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Acknowledgements

 

Section Two : Chapters 13 - 22

Chapter 13 : Luck Runs Out
Chapter 14 : The Tide Turns
Chapter 15 : The Great Escape
Chapter 16 : Love and Honour
Chapter 17 : Good to be Home
Chapter 18 : Catherine
Chapter 19 : Jud Haney
Chapter 20 : God Giveth and…
Chapter 21 : Grief and Anger
Chapter 22 : Revival

Chapter Notes

Bibliography and Timeline
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Chapter 13: Luck Runs Out

Ten months three weeks and two days after Murdoch disembarked in Boston from the Duchess of Argyle , he strode down the gangplank of the clipper Sea Witch onto the Boston wharf once again.

He said farewell to California mid-January, leaving Paul O'Brien in charge of the ranch. Another clipper gave him passage from Yerba Buena. The Trinity dropped anchor briefly at San Diego, where it off-loaded tallow to the warehouses there and filled its hull with more hides, before continuing on to Panama and beyond. Murdoch again crossed the isthmus by mule and river transport, and stepped aboard the Sea Witch for the homeward stretch after only one night in Chagres.

His luck held when he knocked on the door of Mrs Merriweather's boarding house.

“Hello Rose. Does Mrs M. have a spare room?”

“Mr Lancer! She does, sir. Wait here. I'll get her for you. Welcome back.” Rose scuttled along the hall to the small sitting room near the back of the house that doubled as the landlady's office. Soon Mrs Merriweather was showing Murdoch into a bedroom off the first floor landing, very similar to the one he had rented the previous year except that it had a wardrobe.

“Now you will note, Mr Lancer, this room is more commodious than your previous one, hence the rent is one dollar per week more. Now that you are a landowner yourself, you will of course have a better understanding of the costs involved in running a household such as this. Not that there is any comparison between a respectable establishment in a civilised city like Boston and a farm located in the middle of nowhere, but we all have to start somewhere, and I'm very pleased to hear you're on the upward ladder.” Mrs Merriweather drew breath to pull back the curtains and opened the window to air the room.“I was telling my friend, Mrs Prendergast, only the other day, I'm like a mother to my gentlemen, and give them the very best start in life by providing a secure and happy home. So many of my young men do well for themselves. Mr Thompson left only to take up a promotion in New York, you know. So sad to leave here he was—quite forlorn. But lucky for you as I would not have had a room otherwise.”

Familiar with his landlady's ways, Murdoch was amused by her prattle. He managed to keep a straight face however, and after showing polite interest in Thompson's good fortune, he dropped his bag by the bed and took out his pocketbook. He paid Mrs Merriweather up to the following Friday, and she smiled her approval.

“Will you be in for dinner, Mr Lancer? Excellent. We are having pickled pork this evening. I'll expect you in the dining room at six. But what am I thinking. You know the rules.” Surveying the room with a critical eye she finally took her leave.

Business had to be Murdoch's first consideration, but once he had secured the necessary appointments for the following day, he made his way directly to a fine brick house on Chestnut Street.

“Is Miss McIntyre at home?”

Murdoch waited in the entrance hall while the maid went to inquire if her young mistress was at home to visitors. She returned within moments and showed him into to a comfortable sitting room overlooking the rear garden. Beth turned from the window as he entered. Dismissing the maid, she greeted him warmly. “You cannot imagine how good it is to see you.”

She led him over towards the fireplace. “Mother, I'd like you to meet, Mr Lancer.”

An attractive middle-aged woman rose from an armchair and offered her hand. “Welcome, Mr Lancer. I am so pleased to finally meet the cause of all the furore.”

“Furore?”

“Ah, you have not heard. In that case, I think I will leave my daughter to explain the situation. You will excuse me, Mr Lancer, but I have some letters to write.” Mrs McIntyre tidied her embroidery away and went to a desk at the far end of the adjoining room, leaving one of the French doors open behind her.

As soon as Mrs McIntyre was out of hearing, Beth began. “Oh Murdoch, I'm so glad you're here at last. The most awful thing has happened. Mr Garrett knows about you and Catherine.”

“Well, I would have preferred to meet as gentlemen to explain how Catherine and I feel about each other, but it was inevitable. He had to know sometime.”

“But you don't understand. He is furious! I am banned from the house. He wanted to send Catherine to Worcester to stay with her aunt, but she refused to go. Her aunt, however, has now come here, and chaperones her everywhere.” Beth paced the room, wringing her hands. “Oh, it's all my fault. If I hadn't been so eager to know what was in your last letter, he would never have seen her trying to hide it away.”

“Can we get a message to her? That was why I came, to ask you to tell her I was back and arrange to meet.”

“I don't know how. I get a little information via our servants, but the Garretts' servants are too afraid of losing their jobs to help us. Mr Garrett now checks all the mail going in and out of the house. Catherine is a virtual prisoner.”

Worried and not knowing what else to do, Murdoch went from Chestnut Street to the Garrett residence in Louisburg Square. He was refused entry. Stepping back into the road he searched the windows for some sign of Catherine, but there was nothing. All he could see of the interior were the heavy drapes that stood sentry on either side of each window.

With growing anxiety he then visited Harlan Garrett's place of business, but he did not get past the secretary.

“Leave now, Mr Lancer, or I will call for the day police. Mr Garrett has given express orders. You are not to be allowed on these premises.” The secretary planted himself between Murdoch and the doorway leading to Harlan Garrett's office.

Murdoch hesitated. Should he force his way through? Thinking better of it, he retreated to the street, but for several minutes he stood staring daggers at the black painted door.

“Out of the way, man!”

Startled, Murdoch stumbled hurriedly back out of the path of a horse and cab, travelling much too fast along the cobbled street. Its driver shook a fist in his direction, and then urged the blinkered animal on. Murdoch picked up his hat and wended his way slowly back to Mrs Merriweather's boarding house.

Later, after dinner, Murdoch sat on the edge of Jim Harper's bed as his friend shaved and dressed for an evening out with business associates.

“What am I going to do? We were going to be married. I've already booked us passage to California.”

“When does the ship sail?” Jim held the skin of his neck taut and scraped the razor up its right side. Knocking the foam into a dish on the dresser, he repositioned the razor for a second sweep.

“Three weeks. I was going to see Catherine first. If she still felt the same way, as I believe she does, we were going to speak with her father together.”

Rinsing the remains of soap from his face, Jim grabbed a towel and patted his skin dry. “I've taken great care not to let my connection with you be known to Garrett. He is the leading investor in a syndicate my firm set up to finance imports from South America. Mr Kirby and I dine at his house with the other syndicate members every Thursday.”Shaking down his sleeves, he inserted gold cufflinks and selected a dinner jacket from a compactum wardrobe in the corner of the room. “I believe I could get a message to Miss Garrett.”

“You would do that? Garrett is a powerful man in the business world, Jim. If he found out you helped us, there could be repercussions.”

“Best not let him find out then.” Jim turned from side to side in front of the half-length mirror fixed to the wardrobe door. Satisfied his attire was in order he closed the cabinet and opened the main door to the hall.“Now, if you don't mind, I can't afford to be late.” Ushering Murdoch out, he exited the room himself and disappeared down the stairs.

The following day, still worried but no longer desperate, Murdoch visited Douglas Muir at the bank to finalise the paperwork for the mortgage. He then made his way to James McIntyre and Associates. Beth was waiting for him outside, eager to know what had happened after he had left her.

“I thought I could stand outside Catherine's house or the Athenaeum or theatre until she saw me. Even if I couldn't get close enough to speak to her, she would at least know I was in town.”

“She knows already,” Beth replied. “I told you our servants talk to each other. The Garrett servants will not actively help, but that doesn't stop them gossiping.”

“Then I need to decide what to write in the message Harper has offered to deliver. We need a time and place to meet, where she can elude her father and aunt.”

“Saturday—at the Eliots'. The Garretts are bound to attend. Mrs Eliot holds her soirees so infrequently, and the Eliots are such a prestigious family that Mr Garrett would never dream of not going. Besides, rumour has it that Senator and Mrs Eliot's nephew will be there.”

“Why should that matter?”

“Ah well, he was quite taken with Catherine on his last visit, and she didn't absolutely hate him. Mr Garrett entertained great hopes, I think, but Mr Eliot was obliged to return to West Point before it came to anything.”

This news was not to Murdoch's liking. He had heard of West Point. The idea that Catherine ‘did not absolutely hate' a young military cadet, of whom her father approved, was not to his liking at all.

“Our family has been invited too,” Beth added, oblivious to Murdoch's change of mood. “As long as I stay in Mr Garrett's sight while Catherine is out of it, he shouldn't become suspicious. He couldn't possibly expect you to be there.”

“No, I suppose not.”Feeling suddenly bad-tempered, Murdoch stuffed his hands into his pockets and stared at his feet. He kicked a pebble into the street with unusual force.

Beth paused, looking at him intently. She smiled.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing.” Beth bent to retie her boot lace and then, face composed, continued. “Mrs Eliot always uses the rooms upstairs for such events. The breakfast room downstairs opens to the garden, and it should be empty. Catherine knows that house well—we were both very friendly with Dorothea Eliot before she married and moved to Philadelphia. I'm sure Catherine could easily make some excuse to leave the party for a short while and meet you by the gate in the wall. It opens to a back alley. You could wait there for her, and I could create some kind of diversion if her father noticed her absence.”

“Thank you, Beth. I don't know what we would do without you.”

Beth blushed. She headed off to visit her milliner as Murdoch entered the building to meet with her father. James McIntyre was speaking with his secretary in the outer office as Murdoch came in the door.

“Welcome back, Mr Lancer. I'm glad you're on time. We have serious matters to discuss.”

Following McIntyre into his inner sanctum, Murdoch wondered if he was going to get an ‘I told you so' lecture, but his lawyer had more pressing concerns on his mind than his client's love life.

“Muller is abroad. He was due back last month in good time to sign the final agreement, but his passage was delayed by the death of his father-in-law in Germany. He won't be back for another month, maybe more.” McIntyre sat down behind his desk and indicated that Murdoch should also take a seat.

“But surely that doesn't matter. Most of the papers have already been signed. His lawyers must have the authority to act on his behalf and finalise the financial arrangements in his absence.”

“They have, but they won't.” McIntyre almost spat his disgust. “One of Muller's ships went down off Africa before Christmas. It was a heavy financial loss, but Muller would have been well insured. His lawyer declares now, however, as a result he will finalise no new business until Muller returns. Not a word of the kind until last week. I'd lay money Harlan Garrett has had a hand in his decision. They were seen dining together at a private club earlier in the week.”

“Muller will sign when he returns?”

“I am certain of it, but that doesn't help you in the short term. I take it you cannot delay your return?”

“No, coming here at all is not ideal, but I need his guarantee for the loan with the bank. I have just made the first mortgage payment from my remaining funds. It leaves me very little. I need that money for wages and expenses until I can sell some cattle late spring. What on earth am I going to do?”

“I don't know. I am working on it, but Garrett is an influential man. It appears he now knows about you and his daughter, and is waging a personal vendetta. It is going to be extremely difficult to find a new backer, even on a purely interim basis.”

For some time after leaving the lawyer's office, Murdoch wandered the streets thinking. There was nothing he could do about his financial situation until McIntyre identified another potential investor. The lawyer had warned him not to advertise the problem to his bank manager. Douglas Muir was first and foremost required to act in the best interests of the bank. Losing Muller's backing, albeit temporarily, could undermine the bank's faith in Murdoch's ability to finance his mortgage.

Murdoch decided to write to Catherine and her father. He would pay for the letters to be delivered, so that they should at least make it over the threshold. If Beth was right, Catherine's would make it no further, and in case Garrett read it, he was careful what he wrote. He thought long and hard how to word his letter to Harlan Garrett. In the end it was courteous and brief.

Dear Mr Garrett,

I write to apologise unreservedly for any offence I may have given. I was wrong to see your daughter without your approval. I am ashamed that I forgot what was due to you as her father, and I humbly beg the opportunity to make amends.

I assure you, sir, my feelings for Miss Garrett are genuine and my intentions are honourable. I hereby request your permission to court her in a proper manner.

As a caring father, you will naturally wish to know my background before granting such permission. You know something of my financial situation and plans already, but I believe I can further demonstrate my good prospects. I would be grateful for an interview at your earliest convenience, so I can answer any questions you may have.

With greatest respect,

Murdoch Lancer

*****

“Let me guess, no response to either letter?” Jim accepted the note Murdoch had written to Catherine and tucked it away in the inside pocket of his dinner jacket. “Wish me luck.”

When Jim finally returned later in the evening, Murdoch unbolted the door to let him in. Mrs Merriweather made an exception to her ‘no admission after 10 o'clock' policy for Mr Harper, because he was a long term boarder, clearly advancing in the world and because he bribed her with imported Belgian chocolates. She was certainly not going to turn down Mr Lancer's offer to wait up for the gentleman and went happily off to her bedroom to enjoy the latest box of truffles.

“Mission accomplished,” announced Jim, enjoying the last few puffs of his cigar on the door step before entering the house. Mrs M. did not approve of smoking except in the guest's sitting room within normal hours. “You have the etiquette of coffee to thank. As lady of the house, Miss Garrett always serves it before retiring for the evening and leaving us to our business. It was no problem at all to slip her your note.”

“Thank you, Jim. My sons and their sons thank you. Bit hard to start a dynasty without the mother of your children.” Murdoch sank to the step beside Jim and accepted a cigar from his friend, who now appeared to be getting quite comfortable, sitting there surveying the dark, deserted street. “Now if only McIntyre can find another moneyman to back me in the short term until Muller returns, life will not look so bleak.”

“Nil desperandum, my friend. You never know what tomorrow may bring.”

 

 

Chapter 14: The Tide Turns

Murdoch stepped back into the shadows as the night cart rumbled by. Hugging himself to keep warm, he once again listened hard at the solid wooden gate, but all he could hear were the distant strains of Mozart. Something had gone wrong. Catherine could not get away. He slid down on his haunches with his back to the gate, and his face upturned to the sky, black clouds gathering overhead. What was he to do now? Then he heard it, a click, the rustle of silk, a gentle tap and finally, thankfully, her urgent whisper. “Murdoch, are you there?”

“Catherine!” The heavy iron bolt grated as it drew back and the gate creaked open. A quick glance in both directions and he slipped through the gate into her arms.

They remained locked in an embrace for several minutes. Murdoch buried his face in Catherine's hair, and breathed in her scent. It seemed to give him strength. Pulling back to look at her, he said, “I've missed you so much. Are you all right?”

“I've missed you too. And I am well, but unhappy. I do not have much time. I've tried and tried to convince Father to let me see you, but he will not budge.”

“Oh, it's all such a mess. I should have spoken to him like a man before I left Boston last year. It's the secrecy that has upset him most. I am sure of it.”

“Maybe, but I'm not convinced it would have made any difference. He has this great plan in his head for me. Marrying a Californian rancher with potential but no current wealth, who is less than a year off the boat from Inverness, doesn't fit with that plan.” Catherine seemed strangely calm. For a single woman at odds with her family, having a clandestine meeting with a young man in the darkness of someone else's garden, she was remarkably composed.

“You still want to marry me? No wait, I must tell you something before you answer. George Muller is abroad and his lawyers will not sign over the money in his absence. I am virtually penniless, Catherine. Unless some miracle occurs and another investor is found quickly, I will have to return to Lancer and survive on a shoe-string and the goodwill of my workers. If they abandon me, because I cannot pay them, I do not know how I will get my cattle to Yerba Buena to sell. If I can't sell my cattle when the time is right, the Estancia Lancer will not survive. I can't ask you to marry me in such circumstances.”

“Do you love me, Murdoch?”

“You know I do, but that isn't ….”

Catherine raised her fingers to his lips. “Now you listen to me, Murdoch Lancer. I've had ten long months to think about this. I'm of age, I love you and I am going to marry you. There is nothing that my father—or you— can do or say to change my mind. Arrange a minister, send a message with Mr Harper to tell me when you are ready and I will leave my father's house. That is an order.”

Murdoch smiled at the memory of Catherine's speech all the way home as the first drops of rain began to fall. She was a feisty lass for all that good breeding and training in genteel ways. He and Jim were to walk to Roxbury in the morning. He wanted to catch up with his friend, Ben Telford, and had invited Harper to come with him. He would talk it over with the two of them and devise a plan. He was sure Beth would help. The tide had turned. Some things at least were looking up.

*****

“I told you it wouldn't be a problem.” Ben's minister had been quite happy to make a time and date to marry Murdoch and Catherine in the whitewashed church off the square. The three friends ambled back towards the house where Ben still lived with his cousin. The sun burst through the clouds, and the gardens around them were verdant and colourful. Murdoch smiled to himself, more than his surroundings looked brighter.

