The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Suzanne

 

 

Five Times Blind

No lamp had been lit in the room. But there was no-one in here who'd ever be needing a light – other than him. Certainly no-one in a rosewood cask. There were two of them, lying side by side.

The ice boxes were empty but the room was a clammy cold.

Scott closed his eyes and hung his head.

It should never have been like this. Not like this…

 

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

 

“Scott Lancer!”

He looked around and started to send a wave to little Minnie Truman who was waving to him across the dance floor. Only his hand didn't even get half way.

“You'd better be careful brother or a fly's liable to fly right in that mouth of yours and make itself at home,” Johnny said in his ear. “She's a beauty, ain't she. Comes all the way from your neck of the woods – or so they say.”

It turned out the vision standing next to Minnie wasn't from Boston – but Philadelphia. And seeing as everybody else thought that was close enough in their book for her to be one of ‘Scott Lancer's types', he decided that it was close enough for him as well.

It was Minnie who introduced them. “Scott, I'd like you to meet Miss Rose Purcell, formerly of Philadelphia.”

A gloved hand, an open smile and eyes that wondered.

“I take it this is your first visit to California, Miss Purcell?”

“Yes, and it's likely to be a long one. You see I've come to stay with my cousin – indefinitely.”

Minnie slipped an arm about Rose's waist. “Don't be sad, Rosie. When your daddy's better he'll join you. But you'll come to like it out here before then, won't she Scott.”

He realised he was still holding onto her hand. “I certainly hope so.”

He should have noticed that her eyes were grey. 

 

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

 

Perhaps it was the weather; autumn in Boston had never been this perfect. Or the way she hummed to herself with a secretive smile. Or maybe that shrug of her shoulder when she was cross and tired and only wanted Minnie to tend her. Or her schoolmarm frown when she was thinking – the one that made him and Minnie laugh.

It had been a perfect autumn; and whenever he had free time the three of them spent it on walks and picnics, arm in arm, with him in the middle.

Johnny said it was because Rose was the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. But even Johnny knew that fine looks weren't enough to make you love someone.

One evening, they watched the sun set; just Rose and him. They didn't even need words. But when her hand crept into his, he knew he wanted to watch every sunset with her, until they were both faded and grey and tired.

After Johnny, they told Minnie first.

She cried and hugged them both, then cried some more.

 

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

 

They say ‘love is blind' but it should be love  makes  you blind.

There'd been plenty of questions: What's a salt lick? Where will we live? Are you sure Johnny likes me? Will we visit your grandfather back east? Do you really like being a rancher? Aren't cows smelly, nasty creatures? But his attention wasn't on her words for very long; not when her kisses chased every sane thought from his head.

Not that Minnie's mother would leave them alone for more than a few minutes – just long enough for him to curse the months they still had to wait for Rose's father to arrive from Philadelphia.

It was different when Minnie went out with them. She could always be counted on to take a stroll or paddle in the creek and they always heard her singing well before she'd be back with them again. But Minnie up and married Joe Harkins. He shouldn't have been surprised - Johnny told him everyone in the valley knew that Joe had been sweet on Minnie since they'd been kids, well before Johnny and Scott had come to Lancer. 

 

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

 

If autumn had been perfect, winter was mean. Sometimes it felt like all he did was ride through bucketing rain to stand knee-deep in mud, mending fences and pulling steer from bogs. At least Johnny was right beside him. He learned plenty of new Spanish curses that winter.

Summer and weddings seemed a long way away. Even Rose was a long way away; she'd left to visit an aunt in San Francisco and buy her wedding clothes and get away from cattle and rain. He couldn't blame her - he felt pretty much the same way himself.

He met Minnie in town one day, just as he was loading the last grain sack onto the wagon. He looked around to see where Johnny had disappeared and found Minnie standing there instead.

“Hello Scott.”

She was just the person he'd been hoping to see. “Minnie. You're looking well – blooming if you don't mind my saying so.” She blushed and fidgeted with her reticule and he could see he'd embarrassed her so he changed the subject. “Have you heard from Rose?”

She stopped fidgeting. “Haven't you?”

“I told her to forget about ranching for a while and have a good time.”

“But not to forget you?”

“I hope not! Don't you worry.” He put a hand under her chin like he used to in the days she was worried about Rose settling in. “Rose has been writing me every week – but there was a landslide a few days back because of all this rain. It closed the road and the stage can't get through.”

“Oh.” She was looking a little pale but it could have been because he wasn't used to seeing her in grey. He noticed her dress had a jagged tear near the hem.

“I just thought you might have received a letter after I got mine, one that managed to get through before the landslide.”

Minnie always had a certain way of looking at him. She took his hand and squeezed it. “I'm sorry, Scott.”

He walked her to her buggy and handed her up. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” he laughed.

Perhaps the saying should be, ‘Love is deaf.' 

 

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

 

Minnie's baby came early - two months too early - but it brought Rose back.

