Maria's Revenge

(A Sequel to “South of the Border”)

By Snicklefritz 


DISCLAIMER:  Although I’ve held these characters in my mind and heart for over 30 years, they are not legally mine.  They belong to the copyright holders of the television western series Lancer.  My story was written purely for entertainment purposes; no monetary payment is intended or received. 



Based on the TV Western Series – LANCER


            Where had they gone wrong, he and his young bride, Murdoch Lancer wondered as he rode back to his ranch, Lancer.  They had once been so happy together.  When had it gone wrong?   

Their marriage had been a hasty one, it was true.  Murdoch had been working as a sheriff’s deputy when he met Maria in Matamoros, Mexico.  He had trailed a killer there, crossing into Mexico as a bounty hunter instead of a law man.  Murdoch had followed the man to the local cantina but had completely forgotten all about the villain when he had spotted Maria dancing. 

 He had forgotten about a lot of things, Murdoch now admitted to himself, somewhat guiltily.  He had spent over a week there before going back to Texas to let his boss, and friend, Joe Barker know what had happened and of his plans to marry the young Mexican girl.  Barker had argued against it, suggesting Murdoch wait until after he’d been to Boston to gain custody of his son, who was being raised by the father of Murdoch’s first wife, Catherine.  Catherine’s father, Harlan Garrett , had come west when he was told of Catherine’s pregnancy.  There was a land war brewing at the time, and Murdoch sent Catherine to San Francisco for her safety, with Garrett accompanying her.  Murdoch had stayed behind to protect the ranch.  To Murdoch’s everlasting grief, Catherine had died in childbirth before reaching San Francisco.  Garrett had continued on, taking Catherine and Murdoch’s son, Scott, to the port city, and had booked passage to Boston—stealing the boy from Murdoch.  When Murdoch had discovered what had happened, he immediately went to Boston to retrieve his son.  By that time, though, Garrett had obtained legal papers giving him custody of the boy and he threatened Murdoch with dire consequences if Murdoch tried to take the boy.  Thugs, hired by Garrett, had reinforced the message and Murdoch had reluctantly left Boston without his son.  Murdoch had every intention of going back, though, once he had obtained enough funds to fight Garrett.  He’d come back to California and sold all of the ranch assets except the land itself; Catherine had helped pay for that with an inheritance from her grandmother and Murdoch had no intention of selling the land.  Then, he had started back across the country, taking odd jobs along the way, until he’d reached Abilene, Texas.  His job as a sheriff’s deputy, and part-time bounty hunter, had been good, steady, work that had helped build his finances to the point he was almost ready to go back to Boston when he met Maria. 

 His Maria.  That was the way he had thought of her then.  They had come together like fire the first night he’d met her.  The week he’d spent in Matamoros was all a blur, except Maria.  He’d gone back to Texas and told Barker of his intention of marrying her.  Barker had urged Murdock to wait until custody of Scott had been decided.  Murdock had reluctantly agreed with the advice.  When he’d returned to Matamoros, it was with the intention of informing Maria about his need to go to Boston and get Scott before continuing their relationship.  Indeed, he even had thoughts of permanently ending the relationship with Maria.  But, like before, he forgot everything when he saw Maria dancing again—dancing for him, he knew.  Then, they’d discovered Maria was pregnant.  Murdoch’s sense of honor wouldn’t let him leave the girl in Mexico to bear his child alone.  Children of mixed race and their mothers were subject to much prejudice—even bodily harm and death—in Mexico and Texas.  There was nothing to do but marry Maria then and there and bring her back to California.  Their son, Johnny, had been born in the newly built hacienda.  Murdoch had been present and held his tiny son in his arms shortly after the boy’s birth.  It was a miracle that Murdoch was sure he would never forget and he had never loved Maria more than that night. 