“You can stay with me the night before. Henry and Alice won't mind. I'll book a room for the wedding night at the local hotel. Mr Garrett will never think of looking for his daughter out here.”

“I'll get a message to Miss Garrett this Thursday, so that she is ready to leave the following Thursday,” added Jim. “With Miss McIntyre's help, she will meet you here in Roxbury on Friday morning and you will be Mr and Mrs Murdoch Lancer by sundown.”

“I don't deserve such good friends. I owe you both.” Murdoch clapped his companions on the shoulders. With renewed hope, he bound up the front steps towards the smell of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

“Oh, don't be too grateful. I'm a businessman, remember,” laughed Jim, wiping his feet on the door mat. “I'll no doubt call in the favour someday.”

*****

The week that followed was one of frustration with small pin-pricks of hope.

Murdoch visited G.W. Burke and Son to catch up with Alfred Burke and to let him and his father know how things were going at the Estancia Lancer. Their business was done, but he and young Burke had got on well. They were now free to develop their acquaintance into friendship. Before Murdoch left the agents' office, he confided in an understated way his financial dilemma. He was buoyed when they suggested a gentleman who could be interested in such an investment. James McIntyre also contacted him with a name.

Optimistic, Murdoch visited both men, armed with as much information as he could muster, but neither gentleman was willing to back him. One came right out and acknowledged Harlan Garrett's influence.“Unfortunately, Mr Lancer, I do a lot of business with Mr Garrett, with whom I believe you are currently at odds. It would not be wise for me to invest.”

Thankfully, Jim returned Thursday evening with good news to cheer him up. He had successfully conveyed a second note to Catherine.“Not such an easy job this time. That damned aunt of hers kept hovering. I think she thought I had intentions. You'll be pleased to know that I'm no more acceptable as a prospective husband for Miss Garrett than you.”

“How did you manage it then?” asked Murdoch, grinning at Jim's indignation. Catherine had told him that her Aunt Winifred was a sanctimonious dowager with no children of her own. She was Harlan Garrett's half-sister and some years older. She had jumped at the chance to play turnkey when Garrett had asked her help to keep Catherine away from Murdoch and any other undesirable young man.

“I'm very clumsy.” Jim shook his head in mock despair. “I accidentally spilled my coffee over the old crone. In the resulting mayhem, Miss Garrett pocketed the message.”

Murdoch visited Beth the following day to confirm Harper's success. He had seen her earlier in the week at the Athenaeum. As expected she had been more than ready to help. Murdoch had explained the scheme as far as he and his friends had already devised, and Beth filled in the gaps.

“My father can't know. I will ask my mother on Thursday if I can borrow the carriage to visit a new friend in Roxbury on Friday morning. It won't be a lie. Father also has a regular meeting on Thursday nights, so there should be no time for them to discuss my request. I will not be able to leave too early or it would look suspicious, but I should be able to collect Catherine by 10 o'clock, if Mr Harper can spare the time to wait with her until then.”

“I seem to be the cause of a lot of deception,” Murdoch said glumly. “I wish there was some other way.” Beth touched his arm in sympathy, but as neither of them could think of another way, there seemed no choice but to continue with the plan.

Ben and Jim tried to shake him out of his reservations when they went fishing together on Sunday. Murdoch was not the happy future bridegroom of novels. His financial affairs seemed hopeless and here he was plotting an elopement, which went against everything he had ever believed to be right.

“If I had more time, I would find another way,” he bemoaned as he put a fresh worm on his hook. “I feel like this wee worm, desperately trying to escape, but skewered to the one spot.”

“You'd never make a Boston businessman.” Jim cast his line into the water. “Far too much conscience for your own good.”

“Have a sandwich and another beer.” Ben pushed what was left of the cheese and pickle sandwiches towards Murdoch, and began rummaging in his knapsack for the bottle opener. “Focus on the prize and forget the rest. Now me, I'm quite looking forward to it: a day off, a slap up meal at your expense after the nuptials. Not to mention a chance to make a speech and to meet Miss McIntyre—you did say she's pretty, didn't you? What could be better?”

*****

Late Monday morning, just as he was about to leave the boarding house to meet Jim for lunch, Murdoch received a message from James McIntyre.

I have news. Be at my office at 1 o'clock.

Puzzled but daring to hope that something good might finally be about to happen, he skipped lunch and went straight to the lawyer's office. He had to wait, because McIntyre was in court, but with ten minutes to spare the advocate appeared.

“This morning I received an unexpected visit from Edward Kirby of New England Enterprises. He has made a very surprising and very generous offer. He proposes to advance you half the value of the hides and tallow from five hundred steers on the condition that you deliver the cattle to his agent in Yerba Buena by May 29th. The balance will be paid to you in Mexican currency upon delivery.”

Murdoch was dumbfounded. This had to be Jim's doing, but he had not said a word about it. “I don't know what to say. That's wonderful!”

“Say you accept, and we can sign the agreement now and the money will be in your bank account tomorrow.”

“Accept, of course I accept. My God, I don't even know the man. How can I ever repay him?”

“The only repayment he asked for was for you to keep the arrangement confidential, and for you to fulfil your contract on time.” McIntyre called his secretary in to act as witness, and then he presented the documents for Murdoch's signature. “I would say, Mr Lancer, you have a guardian angel lurking somewhere. The timing of this could not be better.”

Murdoch's guardian angel came through the boarding house door soon after 5 o'clock. Following Jim up to his room, Murdoch thanked him profusely.

“Why have you done so much for me, Jim? We have not known each other long and yet you have been my saviour several times over now.”

“Mr Kirby has taught me there are two types of businessman, the ones who achieve wealth through investing in things and the ones who invest in people. Mr Kirby is the latter. He has done very well for himself and he is a happy man, with friends and business associates, whom he trusts and who trust him. Harlan Garrett is the former. He has perhaps more money, but he is poor in all other respects. I choose to be like my mentor.” Jim threw his jacket over the end of the bed and rolled up his sleeves ready to wash off the day's dust and grime. “It wasn't difficult to persuade Mr Kirby. He did take somewhat longer to think about my proposal than I had hoped, but I believe he wanted to talk with Miss Garrett. He apparently had that opportunity last Thursday and then took the weekend to come up with the simple idea of an advance payment. Will it be enough to tide you over until Muller gets back?”

“It should be. Please thank him for me. I wish I could do it in person, but he has asked that I do not contact him or make our relationship known.”

“Yes, it wouldn't help our Thursday syndicate meetings to have the two main players not speaking to each other. Mr Kirby is sufficiently powerful himself not to be afraid of Harlan Garrett, but he doesn't look for unnecessary confrontation.”

After dinner the two friends went out for a celebratory drink. It was not exactly a stag night and they did not stay out late, but a huge worry had been lifted from Murdoch's shoulders. He was able to really enjoy himself for the first time since returning to Boston. A full moon shone down upon them as he and Jim strolled back from the bar in mellow mood, only four more days until the main event.

 

 

Chapter 15: The Great Escape

Murdoch packed his bag and left for Roxbury on Thursday afternoon. Henry and Alice Telford made him welcome, and he spent the evening playing cards with Henry and Ben while Alice chivvied the children to bed and darned socks by the fireside. In the morning Ben had a lie in, but Murdoch was too anxious and walked the length and breadth of Roxbury until the time he could reasonably expect Catherine and Beth to arrive.

Jim would not be with them. His business interests lay in being a silent partner in crime. He had wished Murdoch well the day before and declined to be at the wedding. “I'll see Miss Garrett safely away, and then go into work. I'll be as surprised as the next man when Miss Garrett's absence is discovered. Not that I expect old Harlan to advertise it.”

Murdoch helped Alice up the stairs with her washing basket as Ben emerged onto the front porch and settled himself into a rocking chair. His cousin's springer spaniel lifted its head and padded over with a hopeful woof.

“Sorry, not today, Jasper.” Ben chucked the dog under its chin. Reaching for the morning newspaper, he watched his friend, restlessly searching of the horizon from the porch steps. “No sign of them yet?”

Murdoch shook his head. Returning to the front gate, he stood with his hands in his pockets, gazing down the dirt road. Half an hour later he was still waiting, pacing and muttering to himself.

“We may as well go inside and have something to eat.” Ben strolled down the white-pebbled path and leaned on the gate. “Alice has prepared some cold cuts and salad. She makes the best bread. The others can have theirs when they get here.”

Again Murdoch shook his head. He had no appetite. Where were they? Perhaps he should walk towards Boston. He stared at the old oak on the rise and willed something to happen. Crows roosting on the lower branches obliged him by rising into the air. Seconds later a landau came into view. “At last!”

It was them. Within minutes the two young women, flushed with excitement, tumbled out of the carriage. Murdoch scooped Catherine up and swung her round full circle in his pleasure and relief. Leaving Ben to introduce himself to Beth, Murdoch escorted Catherine up the path. Ben shouldered her bag and gave the coachman a dollar. “The inn is about half a mile that way. Get yourself a beer and something to eat. Miss McIntyre won't be ready to go back until later this afternoon. She'll meet you there.”

Alice was putting on her bonnet when they entered the house. She paused briefly to welcome the young ladies to her home and then picked up her gloves and wicker shopping basket. “Lunch is laid out in the dining room. I'll leave you to enjoy it. I have some errands to do.”

Settling into chairs at the table, the friends eagerly helped themselves to cold ham, bacon and egg pie, salad greens, and Alice's fresh baked bread and homemade pickles. They were all famished.

“What took you so long?” Murdoch asked between mouthfuls.

Bit by bit the story unfolded.

As arranged Catherine had retired to her room after serving coffee to her father's business associates. Her aunt had said good night to her on the landing and after helping Catherine undress, Jemima had gone to her bed in the servant's quarters.

“I sat brushing my hair for some time to be sure neither of them would come back, and then I retrieved the carpet bag I had hidden at the back of the wardrobe and finished packing.” Catherine poured herself some more water. “It was about half past ten when I finally mustered the courage to leave my bedroom. I carried my boots as well as my bag. I didn't want to be heard crossing the tiles. Jordan, our butler, was just entering the drawing room with a fresh decanter of brandy when I reached the lower landing. I waited until he closed the door behind him and then made my escape down the stairs and across the entrance hall to the green baize door. The grandfather clock in the hall chimed as I passed. I got such a fright, I nearly dropped a boot.”

Murdoch took hold of her hand and smiled. “You went out through the servant's stairway then?”

“Yes. I knew that Jordan would be the only one up at that time, and he would likely be serving Father's guests. It was the safest way. There is a door for deliveries in the basement, along the hall from the butler's pantry and storeroom. I have often heard Mrs Pearson scold the kitchen maid for leaving it unlocked. I took the risk that Jordan would not find it particularly suspicious if he found it unbolted when he did his final rounds.”

“And what of Harper, did he meet you as planned?” Ben sawed another slice of bread from the loaf, and Beth passed him the butter.

“I waited in a corner of the yard until I heard him whistling, and then joined him in the back lane. I was terrified we would meet someone on the way to the boarding house, but we were lucky. Rose let us in through the scullery door, and I shared her bed for the night. Fortunately neither of us is very big.”

The following morning Catherine had drunk tea in the kitchen as Rose prepared and served breakfast to the boarders. Her stomach had been churning too much to eat. Jim Harper had come in to keep her company once the last of the other gentlemen had gone to work. It must have been just after 9 o'clock when the doorbell rang and someone banged loudly on the front door.

“Rose went to answer it, and Mr Harper and I eavesdropped from the dining room. The door was only open a little, but we had a clear view of the front entrance. I nearly fainted when I saw my father.”

Rose had rushed to the door as fast as she could, afraid that the noise would bring her mistress downstairs an hour before her normal time. It would not do at all for Mrs Merriweather to discover a strange young woman in her kitchen. The maid had called for patience as she struggled with the lock.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“I want Lancer. Where is Lancer? Get him for me immediately!” Harlan Garrett spat his orders at the surprised maid as he pushed his way past her into the hall. Two menservants hovered on the threshold.

“I am sorry, sir.” Rose bobbed a haphazard curtsey as she repositioned herself between Mr Garrett and the stairs and dining room. “But Mr Lancer left yesterday. He is not here.”

“Liar! He must be here. Let me by woman, I intend to search this house from top to bottom until I find him and my daughter.”

“How dare you, sir!” Matilda Merriweather appeared on the landing. She descended like a galleon in full sail, encased in a pink candlewick dressing gown, her slippers slapping on the polished timber stairs. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I am looking for my daughter, Madam. I believe Murdoch Lancer has abducted her, and I wish to search this house.”

“What nonsense! As my maid has already informed you, Mr Lancer left yesterday afternoon. He is not here and neither is your daughter. Leave my house immediately!”

“Ma'am, do you know who I am?”

“No, sir, I do not. You haven't had the courtesy to tell me. At this point, however, I do not care. Remove yourself from my hall or I will send my maid for the day police, and you can introduce yourself to them.”

Faced with forcing his way passed the indomitable Matilda Merriweather, Catherine's father had only blustered a little longer. When the lady's patience finally wore out, and she told Rose to fetch a policeman, Harlan Garrett accepted defeat. He marched back to his carriage, slammed the door and ordered his driver on.

Catherine and Harper had retreated into the kitchen. Rose had eventually managed to placate her mistress, and had persuaded her to go back upstairs to her bedroom. The maid had then joined the others in the kitchen and they had all breathed a great sigh of relief. Their eagerness for Beth to arrive and whisk Catherine away had increased in proportion.

“But she was late.” Catherine smiled at her friend, encouraging her to take up the story.

“Everything had gone as planned my end, until the last. Mother was indisposed so she had breakfast in bed. I was putting on my bonnet and gloves when my father popped back home unexpectedly to check on her health. He asked where I was going. When I told him I was visiting a friend, Mrs Telford in Roxbury, he became suspicious. You must have mentioned Roxbury or Mr Telford to him in passing, Murdoch.”

“I don't remember doing so, but I suppose it is possible. He employs an investigator though, so maybe he found out that way. What did he say?”

“He asked me what was going on. I couldn't lie to him.” Beth stared shamefaced at the table.

“No, of course you couldn't,” Catherine commiserated, reaching across and patting her hand. “I would have told Father everything if he had asked me outright like that.”

James McIntyre had not been happy with the news that his daughter was assisting her friend to elope with his client. He had paced the floor and attempted to speak several times before finally doing so.

“I do not defend Harlan Garrett, but the dishonesty of an elopement cannot be the answer, Beth. It could leave Catherine and her father estranged forever.”

“But he has left her no other choice, Father. I'm Catherine's friend and I'm going to help her. Will you let me take the landau or must I hail a horse and cab?”

Preferring to have his daughter escorted by his own coachman, McIntyre had allowed her to take the family carriage. She had collected Catherine from the rear entrance of Mrs Merriweather's boarding house and from that point they had made good time to Roxbury.

Story and lunch over, the friends cleared the leftovers and crockery away, and prepared to walk to the church. Ben left a note asking Alice to send the bags on to the hotel later. They gave Jasper some fresh water and then strolled towards the town square.

White clouds dotted a blue sky and the slightest of breezes teased the ladies' hair from their bonnets. It was the perfect day for a wedding. Arm supporting the woman he loved and their two best friends about to share their wedding day, Murdoch gazed up to the heavens and said a silent thank you.

The foursome arrived at the wooden church shortly before the appointed time. The minister stood in welcome at the entrance as they walked up the wide gravel path side by side. They had almost reached the doorway, when they heard the crack of a whip. Turning, they saw a horse and buggy approaching at speed. As it was reined sharply to a stop, two men jumped down.

“Father!”

 

 

Chapter 16: Love and Honour

Catherine and Beth cried out together. Both their fathers were running towards the church, black frock coats flapping and hands clutching at their hats to stop them falling off. Catherine released Murdoch's arm and moved quickly to meet Harlan Garrett part way down the path. Beth just stared in open-mouthed horror.

Grabbing his daughter's hand, Garrett breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness, I got here in time.”

“Father, we need to talk.”

“There is nothing to talk about. I am taking you home.” Garrett attempted to pull Catherine towards the buggy, but she stood her ground.

Murdoch came up beside her and put his arm around her shoulder. “I'm sorry, sir, but I can't let you do that. Catherine has agreed to marry me. I love her and she loves me. We would rather marry with your blessing, but if you refuse to give it we will still go ahead.”

Garrett looked fit to explode. Catherine took hold of her father's hand. Her grey-blue eyes met his with the same extraordinary calmness they had shown in the Eliots' garden two weeks earlier. “Father, I want to talk to you in private.”

Waving Murdoch away, she led her father across the lawn to the shade of a large chestnut tree. Murdoch could no longer hear what they were saying so he returned to the others. He stood in silence with the McIntyres and Ben watching the tête-à-tête for some time. Eventually they began to talk amongst themselves.

“Father, how could you!” Beth looked reproachfully at James McIntyre.

“How could I not? I am a father. It would kill me if you ran off like that, Beth. How could I not tell him where his daughter was?”

