catherine breathing her last still haunted him. “Help Murdoch take care of our son, Father. Promise me. I love you all so much.”

Harlan pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose with some force; he must be getting a cold. As he returned the cloth to his pocket, he stared at the fire again. He could destroy the telegram, but if Scotty found out…Harlan knew his grandson better than the boy knew himself. Scott had inherited his father's honesty and innate sense of duty. He had always known the difference between right and wrong without being taught. He was fair-minded, compassionate, and loyal; everything Harlan hoped and feared in equal measure he would be. Scott wouldn't agree that keeping his father from him by legal means had been in his best interest. Harlan still believed he was right, but he knew Scott wouldn't agree with him. As things stood now, though, after the first rush of anger, Harlan's crimes would be excused as the actions of an over-protective grandfather. But if Harlan interfered with a telegram sent to Scott Lancer as a legal adult, no court would support him, and Scott would never trust him again—if he found out. Was the gamble worth the risk? If only he had more time.

“Would you show Miss Dennison to the sitting room please, Jordan, and tell my grandfather she has arrived.” The sound of Scott's voice filtered through from the hallway. “I won't be long, Julie.”

For several seconds Harlan stared at the door. Then he pocketed the telegram and downed the remains of his brandy.

With one more glance at the fire, he opened the door wide and strode forward. Jordan was still helping Julie Dennison off with her coat as Scott discarded his scarf and gloves.

“Welcome, my dear. No need to hurry, Scotty. I'll gladly entertain Miss Dennison. I'm looking forward to knowing her better.” He tucked Julie's arm into his. “Jordan, bring us the sherry. I'm sure Miss Dennison would enjoy a drink to take away the winter chill before our other guests arrive.”

“Thank you, sir. Please, call me Julie.”

“My pleasure—Julie. Let's make ourselves comfortable in the sitting room, shall we?” Harlan escorted her down the hall as his grandson shucked off his great coat and bounded upstairs to change into evening dress. He wouldn't be gone long. Harlan must work fast.

Until this moment Harlan had looked upon the Dennison girl as another problem. She was pleasant enough and pretty. He could see why Scott liked her, but he would have preferred a more profitable marriage alliance for his only grandson and heir. “Your father is feeling better, my dear?”

“It was a severe bout of influenza, sir, but the doctor says he is almost recovered; he will be able to return to his business very soon. Even so, I would not have left his side this evening, except that he insisted.”

“We appreciate his sacrifice. The evening would not have been complete without you, as I'm sure your father knows.” Harlan gave a small bow and smiled. For a split second, Miss Dennison blanched, and Harlan's smile broadened. She wasn't just an ignorant pawn then— even better.

Dismissing Jordan, he removed the stopper from the crystal decanter and poured the Amontillado himself. “If you'll allow an old man the liberty, might I say you are looking quite enchanting this evening?”

“You flatter me, sir. While I wear mourning dress, I'm a poor thing to look at.”

“Then we have much to look forward to, my dear, when the happy day of your release arrives. No one seeing you now could find anything wanting.” Harlan handed Julie a glass of sherry, taking in her fashionable hair-style, well-cut gown and demure manner. Even in black, it was clear she appreciated the finer things in life. She would not disgrace the name of Garrett, if it went that far. “Please take the chair closest to the fire. I insist.”

Harlan settled into the armchair opposite his guest. “Julie. It's a French name, I believe? You must have felt right at home in Europe.”

Julie looked up from arranging her gown. “I'm afraid my name didn't help me feel more at ease during my brief sojourn in Paris. There were of course many wonderful things to see and do, but I admit I'm glad to be back in Boston.”

“Naturally, you would have been anxious for your dear mother.”

“Indeed, Mr Garrett. I was so very far away; it took two weeks to sail home, even by steamship.” Julie fidgeted with her chatelaine and gazed sadly down at her hands. “I have no desire to travel away again. Even before news of Mother's illness reached me, I was homesick for Boston.”

Harlan's opinion of Julie Dennison was improving. A strong attachment to Boston suited his purposes extremely well, and he wasn't too worried whether it was genuine or expressed for his benefit. Perhaps, given time, he could turn being hoodwinked to his advantage in more ways than one.

After wallowing in grief and neglecting his business, Julie's father had attempted to salvage things by wooing his creditors with venison and fine wine. Harlan had thought nothing of it when Scott was included in the dinner invitation; but he was immediately on his guard when they arrived, and he discovered Dennison had a charming, nineteen-year-old daughter. With no opportunity to divert disaster, Scott had been smitten by the time Miss Dennison served coffee.

“My grandson seems very glad to have you back in our fair city. How long have you two been walking out together now, my dear?” As if Harlan didn't know.

“About eight weeks, sir. I enjoy his company very much.”

“I believe the feeling is mutual. Take this evening for example, he has gone to great lengths to ensure you join us, despite your father's ill-health. If I'm not mistaken, that expresses his hopes very clearly, although the period of mourning for your dear mother must be properly observed.” Harlan sipped his sherry and appraised his guest over the rim of his glass. Was she shy or cunning? It was very hard to be sure after such a short acquaintance, but at the very least, she was not as green as she was cabbage-like, as his old nanny used to say. Young and emotional—that went without saying—and domestic in her outlook, an attentive and dutiful daughter. If Harlan wasn't very much mistaken, Miss Dennison had already acted for the benefit of her father, and would more than likely do so again. “Might I say how very pleased I am? You are exactly the sort of young woman I would want for Scott, not least because of your attachment to this fine city.”

“Scott is very fond of Boston too. It's his home.”

“Ah, my dear, it is his home now, but for how much longer? At the risk of being too forward, I must confide my greatest fear: Scott may be tempted to abandon Boston, and those who care about him, for the uncertainties of the western territories.”

“Why should you think such a thing, Mr Garrett?” Julie turned where she sat and placed her sherry on the side table. Giving Harlan her full attention, her eyes were no longer downcast or feigning modesty. “He has never said anything to me.”

“Has he never mentioned his father?”

“Only to say Mr Lancer left Scott in your care as a baby and has shown no interest in him since. I did not like to inquire further. The subject appeared to distress him.”

“Then he'll be more distressed soon. Among the telegrams to arrive this afternoon is one from California—from his no-account father. I surmise he sees some value in his son as an adult that he did not see in him as a child. He'll try to lure Scott west, and in Scott's current state of restiveness, I'm very much afraid he'll go, forsaking his studies and his life here in Boston.”

“Oh my, do you really think so?” With her hand on her heart, Julie looked pleasingly shocked. Harlan couldn't have hoped for more.

“Unfortunately, I do. My grandson is too honourable for his own good, and he doesn't know the full extent of his father's crimes. Even if Scott were not fooled by Lancer's excuses, he would see it as his duty to visit him if asked.” Harlan shook his head with an attitude of sorrow and distaste. “I'm sorry, my dear, you must think it very wrong of me to speak so harshly of my own son-in-law, but I was against his marriage to my daughter from the outset. His neglect caused her death, and for that I can never forgive him.”

“Does Scott know?”

“I have tried to shelter him from the full truth. Distance and Lancer's indifference have made that easier over the years, but now I fear my reluctance to cause Scott pain could work against me. It's too late to enlighten him. He would think it only a ploy to stop him going. Oh, what I would give if someone could prevent him from going. Who knows what might happen in California? It's still a rough and uncivilised place in many ways, and I dread to think what schemes a man like Lancer might employ to keep him there. Yet, I feel there is nothing I can do to stop it happening.”

Brow knitted, Julie reached for her sherry. After one sip, she clutched the glass two-handed in her lap, and raised her eyes in earnest to Harlan's. “Surely you could persuade him against making such journey, Mr Garrett.”

“I would not attempt it, my dear. The relationship between us is not what it was before the war. As of today he is an adult. I have no legal right to protect him from his father now, and Scotty would blame me, not thank me, if he discovered I had interfered, no matter how well-meaning my intentions. I'm afraid, my dear, a man does not forgive another man as easily as he forgives a woman.”

“You think he would forgive the well-meaning interference of a woman?”

“Undoubtedly—if he cared for her. Don't you?”

Julie blinked like a startled doe. “I…Are you suggesting I should say something to him?”

“You could try, I suppose, although the damage will likely be done the instant he reads the telegram. If only it had never arrived. If only I had the courage to burn it before he sees it. His father has ignored him for twenty-one years. If I had my wish, he would ignore him for twenty-one more. Whatever it says, it will only serve to upset him—a fine birthday present.”

The door latch clicked and Scott entered the room. Conversation turned to other things: an amusing incident during the last week of term at Harvard, and the coldness of the weather. Would there be more snow before Christmas? The skating pond on the common would soon be hard enough. Would Julie like to join him when it was?

The clock chimed seven o'clock.

“We need to talk a little business before our other guests arrive, Scott.”

“Surely that could wait for another day, Grandfather? Julie was going to entertain us with a song or two.”

“Much as I'd enjoy that, these matters need to be settled today, and you have been out all afternoon. I'm sure Julie will excuse us for half an hour. Perhaps she could open the telegrams that have arrived for you and sort them into some kind of order. Not all of them will need to be read out at supper, but you will cause offence if some are not. If I provide you with the list of those invited to the party, my dear, would you do us the favour of taking on that responsibility?”

“Would you mind?” Scott turned towards Julie and smiled his apology.

“Not at all. Anything I can do to help.”

Harlan smiled. The girl had learned something from her fancy French finishing school; she maintained a look of complaisance towards Scott, and saved the look of alarm for Harlan when Scott's back was turned. Yes, Miss Julie Dennison could prove immensely useful.

Business was like a game of cards. A skilled gambler could ensure he knew what cards others held. He could never be certain how they would play them, but top businessmen like top gamblers were great students of human nature. Harlan was hopeful he had done enough. He asked Jordan to bring in the telegrams on a tray. Just before he followed Scott from the room he passed them to Julie, placing the crucial envelope on top. “Here they are my dear. If you would take them from their envelopes and arrange them in some way, keeping the more important ones aside.”

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

The door clicked shut behind Scott and Mr Garrett, and Julie stared down at the slightly crumpled envelope balanced atop two piles of neatly stacked telegrams. She half-dropped the tray on the side table in her eagerness to distance herself from it. The offending message glided to the floor.

That was better. It was out of her line of sight. Although she knew it was still there, she could breathe now and focus on sorting the rest. Despite her best effort, that didn't take long. She opened and sorted the telegrams in a matter of minutes with the help of an original guest list provided by Mr Garrett; messages from family made up one pile and then the rest were separated according to whether they came from out of town or from Boston. Telegrams from a few very important people, she placed in a pile on their own. At last, there was only one telegram left, lying half under a chair, peeking out from behind its leg.

Steeling herself, she bent down and picked it up.

The silver letter opener felt heavy in her hands. It slit the envelope cleanly, and she pulled the single page free. The words were simple and in themselves unthreatening, but after Mr Garrett's revelations, the implications were frightening.

To Mr. Scott Lancer
Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston  

December 19 th , 1866

Many happy returns, Scott.

You cannot know how much I have longed for this day. Now you are twenty-one and free to make your own way in life, I hope we can get to know each other. It would give me great pleasure if you would visit me in California. To that end, I have instructed the Bank of New England to meet all costs from my account, if you would do me the favour of making the journey. I hope to hear from you soon.

Your loving father,

Murdoch Lancer

Julie clasped the telegram in her lap. The firelight was hot on her face as she gazed blindly at the burning coals. What if Mr Garrett was right? What if Scott abandoned his studies and Boston and went in search of his father?

Things had been going so well between her and Scott since that first evening. Despite her fears, Julie smiled at the memory. It had been her first time as hostess. The servants had extended the table to its full length and laid it with all the best china, linen and silverware. It looked beautiful, but Julie had straightened each setting and the central candelabra at least three times.

Her father had come into the dining room shortly before their guests arrived. “I'd like you to be particularly attentive to Harlan Garrett's grandson, my dear.” He picked up the place card labelled ‘Scott Lancer' and exchanged it with another card at Julie's end of the table.

Puzzled, Julie took her father's arm. “I'll show all your guests the utmost courtesy, of course.”

“Courtesy, be damned. You're my best hope, Julie. If you wish to keep your fine dresses and trips to the theatre, you'll be a lot more to young Lancer than just polite.”

Julie frowned. It was so unlike her father to use such language in front of her. His business problems must be worse than she imagined. She wanted to help, but what was he suggesting?

“I'm not asking you to marry the boy—though it would solve everything if you did—I merely want you to bat your eyelids and retain his interest for a month of two. Garrett cares a great deal for that young man, and he's unlikely to make a move against me if he believes his grandson has feelings for you.”

Julie patted her father's hand. He was too thin. He'd barely eaten in the weeks immediately after her mother's death, and the doctor had detected a heart murmur. “I'll do my best to please, Father, but I can't force Mr Lancer to like me.”

“How could any man resist your smiles, my love? Show him every attention during the evening and laugh at all his jokes. You'll have him in the palm of your hand. Whatever you do, don't let his grandfather separate you. I'll try to keep Garrett occupied. In fact…” George Dennison scanned the table. Locating where Julie had placed Mr Garrett, he swapped around his place card too, sitting Harlan Garrett and his grandson at opposite ends of the table.

As it had turned out, Julie had found Scott very amiable. It was no hardship to walk out with him later, and only this evening he had asked her if they could keep company. Her father was over the moon when they'd sought his permission. There could be no engagement, of course, until the period of her mother's mourning ended, and no marriage until Scott graduated, but she was flattered by his declaration of affection. He was by far the nicest young man of her acquaintance. And if things went well between them, it would be quite something to possess the pin money and prestige of Mrs Scott Garrett Lancer, heir to the Garrett fortune.

