Chapter Two

April 1850

Murdoch Lancer was one of the biggest men Marcy had ever seen.

She was used to living among Swedes and Hollanders—tall, broad shouldered men who brought with them something of the massive coldness of the north countries, with their big strong bodies and their pale colouring. The storekeeper back home, Nils Larssen, had towered over every other man in town. Tom had always resented it, making sour jokes about man-mountains and maypoles.

Murdoch Lancer was bigger yet, Walt told them when he met them in the little town of Green River. "Came here from Scotland about seven or eight years ago. He talks funny, but he's learning to speak 'Merican. 'Course, most of the hands talk Mex, and that takes some gettin' used to. He's a fair boss."

Tom flicked the reins over the mules' backs and clucked at them. "Walk on."

Walt still had the skewbald gelding. He brought it alongside Marcy, keeping the big horse to a slow walk. He glanced at Tom, grimacing at Marcy. She was sorry to appear disloyal… no. No, that wasn't true and she shouldn't lie to a friend—or to herself—even with a gesture or silence. She was sorry she was forced to dissimulate in the first place. So she allowed her mouth to turn down a little at the corners and she allowed Walt to see it. The corner of his mouth twitched in answer.

Marcy drew Emmie in closer. "Does Mr Lancer have any family, Walt?"

"Buried one wife five or so years ago and moved on to the second. The new 'un's a Mexican lady. He has one boy back East somewhere—Boston, I heard, bein' raised by the first wife's folks—and one here with the new wife."

"Oh? How old?"

Walt scratched at his chin. "I dunno. A mite younger than Emmie, I guess. Two, maybe."

"I'm three now," Emmie told him, gravely, in her most grown up voice.

Walt didn't laugh at her. He tipped his hat, the way he had when he'd greeted Marcy in town. "Then I'd best be calling you Miss Dane, I reckon. The shaver's a mite younger. You have to watch for him around the place. He's into everything when he gets away from his ma. He's not bad for small fry. "

"What a thing to say, Walt! Just not bad? I don't expect Mrs Lancer would like to hear that about her boy."

"I don't hold much with kids," apologised Walt. He leaned out of the saddle to chuck Emmie's chin. "All exceptin' this'n. She's prime, is Miss Emmaline Dane. Ain't you, my chickabiddy?"

Emmie's smile had grown so rare and uncertain over the winter that it was a delight to see it tremble on her mouth in answer to Walt's gallantry. Emmie was fond of Walt, who'd often carried her on his shoulders on their long trek and told her stories. She'd missed him when he left. Marcy had to close her own mouth hard. It wouldn't do to let either Tom or Walt see how much it moved her, to see Emmie's little smile.

Walt nodded, and bless him, he touched his hand to his hat and changed to Tom's side of the wagon, talking men's things and giving Marcy time to set her face straight again and stiffen up her spine before she faced whatever lay ahead at the Lancer ranch. Walt was cheery, and by the time they got to the bluff above the big house, Tom was talking again. Marcy had had nothing but grunts for days. She'd be glad if Walt was able to talk Tom out of his huffy temper.

The road wound through the lower foothills of the mountains, every slope the pale, burgeoning green of new grass. It was a sweet country, even in early spring with the ghosts of winter fogs and rains still clinging to the land and the sunshine thin and cool. Walt said that later in the year the hills would be thick with wildflowers, every colour a man could think of. It was early yet for flowers, but the winter jasmine still bloomed with lemon-yellow blossoms sharp against the long, slender, dark green branches. Walt stopped at one big shrub and, leaning down out of his saddle with a short-bladed knife in one hand, gathered a dozen stems. He put them into Emmie's lap, making her a queer little bow to win a laugh from her. Tom glanced at them sidelong as Emmie squealed and Marcy exclaimed, and clucked to the mules to pick up their pace. Not even Walt could jolly along Tom that day, but Marcy and Emmie were happy weaving the whippy stems into a crown, braiding them into a wreath of tiny green leaves starred with yellow flowers. Emmie arrived at Lancer with it set around her dark head.

