Jim Talbot smiled to himself as he paid for his purchase. His 35th wedding anniversary was in a couple of days and he had just received delivery of a jade necklace and earrings for his wife Maura. They’d been through a lot. Married young. Moved west to settle a ranch in California. Three sons born. All three dead before they were twenty-five. The war had taken them. But they’d survived. Yes, indeed. By leaning on each other and with the help of good friends like Murdoch Lancer and Sam Jenkins they’d survived.
I can’t remember when you weren’t there
When I didn’t care
For anyone but you
The church was packed. Maura Catherine Fitzgerald stood in the back of the century old Methodist church with her father Sean waiting for the wedding march to begin. At the front of the church, by the altar, waited the love of her life – handsome, blond James Alexander Talbot. His best man, her brother James, who was better known as Jamie, stood next to him sharing some private joke no doubt by the look on his face. Maura loved her brothers dearly but she did wish they’d stop filling Alex’s head with wild stories.
The petite, eighteen-year-old Irish girl had fallen head over heels for the young man who was about to become her husband. They’d met at a church social. They’d shared a few words and then she’d completely put him out of her mind. He was just one of several young men who had spoken with her in hopes of monopolizing her time. Her brother Sean had introduced him. Jim Talbot was planning to move to California just as soon as he could raise the money to make the trip and have a small stake to live on while he looked for a place to buy. He’d heard there was money to be made in ranching and he wanted to try his hand.
Two days later young Talbot wandered into the dry goods store that Maura’s father, Michael, owned. He was one of a very few Irish immigrants to the states that had managed to make a fairly decent living. Many of them were being hired only as domestics in the homes of the very wealthy and those of them that had Irish blood in them tried to hide it as if it were something to be ashamed of. Maura was working in a dressmaker’s shop a few doors away and had been sent to help a customer choose some material for several new dresses. That customer was Jim’s mother and his sisters were with her as they also were having new dresses made. The sun streaming through the front window had seemingly set her red hair afire when Jim first walked in the door. He was completely captivated by the vision. His first impression, much as Johnny Lancer’s would be, was of warmth. Fiery hair, a warm smile and a pleasant laugh completed the package and he was determined that he would win her heart.
Alex, as Maura called him to distinguish between him and her brother, was not one to look down on a person because of the color of their skin or their national origin. The more Maura talked to him over the ensuing weeks and months the more she found herself attracted to him. He was as quiet as she was talkative. He had a marvelous sense of humor. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. Children and animals were attracted to him. He’d taken her on a picnic a month later and had all the children gathered around him while he made whistles for the boys and protected the little girls that were being chased by boys with frogs and snakes in their hands. Maura knew then that he would be a good father as well as a good provider and she was soon in love with him.
September 5, 1838 found him proposing and she accepting. Her parents were happy for her for they had grown to know and love Jim Talbot as one of their own. He was obviously a hard working and thrifty man but not stingy and they knew how hard he worked on the docks and at odd jobs around the city of Boston to earn a living for himself. There was nothing lazy about James Alexander Talbot – no siree! He took any and all jobs that were honest labor and took no more than the job offered for wages lest it be said he was “on the take” or something.
Jim’s parents owned a small farm in Sturbridge - a couple of days travel from Boston. Being one of six children – and the youngest at that – he knew there was nothing for him. His oldest brother would inherit the farm when their father passed on. And Jim had plans. The more he had heard about the land that was available in California the more he set his eyes on leaving home and settling a place of his own.
And so it was that a year later they found themselves standing before the Reverend John Snook in the First United Methodist Church in the small town of Sturbridge, surrounded by family and friends saying their vows.
When it was all over the wedding party and their guests went to the reception. It was a beautiful fall day with temperatures in the seventies and a light breeze blowing. This was fortunate, the reception had to be held outdoors as none of the homes of the guests or family were large enough to accommodate everyone in attendance. The reception lasted until late and in the morning the newlyweds were sent on their way. After a brief honeymoon in the Green Mountains of Vermont the happy couple boarded a ship in Boston headed for California.
Maura had proved to be an excellent sailor, which was just as well as Jim, along with many of their fellow passengers, suffered terribly from the age-old malady known as seasickness. With a grin Jim remembered that that was when she had embarked upon her secondary “career” – that of nurse. She spent practically the whole first week or more of their trip tending to him and half a dozen other passengers. The ship’s doctor tended to others and was very glad to have her help.
“Jim? Jim?” A man’s deep voice broke into his reverie.
“Oh, Murdoch. I’m sorry,” Jim said with a sheepish grin. “I didn’t hear you.”
“I’m not surprised,” Murdoch Lancer said with a smile. “I imagine you were a long way away. Like a few thousand miles?”
Murdoch was in town to attend to some banking business while his ward, Teresa O’Brien, and his two sons with whom he’d recently been reunited, were doing some shopping and picking up supplies.
“More like thirty-five years away,” his friend admitted with a grin. “Maura’s and my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary is coming up.”
“I know,” Murdoch laughed at his friend. “I’m hosting a dinner party in your honor remember?”
“Now Murdoch you know that’s not necessary. Why, Maura would have a fit if she thought you were going to too much trouble.”
“It’s not trouble at all to celebrate the anniversary of the wedding of two of my best friends.” The six-foot-five inch rancher continued with a mock shudder, “Besides Teresa would have my head if I spoiled her plans now. She’s been working on who to invite and the menu and decorations for three months now. You don’t want her to get upset do you?”
“No,” Jim laughed. “I wouldn’t want to hurt Teresa’s feelings.”
The subject of their conversation approached them just then with her older “brothers” close behind.
“Hello Teresa, boys,” Jim greeted his friend’s family.
“Mr. Talbot,” Scott greeted the man with a handshake.
“Hello Mr. Talbot,” Teresa said. “Is Mrs. Talbot with you?”
“Not this trip Teresa,” Jim said. “She’s at the orphanage distributing clothes and looking over their needs. She’s sure we’re going to have a hard winter and the children don’t have enough warm clothing. Plus she’s heard that quite a few of them are outgrowing the things they’re wearing. She’s organizing a sewing bee, which I’m sure she’ll want you to be part of, to make some new shirts and dresses.”
“I’ll bet she’s havin’ herself a grand old time,” dark haired Johnny drawled. “Mrs. Talbot with all them kids – it’s a match made in heaven.”
Scott couldn’t resist teasing his brother. “Now where did you learn that old expression brother? It’s not something I would have expected you to know.”
“I get around brother,” Johnny retorted. “And, unlike some people I could name, I keep my mouth shut and my ears open.”
Scott took a mock swing at his younger brother which Johnny easily evaded throwing his older brother somewhat off balance. It was Murdoch who saved Scott from falling on his backside in the dust of the street. Worse still, if he’d fallen off the boardwalk the wrong way he would have landed in a watering trough and gotten soaked.
“That’s enough of that you too,” their father said sternly but with a twinkle in his eye as Teresa giggled and Jim chuckled at their antics. The two youngest men settled down quickly.
“Teresa, would you do me a favor?” Jim asked.
“Of course. What is it?” the perky little brunette asked.
“I just picked up this necklace and earring set for Maura but I haven’t got anything to wrap it in. Besides which I’m afraid her curiosity might get the better of her. If I take this home she might find it and open it before our anniversary on Friday. Would you take it home with you and wrap it up for me?”
“May I see it?” the girl asked.
“Of course you may,” the rancher said and opened the box to show the Lancers what he had gotten his wife for an anniversary gift.
“Oooh! It’s beautiful!” Teresa exclaimed.
Nestled in a box lined with black velvet was some simple jewelry. A piece of green jade about the size of a quarter was strung on a simple silver chain. A pair of teardrop shaped jade earrings, the same shade as the pendant, was displayed on either side of the necklace.
“Woowee!” Johnny whistled. “That sure is pretty! Almost as pretty as the necklace we gave her back in May,” he joked.
Jim just laughed at him. “She loves that necklace and the three ‘children’ who gave it to her. Jade is the traditional gift for a thirty-fifth anniversary. I like to be traditional as much as possible. When it’s within my means.”
“Thirty-five years is along time,” Scott observed. “And your wife is a very special woman. She deserves all this and more.”
“That she does, son, that she does,” Jim agreed as he became lost in his thoughts again.
I swear we’ve been through everything there is
Can’t imagine anything we’ve missed
Can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do
Through the years, you’ve never let me down
You’ve turned my life around, the sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you…through the years
I’ve never been afraid, I’ve loved the life we’ve made
And I’m so glad I’ve stayed, right here with you
Through the years
There was a decided nip in the air as Jim and Maura Talbot stepped off the boat in San Francisco. An early morning fog had just lifted and they both shivered just a bit as a cool breeze blew in off of the bay.
After seeing to their luggage they set out in search of a hotel or boarding house they could afford. They had agreed on the voyage that they would keep expenses to a bare minimum in order to keep their nest egg as large as possible for a down payment on a ranch when they found the right one. For this reason, though Maura had wept some over it, they had left their wedding presents behind. All of them, including the silver tea service that friends had given them, and the dishes the two sets of parents had bought them, were in storage back in Sturbridge until such time as they were settled in their own home.
Once settled at their temporary lodgings Jim went in search of the land office. He had talked it over with friends and all had the same idea that a land office in a city the size of San Francisco would know about land and homes for sale over a good part of the territory. If not there was always Sacramento further inland. They’d heard it said that it was good cattle country. And some of the Mexican inhabitants were very good with cattle and horses. He might want to consider hiring some of them once he found a place. But he might also need to take Spanish lessons, as many of them didn’t speak much English. Thanking them for their help Jim acknowledged that it might be necessary and would look into it once they found a place.
“There are several likely looking places down around Morro Coyo, Mr. Talbot,” the land agent, a tall man with thinning brown hair, told him.
“Yes. It’s little more than a village right now but there is a general store and a cantina – saloon that is. And maybe one or two other small businesses. The owners of the ranches either didn’t want to put the work into building them up or the government took the land away from them by declaring that the Spanish land grants were fraudulent. If not fraudulent then not applicable in U.S. territory.” The man drew a map for Jim indicating the location of the ranches and safe places to stop along the way. “This will help you find them. By the way, I wouldn’t take your wife with you right now. These places I’ve indicated for you to stay aren’t very comfortable and they do have their problems with thieves on occasion. The Mexicans are very treacherous in that area.”
Jim took the proffered map and the names of the places that were for sale. “I’ll let you know when I get back what I decide.”
Shaking hands with the man he departed the land office and went to the boarding house that he and Maura had found. They would lodge there, due to the cheaper rent and meals included, until he found a place he wanted to buy and they moved onto it.
“Alex? What did you find out at the land office?” Maura wanted to know.
“I’ve got a line on several places south of here. They’re near a little village called Morro Coyo. I’ll leave tomorrow to check them out. I’ve made arrangements for a saddle horse at the livery stable.”
“Don’t you mean we’ll leave tomorrow to check them out?”
“No. I’m going alone.”
“I’m sorry sweetheart but it’s going to be a long hard trip. The man at the land office said that the route I’m going to take is plagued by bandits on occasion and that the Mexicans can be dangerous. I’m not saying I believe all that,” Alex held his hand up against his wife’s protest, “but I’m not going to take a chance on you getting hurt. I’m going alone and that’s all there is to it.”
“How far did the man say it was Alex dear?” Maura asked as they rode along.
“About three days ride,” her husband answered. He still couldn’t believe she’d talked him into taking her along with him. It was the first argument he’d lost with her and it wouldn’t be the last. Not that Maura screamed and yelled – oh no. She just put her foot down quietly and determinedly and the next thing he knew she was riding side by side with him toward the little village where he was to look at a couple of ranches that were up for sale.
At noon they stopped by a small brook and ate the sandwiches that the hotel kitchen had provided them. They were washed down by clear, cool water from the brook. When they had eaten their fill and refilled their canteens Jim took the horses to drink. Then they continued on their way. Not once did Maura complain though she wasn’t used to riding a horse. In Sturbridge they’d walked or driven in a carriage or wagon. Jim had to hand it to her – she was a real trouper that girl!
Several days of hard riding brought them to the village of Morro Coyo. Mexican in influence and architecture it was small, windy and dusty. A Señor Juan Baldomero introduced himself and his wife when Jim and Maura entered the store he ran to ask directions to the first of the three ranches he was to take a look at. The Mexican man spoke pretty good English, Jim recalled, for one to whom it was a secondary language. Maura and Señora Baldomero got on very well. Maura just knew that they were going to be good friends and regular customers of the Baldomeros if they settled in the area, which she sincerely hoped they would. She liked what she had seen so far. Green rolling hills, sparkling clear lakes and just enough trees to provide the occasional shady spot in which to rest.
Following Baldmero’s directions Jim and Maura found their way to the first of the three sites. It seemed pretty enough now but a closer inspection revealed that the water supply tended to virtually disappear every summer. Water would have to be hauled from the nearest lake and that lake was several hours ride or drive away. The two of them quickly agreed that that would be an expense, in time and money spent to haul it, that they could do without. Perhaps if nobody else showed an interest they could add that land to whatever holdings they eventually did purchase - at a later date when they had a chance to put some money aside.
The second place they looked at had a decent enough house – at least that was how it looked on the outside. It required a lot of work on the inside though and it would be months before it was close to being ready to move into. They found a lot of stains from damage to the roof which, allowed rain to get in during a storm. The other buildings on the place were in better condition but Jim’s nest egg was limited enough that he didn’t want to risk it. A few years later a Scottish immigrant, now one of his best friends, would buy it and fix it up. But it wasn’t for the Talbots.
The third and final place they looked at was perfect. The house was small but in good condition. They could add onto it if necessary. Or they could live in it until they built a house that would accommodate the family they hoped to have. The smaller house would do for a workshop or storage space or even a place to houseguests that would allow hosts and guests to have some privacy even though they were in close proximity to each other.
“Oh, Alex!” Maura exclaimed as they rode around the land to see what it was like. “I love it! It’s perfect!”
“Love the land or the house?” Jim asked in a teasing tone.
“Both you goose,” she said with her brogue becoming more pronounced. “There’s room to expand for a family to grow and run and play.”
Jim smiled fondly at his bride. They both had a desire for a large family. And this place was definitely big enough for that. He checked the soil to see if it was rich enough for growing feed for cattle and a plot for vegetables and flowers for Maura. Growing their own vegetables would be a big relief to their budget concerns. Feed for the cattle he intended to raise was important as well. And those fields would have to be big enough to raise enough hay, probably timothy, to feed their horses as well. Oats would be necessary and if they could grow them as well they’d have the straw to use as bedding. He checked the drainage and the water sources all the while planning where different feed lots and gardens would be in relation to the house and the barn.
“So we’re in agreement? This is the place we want?”
“Oh, yes,” Maura said breathlessly.
“Then we head back to San Francisco tomorrow and when we arrive I’ll go to the land office and make an offer.”
That being settled they headed back toward Morro Coyo to see if they could find a place to have a meal and spend the night without camping out again. There was nothing more than a cantina in town and Jim didn’t want his lovely bride to have to dine among a bunch of drunken drifters and cowhands. The Baldomeros saved them the trouble and invited them to spend the night in their small house on the edge of the village. Loath to put them out the Talbots had tried to decline but the Mexican couple insisted. They fed them, gave them a place to bed themselves and their animals down for the night and saw them safely on their way the next day.
The trip back to San Francisco was long and tedious. They camped by the same stream they had the last night out and in virtually the same place. A few days later they arrived and Jim went straight to the land office to make a bid on the land they were interested in. Within a day it was accepted. The owner had changed his mind about settling there when he found out that the area was “overrun” with Mexicans. This didn’t bother Jim and Maura in the least. She, herself, was a recent immigrant and still had many relatives in Ireland. The Mexican people, as far as they were concerned, were the true natives of the area other than a few stray Modocs or other natives that wandered through.
They took a week to settle their affairs in San Francisco and write letters to the family. At night they would sit together at the table in their boarding house and work on plans for their house. It was decided that, due to homesickness, they would build a house much like the homes in New England. A blueprint was drawn up for a three-story clapboard house with a wide, wrap around porch. It would be painted white but have emerald green trim and shutters. Maura was full of plans for flowerbeds around the house and a good sized vegetable garden in the spring. Her mother had been taught how to can by a friendly neighbor and she, in turn, had taught Maura. Furthermore it seemed that Maura had a green thumb and their garden in Sturbridge had flourished under her care.
Jim spoke to some of the cattle buyers at the stockyards that were being built down by the waterfront – this so that they were in close proximity to the only method of shipping livestock or goods other than overland. Either way it would take months for supplies and such to arrive at their destinations in the Midwest or on the east coast. Nobody was raising any specific cattle in California. They just rounded up stray longhorns, shorthorns or whatever and drove them to market. The price per head varied with the law of supply and demand. If they were in short supply they would pay more. If they had more than they could get rid of in a short amount of time the price dropped.
The Monday following their return to San Francisco Jim and Maura were driving the lead wagon of three that were loaded down with the building supplies they would not be able to get in Morro Coyo. Tools, cooking utensils and sundry other articles such as cleaning supplies and food for the horses comprised the rest of the loads.
It took a couple of months and a lot of hard work but by early January their house was finished. Though they’d been married four months now Jim carried his wife across the threshold. He just couldn’t resist. The next few months would be spent furnishing the house, little by little, with dining room furniture, lamps and the like. A wall of the living room was completely covered with bookshelves that would soon be filled. Jim and Maura, both, had amassed quite a collection from childhood on. Volumes of Shakespeare and the Greek classics such as Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey. In later years it would be Twain, Hawthorne and others such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
When the house had been furnished, and the barn, corrals and other outbuildings built or repaired, Jim set about hiring some men to work for him. His foreman would be Francisco Ramirez. Ramirez came highly recommended by Señor Baldomero who knew him as a hard worker and as honest as the day was long as Jim would put it. Ramirez would work for Jim for only a few years – until hostilities between the United States and Mexico forced him to make a decision that would ultimately cost him his life when he was killed in battle during the war between the two countries in 1846.
Two months later Maura was feeling not herself. Concerned, Jim scouted around for a doctor. There was none to be found in Morro Coyo or Green River or Spanish Wells, which were the other two towns in close proximity to the newly christened Bar T ranch. Señora Baldomero sometimes served as midwife to the residents of the area. She could do a pretty fair job of setting broken limbs (if not too serious), knew just the right herbs to help someone over a cold or fever and that a person that was suffering from hypothermia, or close to it, needed to be warmed up from the inside out. Because she was the only one with any kind of medical knowledge Jim brought her out to the ranch to see Maura.
Fifteen minutes after being admitted to their bedroom Señora Baldomero came out but Maura was still in bed. Jim looked anxiously at the Mexican woman afraid to ask what was wrong with his wife. He was afraid it was something serious since Maura never stayed in bed for long when there was work to be done.
“You may go in and see her now,” the older woman told him.
Hastily Jim went in and gingerly seated himself on the bed next to a now smiling Maura. He searched her face for a clue as to what could possibly have her smiling when she had seemed to be so ill.
“What did the señora have to say darling,” he asked her.
“Brace yourself, love,” Maura said. “She says there’s nothing wrong with me that seven months won’t cure.”
“What?” Jim was puzzled.
“We’re going to have a baby, Alex, dear,” Maura smiled.
“A baby,” Maura repeated.
Jim stood up and whooped so loud the men in the bunkhouse a quarter mile away would tease him that they could hear him clearly.
“A baby? Boy or a girl? Does she know? When? What will we name it?”
“Yes, a baby,” Maura laughed. “We won’t know if it’s a boy or a girl until it’s born and that won’t be until late August or early September. Señora Baldomero isn’t quite sure exactly when I’m due. She can only guess but I don’t think a doctor could guess any better.”
“Doctor. I’ve got to find a doctor to take care of you,” Jim said in a panic. “You’re going to need one when the baby comes!”
