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MargaretP

 

 

The Visit
The second of The Eliots series, set within the Highlands to Homecoming universe.
With thanks to betas Suzanne Lyte and Terri Derr

Chapter One

“I want to introduce the girl I'm going to marry, and I want to do it properly.”Again, Johnny insisted on getting up to welcome Beth and Katie Eliot to the ranch.

“Nice to know you've so little faith in us, brother. I'm sure anyone of us can introduce Emily—properly. Doc says you're to stay in bed.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Don't waste your breath, Scott. If Johnny can make it downstairs without any help, he can do the honours; otherwise I'll bring our visitors upstairs to say hello to him afterwards.” Emily slipped another spoonful of soup down Johnny's throat when he opened his mouth to protest. He spluttered and scowled at her. Everyone knew he couldn't move from the bed without some kind of assistance.

“You didn't only get shot remember; if that rib had been one inch higher it would have punctured your lung and not your liver. For once in your life, do as you're told.” Scott had had about enough. He was tired. Emily was tired. They were all tired. The only one who was getting a good night's sleep was Johnny. Scott trusted Dr Owens when he said the operation had been a success: “Johnny's guardian angel has been working overtime. He'll make a full recovery eventually.” But his guardian angels on earth had been working overtime too, and they couldn't keep it up much longer without a little more cooperation—at least not with a smile on their faces.

Since they'd got Johnny back to the ranch, Emily had barely left his side. That wasn't Johnny's fault. And he had made an effort for her sake—there were fewer complaints than usual—but Scott wished his brother would realise his constant pleas to be helped downstairs when he clearly wasn't fit enough were putting an unnecessary strain on everyone.

“My turn.” Teresa burst through the door carrying two dime novels. As usual she had come prepared to sit with Johnny for a while so Emily could take a break. “I borrowed these. You have a choice between ‘Davy Crockett' or ‘The Rivals of Barrel Gulch'.”

“Go away. I don't need to be watched all the time.”

“Don't be such a bear with a sore head.” Teresa leaned on the end of the bedstead and grinned as Johnny glared back. “I think ‘The Rivals'. Barrel Gulch is supposed to be somewhere in Arizona. You might know it.”

“Humph.”

“Doc said to keep a close eye on you in case of infection or complications, and that is what we intend to do.” Emily held another spoonful of soup up to his mouth.

Johnny pushed it away. “I don't want anymore.” Emily lowered the spoon. Removing the napkin from under Johnny's chin, she draped it over the bowl and got up from the bed. Johnny grabbed at her hand. “I'm sorry.”

Scott and Teresa turned away and pretended to discuss the merits of dime novels. After a minute or two, Emily moved to the door. “Enjoy the story. I'll be back soon.”

Scott had only popped in for a short visit. He glanced at his brother now lying with his eyes shut. He had lost that death's door pallor, but he still looked hollow-eyed and the weight had just fallen off him. “See you later, brother.” Johnny raised a finger in acknowledgement, and Scott followed Emily from the room, closing the bedroom door behind them. “How much did he manage?”

“About half.” Emily looked pale in the dim light of the hallway. Scott took the lunch tray from her, and she led the way to the back stairs. “Dr Owens said it would be a while before his appetite returned to normal.”

“I know, but a Johnny that doesn't eat isn't natural. I'll be a lot happier when he's demanding tamales and beans.”

“You and me both, but he ate more than yesterday. He is improving.” Emily descended the stairs in silence, but then turned to face Scott. “You know, I'm not really looking forward to meeting new people right now, not even Elizabeth and Catherine Eliot. Do you think I could just hide up in the bedroom with Johnny?”

“I'm sure it would be fine, but there's no need to be shy of Beth and Katie.”He manoeuvred past her, and she followed him into the kitchen. He placed the tray on the bench next to the sink. “They were disappointed you didn't come with us to San Francisco for the wedding. Don't get me wrong. They understood perfectly when Johnny explained about the deadline for your research, but they did want to meet the woman who'd put such obvious joy in my brother's heart. I know Katie would like to hear more about your work too.”

“I'm sure she was just being polite. Miss Eliot and her mother have had articles published in the Woman's Journal. I can't imagine they really care about my work.”

Scott was quite certain Emily was wrong about that, but time would show her what the Eliots were really like. He wouldn't argue. “Does Katie write articles too? I didn't know.”

“Oh yes. She wrote one recently about women in education. I found it very interesting—and helpful.”

“Helpful?”

Emily transferred the dirty dishes to the sink and turned on the faucet. Cold water flowed steadily into a shallow enamel bowl as she added hot water from the kettle and used the soap shaker to create small suds. “She provided a list of institutions offering higher education and research fellowships to women.” Emily blushed. “I thought maybe after Johnny and I marry—whenever that might be now—when life is more settled I might approach one of them. I'd like to publish my work under my own name.”

What could he say to that? It was ironic that Johnny, whose own education had been virtually non-existent, should fall in love with a young widow as educated and academic in her interests as Emily Morris. It reinforced Scott's theory that lack of opportunity was the only reason his brother couldn't read and write very well; intelligence didn't come into it.

“Are you ready?” Murdoch came into the kitchen and grabbed one of the sandwiches Maria had left out for lunch under a damp cloth in the centre of the table. He looked weighted down and weary, and it wasn't just worries about the washed out bridge at Willow Crossing or the mauled remains of a calf found in the southern hills the day before. Murdoch had kept watch by Johnny's bedside every night since they'd brought him home. Late night was virtually the only time Emily ever left Johnny's side for more than half an hour. She had to sleep. Teresa, Jelly and Scott all took turns in the evening when Emily was particularly tired, but Murdoch wouldn't allow any of them to stay up through the night. As Scott had to carry most of Johnny's workload during the day, Murdoch was even reluctant to let him stay up after ten o'clock. His father would relieve Emily—or whoever else had taken over—near midnight and read the Iliad or do bookwork by his son's bedside until dawn. Then when Emily reappeared, he would retire for a much-needed nap. “I'll change my shirt and check on Johnny. Then we'll go.”

Emily followed Murdoch back upstairs. Scott helped himself to a couple of sandwiches and headed out to the barn where Jelly was harnessing the horse to the new carryall. Murdoch had ordered the double-seated carriage soon after Johnny and Emily got engaged. With an extra lady in the family the buggy with two men riding along side would no longer suffice. Apart from one trip to church, this would be the carryall's first outing.

Murdoch barely spoke a word on their way to Morro Coyo. He had aged ten years since last seeing Beth and Katie at Jim and Alicia McIntyre's wedding. Hard to believe it had only been three weeks. Scott clapped his father on the knee before getting down from the carriage. He was glad he didn't have to break the news to the Eliots about Johnny; there was no good way of saying it.

Murdoch wasted no time. As soon as he and Scott had helped Beth and Katie from the coach, he told them, “Johnny sends his apologies for not being here to meet you, but he's been shot. He's confined to his bed.”

“Oh my goodness, will he be all right?” Beth put a hand to her heart.

“He will, but it was a close call.” Murdoch looked to his feet. “If I had my wits about me sooner, I'd have warned you before you left San Francisco—in case you didn't want to be here.”

“Of course we want to be here.” Beth clasped Murdoch's hands and was rewarded with a weak smile. “But do you want to be bothered with visitors? We can return to my brother's by the next stage if you can't cope with us.”

Scott was intrigued by the way the two friends communicated without speaking. Beth let go of his father's hands and hugged him. The tension of the past few days seemed to melt from Murdoch's shoulders.

“How did it happen?” Beth looked between Murdoch and Scott.“I thought Johnny had given up his life as a shootist.”

“He has.” Murdoch's tone brooked no argument. “It wasn't his fault.”

“Things like this don't normally happen here.” Scott wasn't sure why he felt the need to say that, but the alarm lingering in Katie's eyes may have had something to do with it. The last thing he wanted her to think was that the San Joaquin Valley was some uncivilised frontier and his brother was still hiring his gun or attracting those that were. “It was an accident. An argument between Emily's brother and a business associate got out of hand. Johnny was caught in the crossfire.”

Beth continued to ask questions as Scott transferred the ladies' luggage to the carryall. Katie didn't say anything, but she kept looking around and every time Scott reached for the next bag—the Eliots did not travel light—he saw her eyes fixed on a man with a gun.

“Emily's brother is now in jail awaiting trial for fraud, and the man who shot Johnny was buried six days ago.” Murdoch handed Beth up into the front seat of the carryall and then climbed up to the driver's seat next to her. Scott was relieved his father didn't say who killed Collier. The sheriff was mentioned and Johnny exonerated. There was no need to distress their guests further with unnecessary detail. Where had Scott heard that sentiment before? He helped Katie into the carriage and joined her on the back seat.

She didn't say a word until they left the outskirts of town; she seemed enthralled by the buildings and people they passed along the way. Eventually she did turn around and look at him, but sadly, her gaze settled on his hip.“Why do all the men here wear guns?”

Scott stiffened. “I wouldn't say all.” Damn it. Why hadn't he left his gun belt behind? Murdoch wouldn't have travelled the Morro Coyo road completely unarmed, but if even one of them had greeted the Eliots not wearing a weapon, it would have given a better impression. If he hadn't worn one, maybe Katie would have been less likely to notice the others. “I suppose most of us working on ranches do, but these days a gun is used more for scaring the cattle in the right direction than anything else.”

He could see the rifle on the ledge under the driver's seat. It wasn't that obvious unless you knew it was there. Looking away in case Katie followed his line of sight, he focused on the smooth leather upholstery between them instead. Their hands were a mere finger width apart. He had visions of taking hold of hers and telling her not to worry. Nonsense. What was he thinking? It was far too soon for that. He banished his hand to a jacket pocket, and glanced over to see if Katie had noticed. Her eyes flickered away from the rifle, not his hand, and Scott's fingers tightened to a fist.

Murdoch pulled the carriage over when they reached the high point overlooking the ranch. The sun was low in the sky now, and the hills a purplish brown with a thin collar of white capped mountains behind. The fields and the hacienda were still bathed in sunshine, but shadows crisscrossed them and in another couple of hours it would be dark. Scott reached across Katie, directing her eyes to the grey-blue horizon.“Those mountains in the distance are the Sierra Nevada.”

“They remind me of the Alps in Europe.” Katie shaded her eyes with her hand. “California is so different from Massachusetts. Except for your ranch below, I can't see any buildings. It's all open land.”

“There's room to breathe.”

“But isn't it lonely living so far out of town? We've already driven for some time. How long will it take us to get to Lancer?”

“About another half hour to reach the hacienda, but we've been on Lancer land for the past twenty minutes.” Scott smiled, but Katie's enthusiasm was less than he hoped for. She seemed unnerved by the openness.

She cheered up considerably though when the Lancer arch came into view, and she could see vaqueros and other ranch folk. She waved at a group of children at the entrance to the yard, and they ran along beside the carryall. Rummaging in a small drawstring purse, she extracted a paper bag full of jellybeans. “Want one before I give them away?”

Scott laughed and accepted a little taste of Boston. “These remind me of the only food parcel I received during the war. Grandfather swore he sent others, but they never reached me. The nature of war, I suppose.” The parcel contained mostly tinned meat and fish, but at the very bottom there was a large fruit cake and a bag of Schrafft jelly beans, which he shared with his men. Somehow they had made them last a whole month.

Katie's wouldn't survive that long. The niños swooped on the bag like locusts as soon as the carryall came to a halt. “Gracias, Señorita. Gracias.”

“Share them now, and no fighting.” Katie laughed as the eldest boy solemnly doled out the candy, one precious bean at a time, before turning at the sound of her name. Teresa must have been watching for their arrival. She flung her arms around her friend and was only slightly less exuberant with Beth. “How wonderful to see you both.”

After several minutes of hugs and enquiries, Teresa hurried ahead to tell Emily their visitors had arrived. Jelly and Walt stepped forward to deal with the baggage, and Murdoch and Scott escorted Beth and Katie into the house. The two women had already taken off their hats and gloves, and were admiring the great room when Emily appeared.

“Ah, there you are.” Putting his arm around Emily's shoulder, Murdoch ushered her forward. “Beth, Katie—I'd like you to meet my future daughter-in-law, Emily Morris.”

“How do you do?” Emily greeted the Eliots with diffidence, but neither lady was satisfied with reserved politeness. Beth hugged and kissed Emily, and then watched as Katie did the same, the expression of thoughtfulness on her face like one Scott dimly remembered from his youth.

Forbidden to be shy but still visibly not at ease, Emily led everyone upstairs to say hello to Johnny. Scott winked at her as he entered the room and elicited a small smile.

“This is not the best way to get out of wearing that suit, Johnny. How are you feeling?” Katie sat down on the end of the bed.

His brother flinched as the springs gave under her weight, but it was almost imperceptible. Scott was sure their visitors couldn't have noticed. A fraction of a second and Johnny was laughing and reaching out for Katie's hand. “I'm fine. I'll get up later and join you downstairs.”