 But, Murdoch and Maria’s relationship had cooled considerably following Johnny’s birth.  Before that, things had seemed fine, although there had been some tension during Maria’s pregnancy.  But, Murdoch had put that down to the changes a woman goes through during a pregnancy.  Catherine had been short-tempered, too, at times.  After Johnny’s birth, Murdoch had been slow to resume a sexual relationship with Maria, fearing he would harm her.  (It was always in the back of his mind that Catherine had died in childbirth.)  Maria had taken matters into her own hands and they had come together with an intensity Murdoch had never experienced before with either Maria or Catherine.  But, there had been no repeat of that night since then despite Murdoch’s many overtures. 

 Today, it was as though they both were merely going through the motions, Murdoch acknowledged to himself, realizing that he and Maria lived in separate parts of the same world now.  He had the ranch and spent most of his time and energy building it up.  His purpose was twofold:  to build an empire to leave to his sons and to get the funds he needed to fight for custody of his oldest son, Scott.  He’d never really given up on getting Scott back from Garrett.  Still, the ranch, the new house, a new wife and child, were all taking their toll on Murdoch’s finances.    

 Murdoch mentally chastized himself.  He never should have gotten involved with Maria until after the custody fight with Garrett was over.  She was too young; too young for their relationship, too young to have a child, too young to comprehend what it meant to him to get Scott back—just plain too young.  But, they had been in love—both of them.  Murdoch would have staked his life on that.  Now, he wasn’t as sure, but at least he had Johnny and he hoped to have Scott someday, too.  Murdoch had hoped it would be soon.  That’s what made him so mad about the piece of paper in his pocket. 

 “Why, Maria?  Why?  You knew of my plans.  Why did you do this?” Murdoch said out loud, with an ache in his heart that was certainly not physical, as he rode under the Lancer arch.  “Why?” 

 Murdoch banged the heavy front door shut and strode angrily into the Great Room.  “Maria!” he shouted.  As he waited, he looked around the room, taking in the massive carved oak desk, the nicely upholstered sofa and chairs, the comfortable but elegant furnishings.  These had all been Catherine’s things.  She hadn’t lived long enough to see the first turn of dirt for the foundation of the main house, but had sent to Boston for her father to buy and ship what she had wanted to fulfill her vision for their home—giving substance to the dream.  Catherine’s idea for the house, though, was quite different from that which had been built.  She had pictured something along the lines of her childhood Boston home.  Maria had insisted that the house be the Spanish/Mexican hacienda type with an interior that would be a blend of their two heritages—like California itself.  Murdoch had liked the idea and agreed.  The books that lined one wall were also provided by Catherine.  As soon as she became pregnant, she had written her father and asked him to send a good library of books that could be used to educate their children.  Catherine had been concerned by the lack of schools in the area and was determined that their children not suffer from it.  Garrett had left the books in San Francisco rather than ship them back to Boston when he’d kidnapped Scott.  Murdoch had brought them back to Lancer hoping that one day Scott would use them there.  Maria had been delighted to discover the books in storage, insisting that shelves be built in the Great Room for them.  She had made Murdoch promise that a tutor would be hired for their children to educate them.  Murdoch couldn’t deny her and had readily agreed, knowing it was a good idea.  He wouldn’t have the time to tutor their child, and Maria didn’t know English well enough.  The house had cost far more than what he had been prepared to spend, though, and he and Maria had agreed that the furnishings Catherine had bought would be enough until Murdoch had been to Boston for Scott.  Now….

 “Maria!” Murdoch shouted again, annoyed his wife hadn’t appeared yet.  There had to be some mistake.  Surely Maria could explain the paper. 

Maria Lancer stood outside the Great Room out of view of her husband, listening to him call as Johnny played at her feet.  She waited until Murdoch called a third time, obviously angry, then swept Johnny up into her arms none-too-gently, which caused him to whimper, and then she strode into the Great Room, cradling Johnny in her arms.  “Why do you shout so, my husband?  See how you make Juanito to cry?” she accused. 