Coals collapsing in the grate hissed and sparked and brought Julie back to the telegram in her hands. She flattened the creases out against her knees. “What am I thinking? This message is addressed to Scott. He must read it as intended and make his own decision.”

Oh, but Mr Garrett was right. Scott hated his father. The one time she'd asked Scott about him, she'd seen the hurt in his eyes. She'd attempted to excuse the neglect; California was a long way off and by all accounts uncivilised, surely Mr Lancer had only been thinking of Scott's welfare.

“I haven't had one letter from the man, not one letter or gift, ever, that I can remember. There is no excuse for that.”

“It certainly sounds very bad, but there may be circumstances you don't know about. Have you ever tried writing to him?”

“I wrote regularly at one time. My grandfather sacrificed the cost of postage even though he warned me there was little likelihood of a reply. My father, by all accounts, is an adventurer, too interested in building his ranch to be bothered with a small child. Grandfather believed he might be more interested in me when I was older; I would be more use to him then. Well, I'll tell you now, if that does prove to be the case, he will be disappointed. I want nothing to do with the gentleman.”

Even as he said it, Julie had doubted whether it could be true. He seemed to mean it, but in her limited experience, men were prone to say things they didn't mean, especially when they were angry.

So where did that leave her now? Should she place the telegram prominently on top of the important pile where conscience told her it belonged, and risk him leaving? He would come back—wouldn't he? But would he stay? Other men had been swept up by the excitements of California. Her friend Edith had been dragged to San Francisco to suffer the heat and the dust, and the interminable ignorance of the people; her letters spoke regularly of her misery. Would Scott ask Julie to move to a ranch in California? Mr Garrett was right; even she could see Scott was restless.

If she only knew what was best.

Her eyes fell upon the dying embers in the grate, hotly orange but turning to ash. The fire needed more fuel. She took the shovel and scooped coal from the scuttle. Gracious, she could hear voices in the hall. They were coming back. She had the coal in one hand and the telegram in the other. The glowing fire was in front of her, and the door opened. Her time had run out, and…

Julie blinked back her horror. Returning the shovel to the scuttle, she straightened and brushed down her dress. Then, with a Boston smile and outstretched hands, she turned to greet Scott and his grandfather, knowing the room was warm and welcoming.

And flames flared in the grate.

 


Chapter 2

“You've been busy in my absence.” Lieutenant Eliot raised his glass to Scott and turned his back to the fire, surveying the crowded parlour as more men came through from the dining room. The air was already thick with the aroma of coffee, brandy, and cigar smoke. “What's this I hear about you and a Miss Dennison?”

Choosing a cigar from the rosewood box on the side table, Scott cut the end and accepted a light. “We've been keeping company since Christmas.”

“So much for concentrating on your studies at Harvard. Is she here and is she pretty? If so, you'll have to introduce us. I'll woo her away with the uniform.”

Taking the cigar from his mouth, Scott laughed. “She is here. She's beautiful, and, I'm pleased to say, far too intelligent to be tempted by a philanderer like you.” For a moment he fell silent, studying the tightly rolled bundle of tobacco between his fingers. “I think she could be the one, Bob.”

“My God, not that bad, is it? You've only just turned twenty-one. Congratulations, by the way.”

“And you.” Scott toasted his old school chum and then savoured the fine Cuban cigar. One thing you could always count on in this house was the best of everything. Old money—there was plenty to spread around, even to the black sheep of the family. “Good turnout. All the Brahmins in Boston must be here.”

“And paying for the privilege.” Bob grinned and nodded towards his father who was accepting a cheque off Edgar Harraway. “It must irritate the hell out of some of them. They wouldn't normally attend a party for the son of a lowly surgeon, especially not one who has a nasty habit of extracting money from them for public health.”

“I'm not sure the Head of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital fits the definition of ‘lowly', but I take your point. Being part of the Eliot dynasty must have its advantages—or should that be crosses to bear?”

“Depends on the circumstances.” Bob shrugged. “But, for the most part, blood is thicker than water so usually a plus. Personally, though, evenings like this make me glad I chose a career in the navy.”

Everybody who was anybody was there, not just the big money men, but social reformers and public dignitaries in all shapes and sizes, as well as a smattering of Bob's friends and probably a few family members who didn't fit any of the earlier categories. Scott shook his head free of the thought. He knew Bob had relatives coming out of his ears; his family life was a whole other world to Scott's, and the difference didn't bear analysing too closely. Wherever they fitted, these gentlemen and their ladies had all come to wish Bob a happy twenty-first birthday. That was impressive. It wasn't even the actual day; that had been a week or so before when Lieutenant Robert Eliot was still somewhere off the coast of Mexico.

“On the bright side, if my grandfather and uncles ever give up politics and commerce, they would do well at the fairground as puppeteers.” Bob chuckled at his own joke, and blew a smoke ring into the air.

“Well, you've definitely got a few more big names here than graced my twenty-first.” Scott flicked some ash into the fireplace. He was very pleased the likes of Harraway hadn't shown up at his birthday party. His friends had at least made up a decent proportion of his guests. He doubted Bob really knew half these gentlemen.

“I was sorry to have missed your celebration. I'd hoped to miss mine instead, but Grandfather Eliot wouldn't hear of it.” Bob bowed in the direction of the retired senator holding court across the room. It was surprising how alike they looked. Scott had never noticed it before, but Bob had hardened in face as well as body in recent years. He still retained his mother's chestnut hair and brown eyes, like the rest of his siblings, but he had matured into the more rugged features of the Eliot patriarch. “I'm the eldest male of my generation you see. Means a lot to the old villain, and he might not be with us much longer. My parents succumbed to the pressure; so here I am, spending my liberty in Beacon Hill being polite to Boston's elite.”

“I don't think your father put up too much of a fight. The way he spoke about you when he toasted your health—rather proud, I'd say. Not averse to an opportunity to sing your accomplishments to a larger audience.”

“Pa's not bad. He can be a little too ‘rights and responsibilities' at times, but I could have done worse.”

“You could. I stand as testimony to that fact.” Scott gulped his brandy and tried to tamp down the anger that had unexpectedly flared inside him.

Bob sipped his Armagnac. He eyed Scott with an air of a man not sure whether he should say what he was about to say. “I did wonder whether you'd be here when I got back. I thought you might've gone out to California now you're of age. Given your father a chance to—.”

“Why should I give that bastard anything?” Scott stubbed his cigar hard into the ashtray on the mantelpiece. “I've no desire to meet my so-called father. None at all.”

“Not even to punch him on the nose?”

“Satisfying as that would be, my life is here in Boston with people who actually care whether I live or die.” Scott clamped his jaw shut and focused on the street lamp he could see through the window. Here he was surrounded by family men, clapping their sons on the shoulder and introducing them to other men; proud fathers, exaggerating the talents and achievements of their sons, or laughing off their indiscretions as the wildness of youth. His father couldn't even be bothered to acknowledge his coming of age.

“He might care.”

“And men might fly like birds one day—you'll excuse me if I don't hold my breath.” Scott consumed the remains of his brandy in one swallow, but it did nothing to douse the fire taking hold of him. “I've better things to do than traipse across the country in search of a man who did nothing but sire me. When I graduate, I aim to repay Grandfather for the sacrifices he's made for me. And then there's Julie. I'm going to ask her to marry me as soon as the period of mourning for her mother is up.”

“Don't get carried away, man. What's the rush? You may change your mind about the girl and your father.”

Scott gritted his teeth. It was all very well for Bob. His father came home every night. Bob had gone to sea and abandoned Dr Eliot, not the other way around. “Why are you suddenly so damned concerned about my father?”

“I'm not. I'm concerned about you. We've known each other a long time. I remember at one time…Okay, I won't say it, but the Scott Lancer I knew, not that long ago, wanted to see a bit of the world. He always listened to both sides of a story, and he didn't charge blindly into things.”

“Save your words of wisdom for your crew. I know what I'm doing.” Damn Bob, just because he wasn't around to witness it, didn't mean Scott hadn't thought everything through. Murdoch Lancer had long proved his indifference. It would be pathetic to chase after him. And he wasn't rushing into anything with Julie.

Bob poured them both another Armagnac from the decanter on the cabinet. “I'd best bite the bullet and circulate. Get that down you and stop being such a grump. I'll expect that introduction to Miss Dennison when we join the ladies in the drawing room.” Bob ambled away, leaving Scott with a glass full of brandy and a frown on his face.

Scott should probably make an effort to talk to others too, but he wasn't in the mood now. Through a haze of cigar smoke, he took stock of the gentlemen in the room and downed his brandy without tasting it. Young and old, the men around him were joking and affable, talking politics, sport and business; pride, envy and nepotism in bucket-loads.

“You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,” Scott muttered to himself.

“Did you want coffee, sir?” A manservant departing with the coffee urn and cups halted in front of Scott.

“No, thank you, I'm fine with this.” He raised his glass. The servant continued towards the door, and Scott returned to studying Boston's high society as it weaved that subtle web of favour and obligation his grandfather was so keen for him to be part of. Well, he couldn't be part of the public passing of the baton from father to son, and he didn't want to be part of the palm-greasing.

Where was his grandfather anyway? Casting an eye about, Scott spied him chatting with the abolitionist lawyer James McIntyre of all people. A more unlikely pair to have a tête à tête was hard to imagine, but Scott couldn't even muster the curiosity to find out what they were talking about.

His grandfather would start praising him to everyone within hearing if he approached, but however well-intentioned, he was not Scott's father. Damn it. Scott was not going to dwell on the subject of his father any longer. It was ridiculous. One more glass of brandy—one he would actually savour—and then it would be time to join the ladies.

Julie could talk him back into good humour.


Chapter 3

“We can do both: luncheon with your family and then the veteran's ball in the evening.” Scott tied the picnic rug to the back of his saddle and grinned at Julie. He couldn't imagine anything worse than spending Independence Day with her relatives—her Aunt Adelaide was almost as pretentious as his Aunt Winifred— but he was looking forward to catching up with his old army buddies, and if that was the trade-off, so be it.

“I feel like you've tricked me into this agreement.” Julie made a little moue with her mouth, and Scott had a sudden urge to kiss her. Even when they disagreed, she was beautiful, and she didn't seem seriously vexed. He managed a quick peck on the lips before she turned her head away, glancing over her shoulder to be sure no one had seen. He helped her up into the saddle, and she leaned forward to tidy the drape of her skirt. “I don't know why you can't meet your fellow officers at a private gathering, Scott?”

“I've no idea where most of them live now. Men are coming to Boston from all over Massachusetts for this ball. It will be fun. And I won't neglect you. I promise to dance you off your feet.” Scott waited while his horse took a last mouthful of long grass. Putting one foot in the stirrup, he mounted and gazed about them. The sun was low in the sky over the trees, and the central part of the Common seemed almost deserted. It must be getting late. He picked up his reins, leather creaking as he settled into the saddle, and his mare pricked her ears ready for the off. “Let's gallop back to the Beacon Street gate. Give the horses a run.”

In the end they compromised on that as well; they cantered back. But Scott told himself he didn't mind. Compromise was the name of the game occasionally when you were a courting couple. He wouldn't over analyse or worry. He'd got what he wanted, and his life was slowly falling into place. His relationship with Julie and his studies at Harvard were going well. He was even getting on better with his grandfather. The old gentleman didn't push so hard now; not since Scott had declared he wouldn't chase after his father. Murdoch Lancer probably wouldn't….Scott spurred his horse forward. He was content and at ease—most of the time.

“Who are you trying to convince?” Bob Eliot glanced over as he paid at the counter three weeks later. They'd met by chance in the jeweller's shop in Washington Street.

Independence Day, 1868 had dawned sunny and full of promise. The morning paper devoted a double page to the veterans' ball, and Scott was looking forward to the evening. He had an afternoon with Julie's relatives to endure first, but it was worth the sacrifice, and discovering Bob in town was an added bonus. At least it was until they'd strayed onto this subject. Damn it, why couldn't his friend be like everyone else and just accept what he said.

“Okay, maybe not totally content. Do you ever feel like your blood is fizzing up inside you?” Scott followed Bob through the glazed door and paused to pull on his gloves. Tapping his cane on the top step, he threw it up in the air and caught it. “Grandfather blames the war.”

“You need to do something more physical and adventurous. Sipping tea and paying homage to the rich and powerful of Boston on a regular basis would drive me nuts.” Bob slipped a small jeweller's box into his top pocket and waved away a cab driver. “Let's walk. Stretch our legs and use up some energy.”

Heading towards Beacon Hill, they dodged horses and carts to cross Tremont Street. A slight breeze took the edge off the summer sun and carried the sweet scent of trees and flowers from the Common as they strolled along Park. Oh, to be in real countryside.

“Watch out, mister.” The warning cry of a drayman jolted Scott back to the busy street.

Standing in the gutter, he raised his cane in apology as the wagon passed by. “On the one hand I'm happier than a man has a right to be. And on the other, I'm drowning.”

“Why don't you leave town for a while?”

“I can't. There are my studies and all sorts of other reasons.” Scott swiped an old tin can with his cane and sent it clattering towards two climbing boys, loitering on the corner. They kicked it between them like a ball until the chimney sweep emerged from the servants' entrance of a large house and shouted at them to come along. “Poor little devils.”

“My mother wants them banned. She refuses to hire any sweep with climbing boys. I think she's about to mount one of her campaigns.” Bob chuckled. His mother was always setting something to rights.

They watched the soot-covered boys put their weight behind a handcart laden with long brushes and drop cloths.

“Going back to what we were talking about though, if you're determined not to go west of the Mississippi for reasons of pride or loyalty, you should find a challenge closer to home before you tie yourself down.”

