Aunt Theodora by goldieasj

Word count 8,627

WHN:  “Legacy Sort-of

“I expect we’re all in agreement that my grandfather will never be welcome again at Lancer.”  Scott threw it out there but didn’t get the reaction he expected.

Murdoch looked thoughtful.  “Well, Scott, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.  He is your grandfather, after all.  He no longer poses a threat to me personally, but I do expect we’d want to discuss it ahead of time.”

Johnny’s reaction was similar and somehow very different.  “I wouldn’t say that, Scott.  I for one want to see him show up here again.”  He twirled his six-shooter around his finger.

Scott stared at his brother until the pistol was re-holstered.  “I don’t think you quite understand, Johnny.”

“Have you heard from Harlan, Scott?” Murdoch asked.  “Is he considering returning here?”  For someone who did not feel threatened, there might just have been a touch of anxiety in his voice.

Scott looked from Johnny to his father.  “What?  Oh, no!  No no no!  I doubt that Grandfather would ever be interested in returning here.  He knows he’s not welcome.  And, besides, he is getting a little old to make such a journey again.”

“So what’s the problem, brother?”

Scott removed a piece of paper from his pocket.  “I just received a telegram from my Aunt Theodora.  She claims she’s already on her way here.”  He withered a little but managed to steal a glance at Murdoch.

“Hmmm . . . “ said Murdoch.

“Who’s she?” asked Johnny.

“She’s my grandfather’s . . . sister,” said Scott haltingly. “She’s much younger than he is.”

“Well, is she like him?”

“Uh . . . well, in some ways, yes.  Maybe in a lot of ways.  Although Grandfather never forgets anything.  Aunt Theodora tends to be a little . . . forgetful.  She . . . anyhow, I think it might be too late to stop her.”

Johnny turned to their father.  “Murdoch, do you know this woman?”

“Yes, Johnny, yes I do,” Murdoch answered.  “But not well.  Scott, when your mother and I were courting, I remember Theodora was someone Catherine wanted me to meet.  Your mother was fond of her as Theodora had had a hand in raising her.  She was much younger than Harlan;  closer to my age.  As I recall, she lived in the same neighborhood.  Never married but had her own house down the street.  Fairly large house, as I recall.”

“Yes,” said Scott.  “She was named after an early relative of ours, a General Theodore Garrett.  Family history claims he was a general in the Revolutionary War.  I always accepted this story, but when I attended Harvard, I tried to research the man and came up empty.  He had apparently been wealthy, though, for Aunt Theodora never married and always seemed to have lots of money without any obvious source of income.  Grandfather explained an endowment had been handed down in the family and came to him, but, as he was wealthy in his own right, he turned it over to his sister.  I understand, in gratitude, she often made herself available to Grandfather to help raise my mother after my grandmother died.  And then when I came along, although she was older, she often stopped in to assist in my own care.  I spent quite a bit of time with her in my childhood and have fond memories, although she and Grandfather were often at odds with each other.  Too much of an age difference, I believe.”

“Interesting, Scott,” said Johnny.  “Did you ever go over to her house to play?  Sounds like she had plenty of room.” 

“Heavens, no!”  Scott was appalled.  “Aunt Theodora was of the old school – ‘children should be seen and not heard.’  And apparently, they should not be seen or heard in her house!  No, Johnny, the only times I visited her home were with Grandfather and I was expected to sit still and not move.  She did, after all, have a home full of antiques.”

“And when Garrett visited, she had one more,” Johnny laughed.

“Johnny!”

Murdoch had looked very thoughtful throughout.  “Scott,” he said somewhat hesitantly.  “How do you feel about this upcoming visit?”

“Well, I’m . . . I think the best thing to do is to take a vote, Murdoch.”

“Vote?”

“Yes.  There are three of us.  It’s democratic.  We can decide how we feel about her visit.  And if we vote for her not visiting, perhaps I can meet her elsewh . . . “

“Scott, there are four of us,” Johnny said.

“You mean Teresa?  She’s away visiting and won’t even be here when Aunt Theodora arrives.”

“How long will your aunt be here?”

“She doesn’t say.”

“Does she say when she’ll arrive?” Murdoch asked.

 “I don’t know.  Soon, I expect.  When she sent this telegram, she was already traveling.”

“Well, Scott,” said Murdoch magnanimously.  “That settles that.  Although I do wonder . . . how much of a hand Harlan had in promoting her visit.”

Scott sighed.  “I wish I knew.  Aunt Theodora always had a mind of her own, but . . . “

Johnny slapped his brother on the back.  “Cheer up.  You both look like you just heard someone died!”

“We’ll have to make the best of it,” Scott said softly. “I’ll just have to intervene at the first sign of trouble, I suppose.”

“Good, that’s settled!” Johnny said.  “And don’t worry about her, Scott.  I mean, she’s a woman.  How much trouble could she cause?”

Scott and Murdoch looked at each other.

–  –  –  –  –

Johnny wasn’t particularly comfortable sitting on the hitching rail in front of the hacienda, so he switched positions, facing in the opposite direction.  This move denied him the opportunity of watching the intense chess game Murdoch and Scott were playing on the front porch, but Johnny had become quite bored with it anyway.  Chess was not a game for spectators.

On the other hand, this new position did allow him the opportunity of seeing a small cloud of dust on the horizon.  Johnny watched it with vague interest, following its progress as it continued down the road leading to the hacienda, growing larger as it got nearer.  Soon Johnny could make out that it was a buggy – it looked like the buggy Fletch sometimes rented out from his livery in town.  Johnny spotted a burst of color – pink – floating above the buggy.  He strained his eyes and could see that there were two people on board, a man and a woman.  The pink turned into a parasol the woman was carrying.

Aunt Theodora!

Johnny grinned ear to ear and plopped down off the hitching rail.  He glanced back at Scott and Murdoch, but they were oblivious to everything except their chess game.  Johnny jogged in the direction of the buggy.  He encountered the buggy just on the other side of the barn.  He grabbed the bridle of the horse to stop the wagon’s progress.