“It's not the same. Mr Garrett is so strict and unbending and … “

“Harlan Garrett may need to learn that to keep the love of his child and to have her come back willingly when she needs him, he has to let her go, but he has a right to know of his daughter's wedding. If he decides not to be part of the ceremony, so be it. He will have no one to blame then but himself. Catherine and Mr Lancer are of age and can make it happen regardless if they love each other well enough, but to marry behind her father's back is dishonest. It is no way to start a marriage.”

“But Father ….”

“No, Beth. Your father is right.” Murdoch turned to McIntyre and offered his hand. “Thank you, sir. I am in your debt. I will marry Catherine as long as she will still have me, but we will do it honestly and honourably. I will not be the one to deny her contact with her father.”

Their conversation declined into polite murmurs as they waited for Catherine and Garrett. The minister, recognising that time and further discussion would be needed before any ceremony took place, had already retreated into his church to work on his sermon for Sunday. After about twenty minutes, Catherine kissed her father on the cheek and crossed the lawn alone. With the barest shake of her head, she indicated she did not wish to talk. The little group was plunged into total silence. The black figure of Harlan Garrett stood under the chestnut tree with his back to them, gazing into nothingness.

Finally he came towards them, his face grim. Catherine slipped her arm through Murdoch's and met her father face on. “Well, Father, what is your decision? Will you give me away?”

Garrett looked bewildered and defeated. Murdoch almost pitied the man. With a curt nod, Garrett held out his arm to his daughter. Exchanging Murdoch for her father for the last time, Catherine entered the Roxbury Unitarian Church with a calm grace. The bridegroom and witnesses followed in their wake.

The ceremony was probably a little shorter than the elaborate event Harlan Garrett had envisaged for his only daughter, but it was perhaps more beautiful and meaningful as a result. He played his part with reserved dignity, passing Catherine's hand into Murdoch's at the required time with no further protest. Grey-blue met darker blue as Catherine and Murdoch gave their vows, and it was not long before Mr and Mrs Murdoch Lancer and their wedding party were again gathered outside the church.

“Will you come with us for a bite to eat at the hotel, sir?”

“No, thank you. I think I need to return to Boston.” First kissing his daughter, Garrett offered Murdoch his hand. “Take care of her, Lancer. She is the most precious treasure in my life.”

The wedding party watched the buggy disappear around the corner and then walked together to the hotel where the young couple would spend their first night as husband and wife. James McIntyre remained with them. He would return to Boston with his daughter after the meal. When the time came to pay, Murdoch removed his wallet, but McIntyre reached out to stop him opening it.

“No, Mr Garrett knows his duty. He left me money to pay for this and it is his right as father of the bride to do so. I'm sure you would agree?”

Bill paid, their friends departed soon after, and Murdoch and Catherine retired to their room early. Their wedding night was everything they could have hoped for and everything it deserved to be after a marriage in the presence of family and friends. The intrigue and tumultuous events of the previous few days were forgotten. They fell into each other's arms behind closed doors with all the love and passion a good romance novelist could desire. On Saturday no one saw them before noon, and then they enjoyed rambling about the countryside together until joining the Telfords for dinner in the evening. Their ship was due to sail late Sunday morning. They would hire a horse and cab to Boston's waterfront, and from there begin their journey to California.

*****

“Father, I'm so glad you came to see us off.” Catherine hugged her father and he hugged her back.

“I thought you would want your things.” Garrett nodded at the two servants who had accompanied him to Mrs Merriweather's, and they began unloading trunks and hatboxes from a wagon that had followed Garrett's carriage into the dockyard. “I had Jemima pack everything she thought you might want. She said you had already taken your jewellery. You should ask the captain to lock that away in his cabin.”

“I'll speak to a ship's officer about getting the luggage taken aboard.” Murdoch left Catherine and her father to say their goodbyes in private. He was pleased Garrett had come, but he was equally pleased to have something to do, which enabled him to avoid polite conversation. He still felt rather awkward around his father-in-law.

By the time he came back, Beth had also arrived on the wharf to say her goodbyes, escorted by one of her brothers. Sharing the conversation, the McIntyres took the pressure off Murdoch and made it easier for him to talk with Harlan Garrett normally.

“How long will the journey take to California?” Garrett gazed out over the busy harbour. A forest of masts stretched towards the islands that dotted its waters.

“About six weeks.” Murdoch spied the pilot heading their way—not long now. Catherine drew Beth and her brother away to admire the vessel's figurehead, a fearless Indian princess. The two men in her life were left temporarily and uncomfortably alone together. “We're taking the shortest route, crossing the Isthmus of Panama, not going around the Horn. We'll disembark at Monterey or Yerba Buena, depending on the ship we catch on the Pacific side. If you want to write to Catherine, just send your letters care of my bank. They send my mail on when a ship leaves Boston for either destination.”

“I'll do that. By the way, I've paid a thousand dollars into your account.”

“That's very generous, sir, but—“

Garrett raised his hand.“Don't say you won't accept. It is my wedding present. A man has a right to give his daughter a wedding present. Let Catherine use some of it to furnish her new home. God knows, she'll want a few comforts.” He and Murdoch walked along the pier towards the clipper's stern. Turning back, they could see Catherine standing near the bow, laughing with her friends. “She's just a girl, Lancer. She doesn't realise what she's going to.”

“I think Catherine is more mature than you give her credit for, sir, but thank you. The money will be hers to spend as she chooses.”

“Take care of her, Lancer. I'll not apologise for trying to stop the marriage. I still believe I was right, but it's done, so now I challenge you to prove me wrong. Prove to me that Catherine marrying you was not a mistake.”

A high-pitched whistle sounded and the final call to board came at last. After a flurry of hugs, handshakes and best wishes, Murdoch and Catherine made their way up the gangplank. The Amazonian cast off and glided out into the bay. As sailors hauled on ropes and the first mate yelled orders, the young couple stood side by side at the rail and watched family and friends recede into the distance. A tear trickled down Catherine's cheek.“I'm being silly.”

Murdoch smiled and kissed his wife. “Mmm, salty.”

“Oh, you!” Catherine hit him playfully. He drew her into his arms, her face upturned. Skin like silk and eyes the colour of a winter sky, she had given him her heart—he was a lucky man.

Suddenly serious, Murdoch brushed a ringlet back from Catherine's cheek. “You know your father still thinks we were wrong to marry?”

“I know.” Catherine moved to the rail again and gazed towards Boston.

Murdoch came up behind, wrapping his arms around her and kissing the top of her head. “You never told me how you convinced him to give you away. What did you say to your father under that chestnut tree?”

“Oh, I told him I loved you. I told him that even though I loved him too, if he made me choose, I would follow my heart.”

“But hadn't you said that before?”

“Perhaps I said it with greater conviction. Or perhaps...” Catherine looked impishly up at her husband. “Perhaps it was because I said I take after my father. When I want something badly enough I get it.”

Murdoch chuckled. “I begin to see you in a whole new light, Mrs Lancer. You do know, though, you and your father are not the only ones who get what they want?”

“Really, Mr Lancer, and what is it that you want?”

“Well, Mrs Lancer.” Murdoch glanced in both directions and lowered his voice to be sure no one could hear him. “If you will allow me to escort you to our cabin, I'll show you.”

 

 

Chapter 17: Good to be home

 

“Bienvenido a casa, Señor Lancer.” José Ramos was the first to greet Murdoch and Catherine when they arrived at the Estancia Lancer.

“It's good to be home, José .” Murdoch jumped down from the wagon. He grinned broadly at his foreman. He was back at Lancer and about to surprise everyone. Helping Catherine down, he introduced her. “I'd like you to meet my wife. Catherine, this is José Ramos, one of my most valued men.”

“Me siento honrado, Señora Lancer. Welcome.”

The news of their arrival spread like wildfire. A message was sent to Paul O'Brien, who was culling cattle on the range. He was not yet aware of the deal Murdoch had struck with New England Enterprises, but it had always been the plan to drive a herd through to Yerba Buena in the late spring.

“We've been preparing for the cattle drive as you instructed, Patrón.” José helped Murdoch lower the largest trunk from the wagon so they could get at the luggage immediately needed. Two ranch hands would deal with the rest. “We thought you'd make it back about now.”

The wives and children of the ranch gathered in the yard from every direction. They hovered in small groups, shyly smiling at their new mistress. Murdoch took Catherine by the hand and introduced them one at a time. The new Mrs Lancer's eyes sparkled with pleasure as she greeted each person.

“And this is Estella, who has kept me fed and watered so well these past months.” Murdoch nodded encouragement to his housekeeper.

Estella curtseyed to Catherine. “Welcome, Señora. “These are my younger ni ñ os: Maria, Ramón , Pablo, Magdalena and Vittoria. Mi marido, Eduardo, and my two older boys, Diego and Alberto, work as vaqueros here.”

“Hola, Estella—children. I hope you will keep helping in the house, Estella. This is a new life for me and I will need all the help I can get.” The two women smiled uncertainly at each. “Perhaps Maria would like to be my maid? I could teach her what is required of a lady's maid, and I can see she is interested in clothing.”

Maria, who at sixteen took great care over her own appearance, had been surreptitiously appraising what Catherine was wearing and how she did her hair. She withdrew her eyes quickly from the cartridge pleats, which created the bell shape of Catherine's gown. Her cheeks reddened slightly with embarrassment as she looked hopefully between her mother and the new mistress of the estancia. “Oh si, por favour, Señora. Mama?”

Estella nodded her permission, and Murdoch took the opportunity to conclude the greetings. “I think I am going to stop there and let the rest of you introduce yourselves another day. We've had a long journey and Señora Lancer is tired.”

The voyage from Boston to California had taken a little over six weeks. As newly-weds, they had found entertainment in their own company and for Murdoch the time at sea had gone faster than ever before. Catherine had not complained once, despite the discomforts of travelling through mosquito-infested Panamanian jungle and weeks at sea. She had even taken it upon herself to help care for the crew when a broken spinnaker caused several sailors to be injured. Murdoch had been more proud of her than he could express and his doubts about her adapting to her new life had lessened.

After a few days with Herman and Consuelo Richter in Monterey, Murdoch had purchased a wagon and horses to carry them and Catherine's belongings to the Estancia Lancer. Murdoch hoped Garrett had sent something more useful than fine silk dresses and fripperies. His father-in-law had not gone into detail about what had been packed, implying that he had left it mostly up to the maid. During their journey Catherine had made do with the few things she had packed herself in her carpet bag so the contents of the chests and boxes had remained a mystery.

“It will be like Christmas when we finally open the crates and luggage. I didn't know I had so many possessions,” Catherine had laughed as Murdoch and a sailor hauled the final crate up onto the wagon. “I can't help thinking Father has sent more than my personal belongings.”

Harlan Garrett had indeed dispatched more than a few personal belongings. The crate, which had needed two men to lift onto the wagon, turned out to be full of books. On the evening after their arrival home, Murdoch picked up a few on top of the now open packing case and read their spines. “Emerson, Dickens and this one is a history of Boston. We will have to make a bigger bookshelf to house them all.”

“Well actually, I was thinking we could fit shelves all along here.” With a wide sweep of her arm Catherine indicated the end wall between the archway to the kitchen and the front entrance. “With the dining table here, there is not a lot this wall can be used for, but it would be perfect for a bookcase. We both enjoy reading so I'm sure we'll get more books. And I could display our photographs and have vases of flowers. What do you think? Is there a carpenter at the ranch?”

Murdoch laughed at the glee in his wife's eyes. “I'll get José to send someone to you tomorrow and you can show him what you want. Perhaps now is a good time to do something about the rest of the house too. Would you like to take on the task?”

“Oh yes. I would love that!” Grabbing Murdoch by the hand, Catherine tugged him through to one of the guest rooms. “I would need someone to do the plastering and painting, but Maria and I could make curtains and other furnishings.”

Pulling him back to the great room she lifted the lid of a black leather trunk.“Look in here. This is the linen I was saving in my bottom drawer. I can use some of it in here and the rest in the bedrooms.”

“Jemima seems to have packed everything.” Murdoch went back to the books. Now here was a surprise—Edgar Allan Poe. He doubted the book belonged to Catherine. Jemima must have packed it by accident. “I think I'll keep this out to read tonight.”

“I think the books and my sheet music must have been Father's idea. He may have opposed our marriage, but he's been very thoughtful. My sewing box is here, some silverware and these miniatures of Father and Mother. He knew I was fond of those little portraits. Jemima may have thought of my clothes and linen, but she would never have packed the rest unless Father told her to.” Delving into another box just opened, Catherine extracted a small white and gold china tea cup and the last vestiges of child-like excitement gave way to a wistful sigh. “Oh my, this was my mother's favourite tea set.”

While Catherine and Maria unpacked and planned the refurbishments, Murdoch met with his foremen and was brought fully up-to-date with how everything was going. He paid the wages and bills owing from the previous months, and then inspected the ranch. Paul O'Brien had proved to be a reliable and efficient segundo. When Murdoch told him of the need to drive at least five hundred head to Yerba Buena by May 29 th , he was unfazed. “I was working on one thousand, as we discussed before you left. We have been rounding them up for about ten days. Six hundred are now grazing on the south mesa. Another day or two we will have the rest, and it will likely take us a week to drive them to port.”

“Good man. In that case we leave Monday. José , you remain here to look after the ranch and Mrs Lancer. Don't let her ride out alone. It's not safe.” Murdoch had been concerned to learn of an increase in small raids on his herds. O'Brien and his men had thwarted at least two attempts to steal cattle in the past month, but he was fairly sure they had lost a few head to the gangs of marauders that hid in the neighbouring hills.

The cattle drive to Yerba Buena began at sunrise with Murdoch, O'Brien, a cook, two gunhawks and eight vaqueros. The chuck wagon and another ox-drawn cart laden with the tallow and the two hundred hides rendered and cured at Lancer the previous year. Travelling at a steady pace they covered ten to fifteen miles a day, allowing the cattle time to rest and graze along the way

“Not a good idea to drive them faster.” O'Brien fell back to ride beside Murdoch, but never took his eyes off the herd and vaqueros travelling ahead of them. “What you'd save in time, you'd lose in the sale price. Probably not as important for hides and tallow as it is when they're being sold for their meat, but even so. If you want them at a healthy weight, it's better to take it slow.”

On the third day, rustlers attempted to cut some steers from the herd, but Murdoch's hired guns had seen their approach and were ready for them. One rustler was injured and the rest scared off. It took time to settle the herd, but the drive continued without further incident.

The cook had been hired by O'Brien in Murdoch's absence. Archibald McGillicuddy was a Kerry man, fresh off a whaler that had docked in the San Francisco Bay soon after Murdoch had left for Boston. Cuddy, as he was known, was aged about forty with an Irish accent as broad as a leprechaun's. He was only five feet four, could barely sit a horse let alone wrangle a cow, and walked with a limp—the story of which varied with every telling. As unsuited as he appeared to be for ranch work, he had argued that with a name like O'Brien, Kansas-born Paul could not refuse to employ him.

“Sure us Irish have to stick together. I'm a jack-of-all trades and I make a fair stew, though I do say so meself.”

Paul had given Cuddy chores around the yard and house on a trial basis. He had proved a good worker, mending tack, forking hay, feeding the hogs and digging over the land out back of the kitchen in preparation for a vegetable patch.

“He's a bit of a rascal, but his first efforts as cook were edible. He knows how to splint a man's leg, and he can spin a tale from here to Ireland so I put him in charge of the chuck wagon. I hope that's all right, boss?”

Murdoch dug into his plate of stew before answering. “He'll do.”

The Lancer cattle arrived at their destination with two days to spare. Some animals were penned in the corrals constructed near the shore and the rest were herded onto grassland a little further north to wait their turn. A brig called the Providence was at anchor in the harbour. Several crewmen were busy in the slaughter yards: killing, stripping the skins and rendering the fat into tallow. Just as it had been at Lancer when they had processed their own cattle, the air was rank and humming with flies. Hides staked out to dry in the sun stood nearby like an army on parade.

Other sailors were working in relay to carry already dry hides to the boats, which would in turn deliver them to the Providence . Dried hides were folded in half and stacked on the beach. Balancing one or two at a time on their heads to keep them out of the water, seamen waded through the surf to where the rowboats were moored. Those on board stood ready to stow the hides away, and when the boat could hold no more, the sailors manned the oars and rowed out to the brig.

Murdoch made his way to the trading post on the hill and greeted the proprietor cheerfully. “What company owns the Providence ?”

“New England Enterprises—I'm its agent.” A balding man got up from a table in the corner. “Josiah Brown's the name. Would you by chance be Lancer?”

“I am, sir. You know then that I contracted with Edward Kirby in Boston to supply five hundred steers? There are five hundred more if you want them. I also have two hundred hides and several bags of tallow.”