“Now, Alex, settle down,” his wife said barely suppressing a laugh at his excitement. “We have plenty of time and if we don’t have a doctor by the time this baby is due then Señora Baldomero will act as my midwife. Just as my mama did back in the old country before coming here to the United States. She assures me, and I believe her, that she’s done this many times before.”
“I’m still going to look for a doctor,” Jim declared. “No offense Señora,” he said to the other woman. “I’ll just feel better having a doctor nearby when her time comes.”
And so he set about his self appointed task. He rode far and wide and read every newspaper he could find and sent letters to medical schools such as the one at Harvard and King’s College in New York City trying to find one. His prayers were answered but not as soon as he liked.
As Maura’s time drew near Jim fretted over his inability to find a doctor. Then, in June, he got a letter from King’s College saying that they were sending one of their recent graduates – one Samuel W. Jenkins to start a practice out there. He was due to arrive by the last week of August. He would be a welcome addition to the community but the first child he helped deliver in the area would not be Maura and Jim’s. On September 5, 1840, one year to the day from his parent’s wedding, their first son was born. The new doctor had been delayed and did not arrive until a couple of weeks after the baby’s birth.
“He’s beautiful – just like his mother,” the proud father said when he was permitted into the room again. “What are we going to name him?”
Maura thought for a moment. She had a couple of names in mind and finally decided. “Kendall James Talbot. Kendall for your father and James for you and my brother Jamie,” she said. “I don’t want the lad going through life being called ‘Junior’ because that’s what will happen if we name him James Alexander, Junior.”
“Kendall James it is,” Jim said as he recorded their son’s birth in their newly acquired family Bible. It had been a wedding gift from his sister Ann and her husband. It occupied a place of honor on a wooden stand placed in the center of a round table that sat in the middle of their living room.
Kendall paid no mind to what his proud father did. He was too busy sleeping in his mother’s arms. When Jim had finished making his entry in the Bible he came and took the newborn and placed him in the cradle he’d fashioned for him a few months ago and tenderly covered him with a light blanket.
Going back over to the bed where Maura lay resting after the hard work of delivering their firstborn son Jim leaned over to give her a gentle kiss.
“How are you feeling my love?” he asked her before sitting in a chair next to the bed.
“I’m fine, Alex,” she assured him. “Just tired. The señora says I can start getting up in a day or so. I need to regain my strength is all. It won’t take me long.”
“You’ll do as Señora Baldomero says,” her husband told her. “Don’t get up too soon. I’ll gladly pay her to look after things for a few days.”
“Now Alex,” Maura protested. “There’s no need for that. I’ll be up and around in no time at all.”
“Not until I’m convinced it’s ok,” Jim said. “Besides I want to spend a lot of time with that boy of ours.”
“Now how are you going to do that and take care of the place?” Maura wanted to know.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” was the answer she got.
And so it went. Jim would do what he could to take care of the baby’s needs. He burped him, rocked him, and played with him. He would get up to get him if he cried in the middle of the night. It was exhausting but he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Kendall grew into a fine healthy specimen with blond hair that had coppery highlights in it and blue eyes like his father’s. He was just a little more than a year old when the family was increased by one as his brother Rory Thomas joined them on December 10, 1841.
“Alex, be sure that Sam gets some of that stew before he goes back out in that storm,” Maura called to her husband from their bed where she lay nursing their new son that night.
Rory had decided to make his entrance into the world during one of the worst cold winter rainstorms their part of California had seen in years. The new doctor, Sam Jenkins, had been summoned by a soaking wet Jim Talbot and arrived just fifteen minutes before Rory did. Maura had a big kettle of stew simmering over the fire in the kitchen and fresh bread and butter as well waiting for him. She’d refused to go to bed until she was sure she was truly in labor and by then her contractions were coming very close.
Fortunately for all concerned Jim ran into Sam as he was preparing to travel to the Bar T to check up on his pregnant patient. The doctor calmed the expectant father and bade his mare to pick up her pace in order to expedite his arrival. However, the roads were so muddy and the visibility was so bad due to the rain that it took him three times longer to get there than it should have. And they had to stop and get the buggy freed from the miry mud puddle it got stuck in several times. Both men were a mess by the time they arrived at the house. Sam Jenkins barely had time to hastily clean up before attending to the impending birth.
For the second time in two years Jim entered the name and birth date of a son into the family Bible. Rory Thomas was named in honor of his Great-Grandfather Fitzgerald and his Grandfather Talbot. The proud father laid his new son in the cradle that had been occupied by his older brother until about six months previous.
As the days went by the boys grew into healthy, rambunctious toddlers who got into anything and everything they could reach. Many was the time that Jim or Maura turned their back for two seconds to find them getting too close to the fire, playing in the ashes, tumbling into a watering trough or trying to eat something that would be make them very sick.
The men that Jim had hired to work on the ranch were mostly very good about trying to keep the boys safe. A few of them were married with families of their own and their wives and older daughters would do what they could to help keep the toddlers out of trouble while their mother baked or did laundry or ironing.
For their fifth anniversary, when the boys were three and four years old, Jim had planned to buy his wife a piano. She dearly loved music and was often heard singing anything from songs of old Ireland to hymns to the popular music that she learned from the young people passing through on their way to find their fortunes. But a severe drought wreaked havoc on their herd of longhorns and he had to cancel the order.
“Never mind, Alex, dear,” Maura said with a sad smile. “We’ll get through this and you can order another one when our herds have recovered.”
“But I wanted you to have it now,” Jim sighed. “I’ve had my eye on a piano for you since we built the house before Kenny was born.”
“Building the herd up again is more important,” his wife told him. “And besides, when would I have time to play with those two harum-scarum sons of ours underfoot all the time?”
A year later Maura became ill with pneumonia and was six months recovering.
Then the boys both came down with the measles followed closely by the mumps and then the chicken pox. Their parents were run off their feet trying to keep them in bed and quiet as directed by Dr. Jenkins. It was a struggle for Jim to manage the ranch and the family. There were no close neighbors and Señora Baldemoro was run off her feet trying to tend to all of the neighbors who called on her.
Once again Jim promised to buy his wife a piano the next year. But he wouldn’t have the money then either and he was sorely disappointed for Maura asked for so little and endured so much. A fire destroyed the bunkhouse and a storage shed next to it along with the timber that they had planned on using to build an addition onto the house as well as a nice wide porch across the front and back. The fire forced Jim to take a crew out to the patch of oak and pine trees that bordered a neighboring ranch. Little did he know at the time that he was about to encounter the man that would become his best friend since moving to California.
The dining room at Lancer rang with the laughter of all present. The Lancers, Teresa, the Talbots, Jelly and Val Crawford were all enjoying their dinner and the conversation.
The meal finished, they retired to comfortable seats in the Great Room to have coffee and dessert. Maura insisted on helping Teresa and Maria clean up after the meal. Then they served coffee and large wedges of blackberry pie before seating themselves again.
“So, Mr. Talbot, Mr. Lancer,” Val said. “Tell me how you two met. Bet you were best friends from the beginning right?”
Jim and Murdoch looked at each other and burst out laughing - as did Maura. The boys, Teresa and Jelly just looked confused - as did Val.
“Not hardly Val,” Jim said when he could stop laughing. “I think he was ready to kill me.”
“You would be too if you were the one that was practically lynched!” Murdoch retorted.
“The weather was as miserable that winter as the year that Rory was born….” Jim started.
I can’t remember what I used to do
Who I trusted whom, I listened to before
I swear, you’ve taught me everything I know
Can’t imagine needing someone so
But through the years it seems to me
I need you more and more
Judd Haney had long since ceased to be a very good lawman – in the eyes of the residents of the San Joaquin Valley anyway. There were frequent raids happening on the different ranches in the vicinity of Morro Coyo. Men had been badly injured in firefights. Buildings had been burned. Herds had been destroyed or stampeded. Still Haney sat in his office doing nothing. The ranchers, Jim Talbot among them, were beginning to think he was in league with the raiders. Jim was worried for Maura was pregnant with their third child and he didn’t want her worrying over what was happening.
“Haney if you don’t do something soon I’ll have your badge!” Jim declared heatedly in one meeting with the sheriff. “Those raiders are getting away with murder – literally – and you haven’t lifted a hand to stop them!”
“Now, Mr. Talbot, it’s hard to stop someone when you don’t know where they are,” was the answer he got.
“We told you where they’ve been! We’ve shown you where their tracks lead to. But you still don’t show any signs of even coming close to stopping these raids,” another rancher said.
“How many men are going to be killed before you put a stop to this?” Jim asked.
The meeting went on for an hour and still they got nothing more out of Haney than they had before. He was “working on it”. Frustrated, the men went home and tried to repair any damage that had been done around their place. They doubled the guards on their herds but many of the men had been driven off by the raiders. Fear for their lives or the safety of their families had been the main reasons.
“How did the meeting go Alex?” Maura asked her husband when he returned home.
“The same as it always goes with that blasted Judd Haney!” was the answer she got. “He says he’s ‘working on it’ but doesn’t really seem to be doing anything!” Hesitating he said, “Maura I want you to take the boys….”
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m not leaving you here to face this alone. Besides what would the men think if you gave in now and sent us away?” Leaning down to wrap her arms around her seated husband she added, “We’ve faced, fire, drought and sickness together. We’ve dealt with the loss of our herds three times now counting the ones we’re losing to these raiders. We’ll get through this together.”
“Papa?” Four-year-old Kendall wandered into the room followed closely by his three year old brother Rory. “Can I go for a ride on my pony? Please papa?”
“Not today son,” Jim said to his older son. “Papa’s got to go chop some trees down so we can rebuild the fences and build Mama’s porch.”
“You can do that later Alex,” Maura said. “Kenny has been waiting patiently for you all week. You take him for a ride – even if it’s only around the paddocks for a while. I’ve got to take our other son here and give him another bath.” She giggled as she looked at Rory. “He can’t even eat a snack without getting jam in his hair and all over his clothes. He’s sweet enough as it is without all that sweet stuff all over him. And besides that it looks like he’s been at the ashes in the fireplace again. I just can’t keep up with that boy,” she said as she scooped her younger son up. “I hope that this new child is a bit less active. I could do with a rest from chasing little boys and keeping them out of harm’s way.”
“Come here you little terror,” Jim said to his younger son who was squirming in his mother’s arms. “You’ve got to stop giving your mama such a hard time and stay out of the fireplace. Some day, little boy, you’re going to get burned because of a hot coal.” Giving the boy a big hug and a kiss he set him on the floor and started to muss his hair but pulled back when he saw how much jam the child had in it. “You go with your mama and get a nice bath. When I come back with Kenny I’ll read you a story if you’re good.”
“Stowy? Now papa! Stowy now!” Rory had the temperament of a lot of redheads. He had no patience and a temper besides.
“No, son,” Jim said firmly. “I’m taking Kenny for a ride. You’re going to have a bath and then I’ll read to you before supper and before you go to bed.”
Maura took a protesting Rory to his bedroom to get some clean clothes for him. He could be heard kicking and screaming all the way and once or twice Maura administered a swat to his backside when he got out of hand. Jim took his other son and together they went to the little paddock by the barn and got the little black Shetland pony that Kendall had named “Prince” and saddled him up. For himself Jim took the buckskin gelding he’d named “Buck” and together father and son had a nice long ride from the barn to the tree line and back again. An hour later they were grooming their equine companions and turning them loose in the paddock again.
Returning to the house it was Kendall’s turn for a bath. It was late afternoon and Maura had a kettle of beef stew simmering over the fire. Fresh bread was on the worktable in the kitchen. It wouldn’t take her long to set the table while Jim kept the two boys occupied with stories for a little while. He’d dump the bath water later. He wasn’t letting her do any heavy work while she was carrying their child. He’d scolded her more than once about it. She smiled to see her husband, with the two boys cuddled up next to him sitting in the rocking chair, with a storybook in his hands. This time it was Tales of Arabian Nights and the boys were completely enraptured by the tale he was reading.
“Now you see Alex?” Maura said to her husband after the boys were in bed. “It did you a lot of good to spend time with Kenny and Rory. Tomorrow’s time enough to take a crew out and chop wood. I hear we have new neighbors on the old Garcia place. Maybe we’ll meet them soon.”
Soon came sooner than Maura expected. And in a way she would never have anticipated.
“I’ll see you this afternoon, my love,” Jim said as he and Tom Billington, his new foreman, headed out with a crew to cut some trees for firewood and to furnish the timber they would need to replace some fencing and rebuild the sheds that had been destroyed. And this time he was determined to get the porch built on the front of the house. So saying he bent over to give her and the boys a kiss and headed out.
Upon arriving at the likeliest stand of timber to suit their purposes Jim and the other men with him spread out about a quarter of a mile from each other and started chopping. The exercise warmed him up so that he took his jacket off and laid it on a nearby log where he would be able to get it when he was ready to return to the house.
For the next three hours he chopped wood with his crew. Every tree that was felled had to be trimmed of all its branches. They would do the hard work of hewing the logs into the right size for the bunkhouse, sheds and porch when they got it back to the house. For the bunkhouse and sheds the logs would be left with the bark on them. But they would need to be trimmed and the bark stripped from them before they could use it to build the porch Jim had promised Maura.
At noon they stopped for lunch. When they were through, and had gathered up their trash and crumbs – for Jim was not going to allow his land to be turned into a dump – they headed over toward the boundary of the old Garcia ranch. Little did Jim know that he was about to meet the man that would ultimately become his best friend.
Late that afternoon, as Jim was making the rounds of his timber crews and other work details he came upon a scene that horrified him. A group of about six of his men had two strangers on horses, their hands tied behind their backs and ropes around their necks. The usually easygoing young man blew his top!
“What in the world is going on here? Who are these men and just what do you think you’re doing!” he exploded at his foreman.
Tom Billington looked over at his employer who was still a good ten yards away and said, “We’re fixing to hang us a couple of cattle thieves. We found these fellas with a bunch of your steers. We figure they were planning to steal them and get what they could for them. See there?” Billington pointed toward a small, nearby campfire. “They’ve got themselves a fire to heat a running iron in and mark these cattle as if they were their own.”
“What gives you the right to do this?” Jim asked angrily. “I never told you to treat anyone this way. Maybe the stock ran away and they were bringing them back. Did you bother to ask any questions?”
“Sure we did,” Billington said indignantly. “They said they ‘found’ this bunch on their range and were just returning them.”
“Maybe they did find them. We’ve had cattle straying over to the old Garcia place and into the San Benitas since I bought this place five years ago! Get them down! Now!”
The men with Billington scrambled to do so while their ringleader tried to explain to the “greenhorn” boss that the only way to deal with rustlers was to hang them.
Jim, however, ignored him and walked over to the two men who were now standing on the ground and rubbing their sore wrists. “Are you two all right? I apologize for my men. I never told them to treat strangers this way.”
“Boss! They’re on your land! They had your cattle in their possession!” Billington protested.
“Shut your mouth before I shut it for you!” Jim exclaimed angrily. Turning back to the strangers he said, “I don’t know what to say or how to make it up to you. I’m sure you weren’t planning on stealing the cattle.”
“What makes you so sure mannie?” the taller one asked with a heavy Scots burr. “Your employees think we’re cattle thieves. They hang cattle thieves back in Scotland too.”
“I thought I recognized the accent,” Jim said with a smile. “Whereabouts in Scotland are you from stranger?”
“I took the ship from Inverness two years ago. I’ve been working my way from Boston with my wife since then.” The big Scot looked at his rescuer. “Ye dinna answer my question.”
“So I didn’t,” Jim replied. “It’s quite simple really. Number one there’s no branding iron of any kind in or near that campfire so you weren’t branding them and there’s no sign that you were butchering them to sell the hides and tallow. Therefore I can only conclude that, this close to the boundary between the old Garcia place and mine, you must have found those knot heads and were returning them to me when my men stopped you.”
“You’re sure right about that!” the Scotsman’s companion said. “I’m Paul O’Brien and this is Murdoch Lancer. He’s just bought the old Garcia place. We were returning your strays and we were going to ask if you had any cattle for sale. Murdoch is trying to start a herd of his own and he doesn’t have much money.” Ignoring Lancer’s glare he added, “We’d hoped that we could buy some stock from neighbors and save some money toward the repairs on the house and other buildings.”
“I could spare a few head that I haven’t marked yet,” Jim said. “Why don’t you come to the house in a couple of days? It’ll take me that long to figure out what I’ve got and how many I can spare.”
“I’ll no be taking charity from any man,” Murdoch Lancer said. “You’ll be setting a fair price or I’ll not be doing business with you.”
“It’s not going to be charity,” Jim was annoyed. Back home in Sturbridge neighbors helped neighbors the best they could. “I’ll sell you no more than what I can spare and I’ll charge you what I think is a good price. Don’t let your anger over this incident or your pride get in the way man.”
“Murdoch,” Paul O’Brien said. “I think the man means well. Come on let’s go home. Catherine will be wondering where you are and you don’t want to be worrying her.”
“Catherine? Is that your wife?” Jim asked. “Bring her with you day after tomorrow. My wife, Maura, will be thrilled to know that there’s another woman in the neighborhood. She’s been quite lonely with only me and the two boys to talk to. And the boys are only three and four years old. She’s expecting our third child in a few months.”
The invitation given, plans made and directions to the Talbots house given as well, the group dispersed. Jim ordered his men to drive the dozen or so steers that Lancer and O’Brien had found back to the main herd. When they got there he proceeded to take a tally and decide on how many he could spare to help this new neighbor out.
“I don’t know what else to do, darling,” Jim said as he and Maura discussed it two days later. I need those men but I can’t have them accusing people of stealing from me without any evidence. But if I fire them then I leave myself shorthanded to do everything that has to be done around here.”
“I don’t think there’s any question as to what you have to do, macushla,” Maura replied. “Tom Billington is a dangerous man if he’ll jump to such conclusions and act the way he did. You must fire him. I won’t have him around our boys!”
Jim sighed deeply. “You’re right, love, as always. I hate to lose his expertise but I’ll not have my neighbors thinking I take the law into my own hands. And that Lancer fellow has got to be the most stubborn man I’ve ever met in my life! He won’t buy the cattle he needs if he thinks I’m giving him charity. And I’m not convinced he believes me when I tell him that Billington acted of his own accord.”
“He will in time, I’m sure,” Maura reassured her husband. “Now get you out there and tell that Tom Billington that he’s no longer wanted here. For your sake as well as the boys’.”
“Not for your sake?” Jim teased his wife.
“James Alexander Talbot you know perfectly well that I can be taking care of myself. That overgrown bully does not frighten me now nor has he ever. I just don’t want his kind working around our boys. They’re going to be good honest men like their father and grandfathers! That’s the example I want them to follow.”
Jim grinned and gave his wife a resounding kiss. “I know, sweetheart, I know. I’m going out there right now and tell him, and anyone who sees things his way, that they’re no longer in my employ.”
So saying he went out to do that little chore. Taking a deep breath he approached Billington and a small group of about five supporters who were standing outside the pen that held the extra horses.
“Billington, I want to talk to you,” Jim said as he neared the group.
“Yeah boss? What is it?”
“I have to let you go. You’re fired,” Jim said.
“Fired? Me? What for?” The shorter, stocky hired man wanted to know.
“For being a menace to this ranch and its neighbors. That incident the other day, with Murdoch Lancer and his foreman, was the last straw.”
“You can’t fire me you need me!”
“I need help but not the kind of ‘help’ you’re giving me,” Jim declared. “I want a good relationship with my neighbors. Having a near lynching on my land done by my own men is not the way to do it. My wife and I talked it over and we decided you have to go. We don’t want, or need, your kind around our place with our boys watching everything you do.”
“Your wife always tell you what to do Mr. Talbot?” the man sneered.
