She was gone. His beautiful bride of just fourteen months was dead. Seated by her bedside, Scott Lancer stared down at her pale, still face. He was dry-eyed now, his cheeks stiff with the salt from the tears he had shed. Scott could cry no more. It did no good; it would not bring her back.
The room was dark now; the hours had stolen unnoticed past him. Only the oil lamp beside the bed was alight and its soft glow fell on the young woman’s now serene features. No more would he see her cornflower blue eyes look back at him with love and a hint of mischievousness. No more would he hold her in his arms and taste the sweetness of her lips. Kezia was gone beyond his world and Scott’s heart was broken.
He closed his eyes as he remembered the first time he had seen her climbing down from the stage in Green River. Scott had been standing on the boardwalk, laughing and talking with his brother. He did not know what had made him turn his head that day. The arrival of the stagecoach in town was such a familiar sight that he usually paid it no attention, but that day was different. She was dressed in navy, the folds of her travelling dress creased and dusty from the trail. Thick tresses of wavy strawberry blonde hair had escaped from her bonnet and there was a large smear of dirt on her nose.
She was arguing with the stage driver as he hurriedly tossed passengers bags down to his companion. He, in turn, was arguing back at her, moaning that he had a schedule to keep and he was already late. Before he knew it, Scott was moving forward towards the stage, leaving his brother in mid-sentence. The young woman had turned at his approach and despite her dishevelled appearance, he was immediately captivated by her. Retrieving her baggage, Scott had invited her to join him for a cup of coffee in the restaurant. She had pointedly refused, but he was not discouraged by her rebuff. Later he had found out she was the niece of Mrs Watkins, the town’s dressmaker, who had recently been widowed. Kezia had come to Green River to be her companion, and over the next few weeks Scott had pursued her, determined to win her hand. Three months later, they were married and it wasn’t long before Kezia became pregnant.
The baby, a boy, had been born four days ago. It had been a long, painful labour and despite Doctor Jenkins’s insistence that he wait downstairs with his father and brother, Scott had refused to leave her side. The new parents were delighted with the child’s healthy cries, although it soon became apparent that all was not well with Kezia. She had lost a lot of blood and the next morning found her feverish and nauseous. Sam was quickly summoned back to the ranch as she grew worse, complaining of pains in her stomach, head and back. The elderly physician had used all his skills to prevent her condition deteriorating further, but in spite of his best efforts the young mother had succumbed, dead at the age of twenty-four of puerperal fever.
Scott sighed and opened his eyes again to look at her still form. He was exhausted from sleepless nights sitting with his ailing wife. and although it had now been several hours since she had taken her last breath, he could not bring himself to leave her. His family had repeatedly urged him to come downstairs, but he couldn’t go – not yet.
He let his head drop into his hands as he struggled to come to terms with his grief. How could this happen again? Why had history repeated itself so cruelly? His own mother had died in childbirth and now his son would grow up never knowing the woman who had brought him into the world. At least Kezia had had a chance to hold her son; Scott never knew if his mother had that opportunity. He had grown up without either parent to care for him. His grandfather had looked after him well and made sure he had everything money could buy, but it wasn’t the same as having a mother or father as other children did. Scott understood now why his father had been unable to bring him up as he wanted to do at Lancer. He no longer blamed Murdoch for seemingly abandoning him during his formative years. The hurt had faded into memory and polite respect for his father had changed to love.
Now he wondered could he show that love to his new-born son, knowing that his birth may have cost Kezia her life. He knew she would not want him to spurn the boy, but in his raw state of loss, it was easier to blame someone, even if that person was an innocent child.
Scott groaned with despair and rubbed at his gritty eyes as he felt the tears form once again. He should leave her now, he told himself. Tomorrow the undertaker and the preacher would come and his wife would be laid to rest beneath Lancer’s rich soil. He had to say goodbye to his beautiful wife forever, and take on the task of raising his son alone.
He climbed stiffly to his feet and bent forward to press his lips upon Kezia’s cold brow.
“I’ll love you always,” he whispered softly.
Then he stood and took a final, lingering look at her before drawing the sheet up and over her head. Scott exhaled slowly, extinguished the lamp and left the room.
Standing at the top of the stairs, he hesitated before descending. He could hear the low murmurs of his family in the Great Room. Scott wasn’t sure he was ready to face them, but he couldn’t avoid them indefinitely. Taking a deep breath, he wiped the last vestiges of tears from his face and went down to join them.
