#4 of a quadrilogy of stories
Word count: 4,349
“Say, Boston , you wanna go into town with me tonight? Figure on doin’ a little dancin’ and romancin’.” Johnny gave his brother a knowing wink.
“No thanks, Johnny. I really don’t feel like riding all that way. Might go to bed early.”
Grinning widely, the younger man casually remarked, “Guess that’s what happens to all you older fellers. Didn’t think gettin’ tossed off a horse would put you off dancin’!” Sapphire eyes twinkled at the memory of Scott’s encounter with the hard, dusty ground earlier that day. “Betcha Teresa’ll let you borrow a pillow if you ask her nice.”
Limping slightly, the blond continued towards his room before he stopped near the whiskey decanter. “Thanks, but no thanks. A little medicinal alcohol and a good night’s rest will do the trick.”
Johnny carefully removed a nonexistent piece of dirt from his shirt and then straightened his hat to just the angle he preferred to dazzle the ladies. “Well, it’s up to you, but if you need it, Barranca’s bottle of liniment is out in the stable. Works wonders on him!” His chortle could still be heard inside the great room as he walked outside and mounted the palomino.
“Your brother has a cruel streak in him, Scott!”
The blond man twisted around, wincing as his sore hip flared with pain. Seeing Teresa standing behind him, he smiled. “Oh, he’s just getting his own back after last week when he had that unfortunate meeting with the polecat. I suppose the fact that he couldn’t go into town for two days warped his sense of humor.” Scott made an effort not to smile, but it was difficult when he remembered how many baths his dark-haired sibling had endured.
“Still, you could have been seriously injured,” she remarked.
“It’s not the first time I’ve fallen off a horse and I don’t suppose it’s the last. At least the Confederate cavalry wasn’t chasing me this time!”
Teresa gave him a shy smile. It was still difficult for her to believe that this man had ever served in the cavalry during the War. She had seen death at first hand with Pardee and his band of cutthroats, but the idea of massed armies going at each other with cannon and firearms seemed so foreign, so unimaginable. “Dinner won’t be for another hour. I decided to make a hot meal tonight since it’s finally cooled off.”
Scott wiped the sweat off his forehead. “I guess so, but it was hot out there on the range.”
“You do look slightly flushed. Did you have your hat on?” Teresa’s brown eyes narrowed.
“Yes Teresa, I had it on,” Scott answered impatiently. “I’m fine so you don’t have to worry.”
The brown-haired woman licked her lips. “Sorry, I just can’t help worrying about all of you. After all, you were worried about me when I had that argument with Murdoch.”
“That was different!”
“And just how do you figure that, Mr. Lancer?”
“Well, I know I’m all right, but there’s a very special bond between you and Murdoch. Nothing is worth losing that.”
“I. . .I suppose you’re right, but one day there could be someone more important than Murdoch in my life. Sometimes I think he’s afraid of that.”
Scott looked down into the young woman’s serious face. “Teresa, I think that Murdoch will be very happy if you find a man to love and respect and who you want to marry. Murdoch just needs to know that you’ll always have a place for him in your life.”
The brown eyes flashed. “He can’t seriously doubt that I would, can he?”
“Not being a father or a husband, I’m no expert, but jealousy can do terrible things to some people. I’m sure that has played a part in his dislike of my grandfather and certainly in my grandfather’s dislike of Murdoch. They can’t seem to realize that I need both of them.”
Teresa reached out to pat him on the arm. “I know you do and I’ll always need Murdoch too. I guess I’ll just have to make sure that if the day comes and I marry then my husband will have to realize how important Murdoch is to me.”
Scott hesitated and then remarked, “If. . .your bridegroom can’t accept that then perhaps you should think twice about marrying him.” The startled look in Teresa’s eyes made Scott pause for a second, but then he continued. “I know many men look upon their wives as possessions, but that’s not right. You have a great deal of love to share with Murdoch, your husband, and your children. You should never have to feel that you can’t be generous with that love.”