“My wife doesn’t tell me what to do. We discuss what needs to be done. We’re more than husband and wife. We’re partners in the decision making around here.” Jim was not pleased to say the least with the man’s attitude. “Now pack up your gear and get out!”
“What if I refuse to go? Your wife going to make me?”
“No!” a by now furious Jim replied, “I will. Get your stuff and get off my land!”
Jim turned and started to walk back to the house. He took no more than three steps when a meat hand grabbed his shoulder and whirled him around. A fist caught him on the side of the jaw as he ducked having somewhat anticipated what was coming. He fell, stunned for a moment, but was quickly on his feet facing his antagonist – the man he had just fired.
Having grown up the youngest of four brothers Jim had quickly learned to defend himself in order to keep from being left out of things or put into things – such as a locked closet or a pond. When he got into his teens he started to outstrip his brothers in height and weight and the harassment, most of it in fun, stopped. That experience stood him in good stead at the moment as he was able to block, deflect or evade most of the blows that Billington rained down on him. Finally he managed to land a few good ones on his ex-employee and the man went down in a heap temporarily beaten.
The trouble was not, however, over yet. Kendall and Rory had come out of the house to play in the yard. When the fight began the two little boys stood by and watched as the “bad man” tried to hurt their daddy. Thinking that the trouble with Billington was over now that he’d shown him that he wasn’t welcome Jim turned away from the man. He didn’t see him get up and, picking up a convenient piece of lumber, swing on him and hit him in the left temple stunning him badly. The next thing he was acutely aware of was the screams of his small sons as the overweight ex-foreman grabbed them up and taunted him as he backed away toward his horse.
“Let the boys go, Billington,” Jim said through clenched teeth. “Let them go or I’ll kill you!”
“No way Talbot. These two brats of yours are my ticket out of here.” So saying he squeezed the boys even tighter around the middle as they continued to struggle and cry for their papa to help them.
Maura came out of the house just then attracted by the sound of her sons’ crying. Like an angry she-bear she charged at Billington with the broom she’d been using to sweep the kitchen floor in her hands.
“You despicable beast!” she shouted. “Let go of my sons! Put them down! Coward!” All the while she swung at him with both ends of the broom trying to force him to release Kendall and Rory. Alternating English with Irish she called Billington every name she could think of that described him and his actions.
“Get lost woman!” Billington told her as she swung the broom at him again. “Leave me alone or I’ll break this kid’s arm,” he said referring to Kendall who had managed to partly free himself.
It was at this point that another young couple arrived on the scene in time to catch Maura as Billington backhanded her. Steadying her on her feet Murdoch Lancer, speaking in a rapid and angry mixture of English and Gaelic, freed the two little boys from their captor with an ease that astonished all the onlookers and proceeded to pound the man into the ground more or less.
Billington, when Lancer was through with him, was a mess. His face was bloody and bruised and his left eye was beginning to swell shut. His shirt was tattered and torn and his pants and what remained of the shirt were dusty and dirty.
Turning to Maura, Murdoch Lancer asked, “Are you all right Mrs.?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she replied somewhat breathlessly. Then she turned to her sons who stood nearby crying and traumatized by the actions of the ex-foreman. “Come here darlings.”
The two little boys ran to their mother who smothered them in hugs and kisses and crooned to them in soothing tones. They were joined by Jim who had recovered his senses and now wrapped his arms around his family. Looking up and blinking back their tears the Talbots thanked Murdoch for his help.
“Och, it was nothing,” the Scotsman said. “Catherine and I were coming over to discuss business and so I could apologize for my behavior the other day. I’m just glad we arrived when we did. What manner of man is it that attacks a man and his family?”
“One who is angry over losing his job,” Jim explained. “Maura and I talked about it and I’d decided that, due to his actions toward you and O’Brien the other day Billington had to go. He took offense to that and attacked me. Then he grabbed the boys to make sure he could get away without any interference.”
“Weel, now, he won’t be doing anything like that for a long time to come,” Murdoch said with a scowl. “Between your wife’s broomstick and my fists he’s beyond causin’ anyone any trouble now. You’d best be turning him over to the law.”
“The law? You mean that idiot Judd Haney?” Jim scoffed. “When you’ve been here long enough you’ll know that the law in this area isn’t worth a darn! I’m beginning to believe that Haney is behind these raids we’ve been having.” Suddenly he realized that the two women had not been introduced. “I’m sorry, Lancer, I’m forgetting my manners. This is my wife Maura and our sons Kendall and Rory. Kenny’s the blond and Rory’s the redhead like his mother. Would this be Mrs. Lancer you have with you?”
“Yes,” a soft voice answered him. “I’m Catherine Lancer. You must be Jim Talbot. Señor Baldomero told us about you. He said you and your wife have been here a few years now.”
Maura approached the buckboard with a smile. “I’m Maura. Catherine you say your name is? That’s my middle name. I was Maura Catherine Fitzgerald before I married.”
“I was Catherine Louise Garrett,” the young blonde woman responded. “I’m originally from Boston.”
“Boston is it!” Maura exclaimed. “Jim and I are from Sturbridge ourselves but he worked on the docks to earn the money to move out here.” She blushed as she realized she was forgetting her manners much as her husband had lamented forgetting his. “Come into the house Catherine. We must get acquainted. And these two,” she said indicating her sons who clung to her skirts, “are needing a snack and some attention after what they’ve just been through. We’ll just let the menfolk attend to matters out here.” So saying she looped her arm through Catherine’s and led the obviously pregnant young woman to the house. “It’ll be nice to have another woman to talk with – especially one from back home.”
The three “siblings” and Val just sat and stared at her in disbelief. The thought that a woman who was six months pregnant would attempt what she had just totally stunned them. None of the other women they’d ever known, outside of their housekeeper, would ever even think of doing that.
“My sons were being used as a shield by the man who attacked their father,” Maura said to the three of them. “Did you really think I would just stand by and let him hurt my children? Alex was lying on the ground dazed. He wouldn’t have been able to do anything. But Murdoch came along just at the right time and he pounded Billington into the ground.”
“What became of this Billington?” Val wanted to know.
“He went the way of his ancestor, John Billington, who came over on the Mayflower in 1620.”
“In other words,” Scott said, being familiar with Plimoth Colony’s history, “he was hanged for murder right?”
“Yes,” Jim Talbot replied. “Just as John Billington, Sr. was hanged for murder in September of 1630, my ex-foreman was hanged for murder in Virginia City, Montana in ’69. He killed a miner while trying to take over the man’s claim.”
“What did you and Scott’s mother talk about that first day?” Teresa wanted to know.
“We talked about home mostly,” Maura answered. “And babies and family and friends left behind. Catherine was eight months pregnant with Scott at the time and it was a new experience to her.”
Through the years, through all the good and bad
I knew how much we had, I’ve always been so glad
To be with you…through the years
It’s better every day, you’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay, I’ll stay with you
Through the years.
“Are you an only child then Catherine?” Maura asked her visitor.
“Yes. My mother died when I was two-years-old. I don’t remember her at all.”
“And what of your father? Is he still living?”
“Yes. He’s back in Boston. He’s probably still stewing over the fact that I married an immigrant. And a ‘penniless’ one at that.” Catherine paused and turned dreamy eyed. “But I fell in love with Murdoch the first time I saw him. I thought there was something special about him.” She looked at Maura earnestly. “You probably think I’m a silly little girl getting all moony eyed over a man I didn’t even know.”
“Not at all,” Maura reassured her. “The first time I laid eyes on Alex he walked into my father’s store with his mother and two sisters and helped them choose material for new dresses. I knew right then and there that he was something special. I know just how you feel. Do go on, love.”
“Well, Murdoch wasn’t even in this country a year. It might have been six months and he was very difficult to understand at times – that Scottish burr and all. But he was heads and shoulders taller than all the boys I knew and he had a fire in him that they didn’t have. He made them all look like children the way he worked at the docks as a stevedore. He carried weights that most of the men couldn’t handle. And I have to admit that his old world manners and that accent were very appealing. The society boys my father wanted me to go out with just didn’t have the same appeal. In fact, when I think about them now, they were rather stuffy – just like father.”
“Your father – did he attend your wedding?”
“No. We eloped and we’ve been working our way across the country ever since. Murdoch had a trap line in the Rocky Mountains for a year to earn money for our trip.” Catherine started giggling here. “He never saw a steam engine until last year. He came down out of the mountains to sell his furs and thought the world was coming to an end when he saw the one that was in the town he went to.”
The two women spent several hours getting acquainted. After the first half hour Kenny and Rory decided that they weren’t afraid to leave their mother any more and soon the two young women each had a little boy snuggling close to them.
“Have you and Murdoch decided on names for the baby yet?” Maura asked her new friend.
“Yes,” Catherine said. “It’s going to be Scott Garrett if it’s a boy and Hannah Faith if it’s a girl. If the baby is a boy he’ll have my maiden name for his middle name. If it’s a girl we plan on naming her for Murdoch’s mother and grandmother. Scott was easy,” she giggled. “It’s a way of naming him for his father without naming him Murdoch Junior.”
Maura laughed as well. “Heavens you wouldn’t want to tag the child with such a long name. We Americans do tend to be a bit more sensible with our names these days. Not too many Ezekiels, Jeremiahs, Gideons, Isaacs or the like. My two angels here are named for their grandfathers and uncles.”
“Have you decided on a name for your new baby yet Maura?” Catherine asked.
“It will be Blair Patrick if it’s a boy. If it’s a girl we’re going with Helen Elizabeth.”
“Those are beautiful names,” Catherine said, her gray eyes shining. “My only hope is that our baby is as healthy and happy as your two boys are.”
“That’s the most important thing, dear,” Maura said. Rising from her chair she got the kettle off of the stove and refilled the tea kettle just as the men could be heard stomping in from outside. Their loud voices preceded them.
“You’re a stubborn man Murdoch Lancer!” Jim could be heard saying. “You need the cattle if you’re going to build your herd up! Why can’t you accept them as a welcome gift?”
“Och, I told ya before – I’ll no be taking charity from anyone. And that includes a man who has a guilty conscience over something that almost happened that he wasn’t responsible for.” Murdoch’s blue eyes were flashing. “You’ll set a fair price for those cows or I’ll no be buying them from you!”
“I told you before – that is a fair price. It’s more than I paid for them to begin with. I’ll still make a profit on them!”
“Gentlemen!” Maura exclaimed as Rory cringed and snuggled closer to her. “Lower your voices please! You’ll have the boys frightened all over again!” Giving Rory a squeeze she crooned, “It’s all right darling. Papa and Mr. Lancer aren’t really mad at each other. They’re just talking too loud – like a thunderstorm but not quite as noisy.”
Instantly contrite the two men lowered their voices and Jim scooped his younger son up in his arms. Kendall allowed Murdoch to pick him up and hold him in his strong arms sensing that this man really wouldn’t hurt him the way the man they’d fought with would have.
“I’m sorry little man,” the Scotsman said to the boy. “I didna mean to scare ya like that. I was just havin’ a wee discussion with your papa over how much I’ll pay for the cattle he has to sell.”
“Because your papa isna askin’ enough.”
Kendall looked up into Murdoch’s face confused. “What?”
“Your papa wants to give me the cattle. I want to pay for them,” Murdoch explained to the four-year-old.
“Why?” Rory echoed his brother.
“Why not pay what he’s asking dear?” Catherine said. “It seems fair enough to me.”
“Yeah – why not pay my price?” Jim asked his neighbor.
Put on the spot by his wife and two small boys Murdoch had to give in and pay the low price that Jim was asking. It grated against him to take what he considered to be charity but it was obvious that his new neighbor was a very generous man and wanted nothing more than to lend a helping hand in any way that he could. And, in some small way, perhaps make it up to him for the behavior of his ranch hands. Men that were not going to have jobs with him any longer – at least their ringleader didn’t. The others had seemed to be just acting out of fear of retribution by the man he had just driven off his place.
Jim and Murdoch sat at the table in the dining room to hash out their deal. The two ladies and little boys stayed in the kitchen. As long as there was no shouting they figured it was safe enough to leave the two men alone. The little boys calmed down and started playing on the kitchen floor but didn’t let their mother out of their sight for more than a couple of minutes the rest of the day. It was late when the Lancers left for home. Maura saw to it that they had a good meal and Jim escorted them as far as the boundary road that ran between their two ranches. With the raids that had been going on as of late he wanted to do what he could to make sure that his neighbors got home safely. It was getting dark and, if there were to be a raid that night, it would happen soon.
Over the course of the next few weeks the two couples got to be very good friends. Catherine and Maura spent a lot of time mending and sewing and knitting. Jim and the two boys were hard on their clothes and they wanted to get caught up on the mending so that they could make some clothes for the new arrivals soon to make their appearance. Neither of the expectant mothers cared what their baby was so long as it was healthy. They could not have known that tragedy would soon strike one of their families.
Christmas came and went. The Talbots invited the Lancers over for dinner since they were still working on the house and things were kind of in a mess all the time. Jim was fortunate enough to bring down a wild turkey a couple of days before and Maura bustled about making stuffing, peeling potatoes and preparing other vegetables that she’d managed to raise in her garden that year. Christmas was a big deal in New England but in Scotland, where Murdoch Lancer had been raised it was New Year’s Even, or Hogmanay that was more important. Still he enjoyed dinner with his new neighbors. At least these people didn’t harass him about his accent.
Shortly after the New Year the raids on the outlying ranches started again. Three people were killed and several homes were burned to the ground. Concerned about their wives Jim and Murdoch tried to send them away for their own safety.
Jim wanted Maura to take the boys and go stay with some friends in San Francisco. It was a long journey but he had already made arrangements with Murdoch and some others in the area to have their wives travel together.
Maura would have none of it. The Bar-T was her home and that’s all there was to it. Jim had to back down in the face of her determination. Not so Murdoch Lancer when it came time to send Catherine away. All her tears and pleas and anger were for nothing. He asked Paul O’Brien to accompany Catherine to San Francisco where her father would be waiting. They’d gotten a letter from him and anticipated that he would already be there waiting for her. Little did they know that he was on his way to meet her and that in Carterville, a small town about fifty miles from the ranch tragedy would strike and that the young couple would never see each other again.
The day of Catherine’s departure found Maura at Lancer to say good-bye to her new friend. Catherine’s time was very near but the wagon she would travel in had been made as comfortable as her loving husband could make it.
“I’ll miss you something terrible,” Catherine said as she embraced her new, and now closest, friend one last time.
“Sure and I’ll miss you love,” Maura said. “But you’ll be back before you know it. You just take care of yourself and that baby! I’m looking forward to holding yours as much as I am looking forward to holding my own.” Turning to Paul O’Brien who was standing ready to assist Catherine to the wagon seat she said, “And you Paul O’Brien – you be sure you take good care of this precious cargo your employer has entrusted to you or the wrath of the Fitzgerald clan will come down on your head.”
“Don’t worry Mrs. Talbot,” Paul said with a mock shudder. “I wouldn’t do anything to make you mad. Not ever.” He chuckled as he boosted Catherine into the seat. “Don’t you worry none Murdoch,” he said to his employer and friend. “I’ll have her safe in San Francisco before you know it and be back here to help destroy those raiders once and for all.”
Murdoch smiled weakly. For all his concern about his wife he would miss her and his friend while they were gone. He waved as the wagon pulled out of the yard. He carefully kept his head turned so that Maura wouldn’t see the tears that were threatening to fall.
“Here now Murdoch Lancer!” Maura exclaimed. “None of that now! Keep that brave face on so she won’t worry about you worrying about her.”
Five minutes later the wagon was out of sight and Murdoch assisted Maura in climbing into the Bar-T buggy. Then he mounted his horse and escorted her to the road that ran between their ranches. Jim planned on having one of his men meet her if he were unable to do so himself. The new foreman, Dale Miller, had proved to be steady and reliable and had no prejudices against the Mexicans or his boss’ wife – either because she was a woman or because she was Irish. He was smart enough to know that it would take all kinds of men and women to settle this untamed, and sometimes forgotten, land.
“Mrs. Tal – Maura – I wish you had gone with her,” Murdoch confided. “For my peace of mind as well as your husband’s.”
“Enough of that Murdoch Lancer!” Maura responded. “I’ll not have you trying to make me feel guilty too. My place is with my husband and I’ll not be moved! Catherine felt the same way but she gave in to you because she loves you too much to let you worry about her during these raids.”
“And what of you, Maura Talbot?” her neighbor and now, friend, asked. “What of Jim’s worry for you?”
“Fiddlesticks!” Maura exclaimed. “I’m a strong healthy girl with two small boys. With Alex staying behind I’d have my hands full trying to entertain two small boys and keep them safe and warm and fed on such a long trip. And what could they do for me if something went wrong. At least Catherine’s got Paul with her. He’ll take good care of her I’m sure.”
Maura and Murdoch would remember this conversation for years to come. For less than a week later came a messenger to Lancer that would change Murdoch’s life forever.
“That looks like Murdoch Lancer,” Jim remarked to his wife one bright January morning.
“You’re right, dear,” Maura said as the rider he’d commented on drew close to the house.
“Murdoch! What a surprise!” Jim said. “I thought you’d be busy over at your place getting the house ready for Catherine’s return now that Haney has been uncovered and turned in.”
“I would be,” the big Scotsman said, “but I just got a note from Paul O’Brien saying that Catherine is ill and needs me. I’m leaving for Carterville as soon as I ask a favor of you.”
“A favor?” Jim asked.
“Yes. Would you be lookin’ after my place for me and seein’ that the work gets done on the house. I’ll be bringing Catherine home with me but I need someone to oversee the work on the house. I can’t be bringin’ her home to a house that’s half finished. It shouldna be more than a few days. And I’d like it well if Maura would see to the nursery personally. You already have two boys so I’m sure you know how to fix it up the way Catherine would want it.”
“Of course, Murdoch,” Jim told his neighbor and now friend. “We’d be glad to see to things for you.”
“You just go and see to your wife, Murdoch Lancer,” Maura said, “and leave the house to us. By the time you and Catherine return it’ll be all finished and clean and ready for you to move in.”
“Thank you,” Murdoch said as he turned his horse in the direction of the road that would take him to Carterville.
“I do hope it’s nothing serious,” Maura said to Jim. “He adores her so and she’s so close to her time. It could hurt the baby if she’s too sick.”
Two weeks later a tired, bedraggled and sorrowful Murdoch Lancer rode into the yard at the Bar-T. Maura, by now just a month and a half away from giving birth to her third child, saw him as he dismounted in front of the house. Jim followed her out the door having just helped her put the boys down for a nap.
“Murdoch! Light down man, light down!” Jim said by way of greeting.
“Murdoch? Where’s Catherine? I thought you were bringing her home,” Maura said.
“She’ll no be comin’ home,” their neighbor said.
“Why ever not?” Maura asked. “She’s all right isn’t she? She wouldn’t leave you – she loves you!”
“She’s dead,” Murdoch stated in a flat tone. “Dead and buried before I could even get to her.”
“No!” Maura cried
“Dead? How?” Jim asked.
“She caught some sort of a fever during the trip. Paul sent for me as soon as he could but he couldn’t leave her alone. He got a midwife for her but Catherine’s father dismissed her when he arrived. He wouldn’t let her near Catherine and now Catherine is dead!”
“What of the baby?” Maura asked. “Where’s the baby? Did it die too?”
“Nay. Harlan Garrett spirited the boy away from Carterville before Catherine was even in her grave. Took him, all the clothes and such Catherine had made for him, all her personal belongings and left on the first ship back to Boston.” Murdoch’s voice, where flat and emotionless before now, had taken on a bitter note as he told of his father-in-law’s treachery.
“That’s terrible! What a horrible thing to do!” Maura exclaimed angrily. “Where was Paul O’Brien when he was doing all this?”
“Paul was in Fairview, the next town over, trying to find the doctor he’d been told about. He wasn’t able to find him and get back until after I got there. He’s back at Lancer now.”
