The last of the sun’s rays shone through the kitchen window, striping
the hard-packed dirt floor with light and shadow, catching dust mites in their
late afternoon dance. She turned to
retrieve a dirty dish from the rough hewn table, and he stared at her profile,
his breath catching in his throat. Almost
eight months gone with child. His
child. It hit him once again, the
dream-like quality his life had assumed in the last almost year and a half.
Never in his wildest dreams would he have thought he could be this happy,
this blessed. Never would he have
thought that this delicate Boston rose would agree to marry a rough Scottish
thistle. But she had, against the
advice of all her friends, against the wishes of her father, against the better
judgment of her own mind, he was sure. She
had chosen him, a lonely immigrant, so far away from hearth and home, the love
of family, all that was comfortable and familiar and dear to him.
He’d determined to make a new life for himself in this strange country,
had worked hard from sun up to sun down. But
it hadn’t taken away the sometimes overwhelming loneliness, the deep longing
for home, the temptation to give up the dream and return to the land that bred
him. Nothing had taken it away.
Not until that wonderful sunny Sunday afternoon by the Charles River when
he’d first laid eyes on her. She’d
turned, caught him staring at her. But
instead of turning away in an insulted huff, she’d smiled at him.
And he’d been lost. Six
weeks in this new land, and all thought of home had swirled away on that soft
spring breeze. He’d been smitten. He remembered wanting to follow her home that afternoon, but
his good Scottish common sense had stopped him from making a fool of himself.
But it hadn’t stopped him from going to the riverside the next Sunday,
hoping she would be there again. He’d
chided himself all the way to the river, called himself every kind of fool he
could think of. What was he
thinking, a lovely, finely bred young woman even remembering the rough, gangly
dock worker caught staring at her? He’d
sat by the riverside, glancing around at all the people strolling by, and
suddenly, there she was. And this
time, she was staring at him. He’d
smiled, and she’d smiled in return. And
so it had gone for a month until she had finally gained the courage to simply
walk up to him and strike up a conversation.
Where would he be now, if his Boston rose had not had the courage of her
The sudden slamming of a tin cup against the side of the wash tub quickly
brought him out of his thoughts. His lovely Boston rose had turned and was staring at him, her
convictions etched across her face, thorny anger in her eyes.
“You know we’re going to discuss this further, don’t you?” she
“Catherine, there is nothing more to discuss,” Murdoch replied.
“Oh, there most certainly is more to discuss.
I won’t be sent away from my home simply because you fear for my
“Not just your safety, my darling girl,” Murdoch said, getting up
from the table and walking over to his wife of barely more than a year.
“The safety of our wee one, also.”
Murdoch reached down and laid his massive hand across her belly, and held
it there for a moment. His patience
was rewarded when his son, for he was certain it would be a son, kicked against
the palm of his hand. A smile
spread across his face and he stared down into her pearl blue eyes.
She smiled at him, laid her hand on top of his, laced her fingers through
his. She laid her head against his
chest and listened to his heart beat. She
loved him fiercely, had traveled around two continents to wed his dream to hers,
had survived five months of seasickness, lived a rough and uncivilized life here
in this desolate valley, cut herself off from her father, her family and her
friends to be with him. And she
would do it all again. But what he
was asking of her now, she would not do.
“Dearest, our child will be safe here in our home.
He is going to be born here on this ranch, this ranch that bears his
name. I won’t allow you to send
me away,” Catherine said, looking up at her husband, her eyes pleading with
him. “Murdoch, darling, you’ve
just let Father’s letters worry you. And
there’s no need.”
“There is need, Catherine. As much as I hate to admit it, Harlan’s right.
The political goings on here in California right now are too unstable.
There’s war between Mexico and the United States, and we could be
caught right in the middle of it. You
know as well as I do that there have been raids across the border, more than
skirmishes. There’ve been pitched
battles between Mexican and American soldiers.
That alone is enough to make any man cautious when it comes to the safety
of his family. And all this war
fever, and the raids and battles, it’s just given some men free rein to
lawlessness. The raids against the
ranch have started, and Catherine, darling, you know they’re only going to get
worse. I won’t give in to
Haney’s blackmail. I won’t pay
for the protection he swore to give when he became the only law around here.
He’s abusing his position and his power, and I won’t give in to him.
But I also won’t place you in danger because of it.
I can’t bear the thought of something happening to you, nor to our
child, should the raids come closer to the house.
I want you to be safe.”
“I’m safe as long as I’m with you,” she said, tears gathering in
her eyes. Tears were her trump
card, and she hated to play it.
“But that’s the point, my darling.
I can’t be with you all the time.
I have to be out on the range. And
I can’t leave enough men here to protect you should something come up.”
“I won’t go, Murdoch,” she said.
“You have to darling. For
your safety, for the baby’s safety. For
my peace of mind.”
“I wish the letters had never arrived,” she said, moving away from
her husband and sitting heavily at the table.
Her father’s letters, a packet of them, had arrived two weeks ago, full
of dire warnings and East Coast hysteria over the, at the time the letters were
written, impending war with Mexico. Well,
the war had come to pass, and her father’s letters had only added fuel to the
fire. She and her husband had been at odds ever since those letters
had arrived. “I wish they’d
gotten lost, or stolen, or thrown overboard, or that the rider’s horse had
thrown a shoe. Anything to keep
those letters away from here.”
“Darling,” Murdoch said, squatting next to his wife and taking her
small slender hands in his own, “your father’s letters came at the best
time, and you know it. Now, you
know I have no great love for Harlan Garrett, but he is your father and he’s
coming to help. We’ve known for
two weeks now that your father set off around the Cape to come to California.
His letters were written over five months ago, just before war was
declared, and just before he set sail for California.
You knew that sooner or later, a rider would be coming in letting us know
of Harlan’s arrival in San Francisco. You
can’t have been surprised when the rider showed up five days ago.”
“Murdoch,” she said, suddenly turning to him, her eyes frantic, her
grasp on his hands urgent, “don’t make me go.
Please. I want our son to be
born here on the ranch. Darling, surely you don’t want our son to be born on the
trail,” she said, playing her last hand.
“Catherine, you have at least six more weeks before your confinement. That’s
more than enough time to get to San Francisco and get settled in.”
“Darling, please,” she said, her voice cracking with unchecked
emotion, “I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t want you to go. But you must. Our
son must have a safe birth.”
“Murdoch, please,” she said, leaning into his body and wrapping her
arms around his neck. She felt his
arms glide around her middle and pull her close.
She rested her head on his chest and stopped trying to fight the tears.
“Darling, you know I sent your father’s messenger back the day after
he arrived. He should reach San
Francisco today or tomorrow with the letter I wrote to your father, telling him
I’ll be sending you north tomorrow with my best men, that he should plan on
meeting up with you on the trail. And
I told him about the baby. We have
to assume that your letter informing him he’s going to be a grandfather
hadn’t reached him before he left Boston,” Murdoch said with a grin.
But then the grin faded and he was serious once more.
“And I’ve also made clear to him that under no circumstances is he to
attempt to take you back to Boston. You
and the baby can wait in San Francisco with your father until I can come for
you. It shouldn’t be more than a
few weeks, Darling. The war with
Mexico can’t last long, and once that’s settled, then these land pirates are
going to move on, find another place where they think they can get away with
their thievery. Catherine, I know
you want the baby to be born here, but does that really matter all that much. Isn’t what really matters that he’ll be raised here?”
“Is there no way I can make you understand?
No way I can persuade you to leave me here to have our child?”
“I want you to be safe, Darling,” Murdoch repeated.
“I know you do,” Catherine said.
“And there is one other thing, my Darling.”
“What?” Catherine asked, sniffling and trying to speak around the
tears in her throat.
“I love you, my bonnie lassie. With
all my heart and soul,” Murdoch said, taking her face between his hands and
“I love you too, my dearest husband,” Catherine said.
She stared into his eyes for a moment, felt his hand slip away from her
face and come to rest on her belly. He
looked down at his hand for a moment, and when he looked up, there were tears in
“And I love this child you carry inside you.
You know I would never do anything to place either of you in danger.
I love you both too much. You
are my life, and he is our future.”
The sun was barely over the eastern mountains, but the fledgling ranch
was alive with activity. The 30 or
so vaqueros were saddled up and ready to start their day on the range.
The ranch had been in operation less than a year now, but these men,
these seasoned hands, knew. This
tall Scotsman, with his soft-spoken Norte Americana wife, was going to build
something special here, would make this ranch a thing to be reckoned with.
It had long been a wasted thing, squandered by the last owner, a cousin
of the Vallejo family, a man who did not have the heart…or the courage…to
fight the land and make it into a paradise.
But the Scotsman, Senor Lancer, he had the heart and the courage.
And in a few weeks, he would have an heir to whom the ranch would someday
be passed. A few of the hands
waited patiently by the corral for their instructions for the day,
surreptitiously watching the small adobe building where the patron and his wife
made their home. They all knew that
today the Senora would be leaving the ranch, and they all knew that she was not
leaving of her own choice, that the patron was sending her away north to San
Francisco to give birth to their child. The
men had discussed it among themselves, and some had nodded their heads
seriously, thinking it a sensible thing for the patron to do; others, with
knowing grins on their faces, thought it was the nerves of a first time father
forcing the decision. But all
agreed none of them wanted to be responsible if something should happen to the
Senora. The raids were becoming
serious, and there was the nonsense of the war between Mexico and America.
Yes, they all knew now was not the best of times to be living in
California, so perhaps sending her away was the best thing to do, after all.
But they knew the patron would be a very lonely man while she was away.
He was a hard man to work for, but fair.
It was the Senora who worked magic on the tall foreigner.
In the same way that a skilled caballero could gentle a horse, Senora
Lancer had a way about her that could gentle Murdoch Lancer.
And the men were all glad for her presence, and they would all hate to
see her go. But when she returned,
they all assured themselves, it would be with the patron’s son.
As they stood there by the corral, the wagon pulled up in front of the
old guardhouse and stopped. The men knew it was time to be on their way.
The Senora would be leaving in a few minutes, and they knew instinctively
that the patron and his wife would not want others watching their parting.
Catherine sat on the edge of the bed and tried to control her emotions.
But she was having little success. Across
the large room, she heard the ticking of the clock above the mantle and wanted
to reach out and snap the hands of that clock from its face. Stop time. Delay
the inevitable. Force her stubborn
husband to see reason. Her reason.
Her need. Last night, after
they had made love, after he had fallen into a fitful sleep, she had lain there
in the crook of his arm and prayed again that she had somehow miscalculated,
that the baby would come now, not six weeks from now.
But except for a vague tightness around her belly and an ache in her
back, she felt fine. The baby would
not rescue her from its father’s stubbornness.
She tried to take a deep breath, but found her lungs would not cooperate.
The clock over on the mantle
suddenly chimed the half-hour, and startled her.
Six-thirty. Oh God, she
cried to herself. Only another 30
minutes. She looked down at her
lap, saw her hands knotted together, a lace handkerchief gripped like a
lifeline. She slowly relaxed her
hands, stretched them out flat and ran them down her skirt.
Her palms were sweaty. She
looked over and watched as Murdoch carried another carpetbag to the door.
Please, she silently pleaded with her husband, relent.
Let me stay. I need to be
here, I need to bring our son into the world here, in this sad little adobe
house, our first home together. Please.
But her pleas went unheeded. She
felt her emotions surge again, the fear and the anger and the trepidation.
She didn’t want to make this trip, but she knew it was no use arguing.
Murdoch Lancer was the most stubborn human being she had ever met, and
she knew there would be no changing his mind.
She had been his match in stubbornness in almost every way, but not in
this. She had really thought she
would be able to sway him to her thinking.
She had, after all, held her ground with the only other person she knew
who came close to matching the stubbornness of her husband, her father.
When Harlan Garrett had at first refused to give permission for her to
marry Murdoch, she had drawn on her stubbornness to win the struggle with her
father. Reason, logic, romantic
arguments, pleading. None of it had
worked. Not until she had
threatened to turn Catholic…as his sister had in order to marry the man of her
choice…and enter a convent, never marrying, never presenting him with the long
awaited grandchildren, had her father finally relented and given his consent to
the marriage. Still, at nearly the
last moment, he had tried to change her mind, had held back on signing the
papers giving her her freedom to marry. But
she had stood her ground with her father, and she had won her heart’s desire.
A sob escaped her throat, and she felt an overwhelming grief.
She looked up and found her husband watching her, and the tears rolled
down her cheeks. He walked over and
sat next to her on the bed, taking her hand in his.
“It’s almost time, darling,” he said, his voice stiff and forced
with the effort to hide his emotions.
“I know,” she said, laying her head against his shoulder.
“I know you don’t…”
“Please, Murdoch, I can’t go over that again.
You’ve made your decision, and I abide by it.
I don’t want us to argue here in these last moments.”
“I don’t want to argue either,” he said, lifting her face to his.
They sat there looking into each others’ eyes for several moments,
neither wanting to break the silence. Talking
made the time go, and neither wanted that, either.
He reached up and gently caressed her cheek, then looked around the room.
“I was thinking last night that while you’re away, I’ll make some
changes here in the place.”
“What kind of changes?” Catherine asked, recognizing his tactic.
Talk about something else, ease the pain, look to the future when the
present was too painful. He did
that with the past as well, seldom talking about the family he’d left behind.
“Well, I thought I’d have a couple of the hands help me knock out
some of the adobe in that cell, put a door in it, and turn it into a nursery,”
Murdoch said, smiling down at his wife.
“You want our son’s nursery to be a jail cell?” Catherine asked,
feigning shock at her husband’s suggestion.
The truth was, the thought had already occurred to her.
“We can’t think of it like that, Catherine.
But think how convenient it will be.
With our bedroom here on this side of the cell, all you’ll have to do
is get up and take a couple of steps and you’ll be in the nursery whenever our
son needs you.”
