Word Count – 3,277
Never had the departure of a Lancer guest been so universally welcomed. There were some who found themselves holding their breath until the wagon carrying the sly gray head of Harlan Garrett could no longer be seen in the distance.
Things theoretically should have returned to normal in the next day or so. For most, things did. But there was one Lancer who could not so easily forget the damage that had been done. The leaden footprints of Harlan Garrett still trod heavily upon one heart.
As they had done for so many years.
– – – – – – – –
“Do you think you’ll see him again?” Johnny Lancer had a penchant for reading his brother – if not his actual thoughts, certainly his emotions. The inexpressive face Scott turned to the world always read clear as a bell to his younger brother. Scott had at first found this talent unnerving but as he got to know Johnny better, Scott had come to appreciate his brother’s intuition. It was invariably merged with affection and Scott appreciated that more than he could say.
He spent a moment considering the question. “At this point, Johnny, I certainly don’t have the desire to. But, I suppose – time heals all wounds, I’ve heard. It’s a cliché, I know. But maybe . . . someday . . . Well, he is my grandfather.”
“Did you ever love him?”
Startled, Scott stared at his brother. Was that question really coming from Johnny? The sensitivity and concern in his voice were readily apparent, but, even with his always straightforward manner, It was still not the kind of subject Johnny would normally broach.
And it was absolutely not the kind of question Scott would be comfortable answering.
Scott searched his brother’s eyes for some meaning besides the apparent one but found only the deep honesty and caring that he had come to expect. Although normally secure in his brother’s company, Scott found himself unexpectedly unnerved. He had to look away. “Ever?” he said, more to himself.
Johnny just nodded. Scott knew this without looking.
The air in the room was stifling, compelling. Scott watched it as he searched his heart for an honest answer. “It was . . . ” he hesitated, “ . . . not really a matter of love. It was more a matter of . . . discipline . . . consistency . . . honor . . .” Each word became progressively softer than the last, until Johnny had to strain to hear “protection” whispered. But love? Scott could not recall a time when he had felt the kind of feeling for his grandfather that he now took for granted in his new life with his father and his brother. The fleeting thought that he hoped they, unlike him, had always been able to find love entered his mind. He did not want to feel sorry for himself. But isn’t that exactly the result of a loveless childhood?
“Scott?” Johnny nudged with a whisper.
“Does it matter?” Scott searched his heart for the answer to his own question.
Johnny re-adjusted himself in his chair, never taking his eyes off his brother. He leaned closer to Scott. “You tell me.” There was no hint of challenge or animosity in his tone. He was a brother who cared, that’s all. But Scott was deeply in thought and did not answer.
“Thank you for the birthday party yesterday, Grandfather.”
“You’re welcome, Scotty. Did you have a good time?”
“Yes, I expected you would. Did your new friends have a good time?”
“I guess so, Grandfather.”
“Never guess, Scotty. Did your new friends have a good time or didn’t they?”
“Of course they did! Did you enjoy the present I got you?”
“Uh . . . yes, Grandfather.”
“Good. Your previous brown suit was getting tight on you. Such a growing boy! Would you like to thank me for your present?”
“Yes. Thank you for the new suit, Grandfather.”
“Very good! Now run along, Scotty, and allow me to finish my breakfast.”
“Yes . . . Uh . . . Grandfather?”
“Who was that tall man I met yesterday? Is he one of my new friends?”
“By no means! He is an acquaintance of mine, not yours. You must forget you met him, Scotty.”
“All right, Grandfather. If you say I should.”
Scott tried squeezing his eyes shut but the memory did not disappear. “I expect he meant well,” he said.
Johnny unsuccessfully tried to keep the disdain out of his voice. “Harlan? Meant well by you? I didn’t see too much of that. Looked to me like Harlan was thinking about Harlan, period. What are you talking about, Scott?”
“I . . . I . . . There are times, I know, when he could be . . . when he could be . . . “
“Not much of a grandfather?” Johnny added with a smirk that Scott didn’t catch.
“No, it’s not . . . Johnny, he was my grandfather. And my father.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t judge him so . . . so . . . “ Once again Scott looked off at nothing.
“I wish you’d tell me who my father is, Grandfather.”
“Scotty, you know I have always been your father and grandfather.”
“How can that be right? All my friends at school say they have a father and a grandfather, and they are two different men.”
“Ah . . . I see. I was afraid this would happen if I sent you to that Academy.”
“Don’t be afraid, Grandfather. I’m not afraid. Are you really my father and grandfather?”
“No, no, Scotty. I’m not. Your dear mother was my daughter Catherine and that is why I am your grandfather. Your real father was a man she was briefly married to, a man named Murdoch Lancer. That is why your last name is different from mine.”
“Could we ask Murdoch Lancer to come here and live with us?”
“No, I hardly think that is possible. Mr. Lancer told me a long time ago that he wanted me to raise you, not him. He never wanted children, you see; he was never meant to be a father at all. He told me he trusted me to do a good job raising you and then he ran away and I did not know where he went. He is not a part of your life, Scotty, and that was his choice.”