“Easier said than done.” Scott's words came out sharp. He'd made it clear at Bob's birthday party the year before that California and Murdoch Lancer were not subjects he wanted to discuss. He was certain Bob hadn't forgotten; his friend just never let sleeping dogs lie when he didn't agree.

They crossed into Temple Street without speaking, and Scott ran the silver top of his cane along the railings. A maid scrubbing the doorstep of the next house nearly jumped out of her skin, knocking the bucket and sending water slopping over the sides. She slumped back on a lower step, a hand pressed to her heart.

“My apologies, Miss.” Scott raised his hat, and she turned bright red.

Exchanging a grin, Scott and Bob walked on. As provoking as Bob could be, they'd been friends forever. They could talk about almost anything, and neither of them held a grudge for long. In Bob's company, Scott could unwind.

He needed that at the moment. He was fizzing again. “Not all of us know what we want to do with our lives from infancy—or have the freedom to do it.”

“That statement makes what you're about to do even crazier. Don't get me wrong, Miss Dennison is everything a girl should be, but it's a crime against nature for a man to marry before he's twenty-five. This is the only kind of ring I intend to give any girl for a very long time.” Bob patted the box in his top pocket. It contained a cameo ring he'd bought in Rome for his sister. The ring had turned out to be slightly too big so he'd taken it to the jeweller to be re-sized.

Scott had also been collecting a ring—an engagement ring. He was going to propose to Julie on her birthday in five days. No time to think or talk more about that now though. Dropping his fob watch back into his waistcoat pocket, he said a hurried goodbye. “We'll pick you up at seven-thirty.”

“I'll be ready, ship-shape and Bristol fashion as the English would say.” Giving a small salute, Bob dashed up the front steps of his family home, and Scott quickened his stride towards Louisburg Square.

It was after eleven, and he still had to get changed. Julie and her father would not be pleased if he made them late for lunch with Aunt Adelaide and family.

Cutting a few corners with his toilette, he arrived at the Dennison's house in Walnut Street only a few minutes after twelve. He took the steps two at a time and rapped the knocker hard. A house finch flitted onto the wrought iron railing next to him and chirped a hello. He tipped his hat to the little bird, and it flew down onto the brick-paved street. That was odd; the carriage should be out front by now.

“Mr Lancer.” The Dennison's butler held the door wide, recalling his attention.

“I'm sorry I'm late.” Scott crossed the vestibule and greeted Julie as she came down the hall from the green baize door. Why was she in her striped cotton? That was her everyday dress. She normally changed to go visiting. “What's wrong?”

Small worry lines creased her brow. “Father is unwell again. Nothing too serious, the doctor says, but we must stay at home.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Scott reached out and took her hand. “If it's not serious, I could still take you to the luncheon.”

Julie smiled weakly. “No, thank you, but I've already sent a message to my aunt. You could read to Father for a while. I've just organised some soup. I'll go and tell Milly you're staying.”

There wasn't a lot else he could do under the circumstances. Scott headed upstairs, but he was thinking more about his stomach than his future father-in-law's health. Damn. The one and only advantage of dining with Julie's aunt was a meal fit for a king. He'd been looking forward to it, and he'd limited his breakfast to toast and coffee so he'd have room to do it justice. Soup wasn't going to satisfy his stomach now unless it was a hearty chowder.

Leftover consommé from the night before and another slice of toast were all that were on offer though. Most of the servants had the afternoon off for Independence Day, and neither the housemaid nor Julie knew how to cook.

If that wasn't bad enough, he didn't escape George Dennison until after four o'clock. Scott had hoped to have a good soak in the bath before the veteran's ball, but now it would have to be a quick wash. He persuaded Julie to come downstairs once her father dozed off so they could talk without disturbing him. “I'd better go home and spend an hour or two with Grandfather before the ball. I'm neglecting him badly today.”

“We can't go to the ball, Scott. Not when Father is sick.” Julie looked up at him in surprise.

“Why ever not?” He gaped, equally astonished. “Your father isn't seriously ill. He's just caught a virus. He'll be right as rain in a few days.”

“I'm not leaving him.” She tried to sidestep him to return to her father's bedside.

But he blocked her path at the bottom of the stairs. “I've already arranged to pick up Bob on the way. Your father will be all right without you for a few hours, and you like Bob.”

“I didn't know Lieutenant Eliot was in town.”

“I bumped into him this morning. He only disembarked yesterday. He wants to catch up with old war buddies too so I invited him to come with us.”

“Please give him my regards and my apologies when you contact him. He's undoubtedly pleasant company, but I don't know anyone else who'll be at the ball, and by all accounts, it won't just be officers and their ladies.”

“I don't see what difference that makes.” Scott took a deep breath. Why couldn't Julie just accept people at face value instead of worrying about their social background? Some of the nicest men he met in the army wouldn't know a demitasse from a soup spoon.

“I'm not in the mood to be courteous to people I would normally have nothing to do with, Scott.” Julie's lips formed a thin line. “Please let me pass.”

“It's Independence Day.” He touched her hand and cocked his head like a puppy dog, trying to make her smile. “We'll be dancing most of the time. Some of the gentlemen I know must have wives or sweethearts. You'll be fine.”

“There's no use talking about it, Scott. I don't wish to go to this veteran's ball of yours. I never did.” Her cheeks flushed as she manoeuvred her way past him, lifting her skirt to climb the stairs. She was clearly not going to be persuaded.

Disappointment settled uncomfortably in the back of his throat, and he stared down at the shine on his shoes. When he looked up Julie had reached the landing. “I'll just go with Bob then, but it won't be the same.”

The long, steady look she gave him made him blink. Now that was unfair. Julie knew he'd been looking forward to the ball for weeks; he'd even had his uniform re-made for the occasion. And now Bob's ship was in port. It never stayed long. Surely she couldn't expect Scott to give up a chance to spend time with old friends just to sit by her side in silence while she watched her father sleep?

“Please change your mind, Julie.”

She stared at him for a moment longer, then shook her head and disappeared.

Damn it, how dare she make him feel guilty? He'd already spent the whole afternoon entertaining her father, and Dennison wasn't that sick. Bob Eliot had only two day's liberty in Boston. He had to be back aboard ship by five o'clock on Sunday. There wouldn't be another opportunity this shore leave to spend time together. Scott wasn't being unreasonable going without her. He damn well wasn't. He rounded the corner into Louisburg Square. He was going, and that was all there was to it.

Three hours later, he pushed open the door of the hack, and Bob climbed in, looking about in surprise. “I thought you were bringing the charming Miss Dennison?”

“Her father is unwell.”

Settling back into the polished leather upholstery, Bob pitched his naval hat like a horseshoe so it landed atop Scott's army one resting on the opposite seat. “I'm sorry to hear that, but on the other hand, it gives you one night of freedom before you get down on bended knee.”

“Don't get any ideas.”

“Who, me?”

It really didn't matter what Bob came up with, because Scott wasn't going to do anything except catch up with old comrades, drink a few beers and dance a lot less than he would have done if Julie had come.

As soon as they alighted from the carriage, he made a beeline for a food vendor's cart parked outside the hall to buy something to soak up the alcohol. He had only managed to scavenge some cold cuts and a tomato before leaving. Almost all their staff had the night off for Independence Day, because his grandfather was dining out.

“Here you go.” Bob handed Scott the first beer of the evening as he finished the last of his sausage and bread, and they began searching the room for old comrades in arms. Faneuil Hall was packed to the gunnels. Men of all ranks in uniforms or civilian attire crushed at the bar and crowded around the outer edges of the dance floor in jovial groups. There were plenty of ladies too, gaily dressed in their Sunday best or swishing silk.

Scott was introduced to several young women. Not many were gentlewomen, but they were all very friendly.

“Miss Dennison will be sorry not to have made your acquaintance, ma'am.” Scott bowed and repeated the same words several times over, hoping they were true.

Julie's absence irked him more with every beer he consumed and every introduction or joking enquiry about his love life. He wanted to show her off. He wanted to witness her at her best, making those around them laugh and feel good about themselves and her. He wanted to dance. His blood was fizzing again. He needed to dance. There were more than a few young ladies not romantically attached to their escorts, just waiting to be asked. Bob was soon dancing with his old commander's daughter. The music made Scott's feet tap as he drank more beer, smoked cigars and chatted with men he had served with. It didn't seem right to go on the dance floor without Julie, but he couldn't stand still any longer.

“May I have the honour?” He started with Private Wilson's sister from Roxbury and finished sometime around eleven o'clock with Captain Gerrard's niece. “Thank you, Miss Lister.”

That's when he and some cavalry buddies were challenged to a drinking game by Bob and his navy friends. Scott had never tasted navy rum before, but the powers-that-be had donated several kegs to the occasion. He perched on a high stool between Jack Hansen and Abe Daniells facing off against Bob's lot across a make-shift bar. Lieutenant Commander Quincy Flintoft from Salem—Toffy to his friends—sat opposite him, reeling off jokes, like a burlesque act. For the first time that evening Scott was glad Julie wasn't there; damn it, one or two of them nearly made him blush.

Toffy had wicked luck with the cards too. Scott soon lost count of how many shots of rum he swallowed. When the official end to the ball was announced at midnight, he got down from his seat. “Whoa.” Who moved the floor? The whole hall was at sea.

“Are you all right?” Bob's image seemed to go in and out in front of him.

“I believe...I'm drunk.” And he couldn't care less. Julie wasn't here so why not get drunk? He flung an arm over Bob's shoulder. “You're a good friend, Bob. Lead the way!”

Bob grinned and steered him towards the double doors. They blundered down the wide steps into Dock Square, bumping against other revellers flooding out of the hall.

Suddenly there was a whizz and a bang and flash of light, and Scott hit the deck.

Bob doubled over laughing.

“They could have warned us.” Scott got to his feet.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Bob staggered forwards and clapped Scott on the back. “They did. It was in the paper.”

“So it was.” Scott laughed too. Looking around he wasn't the only man sheepishly brushing off clothes. He threw his head back and gaped up as more coloured fires, cascades and rockets burst into the night sky. “Glorious.” But the small explosions resounded in his head, and the lights played tricks with his vision.

His head was starting to swim by the time a sailor thrust a bottle in his hand and bid him drink to the President's health. Well, he couldn't say no to that, and the next thing he knew he and Bob and a band of other men were singing their way down toward the dockland bars and brothels.

“Bob, I need to call it a night.” The fresh evening air was beginning to unclog his brain, but the brick walls around him swayed dangerously. He put a hand out to hold the closest one at bay. He shouldn't have had so much rum; he wasn't used to it.

They were virtually alone now, down a narrow side street, but he could hear the final verse of Marching Through Georgia being sung in a bar on the corner and muffled laughter coming from an open sash above. A red lantern in the window facing him cast macabre shadows across the pavement.

“Don't be a wet blanket.” Bob moved to knock on the nanny shop's door, but Scott pulled him back by his coat tails. “Almost engaged…not going in there.”

“Hark him, Daisy. We've got a ‘last supper' man.” A painted redhead emerged from the shadows, followed by a blonde with dangling ringlets and a plunging neckline. Scott's trousers tightened.

The redhead sashayed around them, hands on rolling hips. She was no spring chicken, but for the most part he wasn't looking at her face. Scott swallowed. She paused in front of him and looked down, then up, trailing a finger along his jawline. “Very pretty.”

“No, ma'am, you misunderstand. We don't require your services.”

“Speak for yourself.” Bob grabbed the streetwalker around her waist. “Come here, my lovely. I'm six months at sea on the evening tide. I need a bit of sweetness to keep me going.”

Scott pulled at Bob's shoulder. “Not here, Bob.” That came out wrong. “I mean…” The sound of breaking glass and shouting cut him short. A brawl had broken out at the top of the street.

Bob stopped kissing the redhead and glanced up towards the fracas. “Right—not here.” A moment's thought and he raised his finger. “I know.” Arm in arm he ushered his lady down the brick-paved street towards the waterside, dancing around an abandoned handcart and bowing to a cat as it raced out from behind a barrel of garbage. On the up-swing he called out “Follow me” and meandered on regardless.

He'll get himself in hot water. Scott blinked but didn't move as he struggled to arrange the thoughts buffeting the inside of his skull. If only everything would stop expanding and contracting. What was that whistling? The fight… policemen coming…must follow Bob…but Julie…Grandfather…what would his father…

Daisy sidled up and slipped her arm through his. She purred in his ear. “You don't want to be left behind.”

Scott choked out a cough and stared at her through watery eyes. Bob was halfway down the street. Another shrill whistle—can't stay here. What else could he do? He let Daisy lead him away from trouble.

They stopped outside a shabby office. A sign lit up by the full moon creaked on rusting chains above the door: P.W. Makepeace, Chandler . Very apt; they could do with a little peace. They should go home.

“Here, hold Gladys and keep an eye out.” Bob thrust his harlot into Scott's arms, and she planted a kiss on his open mouth.

He came up for air in time to see Bob put a flick knife back in his pocket as he slipped through the office door. “What the hell!”

“Shsh, he'll be back soon.” Daisy pushed her way in between Gladys and Scott, and started nibbling on his ear. Her friend tugged at her arm. “Piss off, Glad. You've got sailor boy. The army pup is mine.”

“Not doing anything…with either of you…nearly engaged.” Scott tried to disentangle himself from Daisy's wandering hands, but sweat was trickling down his neck and his limbs were slow to obey his commands.

“Relax, deary. I'll take care of all the ‘doing'.” Daisy pressed Scott against the wall for a war of tongues as the clip clop of Gladys's heels echoed in his ears.