Eager to fill the Providence's hull, Brown accompanied Murdoch back down the hill to inspect the herd. The agent appeared pleased with what he saw. He purchased all the hides and tallow, and two hundred more bullocks. They had just concluded the transaction when the cry was heard announcing the arrival of another vessel, and a clipper sailed around the point into view.

“That will be the Monique . We've been playing cat and mouse up and down the coast for the past month.” Brown wiped beads of sweat from his pate with a large red handkerchief. The midday sun shone from a cloudless sky and the air hung heavy with dust and the lowing of cattle. “She's owned by the Hudson Bay Company. Their agent is certain to purchase your remaining cattle. I will be back here with the Providence late July and September if you have more to sell.”

The men from Lancer stayed in Yerba Buena to control the herd until there was enough room in the holding pens. Murdoch paid them their wages and bought the first round of drinks at the cantina before heading back to the ranch. O'Brien and two vaqueros rode with him, leaving Cuddy and the others to follow in their own time after cutting the wolf loose for a few days.

“Welcome home!” Catherine threw herself into his arms as Murdoch dismounted. He wrapped his arms around her, savouring this new kind of homecoming. After allowing herself to be soundly kissed, Catherine led Murdoch by the hand into the hacienda. “Come and see what we've done.”

The first thing to catch his eye was the fireplace. It had been re-plastered with the Lancer brand worked into its centre. The plaster was still slightly damp.

“We only thought of it yesterday. We weren't sure when you would make it home, but Pedro worked on it until late in the evening just in case.”

Turning towards his wife, Murdoch then saw the dining end wall of the great room now boasted an impressive bookcase. The books from Catherine's father took up only a quarter of the space available, but on the other shelves Catherine had placed ornaments, vases or pictures, including the two she and Murdoch had exchanged back in Boston. There were now several cushions on the sofa and chairs, embroidered cloths on the tables and drawers, and some paintings and a mirror on the other hitherto bare walls.

“We visited Morro Coyo and bought fabric. We've made new curtains for our bedroom, and we are making more for the guest rooms in the west wing. Pedro has been working hard plastering and painting. Two of those rooms will soon be habitable. He says he can build some beds and chairs to use until we can buy something more crafted.”

Murdoch smiled at his wife's enthusiasm. She had achieved a lot in a short time, and the great room, in particular, had a much more comfortable feel to it. He collapsed into an armchair and pulled her down into his lap. “It all looks wonderful. It's good to be home.”

 

 

Chapter 18: Catherine

“Oh, let me sit down.” Breathless and laughing, Catherine led Murdoch from the dance floor. “I haven't danced this much since my twenty-first. I'm out of practice.”

“Señor and Señora Lancer put on a fine display.” Don Frederigo Caldera Palmero bowed to the couple as they approached the tables laden with food and drink.

“Thank you, sir. You put on an excellent fiesta.” Murdoch helped Catherine to a glass of punch and then served himself more turkey with mole poblano. He had built up an appetite.

The festivities following the marriage of Angela Caldera Martinez to Capit á n Diego Perez Rodrigues were being held in the vast courtyard in front of the Hacienda Caldera and under the equally large tent, which adjoined it. Several hundred guests, most with no formal invitation, were in attendance. The local townsfolk mixed with visitors like the Lancers from further afield, and the lowliest servant shared the dance floor with the wealthiest landowners. The older women sat in rows gossiping and applauding the young people as they danced the evening away to the music of guitars and violins.

As invited guests, Murdoch and Catherine were staying at the hacienda. They had been made very welcome by Doña Mercedes and the bride Angela Caldera Martinez. Neither woman spoke much English, but goodwill, hand signals and facial expression had allowed them to communicate with their new American neighbour in the early days of their acquaintance, and now a year after her arrival in California Catherine was counted as a friend. Murdoch took great pleasure in seeing his wife being accepted as part of their world. He had worried that Catherine would be lonely, isolated as she was by language as well as distance from the kind of society she had been used to in Boston.

That Catherine had found it difficult in the first few months had been evident. She had her sheet music, but no instrument upon which to play. There were no theatres, libraries or art galleries to visit, and the shopping available in Morro Coyo and Green River did not compare to Boston. Although the neighbouring Californios spoke some English, their women-folk spoke virtually none and unlike the Calderas, many were not inclined to make an effort to be welcoming. Catherine made good progress with her Spanish, and could manage reasonably well one on one, but she soon lost track of conversation in a group situation with several different people talking at once. Besides, most of these wealthier neighbours were at least half a day's ride away and the dangers of travelling had not diminished.

Of the American and other English-speaking women within an easy reach of Lancer, none were from the same social class. On one level that did not matter. They were in the main friendly, and Catherine enjoyed their company. They were not only ranchers' wives, but mostly, ranchers' or farmers' daughters. They knew about churning butter, making preserves and plain dressmaking; things that Catherine knew little about. They shared their knowledge generously, and she was eager to learn. Murdoch sensed, however, that Catherine yearned for something more, a ‘Beth', to whom she could talk about less practical interests like literature, music and the little dramas of life. She had him of course, but he acknowledged, and was not offended by the idea, that he was not enough. She needed someone, a woman, who shared her background and understood the challenges she faced. No one was more pleased than Murdoch, when shortly before Christmas that someone arrived in the form of a mail order bride.

Sarah Johnson was in her late twenties, a gentleman's daughter from Rhode Island. She was educated and shared Catherine's love of music. She also came equipped with an up-right piano, the one luxury she had allowed herself from her former life. Unlike Catherine, she had married purely for practical reasons, to gain a home of her own after her father's death and independence from her supercilious brother. She had corresponded with Daniel Johnson, the owner of Green River's mercantile, for over a year before finally agreeing to be his wife. Fortunately there had been honesty and pragmatism on both sides so that when they finally met and married in Monterey three days after her arrival, there were no inconvenient revelations. Sarah and Daniel Johnson respected and liked each other, and hoped with time genuine affection would grow. For Catherine, Sarah was a lifeline to a world she had left behind.

“Even though I'll never fully understand how she could marry a man she'd never met, I value Sarah's friendship greatly.” Catherine snuggled into Murdoch and rested her head on his shoulder as they drove back to Lancer. As the days had lengthened, dining with the Johnsons had become a regular event. Sunset's glow was still visible as the buggy crossed the bridge into the Lancer valley and they travelled the final mile to the hacienda.

“Daniel is a good man. I agree mail order is not an ideal way of obtaining a wife, but it seems to be working for them. Not everyone can be as fortunate as us.” Murdoch kissed his wife, and once again told himself he was a lucky man.

Murdoch had observed time and familiarity ease the difficulties Catherine faced. An eagerness to learn and adapt had helped her settle into her role as mistress of the Estancia Lancer. She had continued to refurbish the hacienda. An extra wardrobe had been constructed to hold her gowns and Maria cared for them with reverence.

“Señora Lancer says you are doing a wonderful job, Maria. I am grateful to you for helping her to settle in.” Murdoch gave the coat hanger back to the young maid and put on his best jacket. Since Catherine's arrival, he had tidied up for dinner. A quick sluice under the pump was no longer sufficient. He might not always change his clothes completely, but he was expected to come to the table in a jacket and tie.

“Oh Patrón , the Señora is bueno. She has such beautiful things. I am so glad she has come to live here.”

Catherine's gowns were usually only worn in the evening. Silk taffeta and French lacewere not well suited to ranch work, and Catherine was determined to be useful as well as decorative. She bought cotton fabric and serge and with Maria's help sewed herself more serviceable daywear.

Murdoch was also proud to see her making a great effort to get to know all the families on the estate, especially the women. Catherine was used to having servants and conscious of her own lack of skill when it came to basic household chores. She was not tempted to do without Estella or Maria's help in the house, but she worked with them. She instructed Maria on the care of her dresses and hair, and taught her the ways of polite society. In addition, she encouraged Estella and Maria to teach her what she did not know. She listened to the concerns of the vaqueros' wives, working beside them and helping when they had difficulties. She acted as the women's representative to her husband to achieve little improvements to their lives, and in doing so won their respect and affection.

“It would make life so much easier if there was a well by the workers' cottages, Murdoch. At the moment the women have to fetch water from the stream.”

“I think we could manage that. I wonder why they never asked before.”

“They're not used to asking for things for themselves. It is their custom not to complain.”

Murdoch knew that it was Catherine's custom not to complain too so he tried to be alert to her moods. It was not always easy, because the ranch frequently demanded his full attention. One thing he could do for his wife was to ensure she received news from her family and friends as often as possible. Whenever he heard of a neighbour visiting Monterey or Yerba Buena, he would ask them to enquire about letters for Lancer. Richter in Monterey and Richardson in Yerba Buena knew he would pay for the delivery of letters rather than have mail wait any length of time. There were always trappers and vaqueros willing to divert slightly from their direct route for a small fee. The pleasure Catherine got when letters arrived was its own reward.

“Murdoch, you'll never guess, this big bear-like man came knocking on the kitchen door. He gave us such a fright. All we could see of him through the hair and the furs were his eyes and the most enormous hands. And the smell! It was all right though. He was just bringing us some letters. He wouldn't take any money, but he ate two platefuls of Estella's chilli and drank an entire jug of beer.”

“So what news?” Murdoch followed Catherine into the great room.

“Your business letters are on your desk, but there are letters here from your mother and Ben, and finally I have received one from Beth. I was beginning to worry. The delay is all explained however. She is in love!”

“Well, that would explain why she hasn't put pen to paper.” Removing his gun belt and putting it on the high shelf by the entrance, Murdoch strolled over to the decanters and poured them both a drink. “Who is the lucky man?”

“A surgeon called Robert Eliot.”

“Eliot. Any relation to your would-be admirer?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. He is a cousin; Dorothea Buchanan's older brother recently moved back to Boston from New York. Listen to this.”

I am appalled at my own weakness. To be attracted to a man from one of the best families in Boston, goes against all my principles. My parents are surprised and delighted. I shall be respectable at last. Dottie is overjoyed of course, because we shall be sisters. You will not remember Robert. Somehow we never met while Dottie was in Boston. He was at university when we first became friends with her at school, and he was not able to be at her wedding. He is handsome, intelligent and in every way the man for me. Wish me well, dear Catherine, because by the time this letter reaches you I may already be Mrs Robert Eliot and every bit as happy as Mrs Murdoch Lancer.

“I am glad for her.” Murdoch hugged Catherine. “Beth deserves to be happy. I'll always be grateful to her. What has Ben to say for himself.”

“I didn't open his letter. I was waiting for you, though it is addressed to us both.”

Settling down in his favourite armchair with Catherine on his lap, Murdoch opened the letter from Ben Telford, and began to read. “He leaves Roxbury at last. I was beginning to think he'd got stuck.”

I have invested in a covered wagon and kitted it out with the tools of my trade. I will travel west until I find my Utopia. Who knows maybe I'll get as far as California.

“Do you think he will come as far as California?”

“Not unless there is a population explosion. Ben has aspirations to be more than just a self-employed bootmaker. He will likely settle in a growing town where there are already a fair few people.”

Setting Ben's letter aside, Murdoch opened his mother's letter. His sister Maggie was expecting again, the laird's daughter had become engaged to a Sassanach, old Mrs McLeod from Invermay had died in her ninety-fifth year, and a fox had got into the hen house. His grandfather was going to retire.

His eyes are failing so the offer to buy the business could not have come at a better time. Do you remember Jamie Robertson? He was apprenticed to Da about ten years ago. Da strung the poor lad along for a day or two, but the sale is now agreed.

At the end of her letter there was a post-script in a different scrawl.

John Cameron Lancer was born 16 February, 1844 at Glenbeath. The bairn and my bonnie lass are both well, thanks be to God. We shall call him ‘Cam', because Elspeth says it is too confusing to have two Johns in one house. Even if we call the wee one ‘John' instead of ‘Jock, she will not have it. She grew up with ‘Big Angus' and ‘Little Angus' and the experience has made her stubborn. I should put my foot down as man of the house, but I am as proud as a father can be and I have not the heart to argue with her.

My best to Catherine and yourself.

Jock.

It was lucky the letters arrived when they did, because Murdoch and Catherine were to leave for the Caldera-Perez wedding a few days later.

Maria was overjoyed when Catherine asked her to make ready the pale blue gown pictured in the photograph on the bookshelf. Even Murdoch knew Maria loved that gown. Her mistress had not worn it since arriving at Lancer, because there had been no occasion special enough to require it. Maria was carefully hanging the dress up to air when Catherine and Murdoch entered the bedroom soon after breakfast the next morning to find a tie that Murdoch declared was not in his drawer—someone must have moved it.

“And what will you wear, Maria?” Catherine extracted the missing tie from under a handkerchief and presented it to her husband.

“Señora?”

“What will you wear at the fandango?”

“You want me to come too, Señora?”

“But of course. Did you think I trained you to be a lady's maid only to leave you behind when I most needed you? You will do my hair and help me dress, and then you will be free to join the fun yourself. So what will you wear, Maria?”

Catherine and Murdoch shared a smile to see the young maid's excitement, but then suddenly Maria's face dropped and she turned back to her duties. “Gracias, Señora, but I have nothing good enough to wear. I would not want to embarrass you and Señor Lancer.”

Moving to the wardrobe, Catherine reached past Maria and lifted a gown from its depths. “I have always thought this gold dress would suit you better than me. I am sure we could alter it to fit. What do you think?”

With Estella's help, they added lace to the bodice and shortened the sleeves. Murdoch was shooed out of his own bedroom by his housekeeper two days later as with a mouth full of pins, Catherine knelt at her maid's feet and adjusted the length of the hem.

“You should take a servant to help you dress too, Murdoch.” Catherine passed the cheeseboard to him as they neared the end of their evening meal. “What about Cipriano?”

Murdoch nearly choked on his wine. “Cipriano is a vaquero not a valet! Besides I am perfectly capable of dressing myself, thank you.” Catherine frowned. Afraid he had upset her, Murdoch tried to make amends.“Cipriano can come with us to help with the horses. Will that do?”

Actually he had always intended to take someone with them. The roads were not safe, and one man with two women would be a target for bandits. Cipriano was as good as anyone. He was not bad with a gun and more so he looked the part. Besides there were going to be many guests at the wedding, and Caldera's vaqueros would have more work than they could cope with. It would give Murdoch peace of mind to know he had his own man to call upon if needed.

Cipriano had been happy to come, and from the little Murdoch had seen of him since the wedding ceremony, he seemed to be enjoying himself. That said he was standing now on the far side of the courtyard with a less than happy look on his face. He seemed to be watching one of Don Allende's younger sons waltz around the dance floor with Maria. She was clearly having a wonderful time. Murdoch much preferred the Californian custom where servants and their employers all mixed together at celebrations. There was something of a family feel about it that reminded him of the Scottish clans.

Suddenly Cipriano stopped hovering in the back ground and stepped forward. Somewhat awkwardly he cut in on the young don, who bowed politely to Maria and took his leave. Maria did not seem to object to the change. Her eyes sparkled as she resumed the dance with her new partner.

“Finally! I was beginning to think he would never get up the courage.” Catherine opened her fan and smiled broadly behind it.

“What do you mean? What?”

Catherine looked at him with amused exasperation. “For an intelligent man, Murdoch Lancer, you can be woefully unobservant.”

Murdoch was saved further teasing by his wife as Don and Doña Caldera came to seek them out. Doña Mercedes took Catherine away to socialise with the other principal ladies while Murdoch and Don Frederigo went to discuss business.

All the landowners in the San Joaquin had gathered, ostensibly for the wedding, but big and small, they had serious matters to discuss. Leaving the festivities behind, Murdoch entered the gran sala with Don Frederigo. They joined about twenty other men. The owners of the larger estates were mostly Californios, but among the owners of the medium to small ranches there were Americans and other more recent settlers as well.

“I am losing cattle every week.” With his back to the unlit fireplace, Don Frederigo opened proceedings without ceremony. “Some of my best vaqueros have been injured, and my foreman tells me one or two of my hands are talking of leaving.”

“The stream that runs through my land was dammed. I had to divert men to clear the debris, and twenty head were stolen while they were away.” A ranchero called Lopez threw his arms in the air with frustration and anger. Murdoch had not met him before, but he knew Lopez owned a ranch further south bordering Caldera and Vallejo land.“The bandidos are getting out of control. We need soldiers to deal with them.”

A rumble of agreement followed this statement. Several men called out other grievances to emphasize the need. The rustlers or land-grabbers or whatever they ultimately hoped to be had got beyond all reasonable control, at least in some areas.

“If we were part of the United States, we would have lawmen here.” A short, squat American looked to his countrymen for support.

“Let's not start that sort of talk, Señor.” Don Allende calmly stroked his moustache, and with the air of a man used to being listened to, he stared down his more volatile neighbour. “We haven't yet asked the Mexican government for help. I suggest we do that now. I will write a letter to the governor requesting support, and we will all sign it. Once the government is made aware of our problem and knows that its citizens are united, I am confident that it will send us assistance.”