“I. . .you’ve never said anything like that before.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve never been encouraged to say what I feel. Most men aren’t I guess, but I’ve been thinking about what you said—about my mask and I know it’s true. Perhaps I’ve realized that I can’t expect Murdoch or Johnny to talk to me unless I’m willing to talk to them.”
“You’re a. . .brave man. It’s strange because I expected you to be this stuck-up easterner who would never admit to feeling anything but disdain for us. I must confess that living with Murdoch hasn’t always been easy. He and my father were so much alike. I knew they loved me, but sometimes I felt that I was in the way. That all they needed was Lancer. Do . . .do you think it’s possible that my mother and Johnny’s mother ever felt that way too?”
Scott put his hands on her slender shoulders. “I don’t know for sure, but Lancer would be a formidable rival. I must confess that I’m jealous of these 100,000 acres myself at times.”
Teresa giggled. “I guess I am too in a way, but most of the time I think I’d die if I ever had to leave. Anyway, I’d better go work on my dinner before your father returns. You know how he is about his dinner being on time.”
“That’s true. You could set the clock by his stomach!”
“Johnny’s too but don’t tell him I said that or he’ll go into his pout and I’ll end up having to make a cake and some cookies to make amends and all I intend to do after dinner is lie on my bed and read the new novel Mary loaned me.”
“Sounds good to me. I have some reading to do myself. I’ll see you at the dinner table.”
Dinner that night was a brief affair despite the excellence of Teresa’s food. Murdoch methodically made his way through the beef, potatoes, and huge hunks of bread to sop up the gravy without saying much, except for grumbling about the fact that cattle prices were down and to ask about Johnny’s whereabouts. It was Scott who informed him of his younger son’s decision to go into Morro Coyo for the evening. The tall man had just stood there for a moment before saying, “Surprised you didn’t go too.”
Before Scott could even reply, the older man put on his glasses and settled himself at his desk to go over the books one more time.
The blond just shook his head. He knew his father was truly concerned about his ranch, but going over and over the books would not raise the cattle prices. His leg hurting, Scott picked up his dishes to carry them into the kitchen where he found Teresa and Maria talking together. Not wanting to interrupt them, he continued on to his room where he lay down on the bed with relief. For a moment he was almost tempted to see if Barranca’s liniment might help, but knew that Johnny would never let him live it down so he decided to grit his teeth and bear it. After all, he had endured much worse during the War.
As he had done almost every night since his father had given him the key to Catherine’s desk, he took out the diary and letters from his bedside table and turned up the lamp. He had read every word in the diary and the letters at least twice and although he hated to admit it, they really had not answered many questions about the woman who had been his mother. Catherine had started the diary when she was little more than a child as the juvenile handwriting reflected. The entries were few for those years and mostly concentrated on presents received for Christmas or birthdays. A few friends were mentioned as well, but nothing of any consequence until sometime around her thirteenth year when there was a simple statement: “Mama died today.”
Scott had heard only a little about his grandmother. Harlan Garrett had a painting of the woman and it was certainly from Anna Garrett that Catherine and Scott received their looks, but the white-haired man had rarely talked about her, except to say she had been a Preston , one of Boston ‘s finest families. Then the Christmas that Scott was nine, Bartholomew Preston, Scott’s great uncle, had paid a visit. At first Garrett had seemed reluctant to have his brother-in-law in the house, but that didn’t last long since Preston was unlike anyone Scott had ever met. In fact, if Scott had been asked he would have said that he suspected Bartholomew Preston was truly Saint Nicholas in disguise.
The man had a kind face framed by white hair and a wonderful laugh that filled the room. He delighted in telling Scott about his sister Anna when she was young and how Harlan Garrett had stood up to their father when he had asked for Anna’s hand.