The Lancer house sat in wide, shallow bowl in the foothills, with mountains around three sides. The house was one of the biggest Marcy had ever seen. It wasn't pretty, exactly, but a great block of a house with a tall square tower, set in courtyards and gardens. The barns and other buildings stood behind it. The house shone white in the faint spring sunlight, looking solid and as though it belonged, as if it had rooted in the meadows. A long lake lay over to one side, a field or two away from it, and beyond that was a collection of small white houses with their own little gardens. It was a pretty scene. It looked peaceful.

"Made from what the Mex hands call adobe," remarked Walt. "Most every building around here is."

Marcy shaded her eyes with one hand to see better. "It's quite grand."

Walt shrugged. "It's old and near-on fallin' down in parts. Mr Lancer, he bought the ranch from one of them dons before the war, before California joined the Union. He's been buildin' up the place ever since, throwing up barns and buyin' cattle. I don't reckon he gave much thought to the house 'till he married the present Mrs Lancer. He's had us workin' on it this last few months, over winter when there weren't much to do with the cattle. Fixin' the roof and such to make it all weather tight."

Tom gave the house a disinterested glance. It wasn't a muddy hole in the ground he could call a gold mine. He wouldn't pretend an interest he didn't feel.

Walt rode on ahead, telling them to follow the dirt road under the adobe arch—decorated with an ornate letter L that Walt said was the ranch's brand—and around the house to the front, where a series of wide glass doors gave out onto a green meadow. The rooms of the house must be light and airy, said Marcy, finding more to admire now they were close up.

"Barn's around the back," said Tom. "Leastwise, we're goin' in the front door."

And that was the longest speech that she'd had from him in more than a week. He'd sulked ever since she'd shown him Walt's letter and told him that if he wouldn't go south to look into it, she'd take Emmie and go herself. She'd find work somewhere. And if she felt a stab of guilt at what she'd threatened him with, she quelled it. She'd heard of women left behind when their menfolk came west—California widows, they were calling them. She was one herself, she thought. Tom may have brought her with him, but in every way that mattered he was determined to leave her behind.

"It's a fine big house," she said, giving Tom a small smile to encourage him. It felt false, even to her, but she couldn't make it better. Her stomach was tight and aching, she could only hide the trembling in her fingers by twisting them in the calico of Emmie's dress. So much rode on this. So very much. They had to make a good impression.

Tom grunted, and brought the wagon to a halt before the main door. Walt waited there with Murdoch Lancer. It couldn't be anyone else, not from what Walt had said. Walt was quite right. Mr Lancer was taller even than Nils Larsson, and was broader across the shoulders.

Mr Lancer nodded to them as Tom drew up. He smiled, but his eyes were sharp, looking over the wagon and them. Thank heavens that she'd managed to freshen up in town. Her dress was shabby and creased, and it hung from her since she'd thinned down over the winter, but it was clean. Emmie, too, was thin and peaked, but her clothes were as neat as Marcy could get them. And Tom, whatever else he did or didn't do, was a good man with stock. The mules were well-cared for and, though the paint was faded, the wagon was in good order. There was nothing there for Murdoch Lancer to fault.

"Mr Lancer, this is Tom Dane, that I told you about, and Miz Dane." Walt smiled at Emmie. "And Queen Emmaline Charlotte Dane sitting on her mama's knee."

"Dane." Mr Lancer nodded. "Walt's told me about you and I may have a proposition to suit the both of us. Won't you step inside to talk this over?"

Tom dropped down out of the wagon seat. He didn't come much higher than Murdoch Lancer's chin, but he straightened himself, facing up to Lancer and looking him in the eye. "I don't know what Walt Peters has said—"

"That you are a fine farmer," said Mr Lancer, his voice calm. "And I need a fine farmer."

Tom didn't bend an inch. He nodded, regal-like, accepting this as his due. Oh Jesus. Oh, sweet Jesus. Tom wasn't going to make this easy. If there was going to be a favour conferred, Tom would be the one to confer it.

Marcy said nothing. She rested her chin on the top of Emmie's head, not caring about scratchy jasmine twigs, and pulled the warm little body in closer.

