Word Count: 2200
The morning was bright and cool, and the men of Lancer were enjoying a brief moment of relaxation before the daily grind began.
Murdoch was inside reading the paper with his last cup of coffee.
Johnny and Scott were outside admiring the new horses Murdoch purchased last week. The sound of carriage wheels caught their attention, and they both smiled. Teresa had spent a few days visiting at Sara Miller’s place, and was due back today. Johnny laughed. “Pay up, brother. I told you she’d be here at the crack of dawn.” Scott shook his head, smiling as he took a dollar out of his pocket. “She can’t stand being away from us for long.”
“I expected her around noon,” Scott said puzzled. One large hand pushed his blonde hair back out of his eyes. “I guess the women out West aren’t as eager to stay away from—.”
Johnny looked over at his brother, wondering why he stopped speaking mid-sentence. Scott, eyes wide, mouth open, was staring in the direction of the buggy.
“What the–?” Johnny said. Teresa waved as Sara and her father disappeared down the long road. “What’s that on her head?” Johnny asked.
“It’s the most atrocious piece of millinery I’ve ever seen,” Scott whispered.
“Looks like an ugly hat to me,” Johnny drawled
”That’s what I said,” Scott whispered.
“Teresa has better taste than that,” Johnny insisted.
“Not this time,” Scott muttered.
“Scott! Johnny!” Teresa practically ran to embrace her “brothers”. “I sure missed you both!”
“Teresa,” Scott said, his eyes drawn to the object resting on his “sister’s” head.
“We missed you, too,” Johnny smiled, ducking slightly as feathers threatened to poke his face.
Just then, the front door opened, and Murdoch rushed out. “Did I hear my girl out here?” But the smile on his face froze the second he saw her hat.
“Murdoch!” Teresa hugged her guardian with eager affection. Murdoch glanced at his sons, who shrugged.
“Well, what do you gentlemen think of my new hat?” She twirled around, laughing.
“That ain’t gonna help,” Johnny whispered out of the side of his mouth.
“No, it’s just as foolish looking from the back,” Scott agreed. Teresa faced Murdoch, a look of youthful expectation on her face.
“W-ee-ell,” Murdoch said nervously. “A new HAT! My, my.” Johnny broke into an easy grin, appreciating the discomfort his father was experiencing.
“That’s what she said, Murdoch, a new hat,” Johnny repeated. “What do you think about it?”
“Hehehe,” Murdoch laughed nervously. “What do you think, Johnny? You’re the one the women go to for advice.”
“I think it’s very—,” Johnny swallowed hard.
“Unique,” Scott piped in.
“Yes!” Murdoch agreed. “It’s very unique.”
“Very unique,” Johnny concurred.
“Ostrich feathers,” Scott added.
“Yes, lots of feathers,” Murdoch said haltingly.
“Orange feathers,” Johnny said, trying to think of something else he could possibly say about the monstrosity perched on Teresa’s petite head.
“One doesn’t often see orange feathers on a blue hat,” Scott noted.
“No, not usually,” Johnny nodded.
“No?” Teresa asked.
“But, in this case, they look perfect!” Murdoch smiled. But his eyes told a different story.
“Uh-huh,” Johnny said, still nodding.
“And the bird—,” Scott began.
“Yes, the bird—,” Johnny continued.
“What a bird!” Murdoch concluded. “A large bird.”
“Do you think it lays eggs?” Johnny whispered.
“Probably ostrich eggs.” Scott faced the fence in back of them and turned to Johnny. “We’ve got to burn that hat.”
“We can’t do that,” Johnny continued, talking out of the other side of his mouth. “Maybe Barranca could accidentally eat it.”
“No horse would touch that hat,” Scott muttered.
“The woman at the millinery store was worried that it might be a little big for me,” Teresa said.
Scott forced a smile. “But what does she know?”
“She only runs the place,” Johnny agreed.
“That’s what I thought! I just loved this hat when I saw it!”
“Why?” The question slipped out of Murdoch’s mouth before he knew it. Teresa swung around to face him, puzzled.