Winter had passed but spring was fickle; they'd had two solid weeks of rain, clouds and fog but the day Minnie's baby was born, the sun decided to shine.

He took Johnny to visit her a few weeks later. Minnie was still in bed but slowly getting her strength back. Scott took a chair next to the bed. “He's beautiful, Minnie. You and Joe must be feeling very proud of this determined little man.”

Johnny peered into the cradle then slipped a finger into the tiny fist. “He's a fighter all right. Look at this grip on him, Scott.”

Minnie smiled with white lips. The last three weeks had been hard on her. “If only I could be sure.” She tried to smile but her mouth trembled.

“Hush now, Minnie.” Rose stroked Minnie's hair. She hadn't left Minnie's bedside since she'd come back, not with Minnie's mother struck down by influenza and no-one else to help.

“I'll go get the horses,” Johnny said in that sly way of his when they walked out to the uneven porch to leave. Scott looked around while he waited. Joe had a lot of mending to do about the place once Minnie and the baby were up and around again and wouldn't be bothered by the hammer. He didn't know Joe Harkins all that well but the signs of neglect were bothering.

Rose came out just then. “Minnie's asleep.” She looked like she needed a sleep herself.

“Rose.” He held out his arms then folded them about her as she came close. “I've missed this. I've missed you.”

“I know.” Her voice was muffled against his shoulder.

“Rose.”

This time she raised her face and his lips crushed hers as he tried to press against every part of her. Then he moved his lips to her ear. “I've been going out of my mind without you.”

She didn't answer – she was crying too much. “It's been so awful, Scott. Poor Minnie's been out of her head with fever and the baby's been crying and the wet-nurse the doctor sent out was so common I could hardly bear to have her touch little Albert and all Joe does is sit by the fire and drink whisky and I was too scared to go near him because of the way he looks at me and…and…I just want to go home.”

And then Johnny was standing by the porch steps, holding their reins and from inside Albert's kitten-cry was demanding and shrill.

“I've got to go,” she sniffed, pushing away from him. 

 

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

 

In one week's time, Rose's father would arrive.

Murdoch had done his best to give Scott time to go to town now that Rose was back there, but there'd been spring round-up and branding and hay to cut and fences to mend and the influenza outbreak meant they were down men.

He spent as much time as he could with Rose but it was never enough and it was starting to gnaw at him until he was feeling almost gnawed right through.

“Not too much longer, now,” Johnny said one evening as they were riding home.

The words should have brought him comfort but with all that gnawing a thought had been left unearthed. “Rose is scared.”

Johnny backhanded him in the arm. “Most girls are a little scared about their wedding night.”

“I don't think that's it.”

“What is it, then?”

He looked across at Johnny. “I think we both know what it is, Johnny.”

Johnny met his gaze but his eyes were troubled. “There's been some talk in town, Scott.”

And down came the rain again. 

 

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

 

Murdoch was waiting for him when he walked in the door. He was holding a letter in his hand.

“Son.” Murdoch put a hand on his shoulder then held the envelope out to Scott. “If you'd like some privacy?”

He shook his head – but he felt numb – numb, blind and apprehensive as he opened it up.

It was from Rose, full of words but only three of them mattered; she was leaving.

“Scott. Scott, are you listening? We've got to get out there.” Someone was pulling on his shoulder. “Come on, brother.”

When he looked up he saw a drop of water drip from the end of Johnny's hat then splatter on the tiles.

“Scott, have you been listening to me? This rain's caused more landslides. They're saying Digger's Pass has gone – the whole mountainside's gone and taken the road with it. Are you coming?”

Johnny was standing at the front door now and holding it open. His lips were moving but all Scott could hear was the rain falling and pounding and drumming on the earth outside.

Johnny was an inch from his face now. “Scott, Rose is out in all this.”

That was when he started moving.

 

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

 

As they rode, Johnny told him one of Aggie Conway's hands had seen Rose take the road through Digger's Pass – just before the landslide. She'd been in a buggy and she hadn't been alone.

“Did he say who she was with?”

Johnny shook his head.

“Johnny. Tell me.” He yelled above the battering rain.

“I don't know. Aggie's hand said he couldn't tell who it was.”

Joe Harkins. He didn't know how he knew it but he knew it had to be Joe Harkins. He'd never wanted to kill a man – but he did right now. When he saw Joe Harkins, he would shoot him.

“Scott, let's worry about all that later, huh. Let's just find Rose.”

For answer, he kicked his horse onwards. 

 

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

 

He'd helped dig out the first landslide – and this one was even worse.

Now the gnawing was more like someone ramming his insides with an ice pick.

He prayed like he'd never prayed in his life. If they found Rose, he didn't care what she was planning or where she was going or even who she was going with – just as long as she was alive. 

 

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

 

It was Johnny who found the wheel; just one wheel, sticking up out of the mud. But when they grabbed their spades and dug deep, the buggy was empty.