"You're squeezing me!" protested Emmie, giggling.

"I'm not a farmer any longer," said Tom, prideful-like. "I have land of my own, a claim up north. I don't want to be tied back into farming for long, Lancer."

Lancer. Not even Mr Lancer. Tom wouldn't even bend enough to acknowledge they were here as suppliants. He was treating Mr Lancer as he'd treat an equal, one of his cronies, defying Mr Lancer to dare to condescend to him.

Tom was going to throw it all away. He'd throw it away and then he'd turn to Marcy, all injured pride. It wouldn't be his fault, of course. It would be because Lancer thought himself so high and mighty, the rich man tossing scraps to the poor man at his gate, and not even Marcy could expect him to put up with that sort of disrespect. No man who called himself a man could tolerate some la-di-dah rancher lording it over him. This was America, where all men were equal. Marcy couldn't want Tom to abase himself for a farming job. It wouldn't be fair. It wasn't fair. She wasn't fair.

Oh, she knew. She knew exactly what Tom would say.

"Are you cold, Ma?" Emmie twisted in Marcy's lap.

"No," said Marcy, slowly. "I'm not cold. Hush."

Murdoch Lancer looked hard and a little angry at Tom's tone. He turned that sharp gaze on her and after a moment it changed and softened. He looked from her to Emmie, and she shook her head, trying to clear it. Something was buzzing and buzzing, like a wasp trapped in a jar.

"You're all shakey-shivery." Emmie laughed her shrill little girl's laugh.

"I'm not cold," said Marcy. She had to close her eyes. All the colour was leaching out of the world, turning it pale brown and sepia, and everything she saw ran together and blurred. The buzzing wasp droned on, making it hard for Marcy to hear what Tom was saying now. Something about taking Lancer's proposals under consideration. Marcy's hold on Emmie slackened.

The voices cut off abruptly, drowned in the fretful, spiteful buzzing. The weight on her knees vanished, and a hand clamped onto her arm, another pressing on the back of her shoulders, pushing her head down. The breath fluttered in her throat. The hand on her back was big and warm. She let out a little moan and rested her forehead on her knees. She didn't want to throw up what little breakfast she'd had, but everything was roiling and aching.

Tom said something sharp and frightened, and Walt's startled "Hey!" was loud in Marcy's ear. A deep voice rumbled in answer. The hand on Marcy's back was heavy, holding her down.

"No. No. Please…" Marcy forced her head up again struggling to sit upright. The hand on her back lifted. Her hands slid to the wagon seat on each side of her and she closed them over the hard wooden edge, gripping until they hurt. The little pain brought her to herself. She shook her head.

Tom stood a couple of feet away, holding Emmie. He looked… something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Surprised, maybe, but there was more than that. Resentful. Tom looked resentful. Emmie had her lips jutting out in a pout, her face reddening as she got ready to scream. She'd dropped Sukey, and one hand was stretched toward Marcy, the other toward the doll.

"Take a moment." It was Murdoch Lancer with the hand on her arm and the deep voice. Walt was right. There was a burr underneath everything he said to show he hadn't been born in America.

Her face burned. She looked away, only to see Walt regarding her with the same compassionate gaze that Mr Lancer was giving her. She swallowed, trying to find moisture, any moisture, in her mouth. Everything tasted of mud and dirt, but her shoulders stiffened with the memory of the backboard her mother had made her wear to cure her slouching. How dare they! How dare they pity her!

She swallowed again, lifted up her head to meet Murdoch Lancer's gaze. "Thank you," she said. "I was a little faint."

The burn in her cheeks grew hotter. Those sharp eyes of his were measuring her, gauging her. He nodded and took his hand away. Emmie struggled in Tom's arms, reaching for her and whimpering.

"I'm fine." Marcy tightened her hands one more time on the wagon seat before lifting them into her lap. She curled her fingers into her skirts. The palms hurt and a red line throbbed across each of them. The little pain was welcome. It anchored her in the here and now, kept her there. "Thank you. Give me Emmie, Tom. She'll fret, otherwise."

