Word Count 13,735
The Story of Murdoch, Maria, and Johnny.
A Thank You to Janet Brayden (JEB) for allowing Maura Talbot to “visit.”
And a loving Thank You to my son, Steven, whose arrival in this world on May 1, 1996, provided the inspiration for the story of Johnny’s birth.
APRIL 28, 1847
Murdoch Lancer watched contently as the warm spring breeze gently made its way through her long, silky, black hair. He watched her and smiled to himself as she awkwardly lifted herself off the log she had been sitting on.
He ran over to help her, gently grasping her hands, and pulling her toward him. She responded with a giggle. And he laughed, too. For her bulging belly made it difficult for them to embrace and give each other the tender peck they both wanted.
“Lo siento”, she laughed. Then more seriously, she added, “I feel so. . .big. So. . . helpless. I hope you don’t mind,” and tears began to well in her soulful brown eyes.
“My darling Maria, of course I don’t mind. Remember, it’s only the shape of better things to come,” he chuckled, and rubbed her large, round belly. As he did so, the baby inside her kicked. Hard. They both laughed.
“Hmmmm, I think Johnny will have strong legs for running and playing,” Murdoch laughed.
Maria laughed as well. “Well, little Marguerite could have strong legs for dancing.” She turned serious, then asked her husband, “Murdoch? If our child is a little girl, will you be disappointed?”
Maria Lancer knew how much her husband wanted a son. It was true he had one son already; but the little boy, who was three, lived 3,000 miles away in Boston with his first wife’s father. She knew of her husband’s desire to get him back, but so far, money, time, and the impending birth of their child put the efforts on hold to get his oldest son back.
“Of course not, Maria. Don’t be silly. I would love a daughter, especially if she looks like you. I’ve often heard that there is something special between a father and his daughter. As long as our baby is healthy and happy, that’s all that matters.”
He helped her into the buggy, and they made their way back to their home after enjoying a Sunday afternoon picnic. Both Murdoch and his pretty Mexican wife knew these quiet times, these times of just the two of them, would soon change. For in a little more than a month, the child they were anticipating would make his, or her, arrival.
As Maria relaxed in the buggy and Murdoch drove, his mind wandered. So much had happened in the last few months. But at this particular moment, he felt a joy and peace that he never knew existed. And it was all because of Maria.
It had began just eight months before, in early August. Murdoch, his foreman, Paul O’Brien, and Jose Cipriano, his top hand, had decided to head to Texas to negotiate the sale of some cattle from Southfork, a major cattle ranch in El Paso. If the cost was right and Murdoch was able to purchase the cattle, it would be a feather in his cap for his own growing ranch, simply called Lancer. He and O’Brien had gone over the budget of Lancer: the gains, losses, and equity, and it was decided to “go for it.” To take the chance, and take the first step needed for Murdoch Lancer to acquire his dream: the best, biggest, and most beautiful cattle ranch in northern California.
But there was another reason that Paul O’Brien had encouraged his friend to make this trip. Murdoch Lancer needed to get his life back. He needed to live again. He needed to get away from the rut he had put himself in, and realize that life was more than cattle, fence poles, and branding.
Ever since his beautiful blonde wife, Catherine Garrett Lancer, died in childbirth, Murdoch retreated into himself. He blamed himself for her death. He had sent her away, for her safety he thought, to protect her from the land pirates threatening his land. But she had died on the trail, and although their son, whom they decided to name Scott, had survived, the child was taken back to Boston by Catherine’s father, who also blamed his son-in-law for the horrible death of his beautiful daughter—his only child.
For six months after her death, Murdoch was practically a hermit. He saw no one; only O’Brien, Cipriano, and the few other ranchers in the area who were also saddened by Catherine’s tragic death. He rarely left the ranch, and when he did, it was a short trip to town for business, then back home.
Eventually, Murdoch’s hermit-like existence left, but the happy, enthusiastic, and thoughtful rancher that people had come to know ceased to exist with the death of his wife.
So when Murdoch decided to make the trip to El Paso, to actually leave the confides of Lancer and venture out into the world, his friends were thrilled.
“I’ve been a fool,” Murdoch told them. “I’m young, I want to live again. I will always feel guilt for Catherine, and I will continue my quest for my boy, but I want to get on with my life.”
He had no idea how fast that would happen.
The El Paso trip had been a success. With just a few dollars to spare, the cattle were purchased and the Lancer owner, foreman, and top hand could already see the profits that would come within the next year. At dinner that evening, Murdoch threw a bombshell to his two friends. “Gentlemen, I want you to take the cattle back to Lancer. I’m going to Mexico for a few weeks. Just to get away. I need it, I think it will do me good.”
Though Paul O’Brien and Jose Cipriano looked at him with open jaws, they could not of been happier. The next day, knowing his cattle were in the best of hands, Murdoch headed south of the border.
It was the last week of August when he ended up in Matamoras. He wasn’t sure why, it just seemed that’s where fate took him. Matamoras boasted a nice hotel, cantina, saloon, barbershop, all the comforts of home. He decided he’d stay there a few days, until he decided where he would travel next.
He made some friends in the hotel; fellow ranchers from neighboring states who also needed a break from the routine life of ranching. Some friendly poker games were played, and visits to the cantina and saloon were made as well.
Late one night, however, Murdoch was restless. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He traveled to the cantina, with a sudden hunger for chips, salsa, and tequila. As he sat contentedly and watched the goings on around him with some amusement, he saw her. The girl. The girl he couldn’t take his eyes off of.
She was Mexican, with silky black hair, brown eyes, and the whitest, straightest teeth Murdoch had ever seen. And she was tiny. He swore he could wrap his hands around her waist it was so small.
She wore a bright red silk dress, trimmed in white lace, rather low cut, displaying a tiny silver medallion that graced her tiny, thin neck. The dress swooshed as she danced with another customer of the cantina, and Murdoch secretly envied the man. He watched as she gracefully turned and swirled with the music, and noticed the graceful way she moved around the room.
Since Catherine died, Murdoch had not even looked at another woman. The one time he did take a lady out to dinner, the failed efforts of a friend, he had spent the whole evening secretly comparing her to his dead wife. She’s not as pretty, she’s not as smart, she’s not as funny. She’s not Catherine, he told himself the whole evening. And it wasn’t fair to the young lady. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman who deserved better then being compared to his dead wife. And it was then that Murdoch decided when, and who, he would date. If anyone. Ever again.
He was intrigued by the beautiful Mexican senorita. She was so different from Catherine, and he delighted with that thought. Where Catherine had been tall, blonde, and sophisticated, this girl was small, dark, and fiery, he could tell. And when she took a rose and put it between her straight, white teeth, raised her hands over her head, and began to clap in time with the music, Murdoch Lancer was hooked.
His reverie was broken when he realized they were back at Lancer. He looked over at Maria, and she was dozing peacefully.
“Honey,” he gently shook her shoulder. “We’re home.”
Maria awakened and smiled. “I was so relaxed, I guess I fell asleep.”
Murdoch helped his wife down, and they walked into their home. They were greeted by Maria Cipriano, Jose’s wife, and head housekeeper at Lancer. There was some confusion when the new Mrs. Lancer, also named Maria, came to live at the hacienda. But Murdoch remedied that situation. With the baby on the way, Murdoch and his wife decided to call their housekeeper Aunt Maria. The elder Maria was thrilled. She was also excited about the new addition to the family. She had been in the family way, once, but things went wrong, and she and her husband could never have children. So, she treated Maria Lancer like her daughter, and she assured Murdoch that she would take care of his young wife and that she and their child would be fine.
Neither Murdoch or his wife were hungry at the moment, so Maria decided to go up to their room and nap. Murdoch wanted to check the paint in the baby’s room. The nursery.
They had decided for the first few weeks, the baby would stay in their room. But then, the child would be moved to his or her own room, just down the hall from the master bedroom. This particular room had been planned as a nursery once before, for Catherine’s child, but after her death, Murdoch had closed it off, not entering it until three months ago, when once again it was ready to be a nursery.
He had finished painting it last week, and the two Maria’s had made curtains and matching baby blankets. The crib that had originally been made for Scott was now ready for this baby, whom Murdoch secretly referred to as “his miracle baby.”