“That wasn’t my intent,” Murdoch contritely replied, as Maria had intended.  Murdoch took Johnny from her and began to comfort him.  Johnny immediately quieted in his father’s arms, smiling up at Murdoch.  Murdoch, dazzled as always by that smile, smiled back. 

“What could be so important?” Maria asked, moving over to sit on the sofa. 

Murdoch followed with Johnny, putting him down on the rug in front of the fireplace before sitting in his favorite chair.  “I just got back from town.  I have this from the freight office,” he said, handing Maria the piece of paper from his pocket.  The anger was back in his voice now. 

“My husband, you know I do not read English so good as I speak it.  What is this?” Maria asked, holding the paper back out to Murdoch. 

“It’s a notice from the freight office that the table and chairs you ordered will be here in a couple of weeks,” Murdoch replied, strong censure in his voice. 

“Oh good!” Maria exclaimed, seemingly ignoring Murdoch’s obvious anger.  “They will be here in time for—how do you say here—Christmas!  We can invite some people over now that we will have a proper table and chairs.  The Conways, the Talbots, of course, and, I think, Dr. Jenkins.  He has been so good to me and Juanito.  The priest, too, so he will, perhaps, consent to bless our marriage.  And then there is….” 

“Maria, stop!” Murdoch angrily demanded, causing Johnny to look up from his place on the rug, his eyes clouding over.  “Just wait,” Murdoch said more quietly, having noted his son’s distress.  “I’m sending them back.  Maria, we discussed this.  With the cost of the house, this is too much.  I need the money for us to travel to Boston and get Scott.  I told you how important that is to me, that I wanted to do it soon.  Scott will soon be four.” 

Maria jumped up and strode angrily back and forth in front of the fireplace before turning on her husband.  “You cannot do this to me, Murdoch Lancer.  The humiliation of it will be too much for me to bear.  I do this for you and for my son and our future sons.  To have a grand ranchero, you must have a grand hacienda to entertain the right people.  We cannot give grand dinner parties in the kitchen, my husband.  You have said yourself that there will be many changes in California with so many people now that the gold has been discovered.  The war with my people is over.  We must move quickly to secure our lands with the new government to follow.  This will require strong alliances with the right people.  You must secure Juanito’s future, the future of your sons to follow.  This cannot be done from Boston, my husband.  If we follow your plan, you will have Scott and that is all.  Your empire will be lost.  You must be patient, my husband.  Another year and you can have it all.  We will do it together.”

Murdoch shook his head as he stood and went to her, laying his hands on her shoulders.  “No, Maria.  I understand what you’re saying, and perhaps you’re right.  But now, you have to understand this.  I don’t want it all next year.  I want Scott now—this year.  Scott is more important to me than this ranch, than all the important people in California put together.  I can build another empire and we can even have more sons, but Scott is my son, too.  He belongs with me—with us.  Please, Maria.  Tell me you understand.” 

“How can I understand that a son you have never seen is more important than my Juanito?  Is he so important you would humiliate your wife, and look like a beggar to our friends and neighbors?  The furniture is already paid for.  You will look like a fool—a poor fool—to send it back.”  Maria glared at Murdoch in silent rage. 

“Scott is my son, too, Maria.  Yes, it’s true, I’ve never seen him.  But, that doesn’t mean I don’t love him, that I don’t want him here.  And, we discussed the fact that any more furnishings would have to wait until after we returned from Boston.  So, why, Maria?  You knew I wanted to go get Scott soon.  If we don’t return the table, that won’t be possible.  Why did you order it?  Do you hate me—or Scott—that much?” 

Maria steadily stared back at Murdoch.  “How can I hate Scott?  He is a mere child I have never seen.  And, I have said nothing of hating you, my husband.  When we spoke of this matter, I had already ordered the table and chairs.  How could I know you referred to them when you said no more?  I have ordered nothing since you spoke of it, as I have respected your wishes in this regard because you are my husband.  It is you who speak of hate, not I.  Do you hate me, or Juanito, so much as to jeopardize our future for a son you have never seen?” 