The petition was written and signed by all present, and in addition the ranch owners agreed to cooperate with each other. No ranchero would knowingly allow rustlers to take refuge on their land, and any cattle straying from neighbouring properties would be returned. Vaqueros in pursuit of rustlers would be permitted to pass through unimpeded and given whatever assistance the other ranch could spare. While it would be impossible to stop men leaving if they chose to do so, no ranchero would actively seek to poach workers from their less fortunate neighbours.

“And so we will struggle on and hope for some government assistance.” The sun had been setting when Murdoch and the others had arrived back from the wedding celebrations, but he had sought out O'Brien and Ramos immediately. He had found his foremen sharing a pipe on Ramos's porch. Refusing to let either man give up a chair Murdoch had sat down on an upturned crate. “I want guards posted with every herd. When we hold the next cattle drive, we will bring the main herd as close to the hacienda as we can so that it is easier for those remaining to protect them.”

Four months passed but no help was offered by the governor. The ranchers of the San Joaquin Valley met again and a delegation was elected to visit him in Monterey. It was to no avail. The governor declared his hands were tied. Central government would not release funds or soldiers to protect the interests of Californian ranch owners.

“Señor Lancer, there is a price to be paid for the generosity shown to you and many other rancheros, who have been granted more land. You must establish law and order yourselves.”

“That was never one of the conditions. Mexico makes good money from the duties it levies on the foreign vessels that purchase hides and tallow from us. All we're asking for is a show of support, for some government-backed law enforcement to make arrests, to make the culprits face justice.” Murdoch spoke with feeling. His eyes flashed as he leaned forward over the governor's desk, and the governor drew back in his chair. Realising he appear threatening, Murdoch straightened up again and moved to the fireplace. Looking around at the supportive faces of the delegation, he turned again to the governor and spoke in a calmer voice. “At the moment they steal our cattle, destroy crops and property at will. We are ranchers, Señor. We do not want to become vigilantes, but if the government will not help us, that is where we are heading. It is that or relinquish our property to thieves and land-grabbers.”

The other rancheros vigorously agreed, but the governor appeared unsympathetic. Disheartened and angry, the men returned to their land.

“We will manage somehow.” Catherine massaged her husband's shoulders, feeling the tension in his muscles.

“I am afraid some will do so by going to bed with the devil.”Murdoch gazed out the picture window at the south end of the great room. “A man called Haney has been approaching the worst affected offering them protection. He says he is a lawman—freelance—but I am afraid he is a ringmaster.”

“You mean he is the ringleader; he controls the bandits?”

“No. Control is too strong a word—there are many bands with their own leaders and Haney has only appeared on the scene recently— but I fear he has found a way to manipulate the bandits to serve his own ends. They operate independently for the most part, but now they also dance to the direction of his whip. I hope I am wrong, because now there is no hope of government help, some landowners will undoubtedly pay Haney for his protection.”

It went without saying that he would not join them, but if Murdoch was right, he feared Lancer would face more problems in future. Was he worrying unnecessarily? He had already faced several challenges and overcome them. What was one more? Murdoch Lancer would not be beaten by any man and certainly not by a cur like Jud Haney, even if he was cunning. After all what was the worst he could do?

 

 

Chapter 19: Jud Haney

“He's a rustler. We chased him from the Mendoza spread.” Jud Haney did not dismount. Preserving the advantage of height, he looked down on Murdoch with a calm arrogance. The six men with him moved menacingly in their saddles, but remained silent. Their quarry knelt in the dust some distance behind Murdoch, clutching a wounded shoulder, anxiously awaiting his fate.

Murdoch was not intimidated by the self-proclaimed lawmen. He had watched the chase from a first floor balcony. The ranch was prepared to receive both the fox and the hounds. Lancer men sat or stood casually about the yard, rifles resting across their laps or cradled in their arms. Murdoch glanced back at the trembling Mexican and then looked Haney straight in the eye. “If that's true, he can face justice in Monterey. I have men going there on business in a few days. Write your statements and they can take them and this man with them.”

“Why go to all that trouble, Lancer, when we can take care of the matter.”

“I've seen how you take care of such matters, Haney. There'll be no shooting in the back or lynching on Lancer land. Now take your men, and ride out.”

Haney scanned the yard. Perched of the corral leaning against the barn wall, Eduardo Hernandez lifted his rifle from his lap and rested the butt on the top rail next to him. His eldest son, Diego, touched his sombrero and Cipriano moved out of the shadows. There were Lancer men on the roof of the hacienda, by the old guardhouse, resting nonchalantly in doorways or against wagons. “The other ranchers won't like it when I tell them you're harbouring bandits, Lancer. They employ me to keep the law around here. I do a pretty good job too. You just ask Joe Anderson. He was losing stock every week until he finally accepted my services last month. You‘d be wise to follow his example.”

“Or what? Will the raids on this place increase? That sounds like you might have something to do with the banditos, Haney.”

“You have a nasty mind. All I'm saying is that if my men are protecting other ranches, it stands to reason the bandits will look for easier pickings and here is this vast estancia just sitting here with only a few vaqueros and women to protect it. Wouldn't want any harm to come to your womenfolk, now would you, Lancer?” Jud Haney urged his horse forward. Passing within a hair's breadth of Murdoch he swung the animal round, and he and his companions rode away from the Hacienda Lancer.

“Gracias, Señor. You are not wrong about Señor Haney. I have seen money change hands between Garcia and that hombre.” The rustler staggered up from the ground, keeping a cautious eye on the rifle Paul O'Brien had pointed at his chest. Murdoch stared at the outlaw, his mind elsewhere.

“Lock him in the old guardhouse until you are ready to go.” O'Brien nodded and Murdoch headed towards the hacienda. The guardhouse was built by the Spaniards long before even Talavera owned the land. It was the only lock-up in the county, but in Murdoch's time it had only ever been used for storage. He would have preferred to keep it that way, but circumstances had changed and this bandit would probably not be its last houseguest. Murdoch paused before entering the courtyard and looked back. O'Brien and his prisoner were nearly at the door. “Make sure anything he could use to escape is removed.”

Later, in the evening after Catherine read aloud a letter just received from her father, Murdoch broached a subject that had been on his mind for some weeks.

“I was thinking, perhaps it's time you went to visit your father. He must be lonely in Boston all by himself. Burke should be passing through soon. You could go back with him. You could take Maria with you.”

“I don't want to leave you, Murdoch. My father will be buried in his business. He would make a fuss of me for a few days, and then I would have nothing to do. California has spoilt me for sitting in drawing rooms and making polite conversation.”

“But you would like to see Beth and her new husband, and you haven't been too well lately. I think the heat is affecting your health, and the summer hasn't even begun.”

Catherine smiled and looked up from her embroidery with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “I don't think it's the heat making me ill in the mornings, Murdoch. I was waiting to be sure, but Estella thinks I'm right. She should know. She's had seven.”

Her meaning took a moment to sink in. Looking at his wife uncertainly, Murdoch just blurted out words like he was punch-drunk. “You're expecting a baby?”

“I think so.” Catherine put aside her sewing and joined Murdoch by the fireplace. “Are you pleased?”

Recovering, Murdoch took Catherine in his arms. He wanted to laugh out loud and cry all at the same time. He had so wanted this moment. His heart was too full of emotion to speak. He kissed Catherine and let the smile on his face say it all.

Later there was time for reflection and the problem of Haney had not gone away. Murdoch knew he would have to fight Catherine and make her leave him. He did not want to do that. He did not really want her to go, but he took Haney's threat seriously. The raids on Lancer had already increased. With every landowner persuaded by coercion or desperation to pay Haney his protection money, the harassment of the ranches that held out intensified. Soon most of the smaller rancheros would have paid up or moved on, and Haney could concentrate on bringing the larger estates to heel. Catherine did not know how bad it was getting. He did.

“You must write to your father and tell him of the bairn.”

“Soon, in another week or two when I'm absolutely sure.”

Murdoch would wait until she wrote. If Catherine would not agree to return to Boston with Alfred Burke, he knew the land agent would at least deliver her letter—and his. Murdoch would write to his father-in-law and ask him to come and fetch her. There was time, and much as he hated the idea of being apart from his wife, it would be safer for her to have the baby in Boston.

Catherine did not deny this, but she still refused to escape the dangers of the ranch. Burke called in a week later and offered to come back for her at the beginning of June. “I'll have you safe in Boston by August.”

“You're very kind, Alfred, but I am not leaving Lancer. My place is with my husband, no matter what he may say. Besides, I'm determined our son or daughter will be born here in California.”

Catherine was very angry with Murdoch when she found out about his letter to her father. After escorting Burke to Lancer's western boundary, Murdoch returned to the hacienda and admitted what he had done. “It's for your own good, Catherine.”

“Well, I shan't go, and you'll have to share a house with my father until the baby is born, because if he comes, he will not leave before the birth. You can be sure of that.” She had thrown a cushion at him and flounced out of the room, but by nightfall she had thawed. By morning she was talking of all the attractions she would show Garrett when he arrived.

After the first three months, Catherine appeared the picture of health once again, and from that point of view Murdoch became less concerned, but the situation with rustlers and marauders was worsening. There were several groups. Garcia's band took virtual control of the main road to Monterey from August, harassing travellers for whatever they had on them. Those that resisted paid the price. Gomez, Vega and Castro were all well-known bandit chiefs, who seemed to range freely despite the presence of Jud Haney and his gang of ‘lawmen'. Not surprisingly, the bandits had a definite preference for the ranches not under Haney's protection, but why would bandits burn buildings and feed crops to the ground? What profit was there in that? And why did such vandalism regularly target a rancher, who had only recently refused Haney's advances?

Haney's band of thugs did pursue and catch some alleged bandits. Occasionally Murdoch believed they were guilty. He objected strongly, however, to Haney's form of justice. Very few captives made it to Monterey to stand before a court. Most were ‘taught a lesson' and let go, but by November at least two men had been shot ‘by accident' trying to escape and three more had ended their days dangling from a noose within an hour of being apprehended by Haney's deputies. Then there were the unexplained accidents and deaths, attributable to persons unknown.

When they were not ‘on duty', Haney and his men lounged around Morro Coyo, Green River and other small communities further afield drinking and tormenting the townsfolk. Several families moved away. Daniel Johnson would not let Sarah go out in the street alone when the gang was in town, and he sent her into the back room whenever they entered the store. Once in early fall, however, when her Lancer escort had been busy at the blacksmith's and Daniel had slipped across the road to the barber, Catherine was in the shop talking with Sarah, when they were surprised by the unexpected arrival of Haney and two of his men.

“Good afternoon, Mrs Lancer, Mrs Johnson. It's always a pleasure to meet such fine, up-standing ladies as yourselves.” Haney leaned on the counter uncomfortably close to where Catherine stood while his men leered from the doorway. Catherine could smell the stale tobacco smoke on his breath. “Rumour has it something stampeded one of the Lancer herds up by Dry Gully this morning. Some of them poor dogies ran straight over the bluff. Done broke their necks—I hear tell. Now if your husband employed the services of me and my deputies, ma'am, I'm sure such accidents could be avoided. It's a dang shame those poor animals had to die so needlessly.”

“Can I help you, Mr Haney?” Reaching for the ‘Back Soon' sign resting against the open cash drawer beneath the counter, Sarah glared at Jud Haney, making no effort to disguise her dislike. She lay the sign down in front of him. “I was just about to shut the shop for half an hour, so I would appreciate it if we could deal with what you want to buy quickly.”

Haney straightened. Brushing against Catherine as he passed, he wandered aimlessly around the store picking things up and then putting them down again. Finally he picked up a tin of tobacco and tossed a coin in front of Sarah. “That should cover it. Good day to you, ladies.” He tipped his hat and smirked as he headed for the doorway. “Come on boys, I think we're making these respectable ladies nervous.”

Murdoch was furious when he heard. Catherine did not seem too upset by the encounter, but the incident further reinforced his fears for her safety. In addition, he and several vaqueros had spent all afternoon in Dry Gully rescuing what was left of his cattle, shooting those with broken legs and burning the dead.

Attacks on Lancer were increasing. There had been a cattle drive in May and the ranch had lost nearly eighty steers in small raids while it was short-handed. Soon after that the outhouse of one of the worker's houses and a field of corn were mysteriously burnt to the ground. No less than three streams had since been affected by unexplained landslips. Rustlers attempted to steal from the south mesa in August and although they were scared off, two of his vaqueros were injured. When the news came that Don Jorge Marques Diego to the west of the Estancia Lancer had given up the battle and abandoned his land, four Lancer hands asked for their wages.

When Cuddy was found strung up from a tree outside a line shack, a dozen more followed.

“Sorry, Mr Lancer, but we didn't sign up to get ourselves killed.”

“If you'll stay, I'll double your wages. We have another drive before the end of the season. I need you men.”

“An extra dollar a day ain't no good to a dead man, sir.”

By September Murdoch was impatient for news from Boston. Would his father-in-law come? It would need to be soon or it would be too late to go to Boston. Garrett could escort Catherine to Monterey though, and stay with her there until the baby was born. Between them they would persuade her, and there was a doctor at Monterey. Murdoch had taken Catherine there in July. The doctor had pronounced her well, thank God, but he would not be persuaded to visit her at Lancer. Too far away he said. “If when the time draws near you think your wife needs medical assistance, Señor, take her to Sutter's Fort. It is closer to your ranch, and there is an excellent midwife, Frau Gr ü ber. What that woman doesn't know about birthing babies is not worth knowing. Otherwise, the Mexican women at your own estancia are experienced and will take good care of her. Believe me they are used to helping each other in childbirth.”

In October, Murdoch suggested to Catherine they rent a house in Monterey. She could move there with Maria and a manservant, and Murdoch would visit when he could. “Once the baby is born and the doctor says you are both well enough, you could come back. I'm sure things will have settled down here by then.”

Catherine rejected the idea.

By November, there was still no sign or word from Garrett and Catherine was still determined to remain. The last of the American ranchers bowed down to Haney's harassment. Unwilling to pass over what remained of his money for protection, Eli Tucker packed the covered wagon he had used to get his family to California and headed north, stopping at Lancer on the way to say goodbye. “I've not got a herd left worth selling, Lancer, and Mary and the children are scared to death. When the bastards set light to the chicken coop, it was the last straw. In June Burke reckoned Sutter was looking for workers. Hopefully he still is, otherwise we'll move further north into Oregon. Maybe we'll come back later if things calm down.”

In December, Lancer's barn mysteriously caught fire. The flames rampaged through the hayloft and the hands barely got the last of the horses out when the ceiling collapsed. Men and women fought the blaze with sacks and relayed buckets of water. They eventually reduced the building to a smouldering tower of charred timber, and stopped the fire from spreading. Exhausted Murdoch turned in horror to see his wife ashen-faced and soot-covered with one hand to her expanding waistline and the other steadying herself against the water trough.

“Catherine! My God woman, what were you thinking? Are you all right?”

“I wanted to help, but I think I've strained something. I don't feel so …” Murdoch caught her as she fainted and carried her into the hacienda. Estella rushed to get water and a cloth. Maria pulled the covers back and he lay Catherine down on their bed. He sat on the edge rubbing her hand while Maria applied a cold compress to her mistress's forehead.

Gradually Catherine came round. She smiled at the worried faces surrounding her. “I must have fainted. But I'm fine.”

“You're not fine and you shouldn't be here. I'm sending you to Sutter's Fort. I should've made you go months ago.”

“Don't fuss, Murdoch. I'm—”

“Not another word, Catherine. You promised to honour and obey me, and for once in your life you're going to do just that.”

“And for once, I agree with your husband.” Harlan Garrett stood in the doorway, dusty from travelling, hat in hand. “I came as quickly as I could. What has happened? I could see the smoke from several miles away. Are you injured?”

Coming round the bed, he sat down in the place Murdoch vacated for him and took hold of his daughter's hand. Catherine was overjoyed to see her father, but with both the men in her life united against her, she finally gave way. She agreed to be transported to Sutter's Fort, away from the raids and into some level of medical care.

A wagon was soon covered and equipped with a straw mattress and blankets. Catherine was ordered to lie on it. Under no circumstances was she to sit up front, no matter how well she claimed to feel. Maria was going with her in the wagon for company and to nurse her if necessary, but in truth Catherine did appear fully recovered. It was not a good time for Murdoch to leave Lancer, but he intended to accompany them all the same.

“Nonsense! You can't leave at the moment. You're needed here. I'll be perfectly all right with father and his men to escort us.” Murdoch hesitated. Catherine took his hand and fixed her eyes on his. “The baby is not due until the New Year, Murdoch. You are worrying unnecessarily. I will be fine.”