The room was ready for the new member of the family, who was scheduled to make his/her appearance on June 3. That’s more than a month away. I don’t see how Maria can carry that baby that long. She’s so big, Murdoch thought, a little concerned. He had expressed those concerns to Dr. Clyde Porter, Morro Coyo’s doctor, who told Murdoch that if the baby were to arrive now, it would be a little premature, but not too much so. And that if it decided to come early, he certainly wouldn’t do anything to prevent it. I wonder if Dr. Porter suspects something, Murdoch thought.
He sat down in the rocking chair and looked out the window, and continued to remember back to the time, less than a year ago, when he met Maria.
She had danced with everyone that night at the cantina, and the customers left, one by one, until he was the only one remaining. She sat at the table with a small straw fan and fanned herself, as it was hot and she was warm from dancing. She looked up at him and smiled. He smiled and raised his glass of tequila to her. She looked around the room, as if looking for someone, and feigned surprise when he came beside her and said hello. He bought her a drink, and they talked. She persuaded the Mexican guitar player to play a few more songs, and they danced. Murdoch felt a bit awkward with the tiny Mexican senorita. At 6’5, she barely came to his chest. When he asked her how tall she was, he chuckled when she told him 5’4.
The cantina closed and they went outside. They walked along the streets of Matamoras, and he asked if he could walk her home. She had declined, but she agreed to meet him tomorrow, outside the hotel around noon, and he could buy her lunch. If he wanted to.
Murdoch Lancer wanted to.
For the next several days, Murdoch Lancer and Maria Angelina Pilar Rios spent every minute together. Talking. Laughing. And falling in love. Well, Murdoch was, anyway. He had tried to fight the feeling; although he wanted to open his heart to this beautiful girl, he somehow felt betrayal to Catherine, even though he knew she was gone. And this girl was so young. At 19, she was a good nine years younger than himself, and he was concerned age could be a problem.
And there was Maria herself. Although he had been open with her and told her about his family in Scotland, his ranch, and the loss of his wife and son, he knew very little about her. She said her parents had died when she was young, and she was raised by an aunt, who had recently died, and that she had no other family. But he felt then, and would continue to feel, that there was something, some secret, she would never reveal to him. Or anybody.
And for the life of him, Murdoch couldn’t figure out why Maria Angelina Pilar Rios would fall in love with him, a tall Gringo. But what Murdoch didn’t know was that Maria felt safe with him. He was older, he had a home, he had goals. He would take care of her. And he would take her away from the poverty that she lived with, and she would gain respect if she were his wife.
But she did have feelings for the rancher, although it couldn’t really be called love. He was gentle and kind, and would give her the moon if she wanted it. And as she intrigued him, he also intrigued her. And on their third night together, both realized the time was right. They let go of their inhibitions and let nature take its course.
It was early September. . . .
He was lost in thought and didn’t notice that she walked into the nursery.
“Hi,” she cooed. “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, how we met. How a year ago, I didn’t know you existed. And now, well, I’m just so happy, Maria. I hope you know how much I love you, and our child.”
“I know, Murdoch. And this baby, well, he is special, no?”
“He is special, Maria. Very special. . . . .”
They enjoyed a late dinner, then retreated to the master bedroom. Murdoch was reading a book when his wife came out of the dressing closet and made her way to their bed. He glanced up at her and smiled. Gone were the fancy, feminine nightclothes she wore during their time in Mexico, replaced by one of his flannel shirts. It was all she could wear to bed since her belly was so big, and he thought to himself that no one but Maria could make an old flannel shirt look sexy. Even in her condition.
He noticed a strange look on her face, like she was worried. “Something wrong, Maria?”
“No,” she said quietly, head bowed. “It’s just. . .”
“I’m embarrassed,” she softly said. “It’s just that I’m, how do you say? I’m spotting. . . .”
“You’re bleeding, honey?” concern evident in Murdoch’s voice.
She shook her head yes.
“Not bad at all, just a little spot. But I feel fine. . . .”
“Well, maybe that ride was a little too much today. Maybe Johnny or Marguerite don’t like being bounced around right now,” he laughed. “Keep an eye on it, I’ll let Aunt Maria know, and if it gets worse, or you feel pain, you tell us, OK?”
“I will, Murdoch.” She laid down on her side, and quickly went to sleep.
He turned out the light and closed his eyes, but he did not sleep. For some reason, he kept thinking back to their meeting, their whirlwind courtship, and the moment she agreed to be his wife.
It was late September and Murdoch needed to get back to Lancer. He hadn’t planned on being gone this long. He had been in contact by telegram with Paul O’Brien, who said everything at the ranch was fine. And in the last telegram, O’Brien jokingly wrote ‘What’s keeping you down there?’ Stop. ‘A lady?’ Stop.
If you only knew, Murdoch had answered back in his mind.
Murdoch was in a quandary. He wasn’t expecting this. This wasn’t part of his plan, to meet a girl, a Mexican no less, so far from home. The fact she was Mexican didn’t bother him; he was not prejudice. He knew how it felt to be different. He had a taste of it when he arrived in this county as an immigrant, five years earlier.
But what was he to do? He couldn’t stay in Mexico, he needed to get back to his ranch. His home. His livelihood. But that would mean leaving her. And he didn’t want to. Could he take her with him? Would she even want to go? Or would they say good-bye, nice to know you, and go on with their lives?
Murdoch knew he would never love again. Not after Maria. She was too special. She was to exotic, too free, too wild, too. . .well after her, no woman would ever fulfill his wants or needs. He didn’t want to be alone his whole life. He didn’t want to be without her.
Dammit, he had to have her. He realized he couldn’t live without her. But did she feel the same way. She was so young and headstrong. And independent.
They had a romantic candlelight dinner in the hotel dining room, and he told her he had to get back to his ranch. She said she understood. They went up to his room, knowing this could possibly be their last night together, and they made love. Again. They had known each other a month, and had made love several times. But it was their first time together that the seed was planted that would guide the course of their future.
As they lay wrapped in each other arms, Murdoch slowly spoke.
“Maria,” he paused. “You know I love you. I was wondering, well, if you would consider. . .going with me. To my ranch?”
“In California?” She exclaimed.
She stared at him in disbelief.
“Are you speaking of. . .marriage?”
“Yes,” he said softly. “But I will not pressure you into anything. You can come back with me, and I can court you in the proper way. You can stay at the home of Senor and Senorita Cipriano. They work for me and they’re good people, like family. And when you feel you’re ready, when you’ve gotten used to the place and the people, well, then we can get married. At Lancer, if it’s what you want.”
“I am not good enough for you,” she said defiantly. “What would people say. .you bringing a Mexican whore home to your estancia?”
“Maria,” he scolded. “You are not. .” he didn’t finish the sentence. In a soft, loving voice, he told Maria of his feeling for her. “Maria, darling, I love you. The fact that you’re Mexican, well, I never even notice that. You are a beautiful woman. You’re so. . .different from anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve never felt like this before. . .happy, scared, confused, dizzy, you just do things to me, Maria. I know it won’t be easy. And I will be busy building up my ranch. But I know I want you with me. I never thought I could love again after Catherine, but you proved me wrong. I’ve been given a second chance, with you, and I intend to grab that chance. I want to make you happy. I want us to be a family.”
She didn’t know what to think, or what to say. She lay in his arms without giving him an answer. As he held her tight, thoughts went through his mind as well. My darling Maria, do you love me as much as I love you? You will have the best I can give you, as will our children. You deserve so much more than you have right now. Please say you’ll come with me, marry me. Let me love you, take care of you, protect you. And as my wife, no one would dare say a word against you.
He didn’t sleep. He felt as if this would be it, that within the next few hours, he would be returning to Lancer. Alone. He relished in the feel of her: her soft skin, her soft hair. Her sweet smell. And he looked at her beautiful sleeping face for a long time, to forever burn it into his mind. And he felt that for the second time, he would lose the woman he loved. And this time, he knew there would not be another.
And at that, Murdoch fell asleep, his huge arms wrapped around Maria’s tiny body.
