This is the second in the series of character studies and features a letter from Guthrie Sinclair to his brother in Britain. When Guthrie refers to “White’s”, he is referring to an exclusive club in St James, London, of which his family were members. Magdalen College is one of the older colleges at the University of Oxford.
Many thanks for your letter. It was good to hear the latest news from the family and to know that you’re all in good health.
I was taken aback when you said your younger boy was now in his second year at Eton. I can scarce believe how time flies. Do you intend that he should attend Magdalen College later?
I was particularly pleased to learn that your boy, Conall, is going to follow in your footsteps and take a commission. He’s keeping up an old family tradition. Where would the Royal Scots Fusiliers be without a Sinclair!
You may recall that my elder boy, Guy, served as an officer in the cavalry during the civil war here. However, unlike Conall, he decided against pursuing a military career, and instead attended Harvard to complete his education. He’s turning into a fine rancher. He brings that experience of leadership gained in the war to bear in organizing the ranch hands. Despite having spent so many years out East, he’s earned the respect of the men and is well liked. You’d certainly see a great difference in him now from the quiet and bookish youth you met when he visited Europe all those years ago.
I only wish I could talk with such ease about my younger boy, Johnny. He’s still trying to settle here and the men are wary of him. I confess that I struggle to understand him. As a baby he was always laughing and smiling. But the young man who confronts me each day bears no resemblance to that endearing child. He rarely smiles, and I’m not sure that I have ever seen him laugh as if genuinely happy. To be honest, he comes across as being very cold and cynical. He hasn’t made any friends since coming home, although he and Guy are forging a good relationship. That, at least, enables me to retain some hope for his future. If only I could persuade him to tell me something of all those missing years, maybe then I would understand him better. But he is tight-lipped about the past and if I try to push him he becomes distant and withdrawn, or truculent.
I am particularly saddened by his apparent lack of any formal education. It grieved me greatly when he admitted that he had never read a book. Can you imagine the level of deprivation imposed on him to have never had that pleasure? Of course it is possible that Gabriela exercised no discipline over him whatsoever and never forced him to do anything that he didn’t want to do. She certainly never taught him any table manners. I imagine they would eject him from White’s if we ventured in there in the unlikely event of us ever visiting London! But at other times, when he hunches over his food, I sense something else. A type of hunger, as if he expects someone to snatch his food away at any minute. I cannot help but wonder if he was not half-starved at some point after she died, when he was left to fend for himself. Certainly he has been badly beaten at some stage – his body is covered in scars. But if I ask about those, his mouth is shut as tight as a clam.
I will admit that I have always been quick to temper. And yes, brother, I can almost hear your laughter at that admission! But it does mean that he and I argue a great deal. Oh Lord, that’s an understatement. We argue a lot. Sometimes it’s as if he’s deliberately trying to pick a fight, and believe me, he can be very intimidating. I swear that there are times that if I said something was white, he would insist it was black. Guy says that Johnny takes after me. I vehemently deny it of course, but maybe Johnny has inherited my temper. However, I am endeavoring to pick my battles more carefully now.
I will confess to you something that I wouldn’t admit to any other living soul. I am ashamed to admit it but there are occasions when I wish he would saddle his horse and ride away. At times he is very difficult to be around, yet alone to love as a father should love his son. Life would be far easier and much more peaceful without him. What on earth does that say about me? What sort of father does that make me? On the other hand, I do believe it would all but kill me if he did actually saddle that horse of his and ride away.
I have told you before how he used to earn a living. It must seem very bizarre to you that nearly all men here carry guns. But the West is a dangerous place and guns are a necessary part of life, although the rule of law is gradually establishing itself. Even so, it means that men like Johnny are paid for being fast on the draw. But those men don’t make old bones. They die bloody and before their time. I do not want that fate for my son. I want him to have another chance in life.
Reading back over what I have just written, I daresay you are wondering why I would ever worry about keeping him here. I can almost hear you asking why the blazes should I care if he walks out. The answer is, like Johnny himself, complex.
Despite being difficult, quick-tempered, and remote, he has many qualities to admire. Although he had no education he is remarkably astute. I would also go as far as to say that he is as fine a judge of another man’s character as anyone I’ve ever met. He has a sharp and incisive mind, always cutting away the extraneous material and getting straight to the heart of the matter. He examines every angle of a problem and is decisive in coming up with solutions. He picks up on every nuance in a conversation – nothing gets past him. On a more practical note, he is a phenomenally hard worker and he has a good eye for cattle and horseflesh. He is a very fine horseman and I daresay would cut quite a dash on the hunting field! And, surprisingly, he is an excellent chess player. I have yet to see Guy win a game against Johnny. He also has, although he likes to keep it well hidden, a generosity of spirit, a kindness within him which never fails to surprise me. Just when I think I have him figured out, he will do something to confound me.
Still, he can be aggravating beyond imagining. The other day, for example, he was supposed to be meeting a work crew to supervise the fencing of a holding pen some way off from the ranch. The job was urgent because we had cattle being brought in which we wanted to keep separate initially from the rest of the herd. Johnny failed to turn up and schedules had to be hastily reorganized to cover his absence. When he eventually turned up, much later that evening, he refused to explain his absence or apologize. We ended up arguing and he stalked off. Two days later, when I was in Cimarron fetching supplies, an elderly lady stopped me to compliment me on having such a “charming, generous, and kind son”. To be honest, I thought she was referring to Guy initially. Then she went on to explain how Johnny had apparently heard her telling a friend that her roof was leaking badly. She was buying an additional pail because the weather was on the turn for the worse. Johnny turned up at her house within the hour, having purchased all the materials necessary to repair the roof and undertook the work himself, working well into the evening in the worsening weather. Now why couldn’t the boy have told me that’s what he’d been doing when he failed to turn up at the ranch?
Unfortunately he makes a habit of taking off without any explanation to anyone. I thought at first that it was a deliberate act on his part designed to annoy or inconvenience us, but now I feel that is not the case. It seems more that he has no comprehension of the need to inform us of his plans.
So, he is a complete mystery to me. I should like very much for you to meet him, and for you to be reacquainted with Guy. I know it is a considerable distance, but please think of visiting us. You would be amazed by the spectacular scenery and the sheer vastness of America. It is a beautiful and wild land. Something here gets into a man’s soul and keeps a hold of him. I know it has a grip of me, and I can imagine no other home than this.
Give my fondest love to Rose and the children. You may send my regards to our elder brother.