“Is he still alive?”
“No, probably not. He never wanted you in his life and it is for the best. There is no reason for you to ever think of this man again. This man who never wanted you. All right, Scotty?”
“I suppose you’re right, Grandfather.”
“That’s good, Scotty. Now I suggest you pay attention to that primer lesson your instructor has assigned.”
“Scott? Hey, brother, you still with me?”
Scott’s voice took on a dreamy edge. “He raised me, Johnny.”
“I thought you said you always had nannies.”
“I did, but . . . that’s not what I mean. Grandfather did what he had to do to protect me. To protect me from . . .”
“Grandfather, what’s the meaning of this?”
“That? Oh! Oh . . . I see. That’s merely an envelope, Scotty. Nothing important.”
“Well, it might be important to me. It’s addressed to me! And it came all the way from California. And the sender’s name is the same last name as mine! Murdoch Lancer – he’s my father, isn’t he, Grandfather? He must still be alive.”
“Yes, Scotty, your biological father. The man who married your mother and then wanted nothing to do with you once she died! Had I left you with him, you no doubt would have perished! You needn’t thank me; I felt it was my duty to remove you from his gruff presence permanently.”
“But why did he suddenly send a letter to me?”
“Not to you, Scotty. He writes occasionally to me to remind me to keep you away from him, which I am only too happy to do. He is a backward boorish man. You can see that in the simple mistake of mis-addressing his letter.”
“His handwriting appears sophisticated enough to me.”
“Make no mistake, Scotty! Murdoch Lancer is related to you in name only. He wants no more to do with you now that you are a teenager than he did when you were born. His attitude compelled me to suppress the very mention of his name in this household.”
“Well, may I read the letter?”
“I burned it. Here, hand me the envelope and I will burn that as well.”
“ . . . burning . . . “
“Harlan protected you from burning?” Johnny was confused.
Scott shook his head. He looked at Johnny as if seeing him for the first time. “Johnny, what are you talking about?”
“Not much of anything, brother. Just trying to figure out what you’re saying.”
“Oh.” Scott looked down. “Sorry, guess I’m not much in a talking mood.”
“That’s too bad,” said Johnny, “because I am.”
“Oh. Maybe some other . . . “
“No, now,” Johnny interrupted. “Harlan’s been gone for a day now and you’ve been looking like death warmed over since he left. And I know damn well you were as happy to see him go as everybody else was. Something inside is eating away at you and I’ve got to think he’s responsible. So what is it, Scott? Did Harlan drop some little hint when you took him back to town? Did he threaten you in some new way that’s slowly killing you now? Because if he did . . . “
“No, Johnny, nothing like that. He apologized to me, or at least the closest he could come to an actual apology. No, there’s nothing he can hold over my head anymore because I don’t care. It’s sad, but I just don’t care. In fact, when I watched him leave, I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel anything. Not even relief. It just felt like I had closed the final page on a familiar book. Familiar but not well-loved.”
Johnny relaxed back into his chair. “All right. But I’d still like to see my old brother back again.”
Johnny grinned. “You know what I mean.”
Scott looked down. “You will,” he said quietly. “I just need a little time, is all. There are so many lies that I have to get out of my head somehow.”
“You’ve got people here who care about you and can help. If you want.”
Scott finally smiled. “I know that.” He stood and finished his brandy. “For now, I think I’ll turn in for the night. Maybe I can dream some of those lies away. Thanks, Johnny. For so much.” Before he turned to head upstairs, he let his hand rest on his brother’s shoulder.
Johnny nodded. “Guess I’ll turn in too.” As they reached the stairway, Johnny had an idea. “Scott, if you do have some of those dreams, and they’re bad . . . well, just do me a favor and knock on the wall between our rooms so I know you’re OK.”
Scott laughed a little, the first time since his grandfather had come for his visit. “You wouldn’t hear – you’ll be asleep.”
“Sure thing, Johnny. Now go pay attention to your own dreams!”
– – – – – – –
As Scott entered his bedroom, his eyes came across a favorite photograph on his bureau, the cherished one of himself with his father and brother. It was taken not long after he and Johnny had returned to the ranch and at the time he’d thought a photograph was a silly thing to do. Now he felt eternally grateful to his father for thinking of it. He chuckled a little as he thought of his brother requesting he knock on the wall to indicate he was all right. “Only Johnny,” he said aloud.
When he set it back, his hand brushed against another, smaller photograph. Although it had always been there, it was not something he usually noticed. Now he picked it up and scrutinized it. Grandfather. Looking at this picture produced an entirely different feeling from the one the first photograph had elicited.
Still holding it, he walked to his window and looked out into the night. The moonlit landscape usually instilled a feeling of tranquility in Scott, but this evening, as lately, it wasn’t enough to bring peace to his soul. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“You’ll do no such thing!”
“It can’t be undone, Grandfather. I’ve already enlisted.”
“Well, we’ll just see about that! Tomorrow I’ll pay a visit to my friend Senator Johnston and he’ll take care of this little matter!”