In the end, he agreed, but only on the condition that Paul O'Brien went with them. Murdoch would join her at Sutter's Fort later as soon as things at the ranch improved or closer to the date the baby was due, whichever came first.

“I would have preferred Monterey and the doctor too, Harlan, but the roads in that direction are too dangerous at the moment. Dr Ruiz assured us Frau Gr ü ber is an excellent midwife, so take her to Sutter's Fort. Paul will show you the way. Even taking the longer route to dodge the bandits, it's not as far and there are settlements in between where you can stay overnight. You shouldn't camp in the open if you can avoid it.”

“Don't worry, Boss. I'll look after them.” Paul tied his horse behind the wagon and helped Maria up beside Catherine.

Murdoch kissed his wife farewell and held her close. He breathed in the smell of rosewater, and savoured the softness of her skin against his own.

“I love you.” Laughing at their timing, they reluctantly broke apart and the wagon rolled forward.

Grim-faced Murdoch stood in the middle of the yard watching their slow progress along the road until the wagon disappeared out of sight. Harlan Garrett in his Boston suit and hat sat incongruously up front next to the burly foreman. The two gunmen hired by Garrett in Monterey rode point. Turning back towards the blackened ruin of his barn, Murdoch took a deep breath and strode towards the next job.

 

 

Chapter 20: God Giveth and…

 

Murdoch was on the south mesa when he spotted Paul O'Brien riding towards him. It was mid-morning and the winter sun hung low in the sky. He left his four wranglers to round up the frightened cattle they had just rescued from rustlers and rode to meet him.

“What's happened? Where's Catherine? Is she all right?”

Weary from riding all the previous day and most of the night, Paul's face belied the more optimistic tone of his first words. “Congratulations Murdoch. You have a son.” Surprise, joy and then concern vied for control of Murdoch's mind as Paul continued. “We were only three miles from Carterville when the contractions started. We got Mrs Lancer to a farmhouse and the child was born in the early hours. He is well I think, but you need to go there quickly.”

“What's wrong?”

“The farmer's wife did her best, but Mrs Lancer was still losing blood when I left at daybreak yesterday. The farmer rode to Sutter's to fetch the midwife and I came to get you.”

Returning immediately to the hacienda, Murdoch called for a fresh horse and threw some supplies into his saddle bags. “You stay here. Get José to fill you in.”

“Take the longer route out of here. Haney's lot are watching the main road. I risked it coming in, but I was lucky to make it through. They will be on the lookout now. You can make up some time further on by cutting through Devil's Canyon.”

Murdoch mounted his horse and galloped north, only slowing to a more sustainable pace when he reach the rising ground of the hill track. Unable to see the trail clearly by the light of a quarter-moon he was forced to make camp for the night, but he was away again at dawn.

About ten miles from Carterville he took the shortcut through Devil's Canyon. He was halfway through the rugged gorge when a rifle shot rang out. The bullet grazed his shoulder, knocking him from his horse. More bullets peppered the ground, but he rolled to safety behind a tree and returned fire. The gunman was hiding in the rocks high above.

Spying a larger clump of trees to his right on the other side of open ground, Murdoch chose his moment and ran for a boulder part way across. No shots dogged him; the gunman must have been on the move too. Bracing himself Murdoch made a final dash to the grove, this time dodging rifle fire coming from half way down the slope. Shooting back once, he threw himself the final few yards into the undergrowth. Scrambling in behind the trees, he tried to catch his breath. Blast the man. Who was he? More importantly, where was he?

Falling rubble caused Murdoch to lookup to the right where the gunman had originally been. Two small boys were peering over the top of a rock. There was no time to think about what they were doing there however, because the gunman was clambering down the bank on his left.

The bushwhacker must have thought he had killed Murdoch, because with little hesitation he came right up to where he had lost sight of his prey. Hoping simply to disarm him, Murdoch drew his gun and stepped out from the behind the tree. Startled, the man turned and fired. Murdoch automatically shot back. It was all over in a heartbeat, but a full minute elapsed before Murdoch took his next breath. The stranger lay motionless where he fell. Realisation made Murdoch retch—he had never killed a man before. He turned away. Bending forward with his hands on his knees, he breathed deeply until he brought his insides under control. Then he faced the man again.

Kneeling beside the body, Murdoch went through the stranger's pockets. His battered billfold contained nothing but a scrap of paper with the name ‘Joel Deegan' written on it. Murdoch had seen such papers many times before. Wranglers and farm workers carried them. When they were required to sign for their wages, they would pull out the paper and copy their signatures. There was no money. Robbery then; it was the only motive that made sense.

Remembering the two boys, Murdoch shouted up towards the rocks. “Come out. I won't hurt you.”

There was no reply. His eyes searched the high ground for any sign of them or another adult, but he saw and heard no one. Exploring the canyon floor, he discovered a wagon attached to a mule and a crow-bait horse concealed amongst some trees and boulders nearby. He yelled again—still no response.

Returning to the dead man, Murdoch dragged the corpse to the wagon and hauled it up between the few supplies on board. He rearranged the canvas tarpaulin and weighted it down with rocks to prevent animals getting to the body. It was the best he could do for now. As soon as he could, he would come back, but he needed to get moving again. Catherine needed him. The burying would have to wait.

But the burying did not wait; only it was not the bushwhacker who was buried that day.

Murdoch reached Carterville just after dusk. A lantern drew him to a shack on the main road.

“Hello the house.” He approached with his hands visible so anyone watching would know he meant no harm.

A weather-worn farmer appeared on the porch, shotgun in hand.“You Lancer?”

“Yes, is my wife here?”

“You'd best come in, man.”

Dismounting, Murdoch tied his horse to the hitch-rail and hurried into the dimly lit cabin. A single candle on the table flickered. No one else was there. The stranger followed him inside and closed the door against the night.

“Where is she?” Murdoch peered through the gloom as the farmer placed hisgun back on its rack and hung the lantern from a hook in the ceiling.

Joe Carter turned to face Murdoch with pity in his eyes. “I'm sorry mister, but you're too late. We buried your wife this morning.”

Murdoch stood motionless, staring but not really seeing. The farmer's words hung in a void between hearing and understanding. Murdoch blinked. Grey-blue eyes looked up at him from a Boston doorstep; sunlight reflected off ash-blond curls; Catherine smiled as she told him she was expecting their child; and then—blackness. He began to tremble. Carter put his hand out to steady him, but Murdoch shook him off. With one sweep of his arm he cleared the table. The candleholder, tin plate and mug clattered across the timber floor. A single sob broke ranks, and he gripped the back of a chair as though it was the only thing keeping him standing. Emotions and thoughts bombarded him. When eventually he found a way through them, he wanted to go for his son, to see Garrett, to find out what had gone so terribly wrong, but Carter held him back.

“You're father-in-law and the others left early. They took the baby with them. My sister-in-law helped with the birth—and with the laying out. Esther'll tell you what you need to know, but not now. Nothin' can be done ‘til morning. She'll show you where we buried her and tell you what she knows in the morning.”

Worn out by the journey and in shock from the news, Murdoch had no energy to argue. He stood like a soldier defeated in battle with the corpses of his friends lying all around him. The worst had happened and there was nothing he could do to change it. The farmer guided him to the far corner of the room and Murdoch slumped down onto a narrow bed. Leaning back against the wall, he focused blindly on the ceiling, a strange ringing in his head. Joe Carter picked up the candle and its holder from the floor. There was a gentle hiss as he relit the wick. He put the candle back on the table and took the lantern outside with him to settle Murdoch's horse for the night; even when he returned he kept the lantern light low. Under cover of darkness Murdoch wept until exhaustion deadened his mind and he slept fitfully.

In the morning he saddled his horse before the farmer rose and found his way to the cemetery alone. It was not far from the hamlet on a grassy knoll bordering the road going west. There were only a few graves and only one where the soil was still moist and bare. Esther Carter found him, still and staring, by the graveside after she had milked her cow and fed the chickens. She could not know what he was staring at. Only Murdoch knew he was watching Catherine sleep, as he had done many times before; waiting for the gentle rise and fall of her chest—waiting. He was willing her to wake up. He was waiting—willing that he would wake up.

Mrs Carter handed him a photograph. Murdoch gazed at the portrait dumbly. He recognised it. Catherine had had it taken in Monterey on their last visit, intending to give it to her father. Everything had been so rushed when they had left Lancer. She must have remembered the photograph at the last minute and packed it along with her clothes.

“This is all, mister. Said he was her father and took everything else, her belongings, everything.”

“Did she suffer?”

“Wasn't there. He wouldn't let me take care of her.”

Within a few hours of her husband riding for the midwife and O'Brien for Lancer, Harlan Garrett had decided Catherine could not wait for medical help or Murdoch to arrive. They would be better, he said, to travel onward to Sutter's Fort. If it was going to take Carter most of the day to get to the fort, the midwife would be unlikely to reach Carterville before the following day. Garrett reasoned that if they left immediately, with luck they would meet up with Carter and Frau Grüber before nightfall on the return trip. It would mean a night in the open, but with the medical assistance Catherine desperately needed. They could then travel together the next morning to Sutter's Fort where hopefully there would be better facilities than in Carterville. Evidently Garrett had made no effort to disguise his contempt for the level of care an uneducated woman in an unfinished clapboard farmhouse could offer his daughter.

“She wanted to wait for you, but he wouldn't listen.” Mrs Carter stood hands folded in front of her, a good woman; the kind some would value as the salt of the earth and Harlan Garrett would deride as a servant. “Ordered his men to put her back in the wagon. Only the girl to look after her and the baby.”

Catherine had died in the wagon only five miles out of town. The dirt road was uneven and pot-holed. The constant bumping and jarring of the wagon had been too much for her and they had been forced to stop. They could neither go forward nor back, and spent a desolate night under the early winter sky. Carter, the midwife and her son had found them on the side of the road soon after daybreak, but Catherine had breathed her last two hours before.

Mrs Carter had not been present of course, but her husband had told her the sad tale. The midwife had assessed the situation quickly and given her attention first to the child. She had declared the baby healthy, and then passing him into the arms of a tearful Maria, she had examined the mother. She had promised to record the birth and death when she returned to the fort, but there was nothing more she could do. Frau Grüber returned home with her son.

Garrett and the others had followed Carter in slow procession back to Carterville with the body. Unasked, Esther Carter had undertaken the laying out while her brother-in-law made the coffin. Garrett had visited the small cemetery on the hill with her husband to decide where Catherine should be laid to rest.

“He come back and paid me for my trouble, arranged for everything. Then left with the boy. That's all I know mister, s'all I know.”

Murdoch knelt at the foot of the grave, hat in hand. The soil was fresh dug and mounded high. He had been too late to save her. His dear, sweet Catherine now lay beneath the ground, cold and lifeless. He felt numb inside, empty. If only Garrett had waited. If only Haney had not forced Murdoch to send her away from Lancer in the first place. If only he had got there in time to hold her and be there at the end. If only…

“Going to be real showy when they get finished. Heard tell the old man paid a pretty penny to plant some grass and carve up a fine granite headstone. Still, if he'd cared that much, I think he'd stay for the burying.”

Garrett had not even stayed long enough to bury her. Murdoch could not believe what he was hearing.

“Jed came back from Yerba Buena while your man was giving out his orders for the burial.” A man standing nearby twisting a battered hat in calloused hands stepped forward. Matthew Carter had walked up from the settlement, arriving some minutes before. He had been patiently waiting to escort his wife home.“Said a clipper was in port. Due to sail day after tomorrow. Think that's why he left so sudden-like.”

A whole new idea flooded Murdoch's mind. His father-in-law could not get what he wanted now. He could not get Catherine, but he could get the next best thing. He could get her son—Murdoch's son. Fear overtook grief. “I have to go.”

Carterville was at a crossroads. The road coming up from the San Joaquin heading towards Sutter's Fort joined the road coming from the San Francisco Bay. Harlan Garrett was riding towards Yerba Buena and a ship that would take him and his grandson back to Boston. Murdoch rode steadily all day and the next. When he reach the port the sun sat low on the horizon and a lone clipper flying an American flag was anchored in the harbour.

The season was nearly over, but Richardson was always to be found at the trading post. He soon confirmed that a city gent, another man and two women with infants had boarded the vessel a few hours before. “That's the Charleston . Late in and likely the last vessel we'll see here this year. Hear tell, she's done her stint too. Returning to her home port back east for a fresh crew and maintenance when she leaves here. This is her final pick up before San Diego. Mark me she'll be non-stop round the Horn after that. Them jack tar's can smell the beer halls of New York already.” He served Murdoch with ale and nodded towards a man snoozing outside under a tree. “Now him over there came in with that city slicker. Might be worth you having a word before you row out. Captain won't be weighing anchor ‘til morning. They finished slaughtering two days ago, but the winter sun ain't good drying. They're only stowing the last of the hides now, and they're waiting on timber from up river.”

Murdoch nudged the sleeping man with his foot. He was one of the gunmen, who had escorted the wagon from the ranch. Opening one eye, he scowled. “Now you just interrupted a real nice dream, Lancer. There was me and two of the prettiest little ladies you …”

“I haven't time for dreams, man. What can you tell me?”

The man yawned. “Mr Garrett said if you got here in time to tell you he and the boy are aboard the Charleston . That little Mex maid too, though he's sending her back to shore when they sail, now that he has the other.”

“Other?”

“Wet nurse. Found a woman still feeding her own brat, who was willing to sail as far as San Diego for a small fee.” The man sniggered and spat on the ground. “Ain't as pretty as the Señorita, but she has the right equipment, if you know what I mean?”

Murdoch went down to the beach and signalled to the clipper. A sailor rowed him out and he hauled himself up the ropes that hung over the side. The captain greeted him as he clambered aboard and the cabin boy showed him the way to Garrett.

“You made it.” His father-in-law held out his hand, relief unmistakable in his voice. He looked old and lacking sleep, oddly dishevelled. Murdoch hesitated. Garrett eyed him scornfully. “You thought I was trying to run off with the boy, didn't you?”

“Where's my son?”

Hands behind his back, Harlan Garrett led the way into the adjacent cabin. Maria jumped up as Murdoch entered. “Oh, Patrón. Señora Lancer … mi pobre Señora.” Burying her face in her hands, she burst into tears.

At the far end of the room a woman in her twenties sat nursing a baby. On the floor at her feet an older child played on a blanket. Glancing at Garrett for confirmation Murdoch moved towards his son. Swaddled in the shawl Catherine had crocheted for him, the baby was barely visible as he fed, but the woman smiled up at Murdoch encouragingly. “Eres su padre?”

“Si. May I?”

Detaching the infant from her breast, the wet nurse gently passed him into Murdoch's outstretched arms. The baby emitted a small belch and yawned. A soft, fair down covered his head and his nose was slightly squashed from his recent arrival. Staring up at Murdoch with solemn blue eyes, the child reached out and gripped his father's finger with surprising strength. “Is he well?”

“The midwife said so and I've seen nothing to alarm me.” Garrett came up beside Murdoch and smiled sorrowfully down at his grandson. “The Swiss woman instructed your maid how to feed him with goat's milk, but I was able to employ the services of this woman as far as San Diego. I hope to find another wet nurse willing to travel, otherwise I will employ a woman, who can care for him and feed him with goat's milk again.”

“And what makes you think I will let you take him?”

“What choice do you have, Murdoch? I don't want to fight with you when we've both lost so much, but what choice do you have? We must act in the best interest of the child, Catherine's son.”

“My son too!”

“And my grandson! I was too late to be of any real service to my daughter. I am determined to help her son. I can offer Scotty the best of everything, Murdoch, but most of all I can offer him safety.”

“Scotty?”

“Catherine named him before she died. Scott Garrett Lancer. Do you object?”

Murdoch walked with his son towards the window and gazed out at the calm waters of the bay. Scott Garrett Lancer—it had a certain ring to it. They had talked of names. He had assumed that they would follow Scottish tradition, but like his sister-in-law in Inverness, Catherine had thought differently. She wanted her son, if it was a son, to have a name of his own. A name that spoke of his roots, she said, but did not chain him to the past. They had not seen eye to eye, but she had gotten her way once again. Aye, she could be a feisty lass when she had a mind.

“No, I don't object.” Folding back the shawl he smiled sadly at his son. The small hand, perfection in miniature, having lost contact with Murdoch's finger reached higher and took hold of his nose. Murdoch chuckled. “You like to grab things, wee man.”

Garrett and the women left Murdoch alone after that. Maria and the nurse found other places to sleep, and Murdoch sat alone cradling his son throughout the night. When he could he talked to him about Catherine. “You would have loved your mother, Scott; and she would have loved you so very much. …I remember picking blossom from her hair. She had beautiful hair. And her smile, itwould light up her face—and my life. …I will miss her—the music of her voice, even the way she teased me. …I would have liked you to know her. …I'm glad she got to hold you.”