"Well, now." Mr Lancer held up a hand to signal Tom to stay back. "I was thinking, ma'am, that it's likely your husband and I'll need to talk a wee while to get this settled and consider the terms. I would be pleased if you and the bairn would visit with Mrs Lancer while we discuss the proposition. Mrs Lancer's used to town life, you ken, so she always welcomes the chance of a visitor." He smiled. Marcy couldn't see the pity in it now, and laughter rumbled under his deep voice. "Emmaline here's about the size of my boy, John. He's always looking for a new playmate."

"Well, I don't know…" Marcy hesitated, but he took that for consent, and before she could move or protest, he had lifted her out of the wagon seat and set her on her feet. He steadied her, careful to make sure her dizziness had passed. Tom glared, his face as red as Emmie's and his mouth in the same pout. But encumbered as he was with Emmie, he couldn't do anything. Marcy prayed he wouldn't say anything either. Mr Lancer meant it all as kindness, she was sure.

"Thank you, Mrs Dane." Mr Lancer stepped back to a respectful distance and nodded at Tom. Tom glowered, but gave him a short nod back. Giving his permission, Marcy supposed, too tired to argue. Instead, she took Emmie's hand when Tom put her down, and followed Mr Lancer indoors.

It was cool and dim in the big entryway. A hall led to the back of the house and a wide staircase mounted up to the upper storey. Mr Lancer guided her to the right, throwing open a wide double door. The room beyond was larger than many a hotel parlour. The row of window-doors down the right hand side flooded the room with light. On the opposite wall to where Marcy stood at the door was a big fireplace; a plaster plaque had been let into the wall above it with the same ornate letter L as stood over the archway. Mr Lancer liked to put his brand on everything then, not just his cattle.

Only a small fire burned, but a big upholstered sofa and chairs were grouped around the hearth in a way that looked friendly and welcoming despite the size of the room. Two women sat in the chairs, sewing. She couldn't tell which was Mrs Lancer. Both were olive skinned with dark hair and eyes and both were striking, bright and vivid. And pretty. They were both so pretty. Marcy felt faded and worn, older than her years, wizened as an old apple left forgotten in the barrel in the garret. They stared at her for a moment, surprised, and she raised her free hand to straighten her bonnet before letting it drop to her side to smooth uselessly down her skirts. If only Mr Lancer hadn't half-crushed her bonnet when he pushed her head down like that. If only she'd had time to iron her dress. If only her dress wasn't so… so dowdy.

The children there, a girl older than Emmie and two little boys who looked as like as peas, stood gawking, until one of the boys threw up his arms at the sight of them, squealed, and pelted full at Mr Lancer. He scooped the child up without blinking. He was used to being run at, then. This must be his son. He tucked the boy under one arm, little arms and legs dangling and kicking while their owner squealed and giggled. Mr Lancer didn't pay much heed to the squealing, but Marcy thought he may have helped the giggles along with a squeeze and some tickling from those big, gentle hands.

"Maria, Señora Roldàn… this is Mrs Marcy Dane. She and her husband will be helping us with the farm, I hope. I thought she might visit here while I discuss things with her husband. Mrs Dane, this is Mrs Lancer and the Señora is the wife of one of my top hands."

The older of the two women rose gracefully to her feet while the other still stared, her eyebrow rising in a way that had Marcy's backbone stiffening.

Marcy nodded. "I am pleased to meet you, Mrs Lancer."

She spoke to the older lady, but it was the younger one who got up, putting her embroidery aside, and who now nodded back to her. "It is an honour," she said, in a pretty, accented voice. Her gaze flickered over Marcy from head to foot. "You have been travelling, yes?"

Marcy swallowed, chilled. "Yes."

Mrs Lancer seemed very young. Marcy would be surprised if she were twenty. But she was sure of herself, the grand lady greeting a suppliant. She gave Marcy a cool smile and glanced at Emmie, her eyebrow rising again at Emmie's crown.