“Yes, why did you like it so much? What about it appealed to you?” Scott jumped in quickly. Johnny had to laugh. Fortunately for Murdoch, Ol’ Scott possessed a silver tongue and a Harvard brain to back it up.
“The veil?” Murdoch asked.
“Yes, see,” she proceeded to unhook a small orange veil from some place on top of the hat, and pulled it over her face.
“The veil.” Scott glanced over at his brother.
“Yep, that’s a veil alright.” He looked at Scott, eyebrows raised. “An orange veil.”
“Yes, it is…quite orange,” Scott pursed his lips. He turned to face Johnny. “The person who made that thing must have been drinking tequila,” he whispered.
“I was thinking of wearing it to church tomorrow,” she said happily.
“The church we go to?” Murdoch asked weakly.
“No, Murdoch, the church in the next town,” Johnny snickered.
“Oh, you’re all teasing me now. But I won’t be deterred!”
“You won’t, huh?” Murdoch sighed. “Well, good.” Murdoch picked up Teresa’s bag and followed her into the house. Before he went inside, he turned around and gave his sons the “Do something about this!” glare.
“I think Murdoch’s gonna pass out,” Johnny mumbled, still smiling.
“Well, don’t you get too cocky, little brother. She’ll be sitting next to us as well.” The smile vanished from Johnny’s face.
“We’ve got to burn that hat,” Johnny said with determination.
“You just said we couldn’t do that.”
“Then, you’ve got to tell her.”
“What? What am I going to tell her?”
“That thing on her head ain’t going to church with us!”
“I should tell her that?” Johnny put a firm hand on Scott’s shoulder and smiled.
“No, Boston, you’re gonna be charming and smooth and tell her to leave the hat at home.”
“But I thought ‘charming and smooth’ was your specialty.”
“Na, na, na,” Johnny said shaking his head.
“Oh, yes. That’s what you’re always telling me—.”
“—that you’re so charming with the women—.”
“—and you can get them to do anything—.”
“So, you talk to her! Just tell her the hat isn’t fashionable.”
“I don’t care which one of you tells her!” Johnny almost jumped into Scott’s arms as both of Murdoch’s sons glared at him.
“Are you trying to kill us?” Scott hissed.
“One of you—I don’t care which one—is going to convince her that the hat is offensive, gaudy, and cheap.”
“And you don’t care which one of us tells her that?” Johnny asked disgusted.
“Wait a minute,” Scott said, tilting his head. “Johnny and I like the hat.” Johnny’s eyes darted over to his brother. “We think she should wear it to church.”
“Yeaaaah. If you don’t like the hat, you should be the one to tell her,” Johnny smiled. “After all, you’re her guardian. She looks up to you.”
“Tell her you saw someone else with the same hat,” Scott chuckled.
“Drat you two! NOW you stick together!” With that Murdoch marched back to the house. The brothers turned somber again.
“You know he ain’t gonna tell her, don’t you?”
“Yes, Johnny, I know.”
The front door pulled open again and Murdoch stuck his head outside. “And none of the work is getting done with you two standing round yakking!” The hammer of Thor couldn’t have separated the brothers faster. They hurried off to their respective chores, looking over their shoulder at their angry father waving his arm at them.
Teresa was in the kitchen baking cookies with Maria. She had enjoyed her visit with the Millers, but was happy to be home. She was removing the second batch from the oven when she noticed Scott standing in the kitchen doorway. He was holding his hat by the brim, nervously rotating it in his hands. “Scott! Have you come for dessert? I can’t believe you beat Johnny.”
He smiled tightly. “Uh, no…yes…no.” He looked at Maria, who understood he wanted to talk to Teresa alone.
“What is it Scott? You look like you’ve been to a funeral.”
“Uh, Teresa, I have to talk to you about something.”
“Yes, Scott.” Her face was expectant. “Let’s have some cookies and milk—.”
“No, thank you. Well, afterwards—if you’re still speaking to me when I’m through talking.” Teresa frowned.
“You’re worrying me, Scott Lancer.”