“No, don’t. I want to enlist; it’s my choice. I feel a sense of duty to my country. Hopefully I can lend a hand to help end the conflict that’s tearing the country apart.”
“Bah! Give me those enlistment papers! Sense of duty indeed! Where did you ever learn such nonsense?”
“From you, Grandfather. Duty to you!”
Scott smiled a little at this memory. His grandfather had tried – and failed – to reverse Scott’s decision. But he had tried.
Scott lost his smile.
The hand with the photograph dropped to his side. How often had he truly won an argument with his grandfather? As Johnny might say, what does it matter anymore? The only real victory Scott could claim was insisting his grandfather leave Lancer and not return. But since Harlan had acquiesced so easily, Scott had to wonder if the old man had another card up his sleeve.
Sighing deeply, Scott left the beauty of the view and returned to sit on the bed. “Grandfather,” he whispered, surprising himself with the scorn in his voice. He leaned against the headboard, feeling as if the wind had been knocked out of him.
He shook his head sadly as he once again looked at the photograph. “What made you do it?”
“Those were the two most despicable men I have ever met.”
“Ah, yes – the Degan brothers. A certain smell still poisons the air even though they have departed. There is indeed truth in your comment. But there is also truth in their words. You’d best heed them, boy. Unless you return to Boston with me I will carry through on my threat – don’t think I won’t!”
“You know something, Grandfather? I believe you. And – until this moment – I never really knew you. Those twenty-four years you spent raising me, all those years you poisoned me against my father, now I finally see you for who you really are!”
“Scotty, you see standing in front of you a very strong man. But an old man, one who needs his beloved grandson to assume the family business, to helm the . . . “
“Beloved! That’s a laugh. You’ve never loved anyone but yourself. I see that now. I’m such a fool – I should have seen it all along.”
“You’re no fool, Scotty, but make no mistake – neither am I. You WILL return to Boston with me, or your father will face prison. An easy choice, I would imagine, if you love him as you say you do.”
“This is an outrage.”
“No, it is a balancing of the scales. You should never have left Boston in the first place. You should not have joined the military services and fought in that dissolute war, and you should most certainly not have left your home to move to this primitive place. I intend to see to it that you once again resume your birthright and your appropriate residence in my home. And yes, Scotty – you will assume a position of high authority in my accounting firm and I intend for you to replace me when I retire. This is a family business, and where you belong.”
“And Lancer is a family business, too!”
“I don’t intend to argue with you, Scotty. You know I am right. You know I will win, as I always do.”
“Why did you steal me away from my father when I was born, all those years ago? How could you be that cruel?
“I’ve discussed this with you in the past.”
“No, you’ve lied to me in the past. For once, I want the truth.”
“The truth? Huh! The truth is that you will be returning to Boston with me to assume your Garrett birthright.”
“The truth, Grandfather. And don’t use the word love because I have never felt that from you. Over the years I have come to know you – at least to some extent. Anger and hatred have often been motivating factors in your actions. I’m beginning to think your hatred of my father is at the root of all this.”
“It no longer matters, Scotty. All that matters is what is happening now.”
“Now you sound like Murdoch!”
“That is unfortunate. I can promise you that once we leave this ranch, you will never utter the name Murdoch Lancer again.”
“You’re right about that, Grandfather. For once we leave this ranch, I have no intention of ever speaking to you again.”
Scott’s fingers hurt and he realized he’d been tightly gripping the photograph. How could he still be angry even though his grandfather was well on his way back to Boston, and with the understanding that he would never be welcome at the Lancer Ranch again.
“Someone want to wake up Johnny? He might as well hear this too, since we’re all here together . . . I’ve decided to go back to Boston with my grandfather.”
Scottsqueezed his eyes tight. He had met all of Johnny’s following attempts to communicate with quiet reserve. Not answers – he didn’t have any good ones. Johnny had practically attacked him to get to the root of his actions, but Murdoch had simply retired to his room. Scott wasn’t sure which had hurt him more. But one thing he did know for sure – he had hurt both of them deeply. He agreed with his grandfather that the best thing to do would be to leave early the next morning. Of course their reasons differed.
Scott ran his sleeve over his eyes. He considered throwing the photograph across the room. But something stopped him, something Johnny had said. “Because if he did . . .” A thinly-veiled threat from his brother, directed at the man who had caused the family such pain.
“Did you ever love him?” Something else Scott just remembered. Scott had pretended to think about it but he knew the answer was no. Johnny certainly had a way of getting at the heart of things. Perhaps that was because he was all heart. How lucky he was to have a brother like Johnny!
Thank God Johnny insisted he talk! Scott chuckled out loud. Now he knew he could sleep well this night, the first time since he had gotten the telegram saying his grandfather would visit. He jumped up to undress for bed, and his grandfather’s photograph fell to the tile floor and shattered.
He had forgotten about it but was not sorry it was broken. One thought that did occur to him was that Johnny might think he was having a bad dream, so he gently rapped on the wall to let his brother know he was all right. Even though he knew Johnny would be asleep.
And then he heard a soft rap in response.
Scott Lancer was home to stay.
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