"I'd better get back to Dane," said Mr Lancer. He turned his son upside down and right side up, grinning, before setting him on unsteady little feet. "Stay with Mama, John. I'll be back presently, Maria. Mrs Dane, Señora…" He smiled at them, and vanished back out into the hallway behind Marcy. She heard him call to someone at the back of the house but couldn't understand the words, though they sounded musical. " Maria! Café para tres, por favor, y leche para los más … darn it, what is the word I'm looking for?... para los más pequeños. ¡ Gracias! "

The Señora something-or-other smiled at Marcy. Her accent was thicker than Mrs Lancer's, her voice deep and slow and sweet as molasses. She couldn't be very much older than Marcy. The late twenties, perhaps. Maybe thirty. She was the prettier of the two and graceful. "The Patrón has sent for coffee, Señora Dane, and milk for the little ones." She joined Marcy and laid a hand on Emmie's head. " Una hermosa corona… a pretty crown for a pretty girl." The glance she gave Marcy was sharp but not unsympathetic. "Your journey has been long?"

Marcy could only nod past the lump in her throat. So very long. And not over yet, not if she knew Tom.

The Señora smiled and drew her and Emmie toward the seats before the fire. Marcy went obediently, taking the chair the Señora offered her. Mrs Lancer glanced at her and away again, staring into the fire with an indifference that made Marcy's face hot. Emmie leaned against her knees, silent and watchful, her eyes too big in her peaked face. The little girl—the Señora's, Marcy supposed—sat quietly beside her mother while the two little boys came to stand before Marcy to stare some more. They weren't identical, close up. They had to be almost the same age and size, and both had a shock of black hair, but Mr Lancer's son was lighter skinned and had blue eyes.

The Señora resumed her own seat and picked up her embroidery. "Welcome to Lancer, Señora."

"Oh, si," said Mrs Lancer, a little late. She waved a careless hand, gave Marcy another glance that had Marcy's cheeks burning. "Welcome."

The little Lancer boy came to Emmie's side. His eyes were really very blue, glinting with energy and mischief, and he had a bright, unwavering smile. He reached up for her jasmine crown. "Want!"

The farmhouse was a couple of miles from the hacienda, beyond the adobe village where the married hands lived. It, too, was adobe. It was small and whitewashed, nestling in a narrow valley. They'd followed the stream all the way, a track running beside it as it tumbled down from the mountains and threw itself pell-mell over stones and little waterfalls on its way to feed the lake near the hacienda. The water was very clear, Marcy noticed, as Tom took the wagon over a shallow ford and into the farm yard. It would be sweet drinking water, and cold.

"Another adobe house," said Tom, drawing up before the farmhouse. He glanced at the small barn to one side. Like the house, it was sturdy and well built. "I reckon that's just Mex for mud."

"Not like a dugout though, Tom."

He shrugged, angry at being trapped back into farming. He'd already berated her for what he called her trick to get Lancer's sympathy and force him, Tom, back into a life that was beneath him.

"Trick?" Marcy had repeated, wonderingly.

"Pretending to faint like that." Tom had snorted, his face red with temper and his mouth drawn down. His eyes were cold, and he slapped the reins over the mules' backs with more snap than was needed. The wagon had lurched forward, and Marcy had grasped Emmie to her with a low cry, frightened they'd be tumbled from the wagon seat. "Stop that," Tom had said. "Stop the play actin', Marcy. I won't have it. I won't."

Marcy gathered Emmie in close and said nothing, bowing her head over Emmie's and letting the coffee and cakes, such good coffee and lovely little cakes, roil around while she tried to keep them down and stop her heart hammering. Tom had never been so angry. Never.

Of course, she'd never crossed him so badly before. Never clipped his wings so hard.

Tom had stayed silent and glowering, silent until they reached the farm and even if he only spoke then to scorn the adobe it was made from, it was enough. He was talking again. She could work with him when he was talking, she was sure of it.

"It's in a pretty spot," she ventured. The remains of a garden stood to one side, the fence broken in places, but that could be mended. The fields were overgrown. Tom swung down from the wagon seat and took Emmie from her. He didn't offer to help her down. Still too mad for that, she supposed. She clambered down quickly. "It will be nice to have a garden again. Did Mr Lancer say why the farm wasn't being worked?"