“Aren’t you going to go after them my friend?” Jim asked.
“Nay. Catherine’s dead. Harlan’s gone and the baby with him. I canna afford to go chasing him across the country and he’s got the money to fight me in court even if I do catch up with him. He’ll prove me an unfit parent and keep my son. He might even have me put in jail.”
“Where’s your fighting spirit man?” Jim asked wrapping his around his wife as she quietly wept for their friend and the death of the mother and theft of the child. For theft was how she would always look at the situation. She knew, from talking with Catherine the last few weeks, that Catherine had wanted her child to be raised on the ranch and work alongside his father. Harlan Garrett, in her eyes, had absolutely no right to take his grandson without at least asking Murdoch what he and Catherine wanted.
“It’s dead. Dead and buried with Catherine in Carterville.”
“What took you so long to get back? You’ve been gone nigh onto two weeks,” Jim was curious.
“I was ambushed on the way to Carterville. I killed a man in self-defense and I had to make my report to the authorities – the federal marshal to clear myself of any blame. By the time I got to Catherine it was too late. She died in a broken down wagon on a deserted road because Harlan Garrett wouldn’t wait for me to arrive. He thought he could get her to San Francisco faster by taking a short cut. The wagon broke down and the horses ran off because he didn’t tie them well. Catherine died two hours after giving birth to our son.”
“I’m sorry my friend,” Jim said quietly. “Is there anything we can do for you?”
“I wouldna mind some help in going through her things,” Lancer said. “I want to pack them away – nay give them away. The sooner the better.”
“I’ll be over tomorrow morning,” Maura said. “But you mustn’t give her things away. You must keep some mementoes for yourself and Scott. The child will be wanting or needing some of his mother’s things as keepsakes when he’s old enough to appreciate them.”
“Maybe so. I’ll let you decide what’s to keep and what’s to get rid of,” the Scotsman said. “I’ve no heart to do it myself.”
And so it was. The next morning, around nine o’clock, Maura arrived at Lancer escorted by their new foreman. All that day and for several days following Maura wept quiet tears as she went through her friend’s belongings, carefully packing away pictures, baby clothes and the like for the son that would never set foot on Lancer until almost 25 years later.
Over the course of time Murdoch Lancer withdrew more and more into himself as he grieved the loss of his wife and child. Several times Jim Talbot offered to give him the money to go to Boston to retrieve the baby from the clutches of his maternal grandfather. He’d saved enough money to buy a piano for Maura and she knew it, but she insisted that he offer it to Murdoch and wouldn’t allow Jim to spend it on something so frivolous as a piano for her. The money would sit in the bank and gather interest for years for Murdoch was so far gone in his grief that he didn’t believe he had a ghost of a chance to extricate the boy from his wealthy grandfather’s custody so he turned him down. Jim even offered to go with him but still he couldn’t be budged. He was just too deep in depression over the turn his life had taken.
On March 25, 1845 Blair Patrick Talbot joined his brothers in the family circle. It was just a few days after his mother’s twenty-fourth birthday. Once again Señora Baldomero was called in to act as midwife. Sam Jenkins had temporarily given up his practice in order to return to New York and study some more. There were so many new advances in surgery – including the use of ether as an anesthetic – that he’d decided he’d better find out about them and whether or not they’d be of any use to him in his practice. He would return a few years later thoroughly educated in all of the latest medical treatments and techniques. Not only that but he would never leave the three towns and the surrounding ranches and farms without adequate medical coverage while he was gone again.
The next couple of years flew by in a whirlwind of activity. Maura had her hands full with three small energetic boys. Keeping them fed, clothed and out of trouble was a full time occupation. Kenny adored his new baby brother. In fact they would find that he loved all babies and liked nothing more than to sit in the rocking chair in the living room with Blair and/or Rory in his lap while he “read” them a story. The fact that he was just five years and a few months old didn’t matter. His father and mother had read certain stories, such as Bible stories of David and Goliath and Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses in the river, so many times he had them memorized. He even knew the words and music to his mother’s favorite folks songs and hymns and sang lullabies to Blair when he wasn’t telling him stories.
Rory, however, was disinterested in his baby brother. He’d rather be outside on his pony or digging in his garden or picking up all the junk he could find around the yard or in town. In a few years he would be trading his junk for “treasures” that other boys had and didn’t want much to the detriment of his wardrobe. His mother despaired of keeping his pockets mended. There were always holes in them from nails, pen points, sharp rocks and other things. Sometimes they simply gave out from the weight of the items he put in them.
Murdoch Lancer was a regular visitor. In some ways his visits seemed to do him good. In other ways they didn’t. He never let the little ones see it but they sensed how sad he was and did their best to entertain him and make him smile. As long as he was in their company it worked but at home, alone in an empty house, he brooded and grieved.
“Uncle Murdoch, Uncle Murdoch!” Kendall screeched in delight when Murdoch came to visit on his seventh birthday. “Come see my new pony! Papa got him for me ‘cause Prince is too small and pokey and old and besides, Rory needed a pony so Papa got me Shamrock!”
Murdoch had to smile at the little boy’s excitement. He was growing fast and Murdoch could see that Prince was getting too old and too slow for a big boy craving excitement when he rode.
“You’re doing fine Kenny,” he told the youngster. “You’ll be a real horseman when you get bigger.”
“Uncle Murdoch!” Rory shouted to get Murdoch’s attention. “Look what I found. Isn’t it pretty?” Rory showed Murdoch his latest “treasure” – a piece of iron pyrite otherwise known as fool’s gold. “I’m gonna give it to Mama so she can buy a new dress.”
Murdoch swallowed his laughter and explained, “I’m afraid that won’t buy her a dress Rory – or anything else. That’s not real gold. But you give it to your mama to keep for your rock collection.”
“Ok,” Rory said, his disappointment quickly vanishing.
When he entered the house three-year-old Blair ran to him. He was a bit unsteady on his feet because he never slowed down long enough to get his balance before going from one piece of furniture to the next, one parent to the next or one brother to the next or even one toy to the next. His parents were forever catching him as he tumbled from a chair or tripped over a forgotten toy. He was a very active little boy and they were hard pressed to keep up with him. Maura was forever patching the knees in his pants or replacing buttons. Laundry was continually being hung on the clothesline Jim had erected and replaced several times over the years for the boys were always into something. And Jim, being the hard worker that he was, was no easier on his clothes than the boys were. Whether it be wrestling cattle, clearing land for grazing, cleaning out irritation ditches and the creeks that ran through their land he was forever coming home muddy or dusty or with buttons missing or long tears in his sleeves from bramble bushes or the occasional steer’s horn that he didn’t quite dodge. Though he never said anything to her about these close calls she knew but let him think it was his little secret. Only if he were injured by one of them would she say anything and then he’d just laugh it off as all in a day’s work.
“Look what I have for you Kenny,” Murdoch said to the birthday boy when he came in from taking care of his pony. He handed the boy a box about ten inches square.
The eager youngster took it from him and tore the wrapping off that Murdoch’s housekeeper had so painstakingly put on for him. Inside the box was nestled a small pair of blunt spurs. They jingled but were very dull so that an overeager young rider would not be able to hurt his pony.
“Oh! Look Mama, Papa! Uncle Murdoch got me some spurs to wear when I ride Shamrock!”
“They’re beautiful, Kenny,” his mother said with a smile. “Now what do you say to ‘Uncle Murdoch’?”
“Thank you, thank you!” the boy exclaimed throwing his arms around the man’s neck to hug him. Murdoch had become a surrogate uncle to the three boys and, despite his grief over the loss of his wife and child; he did all he could to make them happy.
Murdoch Lancer threw his heart and soul into building up his ranch but suffered setback after setback just as the Talbots had when they had started out. The same things that had happened to Jim happened to Lancer. Drought, flood, raids by cattle rustlers and a couple of small fires all took their toll. It only served to make him more moody and withdrawn as he saw his money being thrown away.
Later that year of 1848, shortly after Blair turned three, Jim decided to take a trip down to Matamoros. He’d been informed that a rancher down there was selling his herd. Due to poor health and a lack of sons to help him run his ranch he’d sent notices to newspapers along the border. One of these newspapers made its way to the Bar T in the saddlebags of Dale Miller, the foreman, who had gone to visit relatives in San Antonio a few weeks earlier.
In need of some new stock, Jim wrote the man a letter and expressed an interest in buying at least part of the herd. He also saw an opportunity to help his friend out by proposing a partnership. Murdoch needed to get away from Lancer for a while and all of the sad memories of what had happened. Fortunately they could afford to do so now for the raids had been permanently stopped. It turned out that their sheriff, Judd Haney, had been the brains behind the raids. Haney had been forced to go on the run but was finally betrayed by his wife who had had enough of running and living in caves. He would spend a considerable amount of time in prison for it. It would be years before Murdoch Lancer would forego his dreams of vengeance for Catherine’s death, which he blamed on Haney.
“Come on Murdoch,” Jim said when he proposed the trip. “It’ll do you a world of good to get away from here for a little while! I’m sure Paul can handle things. Now that Haney’s behind bars where he belongs things will calm down.”
“No, I don’t think so Jim,” Murdoch said. “I’m not denying I could use the stock but I just don’t have the money.”
“Tell you what,” Jim said with a grin as he remembered their first business deal. “I’ll pay for ‘em and you can help me drive them back. Then we’ll split the profits fifty-fifty. Sound fair? Besides it’s my last chance before Maura and the boys leave for Ireland to visit with her grandparents and friends. She wants to see for herself how bad conditions are.”
“No, but I suppose you won’t stop hounding me until I agree to take this trip with you.” He looked at his friend slyly. “I don’t suppose your loving wife had anything to do with your asking me to go along?”
“She did sort of suggest that I ask you,” Jim admitted. “Not that it was part of the deal for my leaving her home alone with those three rapscallion sons of ours. We’ve been planning this trip for a long time. Her brothers and one sister are going as well. Her parents sent her the money to cover her fare on the ship and she’s made some money working as a midwife and nurse as well as from her garden and chickens and the butter and cream she’s sold that was surplus. I’m hiring Señora Baldomero’s niece to look after the house while they’re gone and I’m working.”
“It’s against my better judgment,” Murdoch said. “I’ve got more than enough work to do here but if it’ll save us from your wife’s wrath if we ignore her ‘suggestion’ then I’ll go. But I won’t enjoy myself.”
“You don’t have to enjoy yourself, my friend,” Jim said. “But it will do you good to get away. You’re far too moody and irritable. You need to get out among people for a change.”
So it was decided. The two men planned and packed what little they would need on the trail but took a decent pair of trousers and a coat just in case they had dinner in a nice restaurant or as a guest of the man they were going to do business with.
Jim left Dale Miller in charge of the Bar T with instructions on what work needed priority and to see that Maura didn’t overdo it by chopping her own wood and such. Miller assured Jim that he would assign someone to see that the woodpile was kept well stocked. The boys were too small to chop wood but they could gather small pieces and woodchips for kindling and see that the wood box was kept full of the firewood that the hands would stack between the house and the storage shed next door.
Maura, the ever-practical one, ensured that Jim had plenty of clothes and provisions and first aid supplies as well. She wanted to be sure that he and Murdoch and the men that went with them, had whatever they might need to meet their needs in case of a minor emergency. Jim smilingly indulged her all the while wishing there were a way to leave some of it behind without hurting her feelings. He would have preferred to travel lighter but he didn’t want to upset his wife so he just grinned and went along with it all the while wondering if there weren’t some place he could leave half of it where she’d never find it and he could pick it up on the way back. After all what was he going to do with half a dozen blankets among other things?
“Hey Murdoch!” Jim hollered as he rode into the yard of the estancia. “You ready to go?”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Murdoch said. Then he stopped and started laughing as he noticed the bundle on the packhorse. “What’s all this? I thought we were only going to be gone a short while. Surely you don’t need all those blankets for a trip that’ll only take a couple of months? Can’t you make do with a couple?”
“No,” Jim said as his face turned red. “Maura made me bring them. She’s afraid I’ll catch cold if I don’t have enough blankets. She also doubts our skills as hunters and fishermen so she packed enough food to feed an army!” Looking at his friend pleadingly he said, “Isn’t there someplace around here where I can leave most of this stuff behind and she won’t find out about it?”
Laughing, Murdoch told him, “Sure. Bring half those blankets into the house. You can pick them up when we get back.”
So saying he showed Jim to a room in the house, which he was in the process of repairing, where he could leave the blankets and a few other things. Then they went out and got Murdoch’s horse, left last minute instructions with Paul O’Brien and left, heading south toward Matamoros and, unknown to Murdoch Lancer, a date with destiny.
It took them about a month to get there as Matamoros was on the Mexican border with Texas. The weather cooperated most of the way down. They ran into one or two rainy days but nothing like the night that Rory was born. No downpours or flash floods -just a couple of days of steady rain. The two men stayed overnight in small village inns those nights that it rained. Unable to find any caves to take shelter in they decided that the best thing was to spend a few dollars on a room for themselves and a decent shelter for their horses. A couple of nights in a warm stall with water and feed provided for them did the animals a lot of good and when the men were ready to go the horses were also refreshed and ready to travel.
Three and a half weeks later, around noontime, they trotted up the road leading to the house of the man they were there to do business with. Señor Vasquez was very happy to see them and invited the two men to be his guests while they conducted their business. The Californians were happy to accept his hospitality, and they were honored to be invited to a birthday party for Señor Vasquez’s niece.
The niece, Maria Delgado, was seventeen and a very lovely girl in face and figure. When Murdoch and Jim first laid eyes on her she was dancing a lively folkdance with a young man of about twenty. They made a handsome couple and all in attendance enjoyed watching them as the band played. Her bright skirt and petticoats seemed to catch and reflect the sunlight as she dipped and swayed to the music.
When the music finished playing the Americans turned their attention back to their host who proceeded to explain who the dancers were and what the name of the dance was. He invited them to try their hand at it but neither one was inclined to do so until Maria approached them and coaxed them. Jim adamantly refused saying he had two left feet when it came to that kind of dancing. Some of his ranch hands had tried to teach him when their wives taught Maura but he’d made such a mess of it that he swore he’d never try it again.
“You go ahead Murdoch,” he said with a grin as the young lady took his friend’s arm and pulled him toward the dance floor. “You’re far too sober. It’s been three years – now get out there and enjoy yourself.
With one last scowl at his friend Murdoch reluctantly followed the young woman out onto the veranda where the dancing was taking place. Slowly at first but eventually with more enthusiasm he joined in the dancing. Maria Delgado was beautiful, full of fun and a wonderful dancer. Her hair was like a waterfall that shone blue-black in the sun. She wore a bright red skirt with yellow and white petticoats and a white off the shoulder blouse much like many of the peasant girls wore only she was a little higher on the social ladder than the peons. As Señor Vasquez’s niece she was practically a member of the local aristocracy.
“Your friend – he is reluctant to enjoy himself no?
Jim regarded his host with a sad smile. “Sí. He lost his wife in childbirth to a fever three years ago. The baby’s grandfather took the newborn back east with him to raise before Murdoch could get to his wife’s side. He’s been eaten up by grief for all this time. His father-in-law sends him progress reports but Murdoch’s reluctant to go to Boston and get the boy.”
“Why is that if you don’t mind my asking?”
“The boy’s grandfather is very wealthy - and very powerful with a lot of influential friends. Murdoch doesn’t believe that he could talk the man into giving up the boy. He’s reluctant to spend a lot of money on such a long journey only to return empty handed.”
“That is most unfortunate,” their host said.
“Yes, it is,” Jim agreed. “Now he buries himself in the work on his ranch most of the time. His only socializing most of the time is to visit my family and me. I’ve offered to loan him the money and even to go with him but he’s a stubborn Scotsman. If he can’t pay for the trip himself or face his father-in-law alone – with or without the help of a lawyer he won’t go. He says he can’t leave the ranch for the time it would take to go to Boston and get back again.”
The music came to an end and the dancers returned to the rest of the group in attendance at the party. Murdoch, somewhat flushed and breathless, sat down at the table with Señor Vasquez and Jim. Jim poured him a glass of cold water from the pitcher on the table as the birthday girl seated herself between her uncle and Murdoch. She had taken a liking to this tall, strong Notre Americano and wanted to get to know him better.
“Are you enjoying yourself Señor Lancer,” his host asked.
“Yes, I am,” was Murdoch’s reply. “Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this. Your niece is a lovely girl and she dances very well. I can hardly keep up with her.”
Jim and Señor Vasquez laughed for Murdoch had done just fine as far as they could see. Maria giggled and reached for a glass of lemonade, as she got comfortable.
“You dance very well yourself Señor,” she told him while batting her eyelashes at him flirtatiously.
“Thank you, Maria,” Murdoch said to the girl. “But I’m really not that good a dancer. My wife used to complain that I had no rhythm.”
“Ah but that is not so! Your wife – she is wrong!”
“No, she wasn’t wrong,” Murdoch said.
Señor Vasquez leaned over to his niece and explained quickly and quietly, in Spanish, about Catherine’s death. The girl turned serious for a moment and offered her apologies.
“Lo siento, Señor Lancer. I did not realize....”
“No that’s all right Miss Delgado,” Murdoch reassured the girl. “As my friend keeps reminding me it’s been almost three years now.”
Just then the music started up again and Maria pulled Murdoch with her toward the dance floor. She was determined to see that this young widower came out of his shell and have a good time. She danced with him and him alone the rest of the afternoon and into the night. Jim hadn’t seen Murdoch that happy since before Catherine’s death. Maria Delgado just seemed to have a way of making him forget his grief.
Two weeks later Murdoch and Maria were husband and wife. Years later Murdoch would tell Johnny that it was a “whirlwind courtship” and so it was.
Together they inspected the cattle that Jim and Murdoch were buying, explored the farthest reaches of the land that her uncle was selling, visited the stables and picnicked together. They were in love, or so they thought, and couldn’t wait to get married. Maria, unable for some reason to distinguish between dreams and realities, had married Murdoch believing him to be the owner of a grand hacienda like her uncle’s. The reality would be hard for her to take.
It wasn’t that Murdoch meant to intentionally mislead her but in his mind the ranch, which he’d named after himself, was already what it would be in a few years. The problems of the last couple of years – drought followed by too much rain, thefts and a fire or two, were all in the past. It was starting to shape up but there was still much work to be done. Like any working ranch there would always be jobs that needed doing. The house would need whitewashing, fences and walls repaired, stock rounded up and corralled and so on. For Murdoch it was a labor of love. For Maria life on the ranch, so far from towns and family and friends, would seem like a jail term. But that was a few years away yet and her unhappiness would have far reaching consequences.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” Jim asked his friend when told of their plans and asked to stand in as best man. “You were so far gone in your grief over Catherine that I thought you’d never even look at another woman with any interest, other than friendship, for the rest of your life.”
“I’m sure,” Murdoch said. “Maria and I are in love. She’s going to speak to her uncle today. She’s sure he’ll agree to it.”
Jim had his reservations about this relationship but he kept them to himself now. It was obvious that Maria and Murdoch believed they were deeply in love with each other and any further talk would simply drive them to rush into things. He could only hope that the girl’s uncle could talk some sense into them. Maria was young and impulsive. Murdoch was just the opposite but once he made his mind up there was no changing it for the most part.
“Maria, child,” her uncle said, “You are very young yet and this man is at least ten years older than you. Are you sure you want to marry him? Are you certain that you are in love with him and not just with the idea of being in love? You are talking about a lifetime commitment. You can’t marry him and then decide in a few months or a year that you were wrong and just walk away as if nothing happened!”
“You worry too much, Tio,” Maria said to her uncle. “Murdoch and I are in love and we want to get married. Please give us your blessing.”
“I wish to speak with Señor Lancer first,” he told her. “Then, perhaps, I will give you my blessing.”
