By Linda B.
In the early morning light, the young woman could just make out the face of the man beside her. Even in sleep, his face was strong, but that which once comforted and attracted her to him no longer did. It wasn’t enough. She craved for all his love, but after two years of marriage, she knew he would never, could never, give it to her.
In the next room she could hear their young son stirring. Not even he, with his piercing blue eyes and the sweet face of a two-year-old, could savor his father’s complete love. She had no doubt her husband loved the boy, but too many times even he too, in his young life, had been reduced to tears and confusion after his father had broken a promise. Broken promises... how many had there been for wife and child? They started soon after the marriage.
“Forsaking All Others,” the priest had said to them on their wedding day and they, in turn, repeated those same words to each other. There was a time when she had once held those words dear to her, but her husband never warned her she would compete with his ranchero for his heart. No matter what she did or said, his land came first. But no more! Had she been discrete with her plans? Was he suspicious or had he been planning his business trip all along? He never discussed the details of his ranch with her. Certainly she knew their stock of Palomino horses and beef cattle were large, but only Murdoch, and possibly O’Brien the ranch foreman, knew the exact numbers. Her place was in the home with their child and to leave all other matters to her husband.
Murdoch loved her from the moment they met in Matamoros. Her father disapproved of the relationship, until he learned that Murdoch was a ranchero near Green River. Despite her mother’s warnings that he wouldn’t love her the way a man should, Maria found out otherwise that he was a very loving man. Maria responded to his advances and soon found herself pregnant. When she told Murdoch about her condition, he willingly proposed to her.
He returned with her to Lancer and although they shared a bed and a child, they shared little else. All too soon she was completely engrossed with caring for their son, to a point where she shut Murdoch out of her heart. He couldn’t understand her feelings and coldness. Desperate to avoid an argument, he left them together and immersed himself in running his ranch.
Neither could blame the other completely for the distance with stood between them for they had both contributed. Those close them at Lancer saw what was going on, but they were only employees. It wasn’t their place to interfere with a man and his wife.
The once occasional snipe and petty bickering soon evolved into loud arguments, which progressed into hours and days of resentful silence. Any words spoken were curt in both number and tone. For her, there was nothing more to be said after today.
Maria slipped out of bed and began to clothe herself. She kept a watchful eye on her husband as she braided her hair, but unless she fired a gun, he wouldn’t wake. His previous day had been spent working himself and his men hard, cutting new fence posts and after supper he’d retired early to bed. Marie used his absence during the day to finalize her plans.
She tiptoed into Johnny’s room. His bedding was on the floor and he was curled up into a tight ball of limbs and over-sized nightshirt. What showed of his head was covered in thick black hair.
Maria knelt beside the sleeping child and gently shook him awake. Startled awake, his blue eyes flew open. She softly covered his mouth with her hand. “Shhhhh, or you’ll wake your Papa and we don’t want to do that. Hurry up and let me dress you, but keep very, very quiet.”
“Mama?” he questioned.
“I’ll explain everything later,” she whispered. “Now hurry.”
Johnny nodded and obeyed his mother’s instructions. Somehow he knew that it was not the time to protest loudly at not being allowed to put his clothes on at his own pace, as his mother usually permitted.
Once Maria was satisfied he was ready, she pulled a small carpetbag from under the boy’s bed. With his warm hand gripped firmly in one hand, and the bag in the other, they hurried from the house.
In the courtyard he stood waiting for her beside the buggy. He smiled and gathered her into his arms and kissed her passionately on the lips. The boy’s carpetbag was stored beside her larger valise, which she’d left in her rescuer’s care the previous day. She looked deep into his eyes as he placed his hands comfortably around her waist and lifted her into the buggy. His eyes brimmed over with the love he held for her. Maria settled herself onto the seat and he placed Johnny on her lap.
Johnny tugged urgently on his mother’s arm. “Mama?”
“We’re going to our new home, Darling. A place where we’ll be happy.”
Maria never looked behind her as the buggy traveled up the road for the last time, but a small face, with tearful blue eyes did. Johnny shook his hand free of his mother’s grasp. He wriggled onto his knees and glanced quickly at his mother. She wasn’t looking at him. His fingers barely moving, he waved into the darkness. “Bye-bye, Papa,” Johnny whispered.
“I thought this was my home. I was happy here with you and Papa. I don’t wanna go! I want my Papa!” screamed the boy in his head. His wishes weren’t heard because he hadn’t learned to talk.
By the time he could express himself in words, his father and previous life were faded memories.
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