“Maybe they jumped clear?” Johnny looked around. “They might be sheltering somewhere ‘til help comes.”

They had no help, little light and darkness was about to fall. God, it was as if the mountain was crushing the breath out of his own body.

Johnny ran a hand down his face but Scott saw the glimpse of panic. “Murdoch and the others should be along soon. Those wagons can move fast enough when…”

Johnny stopped.

And then Scott heard it, too. Some animal must have been crushed or maybe this was its mother crying out…

“Dios, Scott – it's a baby.” 

 

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

 

She barely had any life left in her. Every breath was a harsh, rattling wheeze.

Johnny took the baby from her arms then wrapped it in his bedroll while Scott took his bedroll and covered Minnie with it. Somehow she'd dragged them both from the mud.

“Scott…Scott…”

“Don't talk now, Minnie. We've got to get you home and warm and safe.”

She grabbed his jacket. “Scott.”

“Minnie, Murdoch's on his way with a wagon and supplies. Before you know it you'll both be inside and warm and clean and little Albert will be…”

“Scott. Just look at me one last time.”

“Don't talk like that, Minnie.”

But even as he said the words Johnny set their lantern closer and nudged Scott's foot with his boot; between all the mud there was something dark trickling from her mouth.

He took her in his arms and wanted to squeeze her to him. But she was so broken. And he'd never seen the signs.

“Don't cry for me, Scott.”

“Minnie, you have to stop talking like this. Albert needs his mother. You can't leave him. You mustn't.”

“Dearest Scott.” Her words were barely a whisper – more like a breath. And then her head lolled back and she was gone.

“Dios, what was she doing out here in this weather?” Johnny's voice broke as he spoke.

He couldn't answer. Wasn't sure he knew the answer. All he could do was sit in the mud and the rain and crush her to his chest. Like maybe he should have done a long time ago.

He didn't hear the buggy drive up. He was only half aware as she sank down in the mud beside him.

“Oh, Scott. Not Minnie. Not our little Minnie.” She pummelled his arms with her fists. “No, no, no, no, no.” Then she was sobbing. “I wanted to take her back to Philadelphia with me, but she wouldn't come.”

It was Johnny who got them moving. “The baby, Scott. We've got to get this nino to town.” Rose's father stood next to him, drenched and helpless.

Rose dragged herself up. Her dress and petticoats were weighted with mud. “Oh, dear God – Albert. How is he?”

Johnny looked down at the bundle in his arms and shook his head.

It was Rose who drove them to town. She tossed her luggage into the bog, screamed at her father when he tried to help, then left him at the site to tell Murdoch when he arrived with the wagon and medical supplies that it was too late.

He held Minnie in his arms that last trip back to town. Tried to shield her from the rain but the buggy had no awning.

They had to find a doctor – and find Joe.

Johnny rode up front, with Albert tucked up in his bedroll. The baby hadn't made a single sound.

All that had been two days ago. 

 

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

 

Scott opened his eyes. It was so dark in the room he could barely make out the two coffins. And there'd be more; the stage was travelling through the pass when the hillside gave way.

Rosewood. She'd been placed in a Rose-wood box. He wished her mother had chosen mahogany.

Would they put Albert in her arms? The two of them should be together. He should tell Joe it's what she'd want.

No one knew what Minnie was doing out there. Had she been leaving Joe? Going visiting? Just taking the baby for some air then taken by surprise when the rain came?

Her mother collapsed when they brought Minnie in. Later she told Scott that Minnie was a good mother, the best of mothers. But things – and her eyes filled with yet more tears – had been difficult for her. And she'd tried to help. Had thought Minnie was doing better.

Joe Harkins' wail broke and crashed then wailed again when he saw her. Murdoch said Joe wasn't a bad man. It was just that he'd never had to woo poor Minnie.

Was Murdoch right? Do we always have contempt for the beauty that's right under our noses? Does familiarity make us blind?

 “Scott. Scott!”

It was Johnny – stubble faced and grey and carrying a candle. They'd been digging down through the mud for two days straight and all they had to show for their efforts were five more bodies.

“We're not gonna have to use that other one,” Johnny was saying.

“What?”

“Albert. The doc thinks he's gonna make it. He's gonna pull through.”

Scott blinked.

“The doc said by some miracle Minnie managed to keep him warm. That's what saved him.”

And he should have been happy. He was – really. But the tears ran down his face all the same.

 

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

 

Later he talked to Murdoch about things. Not about everything – but about a lot of it.

“We're men, Scott. We're not good at reading the signs. A woman though, she hears and sees things when words aren't spoken - when looks haven't been exchanged.”

Minnie cried when they'd told her they were going to marry. Would it have made any difference if he'd known her tears were for herself and not them?

She had grey eyes. He should have noticed that earlier. He'd always liked grey eyes.

 

 

~end~
March 2011

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