“Well, I think while you’re at it, you should put a door in the other
side, too,” she said, staring at her husband with a very serious expression on
“And why is that?”
“So that sitting in your study on the other side of the cell, you’ll
only be a couple of steps away from the nursery when our son needs you.”
They grinned at each other, then Catherine laid her head back against his
shoulder. The old adobe guardhouse
had been the last place she’d thought she would be living in when they had
purchased the ranch, but it had been the only building inhabitable.
Dismayed at first, she’d worked very hard to turn the old guardhouse
into simply a house, and then a home. She’d
partitioned off rooms, a bedroom on the far side of the cell, a study for
Murdoch on the side nearest the front door, a sitting room across from the study
and a kitchen across from the bedroom. Rummaging
through one of the storage sheds early on, she’d uncovered a couple of lovely
hinged screens, Spanish in style and look, cleaned them, and set them in the
house, one at the opening to their bedroom, which was almost always unfolded
across the makeshift doorway, and the other at the opening of the study, which
was almost always folded closed. Still,
with all the work and effort, it wasn’t exactly what she’d been used to.
But it would have to do until later.
The grand “hacienda” was little more than a skeleton, still in need
of a great deal of work, despite the fact that Murdoch and several of the hands
spent at least two hours each evening and all afternoon on Sundays working on
the place. With luck, it would be ready to live in when their next child
arrived, Catherine thought with a grin.
“What are you grinning about?” Murdoch asked, tilting her face up.
“The future,” she said.
“We have a good future ahead of us, darling.
Don’t forget that,” Murdoch said, suddenly serious.
He watched her face for a moment, then laid his hand across her belly,
waiting for a word from his son. The
baby gave a vigorous kick, and its parents shared a laugh.
At the sound of wagon wheels outside the house, their laughter died away.
“It’s time, darling,” he said.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, gripping his hand.
“Better not to linger,” Murdoch said, turning away from her
penetrating eyes, afraid she would see the tears that had suddenly gathered in
his. “Come, darling.”
Murdoch stood up and reached out a hand to his wife.
She stood up, barely reaching his shoulder, her once lithe, petite body
now heavy with his child. He
wrapped her in a fierce embrace, holding tight to the woman who meant the world
to him. He gently brushed his hand
across her pale yellow hair, then kissed the top of her head.
In the last few weeks, he’d often wondered what their child would look
like. That it would have blue eyes was a given.
But would he favor his mother or his father?
Would he be tall and full-built like his father, or fine-boned and
delicate like his mother; would he favor the Lancers or the Garretts?
Golden blond hair like his mother, or muddy brown like his father?
It was a guessing game he’d taken great pleasure in, what will my son
be like? And when, in the still of
a late night full of promise, he’d told her about his little game, she had
turned to him and asked him why he was so sure it would be a son?
With a gleam in her eyes, she’d asked him what if it were a girl, a
daughter? That question had left
him speechless, so much so, that she had laughed at him.
That wonderful laugh of hers, the laugh that filled his heart with so
much joy. If only he could hear that laugh one more time before she
left. But he knew that would
probably not happen. She was too
upset, too distraught over her imminent departure to present him with the gift
of her laughter. But that was
alright. It would only be a few
more weeks, and he would hear that laughter again.
Along with the wonderful cry of his newborn son.
Murdoch loosened his embrace and pulled away from Catherine.
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, and this time he didn’t
turn away. There was no shame in showing her how he felt.
“Catherine,” he whispered.
She took a long breath, calmed her heart, wiped away her tears, and let
him lead her to the doorway. She paused and looked around the room. It was such a sad little building, but they had made it a
home. They had dreamed their dreams
here, made their plans here, conceived their child here.
It wasn’t a mansion, but she knew it would always be the home that
meant the most to her. She heard
Murdoch pull the door open, straightened her shoulders and stepped out into the
early morning sunlight.
The wagon sat in front of the house.
Catherine looked around, saw the vaqueros riding off to their daily jobs,
saw the few head of cattle out in the near pasture grazing.
She inhaled deeply, and smiled to herself as she remembered how offensive
she’d at first found the “fragrance” of a cattle ranch.
But now, it was like the sweetest perfume.
Well, perhaps, that was an exaggeration.
But it was fresh and earthy and it was home.
Tears began again, and she wrapped her arm around her husband’s waist.
They walked to the wagon, taking their time, savoring these last few
moments. As they walked past the
wagon bed, Catherine glanced inside. It
seemed her husband had thought of everything.
A feather tick, pillows, a stack of books, jugs of water, a basket with
her knitting, food enough for two months on the trail, not just two weeks, she
was sure. There was a canvas of
some sort. That, she’d been told,
was to cover the wagon at night to give her some privacy.
They continued up to the front of the wagon.
Catherine looked ahead and saw her escort standing by the horses.
Murdoch pulled them to a stop next to the front wheel.
“Darling, Luis will be going along with you,” he began.
“Murdoch, you can’t send your foreman with us.
You need him here,” Catherine protested.
“No, I need him with you. He will see to it that you get to San Francisco with your
father. O’Brien and Cipriano will
go along with him. As soon you’re
settled in with Harlan, they’ll make the trip back.”
Catherine looked up at her husband, and knew there was no use arguing
with him. He was sending the ranch
foreman, and his two best hands. It
was unnecessary. This whole trip
was unnecessary, she thought with a sudden resurgence of irritation.
She fought it down, and made herself relax.
She wouldn’t mar this farewell with an un-winnable argument.
She sighed and looked around one more time.
“I’m ready,” she said finally.
Murdoch wrapped his hands around her arms and held her for a moment, then
conscious of others watching, he leaned over and kissed her, a long, desperate
kiss. They held each other for
several moments, then he backed away and motioned to his men.
Luis and Cipriano made their way to their horses while O’Brien walked
around to the other side of the wagon. Murdoch
absently ran his hands up and down her arms, wishing this could have been
otherwise, but knowing it couldn’t. Once
O’Brien was settled, Murdoch took Catherine’s hand and steadied her as she
placed her foot on the wagon wheel. He
wrapped his hands around her thickened waist and lifted her up as O’Brien
reached over the side and took her hands, pulling her up to the seat.
O’Brien moved over to his seat, then Murdoch reached up and took
Catherine’s hand, gently squeezing it. She
leaned down and he kissed her once more, held her face against his for another
moment, then stepped away from the wagon.
“Okay, Paul. Move out.”
O’Brien slapped the reins across the team’s backs, and the wagon
jerked forward, pulling away from the house, the ranch.
Catherine turned in her seat and watched her husband, smiled, then felt
the smile waver and disappear. She
raised her hand and waved to him, saw him wave in return.
Her heart was breaking, but she knew it was only a temporary thing.
She would be back home in a few weeks, caring for her husband, helping
him build his ranch, realize his dream and raising their child.
The heartbreak would go away, and the joy would return.
Of that she was certain. She
watched her husband continue to wave at her, and she knew in her heart she would
be back before the fall.
From the corner of the house, Murdoch watched as the wagon carrying his
wife, his child, his future, wended its way down the long dusty road that led
away from the ranch. He stood there
and watched as the wagon grew smaller and smaller, watched as the figure of his
wife faded and blended into the light and shadow that played across the early
morning landscape. He watched as the wagon began the climb up toward the ridge
that overlooked the valley where the house sat.
And he watched as the wagon disappeared from sight.
His breath caught in his chest, and he felt a loneliness stab at him that
he hadn’t felt since that first night off the boat.
That first terrible, all alone night in Boston.
In that instant, with that loneliness stabbing at him, he knew she was
his life. And he knew he would
bring her…and their child…back as soon as he could.
The trail was rough, much more so than he had expected.
And it was testing his riding skills to the extreme.
He had always considered himself an excellent horseman, but he admitted
to himself that he had never ridden trails like this.
But then, he’d never found himself in such a damnable wilderness
before, either. Once again, he
shook his head at Catherine’s obstinacy.
How could she have given up so much for so little?
He’d made that argument to her the day before she had married Murdoch
Lancer, and her rebuttal had stunned him, had left him questioning his own
marriage. She’d looked up at him
with those soft blue eyes of hers, eyes so like her mother’s, and asked him
how he could think he had so much when he had no one to share it with?
That question had cut him deeply, had actually taken his breath away.
They’d stood there in his study, staring at each other, and he’d
known there was no way of preventing her from following her heart. She had pinned him with his one weakness, a weakness he had
assumed she had never been aware of for they had tried so hard to make it all
seem so…not loving, he knew, but at least affectionate.
Catherine had been so young when her mother died, but somehow, she had
seen through the façade that was her parents’ marriage.
His marriage had been an arranged marriage, one that his father had
planned, insisted upon. He had been
fond of Abigail, but she had not aroused in him any great passion.
No, only one woman had managed to do that, and he had walked away from
her in order to fulfill his father’s plans for his future.
Abigail Marlowe had been the belle of Boston, the most sought after catch
in that rigid society, and she had agreed to marry him.
But fondness and respect were simply not enough upon which to build a
marriage. Oh, he knew they were as
happy as most couples, but it had always seemed lacking in…something.
His fondness for her had grown to something akin to love over the first
three years of their marriage, those terrible years that saw two miscarriages
and one stillborn son. His heart had broken for her, and for himself.
And then Catherine had been born. His
daughter. Strong and healthy, her very existence the promise of more
children to come, perhaps even the longed for son. He had devoted himself to his small family, telling himself
over and over that he had made the right marriage, had chosen the right wife.
He pushed away the images of what his life might have been had he
followed his heart, and focused on the woman who had endured so much to be the
wife he expected. And there was
Catherine. She had brought a joy to
his life that he had not expected when he had taken his marriage vows.
She made the difference. With
his beautiful, tiny daughter in his life, he could accept that his marriage was
not everything it could have been. His
heart, while not as full as it might have been, was certainly not empty.
He loved his daughter deeply, held his wife in high esteem, even a degree
of love. And Abigail had done her
best to make him happy. She had
worked hard to make their marriage a haven for him, a place he could come to for
peace and quiet. And she had tried,
desperately, to give him the son he wanted.
Another stillborn child, a girl that time, two more miscarriages, the
last one eventually fatal. At the
age of 27, he had found himself a widower with a four-year old daughter.
And his wonderful blue-eyed girl, with her long blond curls had kept his
heart from shriveling up and dying on him.
He had devoted his life to making sure his daughter would have a good
life, an easy life, one that would not know the disappointment and heartache his
had known. And in the process of
that devotion, he had closed his heart off to everything but his daughter.
He had never again allowed himself to become fond of someone, let alone
make the mistake of falling in love with someone.
That had caused too much pain in his life. Yes, it had left him with his greatest joy, but he’d
decided the morning after Abigail had been laid to rest that Catherine would be
enough. He would not risk his heart
again for the chance of duplicating the joy she gave him.
His one daughter, his only child, would give him all the happiness he
And she had. Until the day
that damnable immigrant had walked into her life.
Murdoch Lancer, a penniless dreamer, a Scottish rogue with nothing to
offer but a glib tongue and a handsome face.
He had never thought his daughter would be susceptible to such a man.
But she had fallen in love with the man, and there had been no convincing
her that she was mistaken. Harlan
Garrett was a man who could read people very well, and he had known from the
moment he had seen them together, that it was truly a love match. And that was what had made it all so hard for him.
His daughter had found someone she truly loved, and who loved her in
return. He had seen it in their
eyes when they looked at each other, had heard it in their voices, had seen it
in the way their hands touched. There had been no deception, no subterfuge on Murdoch’s
part, no willfulness, no stubborn rebellion on Catherine’s part.
They loved each other. It
was just so unfair that the man of her dreams had turned out to be Murdoch
Lancer. With every young man in New
England to choose from, Catherine Garrett had chosen to marry a Scottish
immigrant barely a year in America.
Harlan thought back to the first time he’d met the man.
Standing in the foyer of the Garrett mansion, his hat in one hand, his
other hand wrapped securely around Catherine’s hand, his brogue slipping
through despite his best efforts to disguise it.
The man had been nervous, but he had stood there tall and proud.
Harlan clearly remembered his feelings at that moment.
He had been appalled. And
when he had learned of Murdoch’s plans, his dreams, he had been alarmed.
California. On the other
side of the continent, three thousand miles separating him from the one person
in this life he loved. His only
hope had been to keep them apart. Catherine
had been underage, only 19 when they met. Refusing
permission for them to marry would gain him two years.
Two years in which she would see the error of her ways.
But he had not counted on his daughter’s stubbornness, her
determination to have the man she loved. The
battle between them had been waged for nearly six months, and then he had
capitulated, surrendered. He had
given his permission. Married to
Murdoch Lancer was better than married to the Catholic Church.
He had not been sure her threat was real, but he had been unable to take
the chance. He could not stand the
thought of his lovely daughter dressed in the black robes of a nun, the rest of
her life spent at the beck and call of a foreign church. So instead, he watched as she stood in the front parlor of
his home, dressed in her mother’s white wedding gown, pledging her life to a
man who did not deserve it. And
then, with a swiftness that had left him breathless, he had stood on the dock in
Boston Harbor and watched as his only child had sailed out of his life.
Harlan glanced around, realized that they would be stopping soon for the
night. Making camp in this
wilderness. The letter had reached
him a week ago, and he had wasted no time in arranging this expedition.
He’d hired a troop of men to accompany him, men who were paid enough to
ensure their loyalty. He had hired a wagon for his daughter’s comfort.
And he had sent a messenger to inform Murdoch that he was on the trail,
would meet his daughter and take her to San Francisco to await her confinement.
The thought once again jolted Harlan.
When he’d set off from Boston five months ago, he’d had no idea of
his daughter’s condition. He’d merely wanted to get her out of harm’s way.
Surely, he’d convinced himself, even a man as stubborn as Murdoch
Lancer would see the danger of living in a war torn area such as California was
sure to become. War between the
United States and Mexico, and his beloved daughter was in the center of it.