No—Scott was sure he said it, but Daisy, tasting vaguely of pickled onions and gin, kept teasing at the inside of his mouth with her tongue. She was warm and soft, and his arms settled around her waist as his body hardened. With his eyes shut she was remarkably pretty.

“The good Lord provides.” Bob tripped over the threshold with a large bottle and a key in the palm of his hand. “Hope this is the right one.” He took a mighty swig and closed his eyes. “Hmm, Jamaican sunshine—can't beat the good stuff.”

Snagging the bottle, Daisy grasped Scott by the balls. “Open wide.” He spluttered and shoved her back, but she only laughed and held the rum out to him. “Come on, Lieutenant. Have some fun.”

Returning to Bob's side, Gladys played with his hair, gluing her mouth to his, while he tried to untie the ribbon securing her bodice. This was all wrong…Scott hadn't intended to end the night like this... Julie…Sod it. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Julie. She should have come. This was his last night of freedom—if she said yes. He knew she'd say yes. The period for mourning her mother was over; she'd been reminding him for weeks. He was about to commit to Julie and to Boston forever. “Give me that rum.”

The liquor slid smoothly down his throat and exploded in his stomach. He bent double, coughing and pitching forward, nearly falling on his face.

While he recovered from the punch of the ‘good stuff', Bob peeled Gladys's arms away from his neck and took her hand. He seized Daisy's as well, and Daisy grabbed Scott's. They snaked across the wharf, stumbling and laughing, in the moonlight towards crates stacked next to a bollard.

Letting go of Gladys, Bob disappeared over the edge. Scott staggered forward. Had Bob fallen in? Why hadn't he heard a splash?

“Come on then.” A head popped out of the darkness. Bob plonked an oil lamp on the dock and used flints from a compartment at the bottom to light it. Then he helped the others climb down a ladder onto a small jetty. A large padlock with the chandler's key still in it sat next to a coil of chain, and a skiff clunked against the side of the jetty.

“All aboard.” Coming to attention, Bob saluted and then hopped down. He offered a hand to Gladys.

Scott released Daisy to him as well and clambered in last. “Where are we going?”

“Little Brewster Island. To see the lighthouse.” Bob winked. “And play on the beach.”

“You're crazy,” Scott laughed, toppling back hard on the bench seat as Bob pushed off.

“Move your feet.” A small mast and sail lay in the hull of the boat. Bob hoisted them, and Daisy helped Scott to another mouthful of rum.

Shutting his eyes against the moonlight, Scott nestled into her shoulder. She smelled of day-old perspiration and musk with a hint of lavender. How appropriate. He stifled a giggle and smiled. Julie smelled of flowers—Jasmine and violets. But he couldn't think of Julie at the moment. It wouldn't be right.

“What will we do with the drunken sailor?” Between mouthfuls of Jamaican rum, Bob sang the sea shanty at the top of his voice, and sailed the skiff across Boston Harbour. “What will we do with the drunken sailor?” Forcing his eyelids open, Scott squinted up and spied a night watchman aboard a frigate raising his lantern. The skiff slid past the great hull into more open water. The harbour was full of ships, sloops and gunboats, schooners and steamers. Where was the USS Pegasus? “Earlye in the morning?”

Sailors waved the little vessel on towards its destination, even joining in with the song. “ Put him in the scuppers with the hose pipe on him.”

What did a ship's officer get for drunkenness and ‘borrowing' under the influence?

Put him in the brig until he's sober.”

Well, that seemed more likely for an officer than ‘Put him in a boat and row him over'. Cuddling Daisy, Scott swilled more rum, and belched.

Then he joined in with the chorus:

“Way, hay up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Way, hay, up she rises,
Earlye in the morning!”

His head sloshed like the remains of the rum by the time they reached the island and pulled the boat ashore. Even the cold surf didn't sober him up. His brain and his body were no longer working together. He stumbled onto the beach, and Bob smacked the rum into his chest. A far away, tinkling voice somewhere in the void between his ears said ‘no more', but his arm lifted the bottle to his lips. He swallowed and passed it back. Then he gawked up at the big light cutting the night in two.

“Help us out, boys.” Daisy's shout broke through the fuzziness, and Scott teetered back to the boat.

Staggering up the beach under her weight, he fell next to Bob and Gladys in a heap of petticoats and cheap perfume. A seagull screeched and flew up into the sky, silhouetted against a massive full moon. The men howled like wolves; then smothered their laughter in powdered cleavage.

“Oh, God.” Scott lay back against a low bank, eyes closed, breathing in sea salt and Florida Water, feeling the ebb and flow of the tide in his head and his stomach. Soft fingers made him sweat and wriggle until the sultry breeze licked his skin. He opened his eyes. Daisy had grown a Siamese twin. Straddling him, she was loosening her—their— bodice to reveal four very luscious...But he wasn't going to do anything. “No, have to…” He tried to get away, but Daisy pressed her lips against his, and he felt the softness of her breasts against his chest. Why wasn't he going to do anything? There was a reason. “More rum?”

“Have some gin instead, deary.” Daisy hiked her skirts, unhitching her stocking at the same time to expose her thigh, all smooth and pink. Scott's hand slid up to her garter, pressing his thumb into cushiony flesh before removing a large hip flask, two thirds full.

He unstopped it with his teeth, one hand caressing Daisy's leg, as the beam of light from the lighthouse swept over them. “Shouldn't mix drinks…not a good idea.” Now there's something fathers tell their sons. Well, Scott didn't have a father—not one worth the name. He'd never been told it, not properly, so the thought and his father could go to hell.

He quaffed gin and disappeared into a pleasant haze. Whatever went on left him feeling warm and spent, totally relaxed for the first time in ages. He vaguely remembered Bob sailing them back, but his wits only really began to revive as they weaved a path along the wharf. By the time they reached Dock Square, the rising sun was painting a halo across the roof tops.

“Thank you, ma'am…much obliged…shouldn't have...didn't…did I?”

Daisy's laughter filled the empty streets. “Your conscience is clear, deary. You didn't do nuffin'.” She stuffed his token of appreciation into the lining of her corset and then tickled his earlobe with a moist tongue. “I done it all.”

Scott was still trying to work out what she meant when she grabbed his neck and pulled him down for one last smooch. Pushing him staggering backwards, she winked over her shoulder and sashayed away. “Good bye, soldier boy. Take care now.”

Bob let go of Gladys to stop Scott falling on his backside; he propped him up against a wall. “Good man. Stay there.”

Clutching his hat to his chest, Scott grinned as the women curtseyed low. He tried a salute as they sauntered their way down a nearby alley. “Ouch.” He missed his aim and poked himself in the eye. If the damned street would stop rolling under his feet, he'd try again.

“Adieu, dear ladies. Adieu!” Bob swept a bow and returned his hat to his head on the second attempt.

Lurching forward, he hailed an early morning cab, emerging from a yard in the same back street. The coachman helped him get Scott from the wall to the carriage and took payment in advance from their pocketbooks. Scott didn't have much left; he'd given all his banknotes to Daisy.

He collapsed back into the black leather and rested a heavy head on Bob's shoulder until they jerked awake outside the Eliot's house on Mount Vernon Street. One of them had been snoring but Scott wasn't sure who.

The driver steered Bob across the pavement and left him supported by the balustrade. Then he nipped up the steps and banged the cast iron knocker twice against the door before returning to the driver's seat. Scott pushed back the black leather curtain and slurred a goodbye through the window.

As the horse and carriage pulled away from the kerb, he saw Bob's father come down the steps. Dr Eliot hoisted his son's arm over his shoulder and helped him inside—poor, lucky sod.

Scott was decanted at Louisburg Square minutes later. He stood swaying on the spot for several minutes and then with determination, zigzagged up the front steps. His shirt was unbuttoned and his sash was missing in action. He thumped the door and bent over to pick up his hat—bad idea. The butler answered in his shirt sleeves, only just in time to stop him toppling back down to the footpath.

“Don't need assisss…help.” Scott pushed Jordan's hands away and with exaggerated dignity, straightened his frock coat. He peered across the threshold. Thank you, God—no Grandfather.

“Shall I help you up to your room, sir?”

“Shsh…I'm good.” Patting the butler on the chest, Scott turned and tottered forward. He made it to the bannister and paused before the climb. “Jordan.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Nothing happened. Remember that.”

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

 

Boston Times, July 9 th , 1868.

News of Engagement Interests Society Folk

Mr. George Dennison of Walnut Street, Beacon Hill this afternoon announced the engagement of his only daughter, Miss Julie Evangeline Dennison to Mr. Scott Garrett Lancer. Mr. Lancer is the grandson and heir of well-known businessman, Mr. Harlan Garrett, of Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill. Mr. Lancer served with distinction as Second Lieutenant in the Union Cavalry during the Civil War and is currently studying law and commerce at Harvard University.

Many a high society matriarch will regret the loss to the Boston marriage market of such an eligible bachelor. The wedding is expected to take place next year, following the groom's graduation.

Well, he'd done it. Fully recovered from the worst hangover of his life, and Jordan suitably rewarded for his discretion, Scott had wished Julie many happy returns, before falling to his knees and proposing. All known grievances had been forgiven days before, on both sides. She accepted him, as he knew she would, with joy and gratitude.

Her father was elated, and he wasted no time in contacting the press to make it official.

Scott's grandfather was sanguine. “Congratulations, my boy. Miss Dennison is a pleasant girl. You'll do very well together.”

Scott placed the newspaper cutting between the pages of the Garrett family bible and put the book down on the ground beside him. Since the announcement he and Julie had been roundly congratulated by everyone they'd met and, according to latest article by the same reporter, the engagement dinner was declared to be a huge success by the doyens of Boston .

His life was now mapped out. No more thoughts of California or a father he'd never seen. He would marry Julie, his beautiful angel, the first woman to capture his heart—the only woman who ever could. They would live a life of privilege within the upper echelons of Boston society, and he would take up a position managing one of his grandfather's companies, in training to take over an empire. It was as everyone said it should be.

“Are you happy?” Sitting on the swing seat, Julie snuggled into him as they watched the sun set over the trees. Her father and Grandfather had gone inside, and they had the garden to themselves.

“I'm the luckiest man alive.” Scott smiled down at her. He meant it. He really did.


Chapter 4

“St Louis is not some heathen outpost, Julie. It's bigger than Boston.” Scott troubled the parlour rug with his foot and flexed his hands as Julie fussed over peonies on the sideboard. They were going around in circles. When they first met, Julie had been so accommodating and attentive to his needs, and the early months of their engagement had been all he could wish for—at least they had been after the tedious social gatherings to honour their betrothal were out of the way. They had fun together, and more importantly, they talked, not least about their hopes for their future as husband and wife. They had agreed on almost everything at first, but lately...

“Except it's not Boston. It's not my home.” She tugged a bloom from the front of the vase and pushed it in at the back. “I travelled away once in my life: I didn't enjoy it, and my mother fell ill in my absence. She died before I could I get home, Scott. You wouldn't understand how that feels, but I'm not going through it again with Father. I'm not.” She turned away from him and went to sit down at her piano. The early afternoon sun was streaming through the bay window, reflecting off the brass candleholders—and the temper in her eyes. “I want to live here in Boston.”

“Doesn't what I want count for anything?”

“Boston is your home too.” Arranging some music on the stand in front of her, she seemed determined not to look at him. “We talked about this before we got engaged. You said you'd accept a position in your grandfather's business, and Father could come and live with us if he wanted to.”

Scott positioned himself at the corner of the Steinway. “I know I agreed to Boston, but you knew I wasn't happy about living in Grandfather's shadow. I want to build something of my own. We were talking further west then. I thought from what you said it was the society and entertainments of Boston you'd miss. St Louis has all those things.”

Julie bit her bottom lip. At first she said nothing, but eventually she raised her eyes. “St Louis is all new money. It hasn't got Boston's history and sophistication.”

“How do you know? If you'd come with me when I went at Easter you'd have seen for yourself; St Louis has everything you could wish for.”

“But I don't know anyone there.”

“When Grandfather and I first visited at Christmas, I met some of his friend Emmett Russell's children. They were only a little older than us, and I'm sure some of the ladies would take you under their wing. They move in the best circles, Julie.”

“I didn't want to go with you last month and don't want to live there after we're married, Scott. I don't know how many times I have to say it.” She banged the lid of the piano down and got up from the stool. Brushing past, without meeting his eye, she returned to the sideboard and removed a doily from the drawer. She lifted the vase of peonies and laid the crocheted cloth beneath them before speaking in a calmer voice. “I'd miss my friends and family. St Louis is not my home.”

“It could be.” Scott placed his hands on her shoulders and gently turned her to face him. “We could make it our home, together.” He searched her eyes for a glimmer of hope. “Mr Russell says there are huge opportunities for business there. Garrett Enterprises has already got some investments, and I would be tasked to develop them further without Grandfather breathing down my neck. He's agreed to the compromise. Can't you see your way clear to do the same?”

Shaking her head, she pulled away. “Last week, you introduced me in the street to a builder and his wife from St Louis. Is that how it would be? Do you expect me to mix with people like that?”

“Lindstrom? Well, he is in charge of the new construction side of the business there. He's a good fellow. I don't understand the problem.”

“No, you don't.” Julie swung around so abruptly Scott had to step backwards. Her voice was unusually shrill. “They're not the sort of society I'm used to Scott, and I don't want to become used to them either. Next you'll be suggesting I learn how to cook and make beds.”

Scott gripped the mantelpiece, staring down into the empty grate. Julie had managed her father's household since her mother died, but the servants did all the manual work. That was how it was done in Beacon Hill, but would doing a few household chores be so bad? Given the choice, he'd prefer they made a life for themselves somewhere completely away from her father and his grandfather's influence. Julie had made it clear she would never agree to that, but St Louis was a good compromise, an attempt to meet her and his grandfather half way. Grandfather had agreed; if Julie really cared for him, why couldn't she?