“No you won't.” Beth kissed Johnny on the cheek and took the chair Teresa had vacated by the bedside. Scott looked over at his mother's best friend; maybe one of their visitors was more observant than he thought. Johnny opened his mouth to argue, but his eyes locked to hers, and he closed it again.“I'll come up and sit with you after supper, if that's all right with Emily?” Beth glanced over at Emily, standing at the foot of the bed. She nodded, unmistakably surprised to be asked. “You can tell me your version of how you got into this predicament. I love a good story.”

Johnny blinked and swallowed. He looked between the four women surrounding his bed and then at Scott and Murdoch by the window. “Don't I have a say?”

Beth smiled. “Like most men in my life when they're sick I'm sure you've got a lot to say, Johnny. Fortunately, I've got selective hearing.” She leaned forward and patted him on the hand.

Scott held one arm across his chest and the other hand over his mouth, trying desperately not to catch Murdoch's eye as he did the same. The expression on Johnny's face was priceless.

The end result was that for the first time in days, Emily spent most of the evening downstairs. She actually appeared to relax. At one point during the evening she suggested relieving Beth, but Katie waved away her concerns. “Mama will just send you back downstairs. Leave her to mother him a bit. Take it from me, she does it exceedingly well. Besides I have news about a certain Jake Telford. Did Teresa tell you that he was rather attentive at the wedding?”

“Oh.” Teresa turned bright red and glanced towards Murdoch and Scott in alarm.

Katie's eyes danced. With a charm that was impossible to refuse, she smiled over at her hosts. “Would you gentlemen please excuse us for a few minutes? This is women's talk.” Without waiting for a response, she turned her back and leaned forward, drawingTeresa and Emily into a huddle.

Murdoch chuckled and pushed himself out of his chair. “I think I'll get some more drinks.”

Scott drained his glass and handed it to his father. Then he took the opportunity to go upstairs to collect a book about bridge building he'd left by his bed. If he was going to supervise the reconstruction of the bridge at Willow Crossing he needed to know the difference between a truss and a stringer. The ladies' conversation shifted to how many times Jake had asked Teresa to dance, before he was out of earshot. By the time he returned, it was back to more male-friendly topics and their merriment was equal to the laughter he had heard coming from his brother's bedroom. Johnny clearly wasn't finding Beth's company too hard to bear.

Beth came down an hour later and joined Emily on the sofa. “Asleep. Now my dear, I think it's your turn. If you'll excuse me for saying so, you look worn out. Off you go. We'll work out a roster between us to keep an eye on his lordship.”

“But you've come so far. The least I can do is stay up to talk to you on your first night.”

“We've plenty of time to get to know each other, and besides, I don't expect the rest of us will be much later.” Beth put her hand up to cover a yawn, and then checked the watch hanging from her chatelaine. “Dear me, it's not that late, but I really am tired. I'm not used to all this travelling.”

Emily did as she was told, and as Beth predicted the rest were not far behind. Murdoch headed up to Johnny's room with the Iliad in hand, and after saying his good nights to the ladies at the bottom of the stairs, Scott went out to check on the night watch before he also turned in. It didn't take long. These days there was only one man on the roof and two patrolling the grounds around the hacienda and yard; there had been nothing more frightening than a fox in the henhouse for months. Scott prayed it would stay that way, at least for the duration of the Eliots' visit.

He was heading back inside when he saw movement amongst the trees at the south end of the patio. Curious, he went to investigate. “I thought you'd gone to bed.”

“Soon. I'm not as tired as Mama, more in need of stretching my legs and a little fresh air.”

“A stagecoach journey will do that to you.” Scott leaned against a pillar and watched Katie glide between the trees like a dryad in the moonlight.

“They certainly weren't blessed with a lot of space, and there must, I fear, be a water shortage in California, judging by some of our fellow passengers.” Katie's eyes twinkled. She took a deep breath and gazed up into a starry sky. “The air here is amazingly fresh and clear. I feel like I could reach up and touch the constellations.”

“It's the lack of other light. In the city the street lamps somehow make the stars seem less vibrant.”

“Speaking of vibrancy, Johnny is definitely not looking like he did in San Francisco. He's so frail and those bruises...” The wonder on Katie's face switched to concern.“He must be hurting a lot. I'm sure I saw him wince when I sat on the end of his bed. Didn't the doctor give him something for the pain?”

“Laudanum, but Johnny refuses to take much of it.” Scott hooked his thumb into his belt and kicked at the ground.“He's past the stage we can force him.”

“Well, I suppose that's good news, but I can't believe one bullet in his shoulder could have made him so unwell. What kind of place is this that men take guns to business meetings anyway?”

Scott chose not to answer that last question, but Katie's distress forced him to reveal more of the story. “We didn't want to alarm you and your mother more than necessary. Johnny was beaten up a few days before he was shot. We—“

“What do you mean? Why? I thought Murdoch said he was injured when Emily's brother and his business partner started fighting.”

“He was—mostly. It's complicated. Glen Rust didn't approve of his sister's choice of husband. When he couldn't persuade Emily to break off their engagement, he tried to scare Johnny off. We think his rib was cracked by the thugs Rust hired, and later when Collier fell on top of him the bone broke completely and was shoved inwards.”

“My goodness, Johnny must have been in agony. But I don't understand why Mr Rust would go to such lengths. Surely he knew Johnny had given up his life as a shootist and as part owner of the ranch he had a real future to offer Emily. Why was he so against them being together?”

“His history as a gunfighter was only part of it. Mostly Rust didn't like the fact that Johnny is half-Mexican.”

“Oh, I see. How terrible for Emily—I expect Johnny wouldn't care what such an ignorant man thought if it wasn't for her.”

Scott nodded. “Congress can pass laws declaring men equal, but there are always some who will harbour hatred for no other reason than skin colour or religion.”

“I find that incredibly sad.” Katie studied her hands, twisting the cameo ring on her finger. “But you were explaining about Johnny's injuries and I interrupted. Please tell me the rest.”

Scott worried he might say too much, but keeping Katie in the dark about the events and the extent of Johnny's injuries hadn't proved to be the best idea. She was obviously shocked by his brother's appearance that afternoon. “Apart from his shoulder Johnny didn't say he was in pain. The doctor saw to the bullet and cleaned him up, and Emily and I took him away. It was getting late by then so we decided to spend the night at the hotel. I sent word to Murdoch to collect us the next day.” Scott started to pace. “Thank God we did stay in town, because in the morning Johnny wouldn't wake up. Doc Owens recognised what was wrong in a matter of minutes, but it meant another operation and no one was sure what the outcome would be.”

Scott shook his head. He still couldn't quite believe it. Johnny hadn't said one word about his gut hurting, and later when Scott asked him why not he just changed the subject. So help him, once his pig-headed idiot of a brother was well enough Scott was going to beat him to a pulp for not saying anything. Johnny's habit of downplaying his injuries had put them all through the longest three hours of their lives.

Katie seemed to read his mind. “Johnny is not very good at admitting he needs help. He's still not used to having people who care about him.”

“No.” Scott shrugged and looked up to the sky. “It's taken him some time to trust and he still thinks he always has to be the strong one.”

“He's lucky to have a brother who cares about him and understands him so well.”

“It works both ways.”

“Of course. No one knows that better than me. I have three brothers, remember. I'm not blind to the strengths and hazards of brotherhood.” Katie stifled a yawn. “Excuse me. A little stroll in the moonlight and I'm ready for my bed. Will I see you in the morning or do you need to work?”

“Even a rancher gets a few hours off on Sunday for good behaviour.”

“I'm glad. I'll see you at breakfast then. Good night, Scott.”

“Good night, Katie.” Scott watched her go, slim and graceful, tantalisingly close but with that Boston reserve that would keep them respectably apart. He stared up at Perseus and Andromeda. Johnny was a little like Perseus; too prone to putting himself in danger for the sake of a woman. To be fair though, maybe that was a Lancer trait and not just restricted to Johnny; his own record was no better. He had to admit, he wouldn't mind a chance to fill the role of knight in shining armour for Katie.





Chapter Two
In the morning Scott rose at dawn as usual. He met with Cipriano and helped some of the men load the last of the timber and nails needed for the new bridge onto the wagon ready for the following day. By the time the first bell rang for breakfast, his stomach growled for oatmeal with eggs, bacon and biscuits to follow.

He cut across Teresa's garden towards the kitchen door. What would the Eliots make of mealtimes? It had taken him a while to get used to fewer courses and plainer fare. Poor Teresa: she'd made such an effort. If she only knew how Spartan the table looked to him when he first arrived.

Scott had almost reached the arch into the courtyard when he saw Beth sitting on the bench seat beneath the old orange tree. Her hands were neatly folded in her lap as she gazed at the rose climbing the adobe wall; the first soft-apricot blooms of spring nestled in the greenery.

“Good morning. I've always like that rose too. It has the most wonderful scent in the evenings.”

“I know. Your mother planted it from a cutting I sent her from my mother's garden. I'm so pleased to find it's survived.” Beth smiled up at him and patted the seat next to her. “I miss Catherine even now. It's comforting to find a symbol of our friendship flourishing here.”

Scott sat down and removed his hat. He fingered the brim as he rested his elbows on his knees. “I never knew about the rose. Murdoch didn't say.”

“It's possible he doesn't know. I sent the cutting to Catherine during her first year at Lancer, after she wrote of being a little homesick. Your mother wouldn't admit feeling that way to Murdoch. She was always afraid he'd think she regretted marrying him. She never did of course. Your mother loved your father and her life here. She was just a little lonely at first, being so far away from all her friends and family. Murdoch was working most of the time, and neighbours lived so far away in those days; she had to learn to entertain and occupy herself.”

“The ranch must have seemed like another world from her life in Boston. I found it hard to adjust at first, and I'd some experience of roughing it in the army. For a young woman, especially one from high society, it must have been ten times as difficult.” Scott gripped his hat more tightly. Would she have come if she had known what it was like? Would any young gentlewoman from Boston?

“She was in love and determined to make her new life work. Never underestimate what a woman can do when she's in love.”

“But she never told my father how she felt, about being lonely or homesick?”

“I think he guessed and did what he could, but no, as far as I know, she never admitted it openly.”

“I always imagined my parents' marriage to be a good one without any arguments or secrets.”

“I was your mother's best friend and confidante before and after her marriage, Scott, and I can assure you it was a good marriage, one of the best. All husbands and wives argue occasionally and keep small secrets from each other. Some would say that's what makes for a happy marriage.”

“You don't mean that. You don't argue with Dr Eliot or keep secrets from him, I'm sure.”

“You make me laugh, Scott—and cry a little—that you might really think like that. Your grandfather cared for you in every way money could buy, and he loved you, but you have missed out on so much by not being part of a normal family. I'm sorry. I should have found a way to include you more in our lives.” Beth took his hand in hers and ran gentle fingers over the calluses. “You have a rancher's hands now, strong and honest like good leather. It was one of the things Catherine loved most about your father. She used to say she always felt safe when his hands held hers.”

Scott stared at his hands. They had hurt like hell the first few weeks at the ranch, but he had struggled through the splits and grazes until they'd toughened up. Now they served him well and he barely noticed them at all. “I wonder…” There was insistent clanging, and they both looked towards the house. “The second bell for breakfast—we'd best go in.”

He offered his arm to Beth and they joined the others at the table. Scott couldn't quite work out whether it was because almost everyone had had a decent night's sleep or for some other reason, but they all seemed more light-hearted. Even Murdoch, who had dozed by Johnny's bedside most of the night, whistled an old Highland air as he and Scott got the carryall ready to take them to church.

Aggie and Buck Addison had invited them to dinner afterwards. Everyone went, except for Johnny and Emily. Scott thought it very neighbourly of the Addisons to invite the Eliots so soon after their arrival; likely it was a subtle attempt by Aggie to take the pressure off the family while Johnny was so unwell.

“Everything looks delicious, Aggie. You really shouldn't have gone to so much trouble on our account.” Beth helped herself to peas and carrots and passed the serving dish along to Murdoch.

“I must confess I have an ulterior motive.” Aggie moved the potatoes to where her guest could reach them.“I'm chairwoman of the Green River branch of the American Women's Suffrage Association. Forgive me, Beth, but I was hoping to persuade you to say a few words one day during your stay—an open lecture?”

“Well, I hadn't planned on making any speeches while I was in California.”

“I know, but I couldn't believe our good fortune when Murdoch told me you were coming.” Aggie smiled her appreciation in his direction, but Murdoch was engrossed in a conversation with Buck about the merits of Yellowstone National Park. “I had to ask. I've admired your work for abolition and women's rights for years, and several younger members are interested in what Katie can tell them about educational opportunities.”

“Oh, please say you will.” Lowering her wine glass, Teresa cut across Murdoch and Buck's conversation to add her support for the idea.“I'm sure ladies would travel to hear you from other towns as well.”

Beth laughed at the eagerness in her face. “You make it very hard to refuse. How do you feel about the idea, Katie?”

Sitting between Buck and Scott, Katie appeared reticent. “I'd rather leave the speech-making to you, Mama, but I'm happy to talk with those who want more information about colleges or training afterwards.”