When Murdoch’s letter had come by exhausted messenger nearly two weeks
ago, Harlan had been stunned by the information it had contained.
With child. His cherished
daughter was carrying his grandchild. A
part of him had swelled with anticipatory pride. But that had only lasted a moment. There were attacks on the ranch, there was the war with
Mexico, and his only child was pregnant with his first grandchild.
All these things were bad enough, enough to cause a father’s
nightmares. But these were not the
worst of his nightmares. The moment
he’d read those words in Murdoch’s letter, his thoughts had shifted back in
time, to all the suffering his wife had endured, the pain and loss and grief.
Her death two weeks after that final miscarriage.
And she had been in Boston, where the best medical care was available to
her. What did his daughter have
available to her out here in this godforsaken place?
San Francisco wasn’t Boston, but at least there were doctors there.
Harlan tried to stretch the muscles in his back.
Hopefully, tomorrow they would meet his daughter.
He and his escort had left San Francisco only two days after
Catherine’s departure from their ranch. Or
so he assumed from Murdoch’s letter. And
they had made very good time on the trail.
Surely, he would see her on the morrow.
Catherine stood at the edge of the camp and slowly inhaled.
The day had been so long, and so hot.
And she was so tired. She
pulled the handkerchief from her sleeve and gently patted her face again.
She took another deep breath, and felt the fatigue drain away.
There was just something about this country that she loved.
When they had first arrived in the closing weeks of last year, she had
felt nothing but relief. Relief at
being off that awful ship, relief at no longer having to live on the trail,
sleep in campsites. It had been
such a relief to have solid ground under her feet again, a roof over her head,
an actual bed to sleep in. But the
relief had quickly given way to dismay. So
much dirt and dust. And people she
couldn’t understand. She spoke
French beautifully, Latin as well. But
Spanish? And the snakes.
She hated snakes, was horribly frightened of them.
And it was so primitive here. In
Boston, she had lived a life of luxury. Her
father had been a stern disciplinarian, but he had also been loving and generous
with her. She had lacked for
nothing. Out here, she lacked
almost everything she was used to in Boston.
She had tried to hide her disappointment from Murdoch.
He had been so thrilled with their ranch. He looked out across the pastures and fields and saw the
grand ranch he would someday have. She
looked out and saw miles and miles of…miles and miles. Those first few weeks she had been so lonely, so homesick.
She had struggled to keep it shuttered away, but she was sure Murdoch
heard her crying in the night on occasion.
More than once, when she’d thought she was the only one awake on the
whole ranch, he had reached out in the darkness and pulled her into his arms and
held her while she cried.
But then spring had come, and she began to notice things she never would
have noticed in Boston. Horses in
the pasture with their foals, cows with their calves, wild flowers blooming all
around her, the mountains turning lush and green, the whole valley coming alive.
She had fallen in love with this country, just as Murdoch had.
And then she had realized she was with child.
She had been thrilled at first, and then frightened.
She knew her mother’s history, knew the pain and suffering that poor
woman had endured. Knew that a
miscarriage had taken her mother from her.
But as the weeks and then months had passed and the baby had grown and
her belly had grown with it, and her health had stayed strong, she had realized
how silly she had been. She glanced
up at the sprinkling of stars in the gathering darkness, and thanked God for the
life He had given her. A husband
she loved to the depth of her soul, his child growing safe and strong in her
body, a home that would nurture her and her family for the rest of their lives. She had passed her 21st birthday in June, the
first of years of birthdays she would celebrate on their ranch.
She and Murdoch would grow old together on that ranch, watch this child,
and all the children to come grow up and have families of their own on their
ranch. A sob gathered in her
throat, and she held it back. She was so blessed. Tears
welled up in her eyes, and she let them fall.
The baby kicked and she laid her hand across her belly.
“Only a few more weeks, my darling son,” she whispered.
“A few more weeks and I’ll hold you in my arms, present you to your
Catherine jumped a little and turned around, quickly wiping the tears
from her eyes. “Paul, yes, what
“Supper’s ready, ma’am. Why don’t you come on back to the fire?”
“Of course,” she replied, giving the man a small smile.
O’Brien started to walk away, then stopped and turned back to the young
woman. “You alright, ma’am?”
“Yes, I’m fine, Paul. Just
a little fatigued from the day’s journey.”
“Well, you get some supper down you, and then you can turn in for the
night. Get yourself some sleep,”
O’Brien said, a little embarrassed talking about such things with the boss’s
“I wish you and the others would have allowed me to cook dinner,”
Catherine said, reaching out and taking O’Brien’s arm.
“I should be helping out with the chores.”
“Now, ma’am, you got enough work to do takin’ care of yourself
and…uhh…well, you need to save your strength for...well, you know…for
when…” O’Brien stammered.
“I’m not helpless, Paul,” Catherine said, stifling a giggle.
O’Brien had been one of the first men her husband had hired, and he was
a nice young man, but obviously not terribly used to the company of woman.
Whenever he spoke to her, and that wasn’t very often, he kept his eyes
averted. So shy.
“Just the same, ma’am, ain’t no need you cookin’ over a campfire.
Cip there is a pretty fair cook. ‘Sides,
Boss’d have our hides if we didn’t take care of you proper.
Now you just get yourself settled and we’ll get supper dished up.”
Catherine sat on a footstool that had been included in the things Murdoch
had packed in the wagon and watched while her husband’s men fussed around the
campfire. They were good men,
unlike any men she had met before. Certainly
unlike any men she had met in Boston. Rough,
unrefined, uneducated men. But she
trusted them with her life. And the
life of her child. She reached down
and rested her hand on her belly, waited a moment, and felt the baby kick again. It was a boy. She
was sure of it. She didn’t know
why she was so sure, but she just had this…sense.
A boy, a son. Her son.
Lately, she had been dreaming of her child, a blond haired, blue-eyed
baby boy. Tall and strong like his
father, fair and blond like her. She had dreamed of him the night before she left the ranch,
an odd, unsettling dream. She saw
him in the cradle that was stored in the attic of her father’s home in Boston,
her father hovering over the cradle. She’d
tried to take him from the cradle, but her father had stopped her, held her
away. She called out to Murdoch,
but he hadn’t been there. She’d
started awake, sweat soaking her hair and throat.
She’d looked next to her, saw Murdoch sleeping soundly, as he always
did. She’d sat up in bed and
glanced across the room toward the kitchen.
It was sitting there on the other side of the table, the cradle Murdoch
was making for their child. It was
nearly finished, and it was a beautiful thing.
And just sitting there in bed staring at it in the low lamp light eased
the nightmare from her thoughts. It
was the cradle her child would sleep in, not the Garrett cradle back in her
father’s house. She’d slipped
out of bed and quietly made her way over to the cradle, knelt next to it and
lovingly ran her hand over the smooth edges.
It was being crafted with love, the love of a husband, the love of a
father. The dream had disturbed
her, but she’d finally put it to rest, had finally convinced herself that it
was simply the result of the imminent trip, the journey to meet up with her
father, her father who hadn’t wanted her to leave Boston in the first place.
He would be even more unhappy with her choice now that he knew about the
baby. That was what had caused the
dream. Well, since then, there had
been no more disturbing dreams, and she had slept soundly on the trail.
She hoped tonight would be no different.
She was too tired for dreams. Too
tired to do anything but rest her head on her pillow and let the fatigue take
her. She watched as Cipriano
spooned out their dinner. This
solidly built Mexican, so strong and hard-working, taken away from his own
pregnant Mercedes to make this journey. They
were due only a month apart. Their
sons would grow up together. A
smile played across Catherine’s face as she let her mind wonder to the future.
It was so full of promise. And
she knew again, she was so very blessed.
Murdoch sat at the table and picked at his supper.
He’d thought about eating with the hands, but had decided against it.
They liked their time off, without the boss around.
It was one of the first lessons he’d learned.
Give the men time of their own. He
knew they liked and respected him, but he was, after all, the boss.
He sighed and pushed the plate away.
He just wasn’t interested in eating.
He missed her. Gone barely
more than a week now, and he missed her. Would
miss the birth of their child. But
it was the only choice open to him. He
couldn’t let her stay here at the ranch, not with the way things were going.
The raids. He knew Haney was
behind the raids. The law.
What a joke that was. Haney
was a law unto himself. But
wasn’t it always this way? Authority,
what authority there was, was falling apart.
When they’d arrived last November, they were faced with a land that was
reeling toward war. Texas had voted
for annexation into the United States, despite the fact that Mexico had yet to
recognize the outcome of the war down there ten years ago.
Polk had sent a representative to Mexico to try to negotiate some kind of
an understanding between the two countries, but the Mexican government had
refused to see him. And then in
May, as he and Catherine were preparing to celebrate their first year together
as husband and wife, the United States had declared war on Mexico.
Mariano Vallejo had been imprisoned by Bear Flaggers, a man who was in
favor of annexation to the United States. There
was just no sense to what was happening.
But wasn’t that always the way of war?
An American fleet had taken Monterey, and he’d heard just the day
before the letters had arrived from Harlan, that American soldiers had taken Los
Angeles. But that wouldn’t hold.
The Mexicans would try to take it back.
They’d had this country too long to just let it go.
The war would catch up to them, even here in the San Joaquin.
And if it didn’t, there was still Haney to deal with.
The man was an opportunist. Who
could the ranchers and farmers turn to right now?
Mexican authorities? No,
there was no love lost between the Mexican authorities and the Anglo settlers,
even if there wasn’t the small matter of war with the United States.
The American military? Of
course not. They were too busy trying to throw the Mexicans out.
No, they had only themselves to depend on, only themselves to turn to.
Some, like himself, were determined to stand up to Haney.
It was a hard choice. Almost
all of them had families. He knew
as well as anyone just how hard a choice it was.
Sending Catherine away had been the hardest thing he’d ever had to do,
harder even than leaving Scotland two and a half years ago.
Scotland was the past, Catherine was the future.
Catherine and their son.
Murdoch let out a weary sigh and stood up.
He picked up his plate and cup and walked them over to the wash tub.
He sat them inside and started to walk away, then forced himself to come
back. Gone a week, and already he
was making a mess of her lovingly cared for home.
He filled the tub with enough hot water to cover the dishes from his
supper…and his lunch and breakfast…and stood there and washed them up.
He hadn’t bothered to use her good china, just the tin plate and cup
that his men used out on the range. He
looked over at the trunk that sat next to the back door.
Three months ago, two packing crates had arrived from San Francisco.
Harlan Garrett had sent his daughter her mother’s china service.
Catherine had cried like a baby when she had opened the crates.
Harlan Garrett was a man beyond Murdoch Lancer’s comprehension.
The older man had fought him tooth and nail over his proposed marriage to
Catherine, had done everything he could to prevent it.
And in the end, he had given her away, stood with her in their front
parlor and given her to him. And then this last. He
didn’t think for a minute that Harlan was admitting defeat by sending that
china. Murdoch knew the old man
fully expected his son-in-law to fail, to come back to Boston, his tail between
his legs, Catherine in tow. But
that wasn’t going to happen. He
and Catherine were going to make a life for themselves here in this paradise.
Oh, he knew it wasn’t much yet, but someday, someday it would be.
Someday, the hacienda would be finished, and filled with their children.
Blue-eyed babies, sons and daughters.
Strong, healthy children who would see them through their old age.
He dried the dishes and set them aside, taking the towel and drying his
work-roughened hands. He looked
around the small adobe structure and sighed again.
Was it really only a week ago that Catherine had been sitting in her
rocker, knitting booties or some such thing for their baby?
He’d sat across from her and watched her silently, wished for all he
was worth that he didn’t have to send her away.
But he knew she would be far safer in San Francisco than here at the
ranch. Murdoch walked across the
room, rested his hand for a moment on the back of her rocker, then stepped
The air was surprisingly fresh. The
heat of the day had been suffocating. It
had rained to the south late today, and that had cooled things off just a bit,
left the air good. He hoped the
weather held. He didn’t want to
think about her traveling in bad weather. The
heat she could handle. She was a
strong woman, much stronger than her father gave her credit for.
Strong enough to withstand this country, strong enough to love him, with
all his faults and failings. And
his temper. From his youth, he had
struggled with his temper. But
Catherine took it in stride. He
took a deep breath and looked up at the star-strewn heavens, then moved a few
feet away from the door and leaned his long lean frame against the side of the
“Catherine, my darling lassie,” he softly whispered, “I miss
Around him, he heard the sounds of his ranch settling in for the night.
The soft, musical sound of his Mexican vaqueros talking among themselves,
cattle lowing in the near pasture, crickets and night birds.
God, he loved this place. And
it was his. His and Catherine’s.
And their child’s. A son. He knew
it would be a boy. He’d even come
up with a name for the child. Scott.
In honor of his homeland. Catherine
had smiled and said she loved it when he’d told her.
And then with a twinkle in her eye, she’d asked about a middle name. He hadn’t really given that any thought.
But she had. Garrett. He
despised her father, knew they were too much alike to ever really get along, but
he hadn’t really considered including the man’s name in his son’s name.
But he’d had to admit to her, it had a nice sound.
Scott Garrett Lancer. Murdoch’s
shoulders suddenly slumped with sadness. He’d
wanted to be with her when their child was born.
But he hadn’t planned on things getting so dangerous in the last few
months. He’d wanted to be the
first to hold his son, to welcome him to the world, to introduce him to his
mother, to settle him when he cried at so rudely being thrust into the world. But that wouldn’t happen now.
Not with this son. But the
next child. He wouldn’t send her
away next time. He knew he
couldn’t. This was proving too
hard. He missed her, missed her
It was late. Murdoch knew he
needed to get to bed, needed to get a good night’s sleep in order to work the
ranch tomorrow. But he couldn’t
go inside. Not just yet.
He didn’t want to think about going to sleep.