“Hi, Fletch,” said Johnny to the driver.

“Hi, Johnny,” said the driver.

“What on earth do you think you’re doing, young man?!” said the parasoled woman.  “Unhand that rigging.  You have interrupted my progress.  My intention is to continue on to the house!”

“I’m Johnny, ma’am,” said Johnny, removing his hat and bowing slightly.  “I’m . . . “

“You’re impeding my progress!”  And with that, the woman grabbed the buggy whip Fletch had placed in the wagon and slapped Johnny’s arm with it.

“Ow!”  The blow took Johnny by surprise.  He stood back by instinct and looked at Fletch, the driver, who just rolled his eyes.  Aunt Theodora grabbed the reins from Fletch’s hands and slapped the horse, who lunged forward suddenly, causing both her and Fletch to fall backward behind the seat.  Petticoats, hats and parasol flew in the air and four legs were pointing upward and kicking uselessly.  Johnny had to quickly jump out of the way as the buggy jumped forward.  

The horse galloped right for the hacienda, the buggy lurching wildly side to side in its progress.  Fletch made an unsuccessful attempt to climb up to the seat to try to grab one of the flapping reins.  Aunt Theodora, horizontal now and ensconced in voluminous layers of petticoat, tried to speak, but her speech began and ended with “Oh!” and not much else came out of her mouth.   Her pink parasol sailed out of the buggy.  Johnny ran after them, holding his arm and yelling “Whoa!” pointlessly.

The sudden noise caused both Scott and Murdoch to look up from their game.  They saw, first and foremost, and runaway wagon heading right for the Lancer front porch – right for the Lancer chess game.  They stood suddenly.

“Look out!” they heard Johnny yell.

The wagon was practically on top of them.  In an effort to protect his father, Scott jumped in front of him and waved his arms at the quickly approaching horse.  Behind him, Murdoch did the same.  The horse, frightened and unsure what to do, made a hard turn to the left.

The buggy made a hard turn to the right.

The chess game was history.

–  –  –  –  –

“Here’s your umbrella.”  Johnny held the pink parasol out for Aunt Theodora to claim. 

She snatched it with a vengeance.  “I’ll have you know this is a parasol – not an umbrella!  And just where is my hat?  I was wearing a hat!”

“I’ve got it!”  Fletch’s voice emanated from inside the back of the buggy, which was resting on the Lancer front porch in approximately the same place that the chess game had been resting a moment earlier.  A magnificent contraption that contained feathers, satin ribbons and even little fake birds rose majestically up from the bed of the wagon, resting regally at the end of Fletch’s arm and fingers.

“Good!  Bring it to me at once, young man!”

“Uh.  I will, ma’am, once I get this baggage off me.”

Murdoch nodded toward the wagon.  “Johnny, go help him.”  But Johnny was already on his way to assist the poor driver.  “Theodora,” Murdoch continued.  “How nice to see you again!  Are you all right?”

Aunt Theodora, who was apparently uninjured, straightened her skirts and squinted in Murdoch’s direction.  “Why, Murdoch!  That is you!  Here, give me a hand – this old lady requires some assistance to disembark from such a deadly chariot!”

Murdoch didn’t have the chance to rescue the maiden because Scott, smiling widely, grabbed his aunt around the waist and lifted her from her precarious perch in that deadly chariot to the ground, where, supposedly, she could once again control her domain.  “Hello, Aunt Theodora.  Welcome to the Lancer Ranch!”  He kissed her on the cheek.

She squinted at Scott, then broke into a pleasant smile.  “As I live and breathe, it’s little Scotty!  My, how you’ve grown since I saw you last!”

“Nonsense, Aunt Theodora,” Scott laughed.  “I only left Boston a couple of years ago and I was fully grown already!  And you haven’t changed a bit!  It’s wonderful to see you again!”  He hugged her.

Aunt Theodora cooed in his arms.  “Oh, Scotty, it’s so nice to see you again.”  Johnny had by this time managed to assist Fletch to the ground and was in the process of removing some of the baggage.  He heard ‘Scotty’ and was instantly reminded of Harlan and his conniving ways.  He felt himself bristling at the sound of the name and realized he’d better try to get over that.  Particularly if Aunt Theodora was planning on staying for a while.

Scott let go of his aunt and indicated his father.  “Aunt Theodora, I’m sure you remember Murdoch!”

“Of course I do.”  She held out her hand for him and didn’t sound particularly unfriendly, so Murdoch kissed her hand. 

“Welcome to the Lancer Ranch, Theodora.”

“My, how gallant!”  She had done an about-face from obnoxious to pleasant in a matter of seconds.

Murdoch pointed to Johnny.  “And this is Johnny, my . . . “

“Yes, we’ve met,” she said icily.  Back to obnoxious!  It occurred to Johnny that he couldn’t fast-draw as quickly as she could change attitudes. 

He swaggered over to her and removed his hat.  “Ma’am.  I’m pleased to . . .”

“You’re pleased to cause trouble, I’d say!”  She hit him with her parasol across the chest.  She was about to take another swipe but Johnny, apparently tired of getting woman-handled, grabbed the parasol away from her.

“Aunt Theodora!  Johnny!”  Scott wasn’t sure what else to say.

“As I was about to say, ma’am,” Johnny continued, “I’m Scott’s brother.  Half-brother.”

Aunt Theodora, realizing her mistake but apparently not particularly repentant, said, “Oh.  Oh dear.  Well, that is somewhat unfortunate.”

Johnny, being Johnny, said, “I know, ma’am, it is.  But Scott was the best I could do.”

Murdoch started laughing.

–  –  –  –  –

Fletch’s buggy was righted fairly easily once all Aunt Theodora’s baggage pieces were removed.  The horse was rounded up quickly and the two were re-united. 

Murdoch and Scott had taken Aunt Theodora’s baggage and the lady herself into the house.  Johnny was left outside to pay Fletch, who said, “It isn’t enough.”

“What are you talking about?” Johnny asked.  “I’m being generous here.”

