Word Count 3,425
The tall young man disembarked the ship and took in the new land. Excitement pulsed through his veins as he strolled down the pier, watching the ships and passengers. It reminded him very much of home. He had traveled a long way to arrive in this place of hope and opportunity. His plans were laid out perfectly. He had done his homework and he knew this was not the city he needed to be in at the moment. His first stop was the port to purchase a ticket on a ship to Boston. He had a few hours but he was too excited to rest. He wandered the streets of Philadelphia. So much had happened in this town. So much of the struggle culminated here with a few pieces of paper. Oh, yes, he knew about it all. The war for independence, the declaration of independence, the constitution. He sighed with delight, now this would be his home as well. He would make his fortune in this grand country. But not here in the east. No, this was only temporary. Part of the grand plan.
He boarded another ship for the journey to Boston. His research told him this was his best bet for getting a job at the shipyards and earning the money he would need to make the trek west. He figured it would take him about a year to save for the trip and that was fine with him. He had not decided where in the west he would settle but his dream was all too vivid. He would also use this year to find out everything he could about cattle ranching. He saw the empire laid out before him in his mind’s eye. The sweet green grass, the fresh clean air and a family. A wife at his side, supporting his hard work, children playing in the yard. This was to be his heaven. He would make it all happen, too. He did not regret the decision to leave his homeland. There was nothing there for him now. His parents gone and his brother. He sighed heavily at the thought of his brother, Iain. His confidante, his best friend, his protector. He felt very alone here but he would not dwell on the past. His thoughts should be on the future, his future in this new world.
Boston Harbor pulsed with life, ships lay heavy in the port. People from various countries poured into the new land, each looking for their golden opportunity. He wasted no time once he disembarked. Hopefully, this would be the last time he would ever travel on a ship. He walked to the shipyards and found the office of one of the companies. It wasn’t difficult to obtain employment, apparently the owner’s business was booming and needed all the help they could get. His knowledge of ships, thanks to his father, helped immensely in securing a position. Once this was done, he set out to find a place to live. Boarding houses were plentiful along the waterfront but he took his time and found one that looked acceptable, not falling down at it’s foundations. It was fairly inexpensive as well, and this lent well to his plan to save his money. So far, all was going well for the young Scotsman and he gave a prayer of thanks to the good Lord for watching over him.
SIX MONTHS LATER:
His job was going well, he had saved a considerable amount. A neat trick, given the friends he had made. Mostly his countrymen and Irishmen, they liked the drink and spent many nights in the taverns. He begged off most evenings, content to stay in his room and read about his dream. What money he spent was on books, magazines, anything he could find about the west. This evening, however, he decided to join his friends at a tavern a bit away from their usual haunts. It was new and the gregarious crew had wanted to check out the entertainment advertised. The tavern was near the Common. He marveled at the beautiful park and surrounding businesses. Certainly not what he was used to seeing near the waterfront. The evening didn’t last long as one of the Irishmen got into a fight with an Englishman. Soon, the brawl spilled out into the street and before he knew it, he was in the thick of it. Before it was over, he ended up laying face first in a mud puddle in the middle of the street. Everyone else had run off, fearful that the law would soon be upon them and left him to fend for himself.*****
He raised up on one elbow and wiped the mire from his face to find himself staring at a skirt. His eyes moved slowly up the petit frame until he was staring into the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. He stood up, towering over her, and bowed at the waist. Her eyes danced with amusement as she watched him try to maintain some dignity.
“Did you win?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not, Miss. But then, it wasn’t my fight,” he explained.
“That’s a shame. All that mud and it wasn’t even your battle,” she said wryly as she started to walk away.
“Uh, may I?” he said as he removed his coat and laid it, inside out, over the previously occupied mud puddle.
“Thank you, sir. That is most kind,” she smiled sweetly.
“If you will allow, I could walk you home, Miss ….”
“Garrett. Catherine Garrett,” she replied.