Not without her by his side. Since
their wedding night a year ago May, he had had her by his side as he’d let go
of the day’s cares. He was
finding it difficult to sleep without her by his side now, difficult to settle
his mind without her settled in his arms. His
beautiful, delicate Boston rose. He
needed her by his side. In a few
weeks. Just a few weeks, and she would be back where she belonged.
They would be together. He,
and his Boston rose, and their son. Just
a few more weeks.
Harlan shaded his eyes against the afternoon sun, and tried to stretch
his back. They’d been on the
trail a week now, and there was still no sign of his daughter.
What had Murdoch been thinking, sending her out on the trail in her
condition? The man was a barbarian.
Well, once he found his daughter, they were going to have a long
discussion. This situation was
intolerable. His daughter, his
pride and joy, the heir to all that he possessed, living in this godforsaken
land, war at her very doorstep. That
the United States wanted this land was understandable.
This was their continent, their destiny.
President Polk was absolutely right in invoking the Monroe Doctrine,
Manifest Destiny. To Harlan
Garrett, expansion was a sensible thing, whether it pertained to building a
business or building a nation. But
his daughter did not have to be in the middle of it.
If Murdoch Lancer wanted to work the land, there was plenty of land in
Massachusetts to be had. For the
right price, and Harlan would have been willing to pay any price to have his
daughter close by. But that
damnable, stubborn to a fault Scotsman would have nothing but his dream of
empire in California. Grudgingly,
Harlan admitted that Murdoch was a very intelligent man, one for whom he would
have found a position in one of his businesses.
Once seeing that the die was cast, that there was no dissuading Catherine
from her choice, he would have given him a job, something to build on, tested
him, perhaps allowed him, eventually, some say in the running of his
empire. He would not have been
completely opposed to that. And it
would have kept Catherine in Boston. But
no amount of persuasion had managed to convince his daughter of the sense of
that plan. Murdoch had a dream, and
she planned to share that dream with him. Well,
it seemed to Harlan that that dream had taken on the quality of a nightmare now.
His beloved daughter, out here in the wilderness somewhere, trying to get
to San Francisco before her confinement.
Again, Harlan was stunned by that thought.
His little girl, his child, about to become a mother.
His daughter, his grandchild, so far away.
He didn’t think he could bear it.
The last 15 months had been so horribly lonely with her gone.
That big, cold mansion, bought 25 years ago for the family he intended to
have, the children and grandchildren he intended to have. And now it sat empty, save for the presence of one lonely old
man. His daughter had turned her
back on every dream he had dreamed for not only himself, but for her, too.
And he had Murdoch Lancer to thank for that.
Well, once he had her safely in San Francisco, once her child was safely
delivered, he was going to go to this mighty ranch Murdoch was building, stand
toe to toe with his over-large son-in-law and make him see the error of his
choices, make him see the wisdom of returning, if not to Boston, than at least
to the Midwest somewhere. There was
plenty of good farm land in places like Ohio or Indiana, even still in
Pennsylvania, perhaps Kentucky or Virginia.
These places were settled, civilized.
And certainly a good deal closer to Boston than some godforsaken valley
in California. He had failed to
stand his ground with his daughter and her husband 15 months ago, but he would
not fail this time. Surely, with a
newborn child to care for, they would see the wisdom of returning.
And he would make sure that Murdoch lost no money on his investment.
He had already found a buyer for this ranch, if Murdoch could be
persuaded to sell it. Surely, with
a newborn babe, his daughter would want to return to Boston, would work with him
to convince her husband.
Harlan sighed, and knew that everything depended on Catherine, and his
ability to still sway her opinions. There
had been a time when his word had been law with her, but as she had passed
through her teen years, she had grown more independent, more prone to take her
own counsel. At the time he had been proud of her, had known that no man
would ever be able to take advantage of his daughter, the heir to his fortune.
But that pride had turned to consternation when Murdoch Lancer had
entered her life. Her heart had
settled on that gruff immigrant, and her independent spirit had refused to give
him up. Well, now she would have a
child to consider. Harlan was confident that he could persuade her to come home,
and between the two of them, they could persuade Murdoch of the same.
A weary smile appeared on Harlan’s face.
She had had her run at independence.
Now it was time for her to come home.
Harlan glanced ahead, and realized that the lead guide was slowing the
pace of their little expedition. Harlan reined in his horse and watched as the man turned and
walked his mount toward him.
“Mr. Garrett, we got a wagon comin’ our way across that little valley
to the east there. Two outriders
“It could be my daughter,” Harlan said, moving his horse around
Donnelson’s position. He walked
his horse along the ridge of the slope and glanced out across the valley.
He could make out the wagon, the riders on either side, but that was all.
“Mr. Garrett, I suggest you and me and one a the boys ride on down
there and see who it might be. Could
be your gal, could be trouble. Me
and Wilson’ll ride ahead, you hold back a few yards.
You recognize your daughter in that wagon, then you come on out.”
“That is an acceptable plan,” Harlan said, glancing over his shoulder
at the man he had hired to guide him on this journey.
“Another thing, Mr. Garrett. You know how to handle that rifle there at your side, or is
it just for show? Just in case them
riders ain’t the friendly sort.”
“I assure you, Mr. Donnelson, I am more than adequate with a rifle.”
“All right, then. Let’s
get movin’,” the bearded mountain man said.
Catherine sat in the back of the wagon, trying to find some comfort.
The air was cool, but the sun was hot.
Her back hurt, she was tired of riding in the wagon, and…her back hurt. She reached around and tried to rub the ache away, but it was
no use. The ache had been there off
and on since leaving the ranch. She
was certain it was the ride. The
trail had been jolting and uneven and just…wearying.
She was tired, and would have given anything if she could have convinced
these men to turn around and take her back to the ranch.
Or move on forward and get her to San Francisco.
Just get her off this trail. The
last couple of days had seen her turn irritable, and Catherine knew it.
She was trying very hard not to let it show. These men didn’t deserve to be the targets of her ill
temper. They were only doing what
Murdoch had asked them to do. No,
if she were going to be irritable with anyone, it was going to be that husband
of hers. The next time, she would
not give way to him. No matter what
the circumstances, she would have their next child at home.
She shifted on the mattress that was spread out on the floor of the wagon
and tried to ease the ache in her back. She
just didn’t understand why her back was bothering her so much.
And there was such a tightness across her belly.
She really wished she had Mercedes to talk to.
A smile spread across her face as she thought about Cipriano’s bride of
ten months. They had taken to each
other right away. Funny, how they
had. There couldn’t be two women
anywhere with less in common than she and Mercedes.
And Catherine knew that anywhere but here, their differences would never
have allowed them to become the good friends that they had become.
Mercedes was Mexican, Catholic, educated by nuns in a mission school.
She was the middle child in a family of nine, one of dozens of cousins,
smoldering black eyes, hair the color of the night sky, a fiery temper but a
tender heart. And Catherine, with
her founding father heritage, Congregationalist religion, private tutor
education, and Beacon Hill upbringing, had been drawn to her immediately.
Mercedes with her stories of her brothers and sisters, her cousins.
For a lonely young wife who had grown up as an only child, Catherine had
found her wonderfully refreshing, and endearing.
They had spent endless afternoons together, Catherine helping Mercedes
with her English, Mercedes helping Catherine with her Spanish.
Of course, of the two of them, it had been Catherine who had needed the
most help, she thought with a grin.
And then the realization that they were both with child.
Catherine couldn’t count the hours they had spent together, talking
about the future, about what their children would be like, how their husbands
were reacting. Interesting how it
seemed that all men were alike, how they all fussed and worried, and tried hard
to pretend that they weren’t fussing, that they weren’t worried.
And when Catherine had worried herself, or wondered about what to expect,
Mercedes had been there to reassure her, explain things.
Even though this was Mercedes’s first child, she had sisters and
cousins who were already mothers. Mercedes had calmed her fears when she had told her about her
mother’s troubles with childbearing, about how her mother had died.
In nine short months, Mercedes had become her best friend, and she looked
forward to watching their children grow up together.
Catherine sighed, and knew it would be weeks before she saw Mercedes
again. But, she thought with a
bright smile, when they next saw one another, it would be as mothers.
From the front of the wagon, Paul O’Brien suddenly called out a loud
“whoa”, and the team brought the wagon to a jolting halt.
Catherine gracelessly crawled forward and pulled herself up on the back
of the seat.
“What is it, Paul?” she said, watching as Cipriano and Luis road
forward and pulled their rifles free.
“Riders up on the ridge, Miz Lancer,” he replied, grabbing his rifle
from the floorboard.
“Do you think it could be my father?” she asked, a small flash of
fear running through her. They were
miles and days from the ranch, but that didn’t mean the trouble brewing there
couldn’t have followed them. It was one of Murdoch’s constant worries…that Haney and
his men would come after the families of the men working his ranch.
Or come after her. She had tried not to let that worry infect her, had tried to
use her civilized Boston upbringing to reassure herself that that sort of
lawlessness was simply not possible, would not be tolerated.
But then she would remember that Haney was supposed to be the law in this
part of the country, and a chill would course through her body.
She quickly prayed that the men lingering above them on that ridge were
somehow connected with her father.
“Well, ma’am, it looks like we’re about to find out,” O’Brien
said, giving his chin a thrust in the direction of the riders.
“What should we do?” Catherine asked, watching as the two riders
slowly maneuvered their mounts down the slope.
“You just sit back and stay calm, ma’am.
We’ll find out what those hombres want,” O’Brien confidently said,
turning and giving her a quick smile.
Catherine positioned herself slightly behind and to the right of
O’Brien and kept her eyes focused forward.
She noticed that Cipriano had moved his mount over to the right side of
the wagon and sat with Luis, forming a line between the wagon and the
approaching riders. She noticed,
too, the sudden change in the men with her, the way their bodies were now tense
and straight in their saddles or up on the wagon seat.
She saw the way they held their rifles, seemingly loose across their
laps, but gripped with both hands. They
presented a warning to the advancing riders.
Catherine found herself wishing she, too, had a rifle with her, not that
she was sure she would have the presence of mind to use it.
But it would add to the warning.
Less than a week at the ranch, and Murdoch had taken her aside and taught
her how to shoot. A rabid dog had
wandered up close to the house one bright morning, had staggered around the yard
between the corral and area marked off for the new barn, frightened most all the
women there. None of the men had
been about at the time. It had been Mercedes who had taken a rifle and killed the
animal. One shot had brought the
poor creature down. But when the
men had ridden in that evening and the story had been told, Murdoch had stared
at her, with that stare that told her he was working something out in his mind.
And the next morning, he’d taken her out to the near pasture and he’d
spent the day…and the next two…teaching her how to handle a rifle.
She wasn’t very good, had found it awkward and uncomfortable, but
she’d managed to learn the basics of loading, aiming and firing.
And once a week since then, until she’d become ungainly with child,
he’d taken her out to that same pasture and made her practice.
And now, she fervently wished she had a rifle with her.
Good or not, up close it was hard to miss what you were aiming for.
As she watched the two men reach the bottom of the slope, she heard a
quick intake of breath from Paul and saw his body tense even more.
She watched the two riders for a moment, couldn’t see what Paul had
“What?” she whispered without taking her eyes from the men making
their way toward Cipriano and Luis.
“Another man up on the ridge,” Paul said, adjusting his grip on his
Catherine looked back toward the top of the ridge and saw the third rider
emerging from the tree line. The rider sat his mount there for a few moments, clearly
studying the scene below him. Catherine
watched him intently, saw him urge his horse forward, saw the way he sat his
horse, the way he held his head, the straightness of his back. A smile split her face, and she awkwardly stood up and
“Father!” she called, waving with all the exuberance she could muster
now. She turned and headed toward
the end of the wagon.
“Senora!” Luis called from the front of the wagon, “stay where you
Catherine hesitated just a moment, then continued down the wagon bed.
Luis started to rein his horse in her direction, stopped and turned back
to the advancing danger. He silently cursed the brain of a woman that made her unable
to follow orders. He turned and
watched as the Senora reached the tailgate of the wagon and started to step over
the edge. He cursed again, and
violently jerked his horse around.
He reached the tailgate and quickly dismounted, reaching up and grabbing
the Senora’s hand, steadying her as she perched precariously on the back of
the wagon, stretching out his other hand and grabbing her around her middle.
He eased her to the ground, was rewarded with a brilliant smile, then
watched as she pulled away from him and raced toward the front of the wagon.
Up on the slope, the third rider was rushing down toward them, waving his
hat and calling out the Senora’s name. Luis
watched for a moment, retrieving his rifle, and held his breath.
He saw the other two riders rein in their horses and stand aside as an
older man reached the bottom of the slope and dismounted.
“Father!” Catherine called out, giggling like a schoolgirl as she
hurried toward Harlan.
Catherine reached her father, laughing and smiling as she threw herself
in his arms. She felt his body
stiffen, start to pull back, then he relaxed and allowed her to embrace him.
A warm sense of comfort coursed through her, and she let herself enjoy
her father’s arms around her for a few seconds more before pulling back and
rescuing her father from the embarrassment of her enthusiasm.
“Father, it is so good to see you,” Catherine said, smiling broadly
and wiping a tear from her cheek.
“Indeed, my dear. It is
very good to see you again,” Harlan said in return.
He quickly looked his daughter over, shocked to see her in such a
condition. She was his child, his
little girl, and here she was, weeks away from having a child of her own.
“I was beginning to despair of finding you out here on the trail.
I thought we would have to go all the way to San Francisco and send a
search party out for you,” she joked, unknowingly warming her father’s heart
with her musical laughter.
“Well, as you can see, that is not going to be necessary,” Harlan
said, as always both charmed and unbalanced by his daughter’s warmth and
openness. How was it that he had
raised such a loving and open child? Clearly, it was more God’s doing than his own.
“Come, Father, and I’ll introduce you to my friends,” Catherine
said, slipping her arm through her father’s.