Garrett had protested, saying Scott didn’t want to hear old stories, but Preston had continued on with stories about Catherine as well. The boy’s blue eyes had sparkled with joy since he had never felt comfortable mentioning his mother’s name around his grandfather. Deep down he had always imagined that Garrett must blame him for Catherine’s death, just as the father of one of his friends had with his son. Tyler Ferris scarcely tolerated his youngest son’s presence since his wife’s death in childbirth had left him with three sons and two daughters to raise alone. Scott and Jeremy Ferris had become close friends, but both knew it was only a matter of time until the Ferris scion would be sent away to school.
Surprisingly, it had taken Bartholomew Preston only a few minutes, aided by a large snifter of brandy, to have Garrett join in the reminiscences of Anna and Catherine. Scott had learned more about the two women that night than in the years since. Of course, he had hoped to learn more from Murdoch about the adult Catherine, but that subject had become a closed book like so many others in the time that he had been at the ranch.
The diary ended not long after Anna Garrett’s death. Catherine had painstakingly described the funeral and the visitors, the flowers and the calls of condolence. Her last entry had been, “Now I am the only one Papa has to love.”
Scott shivered as he reread that entry. Taking out one of the letters in the wrapped bundle, he once again looked at the simple words written from Garrett to his daughter in California . His neat, precise handwriting reflected his life as an accountant, and while the words themselves were not particularly memorable, no flowery declarations were needed since the love Harlan Garrett felt for his only child was obvious as was the regret that she was so far away.
Reading through the missives once again, Scott realized that there was a pattern to them. Carefully dated on the Sunday of each week, they told of life in Boston , their house, politics, and their friends. Then at a certain point the tone of the letters changed as Garrett began to write of his concern for his daughter’s health. Scott even managed a smile when he saw Garrett’s reassurance that he would welcome either a granddaughter or grandson, but if the baby was a grandson, would Catherine permit him to attend Harvard? The last letter in the bundle ended with the poignant line, “Soon I will be holding your son or daughter in my arms. It will be one of the happiest days of my life.”
Scott’s breath caught in his throat. He had always believed his own loss to be the greater for never having known his mother, but after reading the letters he could more readily understand the despair that his grandfather must have felt as Catherine and finally Scott left for Lancer.
Idly riffling through the letters, Scott looked again at one or two. He couldn’t help wondering if his grandfather had saved his mother’s letters and if so, would he be allowed to read them? Since they had never been mentioned before, it didn’t seem likely, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Tomorrow he would write a letter to his grandfather and inquire about them.
It wasn’t until he was ready to tuck the letters back into their envelopes that something struck him as odd about their sequence. There appeared to be one missing. Reviewing the dates, it was obvious that for some reason one of the Sunday missives either hadn’t been written or had disappeared. The note written the week after the missing date contained a reference that made it seem likely that it had been written, but perhaps Catherine hadn’t received it. Mail service was notoriously unreliable.
Placing the diary and the letters back into the drawer, Scott turned down the lamp and struggled to sleep. Unfortunately, his mind was still on the missing letter. What had it contained? The only clue was that Harlan Garrett had subsequently written, “Catherine, my dear, I hope the news that I sent you in my last letter has not hurt you too much.”
Somehow he knew that the news had deeply affected his mother. Tomorrow he would ride into town and send a telegram to Boston . He needed to know what news the missing letter had imparted.
Unfortunately, several days were to pass before the elder Lancer son was able to ride into town and send the telegram. Waiting in the saloon for his supplies to be loaded onto the buckboard, Scott drank down a cold beer. He had never been much of a beer drinker while in Boston , but here in this hot, dusty land it seemed to fit him and his thirst although he still enjoyed fine wine, brandy and his father’s excellent whisky. Early on he had learned to leave most of the rotgut liquor alone after he had imbibed two or three shots of the perfidious liquid and had paid for it with the grandfather of all hangovers. He also had learned to like—in moderation—the tequila that his brother seemed to favor.