Scott gave Katie a look of sympathy and offered her the gravy. He had been at the wrong end of both Aggie and Teresa's enthusiasm before. It wasn't easy to say no. Dropping her eyes to her plate, Katie gave a little shrug and avoided looking at him again for some time.He was sorry about that, but he was glad she'd refused to stand up before an audience at a public meeting. He was not sure he approved of women speaking in public. He didn't think badly of Beth. She was older and had come from an abolitionist background. He knew she'd only ventured to speak outside the salons and private gatherings since the war. For a more mature woman, public oratory was perhaps acceptable, but there was something unseemly about it for younger women.

“That's settled then. We're here until Monday week, Aggie. Name a day and if it's all right with Murdoch, we'll both be there.” Beth placed her hand on Murdoch's wrist as she spoke and he turned from his discussion with Buck. “Can you take us to Green River on…?”

“Friday, Murdoch.” Aggie beamed around the table. “I took the liberty of provisionally booking the reception room at The Occidental for the afternoon. Charlie Foster has the type set for tomorrow's Gazette to say two o'clock. I need to let him know today if the day and time suits.”

Speaker and transport confirmed, Aggie slipped out between the apple pie and the coffee to ask one of the hands to ride into town with a message for Charlie Foster and The Occidental.

“Trust Aggie to have everything pre-arranged,” Murdoch chuckled later as he described the dinner-time ambush to Johnny and Emily. “I hope you really don't mind, Beth? I should have warned you Aggie can play dirty.”

“But it's such a good idea, and I'm so looking forward to it.” Teresa stood at the end of Johnny's bed, gripping the brass bed knob. “I only joined the AWSA a few months ago, and there is such a lot I don't know.”

“And exactly what sort of things do you want to know, my dear?” Borrowing one of Johnny's spare pillows, Beth twisted around in the armchair and put it behind her back. “What should I include in a speech to a Californian audience?”

Her request opened a floodgate of feminine conversation; the men could hardly get a word in edge ways. Certainly, Scott had never heard Emily talk so much. She was as eager as Teresa to hear Beth speak, and was actually prepared to abandon his brother for the afternoon. “Maria would see you didn't starve, and Jelly could see to anything else. As long as you have a bell or some way of signalling when someone is needed, I think you could be left on your own for a while by then.” She pecked Johnny on the cheek and followed the other women and Murdoch from the room.

“Thank you, Beth!” Johnny raised his arms to the ceiling as soon as the door closed.

“Looking forward to being on your own, brother?” Scott sat down in the armchair.“I can't say I blame you.”

Taking a notebook from his pocket, he contemplated the problems of the day ahead. How much timber and rock would they need to construct the new bridge? His pencil scratched at the page as Johnny tried to help by calculating the quantities in his head. Eventually, though, Johnny's eyes closed, the muscles in his face relaxed and his breathing became slow and regular.

Murdoch relieved Scott just after ten o'clock. “Get to bed. You've a big day tomorrow.” Scott got up and stretched, and his father took over the armchair. “With luck he'll sleep through the night. The pain wakes him if he rolls.”

It wouldn't if Johnny would only take a decent dose of the medicine the doctor left for him, but even Doc had given up pointing that out anymore. Johnny declared the laudanum tasted foul and dulled his head as much as the pain. He would take a small swig when nature called so he could get up to use the commode rather than the urinal bottle, but otherwise he preferred to suffer and keep his wits about him.

“It's up to him, Scott. I've no concerns now. You've all done a marvellous job. Stop worrying.” Dr Owens descended the stairs to the entrance hall the following morning and accepted his hat from Emily. Since Johnny had been brought home he'd called every second day, but that would no longer be necessary.“I'll come again at the end of the week. By then I should be able to take the stitches out.”

“Does he still need to be watched during the night?” Beth appeared in the archway from the great room.

“Beth, I didn't see you there.” Murdoch reached out his hand and led her forward. “Allow me to introduce Dr George Owens from Green River. He's the surgeon who saved Johnny's life.”

“I'm very pleased to meet you, Dr Owens.”

“The honour is mine, Mrs Eliot.” Dr Owens bowed. “My wife has been telling me of your visit. I understand you are to give a speech on Friday in support of women's suffrage, a subject very dear to her heart.”

“And to yours too, I trust?”

“I love a peaceful home too much for it to be otherwise, Ma'am.”

Beth's eyes danced. “You and my husband would get along very well, I think, Dr Owens. He is a surgeon too, and his answer would be very much the same.”

“Your husband is Dr Robert Eliot, the Head of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, I believe? I was reading an article in The New England Journal of Medicine written by him only the other day. Please pass on my regards.” The doctor gave another small bow and picked up his bag from the hallstand. “To answer your question earlier: as long as someone looks in on Johnny now and again and makes sure he follows my instructions—in particular that he remains lying down—there is no longer any need for a constant vigil, day or night.”

“We should perhaps tie him to the bed then, Murdoch, when we want to go out, but you'll be able to get a proper night's sleep tonight.” Beth smiled and slipped her arm through his as everybody laughed.

Overnight supervision was duly abandoned, Emily was persuaded her presence by Johnny's bedside was not essential every minute of the day, and the ranch returned to a degree of normality. It seemed to Scott that without obviously imposing her will on anyone, Beth called the tune.

She began to treat Scott more openly like a nephew—or even one of her own sons. “At the start I looked out for you for your parents' sake. Every time I saw you, Catherine stared back at me. I see her in you now: the way you are with people and how you stand up for what is right. I grew very fond of you as a small child, but when Murdoch started to write in his letters that he would soon be able to bring you back here, your grandfather prepared for a siege. Contact between us was one of the casualties, and it didn't ease up again until you were nearly ten years old. Not long after, you were off to school and then the army and Harvard. It was too late and always too risky to do anything but watch over you from a distance. You'll never know how often I wanted to scoop you up, and make you one of my own.”

Scott was touched by Beth's words. In a way he'd sensed the link between them. Beth had been the mother-figure in his life for as long as he could remember, even if, as she said, they'd both been obliged to keep their distance. What intrigued Scott more was how she now extended the role of mother hen to include Johnny and Emily—and what absolutely astounded him was that they allowed it.

Beth and Emily talked a lot during the Eliots' stay, and Scott witnessed the benefits to Emily in the spark in her eyes and the colour in her cheeks. They were discussing the fact that Beth's suffragist friend, Lucy Stone, had graduated from the same college in Ohio as Emily when they discovered an even closer connection.

“Your maiden name was Rust? My goodness, your father wasn't by chance Arthur Rust?” Beth reached out and took Emily's hand. “My father is James McIntyre of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.”

“The lawyer who defended Micah Daniells and prevented his return to slavery—really? My father wrote regularly to James McIntyre all through my childhood.”

“What a small world we live in.” Scott sat between two conversations, catching snippets from each. He had worked a long day, and his mind was by now more focused on the way the firelight reflected off Katie's hair, than on Oberlin College or the household routines of a ranch. “Did you hear that, Katie? Your grandfather and Emily's father used to correspond.”

“I think they met at a convention in Philadelphia,” Beth added. “What a pity your father didn't live to see his life's work come to fruition. I know it was one of the proudest days of my father's life when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. He made a special trip to Washington to witness the vote.”

Before the topic of Arthur Rust and James McIntyre's friendship was exhausted, Scott and Katie went upstairs to spend time with Johnny. Jelly had been playing checkers with him, but he came downstairs early saying he was tired.

“You've got to let him win occasionally, brother.”

“I do usually.” Johnny stared up at the ceiling. Scott did understand. When the rest of your body didn't work, it was hard to rein in the one part that did. Johnny had a strategist's brain and it was crying out for exercise. “Open that window, will you. It's stuffy in here.”

Scott got up from the hard-backed chair he was sitting on and opened the sash behind him. A strong breeze lifted the curtains. The rain had stopped now, but the air felt cool and damp. Johnny inhaled deeply and grimaced as he changed position under his blankets.

“Do you want me to take that extra pillow away now?” Katie rose from the armchair beside the bed. She helped Johnny to some water and then rearranged the pillows so he was lying flat. Scott smiled at Katie's thoughtfulness, and just for a second his wished he could change places with his brother.

“Thanks.” Johnny closed his eyes, but kept talking. He had just finished reading Oliver Twist and was surprised by how much he'd enjoyed it. Who would have thought? Confinement had a silver lining if Johnny was tackling books worth reading. Scott and Katie talked about the story with him and suggested other books they thought he might like until eventually they received no response. They continued between themselves, discussing Dickens in whispers. Then Johnny snored softly and they fell silent.

After several minutes, Katie glanced in Scott's direction. He smiled back, and she blushed.

His heart missed a beat. “Do you…?”

“What's that?” Startled she looked towards the window. A long lonesome howl cut through the darkness.

“It's only a coyote. It's a long way off. Nothing to worry about.” Scott rose and went to close the window.

But Katie looked frightened. “They don't come near the house, do they?”

“No. Sometimes they try to steal chickens or calves, but I've never known them come close to the hacienda. The night watch soon scares them off.”

“By shooting at them?”

Damn. He hadn't meant to remind her of guns again. He'd been so careful since the first day. He even took his gun belt off and on in the barn.

Before he could think of a reply, the door opened, and Emily came in to check on Johnny.

“Asleep already? This is getting to be a habit.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek and he smiled in his sleep.“Your mother is determined to send me to bed early.”

“Mama is a great believer in sleep as a cure-all.” Katie got up from the armchair. “It's time I said good night too.” She nodded awkwardly to Scott and followed Emily into the hallway.

He watched the door close behind them. Damn, damn, damn.

But by morning Scott was relieved to find no lingering signs of distress. Casual chatter resumed over breakfast, and before he left for the bridge, Emily was fielding questions about her work.

“Beth and Katie were really interested,” Emily said when he came in at midday. Getting an enamel bowl from the kitchen cabinet, she put it on the tray with the bandages and iodine she needed to re-dress Johnny's wound. “I hope to take Katie to see the herd of wild horses I'm studying before they return to San Francisco.”

Scott smiled, and refrained from saying, ‘I told you so'. “Maybe you can help Katie become less wary of the countryside. She seemed quite frightened last night when she heard a coyote howl.” Scott stepped back to let Maria get to the dishes she needed. He was in the way, but he'd been thinking about this most of the morning. Emily might be able to help Katie feel more at ease, and he might not get another chance to talk to her privately about it. He glanced over at Maria, but she was busy by the sink again. “It's strange she's so unsettled by the idea of wild animals. Her sister is fanatical about every kind of animal imaginable. You and Victoria would get on very well in fact. She once brought a snake into their house. Katie must be used to all sorts of creatures appearing unexpectedly. Though I suppose she did know the hognose was harmless.”

“Yes, I expect that could make a difference, but I think her anxiety is a combination of things. She's used to paved streets and buildings with people everywhere. I found it strange coming from Ohio and that must be a lot more like here than Boston.” Emily picked up the tray and headed towards the back stairs. “Don't worry, Scott. I'm sure she'll get used to the ranch in time, and if she doesn't, well, she's only here for a visit after all.”

Scott felt the heat rise up the back of his neck. Emily's look of innocence was noticeably teasing. Her staying at the hacienda definitely had pluses and minuses. They were more comfortable with each other, and he was becoming better at reading her moods. Unfortunately, it seemed she was also getting better at reading his.

As for Katie, she appeared perfectly at ease when he saw her later in the day. He came in shortly before supper and followed the sound of laughter to the annexe. The ladies were exploring the rooms Johnny and Emily would live in after their marriage.

“We decided to do up the O'Brien's old living quarters, but also take in two adjoining rooms.” Emily stood in the centre of the main room, combining living, dining and kitchen. “We added the hallway to link them to the rest. The smallest room will be my study so Johnny doesn't have to trip over all my papers and books. The next smallest will be a proper bathroom. Johnny ordered the bath when he was in San Francisco, but it hasn't arrived yet.”

“I presume this bedroom will be yours? The view to the hills is breath-taking.” Katie emerged from the door on the left. She was wearing a cream muslin dress with green leaf-pattern and an emerald sash that hugged her waist. Oh, to trade places with that sash. Scott slumped back against the exterior wall next to the doorway, and breathed deeply. He tried to bring his mind back to more gentleman-like thoughts, but he was thwarted by every sideways glance.

“And the spare bedroom is just in case.”

Scott's eyes were all for Katie, but he heard the teasing in Beth's words.

And the blush in Emily's reply. “It can be used for storage in the meantime.”

“I'm impressed. Any woman who can persuade those men to spend money on plumbing instead of cattle has my seal of approval.” Beth tested the faucet. There was a gurgle in the pipes, a splutter and then a satisfying stream of cool, clear water.

“It's working! I hadn't even checked. The hacienda was connected up before Johnny was injured, but the plumber ran out of copper pipe.” Emily cupped her hand under the faucet and drank deeply.

“I do like the fabric you've chosen for the curtains; I love the way they float up in the breeze. And your cushions are gorgeous.” Katie sat down on the sofa and examined the needlepoint more closely.“These scenes must have taken you hours. The horses look almost alive.”