Maria awakened to two very blue eyes staring longingly at her. “You stare at me all day, no?” she asked, laughing.
“I could look at you forever,” he said thoughtfully.
She sat up in bed and smiled. “What you asked me last night. .to go with you. To Lancer. Do you still mean it?” She asked playfully.
“I’ve never meant anything more in my entire life,” Murdoch stated, with a seriousness in his voice that didn’t go unnoticed by Maria.
“Well, I did some thinking last night. I would not feel right going to your home without the proper intention. I will not be known as the whore who came into Murdoch Lancer’s home.”
“Maria,” Murdoch said sadly. Then the realization of what she was saying came to him. “Are you saying you will marry me?”
“Si, I will marry you, Murdoch Lancer,” she lightly said. “So, what do we do now?”
“First, this. .” and Murdoch planted a loving kiss on her cheek. “Now we head on back to Lancer.”
Murdoch was one happy man.
But he had no way to know that Maria’s acceptance of marriage hinged entirely on whether or not her suspicions were true.
APRIL 29, 1847
Murdoch woke up and found his wife sleeping soundly next to him. He washed up and made his way downstairs. Aunt Maria had his breakfast ready, and she was humming as she greeted him.
“Buenos dias, Senor Murdoch,” she greeted happily.
“Buenos dias, ‘Aunt’ Maria,” he responded, with a happy emphasis on the word aunt. She placed his breakfast in front of him and he smiled.
She asked him what his plans were for the day, whether or not she needed to expect him for lunch. He said he’d be going into town later on in the morning, and he would eat lunch there, so not to expect him until dinner.
Then he asked her to sit next him, and he voiced some concern about his wife.
“Maria, please keep an eye on her. She was. . .bleeding. . a bit last night. She seems fine, but I’m just worried. . .I don’t want anything to go wrong. I’m going to talk to Dr. Porter today, see what he says. And don’t hesitate to get me if you think there is the slightest problem. You know Maria, she would never own up to being sick or anything. . .”
“Senor, do not worry. I will keep an eye on her. It may be she is just doing too much. Maybe she just needs to stay in bed for the rest of the time. I will keep her quiet. She would not risk that baby, you know. . . .”
After a thought, she asked Murdoch, “Did she complain about her lower back hurting?”
“No,” Murdoch quickly responded.
“Well, that is good. That is a sign the baby is coming. It is still too soon, anyway. I don’t think we have anything to worry about, Senor,” Maria confidently proclaimed.
“Gracias, Maria,” and at that, Murdoch finished his breakfast and began his day.
He arrived in town mid-morning, and got his ranch business taken care. Then he took a stroll to Dr. Porter’s office. He was greeted by Dr. Porter’s young intern, one Dr. Samuel Jenkins. Murdoch liked the young doctor. A few years older than Murdoch, Dr. Jenkins came highly recommended from San Francisco, where he attended medical school. The plan was for him to take over Dr. Porter’s practice in the next year or so, when Dr. Porter planned to retire and move back east to be near his family. Although he liked Dr. Jenkins and was sure he was a capable young intern, Murdoch was glad that it would be Dr. Porter tending the birth of his child.
Murdoch explained to young Dr. Jenkins what Maria had experienced, and the doctor said it was normal, it was the beginning of the birth process. Murdoch told him it was too early, to which Dr. Jenkins laughed, “Tell that to the baby.” But he assured Murdoch it would probably be a few weeks yet, but he would let Dr. Porter know, and if the more experienced doctor thought it was necessary, he would take a ride out to the ranch.
It was lunchtime, and Murdoch decided to grab a bite at the hotel dining room before returning to Lancer. He was shown to a table by Sarah, the dining room hostess. He perused the menu and ordered a steak sandwich, potatoes, and water. His table was separated by a small decorative partition, so the table behind him was hidden from his view. As he waited for his meal, he heard Nellie Walker and Mildred Smith sit down at the hidden table. Wonderful. The town gossips had to sit right there, Murdoch sighed. He really didn’t want to overhear their annoying, idle chatter, so he shut them out as he remembered how he learned he was going to be a father. Again.
Once Maria agreed to become the second Mrs. Murdoch Lancer, they decided to leave that day for California. But what Murdoch didn’t realize was this was part of Maria’s plan that she had devised when he thought she was asleep. Agreeing to get married at Lancer would give her the time she needed for her to know for sure whether or not she was pregnant. If she was, then she would indeed become Mrs. Murdoch Lancer, with the respect and niceties to go along with it. And if turned out she was not, well, she would suddenly get cold feet and return back to Mexico. No one would be the wiser. She did regret the fact that Murdoch would be deeply hurt, for she did like him and enjoyed his company, but her independent streak told her she wasn’t really ready for marriage or children.
However, in their haste, there was one major problem that neither thought about. Maria couldn’t cross the border. With problems between the United States and Mexico, Mexican citizens were banned from crossing. Many had tried, albeit illegally, but were shot by the Mexican government just before setting foot on American soil.
The irony was, Americans could cross the border at their pleasure. Murdoch had no problem when he entered Mexico more than a month before, and he was certainly free to leave anytime he wanted. After talking to an American consulate, Murdoch learned Maria could cross the border if they were married. So it looked like they would have to get married now. In Mexico. And later, when they were safely back at Lancer, they would have a second ceremony. One for Maria to hold dear.
When Maria learned of the turn of events, she became concerned. Getting married now would ruin her plan. She didn’t want to marry Murdoch if it turned out she wasn’t pregnant; but somehow, she knew she was. She had a feeling that something was going on inside her. Her last time was in August, before she met Murdoch. And she had been with no other man, since she had been taking care of her dying aunt. And she should have started well over a week ago. And if there is one thing Maria was, it was regular. And for some reason, she felt fat, even though she weighed only 90 pounds. And she remembered their first time, and her instinct the next morning that if there was a time when something would happen, that night was it. If only she could be sure.
Murdoch learned that his bride was Catholic when she told him they should go to the Catholic church to talk to the priest. And it was then he realized how little they really knew about each other. Well, there will be plenty of time for that later on, he surmised.
They went to the Catholic church in Matamoras and were told the priest was out of town for the next 10 days. Murdoch was anxious; he needed to get back to Lancer. So he suggested traveling to Nogales and get married there. But then he realized by the time they traveled there, got married, and traveled back, it would be 7 or 8 days. So they had no choice but to wait for the priest to return. And in the interim, Maria would wait to see if her cycle finally came. But deep down, she knew it wouldn’t.
Murdoch had wired Paul O’Brien, then sent him a letter detailing what was going on. He asked him to wire him some money. He had a suit to buy. And a pretty dress for his bride. And a ring. He also asked him to have the ranch ready. For his new wife.
It was now mid-October, and Murdoch was concerned about Maria. She had been sick for three days. At first he thought it was nerves, or something she ate. But she had no fever, she just couldn’t hold anything down. And she was tired. He felt bad for her; she was absolutely miserable.
He located the doctor, if he could be called that, and Murdoch was sent from the room. When the doctor passed Murdoch on the way out, he mumbled “Congratulations” in Spanish as he waited to be paid for his services.
Murdoch had no idea. . . .
As he entered the room, a pale looking Maria lay pitifully on the bed. “Darling, what is it? What did the doctor say?”
“Lo siento, Murdoch. You don’t have to marry me if you don’t want too. I am bad, I did a bad thing.,”. .Maria cried.
“Whatever is going on?” Murdoch asked, concern in his voice.
“I am with. . child. Your child,” Maria sobbed.
At first Murdoch was dumbfounded. Could it be? Was it actually his? But the excitement and pure joy of the moment overtook him. He grabbed her in his arms and hugged her like he had never hugged anyone before.
“Maria my darling. I am so happy. You are giving me a child. You’ve done nothing wrong. This child is made from love. Our love for one another. And this will make our marriage all the more special.” The man was beaming with joy.
But Maria flopped down on the bed and wanted to die.
Murdoch was brought back to the present when one of the waiters in the hotel dining room dropped a tray of glasses with a loud clang. The poor waiter was noticeably embarrassed, but the customers were undaunted and some gave a friendly applause to let him know he need not feel foolish. Sarah presented Murdoch with his bill. As he perused it and prepared to pay, the voices of the town biddy’s, Nellie Walker and Mildred Smith, attracted his attention.