“Not for bringing her out here!  That’s a long way to sit next to someone like her, Johnny.  You’ll see!  Either you double this or I won’t come back out here to take her back to town.”

Johnny sighed and gave Fletch more money.  “All right, here’s more.  But it’s for the mess at the end, not for the passenger you brought here.  Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion Scott or I might just be bringing her back to town ourselves, and soon!”

Fletch was, if not really happy, at least satisfied, and he headed back to town.

Johnny rolled up his shirt sleeve to see what kind of damage Aunt Theodora had done to his arm.  It was a little pink but there wasn’t any harm.  He chuckled, realizing he had over-reacted when she’d struck him with the buggy whip.  He’d never expected that from a woman, certainly not a woman of culture.  Maybe getting to know Scott’s Aunt Theodora might be a real adventure!

He entered the living room and saw Murdoch serving glasses of wine on a tray to Scott and Aunt Theodora.  She accepted the wineglass gingerly.  “Just for medicinal purposes, you understand,” she said.

“Of course,” Murdoch said.  “And one for you, too, Johnny.”

Scott held up his glass.  “Here’s to Aunt Theodora.  To the end of a long journey and the beginning of a pleasant visit.”

“Hear, hear,” said Murdoch.  “Now, Theodora, what is it that brings you our way?”

Aunt Theodora pointed her wine glass in Scott’s general direction.  “To visit with my dear boy, naturally!  And to see how he is living and why he prefers this wilderness to his own well-loved Boston . . . “

“Ma’am,” Johnny interrupted with a smile, “Lancer is hardly a wilderness.  I mean – look around!  We have everything you could possibly . . . “

“Who are you again?”  Aunt Theodora squinted at Johnny.

“My name is Johnny, ma’am.”

“Surely not!  ‘Johnny’ is the name for a young boy.  Are you a young boy?”

“Well . . . “ Scott started to say, until Murdoch glared at him.

“I shall call you ‘Jonathan!’” Aunt Theodora announced.

“No, ma’am,” Johnny said.  “My name isn’t ‘Jonathan.’”  He thought for a minute and then looked to his father.  “Is it?”   Murdoch scowled at him.

“Yes.  Jonathan.”   And that was that.

“OK by me.  And I’ll call you ‘Theodora.’  Better than ‘Late For Dinner.’”  Johnny laughed at his own joke until he realized he was the only one laughing.

–  –  –  –  –

No one was late for dinner.  Maria the cook usually made something special for Sunday nights and this night was no exception.  Aunt Theodora had plenty to say during the meal, including often suggesting to Scott that he eat more so he can “get some meat on those bones.”  Johnny thought of three or four things to say when he heard this but mercifully kept quiet.  Part of the reason for that was the imploring look his brother gave him.

When the meal ended, the family retired to the living room, where Murdoch immediately grabbed a brandy decanter and a tray of glasses and headed for Aunt Theodora.  He poured a glass and offered it to her.

“My, you people certainly do imbibe in spirits regularly out here, don’t you?  I suppose there really is not much else to do,” she said.

“We manage somehow to keep ourselves entertained,” Murdoch responded.  “But if you don’t care for any . . . “  He turned away.

Aunt Theodora instantly grabbed the glass before it could get away.  “Don’t be so hasty, Murdoch,” she said chidingly.  Johnny looked at Scott, who looked down and smiled.

“I have often lectured my brother on the evils of drink,” she said, tasting her brandy before the others had even received their glasses yet and certainly before any toast could have been offered.

Scott chuckled as he received his glass.  “I doubt very much if he listened to you, Aunt Theodora.  Grandfather believed strongly in a well-stocked liquor cabinet.”

“No,” she said, downing the last of the brandy in a single gulp, causing Johnny to do a double-take.  “Harlan never listens to anyone.  According to him, he always knows best!”   She held out her glass for a refill.  Which, with a nod to Scott, Murdoch provided.

“Uh . . . Aunt Theodora . . . “ Scott began.  “How did Grandfather react when you mentioned you would be coming here for a visit?”

Aunt Theodora looked at her glass.  “As it happens, I forgot to mention it to him.”

“You forgot to tell him?!”

“Well, perhaps I didn’t exactly forget.  It may in fact have been quite intentional.”

“But surely the two of you speak regularly?  You live right down the street!”

“Oh, no, Scotty.  Hardly ever, in fact.  Harlan runs his businesses and I have my own exciting life.  I seldom share my adventures with him and he seldom shares his with me.  Although, I must say, when he returned from his visit to this ranch, he was in a most foul mood!  His attitude certainly excited my curiosity, but he wouldn’t speak of his visit here.  Therefore, I instantly decided that my next adventure would be to visit my favorite grandson!”

Scott smiled.  “I’m your only grandson, Aunt Theodora, but I’m glad you’re here.”

Aunt Theodora smiled at her only grandson and then beamed in the direction of Murdoch, who had just sat down.  “Murdoch!  Don’t be so stingy!”  She held out her glass, which was once again empty.

–  –  –  –  –

The evening passed pleasantly in conversation with all three Lancers becoming convinced that Harlan Garrett had nothing to do with prompting the visit to Lancer from his sister.  Scott and Murdoch certainly relaxed after that revelation, although Johnny was disappointed.  And Aunt Theodora did in fact remember to refer to Johnny as Jonathan, although she had trouble grasping his relationship in the family.  After Murdoch’s third attempt to convince her that Johnny was another son of his, Johnny just waved it off and said, “I work here.”

When bedtime came, Scott showed Aunt Theodora to the room Maria had graciously prepared for her and wished her pleasant dreams.  On his way to his own room, he rapped on Johnny’s door.

“C’min.  It’s open.”

“Just stopping off to say good-night, Jonathan,” Scott chuckled.

“It’s going to be an interesting visit,” Johnny said.  He had already removed his shirt.  Scott noticed Johnny rubbing his arm and asked what was wrong with it.

“Aunt Theodora accosted me, Scott!”

“With that parasol of hers?  You figure you’re mortally injured from that, do you?”

