Word Count 1,773
Disclaimers: Most of the characters aren’t mine and never will be.
All feedback welcomed.
by Deb B.
Disclaimers: Most of the characters aren’t mine and never will be.
All feedback welcomed. My e-mail address is Debtv57@webtv.net
It had not been a good week for Muriel Adams, Green River’s newly arrived schoolteacher. The weather was extremely hot and dry, which was enough to make the long stagecoach ride from Sacramento unbearable under any circumstances. But for Muriel, the misery of the heat and the dust was compounded by the proximity to her fellow passengers whose hygienic practices she found to be less than acceptable. In all, the journey was an exhausting nightmare.
Muriel stepped down from the stage and viewed the town that would be her home for at least the next year. This town was no different than any of the others through which she had passed. She could hear hammering in the distance but since it was just as likely to mean a new saloon as any respectable business, Muriel was unimpressed. In addition, she was dismayed to find no member of the school board present to meet her. Leaving her belongings at the stage depot, she made her way to the office of Tom Brady, head of the Green River School Board.
Mr. Brady, the father of five school-aged boys, offered Muriel refreshment and then quickly proceeded to obtain her signature on a one-year contract. With business completed, Muriel requested to be shown to her lodgings. Unable to look her in the eye, Mr. Brady explained that due to a recent fire it would be two weeks before she would be able to move into her quarters at the town’s only respectable rooming house.
“This is too much!” Muriel fumed silently.
Before she had a chance to give Mr. Brady a piece of her mind, Mr. Brady added that a local rancher, Murdoch Lancer, had offered to let her stay at his hacienda until her room was ready. Unexpectedly, the situation caused by the fire had changed from a major inconvenience into a golden opportunity.
Muriel had heard of Murdoch Lancer from a cousin who attended church with a woman whose niece’s brother-in-law owned a farm near Spanish Wells. The most important fact she had gleaned from this cousin was that Lancer had two unmarried sons. The younger of the two was an uneducated ex-gunfighter and thereby not worthy of her notice. But the older son was a Boston-bred Harvard graduate who served his country bravely during the War. This was just the kind of man she was anxious to meet. With her superior upbringing and education, she was sure Scott Lancer would be easy to attract. After all, these quaint backwater girls might be fine for a brief dalliance, but when it comes to marriage a man of his position in the community would require somebody more suitable.
Wrapped up in her thoughts, Muriel was startled when Mr. Brady stopped speaking and looked at her expectantly. Muriel, wishing she had been paying stricter attention, smiled and assured Mr. Brady that she was happy to accept the Lancer’s hospitality. Apparently it was the correct response as Brady smiled in return and rose to his feet saying, “Well then all that’s left to do is to see about transport to the Lancer ranch. I thought I saw the Lancer buckboard in town earlier. Shall we see what can be arranged?”
Muriel and Mr. Brady left his office and had just stepped out into the midday sun when they heard a commotion. A fight had erupted in the saloon across the street. As Muriel watched, a cowboy was propelled backward through the saloon doors and landed in a heap in the dusty street. A second and then a third man quickly followed. As the three drunken cowboys struggled to get to their feet, a young man walked through the swinging doors and stared at them. From the man’s heavy breathing and the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, it was apparent he had been a participant in this disgusting exhibition.
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a money pouch, which he tossed on the ground near one of the cowboys. “Here’s your pay for this past week, take it and move on.”
Taking the money the three men decided to take the advice. Staggering to their horses, they managed to mount up and rode out of town in a cloud of dust. The young man watched them leave and then returned to the noisy saloon.
“Well young Lancer certainly made short work of those drifters. Excuse me for a moment while I have a word with him. I’m sure he won’t mind driving you to the ranch.” With that Mr. Brady hurried across the street and into the saloon. In a short time, the two men reappeared and started walking towards her.
So that was the infamous Johnny Madrid Lancer. Muriel was appalled by the idea of having him be her escort to the ranch. Although she had realized that staying at the Lancer hacienda would make some contact with the former gunfighter unavoidable, she had never considered the possibility of being alone with the ruffian. She thought about refusing his offer but worried it might cause some awkwardness later. She remembered her cousin saying that despite their differences, Scott and Johnny were very close. By offending Johnny, she might ruin her chances with Scott. Once again preoccupied by her own thoughts, she didn’t hear Mr. Brady speak to her and was only brought back to the present by the sight of Lancer’s outstretched hand.