“It’s nothing urgent. It’s…well… You’re not going to be happy with what I have to say. But I’m saying it to spare you.”
Scott was shuffling his feet and pulling at his hat brim. But he just couldn’t think of a way to tell her without hurting her feelings. “It’s the hat,” he finally said.
“The hat? You mean my new hat?”
“That’d be the one.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Uh, it’s….it’s…it’s…..JUST NOT RIGHT FOR YOU,” he finally blurted out.
“No.” He continued, trying to think quickly. “You see, you’re a petite young lady and that-that hat…ISN’T.”
“It’s too large?”
“Yes. It…detracts…from your face…and everything else. It belongs on a large woman.” One with no taste, Scott thought.
“I guess the woman at the millinery knew what she was talking about. I thank you for being so honest with me.” She smiled warmly. “That couldn’t have been easy. I know you would never want to hurt my feelings.”
“Thank you, Teresa.” Scott exhaled deeply and smiled. “I didn’t think you’d take it this well. A lot of women would be offended.”
“Now let’s have some fresh cookies.”
About thirty minutes after Scott left the kitchen, Teresa saw Johnny standing in the same spot by the doorway. His hat was off and he was smiling. “Johnny? I was expecting you a long time ago! Your nose must not be working very well,” she teased.
“Could I talk to you?”
Maria looked up suspiciously, made a face, and left the room.
“What is it, Johnny? Would you like some cake and milk? Sit down.”
“That would be nice. Thank you.”
Teresa cut the cake and put a big piece in front of him. He made a dent in the slice before Teresa had a chance to sit down next to him. “Look, Teresa, I want to talk to you about your new hat.” Teresa looked up surprised. “I know you’re fond of it and it does have its good points….”
“But? You don’t like it?”
“It isn’t fashionable.” Johnny smiled as he put his hand on her arm. “I know you and the other women in town like to be fashionable.”
“Yes, we do,” Teresa said softly. “So, you don’t think the girls in Boston are wearing hats like that?”
“No.” Johnny leaned closer to her and whispered. “Scott said so.”
“Oh-h-h-h! Well, thank you, Johnny. I didn’t realize.”
“I figured you didn’t.” With a smile and a wink, he finished his cake and went back to the chores.
No sooner had Johnny left the kitchen, and Maria returned to her baking, when Murdoch entered. Maria threw her hands up in the air and stomped out.
“What’s wrong with her?”
Teresa just smiled. “She’s been interrupted all morning.”
“Oh.” Murdoch sat at the table. “Sit, Teresa. I want to talk to you about something. I know you’ll be upset; but I can’t keep it from you. You’re bound to find out.”
“What is it?”
“It’s your new hat,” Murdoch said solemnly. “I saw one just like it on a woman in town the other day.”
“You mean someone has my hat?”
Murdoch hated to disappoint her, but it had to be done. “Yes, just like it,” he said firmly.
“Oh, dear. I was told it was an original.” An original what? Murdoch wondered. “This hat hasn’t at all been what I wanted. Scott told me it wasn’t flattering; Johnny said it wasn’t fashionable.”
Murdoch frowned. “Scott and Johnny were here?”
“Yes, and I’m touched. I don’t think any other girl has three more considerate and caring men looking after her.” For a second, Teresa’s eyes misted over. “Well, the only thing left to do is bring it back.”
Murdoch’s heart was elated, but he pretended to be disappointed. “I’m very sorry. I’ll bring you into town.”
“Thank you, Murdoch. I’ll get my hat.”
Teresa ran into the millinery while Murdoch waited in the buggy. Sally Blaine, the shop owner grinned when she saw Teresa.
“I told you I’d have the hat back before noon,” Teresa smiled. “Pay up!”
“Okay, you win the first part of the bet,” Sally conceded. “What about the rest of it?”
“Scott, Johnny, and Murdoch,” Teresa said triumphantly.
“Oh-h-h, I thought for sure, Johnny would have come to you first!” Sally laughed as she handed over two dollars to Teresa.
“Nobody knows those men like I do!” Teresa smiled sweetly.