They had no idea Murdoch sat at the table next to them, as the decorative partition was between them. But the conversation between the two old ladies cut Murdoch to the core.
“ . . .Well you know,” the snobbish Mrs. Smith said, “she was nothing but a. . .tramp. . .down in Mexico. She tricked poor Mr. Lancer into marrying her. Talk is, that baby isn’t even his.”
“No,” the gullible Mrs. Walker exclaimed.
“That’s right. She was already a good three months along when they had that. . .wedding, if that’s what you call it, at Lancer. And have you seen how big she is? Looks like she’s ready to pop any minute,” Mrs. Smith laughed.
At the next table, Murdoch Lancer seethed.
The more understanding Mrs. Walker commented, “Well, I feel sorry for the child. If it is his, it will be a. . .breed. .you know. No one will want it. I’m surprised Mr. Lancer is even accepting it as his.”
“That’s because he so misses his other child,” Mrs. Smith commented. “Poor Catherine. She was such a lovely woman, so well-bred, so respected. So beautiful. Lancer needs to get off his, you know what, and get that son of his back from Boston. Then he can dump that. . tramp. .and her breed, and marry someone more respectable.”
“Well,” Mrs. Walker said meekly, “Maria is very pretty. And nice. I met her when she first came here.”
“It’s all an act,” Mrs. Smith said, then began talking about some other poor unfortunate of the town to fall under her wrath.
As their conversation about Maria ended, Murdoch felt like grabbing them both and ringing their necks. But he didn’t. He sat there and composed himself. He didn’t want to cause a scene, for Maria’s sake more than his, but he knew he couldn’t leave without letting them know that he had heard every word.
He got up from his table, and walked the few steps to the table where the two women were finishing their lunch. His height was quite intimidating as the two women looked up at him—into two very cold, ice-blue eyes.
“Ladies,” he greeted. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes, Mr. Lancer,” Mrs. Walker managed to say. Mrs. Smith sat there and stared, horrified.
Murdoch continued his ‘greeting.’ “I just wanted to let you fine ladies know that Maria would love to have you visit. She would like your expertise in helping her select some colors for the furnishings for our baby’s room,” he lied. “And before you ask, she’s feeling fine. Our child is definitely a welcome addition for my wife and I. Well, I will be on my way. Regards to Henry and Bob, and your families,” he graciously said as he tipped his hat and walked away.
Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Walker sat there, mouths opened, feeling very much embarrassed. .and ashamed. .of their words.
Murdoch paid his bill, walked out of the dining hall, mounted his horse, and galloped as fast as he could out of town. When he was out of ear shot, a giant YAHOO! escaped from his lungs as he recalled the look of surprise, embarrassment, and shame on the faces of the two old busy bodies.
“No one will ever speak of my family like that again!” he bellowed to the wind, and slapped his horse for the fast gallop home.
When Murdoch returned home, Maria was happily working in the garden, and “Aunt” Maria was preparing dinner.
“How is she, Maria? Is everything all right?” Murdoch asked.
“She is fine, Senor. No problems. Nothing to worry about,” the elder Maria responded.
After dinner and some reading, Murdoch and his wife retired to bed. Maria fell asleep right away. Murdoch held her in his arms. ‘I love you,’ he whispered; knowing she was asleep and wouldn’t receive an answer.
He was a very content man.
APRIL 30, 1847
Maria was late coming to breakfast, and her mood seemed. .melancholy.
“Are you all right, dear?” Murdoch inquired.
“Si, Murdoch. I guess I’m bored. I miss riding so. I can’t wait until I can ride Sierra again. To feel the wind through my hair, to just. . .get away. . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Murdoch knew how much Maria missed riding. He remembered that it wasn’t until they were back at Lancer and he bought her the chestnut colt that he learned of her passion for horses, and riding. She simply told him that as a child, a good friend of her aunt had a livery, and he let her take care of the horses and taught her the basics of riding. Somehow, though, he suspected there was more to the story.
Her passion for riding was demonstrated one day in January, when she was four months along, and Murdoch came home unexpectently and found her and Sierra taking more than a gentle stroll around the corral. Murdoch let loose on his young wife, asking her if she was crazy, riding a horse when she was four months pregnant. It was then that Murdoch endured, for the first time, the fiery temper of Maria Angelina Pilar Rios Lancer. She told him no, she wasn’t crazy, and that under no uncertain terms would he, or a baby, run her life. Her life was hers, she would do what she wanted, when she wanted, and he’d better learn to live with it.
The confrontation had been witnessed by quite a few of the hands, and Murdoch gently but firmly pulled his angry wife from the horse and led her into the house. Maria continued ranting and raving in rapid Spanish, too rapid for Murdoch to understand, but the elder Maria told him later, “you don’t want to know.”
That night, at her request, Murdoch slept on the couch in the great room, and wondered what was going on with his usually soft-spoken wife. The elder Maria told him that making a baby does something to a woman.
Murdoch accepted that, as the next morning, he was awakened by his wife gently rubbing his head and apologizing for her behavior. The incident was soon forgotten, but in the next few years, Maria’s fury would show itself more than once, and Murdoch would realize it was more than “making a baby” that triggered it.
“Murdoch? I’m talking to you,” his wife’s sweet voice brought him back to the breakfast table. “I think today I’ll sit out on the swing in the garden. I love to feel the sun on my face. Maybe I can finally finish this baby blanket,” Maria laughed.
“Oh, that sounds nice,” Murdoch answered, still thinking about the incident with the horse months earlier. “I’ll be close by today, if you need me.”
They shared a good-bye kiss, and Murdoch was out the door, on his way to mend a fence in the nearby west pasture.
It was noon when he decided to eat his lunch. He sat under the shade tree, and in the distance, could see the hacienda and the two Maria’s puttering around the garden. He was often amazed at how much he loved his wife; he marveled at her beauty, and was proud that she agreed to be his wife.
He leaned back against the trunk of the shade tree, and his mind remembered, with some amusement, his wedding, or weddings, to Maria.
When the realization that the reason Maria was so ill was a thing called ‘morning sickness,’ Murdoch felt absolutely giddy. He told her, “Darling, I thought morning sickness was only in the morning.” Brown eyes looked at him, and she mumbled something in Spanish he didn’t understand. Guess not, he quipped to himself.
But the fact remained he needed to get back to Lancer, and they needed to get married. He had found out that morning the Catholic priest was back in town, so he made arrangements for he and Maria to be married the next day, October 12.
They were married that morning. Maria was able to stand for the first time in days, although she still felt lousy. Murdoch helped her into the pretty, lace dress he had bought her, and he dressed in his new suit. He wasn’t happy with the simple gold band for his bride, but it would suffice for now. When they got back to Lancer, he would buy a ring more befitting his bride.
Although Murdoch spoke enough Spanish to converse with the hands on his ranch, he was not fluent; and his unfamiliarity with the Catholic mass had him totally confused as to what the Padre was saying. Maria repeated everything to him, rather flatly, and then advised he was being asked if he took her ‘for better or worse, richer or poorer, until death do you part.’
“I do, yes, si,” he mumbled, with giggles heard from the bride. She readily answered the same questions, and Murdoch placed the plain gold band on the third finger of her left hand. After the customary kiss and signing of the certificate by two church volunteers, the bride and groom made their way to the stagecoach, only to be informed the only stage out of town was delayed until the next morning. They would have to spend one more night in Matamoras, and what turned out to be the wedding night of Mr. and Mrs. Murdoch Lancer could hardly be considered the “dream” night, as the groom was up all night with his bride as she threw up into the chamber pot.
The trip back to Lancer was difficult, as Maria was sick and couldn’t hold anything down, not even soup, and Murdoch secretly worried about his wife. He remembered back to when Catherine was pregnant. Her pregnancy, like Catherine herself, was just about perfect. Except for some very mild sickness early on, and a case of pink eye picked up from the neighbor’s child, Catherine glowed. Her weight gain complimented her tall frame, and her pure joy at expecting a child radiated from within her. Perhaps that’s one reason Murdoch had not worried about sending her to San Francisco so late in her pregnancy. But he, like most men, didn’t understand the fact that that is the most crucial time for a woman, for when a baby decides to be born, that little baby doesn’t care about the who, what, where, or when of life.