Maria pouted and stomped off but she knew there was no use arguing with her uncle. He was her legal guardian until she was twenty-one - in accordance with her father’s will. Unless he approved of the match she would not be permitted to marry – unless she ran away.
Her uncle did as he said and, after a long heart to heart talk with Murdoch, agreed to the marriage. Jim stood up as best man, somewhat against his better judgment, and Señor Vasquez gave the bride away – also somewhat reluctantly. He had no qualms about Maria marrying the American but worried that she would tire of living away from family and friends and all the excitement of being the niece of a wealthy man who entertained on a regular basis.
He knew what Maria was getting into as far as the ranch was concerned. He himself had started with a small inheritance from his grandfather who divided up the land he acquired between his sons and grandsons. It would take a lot of hard work and there would be little time for parties. He just hoped that Maria really and truly understood what she was getting herself into. She was so in love, or so she thought, that she was not hearing what things were truly like. Even Jim tried to warn her that the Lancer ranch was not much to look at yet but she turned a deaf ear to all. She had convinced herself that she would be the mistress of a grand and glorious hacienda.
Needless to say, after a long, dusty, sometimes muddy trip, Maria was disappointed when they arrived in Morro Coyo. But, being young and a little too sure of herself, she made the best of it and started making plans for the place.
Within ten minutes of their arrival at Lancer Jim had collected the blankets and such he’d left behind and was on his way home to his family. He wasn’t sure how Maura was going to take the news of Murdoch’s sudden remarriage. They’d wanted him to start socializing again. After all, Catherine had been dead for more than two years but this was quicker than either of them ever could have foreseen it happening.
It was late in the afternoon, around four o’clock when Jim rode into the yard at the Bar-T having left Murdoch and Maria to get settled. Murdoch would need to introduce Maria to Paul O’Brien and the rest of the men who worked for him, show her the house and grounds. He, Jim had a wife and three sons waiting for him. It was evident that somebody had been watching for them for when he rode into the yard Kendall, Rory and even Blair, now three and a half, came running out to meet him as he dismounted and handed his reins over to Manuel Ramirez who came from the barn in time to see the patron arrive.
“Thanks Mano,” Jim said to the young man as the boys charged him.
“Papa! Papa!” Seven year-old Kendall threw himself at his father who scooped him up and gave him a bear hug. The process was repeated when Rory and Blair caught up with their brother.
“Alex! You’re home! And just in time for dinner.”
Jim turned to embrace his wife. “And just how did you know I would be home in time for supper?”
“It’s quite simple silly – Paul O’Brien has had someone watching for you two to return for the last few days. He sent that new man, Cipriano – the one that you turned down because you had a full crew – over to let me know that you had arrived.”
“Well I hope it’s ready because I’m hungry enough to eat a bear – hide and all!” Jim declared.
“Really Papa? A whole bear?” Six-year-old Rory wanted to know.
“Really,” Jim answered. “But I’ll settle for the roast I’m sure your mother has ready to serve.”
“Come along,” Maura said to her men. “You’ve just time enough to clean up before I put supper on the table.”
“Tell us about your trip Papa,” Kendall demanded.
“I will while we eat dinner,” Jim said. “We’d better go get washed up before your mama decides to throw that dinner away. We wouldn’t want her to do that now would we?”
“No Papa,” the three boys giggled as they went to do as they were told.
When they were safely out of earshot Jim told Maura, “Murdoch’s married. He fell in love with our host’s niece and they got his permission to marry before we left.”
“Murdoch? Married?!” Maura was stunned. “I thought he was still grieving over Catherine.”
“So did I but Maria – that’s her name by the way – charmed him completely.”
“You don’t sound very pleased Alex. We’ve wanted him to start living again – get past his grief.”
“That’s true but I have my doubts. She’s much younger than he is. And her uncle says she’s kind of flighty – maybe even a bit spoiled. But what could I do? They’ve convinced themselves that they’re in love and wanted to be married. If her uncle hadn’t granted his permission she’d have convinced Murdoch to run off and get married without his permission. And the way he acts around her it wouldn’t have taken much.”
“The poor girl must feel rather lost over there at Murdoch’s place. It’s hardly a fit place to bring a young bride!”
“Catherine didn’t seem to mind,” Jim reminded his wife.
“Catherine had been married to Murdoch longer than a few weeks! And she shared his dream of building the place from the ground up. This girl must feel like a fish out of water.” Maura frowned at her husband. “And you - you great lout, let him do it – marry her and bring her so far from home!”
“I ask you what I was supposed to do? They were determined and there was nothing anybody could say that would talk them out of it.”
“Well, tomorrow I’ll just take myself over there and get acquainted with her. Let her know she’s got friends. Come along, dinner’s waiting to be served!”
As far as Maura Catherine Talbot was concerned that was that. Her husband could not do or say anything that would deter her from scolding him or planning on going over to meet Murdoch’s new bride first thing after her housekeeping chores were done in the morning. She was already planning on taking the boys with her so Jim wouldn’t have to worry about what they were getting into without their mother to keep a watchful eye on them.
And so it was that around nine o’clock that morning Maura and the three boys were in the carriage trotting smartly down the road that led to the road to Lancer. A not totally surprised Murdoch Lancer met them in the yard as they drove up. Before he had a chance to greet Maura the three boys demanded “Uncle Murdoch’s” attention. Each had brought a special “present” – a pretty rock from Rory, a picture of a horse that he had drawn from Kendall and a cookie he had decorated “all by myself” from Blair.
“Maura! Why am I not surprised that you’re here?” Murdoch chuckled sheepishly. “I guess Jim told you I got married while we were in Matamoros.”
“Indeed he did and I would very much like to meet your bride,” she said. “And we’ll talk about that after I meet your bride. I want to be the first one to welcome her to the neighborhood.”
“Come with me then, the lot of you,” their neighbor said. “She’s in the house.”
The five of them, Blair holding on to his mother’s hand while the other two boys clung to “Uncle Murdoch’s” hands.
“Maria! Maria, dear, we have company. Come meet your new neighbors.”
The young woman came to the front hall from the vicinity of the kitchen at her husband’s call.
“We have company sweetheart. Come meet Maura Talbot and her sons.”
Maria joined her husband in what would eventually be known as the Great Room. He had settled Maura and the boys on what little comfortable furniture he had at the time. Indicating the petite redhead he made the introductions.
“Maria, this is Jim Talbot’s wife Maura. Maura this is my wife – Maria.”
“I’m very glad to meet you Maria,” Maura said with a smile and an appraising glance. “Your name is very much like mine. We may have to find some way to keep our husbands on the straight and narrow as to which one of us is which!”
“And these are her sons,” Murdoch continued indicating which was which as he introduced them. “This is Kendall – we call him Kenny. He’s seven now.” The little boy with the strawberry blond hair smiled shyly as he was introduced.
“What do you say Kenny?” his mother prompted him.
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Lancer.”
“And the blond over there is Blair. He’s six.”
“Howdy,” Blair said in a perfect imitation of some of his father’s cowboys.
“And the little guy hiding behind his mother is Rory,” Murdoch said with a fond smile at the little redhead.
“I’m very happy to meet all of you,” Maria said. “I hope we can be good friends. I had many nieces and nephews and cousins at my uncle’s estancia to play with. I miss them very much so you must come over often to visit.”
“Really?” Kenny opened up when he heard that. “How many? What are their names? Will they come to visit you?”
“Kenny!” Maura admonished him. “Not so many questions at once. That’s not polite!”
“It’s all right Señora Talbot,” Maria said with a smile. “My little cousins are just like him. When my husband first came to my uncle’s they asked him and your husband many, many questions. I thought they would get angry – the little ones were such….”
“Pests?” Maura asked.
“Sí! Like bees they were. They swarmed all around Murdoch and your husband but never once did they get angry.”
“Alex is like that. That’s one of the things that attracted me to him when we first started courting.”
“Can we mama?” Blair was won over by Maria’s charm and her accent. He was a favorite among the Mexicans that worked for their father.
“I don’t think so sweetie, not yet,” Maura answered him. “Mrs. Lancer hasn’t had time to get settled in yet. She doesn’t need three mischievous little boys underfoot while she does.”
“Oh, señora they would be no trouble. My husband is gone most of the day and I get very lonely. They would cheer me up and keep me company while he is gone.”
“See Mama?” Kendall said. “She wants us to come. May we? Please?”
“Please?” echoed Rory and Blair.
“All right. You can come over every day she wants you until it’s time for us to leave on our trip.”
“You are going somewhere señora?” Maria asked.
“Yes,” Maura told her. “The boys are going on a trip to Ireland with me to see their great-grandparents and some of their aunts, uncles and cousins that are still living over there. The old folks are getting on in years and, since my family is paying our passage, this may be the last chance they have to see any of us that are over in this country. I’m looking forward to it though I admit that taking three active little boys will be quite a challenge. If my brothers and some of our cousins weren’t going along I’d never even think of taking them. But I’ll have plenty of help to entertain them and keep them out of too much trouble.”
Bored by all this grown up talk the boys wandered outside for a while. Three-year-old Blair soon tired of chasing his brothers and the chickens around and came back inside to sit with his mother. Worn out by a morning of unaccustomed activity, and just over a cold, he fell asleep with his head in her lap just before noon.
Seeing this Maura said to her hostess, “I think I’d better be rounding up my boys and getting them home. This one is all worn out. He’s not used to getting up early and baking cookies and then traveling – short distance though it may be – and meeting new people and such. He’s all worn out and needs his lunch and a nap or he’ll be grumpy when he wakes up.”
Bending down Maura picked up her youngest boy and cuddled him in her arms. Maria led the way to the door and saw her outside. Murdoch came along a moment later and snatched up the older boys from their rough housing play with a couple of the sons of his vaqueros and escorted them to the buggy. By this time Maura had gotten into the driver’s seat and had Blair comfortably situated. The two older boys scrambled in and the Talbots were on their way home.
That night, after the boys had all been tucked into their beds, Maura and Jim discussed her visit to Lancer. Murdoch had named his ranch after himself choosing a rather gothic styled capital L with a scalloped circle around it for his brand.
“She’s a lovely girl, Alex, but I don’t think she’s cut out to be a rancher’s wife. She’s too accustomed to having the finer things in life. What’s she going to do if Murdoch struggles again?”
“I don’t know Maura my love,” Jim replied. “I’m glad Murdoch’s happy but, like you, I’m afraid that happiness will be short-lived. All we can do is extend the hand of friendship to the girl and be there to pick up the pieces if and when things do fall apart.”
“I almost wish the boys and I weren’t leaving at the end of the month. Maria’s going to need a friend and I’d like to be that friend.”
“She’ll appreciate you all the more when you return from your trip,” her husband assured her. With a kiss to the tip of her nose he added, “And so will your husband.”
The time flew by more quickly than Maura would have thought possible. Every chance she got she would drive over to Lancer with one or more of the boys to visit with Maria and see how she was making out. It seemed to her, in those first days and that first year, that Maria was playing a game. She was playing house. The new bride spent many days planning where to put furniture, what kind of curtains to put up, planning fancy meals for her husband and the like. Maura could only shake her head in dismay, as the reality didn’t seem to sink in that marriage was not a game.
May came and with it the departure date for Maura and the boys who were to meet her parents and siblings in San Francisco where they would board their ship for England. From there they would cross the Irish Sea to the old country and start their journey to visit her grandparents and other relatives.
There were many hugs and kisses exchanged by Jim and his family. And more than once Maura had to wipe her eyes. As much as she wanted to visit her grandparents, who were well on in years, Maura would miss her husband and their home. She didn’t know if she trusted him to see to her flower gardens and to eat right or anything without her to watch over him. Señora Baldomero’s niece would be tending the gardens and the Señora herself had promised to stop by at least twice a week to see that her niece was taking proper care of them and the house.
“You’ll be back in no time,” Jim reassured his wife. “I know a year seems like forever but the time will pass quickly. I’m just sorry I can’t go with you. I’d like to meet your grandparents. But I simply can’t leave the ranch for that long a time.” When Maura started to fuss about changing her mind and staying home he put his foot down. “Now Maura Catherine you know your parents and siblings have been saving for this trip for a long time. It gives them great pleasure to have you and the boys to themselves for that length of time. The trip will do you good and it will warm the old folks hearts to see their great-grandsons even if it’s only for a short time.”
Jim was right. Transoceanic travel had come a long way. Maura and her family made relatively good time and arrived in England in the middle of November. From there they crossed the Irish Sea and visited with the relatives and friends that had never emigrated.
For Maura it was a time of mixed emotions. Hardest of all was to be separated from her beloved husband at Christmas time. The boys, though excited over all the new friends and relatives they met during this trip, missed their papa tremendously. While she loved seeing her family members again her heart ached when she looked around her at the devastation wreaked by several years of famine and hard hearted English landlords who, instead of letting the rents be paid when the people had money to pay, had insisted upon payment – even if it meant that poor farmers gave them the wheat, cattle, sheep and whatnot that they had been feeding and clothing their families with. Even more devastating was the sight of cottages, even whole villages, destroyed, for lack of rent payments and families forcibly removed from their homes. Having small children that needed shelter meant nothing to the greedy landlords who wanted the farms to turn into more grazing land for their cattle.
Maura seethed with rage and only the common sense that she so carefully nurtured kept her from making a scene that would cause harm to any of her family. Before they left Ireland the three young Talbot boys got an education they wouldn’t soon forget – not even little Rory. The three-year-old never forgot the site of little children his age crying because they didn’t have enough food to eat or their mothers or fathers were dead. Maura didn’t try to shelter them from it completely. She wanted them to appreciate what they had back home.
All three of the boys made sure that they took any extra food they could beg when they went off exploring. Many were the nights when Maura had to rock one or more of the boys to sleep because he was upset by what he had seen. Though she had not witnessed it herself she suspected that her sons had been giving away their own lunches rather than see another child go hungry. It was a logical conclusion when they ate ravenously at supper as if they hadn’t eaten all day.
For the last couple of weeks of their visit she kept herself busy distributing hand-me-down clothing that the boys had outgrown and knitting socks and sewing clothes for the parish priests to distribute. All too soon however, the time came for her to bid her aged grandparents good-bye for the last time. Never again would she return to the land of her birth.
“Maura, darlin’, we’ll miss you. And those beautiful sons of yours,” her petite ninety-year-old grandmother said as they embraced the day of the Talbot family’s parting.
“I know Granny Kate,” Maura said through her tears. “I’m going to miss you too. But I have a husband waiting patiently for the return of his family and the boys, as much as they’ve had a good time with all their assorted cousins and new friends, miss their papa. It’s time for us to head home.”
“Aye, that it is,” her giant of a grandfather said. The man was every bit as tall as Murdoch Lancer only much smaller in build. “You give that husband of yours our love and make sure that you write often Maura Catherine!” He bent down to give his granddaughter and great-grandsons one last hug and kiss. His red hair shone in the sunlight.
All too soon, or so it seemed to Maura, they were on board the ship that would take them to England. From there they would set sail for San Francisco. If all went well, travel being what it was now, they would be home before the end of August. Maura was sure she would have much to do in order to get Kendall ready for school. She planned on spending a couple of days in San Francisco buying material and school supplies that she wouldn’t be able to get at Baldomero’s store. Morro Coyo hadn’t grown or prospered enough as to merit his stocking much in the line of paper and pencils. And he didn’t carry stationery at all. She would have to visit the stationer’s shop to stock up on that and ink. Señor Baldomero would order more for her but in the meantime she would take advantage of being near a plentiful supply.
Jim was overjoyed to see his family again when he arrived in San Francisco to meet them at the dock. He’d missed them tremendously and was glad they were home. It was good to see his in-laws as well.
“Papa! Papa!” Kendall’s voice rang out louder than his little brothers’.
“Papa!” Blair and Rory added to the din on the already noisy dock as they and their brother ran around everyone in their way to get to their father.
“Papa? Did you miss us?” Kendall wanted to know.
“That’s a silly question Kenny,” his father laughed. “Of course I missed you. I almost decided to swim to Ireland just to be with you but I didn’t want your mother to yell at me for getting my clothes all wet and catching pneumonia.”
The three boys giggled at the thought. They’d enjoyed their trip but they had missed their papa something fierce and were glad to be home. Their mother, Uncle Jamie and Aunt Bridget, as well as their grandparents joined the little group.
Holding the boys at arm’s length Jim said, “Look at you three! You’ve grown a foot I do believe!”
“Not quite a foot, Alex, dear,” his wife said with a smile and a kiss. “But they have grown a couple of inches these last months. Kenny’s about outgrown all his pants and shirts. We’ll have to do some shopping while we’re here for material and such. I can take care of his immediate needs here and next time we’re in Morro Coyo I’ll get some more material and thread and the like from Señor Baldomero.”
“It was just a few months after the boys and I returned from Ireland that your mother learned that she was expecting you,” Maura said to Johnny with a smile. “And even before you were born you were giving her a lot of grief.”
“Me? How? I wasn’t even born yet!” Johnny was surprised to say the least.
“Don’t ask little brother,” Scott said with a grin. “I have a feeling you might not like the answer.”
“Scott Lancer!” Maura exclaimed. “Stop picking on your little brother!” Turning to Johnny she said, “You were a very active child even while you were still in your mother’s womb. She swore from the very beginning that you would be active when you were born because you never seemed to be still from about the fourth month of her pregnancy on.” Smiling broadly at Murdoch she added, “And your father, as well as the rest of us, would soon find out just how true that statement was.”
Johnny grinned in embarrassment even as the rest of the group gave him knowing looks. “What can I say? I must have known I was going to need to be active to keep up with my brother,” he said. “A brother that’s always in need of rescuing from some sort of disaster.”
“Who rescues whom little brother?” Scott asked indignantly. “Who was it that hauled you into the house after Pardee shot you in the back? Who was it that rode with Murdoch to rescue you when Tom Nevill’s father had your description on a wanted poster?
“Yeah but who was it that got lost in the badlands twice, drank bad water and nearly got himself killed pretending to be me when Drago and his bunch passed through here a while back?”
Before they could carry their nonsense any further Jim picked up the story. “I was very happy to have my family back let me tell you. The girl who did the housekeeping was in and out as soon as I’d had my breakfast. Every day I’d leave carrying a lunch she packed for me. Señora Baldomero came over to tend to the gardens but she didn’t have a lot of time to talk and she became ill soon after that.”
Through the years, when everything went wrong
Together we were strong, I know that I belonged
Right here with you…through the years
I never had a doubt, we’d always work things out
I’ve learned what love’s about, by loving you
Through the years
“Maria! How are you dear?” Maura asked upon arrival at Lancer a few weeks after her return from Ireland. Murdoch had been over to visit once and Maura’s parents and one brother had stayed with them for a week before returning to San Francisco to start their return journey home. They would meet the rest of the family in Panama and from there they would travel back to Boston together.
It was late September and the unseasonable heat was almost unbearable. Not like the Septembers Maura remembered from her younger years in New England though she had to admit that they did get an occasional hot day even back there. But Maria was looking peaked to the older woman’s eyes and she suspected, though it would be hard to say at this point in time, that she knew why.
“Oh Señora Talbot,” the girl moaned. “I feel muy mal! I am sick to my stomach almost every day. I cannot keep any food down that I have for breakfast.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“A few weeks now. I do not wish to worry my husband so I do not say anything. He is so busy I do not wish to bother him. And when he gets home he is so tired and …”
“Grumpy?” Maura asked with a smile.
“Well, he works hard all day but that’s no excuse for his behavior.” Maura decided then and there to have a talk with her friend. Tired or not, he needed to show his young bride that he cared enough to pay attention to how she was feeling. “Let’s go inside my dear, where it’s cooler, and I’ll give you the gifts I brought you from Ireland. There’s a linen tablecloth and some lace…”
Several hours later Maura left for home more convinced than ever that time alone would cure Maria’s problem. She was pretty sure the girl was pregnant and that she’d miscarried early on in the marriage. Señora Baldomero was sure to know for sure, though after three sons Maura knew the signs pretty well.
