This story is a bit different. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I have no good reason for the characterizations. This is how I see the characters; I understand that it is no more correct than any other way of seeing them.
I want to thank Karen for this wonderful site. And Mary O for taking time from her busy schedule to read and make suggestions while the story was being written.
Carmela is an amazing editor! Her attention to the details has greatly improved the readability of the story. I appreciate her time and talent.
I hope you find this story entertaining. I love feedback if you have time.
Two simple words that unlocked the closed place in his memory.
The boys had been on the ranch for six months. He’d grown used to them. Johnny constantly reminded him of Maria. It was the warm and lively woman she was at the best of times the boy brought to mind.
Murdoch had managed to keep the memories of his first wife safely in the back of his mind in spite of Scott’s presence. It had been difficult at first. At times his resemblance to her was very strong, but Murdoch had taught himself to see the resemblance as being to Harlan Garrett, Scott’s grandfather, rather than to his mother.
It was August, hot and dry. August was the month that could make him remember the Scottish Highlands with a longing for cool ocean breezes. Johnny and Scott were in the hills with the cattle and most of the vaqueros. That was where Murdoch would like to be. But he knew sleeping rough would be crippling for his bad back.
He was at his desk when Miguel came into the house with a box balanced on his shoulder. He asked, “Did you get the supplies?”
“Si, Patrón. I get the mail too,” answered Miguel setting a canvas sack on the edge of the desk.
“What do you have there?”
“It is for Señor Scott.”
“Put it over there, out of the way,” said Murdoch with a jerk of his head. He reached for the sack, opened it and sorted through the mail noting that there were several letters for Scott. None for Johnny.
It was late in the evening after Teresa had gone to bed that Murdoch noticed the box again. He’d poured himself a glass of Scotch and was walking to the French door with the intention of spending a few minutes on the veranda to enjoy the cool night air. The box caught his attention.
It was a sturdy wooden packing box about two feet cubed. Scott’s name and the address they used in Green River were stenciled across it. In the upper left corner was another address, a Boston address, and the name: BRODEN’S BOOKSELLERS.
It was a cold, dry day in February. He’d been in Boston for six weeks, but he rarely ventured away from the forge near the docks where he’d found work. He’d been given a half day off and planned to finally see something of the city. According to his employer, there was an oyster house of good quality on Union Street. He’d have his supper there before he headed back to his lodging in a tenement that housed sailors between voyages. In the meantime, he walked with long strides through the narrow streets to the center of town.
The sign caught his eye when he turned the corner onto Brattle Street; Broden’s Booksellers. At twenty-five, there were few things in the world Murdoch loved more than a pint of ale and a hot meal. Books were one of them.
A bell jangled as he went through the door. A stout man with bushy black mutton chops and a bald head glanced towards him. He was standing behind a highly polished desk. The man frowned when he saw who had come into the shop.
Murdoch knew he looked like a harbor ruffian. He was young, fit and unusually tall. He wore canvas trousers, a dark woolen guernsey, a corduroy jacket and a dark blue Scotch bonnet. He nodded politely at the stout man and took it as a good sign he wasn’t ordered out the way he came in.
Bright sunlight flooded the room full of bookshelves; leather bindings and gold leaf lettering glowed in the light. Murdoch slowly scanned the shelves. He saw dozens of books he would like to own. He had money in his pocket but he was careful how he spent it. Someday, he promised himself, he would have bookshelves and he would be able to buy any book he wanted to put on them.
He decided he would buy a collection of ancient plays in Greek. It wasn’t often that he had time to practice his Greek. He did not want to forget it. He found a beautifully bound copy of Euripides on a top shelf. Pleased with his find, he leafed through it as he turned and took several steps towards the man at the counter.
His boot caught on something. Flailing his arms wildly, he fell forward with a crash.
“Miss Garrett! Dear, dear Miss Garrett! Are you hurt?” cried the man with the mutton chops as he ran past Murdoch’s body sprawled on the scrubbed pine floor.
“Not at all, Mr. Broden. But I fear the gentleman is.”
The woman’s voice surprised Murdoch. He had not noticed a woman in the shop. Muttering curses under his breath he pushed himself up to his knees. He flexed his hands worried that he’d hurt them. Anything that kept him from working at the forge would destroy his carefully made plans.
“You clumsy oaf!” growled Mr. Broden.
“Please, Mr. Broden,” chided the woman. “The gentleman was not at fault. Are you injured, sir?”
Murdoch turned around slowly; still on his knees. His first impression of her was -elfin. She was slender, dressed in a black gown with a heavy cloak around her narrow shoulders. Her face was pale with a slightly pointed chin and almond shaped eyes, their color a deep gray-blue. They were bright, lively, mischievous eyes. And although her concern for him appeared genuine, she was obviously struggling not to laugh at his ridiculous position.
Murdoch sprang to his feet. “What happened?”
She looked puzzled at first. His brogue, which was always thicker when he was agitated, made it difficult for her to understand him.
“You great oaf, you knocked the lady down!” snapped the proprietor of the book shop. “Don’t you watch where you put those big feet?”
“No, you didn’t knock me down. I dropped my pencil and knelt down to find it. I’m not surprised you didn’t see me. All this black, I feel I’m only visible in a field of snow.”
“It was you I tripped over?” Murdoch exclaimed, his mortification deepening. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head, her soft, light blond side curls quivered.
Murdoch had the strangest impulse to reach out and lift the curls so that he could see her ears. He had this notion that they would be delicately pointed.
“Can I get you a cup of tea, Miss Garrett?”
“No thank you, Mr. Broden. If you would please wrap up my books. I told Mrs. Simmons I would be back to pick up my bonnet an hour ago.”
“Yes, of course,” said Broden. As he walked back to the desk, he glared again at Murdoch.
“I hope you won’t let this mishap put you off the shop. Mr. Broden is a very welcoming and helpful gentleman normally. Oh, you’ve dropped your book.”
Before Murdoch could move, she had retrieved the small leather-bound volume. Holding it in her gloved hand for a moment, she studied the first few pages. “Euripides. His plays are all tragedies are they not?”
“All I’ve read.”
“I’ve never been able to master Greek properly,” she said with a soft sigh. “I can recognize the philosophers’ and playwrights’ names, but cannot read their works in the original. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. There is a Euripides’ quote about studying hard isn’t there?”
By chance they both began the quote at the same moment. “Whoso neglects learning in his youth, loses the past and is dead for the future.”
“It sounds like advice a teacher would give his students today,” the young woman said as she handed him the book. “I must be on my way. I’m glad you weren’t hurt. Good afternoon, Mr.-”
“Lancer,” he said quickly with an almost proper bow. “Murdoch Lancer of Inverness, Scotland.”
“Mr. Lancer.” She nodded and smiled.
Murdoch swallowed hard. She wasn’t a great beauty; but that smile robbed him of his breath. Or perhaps it was the fall. He watched her collect her small package and go out the door. If she hadn’t glanced back at him, he might have let her go never to be seen again. But she did glance back and smiled again.
Realizing that the shop was somewhere he wanted to come often while he was in Boston, Murdoch made himself as agreeable as possible to Mr. Broden. He purchased his book and put it into the deep pocket of his jacket. Once out the door he stood for a moment looking up and down the street. He saw Miss Garrett come out of a millinery shop a few doors down. She paused on the doorstep to tie the ribbons of a broad brimmed bonnet and pulled the black veil over her face.
He hesitated. She turned in his direction and started walking. The wind whipped her long cloak about her. She dipped her head in acknowledgment as she passed him.
“Miss,” he said rather too loudly. “The wind has come up. May I offer you my arm?”
She paused without saying anything for a moment. Then she nodded. “I suppose it would be all right for a little ways. I have to cross the Common and one does get blown about on a day like this.”
Murdoch offered his arm and she slipped her small gloved hand through the crook of his elbow. They walked in silence for several moments. Murdoch sensed that she was a bit nervous. He realized quite suddenly that he had asked her to do something very daring-to walk on the arm of a man to whom she had not properly been introduced.
“It is Miss Garrett, isn’t it?” he asked as softly as the wind would allow.
“Yes, Mr. Lancer.”
“I’ve heard of the Common, but I’ve not been this far from the docks before.”
She looked up at him. He could not see her face clearly through the heavy veil.
“Are you a sailor?” she asked with obvious curiosity.
“No, miss, I’m a blacksmith.”
“A blacksmith,” she repeated.
“You’re surprised a blacksmith can read Greek,” said Murdoch with a low laugh. “There is no great mystery to it. My father was schoolmaster; he taught me well.”
“Did you not wish to be a schoolmaster as well?”
“Nay, I’ve not the patience for it. Beside, there is little money in it for your trouble. You’ll not hear of good blacksmiths starving even in lean times.”
She laughed. “How very practical of you.”
The sun had disappeared behind gray clouds. Large soft flakes of snow fell about them. A lamplighter was going from pole to pole lighting the street lamps. People hurried along the street hunched in their coats with their scarfs pulled across their faces.
Murdoch glanced down at the woman at his side. He could see nothing of her but the veil covered bonnet and cloak, all black. She seemed young for a widow, but then any one old enough to marry was not too young to be a widow.
“I hope you’ll pardon my directness,” he said leaning down as he spoke. “Are you in mourning? Is that why you’re wearing black?”
“I like directness. It is an admired quality in a man. Sadly in a woman it is considered a defect. Yes, I’m in mourning for my sister Alice who I miss very much especially when I go to Broden’s. She was a great reader.” She pulled slightly on his arm to bring him to a stop. She gestured to the open land before them. “There is the Common, the oldest park in the country they say. When I was a girl, people grazed their cows and sheep here.”
“So it was the village green; and a city has grown up around it.”
The wind had grown quite strong and cold. It made conversation impossible. She clung to his arm as they walked along the shoveled path through the middle of the snow covered park. Her head was angled down to let the broad brim of her bonnet block the frigid air. Murdoch guided her with care. Once through the iron gate at the other side they stopped in the lee of a building.
“You have been so very kind. I hope that I have not taken you too far out of your way. I can make it on my own from here,” she said as she let go of his arm. “I must get on. Mrs. Rye will be wanting her book. Thank you, Mr. Lancer, good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Garrett.”
He watched her climb the cobblestone street lined with tall, narrow brick houses. Although he was not of a fanciful nature, he immediately seized upon the notion that she was a companion to an old lady named Mrs. Rye. It annoyed him when he realized that the old lady would probably object to Miss Garrett even talking to a blacksmith. It was no doubt a good thing that she wore that heavy veil.
Had Murdoch known more about women’s clothing he would have discerned that Miss Garrett’s black gown had the latest fashion in sleeves-tight on the upper arm and full at the wrist; that her cloak was trimmed in velvet and her bonnet was a Paris design. But Murdoch knew nothing of women’s clothes. He’d seen a slender, pale woman in black with lively eyes and a beautiful smile who was willing to talk to him. Since he’d left home, four months ago, he’d spoken to very few women. Not one of them would have known who Euripides was.
“A blacksmith. A Scottish blacksmith. A Scottish blacksmith who reads Greek.”
“Oh, Rosie, you make it sound nonsensical,” laughed Catherine Garrett. She and her cousin, Rosemary Lowell, were in the drawing room of the Garrett home on Beacon Hill. The late afternoon sun streamed through the window behind the brocade covered settee on which the cousins sat with their needlework. It was the day after Catherine’s encounter with Murdoch Lancer.
“No, no,” Rosemary shook her head, her blond ringlets bouncing. “It is just that I can understand a Scottish blacksmith or Scotsman who reads Greek, but why would a blacksmith need to read Greek no matter what his nationality? It seems a man who reads Greek would have enough schooling to be a teacher.”
“Yes, but the gentleman claims that blacksmithing is a more secure profession,” said Catherine reaching into her work basket. She retrieved a pair of silver embroidery snips.
“He walked you the whole way across the Common?”
Catherine looked up. “You’re shocked.”
“Certainly not. It’s just, well,-” Rosemary frowned.
Catherine’s behavior had always been held up to Rosemary as an ideal she should strive to emulate. Rosemary knew herself to be frivolous; she loved pretty things, music and parties. Catherine and her late sister Alice were of a more serious nature. They were scholarly and clever. Catherine could always be depended upon to do what was correct.
Young ladies of good families did not speak to men to whom they had not been properly introduced. They certainly didn’t take their arm for a walk across the Common.
“Out of character for the proper Miss Garrett?” supplied Catherine drily. “I know. Our conversation under the watchful eye of Mr. Broden seemed acceptable enough. After all, the poor man had taken a dreadful fall. It was only polite to speak with him.”
“Absolutely,” agreed the younger girl. She was amused that her normally calm and confident cousin appeared to be flustered.
“I did hesitate when he offered me his arm on the street,” Catherine said a bit defensively. “You know the weather had changed very quickly. The wind was fierce and blowing snow. I couldn’t have crossed the Common on my own; I’d have been blown over. It would have taken me twice as long to get home if I had gone around by the streets.”
“Yes, I know. You didn’t get chilled, did you? Your color is a bit high today.”
“I am quite well. I was dressed very warmly and he protected me from the wind. He’s a very strong young man; I almost felt as though he was carrying me along. It was very kind of Mr. Lancer to offer me his arm. Any gentleman, be he a stranger or not, would have done so,” said Catherine firmly, jabbing her needle with unnecessary force through the silk fabric. “It was very thoughtful of him, particularly after the fall that he took.”
“Are you quite sure you weren’t hurt when he fell over you?” asked Rosemary, concern knotting her normally smooth brow.
“Quite sure,” said Catherine with a sharp nod. She appreciated the love and concern of her family. And she wished they would not treat her as if she was made of porcelain. “Mr. Broden fussed over me when it was Mr. Lancer who was sprawled on the floor. The poor man, he was mortified. And Mr. Broden made it worse by telling him it was his fault. It wasn’t his fault. It was mine.”
“His name is Lancer?”
“Murdoch Lancer of Inverness. He was most solicitous and polite, a perfect gentleman.”
“Tell me more about him,” said Rosemary as she threaded bright red silk through her embroidery needle. Through her long lashes she stole a look at Catherine.
“I knew by his clothes that he did some sort of labor. They were clean and neat but rough and worn. I asked if he was a sailor and he told me he was a blacksmith. He is very tall; he’d hit his head if he didn’t duck coming through that doorway,” said Catherine nodding towards the drawing room’s closed door. “His eyes are blue, a clear true blue. A nice face, not so handsome as Yancy, but strong. He has a very direct manner. I had trouble at first understanding him; his brogue was quite pronounced. Why are you smiling at me?”
Rosemary gave a slight shrug. “Because it is so nice to hear you excited.”
“Excited? Oh, Rosie, please,” said Catherine sternly. “It was just so surprising to be fallen over in such a way and to discover such an unusual young man sprawled at my feet.”
“You could have any of a dozen young men sprawled at your feet if you would only give one of them a little encouragement.”
“You know that is an exaggeration. I suppose there are several young men who would propose if I gave them some encouragement, but as you well know, I’ve decided against marriage.”
Rosemary pursed her lips in a frown. She knew there was nothing she could say that would change Catherine’s mind about marriage.
Catherine was decorating the edge of a pillowcase that was part of Rosemary’s trousseau. She filled in a leaf with short, neat stitches. “Speaking of marriage, when will Mr. Clark be returning?”
“A fortnight, I believe. His letter yesterday said that the work was going well.”
“You must miss him; he’s been away for over a month.”
“You’re fishing, Cathy,” said Rosemary, her light blue eyes narrowed. She was a pretty girl, who at nineteen was two years younger than Catherine. She had recently become engaged to a wealthy man ten years her senior. “You want to know if I’m sure I’ve made the correct decision in accepting John Clark’s proposal. Haven’t you heard that I’m making a brilliant match?”