They finally made it to Lancer, and after a month of bed rest, Maria began to feel better. Dr. Porter had been concerned about her weight loss, but she was gaining back the weight, and more.
The day before Thanksgiving, the couple hosted a luncheon for the hands, and on Thanksgiving Day, a beautiful dinner was prepared for Murdoch and Maria’s invited guests, including Paul O’Brien and his new girlfriend, a pretty young girl named Angela Day. Dr. Porter and Dr. Jenkins attended, along with Murdoch’s dear friends, Jim and Maura Talbot, and their three little boys. Maura had known and loved Catherine and was devastated at her death, but she readily accepted Maria and the two became good friends.
Murdoch was amused as Maria tasted turkey, dressing, cranberries, and all the Thanksgiving ‘fixins’ for the first time, and as she listened politely as Dr. Porter, a native Bostonian, explained with excitement the story of the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and the Boston tea party. Somehow, Murdoch knew Maria wasn’t particularly interested.
A few days after Thanksgiving, a man came to the front door and Murdoch happily invited him in. Mr. Johnson had traveled from San Francisco, at Murdoch’s request, to present to the couple a selection of wedding rings that his store carried. Maria was overwhelmed. The couple chose matching gold bands, trimmed in white gold. Hers was engraved with flowers with a small diamond in the center of the middle flower. His was engraved with oak leaves. They had both rings engraved with ‘To ML, love ML’ and they were very attractive.
When Mr. Johnson left, Maria said she would place the gold band from Matamoras around her neck, and began to place the new ring on her finger. But Murdoch stopped her.
“You can’t wear that ring, yet. Not without a proper wedding.”
“But we’ve already had a wedding,” Maria said.
“Maria, that was no wedding. I want you to have a wedding that is beautiful, that you will remember, that we can tell our child about. That ceremony in Mexico was not what I want for you.”
“Are you asking me to marry you again, Murdoch?” She laughed.
“If you will have me,” he replied, chuckling the whole time.
The couple decided on a candlelight ceremony at Lancer on December 23. The hacienda was beautifully decorated for Christmas, and the ladies of Lancer spared nothing on creating a beautiful table with red tablecloths and the china and silverware that Catherine had brought with her from Boston. They received both Murdoch’s and Maria’s blessings to use them. An assortment of food, cookies, and desserts were baked, including a beautiful wedding cake with white icing.
The dress that Maria had worn in Matamoras was a bit snug now, so the Senorita Cipriano altered it to her expanding tummy. Small beads were hand sewn along the neckline, train, and bottom of the dress.
Maria wore her long hair up in a pearl comb, and tiny Christmas flowers and baby’s breath adorned her hair. A pearl necklace and pearl earrings, Murdoch’s gift to her, adorned her tiny neck and ears, and she carried a bouquet of Christmas flowers and baby’s breath.
She looked absolutely breathtaking.
Murdoch wore his new suit as well, and ordered a fancy white shirt and tie from St. Louis. He carried a gold pocket watch, Maria’s gift to him, and it was engraved ‘To M from M, 12-23-46.’ She told him the watch was to be given to their son someday, when Murdoch deemed it appropriate.
He looked very handsome as well.
Paul O’Brien stood next to his friend as his Best Man, and Maura Talbot acted as Matron of Honor, coming down the decorated staircase of the hacienda before the bride, who was escorted by Jose Cipriano. Father Louis Matz performed the ceremony, in English, and just before 9 pm on December 23, 1846, Murdoch and Maria Lancer were married, again, this time in a beautiful candlelight ceremony that any woman would forever cherish.
Angela Day acted as hostess, serving cake and punch, and for this evening, the Senorita Cipriano was a guest in the Lancer home, sitting at the head table with the wedding party. Recipients of the garter and bouquet were, of course, Paul and Angela, and both the bride and groom joked about the next wedding to be held at Lancer. Paul and Angela laughed. “And our children can be raised together,” Angela happily squealed.
No one could know. . . . . . . . .
After the guests had left, Murdoch and Maria retreated to the Master Bedroom, which the Lancer ladies had decorated with flowers and candles. Champagne and a cheese and fruit tray had been prepared for the couple, and silk sheets adorned the huge bed. Maria was speechless, and even Murdoch was overwhelmed. He had no idea the people that worked for him thought so much of him and his wife. The couple learned later that everyone put their money together and purchased the sheets from the Chinatown district of San Francisco.
Murdoch and Maria drank the champagne and enjoyed the fruit and cheese. The candlelit room provided the most romantic backdrop for a wedding night, and when Maria changed out of her dress and appeared before Murdoch in her fancy night clothes, he was in heaven. They made love, and that night, Murdoch and Maria Lancer were as one.
A few hours later, laying in each other’s arms, Maria spoke. “What will our child think? Knowing I was already. . . .with him. . .when we were married?”
Murdoch laughed. “Well, honey, we were married before tonight, you know.”
“I know, but still, I was, expecting him even before we married in Mexico.”
Murdoch sighed. “Maria, our child will understand. He will know that the love between us is what created him. Don’t worry. Just enjoy tonight.”
And that is exactly what Murdoch and Maria Lancer did.
“Mr. Lancer? Sir?” Murdoch was brought back to his senses by Rex, one of his hands. “Are you all right Sir? We missed you after lunch.”
“God, what time is it?” Murdoch exclaimed.
“2 pm, Sir,” Rex replied.
“I’m fine, Rex, just lost in my thoughts. I’ll be right with you,” Murdoch apologized. He couldn’t believe he’d been reliving his wedding day to Maria for the last two hours.
But then, that was one of the happiest days of Murdoch Lancer’s life. . . . .
Maria sat on the swing and felt the warmth of the sun on her face, her neck, her shoulders. The warm breeze made its way through her, and the fresh, sweet smell of spring surrounded her. But she was worried.
She had not felt any life from the baby inside her for two days, since her husband had lovingly rubbed her round belly in response to the kick from the baby. Since that time in late January when she felt the first flutter, the baby had been very active. She chuckled at the memory of the time, a few weeks before, she sat talking to Murdoch, her arms folded in front of her, when one hard kick made them come unfolded.
But since two days ago, nothing.
She felt fine; no pain of any kind. But she was bleeding, quite heavily now. And this concerned her. Tomorrow, if this continues, I will tell Murdoch to send for the doctor, she said to herself.
She closed her eyes and thought how much her life had changed in the last two years. A year ago Christmas, Maria Angelina Pilar Rios was the 18-year old mistress of Ricardo Benito Torres, a world famous bull fighter from Madrid, Spain. The 40-year old Torres, married and the father of three children in Madrid, was as well-known for his sexual exploits as his talents in the bull fighting arena.
He was dark, handsome, charming, and rich. Women flocked after him, and he obliged. But when he spied the beautiful, young, and impressionable Maria in the summer of 1845, he knew he had the cream of the crop.
She traveled in luxury with him, from town to town, as he fought, and won, his fight against the most famous and costliest of bulls. Maria was scared for Ricardo; but at the same time, felt sorry for the poor bull that found the sword of Torres. But he just laughed at her and called her a child, and more or less treated her as one.
She listened in awe as he told her stories of his travels, of his encounters with kings and queens. And he presented her with many fine gifts. And he promised that should anything happen to him, she would receive a partial amount of his wealth and goods.
Then it happened, in March of last year. In the last seconds of an otherwise uneventful bull fight, something went horribly wrong, and Maria and hundreds of spectators in the large arena were horrified when Torres was gored, several times, by the bull. He hung on for a few hours, and in that time, his thoughts were not for Maria, but for his wife and children in Madrid. Maria was devastated. She never saw any of the wealth or goods she was promised. The only thing she had from him, which she kept, was the small silver medallion she wore around her neck. And she learned that it was not worth what he told her it had been.
With nowhere to go, the young woman, who turned 19 years old a few days before the death of Torres, traveled back to Matamoras to the home of her Aunt Olivia, her mother’s older sister, who had raised her.