“They do, don't they?” Emily plumped down beside her. “Maria made the cushion covers for us after Johnny showed her some of my sketches. All her needlework is beautiful.”

“Really? I must ask her to show me more. And you must show me your drawings. Why don't you frame one or two for the walls?” Jumping up, Katie started to circle the room. “You could do with something between the window and the dresser—and there; though perhaps a mirror would be better by the door so you could check your appearance before heading out. Wouldn't you agree Mr Lancer?”

His presence discovered, Scott came in from the porch and leaned against the doorframe. He tipped his hat in agreement, his eyes returning her smile.

“Thank you both for your suggestions and praise. It's refreshing.” Emily got up from the sofa and winked at Scott. “As my future brother-in-law will confirm, arguing the finer points of construction and home decorating with a man who never even had a bed to call his own until recently has been a little challenging.”

Beth opened the oven door and peered inside; her interest curious given she'd probably never cooked in her life. “Johnny may not like to talk about fabric and paint colours, but I'm sure he'll appreciate a few home comforts as much as the next man.”

What Johnny appreciated most, as everyone could clearly see, was Emily. The rest would follow naturally enough. Scott envied his brother. The relationship he had with Emily was special.

Would Scott ever be so lucky? He sometimes wondered, though not with the same despair or resignation he'd felt a few months ago. Lately, possibilities kept prodding him, and Katie's smile or her laugh or even the smell of her hair made inroads into his mind, often at very inappropriate times. ‘It's early yet,' he kept telling himself. ‘Today's fire is tomorrow's ashes'. But try as he would to rationalise his feelings, he still caught his breath every time she entered a room. Katie Eliot was amazing, and... No, he wouldn't think about the ‘and'. You've been bitten once before, Scott Lancer, and look how that turned out. Be more circumspect.

He was afraid, though, that Emily wasn't the only one to have an inkling of his feelings.Scott was almost sure Beth had a notion. She didn't say anything outright, but that evening when they went for a stroll, Scott got the distinct impression she wouldn't object if his relationship with her daughter developed beyond friendship. Murdoch, Teresa and Katie were walking well ahead, but Beth preferred a more leisurely pace. “I'm pleased you and Katie are on better terms now. I'm afraid she's far too much like me at that age, too ready to go into battle before clearly identifying the enemy.”

“She was right though, about my behaviour back then.”

“Maybe so, but she was too impatient and thoughtless. If she had used her brains a little more than her tongue, she would have realised you were just going through the same sort of restlessness that a few of her cousins went through, and they worked their way out of it too. Not many men—or women for that matter—know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the age of four like her brother.”

“How is Bob?”

“We received a letter from him two weeks ago. He says to tell you he's bringing you a bottle of Jamaican rum when he comes for his cousin's wedding, and he hopes to enjoy another night with you like the one you spent together on Little Brewster Island in '68.” Beth laughed as Scott stiffened. “Don't worry; I'm not going to ask what that means. Sometimes a mother is better off not knowing what her sons get up to.”

Scott was relieved about that, especially when—if—anything did develop between him and Katie. He suspected if that were to happen, Bob wouldn't be so eager to re-enact their Independence Day escapade either.




Chapter Three

“You look tired.” There was a bounce in Katie's step as she descended the stairs on Wednesday morning.

Scott gulped air and glanced in the hall mirror. She was right. “I didn't sleep well.”

That was an understatement.

He'd spent the night on Little Brewster Island; wading through saltwater at the landing place, laden down by prettily plump flesh and petticoats. His head was as foggy as the dank atmosphere around him, rum and cheap French perfume warming his blood. He'd laughed and scared a seagull from its perch—on a bridge? That couldn't be right.

“Shush, you'll wake up the neighbours.” Bob Eliot collapsed next to him and pointed to the lighthouse towering above them. He propped up a half-empty bottle of navy rum in the gravel. “Stay.” Then he rolled on top of the trollop in his arms.

Scott turned to the girl by his side, and his heart jolted. He no longer held the blonde with cherry red lips and powdered skin. Instead he gazed into soft brown eyes and his hands were untying an emerald green sash. The eyes smiled at him, and his innards turned liquid. But then something happened—he couldn't remember what—and all at once Teresa was there, asking Katie which necklace to wear with her dress. And then Emily appeared and Murdoch and Beth and there were too many people all together. He grabbed at Katie and she faced him, but only for a second, because then he was on his back on the ground, and Bob was standing over him in full naval uniform, flaming mad. “I'll have you flogged, Lancer.” And Johnny appeared with his gun drawn. And Katie screamed. And Scott woke up. His bed was a tangle of sheets and the sun was coming through the window, and he had to haul himself up to face another day.

That was two hours ago.

“I'll be better after breakfast.” He brushed aside Katie's look of concern with a smile and escorted her through the arch to the dining table. He held the chair out for her and then sat down by her side.

His eyes kept wandering in her direction. It happened whenever they were together. Worse still, he was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his work; his mind kept reliving conversations or making plans for what he would say or do when he next saw her.

He'd managed to keep his feelings securely under control until Monday morning, but it had been a slippery slope since then. He'd left the men working on the new bridge and headed back to the hacienda in time for luncheon—that's what Teresa had called it. “A light repast of cold cuts, salad and fresh bread.” It sounded very appetising—better than the bread and cheese he would have had if he'd stayed by the river—but he was amused at how civilised they'd become at the hacienda since Saturday. But maybe things were rubbing off in both directions. Entering the back way, he discovered Katie in the kitchen courtyard playing hopscotch with some of the children.

“Well done.” Scott clapped as she successfully completed the course, one hand clutching the pebble and the other holding her skirts away from her feet.

“Oh my, how long have you been there?”

“Not long.”

The little girls giggled and Katie gave them a stern look. “Is Señor Scott telling the truth?”

Standing behind her, Scott held a finger to his lips, and the children giggled again. Katie whipped round, but too late; eyebrows raised he gazed blandly back. “I'm offended you don't believe me.”

“Mamacita says Señor Scott is a man to be trusted, Señorita. She says we should follow his example.” The eldest girl bobbed a curtsey, and she and the others scurried away before Katie could ask more questions.

Scott tipped his hat and made a quick exit into the kitchen. The little Miss—he hadn't expected that. The girl and her friends had spied him watching from the arch leading to the garden even before Katie bent over to pick up the stone. He should have looked away then, but he didn't. It had been a difficult morning, the axle on the wagon bringing the timber for the bridge had broken and they had to carry the materials the final quarter mile over rutted ground. The sun was well up by the time they got started. He'd come back to the hacienda briefly for breakfast, mainly because he wanted to hear the latest from Doc Owens, who was due to check on Johnny at about that time. Then when he returned to the bridge, he had to break up a fight. The two drifters they'd employed to help with the extra work were knee-deep in water throwing punches at each other over a card game the night before. One of them fell back against an insecure support, and the whole structure came crashing down around their ears. “Clear off.” Scott had thrown two dollars into the puddle at their feet, and turned a deaf ear to the excuses—that kind of help a rancher could do without, and the sooner those young rednecks learned that the better. But then of course the bridge crew needed more men. By the time he'd diverted some vaqueros from the fencing, got the wagon back to the ranch for repairs and happened upon the hopscotch, he was hot and dirty and damned fed-up. A glimpse of stocking-clad leg and a shapely ankle in tan button-boots was just what the doctor ordered.

The memory served him well for the rest of the day, and when he came in for his supper he was pleased to find Katie in the courtyard again; this time she was sitting on the bench seat by the kitchen door shelling peas with Maria. “I wish your daughter every happiness, but it's so unfair that she can't continue teaching, at least until they have children of their own.”

“Si, Señorita. We women must sometimes make hard choices. Catarina loves her job, but she loves her young man more.”

Scott knew Katie was not one for airs and graces, but listening to the housekeeper's private concerns while helping her prepare the evening meal? Genteel young ladies in Boston didn't cook, and they certainly didn't chitchat with servants; their days were filled with social engagements and fashionable pursuits. Once he got over his astonishment, he helped himself to a pea from her bowl. “Sweet.”

“You wait, Scott Lancer.” Katie slapped his hand away as he reached out for more.

Maria smiled at them as she got up and took the bowl from Katie. “Gracias, Señorita. Supper will be ready in half an hour, Señor Scott.”

She disappeared into the kitchen, and Scott went to sit down next to Katie, but then Jelly appeared wanting help to get the wheel back on the wagon now the axle had been fixed. “That good for nothing, Walt, hightailed it soon as the chow bell rang. You'll excuse us, Ma'am, but unlike some, I'm not a man who likes to leave a job half done.”

“The ranch work comes first, Jelly. I quite understand. It's time I went to tidy up anyway.” Katie brushed some pea stalk from her skirt and returned inside. Scott watched her go, and the warm glow that had been forming inside him fizzled out.

Jelly set his cap firmly back on his head. “Well, you comin'?”

Scott nodded and followed him back to the yard. Why did Jelly have to pick now to become so damned diligent?

The evening was no better. Teresa monopolised Katie, comparing the domestic side of ranch life with the city for most of the evening, and then that blasted coyote spoiled the one opportunity they had to talk privately. Not that Scott would have said too much. Certainly it looked like Johnny had dozed off, but Scott had shared a few campsites with his brother and he'd never heard him snore. “I'd lay money Johnny wasn't really asleep.”

Ulysses tossed his head and blew gently as his hooves squelched on the still damp ground the next morning. Scott patted the gelding's neck; Ulysses was always a sympathetic listener. They were on a low part of the road to Willow Crossing. “After we've finished the bridge, I'll put the crew onto extending the culverts here so you don't get your shoes wet. This road should have dried by now.”

All the roads had dried by the afternoon, and Scott wasn't surprised to hear over supper that Murdoch had driven the Eliots around some of the more accessible parts of the ranch.

“It's a pity you couldn't come, Scott.” Katie sat next to him at the dining table, and her arm brushed his as she reached for the butter. Her hair smelled of rosemary. “Murdoch took us to see the most beautiful waterfall and we drove quite a way along the river.”

“Not as far as Willow Crossing unfortunately.” He smiled. It was good to hear Katie so enthusiastic.

Murdoch reached for a biscuit from the basket. “We turned up the old back road towards Green River. It needs repairs.”

“Would it be possible to go further afield—on horseback?” Katie looked hopefully at Murdoch.“In Boston, I go riding almost daily, but I don't get much opportunity in San Francisco. My cousins aren't interested.”

Scott nearly choked in his hurry to offer his services. Katie filled his glass with water, but even after drinking, it took him several seconds to stop coughing. “Excuse me. The bridge is well underway, sir. If nothing else crops up, I could show Katie more of the ranch the day after tomorrow.”

“Good idea. I'm expecting the new agent from Miller and Lux in the morning, and then I've an appointment in Spanish Wells the next day, but I'm sure you won't miss my company. Did you want to go horseback riding, Beth?”

“No thank you, Murdoch. I prefer the comfort of a carriage. I would, however, like to buy Emily and Johnny a housewarming gift. Perhaps Emily and I can come with you to Spanish Wells?” She raised an enquiring eyebrow at Emily.

“There's no need to do that, Beth. I'm grateful for the thought, but…”

“No buts. I intend to buy something whether you're with me or not. I'd just prefer to know you actually liked it.”

“That's agreed then.” Scott put down his water glass. “Teresa, what about you?”

“Someone should stay here for Johnny.” She took Scott's empty plate and stacked it on top of her own. “Besides, I've some letters I want to write, and while you're all away would be a good time.”

Finally the Fates were on Scott's side.

He dressed with considerable care for his ride with Katie on Thursday morning—western but with eastern flair. Pushing memories of another ride to the back of his mind, his hand passed over the brown cravat and he selected a crimson one instead. Julie Dennison was part of his past now. He would always care for her, but their romance was definitely over. He came down the back stairs and checked his choice in the different light of the great room mirror; not bad if he did say so himself.

“Very smart,” Murdoch murmured as he passed from the kitchen to his desk, a coffee in one hand and his eyes glued to the latest stock agent's report in the other.

Scott started and stared after at his father. Murdoch tapped the face of the grandfather clock. “Losing time. Needs cleaning.” He sat down at his desk and started rummaging in the bottom drawer. Exhaling, Scott escaped into the hall. “We should be back well before dusk.”

The Eliots descended the stairs as he entered the hallway. Katie was dressed for riding in Boston-style. “I borrowed Teresa's hat. None of mine had a broad enough brim for the Californian sun. I added the ribbon. Do you like it?”

“Very much.”Scott swallowed and forced his eyes upwards as she twirled.

The ribbon matched her apple green riding habit. Made from the finest Merino, its short tailored jacket and long, flowing skirt clung to her in all the right places.

“My lady.” Scott bowed and kissed her gloved hand.

“Sir.” Katie nodded and smiled with a slight flush to her cheeks. She slipped her arm through his and bidding farewell to Beth, they walked out to where the horses waited.