She led Harlan forward, stopping as Luis approached them, his rifle still
clasped in his hands. Cipriano had
dismounted and stood near the wagon team. Paul
had climbed down and joined him, both men, just as Luis, stilling clutching
“Father, I’d like to introduce you to our ranch foreman, Senor Luis
Delgado de Lopez. He is a very good
The two men stood studying each other, Harlan with his hands clasped
rigidly behind his back, Luis standing before him, his head high and his rifle
across his chest.
“Senor Garrett, it is an honor to meet the father of Senora Lancer,”
Luis rather formally said.
Harlan merely nodded at the short, wiry, dark complexioned Mexican
standing in front of him. Luis
immediately took the measure of the man, and found him wanting.
He knew Senor Lancer did not like this man, and Luis could understand
why. It was in the man’s eyes,
the coldness there, the…desden…the disdain.
Luis had seen that look before, from many gringos, but he was surprised
to find it in this gringo, for he had never once seen it in the eyes of this
Catherine moved Harlan closer to the wagon, where Cipriano and Paul were
waiting. She had sensed the change
in her father’s attitude as she had introduced him to Luis, and knew there was
nothing she could do about it. Her father was the man he was, and she could not change him.
But she would also do her best to keep him from insulting her husband’s
men. She walked over to the other
“Father, this is Cipriano Hernandez.
He is one of our most valued ranch hands, and also a very good man,”
Again, Harlan simply stood with his hands behind his back, studying the
stocky, barrel-chested Mexican, a man slightly shorter than himself, with dark
hair and even darker eyes, a craggy face that gave very little hint about the
“Senor,” Cipriano said, nodding his head toward the older man,
wasting no more words on this man, as once again Harlan Garrett’s worth was
assessed and found to be light.
“And Father,” Catherine said, feeling the tension between the men,
“this is Paul O’Brien, another of our most trusted hands.”
“Mister Garrett,” Paul said, yanking his hat off and giving the older
man an unsure smile. “It’s good
meetin’ you, sir.”
“Indeed,” Harlan said, noting that at least this man appeared to be
American, although most likely of Irish heritage.
Thin and muscular, he seemed to be nearly as tall as Murdoch, with hair
almost as dark as his Mexican companions. And
these were the men to whom Murdoch had entrusted Catherine’s safety.
Harlan turned to his daughter, essentially dismissing the three men.
“My dear, I have a wagon and men waiting up above.
After a brief rest, and of course a farewell to your husband’s
employees, we can transfer your luggage to the wagon, and begin our return to
“Senor, we are to travel to San Francisco with the Senora.
This is what Senor Lancer has instructed us to do,” Luis said, stepping
up to the older man.
“That won’t be necessary, my man,” Harlan said, giving the Mexican
only a cursory glance.
“It may not be necessary, Senor, but it is as we have been ordered to
do,” Luis stubbornly replied, thrusting out his chest and using his diminutive
stature to its fullest effect.
The two men stared at each other, and standing between them, Catherine
knew she would soon be called upon to settle their differences.
Murdoch settled in for the evening, opening his ledger and making a
couple of entries. The balance when
he was finished left him less than confident.
He had taken every dime he had saved, every dime he had carried across
the ocean with him, even given in and allowed his wife to give every dime she
could gather, in order to pursue his dream.
And still, that had not been enough to purchase this ranch.
It had required a loan from a shipping merchant in San Francisco, where
he had had to swallow his pride and use the letter of introduction his
father-in-law had given to Catherine before they’d left Boston.
The letter had been their secret, Harlan and Catherine’s, and he had
been furious when she had told him about it.
He’d accused her of having no faith in him, of not believing in his
dream as he did. He’d accused her
of conniving behind his back with her father.
Oh, the tears and anger that had produced.
In less time than it had taken him to issue his accusations, she had put
him in his place. She loved him and
she believed in his dream, or she would not have followed him all the way around
two continents to work for his dream, would not have endured all the same
hardships he had endured. And she had no intention of allowing a lack of hard currency
to come between them and their dream.
She had, she’d sworn to him, no intention of using that letter unless
it was absolutely necessary. And
securing the last bit of money necessary to buy the ranch, to build their dream,
well, that had been the absolutely necessary thing.
She had stood before him in that run-down room in that run-down boarding
house only two streets away from the docks in San Francisco, her hands on her
hips, her pale face sprinkled with angry red spots, and told him she was not
about to let his stubborn Scottish pride steal their dream away from them before
they even had a chance to make it come true.
And then the tears had come. Tears of anger and frustration and fatigue.
And homesickness, he’d been sure.
He’d been unable to withstand the onslaught.
The next day, he had walked back down to the docks, gone into that
merchant’s office, an old acquaintance of Harlan’s from their youth together
in Boston, letter in hand, and walked out two hours later with the loan that
would allow them to buy their ranch. He’d
hated having to do it, it had left a sour taste in his mouth, but in the end,
he’d known he’d really had no other choice.
He’d simply not been able to come up with enough cash to purchase this
ranch, and the land agent had steadfastly refused to divide it and hold the rest
out as options.
Oh, how he had wanted this ranch. He
simply had not been able to let it pass through his fingers, not once he’d
seen it. Thirty-five thousand acres
of promising land. That’s all the land was right now. A promise. He
knew he could turn this land into one of the finest ranches in the West.
He knew he could. He just needed time. And
hard work. And luck.
He could make it as fine a place as any man would want to own.
He would stock it with the finest cattle.
He would add to it, acre upon acre until it was a power to be reckoned
with. There was no limit to his
Except the dismally small number at the bottom of the column of his
ledger. Murdoch sighed, stretched
his back and pushed away from his makeshift desk.
Catherine chided him for worrying over his accounts, but he had to.
He had to watch every nickel, every penny.
Catherine didn’t realize just how close run this ranch was right now.
Or maybe she did. She never
asked him for anything extra, never complained about the lack of finery.
There was no luxury to their home, no lavishness to their table.
The fine silks and laces she was accustomed to back in Boston were
nowhere in evidence here, and apparently, were not missed.
Her clothing was as simple and well-used as any of the other wives here
on the ranch, and as the baby had grown inside her, she had made do with what
she had, doing whatever it is that women do to their clothing to make it fit.
He knew very little about sewing, but could, if called upon, awkwardly
take up a needle and thread and very clumsily mend a tear in his trousers or a
Murdoch absent-mindedly walked around the small house, stopping at one of
the front windows and glancing outside. It
still astounded him, the difference Catherine had made in his life.
He knew as well as anyone that he was a hard, gruff man. And he knew he came by it honestly, knew he came from a long
line of hard, gruff men. Life, as
much as personality, had made them that way.
His father had been a hard, blunt man.
And that was the way he remembered his grandfather, too.
That bear of a man had died when Murdoch was six years old, and Murdoch
had a few very clear memories of the old man.
Clear, but not all that pleasant. His
grandfather had been hard, just like all the other Lancer men, but he’d also
been angry. Angry at what fate, what history had handed to him.
The Lancers had been Highland farmers, and supporters of the Catholic
Bonnie Prince Charlie. Murdoch’s
great-grandfather had fought at Culloden, and survived to see his lands taken,
the Clans destroyed in the aftermath of that massacre, the English hold sway in
Scotland. Life had made him not
only hard, but bitter, and he’d passed that bitterness on to his son,
Murdoch’s grandfather. Murdoch’s
father had inherited the hardness, the gruffness, but not the bitterness.
By the time Murdoch’s father had been born, the bitterness of Culloden
was almost 50 years gone.
Murdoch’s father had been hard, rough and demanding.
But at the end of the day, Charles Edward Lancer, named for that
ill-fated Prince, had gathered his children around him, his four sons and three
daughters, and told them tales of the old days, the old ways.
And Murdoch, the third child and second born son, could remember sitting
there in the warm glow of that fire, his brothers and sisters sitting on the
floor with him, and listening to the deep, strong voice of their father lull
them to sleep, their mother sitting in the corner, either her endless mending in
her lap, or the baby, Margaret, snuggled up there.
A melancholy sigh escaped the big man’s throat.
Baby Maggie. The last child
born to his parents, and the first one lost.
But oh so sadly, not the only one lost.
It had all happened so fast, that horrible wet spring when Murdoch had
been a boy of ten. First Maggie,
then Malcolm, then Fiona. The three
youngest. Maggie only two, Malcolm
six, and Fiona four. The pain was
suddenly as breath-taking as if it had happened just yesterday.
Had it really been 16 years ago? Had
it really simply started with a case of the sniffles for Maggie?
Then it had turned to fever and coughing and then pneumonia, and then it
had hit Malcolm and Fiona. He could
still see his mother, bending over their beds, trying everything that good woman
knew how to do to hold onto her babies, to try to save them. But nothing worked. He
could still see her face, white and drawn in grief, as she’d washed their
little bodies and made them ready for burial.
She had taken care of the wee ones, had seen to her surviving children,
had tried to comfort her husband in his unbearable grief, had tried to find
comfort in her faith. Murdoch’s
family was Catholic because the Lancers had always been Catholic, but his father
had fallen away from the Church…just as Murdoch would in the aftermath of
their family tragedy…so there had been no comfort to be found there for the
grieving father. But Murdoch’s
mother had needed the comfort of the Church, so the black-robed priest had been
allowed into the tormented home, even though Charles Lancer had detested that
priest, had stopped attending Mass years earlier, and in the end would refuse
Last Rites at his own death. God
would take him as he was, not because some priest mumbled over his dying body.
He’d only allowed the priest into the house after his babies had died
because it was a comfort to Murdoch’s mother.
Because he had been so overwhelmed by what had happened.
His three youngest, gone in only a week.
Murdoch knew his father had never really recovered from their deaths.
Not because his father had told him so.
No, that wasn’t Charles Edward Lancer’s way. Murdoch could see it in the way the hardness set in his
father, the way the stories around the fire ended that spring, never to come
back to that once happy house, in the way the embarrassed gentleness he would on
occasion show his children disappeared when those three small coffins slipped
beneath the ground. Murdoch’s
father had hardened his heart against the dangers of life while his mother had
grieved herself into an early grave. Just
two years after the babies died, she was gone.
After that, there had been no true happiness in that house.
Murdoch and his brothers went to school, did their lessons, and waited.
None of them knew what they were waiting for, but there was always that
heavy sense that something else would happen, had to happen.
Five years after the death of the three youngest Lancer children, three
years after they lost their mother, the first-born Lancer child, Lorna, the only
sister left to them, married and moved away. And six months later, Murdoch, his brothers Gordon and
Douglas were all alone in that house. With
the marriage of his daughter, Charles Lancer had put down his burden.
Murdoch had been 15 years old, and would spend only nine more years in
his homeland. He finished his
schooling, then went to work on the docks, the docks where his father had spent
his entire working life, the docks that his brothers Gordon and Douglas had
refused. They’d tried to talk
Murdoch out of working down there, tried to convince him he could do better for
himself. He was a smart lad, could
go on to university, together, they would find a way to make that happen, he
could make something of himself. But
that was not what Murdoch had wanted. He
had wanted out of Inverness, out of Scotland, out of all the sadness and grief
that had stolen away his family. He
couldn’t have stayed there one moment longer than he had.
Lorna had moved away to Edinburgh, Douglas was married and building a
life and family of his own, Gordon in love with a sweet young girl and planning
to marry. There was nothing for him
in Inverness…only sadness and loneliness.
He hadn’t been able to bear it. So
he’d taken the money he had saved over the previous five years, booked passage
on a ship bound for America. He’d
left behind all that remained of his family, left behind the fading memories of
a once happy family, left behind the grief that had devastated that family, left
it all behind and set off to find a new life.
Murdoch suddenly found himself standing next to the cradle he was making
for his child. He stood there and
studied it, realizing for the first time how much it resembled the cradle that
had rocked every child born to Charles and Mary Lancer.
A smile crept across Murdoch’s features.
This cradle would rock his son, and his son’s brothers and sisters.
He knelt down next to it, lovingly ran his hand over its surface, down
the legs and across the rockers. It
was nearly finished. Tomorrow, he
would stain it again, making the rich, deep walnut color shine.
And in a few weeks, when he brought his wife and baby back from San
Francisco, he would place his son in this cradle and sit back and watch his wife
rock him, listen to her sing a lullaby to their child.
Sudden, unexpected tears gathered in the big Scot’s eyes, and he wiped
them away, then chuckled at his own silliness.
There was nothing to cry about. He
had braved the ocean, braved Harlan Garrett, braved a sea voyage around the
Cape, brought his bride to this unforgiving land, watched her blossom with his
child in her womb, and he was a happy man.
Happier than he ever thought he would be, happier than he had been at
anytime in his life since he’d been a ten year old child.
Catherine brought him love, and a sense of ease and a feeling of
belonging. And his child brought
him hope for the future. Together,
they gave him the freedom to open up his heart after so many years of keeping it
closed. All of his dark thoughts,
all of his sad memories vanished, and he had but one thought, the future.
The bright, wonderful future his growing family would bring him.
The future with his wife beside him, their child, their children growing
around them. Murdoch let out a
contented sigh, and thanked God for all the blessings he had been granted, all
the blessings he hoped would still come his way.
He was a very happy man.
Catherine Lancer was not a happy woman.
Nor was she a comfortable woman. The
backache that had been plaguing her since the beginning of this trip showed no
signs of leaving her alone. It had
been with her all day, leaving her fatigued and at times irritable.
And it just seemed to be getting worse, as did the tightness across her
belly. She had briefly wondered if
her wish of a week ago could be right. Had
she miscalculated her time? But she
had pushed that thought aside. Such
a miscalculation would have been welcome if it had kept her on the ranch, but
now, it was the last thing she wanted. She
needed to get to San Francisco, and settled in.
A sense of panic had momentarily gripped her when she’d thought about
the possibility of giving birth to her child on the trail.