Olivia Jade Rios had always resented her younger sister, Bianca Rose Rios, for it was the younger sister who had the beauty, the charm, the wit. People, young and old, male and female, were drawn to her, while Olivia stood in the background, unnoticed by even their parents. But what Olivia lacked in physical attributes she made up for in intelligence. She taught herself English, French, and Latin, and had a natural artistic talent. And although Bianca was just as intelligent as her older sister, it was her belief that if you were given the gift of beauty, to use it to your advantage. And she did.
When their parents died, the result of a smallpox epidemic, 16-year old Olivia found herself in charge of 14-year old Bianca, and it wasn’t an easy task. Bianca’s talents were well-known in the streets of Matamoras, and at the age of 15, her beauty proved costly when the young pistolero she kept company with for several weeks took advantage of her. He died soon after, shot in a gunfight, but Bianca carried the result of his wrath in the daughter she gave birth to. The baby, whom she named Maria Angelina Pilar, after her mother and grandmothers, was beautiful, but the horrible experience and birth of the little girl took their toll on Bianca, and she died a year after giving birth.
Olivia found herself, at 18, caretaker to her year-old niece, and she was bound and determined the child would not meet the same fate as her mother. The intelligent Olivia schooled Maria in English, French, and Latin. She read her poetry, and told her stories of kings and queens in Europe. Olivia was friends with a horse trainer, who introduced the little girl to horses at an early age. Maria had a passion for them, and by the time she was five, was well-versed in riding and training the animals.
But Olivia soon realized the little girl had the same beauty, charm, and wit as her mother, and despite Olivia’s efforts, Maria fell into the same trap. So at the age of 15, Maria left her aunt and ventured to several Mexican towns, and several men along the way, before she finally met up with Torres.
When she ventured home to Matamoras after the death of Torres, her Aunt Olivia asked her point blank, “Are you pregnant?” With a firm denial, Olivia reluctantly let her stay, knowing her time was short and that Maria could take of her for a change. After the death of her Aunt Olivia, Maria buried her and found work at the cantina. She hadn’t been there long when, one night in late August, a tall Gringo became infatuated with her.
As Maria slowly rocked in the swing, she absent-mindedly rubbed her belly and wondered how she came to this point in her life. She knew she should be happy; after all, Murdoch Lancer was a fine man, with growing wealth, who loved her like no one ever had before. She lived on his beautiful ranch, and he shared his dream with her: that in the next 15 or 20 years, Lancer would be the biggest and the best cattle ranch in northern California. She, and their children, and his son, Scott, would lack for nothing, and he would leave a legacy and a wealth that would carry on for generations.
But Maria wasn’t happy. In 15 or 20 years, she’d be an old woman. She didn’t particularly want more children. While she loved and was concerned about the baby inside her, she remembered how miserable she had felt early on, and the problems she had, and she didn’t want to go through that again. And she wondered whether she would ever get her tiny waist back. And the thought of raising another woman’s child didn’t appeal to her either.
She felt trapped at Lancer. She rarely ventured into town, and when she did, she was aware of the whispers and snickers from the townspeople about her. True, she had a few friends, in the Lancer ladies, and Maura Talbot and Angela Day, but Maura was busy with her own family, and Angela spent a lot of time in San Francisco. Maria missed her old life; the young woman wanted to dance, to party, to have fun and live life to the fullest. There was a whole world out there, just calling her name, and here she sat. Just twenty years old, very pregnant, and on a huge ranch miles from anywhere, where the topics of discussion at dinner consisted of cattle, the baby, and fence posts.
Dios, I can’t even ride until after the baby is born, she whined to herself. She began to cry, and in the distance she saw Murdoch sitting contentedly under the tree. She chided herself for her thoughts. Murdoch chose me to be his wife. He could’ve had anyone, any number of fine ladies. But he chose me. Maybe some day I will learn to love him, she sighed.
And she thought it must be making a baby that was causing her to feel so crazy. But it wasn’t.
For the seeds of discontent had been planted at Maria Lancer’s feet.
MAY 1, 1847
4:20 a.m. Maria Lancer awoke with sharp pains radiating from her tummy. Must be the tacos we had for dinner, she chuckled to herself. But after a few minutes, she realized the pains were more than a stomach ache.
She looked over at her husband, who was sleeping in the large easy chair in their room. Murdoch had selflessly agreed to sleep in the chair, since Maria was so big with the child and was having a hard time sleeping, and literally needed the huge bed they shared to herself. She watched as the time ticked away on the clock, absent-mindedly timing the pains, which were still far apart.
At 5:45 a.m., Murdoch awoke and walked over to Maria, who was pretending to be asleep. She felt him gently kiss her cheek and brush her long hair out of her face, and a feeling of warmth went through her. She heard him as he went about his morning ritual of shaving and dressing, and sighed as she heard him go downstairs.
It was after 6:00 a.m. when Maria made her way downstairs. She sat down and began to eat, but she felt a pain and clutched at her stomach, dropping the glass of water with a crash. She looked at Murdoch and Aunt Maria with pain and fear in her face, and both ran to her side.
“Murdoch, something is wrong. Something is wrong with the baby!” she cried.
“Let’s get her back to bed,” Murdoch commanded, and both grabbed a sobbing Maria and began to help her up the stairs. Suddenly, Murdoch effortlessly picked up his wife, and gently carried her up the stairs to their room.
“I’m going to get Paul to ride into town and get Dr. Porter,” Murdoch advised, his voice filled with anxiousness.
It was just before 7 a.m. on May 1, 1847.
Aunt Maria made the younger Maria comfortable, and when Murdoch returned, he was glad to see her feeling better; the pains had stopped and her color had returned.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were having pains? And why did you come down the stairs this morning, Honey?” Murdoch scolded her, just a little.
“Because I thought walking would help, and besides, I was hungry and I still am,” Maria pouted. Then she smiled her most charming smile, the one that could not be resisted, and asked, “Can I have something to eat?” But this time, the smile was resisted.
“No!” came two firm voices at the same time. “Not until we know what’s going on, darling,” Murdoch gently advised.
The next few hours found Murdoch and the elder Maria talking and joking with the younger woman, and getting her through the pains. At one point, Murdoch took the older woman aside to ask her opinion. She said it could possibly be labor; but if it was not, something was definitely wrong.
Murdoch groaned to himself as the clock said 10:30 a.m. Where was the doctor? Two doctors in this town and neither one of them are here, he thought angrily.
It was just before 11:00 a.m. when Dr. Sam Jenkins entered the room. He didn’t miss the look of dismay on Murdoch’s face, as it was the more experienced Dr. Porter who Murdoch wanted tending the birth of his child.
“Don’t worry, Murdoch,” Dr. Jenkins advised. “Doc Porter just went into Green River. I’ve left word for him and he should be here early this afternoon.”
Murdoch sighed, and Dr. Jenkins turned his attention to Maria.
“Well, honey, what’s going on?” he cheerily asked.
“You tell me,” Maria quipped. “I haven’t felt the baby kick, or move, for three days,” she informed the doctor.
Murdoch watched as Dr. Jenkins gently felt Maria’s large belly. The doctor then removed his medical tools from his bag and placed the stethoscope on her belly. Murdoch noticed the frown on the doctor’s face, the look of concern.
“Sweetheart,” Dr. Jenkins addressed Maria. “I’m going to examine you internally, all right?”
She looked at him, puzzled.
“Inside, honey,” the doctor explained.
She looked at Murdoch with fear in her eyes, and he grabbed her hand. “It’s all right, Maria.”
She nodded to go ahead.
Murdoch continued to watch the doctor’s face, the frown increasing, to be replaced by a look of surprise, and finally, a large smile.
“My God! She’s in labor. She’s having this baby. Now!” the doctor exclaimed.
Maria sobbed tears of joy, her hands over her face, and Aunt Maria ran over and hugged her. Dr. Jenkins began instructing the elder Maria in what needed to be done to prepare for the next several hours, and she listened and understood like a professional.
Murdoch Lancer stood there. Dumbfounded.
“She. . .she can’t be having the baby,” he said, in all seriousness. “It’s not June 3 yet.”