Catherine cocked her head to one side; she spoke slowly, “I know that your mother believes you are making a brilliant match. I know that Mr. Clark will provide well for you.”
“And you find him dull,” said Rosemary with a trace of annoyance. They had had this conversation before. Having grown up believing that Catherine was sensible and herself inclined to foolishness, Rosemary was in the habit of taking advice from her cousin. She was confident that her decision to marry John Clark was the correct one, but it disconcerted her that Catherine did not seem to agree.
“Not unintelligent,” insisted Catherine. “Father says Mr. Clark is an excellent businessman. But, Rosie, I’ve never heard the man speak of anything besides his work. Has he no other interests?”
“Do you mean does he read Greek?” said Rosemary archly. “My dear cousin, you seem to forget that I am not one of the clever Garrett girls but simple Miss Lowell.”
“Who has many accomplishments,” insisted Catherine choosing not to be distracted by the allusion to Mr. Lancer.
“I do,” agreed Rosemary, glancing down to admire her beautiful needlework. She looked back at Catherine. “But have you noticed that all of my accomplishments are that of a homemaker? It is very difficult to practice such accomplishments while living in my brother’s house with his new wife and my mother. I want a home of my own. John and I are well suited. He is certainly not a poet but I feel his regard is deep and sincere. We may be a very dull pair, but we will be quite stable and I hope happy. Not every couple can be Yancy and Alice. ”
Catherine understood why Rosemary had accepted John Clark’s offer. Rosemary’s father, Catherine’s mother’s brother Daniel Lowell, had been a man of tremendous charm and wit. He had also been very irresponsible. He should have been a rich man. The firm Lowell and Garrett had made a great deal of money over the past twenty years. Harlan Garrett had held on to his money; the firm under his leadership was still thriving. Daniel Lowell had gambled and overspent from the beginning. It was his partner who paid his son’s school fees and saw that Mrs. Lowell always had funds to pay her household accounts. Rosemary had been brought up in a grand house with fine clothes, but she’d always known it was on shaky ground. John Clark might be a boring dinner companion, but he was reliable. He would provide the security Rosemary craved.
They bent their heads over their needlework, angling the hoops to catch the last of the winter sun’s light. A few minutes later Rosemary said, “Charles says that Yancy has decided to go back to Virginia in June.”
Catherine nodded, her face sad. “He told us on Sunday. Father did his best to convince him he could still build a life here. Yancy was so kind. He said he would stay if it weren’t for his mother wanting him to come home. I’m sure Mrs. Beuler does want him to come home. I am equally sure that Yancy sees no happiness here without Alice.”
“Does he see happiness anywhere without Alice?” asked Rosemary blinking tears away. “They were so attached. So very different from me and John. I cannot imagine us having a passionate discussion about religion or slavery.”
Catherine looked closely at the younger woman. Rosemary did not seem to mind that her own relationship lacked intellectual passion. Something Catherine would have to accept even though she had great difficulty understanding it. She added, “Or books; they were constantly talking about books. Do you remember the first time Charles brought him to dinner?”
“Good heavens, yes,” answered Rosemary giggling. “Mother was mortified that Alice challenged his interpretation of that passage of -what was it -Paradise Lost.”
“No more shocked than Yancy that she’d read it in the first place. I remember watching him. It was as if his thoughts were playing out on his face. He was deciding whether to patronize Alice, she was only sixteen, or to take what she said seriously. When he answered her point with one of his own---I think that was the very moment Alice fell in love with him. I suspect it was the first time he’d had a serious conversation with a young woman.”
“I would never have been brave enough to challenge him even if I had understood what they were talking about,” said Rosemary shaking her head and returning her attention to her work. “Don’t tell John, but I still believe Yancy Beuler is the handsomest, most charming man I’ve ever met. All I wanted to do that evening was stare at him.”
Catherine laughed, a soft lovely sound. “That is, no doubt, the response he was used to when meeting a young woman. Alice’s attitude must have been refreshing to him. He was certainly intrigued. She was so excited when he sent her flowers with his card the next day. It was a pleasure to watch them together. Alice was happy. I can’t explain why they were different from other courting couples. Perhaps it was because they knew their time was short.”
“Did they know?” asked Rosemary thoughtfully. “I know Alice had no illusions about her health but she always talked of the future; that once Yancy graduated and set up his law practice they would have their own home.”
Catherine took a deep breath and held it briefly. At times her grief for her younger sister was a physical pain. “That was what was so wonderful about them. They did know. Father explained it all very carefully to Yancy when he first started courting Alice. And yet it didn’t stop them. They lived the moments they had.”
“Cathy, dear,” said Rosemary anxiously. She put aside her work and knelt on the floor in front of her cousin. “Are you all right?”
“Oh, Rosie,” said Catherine clutching the girl’s hand. “I’m loath to admit it, but there are times that I am jealous of Alice.”
Seeing her cousin’s blue eyes widen in shock, Catherine continued quickly, “No, I’m not in love with Yancy. I feel a sisterly affection for him but that is all. What I mean is that what they had together was so very fine. Love, respect, the courage to live rather than wait to die. Alice was happy, truly happy. She was so,” she paused searching for a word. “She was so alive. Loving Yancy, being loved by him changed her from a sickly, bookish girl into someone so very alive. What a wretch I am to be jealous of my dead sister.”
“Oh, Cathy,” responded Rosemary letting her tears fall freely. “That is hardly admitting to a horrible sin. We all want to be loved. I do. I know John is not a romantic figure, but he could have chosen another girl and yet he chose me. I believe that means he could love me. Is there truly no one among your suitors you could love?”
Catherine shook her head, but even as she was doing so, she thought of the tall young man in the bookstore. The thought startled her and brought a slight blush to her cheeks. She changed the subject quickly, “Father and I are going to miss Yancy. He has been a great solace to us these past months.”
“Charles will miss him very much. A few years ago I would never have imagined that my brother’s dearest friend would be the son of Virginia plantation owners. In our little Beacon Hill world, the dashing, handsome Yancy Beuler with his courtly Southern manners is almost as unexpected as a Scottish blacksmith who reads Greek.”
Catherine gave her cousin a sharp, startled look.
A week passed in its normal fashion for Catherine. She spent a great deal of time sewing with Rosemary and other women in her extended family. She did the household accounts and discussed various matters with the housekeeper. On Saturday evening she attended a small musical gathering at the home of a second cousin. On Sunday morning she went to church with her father and then to dinner at her aunt’s. As was her custom when the weather was fine, she walked to Brattle Street on Wednesday afternoon to do some shopping. She visited her dressmaker. She would soon put off her mourning clothes and she wanted a new dress for her cousin’s wedding. She passed a pleasant hour drinking tea with an old friend. And as she frequently ended her Wednesday afternoons she stopped at Broden’s Booksellers to peruse the new books and collect the out-of-town newspapers for her father.
There was no reason to believe that the young blacksmith would return to Broden’s on this Wednesday afternoon. She had never seen him there before. Even so, she pushed the door open with a sense of expectation that could not be explained in any other way.
It was the cold draft from the open door that drew his attention away from spines of the books at which he was looking. Or that was what he told himself, even though he knew before she folded her veil back over her hat brim that it was Miss Garrett. Her gaze swept over the room, resting very briefly on him. She gave him the barest nod then turned to speak to Mr. Broden.
Murdoch turned back to the books. He stared intently at the titles but he didn’t see them. He felt his neck warming. He was being foolish. She wasn’t a great beauty after all. Just a pleasant looking girl with bright mischievous eyes. Intelligent, better read than most girls of his acquaintance, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t looking for that sort of girl: a proper sort of woman. He wanted no entanglements; nothing that would take his attention from his goals. Besides, if she was a proper sort of a woman, that nod was as much as he could expect from her.
Catherine found it difficult to concentrate on what Mr. Broden was saying to her. Inwardly she laughed at herself. Yes, Mr. Lancer was a big, strong, handsome man who a week past had fallen at her feet. It was most unlikely to happen again. She must stop being silly.
She took a few minutes to look at a new shipment of books from England. The wide brim of her bonnet made it impossible for her to see anything but what was right in front of her. Even so, she knew when he walked past her. She heard his voice at the front of the shop when he made his purchase and she heard the jangle of the bell when he went out the door. With a sigh, she chose a new book almost at random. She collected the out-of-town papers for her father, settled up and left the shop.
She’d walked about a block when she heard:
“Good afternoon, Miss Garrett.”
She stopped and turned to look up at him. Yes, he really was just as tall as she remembered. “Good afternoon, Mr. Lancer,” she said politely. She knew that now she was expected to walk on. That if she engaged in conversation with this man who was clearly not a member of her social realm, was a stranger, her Grandmother Lowell would spin in her grave.
“Have you added another Greek to your library?”
His laugh took her by surprise. It was a low chuckle full of genuine amusement.
“I don’t think three, now four,” he said showing her the thick book in his hand, “books credits being called a library. But, no, I’ve found Euripides a good companion for a quiet Sunday morning but he is too challenging to read after a day’s work.”
“Ah, Mr. Cooper.” Catherine nodded.
“I sense disapproval.”
“Not at all. Mr. Cooper is one of America’s most celebrated novelists. He is an excellent choice to promote relaxation at the end of the day.”
His smile reached his clear blue eyes. “You mean he will put me to sleep. Perhaps you could advise me on which novelists are worthy of my time. Or do you find novels frivolous?”
“Oh, no, I confess a love for novels,” responded Catherine as of one accord they began walking in the direction of the Common. “I prefer Miss Austen above all others although I understand that many people find her stories too small with too little excitement. Are you fond of Sir Walter Scott’s work?”
“I am. If Burns is the national poet of Scotland then Sir Walter is our national novelist. But I admit that it is a boyish infatuation with a romantic past that draws me to them.”
“I believe that is much of Mr. Cooper’s appeal to Americans. Are you familiar with Victor Hugo?”
They walked and talked with little attention paid to where they were going. Murdoch took her arm when they came to a busy street; that did little to interrupt the flow of their conversation. They spoke of books and poems- of writers and philosophers. An hour passed before they realized the light of day was fading. Reluctantly, Murdoch guided their steps to where they had parted the week before. He bowed rather formally over her hand as he said good-bye.
Again he watched her as she climbed the steep street. This time she stopped and turned back. She pulled the veil from her bonnet so that he could see her face. She smiled. Even though nothing had been said about meeting again, Murdoch knew he would spend the next Wednesday afternoon in Broden’s Booksellers.
For four consecutive Wednesday afternoons they met as if by accident in the shop or on the street where Murdoch would be waiting when Catherine left the bookshop. They walked through the Common talking. On the fifth Wednesday heavy snow was falling. Normally Catherine loved snow storms, particularly when her father stayed home from his office. They would spend the day in the study with a cheerful coal fire in the grate. Her father would work at his huge desk. She would curl up in the wing chair with a book. The housekeeper would bring them a meal of dried apples, sharp cheddar cheese made on the Garrett family farm in Vermont and brown bread.
That day, they talked about how much they missed Alice which led to talk about Catherine’s mother and the younger children who had died long ago- sad but gentle talk. Then they fell into a companionable silence, the only sounds the crackling of the fire and rustling of the papers Harlan Garrett was reading.
Garrett glanced at his daughter over the spectacles perched on the end of his nose. She was standing by the window watching the snow. She wore an old dress of dark blue linsey-woolsey and a paisley shawl of blues and greens. Her pale hair hung in a single thick braid over her shoulder. It was a relief to Garrett to see her in something besides the black of mourning. Garrett questioned the value of traditional mourning- so much time alone - everything including oneself draped in black. He did not need black clothing to remind him he’d lost another dear child.
The old house once so full of life was now full of the dead. There were times when he turned a corner and expected to see little Samuel in leading strings or hear Henry reciting his prayers at his mother’s knee. His little boys, forever so young, bright and full of promise. When he drowsed by the fire, it was Lydia’s quick step he heard on the stairs. Lydia, who was so like her mother for whom she was named, had sparkled like sunlight on water. It was losing Lydia at the age of eleven after having lost the boys that sapped his wife’s strength. The fear of watching Catherine or Alice die had consumed her. Before he had put off mourning clothes for little Lydia, he was putting them on for his wife.
And now it was for Alice.
No, he did not need the yards of black cloth to remind him of what he had lost. He raised his eyes to gaze at the portrait over the fireplace. Painted just over a year before, it was an excellent likeness of Catherine and Alice. Oh, he supposed that if he were honest, the painter, a friend of his nephew Charles’s, had made the girls a bit prettier than they actually were. But what did that matter?
“You seem restless today, daughter,” said Garrett softly.
Catherine turned to him, “Am I disturbing you, Father? I am sorry. Perhaps I should go up to my room.”
“Certainly not. You stay in here where it is warm. You never disturb me. Indeed I believe I work better when I have you near me. But I wondered if the snow had disrupted some plan you had for today. Were you and Rosemary going shopping for more ribbons and lace?”
“No, didn’t I tell you? Rosemary and Aunt Lowell have gone to Worcester to meet Mr. Clark’s grandmother. They plan to be gone for at least three weeks.”
“They couldn’t have a made a trip like that in winter a few years ago. But now, well, it will take more than a snow squall to stop a locomotive,” said Garrett with obvious satisfaction.
Catherine smiled fondly at her father. Nothing in the world fascinated him as much as locomotives and the idea of the country being connected by railroads. When others were still debating whether steam engines were practical, Harlan Garrett started investing in the companies that would build the railroads. His foresight and his courage had made him rich. But Catherine thought that it was the locomotives themselves, the steam, the power, which drew her father to them.
“I did plan to go out this afternoon to pick up your papers from Mr. Broden,” said Catherine calmly as she recrossed the room to the chair. She comforted herself that she wasn’t lying; she would have picked up the papers had she gone out. But she was not being entirely truthful with her father. That, like developing a friendship with a man to whom she had not been properly introduced, was out of character for her.
“Broden isn’t likely to have received them in this snow. The train wouldn’t have any problem with it, but the steamer from New York may not have run if the bay was rough. I’ll send the boy in the morning for them,” said Garrett returning his attention to the papers on his desk.
Catherine drew her shawl tighter around her shoulders. She looked again out the window. Surely, she thought, Mr. Lancer would realize she wouldn’t venture out on such a day. Would he be disappointed to miss their walk? Perhaps she was being vain to hope that he was. Well, then she was vain because she hoped that he was as disappointed as she to miss their afternoon together.
Her gaze settled on her father’s bent head. It was odd to have a secret from him. It wasn’t intentional. There was no harm in her friendship with Mr. Lancer. They were taking walks across the Common and along the busiest streets of the city. They often passed people she knew. People who didn’t recognize her behind the heavy veil on the arm of a stranger. Indeed, it was doubtful that they noticed her at all; Mr. Lancer’s height was very commanding. It was unconventional for a young woman of her background but it was innocuous.
Catherine understood why young girls were warned against unsuitable young men. Three of her childhood acquaintances had run off with men of whom their parents disapproved. One had been found at a coaching inn in New Jersey. The rumor was that her father had to pay the young man a great deal of money to disappear. Of course the girl had been sent off to relatives in England in hopes the scandal would die down. Another girl, poor soul, had drowned herself after her lover had abandoned her. The third had never been heard from again. Catherine hoped her story had a happier ending. They had been nice girls but romantic in nature; they had longed to be heroines in the Gothic romances they’d read.
Catherine smiled and shook her head thinking of the man who had been engaged to teach her cousin Rosemary, her sister Alice and herself French and Italian. He was French, handsome in the dark brooding manner of Gothic heroes. He had declared himself violently in love with her, driven by his passion to write poetry.