“What about Father?”

Scott sighed and faced her again. “Your father would understand. He's in good health, and Grandfather says his business has recovered. I realize he won't want to go to St Louis at the moment, but he could still come to us when he retires if he wishes.”

“My father is well because I'm here to look after him, and because he's currently free of the anxiety of your grandfather scratching at his door. He needs me close by, and I will not desert my duty.”

Scott forced down his annoyance. Grandfather couldn't be blamed for George Dennison's lack of business ability. He'd lent Dennison money when no one else would, and he was within his rights to want a return. Sometimes he wondered if the only reason Julie had agreed to marry him was to safeguard her father's interests. She was far more amenable to his wishes in all sorts of ways when Dennison was in financial difficulty than she was now. “I never wanted to make you choose between your father and me, Julie, but if you love me, surely my needs override his occasionally? After I graduate, I can't stay in Boston with my life mapped out for me. I know that now. I'd die inside.”

Julie's eyes welled with tears.

“What are you doing?”

“Here. Take it back.” She had twisted his ring from her finger. She held it out to him. “We were too hasty. Perhaps my fears for my father made me accept you for the wrong reasons.”

“Julie, you can't mean that.” He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. This was ridiculous. All couples disagreed sometimes; they could work it out. There was no need to break off their engagement. “We love each other.”

“That's what makes this so hard. I do love you, Scott, but I can't marry you. We want different things. Oh, how I wish I had let you go to California. That's where you really want to be. If I agree to St Louis now, it would only be a matter of time, and you would want to move further west. I can't do it. I won't do it.” Her voice trembled. She reached out and lifted Scott's hand from his side, folding his fingers over the engagement ring. “I release you.”

Scott looked down, the gold band and sapphire hard in his palm. He clenched his fist and the sharp edges of the gem dug into his skin. “Julie, I don't…” He paused and frowned, staring at her. “What do you mean ‘let me go to California'? I've never suggested going there.”

Julie closed her eyes, and brought her hands to her lips as if in prayer. Tears escaped and trickled down her cheeks. “You'll hate me if I tell you.”

“Tell me what?” He took her in his arms. “Julie, I could never hate you. I love you. I want you to have this.” He tried to give the ring back, but she pulled away, shaking her head.

“No, Scott. It won't work. I think I've known for some time. If you're honest…well, even if you don't agree now, you will.” She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eyes, refusing to let him take her hand.

“What can be so terrible? You're just upset.” A sick feeling was starting to take hold. He must have mentioned going to California once in the early days and forgotten. She was so attached to her own father, how could he expect her to understand how he felt about Murdoch Lancer? “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kept going on about St Louis. It's just…”

“Do you remember on your twenty-first birthday, you and your grandfather left me to talk business?”

Scott nodded.

“You asked me to open and sort the telegrams you'd received.”

What had this got to do with anything? Scott opened his mouth to ask, but Julie placed her fingers on his lips.

“There was one from California—from your father.”

Her words seemed to hang in the air as she lowered her hand.

Scott blinked. “No there wasn't. I looked before I went to collect you.”

She bowed her head and turned aside. Scott watched and waited. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked away the seconds. Julie was as lifeless as a statue, and a wintery chill spread inside him.

At last she found her voice. “Your father's telegram must have arrived later… Mr Garrett was dreadfully upset…He confided his fears to me while you were changing.” She twisted her handkerchief in her hands and raised her eyes as if pleading with him. “You always said how much you hated your father. You said you wouldn't accept an olive branch even if one was offered. It was your birthday, and we had just agreed to court. At best, the telegram would have upset you terribly and spoiled your evening, but…I was afraid, Scott…there was a chance you'd feel duty bound to go to California, and…you might have been hurt.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Or worse, liked it there and never come back.”

Scott stiffened. “What happened to this telegram? I never saw it.”

“No.” She almost choked on the words. “I burnt it.”

Scott stared at her. He felt like he'd been thrown from his horse. He'd been intending to marry Julie. He'd shared his thoughts and dreams with her. She was the only woman he'd ever trusted. He'd…Who was she? Did they know each other at all? It didn't seem possible that she could have done such a thing. “What did the telegram say?”

“Not much. Your father wished you a happy birthday and invited you to visit California at his expense.”

There was a kind of whirring in his ears. He was unable to think or give any kind of response. Julie hung her head, tears dripping on the carpet. Stumbling back against a chair, he turned and walked unseeing from the room.

The butler approached him in the hall. “Don't forget your things, sir.”

Scott stopped and forced himself to breathe. He accepted his hat and gloves, and the butler opened the front door for him.

“Is everything all right, Mr Lancer?”

“No, Gallagher, everything is not all right. Thank you for your concern, but you must ask Miss Dennison. Good day to you.”

As the door closed behind him, Scott stuffed his gloves into his pocket and grabbed the handrail, hard, knuckles turning white. He faltered down the stone steps; he was shaking. Several seconds passed before he felt able to let go. Then he headed towards the Common.

Upon reaching the wrought iron gates, he kept walking. At one point he even ran, but it didn't help. He came to a halt among the wild cherry trees bordering Frog Pond and smacked his open hand against a trunk. Something shiny bounced back at him and fell among the petals at his feet. The engagement ring: he'd forgotten he was still holding it. He looked down at his palm, grazed and bleeding. It hurt. But not enough. He slammed it into the bark twice more, and then turned his back and slid down to the ground, knees bent. He buried his face in his arms.

“God damn it to hell.” He smashed his fist backwards against a root and looked up through the canopy, blinking rapidly. Then he sucked the cuts as the blood flowed. “How could you, Julie? How could you?”

His father had sent him birthday greetings. He'd invited him to California. Why? What did he want from Scott now after so long: love, respect, forgiveness? The man must be delusional. But Murdoch Lancer had tried to make contact; for the first time ever the bastard had reached out to him—and the people Scott trusted most had kept the attempt secret. Julie's reasons were understandable perhaps, but forgivable…? Scott squeezed his eyes shut. He was a grown man. He would not fall apart over this. He would not.

“Master Charles, come here.”

Looking up, it took a moment for Scott to remember where he was. A small boy was running through the long grass on the other side of the path. The woman called again, and the child picked up a ball and ran back out of view.

Dear Lord, Julie—he'd barely thought of her, or their broken engagement, since leaving the Dennison's house. Somehow that seemed wrong. He grasped his head in his hands. What was the matter with him? He shouldn't just be angry with her. He should be heartbroken by the return of his ring, but all he felt was emptiness. It made no sense.

And why hadn't Grandfather asked him about the telegram? That made even less sense. Did he have some hand in what Julie had done? Scott gritted his teeth and glowered.

He pulled his watch from his waist coat pocket: four o'clock. Grandfather would be at his office.

Getting up, he stamped the cramp out of his legs and bent over to pick up the ring. His hand was still oozing blood, damn it. Binding it with his handkerchief, he marched in the direction of the business district.


Chapter 5

“Why didn't you tell me?” The door crashed against the oak panelling, rattling pictures and sending the globe on top of the bookshelf jumping forward. Scott planted both hands on Harlan's desk and leaned over, eyes blazing. “I want the truth, Grandfather.”

“I'm so sorry, Mr Garrett, sir. Master Scott wouldn't…”

“It's all right, Lucas. Leave us.” Harlan waved his secretary away and pushed his chair back, putting distance between him and the fury in front of him. There was only one thing that could make Scott this angry. Clearly there had been some kind of revelation.

Scott watched over his shoulder as the door closed, and Harlan watched Scott; then the attack was renewed. “Grandfather, a telegram arrived from California on my twenty-first birthday, and don't deny it. You knew.”

Harlan met Scott's glare full on. “Lower your voice, sir.”

Scott straightened. He clamped his jaw shut, visibly struggling for control.

“If you have a question, young man, ask it civilly. I will not be spoken to like that.”

A muscle in his neck twitched with tension as Scott ground out the words. “I want to know why you didn't tell me my father had written.”

Harlan threw the pen he was holding onto the desk. Reclining back, he brought the tips of his fingers together, his wrists resting on his chest. “Are you telling me you didn't know? Well, well, well…” Doubt flickered in Scott's eyes—a chance to change tack. “What happened to your hand?”

“It's nothing. Don't change the subject, Grandfather.”

Harlan almost smiled. He'd trained the boy too well.

Scott began to pace. Then he leaned over the desk once again, blood seeping through a makeshift bandage to form a brownish red stain on the blotter. “You knew I didn't know. I would have said something.”

Harlan moved the insurance document he'd been reading out of harm's way. “Your silence did surprise me.”

“Then why didn't you ask about it?”

Harlan raised an eyebrow at Scott's tone. “At first I was grateful for what I thought was your self-restraint. There were a lot of influential men at the house that evening. The last thing I wanted was our dirty laundry aired in public. But, I admit, when you said nothing on the subject later, I was tempted to inquire.”

“Then why didn't you?”

Frowning, Harlan gripped the arms of his chair. He'd expected Scott to be angry if he found out, but the insolence surprised him. One more sign he was slowly losing his hold. “After a few days I decided I'd underestimated you. I hadn't dared hope you would be immune to your father's approach, but from some comments you made…”

“I knew nothing about the telegram until an hour ago.”

“Indeed?”

“Please Grandfather, stop playing games. When have you ever stopped digging until you were certain you knew the truth of any situation? Information is power. Isn't that what you always say?”

A smile did escape Harlan this time, but he was quick to control it. He cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. Age-spotted and wrinkled they maybe, but he was as astute as ever, and he knew what was needed now. He looked his heir straight in the eye. “You've learned a lot in the last couple of years, Scotty. I'm proud of you, but do you truly believe I could remain unemotional and business-like in this matter?”

Scott didn't answer, but there was something…

Lowering his gaze, Harlan cleared his throat again. “You mean a lot to me, my boy—too much perhaps.” He sensed rather than saw his grandson draw back, and when he raised his eyes, he breathed a little easier. Scott was no longer leaning over the desk. He still stood in front it, grim-faced with fists at his sides, but Harlan saw the first real chink in his anger. “I convinced myself I was following your lead by staying silent…I was relieved you'd rejected your father's overtures…It seems my relief was premature.”

“After everything you've said against him, you expect me to believe this…fairy tale?”

“In your current state, Scotty, I expect nothing. But I do hope…” Harlan shook his head. He studied Scott for several seconds, looking for signs that his words, or lack of them, were having effect. “I don't know what more I can say.”

He felt like a fly fisherman waiting patiently for a trout to take the bait. The naïve boy may have become more educated and worldly, but Harlan knew his grandson. He knew him very, very well.

When Scott finally spoke, he sounded hesitant and less sure. “I want to believe you, Grandfather, but…you must be involved.”

“Involved in what?” Harlan pulled his chair forward. “There was a telegram. It was on the tray with the rest. I can't explain why you didn't see it.”

“Julie burned it.”

“She…Dear me, did she really?” Harlan stared at his grandson, trying to sound genuinely shocked, but he could see Scott was only half convinced. “I'm sorry, Scotty…Maybe I am partly to blame…I fear… there's a chance I gave her the idea…I recall saying it was what I wished I could do.” He bowed his head. “I expressed my anxiety too openly…I didn't have time to bring my emotions under control. Forgive me, I never dreamed…I knew she cared for you, but I never dreamed she would do anything so drastic.”

He held Scott's gaze once more. Then the boy blinked and the fire was out.

Scott slumped into a hardwood chair. “I apologise, Grandfather. It's not your fault. You couldn't have foreseen…I should have known better.”

“I wish you had more faith in me, Scotty, but under the circumstances…I understand now why you're so upset.” Harlan got up and walked around to the other side of the desk, resting against the corner. The worst was over. “How have you left things with Julie?”

Scott reached into his pocket and tossed the ring onto the desk. It rolled and came to rest in the middle of the blotter.

“Is there no hope?”

“There were other reasons. She ended our engagement before she told me about the telegram.”

And hammered a nail in the coffin. Harlan went to the decanter on the sideboard. He poured two brandies. Silly girl—she'd kept the secret so long; why tell him now? Well, Harlan wouldn't mourn her loss. There were several eligible young ladies on the social scene at the moment. Lowell Eliot had a whole tribe of granddaughters of marriageable age, Harraway had a niece that might do, and there were Cabot girls as well. In Boston alone there must be at least a dozen candidates that would be a better match for his grandson than Julie Dennison, and a lot more in St Louis if that was still on the cards. “I'm sorry to hear that for your sake, but all is not lost. You still have St Louis to look forward to. Make a clean break when you graduate.”

“I don't know if I want to go there. Without Julie there's no point. It was a compromise that I hoped would satisfy her; not what I really wanted.”

“What do you want?”

“I wish I knew. To travel, to start something of my own—further west maybe.”

“You know my feelings on that subject. You're my heir, Scotty. I want you here in Boston. St Louis was only ever a compromise for me too. If that idea is to be discarded, I'd prefer you to stay home until you are more certain. Take a year off if you must. I will not press you to work, but you could spend some time becoming better acquainted with our investments and companies.”

“Perhaps I should go to California, or at least make contact with my father; apologise for not responding to his telegram sooner.”

“You could, I suppose, though I'm not sure why you would want to. If he'd been seriously interested in renewing contact, he'd have tried again, long before now.”

It was only a small lie.

Murdoch Lancer had tried again—a two prong attack a few months after Scott came of age. His lawyer, James McIntyre, had asked Harlan awkward questions while McIntyre's grandson, Bob Eliot, had raised the subject with Scott. Thankfully, young Eliot hadn't been explicit; Scott still didn't know his friend's family were Murdoch's eyes and ears in Boston.