After the second beer, Scott pulled on his gloves and headed out the swinging door. He needed to stop by the bank and do some other errands before his return to Lancer. A rancher’s work never seemed to be done.
Several hours later the young man climbed up on the seat of the buckboard. He would be glad to get back to the hacienda. Just as he started to move out, Franklin Wilson, the new telegraph operator came running across the road. “Mr. Lancer, Mr. Lancer, this just came in. Thought you’d like to see it.” Wilson handed over the piece of paper to Scott, who tucked it in his jacket pocket, before setting the wagon into motion.
With the help of several hands, the buckboard was quickly unloaded and with no one around to disturb him, Scott hurriedly walked into his room to tear open the envelope. The words were not many, but his heart began to thump wildly as he read them.
Running one hand through his disheveled hair, Scott sat on his bed for a long moment and then leaned over to remove the scrolled key from the drawer where he kept it. Without further hesitation, he headed up to the attic to once again open up his mother’s desk. Inside the empty main drawer, he searched for a small lever towards the back. As soon as his fingers touched the hidden knob, a secret compartment revealed itself and in the compartment were a small book and a letter.
Removing them, closing the compartment and relocking the desk took only a few seconds and then he was back in his room. Hands shaking, he carefully took out the much- creased letter and began to read.
At first, the words—in French—didn’t register so he reread them. It was a love letter and a farewell to Catherine Garrett from a man named Denis Rousseau. There was no date on the letter, but it was obvious that the man had known Catherine before her marriage to Murdoch Lancer. It was also obvious that the man must have meant a great deal to his mother or why keep his last letter in a hidden place?
Hoping that the small book might give him the answer, Scott lay down on his bed and began to read. It was another diary, but one that the golden-haired woman had started not long before she met Murdoch Lancer. The entries were not many, but they were much more detailed than her earlier diary.
The first entry concerned the letter from Rousseau:
“I cannot believe that Denis has decided to leave me this way. He swears he loves me and yet prefers to seek his fortune in California . Why should I believe that he will return? He will meet someone else and I will be forgotten. Why couldn’t he understand that I too seek adventure and a new life? I love my father and Boston , but I want to see more of this beautiful land before I am old and have children to care for. Why must a woman always be left behind?”
The next few entries dealt with her life in Boston and trying to recover from Rousseau’s abandonment. Scott could feel her loneliness in the words, but she soon began to speak of other suitors. Some were dismissed out-of-hand as men who solely wished to marry Catherine as her father’s heir or as men lacking in fire and imagination—men who were content to make a comfortable living, marry a dutiful wife, have a few children and live out their lives without really living. Catherine’s graceful handwriting became bold and aggressive when describing one such man who had dared to suggest that he expected his bride to produce a son exactly nine months from their wedding day! Scott chuckled as he could almost see Catherine’s reaction to such a pompous idiot.
Not long after that entry, the first mention of Murdoch Lancer was inscribed in the book.
“Mr. Lancer is a most interesting man. Certainly not as polished as Denis Rousseau, but he does have the same dreams. What is it about California that attracts men to it as they are to a beautiful woman? I do not know if this Scotsman is serious in his attentions. He seems to be almost shy when he speaks with me, trying to hide his great height as if it might intimidate. On the contrary, I feel safe when I am with him. I think I will enjoy learning to know him if only Papa does not forbid us from seeing each other. I know my father is afraid that he, too, will try to break my heart as Denis almost succeeded in doing, but I am stronger than any man can imagine.”
The next writings were scanty with references to Murdoch’s courtship of Catherine Garrett. Again and again, she mentioned how careful, how protective of her reputation the tall foreigner seemed to be and yet she seemed entranced by his dream of building a new home and life in California . In fact the word ‘ California ‘ seemed to represent all that she wanted in life: freedom to be herself away from the stodgy expectations for women in Boston ‘s society. Even her beloved father, who had taught her some of the fine points of his business, seemingly had warned her that society would look askance at a woman in charge of a business after Garrett’s death—unless she married a man who could handle things while she remained in the background.