“No, she got me earlier with that stick Fletch keeps in his wagon.”  Johnny held out his arm for effect.

“Probably a buggy whip.  What did she say to you, Johnny?”

Johnny stood straight as an arrow and mimicked Aunt Theodora in a falsetto voice.  “Young man, you’re impaling my progress!”

“Impaling?  You mean impeding?”

“Whatever it was, it wasn’t a real word.  And then she sideswiped me!”

“My aunt sideswiped Johnny Madrid?”  Scott chuckled.

“She took that riding stick of Fletch’s and smashed me on the arm with it!”  Johnny rubbed his injured arm for maximum effect.  “Scott, I’ll never be able to fast-draw again!”

“I see.”  And Scott saw, all right.  “Well, Johnny, next time you feel the need to face someone in a gunfight, I suggest you use your right arm.  You know – the one you usually use.  Since it was your left arm that was so grievously injured by Aunt Theodora, that shouldn’t affect the outcome very much.”

Johnny grinned widely.  “It’s just the idea, Scott.”

“Uh huh.”

–  –  –  –  –

The next morning saw Aunt Theodora sleeping late, much later than the Lancers were used to.  At breakfast, it was decided that Scott should have the day off work and show Aunt Theodora around the ranch.  Murdoch sent Johnny and a crew to northern acreage to check on the quality of the grass and to move a small herd there if adequate.  Murdoch himself had errands to run but promised Scott he would be back at the ranch by mid-afternoon if Scott had the need to have someone relieve him of Aunt Theodora escort duty.

Scott waited dutifully for Aunt Theodora to rise and greeted her happily with a cup of tea, which he knew she loved.  “Nothing else, thank you, Scotty,” she said.  “Not at this ungodly early hour!”

“It’s 9:30 in the morning, Aunt Theodora,” Scott said with a laugh.

“Exactly!  I couldn’t possibly eat at this hour!”

“Well, that’s how it is on a working ranch.  You’ll get used to it.”  He laughed at the sight of his aunt’s eyes, opened very wide from the other side of her teacup.  “Well . . . you will.  Anyhow, I took the liberty of packing a picnic lunch and I’m going to take you on a ride to see much of our ranch today.”

“That will be lovely, Scotty.  I expect I can be ready in two hours.”

“Two hours?  No, no, Aunt Theodora.  As soon as you finish your tea, go get dressed and come back down.  We’ll leave immediately.”

Aunt Theodora looked at her great-nephew like he was crazy, glanced around the primitive kitchen, apparently remembered where she was, sighed, and said, “Very well.  Half an hour then.”

Scott would have to settle for that.

–  –  –  –  –

The wagon was ready for Aunt Theodora and her pink parasol with pillows on the seat.  Scott assisted his aunt into the wagon, which she eyed skeptically.

“The only other alternative, Aunt Theodora, is to ride horseback, and from what I remember, you’ve never been on a horse in your life.”

“No, that’s true, Scotty, although I have ridden camels in Egypt and elephants in India.  And I do believe I remember a rather precarious boat trip on the Amazon.”

Scott climbed up on the wagon himself and took up the reins.  “Yes, I remember some of your stories.  You’ve led a very interesting life.  I’m afraid you won’t find this mode of transportation quite as exciting.”  He slapped the reins and the horses began to move.

Aunt Theodora grabbed Scott’s arm.  “What assurances do I have that these animals will not react the same as those beasts that brought me here?”

“It’s not very likely, Aunt Theodora, but if they do suddenly bolt, you should be able to slow down this carriage by holding out your umbrella.”

“Ah, yes, of course.”  And Aunt Theodora relaxed.

–  –  –  –  –

The two of them spent the morning, or what was left of it, admiring the gentle hills not far from the hacienda.  Scott made certain that the wagon rolled along evenly and pointed out the many beautiful wonders to be seen along their path.  Finally, by early afternoon, Aunt Theodora began to complain of hunger so Scott pulled the wagon to the side of the road.

“I declare, Scotty, don’t you people ever eat?”

“Well, you could have eaten break . . . oh, don’t worry about it, Aunt Theodora.  I have a nice picnic lunch for us here.”  Scott spread a tablecloth on the grass for them and laid the pillows out for Aunt Theodora to sit on.  He opened the picnic hamper and set out dishes and chicken sandwiches and fruit and hard-boiled eggs and cupcakes for dessert.

“This looks satisfactory, Scotty, but is there something to drink?”

“Oh!  I almost forgot!”  Scott reached into the wagon and pulled out a couple of canteens.

Aunt Theodora clapped.  “Marvelous!  One for red and one for white!  Although, technically, Scotty, it should only be white with white meat.  Never forget your training!”

Scott looked at his canteen blankly.  “Uh . . . Aunt Theodora, these canteens are filled with water!”

“Water!  At this hour?!  You do live primitively, don’t you?”

As they enjoyed their decidedly wine-free lunch, Scott continued to remark about scenic vistas visible from their vantage point.  Aunt Theodora agreed with him that Lancer was truly lovely, although she stopped short of considering it the loveliest place on earth.  That honor, apparently, belonged to Boston.

“Where you belong, Scotty!” she finished.

Scott smiled.  “Lancer is my home now, Aunt Theodora.  It’s where I’ve always belonged and it’s where I intend to stay.”

Aunt Theodora smiled, too, and it was a smile that Scott recognized from past encounters that invariably led to trouble.  “Nonsense, Scotty!  You’ve had a nice visit here, albeit a lengthy one.  It’s time to come home where you belong.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Aunt Theodora, but I’m going to be staying right here.  I repeat that Lancer is my home now.”

“How could this wasteland possibly be called home?”

“It’s where I belong.  Here I have a sense of . . . of belonging, I guess.  A job that I’m good at, a team that I’m part of . . . And here there are people who love me.”

“That father of yours?  Murdoch?  You’re forgetting about all the years your Grandfather has devoted to you.  The legacy he has waiting for you . . . “

“I’m not forgetting, Aunt Theodora, and I’m grateful.  But I told Grandfather I’m not interested in that legacy he has to offer.  My real legacy is right here – at Lancer.  It’s my choice.”