“You know that’s not true, Maria,” Murdoch protested. 

“Do I, my husband?  Did you not say Juanito was a mistake?” Maria challenged, throwing down her trump card.

“I’ve never said any such thing!”  Murdoch cried.  “Why would you say such a thing?” 

“You did say it, my husband.  When I told you of Juanito’s coming and was so scared of what could happen, you said you would not let me pay for your mistake,” Maria said, hiding her satisfaction at the stunned look on Murdoch’s face. 

“That’s not what I meant!  You know that!”  Murdoch said, his voice low in shock. 

“Perhaps I did not understand you at the time, then, my husband.  But, there were no words of love between us then; there never have been, so I have been left to my own reasons why you married me based on your own words,” Maria answered, her satisfaction at his shocked reaction now plainly showing on her face.

“I didn’t think the words were necessary.  I thought you knew how I felt and that you felt the same way.  Are you saying you only married me because of Johnny?  That you don’t love me?” Murdoch replied, shock in his voice.  How could he have been so wrong about Maria? 

Maria answered, “I love you as you love me, my husband.”  She bent over and picked up Johnny.  “It is nearly time for the noon meal.  You will join us, yes, Murdoch?” 

“I’m not hungry.  You and Johnny go ahead,” Murdoch replied, staring at the fireplace without seeing it. 

Maria permitted herself a smile as she took her son into the kitchen.  Her plan to deny Murdoch Lancer a son was working.  The idea had come to her the first night they had made love following Johnny’s birth.  After, Murdoch had called Catherine’s name.  In that moment, Maria became sure that Murdoch had only married her because of Johnny, not because he loved her.  She also became convinced that he still loved his dead wife and the child he had never seen more than he loved her and Juanito.  It was he who had insisted that the hacienda be furnished with Catherine’s things, all in an effort to save money to bring Catherine’s son here to steal Juanito’s heritage.  If Murdoch needed the money so badly, why did he not sell the grand piano that sat at one end of the Great Room?  Why?  Because it had been Catherine’s and he would not part with it.  Everything in this house was Catherine’s—including Murdoch, or so it seemed to Maria.  And, so, Maria had become determined to deny Murdoch the opportunity to get Scott back.  The house had cost much more than even Maria had expected and so funds were already tight.  She intended to keep them that way in any manner open to her until it would be far too late to bring Scott to California, away from the only home and family he had ever known.  If she could delay long enough, Maria was convinced Murdoch would lose his battle with Harlan Garrett because the boy himself wouldn’t want to come.  Her smile widened as she thought on it.



            The new table and chairs arrived a few days before Christmas.  The first meal eaten there was one celebrating Johnny’s first birthday.  Murdoch had objected, wanting to hold the meal in the kitchen.  He felt his new foreman and his wife—Paul and Angel O’Brien—and the doctor and housekeeper would be more at ease in the familiar setting of the kitchen where they were all used to eating and sharing good times.  But, Maria had been insistent.  Johnny’s antics of reaching from the security of his mother’s arms and pulling the cake into their shared laps elicited laughter from everyone except Murdoch, who remained in a dour mood despite everyone else seeming to have a good time. 

            Christmas dinner a couple of days later was no more merry for Murdoch than Johnny’s birthday party had been.  Maria had used Catherine’s china pattern and silverware, and everyone had complimented the beautiful table and settings.  Murdoch could say nothing in the face of their comments, and felt like an outsider at his own table.  But, if his mood bothered Maria, there was no outward sign of it as she carried the conversation at dinner, her laughter blending smoothly with that of their guests as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves except, again, Murdoch.  Angel knew how to play the grand piano and, to everyone’s delight, Maria sang and danced for them.   It had been Maria’s dancing that had first drawn Murdoch to her—like a moth to a flame, he recalled.  But, this time, her seemingly carefree dancing only served to highlight the problems between them and he could find no pleasure in it.  That night, Maria said to him, “You must cheer up, Murdoch.  What is done, is done.  You must not be sad because Scott is not here.  You must enjoy what you do have.” 