But she’d fought it off. No,
she was certain of her time. This
discomfort was just the wagon and the fatigue and the heat.
And the difficulty of dealing with her father and her husband’s
The standoff between Luis and her father had gotten beyond the point of
civility last night. Her father had
turned rude, and Luis had turned obstinate.
Finally, she had had to step in and make the decision neither man had
seemed capable of making. She wasn’t sure it had been the right decision, but it had
been made. Luis had insisted that
he and the others continue on to San Francisco with her and her father and the
men he had hired as escort. It was
what Murdoch had instructed them to do, what they in all good conscious had
expected to do. Her father had
wanted to be rid of them, for whatever reasons she did not care to dwell on.
However, his arguments had been persuasive.
With the men he had hired, there was no need for Murdoch’s men to stay
with them, and with the trouble at the ranch, that was where they were really
needed. She had hated that Murdoch had had to send Luis with them.
He was the foreman, and he was needed at Murdoch’s side.
In her mind, and in her heart, she knew her father was right.
The men needed to go back to the ranch.
It had taken her intervention to convince them of that.
They hadn’t wanted to do it, but she had managed to make them see the
wisdom of her words. So, very early this morning, Luis and Cipriano had mounted
their horses, Paul had climbed up on the wagon, and they had turned around and
headed back to the ranch. They had
taken along with them a note she had written to her hard-headed husband,
explaining that it was her decision, that the men were following her
instructions, and he was not to unleash his formidable temper on them.
A smile ran across her face as she imagined her husband reading that
note. She could see his face
turning red at having his natural reaction thwarted.
Oh, how she had learned to read that man in the last year.
Of course, this wasn’t something she could ever allow him to realize.
It would remain her secret. A
giggle escaped her lips and she glanced up.
“What do you find so entertaining, my dear?”
“Oh, nothing, Father. I’m
simply happy,” Catherine said, fixing a brilliant smile on her father.
“Yes, well, the young are so easily made that way,” Harlan said,
staring at his daughter with a neutral face.
“Father, please don’t,” Catherine said, shifting position to get a
better look at her father. She was
sitting in the back of the wagon he had hired, staring up at him as he rode
alongside on his horse. “I
don’t want to argue with you. It’s
a long way to San Francisco, and I really would like this to be a pleasant
“Riding in the Berkshire Hills is a pleasant day, my dear.
This is a…chore,” Harlan said.
“No one told you you had to make this journey, Father,” Catherine
“Do you really think I could sit back and leave my only child out here
in this wilderness with a war brewing around her?
Is that all you think of my affection, my dear?”
“Of course not, Father. But I am perfectly safe here.
But I don’t expect to make you believe that. I certainly wasn’t able to make Murdoch believe it,” she
“Catherine, you have your head in the clouds if you believe you were
better off at that ranch of his. You belong back in Boston, where you could receive the best
care, where your child could be born in the home his mother was born in.
Where you could have all the fine things you are used to.
Tell me, my dear. Is this
really the life you want, the life you want for your child?” Harlan asked,
still after all these months unable to believe this was what his daughter
“Father, I love my husband, and I belong at his side, not in Boston.
This is an old argument, one that I thought we had settled between us.
It does no good to go over it again and again. My life is by Murdoch’s side, helping him realize his
dream, raising his child. Father,
I’m sorry that so much distance lies between us, but there is nothing I can do
about that. I love Murdoch, and I
would follow him to the ends of the earth.
I wish I could make you understand,” Catherine said sadly.
She knew, had known for several years that her parents’ marriage had
not been one of passion, but rather one of pragmatism.
It had been a good match for both of them.
Not one based on love, but one based on things in common, respect and
familiarity. There would have been
no surprises in her parents’ marriage. And
that was the sort of marriage Catherine had wanted to avoid at all costs.
How blessed she was to have fallen in love with Murdoch Lancer, and he
with her. From the moment he had
shyly taken her hand, his gaze fixed steadily on the ground, and told her he
thought he was falling in love with her, she had known she would never have to
fear having only what her parents had had.
Murdoch’s shy confession had set her free, allowed her to give in to
the yearning of her own heart for the man who had so tenderly held her hand that
morning. She had known she was in
love with him before the words had ever crossed his lips, but she had held it a
close secret, waiting for him. He
was shy with women, shy with his heart, and she hadn’t wanted to do anything
to frighten him away. So she had
waited until he had found his courage, waited until he had been able to say the
words for himself. And that had
given her the courage to stand up to her father.
And it would continue to give her that courage.
“Catherine?” Harlan said, concerned by his daughter’s sudden
withdrawal from the conversation.
“I’m fine, Father. Just
lost in thought,” she said, reaching down and pressing her hand against her
stomach. The tightness was becoming
“Catherine, I hadn’t planned to pursue this until we reached San
Francisco, but I do think that it would be the wisest course of action for
you…and Murdoch, of course…to return to Boston,” Harlan said.
“How good of you to remember my husband,” Catherine remarked dryly.
“Father, it simply is not going to happen.
This is my future here. With
my husband, with our children. I
know you had thought it would be otherwise when I was growing up, but father, I
had to follow my heart. How else
could I have lived with myself? I
do not wish to hurt you, but Father, would you have really wished for me what
you and mother had?”
“You overstep your rights, daughter,” Harlan stiffly said.
“I shall not discuss my marriage with you.”
With that, Harlan kicked his horse and trotted away from the wagon.
Catherine watched him go, then leaned back against the side of the wagon. She truly hadn’t meant to hurt him, but she had to make him
understand that there was going to be no revisiting the arguments that had hurt
them both so much prior to her marriage. She
was happy, she was settled, and she was about to have a child of her own.
She simply would not allow her father to drag her back into those old
fights. She looked up, shielding
her eyes from the lowering sun, then wiped her handkerchief across the back of
her neck. She was hot and sticky
from the day’s heat, and wished only to make camp.
She glanced over at the water jug, and decided a cool drink would be good
right now. Of course, how cool it
would be would be a matter for debate. She
pulled herself slowly to her knees and started to reach across the wagon for the
canteen. A sudden, sharp pain took
her by surprise and she was barely able to save herself from falling over on her
side. The pain held her in its grip
for only a few seconds, than began to ease up.
She allowed herself to rest for a moment, her right hand pressed against
her stomach, her left hand pressed against the floor of the wagon, supporting
her weight. She was about push
herself back against the side of the wagon when another pain attacked her.
She cried out this time, losing her balance when the wagon hit a
particularly harsh rut in the road. She
lay there on her side, waiting for the pain to release her, the late afternoon
sun slanting across her face. They
were still a week away from San Francisco.
This couldn’t happen. She
couldn’t have her child along side the road, in the middle of nowhere.
The pain began to loosen its grip, and Catherine prayed this was not what
she feared it was.
Harlan paced the floor, fighting the fear and fatigue that threatened to
overwhelm him. They had been here
nearly 24 hours now, and it seemed that it could be again that long before her
ordeal was over. After their
disagreement yesterday, he’d ridden ahead to discuss with Donnelson stopping
for the afternoon and making camp. Upon
returning to the wagon, he’d discovered her lying on her side, in pain.
Her time had come early. He
had sat there astride his horse, words refusing to come to him at that moment.
For one dizzying, heart-wrenching moment, all he could see in the back of
that wagon was his long dead wife. And
all the pain and fear and anguish that poor, doomed woman had endured on his
behalf. But the illusion had not
lasted long. In the length of time
it had taken him to silently curse Murdoch Lancer to hell and back, he had come
back to his senses and managed with an agility that he had not known he still
possessed to move from the saddle of his patient mount and over the side of the
wagon. He had taken Catherine’s
hand in his and starred into her eyes. The
fear and surprise were clearly there. He had tried to calm her, and she had merely looked up at
him, and said over and over, “it isn’t time”.
His heart had clenched in fear for her, but he knew, even if she didn’t
at that very moment, that there was no going back. He’d calmed her as best he could, then he’d climbed from
the wagon and sought out Donnelson. They’d
conferred for several moments, and their conversation had left Harlan with a
pounding heart and a dry mouth. The
nearest town was four hours away, a godforsaken place called Carterville, and
Donnelson had been unable to tell him whether there was a doctor there or not,
but the man had doubted it. It was
a very small town, little more than a crossroads on the way to San Francisco.
Harlan had not been hopeful. But
it had been their only choice. He
could not allow his daughter to give birth in the back of a wagon, he could not
allow his grandchild to be born alongside a wilderness road somewhere.
So, rather than making camp, they had continued until they had reached
And Harlan’s heart had clutched in his chest.
Crossroads was giving the town more credit than it deserved.
There was no doctor, no vet, although Harlan would never have allowed a
horse doctor to attend to his daughter, but there was a midwife.
Unfortunately, she had been out in the countryside somewhere attending to
another woman. It had been late
last night when the woman had finally returned to her small, two-room cabin,
exhausted from her attendance on the other woman, saddened by the death of the
baby only an hour after birth. Her
tale of woe had inspired no confidence in Harlan in the woman’s skills and
abilities. But by then, Catherine
had been in labor for hours, and there had been no alternative.
Harlan had spoken with the midwife, but the woman had cut him off
quickly, going instead into the bedroom where Catherine lay to speak with her.
The woman came out nearly 30 minutes later, a calm expression on her
face. According to her, Catherine
had been in labor much longer than any of them had realized. The backache was the beginning of the woman’s labor, the
midwife had informed him. But
Harlan found that hard to believe. Catherine
had complained of a backache for days. Surely,
no woman could go days and not realize…Harlan paused outside the bedroom door.
A low moan that gained strength and worked its way up to a cry held his
attention. As had happened back at
the wagon, Harlan suddenly found himself drawn back in time, standing outside
his own wife’s bedroom door, listening to her as she struggled to bring forth
life. He shook himself free of his
memory, and unsteadily walked over to the table and sat in one of the ladder
back chairs. He absently shifted a
plate around on the table, staring at the remains of his dinner.
Beans and cornbread. He had
been angry with the midwife…what was her name?
Maguire, Bridget Maguire. He
had been angry with her for leaving Catherine’s side to prepare him a meal,
but she had breezily told him that Catherine had many more hours ahead of her,
and it had been her experience that men left to wait would soon be complaining
about their empty stomachs. He had
taken offense, but the woman was too simple to realize it.
He certainly hoped she was a better midwife than she was a cook.
Again, Harlan was torn by worry over his daughter’s circumstances.
Everything was so primitive here. Harlan
picked up the earthen mug, half full of tepid water, and tipped it toward him.
A sudden surge of anger possessed him, and he shoved the mug away,
spilling the water over the rough table top.
He began pacing around the room again, his anger building.
The moment they realized she was with child, they should have sent her
home. No, Murdoch should have sent
her home. He stopped as Catherine
cried out from behind the door, bowed his head and cursed his son-in-law again.
Murdoch should never have taken her from Boston.
A hard, determined look settled on Harlan’s features.
He had booked passage on the swiftest clipper available in Boston Harbor,
and it had still taken him nearly five months to reach California.
Travel overland was out of the question, the trip from St. Louis to
California alone taking six months. His
beloved daughter, his only child, was 3000 miles and at least five months away
from him, and he would tolerate it no longer.
Murdoch Lancer’s dream be damned.
The man could spin other dreams, closer to Boston.
Catherine would have no more children under these circumstances, and he
would not get to know his grandchildren by way of infrequent and long-delayed
Harlan turned and stared at the closed door for a moment, then crossed
the small room and let himself out through the front door.
He stepped out on the porch, the worn boards creaking under his weight,
and filled his lungs with the fresh air. Once
he had Catherine and his grandchild settled in San Francisco, he would send for
Murdoch, and they would resolve this once and for all.
Harlan Garrett’s family would be returning to Boston, and Murdoch
Lancer was not going to stand in the way of that happening.
The pains left her gasping for breath.
There was no time between them to rest, to gather her strength, her
courage. It had all seemed so
possible only a few hours ago. She had controlled the pains, and now the pains controlled
her. Her throat was raw from her
screams, screams she had lost her ability to stop hours ago.
Her hands were weak and sore from gripping Bridget’s hands, or the
knotted sheets the woman had handed her last night…or this morning.
Catherine couldn’t remember. It
was all blending together. The pain, the fatigue, the fear.
Why was it taking so long? Why
wouldn’t the baby come? She lay
there in the bed, her sweat-soaked nightgown clinging to her body, and tried to
fight the pain she felt gathering in her back, making its way around, causing
her to pull her knees up. She felt
the scream begin to form against the raw edges of her throat, and she cried out.
“Bridget,” she breathlessly screamed.
“Shhh, darlin’,” the plain-featured woman said, taking
Catherine’s hand. With her free
hand, she caressed the top of Catherine’s head, gently running her hand along
the other woman’s sweaty hair.
“Make it stop, please make it stop,” Catherine gasped, rolling to her
side and trying to get away from the pain.
“We don’t want it to stop now, darlin’,” Bridget said, a friendly
smile on her face. “Why, you’re
almost done. That babe of yours is
gonna be here real soon now.”
“I want Murdoch, I want my husband,” Catherine said as the pain
approached its peak. “I want
“I know, darlin’,” Bridget said, holding Catherine’s hand tight.
“But we already talked about that, don’t you remember?
As soon as the baby’s born, I’ll be sending him a letter, tellin’
him he’s a papa. We coulda sent
for him right away,” the midwife continued, hoping her endless stream of
chatter would distract the suffering woman a little, “but, by the time the
letter got to him, and he made it back here, why your baby would be almost two
weeks old. This way, at least he
gets to know whether it’s a boy or a girl when he hits the trail to come to
“Oh, God,” Catherine whispered, the pain reaching its peak.
“Father, please, get my father.”
“Now you don’t want your papa in here.
He wouldn’t know the first thing to do to help.
He’d just get in our way,” Bridget soothingly said.