Emotion and tiredness took its toll. When Maria slipped into the cabin early the next morning, her knock unanswered, she found Murdoch curled up asleep on a bunk. His arm loosely corralled his son as the infant snuggled by his side.“Señor Lancer, it is time to wake up.”

Rousing himself, Murdoch let Maria take Scott from him. Amazingly the bairn had not cried once during the night, but he was hungry now. As soon as Maria took him from the warmth of his father's arms, little Scott started crying to be fed. She changed his diaper first, and then beckonedthe wet nurse inside. The woman fed the baby while Murdoch washed his face and hands from a ewer and bowl in the corner of the room. Garrett joined them for breakfast, and all too soon it was time to say goodbye.

“We will likely stay with the Charleston and take the longer route around the Horn. I would not take the boy across Panama with those infernal insects eating him alive.”

“You're right to avoid Panama, but you may not have to endure the Horn. There is another route via Nicaragua. I'm told there are no mosquitos, and it's only a week or two longer than the Panama route. Ask the captain. Make enquiries at San Diego. You may be able to shorten your journey by a month.”

“I'll do that—and I'll take good care of him, Murdoch. You can be sure of that.”

“This is only temporary, Harlan. He's my son. I'll come for him as soon as I can. I hope that's understood?”

Harlan Garrett nodded. “I understand, Murdoch. I understand.”

The clipper set sail mid-morning. A fine drizzle fell as Murdoch and Maria stood on the beach and watched the Charleston 's slow progress out of the bay. Murdoch was reminded of the day he had said goodbye to his family in Inverness. Just as he had been on that day, he was glad of the rain.

 

 

Chapter 21: Grief and Anger

Murdoch and Maria reached home for New Year's Eve, but neither felt much like celebrating.

After a bleak and damp Christmas at Richardson's trading post they had returned to Carterville. Leaving Maria with Esther and Matthew Carter, Murdoch and Joe Carter had ridden back to Devil's Canyon to retrieve the bushwhacker's body. All they had found was his grave. A roughly made cross with ‘DEEGAN' burned into the wood had been erected at one end. The boys and the wagon were gone.

Sleeping the night at the Carters' farmhouse, Murdoch and Maria made an early start on horseback for Sutter's Fort. Murdoch suggested Maria wait for him in Carterville, but she was attracting the unwanted attention of a farm labourer there. “I would rather come with you, Señor.”

They reached the fort mid-afternoon, and a message was sent to the Grüber farmhouse with news of their arrival. John Sutter offered his condolences and schnapps to toast the departed. The midwife joined them as Murdoch drained his glass. She greeted Maria warmly. “Willkommen, mein liebes Kind.”

“Gracias, Frau Grüber. This is Señor Lancer.”

Murdoch took off his hat and nodded politely. He tried to thank the midwife for attending Catherine, but she stopped him. “Herr Lancer, you must not thank me. I did nothing. Maria did all.”

“I know how much I owe, Maria.” Murdoch glanced meaningfully at the young maid. “But you rode a long way to help my wife, Frau Grüber. I'm grateful—even if it was too late.” He hesitated. One question preyed on his mind. “Could you have saved her?”

“Ich weiß nicht, Herr Lancer.” The midwife sounded sympathetic, but Murdoch did not understand her. His confusion must have shown on his face, because Frau Grüber thought for a moment and then added, “I do not know.”

Frau Grüber took out the heavy register of Births, Death and Marriages from where it was kept under the trading post counter. She asked Murdoch to check the details she had recorded. Then she left him to make his declaration about the incident at Devil's Canyon. The man who acted for the government in such official matters foresaw no problem. He would forward the information to Monterey in due course, but on the face of it, Murdoch had acted in self-defence. No further action by the authorities was likely.

Murdoch and Maria collected the wagon as they passed through Carterville the next day. Returning the borrowed mare to its stable, they accepted some bread and cheese and a mug of coffee but stayed less than an hour. Murdoch tied his horse to the back of the wagon, and they travelled as quickly as four wheels over dirt roads would allow. Approaching a settlement soon after dusk on the first day, Murdoch suggested they stop, but Maria urged him on. “Let's keep going a little longer, Señor. I don't mind another night under the stars, if tomorrow we reach home.”

The next night they were so close to Lancer that the idea of stopping while they could still see the road was not an option for either of them. Murdoch decided to risk the main road in. It was New Year's Eve and Haney's men would be celebrating in the cantinas. The moon was much brighter than it had been when he had left and on the better road he was sure they could make it home that night. Maria crawled back into the wagon and slept as Murdoch drove on.

As the wagon drew near to the hacienda, a figure ran down the road towards them. It was Cipriano. Murdoch slowed long enough for him to climb onto the back of the wagon, and then continued on. Paul waved them through the barricade and after ensuring the carts were pulled back in position and secure, he followed them to the hacienda. The clocks had just struck twelve. Murdoch could hear the distant sound of revelry from the bunkhouse and workers cottages, but he also saw the shadow of guards on the roof tops and around the fences. Paul had not taken any chances.

Cipriano helped Maria from the wagon. With a nod, Murdoch acknowledged the look of shocked sympathy he saw in the young vaquero's face. He trusted the tears in Maria's eyes would tell O'Brien all he needed to know. The three of them followed him to the front door. Cipriano pushed forward and made sure he was first after Murdoch into the house. Earlier that day he had retrieved the small lump of coal he used for the First Footing from its place on the bookcase. Maria and Paul watched from the archway as he placed it beside the candle Murdoch was lighting on the table.

“Aye, Cipriano. Thank you. That was thoughtful. Do you want a dram?”

“No, gracias, Patrón. I will see Maria home now.” Taking her by the hand, he led Maria back outside.

Paul paused. He watched Murdoch as he stood motionless, gazing into nothingness. “I'll have a drink, Boss. It's been a long night.”

Murdoch poured two whiskies from the decanter on the sideboard, and settled himself in a chair. Paul sat opposite, silently sipping his drink while a clock ticked the minutes away. Eventually Murdoch put down his empty glass. “I think I'll sleep in the guest room.”

Paul nodded. They rose from their seats. Placing his glass on the table, Paul headed towards the door to check on the guard. As he reached the arch to the entrance hall, he looked back. “I'm sorry, Boss. I truly am.”

The days that followed were subdued. News travelled quickly. Before the end of the week, Sarah and Daniel Johnson drove out to offer their condolences.

“Would you like me to sort Catherine's things?” Sarah placed a gloved hand on Murdoch's arm and pressed gently.

He put his hand over hers and with effort managed to answer. “Aye, I suppose that would be best.”

Murdoch was still in a daze most of the time. Outside on the ranch he was forced to focus on the work, but inside the house he felt swamped by the enormity of his loss. At every turn there was something to remind him of Catherine. He could not break free of his grief. Estella fed him and did the household chores, but she was not confident enough to broach the subject of Catherine's belongings. She did move Murdoch's things into the guest room when he made no attempt to move back into their bedroom, but nothing was said. Sarah was more pragmatic. “I'll come again on Tuesday then. Think about what you would like to keep and if you would like anything in particular done with the rest.”

“You decide, only give Maria the blue dress. Catherine would've wanted her to have the blue dress. Let her and Estella choose whatever else they'd like. You too—just…. I don't want to be involved.”

In the end, Maria chose to keep her mistress's dressing table set. “I brushed and arranged her hair every evening before dinner. We would laugh and talk. She was more like a friend than a mistress.”

Estella asked if she could have Catherine's sewing box. It held similar memories for her. After some encouragement from Sarah, she also accepted gowns that she could alter into dresses for her younger daughters.

“I've taken Catherine's sheet music, and a dress I particularly like. I've put letters and some personal items I think you will want to keep in a small chest. It's in the cupboard under the stairs. The rest has been shared between the other women on the estate. If there is anything you want back, just tell Estella and it will be returned.”

Murdoch entered his old bedroom. Stripped of everything but the furniture it no longer smelled of Catherine's perfume, and it was just a room once more. Empty like the way his chest felt inside, but the burden of grief weighed less heavily.

He was more at ease in the great room too. Catherine's unfinished knitting no longer lay by the side of the sofa and Pride and Prejudice was back amongst the other novels on the bookcase. Pictures, the Lancer brand above the fireplace and various decorative touches Catherine had made to the room and its furnishings still remained to remind him, but he was surprised at how much relief he felt that her clothing and personal belongings were gone. It gave him the strength for the other tasks he had been putting off—the letter writing and the bible.

His messages to his family and Beth Eliot were short. Harlan Garrett and Scott would arrive in Boston long before his letters, but all the same he made the effort to break the news gently to Beth and to ask for her help.

I know you and Catherine's father still do not get on, Beth, but if you would make an effort to see Scott and watch out for him, I would be grateful.

Sealing the last letter, Murdoch went to the bookshelf and took down the bible Alfred Burke had given him and Catherine for a wedding present. It was not large, but it was beautiful and Catherine had adored it.

“Sorry it's late, but you didn't invite me to the wedding.” Burke's eyes had twinkled. For respectability's sake, Harlan Garrett had placed a marriage notice in The Boston Post . The gossips had speculated about who Murdoch Lancer was and the speed of the match, but Garrett had ensured there was insufficient information to feed discussion. The ladies' circles had soon found juicier topics of conversation, and Burke had sought out an old school friend to satisfy his curiosity. Will McIntyre had not known every detail, but as one of Beth's brothers he had known enough. Burke had sailed to California only a month after Murdoch and Catherine determined to give the young couple a gift of special significance.“The cover was made at the San Francisco Bay mission from local timbers and carved by Padre Felipe. I have often admired his work. Thank you for giving me such a joyous reason to commission his services.”

The newly-weds had marvelled at the intricacy of the carving. It depicted Saint Francis of Assisi amid the animals and woodland of California. The bible itself came from Spain and was written in Latin with red, green and gold lettering at the start of each gospel. Between the Old and New Testaments, there were several blank pages set aside for recording family events. Murdoch had started by recording his marriage to Catherine in Roxbury. Now in a slow and less-than-steady hand, he recorded her death and the birth of his son.

Scott Garrett Lancer born Carterville, California December 19 th , 1845.

Catherine Jane Lancer died near Carterville, California December 20 th , 1845.

The clearing of Catherine's belongings, the letter-writing and recording were like a cleansing, which enabled Murdoch to move forward at last. Yet the sadness seemed increasingly to be replaced with anger. At first guilt consumed him, and briefly he even blamed Catherine, but gradually he settled his ire on others. He cursed his father-in-law, but he was also grateful to him. Even when resentment dominated, there was no outlet for his frustration; Harlan Garrett was not there to attack. Finally Murdoch's anger focused in on the one person, who was there; the man who had caused him to write to Garrett, who had forced him to send Catherine away and whose activities had prevented him bringing his son home.

His feelings came to a head one morning in early February. Pedro rode in fast with Diego close behind. They had been checking the outlying herds. ”The line shack above Calf Creek has been burnt to the ground, Patrón.”

“Enough!” The volcano that had been rumbling inside Murdoch since Catherine's death finally erupted. Shaking with fury and cursing loudly, he marched to the stable. Slinging his saddle onto a startled horse, he wrenched the girth tight. Alarmed, Pedro ran to find O'Brien. The two men rounded the corner of the hacienda just as Murdoch galloped out of the yard. Paul shouted, but Murdoch was in no mood for talk. He went looking for the man he now blamed for everything. He went looking to make that man pay. He went looking for Jud Haney.

Murdoch found him in a cantina in Morro Coyo. “Haney, you bastard, I'm going to kill you.” His fist smashed into the surprised man's jaw and sent him sprawling. Haney's two companions just gaped as Murdoch hauled their boss up from the sawdust and sent him crashing into the street. Catching their wits at last, they jumped Murdoch from behind as he followed Haney outside, but in his fury Murdoch flung them off with ease. Haney scrambled to his feet and fought back. He ducked as Murdoch swung again and connected with a right hook of his own. It had little impact. Realising he was no match for the raging bull in front of him, Haney went for his gun.

“I don't think so, Haney.” Paul O'Brien, still astride his horse, held a rifle pointed at Haney's head. Three Lancer hands grabbed Haney's men. Three more took a firm hold of Murdoch and tried to force him to come away.

“Let me go, damn you!”

Paul handed his rifle to one of the ranch hands and dismounted. He confronted Murdoch, trying to calm him down. “This is not the answer, Boss. Killing him won't bring her back.”

At that moment, one of Haney's men broke free. Flinging himself onto a horse, he grabbed the reins of Haney's mare and rode directly at the man with the rifle. The Lancer man dived out of the way. The horses swerved, and Haney clinging to the horn and with only one foot in a stirrup rode to freedom. Once out of bullet range he seated himself properly and reined the horse in. He jeered back at Murdoch.“You'll pay for that, Lancer. When your bodyguards ain't around. Watch your back.”

“You'd best be sure of your aim, Haney. If I see you again, I won't waste time hitting you. I'll shoot you on sight.”

The two men glared at each other. Then Haney broke eye contact and galloped away. Murdoch shook off his men. “You should've let me murder the son of a bitch!”

Paul picked Murdoch's hat up from the ground and dusted it off. He handed it back. “I would've, Boss, but he might've killed you instead. Crazy, but we've kinda got used to having you around.”

 

 

Chapter 22:Revival

 

Despite his bravado, Jud Haney did not cross Murdoch's path again. Some weeks after their confrontation, he moved his activities further south. This probably had more to do with the presence of soldiers in the area than anything else, but for the first time in months, life at the ranch returned to normal.

There were not a lot of soldiers, but they were there, camping on the Estancia Caldera's land and making forays into the surrounding countryside. Tension between the United States and Mexico was increasing, resulting in unrest amongst the settler and native-born population alike. Although he knew the problems experienced in the San Joaquin Valley were unrelated, Don Frederigo Caldera Palmero used the political situation to their advantage and finally persuaded the governor that it was in the government's interest to bring some law and order to the area. The Mexican authorities clearly feared former American citizens would rise up against them. It was not a huge leap to jump to the conclusion that Haney was a revolutionary and the bandits, if not in league with him, were fostering discontent amongst the settlers, which could turn to revolt.

Government fears were not unjustified, but it was in Sonoma and not the San Joaquin where revolt finally occurred in June. Scared the Californio authorities were about to take military action against them, American settlers mounted a bloodless coup against the small Mexican garrison. Word of this and other events throughout California trickled through to Murdoch often weeks after they happened.

“What news?”Murdoch held Alfred Burke's horse steady as the land agent dismounted. Burke had arrived in California in April as usual and was passing through the valley on his way south to San Diego and then back to Boston. “I heard Sutter supported a revolt in Sonoma.”

“A republic was declared, but Sonoma is now under American control. Congress apparently declared war on Mexico in May. The United States government now controls Monterey, Yerba Buena and Los Angeles as well. There are rumours of Californio resurgence, however, so who knows how it will end.”

Minor skirmishes and territorial exchanges continued throughout the year. Murdoch and most of his neighbours chose to stay neutral. They concentrated on picking up the pieces of their lives and their ranches now that they were enjoying a welcome respite from the ravages of bandits and Jud Haney's so-called lawmen.

“Honestly, I would welcome American government.” Murdoch leaned over to light Don Frederigo's cigar and then settled back to enjoy his own. “In the time I've been here, the Mexican government has been poorly organised and ineffective. California may as well be the moon for all they seem to care about us. Yet they are happy enough to tax our trade.” Don Frederigo said nothing, but raised eyebrows asked a question.“Don't worry I will not take up arms against Mexico. Frankly, I've too much else to do. Besides, thanks to you, the authorities are finally giving us some support, even if it is for the wrong reasons.”

His guest nodded as he sipped his wine. Their private dinners once a month began after Catherine's death. Both men valued these evenings together, and they felt relaxed in each other's company. Murdoch knew the don shared his views, but the time had not quite arrived for his friend to say so publicly.

Soon after this conversation Murdoch received a letter from Beth Eliot. Some of the ink was smudged and he knew she had been crying as she wrote. He was surprised to learn why she had not written sooner; she had been giving birth to her own baby boy.

Robert McIntyre Eliot (Bobby) was born on February 10th, 1846.

Her husband and father had initially kept the news of Catherine's death from Beth. Garrett had returned to Boston with Scott at the time of her lying in, and they were afraid for her health. After the birth, when she had been eager to send Catherine word that she had a son and write of her hopes that their two children would be friends, Robert Eliot had broken the news as gently as he could. Still emotional from the birth, Beth had been distraught. She had only steeled herself to what she saw to be her duty when she received Murdoch's letter.

I visited Scott today. I gave my condolences to Mr Garrett, and begged to be allowed to see Catherine's son. Mr Garrett and I will never be friends, but we have made our peace. I now feel it must have been God's plan for me to marry Robert so that I could be sure of remaining in contact with Scott. Mr Garrett will not prevent his grandson associating with an Eliot, even if she was once someone less grand and complicit in the elopement of his daughter.