She put her arms on his shoulders.  “And you’re forgetting the most important thing of all, Scotty!  Your great-aunt Theodora loves and misses you!”

“Uh . . . “

“And I know you would never want to let me down.  You never have before, and you certainly don’t want to now – now that I’m approaching the twilight of my life.”

“Of course I don’t want to let you down, but . . .”

Aunt Theodora clapped her hands.  “Good!  Then it’s settled!  As soon as we return to the ranch, you can start packing your belongings and we’ll leave first thing in the morning.  That hired man – Jonathan – can drive us into town.”

–  –  –  –  –

No amount of talking on Scott’s part seemed to sway Aunt Theodora’s opinion that Scott would be returning with her to Boston the following morning.  The ride back to the ranch was interminable for Scott but joyful for Aunt Theodora.  Once back at the ranch, Scott avoided his aunt to hopefully bypass an angry flareup, but the entire family met at the dinner table that evening.

“I have wonderful news!” she announced.  Scott rolled his eyes.

“What is it, Theodora?” Murdoch asked.

“I will be leaving in the morning and Scott will be returning to Boston with me!”

Both Murdoch and Johnny looked at Scott.  Johnny felt something worse than a sense of déjà vu. 

Scott shrugged.  “No, Aunt Theodora, I keep telling you.  I’m not going to be going back with you.”

She patted his hand.  “Of course you are, dear,” she said condescendingly.  “First thing in the morning.  Bright and early.  Ten a.m.”

Johnny felt the same kind of helplessness overtake him that he’d felt when Harlan had visited.  He couldn’t think of anything to say.  Murdoch, however, kept his head.  “Uh . . . Scott,” he said, “how much of the ranch did you show Theodora today?”

“How much?” Scott said miserably.  “I don’t know.  Not much.  We came back right after lunch.  We started out at the hills, I guess.”

Murdoch turned toward their guest.  “Theodora, put off your visit for a day or two.  There’s so much left to show you of our beautiful country.  Scott barely scratched the surface.  I’ll take tomorrow off and give you a personal tour.  I’d consider it an honor if you’d accompany me.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Aunt Theodora said hesitatingly, “Scott is so looking forward to returning home . . . I’d hate to disappoint him.“   She looked longingly at him.

“No!  It’s all right!” Scott said.  “No, you just go right ahead.  You don’t want to miss the chance to take a tour with Murdoch!  He’s very entertaining!  Best tour guide around.  You couldn’t have a better . . .”

“That’s quite enough, Scott, thank you,” Murdoch said.  He turned back to Theodora.  “Ten a.m. all right with you, Theodora?”

“Well . . . it is a little early.  But perhaps if we have a picnic lunch later . . .?”

“Of course!”

“And you will, of course, bring wine!”

–  –  –  –  –

At ten a.m. the next morning, after Aunt Theodora had had her morning tea, she realized she was alone in the house.  She headed for the barn, since she had seen Murdoch there readying the wagon for their journey.  On the way to the barn, she encountered Johnny.

“You there – young man – Jonathan!  I keep seeing you around here.  What position do you hold with this establishment?”

Johnny wasn’t too sure what Aunt Theodora was asking, but it seemed safe to say, “I live here.”

“Of course you do.  That’s not what I’m asking.”

“Then what are you asking, ma’am?”

“What position – what job – do you hold here?”

“Oh!  Same as Scott.  Same as everyone.  We all pitch in and do whatever needs to be done.  There’s always work to be done on a ranch.”

“Can I safely assume you are a loyal hard-working employee?”

Johnny grinned.  “Oh, of course, ma’am!  One of the hardest!  Working.”

“In that case, I hope you are adequately remunerated.”

The smile disappeared.  “Yes, ma’am.  I hope so, too.”

Aunt Theodora shook her head.  “You poor man.  It seems your education is somewhat lacking.”

“Well, I didn’t go to Harvard like Scott, if that’s what you’re thinking.  But the schools I went to in Mexico weren’t bad.  I learned . . . “

Aunt Theodora clasped her hand to her bosom in shock.  “You grew up in Mexico?!  And here you are now, all grown up and holding a trusted position at a large establishment in the United States!  This speaks deeply of your character, work ethic and unrelenting need to better your situation in life, if not of your education.” 

“Um . . . well, like I said, I do work hard here.  We all . . .”

“Is your pay sufficient?”

“I guess so.  I mean, it’s not much, but I do own part of the ranch.”

Now Aunt Theodora clapped her hands.  “Isn’t that wonderful?!  Murdoch is certainly a generous soul to see that his lesser employees enjoy an infinitesimal portion of ownership!”

“Oh no, ma’am, I don’t think it’s that much!”

She clapped Johnny on the shoulder.  “Jonathan, you can thank you lucky stars each day you have on this earth that you had the wherewithal to leave your no doubt destitute circumstances and seek the opportunities that awaited you in this great country of ours.  Only in America!”  She walked away from Johnny, holding her hands up to the heavens and saying “Only in America” over and over, which all the ranch hands within hearing greatly enjoyed, including Murdoch, who wondered what the hell she was talking about.

Johnny did not follow her.  He was still trying to figure out what position he held with this establishment.  And why on earth did Theodora think he had left Mexico on a wherewithal instead of a horse?

–  –  –  –  –

Since Scott had taken an eastern route to show Aunt Theodora the ranch yesterday, Murdoch chose to drive north of the ranch.  The hills there were small and rolling and full of bright green foliage, as well as wildflowers.  Small groups of cattle could be seen occasionally, peacefully grazing in the distance.

“It’s lovely, Murdoch,” Theodora had several occasions to say.  Sometimes she said, “Look at that!” as she pointed with her parasol at something that caught her imagination.  Murdoch always smiled and indulged her, explaining to Theodora what her latest find was and how clever she was to spot it.

The morning passed smoothly and without incident until Theodora said, “Yes, I’m sure Scotty will miss this somewhat.”