Three days later she and Señora Baldomero saw Maria together and Maura’s suspicions were confirmed. Maria Lancer was pregnant and had been pregnant without knowing it a year earlier. Both older women hoped that the pregnancy would go well this time once the morning sickness passed. No one hoped so more than the expectant mother who had been miserable every morning for almost a month.
Murdoch was ecstatic when he found out he was going to be a father again. He took pains to see that Maria didn’t overdo and that she ate properly and got enough rest. Little did he know that he would lose this child in much the same way as he had lost his first one.
All through the rest of the hot summer Murdoch kept an eye on his young wife. When he couldn’t be there Maura Talbot would come over from the Bar T to visit bringing one or more of the boys with her. Her sons were growing at a rapid pace and Kendall had started school. His teacher was very pleased with him for Kenny was kind and patient with all of his classmates but he wouldn’t be pushed around by any bullies. But even his teacher could see that Kenny was truly in love with the ranch and wouldn’t be easily persuaded to leave it for any reason.
The fall days turned cooler and everyone, especially the expectant mother, breathed a sigh of relief. Rain finally started coming and water holes filled up again as lakes and ponds were also refreshed. Wolf Creek came back up to normal levels after running at half its normal depth for the last couple of months.
A couple of weeks into November the Talbots suffered a slight tragedy when Kendall, annoyed by his little brothers’ being on his heels all day, fell out of a tree he climbed to escape them and broke his right leg. It was a scrub oak that stood near the road between Lancer and the Bar T.
Driving the road between their ranches Murdoch was returning to Lancer after a trip to Morro Coyo for some supplies they had suddenly found themselves short of, when he heard the boy crying.
“Help me. Mama. Papa. Come get me. I’m sorry I climbed that tree.”
“Kenny? Is that you? It’s Uncle Murdoch, Kenny.”
“Uncle Murdoch?” the boy sniffled. “I’m over here Uncle Murdoch. I fell out of the tree and my leg hurts.
Quickly jumping down from the wagon seat Murdoch ran to where he could just barely see Kenny lying on the ground crying.
“What happened pal?” he asked as he knelt beside the boy.
“I climbed that tree to get away from Blair and Rory ‘cause they were following me all day and getting in my way. But the branch broke and I fell from up there.” He pointed to a spot some ten feet from the ground.
“I’ll have you fixed up and home before you know it partner,” Murdoch said to the boy. “But it’s going to hurt just a wee bit. I’m afraid your leg is broken and I’m going to have to put a splint on it before I move you.”
The youngster stoically accepted his “uncle’s” word for it and did his best to be brave while the big man set his leg and splinted it. It was hard on both of them and the youngster passed out from the pain shortly after Murdoch started. Working swiftly he finished his first aid and gently scooped the boy up in his arms and placed him among the supplies in the back of the wagon. Fortunately there were several blankets to put over him and some sacks of flour for him to rest against.
“Murdoch? What brings you here?” Jim Talbot came from the woodshed where he’d been chopping kindling. The two younger boys were gathering up woodchips and small sticks to take to their mother to start cooking fires and the like.
“I found Kenny in that patch of oaks near the road between our places that runs from Morro Coyo. He’d fallen out of a tree.” Jumping down from the wagon seat he went around to the back. “I’m afraid his leg is broken. I’ve set it and splinted it. It was a clean break thank God. With Sam Jenkins not due back for a few months yet I don’t know what we’d do if he’d required surgery.”
“Papa.” A miserable little boy looked up through teary eyes as Jim followed Murdoch to the back of the wagon. “I’m sorry papa. I climbed that tree you told me to stay out of.”
“We’ll discuss it later Kenny,” his father told him. “Right now we’ll just get you into the house so Mama can take care of you. I hope you thanked Uncle Murdoch for helping you.”
“Yes, papa,” the little boy said as he snuggled in his father’s arms. “Thank you Uncle Murdoch for helping me. I tried not to cry too much.”
“You were a brave lad. A bonny brave laddie,” his “uncle” told him.
The boy’s parents were grateful that Murdoch had come along when he did and resolved to repay him in some way after they attended to their son’s disobedience.
The two younger boys, penitent themselves for having driven their brother to his “desperate” act of disobedience, did all they could to make their brother comfortable and cheer him up while he recovered. Rory was learning how to read and what he couldn’t read in his books he brought to his brother’s bedside he made up. Or Kenny would read to him and Blair – when Blair would sit still long enough that was. Blair was learning to read but he also liked to be outdoors. Sitting outdoors under a tree with a book in his hands was even better.
Fall came and went and winter arrived. A rare ice storm kept everyone pretty much confined to home for a day and a half before the men finally had to venture out and check on damage to trees and herds. Fortunately nobody in the immediate area had suffered any major losses.
Maria Lancer suffered greatly from homesickness and boredom. Murdoch was not one to throw a lot of parties. He was gone much of the day looking after the daily routine and special jobs involved in building and maintaining a successful cattle ranch and not much in the mood for a party or any company other than his wife and perhaps the Talbots when he got home.
As the winter passed and the time grew nearer for Maria’s baby to arrive Maura took to having a bag packed and ready to go. In it were a for a few days change of clothes plus anything she might need to help bring Maria’s baby into the world. She saw to it that foods such as soup and custards were prepared and ready for Maria for she would need such to help her regain her strength after the child was born.
It was late in April when the baby arrived. After two and a half days of difficult labor a bundle of joy that his parents named John Luis Lancer was born weighing in at a little more than six pounds by Maura’s estimate. He had dark hair and blue eyes and Maura was pretty sure his eyes would remain that color in spite of his mother’s Mexican heritage. Time would prove her right. Time would also prove that he had the stubborn streak of both of his parents. His “reluctance” to leave his mother’s womb was proof enough of that.
Two days after the baby was born Jim brought the boys over to meet their new neighbor. Kenny was ecstatic for the oldest of Maura and Jim’s boys loved babies. Blair and Rory were slightly less interested but their father had told them to mind their manners.
“Can I hold him?” Kenny asked.
“It’s too soon for you to hold him,” his mother said. “He’s too tiny.”
“Nonsense,” Murdoch said. He was standing right there giving his wife and newborn son loving looks. “He can sit right here in this chair,” he indicated the nearby rocker, “and I’ll put the baby in his arms. Just put a couple of pillows behind his back.”
Maura had her doubts but there was no stopping Murdoch. He was proud of his son and he knew that Kenny adored babies. Not for the world would he think of hurting his adopted nephew’s feelings by refusing him permission. The boy was very responsible for eight – especially since the oak tree incident. .
Quietly she set about preparing the chair, and her son, to receive the newborn. Kenny was excited but he did exactly as he was told and made himself comfortable in the rocking chair. Murdoch took the baby from his mother and carefully placed him in Kendall’s lap. The eight-year-old set about putting the chair in motion while humming and talking to baby Johnny.
Everyone, except Blair and Rory, smiled as they watched the older boy with the newborn. It was more evident than ever that Kendall adored babies. He spent the next fifteen minutes talking to the newest Lancer and humming. He could be heard telling Johnny about all the things he was going to teach him like he was teaching Blair. Blair and Rory got bored very quickly and were released to go outside and play while they waited for their father and brother.
“That’s enough now,” Maura said after about ten minutes. “Maria and Johnny need their rest.” Leaning over she took the baby from her son and placed him in the cradle near Maria’s side of the bed. “Alex it’s time you took the boys home. I’ll be along in another day or two as soon as I’m sure Maria is ready to handle things on her own.”
“Yes, Maura, my love,” Jim said with a grin as he leaned over and kissed her. “I’ll be back in two days to get you.”
“Oh, Jim,” Murdoch said, “I can bring her home. I’m sure Maria can manage for the short time it would take.”
“No, Murdoch,” his friend disagreed. “I remember what it’s like to be a new father. You stay home and take care of your wife and son. I’ll be back mid-morning on Friday to take my wife off your hands.”
And thus it was that two days later Maura returned to her own home and family. Maria was doing well and baby Johnny, Juanito his mother called him, was thriving. He was a happy, healthy little guy who loved to be cuddled and to hear his mama and papa talk to him and sing to him. Maria sang many of the lullabies she remembered hearing her mother, grandmother and aunts sing to her and her younger siblings and cousins.
Murdoch was ecstatic. Now that he had a wife again, and another son, he felt that he wanted to celebrate. He made plans for, and held a big barbecue, about a week after Johnny was born. He wanted to show off his new son. He was also making plans to start saving for a trip to Boston to retrieve his older son, Scott, who would soon be three years old. His friends, especially the Talbots, had been urging him to make the effort. Now that he was married again what possible objection could Harlan Garrett raise to giving up his grandson? He even had a mother, albeit a stepmother, for Scott. Little did they know the heartaches that lay ahead a couple of years down the road.
The party was a huge success and Maria was happy for a couple of weeks afterward. But boredom soon set in again. If Johnny wasn’t nursing he was sleeping and Maria had never been content to sit and sew or knit. She craved action and excitement and life on a working cattle ranch with few neighbors around and fewer trips into town, such as it was, didn’t set well with the young woman.
By the time Johnny was a year old and starting to walk his mother was becoming very discontented with her life. It wasn’t so much that Murdoch was inattentive but he just wasn’t the type of man who enjoyed hosting big parties all the time and he was tired from working hard all day. Even making love to his wife had become a chore – not that Maria minded that all that much. She was fast becoming unhappy as a wife and mother. Nobody but Maura saw the signs and the older woman was helpless to get her friend to see that he was losing his wife.
She tried talking to Maria and visited as often as she could but she didn’t have much success in settling the younger woman down. Maura and the boys visited often. Kenny would ride his horse over from the ranch following closely behind his mother and brothers in the buggy. Dismounting, he would follow sedately until they were admitted to the house. Then he would make a beeline for Johnny’s cradle or, as Johnny got older, to where he sat on the floor playing with a ball or some wooden animals his doting father had made for him. More often than not Kenny would gently remove the animal from Johnny’s mouth afraid that he would hurt himself on them. When the baby got fussy the older boy would pick him up and hold him in his arms. Sometimes he would sing in his boyish soprano and other times he would talk nonsense to him. Yet again he might tell Johnny about the great adventures they would have when he got old enough.
It didn’t make a bit of difference to Johnny that he was still too young to understand. He adored Kenny and would stop crying as soon as he saw him coming. When he started talking Kenny’s name was the one he never, ever, pronounced any way but the proper way. “My Kenny” was the only deviation.
At six months, just before Christmas, Johnny started crawling. His parents despaired of keeping him out of places such as fireplaces much as Maura and Jim had despaired of keeping their three out of the same kinds of things. Maria was continually pulling the little boy away from the flames, moving lamps out of reach or catching chairs before they fell on him when he pulled at them. She was run ragged from the moment he woke up and found it hard to keep an eye on him and do her housework and cooking. They didn’t have a housekeeper. It was up to her to manage and daily she wondered how women like Maura did it.
Murdoch would take over entertaining his son when he came in from the range. Dangling a pocket watch in front of him would work for all of two minutes. Listening to the watch entertained him for another two minutes. Then papa would be forced to find something else. He’d bounce him on his knee, play patty cake with him and tickle him to hear him laugh.
Out of desperation the new parents turned to their friends, the Talbots and others, for ideas of how to keep the active little boy out of trouble. Visits from the Talbots were considered godsends for the three Talbot boys adored Johnny and would play with him for hours on end until all four were exhausted.
There was one minor scare when Johnny, at eight months, broke out in a rash and a fever but Maura quickly reassured the nervous parents that it was merely the chicken pox and getting them now meant he didn’t know how to scratch therefore he wouldn’t infect the pox and would get over it quickly enough. She advised them to bathe the boy in cool water and oatmeal for the fever and the itch. All were relieved when he made a quick recovery and was back to raising cain within a couple of weeks of falling ill.
It was at Christmas time that they finally found somewhat of a solution to keeping the active toddler out of trouble. It seems that the Talbot’s collie, Callie, had had a litter of puppies a few weeks earlier. They were just old enough to leave their mother although they spent much of the day sleeping still – when they weren’t eating. The three boys decided that a pretty little female would be the perfect Christmas present for Johnny and they named her Patty Pat. It was with great ceremony that they presented the puppy to the toddler giggling as the puppy washed Johnny’s face for him with her little pink tongue. They could tell that their present was a hit. Within a year the puppy would be tagging along after Johnny as he explored the barnyard and areas surrounding the house. Many were the minor, and not so minor, tears that Maria had to mend in Johnny’s shirttails where Patty Pat had pulled him away from a bellowing cow or a stomping horse or yanked him away from a watering trough he was leaning too far over and in danger of falling into.
After Johnny had turned a year old Murdoch and Jim would sometimes have their wives put together a picnic lunch and they’d take the four boys fishing. Johnny lacked the patience to let his fish get good and hooked before he would yank it and his pole out of the water. This caused the three older boys to giggle with delight at the youngest one’s antics. Kendall could remember when Blair did that but now Blair was the best fisherman among the Talbot boys. After one such incident Murdoch wrapped his big arm around his small son, squeezed and tickled him saying, “Johnny, my boy, you’ll never make a good fisherman if you keep that up.” Jim laughed along with the boys and Murdoch at that remark. It was evident, even at Johnny’s young age that he would never be the fisherman his father was.
By the time he was a year and a half Johnny was beginning to talk a blue streak. Many of his sentences began with “Kenny, Blair or Wowy” – he couldn’t quite master the double “r” in Rory’s name. If he wasn’t following them around he was talking to mama or riding with papa on papa’s big horse around the ranch. And the faster Murdoch went the better Johnny liked it. Even better was if Kendall rode with them for the fast growing oldest Talbot boy rode like a centaur and delighted in riding with his father or his “uncle” and Johnny.
He and Kenny would sit and “talk” by the hour. Kenny seemed to be the only one that understood Johnny’s speech when he first started talking. Blair and Rory would walk with him, each holding one hand, and swing him like their papa had done with them when they were small. Johnny would squeal with delight each time his feet left the ground.
Blair had taken to adopting all sorts of pets. The one and only pet Johnny never got to see was the mountain lion cub. He’d found it, seemingly abandoned, in some bushes about a mile from the house. It had been a rough winter in the mountains and this cub’s mama was following her instincts. She knew that there were deer in the woods even if they were hard to find in the mountains. Jim had to rescue Blair when the cub’s mother came along and discovered that a human was playing with her cub. The cub had started crying for it’s mother and she was quick to respond. Her snarling scared the boy and he screamed for his father who was nearby. Taking the sensible approach Jim didn’t shoot the lioness but, rather, looked her square in the eyes and slowly backed away carrying his small son. This made him look bigger than he really was and the mother lion wanted no part of the oversized human. The mountain lion gathered up her cub, giving him a cuffing for scaring her, and went back toward the mountains to hunt. There were too many humans around here for her taste. A little boy went to bed with a sore backside that night for being foolish enough to approach the cub without knowing whether it’s mother was nearby. Both he and Maura breathed silent prayers of thanks for the Lord’s protection of their wayward son.
The baby raccoon that Blair had for a few weeks was Johnny’s favorite. Blair named it Rascal but Rascal, too, was soon reclaimed by the wilderness. He grew at an alarming rate and was soon able to fend for himself. The gray squirrel lasted a bit longer and grew so tame that it would eat right out of Johnny’s hand.
Rory was also somewhat of a problem as far as pets were concerned. His mother and Maria both were nervous when he started raving about his newest pet because it could be anything from a harmless toad to a frog to a baby garter snake. Neither one of the mothers was happy about his penchant for having reptilian and amphibious creatures for pets but nothing they said could dampen his enthusiasm for hunting for frogs and lizards. It only came to a stop the day his father discovered him with a baby rattlesnake. After carefully disposing of the dangerous reptile Jim gave his middle son a stern lecture and orders never to pick up a snake again until he knew the difference between them. It took many months of nightly lectures to all three sons to be sure that they were educated in the differences. They often had Johnny with them on these excursions and he wanted to make sure that his sons were responsible when the toddler was with them. Johnny was a very curious child and the way he adored Kendall, Rory and Blair he could be expected to mimic anything he saw them do – including handling all the woodland creatures they encountered in their travels.
Johnny’s favorite excursions were their trips into the woods and to old Indian campsites where Kendall would hunt for arrowheads and Johnny would help Blair collect rocks and Rory would be assisted in his hunt for “valuable” junk that he could trade when he went into town with his father. All three boys would praise the toddler abundantly for his help. Maria wasn’t so happy about the grimy clothes and the number of baths she had to give her son but as long as he was happy she didn’t say much. It was hard to resist when he turned big blue eyes on her filled with tears when she scolded him or his pals.
Maria, meanwhile, was becoming more and more disenchanted with marriage to a man who had little time or want for parties and didn’t see the sense in buying lots of impractical trinkets and pretty clothes. She was longing for the things she’d left behind when she left her uncle’s custody in Matamoros. She missed the dancing, feasts, festivals and bright clothes. The clothes she wore around the ranch since she married were dull and unattractive for all they were serviceable and practical. Soon she was secretly seeking attention from other men who gave her things she kept hidden or promised her the world on a silver platter.
For now, however, life went on as usual. Maria tended to the house while Murdoch built his herd and fixed the outbuildings. He saw to it that any repairs needed to the house such as shingles on the roof were taken care of and he spent time with his son.
For Johnny life consisted of sleeping, eating and playing with the Talbot boys as much as possible. The four boys would romp in the yard with Patty Pat and the vaqueros’ children or they would visit the horses in the corral, chase the chickens (which got them roundly scolded by Maria when Johnny got pecked by a cranky setting hen) and generally make nuisances of themselves as small boys are apt to do. It was an idyllic scene that would come crashing down around their heads in a very short time.
Six months later…..
It was a bright sunny spring morning when Murdoch Lancer rode into the yard at the Bar T at a frantic gallop. Calves and foals were gamboling by their mothers’ sides. Birds were singing their sweet songs, the breeze was sighing in the treetops and the bees were beginning to buzz around the clover in the nearby fields.
Only the night before the Scotsman had tucked his two-year-old into his bed and kissed him good night before retiring to his own bed shortly after. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Johnny had had a long, busy day of playing with the Talbot boys and having a nice long ride with Papa on his horse. Murdoch had worked long and hard helping to rebuild fallen fences and walls and chased stray cattle from his place to the Bar T, from the Bar T to Lancer and from the foothills of the mountains back into the lower pastures. They would move the herds up to the higher pastures when the weather got warmer. He was making a valiant attempt to keep from losing any more cattle to hungry mountain lions and bears just out of hibernation.
As a result he had stayed up later with Johnny so that the toddler wouldn’t feel neglected. The two of them had played “horsey” and tag and laughed and “wrestled” and did all those things that fathers did with their little boys before tucking them safely into bed at night. Maria had watched quietly never letting on that anything was wrong and that she had come to a fateful decision. She accompanied her husband and son to the boy’s room and saw to it that he was tucked in – presumably for the night. It would be daylight before Murdoch realized anything was wrong. By then it would be too late.
Throwing himself out of the saddle he ran to the front door and began pounding on it. A moment later Jim Talbot, carrying his coffee mug, answered.
“Murdoch? What brings you here at this hour? The sun’s barely been up for an hour!”
“It’s Maria and Johnny. They’re missing. I was hoping they’d come over here because Johnny was sick and Maria didn’t know where else to go.” He paused to catch his breath for a moment. “Please! Tell me they’re here!”
Jim looked at his friend in concern. “No, my friend, they’re not. I haven’t seen them for a couple of days now – not since we were over there for dinner Saturday night.”
Seeing his friend’s distressed look he told him, “Look, you come on in the house and talk to Maura. Maybe she knows something.”