            “How can I, knowing Harlan Garrett of all people is raising my son, Maria?  I can’t expect you to understand the depth of his hatred for me, but surely you can understand how afraid I am that he’ll turn Scott against me, can’t you?  If you did understand, you wouldn’t have gotten me that bull for a Christmas present.  It cost way too much,” Murdoch replied.  His voice was not angry; he was past being angry.  He was hurt his wife didn’t understand him and that their relationship had unalterably changed. 

            “It seemed so little when compared to what you said you would need to get Scott back.  I’m sorry, Murdoch.  Paul and I thought it was important to the herds you want to raise.  You have said yourself that is where you will make the monies to get Scott back,” Maria explained in seeming innocence.  Murdoch could only nod in acceptance. 

            Much to Maria’s chagrin, the new year brought changes that she hadn’t anticipated when she set out to destroy Murdoch’s chances of getting Scott back.  Even though the new bull’s influence wouldn’t be felt for a couple of years, the cattle operation began to boom, spurred by the population growth in California with the arrival of more gold miners.  San Francisco was growing at a rapid pace, with new business enterprises springing up every day.  Everyone needs to eat, and the cattle ranches of the area were hard pressed to supply the needed beef.  Murdoch decided to buy more cattle and sent Paul to Texas to buy a herd and hire men to herd them to California.  Additional vaqueroes were hired to replace men lost to the mine fields and they rode herd on the cattle as well as patrolled the ranch boundaries to run off would-be miners, squatters, and other land grabbers.  The profit on the sale of the cattle more than offset the added expenses.  Murdoch’s hopes began to soar that he’d be able to go to Boston for Scott sooner than he had expected.  He expressed his hopes to Maria. 

            “When do you plan to go?” Maria asked, her voice indifferent. 

            Murdoch sighed inwardly.  Since their argument about the table, Maria never called him “my husband,” anymore.  It seemed a permanent sign of their changed relationship.  “It’s a long trip, and I’ll need time to find a good lawyer willing to go up against Harlan.  The court proceedings may take a long time.  I want Scott home before his birthday, though—in time for Johnny’s birthday and Christmas.  So, we’ll need to leave within the month,” Murdoch replied. 

            “We, Murdoch?  You cannot mean you wish me to go, too, or Juanito?” Maria responded.  “It will be months.  What are we to do while you fight for this son you’ve never seen?”  She knew Murdoch wanted her to go, and Johnny, too, thinking the court would be more willing to return custody to him since he could now provide a family life for Scott in California. 

            “We discussed this,” Murdoch said, his thoughts turning ominous. 

            “Si, si.  And, if things were as they should be between us, nothing would keep me from your side.  But, sadly, they are not.  It is a long trip for two people who have nothing between them but a son.  And, in Boston, you will not be there and the people there will not be friends with a Mexican woman with a mestizo, I think.  We will be in danger,” Maria replied. 

            “Don’t use that word when you speak of my son!” Murdoch exclaimed, his lips pursing together in anger. 

            “Why not?  I do not say it in shame.  Juanito is my beloved son.  But, it is the truth, is it not?  Perhaps it is you who is ashamed,”  Maria challenged.

            “I’ve never said I was ashamed—not of you, and certainly not of my son,” Murdock angrily replied. 

            “Then, we will speak no more of it.  But, we will not go with you.  It is a fool’s quest you are on.  You risk the life of the son you do have for the one you do not.  I will not put Juanito in such danger,” Maria said.

            “I see,” Murdock replied, turning away, his anger under tight control.