Dr. Jenkins took the tall rancher aside. “My friend, you may know a lot about cattle. And a lot about horses. And a lot about ranching. But I’m the expert when it comes to babies. Trust me, before the day is done, you’re going to be a daddy.”
The ladies of the ranch began the preparation for the impending birth, from taking over the everyday chores for the elder Maria, ensuring clean sheets were available, and preparing hot soup and tea to give to the new mother after the baby’s arrival.
The ranch hands did their part, too, ensuring that the ranch ran smoothly while the “Boss” was busy becoming a daddy.
Paul O’Brien did his part that day as well, for it was he who took Murdoch out for a ride to the creek after the father-to-be was, literally, kicked out of his house by Dr. Jenkins and Aunt Maria.
“Your wife will need to save her strength, and you’re not helping hovering around her like a mother hen,” the huge man was informed. The dejected look on his face was priceless; his wife couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of her mighty husband being kicked out of the hacienda.
At the creek, Paul helped Murdoch celebrate the impending birth with tequila—and plenty of it. The two men sat and talked, drank, and laughed for at least three hours. When the tequila was finally gone and the two men had begun to regain their senses, the talk turned serious.
“I can’t lose her. .lose them, Paul. I just want them to be all right. I wasn’t there for Catherine, God, I’ll never forgive myself for that. The midwife told me she labored for a good 36 hours, that she. . .suffered so much. And her time with the baby was so short. . .if anything happens to Maria or the baby. . .” his voice drifted off.
“Murdoch! Stop it!” Paul implored. “Maria is not Catherine, and you need to stop thinking of her that way. Maria is a strong girl. And determined. And she’s here at Lancer, with two doctors tending her and Maria acting as mid-wife. She’s in a comfortable bed with everything she needs. She’ll be fine, buddy. And so will the baby. . . .”
Murdoch looked at Paul and gave him a loving slap on the back. “Thanks, Paul. I needed that,” he said sincerely.
After a few minutes, it was Paul who turned the talk serious.
“Murdoch? I just want to know . . .are you sure?” he asked, slowly and quietly.
“Sure about what?” Murdoch asked, puzzled.
“The baby. . .are you sure that. . .that it’s. . .yours? I mean, if it’s full term. .” Paul spoke, hesitantly and a bit fearfully.
Murdoch gave his friend a look that would freeze fire.
“Of course I’m sure!” the big man bellowed. Then after an uncomfortable silence, he spoke again.
“I’ll admit that early on, the thought crossed my mind that may be she was already. .with child. .when we met. But on our third night together, we, well, we became one. And when that happens, you just know it. Maria told me she had a feeling that something special happened that night. There was only one other night in my life when I felt that way, when Catherine conceived Scott. It’s just something you know, Paul.” He laughed and slapped his friend on the back. “Someday, my friend, you’ll understand. . . .”
“But,” Paul continued, “if for some reason it’s not, can you accept it?”
Murdoch never had a chance to answer as Cipriano rode over the hill shouting that Murdoch was needed at the hacienda. Now!!
The two men arrived at the ranch a little after 5:00 p.m., and Murdoch ran, taking the steps three at a time, to his wife. He entered the room and was relieved to find Dr. Porter had arrived. Maria was being well taken care of and was in good spirits.
Murdoch and Dr. Porter had had a difference of opinion regarding Murdoch’s presence as his wife gave birth. Dr. Porter was of the old school, feeling that the father’s place was anywhere but with his wife. But Murdoch had an ally in the young Dr. Jenkins, who had no problem with the father being present, if it was the mother’s wish.
“Maria, do you want Murdoch with you right now? It’s totally up to you,” Dr. Porter asked her, kindness and understanding in his voice.
“Si. I want my husband with me,” Maria replied.
“All right Maria, he can stay. But Murdoch, please, stay out of my way. Sit right here, by Maria’s side,” Dr. Porter stated firmly to Murdoch, who looked over at Dr. Jenkins and was rewarded with a smile and wink from the younger doctor.
The next 45 minutes found Maria working hard; breathing and pushing, as Murdoch sat by her side holding her hand, marveling at the strength his young wife showed. At this moment, Dr. Porter realized he had made the right decision in allowing Murdoch to stay.
“Maria, we’re down to the wire now,” Dr. Porter advised. “You’re about to become a mother.”
“I suppose it’s too late to change my mind,” the young woman quipped.
“I’m afraid it is, dear,” the kind doctor answered. “The next half hour or so will be rough, but in the end, you’re going to have a baby. And from what I can see, he or she has a head full of dark hair.”
The elder Maria continued to wipe the younger woman’s forehead, and Murdoch helped his wife count the contractions. They also talked, and made private jokes between themselves. The two doctors were busy; Dr. Porter with the matter at hand, and Dr. Jenkins setting up an examination table for the baby. Since the little one was more than a month early, the two doctors ensured all the equipment was necessary to check the baby right away; it’s lungs, heart, eyes, skin color and tone, and of course, any physical problems.
After a few more minutes of pushing, the doctor told Maria to take a rest. She declined the cloth-covered piece of wood to place between her teeth, offered her by the elder Maria. She asked for water and was told not now; but after the baby was born, she could have all she wanted.
“I’ve got it’s head out, Maria. I need one more push from you, when I say,” Dr. Porter advised.
“Is it a boy, or a girl?” Maria asked, breathlessly.
Dr. Porter laughed. “I can’t tell, yet, dear. But as soon as I can, I’ll let you know.”
Murdoch watched closely as the two doctors conferred with one another; finally, Dr. Porter told Maria to get ready.
“I need one more push, honey. Push for me, Maria, you can do it,” he coached.
Murdoch held his wife’s hand and felt her tight squeeze, saw the whiteness of her knuckles, and the look of determination on her beautiful face. She had told Murdoch she would not be a whimpering, screaming ‘pansy’ when she gave birth. And she wasn’t; he didn’t know how she could be so stoic.
Finally, though, the pains of labor won. Maria let her guard down and from her escaped a loud, piercing scream. But with the scream came the birth of her child, who was pulled from the safety of its mother by Dr. Porter.
Murdoch spied the pink, wiggling mass held by the doctor, and both he and Maria heard the words he spoke: “Murdoch. . .Maria. You have a. . . . .son. A baby boy. . . .Congratulations!!”
Sobs of joy came from the mother, and a loud cheer came from Aunt Maria, who could officially be called that now.
Murdoch looked at his wife and softly said, “You gave me a son. A baby boy. Thank you.” He kissed her gently on the forehead. “I love you,” he whispered, and buried his face in her long, unruly hair.
Maria felt a happiness, and relief, inside her that took her breath away. And she felt happiness for her husband as well. But even with all the good feelings, she still could not return Murdoch’s feeling of love. True, she cared for him, and had feelings for him, but even now, at the most special time in the lives of a man and woman, when they become parents, Maria Lancer could not tell Murdoch Lancer that she loved him.
The moment of peace was broken when Dr. Porter’s anxious words were spoken.
“Sam! This is the thickest cord I’ve ever seen! Let’s get it cut. Now!”
“Clyde, is he all right?” alarm was evident in Murdoch’s voice.
There was no answer from either doctor as the younger one cut the umbilical cord, which was very thick and short, as opposed to long and thin as is the norm. The older doctor gently shook the pink mass, which was no longer wiggling, and a fearful look appeared on his face.
“Come on baby. Breathe for me, little one,” the doctor said, and began to gently tap on the baby’s back.
“Murdoch!” Maria sobbed. “Is he all right? Doctor. . ?”
No one in the Master Bedroom breathed for the next few seconds, and only sobs from the mother were audible. After another tap to the baby’s back, fluid flowed from the tiny mouth, and with one final tap and a small gasp, the room was filled with the sound of a loud, healthy wail.
John Ian Lancer had arrived.
It was 6:20 p.m., May 1, 1847.
The baby was immediately taken to the examination table, where the doctors checked him over. After a few minutes, Murdoch made his way to the table.
“Is he all right?” he asked, warily.
“He’s a little small, Murdoch. Just barely 6 pounds, and about 19 ½ inches long as far as I can tell. But he’s strong; his little lungs and his heart sound just fine,” Dr. Porter responded. “Would you like to check your little son over?”