The two men walked toward the kitchen, which was located at the back of the house. Maura was cleaning up their breakfast dishes and sweeping the crumbs off the table. The boys were upstairs in their rooms making their beds and picking up their dirty clothes. It was a daily chore that their parents felt they were old enough to handle. Kendall was now ten, Rory was almost nine and Blair was five. They all three had additional chores such as filling their mother’s wood box, gathering eggs and cleaning stalls in the barn. Maura fed the chickens herself every morning in order to ensure that the hens would be off their nests when Blair went to collect the eggs.
“Maura, my love, it’s Murdoch.”
“I can see that with my own eyes Alex,” his wife replied tartly. “What brings you here at this hour of the morning Murdoch?”
“Well, it’s Maria – and Johnny – they’ve disappeared. I was hoping you knew where she was – that she’d come here in a panic because Johnny was sick.”
“Oh, no! That’s terrible! She’s not here though. I haven’t seen her for a couple of days now. Not since the last time the boys were over to visit and I came over to get them.”
“Look,” Jim said to his friend. “I’ll saddle a horse and gather some of my men and we’ll search the area.”
“I think that’s a very good idea,” Maura said. “I’ll fix a lunch for the two of you while you get your things together.”
Impatient to be off Murdoch tried to refuse her kind offer but she’d have no part of his stubbornness.
“I’ll not be having to nurse you Murdoch Lancer! Not like I did when you caught that cold a few months ago. You’ll wait until Alex is ready to go and I have a lunch packed! You’ll not do Maria or Johnny any good if you starve yourself! There’s no telling what kind of trouble they might be in.”
Reluctantly Murdoch waited the fifteen minutes it took for Jim to saddle a horse, don his coat and meet up with the men he had alerted that were waiting in the yard for them. After a brief meeting to set designated search areas the men were off while Maura stayed behind with her sons. Briefly she told them what was happening – that Maria and Johnny were lost somewhere and Papa and “Uncle Murdoch” had taken the men to go and search for them.
Several times during the day Maura and the boys prayed for the safety of the lost loved ones and those that were searching for them. Their prayers would be partly answered late that afternoon.
“Alex! Murdoch! Did you find them?”
“No, Maura, my love. We didn’t find any trace of them.” Jim looked as tired and frustrated as Murdoch did. “We looked everywhere.”
“Did you stop and see Aggie and Henry Conway?” The Conways were new neighbors that had bought a ranch not very far from Lancer and the Bar T. Aggie and Henry were destined to be very good friends with Murdoch, Maura and Jim.
“Yes. Aggie says she hasn’t seen Maria for over a week. Henry hasn’t seen her for two weeks. Not since the last time he went into Morro Coyo.”
“Did she come by here, Maura?” the desperate husband and father asked yet again.
“Why, no, Murdoch,” Maura exclaimed in surprise. “She’s not here. She hasn’t been here that I know of.” Seeing her friend’s crestfallen face she said, “Let’s ask the boys if they know anything about it. Maybe she said something to them and they didn’t realize it.”
Having dismounted Jim went to the door and called his sons. The three boys responded immediately to their father’s summons.
“Boys have you seen Maria or Johnny today?” he asked them. “Uncle Murdoch found them missing when he woke up this morning.”
“No, papa,” Kendall said. “We haven’t seen her since the day before yesterday when you took us to Señor Baldomero’s store.”
“That’s right papa,” Rory agreed while Blair nodded his head vigorously. “She was standing outside the saloon talking and giggling with some strange man.”
Exchanging glances with his friends Murdoch asked the boy, “What strange man was that Rory?”
“I don’t know Uncle Murdoch. Just some strange man wearing fancy clothes.”
“What kind of fancy clothes do you mean Rory?” his mother asked.
“You know Mama,” the red headed youngster answered. “He didn’t dress like a farmer or a rancher. He wore a suit and he had on a big hat. He had a ring with a great big red stone on his right hand.”
“Yeah!” Kenny exclaimed. “I remember him. He talked kinda loud and waved his hands around. Maria was giggling…” The boy stopped talking as he saw his “uncle’s” face turn white with shock. “Did I say something wrong Uncle Murdoch?”
“Nay, it’s not you lad,” the Scotsman’s accent came back in his moment of distress.
“You boys run along and wash up for dinner,” their mother said. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
The boys scampered away after giving their surrogate uncle a hug and went straightaway into the house as they had been directed. It wasn’t hard for them to see that the grownups wanted to talk alone. Nor that it wasn’t something that little boys should hear.
“What do you think?” Murdoch asked his friend.
“I’m afraid to say it,” Jim replied. “I think Maria has left you.”
“Alex is right,” Maura said. “I knew she was unhappy but I didn’t think she’d stoop to running away! Nor that she’d take the child with her.” She looked at the two men and added, “I think you had better get yourself into Morro Coyo and see if you can find any trace of her. Homesick or not that girl has no business running off like this! That gambler fellow has been wooing all the pretty girls in town with tales of diamonds and rubies and trips to Europe. I’m surprised something hasn’t happened before now.”
The two men hurried off to make the trip to Morro Coyo. Murdoch went with the hope of finding his missing wife and child. Jim as moral support for the man he considered a good friend. Deep down inside though, Jim was positive that they weren’t going to find her or the boy. He’d had doubts about this marriage from the beginning but Murdoch had been so blindly in love with the beautiful girl at the time that he hadn’t heard a word that was said to him.
They were scarcely a mile from the sleepy little village when they ran into Paul O’Brien. Paul had had the same idea in mind and was on his way home with bad news. George Fox was a gambler with a reputation for being a ladies man and many was the girl who had fallen for his slick talking ways.
“Paul? We were just on our way to Morro Coyo to ask about Maria? Did you find anything out?” Murdoch asked anxiously.
“I’m afraid she’s gone for good Murdoch,” his foreman said. “I talked to several people who saw her, and Johnny, leaving with that gambler. George Fox has been seen laying it on thick with a lot of the local women but Maria seems to be the one he singled out. She fell for his sweet talk and promises of jewels and trips.”
“Are you sure? There’s no mistake? It was really Maria and she had Johnny with her?”
“Yes,” Paul answered sadly. “It was Juan Baldomero who saw them leave. He said he hadn’t been asleep very long when he was awakened by the sounds of a man shouting at a running team and a child crying.”
“Johnny,” the devastated father said.
“Evidently,” Paul agreed. “Baldomero says he recognized Maria and he also recognized Johnny’s voice. I tried to track them but after he left town the tracks disappear in with all the wagon and carriage tracks of this morning’s traffic in and out. There’s nothing else I can do. Maybe you can send a message to her uncle? She might be heading there.”
“That’s a good idea Murdoch,” Jim said. “If she’s been unhappy or homesick that might just be the first place she’d go. It’s worth a try anyway. If she’s not there maybe he’s got an idea of where she went.”
“’Dear Señor Lancer it is with much regret that I inform you that my uncle, Diego Vasquez, died just two days after you left here. He was deeply troubled, as all of us are, that Maria ran off and left you taking your child with her.
“Please be assured that I have not personally seen her or she would have been brought back to you, along with the child, as soon as she arrived. But I have not seen her. Nor has anyone with whom I have spoken. If she is hiding among our relatives they are keeping it a secret. But I believe that if she were here somebody would have said something and brought it to my attention.
“Because I disapprove, as our uncle did, of her behavior I will make inquiries among our more distant relatives and friends. If I am successful in my search I will make every effort to return her to her home and the boy with her. I am very sorry that she has treated you so badly.
“Your most obedient servant Francisco Escobar.”
Thus read the letter that Murdoch received from Maria’s cousin several months later after a hasty trip to Matamoros. It did nothing to improve his mood. He continued to withdraw inside of himself and became more bitter and depressed with each day that passed. His friends, the Talbots and the Conways among them, worried about him but there was nothing they could do to lighten his mood. The wound was too deep. Maria’s betrayal would leave permanent scars.
As he was able to save the money he would make trips to the border towns and small villages not too far over the border to search for his wife and son but none of them were successful. If, indeed, someone had seen Maria she wasn’t there very long and was always one giant step ahead of her husband. Occasionally Jim Talbot accompanied him but Murdoch wouldn’t let his friend leave his family very often in spite of their assurances that it was perfectly all right.
Regular correspondence from Maria’s cousin Francisco- as regular as mail could run from Mexico to California in those days - kept him apprised of the search he was making. His success rate was no better than Murdoch’s and it was apparent that he was very unhappy with her for disgracing the family name as she had.
After supper, the day that Maria and Johnny were discovered missing, Maura and Jim sat down with their three young sons and explained to them, as best they could, what had happened. All three started crying as soon as they heard.
“Mama?” Kendall asked. “Does this mean we’ll never see Johnny again?”
“I don’t know macushla,” she said as she tried to comfort him and Rory at the same time. “All we can do is pray for him and his mother and hope that the Good Lord keeps them safe.”
“I want Johnny!” Blair sobbed broken-heartedly.
“I know you do son,” Jim said as he hugged his youngest. “We all want him back home where he belongs but we don’t know where he is. And you know what? Uncle Murdoch needs us to cheer him up if we can. It’s even harder on him than it is on us.”
“Can you do that?” Maura asked her sons. “Can you be brave and cheerful for Uncle Murdoch and try to make him happy?”
The boys agreed that they would try and that they would spend as much time as they could with their surrogate uncle trying to cheer him up. It met with limited success but they gave it their best shot. When they were home, alone with their parents, they often asked their mother or father where Johnny was and why Maria had taken him away. And many were the nights that Maura and Jim hugged their three boys as they cried over the disappearance of their little friend. They didn’t need grown ups to tell them how sad it made Murdoch. They could see the haunted look in his eyes for themselves and it made them all the sadder for their mutual loss for they considered Murdoch and Johnny to be family as much as their siblings and their parents.
In 1851 Murdoch’s friend Joe Barker, a lawman in distant Abilene, offered him a job as his deputy. In need of money to continue his search for Johnny, and to save to go to Boston to get Scott Murdoch accepted the job. He left Cipriano in charge at Lancer, for Paul O’Brien had decided to try his hand at ranching on his own on a small place he’d bought nearby. And anyway Jim was nearby to call on for advice. He went from Abilene to Boston arriving on the boy’s fifth birthday. Murdoch was prepared to bring his son home. But threatened with a lengthy court battle and seeing that the boy was well taken care of he left without him. The court battle was something that Murdoch was unwilling to put a five-year-old child through. He didn’t doubt for one minute that Harlan Garrett would do just that – take the case to court. Murdoch just didn’t have the money, or the heart to put the child through, a lengthy custody battle. Harlan’s resources were virtually unlimited. His weren’t.
He traveled home along the route that he had taken from Massachusetts to California six years earlier with his beloved Catherine, stopping in all of the gold camps and boomtowns he encountered along the way enquiring after his runaway wife. In San Francisco he spent weeks on the waterfront checking with dockworkers and sailors and travelers to and from the city to see if they had seen anything of a young Mexican woman with a small child of mixed ancestry. No one had seen her or Johnny.
“You really looked for us everywhere didn’t you?” Johnny softly asked his father.
“Yes, son, I really did,” Murdoch answered.
“Didn’t she give you any kind of warning that she was unhappy?” Scott wanted to know.
“No, son, she didn’t. Not that I could see or hear. She kept it well hidden other than constantly begging to hold a party and being upset with me when I didn’t want to. Her parties took too much money away from our living expenses and the business of the ranch – building up the herd and repairing/replacing machinery and buildings.”
“Johnny, dear,” Maura spoke up. “I was just about the best friend your mother had in the valley until George Fox and his sweet talking ways got to her. And she never let on to me except to occasionally say that she was homesick.”
In an attempt to lighten the mood Scott said, “It sounds like Patty Pat was the only one, besides the three Talbot boys, that could keep up with Johnny. No wonder Lady always looks so tired. She’s worn out just like her great-grandmother trying to keep my little brother out of trouble.”
“And she ain’t doin’ such a good job,” Val said to needle his friend. “He’s got her worn down to such a frazzle that he’s in trouble every time he sets foot in Green River.”
“And she can’t keep him out of Maria’s cookie jar,” Teresa added. “And I’ll just bet that he’s responsible for that missing cake as well – the one that was half eaten the other day.”
“I am not!” Johnny tried to defend himself against the sudden “attack” on his character.
“I agree with Val and Teresa,” Scott said. “You’ve worn that poor dog out and Maria can’t possibly hope to keep up with your sweet tooth!” Looking at Maura he added, “Mrs. Talbot seems to be the only one that has half a chance and you get far more goodies out of her than I do because you won’t share!”
Everyone laughed as Johnny spluttered and complained. Everyone in the room knew it was the truth. Scott enjoyed sweets almost as much as his brother but he didn’t go into the kitchen and cajole fresh baked goodies out of Maria or pour the charm on when he was at the Talbots. Not that Maura needed any encouragement. She made sure to have plenty of fresh baked bread, cookies, pastries and assorted other goodies when she knew they were going to have a visit from one or more of the Lancers.
“His mother used to say the same thing. She despaired of ever keeping him filled up once he started eating solid food. He was always looking for cookies or something.”
“Our boys were the same way,” Jim said. “Maura could feed them breakfast and they’d be looking for cookies immediately afterward.”
“You know,” Scott added, “It’s an old custom in New England to have apple pie for breakfast. Maybe we should try that out on Johnny. Then maybe the cooks around here might stand a chance at keeping their pantries full for the rest of us.”
“And I’ll bet those new holes in his shirt that he said the barbed wire put there are really from Lady trying to keep him from falling into a hole or the water or something,” Teresa added.
“Very funny,” Johnny scowled which only made everyone laugh all the harder
“Shortly after I quit my job as Joe Barker’s deputy I came home,” Murdoch remembered. “It was a bleak and dismal time for me.”
Through the years, you’ve never let me down
You’ve turned my life around, the sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you…through the years
It’s better every day, you’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay, I’ll stay with you
Through the years.
It was with a heavy heart that Murdoch returned home his ranch in 1853 after a year in Abilene and an unsuccessful trip to Boston. From then on he would concentrate almost exclusively on building up his cattle empire with attempts to locate Maria and Johnny, as he was able to put the money aside again. In 1850 Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Law requiring that any and all runaway slaves, regardless of where they were found, be returned to their owners. At face value this law seemed to have little effect on the residents of California. It would, however, eventually have tragic consequences for the Talbot family. The nation was moving closer and closer to civil war as the southern states protested the way the Federal Government was trampling all over their right to make and maintain their own laws. Eleven years later the conflict would ignite and battles would rage for four long years.
In 1852 the Pinkerton Detective Agency, founded by another Scottish immigrant – Alan Pinkerton, was opened. Pinkerton had resigned from the Chicago Police Department to start his own detective agency. A few years down the road he would be responsible for the protection of President-Elect Abraham Lincoln as he traveled from Springfield, Illinois to Baltimore, Maryland and eventually to Washington, D.C. With the opening of the Detective Agency, whose motto was “We Never Sleep” Murdoch suddenly found himself with a whole new avenue to explore in his thus far fruitless search for his runaway wife and their son.
Politics played a big part of history at that time in their lives. In 1850 President Zachary Taylor had died of cholera and was succeeded by Vice-President Millard Fillmore. Congress adopted the Compromise of 1850 based on five resolutions that had been drawn up by Senator Henry clay of Kentucky. Because of this compromise California would be admitted to the Union as a free state while the territories of New Mexico and Utah were organized without any restriction on slavery – it was to be decided by popular sovereignty but slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia while a more stringent Fugitive Slave Act was issued.
In 1851 Harriet Beecher Stowe, wife of a prominent New England preacher, wrote a serialized novel called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which began to appear in the anti-slavery publication, “The National Era”. In 1852 it was published as a complete novel and sold over one million copies within a year and was adapted as a stage play and thus reached even more people. The nation was slipping ever closer to the brink of war as many slave owners were outraged by the way they were portrayed in this novel as heartless beasts. Not true of all of them, of course, but the outraged slave owners were very vocal in their condemnation of the woman who had never even seen a southern plantation. She would later claim that God and a Divine inspiration to write the novel had given her a vision of the horrible conditions.
During these years the Talbot boys grew quickly from toddlers and young boys into pre-teens and teenagers. Blair could be found with a book in his hand quite often. He never neglected his chores or his regular schoolwork but he loved to read anything he could get his hands on. His mother, especially, preferred that he stick to the classics and history but there were times when he preferred the new genre known as dime novels that were just starting to appear.
There was a constant battle over eating habits. The boys had a definite dislike for most vegetables. The only way their mother could get them to eat tomatoes was to make them into a sauce to be eaten over pasta – something an Italian immigrant had taught her that she’d met while still living in Massachusetts. Blair had a weakness for butterscotch pie. Rory was extremely fond of chocolate. Ken wasn’t fussy. If it was sweet he’d eat it. Chocolate, lemon, butterscotch, vanilla, strawberry shortcake – it made no difference. He’d devour whatever his mother made as fast as she could make it. Keeping three hungry young boys fed was a difficult task but Maura endured and lovingly watched her sons grow into strong young men.
Murdoch Lancer never gave up looking for his younger son. Whenever he had the extra money he would hire the Pinkertons to search again along the border towns It would be years before they had any success and their discovery would be something of a shock. Young Scott, back in Boston, was not forgotten either. While he had no money for a court battle and a search for his younger son Murdoch sent gifts and letters often. He had no way of knowing that the boy’s grandfather would dispose of the gifts at the local orphanage and would withhold the letters. Scott would grow up knowing that he was the son of Murdoch Lancer but believing that he had never met him.
When Blair was fourteen he became quite interested in scientific matters as they related to animal husbandry and farming for a short while. He got hold of some literature explaining about crop rotation and convinced some of the local farmers to try it and they were quite pleased with the results. The boy had a keen and logical mind and laid everything out on paper before approaching the farmers with his theory. The results were outstanding. His grades were outstanding – even his older brother didn’t do as well. But his true love turned out to be law and he was seemingly headed for Yale when he turned eighteen.
As the people of the area watched the Talbot boys grow up many of them felt that Kendall was going to wind up studying to be a teacher or a minister. It was pretty evenly split among them as to which it would be. He was wonderful with children and always had been. But he took the things of God seriously as well. He was always ministering to somebody in one way or another. But he wasn’t above teasing his brothers by any means. They responded in kind he took it back
Rory was the energetic firecracker. Red-haired and with a temper to go with it but just as quick to calm down when the storm had passed Rory was either in the middle of a fight with one of his brothers for teasing him or with someone else for a wrong done to him or someone he cared about. But all knew that he had never, ever lost his temper with a child.
When Blair gained a couple of inches in height on him, and could no longer be called “runt”, Ken couldn’t get away with telling him he had “doe eyes” because Blair would tackle him and wrestle with him until. Their mother was about the only one that wasn’t surprised that Blair grew to be taller than his brothers. Her own brothers were four inches apart in height from oldest to youngest and Padraic, the middle one, was the shortest of the three. It seemed that Blair had gotten his height from his great-grandfather Fitzgerald.
It was also during this time that Paul O’Brien met and married Angel Weston, a young woman of questionable character. Paul had returned to his old position as Lancer’s foreman after an absence of several years. When the Talbots met Angel for the first time something about her set off alarm bells in Maura’s head but Paul, like many men, was attracted to her for her figure, relative good looks and her sweet talking manner. Talking to him, trying to warn him that he was riding for a fall, was a wasted effort.
On February 1, 1854, Teresa Ann O’Brien was born. Shortly after that her mother abandoned her to the care of her father and disappeared for the next sixteen years. Paul was heartbroken and angry as well. He and Murdoch, together, resolved to raise Teresa alone and declared Angel to be dead. They went so far as to have a gravesite prepared complete with marker so that Teresa, hopefully, would never find out the truth. Maura and Jim Talbot, among others, weren’t so sure that that was a good idea but the bullheaded Irishman and the equally bullheaded Scot were adamant that Teresa should never know the real story. It was a decision that Murdoch Lancer would come to regret when Angel returned sixteen years later.