            “No, you do not.  You have not wished to see, and now it is too late for us to be as once we were, I fear.  Go and get your other son if you must, but I will not go with you.  And, when he comes, I will not be a mother to him.  He is your son and her’s; I will not raise him,” Maria flatly stated. 

            Murdock quickly turned back to face his now totally estranged wife.  “You can’t mean that, Maria.  He’s just a young boy.  He has nothing to do with this,” Murdoch pleaded. 

            “I can and I do.  Do not worry.  I will be civil, but nothing more.  I would not harm an innocent child.  Now, go if you must,” Maria ordered. 

            “I don’t want to leave you here alone.  There’s so much unrest right now.  We ran some more squatters off yesterday,” Murdoch said. 

            “Yet, you still plan to go to Boston.  It matters not to me.  Go, or do not go.  It is your choice.  I am staying,” Maria adamantly replied.  “It is no worse than Matamoros where we met.  I could look after myself then, and I can look after myself and Juanito now.  You should not have concerned yourself with me then, and would not have if it had not been for Juanito.  There is less need to concern yourself with me now.  The vaqueroes are strong and will protect me because I am your wife.  Go to Boston and get your son, Murdoch Lancer.” 



            The trip to Boston was every bit as long and hard as Murdoch had known it would be.  The heaviness in his heart as he considered the situation between himself and Maria didn’t help matters, either.  He was only glad that the Boston courts couldn’t know of the situation between them. 

After his arrival in Boston, Murdoch set out to find an attorney to represent him.  It was as if Harlan Garrett knew he was there, Murdoch thought, as he closed the door to yet another attorney’s office.  None wanted to go up against the most powerful businessman in Boston, if not the state.  Garrett’s influence was even worse now than it had been at the time Murdoch was courting Catherine.  For the first time, Murdoch began to feel this trip wasn’t going to be any more successful than his last one.  But, he was here now and determined to keep trying. 

Time slipped by, and resources with it.  Finally, Murdoch was able to locate an attorney who had his own grudge to settle with Harlan Garrett and who agreed to take Murdoch’s case for a nominal fee.  He advised Murdoch against mentioning his marriage to Maria, however, pointing out the prejudice of Boston society—the very society Murdoch was fighting—against foreigners.  So, Maria had been right, Murdoch thought.  He was glad, then, that Maria had refused to come.  It would have been a great mistake.  But what if Garrett already knew about Maria?  Maria had been a mistake, Murdoch thought, just as Barker had said she would be.  Then, Murdoch shook his head.  No, he couldn’t think that way.  Maybe things weren’t working between them as it should, but there was Johnny.  He’d always be grateful to Maria for Johnny’s sake alone.  When all was said and done, Maria and Johnny may be all he had left.  He had to remember that. 

And, it seemed that’s the way it was meant to be.  Despite his attorney’s credentials and contacts as a former judge, another month passed with no progress.  Garrett had blocked all of Murdoch’s attempts to see Scott even in the presence of court officials, let alone get custody.  Court dates were postponed time and again at Garrett’s urgings with little or no reasons given.  It was clear that Garrett’s influence reached far into Boston politics as well as its society.  As Scott’s birthday approached, Murdoch became determined to at least get to meet his son.  He contacted his lawyer to arrange it, but the man advised against it, citing the other times that Garrett had refused to let Murdoch see Scott and had been backed by the courts.  In a fit of fury, Murdoch fired his attorney and stomped out of the office.  Murdoch sagged against the side of the building, all strength leaving him.  He knew Scott was lost to him, perhaps forever, and he’d never even gotten to see his boy. 