Determined to mask her distaste for the young man in front of her, she managed to briefly shake his hand and return his smile with a polite but cold one of her own. As Muriel met his gaze, she had to admit despite his bruised and dusty appearance the man was not unattractive. She couldn’t help but hope that his brother would be just as handsome even though breeding and not good looks was what truly counted.
“Well Miss Adams, if you’re ready to head to the ranch, my buckboard is just down the street in front of the general store. We can stop by the depot and get your belongings.”
Muriel nodded her acquiescence to the plan and after thanking Mr. Brady, accompanied Lancer to the waiting buckboard. After helping Muriel onto the seat and waving to the storekeeper, the young man picked up the reins and drove the short distance to the stage depot. Once Muriel’s trunk and valise were loaded into the back, Lancer climbed back onto the seat and started the horses for home.
As the town was left behind, Muriel’s companion politely asked about her journey and her home in Sacramento. However after receiving a few curt responses, he gave up and except for a few desultory comments the remainder of the trip was made in silence. Muriel didn’t see any sense in making small talk with someone who only merited her attention by being the brother of the man she wished to attract. Additionally the further they got from town the more Muriel realized she was in the middle of nowhere with a man who judging by his late profession had no morals. She had heard tales of young ladies being taken advantage of by such men. Although she tried to convince herself that Mr. Brady would not have put her in harm’s way, she became increasingly anxious for this trip to end.
Finally, they reach the hilltop overlooking the ranch. Muriel was impressed and couldn’t help smiling. “This will do nicely,” she thought to herself. Noticing her smile, the man beside her started to say something but was taken aback by the calculating look in her eyes. As they started the last half-mile of their ride, he was also surprised to see the expression of disdain that Muriel had worn during most of trip had been replaced by one of sweet gentility.
Stopping the team in the courtyard in front of the house, the young man jumped down from the buckboard and then reached up to assist Muriel. As she descended, she heard whistling as someone approached from the nearby garden. Muriel recognized the tune as Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major. Astonished, Muriel looked at her driver who laughed and said, “That’s my brother. Ever since we went to a concert last month in San Francisco, he’s been driving us crazy with his whistling.” Muriel barely managed to keep from rolling her eyes at his lack of appreciation of fine music. Before she could make any comments, the whistler himself appeared around the corner.
“Hey Scott! ‘Bout time you got back from town. Looks like you been fightin’. Murdoch ain’t gonna be too happy with you.” Johnny stopped in surprise when he saw that his brother wasn’t alone.
Muriel stood looking from one brother to the other. The boorish lout who had engaged in fisticuffs was the Harvard graduate. And the untutored ex-gunfighter appreciated Mozart. It wasn’t possible! There must be some mistake. Otherwise, she had spent the last two hours snubbing the very man whose interest she had planned to secure.
“Johnny, I would like you to meet Miss Muriel Adams. She’s the new schoolmistress and will be staying with us for the next couple of weeks.”
Johnny held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you ma’am.” Muriel stood frozen to the spot. “Ma’am? Are you all right? You seem a little pale.” Puzzled Johnny looked at Scott who seemed as confused as Johnny by her sudden paralysis.
Finally, Muriel found her voice. “I’m afraid I’m a little tired. It’s been a very exhausting week.”
“Well Ma’am”, said Johnny as he gently took her arm to lead her indoors, “Teresa will take you to your room and I’m sure after you get a chance to rest a bit, everything will be just fine.”
Later in her room, Muriel paced the floor. Dinner had proved to be a major disappointment, Scott treated her politely but that was it. And Johnny although in some ways charming was not what she could ever consider suitable husband material. So much for a golden opportunity! Muriel walked over to her valise and removed a letter containing the job offer she had refused in favor of the post at Green River. She had signed a one-year contract that she knew she couldn’t break. “Oh well a year isn’t so long.” Smiling at the letter she still held, Muriel thought “And when it’s over maybe I’ll see what Virginia City has to offer.”
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