During this period, slow though news was in getting to California via the soon to be defunct Pony Express, many in the new state would be affected. Men would leave the gold fields to fight for one cause or the other. Farmers, ranchers, shopkeepers etc. would watch sons march off to war perfectly healthy and return broken and shattered physically and emotionally if not mentally from the horrors of the war or from having been prisoners of war. Many would not return at all. For families on both sides of the conflict it was a horrible time.
On her fortieth birthday, March 17, 1861, Maura finally received the piano her husband had been trying to buy for her since they were married. It was a gift she would treasure forever, as it would be the last birthday gift she would receive while her family was together for civil war was about to come to the land and even California would be affected.
At a party held that night Murdoch Lancer, the Conways, Paul O’Brien and Teresa as well as others from the area celebrated the occasion with a dinner followed by Maura’s playing her new acquisition for them. It wasn’t long before the strains of Für Elise, part of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (which would become known as the hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee), a Chopin piece as well as some popular songs were heard floating on the air. She even managed a couple of waltzes so that her friends could dance.
Soon thereafter the party broke up and all the friends departed for their homes. Maura, assisted by her husband and sons, tidied up the house and put the leftovers aside for munching on at a later date. Little did husband and wife know that their happy home was about to be an emotional wreck.
On April 15, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers to help put down what many would call the rebellion of the southern states. Word was slow in reaching California, the first battle at Manassas Creek would already have taken place by the time the telegraph wires replaced the Pony Express in November.
Kendall would be twenty-one in September. Hearing of the call for volunteers he went to his parents and told them that he was going to go back east and sign up with a troop from Massachusetts since that’s where they had come from.
It was with mingled pride and sorrow that Maura and Jim watched their oldest leave them at the beginning of May. He rode down the road and made the turn that would take him to Lancer. He wanted to say good-bye to his surrogate Uncle as well as Paul O’Brien and Teresa. He had friends among the older ranch hands as well – Cipriano, the man his father had sent over to Lancer, had been a good friend during his teen years.
“Hey runt!” he called out to his younger brother Blair. “You take good care of Mama and Pa while I’m gone. Don’t go getting any silly notions about joining up. You’re too young and they need you here. Besides that, Rory needs someone he can knock around once in a while when he gets frustrated over something.” With a wicked chuckle the oldest Talbot boy turned back toward his destination and rode away from the Bar T.
The family watched him ride off. His mother trying to hide her tears and his father proud of him and halfway wishing her was young enough to make the trip and join up. His brothers just looked envious and Blair wasn’t happy about Ken being gone and leaving him at the mercy of their brother Rory. The brothers were close but sometimes Blair just wanted to be left alone and Rory was the excitable one of the three. He was always into something, up to something or thinking of some kind of deviltry to get into. Blair was quiet and studious and, as much as he loved the outdoors, sometimes he just wanted to be alone to sit and think.
A few months later they got a letter from Ken saying that he had arrived safely in Massachusetts and joined a cavalry unit. They were spending a lot of time drilling but the rancher’s son told his family that he’d also spent a lot of time teaching some of his fellow soldiers how to care for their horses. There were too many rich man’s kids who knew nothing about equine care and grooming. One young man, a wealthy Bostonian’s grandson, had taken to life in the cavalry like a duck to water. That same young man listened with relish to Ken’s stories of life on a California cattle ranch. It was evident that this boy had become disillusioned with the life his grandfather had planned for him and intended to make the most of his freedom – such as it was in the Army. He was turning out to be an excellent horseman and won many of the riding competitions they had in their spare time.
The unit he was with was headed for Virginia sometime in the next couple of days. He would write again when he got the chance. He told his parents how much he loved and missed them and sent his love to his brothers, the Conways and “Uncle Murdoch”. He hoped to be able to get home to them, on leave, some time in the next year.
“That recruit was Scott,” Jim said. “Scott told us about it when he, Maura and Johnny returned from San Francisco.”
“That’s right,” Maura agreed. “He hadn’t realized until I told him about the boys military service that the Ken Talbot he knew, briefly, in ’61, was our Ken. And you, Scott Lancer, you were too young to enlist without your grandfather’s permission! How did you get away with it?”
Scott grinned a cheeky grin much like his younger brother’s. “I lied about my age. I waited until Grandfather had gone to England on business for a few months. Then I snuck out of the house and made my way to Concord where I wasn’t known and joined up with one of their regiments. It helped that I was tall for my age and my Harvard education made me sound older than I was. The recruiters were impressed with my knowledge of math and science. They thought I would impress the officers and they’d get a big bonus for signing me.”
His father looked at him with a faint smile. “I’ll bet Harlan wasn’t too happy when he found out what you’d done.”
“I’ll bet he was madder than a wet hen!” Johnny declared.
“He was,” Scott acknowledged, “but by the time he got back I was gone. My company had moved out of Concord and was on its way to Maryland and Virginia by the time he returned. And we were too close to the battle lines for him to get through. The officers in charge wouldn’t accept his bribe to get me out so he had to go back to Boston and wait for me to come back.”
“Weren’t you terribly frightened, Scott?” Teresa asked him. “You’d never been so far from home without your grandfather being with you had you? And you were only sixteen!”
“Yes, Teresa,” Scott said. “I was at first. But Ken, and a few other older men in the camp, took me under their wing, taught me how to shoot and how to ride. Our sergeant said I was a fast learner.”
“Saying good-bye to Ken was hard enough,” Murdoch said. “For me as well as for Maura and Jim. But when Blair and then Rory decided it was their turn to go I thought we’d all fall apart.”
Rory was twenty in December. He read all the accounts of the fighting that came over the newly established telegraph wires to the city newspapers. His father had the papers delivered weekly from Sacramento and San Francisco.
The day after Christmas he could no longer stand it and decided to enlist in the army himself. He told his parents about his plans not truly expecting to get their blessing but hoping that they’d understand. He just couldn’t sit here safely in California while his older brother, and thousands of others, were on battlefields in Virginia and elsewhere, risking their very lives for the sake of holding the nation together – to say nothing of freedom for those held in slavery in the deep south.
On January 2, 1862 he left home to join the army. He, like his brother, chose to enlist in a Massachusetts regiment. A few months later his parents received a short telegram announcing his safe arrival in Boston. For the time being he was housed at Harvard. The school had been taken over by the army as housing for the men based in the area.
With both of his brothers away Blair grew restless. Finally he, too, told his parents he was joining the army. His parents’ pleas to wait until he was at least eighteen fell on deaf ears.
“But Mama, if things are half as bad for the slaves as Mrs. Stowe wrote in her book how can I not want to help in the fight to free them? I remember what it was like in Ireland fifteen years ago when we went to visit your grandparents. So many families were put out of their homes and starved because they didn’t have any crops or livestock. Children crying because they were so hungry their bellies ached! I remember that Mama even if I was only three! I remember crying because I was so sad!”
After that impassioned speech his parents reluctantly gave their permission. How could they not when it meant so much to him to be a part of the fight “to free the slaves” as he put it. He left home a few weeks later and joined up with another Massachusetts unit when he arrived in Boston months later. After some hasty training he was on the battlefield.
The boys were as faithful as they could be in writing home when they had time. Blair was wounded in the skirmish at Chancellorsville in 1864. The Battle for the Wilderness followed days later. What was a minor wound quickly became serious as he was exposed to all kinds of weather and battlefield conditions. When word reached his parents of what had happened they started for Virginia right away. Before they could even finish completing their arrangements they received word that he had died of pneumonia on June 6.
Maura and Jim were devastated. Blair, their quiet, studious, thoughtful son was dead. It just couldn’t be possible. A group of five men from his outfit obtained leave to escort his body home to California. When he was laid to rest in a little plot of ground not far from the house Murdoch Lancer was among those who stood by their sides as they grieved. The minister conducted a brief graveside service, which was attended by many of the Talbots neighbors from the surround farms, ranches and towns in the valley. None of the boys had ever made it home on leave, which made it doubly hard for them to have lost Blair. He was only nineteen.
Letters came infrequently from the other two boys after the death of their brother. Ken was still scouting. He wrote as often as he could. Then suddenly the letters stopped coming. An official notice from the army stated that Captain Kendall Talbot was a prisoner of war. The War Department did not know what prison he was in and was not in any position, at the present time, to exchange prisoners with the Confederacy they were sorry to say.
In March of 1863 the Confederate Government was kind enough to notify them of the death of Kendall at the Belle Isle prison camp in Richmond, Virginia. Overcrowding and polluted water had led to the deaths of many prisoners to diseases such as typhoid. Captain Talbot’s body was sent home via railroad and wagon. He, too, was laid to rest in the little plot of ground behind the house. Once again, Murdoch Lancer stood with his friends as they mourned the loss of another son.
The final tragedy was the death of Rory at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. When word of Rory’s death, at the hands of a Confederate soldier as he tried to help a wounded horse, reached the Bar T it was almost too much for his parents. Both of them broke down crying even as they planned another funeral. Murdoch was there, as were Aggie Conway and her husband Henry. It was weeks, months even, before Jim and Maura could truly pull themselves together and move forward. When they read the accounts of the dedication of the battlefield at Gettysburg they were very much impressed by the simple but heartfelt speech that President Lincoln gave - much more so than with Senator Edward Everett’s two hour oration. Both Maura and Jim felt that Mr. Lincoln’s few words had much more meaning than Everett’s overdone speech.
"Listen to this Maura, Jim said to his wife the day he got the newspaper with the account of Lincoln's speech. "They've printed the text of the President's speech. It's short but it's very eloquent. 'Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.' "
Jim's eyes were as misty as his wife's when he finished reading that speech and put the article down. "He's wrong, Maura. The world will little note, nor long remember what Edward Everett had to say during his two-hour speech. We will never forget Mr. Lincoln's words. Never."
"Edward Everett may be Massachusetts born and raised, like we were, Alex darling, but he's nothing but a pompous, long-winded old fool! Those of us who lost family--be it sons, husbands, fathers or whatever--in that fighting can appreciate Mr. Lincoln's simple remarks much more than Everett's long-winded pomposity!" She frowned momentarily and then brightened. "I think I'm going to write Mr. Lincoln a letter thanking him for his lovely words."
And so she did. Her letter was among the thousands, good and bad, that Abraham Lincoln received during the course of his presidency. It was also one of the President's favorites for it was as encouraging as it was appreciative.
In July of 1863 Harlan Garrett received word that his grandson, Scott Lancer had been taken prisoner following the siege of Vicksburg. He would not see his grandson again until the war ended in April of 1865. Scott would return from Cahaba Prison a mere shadow of the healthy youth he had been when he enlisted in the army against his grandfather’s wishes. It would take a year or more of good food and rest, as well as peace and quiet, before Scott would completely recover.
In a Texas town, on the Mexican border, a young man calling himself Johnny Madrid was earning himself a reputation as a gunfighter. He was only fifteen and had been on his own since the death of his mother five years earlier. His speed with a handgun was unsurpassed by very many of his so-called rivals.
Neither one of these young men knew it but in just a few years their paths would cross and they would both be home – but home was not where they expected it to be.
“The raids are intensifying again Murdoch,” Jim Talbot said as they sat in the crowded Great Room at Lancer. “This Pardee character is determined to take over the whole valley.”
“I know,” Murdoch replied. “But we’re not going to let him. Somehow we’ll stop him.”
“How Murdoch?” asked one of the other attendees of the ranchers’ meeting.
“We start by sticking together,” Murdoch said as Jim nodded his head. “If they hit the Bar T Lancer riders will be there as soon as they can get there. If they hit Lancer the Bar T will come here. If they hit any of you we’ll be there to help drive them off. Pardee can’t keep this up forever.”
That was the plan. Unfortunately for Murdoch Lancer it didn’t work that way. Not long after that meeting Pardee’s men raided Lancer making off with his prize Palomino stallion. The last words Teresa O’Brien, now sixteen, heard from her father were “Teresa get back in the house” as he and Murdoch rode toward Morro Coyo in search of the stolen horse. The next time Teresa saw the two men she loved most in the world her father was dead and Murdoch badly wounded. They’d been ambushed in the village. As far as Teresa knew she was now an orphan and her future was uncertain.
Maura Talbot ventured over from the Bar T to help Teresa in her time of anguish and in caring for Murdoch as he recovered. It was partly at her urging, as well as Jim’s, that Murdoch sent for his older son Scott who, to the best of Murdoch’s knowledge, was living in Boston with his grandfather. He sent a Pinkerton agent to offer the young man a thousand dollars for an hour of his time as well as paying all expenses from Massachusetts to California. He also sent the Pinkerton’s in search of Johnny again. This time they were successful.
Murdoch was stunned when he heard that his younger son was the notorious Johnny Madrid but he needed the help and made the offer of a thousand dollars to him as well. The Pinkerton agent, upon returning to Lancer, informed Murdoch that he had found his younger son just as he was about to be executed by firing squad. The rurales commander had changed his mind about letting him go, a shoot out had ensued and Johnny had escaped on a stolen horse while the Pinkerton agent drove off in his rented buckboard with a rescued Mexican peasant in the back.
A few days later both boys arrived at Lancer having both come in on the same stage much to everyone’s surprise - for Johnny was expected on horseback. However, somewhere along the line, he’d lost the horse he’d stolen from the dead rurales and wound up hitching a ride on the stage to Morro Coyo. Father and sons did not hit it off well at first. Nerves and apprehension mingled with the shock of seeing them both at the same time – and as adults – caused Murdoch’s well-rehearsed speech to fly out the window when the boys walked into the room.
A day later Pardee’s bunch attacked a small farm near Lancer killing the man and his wife who lived there. It was then, when he saw what had happened to the couple, that Johnny Madrid Lancer, made up his mind that Day Pardee was a dead man. However, that did not mean that he approved of his newly discovered brother’s plan. So he went his own way and almost got himself killed for his trouble. Pardee shot Johnny in the back as he led the raiders toward the ambush Scott had arranged back at the hacienda.
Maura Talbot was called upon, after the raiders had vanished, to assist Dr. Sam Jenkins in the surgery to remove the bullet from Johnny’s back and to attend to the other wounded men about the place. When that was accomplished she stayed on for almost two weeks until Johnny was well on his way to recovery.
During those two long weeks she bathed him with cool water, cajolee him into drinking the herb teas and broths that Teresa and Maria made for him, changed his dressings and generally took over his care. And she was there when his brother helped him take his first shaky steps from his bed to the chair by the window.
The raids had finally ended. Scott Lancer’s fatal shot to Day Pardee had seen to that. The raiders were demoralized at the loss of their leader and decided to beat a hasty retreat. Never again would they try to take on Lancer in that manner. The losses had been too heavy. With Pardee dead the fight seemed to go out of most of them and those that were left were too few.
The day Johnny took his first steps he looked up at Maura who was standing next to him and said, “I sure hope my Old Man is paying you well for takin’ care of me.”
“He’s not paying me a thing, dear,” Maura told him indignantly. “I’m just picking up where my boys left off twenty years ago. Keeping you out of trouble was a challenge that they never failed to respond to. And who do you think taught your parents about using oatmeal to treat your chicken pox when you were a baby? And taught your mother how to take care of you when you became fussy while you were teething?”
“You? I don’t remember that.” The young gunfighter was amazed.
“Of course you don’t child!” Maura said.
“I ain’t a child!” he snapped.
Maura just smiled complacently. She’d dealt with that temper before – when he was a child and from his parents. Maria and Murdoch both were noted for their somewhat short tempers at times. Besides, Maura herself was capable when she was pushed of snapping at someone. “Don’t snap at me boy! As I was saying you were only a baby. But my boys, especially Kenny and Blair, adored you and they loved nothing better than for your mother to leave you in their care while we visited.”
Johnny didn’t know what to make of this woman. He’d given her his best “Madrid” glare and lost his temper and she didn’t even flinch. Anybody else would have been frightened out of their wits or something. This lady was going to require some study before he’d know how to react and how to treat her. She didn’t seem at all intimidated by him or his past as a gunfighter.
Scott, however, felt a warmth in her presence but he also sensed the sadness of her having lost all three of her sons during the war. It would be to Maura, and Jim, that he would first begin to open up about his own experiences during the war. Having been a prisoner of war himself he well knew what the conditions might have been that Kendall had endured before he died. Overcrowding, polluted water and other such factors had killed as many men as battle wounds did. Worse still was the lack of proper medicine to treat wounds and illness.
It wouldn’t take more than a few months before both Scott and Johnny began to feel almost as much at home at the Bar T as at Lancer. For a short period, after they first arrived in California to live with their father, the Bar T – especially Maura’s kitchen – was a haven from the disagreements with their stubborn Scottish father.
Two days after this small gathering Teresa rejoiced in the fact that Lancer was hosting a huge anniversary party for their long time friends. It was a barbecue for a gathering of about fifty friends and neighbors from all around the San Joaquin Valley.
Lanterns hung from wire strung in the courtyard and brightly lit the smooth surface where everyone gathered to dance. The smell of wood smoke hung over the yard and Jelly’s voice could be heard bossing a crew around as he took charge of the roasting meat. Maria, Teresa, Juanita and several other women were busy in the kitchen frying chicken and pulling pan after pan of biscuits from the oven. Neighbor women brought potatoes, squash and corn as well as salad and desserts. Tim Pittman’s mother had personally made and decorated the multi-layer cake that was iced in white frosting with Happy 35th Anniversary written across the top in red. The bottom layer alone was a good ten inches across and the other layers were only slightly smaller.
The Pittmans were one of the poorest families in the area but they weren’t lazy. Many of their children were too young to help out much but their oldest son, Tim, had earned a scholarship at the end of the summer that would help him further his education. The Lancers and the Talbots, in particular, had taken the boy under their wing and saw to it that he had enough odd jobs to help him earn the money for the new clothes Maura insisted on making him for school. She took as little as she could without hurting his pride leaving him to give the rest to his parents to help with the expense of feeding and clothing his younger siblings.
Val Crawford and Murdoch Lancer, as well as Jim Talbot, made sure that Tim got the job of delivering the semi-regular mail deliveries in Green River. Val was known to relent, albeit reluctantly and under pressure, to having Tim come in and clean up his office by filing paperwork for him. There were many chuckles, some in the open and some behind his back, for Green River’s intrepid lawman was definitely not known for his neatness – personally or around the office.
Lancer’s Border Collie, Lady Sweet Friend, was seen cavorting with the children in attendance. When she wasn’t doing that she attached herself to Johnny as much as possible. Johnny, however, had been pressed into service to help set up tables and benches. Scott, also, was busy only he was lighting the lanterns as dusk fell.
Finally, when everyone had eaten their fill, and the Talbots had received and opened gifts from their friends and neighbors, Jim stood up to give his wife the jewelry he had bought for her not so long ago. He’d kept it hidden by giving it to Teresa to wrap and hold for him, which the young girl was very glad to do. Only problem was that she was so excited about being entrusted with it that she almost gave away the secret once or twice. It would be a long time before her two “brothers” let her forget it too.
When the last strains of the Virginia Reel had ended Jim led his wife to the center of the courtyard and handed her her gift.
“Oh, Alex!” she cried when she opened the box containing the green and gold necklace and earrings. “It’s beautiful!” Tears sprang to her eyes when she saw what her husband of thirty-five years had given her.
“No more beautiful than the woman I married so many years ago,” Jim said not at all ashamed of admitting it in front of all those people. “Through the years we’ve weathered many a storm and I love you as much now as I did on that September morning thirty-five years ago. Through the years, Maura, we’ll weather many more but together we’ll be strong.” There were oohs, ahs and sighs as he pulled his wife into a tender embrace and kissed her right then and there where everyone could see.