Word Count 2,995
Several months after Harlan Garrett had returned to Boston, Johnny and Scott Lancer stopped in at the post office in Spanish Wells to see if there was any mail. The clerk, Eddie Richards, checked the Lancer Ranch slot in the cabinet on the wall and shook his head. “Nope. Don’t look like it.”
Scott voiced his thanks and the brothers headed out the door. They had barely reached the buckboard when a voice called out. “Wait. Ya did get somethin’.”
Johnny turned just as the gangly mail clerk came rushing out of the building. In one hand, Eddie waved a package of some sort.
Eddie slid to a halt at the edge of the boardwalk–toes of his boots hanging over far enough to make him teeter. His words came out between short gasps. “I wasn’t here when this come in. Saw it just as ya’all got out the door.”
“Slow down an’ catch yer breath,” Johnny said. He stepped forward and reached for the package. “Who’s it for?”
“Addressed to Scott Lancer, I think.” Eddie paused to look at the package. “Looks like it come from a place called Boston in Mass . . . Masschew-sets. Hard to tell. The writin’ ain’t none too steady.”
An arm stretched out past Johnny’s shoulder, and Scott’s voice spoke near his ear. “Does it say who sent it?”
“Can’t make out the name.”
Scott took the round-edged package that was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.
“What do you s’pose it is?” Johnny scowled at the package. “Too early to be your birthday present. Can’t be books. It’s the wrong shape to be that.”
“No . . . it isn’t books. Too soft. More like–“
Scott shrugged. “I’m not sure.” He turned, thanked Eddie, and started back toward the buckboard.
“Ain’t you gonna open it?” Johnny said while hurrying after his brother.
“I will . . . once you get us out of town.” Scott climbed onto the seat and scooted to the far side.
Johnny settled in beside his brother and picked up the reins. “Meanin’ I’m drivin’, I take it.”
Scott flashed a smile. “I can’t very well drive and open this at the same time, now can I?”
“No. Guess not.” Johnny clucked to the team and slapped the long lines against their rumps. “Get up there.”
The wagon rumbled down the main street, passed by the last of the buildings, and followed the road westward. When they had left behind them the farms on the outskirts of Spanish Wells, Johnny looked over at Scott.
Scott sat slumped with his head down, gazing at the package that was about the size of the dictionary on the Lancer bookshelf.
Johnny elbowed his brother. “Well. Gonna open that or stare a hole in it?”
“I’ll open it.” Scott pulled a knife from his pocket, folded out the blade, and slit the string. He pulled back one side of the paper wrapping and reached inside. His hand came back into sight holding several letter-size envelopes. On top of them was a folded piece of paper.
Johnny’s hands were occupied with tugging on the reins to guide the horses around a chuckhole, so he poked an elbow in Scott’s direction. “What’s that?”
“Looks like letters of some kind.”
“Say who they’re from?”
Scott unfolded the loose piece of paper. After appearing to read it, he refolded it, laid it on top of the envelopes, and put them all back in the package.
“Ain’t ya gunna open them letters?”
“Not right now.”
Johnny scowled. “So who sent ’em?”
“No one? What do ya mean, no one? Someone had to send ’em.”
Scott let out a long sigh and spoke barely above a whisper. “Like I said, they’re from no one.”
Johnny shrugged. He could take a hint. Scott didn’t want him to know who had sent him a package full of letters. It was as plain and simple as that. Well, let him keep his secret if that’s what he wanted.
A niggling fear crept into Johnny’s mind. Were they letters from some gal Scott knew back east? Maybe some old love letters his grandfather had found and sent to him in hopes of luring him back to Boston.
The farther they went the more Johnny stewed. By the time they reached the junction with the road to Morro Coyo and turned south toward the Lancer ranch, he couldn’t keep his thoughts to himself any longer. “Your grandfather ain’t still trying to get you back to Boston, is he?”
Scott looked over–his brows pinched together. “What?”
Johnny nodded at the package that lay in Scott’s lap. “Them letters. Did your grandfather send ’em?”
“Yes. He sent them.”
“He write ’em all? I mean, what’s he been doin’ . . . writin’ ya everyday and collectin’ ’em to send all at once?”
“No.” Scott dragged the word out.
“He didn’t write them.”
“Then who did? A bunch o’ your lady friends.”
Scott’s tone turned irritable. “Let it go, Johnny.”
“I’m just curious . . . that’s all.”
“I already told you. They’re from no one. Now will you quit badgering me?”
“Okay. Be that way.” Johnny cut his last word off with the snap of reins.
The team lunged into a fast trot, and the wagon gave a lurch and rattled more loudly.