You did not tell me Scott has Catherine's eyes. He is such a happy babe. He gurgles and smiles and grabs hold of everything in reach. He is well cared for. His nanny knows her business and I have encouraged her to spend time with our nanny and little Bobby. Our sons shall be friends, Murdoch, and I am confident for the moment that I will be able to watch over Scott and send you reports.

A word of warning, however, I have not mentioned to Mr Garrett that we correspond. I believe I must still tread carefully with him, and I suggest you do the same.

Murdoch read Beth's description of Scott three times before he folded her letter and returned it to its envelope. He had always liked Beth. She had been the best of friends to Catherine, and now she was a godsend to him. The frustration and guilt from being apart from his son never seemed to go away entirely, but his heart felt lighter than it had done in weeks just knowing Scott was safe and well. He put the letter carefully away with the ones from Catherine in the strongbox behind his desk. He never kept money in the strongbox, just items of value.

As autumn approached winter, the demands of the ranch lessened. With no bandits or Haney to harass the herds or wreak havoc across his land, Murdoch had time to feel restless and lonely. Outside he was irritable with the men. Inside he spent empty evenings with a bottle of whisky and paperwork for company. It was after one of the hands threatened to leave complaining that the boss had turned into a miserable bastard that O'Brien came up with an idea. Murdoch should use the quiet time during the cooler months to see more of America.

“Saw Jay McKillen last night in town. Heading to the Colorados for the trapping. Says he would be happy to have you along, if you have a mind.”

With only a little persuasion, Murdoch agreed he could be spared. He and Paul had often exchanged stories of their travels. Murdoch may have sailed down one side of North America and up the other, but Paul had seen much more of what lay in between. Murdoch's desire to see the vast open spaces on the other side of the Sierra Nevada was strong. When McKillen rode through Lancer two days later, therefore, Murdoch's saddle bags were packed and ready.

“Hope you got something warmer than that coat, Lancer.” Wearing a bulky jacket made from furs, McKillen shifted his weight in his saddle and continued to chew his tobacco as he spoke. “You'll need gloves as well.”

“Thought I could get what I need at Sutter's Fort.”

The small Swiss community of Sutter's Fort marked the western end of the California Trail, and was a regular stop for trappers travelling to the coast laden with pelts, or returning to the mountains after summering in warmer climes. Murdoch had no trouble acquiring the equipment and clothing required.

He and McKillen made good progress across the Sierra Nevada. Moving more slowly was a wagon train, struggling through the corridor in the opposite direction.

“Should make it before the snows come, but they've left it late.” McKillen reined in his horse and mule beside Murdoch to let an ox drawn cart pass by. He hailed the guide and they exchanged information about the trails ahead.

Murdoch revelled in the beauty of the scenery and the physical exertion. They moved at a steady pace. He was so tired from each day's ride that by the time they spread out their bedrolls he fell asleep almost instantly. The worries and grief that plagued his dreams at Lancer were deprived their regular playground. By the time he breathed in the crisp winter air of Utah, Murdoch was beginning to feel like the young man who had left Scotland once again.

His companion was a big man—nearly as tall as Murdoch. He had little education and was a man of few words. They travelled in silence much of the time, crossing Nevada and Utah into Colorado. When they entered the southern end of the Rockies, the majesty of the mountains and the pristine lakes left Murdoch in awe, but it was then that Jay McKillen came alive. Even though he was Texan by birth, he belonged to the mountains. Murdoch could sense the energy increase in the trapper as they ascended into the wilderness. McKillen could find a trail where Murdoch saw nothing but trees and rocks. He read spoor and animal tracks like an Indian and sensed danger long before it approached. His enthusiasm for his environment stirred him to talk, and Murdoch learned more about the wildlife of North America and tracking in those few weeks than he had done from all the books he had read and all his time in California put together.

They hunted mink, beaver, fox, raccoon, muskrat and pine marten—any animal with fur. McKillen taught Murdoch how to set traps and how to mark his way so he knew how to find them again. He showed him how to skin the animals and how to construct a bivouac from fir trees to protect them from the snow that soon began to fall. He instructed him on how to read the signs that not only showed animals were near, but told an experienced trapper what kind of animals, how many and when they had passed by.

“Bin trappin' these mountains since I was a nipper.” McKillen nursed a steaming mug of coffee. They sat by the campfire, relishing the warmth after a tiring day setting traps along the river. “For Ma's sake, Pa run a few head on land in north Texas, but every winter he'd come up to the mountains. Brung me with him soon as I could hold a gun. When she died, we came here permanent like.”

“Where's your pa now?”

“Buried ‘im in ‘43 on t'other side of that mountain.” McKillen pointed with his knife across the valley. “Bobcat.” He cut another slice of meat from the raccoon roasting over the fire and chewed it thoughtfully.

By late-January the mule was heavily loaded with pelts and they were talking of heading west again. Murdoch needed to start the return journey to Lancer soon. They decided Jay would see him on his way with as many of the pelts as his horse could carry, and then go back into the mountains to do more trapping.

“May as well make the most of the season since I've you to play pack horse for me. I'll—”

“What is it?”

Jay held up one hand, signalling silence as he reached for his rifle with the other. Rising slowly, the trapper's eyes searched the forest. Murdoch followed his lead. They stood back to back, rifles at the ready, straining to hear or see what was out there. The horses jostled restlessly. A dark cloud shrouded the moon, but all Murdoch could hear was the muffled thud of snow falling from the tree branches. The night was still and unnaturally silent. Their breath hung in the air and they waited.

Darkness exploded. Demons screeched. Knives flashed in the firelight. Both rifles fired.

The weight of a man smacked into him. Murdoch crashed down through the trees, branches tearing at his skin, hands slipping on sweat, struggling to keep a blade from his throat. Over and over they rolled, his face bombarded by spittle and stale breath. Crack! Bone hit rock. Murdoch jerked the man up and smashed him down hard with a deadly scrunch. The Shoshone brave lay still beneath him and a gritty stickiness oozed over his left hand.

Another fiend, dark face streaked with white, hurtled out of nowhere. Murdoch dodged as he rose. A sharp pain slashed him, but he turned to face his attacker. Circling now, eyes locked, both panting. Knives clenched. A stitch in his side made it hard to breathe. He dodged as the dagger thrust forward. Using his shoulder Murdoch slammed his enemy into a tree trunk. A sickening squelch and a broken branch skewered its victim. Wide-eyed the Indian's head flopped to one side and rested amongst pine cones.

Spitting blood, Panama knife in one hand and gripping his side with the other, Murdoch grunted as he staggered back up the slope towards the remains of the fire. The stench of gore mixed with the smoke. Hot embers sizzled in the snow. Jay was pinned down by three Shoshone warriors, his back to a Limber Pine. Murdoch lurched forward into the maelstrom as Jay rammed his knife up, under and out and turned to the next assailant. Fast losing strength, Murdoch threw his weight into the third Indian. They hit the ground together, the world spun and everything went black.

Somewhere a rifle fired. A horse passed him at speed, and Murdoch fell into the void once again.

When he next awoke, someone was dragging him. He heard himself groan as he was propped half sitting-half lying against the smooth leather of a saddle. His world was still black, and the pain in his side cut him in half. “I can't see.”

“Try opening your eyes.”Jay McKillen knelt beside him cutting Murdoch's blood soaked shirt away from his skin.“Tarnation, they've done you good and proper.” Removing the cork with his teeth, Jay sloshed whisky over the wound and Murdoch jerked in agony. “Hold still and I'll bind you. God damn Shoshone. What the hell they doing so far south?”

Murdoch and Jay endured an uncomfortable and sleepless night, but the Shoshone war party did not come back. A new day dawned, crisp and clear.

“Got away with a rifle, but won't do them much good without bullets. That don't help us none mind,” Jay growled, surveying the damage. The pelts were strewn across the ground, but none had been stolen. The pile must have been knocked over in the fight. He found the mule a few yards away, grazing a small island of mountain grass amid the snow. No sign of the horses.

Jay bundled half the pelts and tied them high into a tree along with one of the saddles. He saddled the mule and bound the remaining pelts up front.“Need to get you to a doctor. Think you can stand?”

Murdoch rose with difficulty. His head spun and he gasped with the pain. Jay helped him up onto the mule. Fighting the dizziness, Murdoch gripped the pommel as Jay re-arranged the pelts around him. Two braves lay dead near the fire, arms and legs splayed at odd angles. Angry squeals drew his attention. Rats were fighting on a blood-stained mound part way down the slope. His stomach lurched. It was the remains of his assailant's skull, and the rats were fighting over its contents. Averting his eyes from the grisly scene, he spied a fourth body, still pinned to a fir tree with a look of astonishment on its face. A dried trickle of blood trailed from the gaping mouth.

Jay shouldered his rifle and a backpack of bedrolls, cookware and pelts. Taking the mule's reins, he began the slow trudge towards help. There was no identifiable trail, and Murdoch swayed dangerously as they navigated the uneven terrain. The sun was high in the sky when he rolled from the mule. The fall brought him round.

“Damn mules. Never did like them.” He pushed himself up to sitting and drank from the canteen Jay put to his lips.

“Wound's opened up again.” Jay made Murdoch lean to one side so he could examine the laceration more closely. Murdoch bit down hard on a stick while Jay used cloth ripped from his shirt as wadding and then retied the blood soaked bandage. “I'm going to pack more pelts up front and tie you to the pile. Mite uncomfortable I expect, but you can't keep falling off. Long way to go.”

By the third day Murdoch was struggling to stay conscious. Not even the severe cramp from being forced to half-lie and half-sit could keep him from falling into a murky haze. When they camped for the night he was sweating, but his breath still hung white in the air. Jay's voice seemed to fade in and out. The Texan drawl dwindled to an echo from the end of a very long tunnel and then slammed into Murdoch like a train at full throttle. Dreams overtook him.

His sister Maggie was playing knuckle bones by the hearth as his ma bent to tend the porridge on the fire.

“Let's be having it, my bonnie lass.” His da, fresh from his morning chores, came through the door. Jock dawdled in his wake as he played with Jess, their border collie.

Murdoch stepped towards them, but he stumbled. When he looked up from the flagstones he saw numbers, enamel and gold encased in mahogany and glass. Clocks of all sizes ticked around him. Sun streamed through a lattice window. He was in his grandfather's workshop. The old man hunched low over his bench examining a pocket watch with his eyeglass. “Stop your girning, lad. I agree with your brother. You're staying in school.”

Murdoch protested his fate, but his grandfather did not seem to hear him. The watchmaker and the shop merged with the shadows.

For a long time Murdoch did not know where he was. Light and dark battled for control. He felt jarring as though he was on the move. This is what it must have been like for Catherine, he thought. My poor, bonnie lass, where are you?

The soft light of dawn pushed back the edge of darkness. She lay beside him, sleeping peacefully. He could feel the warmth of her breath against his skin and his body relaxed.

“I've missed you, lass. Come back to me.”Murdoch reached out to touch her hair. It was soft and silky and smelled of rosewater.

He blinked.

Grey-blue eyes gazed curiously back at him. A small hand stretched out and Murdoch felt tiny fingers brush his cheek. Tears obscured his son from view as his mind swirled once more.

“Come back! Come back.” But the people he loved most were gone. All that remained was the darkness and the pain, and the determination to live.

It took six days for Jay McKillen to pack Murdoch over the Colorados to Taos in New Mexico. Six days to traverse seventy miles of steep, snow-covered mountain-range with only instinct to guide him. He near collapsed when he reached the small ranch house in the high country just north of town.

The fever that consumed Murdoch on the third night was raging when the rancher and his son unstrapped him from the mule and carried him inside. The man's wife nursed him while their son fetched the doctor and for two days there was some doubt whether Murdoch would live or die; or so they told him after the fever broke and he began to recover.

“You're a lucky man.” The doctor put his stethoscope away and peered at Murdoch through round, wire-rimmed spectacles. “You'll likely make a full recovery.”

“I'll be leaving you then, Lancer.” McKillen paid the doctor and the rancher for their trouble, and stuffed money under Murdoch's pillow. With the hides they had brought with them, he had purchased a horse and supplies. Most of what was left over now lay beneath Murdoch's head. “I'm going back to the mountains. Get the other saddle and the rest of them hides. Maybe do some more trapping. See you back in California in a month or so.”

“I owe you, Jay.” Murdoch leaned over from his sickbed and shook the trapper's hand. “I'll not forget.

 

Continued in Section Three------>

 

Notes on these chapters

Chapter 13 Luck Runs Out
No notes

Chapter 14 The Tide Turns
1. Catherine Garrett Lancer features or is mentioned in The Homecoming (Pilot movie), The Highriders, Series 1, Episode 1 and Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10.

2. Jim Harper features in Juniper's Camp , Series 1, Episode 21.

3. Harlan Garrett features in Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10.

Chapter 15 The Great Escape
No notes

Chapter 16 Love and Honour
No notes

Chapter 17 Good to be Home
1. Dana, Richard H. Jnr. Two Years Before The Mast . Harper and Brothers, 1840.

2. Davis, William Heath.   Seventy-Five Years in California.   San Francisco: J. Howell, 1929.

Chapter 18 Catherine
1. Maria features in various episodes as the Lancer's housekeeper or cook.

2. Yerba Buena is the old name for San Francisco.

3. Cipriano features in The Homecoming (pilot movie) and The Highriders , Series 1, Episode 1.

4. Jud Haney features in Yesterday's Vendetta , Series 1, Episode 16.

Chapter 19 Jud Haney
1. Jake Mendoza sold his ranch to the Acme Land Company in The Rivals , Series 2, Episode 24.

2. Jud Haney features in Yesterday's Vendetta , Series 1, Episode 16.

Chapter 20 God Giveth and…
1. Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10 forms the basis of this chapter and readers will recognise that Esther Carter's speech has been borrowed directly from that TV episode. In the main I have kept to canon and worked around it, filling in the gaps and sometimes presenting a different perspective to that given by the characters in Legacy . The only actual break with canon is Devil's Canyon. In Legacy Murdoch says he was riding through the badlands, but my research indicated there were no badlands anywhere in the vicinity. As there was no logical reason for the characters to ride far enough south for Murdoch to encounter actual badlands and as in the TV episode the terrain did not look like badlands, I decided to invent a rugged canyon instead.

For those who question my choice to have them ride for Sutter's Fort and then to have Murdoch catch up with Garrett and Scott before they left for Boston, all I can say is that I do not consider this version of events to break with canon. Fans have formed strongly held beliefs based on snippets of information provided the TV script writers, but never does it say Murdoch did not see his son before Scott went to Boston. When telling a story twenty-five years on or hearing it over a hundred years on, we often blur the detail and impose our own perceptions. My view is that we heard parts of the story from Harlan the way he remembered it and parts from Murdoch the way he remembered it. Both were over-tired and emotional at the time, and both had reasons to tell their listeners a story that lent sympathy to themselves.They told their stories in terms their listeners would understand, e.g. by 1871 no one talked of Yerba Buena and Sutter's Fort. To avoid explanation, it was just easier to say San Francisco and Sacramento. There were also several apparent inconsistencies and a great deal of the story was never told—until now.

2. Sutter's Fort was the hub of the New Helvetia (New Switzerland) estate owned by John Sutter, and was founded in 1839. It was the first non-Native American Community in the California Central Valley. Sutter's Fort marked the western end to the California and Siskiyou Trails. It was the first port of call for migrants entering California overland through the Sierra Nevada. The fort was abandoned after the discovery of gold and was effectively swallowed up by the new carefully-designed town of Sacramento.

3. Yerba Buena was a small settlement on the shore of San Francisco Bay. It was renamed San Francisco on 30 January, 1847. Also, there was a trading post and its proprietor was a man called Richardson.

4. Other episodes providing detail for this chapter include the pilot movie The Homecoming or The Highriders , Series 1, Episode 1 (abridged version of the pilot) and Yesterday's Vendetta , Series 1, Episode 16.

5. I chose December 19 th as Scott's birth date, because it is the date of birth of Wayne Maunder, the actor who brought him to life.

Chapter 21 Grief and Anger
1. This chapter refers to events and characters appearing in Legacy , Series 2, Episode 10 or Yesterday's Vendetta , Series 1, Episode 16.

2. Sutter's Fort: see note 2, Chapter 20

3. Yerba Buena was a small settlement on the shore of San Francisco Bay. It was renamed San Francisco on 30 January, 1847. Also, there was a trading post and its proprietor was a man called Richardson.

 

Chapter 22 Revival
1. Jay McKillen and reference to Murdoch's time in the Colorados appears in The Great Humbug, Series 1, Episode 20.

2. Sutter's Fort : see note 2, Chapter 20.

3. The wagon train Murdoch and Jay encountered travelling through the Sierra Nevada is fictitious or not depending on your preference. If you choose, you could believe it to be the infamous Donner Party, who spent the winter of 1846-47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and resorted to cannibalism to survive.



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