Catherine, embrasse-moi, baise-moi, serre-moi,
Haleine contre haleine, échauffe-moi la vie,
Mille et mille baisers donne-moi je te prie,
Amour veut tout sans nombre, amour n'a point de loi.
Catherine might have been swayed had not the words sounded a little too familiar. She repeated them to Alice. Her sister remembered that they had read them in an old poetry book of their mother’s. The verse was written by Pierre de Ronsard, a very famous 16th century French poet.
She couldn’t imagine Murdoch Lancer spouting French love poetry and trying to pass it off as his own. He was too honest.
She sighed and sat in the wingback chair close to the fire. Leaning back, she glanced up at the painted image of her sister. She missed Alice in a thousand small ways every day. Just over a year apart in age, they had always been each other’s closest friend. There had been no secrets between the two of them. What would Alice think of Murdoch Lancer?
Catherine smiled. Alice would see what she saw in him -his directness, his intelligence, his strength. And what would Alice say to her surreptitious meetings with him? Catherine considered the question carefully. Surely Alice would approve. She would understand that there was no harm in her little secret. It was just a friendship born of mutual love of words. Mr. Lancer was a gentleman, no threat to her virtue. Their short time together was hers alone; something to cherish when his dreams took him away. Alice who had loved a man so deeply she let nothing, not even her own mortality, keep her from planning a future with him, would appreciate the simple joy her sister found in this friendship.
After the long hours in the forge, the cold air and the snow were a relief to Murdoch. He stood outside for several minutes thinking about how he would spend his free afternoon. He was sure Miss Garrett would not venture out in such weather. He’d go to the tavern, he decided. It would be warm and he’d be sure to find good company there.
He’d spent many a night in waterfront taverns drinking, occasionally singing and fairly frequently enjoying the company of a barmaid. Murdoch was no better and no worse than most young men who found themselves alone far from home.
The tavern was busy and grew more so as the snow accumulated in the streets. Sailors and longshoremen crowded in; smoke swirled from the bowls of clay pipes; pewter steins foamed with beer. An old salt with a concertina started to play a chanty, a flute and violin players joined in. Murdoch joined the singers.
A fine evening, he thought, just what he needed. But when the red-haired barmaid dropped herself onto his lap Murdoch found himself oddly uninterested in her pouty lips and plump, barely covered bosom.
A few minutes later he was out in the storm, plowing through the snow towards his lodgings. He felt like a fool. He ought to be following the redhead up the stairs to the little room under the eaves with the lumpy straw mattress. Instead, he’d pushed her off his lap when she kissed him.
Why? For the damndest reason -she wasn’t Catherine Garrett.
“But why California?” asked Catherine as they walked towards Faneuil Hall. It was a fine March day with just a hint of spring in the air. The snow was melting. There were tiny streamlets of water between the cobbles, glistening in the sunlight.
“When I was a boy,” he began slowly, “I haunted the docks at home. I’d sit quiet and listen to the sailors tell their stories. I heard tales of India and Africa; of wild naked men attacking the ships and animals that couldn’t be real- turtles as big as carts and creatures with noses stretched out like thick ropes. Then one day I met an old tar who had been to California. He talked of rolling hills and rich ground. It caught my fancy like nothing else had. I learned all I could about it. I mean to go there and build a life.”
“It is very far away,” said Catherine trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. She knew their association would not last much longer. “Isn’t California part of Mexico?”
“Aye.” He looked at her closely. “What?”
Catherine laughed a little nervously. “I was thinking how hard it would be to go to a foreign country and then it occurred to me that you are already in a foreign country. We Americans, particularly New Englanders, believe the whole world wants to be like us. They will speak Spanish in California, you know.”
“I suspect I’ll understand Spanish about as well as I understand Boston English.”
He smiled when she laughed. He loved to hear her laugh. It was like her smile, rather rare and completely genuine.
“What kind of life will you build there in far off California?” she asked her smoky eyes bright with curiosity.
“A good one.” He looked off into the distance. “The Spanish handed out huge land grants to the younger sons of noblemen. Some of them went to live there; most didn’t but they took the profit from the land. A man ought to work his own land. He ought to know it like the back of his hand. Now there is trouble in Spain and trouble in Mexico. That makes for opportunities in a distant place like California. I mean to have land- thousands of acres of good land.”
She heard something different in his voice; determination and ambition, but something else as well, something harder. Catherine pushed her veil aside so she could see him more clearly. Normally he had a pleasant, open countenance, but at times his features seemed to close in like a hand being clenched into a fist. This was one of those times.
She’d like to know why. What did owning land in California mean to him beyond simple ambition to be a rich and successful man?
“Mr. Lancer,” she said gently, drawing his attention back to her. “Has your family long been schoolmasters?”
“No,” he said sharply, his gaze directed away from her towards the brick facade of Faneuil Hall. “We once belonged to the land, before Culloden, before the English sheep.”
Culloden. She knew that name, but she didn’t know enough to understand why he spit out the word so fiercely. Or why it was a driving force behind his deep need for land of his own. Perhaps her cousin Charles knew why Culloden would be so important to a man. She would ask him at her first opportunity.
She slid her arm through Murdoch’s and pulled him forward to the market. “There is a stall here that sells toffee. Do you like toffee?” she asked brightly as if she had not noticed the sudden darkening of his countenance.
Catherine accepted the solitude expected of those in mourning with good grace. Like her father, she did not believe wearing black or foregoing social engagements made her grief for her sister any deeper. She had never intended to flaunt the convention; indeed only had by her accidental acquaintance with Murdoch Lancer. Were the elderly ladies of Beacon Hill to gain knowledge of her long walks with the young Scottish blacksmith -that she was in mourning for her sister would be only one of their objections.
Even so, as she folded her black dresses to put them away she felt a sense of relief. She was tired of black; tired of winter. She wanted spring and warmth. Laid across her bed was a dark red silk dress. She was looking forward to wearing it to her first genuine social occasion after so many months of restricted visits to only family and close friends.
“Charles, have you heard of Culloden?” Catherine asked her cousin who was seated opposite her in the carriage. Yancy Beuler sat beside Charles. Charles’s wife Evelyn shared Catherine’s seat. They’d passed a pleasant evening in the home of an old friend who had married a Harvard assistant professor.
“The place or the battle?” responded Charles. He was leaning down to reposition the hot brick under his wife’s feet.
Yancy interjected, “It will be the battle. No one would have any interest in the place it if weren’t for the battle.”
“So it was an important battle. I thought I had heard the name before,” said Catherine nodding. “Do you know anything about it?”
Yancy chuckled. “Rather more than I need. My grandfather’s father was a Scot and was a young man at the time of the Culloden. He raised my grandfather on stories of the Duke of Cumberland, the Butcher of the Highlands, and Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
“It was the final battle in the Jacobite uprising,” added Charles helpfully.
“When the Stuarts tried to take the British throne back from the Hanovers?”
“That’s right. The Stuarts had been the royal house of Scotland and many of the Highlanders backed their play. They got slaughtered and lost their land for their trouble. It was seventeen forty?” Charles looked at Yancy who supplied,
“Five. Seventeen-forty-five. The Clearances, the pushing of the small farmers off the land to make room for the sheep, had been going on for a long time. After Culloden, the British instituted new laws that made life in the Highlands almost impossible so a lot of people emigrated over here, many to Canada and quite a number to the Carolina mountains like my great-grandfather. He married a Cherokee woman and a few decades later the son of Scots-Irish emigrants cleared her people off their ancestral land.”
“It is a wonder so few people appreciate the irony of Andrew Jackson being the president to exile the tribes,” said Charles thoughtfully. He winked at his wife. He knew she was bored by the conversation.
“According to the stories I’ve heard, the battle was terribly one sided. The Highlanders had courage but little else to fight with unlike the British who were well armed. The aftermath was brutal. I’ll spare you the details.”
“Thank you, Yancy,” said Evelyn with a shiver that had little to do with the chilly early spring evening. “My goodness, Catherine, you have such curious interests.”
Catherine gave Evelyn an apologetic smile.
She liked her cousin’s wife well enough. She knew that Evelyn was well suited to Charles. He was trying to make his way in the harsh world of business. More than growing rich, he desperately wanted to be a good and reliable partner to her father; to somehow repay him for tolerating his father all those years. The vaguely pretty, soft-spoken Evelyn who wanted only to create a lovely home was just what he needed at the end of the day.
Culloden, thought Catherine, Murdoch Lancer had spit the word out like a bitter pill. It took little imagination to understand why. Suddenly she felt quite cold. She pulled the hood of her cloak up over her head. The men looked at her with concern.
“It must be horrible to be dispossessed,” Catherine said softly. She lifted the edge of the carriage curtain and stared out into the dark night. “To lose a way of life, to know it could never be regained. The bitterness would affect generations, wouldn’t it?”
Yancy’s laugh was hollow. “No one holds a grudge like a Scotsman.”
When most people saw Murdoch Lancer working in the forge, they assumed it was the brute strength of the large man that made him valuable in the smithy. The truth was Murdoch’s real talent was in the careful creation of useful objects: horseshoes, hooks, hinges. He loved working with the hot metal, the glow of the molten iron, the ring of the hammer, the hiss when a newly shaped piece was plunged into water.
His father, Andrew Lancer, had been deeply disappointed when his only surviving son had refused to follow him into teaching. The elder Lancer had seen great promise in the boy who had always been a diligent student: bright, clever, resourceful. He’d seen a promising future for him; opportunities even in a Scotland ruled by the English. But there had been other qualities in his son-restlessness that had to be released in physical activity; stubbornness that ran so deep he couldn’t back down from a fight even when he was losing; and resentment. His father blamed Murdoch’s grandfathers for the resentment-displaced Highlanders who filled the boy’s head with stories of English cruelty and Scottish pride and bravery.
In the end Andrew Lancer accepted that apprenticing Murdoch to a blacksmith was the best course of action for his headstrong son.
The air off the bay was cold but it was hot in the smithy. Murdoch pulled a glowing piece of pig iron out of the fire with the long tongs and placed it on the anvil. He took up the big hammer and raised it. He brought it down over and over; sparks flew. He was bare chested, his muscles bunched and corded with each stroke; his body glistened with sweat.
This was good, he thought. Working hard was good - sweating, straining, pushing himself. It was all good; it moved him forward, closer to his goals. Nothing must get in the way. It was there in far off California, opportunity, land, wealth, his own place in the world. Once he had it, no one would ever take it away from him. But nothing could get in the way. Nothing, not even the beautiful smile of a woman.
The early spring sunlight streamed through the wavy pane of glass splitting it into the colors of the rainbow, shimmering on the wall. The small alcove at the top of the second floor stairs was Catherine’s favorite place in the house. There was a window seat upholstered with heavy damask and piled with soft pillows. Catherine had settled comfortably against the pillows, her legs stretched out. She was reading Frances Burney’s EVELINA; laughing softly to herself.
The heavy clunk of the front door knocker drew her attention. She closed the book and set it aside. She went to the top of the stair to listen. A smile spread over her face when she recognized her cousin Rosemary’s voice.
“Rosie!” she called eagerly as she ran down the steps.
Rosemary met her on the first floor landing. The cousins embraced. Catherine took a step back and looked Rosemary up and down. Rosemary wore a gown of sprigged muslin with pleated full sleeves and a wide sash belt. Her fair hair was parted in the center and pulled back into a loose knot.
“Well, you look like you survived,” said Catherine giving her another hug. “Come up and tell me all about it. Mary?”
“Yes, Miss Catherine?” responded the maid, Mary Hudson.
“Please bring us some tea,” said Catherine as she took her cousin by the arm and pulled her upstairs to the sunny alcove. “How was it?”
“Terrifying,” said Rosemary flopping down on the window seat. “John’s grandmother could be Grandmother Lowell’s twin. In fact they knew each other. I got the distinct impression that Mrs. Clark was of the opinion that Grandmother Lowell would be very disappointed in a silly girl like me.”
“Oh, my dearest, you know elderly ladies never approve of the young women their sons and grandsons choose to marry. You mustn’t take it to heart. I suspect that exactly the same words were said to her as a bride.”
“I suppose so,” said Rosemary folding her legs under her and settling back against the pillows. It was such a relief to know she would now talk about the stressful visit to her prospective in-laws and Catherine would listen, really listen, in the way no one else, including her mother listened to her. “I spent the whole visit worrying I was going to spill my tea or say something offensive when her friends visited. I know it is not the same as being sold into slavery, nothing could be that horrible. And in the end I will have a comfortable home; the old lady won’t actually beat me. Even so, I felt like I was on the block; every part of me being examined from my teeth to my diction to the curl in my hair. With her very attentive maid standing by she would say, ‘Miss Lowell, adjust the fire screen, I’m too warm. Miss Lowell, fetch my shawl. Miss Lowell, you may read to me now.’”
They giggled together at Rosemary’s imitation of the old woman’s imperious voice.
“John was wonderful. He constantly said I mustn’t mind his grandmother too much. That she was just testing me and actually liked me. I don’t think she did at all. And he promised that we would live in Boston, not in Worcester.”
Catherine listened as Rosemary described other details of the visit. Some moments made her laugh and others made her indignant on Rosemary’s behalf. In the end she agreed with John Clark -that Rosemary had been subjected to a test which she had passed.
Finally empty of stories and conflicting emotions, Rosemary sat back and looked closely at Catherine. “You look very well.”
“Thank you, I’ve done a lot walking lately,” she said with a slight smile. “I understand that exercise is beneficial to one’s health.”
“Walking by-,” Rosemary paused. She recognized the mischievous look in her cousin’s slate blue eyes. Slowly she said, “No, not by yourself. You’ve seen him again. The Scottish blacksmith who reads Greek.”
Catherine’s wide, delightful smile bloomed. It transformed her face. Normally she was thought of as a plain, serious looking young woman; pale with shadowed eyes. The smile made her beautiful. “Again and again and again.”
“Oh, Catherine,” breathed Rosemary, leaning forward to take hold of Catherine’s hand. “Tell me, tell me everything.”
In spite of herself Catherine giggled. “There isn’t that much to tell. We meet, it is almost by accident, each Wednesday afternoon. In Broden’s or near Broden’s.”
“How can it be by accident if it happens every week?”
“We never say when we part that we will meet again the following week,” answered Catherine giving a small shrug. “We simply do. And for an hour we walk and talk.”
The maid approached carrying a large tray. There was a boy behind her with a folding table. He set up the table in front of the window seat. He blushed when Catherine said, “Thank you, Jimmy.” The maid put the tray down on the table. It held a china tea set, a plate of warm biscuits, a pat of butter and a small honey pot.
“Thank you, Mary, I’ll pour.”
The maid and the boot boy retreated quietly. Catherine sat forward. She placed a silver tea strainer over a delicate china cup and poured.
“What do you talk about?” asked Rosemary as she accepted the cup and saucer. “You and the blacksmith.”
“Well,” began Catherine slowly as she poured her own tea. She settled herself comfortably against the pillows. “it depends. We often talk about books or poetry. He is an admirer of Lord Byron’s works, Childe Harold in particular. Sometimes we talk about his plans for the future. He has wonderful dreams of owning land in California; of building a life there.”
“California?” repeated Rosemary. She was disappointed. It appealed to her romantic nature for Catherine to have this secret friend. Losing Alice had been heartbreaking for everyone in the family but no one more than Catherine. It was good to hear that light note in her voice. Rosemary was sure that the handsome(he must be handsome she thought) young blacksmith was the reason. That he was a blacksmith, someone that in the normal course of their lives they would never have met made it even more romantic to Rosemary. “On the other side of the continent?”