Jelly was tightening the girth on the side saddle while Teresa supervised. She grinned and raised her eyes to the sky. He was holding forth as usual. “I don't care what you say. Anyone using this contraption on a horse must be plum crazy.”

Scott leaned into Katie, glad of any excuse to hug her arm more firmly. “Jelly has never been very enthusiastic about side saddles. It's nothing personal.”

Spinning round, Jelly snatched the cap off his head and puffed out his chest. “Beggin' your pardon, Ma'am. I don't mean no disrespect.”

“I assure you, Jelly, I'll be quite safe. I was taught to ride this way. But I take your point. It may not be the best style of riding for a ranch.” Katie stroked the mare's head as he made the final adjustments to the saddle. “I wouldn't mind learning the other way if you would teach me.”

“Maybe I could. Ain't hard seeing how you seem comfortable with horses.”

“Thank you, Jelly. I knew as soon as we met you were a kind and understanding man. I'm sure you'll be a wonderful teacher.” Katie gave him a peck on the cheek. “Next time I come, I'll make sure I bring suitable clothes.”

While Jelly was doing an impersonation of a beetroot and not knowing where to put himself, Scott helped her onto the saddle. Then after a quick check of the saddle bags, he mounted Ulysses and they moved off. He looked over at Katie as they walked the horses out of the yard. “I could teach you, you know.”

“I know, but I think I'll let Jelly show me. He seemed so pleased to be asked. I wouldn't want to disappoint him. I'll let you show me other things.” Her eyes twinkled. Urging her horse to a canter, she was several lengths ahead before Scott spurred Ulysses to catch up.

He showed Katie a great many things that day, from the cave paintings near Cedar Canyon to the falcon chicks in the eyrie on the cliffs above the south gully. Katie was a born horsewoman, and they were able to go places he'd never dared take Julie. Even so, he cautioned her more than once. “The horse is used to the terrain, but not to that kind of saddle. Be especially careful on the hills.”

“You're just afraid I'll beat you to the top.” Katie laughed and urged the mare forward.

Scott grinned and gave chase. They crested the hill neck and neck. “You handle a horse well. And—dare I say it? You seem more at ease with the openness of the countryside.”

“How could I not be when it is all so beautiful?” Katie turned in her saddle and shaded her eyes as she scanned the valley and the mountains in the distance. “How much of this land belongs to Lancer?”

“Almost all you can see. To the foothills in the east and up to the second line of trees that way. Murdoch purchased an estate consisting mostly of Mexican grant land when he came here and then added to it.”

They walked the horses along the ridge, chatting and laughing together. The horses seemed a little restless, but Scott was too focused on how the sunlight reflected in Katie's eyes to pay them much attention. He saw the twig caught in her hair though. Did he dare reach out and remove it? “I'm sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked, if you knew what that is?” She pointed down the bank to a small tree heavily covered in bright magenta flowers.

“It's a Californian Redbud. There are quite a few around here. It will flower until about April and then little heart-shaped leaves appear. There's a bigger one up ahead.”

They were riding towards a small grove of trees. A steep trail would take them from there down to Cuddy's Creek and a pretty glade where they could have a bite to eat.

Katie pointed to the far side of the valley. “Do you—”

A squirrel suddenly dashed across their path, scuttling from the copse to a tree just behind them. Katie's horse danced sideways, shaking its head.

Scott reach over to help her, but Ulysses began to play up as well, and he had to look to his own. “What's the matter with you? It's only a squirrel.”

They settled the animals and moved forward, but the mare kept tossing her head and snorting.

“We'll stop once we reach the shade, and I'll check your saddle; something is bothering her.” Scott couldn't understand it; the three-year old was normally so well-behaved. He'd chosen her for that reason. Blast it, he should have worn his gun belt; stashing it in his saddle bag had seemed like a good idea at the time, but horses often sensed dangers before they could be seen. Katie seemed more relaxed about the countryside now so maybe she would be about the gun as well. Regardless, it was better to be safe than sorry. It was probably nothing, but he'd put his gun belt on when they reached the grove, just in case.

Then his heart froze. As they entered the trees, Scott heard a low purr-like growl.

The mare reared.

Katie grabbed mane and shortened the reins. The horse sidestepped, and then backed up, stamping and snorting, neck muscles tense. Katie struggled to keep control and Scott could do nothing to help her.

Restraining Ulysses with one hand, he twisted to undo the saddle bag with the other, the gelding corkscrewing and backing up under him. Ulysses snorted in panic as Scott fumbled with the straps. The cat was on its feet, crouching, snarling and baring its teeth. It had probably been asleep in the tree, but now it was awake, angry and preparing to pounce.

The mare reared again, nostrils dilated and eyes wide with fear. Katie was thrown back. Scott fired. The cougar jerked in the branches. He fired again, and the big cat crashed to the ground with a heavy thud.

Spinning round, the gun shot still ringing in his ears, his whole body zinged like a spring released. Thank you, God! Katie had stayed in the saddle. She had held the mare in check and stopped it from bolting, but it was still prancing. Scott grabbed Katie's reins and helped her settle the horse down. “Are you all right?”

“Shush now. Good girl.” Panting, Katie stroked the mare's neck. “I…yes…I think so.”

For several minutes they soothed their horses before they were calm enough to navigate the path down the hill. Scott led the way to the glade by the creek. Idiot! He should have worn his gun or at least carried a rifle.

He helped Katie untangle her skirt from the pommels and dismount, finding sanctuary for her under the shade of a willow. She was trembling. Splashing water on the back of his neck, he rinsed his cravat in the creek and returned to her side with the damp cloth. “Here, use this to cool your skin. It will help you get over the shock.”

He went back to the horses and retrieved the food they had brought with them. Wedging the bottle of ginger beer between rocks on the creek bed, he filled a tin mug with water, and crouched down beside Katie again. “Drink slowly.”

Katie sipped and coughed, but she held up a hand to stop him coming to her aid. “No. I'm all right. It's just very cold.”

“The creek is snow-fed. It comes from those mountains.” Scott pointed eastward.

“I've read about wilderness, but never experienced it before. That was a little too close for comfort.” She attempted a smile as she gripped the mug two-handed, still shaking. “This is not the type of country where ladies should go riding alone, I think; at least not ladies brought up in Boston.”

Scott watched her. “You do get used to it.”

“Perhaps I could get used to the open spaces and the climate, even most of the wild animals—maybe not big cats. What was that—a cougar? I thought so.” She managed a weak laugh. Taking another sip of water, she breathed deeply. “I'm not sure I could get used to the need to carry a gun everywhere though—or the idea that it could be used on men as well as animals.”

“That hardly ever happens these days.”

“It just happened to Johnny, and—”Katie gave a little shake of her head and looked away from him.

“And?”

Katie didn't answer immediately, but then she inhaled and met his gaze. “And I'm told you were the one who killed his assailant.”

The trembling had stopped, but a mixture of fright and challenge was not what Scott had hoped to see when he next looked into her eyes. Who'd told her?

She studied the water in her mug. “So it's true…I…no.”

“Go on. What were you about to say?”

Katie glanced away. When she turned back to face him, her voice was low and unusually sad. “It seems Johnny has had a greater influence on you than the other way round.”

Scott stiffened.

“I shot a man attempting to kill other men, one of them my own brother. I will not apologise for that. I take no pleasure in it, but I killed men with less cause during the war.” Snapping the stick in his hands, he stood up and took a step towards the stream. He could feel her eyes on his back. Breathe, Lieutenant Lancer—about face. “What would you have had me do?”

“I don't know. I'm not saying you were wrong, but killing in war is different.” Katie drained her mug and looked up. Strands of hair hung loose around her face. “I do wonder how men recover from the traumas of war. How you recovered.” She blinked rapidly and looked away again, a slight tremor in her voice.“I had thought the war was over, that the killing was over, but now I find that here in California it's still part of everyday life—your life.”

Scott rested his head against the gnarled willow bark. She'd nearly been killed through his negligence. She had a right to be a little upset. “It's not a big part of my life, and God-willing it won't be any part of what lies ahead, but my future is here at Lancer with Murdoch and Johnny. It's not their fault, but there is certainly more risk here than in Boston of my having to use a gun again.”

The air smelled of warm grass and woodland, and sunlight glinted through the canopy above them. A cicada began to sing. The grazing horses and the splash of water over rocks were the only other sounds to be heard.

“Grandfather McIntyre says when an obstacle appears seek another path or come back to it later with greater understanding.”

“He's a wise man.”

“Forgive me. I'm shaken and not myself. Let's talk about something else.” Katie closed her eyes. Then turning where she sat, she began to unwrap the cloth holding their food. “It's amazing how hungry fresh air and a little excitement can make one feel.” She took some cornbread and an apple and pushed the remainder towards Scott. “I think I could manage some of that ginger beer now if you would pour me some.”

Scott looked up and watched a sparrow add a straw to its nest high above in the branches. Rubbing the tension from his neck, he went to retrieve the bottle of ginger beer from the creek. The glass felt cool enough and nothing fizzed out when he tested the stopper so he settled down beside Katie and poured a little into both mugs.

Katie bit into her cornbread, quickly cupping her hand under her chin when some crumbled onto her lap. Once finished, she picked up one of the crumbs and popped it into her mouth. Catching his eye, she blushed. “Waste not, want not.”

“I remember you always did have a healthy appetite for a girl.”

“That's an awful thing to say to a well-bred young lady, Scott Lancer. You'll be accusing me of being fat next. How dare you?” Katie laughed.

He followed her lead. “Not fat, just nicely proportioned.”

Katie threw her glove at him. Scott ducked and lay down on his side. Resting on his elbow, he picked up the kid leather gauntlet, cream-coloured, with long fingers and a small pearl button where it flared at the wrist. It felt soft and warm from recent wear. “Are you challenging me to a duel?”

Katie blinked. “You always were the most annoying boy.”

“But you liked me. Bob told me so—soon after we started at Boston Latin together. He said you had a crush on me.”

“Well, he had no right. Even if it was true—and I‘m sure I don't recall any such thing—I'd have only been nine years old. I grew out of it.”

“I'm sorry to hear that. I was too much of an eleven-year boy to appreciate the compliment at the time. I'm much wiser now.”

“Indeed?”

“Indeed.” Scott held Katie's gaze.

She turned her head and studied the yellow and white daisies growing in the grass beside her. “Are there no young ladies in these parts that interest you?”

“Oh, there've been one or two who have held my attention for a while, but no one with the right combination of wit and beauty to interest me long term. And you? When we last met in Boston gentlemen surrounded you like moths drawn to a candle.”

Katie discarded her hat. Looking upwards, she scooped back chestnut locks and began to re-pin her hair. “I've always thought moths and flames were not very compatible.”

“I applaud your judgement.” Scott took a bite of his apple, his face solemn but his eyes teasing.

Her nose gave a little twitch. Having fastened the last clip, she took a sip of ginger beer as her eyes danced over the top of the mug. “At the risk of sounding overly poetic, I choose to wait for a man carrying a candle that shines as brightly for me as mine does for him.”

“And if you don't find such a man?” Scott could feel his heart thump in his chest.

Katie placed her mug on the ground and began picking daisies. She used her nail to split a stem.“Then I stay unmarried. I'm happy in my own company as long as I feel useful in the world.” She threaded the stem of the second daisy through the first.“One of the great advantages of being an Eliot is that I don't need a man to keep me, and one of the great advantages of being my parents' daughter is that they will allow me to make my own choice.”

Scott plucked a daisy and handed it to her. “Murdoch allows me that freedom—I don't mean just in terms of whom I might marry one day, though that too. Grandfather never would. I think one of the reasons I decided to stay was my father's willingness to treat me as a man. He respects my opinions and my choices. And if I make the wrong ones, I know he'll still be there to back me up.”

“Papa would say that's what being a father is all about.”

“Would he? I've very little experience in that regard. I've got a lot to learn about what it is to be a father—and what it is to be a son for that matter.”

Katie put out her hand and squeezed his. “Mama says Murdoch never stopped worrying about you and seeking out information about your life. When he stood as my godfather, it was the first time he came from California to Boston to see you. That was before the gold rush, before the transcontinental railway or even a decent stagecoach service existed. It must have taken him months—and all his savings. I'm not sure many men in his position would have gone to such lengths.”

“No, there's something in that.” Not that Scott hadn't realised it before, but somehow when Katie put it into words, the information registered more firmly in his brain. “You know, Katie Eliot, when you're not taking me to task, you're quite good to talk to.”





Chapter Four

“I didn't realise Green River had so many women.” Scott stood with Katie at the back of the room Johnny and Emily had almost booked for their wedding reception. More and more people kept coming through the double doors from the vestibule of the Occidental Hotel. One or two men were re-directed by a hotel employee to the reception desk to check their firearms, but most guests wandered into the room unimpeded. Scott hoped Katie noticed. “There are quite a few here from other towns. Teresa was right.”

“Mama always attracts a good crowd, but she will be disappointed there aren't more men.”

Judging by those already seated, Scott calculated women and girls out-numbered men by about ten to one. “If I was coming to an event like this without a lady, I'd probably arrive just before it started. Don't give up hope: more men may come by two o'clock.”