“Miss Garrett. May I?” He asked and extended an arm.
She eyed him again then smiled. “You may.”
He walked her home, slowly, talking a mile a minute about himself and his dream. She was so engrossed in his plans, she nearly walked by her house.
“This is it,” she said.
He looked up at the mansion with it’s white columns and austere atmosphere and raised an eyebrow.
“May I see you again?” he asked.
“I’d like that but there is a problem,” she said.
“Oh? What would that be?” he asked, expecting to hear his position was beneath her.
“I don’t know your name.”
He laughed aloud and reddened a bit. “Forgive my manners. Murdoch Lancer is my name.”
“Murdoch? What sort of name is that?” she asked.
“It’s Scottish as am I. It means sea protector.”
She smiled whimsically. “I like it. Yes, Murdcoh Lancer, you may see me again,” she answered.
THREE MONTHS LATER:
He saw her every weekend and their relationship grew stronger quickly. They sat in a park near her house one day and she brought up meeting her father.
“Alright, my dear. I’d love to meet him,” he said.
“Don’t be so sure. Father is … well, he’s very protective of me. I can tell you now, he won’t approve, but I don’t care. It’s time the two of you met. Especially if I am to be your wife,” she blushed.
He smiled lovingly at her. “Are you to be my wife?”
“Well, if you ever get around to asking me,” she said seductively.
“The thought had crossed my mind. Dear Catherine, I only want to be able to provide for you. You know my plans. Are you sure you want to travel across the country not knowing what may await you?”
“As long as you are by my side, Murdoch, I would go anywhere,” she said softly.
He leaned over and kissed her gently. “I love you, Catherine,” he murmured.
“I love you, Murdoch. I’ll expect you for dinner tomorrow evening,” she said.
“I’ll be there and on my best behavior, I promise.”
“And I know you always keep your promises, at least to me.”
“Always, my love,” he assurred her.
The next evening at promptly six o’clock, he knocked on the door of the mansion. His heart was in his stomach. He didn’t know exactly what to expect of her father but he was sure the man would be skeptical at the very least.
The butler answered the door and looked at him from the end of his nose. “This way, sir,” he said.
He was lead into a large room with a huge fireplace at one end. The butler pointed to the chairs near the fireplace then left abruptly. He looked around the room, fascinated at the expensive furniture and decorations. The knick knacks and family pictures. His eyes rested on a portrait of Catherine above the fireplace and he stared at it. He didn’t think it captured her beauty very well. She seemed stiff and almost lifeless. Her eyes didn’t dance like he knew they did in life. The smile was tight and cold, not breathtaking and soul touching as he knew it to be. He wondered if she was even in the room when the picture was painted, if so, the artist wasn’t very good.
He heard a noise and turned to find a graying man standing in the doorway watching him. He smiled and approached the man.
“Mr. Garrett, I’m Murdoch Lancer,” he said, extending his hand.
The man shook hands hesitantly. “Catherine tells me you work on the docks,” he said flatly.
“At the shipyards, yes sir,” he replied.
“Doesn’t make you much of a living, does it.” It wasn’t a question.
“I get by, for now,” he replied and knew then this would be a battle of wills.
“Do you have any plans for the future, Mr. Lancer?”
“Yes sir, I certainly do,” he replied with zest. He went on to explain his plan to the man who’s eyebrows got taller with each passing minute.
“Well, that is certainly a lofty goal. I suppose a young man with no responsibilites could do quite well for himself out in the wilderness,” he replied.
“I believe a man with the courage and foresight could do quite well, with or without additional responsibilities,” he said, leery of the implications of the well chosen words he heard.
Before Mr. Garrett could rebuke, she walked in the room. He stood in awe of her beauty. She wore a light green gown, just off the shoulder, that flowed behind her like a cloud. Her face was alight with a captivating smile and he knew she had his heart. Both men were standing, admiring her beauty as she floated into the room.