“Yes,” Catherine nodded firmly. “It isn’t just talk the way many men speak of the future. He has strength. Physical strength, of course. He is very tall and lean, with a long stride. His hands are large, they are hands made for real work. But it is more than that; he has another sort of strength as well, something from the inside, a strength of character, a strength of purpose. In some ways he reminds me of Father. Father has always believed in his own vision. Everyone told him he would never go to Harvard, a farm boy from Vermont, but that didn’t stop Father. And when so many people thought the railroads were too risky or the work of the Devil-Father saw them as an opportunity. Murdoch Lancer has that sort of strength, the strength to see his vision through.”
Rosemary sat very still, her tea cooling in the cup. Her idea of romance had been too small. She had enjoyed the notion of her cousin doing something that was slightly socially unacceptable. It had pleased her that Catherine who had always been so correct would flaunt convention for the pleasure she found in the young man’s company. But this was something more.
“You’re in love with him,” she said softly with a touch of awe.
“What?” Catherine’s voice squeaked.
“You are. You are in love.”
“No,” she laughed just a little too shrilly. “Rosie, don’t be silly. I admire him. I admire his intelligence, his sense of purpose. He is a fine man; honest and decent, kind.”
Rosemary shook her head. “No. I know you, Cathy. I know your voice and your expressions. I’ve never heard this note in your voice. I’ve never seen you with such a light in your eyes. This is love, this is what the poets describe.”
“Is it?” asked Catherine weakly.
“I think so. You think about him all the time don’t you?”
Catherine nodded. She suddenly felt very young. Rosemary had always been the one seeking advice, looking for guidance, just as her sisters had looked to Catherine for leadership. Not this time. She was out of her depth.
“I can’t be in love.”
“Why not?” asked Rosemary faintly. She fancied that she was in love with her fiancée, or at the very least that she loved him. But it wasn’t what Catherine was feeling for the blacksmith. She could sense that. “Because he is unsuitable?”
“He’s not unsuitable,” snapped Catherine with a totally uncharacteristic flash of temper. Her blue eyes bright and hot; her voice sharp. “Grandmother Lowell and her friends thought my father was unsuitable for a daughter of an old Boston family. If it weren’t for my father, this house would have fallen down around Grandmother and her stiff-necked pride. Murdoch Lancer is a good man, a strong, capable man. He’s worth two of most of the spoiled scions of Boston families.”
Rosemary nodded timorously.
Catherine slumped back. She stared at Rosemary. The fire had gone out of her eyes, now they were wide, almost frightened. “Oh, dear,” she whispered. “Oh, dear, oh, dear.”
Rosemary looked out the window and down on the back garden. A tree, sheltered by the house from the wind was showing the first signs of blooming. Sipping her cold tea she waited in silence while Catherine sorted through her emotions. Such strong emotions.
“I-I suppose you must be correct,” said Catherine slowly. “How very odd that I never thought to put the word love to my feelings towards him. Not that it matters.”
Rosemary turned around quickly. “What do you mean -it doesn’t matter?” she demanded. “Of course it matters.”
“It matters to me. It is actually quite wonderful to realize I’ve fallen in love. I feel like I know what Alice felt for Yancy now. I don’t believe I’ve ever come close to feeling so strongly about, well, about anyone before. It is good to have a name for that strange combination of eagerness and nervousness I feel when I see him; for the desire to walk closer to him, to touch him.”
Rosemary set her teacup on the tray; she reached out and took Catherine’s cup and saucer from her and set them on the tray. She returned her gaze to Catherine. Catherine was looking out the window, her expression surprisingly serene.
“What are you going to do?”
“Do?” repeated Catherine, “What I have been doing. There is no reason for anything to change.”
“Oh, Rosie, don’t you see? I’ve fallen in love but it doesn’t mean that he has.”
“But of course he has. How could he not fall in love with you?” demanded Rosemary. “Why do you think he gives up his one free afternoon a week to walk with you?”
Catherine smiled. She took both of Rosemary’s hands in hers. She knew the girl spoke out of loyalty and she loved her for it.
“Because he is obviously starved for conversation. Those in the forge with whom he works are worthy men, but from what I’ve gathered even the owner of the forge is barely literate. It isn’t as though Mr. Lancer can drop by his club and converse with his Harvard classmates as Charles is able to do. By chance he fell over,” she laughed a little remembering the large man sprawled at her feet, “someone with whom he could share opinions and ideas. Imagine, my dear, if you were in a strange city with no one with whom you could share good conversation. Why, you would latch on to anyone capable of appreciating poetry and philosophy. Even a spinster all swathed in black.”
Rosemary frowned at her cousin. “I don’t believe you qualify as a spinster. I’m quite sure Mr. Lancer doesn’t see you as one.”
Catherine’s smile broadened. There was a hint of pride in it. “Mr. Lancer is a handsome, vital young man with a glorious vision for the future. He is simply marking time here until the next chapter in his adventure begins. A woman like me-what good would I be to him in the life he has planned? I-I hope that I have made his time in Boston more pleasant. I would like to believe that he will remember me with some measure of fondness.”
“But don’t you want to know what his true feelings are? Perhaps -”
“No perhaps,” Catherine shook her head. “What I want most in the world is that he goes to California and fulfills his dreams.”
“But if you love him,” said Rosemary with a touch of desperation, “wouldn’t you want to keep him near you? It would be unconventional but it could-”
“No, you don’t understand. I don’t want to change him in any way. I love him as he is. California, the life he would build there, is part of him. I want that for him. The moments we have; that’s what I’ll cherish.”
Murdoch Lancer did not waste money. He worked hard for his wages and he had plans for every cent he made. He lived on fish chowders, day old bread and beer. He shared a room under the eaves of a drafty old house near the docks. His worldly goods consisted of the clothes on his back, two clean shirts, a leather apron, a set of blacksmith’s hammers and tongs, and four books. One of the books was a collection of William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets his father had given him. That one he would keep. The others, and any more he might buy in the coming weeks, he would sell when he moved on.
He never considered his clothes. Not until he started spending his afternoons off walking through the streets of Boston with Catherine Garrett on his arm. As spring arrived, the pathways of the Common grew more crowded. Murdoch was aware that his rough clothes that marked him as a laborer drew attention. He did not want to embarrass Miss Garrett.
It wasn’t easy to find secondhand clothes for a man his size. In the evenings after a long day at the forge, he haunted the secondhand shops sorting through stacks of frock coats and trousers. In one shop he found a pair of trousers long enough for his legs, but with five extra inches in the waist. In another, he lucked into a black frock coat of fine wool that fit his shoulders. He tried on a dozen tall beaver hats. Wisely, he decided against them. The last thing he needed was more height. In the end he bought a black flat top hat with a short crown and a wide brim. It was a less fashionable choice than the beaver, but more practical.
The first Wednesday in May, he arrived at the forge hours before the sun rose. He’d done a days work by noon. Skipping his midday meal, he had a bath at the public bathhouse and made a trip to the barber. He dressed with care in his new finery.
It was odd. He felt more conspicuous now in public than he did when wearing his working clothes. When he turned onto Brattle Street, he decided to wait for Miss Garrett outside the bookstore rather than risk drawing too much of Mr. Broden’s attention.
He saw her walking towards the shop. She too was dressed differently. She had put off her mourning. She wore a short gray cape over a dark green dress. Her bonnet had a row of white rosettes inside the brim; her veil was gray instead of black. She moved with such grace she put him in mind of Lord Byron’s poem, She Walks in Beauty. But Byron’s poem was about the night and a woman with raven tresses. Catherine Garrett was as fair and fresh as sunlight. Even so, the last stanza might have been written for her:
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
He waited until she came out. She had a package wrapped in brown paper tucked beneath her arm. Her gaze searched the street before she pulled the veil down. He fancied he saw disappointment on her face when she didn’t see him.
Taking a deep breath he crossed the street and bowed politely to her. “Good afternoon, Miss Garrett.”
“Ah, Mr. Lancer, I’m so pleased to see you,” she said looking up at him with a wide open smile. “My, don’t you look elegant. Is it a special occasion?”
“I hope so,” he said the back of his neck growing warm. “That gown is becoming.”
“Thank you,” she responded pleased that he noticed she was wearing something different. His brogue was thick today; a sign that he was agitated in some way.
“Is there somewhere we can go to sit and talk?”
She was surprised. They always walked when they were together. In fact, in all the time she’d known him she had never seen him really still. He radiated energy and purpose. Catherine nodded. “There are benches on the New State House grounds. We can go there.”
He took the package from her to carry. Catherine peeked around the edge of her bonnet to steal glances up at him as they walked rapidly along the street. He did look very fine, but obviously something important was on his mind. In the past, he had been careful to shorten his stride to match hers. Today, she was going to have to break into a trot to keep up with him.
Catherine was relieved when they reached the capitol building. She led them to a bench in a sunny spot. She sat and arranged her skirts around her. She looked up at him expectantly. “Aren’t you going to sit down?”
“Um, I will.” He sat down with a thump.
“It is a beautiful day isn’t it?” she said conversationally. She folded her veil back over the brim of her bonnet. “Spring is such a lovely time of year, so full of hope. New beginnings. It is such a relief to see the trees leafing out after the barrenness of winter.”
“It is a new beginning I want to talk about.”
“Yes. California?” she asked. She struggled to keep her voice even. It was several weeks back that she’d realized she was in love with him. That knowledge had given their short afternoons together a bitter-sweet quality.
“Yes.” He was quiet for a moment. When he spoke it was slowly and clearly, “You know California is not a wilderness. The Spanish have built roads and missions. There are real towns there. In fact, the estancias themselves are small villages much like what I’ve heard of the plantations in the South. Of course the workers are not slaves,” he added quickly. He knew how strongly she felt about the abolishment of slavery. “There is a vigorous trade between here and a place called San Francisco in California.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of it,” she said smiling encouragingly. If he weren’t so intent on whatever it was he was trying to talk to her about, she would tell him that her father owned an interest in several ships involved in that trade.
“I learn more every day from sailors who have made the voyage.”
Catherine forced her smile to stay bright. His vision of the life he could build in California was exciting, almost inspiring. She wanted him to go. And yet, when he went, there would be a void in her life. A void, that as dear as her family and friends were to her, no one else would be able to fill. “Will you go soon?”
“In the summer. It is better to go around the Horn in the South American summer which is winter here. It is a long journey; six months, at times longer. A hard journey, dangerous; but then all ocean travel is dangerous. I don’t mind it. I’m a good sailor. Have you ever been on a voyage?”
“To New York and to Philadelphia. There was talk of my sister and me going to England some years ago but we never went. I loved being on the ocean. It made me feel so small and insignificant. Will you sail to San Francisco?”
He nodded sharply. He was still staring straight ahead, not at her. “It seems to be the best place to start from. I’ll be able to find work there; a good sized town always needs another blacksmith. I haven’t nearly enough money for my real plans, but all it will take is hard work and careful living. I thrive on hard work.”
“When you are ready you will create your future,” she said softly, looking at his hands. They were big hands, scarred and calloused. Hands strong enough to wrest a dream from life. “Land of your own, your own place in the world. It is a wonderful dream, I know you will make it come true.”
He turned so that he was facing her. “Could it,” he paused, moistened his lips and leaned towards her. His gaze was very direct. “Could it be your dream?”
“My dream?” repeated Catherine slowly, her blue-gray eyes suddenly very wide.
“Yes,” he said with a decisive nod. He went on with more confidence. “Surely you know how deeply I admire you. It isn’t an easy life I’m offering, but I would be able to provide for you. In the future -the life we could build-”
“Oh, oh, my dear,” Catherine could barely breathe the words. Her face paled.
He pulled back. He sat tall and very still, staring straight ahead. “I’ve offended you.”
“No, no, not at all,” she cried. “You mustn’t think that. You’ve done me a great honor. Please, please, listen to me. Oh, won’t you please look at me? Don’t say any more just listen for a moment.”
Stiffly he turned towards her. His eyes were icy and his normally mobile mouth was a straight hard line.
“I’ve told you that I am mourning my sister Alice who died in the fall,” she began hesitantly. “I had two sisters, Alice and Lydia. Lydia was a delightful child, always dancing. A few years ago the three of us contracted rheumatic fever. Lydia never recovered. Alice and I did but our health was compromised.” She looked up at him, squarely in the eye. She went on in a very firm voice. “I have a weak heart. I could not be the sort of wife you need.”
His eyes widened. “You’re ill,” he said, shock making his voice high and strained. His gaze searched her face. He shook his head. “No, but- why, you don’t seem ill at all.”
His earnest, puzzled expression brought tears to her eyes. Never had she wanted to hurt or disappoint him. The depth of his passion - his desire for land in California had seemed to her so great that she had not dared to hope he could develop any tender feelings for her. She believed that he saw her as a confidant, a friend, but not in a romantic way. He was young and vital. He would want a woman who was pretty and gay. Catherine never undervalued her own character. She knew that it was her practicality and intelligence that set her apart, but these were not characteristics young men normally sought in a romantic partner.
Catherine caught her trembling lip between her teeth. “Not ill, not exactly. Just weakened,” she paused and took a breath. This was not the sort of conversation she was accustomed to having with anyone but close family. Yet she must tell him; he must understand why she refused his offer. “Your dreams of the future are glorious. You need a strong woman as a helpmate. Someone who could work beside you; someone who would be a support to you and give you children. I could not be that woman; I would be a burden.”
“No.” His voice was firm.
“Please, Mr--Murdoch,” she began reaching out to touch his arm but somehow her hand rose to his face.
“I hear what you are saying,” he said in his normal voice. “That you were ill and, yes, such an illness would leave you physically weakened. That is common knowledge.”
“Then you understand,” she said with relief.
He caught her hand with his. Even through the fabric of her glove she felt its warmth and strength.
“What I say no to is the notion that you would be a burden. If I had to carry you every step of the journey, you would not be burden. If you never raised your hand to do a moment’s work -as long as I had your smile to look forward to at the end of the day -you’d have done more good than if you’d built us a barn. As long as I had you to talk to, I’d never lose heart. I could see my plans through to the end no matter what challenges appeared.”
She smiled sadly and blinked away tears. “You are being romantic.”
“If you’re crying I’m making a hash of it.”
She shook her head and looked at her hand in his. “It is a beautiful notion. But you must be practical. I believe in your dreams. I could share your dreams but only if I could contribute to the furthering of them.”
“Catherine,” he said earnestly.
It was the first time he’d used her Christian name. It had a strange, stirring effect. It was as if he were claiming her as his own. “No,” she said shaking her head. “Don’t say any more now. You must think about what I’ve said.”
“Will you not give me some hope?” he begged; his eyes searching her face.
Catherine took several deep breaths. “I will say this. Once you have had time to soberly reflect upon what I’ve told you, I will speak with you about any topic you broach. But you must promise not to feel bound by anything you’ve said today.”
“All right,” he said nodding. “I’ll walk you back now. And we will speak of this again.”
They were silent on their walk back to her street. Her arm was tucked through the crook of his left elbow, his right hand covering it. He walked slowly, his stride matching hers.
When they came to the place they always parted, Catherine said, “Promise me you will think about everything I’ve said.”
“I promise,” he said solemnly.
She started to turn away but she came back to stand face to face with him. “I must say this. . . you must know . . .” she began in a voice trembling with emotion. “I will understand if we never speak of this matter again. I swear to you that I will. But you must know how deep my regard for you is. How deeply honored I am by your proposal.”
Murdoch took her hand in his, he turned it palm up. Then he bowed and pressed his lips to her pulse. It was as though an electric current ran through the two of them.
Without another word Catherine turned, picked up her skirts and ran up the street startling several longtime acquaintances by not returning their greeting.
“Miss Catherine, are you all right?” asked Mary, the maid, when she opened the door. “Your cheeks are all flushed like.”
“Yes, yes, Mary, I’m perfectly well,” said Catherine as she let the maid take her cape from her shoulders. “Is Jimmy here? I want him to take a note to Miss Rosemary.”