“I hadn't thought of that. Whether they do or not though, I rely on you to spread the word when we're gone. Unfortunately, women's suffrage is dependent on the votes of men.”

“What makes you think I approve of the idea of women voting—or even speaking in public for that matter? I know a lot of men who wouldn't approve of either.”

“Your grandfather and my Grandfather Eliot among them.” Katie stuck her thumbs into an invisible waist coat. Rocking on her heels, she deepened her voice and lowered her chin. “‘A woman's place is in the home, not embarrassing her family by public oratory.'”

Scott laughed; she had the late Senator Eliot, down to a T. “Exactly.”

Lowering her hands, Katie looked at him with a stern voice and a twinkle in her eye. “I've been alert to your views on women's rights for quite some time, Scott Lancer, so don't you try to make me think badly of you again. In fact, it was the evening you told Denton Priest that you supported Wyoming's decision to allow women the vote that my friends and I decided you were not beyond redemption.”

“Indeed? So I've been the subject of conversation, have I? I don't know whether I should be flattered or worried.”

“Flattered, definitely.”

“Except you refused to dance with me shortly after that as I remember.”

“A tactic that misfired, but the subjects of that party and Barbara Stanforth are hereby banned forever. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” He held her gaze for a moment, but then they both heard a familiar voice and looked towards the door.

“Oh good, you made it.” Katie stepped forward as Maria and a small contingent of vaqueros' wives came into the room. “I reserved some seats for you near the front. Just look for the cards with ‘Lancer' written on them.”

Scott escorted the ladies part way down the rows of chairs until they could see where she meant and then returned to Katie's side. “I wonder what Johnny got for his lunch with Jelly on duty?” He hadn't realised Maria and the other women were planning to come until Katie had reserved the chairs about half an hour before.

“Well, I don't expect it was anything as fancy as we had in the restaurant here, but Maria was planning to make something before she left. All Jelly had to do was take it up….”

“Scott, how lovely to see you here. We've missed you.” An elegantly dressed young woman cut across their conversation.

Scott's heart sank and he plastered a Boston smile on his face. “Miss Eliot may I introduce Miss Constance and Miss Harriet Reynolds. Ladies, this is Miss Catherine Eliot from Boston.”

“Miss Catherine Eliot? You are the daughter—the Miss Eliot who writes in the Woman's Journal about vocations and education?” It was not a discovery that seemed to please Connie Reynolds. Her lips smiled but her eyes glinted. “You are much younger than I imagined.”

The corners of Katie's mouth twitched. “Indeed. I trust you'll forgive me? Do you have an interest in higher education, Miss Reynolds?”

“Why, Miss Eliot, what a question to ask me. The Reynolds spread is one of the largest ranches in the San Joaquin. Didn't Scott mention us to you?” Connie batted her lashes at him, but he did not react—strange how he used to find that attractive.

In any case, things had never come to anything with Connie. Apart from the dinners attended by both families, he had taken her to the last Independence Day dance and walked out with her twice. Then, as they had so little in common, he hadn't pursued the acquaintance. “There have been too many other things happening. I'm afraid the subject didn't come up.”

“Well now, I will not be angry with you.” With a more concentrated gaze, Connie reached out and touched his hand before speaking to Katie again. “Of course I have enjoyed the very best training in proper etiquette and the social graces. Since my return from Washington D.C., I have run my father's household. It is good practice for when I eventually marry.” Scott's fingers tensed as he felt her touch again. Focusing on an ivy leaf on the cornice, he tried hard not to look at Connie—or Katie. What must she think? “Some call me accomplished, though I really couldn't say. Scott must be my judge.”

He gave a stiff bow. “Miss Reynolds plays the piano very well and serves an excellent dinner.”

“Oh, you are such a man, Scott Lancer; always thinking of food. But you'll give Miss Eliot the wrong impression. We do of course employ servants, Miss Eliot. My father is quite wealthy; one of the Reynolds from Virginia. So you see we have no personal need of the academic or vocational education you write about.”

“But we're still interested.” Scott had almost forgotten Harriet was there; she murmured like a scared mouse in her sister's shadow. Connie rolled her eyes.

“Yes, of course, but not for ourselves, Harriet dear.” Shaking her head at her sister's gaucheness, Connie placed her hand on Scott's arm. He refused to respond. Poor Harriet: she'd been shut up with a governess until Connie came back, and now she was in her sister's care. She was due to be dispatched east to be ‘finished' in September. A quiet, studious wee thing, she was not at all like her older sister. He glanced over to see how she was coping and was surprised by what he saw. She brightened. Not at him, but at Katie. He had missed it, but Katie had done something, he could tell. Connie must have realised it too, or at least she recognised she had lost Scott's attention, because she addressed Katie again. “I understand you and your mother are fine orators, Miss Eliot—very modern. Of course any friends of the Lancer family deserve our support. Scott, while Miss Eliot is speaking you must sit with us. I insist.”

Before he could reply, Katie moved closer and slipped her arm through his. “I won't be making a speech today, Miss Reynolds, just answering a few questions afterwards.” Leaning slightly forward, she lowered her voice as if sharing a confidence.“I admit I'm a little nervous among so many strangers. Scott has very kindly offered to stay with me.”

“Actually, I think your mother might be about to start. Ladies, if you will excuse us, we'd better go to our seats.” With a small bow Scott led Katie away, buoyed by the hug Katie gave his arm as they made their escape.

A bell tinkled before they had taken more than a few steps. All eyes turned towards Aggie standing on the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention.”

Skirting the room quickly, Scott and Katie negotiated a path to chairs near the front where the others were already seated. Murdoch got up to let Katie and Scott in, and then shifted his chair over slightly to allow them more space. Due to his height, he always sat on the side.

“Ahem.” Receiving a sharp tap on his shoulder, Scott turned to face the disgruntled visage of the Widow Hargis.

He moved his seat sideways too.

After a few words of greeting, Aggie introduced Beth to enthusiastic applause, and when the clapping subsided, the speech-making began.

“Before I say anything I'd like you to answer two questions in your own minds. Firstly, are your wives, daughters, sisters and mothers any less intelligent than the men in your lives? Secondly, do they see the world in the same way as men? Are the things that concern them most the same things that concern men most?” Beth paused and allowed her audience to consider. Just when the room started to hum with whispered comments, she began to educate them. She spoke about the ratio of adult men to women in California, about the number of children and about how the decisions that affected everyone were made by men alone, good men most of them, but men with the outlook and concerns of men. “Leaving aside justice for the moment, is it sensible to allow a drunkard to vote but not the woman who raised her children to be productive and law-abiding citizens?”

“A woman's place is in the home.” Gunsmith Gil Abbott called out from the back of the room.

“Hear, hear!” The group of men he was standing with—late arrivals—patted him on the back and smirked at Beth. Scott turned sideways in his chair, watching the exchange, prepared to get up if things got out of hand.

Beth appeared unfazed. She actually lowered her voice and responded as though she was having a personal conversation with the hecklers. It was amazing how she could do that and still be clearly heard by everyone else. “Indeed, sir; for most women the home is their lives and voting will not change that. But like men, women want to fulfil their roles well. Our children are this nation's future, and largely they are reared by women. Shouldn't the guardians of our nation's future be educated and have some say in the laws that affect them and their families?”

“Schooling's all right, but they don't need to go to college or bother themselves with politics to raise kids.”

“Yeah, that's right.” Another man Scott didn't recognise butted in. “Don't want damn—beggin' your pardon, Ma'am. A white man has enough trouble getting a job when bosses can pay lower wages to—” Beth raised her eyebrows, and the man hesitated, glancing around him. “—some others. He don't need women taking the food from his kids' mouths as well.”

“I suspect the jobs you are talking about, sir, are not those that demand a college education or that most women would have the physical strength to undertake, but I'm pleased you and the other gentlemen have given the matter some thought. I may be able to allay some of your concerns, if you will allow me to continue?” She paused with a pleasant air of enquiry, and after a moment resumed her speech. After a few uneventful minutes, Scott began to relax.

Beth spoke for nearly three quarters of an hour. She was very good, and she handled more than one interruption with the skill of an experienced speaker. Her performance forced him to accept a few home truths. You're a hypocrite, Scott Lancer. You don't like the idea of women speaking in public, because it makes you feel uncomfortable not because they're no good at it. Beth isn't upset by a few loud-mouths.

He glanced at Katie. Originally he'd thought her refusal to mount the dais was a matter of principle. Now it seemed more likely she just found the idea daunting. One day she would gather up her courage and do it. Damn it, he still didn't like the idea.

As soon as the lecture was brought officially to a close, Katie was surrounded. Beth had introduced her near the end of her speech, and girls and their parents interested in higher learning or the vocations available to women waited patiently to speak with her.

“Maggie wants to be a nurse, but we don't want her going back east. Is there somewhere in California she can train?”

“I'm sorry, but not to my knowledge.” Katie opened her notebook. “If you give me your name and address, I'll find out for sure. If I can't send you the details of a local training hospital, I'll give you information about the ones back east. There are some very good boarding houses. I understand your concern, but I'm sure Maggie would be quite safe.”

Hattie Braithwaite was next with her daughter, Gertrude. “Bookkeeping—that's what we want to know about. Gert is good with numbers and the bank manager in Stockton says he'd take her on, but she has to have a piece of paper first.”

“There is a very good school recently opened by a Mr and Mrs Charles Anderson in San Francisco. I was fortunate enough to be shown around the week before I came here. They offer training in various office skills, and they're happy to take female students. They offer a diploma with all their courses. You should write to them.” Katie wrote the details down on the scrap of paper Hattie provided.

Scott stood sentry as Katie answered what she could or took down the details so she could research and send the information later. Why was imparting her knowledge like this more acceptable to his feelings than her getting up on a platform in front of a more general audience?

He stared at a group of single men by the door. They were looking in Katie's direction. One of them made a gesture that partly answered his question. Scott would have liked to have punched him, but instead he moved to block the man's view—not so easy to do if Katie stood on a rostrum.

“Penny for them.” A large woman in a purple satin dress and feather-adorned hat approached him from behind. Scott smiled as she gave his shoulder a nudge. “I'd like to ask your young lady a question. I figure you should introduce me.”

“My pleasure.” Scott waited until Katie said goodbye to a group of girls from Morro Coyo, and then touched her arm to get her attention. “Allow me to introduce Miss Annie Guthrie.”

“Aw, call me Gus.” She grabbed hold of Katie's hand. “I'm mighty pleased to meet you, Miss Eliot. You're a woman after my own heart, encouraging girls to take up work that some great lumps say only men can do.”

Seemingly not put off by having her arm nearly shaken from its socket, Katie smiled. “I'm happy to meet you, Gus. You must call me Katie. Are you a teacher?”

“Who me? No.” Gus flapped a hand and went a little pink. “I'm the local blacksmith.”

“My goodness, are you really? That is different.” Katie sounded quite impressed.

“I didn't serve a proper apprenticeship, mind. My pa taught me. Now what I want to know is could I take me an apprentice—proper like?”

“Well now, I don't honestly know. But I could find out for you if you like?” Katie noted down Gus's name and address in her notebook, and then Gus hurried away to change out of her ‘get up' and go back to work. “What an interesting woman.”

“She's a bit of a character all right. We play cards together occasionally.” Scott watched Gus cut a swathe through those still standing around the room chatting. “I suppose she is quite remarkable for a woman. I'm embarrassed to admit I've just thought of her as one of the boys.”

Katie laughed. “In that dress?”

“Well, she's not usually in a dress. Normally she wears trousers or dungarees. Her language isn't always ladylike either.”

“But she's a good blacksmith?”

“Very.”

“And yet, it may be difficult to get the piece of paper that says so. That's what she'll need to train someone else these days. If she can't take on apprentices, it will affect her business. The best workers will want a qualification that improves their future prospects.” Katie was thoughtful. “I need to investigate a little bit. Ben Telford deals with apprenticeships in his industry. It's not the same as boot making, I know, but perhaps he can advise me where to start my enquiries.”

“It's nice of you to go to so much trouble for people you don't even know.”

“Oh, it's no trouble. I enjoy the challenge of finding out. May be one day, if I don't marry and have children to keep me busy, I'll become one of Mr Pinkerton's investigators. He employs women. Did you know?” Her eyes sparkled and her nose gave a little twitch. Scott didn't think she was being serious, but it was clear Katie didn't fill her days solely with genteel pursuits.

“If you take Katie home in the buggy, I'll bring the others.” Murdoch appeared at Scott's elbow, looking slightly vexed. “Teresa and Emily have disappeared somewhere, and Beth is finding it hard to escape her admirers. I'm going for the carryall now. It will be dark before we get back if we don't leave soon.”

Scott had a quick word to Katie to let her know what was happening, and then he followed his father from the room. It wasn't long before he was helping her into the buggy.