For once their spying appeared to have worked in Harlan's favour. Murdoch believed Scott wanted nothing to do with him. It was the only possible explanation for him not pursuing the matter after that. He always was too noble and proud for his own good.

His son was much the same.

Scott was lost in the drink in his hand. He seemed to be mulling over Harlan's words, heart battling head and looking miserable. Harlan could read him like a book—and still play him like a pack of cards, most of the time. But it was getting more difficult. That was why he needed to pin him down somehow. Damn, Julie Dennison. “Do you know what the telegram said?”

“Apparently my father wished me happy birthday and invited me to California at his expense.”

“Cheap at half the price.”

“What do you mean?” Scott frowned and looked up.

“Lancer is a dreamer and adventurer, but he's no fool. He knew you had money coming to you when you turned twenty-one. Ready cash and a strong pair of hands could be immensely useful to a rancher, who had not long survived the worst flood and drought in recorded history. At the time, he was trying to rebuild on a shoestring; he needed money.” Harlan leaned back in his chair. “Yes, my boy, I keep an eye on what goes on in California. Your father is still on his land, which is more than can be said for a lot of men, but don't delude yourself. He had no real interest in you. He wanted your money and maybe your brawn. Your education and opinions would be of no value to him. My guess is when you didn't respond he just accepted you weren't so easily duped.”

Placing his brandy down on the desk, Scott rose stiffly and went to the window. He stared through the glass at the bustling street beyond. “It's not hard to give up on someone you don't care about.”

The opposite was also true—Harlan sipped his brandy and said nothing. Despite the rhetoric, he knew Scott longed to know his father. In a way he wished he could allow it. Much as he cursed Murdoch Lancer, he admitted a grudging respect for the man; Murdoch had never given up. He had continued to fight for his son long after most men in his situation would have called it quits. But Harlan couldn't afford to soften his stance; he could lose Scott if he did. This last battle could win the war, and after everything Harlan had done over the years, he was not going to surrender now.

“You're right.” Sighing, Scott turned away from the window and picked up his brandy, gulping it like water. He sat down again, arms on knees, staring into the bottom of the crystal tumbler. “If he genuinely wanted to get to know me, he'd have tried again, or at least investigated why I didn't reply.”

Such bitterness—Harlan didn't like to see Scott so unhappy, but the end justified the means.

“He may try again. Lancer's passion is for his ranch; he sacrificed your mother to it, and, thankful though I am, my offer to care for you was too readily accepted. He may regret not having a grown son by his side, but it will be the needs of the ranch that drives him to get in touch again—if he ever does.”

“Well, I won't give him the satisfaction of thinking I care more than he does. I will not answer his telegram now; it would be pathetic.”

“I think you've made the right decision, but ranching is a risky business. Whenever times are hard and money gets tight, I fear he could attempt to win your trust. I'm sorry to speak this way, Scott, but you need to know the truth and be prepared; Murdoch Lancer is a tough and uncompromising man. He cares for no woman or man more than his land; he was never cut out to be a husband or a father.”

“You needn't worry, Grandfather. I may not know what I want to do with my life, but I will not contact my father. I'll concentrate on my studies and stay in Boston for the time being. Tying myself to Julie so early…there were things I missed out on. Maybe I'll take you up on that offer of a year off and do nothing for a while.”

Idleness was not what Harlan would have chosen, but if it would shake Scott free of his father once and for all, it was worth the sacrifice of a few months. He nodded and got up to pour Scott another drink. “You'll get over this day, Scotty. In time you'll meet another young woman. You'll come to appreciate what Garrett Enterprises and Boston have to offer, and you'll know in your heart you're better off without Murdoch Lancer.”

 


Chapter 6

“Never met the gentleman myself.”

With words he'd spoken a short time before echoing in his head, Scott threw his top hat and cane onto the window seat and missed. The cane rolled to a halt at his feet as he dropped onto the end of his bed and stared at the plain white envelope in his hands:

Mr. Scott Lancer
8 Louisburg Square
Beacon Hill
Boston

A Pinkerton agent had delivered it to him in the street on the way home from the Harraways' New Year's Eve Ball. He'd told Scott what the letter said, extracted an “I'll consider it” to relay back to his client and then departed.

As soon as the man was out of sight, Scott sank down on the kerb. He didn't believe it. Until he read the long sloping handwriting for himself, he couldn't believe it.

Kicking the cane away, he folded back the flap of the envelope: railroad and stagecoach ticket orders and a statement of intent with some instructions on how to get to a place called Morro Coyo. It barely constituted a letter, but he read the words at least a dozen times in the street before making his way home. The handwriting was well-formed. That was a surprise. From everything he'd heard about Murdoch Lancer, he'd imagined a cattleman with only basic schooling. Brief as it was though, if this message was anything to go by, his father was a man of some education.

“Father—he doesn't know the meaning of the word.” Flinging the folio aside, Scott loosened his tie and swallowed the bitter taste in his mouth. He wished he could picture a face, but he only had a name and feelings of abandonment and longing. It was time he grew out of both.

Damn, damn, damn—why had his father left it so long?

Scott picked up the letter again and stared at the copperplate handwriting. It was the first tangible proof Murdoch Lancer remembered his existence. Three years had passed since Julie burned his birthday telegram—three years—and eight months since he found out what she'd done. He'd told Grandfather he wouldn't be tempted if and when his father tried to contact again. Why was he even considering making the journey? He must be crazy.

Stuffing everything back in the envelope, he shoved it into the top drawer of his dresser and began to get ready for bed. The man had some cheek writing to him after so long. He could go to hell.

The bed springs creaked as Scott slipped between the freshly laundered sheets and pushed the earthenware hot water bottle to one side with his feet. When he leaned over to turn off the lamp, his eyes fell on the daguerreotype photograph on the bedside cabinet. His mother looked so young and happy. She'd cared for his father enough to follow him to an unknown future on the other side of the country. Correction: to a foreign country. California was part of Mexico when Scott was born. Julie wouldn't even go as far as St Louis for him, and they spoke English there. Nothing would have been familiar in California in the 1840s. All his mother had when she left Boston was faith in her husband.

That must mean something.

But, according to Grandfather, Scott's father repaid faith with neglect. “Your mother bled to death on the side of a dirt road, because he waited too long to get her to medical help.”

Murdoch Lancer wasn't even with her when she died. Bastard! The facts spoke for themselves. Didn't they?

Head aching, Scott turned out the gas lamp. It made a small phut , and he lay back, staring up at the ceiling in the dark. If his father wanted to say something he should have said it years ago. “Damn him.” Scott rolled over and punched the pillow. He shut his eyes. Sleep. He'd know what to do in the morning if he could just get some sleep.

But his mind was too full of places and people, conversations and shadowy images. By the time he sat down to a late breakfast with his grandfather, he was no closer to making a decision. “Murdoch Lancer has invited me to visit him in California.”

“Indeed?” Grandfather lowered his knife and fork, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “No letter or telegram has arrived here. Who told you he wanted to see you?”

“A Pinkerton agent.” Scott rubbed his eyes. Sleet spattered the window panes, making the breakfast room appear jaded and gloomy, despite the fire in the grate. Even Grandfather looked haggard in the dim light. “He stopped me in the street on my way home from the party.”

“Are you sure it wasn't some kind of joke staged by your do-nothing friends?”

Trust Grandfather. Scott drank coffee and tried to swallow his irritation. “I did consider the possibility.” But he'd discounted it almost as soon as the agent departed. The gentlemen Scott currently spent time with weren't that imaginative.

They weren't particularly responsible or productive either, which was why Grandfather disliked them, but they were good fellows. Scott enjoyed their company—most of the time. They went to all the best parties together, and there wasn't a burlesque show, race track or gambling house in Boston that they didn't know inside and out: alcohol, gaming and ladies, not necessarily in that order. Maybe the novelty was wearing thin, but it was better than being locked away in a plush office behind a pile of ledgers doing Grandfather's bidding.

“The man was legitimate. He showed me identification and gave me this.” Scott passed the envelope containing the letter and ticket orders across the table.

Colour drained from Grandfather's face as he read, but returning the letter to its envelope, he cast it dismissively onto the table. “It's a ruse. Young Lowell or Blair financed it—guaranteed. You'll be going off on a wild goose chase.” He sat rigid in his chair, eyes fixed on Scott, ignoring the coffee going cold in front of him. “Murdoch Lancer hasn't shown any interest in you since your coming of age and that was cursory.”

The truth hurt, but Scott had already had a night arguing with himself. “It would be a rather elaborate deception and to what purpose? No, I believe the request is genuine, and I admit I'm curious.”

“He'll want something from you.”

“Indeed, but what?” Reaching for the butter, Scott spread some on his toast. “It can't be money. He's offered me a thousand dollars for an hour of my time.” One thousand dollars was a huge amount, even by Boston standards.

“A bribe and probably a lie.”

“I thought that too at first, but why would a man go to the expense of paying travel costs in advance and employing the Pinkerton Agency only to renege on his offer? If he did that, I could leave immediately. And surely my father wouldn't gamble on me being gullible enough to give the money back, let alone add to it.”

“Who knows how that man's mind works?”

“It could be interesting to find out.”

Grandfather gave a derisive snort. “It shouldn't make any difference what Lancer wants or thinks. You promised me only last year that it would never make a difference.”

“I know, sir, but I was upset then. I hadn't thought everything through. Now my father has made contact again despite my silence. At this point, maybe accepting his invitation would be the right thing to do.”

“Honour and duty should only be shown to those who understand their worth, Scotty.” Grandfather pushed his half eaten breakfast aside and got up from his seat. “Garrett Enterprises needs you here. You know my views. For both our sakes, don't do anything hasty.”

Scott nodded. “I'm going for a walk. Would you like to join me, sir?”

“Not today, Scotty. It's too cold.”

“We could take the carriage instead. Some fresh air might do you good. You look pale.”

“I feel weary. I think I'll just enjoy the holiday reading quietly in my study. But you go. You can tell me who you meet when you get back.”

New Year's Day always brought the neighbourhood out to the Common if it was fine, but today the sky was grey and uninviting. Although the sleet had stopped, there was an icy breeze, and Scott walked quickly to keep warm. He saw the younger members of Bob Eliot's family exercising their black spaniel, but he wasn't inclined to go near them in case their sister had mentioned what had happened the night before. Captain Forster and the Winthrops passed in their carriages, but he saw no one else he knew. He was free to wallow in his thoughts about his father and California.

The Pacific Ocean, San Francisco and Carterville: he wanted to see so many places and do so many things. He'd followed the construction of the transcontinental railroad as though his future depended on it—at one time he'd thought it did. Even when he was in the army he'd scanned any newspapers that came his way for news of its progress. He was more realistic now, but if he accepted his father's invitation he would travel that route and see the frontier he'd read so much about.

The visit could be short and to the point—get a few answers and teach Lancer he wasn't needed or wanted—but the journey would enable Scott to experience the space and freedom of places where Grandfather had no influence. The very thought was exhilarating. Julie was right; St Louis would have been a stepping stone. He dreamed of further west.

Did his father share Scott's urge for adventure and achievement? Was that what made him leave Scotland? Maybe Scott had inherited the hunger to build something of his own. He'd never know for sure if he never met Murdoch Lancer.

Scott paused by the ice rink, hugging himself to keep warm. A fine skin of frozen water was beginning to form. The weather had been too changeable for real ice, one week hopeful like spring and the next freezing cold; rather like his feelings towards his father. Last winter everything had been more settled. The snow had come early, and when he'd got back from St Louis he and Julie had gone skating almost every day. He wondered what she was doing now.

Not that it mattered. Their engagement was over. They still saw each other occasionally in company, but for the most part they kept their distance. He was still angry with her; he tried not to be, but he wouldn't be in this predicament now if she hadn't interfered. Her actions had wrong footed him with his father. She had robbed him of the moral high ground by not allowing him the opportunity to make his decisions and respond three years ago. One thing was for certain, this time he would respond; whatever the answer, he definitely would respond.

He spent the rest of New Year's Day struggling to think rationally about the invitation, but his feelings kept getting in the way.

Grandfather was very considerate; surprisingly so. He didn't raise the subject of Scott's father once. He spent most of the afternoon in his study, and neither of them ate much at supper. Grandfather seemed distracted too, and he retired early.

Fear of upsetting him had been a large part of what kept Scott awake the night before; he slept better now the news was broken. By morning he admitted a truth he'd been denying to himself and others for years. “I want to meet my father, sir. I'm going to accept the invitation.”

Grandfather frowned. “You're making a mistake. I won't stand in your way, but going cap in hand to a man who has neglected you since childhood is ridiculous.” He coughed and reached out for the water jug, attempting to pour himself a glass. His hand shook, and some water spilled on the cloth. Scott mopped it up with his napkin. “Are you feeling all right, sir?

“I'm fine.” Lowering his glass, Grandfather removed his napkin and stood up. “I'll expect you at the office at three. I've legal documents I need you to sign.”

As soon as Grandfather left for work, Scott sought refuge in his bedroom. He sat down at the writing desk and chose a sheet of fine white paper. After preparing his pen carefully, he made three false starts before producing a letter even shorter than the one he'd received. He could have resorted to a telegram, but despite his determination to treat Murdoch Lancer with indifference, he felt compelled to physically write to him.

I have a few matters to attend to first, but I will visit California as requested.

He delayed his departure a little, not because he really had business of great importance, but because he didn't want to appear too eager. Let his father be the one to wait for a change.