“Yes, miss, he is in the kitchen tending the fire.”
Catherine put her hand to her forehead and massaged her temples.“Send him to me please. I’ll be in Father’s study.”
“Yes, miss,” said Mary as she walked to the kitchen stairs. She glanced back at Catherine with puzzlement.
Catherine wrote a brief note to her cousin begging her to come as soon as she was able. She told the boy to run as fast as he could.
In less than half an hour, Rosemary was running up the stairs in a most unladylike fashion. She found Catherine in the alcove window seat sitting with her legs drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them and her head resting on her knees.
“Catherine, what is it? Are you ill?”
Catherine looked up; her face was tear-stained. “Oh, Rosie, the most, the most-”
“What?” cried Rosemary falling on her knees in front of her cousin.
Catherine took a steadying breath, swallowed hard and said, “Mr. Lancer has asked me to marry him and go with him to California.”
Rosemary sank back on her heels. “How did you answer him?”
“How could I answer him?” said Catherine sharply. She stood and began to pace. “I told him everything, about my weak heart, about how I would be a burden to him, that I couldn’t give him children. I was very honest. I had to say how much I care for him, how deeply he had honored me with his proposal. In spite of everything I said, he, he still wants me.”
“To go to California,” said Rosemary faintly. Slowly she stood and sat on the window seat. “So far away. We’d never-”
“Never see each other again,” stated Catherine stopping in front of Rosemary. “It would mean leaving Father, leaving you and everyone else I hold dear. I can’t even contemplate it and yet-”
“And yet you want to go, don’t you?”
“I want him; I want to be part of his future. If only I had something to offer,” she said almost in a wail. She sat down beside Rosemary. “It would be so easy to let my emotions carry me away.”
Rosemary was very still. She had enjoyed her fancies about her cousin and the blacksmith. But she had not taken them seriously. Never had it crossed her mind that Catherine would go away with him.
“Catherine,” said the younger girl softly. “What about Uncle? He knows nothing of this.”
“I know, I know,” said Catherine covering her face with her hands. “I hate the thought of leaving Father all alone.”
“You aren’t thinking of an elopement?”
“No, certainly not. I’d never marry against Father’s wishes,” said Catherine firmly. She jumped up and started to pace again. “Besides it’s madness, I know it is madness to think of accepting. I must be practical, I must think of what is best for Murdoch. I couldn’t bear the notion that my weakness would distract him from his goals.”
“You’re being awfully noble, aren’t you?”
No, not really,” answered Catherine shaking her head. “I’m simply trying to talk myself out of the daft idea that it would be right to go with Murdoch. I want to give in to the desires of my heart. I want to be swept up in his arms. I sound like a silly little fool. I want to be his partner not his burden. Oh, but I want him!”
“But Catherine, you could never be a burden, not if he loves you. He only wants your love and support. And there is-” Rosemary broke off and looked out the window.
“Nothing,” answered Rosemary shaking her head. She was still looking away. “I only want to say that you mustn’t undervalue yourself.”
“No,”said Catherine slowly. She looked at her cousin intently. “It was something else. What was it?”
Rosemary turned to look at her. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. “It was a very unworthy thought.”
“Tell me. Oh, please tell me. Maybe it will distract me from all this emotion.”
Rosemary took a deep breath and said with noticeable misery. “I thought of the legacy. That you would have that to offer him.”
“The legacy,” repeated Catherine, her hand coming to her mouth in surprise. “My, I haven’t thought about the legacy in years. Why did you feel-oh, I see, you’re afraid he knows about it and that’s why he proposed to me.”
“I’m sorry,” said Rosemary earnestly. “It was an unworthy thought. Unkind to you and insulting to Mr. Lancer.”
“No, no, that is a perfectly rational thought,” said Catherine calmly. It was almost comforting to consider something as mundane as a man looking to marry for money. “It would show far more sense on Murdoch’s part if he were offering for me in hopes of my money rather than for me myself. But I don’t believe he could know about the legacy. No one outside of the family knows about it do they?”
“Lawyers I suppose. And John, my portion of the legacy is my dowry.”
“Your dowry. Mine could be my dowry. Oh, Rosie, oh, think of it, Grandmother Lowell of all people making it possible for me to marry a Scottish blacksmith who reads Greek,” exclaimed Catherine with a laugh that was a little hysterical.
The legacy was their inheritance from their common grandmother. Catherine’s portion had increased with the deaths of her siblings. Her father’s careful management had increased its value even more.
The realization about the legacy allowed Catherine to calm down a little. She sat beside Rosemary on the window seat to think. “I told him that he needn’t feel bound by anything he said today. Murdoch is the sort of man who should have children, a son to carry on his name. What I told him may have changed his mind. I wouldn’t blame him if it had.”
“You don’t believe that. You know he will be waiting for you next Wednesday and he will ask you again.” Rosemary paused, uncertain that she wanted an answer to her next question. “Will you say yes?”
“I don’t know,” said Catherine staring at nothing. “I have to think. I have to be sure that I’m not grasping at straws because I don’t want to lose him. The legacy makes a difference; it means I would bring something to the marriage that would advance our dreams.”
Rosemary noticed the change in pronouns. The dream had gone from his to theirs. Perhaps Catherine was serious when she said she didn’t know how she would answer when Murdoch Lancer asked her formally to marry him. But Rosemary knew she would say yes. Rosemary wanted to weep when she thought of her life without Catherine. At the same time, she felt a swell of admiration for her cousin’s courage. And then she thought about how her uncle was going to react to the news that his only surviving child had chosen to leave him. She hoped Murdoch Lancer was as strong as Catherine believed him to be.
Thanks to spending childhood summers on the family farm where her father had grown up, Catherine was an accomplished horsewoman. She loved to ride and got to do so far too rarely. So it was with great pleasure that she accepted Yancy Beuler’s invitation to join him for an afternoon on horseback out of the city.
“Yancy, I want to ask you something,” said Catherine as she slowed her horse to a walk after a brief gallop across a field of winter wheat. “Something I have no right to ask.”
Having brought his own prancing mount under control ,Yancy glanced at her with curiosity in his brown eyes. “There is nothing you could ask of me, Catherine, that I would not want to share with you. Please, ask.”
For a moment she stared ahead between her horse’s ears. She spoke as if she had rehearsed her words earlier. She had. “Do you in any way regret having known Alice; having loved her?”
“No, not in any way,” he answered swiftly. “I wish with all my heart that we had married, that we had a long life together, had children. But if all that heaven allowed us were those few precious years of, as Shakespeare put it, ‘the marriage of true minds’, well, then I’m deeply thankful that we had that.”
He pulled his horse to a halt. Catherine did as well. Yancy smiled sadly. “Alice was the making of me. When I came here I was a spoiled boy, vain, foolish. I was used to young ladies throwing themselves at me.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
It was true. He had been a bit of a peacock with his courtly manner and figured silk waistcoats. Such a handsome boy with a long straight nose, a quick smile and wavy light brown hair.
“Alice had no interest in my family’s wealth, my looks, my so-called charm.”
“Oh, now,” laughed Catherine, patting her horse on the neck. “My little sister had a fine mind but she was still a flesh and blood woman. She was well aware of how handsome you were and she was not indifferent to your charm. And yet, there was nothing she loved more than a good argument. I believe you captured her heart by listening, by taking her opinions seriously.”
“Very seriously,” he agreed, his gaze drifting off across the farmland.
They were quiet for several minutes. Catherine knew he was thinking about Alice; about all the plans they had made. They were nearly back to the stables when she asked, “Are you really going back to Virginia, Yancy? Have not your ideas changed too much to live there?”
He turned to look at her with a crooked smile. “I’m going back,” he said with a nod. “Virginia is my home; my land, my people for all our faults. For Alice’s sake I would have built a life here but without her-well.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’m going home.”
“We will all miss you,” she said, “but I think I understand. Belonging, it can depend upon the place or it can depend upon who one shares one’s life with. Even though you will be so far away, it comforts me that you will often think of her as I will.”
“I miss her every moment, but even in that sadness is the memory of how happy we were together. I could never regret loving Alice and even less being loved by her. As is so often the case, Shakespeare put it well when he wrote,” Yancy took a breath and went on in his low, warm slightly accented voice, “ ‘Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks, Within his bending sickle’s compass come: Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom.’ ”
Catherine did not dare hope that Murdoch Lancer would formalize his proposal of marriage. Indeed when she carefully dressed for their Wednesday afternoon she was little afraid that he might not meet her today. She would understand if she never saw him again. How she had reacted, what she had told him about her health, would have shocked him.
She had had a busy week as the mistress of her father’s house, but this afternoon there was something tugging at the back of her mind, something that needed her attention. She couldn’t recall details because every minute she was thinking of Murdoch and the future he offered. A future she wanted more and more each day.
Catherine had recovered from her initial surprise. She had, as was her custom, examined every aspect of the situation and given it all careful thought. She knew what her answer would be if he had the courage to ask her again.
Sunshine, she was sunshine, thought Murdoch when he caught sight of Catherine walking down the long path of the Common towards him.
She wore a pale yellow challis dress embroidered with green leaves and violets. The pleated skirt was full, it swung bell-like as she walked. There was a neat ruffle around the bodice and the sleeves were banded at the top, wide until they ended in plain cuffs. Around her shoulders was a dark green shawl. Her wide brimmed bonnet was trimmed with yellow and green ribbon.
Surely, he thought, such finery meant she intended to accept his proposal. She was too kind to tempt him with a vision of loveliness and then refuse him.
She stopped walking when she saw him. He approached her slowly, bowed over her hand and offered her his arm. Without saying a word they walked together. Earlier Murdoch had found a quiet place, a wrought iron bench surrounded by low bushes just leafing out. He led her to it.
Catherine gracefully sat down and spread her skirts around her. She looked up at him smiling.
“What a bonny sight you are,” he said his brogue thick. “What I’d give to be able to draw or paint you as you sit. You are so lovely. Can I speak my mind?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“I’ve done as you asked. I’ve thought about all you said. And I see it this way, only God knows how much time any of us have. Life is a gamble. I’ve got dreams, big dreams. I want you to share them.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I’m going to say it properly this time.”
As he knelt on one knee before her Catherine felt a tremor of joy. This was real. All her good reasons for it being wiser for him to leave her behind to pursue his future meant nothing as she looked into his honest, open face.
“Catherine, will you take a chance on me? Will you take my heart and all that I am? Will you marry me?”
She knew exactly what she should tell him. That winning her father’s blessing would be difficult but important to her. That he mustn’t let his pride keep him from accepting her legacy as seed money for their new life. But instead she pulled the ribbons loose and carefully removed her bonnet, all the while her gaze held by his.
“Would you think me,” she began softly, “dreadfully bold if I asked you to kiss me?”
He smiled broadly, “There is nothing in the world I want more than to kiss you.”
It was nearly an hour later that she retied the bonnet ribbons reluctantly. There had been several kisses; mostly they had simply sat very close together. Her head on his shoulder; their fingers interlaced.
“Come,” she said pulling at his hand as she stood. “Come along with me.”
She led him up the south slope of Beacon Hill where the tall, grand, brick houses lined the cobbled streets. Her step was so light she was almost dancing. He followed grinning, charmed by her elfin grace, the magic of her smile. He was so captivated by her that he barely noticed they had stopped in front of a door with a fan window above it.
The door was opened by a stout woman in a plain black dress, her gray hair tucked under an old-fashioned mob cap. She exclaimed, “Miss Catherine, why you are ever so late.”
“Am I? Oh, I must have lost track of time,” said Catherine pulling Murdoch through the doorway. She wanted to see her father while she was so happy, so sure of the rightness of her choice.
“Good evening, sir,” said the woman looking Murdoch up and down several times.
The woman’s frown brought Murdoch back to reality. Where were they? What was Catherine doing bringing him to the front door of the house? Why was she bringing him here?
“Mrs. Perry, this is Mr. Murdoch Lancer,” said Catherine drawing Murdoch forward by the arm. “Murdoch, this is our housekeeper Mrs. Perry. Is Father in the study?”
“No, Miss, he’s in the drawing room,” said the old woman, her frown growing fiercer. “It is Wednesday, Miss Catherine.”
“Yes, Mrs. Perry, it has been Wednesday all day,” said Catherine brightly, allowing the housekeeper to help her off with her bonnet and take her shawl.
“May I take your hat, sir?”
“Y-yes, of course.” He took off his flat top hat and handed it to the woman.
“Come along, Murdoch,” said Catherine happily, pulling Murdoch towards the stairs.
“Catherine, wait,” he said sharply on the second step. He tried to gather his scattered thoughts. He knew about the sisters she’d lost and that her mother was dead. Her father was living. She’d spoken of him fondly; something about him preferring Latin to Greek. And he was sure she had talked about a family farm in Vermont. What was a Vermont farmer doing with a house like this? “This is your house, your father lives here?”
“Yes, of course,” she said still tugging him up the stairs.
“But . . . I thought you were a companion for a Mrs. Rye.”
“Why ever would you have thought that?”
“That first day you said you had to get home with her books.”
“Mrs. Rye is a friend of mine. She has three young children and finds it difficult to get out.” Catherine stopped at the top of the stairs and turned back to him. He was two steps down which brought them eye level. “Oh, Murdoch, all the things we’ve spoken of so freely and yet, you know nothing about me. Oh, dear.”
“I know everything about you,” he declared vehemently “Everything important.”
“I do hope you still believe that is true after you meet my father,” she said somewhat nervously.
“Miss Catherine, your fan,” said a young woman in a dark dress, white apron and a mob cap who had appeared at Catherine’s shoulder. She handed Catherine a folded fan. Her eyes were on Murdoch; full of unblinking surprise. “I have the violets for your hair.”
“Thank you, Mary.” said Catherine allowing the maid to place a posy of fresh violets among her soft curls of fair hair.
“You better go in, Miss,” whispered the maid as she went to the wide double door beside them. “Your father has been asking for you.”
“Time to beard the lion,” said Catherine inclining her head towards the door.
Murdoch came the rest of the way up the stairs and followed her to the door. He was confused. He glanced around the hallway. He was no judge of fine appointments but there was no denying the elegance of the house.
When the maid opened the door they could hear the babble of numerous voices. Catherine stepped forward into the room and stopped in shock. Too late she remembered what had been tugging at the back of her mind: that this was the afternoon her father was hosting an informal reception so that close friends and various elderly aunts and second cousins of the Lowell family could meet her cousin Rosemary’s fiancée and his family. There were more than a dozen well-dressed people in the long narrow drawing room.
Catherine’s gaze fell on Rosemary whose blue eyes were wide in surprise. Silently she mouthed, “The Scottish blacksmith who reads Greek?”
For the first time in her life Catherine seriously considered falling into a swoon. She knew her family would be so concerned for her they would overlook Murdoch. Instead, without thinking she stepped closer to him and croaked softly, “It is a catastrophe.”
And so it would have been,
if not for Yancy Beuler’s excellent manners. He rose immediately and came to shake Murdoch’s hand vigorously.
“My dear fellow, how very good to see you,” he said as though Murdoch were his dearest friend. He looked at Catherine with a raised eyebrow.
“Murdoch Lancer of Inverness, Scotland,” she whispered franticly.
“I see you’ve met our hostess. Good evening, Catherine my dear,” Beuler bowed over her hand. Kissing it he said softly. “Get some air in your lungs. No one is going to be murdered.” He straightened and said loudly, “Come, Lancer, let me introduce you around.”
Catherine had once heard her uncle, a retired army sergeant-major, say that he trained his men so that in a crisis they would react automatically. That evening she understood what he’d meant. She had been well trained in the art of hospitality.