Johnny let the horses run until the road started the climb toward the top of the ridge that overlooked the Lancer valley on the other side. Sometimes, Scott could be as bull-headed as their old man. A team of forty horses couldn’t drag a word out of him if he had his mind set not to talk. There was no use trying.
As the wagon jiggled and rumbled its way along the hard-packed dirt road, Scott let his mind wander back in time to his years of growing up in Boston. The first letter that he remembered asking his grandfather about had arrived sometime around his sixth birthday. Harlan Garrett had stiffened and quickly stuffed the envelope inside his jacket. “No one,” he had said when asked who it was from.
No one. There had been many letters from that mysterious person over the years. Sometimes they showed up two months in a row. At other times, three or four months would go by before another one came. Whenever questioned about their sender, his grandfather’s reply had always been, “No one, Scotty. No one.” That had continued until the war. After that the letters had stopped.
Scott fingered the package in his lap. All those years. All those wasted years.
A strong urge hit him to get rid of the letters. To burn them right there along the road without opening a single one. What could be gained from reading them? Could it wipe away the past? Would it assure him of the love he had so badly craved all those years while growing up with his grandfather? Surely they would only make the pain of what should have been more unbearable and the sense of loss that much greater even if they contradicted what he had been led to believe back then?
His thoughts turned in a new direction that drew his brows together. Did his grandfather really think this was the way to make amends for what he had tried to do during his visit to the ranch? The brief note he had enclosed had been filled with apologies and had ended with what seemed a sincere, even desperate, plea for forgiveness as well as hinting at the hope that this action on his part would in some small way redeem him in the eyes of his grandson.
Scott clinched his jaws. Surely this wasn’t, as Johnny had suggested, another of his grandfather’s tricks. What if the letters where not what he expected, at all? Had his grandfather read them? Did he hope they would confirm all those years of seeming neglect rather than refute them? Was that why he had sent them? Why else would he have kept them all this time? Wouldn’t it have been better to have burned them upon arrival rather than chance that they would be discovered?
The more Scott brooded, the more confused and unsure he became. A part of him demanded to see the words written by the one man he had long to have contact with throughout his childhood. He didn’t care if the letters were no more than a paragraph or two in length as long as they said what he hoped they would say. Yet, another part of him dreaded reading them. Dreaded the opening of wounds that time had all but erased. Dreaded having the flames of bitterness toward his grandfather fanned into a bigger fire that would take longer to extinguish.
Time dragged. Even though the silence between him and his brother was preferred over Johnny’s questions that begged answers, Scott was relieved when the wagon headed down the winding grade into the valley. Soon he could escape to the privacy of his bedroom. He could hide the letters and decide what to do about them after he had given the matter a little more consideration.
A new thought presented itself. Scott shifted his gaze toward his brother. “I’d appreciate that you don’t mention this to Murdoch.”
“Mention what?” Johnny’s glanced at Scott and went back to watching the road as the team rounded a sharp corner part way down the hillside.
“That I received a package.”
Johnny kept his eyes focused in front of him. “Afraid he’ll ask questions and not let you off so easy . . . that it?”
“No. It’s not that. It’s . . . it’s just that there’s no need for him to know.”
“Meanin’ it ain’t none of his business . . . or mine.” There was a hint of hurt in Johnny’s voice.
Scott blew out a puff of breath. “It’s not that. I . . . I need some time to think . . . decide what I want to do about them.”
“Uh, huh.” The team broke into a trot and Johnny eased them back to a walk. “Well, it’s your letters. Guess you got a right to keep ’em a secret if ya want.”
“Thanks.” Scott paused to glance at his brother again. “I appreciate it.”
Johnny’s shoulders hunched and relaxed again. “Anytime, Brother.”
Silence prevailed between the brothers the rest of the way to the grand hacienda that was nestled amongst a grove of oak trees on the south side of the valley. When they arrived, Scott was glad to see Cipriano’s teenage boys come out of the corral and offer to tend to the team as well as unload the supplies. It meant a chance to escape without leaving Johnny to do all of the work.
The usual pleasantries of dinner with his family and a time of relaxation near the fireplace afterward held little pleasure for Scott that evening. He excused himself and retired early. However, he found no peace of mind once he was in the confines of his bedroom. The packet of letters called to him, urging him to decide their fate.
When no longer able to ignore them and concentrate on the book of poems he had been reading from the night before, Scott retrieved the package of letters from the space beneath the bottom drawer of his dresser. He held the package in his hands for a while. Then with trembling fingers, he drew a few of the envelopes out where he could look at them.
Once again, Scott wavered between the desire to read the letters and the fear of the effect that action would have. He was certain his father would know something had changed. What if he asked questions?