Murdoch plastered his smile in place and replied, “There’ll be no reason for him to miss this scenery as he will continue to be able to see it whenever he wants.”

Theodora laughed and playfully hit Murdoch with her parasol.  It hurt, and it shouldn’t have.  “Don’t be silly, Murdoch!  How can Scott possibly see this from Boston!”

“As Scott has mentioned to you repeatedly, Theodora, he is not returning with you to Boston.”  The smile was beginning to melt off.

Theodora ignored him.  “Although any sensible person would prefer Boston, of course, I can see why Catherine would be seduced by such a landscape.”

“Catherine . . . ?  Don’t change the subject, Theodora!”

She continued to ignore his remarks.  “She spoke so well of you, Murdoch.  When the two of you first met, she told me so much about you.”

“She did?”  Murdoch was hooked, and he knew it.

“Oh, yes.  She loved you so.  You swept her off her feet!  She spoke to me of the dream you had to move west and to build your own empire from the ground up.  She wished to be part of that dream.”

Now Murdoch’s smile was back and it was genuine this time.  “Catherine was an integral part of my early life here in California.  We worked together and we worked hard because it was a dream we both shared.  Of course, once we realized she was with child, it was more important for her to rest.  The work on the ranch slowed during this time, but it didn’t matter.  Our dream was being realized.  And soon it would be three of us.  And there was nothing that would make me happier!”  Murdoch and Theodora both gazed off at the distant hills, seeing different things.

“Ah, but dear sweet Catherine died in childbirth,” said Theodora.  She turned to look at Murdoch.  “Did you know, Murdoch, that I didn’t even know she was with child until I received one of her letters, a letter that had been delayed and did not reach me until after she had died?”

“Oh!  Theodora, I’m sorry.”

“Yes, it’s true.  And Harlan, of course, never told me he was coming out here to assist.  Really, I think it would have been better if I’d accompanied him.  Better for all involved.”

“Yes,” Murdoch said thoughtfully.  “It would have been.”

“But perhaps it would have been best if Catherine had remained in Boston to avail herself of the fine doctors and hospitals at her disposal there.”

“Yes,” said Murdoch grudgingly.  “Hindsight has perfect vision.”

Theodora turned suddenly to Murdoch.  “Don’t deny Scotty the right to the medical care, the museums, the arts, the plays, the friends, the variety of beautiful young women . . . if you love your son, don’t deny him the luxuries with which he was raised!”

Murdoch sighed before turning to look at her.  “Theodora, you are a sly old fox, aren’t you?”

She opened her parasol.  “Nonsense, Murdoch.  I’m just telling the truth.”

–  –  –  –  –

At supper that night, Aunt Theodora dropped another bombshell.  “Murdoch has graciously granted his permission for Scott to return to Boston with me tomorrow morning!”

Both Scott and Johnny turned to look at Murdoch.

“No, Theodora,” he said.  “What I said was that I would not stand in his way if that’s what he wants.  My position has not changed on this subject.”  Murdoch looked flustered.  So did Scott.

“Good!” she said.  “Then that’s settled!”  Aunt Theodora began her next attack on her corn pudding.

“Theodora,” Johnny drawled.

“Yes, Jonathan?”

“Did Murdoch take you to see the fishing pond where Scott likes to fish?”

“No, I don’t believe so.  For some reason, we returned to the ranch immediately after our lunch.”

“Well, you have to see the fishing pond!  It’s the most beautiful part of this ranch!  Isn’t that right, Scott?”

“Aunt Theodora . . .” Scott said hopelessly.

“There – you see?  Scott agrees.  Theodora, put off your trip one more day.  Just one more little day, and I promise you that you will really enjoy this little pond!  I’ll take you myself to see it tomorrow.  Is it all right if I take the day off tomorrow, Murdoch?”

“Well . . . sure.”  Murdoch was lost.  The fishing pond?  Was Johnny planning on drowning Theodora?

“Theodora?”  Johnny reached across the table and grabbed her hand.  Johnny could often be completely captivating and he knew how to use that irresistibility.

“Well . . . all right,” she said.  “If it’s all right with Scotty.”  She turned to look at Scott, who was staring at Johnny.  “Scotty?” she said.  “You don’t mind if I spend the day with this hired hand?”

“Uh . . . sure,” said Scott.  “But, you know, as I said, I don’t plan on return . . .   hired hand?“

Johnny wagged his free hand at Scott.  “Never mind, Scott.  You just enjoy your last day here tomorrow, and I’ll entertain your aunt!”

Now Theodora was staring gleefully at Johnny.  “And will you bring canteens of wine?”

“I’ll bring something lots better than wine!”  He winked at her.

–  –  –  –  –

The Lancer wagon was getting plenty of use.  Johnny, six-gun on his hip and overflowing picnic basket nesting happily in the back of the wagon, assisted Theodora up to her pillowed seat.  He climbed up beside her and clucked the horses into action.  Gentle action – no lurching.

Things were quiet the first couple miles, then Johnny glanced at the sky behind them.

“It’s a good thing you brought your umbrella, Theodora.  Looks like rain.”

“This is just a parasol, Jonathan.  I don’t think it would offer much protection in inclement weather.  Perhaps we’d best turn back to retrieve some rain equipment or clothing.”

“Too late now.  We’re already halfway there.  We can always throw the picnic blanket over ourselves or something if it rains.”

“Mmmm . . . “  Theodora looked doubtful.  “Well, let’s hope it doesn’t rain until our return.”

Johnny looked surprised.  “Don’t you like adventure, Theodora?  I thought all you Garretts liked adventure!”

“Wherever did you get an idea like that?”

“From you – travelling all over the world.  And from Scott!  He sure loves talking about how much he enjoyed the war!”

“Yes, I certainly have trav . . . Scotty liked the war?  He never mentioned that.  In fact, I got the distinct impression his memories of the war were not good.  Although – now that I think of it – he never actually discussed them.”

“Oh, yeah!  Scott talks all the time about the war – about how much he enjoyed all the gunfire, and the noise of the cannons . . . and getting the chance to use his rifle to kill as many of the enemy as possible!”