“My dear Catherine, you look beautiful,” her father said.
“Stunning,” he gasped.
“Thank you, gentlemen. I trust you’ve been getting to know one another,” she said sweetly.
“I was just telling your father of my plans,” Murdoch explained.
“Isn’t it exciting, father? To go off into the wilderness and cut out a new life! I think it is divine,” she exclaimed.
“Yes, well. I suppose it could be a challenge for a young man who is used to rough living,” Mr. Garrett said with a raised eyebrow.
There was an awkward silence after that remark that turned the air in the room into lead. They all felt it’s oppression until, thankfully, the butler announced dinner was served.
Catherine led him into the dining room, which was bigger than his room at the boarding house. He was beginning to think it was all very pretentious. He was no longer in awe of the beauty and wealth of the house. It made him uncomfortable to be here.
They chatted about trivial things during the meal. Mr. Garrett was the perfect host but Murdoch felt his eyes boring through him from time to time. He did not trust this man nor did he like him much. He would never agree to Catherine marrying someone he felt unworthy. He wondered if she would give in to her father’s wishes and he felt his heart beat irratically at the thought.
Mr. Garrett invited them back into the living room for brandy, which he surprisingly enjoyed. “Catherine, my dear, I believe Mr. Lancer would like to speak to me privately, unless I miss my guess,” he said suddenly.
“I believe you are right, father. If you will excuse me,” she said, giving him a smile and a wink before leaving him alone with her father.
“Alright, Lancer. Just what are your intentions toward my daughter?” he asked pointedly.
He was a bit taken aback by the brusqueness but recovered quickly and squared his shoulders. “I intend to marry her, sir.”
“Do you? I forbid it!” Garrett said sourly.
“I understand your doubts, sir. I will take care of her. We love each other and she has already agreed to be my wife. She doesn’t need your permission, Mr. Garrett,” Murdoch said steadily.
“We shall see about that. I believe this conversation is over. Jensen will show you to the door. Goodnight, Mr. Lancer,” he replied and stalked out of the room.
Murdoch sighed heavily and proceeded to the door, scowling at the butler as he attempted to show him out.
Harlan Garrett stormed up the stairs to his daughter’s room and rapped on the door. She opened it, knowing he would be there and preparing herself for the war.
“Catherine, I forbid you to marry that… that scalawag! You will not trapse across the country with no money and no plans with that man!”
“Father, you need to calm yourself,” she said quietly.
“I will calm myself when you tell me you have no intentions of marrying him!”
“Then I’m afraid you’re going to be upset for quite awhile. I am going to marry him and I am going west with him. I love him, father. I want to be with him and that is final,” she said firmly but calmly.
“Catherine, you can’t be serious? How long have you known this man? Who are his people? How can you give up your life here for the unknown. You aren’t prepared for the rigors of such a life.” His voice had quietened, his demeanor subdued as he tried to reason with her.
“Father, please try to understand. I know I’ve been sheltered here. I know I have no idea what awaits me. All I do know is I can’t give him up. I won’t. I’ve never felt like this before and I never will again. He’s the one, daddy,” she pleaded.
“I cannot condone this my dear. I simply cannot. If you go through with this marriage it will be the biggest mistake of your life. Just know that … I will be here waiting for you to come home when you are ready,” he said sadly.
TWO MONTHS LATER:
Murdoch and Catherine were married in a small church near the waterfront. Harlan Garrett was not in attendence. She was saddened by this but she did not allow it to ruin her wedding day. She was happier than she had ever been and excited to begin her new life as Mrs. Murdoch Lancer.
Murdoch had quit his job the day before and bought a wagon which was loaded with their belongings and ready to go the day after the wedding. They left early that morning to begin their adventure and she kept looking around, hoping to see her father coming to wish her well. It was not to be but she really wasn’t surprised. Her father was a stubborn man, unwilling to give an inch.