Brave words for a son who wastes no time in posting the letter; Scott laughed at himself.

From the post office he went straight to the train station and exchanged the ticket orders for proper tickets. He decided not to stop anywhere longer than necessary on the journey to California; he would do his sight-seeing on the way back. Beginning the first leg aboard the Great Western on February 2 nd , he'd change onto the Union Pacific at Omaha and the Central Pacific at Ogden near Salt Lake City.

“Business or pleasure, sir?” The ticket agent examined the ticket orders and then began checking timetables, noting arrival and departure times in pencil on a sheet of foolscap.

“I'm going to visit my father in California. We haven't seen each other for several years.” It felt good to speak about his father in a normal way. “I'm looking forward to it.”

The ticket agent nodded. He was only half listening as he shifted his attention to a list on a clipboard beside him. “Hmm, excuse me for one moment, sir.” He left the counter and went into the back room. Scott heard the tap, tap of a telegraph. Then after a few minutes there was another tapping and the ticket agent reappeared. “There are limited trains for the final stage of your journey, and the demand for tickets is particularly high in February when the snow clears on the Sierra Nevada. You cannot afford to miss your connection in Utah.” Stamping each ticket as paid the agent passed them over the counter one by one.

Scott smiled and gathered up the tickets. He'd got a seat on the train out of Ogden on February 8 th . There wasn't another spare ticket until the end of March. “Don't worry. I won't be missing any trains.”

Dodging traffic, he crossed the road outside the railroad station and ventured into an emporium of trade goods that he'd walked past earlier. Strange how he'd never noticed the store before, but it was fascinating. There were all sorts of tools and equipment, and a new invention called barbed wire—lethal looking stuff. Maybe it would be something to talk about with his father.

When he left the emporium, he headed towards the Oyster House on Union Street. His stomach was starting to growl; it was nearly one o'clock. In a few short weeks he'd have boardwalk not pavement beneath his feet. He'd ride every day in the saddle. How long had it been since he'd done more than canter across the Common? Whistling cheerfully, he tipped his hat to passers-by and flicked pennies to two boys with their noses pressed to a candy shop window. Everything and everybody appeared bright and optimistic; 1870 was going to be a good year.

“Lancer!” Gerald Lowell stood up at a crowded table near the back of the restaurant as Scott entered. “We're hiring a pavilion for the Spring Races in March. Will you join us?”

“Sorry, I'll be out of town—visiting my father.”

“Your father? I didn't know you had a father.” Lowell clapped him on the shoulder and made room at the table. “We'll miss your company. But this calls for a celebration. Bartender: a round of drinks if you please.”

Scott laughed and accepted a beer. Anything and everything called for a celebration when Lowell was around, but on this occasion he was right. “I haven't met him before. He's a rancher in California.”

‘A rancher—well, that's different.” Lowell stood up again and raised his glass. “A toast gentlemen: To Lancer. May the ladies of California fall at his feet and may his father be nothing like his grandfather.”

Scott and his friends roared with laughter and then spent most of lunch talking about the train trip west. He almost forgot he had an appointment, but the sight of an errand boy from Garrett Enterprises jogged his memory. “I have to go. I'll meet you outside the Adelphi on Friday night.”

Hoping fresh air would remove the smell of beer and cigar smoke, he took a longer route and arrived at his grandfather's office just before three.

“Take a seat, Master Scott. Mr Garrett has a client with him. He shouldn't be long.” Lucas swivelled around in his chair and pulled a bell cord to let Grandfather know Scott had arrived.

But Scott didn't feel like sitting. Stuffing his gloves in his pockets, he stripped off his hat and coat and wandered about looking at the paintings on the walls. They were mostly of Boston at various stages of its development. Tucked between two filing cabinets though, he discovered an illustrated map of the Pony Express. Cowboys and Indians were riding at full gallop through the wide open spaces of the American frontier.

“Dreaming of your cavalry days, my lad?”

Scott turned to find Dr Matthew Franklin standing behind him. He must have been the client ensconced with Grandfather. The door of the inner office was now open, and Lucas was ferrying files in and out.

“Happy New Year, doctor.”

The two men shook hands.

“No more trouble, I trust.” Dr Franklin nodded towards Scott's right hand.

“No, sir, thank you.” Scott turned it over to prove it was completely healed. He'd visited Franklin soon after breaking up with Julie. One of the cuts had festered. The good doctor had removed a large splinter, and he'd had enough compassion not to ask how it got there.

Scott glanced towards his grandfather's office. “Is there anything wrong?”

“Wrong? Oh, I see what you mean. No, Garrett just called me in to sign some papers before I left for my daughter's in Rhode Island.”

“He's not seemed quite himself the last couple of days.”

“No? Well, the doctor standing in for me is…” There was a loud noise like the sound of a chair falling over and then something heavier hit the floor.

“Help! Help!” A panicked Lucas appeared in the doorway. “Dr Franklin, thank goodness—”

Scott and the doctor rushed into the inner office before Lucas could get the words out. A chair was indeed on its side and Grandfather was trying to get up from the carpet, wheezing and coughing. He'd been sick.

“Stay where you are, man.” Dr Franklin crouched down and loosened Grandfather's collar. He checked temperature and pulse as his patient leaned back against the desk, flushed and gasping for air. “What happened?”

While Lucas explained, the doctor sent Scott to fetch his medical bag from his buggy outside. Eventually they helped Grandfather up into a chair.

“I'm fine. I just came over a little dizzy.”

“You're not fine. You're heart seems all right, thank goodness, but I need to give you a more thorough examination.” Dr Franklin looked worried.

“Elijah Mitchell can do that. Your daughter is expecting you.” Grandfather accepted a glass of water from Lucas but brought it straight back up.

“Don't give him anymore.” The doctor checked his watch. “I've time to see you home, Garrett. Mitchell can do the rest and call me back if need be.”

Hurrying outside, Scott hailed a cab. By the time they got Grandfather back to Louisburg Square and into his bed, the wheezing had eased, and he looked a little better. They tried him with a sip of water, and he managed to keep it down. Dr Franklin took a urine sample; then examined his patient again. He seemed a little happier. “No immediate danger, I think, but until we can determine what's going on, you must stay in bed. Dr Mitchell will come to see you in the morning.”

Scott sat by his grandfather's side until he fell asleep. The old gentleman was now very pale, and he looked unusually frail. Franklin used to joke that Grandfather had a pact with the devil, because he never suffered more than a head cold, but now his age and the possibility of losing him seemed very real.

Getting up, Scott began to sort through Grandfather's clothes, emptying pockets so they could be laundered. Even the cuffs of his frock coat had vomit stains. Scott gazed at the array of oddments he piled on top of the tallboy: Grandfather's pocket book; a pen; an invitation to tomorrow's mayoral dinner—he wouldn't be able to attend; a half-eaten peanut with the remainder still in its shell; some peppermints; a pocket knife and comb; and a number of coins. Grandfather was always so well-groomed. Who knew his pockets were as full of the detritus of life as any other man? Grandfather was human and not immortal; it was an uncomfortable realisation.

By the following day, the patient had regained some colour, but he barely ate. He complained of tightness in his chest and lethargy. Dr Mitchell was not much younger than Grandfather; in fact, they had been at school together and knew each other quite well. Mitchell had come out of retirement to care for Dr Franklin's patients while he went on a two month vacation, but clearly they had very different methods. “The urine sample Dr Franklin took before departing offered no clues. He's given me your notes to read, but as you have been in excellent health until now, I don't expect they'll be of any use. I've seen this type of condition before. It's pulmonary in origin; a debility with uncertain prognosis. Some patients recover full health and others languish and die.” Scott didn't find this particularly comforting.

However, Grandfather seemed unperturbed. “Don't waste time reading notes that can't help. I have every faith in your ability, Mitchell. What treatment do you propose?”

Adjusting his spectacles, the doctor puffed up with the compliment. “Complete bedrest, hot compresses and a tonic of my own recipe.” He made Grandfather lean forward so he could tap his back and listen with his stethoscope. “I'm confident we'll get the better of this, but it's fortunate your grandson is here to take the load until we do.”

Grandfather glanced up at Scott, but when their eyes met another bout of coughing racked the old man's chest. Scott gripped the bed end, his heart sinking with every rasp. The chance to meet his father had turned to quicksilver, and it pained him to think he might not be able to hold on to it. God help him, he had no choice. “I won't leave you like this, Grandfather. If necessary, I'll postpone my trip.”

“I'm sorry, Scotty. For your sake, I wish there was another way.”

Scott doubted that was true, but it was pointless to say so.

For two days, despondency grew like a canker inside him. Dr Mitchell fussed and pontificated, but Grandfather appeared no better. Scott suggested they wire Dr Franklin to come back, but neither Mitchell nor Grandfather would have a bar of it.

Hope returned in the unlikely guise of his great aunt. Scott greeted her with unusual eagerness when she arrived from Worcester. She came for a few weeks every winter to shop and take tea with the high society dowagers of Boston. He was clutching at straws, but if medicine failed, maybe she could bully her brother back to health. Writing to Murdoch Lancer could wait. If Scott wasn't able to board the train, he would write or send a telegram then.

Aunt Winifred commandeered the role of head nurse as soon as she walked through the door. “If you're not a doctor, you're no use in Harlan's sickroom. This is woman's work. Take yourself to his office where you can do some good.”

As if on cue Lucas arrived at the house with a box full of documents.

“I need you to step up, Scotty.” Grandfather reached over to the bedside cabinet and picked up a sheath of papers. “I asked my lawyer to draw up this Power of Attorney some months ago, in case there should ever be a need. It allows you to authorise day to day transactions up to five hundred dollars and gives you unlimited powers should I ever become physically or mentally incapable. I hasten to add I'm a long way off that now.” He smiled and coughed into his handkerchief.

Scott was stunned. He'd never expected this. Grandfather was the master accountant. While he was still breathing, he would never let go of the financial reins. By taking this one step he'd told Scott two things: first, he'd suspected he was seriously unwell before he collapsed, and second, his illness was genuine. God forgive him, but Scott had had doubts. Grandfather was such a wily old fox and his hatred of Murdoch Lancer ran deep.

Surprised by how much hope the possibility of trickery had given him, Scott turned away for a moment. There was still time for Grandfather to recover. Aunt Winifred was here now. Scott would depart on the second as planned. Breathing deeply and swallowing his fears, he picked up the pen. “Where do I sign?”

But the next few weeks were nothing short of wretched. Whereas his grandfather appeared to draw energy from getting suited up and going into the office each day, Scott found it drudgery. Lucas fed him a steady diet of loan agreements, insurance documents, share options, reports and accounts for review, begging letters and memoranda. Every evening Scott spent an hour going over the more complicated documents with his grandfather, getting advice and instruction on what to do. Certain files he never got to see. Lucas scurried back and forth between the office and Louisburg Square each morning, always leaving a few folders behind.

“There are some matters that are just too complex to explain, my boy.”

“But, sir, how will you ever get well if you don't rest?” Maybe Scott would make mistakes, but the doctor said complete bedrest. Surely he didn't mean sitting up giving dictation or sifting through business analyses and loan applications.

“I am resting. I'd go mad if I had nothing to keep my mind occupied, and you don't have the experience yet to deal with everything.” Grandfather closed his eyes. Breathing still seemed difficult for him. If he'd stay lying flat perhaps he'd recover more quickly. As it was, he didn't seem able to sustain conversation for more than a few minutes. “You're a great help. I couldn't manage without you, but we will do this together until I'm back on my feet. Then I'll give you more training.”

Scott felt like he was drowning; in his dreams he could see the silhouette of his father standing on a distant shore, but Scott was anchored to the spot with the water rising. No one appeared to hold out any hope of Grandfather recovering before February, and if Scott missed his departure date there was no chance of him making that crucial connection in Utah. He could go earlier but not later. Dr Mitchell was the most optimistic, but even he assumed Scott would be working alongside Grandfather for the foreseeable future.

Grandfather soon seemed to have forgotten about Scott's father and the proposed trip entirely. Scott found that disheartening, but it was perhaps preferable to Aunt Winifred, who remembered. She broached the subject of his father in some way almost every time they were alone. “How can you possibly want to meet a man you've had no contact with for twenty-four years?”

“Murdoch Lancer is my father, aunt.”

“I know who he is. I remember him all too well. That uncouth Scotsman made your mother's life a misery.” Aunt Winifred passed Scott the potatoes and accepted the green beans in return. “Harlan wouldn't tell you this, but it would break his heart if you went.”

“I'd come back. I only intend to visit.”

“But what does your father intend? That's what I'd like to know. Mark my words it will be nothing good, not for you or your grandfather—Harlan has sacrificed so much for your benefit.” She wagged her knife at him. “Your father will ask you to sell the investments Harlan made for you. He'll want you to plough the money into his ranch.”

“I wouldn't do that.”

“I'm glad to hear it, but your father can be very persuasive as poor dear Catherine found out. It's a good thing your trip is cancelled. I've already lost one member of my family to the whims of that man. Please don't put me through the grief of losing another. Your grandfather is in a very frail state, Scott. Any suggestion of you leaving Boston would upset him greatly. If you want society and excitement, there's plenty to be had here.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Scott stifled a yawn and chewed his food like it tasted of cardboard. He'd established early on that Aunt Winifred had conveniently mislaid any real proof of his mother's unhappiness, but on the other hand, California and his father seemed to be moving further and further out of reach.

Nor was he likely to sample the many entertainments of Boston any time soon.

“Take advantage of me being here and go out to dinner or the theatre. It's time you found yourself a good wife. That Dennison girl was never right for you, but I recall Harlan mentioned Miss Aston and one of the Eliot girls.”