Excited by the success of the afternoon, she talked almost non-stop on their journey back to the ranch. “A woman needs to be able to earn a living without a man, Scott. How often do you see it, the husband dies or runs off and the woman is left with hungry mouths to feed? The family lives hand to mouth until the woman can find another husband, and love often doesn't come into it. The key to change is education. And the key to get women access to education and to give them a say in what happens to them in other respects is the vote.”

“I don't think I've ever seriously considered the wider implications of women not having legal equality with men.” Scott slowed the buggy as they took the bend that would lead them to the bridge into the Lancer valley. They had been driving some time, and he had been thinking. “I'm attempting to sift out prejudices from my up-bringing in an all-male household and the army. It's not easy.”

“At least you're trying.”

“You speak as though you're personally affected by the problems ordinary women face. I don't mean to criticise or disagree, but what can Miss Catherine Eliot of Beacon Hill know of hardships like putting food on the table for hungry children?”

“You think because my life is comparatively easy I should ignore the plight of other women? Don't I have a responsibility to make use of my good fortune for the benefit of others?”

“‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail'.”

“Exactly. As an admirer of Mr Emerson, you must appreciate my argument.” In her enthusiasm, Katie twisted in her seat and placed a hand on Scott's arm.

He willed her to leave it there and snuggle closer, but his smile only seemed to make Katie think better of her action. Turning back, she moved her hand to her lap and looked ahead as they drove under the Lancer arch. A knot of disappointment lodged under his ribs; damn Boston etiquette—they only had a couple of days left.

“Even wealthy women are caught in the unfairness of the current system. Most aren't lucky enough to have parents like mine. Many are not allowed to decide for themselves. You've seen for yourself how fathers trade their daughters like commodities to secure business deals, and how brothers complain when they are ‘lumbered' with supporting ‘old maid' sisters. Is it unreasonable for us to want the legal rights and opportunities to decide and provide for ourselves?”

“I think you would make as convincing an orator as your mother.” Scott glanced over as he drew the buggy up by the barn. Murdoch and the others were still some way behind in the larger carriage.

“One day, but for now, I feel more comfortable writing and just talking with people. These subjects are things I feel very strongly about though, Scott.”

“I understand that, and I agree with you for the most part.” He helped Katie down.He had his answer; confidence and not conviction prevented her from speaking in public—for now. If he wanted to court Katie—and he did—he would have to come to terms with it somehow. “You and your mother are inspiring.”

“Thank you. That means a lot.” She smiled and turned towards the hacienda. Scott gave instructions to one of the hands about the care of the horse and then followed, slowly at first so he could enjoy the view of her from behind. When he caught up, she slipped her arm through his, and hugged it close. The little knot under his ribs unravelled like a ball of wool. There were definite advantages to keeping small secrets.





Chapter Five

Friday evening was spent discussing the events of the day in Green River, and on Saturday Scott drove Katie and Teresa into Spanish Wells. Teresa had some shopping to do, and Katie wanted to see the artesian wells. “Maria told me they were first discovered by the Spaniards and that's how the town got its name.”

“When I was a little girl I remember visiting the ruins of an old bathhouse. I think it was somewhere over there.” Teresa pointed Katie south east as Scott conveyed them in the carryall past the first straggling dwellings of the town. “Spanish Wells is the newest of the three towns bordering Lancer. My father told me there were no houses here at all before the gold rush, but by the time I started school Spanish Wells was bigger than Morro Coyo.”

“The town gets its water supply from the wells.” Scott called over his shoulder as he drove them along the main street. “There's not a lot to see above ground anymore, but I think you'll like the underground pool we're going to.”

Once through the settlement, he drove them another quarter mile before turning down a side road to the base of a steep bluff. He tethered the horse to a tree, and helped Katie from the carriage.

“Oh, I'm sorry.” She fell heavily against him. “My skirt's caught.”

“Hold still.” Teresa leaned forward and tried to unsnag the cloth from a spring on the underside of the seat. Katie stood on tiptoes, holding down her skirt as much as possible with her left hand to lessen the exposure of petticoat. Her head and right hand rested on Scott's shoulder for balance. With her hair soft against his neck, he was praying silently that Teresa would take her time. “There. All done.”

Katie let go. But maybe not as quickly as she could have done; she appeared a little flushed. “Thank you, Scott—and you too, Teresa.”

Suppressing a smile, Scott helped Teresa down and handed her the paraffin lamp he had stashed under the driver's seat. He offered each girl an arm. “Ladies.”

Together they went on foot along a rough track. Where the path narrowed and began to climb, Teresa broke free. She clambered between the rocks littering the ground, up to a semi-circular cleft in the cliff overhung by scraggy bushes and moss. Pausing first to check Scott and Katie were close behind, she disappeared inside.

Scott released Katie's arm and held her hand as he guided her through the entrance. “Be careful, the floor is uneven, and with the rain last night the stone could be slippery.”

Teresa was closing the glass on the lantern as they entered. The upper chamber was well lit by sunlight from the mouth of the cave so she carried it low at first as she led the way. Katie continued to grip Scott's hand.

“Teresa, wait.”Scott took the lantern from her at the top of the staircase. It was not much more than a dozen steps worn into the rock through centuries of use, but the tunnel was dark and steep.

Leaving the girls together he went about halfway down and stood to one side of the passage where the incline was most difficult. He held the lantern high to light their way. “Use the wall and come down slowly.”

As they descended, he offered a steadying hand.

“Thank you.” Katie's eyes glowed in the lamp light.

Water dripped on him from above. “Watch your heads.”

Even stooping, his hair brushed the rock as he followed the girls down and into the chamber below.

“Oh my.” Katie walked along a narrow outcrop of rock as Teresa wandered around the outer edge of the pool to the other side of the grotto. Gossamer rays of sunlight slipped through a jagged fissure in the ceiling, sparkling on the water and in Katie's hair like fairy dust. From where Scott stood on the bottom step, she looked like some heavenly creature framed by shimmering blues.

He had always felt there was something mysterious and timeless about the pool. The water was so clear; you could see small bubbles from the spring that fed it slipping through crevices in the rock near the bottom, even though the surface always remained tranquil. As he approached, Katie's awe was obvious. She stared into the depths, and then lifting her gaze, she revolved slowly, taking in the subterranean world around her. She reached out and he took her hand. “This cavern is ethereal.”

No one moved or spoke. All Scott could hear was his heartbeat, and all he could see was Katie, looking skywards: she was so beautiful. He felt himself leaning towards her and—

“Oh.” Katie broke away, and Scott remembered to inhale as hands fell to their sides. “Teresa you startled me.”

“I wanted to see how long it would take a pebble to reach the bottom. It must be deeper than it looks.”Scott had forgotten Teresa was even there. He wished she wasn't there.

The small splash had rippled the air as well as the surface of the water. It shattered the spell he'd been under, and he felt robbed and resentful. “It's time for us to go.”

Putting out his arms, he ushered Katie towards the steps. The lantern was in a small recess in the cavern wall. Retrieving it, he started up the stairs before Teresa reached them—better than saying something he'd regret. At the midway point, he held up the lantern and ordered himself to stop being an unreasonable idiot. “All right, I'm in position. You can come up now.”

All three blinked as they emerged into the sunshine again. It seemed somehow warmer and brighter than before, and they took a few moments to get used to their surroundings.

“Listen. Is that a skylark?” Katie turned, trying to spot the little brown and white bird as it flitted among the trees. Then she hugged Scott's arm, and dispelled what was left of his annoyance. The skylark serenaded them along the path to the carriage, and Teresa made up for her crimes by leading the way.

A smile kept breaking ranks as Scott drove the carryall back towards town. Katie and Teresa were chatting behind him about calico and linens—nothing of any importance. What mattered was the promise of Katie's touch on his hand and how she'd snuggled closer to him as they'd neared the carriage. When they got back to the ranch, he was sure that somehow they'd find time to be alone.

“Will you be all right if I leave you for a while?” Scott delivered Katie and Teresa to the drapery shop on Main Street. “Cipriano asked me to pick up nails and salt licks. I shouldn't be long.”

Half an hour later, the girls were passing the time of day with the Widow Hargis outside her general store. He pulled the carriage to a halt and dismounted to load their purchases into the back. He had just put a collection of magazines on the back seat when he heard…

Thwack!

Spinning around, he was in time to see Morgan from Gallagher's Mine crash backwards through the swing doors of the saloon on the opposite side of the street. The man fell spread-eagled in the dirt, and before he could recover his wits, a chair turned to kindling beside him.

Bellowing like a bull, ‘Goliath' Dean from the Lehmann ranch appeared on the boardwalk, swinging madly. Feet dangling, another miner—the Dutchman Scott had shared a drink with before Christmas—clung to the giant man's neck while two striplings Scott had never seen before danced about them like prize fighters.

“Hey!” The sheriff dashed out of his office further along the street. He fired a shot in the air, but no one took any noticeso he waded in to break up the fracas.

Too full of whisky or confidence to know who he was fighting, Morgan staggered to his feet and tried to tackle Gabe Hutton from behind. Scott ran to help. He hauledhim off the lawman's back, and received a right hook for his trouble. Shaking his vision back into focus, Scottplanted his fist in the miner's stomach.

Morgan doubled over and staggered back. But then he lumbered forward again and took a swing at Scott's head. “Bastard.”

Scott ducked. “Missed me.”

And Morgan swung again.

Scott dodged the meaty fist a second time. Best not tempt fate. He came back with an uppercut and a right cross, bringing Morgan to his knees, just as the sheriff fired another warning shot into the air. This time Goliath slumped back against a wagon wheel. The Dutchman was out cold, one youth was spitting blood into the dust and the other was—where? A pile of hay knocked off the back of the wagon moved. Punch-drunk and looking more like a scarecrow than a wrangler or a miner, the boy sat up in the middle of the heap.

“Thanks.” With a grin,Gabe clapped Scott on the shoulder and then shoved Morgan forward onto his feet. “Move it.” The walking wounded carried their unconscious friend to the jailhouseat the point of Gabe's gun.“An hour to sober up and then you can get on back where you came from.”

Snatching his hat up from the ground, Scott headed back to wherethe ladies stood watching. But he stopped in his tracks.

“Oh, you were wonderful, Scott.” Teresa scurried forward, pulling a handkerchief out of nowhere. He allowed her to dab at his bleeding lip, but his eyes were locked to Katie's.

“Shouldn't be allowed.” The Widow swept the dust off the boardwalk around Katie's feet as though the planks had done her some personal injury. “Drinking hard liquorat this time of day: it's an abomination. You did very well, Scott Lancer, but that saloon should be shut down.” She shook a bony fist at the proprietor as he cleared broken pieces of furniture from the street.

“Katie, are you all right?” A lump in Scott's throat threatened to rid him of speech.

“Me? Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I be?” Katie blinked back to life and began to move towards the carriage. “I do think it is time we were heading back though. I've some packing to do.”

“Wait. Let me—“

“Lancer.” Gabe yelled down the street. He was standing outside his office, waving Scott to come to him. Blast! Scott raised his hand, but hesitated. No, he'd help Katie up into the carryall first.

Damn it, she was already in.

“You'd better go, Scott.” Teresa stepped up past him onto the boardwalk and went to join Katie.

By the time he got back from signing the papers Gabe thrust in front of him, the girls were flicking through Peterson's Magazine and nattering about fashion. They barely looked up as he climbed onto the driver's seat, and they were eager to get inside when they arrived back at the ranch.

“Katie, can I talk to you?”

“Of course, Scott, but after supper; I'm hot and dusty. I need to freshen up.”

But after supper, Teresa got out the playing cards, and Katie was dealing hands even before the coffee was served.

“Mine, I believe.” Murdoch stretched forward and swept the pile from the occasional table. “You should have played that queen last time, Scott.”

Sitting on a footstool, Katie gathered in the cards and shuffled them. “Let's have another round. I like this game.”

“Really? I thought you weren't keen.” Beth looked up from the article she was reading. She hadn't wanted to play cards. Instead she'd poured the coffee and then settled down to read the latest Woman's Journal that the girls had brought back from Spanish Wells.

Katie met her mother's eye for a second and then started to deal. “That's only when Jamie plays; I'm sure he cheats.” She laughed at the concerned look on Teresa's face. “Well, probably not, but my brother is such a bad winner.”

“Deal me out. I think I'll go up and see Johnny and Emily, and then have an early night.” Scott rose from his chair. He may as well. Those damned cowboys and miners had ruined a near perfect day. Katie was not going to talk to him alone tonight. He knew it.

Even the next day, when he attempted to speak with her privately, she found some way of escaping.

“It's a glorious day, Katie. Perhaps this afternoon after church we could go for a drive. Wherever you want to go; I'm at your disposal.” He swept a bow, pleased to have caught her before the others came down the stairs for breakfast.

“I'm sorry Scott, but I promised to read to Johnny this afternoon.”

“I'm sure he wouldn't mind.”

“But I would. It's hard enough for him without us making him feel like he's second best. If he could come with us, it would be different.”

“Well, maybe you can do both. We don't need to go far, but it is your last day.”

“Thank you. Truly though, it will take most of the afternoon to finish the story I've been reading him. We'll spend time together in the evening.”