She didn’t dare watch Murdoch as Yancy led him across the room to introduce him to the eldest lady there as custom dictated. And although she could feel her father’s gaze she didn’t dare look at him. The reception was for Rosemary. Catherine was determined to rise to the occasion for Rosemary’s sake. She squared her shoulders, opened her fan and approached Rosemary’s future mother-in-law with an apologetic smile.
Harlan Garrett was a shrewd and observant man. He had been anxious about his daughter. When he’d come home from his office, he’d assumed that Catherine was resting after preparing for the reception. By the time the maid had discovered Catherine wasn’t in the house, several of the guests had arrived. Garrett couldn’t believe that Catherine had forgotten about the reception. She had been preparing for it for days. In fact, over breakfast she’d expressed pleasure that the Dutch tulips had bloomed in the back garden. The tulips were now in a blue vase gracing the tea table but Catherine was nowhere to be found.
When the drawing room door opened Garrett was relieved to see Catherine, looking particularly lovely in her new gown. But who the devil was that young giant with her? he asked himself. He saw the look of dismay cross his daughter’s face and then watched Yancy greet the man warmly.
It disconcerted him that Catherine did not come to him immediately after paying her respects to the Clark family. Rosemary had joined her; arm in arm the two young women spoke to many of those in the room, but not to him.
Garrett returned his scrutiny to the stranger. Tall with a powerful pair of shoulders clad in a worn but neat black suit. He looked confused. Garrett’s nephew Charles greeted him with enthusiasm. He and Yancy continued to introduce the young man around the room.
Somehow they were making it appear to the Lowells that the fellow they introduced as Mr. Lancer was an old friend of John Clark’s and to the Clark family that he was a dear friend of the Lowells. Garrett was quite sure neither was true. Which meant whoever Mr. Lancer was; he’d been brought into the house by Catherine.
When the trio came to him, Yancy looked him square in the eye and said with something of a flourish, “Mr. Garrett, may I present Mr. Murdoch Lancer.”
Garrett glanced at his nephew. He could read Charles’s expression. It said quite clearly--please, Uncle, play along for Rosemary’s sake.
Yes, for Rosemary’s sake and for Catherine’s he would be polite to this interloper. As was his habit when meeting someone new, Garrett drew himself up to his full height. Frequently that meant he was taller than the person he was meeting. Not in this case. The young man was huge. He radiated physical strength. And something else, something Garrett recognized - confidence. If Lancer was startled and confused when he followed Catherine into the room, he had recovered well.
“Welcome, Mr. Lancer,” said Garrett extending his hand. The handshake was firm; blue eyes met his directly. There was curiosity and a touch of defiance in those eyes.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Garrett.”
The thick Scottish brogue came as a surprise. And again Garrett asked himself -who the devil was this fellow?
Across the room Catherine sat down at her pianoforte. Rosemary stood just in front of the instrument. The room quieted and turned to them. What a charming picture they made.
Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly today,
Were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms,
Like fairy wings fading away.
Thou wouldst still be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will;
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.
The two young women sang together. Most of the guests watched the bride-to-be but Murdoch Lancer had eyes for Catherine alone.
Two hours later, Catherine stood by the front door next to her father to say good-bye to the guests. She had had only a brief moment with Murdoch. She’d asked him to please come the next evening. He said that he would. When he left, he said a polite good-bye to her father and bowed over her hand.
When the last guest exited the front door, Catherine pushed it shut and leaned back against it with a deep sigh.
“Well, daughter, just who the devil is Murdoch Lancer?”
She looked up. Her father was standing in the middle of the hallway with a fierce scowl on his handsome face. A dozen thoughts went through her mind. She could make excuses, she could pretend she didn’t know what he was talking about; she could slowly lead up to what needed to be said. But really, it would be kinder to simply tell her father the truth.
She pushed herself away from the door, folded her hands before her and said gently, “Murdoch Lancer is the man I am going to marry. I am going to California with him.”
Murdoch was not sure how he came to be walking across the Common with the man who had greeted Catherine and him at the door of that long gracious room. When he left the house, all he wanted was time to think. How, in the few hours since their first kiss, had Catherine gone from being a poor companion to the daughter of an elegant house?
But then she had been that daughter all along. He had fooled himself into believing she was someone at his own level of society-educated but poor. He should have known better. Did it change anything? he wondered.
He remembered the appraising look her father had given him. There was a man who was no one’s fool. He wasn’t likely to be pleased to hand his daughter over to a blacksmith.
And who the hell was this fellow strolling along with his silver-headed walking stick and tall beaver hat? He was even whistling one of the tunes Catherine had played. What a fine pianist she was.
“I’ll be saying good-bye to you then,” said Murdoch firmly as he turned towards the docks and his boardinghouse.
“No, you won’t,” said the man pleasantly. “You are going to come along with me.”
“What, for a good beating for having the audacity to keep company with Miss Garrett?” asked Murdoch harshly. He drew himself up to his full height.
“A good beating?” drawled the man. “My dear sir, I do not consider myself a coward however if I were going to attempt to give you a good beating I would have brought along a few longshoremen. We are going to the tavern where Charles will join us as soon as he has seen his women folk home. I believe you could do with something stronger than Mr. Garrett’s sherry.”
Murdoch considered for a moment. “I could.”
“Good, then you will come along peacefully.” With that Beuler turned and walked down a narrow side street.
Murdoch followed him to a tavern well away from the harbor. The large room was gaslit, smoky and loud. Unlike the rough sailors and laborers in the harbor taverns, these patrons were young and well-dressed. These were the Harvard boys of whom the dockworkers spoke with such distain.
“Good evening, Mr. Beuler,” said the barkeep.
“Good evening, Samuel, we’ll have a bottle of single malt and three clean glasses.”
Beuler led the way across the crowded room, stopping a few times to speak with drunken young men. By the time they had settled themselves at a table in the back of the room, Charles entered the tavern. He too was greeted warmly by the barkeep and other patrons.
“Well, Mr. Lancer,” said Charles Lowell as he sank into his chair.
Murdoch took stock of the two young men sitting across from him. Lowell was slight and fair. Beuler was tall; he had lively brown eyes. At the moment his top hat was tipped over his left eye.
“I suppose the two of you are my rivals,” said Murdoch tersely.
Rivals?” repeated Lowell. “For Catherine? No, not rivals. I suppose we did introduce everyone but ourselves. I’m Catherine’s first cousin; her mother and my father were siblings.”
Beuler nodded towards him. His voice had lost its lightness as he said, “I was betrothed to Catherine’s sister Alice when she died. Although I have no formal standing in the family, I take a brotherly interest in Catherine.”
“So, Mr. Murdoch Lancer of Inverness, Scotland, tell us who you are,” said Lowell raising the glass of whiskey to his lips.
“I’m the man who is going to marry Catherine Garrett and take her to California.” With that, Murdoch drained his glass.
Harlan Garrett rarely found himself at a loss for words. But when his daughter made her pronouncement, he found himself opening and closing his mouth like a landed fish. Catherine slipped by him and ran up the stairs, calling a cheerful, “Good night, Father” over her shoulder.
During a rather sleepless night he concluded that Catherine had been joking; that she’d had no idea he would take her seriously. He sat down at the breakfast table determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of the tall Scotsman.
He noted when she joined him at the table of the first floor dining room that she looked particularly lovely that morning. She had not put up her pale hair; it lay across her left shoulder in a thick braid. She wore a simple cotton dress with her green and blue paisley shawl draped around her shoulders.
Her blue-gray eyes shined bright and clear as she happily enlightened him. She told him everything - from the moment Murdoch Lancer fell over her, to how shocked he was to discover he had proposed to the daughter of the house,not a poor companion. Garrett listened in hope that the story would end differently. It didn’t. Marriage and California were still the end result.
“You’ll like him, Father; he is very like you.”
“Hardly a recommendation,” said Garrett sourly as he threw down his napkin and stalked from the room.
Garrett thought of himself as a reasonable man. He knew the common response to a daughter declaring she was going to marry an unsuitable man was to lock the girl in her room until she came to her senses. He also knew that locking a girl in her room was a sure-fire way to increase her ardor for the unsuitable man. He wasn’t going to make a mistake like that. Besides, Catherine wasn’t a foolish schoolgirl. There must be something to this fellow for her to take him so seriously.
But California? California was out of the question. The voyage alone could be a death sentence for Catherine. No, he must be firm in his resolve for her own good. That he couldn’t bear the thought of giving her up wasn’t nearly as important as her health.
Garrett was known as a hard but fair man. Do the job he’d hired you to do and you’d be paid what it was worth; if you earned it, he might give you a chance to better yourself. But that morning, even the youngest most inexperienced of his employees knew to keep his head down and not catch Mr. Garrett’s attention.
In silence he handed his hat over to his clerk. He walked through the office; his glance darting around the room almost hoping for some infraction so that he might vent his ire. He spied his nephew waiting in his private office and narrowed his eyes.
There would come a time when Charles Lowell would be considered a formidable business competitor. That lovely May morning he was a year out of school, the sole support of his mother and young wife, and dependent upon his uncle for his start in the business world. He stood in the middle of the office nervously pulling at his cuffs.
Yancy Beuler was not nervous. He sat in a visitor’s chair with his long legs extended before him. He liked and respected Harlan Garrett, but sadly he no longer needed his approval. He had come along that morning to lend Charles moral support. In a way he was amused. In Virginia, he was considered a very good catch; handsome and wealthy from a good family. But in Boston, at least in the home of the staunch abolitionist Garretts, he had been met with suspicion. How delighted Alice would have been to know Catherine had found an even more unsuitable young man.
Garrett entered the office and pulled the connecting door shut. Yancy came slowly to his feet and both young men said, “Good morning, sir.”
Garrett answered with a glare. He said brusquely, “All right, Charles, you can relax. Catherine told me that you knew nothing about Lancer.”
“We know a great deal about him now, sir,” said Yancy pleasantly. “For one thing, he can hold his liquor.”
“Explain,” demanded Garrett as he sat behind his massive desk.
“We persuaded Lancer to have a drink with us last night,” said Charles facing his uncle. “We wanted to learn more about him as his appearance at the reception came as quite a surprise. I suppose Catherine told you of their plans.”
“Plans,” snorted Garrett. “Yes, she told me of their plans and how she came to meet him. According to Catherine, this blacksmith has a sterling character.”
“Well, sir, I practiced my best cross examination on him. We discovered nothing to say that he doesn’t have a sterling character or at least as untarnished a character as most young men have. We’d have bought another bottle but he was finished with two glasses and would not be tempted. Once my ear became accustomed to his brogue, he seemed quite well-spoken.”
“As for being a blacksmith, Uncle, it appears to be a means to an end much as you being a supercargo before you went to Harvard.”
Garrett blue eyes flashed. “Are you accusing me of snobbery?”
“I won’t be accused of snobbery, certainly not by a Lowell.”
“Yes, sir,” said Charles quietly.
Harlan Garrett had grown up on a prosperous Vermont farm. When he was fifteen, his father gave him a choice of following his elder brother into the army or working for wages on the farm. Garrett wanted to do neither. His maternal grandfather was a Harvard educated minister. Harvard had become Garrett’s dream at a young age. He quarreled with his father. He left the farm with the Bible his grandfather had given him and a sack of food his sister had put together for him. Leaving his little sister behind was his only regret. It took three months to work his way the hundred and fifty miles to Cambridge. He was disappointed to discover he was too young and too poor to enter Harvard. It was fate that he fell into an opportunity to go to sea as the assistant to the supercargo of a merchant ship. Two years later, he went back to Harvard. He had money and he did well on the entrance exam.
At Harvard he met Daniel Lowell. Lowell was an old and well respected name in Massachusetts. Daniel’s branch of the family had nothing left but the name and a house on the south slope of Beacon Hill in Boston.
Garrett met Mrs. Lowell and Daniel’s sister Lydia when he helped a drunken Daniel home one night. There were still many people who believed Garrett had married Lydia Lowell for the family name and its connections. But the truth was, he fell in love with her the first time he saw her.
Old Mrs. Lowell was a shrewd judge of men. She knew that on his own her son would be no more of a success than his father had been. In Harlan Garrett she saw ambition and talent; enough to rebuild her family’s fortunes. Time would prove her correct. The firm of Lowell and Garrett became a success. There was no more scrimping and scraping by in the Beacon Hill house. Thanks to her son-in-law’s hard work old Mrs. Lowell had a comfortable old age. And she never let him forget that he had married well above his station.
His mother-in-law had been dead for four years. But Garrett still resented how she had been happy to eat his food and let him provide the roof over her head yet still made snarling comments about how farmers’ sons lacked refinement.
Garrett frowned. He was fond of Charles. He had hopes that the boy had not inherited the intemperance of his father and grandfather. “I’m sorry, Charles,” said Garrett gruffly, “that was unfair. Tell me more, what else did you learn about Lancer?”
Yancy answered. “He’s intelligent. Appears to have a good, solid, basic education. It took some doing, but we saw evidence of a sense of humor. I must say that it isn’t every man who could have walked into that reception yesterday and followed my lead as well as he did.”
“Yes, you were very clever. Thank you for saving the family embarrassment.” Garrett stood and walked to the window. He had moved his offices away from the traditional business section of the city to where the new railyard was being built. “Is he a fortune hunter?”
“I can’t say, sir, with any certainty. His admiration for Catherine, his feelings for her seem quite genuine. As does his surprise at discovering her position in the world.” Yancy shrugged. “He could, of course, be a fake. He did ask what one would expect someone to ask in his situation. Who you are. What your business is. But it seemed normal curiosity to me.”
“I don’t believe Catherine would easily be taken in, sir,” said Charles earnestly. “She’s dealt with fortune hunters before. Remember the Frenchman.”
Garrett gave a sharp laugh. His daughters, his clever daughters, had made a fool of that silly fop. Alice was gone now. Her cousin Rosemary was soon to be married. Catherine was lonely; even a clever girl might be fooled by the promise of love. And no one was more deserving of love than his Catherine.
“Do you think he knows about the legacy from your grandmother?” asked Garrett. Catherine had told him that Murdoch didn’t know and that she was not going to tell him about the considerable amount of money that was hers upon marriage. Garrett had been thankful she’d brought the matter up herself. He would not have wanted to insult her by suggesting that her money would be the only reason a man would offer for her.
Charles thought about the question for a moment. One couldn’t say that the legacy to her grandchildren from old Mrs. Lowell was a deep dark secret. “Honestly I don’t know, sir, but if I had to guess, I’d say he doesn’t know about it.”
“After the second glass,” began Yancy, “Lancer unbent enough to tell quite an amusing story on himself. He said he had the idea that Catherine was the companion to Mrs. Rye who he had believed was a quarrelsome old lady. He laughed at himself when he told it. I know you believe me to be a romantic, but I think Murdoch Lancer proposed to a girl he thought as poor as himself because he loved her.”
“You are a romantic,” said Garrett but he looked at the young Virginian with affection. He had made Alice’s last few years of life very happy with his romantic notions.
Reluctantly Charles asked, “What are you going to do, sir?”
“What can I do? Catherine is of age,” muttered Garrett. In the railyard a new locomotive was being fired up. It belched white steam and black smoke. To Garrett it was beautiful. No mystery there, it was a machine that did what it was designed to do.
He turned with his hands clasped behind his back. He took a breath and let it out slowly. “I suppose I must meet this fellow and take his measure myself. If he is everything you say he is, perhaps he could be of some use. We can always use an intelligent young man who can think on his feet. I would rather see Catherine married to a man who understands the value of work rather than some boy whose greatest accomplishment is tying his own neckerchief.”
Charles and Yancy exchanged a glance. Garrett caught it. “What?” he demanded.
“California seems quite a fixed idea with him, sir.”
“Planning to find El Dorado, the lost city of gold, is he?”