Murdoch stared at the tiny person in front of him. He counted his fingers and toes, and gently rubbed his large hands over the baby’s tiny head, face, and body. He was pleased with what he saw.
From her bed, the anxious mother asked, “Can I see my baby, por favor? He is all right?”
“We’re just cleaning him up a little, Maria. And yes, he’s fine. You’ll have him in a minute,” Dr. Jenkins replied.
The baby was wrapped in a soft, blue blanket and handed to his father, who nervously carried him over to Maria. Her outstretched arms anxiously embraced her little son; her tiny finger gently traced his tiny face, and she simply said, “Hello, Johnny. Welcome home.”
Murdoch knelt down beside the bed and the new parents relished in the moment, and chuckled when after a few minutes, the baby sneezed. Twice.
And two very relieved doctors, one ending a successful career and the other beginning what he hoped would be one, looked at each other, smiled, and congratulated each other on a job well done.
After a few minutes, Maria began fussing. “What’s wrong with his eyes?” she asked, alarmed. “Dios, he is not blind, is he? And where are his eyelashes?”
Dr. Porter went to her side to see what was alarming her so. Johnny’s eyes had opened, displaying two large, black orbs. The elder doctor calmed down the new mother.
“Honey, don’t worry. You must remember, your baby is a month early. Eyes are the last thing to form, and his eyes aren’t fully developed. And his eyelashes haven’t grown in yet. Give him a week or two, and you’ll have the biggest pair of blue, or brown, eyes looking at you. . .” Dr. Porter gently explained.
Murdoch also noticed Johnny’s eyes, but wasn’t alarmed. And deep down, a feeling of relief came over him. For he always felt that that the baby his wife was carrying was indeed his. But now, he knew it. There was no question. . . . . . .
Dr. Porter, assisted by Aunt Maria, began the business of attending to the new mother; cleaning her up and making her comfortable. Murdoch took his son downstairs, where Paul O’Brien and Jim and Maura Talbot were anxiously waiting.
After ooohs and ahhhs, Maura prepared some tea and soup for the new mother, and sandwiches for the two doctors and Murdoch. The ladies of Lancer were busy as well. For months, pink and blue bows and ribbons were being made in anticipation of the baby’s arrival. But the pink ones were tossed aside, and hundreds of blue bows and ribbons adorned the hacienda, the corral fence, and the Lancer arch, welcoming the newest member of the Lancer family.
Everyone was thrilled that Murdoch Lancer finally had his son. His heir.
And it seemed that now, Lancer would carry on to the next generation. . . . .
EARLY FALL, 1849
Johnny Lancer had grown into a happy, active two-year old that his parents doted on. The black orbs that so concerned Maria at his birth had turned into the most beautiful shade of blue she had ever seen. His eyes were definitely his papa’s, but everything else was his mama’s; his thick, black hair, dark skin, and the eyelashes that finally grew in were dark and long.
And he was a handful. Murdoch enjoyed a moment of solitude as his two-year old whirlwind caught 40 winks, and he thought about the good times he and Maria had with their son. Horse and buggy rides, family trips to town, and summertime picnics were common practices for the family. And the everyday antics of the smart two-year old brought joy to both parents.
But there were problems between Murdoch and his wife that the rancher couldn’t quite understand.
The good times, the laughter, the joy, were becoming less and less as the soft-spoken, thoughtful girl he married was becoming a fiery, hot-tempered bitch.
The sad truth was that running a ranch was a full-time job, and after a hard day’s work, all Murdoch wanted when he came home was a good dinner and quality time with his wife and son.
But Maria wanted more; she was restless, and she complained that keeping company with an active two-year old exhausted her. Murdoch tried his best to keep her happy, but it seemed whatever he said or did, she would take the wrong way and all hell would break loose, sometimes causing him to fear for the safety of his young son.
A few months earlier, during an argument, Maria confessed to Murdoch that her feelings for him were never that of love, but prestige, security, and comfort. The gruff rancher was shocked and hurt by this revelation, for he loved her with a passion, almost an obsession, for which he was not ashamed.
He knew he had married a young, immature girl, but it was her youthful lust for life that attracted her to him. Along with her breathtaking beauty. But with the birth of their child came responsibilities that the young woman wasn’t ready for. Whenever he gently tried to explain to her that as his wife and Johnny’s mother she had a duty to behave in a proper, respectable fashion, she would go crazy, calling her husband a controlling old man who kept her and her son a prisoner in his house.
The subject of having more children was a sore topic as well. Murdoch wanted at least one more child; Maria did not. She said she had gone through enough having Johnny: the nausea, the weight gain, the pains of labor, and the repulsiveness that was childbirth. And whenever Murdoch discussed getting his oldest son, Scott, back from Boston, her anger rose. She didn’t want any more children of her own, so why would she want a dead woman’s child to raise?
Murdoch also noticed that in the last month or so, ever since they returned from a trip to Sacramento, a trip that was supposed to help their marriage, Maria seemed more restless than usual. Like she was waiting for something. Or someone.
And Murdoch Lancer wondered what had happened to her. To him. To them. . . . . . .
As Maria Lancer rode Sierra to the line shack to meet the lover she had acquired a month before in Sacramento, she knew her life was no longer her own. She was Murdoch Lancer’s wife. Johnny Lancer’s mother. And a prisoner of Lancer. Murdoch expected her to act a certain way; to make his business associates and guests in his home feel welcome. And as a mother, he expected her care-free attitude, her playful nature, to cease. After all, she had responsibilities which didn’t include frivolous thoughts or actions.
But she was who she was.
Maria Angelina Pilar Rios was a fun-loving whore. Period. And Murdoch Lancer knew that when he married her. But at the time, he was so wrapped up in the thought of becoming a father, he seemed to put that knowledge out of his mind, instead creating a beautiful, innocent young woman as his wife and mother of his child.
As Maria began to rebel against the rules her husband insisted on, her anger grew, resulting in several heated arguments between the two. So bad, that the year before, she threw one of Catherine Lancer’s heavy china dishes at her husband, causing the dish to break into pieces and placing a gash in Murdoch’s head that bled and required medical attention.
Murdoch was stunned; he began to lunge toward his wife, and probably would of hit her if it were not for the cries of their baby son that brought both of them back to their senses. Maria was hysterical; Murdoch grabbed her and held her close, sickened by what he had almost done. They vowed to stop the fighting; Murdoch realized he was very demanding, but he hated it when anyone questioned his authority.
“But I’m not just anyone!” Maria sobbed. “I’m your wife. . .your partner. Don’t question everything I say or do.”
And that was the moment she realized that whatever feelings she had for her husband were gone. She felt nothing. Not prestige. Not security. Not comfort. And definitely not love.
And the seeds of discontent that had been planted slowly grew and matured, creating a vine that smothered the young woman’s soul.
In her mind, Maria was a prisoner of Murdoch Lancer and his ranch. And the only way for her to feel alive again would be to free herself from his grip. Of course, Johnny would go with her, for she loved her child, and would not subject him to being a prisoner of Murdoch Lancer. And she would ensure that whatever happened, Johnny would understand this so that he would never, ever, seek out the man who sired him. For Murdoch Lancer was not worthy of having Johnny for a son. . . .
Her lover would take her away from the feeling of imprisonment that surrounded her and would take her to the world she craved; a world of excitement, of fun, and of freedom. A world where Maria Angelina Pilar Rios was the Center of Attention, where she would not have to compete with the land. Or cattle. Or fence posts.
Or her son. . . . . . .
Besides, her husband wouldn’t miss her. And he would get over losing Johnny. After all, he had another son he could get back any time he wanted. And he would more than likely marry again and have more children. For he had married her, after he forced himself upon her, impregnating her with a half-breed he would keep a prisoner, ensuring himself an heir.
No, Maria sighed, Murdoch Lancer would not miss his wife or son. He’d probably be glad they were gone, out of his life, his Mexican whore and her half-breed bastard.
She had no idea how twisted her thinking was, how sick her mind was becoming. . . .
For the vine that was created from the Seeds of Discontent had finally engulfed Maria Lancer’s being.
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