“Try to breath, darlin’, try to breath.
This one’s almost over.”
“I can’t do this,” Catherine cried as the pain began its downward
spiral, “I can’t do this any more. It’s taking too long.”
“Now, Catherine,” Bridget said, helping the pretty blond woman roll
over to her back, “haven’t I been tellin’ you, it’s almost over.
I’ve been doin’ this for a long time, and I can tell.
That baby of yours is gonna be here before dinner time.
You’ll see. You just have
to hang on a bit longer and then…what is it, darlin’?” the midwife asked,
noticing the changed expression on the younger woman’s face.
“I need…it feels…” Catherine gasped, trying to pull herself up
into a sitting position.
“Now just you hold on, darlin’, and let me have a look at you.”
Catherine dropped back against the pillows and watched, beyond any
embarrassment, beyond any false modesty, as Bridget pulled her nightgown back
and gently pushed her knees apart. Another pain hit her hard and she reached for the knotted
sheet lying next to her.
“Keep breathing, Catherine,” Bridget advised
“Stop…what are you doing…stop…it hurts.”
“Just a bit…just a bit,” Bridget said, finishing her examination.
“Well, darlin’, you’re about to be a mother,” she said, smiling
at her patient.
“What?” Catherine asked.
“With the next pain, darlin’, I want you to grab both those sheets
then bear down and push. The
baby’s head is just right there.”
“Oh, God,” Catherine said, her voice heavy with relief.
“Do you have a name picked out for your baby?” Bridget asked, laying
a fresh towel under Catherine’s hips and positioning herself at the foot of
“Yes,” Catherine rasped, feeling another pain begin to build.
“Scott Garrett for a boy and…ohhhh…Mary Abigail…ohhh.”
“Bear down,” Bridget instructed.
“Grab the sheets and bear down and push.”
Bridget glanced up at the younger woman.
She was straining against the knotted sheets, her face scarlet, a
determined look on her face. Time
seemed to hold, the only sound in the room now the building grunt as Catherine
began to run out of air.
Catherine suddenly gasped and dropped back against the pillows.
“You did fine, Catherine. And you’ll do fine with the next one, too,” Bridget said.
The midwife glanced up at her patient, and wondered about her.
Obviously, she was a finely bred lady…Bridget had seen that right away
by the way she behaved, by the way she spoke.
A beautiful young girl, she couldn’t be more than 21 or 22.
Golden blonde hair, braided and hanging over her left shoulder, a fine
thin face, filled out a little now with baby, clear blue eyes. It was easy to see that Catherine was a lovely, fine-boned
woman. Delicate, that was the word
that came to mind as Bridget sat there and waited for the next pain to begin.
She didn’t have to wait long. Catherine
leaned forward and grabbed the sheets, taking a deep breath in the process.
“All right now, Catherine, here we go.
You bear down good and hard now.”
Catherine wrapped the sheets around her hands and pulled them tight.
She held her breath, pushed for all she was worth.
Her head felt like it was going to explode, and there was a throbbing in
her ears. The pain was getting
worse, and she felt the veins in her forehead, in her neck throb.
She kept pushing, straining against the sheets, felt the moan grow in her
throat until it became a growl as she fell back and struggled to fill her lungs.
“Good girl, good girl.”
“Almost?” Catherine rasped.
“Almost. You do your part,
and the baby’s gonna do his…or hers,” Bridget said with a smile.
“Almost,” Catherine repeated, closing her eyes and waiting for the
An hour had slipped by, and then another.
Bridget watched Catherine carefully.
She was done. The poor girl had almost no more to give.
Bridget had come across stubborn babies before, but this one seemed
really in no hurry to meet his mother. Bridget
wrung out the towel, and gently wiped Catherine’s face.
The girl was exhausted, and she had every reason to be.
Nearly 36 hours in this bed trying to birth her baby.
And on top of that, Bridget didn’t doubt for a minute that the girl had
been in labor, off and on, for at least a week.
That’s what those backaches had been all about.
Damn fool men. Why hadn’t
they seen that? Under no
circumstances should this sweet girl have been set on the road for San
Francisco. But that was men for you.
Catherine suddenly moaned and turned her head away.
Bridget helped her sit up and put the sheets in her hands.
“I can’t,” Catherine moaned.
“Just a little bit longer,” Bridget said sympathetically.
“I can’t,” Catherine repeated, tears running down her face.
“Catherine, you give it one more good push, and the baby will come this
time, I promise.”
“I can’t,” Catherine said, already pulling on the sheets and
bearing down. There was no fighting
Bridget positioned herself again at the foot of the bed, watched as
Catherine strained against the pain, watched as she dug her feet into the
mattress. Bridget checked her
again, and saw with relief that the baby’s head was emerging.
Bridget reached in and gently placed her fingers on either side of the
baby’s head, all the time encouraging Catherine to keep pushing.
“That’s it, darlin’, that’s it,” Bridget said, carefully
adjusting her grip on the baby’s head. She felt Catherine relax her grip on the sheets, started to
tell her not to give up, when she felt the sheets grow taut again, heard
Catherine suck in another deep breath.
Bridget let her fingers inch around the baby’s head, very gently
grasping it as Catherine pushed and she pulled.
A shoulder appeared, and then another, and before Bridget had a chance to
smile, the baby slipped out of Catherine’s womb. She firmly gripped the
slippery child in her hands, turned it up-side-down and slapped its bottom.
An angry, indignant cry erupted from the baby’s lungs.
Bridget laid the baby on Catherine’s stomach and smiled up at her.
“You’ve got yourself a fine baby boy, Catherine.”
The baby slept peacefully in the crook of his mother’s arm, serenely
oblivious to the tension between his mother and grandfather.
Catherine looked down at her son, gently traced a finger across his cheek
and smiled. Oh, my darling son, she
thought to herself, you certainly took your time.
She tried to find some sign of her husband in her son, but all she could
see was the pink, wrinkled face of a newborn.
Her newborn son. Scott
Garrett Lancer. She leaned down and
placed a gentle, loving kiss on his forehead, and felt him squirm in her arms.
Catherine grinned. He was wonderful, her baby, her beautiful baby boy.
She brought him up against her cheek, nuzzled her son.
“I love you, my darling,” she whispered, feeling her son snuggle into
her neck. She softly laughed and
“Did you say something, my dear?” Harlan asked, turning away from the
“I was just telling my son that I loved him, Father,” Catherine said,
beaming at her father.
“Well, he is a fine young man,” Harlan said, walking over to the bed
and staring down at his brand new grandson.
“I do believe he has the look of the Garretts to him, my dear.”
“Oh, Father. He just looks
like a baby. He won’t look like
either Murdoch or me for some time, I’m sure,” Catherine said, her smile
softening. “Besides, you just say
that because you don’t want to think of your grandson looking like Murdoch,”
“He reminds me of you when you were born, my dear.
But, if it should turn out that this fine young man looks like his
father, well, I suppose I could accept that.”
“Would you like to hold him, Father?” Catherine asked.
“Do you trust this old man to hold that precious gift?”
“Of course,” Catherine said.
Harlan leaned forward and took his grandson from his daughter’s arms.
The child squirmed in his arms, struggled to open his eyes, then settled
down against his grandfather’s chest. Harlan
watched the child, so small and light, yet somehow so substantial in his arms.
He had longed for a son, had at times felt cheated that his prayer had
not been answered. But now, here
was his prayer manifest. Not a son,
but a grandson. He might not carry
the Garrett name, but he carried the Garrett blood.
This child would have everything the Garrett name, money and position
could obtain for him. Surely, once
Murdoch beheld his child, he would agree that the best place for the baby, for
Catherine, was back home. They could settle this between them. Harlan was certain of that.
How could Murdoch gaze on this child, hold this child, and deny him what
Harlan could offer? No father could
do that. The baby began to stir in
his swaddling, opened his eyes and stared up at the man holding him.
For an instant, Harlan was certain the baby was looking at him, taking
his measure. Yes, a Garrett.
Harlan smiled down at the boy, then glanced over at his daughter. She looked exhausted, as well she should be.
But she was also flushed. Harlan
was concerned about her color. She
needed to rest. The baby began to
squirm in earnest, and then he cried that mewling cry of newborns, screwing up
his face and turning red.
“Give him back, Father,” Catherine said, watching as her father began
to squirm right along with her son.
“Well, I do believe he has the look of his father right now,” Harlan
said, giving his daughter a teasing glance.
“Shame on you, Father,” Catherine said, taking her son in her arms.
“Shush, my darling. Mama
has you,” she whispered.
“Perhaps I should get Mrs. Maguire?” Harlan said.
“No. She isn’t needed.
He’s just hungry,” Catherine said.
She unlaced the front of her nightgown and brought her baby to her
breast. He immediately latched on
and began to suckle. Catherine lay back against her pillows, a momentary look of
discomfort crossing her face, quickly replaced by a look of contentment.
Mortified, Harlan quickly turned his back and returned to the window.
At a loss as to how to escape from this inappropriate situation, Harlan
stood with his back to his daughter and grandson and stared out at the gathering
darkness. Behind him, he heard
Catherine begin to hum a soft melody, and his eyes unexpectedly began to fill
with tears. He reached up and wiped
his eyes, chiding himself for his loss of control.
He cleared his throat, and cast about for something to focus on.
“When shall we get a message to your husband?” he asked.
“Mrs. Maguire said her husband plans to leave at first light tomorrow
to ride to Lancer and let Murdoch know. I
wish I could see his face when he learns he has a son.
It means the world to him, Father. He
left his family behind in Scotland. He
has no one here. No one but me and
now his son,” Catherine said, tears glistening in her blue eyes.
“As do I, my dear, as do I.”
“I am going to find Mrs. Maguire and inquire about something for you to
eat. You need to build up your
strength again so that we may continue our journey.”
“Continue? Father, as soon
as I’m able, we’ll be going back to Lancer,” Catherine said.
“Our plan was to go to San Francisco.
Little Scotty’s birth does nothing to change those plans.
The danger at the ranch still exists.
No, my dear, we shall continue on to San Francisco as soon as you are
able to travel.”
Without a backward glance, Harlan walked across the room and left.
From her bed, Catherine watched him go, her heart aching for him.
She knew he was all alone now, but there was nothing she could do about
that. She had to follow her heart,
had to make her own life. She could
do no other. Wasn’t that the way
he’d raised her? Her father had
never viewed her as an asset to be sold to the highest bidder.
She was his daughter, not a negotiating tool. He had made it clear to her that she would be allowed to make
a love match. He had just never
counted on her falling in love with someone of whom he wouldn’t approve.
She truly had not meant to hurt him, or leave him alone.
But her heart, her fate, demanded just that.
Someday, he would understand, she knew he would.
He would see, eventually, that she was building her own life, her own
family now. She glanced down at her
son, watched, fascinated, as he nursed at her breast. The last year and a half had bought many shocks and surprises
for her. The intimacy that she
found on her wedding night was so…unexpected.
She had never known that she could feel so close to someone, so a part of
someone else. She had never known
that she could be capable of feeling such…longing, such desire.
But Murdoch, with his patience and love had taken the love-struck young
girl that she had been and awakened the passionately in love woman that she
became. And now they had a son
together, and again, she was shocked and surprised at the emotions surging
through her. Utter and complete
love for the small bundle suckling her breast, an overwhelming desire to protect
her small child, to hold and cuddle and love him.
Her heart overflowed with love for her child, for her husband.
Tears filled her eyes, and ran down her flushed cheeks. Never, at any other point in her life, had she experienced
such happiness and contentment. God
had given her all that she could hope for, and she was grateful.
“Oh, my son,” she whispered, “we have so much ahead of us.
Such a good life. I promise
you, my darling. I promise.”
The rain began around three a.m., and continued all day and into the
night. Harlan paced the front room
of the cabin, a sense of foreboding settling over him.
Mr. Maguire had been unable to leave for Lancer to relay the news of
Scott’s birth, and during the afternoon, Catherine had seemed to sicken.
She was feverish and in pain. He
could tell at a single glance that the Maguire woman was concerned.
Whatever was happening with Catherine, he was certain it was beyond the
skills of this backwoods midwife. And
the baby. He had cried for almost
two hours this afternoon before settling into a fitful sleep.
And only an hour ago, little more than 36 hours after his birth, he had
refused his mother’s breast. Catherine
was distraught and ill and worried. Like
her son, what little sleep she had managed to get had been fitful.
Something was wrong, Harlan knew it.
Memories of his wife’s difficulties haunted him.
She needed a doctor, that was clear.
And the only doctors available were in San Francisco.
He had to make a decision. They
couldn’t remain here. He knew
Catherine would not recover under the dubious care of Bridget Maguire. But San Francisco was still almost a week’s journey away.
Could she handle the trip? Could
the baby, especially if he continued to refuse his mother’s breast?
Harlan was uncertain, and that was a feeling he hated. He was a man who always studied the situation, all
alternatives, and then made a decision. He
seldom agonized over his decisions, seldom had to go back and re-think a
decision. But this was his
daughter, his grandson. He could
not afford to make a mistake. But
he could not afford to let his daughter continue to languish under this
woman’s care. There was only one
choice open to them. He had to be
strong enough to make the choice, and Catherine and Scott had to be strong
enough to endure it. As soon as it
was light, Harlan determined he would confer with Donnelson about the best way
to proceed. He had to get Catherine
to San Francisco and the care of a competent physician.
They could delay no longer.
Bridget Maguire stood on her front porch, her arms wrapped around her
waist, a frantic look on her features. This
was a terrible mistake, but she couldn’t make that man understand.
She stood there and watched the men prepare the wagon, and knew that this
was wrong. But Harlan Garrett
refused to listen to her. In fact,
since late last night, he had refused to allow her to even talk to Catherine.
The woman was terribly ill, Bridget knew that now.