“No, sir, his goals seem far more practical. He is very knowledgeable about California: the opportunities there. He wants land, lots of it. He is very persuasive on the subject.”
Garrett gave his nephew a steely glare, “I suppose you are going to run off to California too,” he sputtered. “Before you do, bring me that contract for the land near Brattleboro.”
Catherine spent an anxious day waiting for her father to come home. When he did, he said nothing about Murdoch or her future. Even though she was expecting it, the clunk of the door knocker after dinner brought her heart to her throat.
Mrs. Perry showed Murdoch into the study. He had to duck his head to come through the door. He was wearing the second -hand frockcoat that almost fit him. His fair hair was damp and neatly combed back from his broad forehead. His eyes found hers immediately.
Catherine smiled and went to him. She took him by the hand and led him to her father.
She was used to his height and his broad shoulders, but here in her father’s quiet study Murdoch seemed even taller and broader. And somehow, less the gentleman and more the laborer.
And that, thought Catherine, was why Father wanted to see him here. This room was a reflection of her father - from the polished wood of the bookcases with their neat rows of leather-bound volumes stamped in gold leaf to the heavy Persian carpet on the floor. This was the study of a man with power.
She took it as a good sign that her father stood and extended his hand.
Murdoch narrowed his eyes and very slowly shook the older man’s hand.
Catherine looked back and forth between them. Murdoch was younger, physically larger and stronger. He radiated strength of purpose. But she knew better than to underestimate her father. Beneath the perfectly tailored suit still beat the heart of the ambitious farm boy.
“All right, daughter,” said Garrett firmly. “We’ve demonstrated that we are civilized men. You may leave us alone.”
“Oh, um,” Catherine swallowed. “Well, yes, I’ll go and play the piano, shall I?” She left the room slowly, looking back at them. Her smile was a little uncertain.
After the door shut behind Catherine, Garrett crossed the room to a sideboard that held a crystal decanter. “Drink?” he asked curtly, lifting the decanter. “My nephew says you have a taste for good whiskey.”
“Scotch whiskey,” said Murdoch sharply.
Garrett grimaced. This young man was not going to be easily intimidated. He poured the amber liquid into two glasses. He offered one to Murdoch.
Murdoch took it with an almost polite nod.
The silence grew tangible. As the older man, it was Garrett’s place to break it. He was waiting to see if Lancer would grow nervous enough to say something. It appeared he would not.
Murdoch stood very straight, occasionally taking a sip from his glass. His blue eyes glanced around the room. His gaze lingered on the shelves of books. Someday he would have a room like this, he told himself.
“Catherine tells me you are a great reader,” said Garrett, not sure if he was taking pity on Lancer or himself by breaking the silence.
“I am when I have time.”
“Ah, time,” repeated Garrett drinking from his glass. “Well, there is no reason for us to waste time beating about the bush. Just who the Devil do you think you are asking for my daughter’s hand in marriage?”
“The man she loves,” said Murdoch slowly, a smile spread across his face. “The man who loves her.”
It was the smile that worried Garrett. It was the smile of a man who believed in himself.
Murdoch’s attention returned to Garrett. His smile faded. Tersely he said, “You don’t believe I’m worthy of her. I’m not Boston bred, not an American; not a gentleman.”
Garrett’s eyes narrowed. He hated being thought of as a snob but he wouldn’t make excuses. “Of course you’re not worthy of her. I don’t know a man who is. My daughter is an exceptional woman.”
“We agree upon that,” said Murdoch raising his glass and take a drink.
“Sit down,” snapped Garrett. “I’m tired of looking up at you.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Garrett went to his desk and sat behind it in a leather chair. Thoughtfully, he tapped his fingers on the blotter. It was ironic, he thought. All those years ago he had been the outsider asking for the hand of the daughter of the house. Garrett sensed the younger man’s simmering temper. He remembered how it felt to be judged and found lacking for no reason more substantial than not being born into Boston’s elite.
If this fellow were a candidate for employment, Garrett knew he would hire him. He had self-control, something most young men lacked. He’d seen evidence of intelligence and curiosity. Those were characteristics he valued. Characteristics he possessed; characteristics that old Mrs. Lowell had seen in him.
Yes, there were definitely good qualities in Murdoch. Well, despite being young and protected as she was, Catherine was a good judge of character.
“There seems to be something to you, Lancer,” said Garrett almost pleasantly. “If you work hard you could make something of yourself.”
The clear blue gaze settled on Garrett as Murdoch said, “I intend to, sir.”
Garrett nodded. “There are opportunities here for an ambitious man. I don’t suppose you know anything about the railroad, but I’m sure you can learn.”
Murdoch cocked his head and said with a trace of surprise, “Are you offering me a job, Mr. Garrett?”
“Maybe,” said the older man. He didn’t want to give too much away. “I won’t pretend you are exactly what I want in a husband for my daughter but there is something to you. Catherine is not some feather-brained schoolgirl to have her head turned by sweet words or a man’s looks. I saw yesterday that you can think on your feet. That’s more than most can do. I’m willing to give you a chance. I’m not an unreasonable man, Lancer. In a few months if you and Catherine still feel an attachment -well, I won’t stand in your way.”
Murdoch almost smiled. “That’s more than I expected, sir, after I saw this house and learned about your business. I thank you for the thought. But Catherine and I are going to California.”
“Don’t be a fool. I’m offering you a chance most men would jump at; a sure future. California is a fairy tale,” said Garrett waving his hand dismissively. “The frontier always calls to the young but few of those who answer that call succeed.”
“America was once the frontier. Your people succeeded,” responded Murdoch letting his gaze drift around the well-appointed room. “It’ll take hard work; I know that. I’m not afraid of hard work.”
“Damn it, man!” exclaimed Garrett banging his hand against the top of his desk. “Catherine is not strong enough for a life like that. I know that she’s told you the truth about her health. Seems to me if you love her you’d want to keep her alive.”
Murdoch’s blue eyes blazed. He stood quickly, the chair toppled over behind him. “I don’t have to prove to you that I love her. Catherine knows that I love her; that I would do anything for her,” he growled.
Garrett stood. He was glad his wide desk was between the two of them. “Oh, anything,” he sneered. “Anything but accept a job. A job that would allow you to provide for her.”
“Our future is in California,” said Murdoch flatly, leaning forward. “Our future is land; that’s what we want.”
“Arrogant pup! That’s what you want,” snapped Garrett. He gestured widely. “This is what Catherine is accustomed to. A real home with people who love her. In a city with a past and a future. I’m not letting you take my daughter halfway around the world to God knows where so that you can maybe someday have a few acres of land.”
Murdoch squared his shoulders. He picked up his glass and drained it. He spoke slowly, “I’m not taking her. She’s coming. There’s a difference. She’s not as fragile as you think. Catherine knows what she wants. She ought to have a chance at it.”
Garrett didn’t say a word. He felt too close to losing his temper. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t give this arrogant pup that satisfaction.
Murdoch could see how Garrett struggled to hold his temper in check. It gave him a sense of victory. His own temper had faded. Garrett’s approval meant nothing to him. If it came to a choice between them, Murdoch was confident that Catherine loved him; that she would come with him.
He was smiling again. Faintly he could hear the piano being played. “She plays very well, doesn’t she, sir?” he said almost politely.
“She does when she has an instrument to play on,” said Garrett tersely.
Murdoch nodded as if to acknowledge the point. “Good night, sir.”
It was a lovely warm day. Catherine had taken her sewing out to the garden. She’d been there an hour but had not made a single stitch. Her thoughts distracted her. For days now she and her father had been at a stalemate. He asked her to give it all more thought before she came to him for a final answer. So every day she thought about Murdoch, wrote to Murdoch and dreamed of the future.
She could marry Murdoch, she would marry Murdoch and go with him to California. She would. It wouldn’t be an elopement because her father knew she would do it.
But to marry against her father’s wishes. To leave him disappointed and angry with her. How could she do that? How could she be sure that what she was doing was right if her father felt it was so wrong? And yet-
“Willie, darling, where did you pop from?” said Catherine to the little boy who had appeared at her side.
He was her cousin John Garrett’s son. Four years old with blue-grey eyes and blond curls. He climbed into her lap and wrapped his arms around her neck.
“Good afternoon, niece.”
“Aunt Laura!” exclaimed Catherine as she returned the child’s hug. She stood with him still clinging to her. “Oh, dear, Father has called in reinforcements.”
Laura Garrett was a tall, narrow woman about forty years of age. She wore a plain dark blue dress and a straw bonnet. She looked precisely like what she was-a farm woman.
“I could say that I just wanted to get young Willie here away from his Ma so she could rest up and get to know the new baby.”
“You could,” said Catherine shifting the boy to her hip and walking to her aunt. “How are Jane and the new baby?”
“Well. They named her Elizabeth for Mother.” She bent forward and accepted a kiss on the cheek.
“Cathy, we rode on the locomotive,” said the boy.
“You did! How exciting!”
The maid Mary brought a tea tray and set in on the little table in the shade of the arbor. Catherine asked her to have Jimmy bring a box of blocks down from the old nursery. For the next hour she played with the child and talked to her aunt about the family. Finally the little boy grew tired. He climbed into Catherine’s lap and snuggled against her shoulder. His small fingers curled around her thumb.
She sang softly to him. His eyes closed. She marveled at the length of his eyelashes against his cheek, at the strength in his small hand, at the silkiness of his butter-colored curls. How beautiful he was; how precious. How fortunate John and his wife were to have their children.
Catherine drew the boy closer and arranged her shawl around him. She looked at her aunt. Laura had reached into the workbag at her feet. She pulled out a length of finely woven linen and began sewing up the seam with tiny stitches. The sight made Catherine smile. She had never seen her aunt with idle hands.
“Father did send for you.”
“He did. That poor fellow from his office brought his letter straight to me. Evidently, Harlan got him out of bed the night he met your young man. He had the ticket all arranged and he met me at the station this morning.”
“That’s Father, never leave anything to chance,” said Catherine shaking her head with a small laugh. “I suppose you have already made up your mind I’m making a mistake.”
“You know me better than that,” said the older woman firmly. “All I want, all your father wants, is your happiness. I don’t understand why the young man didn’t accept Harlan’s offer of a job. You could marry and live here where you would be safe and have the life you are accustomed to. It would be very practical.”
“Yes, it would be.” To herself she said, everyone knows I’m always practical.
“Well, have you asked him-what is his name? It is rather unusual, isn’t it?”
“Murdoch, Murdoch Lancer of Inverness, Scotland,” said Catherine with a smile. “Have I asked him to accept Father’s offer? No, I haven’t. And I am not going to ask him to accept it.”
Laura paused with her needle hovering over the linen. “I suppose you have your reasons.”
“I do. It may sound foolish because I understand that what Father is offering is a good future. Murdoch would do well. He’s intelligent and capable. And I would be able to stay with my family all of whom I’m very sorry to leave. Even so, we are going to California.”
“I see,” said Laura calmly with a nod. “Harlan says you want his blessing. Don’t you think that is asking a great deal of man who has already lost four children and a wife he loved?”
“Yes,” snapped Catherine with tears in her eyes. “I know that it is horrid of me to leave Father alone in this house with nothing but memories, but the truth is, someday that will happen no matter what I do now.”
The little boy twisted uneasily in her arms. Catherine repositioned him and calmed herself.
Laura turned her attention back to her sewing. She knew Catherine would continue when she had composed herself.
“If Murdoch went to work for Father, it would change who he is,” said Catherine earnestly. “This dream he has of land in California, it is part of who he is, part of what I love and admire. I can’t ask him to give that up to become Father’s man rather than his own man. I don’t want him to give it up. I want to help Murdoch realize that dream. It’s my dream now.”
“I don’t know anything about California. But I do know a life on the land is hard work,” said Laura bluntly.
“Too hard for me. I know. My heart, my poor weak heart,” said Catherine with an exasperated sigh. “Do you know what Murdoch said when I told him about my heart? He said only God knows how much time any of us have. That life is a gamble. I want to take that gamble, Aunt. I know I won’t be much use working the land, but thanks to my grandmother’s legacy we will have land sooner, land I may see and know. Oh, can’t you understand?”
Laura’s hands stilled. Looking at Catherine had always been like looking at her younger self; the narrow face, the smoky color of the eyes, the pale hair. Today, even agitated, Catherine was as pretty as Laura had ever seen her. She knew why because once, long ago, she had been that pretty. “Yes, child, I can understand.”
“Laura, how can I let her go?”
It was late afternoon. Garrett had returned early from his office so that he could speak with his sister before guests arrived for dinner. They were in his study.
“I know that it isn’t fair on you, Harlan.”
I don’t want her to go. I don’t want to be alone.I admit that,” he said hoarsely. On the top of his desk were a collection of miniatures; lovely little portraits of his wife and children. Garrett picked one up of a little blond haired child. With something like a sigh he said, “When I saw you at the station this morning, I almost called little Willie Samuel; he is so like I remember him. It is strange to think that ten years ago all five of them would gather around me on a Sunday afternoon. All five of our children and Lydia. I should have spent more time with them. I thought there would be time once the business was strong, once we were secure. But there was so little time.”
Laura had two living brothers. Henry, the older, was good to her. Now that he had retired from the army, she was glad to have him and his family back on the family farm. But she had always felt closer to Harlan, even through the long years when he was estranged from their father. She knew that each loss had taken part of his heart. She couldn’t help but wonder if losing Catherine, be it to Murdoch Lancer or to death, would destroy what was left.
“It isn’t just myself I’m thinking of. The voyage alone could be a death sentence for her. If only that boy would see reason. If he’s what she wants - all right - but they must stay here. She might have years if we take proper care of her. Doesn’t he understand that?”
“If you really believe that it would be right to prevent her from going with him then don’t let them have the legacy. She wants to further his dream of owning land. Her grandmother’s money lets her do that. You are the trustee; she can’t have it if you don’t approve of her marriage.”
“Laura,” said Garrett turning to her; his blue eyes wide with surprise..
“Why be shocked? It is what parents do isn’t it? Save their children from imprudent marriages.”
Garrett heard the bitterness in her voice. He knew why she was bitter. When she was sixteen, Laura had fallen in love with a young man. Garrett had already left the farm; he never met him. He couldn’t remember his name but he knew that their father had forbidden Laura to marry him. Laura had been brought up to respect her father; she obeyed. The young man joined the army in hopes of impressing the elder Mr. Garrett. He was killed less than a year later.
“I hear the knocker. That will be Catherine’s young man. I admit I’m curious to meet him. Catherine has always been so discriminating about young men,” said Laura going to the door. She paused and looked back at her brother. “She is your child, Harlan. You must do what you think is best.”
Murdoch walked slowly towards the Garrett house. He hadn’t seen Catherine in six days, not since the night her father had offered him a job. They had written each other every day thanks to Boston’s excellent postal service. Each letter said that she loved him and was looking forward to their great adventure. She said he was right to have refused her father’s offer of a job. Her father had meant well but it wasn’t for him.
He was pleased that she agreed. He could not give up the idea of land in California, but if Catherine had any hesitation about going he didn’t believe it would be right to take her. It was an uncertain future he was offering. Had he been correct that she was a poor woman trying to support herself by being a companion, even an uncertain future might seem a bright prospect. But for the daughter of a man like Harlan Garrett, who owned interests in shipping lines, steel mills and the new railroads, it would mean living far more simply than she had ever had to.
Her letter yesterday had made it clear she understood that. She had even gone so far as to tease him that once they were married and her maid was left behind, he would have to learn to lace up a corset. It was a bold thing for a girl like Catherine to say. Some might find it shocking but it gave Murdoch heart. He felt it showed that Catherine was coming to him with her eyes wide open. He simply couldn’t believe that she was as fragile as everyone said when she had such courage.