“Beatrice, but it didn't work out.” Scott shovelled carrots into his mouth. The sooner he finished this meal the better.

“She has cousins.”

“Yes. Miss Catherine Eliot is quite charming, but now is not the time.” After the fiasco at the New Year Eve's ball there might not ever be a time—unless Bob could persuade her to give him another chance. That was a thought.

Scott sipped his wine and glanced over at his aunt.

Why was she frowning? Admitting even a passing interest in an Eliot should have had her over the moon and doing a jig.

“Isn't she the eldest daughter of Dr and Mrs Robert Eliot?”

Scott nodded. He'd only mentioned Katie in the hope of getting his aunt off his back, but from the look on Aunt Winifred's face, he probably should have kept his mouth shut.

“She wouldn't be your grandfather's first choice. Miss Jane Eliot would be better. The connection would be more useful.”

“More useful! Aunt Winifred, the interests of Garrett Enterprises do not dictate every aspect of my life.” The affront of the woman: who would have guessed? Even an Eliot was second best if her father wasn't one of the politicians or businessmen that wielded so much power and influence on the Eastern seaboard. Scott much preferred Dr Eliot to any of his brothers, and he definitely preferred Katie to any of her cousins.

He escaped the table as soon as he could, and the following week he arranged things so he could take up his aunt's offer, even though he didn't feel much like socialising. Unfortunately, the only friends available were the men who had caused all the trouble with Katie Eliot in the first place.

“I really don't know what you're still so upset about, Lancer. It was only a bit of fun. If her friend hadn't been eavesdropping, neither of you would have ever found out.”

“That's not the point, Blair.”

“No, the point is you're turning into a stick-in-the-mud.” Charlie Blair grabbed the back of Scott's neck and shook him. “I introduced you to the very lovely Barbara Stanforth after Miss High-and-Mighty turned you down, and from the racket Old Man Stanforth made later, I'd guess you found her much more accommodating. You had a good time, Lancer. Don't tell me you didn't.”

Scott forced a smile, pushing his friend away so he could finish his beer. Yes, the company had been enjoyable, albeit less valued, and there was no doubt he wasn't in the best of moods at the moment. He'd had a good time on New Year's Eve in the end. It wasn't the fresh start he'd been hoping for, but it had been an adventure of a different kind. He'd left the Harraway mansion through a bedroom window, and he'd been on top of the world until the Pinkerton agent appeared.

Now the sky was falling, or at least mountains of paper; he was being buried alive without even a bell rope to pull, and his chances of meeting his father anytime soon were fast disappearing.

Three days after his night out, February 2 nd dawned cold but sunny. His train—the one that should have taken him from Boston on the first stage towards California—would depart at noon without him. Grandfather was still unwell, and although Scott was not in the office for once, he was still equally trapped. He was with his aunt in a confectioner's shop. They were supposedly buying chocolates for the invalid, but Scott knew who would eat most of them. “Some nice caramels will cheer Harlan up.”

“What about a few peanut clusters, ma'am? Freshly made.” The salesman leaned over with his tongs ready to lift one into the box.

“No, no, that would never do; my brother is allergic to peanuts. I'll take some peppermint creams.” Aunt Winifred got her purse out of her handbag and went to pay while Scott pondered idly why he didn't know his grandfather had an allergy. When he came to think about it, they never did have anything made with peanuts at Louisburg Square. That must be why.

But they were halfway home in a hired carriage when the significance of his aunt's comment truly sank in. “Aunt Winifred, what happens to Grandfather when he eats peanuts?”

“Oh, it's highly dramatic. He vomits and gets all wheezy and shaky. He goes red in the face at first and then deathly white. It takes him several hours to come right. We worked out what it was when he was about six after he threw-up in church. The Fowler boy had smuggled in a peanut brownie, and they'd shared it. Harlan vomited all over Miss Abernethy in the next pew.” Aunt Winifred chortled and patted Scott's hand. “Your grandfather was quite a scamp as a boy. Later, he used to eat a peanut whenever he didn't want to do something—until Father caught on and caned him.”

Scott stared straight ahead into the black leather of the carriage wall. It had all been a sham, a ploy to stop him from going to see his father.

As soon as they drew up outside the house, he jumped out, even before the carriage stopped moving. Ignoring the indignant protests of his aunt, he shouted at the coachman to wait and dashed upstairs, nearly bowling Jordan over in the process.

Scott burst into his grandfather's room. His bed was empty. Where…? There he was. The old liar was enjoying a Corona on the window seat. The sash was wide open to get rid of the smoke. “How could you, Grandfather!”

“It's only one cigar. I was feeling a little better.”

“That's not what I'm talking about.” Scott looked over at the chest of drawers. The peanut was still there. The maid had simply moved all the small items into a china dish. Scott grabbed the peanut and dropped it into his grandfather's lap. “You ate one deliberately to make it look like you were seriously ill, and you've been faking it ever since. There's nothing wrong with you, Grandfather, and I'm going to California.”

The clock on the dresser said eleven thirty. If he was quick he might make it. His bags were already two thirds packed with the lighter clothing he expected to need in a warm climate. He threw a few things on top and yelled for Jordan to help him get them down to the carriage.

“Lift one finger and I'll sack you on the spot.” Grandfather glared the butler into a corner. Then he tried to block Scott's path. “I don't want you to go to California.”

“I know.” Scott pushed past him, carrying both suitcases downstairs by himself.

“Your mother—you know what happened.”

Scott swung around in the entrance hall. “I know your version of what happened, Grandfather, but it's more than that. Why are you so against me meeting my father and judging the type of man he is for myself?”

“Because it's a complete waste of time, and I don't want him hurting you more than he has already.”

“More than you've just hurt me, you mean?” Scott didn't wait for a response. He didn't have time. He opened the front door and hurried down the stone steps.

“I need you here, Scotty.” Even in his dressing gown, Grandfather followed him onto the pavement. “Everything I've done, I've done with your best interests in mind.” As Scott threw his bags into the carriage, Grandfather grabbed his sleeve, forcing him to turn around. “I forbid you to go.”

“I'm not a little boy, Grandfather!” Scott actually snarled as he wrenched his arm free. He even surprised himself. He heaved himself up into the carriage. “The station: I need to be there by noon.” It was already thirteen minutes to.

The coachman cracked his whip and pulled the carriage away from the kerb.

Grandfather stood grim-faced and alone, staring after it. Scott looked back with a pang of guilt. He hated leaving like this; he felt disloyal. But Grandfather had brought it on himself. After Scott met Murdoch Lancer he would come back and make peace with the old fraudster, but he'd never let Grandfather have so much power over him again.

“Yah, get along there.” As soon as the carriage escaped Louisburg Square, the coachman whipped the horses and urged them to go faster. “Watch out!”

They hurtled down Mt Vernon Street and took the corner into Hancock at a reckless pace, forcing Mr Endicott to grab his wife and drag her to safety. With arms outstretched, Scott held onto the sides of the carriage as it pitched dangerously from side to side.

They crossed into Lynde Street and slowed. Wagons and coaches clogged the route. Scott stuck his head out the window. “Faster, man, faster. It's five to twelve.”

Forcing a hack to stop suddenly, the coachman passed a brewery dray and pressed his horses to a break-neck speed, leaving angry pedestrians, carters and coachmen in their wake.

But a minute later he had to rein the horses in. A wagon stacked high with lumber and a funeral procession coming from the other direction blocked the road.

“Pull over!” Scott leaned out the window, shouting and waving his arms, but there was nowhere for the wagoner to go. It wasn't until the next intersection that he could let them by.

Suddenly, a siren sounded in the distance. The shipyards. The end of the morning shift.

“Shit!” Scott thumped the carriage wall.

Counting seconds now, he prayed for a miracle as the main station came into view.

They careered along the street with the coachman yelling, “Out of the way!”

Finally, the horses pulled up hard at the entrance as the big hand of the station clock inched to the nine minute mark.

Scott leapt onto the pavement, and a train whistle blew.

Abandoning his luggage, he raced into the station. He tore across the mosaic tiles of the ticket hall. Passengers queued at the entrance to the platforms, but Scott had no time left. He vaulted over the barrier and ran towards platform two, ignoring the angry shouts of a station attendant behind him.

Billows of steam obscured his view. Trains waited on several platforms. There was a train at platform two, but dear God, it was moving.

“Stop!”

“Stop!”

But he was too late.

The caboose cleared the platform as Scott reached the top end. The train and all hope of meeting his father for the next two months were gone.

Bending double, Scott gripped his knees and gasped for air.

“God damn it to hell!” He straightened and looked up at the roof, blinking back his frustration.

“May I see your ticket, sir?” A platform attendant with auburn whiskers panted up to him.

That's all he needed. “There's no point. I've missed my train.”

“No one is allowed onto the platforms without a ticket.”

Scott stared at the man in disbelief and gritted his teeth. “I'm leaving now.”

He strode back to the barrier where the coachman waited with his luggage and the hat he'd lost running through the ticket hall. There had to be a way. Maybe there was another train or route he could take for the eastern section. Maybe he could hire a horse and cut across country at some point to make up the lost time.

“Bad luck, sir.” The coachman lifted the bags up and rested them on the barrier. Scott would have to wait for the throng of in-coming passengers to clear before he could get back through. “Do you want a ride back to Beacon Hill?”

“Thank you but no. I'll go to the booking office. The ticket agent might have some ideas.” Scott took hold of his suitcases and put them down on his side of the barrier. Then he gave the coachman five dollars for his trouble.

“Thank you kindly, sir.” The coachman touched his hat and headed off to find another fare.

“Excuse me, sir, but I must insist on seeing your ticket.” The platform attendant was back at Scott's elbow.

“For goodness sake.” Scott extracted the ticket from his inside pocket. “There. See. I have a ticket for the twelve o'clock train to Albany, platform two.”

“Thank you, sir. That's what I thought.” The attendant produced a clipper out from nowhere and clipped the ticket.

“What the hell are you doing? I want to exchange that if I can.”

“Platform sixteen, sir.” The attendant pointed to the far end of the station.

“What?”

“Platform sixteen, sir.” The infuriating little man flicked open the large gold fob watch chained to his vest. “You have four minutes. If you'd gone through the gate in the proper manner, you would…

For a second Scott just gaped. Then he came to his senses. “You mean my train is still here?”

“Delayed by unforeseen circumstances, sir. It will leave from platform sixteen at twenty past twelve on the dot…You now have three minutes.”

The pompous—Scott could have kissed him.

He picked up his suitcases and ran.

It was hard going carrying bags, and by the time he reached platform sixteen his arms were aching.

But the train was there.

“Wait!”

The conductor stood in a cloud of steam with one arm raised and holding a flag, ready to give the signal for the train to move off. He halted his whistle two inches from his mouth.

“Please wait.” Scott struggled up to him. “Is this the train to Albany?”

“It is, sir. Glad you could make it.”

Scott clambered aboard and the conductor blew his whistle.

As the train chugged forward, gradually gaining speed, Scott hefted his bags into a rack. Then he slumped down on the red leather seat opposite a pinstriped businessman reading the Boston Times.

Thank you. Thank you, God!

After catching his breath, he stood up again and leaned out the window. The streets and buildings of Boston flew by and eventually disappeared from sight. Breathing in clean country air, he knew things would never be the same. He'd taken back his life.

The businessman folded up his newspaper as Scott shut the window and fell back against his seat. “You seem very pleased with yourself, young man.”

“I'm going to see my father.” Scott grinned. He'd come that close to missing the chance; he didn't care if he looked like a demented fool.

How quickly circumstances had changed, and if Grandfather was not the man Scott thought he was, then perhaps Murdoch Lancer wasn't either. Unprompted, his father had written and invited him to California, and now, against all odds, Scott was on his way. For once, he could listen to what the rancher had to say in person and draw his own conclusions.

“I take it you haven't seen him for a while.”

Scott bowed his head, savouring the joy fizzing inside him. Then, after a moment, he looked up. “I've never met the gentleman, sir.”

“Never?” The businessman raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“No, never.” Scott smiled—as broadly as it was possible for a man to smile.

“But it's time I did.”

 

 

~ end ~

Notes
This story has its roots in From Highlands to Homecoming and links to the Eliot Series.

Notes on Chapter 1
1. Scott Lancer, Harlan Garrett and Julie Dennison are canon characters. They appear together in Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10.

Notes on Chapter 2
1. Bob Eliot, Bobby as he was then known, originally appeared as a child in From Highlands to Homecoming , 2013-2015. He is mentioned in Past Imperfect , The Visit and other stories from the Eliot series, 2014-2015, and it is likely he will appear in some stories still to be written for that series. Those characters with the surnames Eliot or McIntyre also appear in stories that form part of the Eliot Series, 2014-2015.

Notes on Chapter 3
1. A ‘nanny shop' is Western slang for a brothel. See http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-slang-n-o.html#N
2. Florida Water is the American version of Eau de Cologne. It was introduced by a New York perfumer in 1808. It was regarded as unisex cologne and used extensively throughout the nineteenth century

Notes on Chapter 4
1. Emmett Russell and the fact that Scott had visited St Louis were mentioned in Glory , Series 1, Episode 10.

Notes on Chapter 6
1. This chapter mentions events that took place at the beginning of the pilot movie The Homecoming and The Highriders , Series 1, Episode 1. The opening line is dialogue from the Samuel A. Peeples' script.
2. Bob and Katie Eliot originally appear as children in From Highlands to Homecoming , 2013-2015. Katie features and her brother Bob is mentioned in the Eliot Series, 2014-2015. The incident at the ball is partly recalled in Past Imperfect , 2014.
3. Aunt Winifred originally appears in From Highlands to Homecoming , 2013-2015.


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