What My Mother Told Me Challenge, October 2020
Word count: 1,173
Johnny turned in the saddle and watched as Scott neatly backed his horse and came around the fence post all the while muttering something under his breath.
“And what, pray tell, was that all about?”
His answer was a sheepish grin as Scott reined in beside him.
“Bread and butter, butter and bread. It was something my nurse used to say whenever I insisted on walking on the outside of a lamppost or hitching post or tree or anything for that matter. She would either make me back up and come around or sometimes she would reciprocate and do the same until we were again side by side all the while saying ‘bread and butter, butter and bread’.”
Scott couldn’t help but chuckle when he slanted a look at his brother. Johnny’s expression spoke volumes.
“Her name was Abigail Murray.”
“Very. She actually let me be a boy on occasion. Did draw the line at climbing trees however. She didn’t think it would be ladylike of her if she had to come up after me. Was even known to throw a rock or two into the pond in the Commons and didn’t flinch when I had to stop and examine some insect or worm.”
Scott rested his hands on the saddle horn, stretched his back and looked off into the distance. It smelled dry. Dry and hot. Nothing like Boston where the salty tang of the ocean competed with other less savory odors. The whirring of insects was all that broke the sudden silence, that and the occasional jingle of tack when one of the horses stirred.
Johnny fiddled with his braided reins, likewise staring into the distance. Knew Harlan Garrett’s recent visit had stirred up a host of memories for his brother.
“She was ‘let go’ not long after my fifth birthday. Grandfather said I was now too old to have a nurse and appointed a governess to supervise my lessons.” Scott’s mouth pursed in a slight grimace. “Miss Stark.”
Johnny couldn’t contain the lopsided grin. Pictured a prudish spinster, dressed all proper in plain black with a topknot that wouldn’t dare let one curl escape.
“I wonder if she knew.”
Scott’s voice was soft and maybe just a tad unsteady. It was as if his brother was slowly working his way toward a conclusion he didn’t want to admit was in all likelihood correct.
“About Murdoch, that is. She was downstairs during the party, helping the other servants. Would have seen Murdoch when he came to the house. She never spoke to me of my father. Always referred my questions about him to grandfather. Perhaps this time she did say something. Was let go in punishment and to protect grandfather’s ‘arrangement’ with my…with Murdoch.”
Johnny’s gut clenched. Scott was blaming himself for what happened; knew that for a fact. Damn Harlan Garrett! Even though he was safely back in Boston where he belonged he still managed to hurt his brother. Had tainted one of the few happy childhood memories Scott cherished.
“He assured me he had arranged a position for her with a family of good standing in Philadelphia. A family that was shortly to set sail for England for the husband’s business.” Scott threaded the reins through his lean, supple fingers as he spoke. His hand convulsed into a fist and his horse tossed its head and sidestepped in alarm. He forced himself to relax and ran a smoothing hand down his mount’s neck murmuring an apology.
Scott turned a stricken face towards Johnny.
“I never even got to say good-bye.”
The caustic comment that sprang to mind concerning Harlan Garrett was not what Scott needed to hear right now. Johnny didn’t know what angered him more; Garrett’s actions toward an innocent woman or what those actions had cost Scott.
Johnny thought about his mother and how her lies had had a hand in shaping his life. Not that he blamed everything that had happened to him on her. Good or bad, right or wrong, he had been free to make his own decisions. But those decisions had been colored by her lies about Murdoch. Much as he still loved his mama, he could never hope to understand what had motivated her to do what she did.
Meirda, it hurt to even try and wrap his head around it.
What a hell of a thing for him and Scott to have in common; lives shaped by the selfish acts of others!
“She cared about you, brother. Abigail Murray sounds like a fine woman. She wouldn’t want you to go blaming yourself for something you had no control over. She cared about you and let you be you if only for a short while. That’s something to be grateful for. Don’t let what that…what your abuelo done take that way from you. Don’t let him win.”
Scott held his brother’s gaze for a long while then slowly straightened, squaring his shoulders in that way he had.
“Your right, of course. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have regrets. I know perfectly well what my grandfather is capable of. Any doubts I may have had were permanently laid to rest as a result of his actions during his visit. I would like…would hope…we can salvage some sort of relationship. In spite of everything, I do still care about him.”
Barranca pivoted until the brothers were facing one another, side by side, knees nearly touching.
“Don’t apologize for how you feel, Scott. Believe it or not, nobody’s perfect. Not even you.” Johnny neatly avoided the hat swipe aimed half-heartedly at his head but the set of his face was serious.” All anybody can do is the best they can. You, brother, are one of the most decent, honorable men I have ever met. Maybe Miss Abigail Murray had a little something to do with that. Keeping you on the right side of things sorta like ‘butter and bread’.”
Scott resettled his hat, his gaze caressing the broad stretch of land under its haze of heat. An unexpected surge of emotion caught him by surprise but instead of suppressing it like any well-bred Boston gentleman had been taught to do, he embraced it, reveled in it even. The love of this place, this land and the people who called it home, of the man beside him and the man who called the tune.
“Perhaps. If anything, it’s to her credit.” Scott turned to face Johnny. “I hope she had a happy life and…had cause to remember me fondly. I know I did her.”
Scott gathered up the reins and turned his horse heading back the way they had come.
Johnny fell in alongside. While his brother didn’t often show it, Scott felt things deeply. Even if he didn’t always agree with him, he would never want him to change.
Except when Scott was hell-bent on helping folks that often didn’t deserve it.
“I’m sure she did, brother, I’m sure she did. And that’s all anyone can hope for; to be well thought of.”
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