Three anxious faces turned towards him as he entered the room. The large figure of his father was standing with his back to the fire, whiskey glass in hand. Johnny was lounging on the sofa and Teresa was seated in a nearby armchair. No one spoke, but Scott could sense the tense atmosphere in the room as they all stared at him. He stood uncertainly in the doorway and then his gaze fell upon the wooden cradle beside Teresa’s chair. Murdoch had made the cradle for him, but it had remained empty until Johnny’s birth. Now Scott’s son lay there, bereft of his mother when he most needed her. A wet nurse, a niece of their housekeeper, Maria, had been called upon after it had become apparent that Kezia was too sick to feed the baby, and the child had been moved from her bedside. With a shock, Scott realised he had barely seen his son since he had been born, and guiltily he walked over to the cradle.
The baby was peacefully asleep, warmly cocooned in soft blankets and blissfully unaware of the tragic event which had happened that day. Scott stared down at the child, his emotions in turmoil. On one hand, he was filled with love and pride which comes naturally to a new parent, but he was also overwhelmed with pain and sadness knowing that Kezia wasn’t here to share that joy with him.
His family watched him with concern and a degree of apprehension. Scott rarely spoke of his innermost feelings, yet his eyes spoke volumes. Murdoch could see the sorrow and misery etched on his son’s face and his heart ached for him. He knew all too well what it was like to lose a beloved wife. Catherine might have died twenty-seven years ago now, but he never forgot the pain. His grief had been coupled with the fact that his first-born had been snatched away from him before he had had a chance to even see him. It wasn’t fair that Scott had to endure the same fate, although at least his son was present in this house, not thousands of miles away. The question was now, that given the circumstances, how was Scott going to act towards the boy?
Murdoch glanced quickly at Johnny and Teresa, and then crossed to the liquor cabinet to pour a large measure of whiskey. Taking the glass to Scott, he touched him lightly on the shoulder and called his name.
His voice startled the younger man and he looked around in surprise at his father. Murdoch was shocked to see that his son had seemed to have aged ten years in the last few days. Scott’s eyes were red-rimmed with fatigue and his face looked grey and haggard. Grief had hit him hard and Murdoch’s heart went out to him.
“Drink it, son,” he urged, pressing the glass into his hand.
Scott nodded wordlessly and took a small sip, before setting it down on the table. He barely tasted the whiskey and turned his gaze once more to his son.
“Did you blame me?” he said, at length, his eyes still fixed on the child.
Murdoch frowned. “Blame you?”
Scott looked around. “For my mother’s death.”
“No,” Murdoch replied quickly, appalled that his son could think that. “Of course not. If there was anyone to blame, it was me for sending her away, and then not being there when she needed me. When you needed me.”
Scott gave a grateful nod before turning his head back to the cradle.
“It’s not his fault, son,” Murdoch added gently.
“I know. It’s just…….”
“You want someone to blame.”
Scott sighed. His father was right; he needed someone to blame for Kezia’s death, but it was pointless. It wouldn’t change a thing.
“He’s a fine boy, son.” Murdoch said. “He’s home with you, as you and your brother should have been all along. Cherish him as I cherish you and Johnny.”
His words surprised Scott and when he glanced back at his father, he was touched by the rare sign of affection on the older man’s face. Like himself, Murdoch Lancer kept his emotions tightly in check, and for the first time Scott had an insight into how hard it must have been for him before he and Johnny had come home to Lancer. He cast a quick glance at his brother and saw the slight smile play upon his lips as he too registered Murdoch’s words. It had taken them a long time to become a family. Harsh words had been exchanged between the three of them in the beginning, but the last two years had seen a mellowing in their relationship and an understanding of what it was like to be together. Despite the sadness, the new addition to the family was the opportunity they all needed to strengthen that relationship further and look to the future with hope.
“Thank you,” he murmured, swallowing past the lump in his voice. He felt a fleeting lightening of his heart, as if Kezia was telling him to go on with his life. Scott knew he would continue to mourn her loss for some time, but she had left him her legacy in their son and that was something to treasure, not blame.
A soft whimper turned his attention back to the cradle. The baby was stirring, his tiny features twisting in distress. Teresa leapt immediately to her feet to go to him.
“He’s probably hungry…”
Scott stopped her and bent down to lift the infant from the cradle. Teresa glanced anxiously at Murdoch, but he shook his head imperceptibly. He could see the look on his son’s face and knew there was no need to be concerned.
Scott gazed down at his son in his arms. He seemed so fragile, so light, and yet it felt so right holding him. Rocking him automatically, he smiled as the baby yawned and moved his head to snuggle closer to him. The rush of love for his son made Scott almost breathless; how could he think this child was to blame for Kezia’s death? He instantly felt ashamed and mortified for his previous transgression. He would cherish and nurture him just as he would have done if his wife was by his side.
Carrying the infant over to the large picture window behind Murdoch’s desk, he stared out on the moonlit landscape before him. His son was quiet in his arms again, having settled back to sleep. Scott looked down at him, his tears in his eyes this time forming with happiness. He bent forward and kissed the baby’s petal soft cheek.
“Welcome to Lancer, my son. This is your home.”