The trip west began well but soon became an arduous journey for her. She tried to be brave but he could see it was wearing on her. He decided to stop in St. Louis and get a job for a few weeks so she could recover. And so it went during the entire trip. Whenever he felt she was reaching the end of her tolerance, he would stop and gain employment for awhile, giving her time to rest. He was still unsure of where he wanted to settle but California was sounding better to him all the time. They reached Kansas City by the end of the second month and he stopped again. This time, they stayed longer. He had found a job on a cattle ranch and it gave him the chance to learn about the business. He asked so many questions of the foreman, the man began to be quite aggravated. He decided to let his employer know about the young man’s curiosity.
Murdoch was called to the big house and he was sure he was to be fired. The rancher walked into the great room and smiled.
“I understand you’ve been driving my foreman crazy with all your questions. He said if I didn’t do something about you, he was gonna shoot you,” the man said then laughed.
“I’m sorry, sir. I just want to know about cattle ranching. I plan to buy my own spread, you see,” Murdoch said, a bit embarrassed.
“Yes, he told me. Well, that’s a wonderful goal for a young fella. I suppose I could give you some advice, let you learn from my experience. But it won’t be the same until your the boss and the responsibility is on your head,” he warned.
Murdoch spent every available minute with the ranch owner, learning all he could from the man until he felt it was time for them to move on again.
SIX MONTHS AFTER THE WEDDING:
They reached California at spring time. The trip through the mountains had been difficult during the winter months and Catherine was wearing every mile. He was worried about her and wondered if it hadn’t been a mistake to bring her along. Maybe he should have gotten settled, then sent for her. Well, nothing can be done about it now, he thought.
They set up camp outside the small town of Modesto and Murdoch went to the land office to inquire about property. He saw several places but none of them suited him. Then, one day, the seller took him to an area in the San Joaquin Valley. The house was falling apart but it was a massive adobe Spanish dwelling. The land was unkempt, suffering from negligence. The only solid structure was an old jail on the premises. The seller told him it was worthless, he would never be able to raise cattle here. But Murdoch saw something different in this place. He saw his vision, his dream.
“How much?” he asked as he looked out over the valley.
“Well, there’s a hundred thousand acres available at 25 cents an acre,” he smiled.
“I’ll give you 2 cents an acre for all of it and not a penny more,” Murdoch replied.
“Two cents! But..”
“You said it yourself, it isn’t worth anything,” Murdoch shrugged.
The man’s face turned red an he knew he’d been had. They returned to Modesto and signed the papers.
Murdoch rode back to their camp at a gallop. “Catherine!”
“My goodness, what’s all the fuss?” she asked.
“I found it! I found it and I bought it. Now, it doesn’t look like much now but you just wait. It’s going to be the finest ranch in California!” he exclaimed.
“Well, let’s see it,” she smiled at his enthusiasm.
“This is it, my dear. This is our ranch, Lancer,” he said in quiet awe as they sat on the ridge.
“Murdoch, it’s … how much did you pay for this …. dirt farm?” she asked, stunned at the sight before her.
“Catherine, I know it looks awful right now but as soon as I saw it, I knew. I just knew this was the place. It will take a lot of work but I expected that and I got it for next to nothing. That land officer thought I was daft but I’m telling you this is THE place.”
“Well, I suppose we should get a closer look,” she shrugged, still not convinced.
He drove them down to the white hacienda, it’s adobe crumbling in places and gone in others. The front door was gone as well and the inside was covered in cobwebs and she didn’t want to think of what else. ‘What a dump!’ she thought.
“This is going to take a lot of work, dear. I’m afraid I’m going to need some help,” she smiled and resigned herself to the fact that this was her home.
“Oh yes, I’ll hire some of the local women to help you clean up and some of the men to help me repair the damage. It may take years, Catherine, but you’ll see. Some day, you’ll see. This place will thrive and our children will thrive in it as well,” he said excitedly.
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