Yes, together with everyone else.

Scott ended up helping Emily bring some of her research files from her place back to the ranch. He looked in on Katie and Johnny afterwards, but he felt like a fifth wheel.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.”

“You're not. Stay and listen to the rest of the story if you like.” Katie reached for the open novel on the side table, ignoring the book on her lap. “We've got four chapters to go.”

Scott glanced at Johnny, but he seemed unusually interested in the embroidery along the edge of his sheet. Katie hadn't been reading when Scott had opened the door. She and Johnny had been talking, and now they'd stopped because he was in the room. “No, I won't if you don't mind. I've read the story already, and Beth and Murdoch are going for a walk. I think I'll go with them. I just popped in to say hello.”

By evening he felt thoroughly dejected, and he was finding it very hard not to show it.

The Eliots were scheduled to catch the Monday morning stage. For the first time the women agreed to let Murdoch and Scott help Johnny downstairs. Doc Owens had removed the stitches on Friday morning, instructing his impatient patient to take short walks about the room until he called again in a week's time. “Nothing strenuous, Johnny. Do you hear me? You need exercise now, but build up gradually.”

Scott and Murdoch got Johnny partially dressed first—shirt, trousers and socks only, no belt or boots.

“It would be easier if you just wore my robe, brother.”

“I'm not spending an evening with ladies in the great room in my nightshirt.”

It wasn't worth the argument. They got him up and moving, and he made slow but steady progress along the hall with Scott and Murdoch hovering on either side; then came the stairs.

“Easy now.”

“I'm all right, Murdoch.” But he very obviously wasn't. Johnny's knuckles were as white as his face as he gripped the handrail only three steps down, eyes tight shut.

“Let us carry you, Johnny. Chair lift.” Scott put a hand on his brother's shoulder. “Just to the bottom of the stairs.”

After a moment, Johnny straightened. And after a moment longer, he opened his eyes. “Just to the bottom of the stairs.”

Scott got in position and reached an arm around Johnny's back. Murdoch did the same. Grabbing wrists, they created a seat, and Johnny sat back, putting his arms around their shoulders.

“On the count of three. One, two, three.” Scott braced himself to take Johnny's weight and was shocked at how light his brother was. From the grim look on Murdoch's face,he was thinking the same thing.

As promised, they let Johnny down again at the bottom of the stairs. With support, he walked into the great room where the women waited.

“Lie down here on the sofa.” Beth added another cushion to the pile at the far end andScott helped Johnny lower himself into position. Emily lifted his feet up and then she settled into a chair between him and Katie. Murdoch sat down by the fireplace opposite Beth's armchair, and Scott resigned himself to sitting in the blue winged-back between Teresa and Johnny's feet on the sofa. He was about as far away from Katie as it was possible to be.

“That tickles.”

“You must be getting better then.” Beth was putting the final touches to Johnny's comfort by tucking a blanket around him before returning to her seat.

Scott smiled. What would it have been like growing up with a mother like Beth? A very different childhood to the ones he or Johnny had experienced,that was for sure. He was glad Beth had been his mother's friend; it spoke volumes about both of them.

“Thank you.” Scott accepted a glass of winefrom Teresa, and gazed over the rim at Emily and Johnny as they shared a few private words at the other end of the sofa. The colour was starting to return to Johnny's face; his journey downstairs had been doable—it meant a lot to everyone. Emily seemed rested too. Both ready to face the world again.At least something positive had come out of this visit.

“Do you remember these?” Murdoch handed Beth a green cardboard folder. She opened it carefully and lifted back the tissue paper to reveal sketches she had done years before of Scott playing with her children at Frog Pond. Scott had only seen the drawings recently himself; since returning from the wedding in San Francisco.

“Oh my goodness, yes. Look Katie, that's you with your petticoats stuck into your bloomers and legs covered with mud.” Beth chuckled and held the sketch out to her daughter.

“Thank you, Mama. That image does my dignity so much good.” Kate took the drawing and inspected it. She was laughing, but her cheeks turned a little pink. Scott threw her a look of sympathy. He was rewarded with a self-conscious smile and moments later, a glance through long lashes. Hope sparked.

Johnny reached across Emily and attemptedto take the picture from Katie, but she tapped his hand away. “You don't need to see it, Johnny Lancer.”

“Johnny has his own bloomers story.” Murdoch leaned back in his chair, grinning. “Let him see. If he teases you too much, I'll tell you a tale that will make him blush.”

“I like the sound of that. Here you are, Johnny. Do your worst.”

Johnny accepted the sketch. He held it up against the back of the sofa so everyone could see and scrunched up his eyes as if appraising the drawing with great thought. Then he gave it back.

“Well?” Katie's eyes gleamed, and everyone waited with amused anticipation.

Johnny folded his hands in his lap and looked over at Murdoch. Then he gave a wry smile. “Charming.”

Everyone laughed.

“The story is that bad, is it, brother? Tell us anyway, Murdoch.”

“I wouldn't dream of it, especially now I know the threat works so well. I'll save it to use another time.” Murdoch leaned forward. “My favourite is the one with Scott and Bobby holding up their catch. Yes, that's it.” Beth held up the drawing and then passed it and the remaining sketch around.

“I like this one.” Emily pointed to thepicture of the two boys lying on their tummies studying a tadpole in a large jar. Lips puckered, Scott was trying to imitate the tadpole.

Teresa left her chair and knelt down next to Emily so she could see better. “Oh, Scott, you look adorable.”

“Yes well, on that note, I think it's time we talked about something else.” Getting up, Scott began to collect the drawings together, putting them back in their folder. He wasn't really embarrassed—much.He winked at Katie as he recovered the final sketch. The tips of her fingers brushed his and her eyes sparkled. The warmth from them settled somewhere deep inside him for the rest of the evening.

“When do you return to Boston, Beth?” Murdoch got up to pourmore wine for everyone. Teresa helped pass the glasses around.

“I only have five more days left. Six weeks has gone very quickly, but it has worked in well. With Katie staying on in San Francisco to perform her maid of honour duties for Olivia, I was a little worried about the return journey. Despite what you think of my courage, Murdoch, I'm relieved to be travelling back with Alfred and Charlotte.”

“The Burkes are visiting family in Boston?”

“Yes, Scott. Old Mr Burke has been failing for some time. I think the plan now is to stay with him until he passes,and then Alfred and his brothers will settle the estate together.”

Murdoch handed Scott his wine and sat down again. “Scott goes to San Francisco on business in two weeks' time. He'll miss you, but I'm sure he plans to call in on Katie.”

“Certainly. It will be the highlight of my visit.” Scott smiled in Katie's direction, but she was engrossed in a separate conversation with Emily and Johnny.

“I'm glad Katie can visit us again in May.” Teresa put her wine down on the side table and picked up her embroidery. “I've so enjoyed having you both here this past week, but your stay has been far too short. Four weeks will give Katie and me more time to do things together.”

“And I will see you again in September when we all congregate in San Francisco for the next McIntyre wedding. I shall depend on you, Teresa, to help Katie keep a tight rein on her younger sisters. With so many handsome young men around, Julia will think she's died and gone to heaven.” Beth looked towards the sofa. “Emily, you may have to be the one to keep Victoria in check. She's an animal enthusiast like you, but please don't encourage her to wear trousers. Her father would have a fit. As a rule, he's a forward thinking man, but in some respects he can be surprisingly old-fashioned in his attitudes.”

“I'll tell Robert you said that.” Murdoch chuckled.

“You certainly will not; at least not if you ever want me to write to you again.” Beth narrowed her eyes at Murdoch, but Scott saw the twinkle as she turned her attention to her knitting. That was unusual; most of the time the needles clicked away without her taking any notice of it at all. “Bother, I've missed a stitch.” Removing the needle, she began to undo the last half inch.

“I thought I was being made redundant anyway.” Murdoch sighed dramatically and sipped his wine.

“I'll write to you, Murdoch.” Katie joined the conversation. “And Teresa, you must let me know how those begonias do here. I'm sure the market in San Francisco will have more variety than the local towns. I could bring some with me in May if they do well.”

“If you behave yourself, I'll still write to you at Christmas, Murdoch.” Beth held up her knitting and examined it with a practised eye. Seemingly satisfied, she began hooking the wool back onto the needle. “I welcome letters from any one of the family, but I know I'll get more details about the wedding if Emily writes to me.”

There was more to it than just interest in the wedding. Scott knew that. He didn't try to analyse the hows and whys of the relationship Beth had with Emily and Johnny; she had taken two hurt souls into her heart and they had returned the compliment. He couldn't wonder too greatly, because he shared the feeling.

The following morning he was genuinely sorry to see her leave. He kissed his mother's best friend on the cheek and hugged her farewell.

“Thank you for making our stay so enjoyable, Scott. Catherine would be very proud of her son. I hope you know that.”

Scott nodded. Feeling ridiculously pleased by the sentiment, he helped Beth up into the coach.

Murdoch and Katie were still saying their goodbyes. They embraced and Katie turned to face Scott. “Remember: you're taking me to Woodward's Gardens.”

The spark from the evening before flickered into flame. Scott blinked, and then grinned broadly. “How could I forget? I'll collect you at eleven o'clock on the twentieth.”

He hesitated. She smiled. He lifted Katie's hand to his lips, and for an eternity of seconds, he was invited into those unfathomable brown eyes.

“All aboard.” The coachman slapped Scott on the shoulder before pulling himself up onto the driver's box.

Murdoch stepped back onto the boardwalk, and Scott helped Katie into the carriage. He closed the door and was about to step back too when she poked her head out of the window.

“I'm going to miss you, Scott Lancer.”

Her words echoed in his head as the stagecoach clattered out of Morro Coyo. Scott stood alone in the street, oblivious to the dust, his heart pounding.

At the last possible moment, Miss Catherine Eliot of Mt Vernon Street, Beacon Hill in Boston had kissed him—full on the lips.


.

 

 

~ end ~
Notes:
1. This story is the second in the Eliot Series. The first was Past Imperfect , 2014. The Eliot Series has its roots in From Highlands to Homecoming , 2014, a back story of Murdoch Lancer's life. Most of the significant non-canon characters in the Eliot Series were created originally for From Highlands to Homecoming. The story of Johnny and the bloomers can be read in Chapter 30: Ups and Downs. Maria and Cipriano Ramirez's daughter, Catarina, started at teacher's college in September, 1866 as mentioned in Chapter 48: 1865. Ben Telford first appears in From Highlands to Homecoming in Chapter 2: All at Sea, but reappears in several other chapters and in Past Imperfect.

2. This story links to Names , 2014, of the Widow Morris Series by Doc. Some of the dialogue and ideas related to Johnny and Emily in this story were provided by Terri Derr (aka Doc).

3. This story has small links to various episodes in the Lancer television series, but in particular Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10 and The Lorelei , Series 2, Episode 16.

4. The Women's Journal was founded in 1870 in Boston, Massachusetts by Lucy Stone, the prominent orator, abolitionist and suffragist. Lucy Stone was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree, her alma mater being Oberlin College in Ohio.

5. A carryall is a light four-wheeled carriage used in the U.S.A. in the nineteenth century. It seats four or more passengers and is drawn by a single horse.

6. The first record of jelly beans was in 1861when Boston confectioner William Schrafft urged people to send his jelly beans to soldiers during the American Civil War.

7. The American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA) was formed in 1869 in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association over the Fifteenth Amendment to the Unites States Constitution. Its founders who supported the Fifteenth Amendment included Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell and Julia Ward Howe. The AWSA founders were staunch abolitionists devoted to achieving the vote for Negro men. They believed the Fifteenth Amendment would not pass Congress if it included the vote for women. On the other side of the split were ‘irreconcilables' Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who founded the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to secure women's enfranchisement through federal constitutional amendment. The AWSA believed the vote for women was more achievable through state-by-state campaigns.

8. Yellowstone National Park opened on 1 March, 1872 and was the first national park in the world.

9. The New England Journal of Medicine has been published by the Massachusetts Medical Society since 1812. It is amongst the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals and the oldest continuously published one.

10. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on 6 December, 1865. It abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Acts.

11. Henry Miller and Charles Lux combined their butchery businesses in San Francisco in 1858 and expanded into cattle raising. They became the largest cattle producer in California and one the largest landowners in the United States. The company played a major role in the development of the San Joaquin Valley.

12. In 1869 the territory of Wyoming became the first place in the world where women were granted the right to vote. Although appeals to justice and equality played a part in achieving this landmark legislation, the majority vote was ultimately achieved because of a desire to attract more women to the territory, which at the time had six thousand men and only one thousand women.

13. In 1856 Allan Pinkerton employed the agency's first woman detective, Kate Warne. More were employed after the Civil War.

14. Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Scott attempted to quote Emerson in Juniper's Camp , Series 1, Episode 21.

15. Peterson's Magazine (1842-1898) was a popular women's magazine in America.

16. Woodward's Gardens   was a combination amusement park, museum, art gallery, zoo, and aquarium operating from 1866 to 1891in the mission district of San Francisco.

 

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