Scott did burst out laughing at the word that Catherine had inserted at the end of her comments. “Fiddlesticks!!!” This hidden diary truly gave him a whole new perspective of the woman he had never known. She was not the quiet, unassuming woman of his imagination, but a force in her own right. More than ever, he regretted her loss.
The next long entry was from the night before Catherine’s wedding day.
“Tomorrow I will become a wife and then we shall depart for California . I am only a little afraid of the unknown because my whole being is filled with excitement. The adventure of a lifetime is about to take place and I will need to be strong enough to take the bad with the good.
Murdoch will be a good husband I believe. He has confessed that he has not had much experience with women so I suppose we shall learn together. I do not shirk from that part of married life nor does it worry me. My mother told me that a woman may derive pleasure of it as well as a man and I intend to share that with my husband. We will be partners as I do not intend to be submissive nor do I intend that he should be. And if one day we should be blessed with sons and daughters, I will raise them to value themselves as I do.”
Long passages followed that entry with descriptions of the trip west and the sight of Lancer for the first time. Catherine did not seem dismayed by the ramshackle house which greeted her, but asked immediately for her writing to desk to be unloaded and placed near a window for light. Then she had confidently announced, “We are home.”
Other comments filled the small book about the difficulties of being so far from a large town, meeting the ranch hands and their wives, as well as her loneliness due to Murdoch’s long workday and need to be away buying and selling. She confessed her fears to the written page and carried on.
Skipping a few pages, Scott came upon the one he had been seeking.
“Murdoch has been so concerned about these raids on the ranch that I have hesitated to bother him, but tonight I must. I now know that I am expecting our first child. I know that he will be pleased since he has often mentioned an heir for Lancer.
I will send a letter to my father tomorrow, telling him of the news. Perhaps I can persuade Murdoch to invite my father here for the baby’s coming. I know they do not see eye-to-eye, but it would make me happy to have the two men I love most to be with me at such a time.
And I am happy now, but even the thought that I carry a baby within me doesn’t change what I want from life. My children, however many I have, will have to accept that their mother is a free soul, l first and foremost, and that is most certainly what I want for each of them.”
Scott rubbed at his eyes which felt hot and wet. Trying to focus on the remaining filled pages, he scarcely dared to think what his life might have been like if that strong, independent woman hadn’t died.
Skipping some of the pages, he moved ahead in time. He would read the missed passages when he had more time to savor and reflect. The last entry in the diary came before the actual last leaf in the book.
“Today I received a letter from Father. He said that Denis Rousseau is dead, killed by an unknown man over a gambling debt. It is strange that I truly haven’t thought of him for some time and yet my heart is filled with grief. Perhaps it is so of everyone who loses their first love. I only know that until the letter came, I hoped one day to walk down a street and see that wonderful face with his beautiful eyes and flashing smile. Alas, that will never be now.
Tomorrow Murdoch is sending me away from Lancer. He says that it will be safer for me away from the ranch with all these raids. I protested most vigorously since my place is here and I can handle a gun. Judd Haney does not frighten me, however, I have agreed to go because I believe it will put Murdoch’s mind at ease.
Tonight I shall lie by his side in our bed with my great belly rising in the air, much like one of Lancer’s mountains and know that the next time I see my husband, I will be able to lay our daughter or son in his arms. Hopefully, Papa, will also come and be able to partake in our joy. I have talked with Murdoch and he has agreed that our boy will go to Harvard and if it should be a girl, I am determined that she too, will have the finest education we can buy.
Now, I will hide this book away. When I return to Lancer I will fill it with memories for my child to read one day so that he or she will know what a fortunate woman Catherine Garrett Lancer is.”
Scott carefully put the book and the letter into the drawer with the other remembrances of his mother. Then he took out his own journal. He had much to write.
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