            On Scott’s birthday, Murdoch made his way to Garrett’s mansion.  Murdoch planned to confront him and let Garrett know he had won.  Murdoch no longer planned to seek custody.  Standing outside the cast iron fencing, he looked up at Catherine’s former home, wondering how he was going to gain access.  Longing for happier times washed over him, leaving him weak, and he just stood there staring for a long time.  Then, slowly, Murdoch realized that buggies were pulling up to the front of the grand mansion.  A party was being held, no doubt for Scott’s birthday.  Murdoch waited until there was a lull in the buggies arriving, then went to the front door.  A servant, who obviously didn’t recognize him, let him in.  When Garrett spotted Murdoch standing in the foyer, he was furious, but managed to contain it.  He strode over to Murdoch, demanding to know what Murdoch was doing there, but, wishing to avoid a scene, he introduced Murdoch to Scott as a business associate, letting them shake hands.  Then, Garrett took Murdoch into his study and informed him that continued attempts to see Scott or get custody would result in Scott being sent out of the country, permanently from Murdoch’s reach.  Murdoch left Garrett’s house with a heavy heart.  The next day, he sent a letter to Maria letting her know he was coming home, then departed Boston. 

            The journey back to Lancer seemed longer than the trip to Boston had been.  Whereas Murdoch had taken hope with him on his journey east, now all he had were memories of another failed attempt—the last attempt, he knew—to gain custody of his son.  He knew now he’d never see Scott again, not, at least, until Scott was old enough to understand and, perhaps, forgive what had happened.  Maria was lost to him, too, he realized.  Their marriage would never be any more than a shell now.  But, he still had Johnny.  That was the one bright spot in a future that was otherwise too dismal to contemplate. 

            Weeks later, long after what Murdoch had hoped would be a happy birthday for both of his sons and a merry Christmas for all of the family, the stage pulled into Spanish Wells and Murdoch stepped out, glad to be home again.  He assisted a female passenger to disembark, then collected his luggage and piled it on the boardwalk in front of the stage depot.  He looked around, hoping to spot a buckboard or buggy from the ranch.  He didn’t really expect to see one, as it was hard to pinpoint travel to the exact day of arrival, but he had hoped someone might be in town for supplies.  Seeing no one, he strode over to the livery.  “Jake,” he greeted the liveryman.  “I need to hire a horse.”

            “Sure thing, Murdoch,” Jake replied.  “It ‘ll just be a minute.”  Ten minutes later, Jake led a horse out to Murdoch.  “Here ya go.  Reckon things didn’t work out, huh?” 

            “No, and thanks for the horse, Jake,” Murdoch replied, taking the lead rein from Jake.  “I’ll have him brought back tomorrow by one of the hands.”  Jake merely nodded, going back to work on the harness he’d been cleaning when Murdoch had stopped in.  Murdoch thought it strange; Jake normally talked your ears off.  Perhaps it was because he had cut Jake off when Jake mentioned Scott, Murdoch thought.  At any rate, Murdoch was eager to get home and thought no more of it.  He stopped at the stage depot to arrange for the agent to hold his luggage until a wagon could be sent from Lancer, again wondering at the look he got from the clerk.  He figured everyone knew about Scott still being in Boston by now.  He gave the man a tip and left. 

            As he rode toward Lancer, a feeling of dread came over Murdoch.  He realized now that everyone on the street had looked at him strangely—a look of pity on some, others with a look of curiousity.  Not all of them could have known about Scott so quickly.  Something was wrong at Lancer; Murdoch was sure of it.  He spurred the horse to a faster pace.  The view from the ridge overlooking the hacienda was his favorite, but today he didn’t stop to look as he normally did.  He urged the rented horse down the hill and under the arch, not pulling up until he was in the courtyard.  He tied the horse off and went into the house. 

            “Maria!  Maria, I’m home!” Murdoch shouted barely before the front door was open, a note of fear in his voice.  “Maria!  Johnny!  Where are you?”  Murdoch strode quickly through the empty Great Room and toward the kitchen, panic added to his fear now.  “Where are my wife and child?” he asked the housekeeper. 

            “Oh Patron, Patron!” she sobbed, and Murdoch felt his heart break into a thousand pieces as she related that Maria had left him and taken Johnny with her.



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