The thought of seeing hurt in Murdoch’s eyes sent a shudder through Scott. No matter what his own decision might be, he could never let his father know about the letters. Never. Hadn’t the man been hurt enough? Hadn’t they both? What had he been thinking to even toy with the idea of reading words that were best left in the past? Wasn’t it enough to know he had not been abandoned and forgotten? He was sure the letters were proof of that. Why else would they have been written on such a regular basis?
Scott heard the chiming of the grandfather clock downstairs and counted the gongs. Nine. His family should all be in bed soon. He’d wait a while longer. Then he’d do what he should have done on the way home from town.
Footsteps in the hallway announced that the other members of his family had retired. Scott waited a few minutes longer and then quietly left his room and headed for the stairway–stocking feet whispering against the rug with each step.
At the bottom of the stairs, Scott paused to look toward the door of his father’s room and to listen for any sign of movement elsewhere in the house. The door was closed and the only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the main parlor.
Scott let out a long breath and willed his thundering heart to slow its pace. He had nothing to fear. Everyone had gone to bed, and he was in the clear. It was safe to continue on his mission.
A warm glow greeted Scott as he approached the alcove beyond the long dining table in the parlor. Good. He wouldn’t have to stoke the fire first.
After pushing the ottoman closer to the fireplace, Scott settled down to the task at hand. One by one, he poked the envelopes in amongst the flickering embers of the fire and watched it flare and shrink into a curled bit of white ash. His mood lightened as each one disappeared. They hadn’t been read. Not one envelope had been opened. That meant they were sent to him for no other reason than what had been written in the note from his grandfather.
Peace had settled over Scott by the time he held the last of the envelopes in his hand. A strong urge hit him to open it and read it. His fingers trembled. Dare he? Just one. Surely he could bare one glimpse into what could have been.
The temptation was overwhelming. Scott tore a strip off one end of the envelope and tossed the narrow scrap into the fire. He drew in a sharp breath, squeezed the edges of the envelope enough to let his fingers slip inside to grasp the letter.
Scott eased the folded page out of its hiding place. He ran his thumb across the paper that was slightly brittle and discolored with age. What did it say? How old had he been when this one had arrived?
His hand trembled again as he slowly turned up the first fold of the single sheet of paper.
I trust this finds you well.
Footsteps sounded behind Scott. He quickly folded the letter and glanced over his shoulder. Murdoch! No. Not now.
Murdoch’s steps faltered. “Scott. I thought you had gone to bed.” He spoke as he approached.
Scott shoved the letter into the envelope and stashed it in the fire. It smoked and then burst into flame. By then Murdoch was well in sight at the end of the sofa.
“Cleaning out some old letters?” Murdoch asked.
Murdoch nodded, his lower lip tucked between his teeth. “From anyone special?”
Scott drew in a sharp breath, his insides clinching. “No. No one special. They were just taking up space . . . so I thought I’d get rid of them while I was thinking about it.”
When Murdoch remained standing a few feet away, Scott glanced toward the fire to make sure the last letter was burned beyond recognition. He then slowly rose, clasped his hands in front of himself, and stretched his arms downward. “Well, guess I better get some sleep if I’m going to be ready to ride out to the south range with Johnny at daylight.”
Murdoch merely nodded.
Scott eased past his father and then stopped. “You know you were right about the past, Father. It’s the here and now that’s important.” With that he hurried away. This was not a good time to have to look Murdoch Lancer in the face–not a good time for either of them. To his relief, his father remained silent and made no move to follow or detain him.
Taking long strides, Scott soon stood in front of his room. He reached for the doorknob and gave it a twist. A soft click behind him was followed by a drawling voice. “Thought you were in bed.”
Scott kept his back toward his brother. “I was reading. Needed a drink of water so I went downstairs.”
“Oh. Decided to read them letters, huh?” Johnny’s voice drew nearer with each word.
“No. I burned them.”
“Burned them? All of them?” Johnny’s hand clamped around Scott’s wrist. “Why?”
Scott twisted enough to see his brother’s face. “Because they were no longer of any consequence. That’s why.”
A smile crept across Johnny’s lips and into his eyes. “Decided that No One could stay in the past, did ya?” His hand slid free and he lightly punched Scott’s shoulder. “Good. I’d sure hate to call No One out to keep you from doin’ somethin’ dumb . . . like goin’ back to Boston.”
Scott chuckled. “Never happen, Brother. Like Murdoch said that first day. What’s past is past. It’s what we have now that matters. No one can take that away . . . ever.”
Posted June 6, 2014
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Desert Sun directly.