And she knew the reason. She’d
seen it before. Childbed fever. She needed to stay here, let the fever run its course, but
Mr. Garrett had decided otherwise. He
was taking that poor girl to San Francisco.
Bridget had a terrible feeling about this. But there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t force Catherine to stay here, and she
couldn’t force the girl’s father to change his mind.
All she’d been able to do was convince Mr. Garrett that he needed to
hire a wet nurse to go along with them. Catherine’s
milk had turned sour, and the baby was refusing her breast.
Before first light this morning, she had sent her husband out into the
country to ask Lucy Davis if she would come.
The poor girl, who’d been left a widow only three months ago, had lost
her newborn baby only four days ago. She
was still grieving, both for the loss of her husband and her only child, but her
milk had come in, and she could nurse Catherine’s infant.
When she had suggested it, she had held her breath, expecting Mr. Garrett
to refuse. But he had at least
agreed to it. At least the baby
would have a chance to make it to San Francisco.
And that was something Bridget had no hope for for Catherine. Lucy had arrived an hour ago, and she’d taken to the baby
immediately. Bridget knew it
wasn’t fair, but there was nothing else to do.
The baby needed to nurse, and Lucy could do it.
Maybe it would help her over her grief, but Bridget doubted it.
More than likely, Lucy would become attached to baby Scott, and then once
this was all settled, however that might be, she would be faced with losing
another baby. It wasn’t fair, but
she couldn’t stand by and let that baby wither and die from lack of milk. She shook her head and wondered how this was going to turn
out. Why wouldn’t Mr. Garrett let
her see Catherine? She could help
the girl, if he’d just allow it.
She watched as the men loaded food supplies into the back of the wagon.
They’d already loaded it up with a couple of mattresses, pillows,
blankets. She watched the man
Donnelson as he supervised his men, and she could tell he had no more liking for
this adventure than she did. There
was only one hope that this could be stopped before it was too late. She hadn’t told Garrett, and she didn’t plan to, but
she’d sent her husband on his way to the Lancer ranch after he’d returned
with Lucy. He would ride hard and
he would ride fast, and hopefully, he’d get there in four days.
Maybe in little more than a week, Catherine’s husband would be here,
and he could go after them, make Mr. Garrett see sense. But again, she just wasn’t sure Catherine could hang on
that long. The fever had taken her
by surprise. Catherine had seemed
tired but fine after the delivery. But
it had just been the happiness of giving birth, it now seemed.
She’d begun to weaken and turn ill within a few hours of the birth.
And then the fever had appeared, and Bridget had known right away it was
childbed fever. She could survive
this, if only her father would leave her be.
But Harlan Garrett was bound and determined that his daughter should be
seen by a doctor. Jesus, Mary and
Joseph, please save that poor girl.
The sun heated the back of the wagon, despite the canopy the men had
erected over it. Catherine lay on
the mattress, drifting in and out of awareness.
It was so hot, and she hurt. And
who was the woman sitting next to her, holding her baby?
Her hand drifted down across her belly.
It was her baby, wasn’t it? Yes,
she had given birth. A boy. Scott. Her baby.
Why was this woman holding her baby?
She’d seen her nurse her baby. Why?
Why was she doing this? Catherine
turned away, reached up to wipe her brow. Thirsty.
She was dreadfully thirsty, and suddenly, a cup was pressed to her lips.
She drank, and glanced up. It
was the woman, the woman who was trying to take her baby.
Catherine tried to push the cup away, but she was too weak.
“Here now, missy. You’ve
got to get some water into you,” the woman said.
“Who are you?” Catherine asked, her voice sounding far away.
“Name’s Lucy. I’m
helpin’ you get you and your baby to San Francisco.”
“I want my baby. Give me
my baby,” Catherine said, trying to pull herself up.
“You just wait there. Drink
some more of this water, and then I’ll get him for you.”
“Scott…I want my baby,” she pleaded, feeling the cup pressed to her
lips. She let the cool liquid
dribble into her mouth, swallowed and saw her vision fade out on her.
Panic rose in her throat, but her eyesight cleared and she stared up at
the woman hovering over her. “Please,
give me my son.”
“Oh, lordy, missy,” Lucy said, resting her hand on Catherine’s
forehead. “You’re on fire.
Let me wipe you down a bit.”
“I want my baby. Please, I
want Murdoch,” she cried, rolling her head back and forth on her pillow.
“I want Murdoch. Please, I
want my husband. I want my baby,”
Catherine said, wrestling around on her mattress.
“You lay still now. I’ll
get the baby, but you gotta lay still, missy.”
Lucy Davis turned and leaned over the basket that held Scott as he slept.
She’d nursed him only an hour ago, and the sweet child had gone right
to sleep. She hated to stir him,
but she knew it was the only way she was gonna calm his mama.
She picked the baby up and turned back around. Catherine was staring at her with feverish eyes, her face
flushed and sweaty. She reached out
for her son, and Lucy laid him in her arms.
“Oh, my darling,” Catherine whispered.
“I love you, my baby. I
Scott stirred in his blankets, and opened his eyes.
Catherine stared into his face, and knew that her son knew her.
She held him to her chest, and felt the tears stream down her face.
Her son. Murdoch’s son.
She kissed his temple, and heard him make a soft mewing sound. She lay back and closed her eyes, felt the weight of her tiny
boy on her chest.
“Missy, you need to let me get some more water in you,” Lucy said,
staring at the stricken woman.
“Not yet,” Catherine whispered, holding her son to her heart.
Lucy poured more water in the mug, then sat it next to Catherine.
She started to straighten the blankets when she saw it, the spreading
stain. Her heart caught in her throat, and then she reached for the
edge of the blanket. Her hand shook
as she hesitated, then she pulled it back.
From the waist down, Catherine was covered in blood.
“Oh, lordy, missy. We need
to get this wagon stopped now,” Lucy said, staring up at the other woman.
But she hadn’t heard her.
Lucy crawled out from under the canopy and stood up, staggering as the
wagon hit a rut in the road. She
looked around, trying to spot Mr. Garrett. He was riding off to the side, just a few yards behind.
“Mr. Garrett. Mr. Garrett,
Harlan had seen the young girl emerge from under the canopy, and his
heart had shot up to his throat. He kicked his horse and trotted up to the rear of the wagon.
“What is it, girl?”
Oh, lordy, Mr. Garrett, she’s bleedin’ something fierce.
We gotta stop. We gotta stop
Harlan dismounted and raced to the tailgate, pulling it down and climbing
up, all the while calling Catherine’s name.
But in the rear of the wagon, Catherine Lancer was resting in a world
that held only her and her newborn son. She
held him gently to her chest, whispering his name, loving him, passing to him a
lifetime of caring. On the edges of
her consciousness, she was aware of someone calling her name, but all she really
heard was the soft, baby murmuring of her son, all she could see were his blues
eyes as they locked gazes. She
smiled at him, kissed his forehead again, caressed the back of his head.
She suddenly heard Murdoch calling her name, but she couldn’t take her
eyes off their son. This was their
time together, and she had to give him enough of her heart to last his lifetime.
“I love you, Scott,” she whispered.
“I love you my darling.”
She held her child to her breast, felt his chest move up and down against
her, felt his soft breath on her skin, and the world around her began to fade
and float away. She whispered his
name again, and felt herself drift away, her last earthly awareness that of her
son pressed to her heart.
Murdoch rode hard, brutally urging his horse on.
The rider had come in four days ago, and he’d been out of the saddle
only an hour since then. And then that damned ambush.
Dear God, it had cost him an hour on top of the hour he’d already
taken. Catherine needed him.
Catherine and their son. A
son. God, she’d given him a son.
Murdoch’s heart was in his throat as his horse galloped on toward
Carterville. Only another hour, and
he would be there. He would be with
his Catherine, he would be with his son. Scott.
His son, Scott Lancer. But
was she alright? The rider, Sean
Maguire, had told him Catherine was ill, seriously ill, his wife caring for her.
The birth had been long and hard, but the baby was fine.
But Catherine. She was ill. He shouldn’t have sent her away.
The trip had brought on labor. This
was his fault. He would do whatever
he could to make it up to her, but please, dear God, let her be alright.
Murdoch urged his horse on, knowing he was doing damage to the fine
animal. But it couldn’t be helped.
He had to get there.
The sun burned against him as he kept his eyes focused on the road in
front of him, and the hour crawled by. But finally, with his heart still lodged firmly in his
throat, he began to make out the outline of a town.
Carterville. He slowed his
horse to a walk, saw the lather on the poor animal’s neck, and knew he’d
probably ruined him. Please forgive
me, God. But I have to get to
Catherine. As he reached the edge
of town, he stopped the first person he came to and asked about the home of
Bridget Maguire. With the
directions he got, he kicked his abused horse to a run, barely restraining
himself from forcing the winded animal into an all-out gallop as he made his way
toward the eastern edge of town. He
spotted the house, sitting off the road, among a stand of shade trees.
He pulled his horse up and stiffly dismounted.
He dropped the reins to the ground, knowing the horse didn’t have the
energy to go anywhere. He turned
and started up the steps to the front porch when the door came open.
A woman, maybe 30 or 35 stepped out, her hair pulled back in a bun, her
clothes homespun and worn. She
stared at Murdoch, and he saw a world of grief in her face.
“I’m Murdoch Lancer. Your
husband told me…” Murdoch said, his voice trailing off.
He couldn’t ask. He didn’t want to hear the answer, couldn’t hear the
“Mr. Lancer,” Bridget said, coming down the steps and gently placing
a hand on Murdoch’s arm. “I’m
And the world suddenly stopped spinning and the ground went out from
Harlan Garrett stood on the docks, the life gone out of him.
His darling Catherine dead. He
should never have taken her away from that cabin.
He knew in his heart there was nothing that midwife could have done for
his girl, but at least she would not have had to die in the back of a wagon,
along a deserted country road. He
had been in shock, hadn’t known what to do.
And then Donnelson had stepped in, taken charge.
He had convinced Harlan they had to go back to Carterville. At first, Harlan hadn’t understood the man’s reasoning.
But then it had dawned on him. They
couldn’t carry Catherine all the way to San Francisco, and Harlan could not
permit his child to be buried alongside the road.
So, they had turned around after only a day and a half on the road and
returned to Carterville. Harlan had
been unable to deal with the Maguire woman, had simply given his orders to
Donnelson. Donnelson had seen to
the burial arrangements, and Harlan had left enough money to pay the Maguire
woman for her efforts, cover the cost of a headstone, a proper gravesite.
Harlan had been unable to do it. He
was too overwhelmed with grief, with loss.
His dear girl, the one person he held in his heart, gone, dead.
He hadn’t been able to face her burial.
It was weak of him, he knew, knew that he’d left his girl to be buried
by strangers. But he’d been too
heartbroken to do otherwise. He’d
gathered her meager belongings, packed them in the wagon with his grandson and
the boy’s wet nurse. Catherine
was all he had in the world, and she was gone.
Harlan stood there on the docks, the sounds and noises swirling around
him, numb to all of it. And then he
heard another sound, the sound of an infant, his daughter’s infant.
And he suddenly remembered that Catherine had not been all that he had in
the world. He had her son, his
grandson. He knew it was wrong,
knew what he was doing was inexcusable, but he couldn’t allow his grandson,
his dead daughter’s son, to live out here in this wilderness, with all its
dangers. When they’d reached San
Francisco, they’d gone to the hotel where he’d first rested upon arriving in
this territory, and there he’d composed a letter to send to Murdoch, telling
him where he was, that he would wait for Murdoch to arrive to claim his son. But as he’d sat there at his desk, the light fading, his
heart growing weary, his grief overwhelming him, he’d taken out another piece
of paper and wrote another letter. It
was wrong, but it was all he could do. He
looked up from his musings, and watched as Lucy Davis set foot on the gangplank,
his grandson grasped tightly in her arms. Harlan watched her ascend, then followed her up, knowing the
choice he’d made, the decision he’d made, would haunt him for the rest of
Murdoch Lancer dismounted, and handed the reins off to one of his men.
He slowly walked toward the house, the house he had shared with his
Catherine, and entered the dim building. His
shoulders sagged with the grief and weariness of a man who had been pushed as
far as he could be pushed. He’d
been too late. Too late to save
Catherine, too late to see her laid to rest, too late to retrieve his son. Harlan Garrett had taken his son, boarded a ship and sailed
for Boston. All Murdoch had was a
hastily written note the man had left for him at his hotel. Murdoch didn’t even have the energy to curse the man.
He was too grief-stricken, too lost, too heart-sore.
Six weeks ago, he had everything a man could want in this life.
Now there was nothing. Nothing
but this ranch, and that was a poor substitute for all that he had lost.
He wearily walked across the room and stopped at the table.
The plate was still there from the interrupted meal of three weeks ago.
He looked down at it, moved it around an inch or two, then swept his hand
across the table, throwing everything there to the floor.
How could this have happened? He
stared around the room, wanting desperately to do something, anything, but there
was nothing to do. Catherine was
dead, and Scott was out of reach. He’d
had a lot of time to think on the long, lonely journey home.
His first instinct had been to go after Garrett.
But he had no money. He
couldn’t go to the man who had lent them money to buy the ranch, he was a
friend of Garrett’s. Murdoch was sure Garrett would have cut off that route.
He’d had no choice but to return to the ranch.
He couldn’t just leave it, and all the people here.
He would have to bide his time, save his money, go after his son. Murdoch glanced around, spotted the cradle over by their bed.
His son. Harlan Garrett had taken his son. He walked over to the cradle and stared at it.
His son should be sleeping there now, not on some damned clipper ship
bound for Boston. Tears suddenly
sprang to his eyes, and he dropped to his knees, a low, deep keening sob working
its way up his throat. He had lost his wife, Harlan Garrett had taken his son, but
this was not the end of things. Murdoch
reached out and grasped the cradle in both hands, tears rolling down his face,
and promised himself that he would have his son back. No matter how long it took, he would have his son.