The old housekeeper opened the door to him and put out her hand for his hat. She didn’t approve of him and she didn’t care that he knew it. He heard the pianoforte; he knew that Catherine was in the drawing room. With a curt nod to the old woman, he took the stairs two at a time.
The pianoforte music stopped when he reached the top of the stairs. To his surprise, he heard a child’s voice when he reached the drawing room doors. He slowed his steps and looked into the room cautiously. Late afternoon sunlight was streaming through the windows. In the middle of the fine carpet were a great many wooden blocks scattered about a tower of similar blocks. Rosemary Lowell was sitting on the carpet in a pale pink gown; Catherine, in his favorite -the yellow gown with violets, was standing on her tiptoes with a block in her hand next to the tower. Between them stood a little boy with curly blond hair looking up at Catherine.
“Please, Cathy, let’s make it taller.”
“I’m sorry, Willie,” giggled Catherine, “I can’t reach any higher.”
“Perhaps I could be of service?” Murdoch said softly. He almost hated to speak and disturb the scene.
“Oh, Murdoch!” exclaimed Catherine as she almost skipped across the room to him, her hands out to him. “I’m so glad you’ve come.”
Rosemary struggled to her feet. The little boy stood very still and slowly let his gaze travel from Murdoch’s heavy boots to his face. He took a step closer to Rosemary.
“It is a giant?” asked the child in an awed voice.
“If he is; he’s a friendly giant,” said Rosemary gently. Her gaze was on Catherine. How young she looks, how pretty, how alive, thought Rosemary. I hate that you will take her away Murdoch Lancer, but I forgive you because you have made her so happy.
“Come in, my dear, and do watch your head,” said Catherine slipping her arm through his. “Do you remember meeting my cousin Rosemary Lowell?”
“Yes, of course, the bride.” He bowed politely.
Rosemary dropped a curtsey. “It is very nice to see you again, Mr. Lancer.”
“And this is Willie. Come, darling, and say your how-do-you-do.”
Willie looked uncertain. He very slowly walked across the carpet towards Murdoch.
“Willie is my cousin John Garrett’s son. I told you about John didn’t I? He’s a lieutenant in the army. He’s somewhere called Missouri now but his wife and children are staying at the family farm. They have a new baby, a girl, they’ve named for my Grandmother Elizabeth.”
Willie was standing just in front of them now. He reached out and clutched a handful of Catherine’s skirt.
“It is all right, Willie,” said Catherine as she brushed her fingers through the blond curls.
Murdoch knelt down so that he was face to face with the child. A handsome child, he thought, with eyes the same grey-blue as hers. “How-do-you-do, Willie?”
“Can-can you make the tower taller?” asked the boy.
“Aye,” said Murdoch with a nod. “Shall we do it together? I believe we need to start again. It will need a bigger base.”
Willie nodded knowledgeably.
Rosemary and Catherine sat together on the piano bench watching Murdoch and Willie building with the blocks.
“He has a nice way about him with a child,” said Rosemary.
Catherine’s voice was a little strained when she said, “Yes, he does.”
“Cathy?” queried her cousin with concern.
“I’ve known all along he was the sort of man who should have children. He’s young. He’ll have his chance.” She blinked her tears away and met Rosemary’s eyes. “I’m not being horribly selfish am I? He will have his chance.”
“Oh, Cathy, I didn’t think. I-”
“No, don’t say anything,” said Catherine her voice soft and pleasant again. “I’m quite myself now. I learned from Alice that it is the moments we have that are important.”
Rosemary slid her arm around Catherine’s waist.
A little later Laura Garrett came in and was introduced to Murdoch. Eventually Harlan Garrett, Charles Lowell with his wife and mother and John Clark joined the party. Charles promptly joined the tower building. Garrett carried on a detailed conversation with Clark about business, but his sister noticed that he was really more interested in the success of the wooden tower. Rosemary and Catherine took turns playing the piano.
Once the sleepy little boy was carried off to bed by the maid, the adults had dinner. It was a pleasant family dinner that caught the Lowell’s and Laura Garrett up on each other’s news. John Clark continued to engage Garrett in business talk. Murdoch answered a few questions about his own family and Scotland, but in general he was quiet, content to listen to Catherine’s family. He didn’t think any of them except the girl Rosemary felt kindly towards him, but they were polite.
Murdoch had to be at the forge early in the morning. He took his leave soon after dinner. Catherine walked him downstairs from the drawing room to the foyer. She paused under the lamp.
“I’ve a present for you,” she said almost shyly.
“I feel a bit vain giving it to you but I think you might like it as a keepsake. Here, open it.” She handed Murdoch a heavy embossed trifold of leather about the size of a sheet of music. It had a brass clasp on it in the shape of a butterfly.
Murdoch stared down at the gift. It had a feel of quality about it, like the fine books in her father’s study. Slowly he undid the clasp and opened the folds. “Oh, but how did you?” His eyes darted to her face and down again. “It’s perfect. Just like that day. How did you manage it?”
She laughed, delighted with his surprise and obvious pleasure in the gift. “My part was easy. All I had to do was put on this gown and find the same bench. Mrs. Homer, she is a friend of Rosemary’s mother, is a very skilled watercolorist. I’m afraid she has flattered me.”
“Nay,” Murdoch shook his head. “Paper and paint could never catch the true quality of your beauty. But she has done a fine, fine job. I look at it and I can remember the softness of this gown, how it floated around you when you walked. And those ribbons, how they slid through your fingers when you untied them. She captured the line of your cheek,” he said as he traced her jaw with his finger, “and the shape of your smile.”
Catherine shivered as the calloused tip of his finger caressed her lips. “Kiss me! Please , kiss me.”
The lamp on his desk was turned low. It left the study in shadows. Garrett paced the length of the room, avoiding the obstacles from long familiarity. He could do it. He had to do it. It was his right, he was the trustee, he could refuse to give Catherine and Lancer control of old Mrs. Lowell’s legacy. They could challenge him legally but they could not do so from California; they would have to stay in Boston. And that would serve his purpose. Catherine would hate it. She might well come to hate him, but he would have done his duty by her. He would have protected her.
Garrett stopped pacing. Fa, it was what all of his children had called him when they were small. Catherine still called him Fa, when she was very happy, when she wanted his full attention.
He turned to look at her. She stood in the doorway silhouetted by the light from the hallway.
“I will not marry against your wishes.”
Something has changed her mind. Perhaps Lancer has come to his senses and decided to accept his proposition. Garrett knew she would not make such a statement unless she meant it. He could relax now. He had saved her from this folly. He started to speak but she continued.
“Before you give me your final word, there is something else I want to say.” Catherine came into the room and turned up the lamp. She stood very still, facing him. “You can’t save me, Fa. I know that you desperately want to protect me just as you wanted to protect Henry and Samuel and Lydia and Alice. There was nothing you could have done to save any of your children; there is nothing you can do to save me. I have a weak heart.
It is true that I may not survive the voyage. It is a foolish risk to take. It is also true that being caught in a summer storm or a winter draft may kill me this year or next. No matter what you do, Father, you cannot save me.”
Garrett watched her with fascination. She looked him directly in the eye. Her face was calm; her voice was firm.
“I have two choices. I can stay here and wait for death to claim me or I can go forth and live for however long or short a time fate allows. I would choose life. I would take the gamble and spend whatever time I have loving a man who loves me; helping that man further his dreams, our dreams.”
“But.” she paused letting the harsh word hang in the air between them. Then her voice gentled, “I will not leave you in anger, Fa. I will not go without your blessing. I love you and owe you a daughter’s loyalty. I love Murdoch. If the only way I can honor both my loves is to stay here and let him go, then I will.”
“But he could-”
“No, Father,” she shook her head. “He couldn’t. No more than you could have stayed on the farm to work for your father all those years ago. I will not ask it of him.”
Yes, thought Garrett, send Lancer away. Let us resume our gentle life here where you are safe. But even as he thought it, he heard his sister’s bitter voice. Garrett did not know whether his father had been right or wrong in denying Laura the right to marry her young man. He only knew that all these years later Laura was still bitter.
“Without your blessing, Fa, our happiness would be blighted.”
“My clever girl,” sighed Garrett. For a moment he let his thoughts wander. He wondered if his sons would have been as clever, as clear-sighted about their objectives, as strong and forthright as their sister was.“You are a far better negotiator than most of those with whom I do business. If you were a man, John Clark would be offering you a job.”
She laughed softly. It was one of many shared jokes - that John Clark, worthy and suitable as he was -was so boring. “I learned from you. And I meant every word.”
“Yes, I realize that. I’d ask you if you’ve searched your heart; if you are sure this risk, this man is truly what and who you want. But I know you as well as you know me. You would not be so definite if you weren’t certain.” Garrett placed his hands on his desk and leaned against it, looking down. “I think Murdoch Lancer is a selfish boy who can see no further than his own desires; most men are such when they are young. I was myself. Your mother loved me in spite of that. I fear you are too much like her.”
He straightened and looked at her. “There is nothing in this world I want more for you than a long and happy life. If I cannot give you long life -then, well, no one can guarantee happiness. But a blessing,” he paused for a very long moment, struggling to control his voice. Then he continued, “A blessing is always within a father’s power.”
Catherine had some idea what those words had cost him. She had seen his heart break when her siblings died one by one; when her mother died. She knew that he loved her just as deeply. Deeply enough to let her go.
Rosemary Lowell married John Clark on a beautiful June morning in a formal ceremony in Christ Church, more commonly referred to as the Old North Church. The lavish wedding breakfast was given by her uncle who happened to be her godfather. It was one of the social events of the season. Three weeks later on another beautiful June morning, Catherine Garrett married Murdoch Lancer in a less formal ceremony under the arbor in the back garden of the house she’d grown up in. But no one could ever say that Harlan Garrett gave less attention to his daughter’s wedding to a poor Scottish immigrant than to his niece’s to the wealthy industrialist.
Catherine was married in her mother’s lace surrounded by family and old friends. Many of those present were surprised by the invitation to the wedding. Few were completely certain of how their Catherine had met the extremely tall young man with the thick Scottish brogue. Some shook their heads sadly when they spoke of the couple’s plan to go to far away California. Surely Catherine was too delicate for such a life. How could she leave her poor father all alone? Still, a wedding of happy young people is always a pleasure and these young people were very happy.
Rosemary was Catherine’s matron of honor and little Willie held a satin pillow with two plain gold bands tied to it. Yancy Beuler postponed his return to Virginia long enough to be Murdoch’s best man. It occurred to many of those present that had Alice Garrett lived, Yancy too might have been married in this garden.
Murdoch had no family to support him. His acquaintance with Yancy Beuler and Charles Lowell was too brief to consider them friends. He never noticed. From the moment Catherine descended the steps from the house and took her father’s arm Murdoch was aware of nothing but her. She wore antique lace and carried a bouquet of yellow roses and trailing ivy. Her pale hair caught the sunlight.
Garrett had spared no expense to give his last surviving daughter a perfect day to remember. The tables sparkled with silver and crystal. Bowls of roses and ivy perfumed the house. He’d hired extra help to serve and a trio of musicians to entertain. He was as always the perfect host. Only his sister knew the emotional cost of this wedding for him.
When Yancy took his leave he firmly shook Murdoch’s hand and said, “I’m glad I met you, Lancer. Cherish her. Cherish the moments you have and remember we’re the lucky ones.”
Then he kissed Catherine solemnly on the forehead and said, “Be happy, dear sister.”
Catherine didn’t brush away her tears. “Thank you for being here,” she said softly.
“You are a lovely bride,” he said smiling. “I wanted to be here; for you; for her.”
He was leaving in the morning. Catherine knew that he would visit Alice’s grave before he went south. She held her bouquet out to him.
“Will you take these to her?”
“I will.” He wiped her tears away with his thumb. “No regrets, only beautiful memories.”
Murdoch slipped his arm around Catherine’s waist and drew her close. They watched the tall debonair figure walk away. Catherine would never forget the handsome boy who loved her sister. Many years later, Murdoch Lancer would have reason to be thankful Yancy Beuler never forgot Catherine. But that’s another story.
It had been Murdoch’s plan to sign on as a sailor for the voyage to California. Now, with Catherine he thought he would have to pay their way. But Harlan Garrett had another idea. He arranged passage on a ship he had an interest in. They were to have a good sized cabin to themselves. It hurt Murdoch’s pride to accept. But he understood when Garrett looked him in the eye and said, “When you leave Boston Catherine will be your wife; her happiness and her safety will be your responsibility. But until you leave, Catherine is my daughter. I will do everything in my power to provide for her well-being. Your pride be damned.”
They sailed a week after the wedding. It was before dawn when they went down to the dock. It was the first of July but the wind off the bay was cold. Rosemary and Charles had come to say good-bye. Murdoch shook hands with them. They wished him luck.
He turned to Garrett uncertain what to say. Garrett spoke first, “My daughter believes in you, Lancer, don’t disappoint her.”
“I won’t,” vowed Murdoch. “Good-bye, sir.”
He waited at the gangplank while Catherine said her farewells. Charles embraced her and kissed her forehead.
“Take care of Father,” she whispered.
Catherine turned to Rosemary. The two stood with their arms around each other for a long time.
“You are the kindest, bravest person I shall ever know,” said Rosemary making no attempt to hold back her tears.
“You will always be in my heart.”
“And you in mine.” Rosemary turned away to bury her head in her brother’s shoulder.
Garrett walked his daughter to the end of the pier. He was carrying a heavy cloak over his arm. It was blue wool lined with mink. He shook it out and arranged it over Catherine’s shoulders. He pulled the hood up over her head.
“Fa. If we never-”
“Hush, child,” he said gently as he pushed a stray blond curl behind her ear. “If not in this life then in the next we will all be together again. God be with you, my dearest child.”
“And with you, Fa.”
Garrett kissed her and then gently turned her to face Murdoch.
Murdoch put out his hand. Catherine grasped it. They walked up the gangplank together.
Garrett sent Charles and Rosemary away, saying that the girl would be cold if they waited for the ship to set sail. He remained.
There is a superstition that watching a loved one going on a journey until they are out of sight means one will never see them again. Garrett did not need superstitions. He knew he would never see his daughter again.
It takes a long time for a large ship to put to sea. He stood silently until it seemed the ship evaporated into the morning mist. Then he turned and walked to his office. He had done his best for his daughter. He prayed that he had done right.
Harlan Garrett felt something essential die within him that misty morning. He was wrong, it only went dormant. But it would take years and a small miracle to wake it again.
Her cloak wrapped tightly around her, Catherine stood at the ship rail and watched her home city fade into the distance. Murdoch stood a little aside observing her. For the first time he was having misgivings. What was he doing taking this lovely, fragile girl away from everything she knew? What if he was wrong about California? What if there was no golden opportunity for them there? Who was he to think he could fill the place of her family and friends?
This was madness. Perhaps they should go back with the harbor pilot-yes, he should find the captain. He must-
Catherine turned to him with a serene smile on her face. She extended her hand to him. Swiftly he joined her at the rail.
“Catherine, if you-”
She raised her hand to his mouth; hushing him gently. “No ifs. Only gratitude .”
“Gratitude?” he queried.
“Yes, gratitude. I thank God for all those I’ve known and loved in the past. For all my life was,” she glanced back towards where the city was disappearing below the horizon. Then she looked at him; her smile making her face beautiful. “And now, now for what it will be. You, you and our future.”
Murdoch couldn’t speak. He was the one to be grateful.
“Come,” she said pulling him along. She danced across the deck. Her blue-gray eyes were alight. The hood of her cloak fell back. Her pale hair escaped her combs; the wind blew it about her head. It turned golden in the light of a new day as the ship slipped out of Boston harbor and into open water.