“He does?”

“Oh, sure!  That’s how real men are, you know.  We all like that kind of thing – the chance to prove ourselves as men, the chance to overcome an enemy.  Scott said he never got the chance to do things like that before he went to war.  Now, here – in California – Scott gets into fistfights all the time, kills the odd man here and there . . . “

Theodora looked aghast.  “My Scotty?  Fights?”

“All the time!  And loves it!  And he’s hard to beat, too.  Sometime ask him to show you his scars.”

“Oh, no!”  Theodora put her hand to her face.

“Oh, yeah!  He’s proud of every one of them!  And did I mention how good he is with a sword?  You can just imagine the kind of damage that weapon can inflict!”

“Jonathan, please.  Let’s change the subj .. .”

“Around here he’s known as ‘Scott the Slaughterer!’”

“’Slaughterer . . . ?’”

“When we get back to the ranch, Theodora, ask Scott to demonstrate his skill with a gun for you.  He likes showing off.  We can pick on one of the newer ranch hands – he’ll never be missed.”

“Oh, my!   Look, Jonathan, up ahead!  That clearing – is that where we’re headed?”

“Sure is!  You’ll like this little pond, Theodora.  We’ll eat our lunch there.”

“Oh, thank God!”  Theodora was a much paler color than when she’d started the ride and also perhaps just a tad shorter.  That was Johnny’s thought as he helped her to the ground.

The two of them set up the picnic together on the ground, close to the water.  It was an ideal setting, but, as we know, not much is actually perfect.

“Oh!  Oh!  Over there!  Oh no!”  Theodora squealed and put her hands to her face.

A woman in distress, something perilous behind him.  It took Johnny’s brain approximately half a nanosecond to register danger.  In less time than that, he pulled his gun, turned and fired.

And shot the hell out of a harmless water snake.

The snake would not have bothered them and Johnny knew he had over-reacted.  He was actually considering giving it a decent burial when he felt Theodora grab him.  “Oh my, oh my!” she said, half hysterical and the other half crying.

He knew the noise had probably frightened her more than the snake, and he knew he was responsible for her fragile state to begin with.  He held her for a moment to comfort her, then he sat her down on her pillows on the picnic cloth.  “Here, Theodora,” he said, removing and handing her his neckerchief.

She waved it away.  “I’ll be all right,” she said, sniffling.  “I’ll be fine.  I’m sorry.  I guess I’m a little too much of a Bostonian to fit in here.  I’ll leave first thing in the morning with Scotty, and Murdoch will be rid of me once and for all.”

“No, ma’am,” Johnny said in a very serious tone.

She looked up with hope.  “You think he wants me to stay?”

“No, ma’am.  That’s not what I mean.  I mean Scott isn’t a Bostonian anymore.  He belongs here now.  And he should stay here.”

“Scotty used to be such a gentleman.  And now he’s become such a . . .  such a . . . thug!  I need to get him to return home as soon as possible, so we can undo the damage . . . “

“No, ma’am.  Scott’s still a gentleman.  All those stories I told you about him – I made them all up.”

“But why?”

“Because Scott is still a Bostonian but he’s something else now, too.  He’s a Lancer.  And he belongs at Lancer.”

“No . . . “

“Maybe Scott and Murdoch couldn’t get through to you, but I’m going to stand up to you.  I’m not going to let you take Scott away from here.  And do you want to know why?”

Theodora shook her head;  Johnny wasn’t sure if it was ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

“Because Scott loves it here.  He might be a Boston gentleman but he fits in well right here, too.  He’s a special person;  he would do well anywhere.  But Lancer is where Scott wants to be.  And do you know why?”  While he was talking, Johnny opened a canteen and poured some of its contents into a cup which he handed to Theodora.  “Here, try this.”

She took it and gingerly tasted it.  Her eyes got real wide.  “Oh, my!” she said.  “What is this?”

“Tequila.  I’m not going to lie to you anymore.  I’m going to be straight with you.  I brought wine too, in case you’d rather have that.  But you’ve just had a shock, so I thought the tequila . . . “

“Oh, yes,” Theodora said, licking her lips.  “I think I could get used to this.”

“This isn’t exactly how you’re supposed to drink tequila, but . . . “

“Have you got more?”

“Uh . . .yeah.”  Johnny re-filled her empty cup.  “A whole canteen-full.”  He grinned.  So did she.

“So tell me, Jonathan, why is it that Lancer is where Scotty wants to be?  Convince me!”  It was a dare, but she said it with a smile.  And a little bit of a slur.

“Because this is the place Scott loves.”

“Why?”

“I think . . . because of us.  Murdoch and me.”

“What do you mean?”  Hiccup.  She held out her cup for more.  Which Johnny provided.

“Because Scott loves us and we love him.  Murdoch’s his father and they’re both very grateful to have found each other after so many years.  And Theodora – I think you really do understand whether you admit it or not – Scott and I are half-brothers.  And we have a real good relationship.”

She lowered her eyes.  “Yes, I knew that.”

“I never told this to anyone before, but I really do love him.  And I know he feels the same.  If you take him away from here, he’ll leave a family who loves him very much.  Don’t do it.”

Theodora looked shyly up at him.  “No,” she said seriously.  “I won’t.  I see now he belongs here.”

Johnny felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  “All right!” he yelled.  “That calls for a celebration!”  He re-filled his glass and was going to fill hers again.

“Wait!” she called.  “Let me drink this first!  I have to catch up with you, Johnny!”  She called him Johnny! 

“And don’t forget we have food here, too, Late-For-Dinner!”  They both fell over on the ground, laughing hysterically.

–  –  –  –  –

At the hacienda, Murdoch and Scott, who were working in the yard, heard the shot from Johnny’s gun.  They both knew its origination point.

“That came from the pond where Johnny took Aunt Theodora.”

“Just one shot.  Do you think Johnny’s showing off for her?”

“No, that’s the last thing Aunt Theodora wants to see.”

“One shot might mean they’re in trouble.”

“It could mean anything.”

They looked at each other.

“Let’s go!”

–  –  –  –  –

As Scott and Murdoch hurried to the pond, the rain finally began.  By the time they got to the picnic site half an hour later, they were soaked and they were met with a remarkable sight!

Johnny and Aunt Theodora, completely tequila- and water-logged, were sitting in the rain on the edge of the pond with their feet dangling in the water.  Aunt Theodora had pulled her dress up above her knees.

To Johnny’s discredit, Aunt Theodora spied them first.  “Hello there!” she called.  “We’re fishing.  Have you got any – hiccup – worms?  The chicken didn’t work.  They don’t like our – hiccup – toes, either.”

“Worms?” said Murdoch.  Scott and Murdoch looked around.  There was food pretty much everywhere and the small amount of food that had remained on the picnic blanket was soaked.  There were pieces of bread floating in the pond.  Fish seemed to be nibbling on the bread.

“We heard a shot,” Scott said.  “Is everything . . .all right?”

“Scott!”  Johnny jumped up and regretted it immediately.  “Uh . . . guess what?”

“What happened here, Johnny?”

“Huh?”  Johnny looked around.  “Oh!  We had a food fight.  Scott!  Guess what?”

You. . . and Aunt Theodora . . . had a food fight?”

“Scott, I’m trying to tell you something here.  Scott!  Guess what?”

“What, Johnny?” said Murdoch.

“Scott!  Theodora’s going to go back without you!  You don’t have to return to Boston!”

Scott’s eyes got real wide.  “I don’t?  I don’t have to leave here?”

“No.  That, too.”

Scott grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and swung him around.  Johnny broke away from him to try to re-attach his head.  Scott reached for Murdoch.  “I don’t have to return to Boston!”

By now, Aunt Theodora had stood and was dancing around with everyone else.  “Scotty doesn’t have to return to Boston!  Isn’t that great?!”

–  –  –  –  –

It took Scott and Murdoch a few minutes to clean up the mess.  Johnny offered to help, doing anything that didn’t involve bending over.  Aunt Theodora climbed up into the wagon and sat on the wet pillows.  “Has anyone noticed?  It’s started raining!”  She opened her pink parasol.  She yelled to the men on the ground, “Scotty!  Murdoch!  You have no idea what a talent you have in your mist . . . midst!  This man is a phenom – hiccup – phenom – hiccup marvel with a firearm!  You must make sure he remains on the payroll.  I believe he will be sufficient protection for our dear Scotty.”

“Yes,” Johnny agreed.  “I am sufficient protection for Scott.”

–  –  –  –  –

“How did you do it, Johnny?  I’ve never seen her so relaxed or happy.”

“I just gave her something she’d never had before, Scott.”

Scott’s eyes got very big.  He pulled his fist back to take a swing at his brother.

Johnny, suddenly realizing what Scott had inferred, yelled, “For God’s sake, Scott!  It’s not what you’re thinking!  I just gave her tequila, that’s all.  She’d never tasted it before.  Took a real shine to it!”

Scott’s face got a little red and he lowered his fist.  “I’m sorry, Johnny.  I should have known better.  I’m sorry for what I thought.”

“I should hope so!  She’s not exactly my type, Scott.”  Johnny saw how flustered his brother was and recognized an opportunity for some brotherly teasing.  “Of course,” he continued, wiggling his eyebrows, “she is a woman.  We did get pretty far before you two showed up and interrup . . .”

Scott’s pink face turned to crimson.  “You’re dead, Johnny!” 

Johnny had a lead of only one or two seconds over Scott, who suddenly had the need to chase his brother.  They ran past Murdoch and Theodora at high speed, Scott right on Johnny’s heels.  Johnny yelled “I was kidding!” and Scott yelled “I’m not taking a chance!” and Johnny yelled “For God’s sake, Scott!” and Scott yelled “Just let me catch you, brother!” and they yelled more things but Murdoch and Theodora couldn’t hear the rest because they had run out of range.

Murdoch and Theodora watched the two brothers continuing their chase.

“There, you see, Theodora?” said Murdoch.  “It’s always like that around here.  It would be a hard thing for you to get used to in Boston society.”

“Perhaps you’re right, Murdoch.”  Theodora hiccupped.  “Who do you suppose will win?”

Murdoch continued to watch his sons with great fondness.  In a moment, he responded.

“All of us, Theodora.  All of us.”

End
July 2022

Sequel – Aunt Theodora’s Diplomacy

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16 thoughts on “Aunt Theodora by goldieasj

  1. I really enjoyed this story. It was clever and funny too, and as always, with your stories, very visual. The image of her arriving at the ranch flat on her back on the carriage with her legs in the air was very funny, as was the thought of her slowing down the carriage by holding out her umberella. My favourite line: “And why on earth did Theodora think he had left Mexico on a wherewithal instead of a horse?” You come up with some hilarious lines. A clever idea for Johnny to get her drunk. The image of them sitting with their feet in the pond in the pouring rain was brilliant. Well done!

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      1. Rita,

        So happy you enjoyed the story! I appreciate you taking the time to read and to let me know it made your day!

        Like

  2. I loved this the first time I read and love it even more the second time, Viki! The picnic was a hoot! And, yes, I’ll be reading this one again! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I couldn’t stop laughing. What came to mind was Katherine Card, the actress who played Lucy’s mother on “I Love Lucy” who always called her son-in-law Micky instead of Ricky. I kept hearing her voice as I was reading. She also didn’t pay attention when corrected, but just kept right on doing what she wanted. Thanks for a great story and a good laugh.

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  4. Cynthiadeewilson,

    OMG! How funny! Katherine Card – loved her! She was so perfect for the role, and you’re right – there’s a lot of her in Aunt Theodora. Ricky/Mickey – Johnny/Jonathan! I wasn’t thinking about her when I was writing because I pictured Aunt Theodora to be in her 50s, but I think you absolutely got it right! Thank you so much for your comment; glad you enjoyed!

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  5. Great story. I really enjoyed reading it and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Thanks for sharing

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