"Some old man had it before. Went to live with his kids someplace when he got too old to work." Tom set Emmie down and told her to run around, but stay away from the stream. "Lancer said he didn't bother for a while but got all his supplies from town—not Green River. Some greaser town. But he said it was costing too much and it was better to have the farm back in use." Tom shook his head. "A couple of years of nothin' being done… it'll take some work to bring it back."

"You'll do it." Marcy made her voice warm, and she put a hand on Tom's arm to look up at him as a trusting wife should. He didn't throw it off, not straight away. That was a step forward.

"I told Lancer I'd stay until harvest, at least."

"And then?"

"And then we'll see. I'm not getting trapped back into farming forever, Marcy. And don't you forget it."

He did move away from her then so her hand fell away. She let him go. He unhitched the mules and led them toward the barn. Heaven only knew what he'd find in there and what he'd feed the mules on other than grass. They were starting with nothing.

She pulled off her bonnet and went to the house, answering Emmie's chatter absently. Emmie hadn't needed Tom's orders not to stray too far; she stayed close to Marcy's skirts. The steps to the stoop creaked under Marcy's weight but held firm. She had to force open a door that had warped with the winter rain.

The house wasn't very big. One big room for cooking and living, with windows on either side of the door and let into each of the outside walls to left and right. The other wall had a door through to a small room that would do for Emmie. There wasn't much in the house other than dust and cobwebs. An old cook stove stood to the left of a high chimneybreast on the north wall and a bedstead stood under the window in the south. A broken chair was jammed up against one wall of Emmie's room. No other furniture, and everything inches thick in dust.

"Ma?" Emmie's voice was quiet, tiny. Afraid.

Marcy let her hands drop from her face and blinked away the tears. She had to be cheerful. "Well, we've got some work to do here! Let's get the broom from the wagon." She bent down and hugged Emmie tight. "It'll be like camping, for a few days until we can get settled. It'll be fun."

Emmie's mouth trembled and her eyes were like Tom's: big, wounded, resentful. She didn't like this old, whispery house with the spiders running across the window panes and the way the webs hung down, thick and black with dust.

Everything they had left was in the wagon. At least they had the straw tick mattresses and their bedding, her pots and pans and the cleaning gear. Marcy tied on the biggest apron she owned, covered her hair with a cloth and set to. She had never seen so many spiders in her life, running this way and that on their long legs to escape her broom and duster. She was coughing and breathless by the time she'd brought down the last of the webs, cleaned the ashes from the hearth and swept the two rooms clear of the worst of the dirt, and she was grey from head to foot with dust. Tom came in from the barn about then, complaining about the state of the plough and harrow that he'd found there. He stopped muttering long enough to unload the wagon, stacking their things on the porch to one side of the door, while Emmie, happier to be out of the dirty house, ran about the yard chasing sun-shadows on the ground.

Tom brought her water when she needed it, and she was just starting on scrubbing the floors to be clean enough for the bedding when Walt splashed through the ford on his skewbald horse, hazing a cow along ahead of him. Behind him came a big ranch wagon with two women on the seat with the driver.

Marcy stared. A cow. Blessed Jesus, Mr Lancer had sent them a cow.

Walt herded it over toward the barn, before jumping down from his horse and coming to where Marcy stood on the stoop, staring. "The boss said to bring you a milk cow. And there's chickens on the wagon in a crate and other stuff you'll need to start up housekeeping." He glanced sidelong at Tom who was rigid with pride.

Tom's tone was ugly mean. "We don't need charity."

Marcy couldn't breathe. For Emmie, they did. She took a step toward Tom, ready to interfere, even though this was man's business and she had no right to shame him in front of Walt. She didn't care. She didn't care about herself and Tom, but Emmie needed the milk and…

Walt took the wind out of Tom's sails with a shrug. "Put down your hackles, man. It's no more than he does for all the married hands setting up housekeeping on the ranch. He said to tell you that the things were taken into safe keeping from the house when the old man left, and belong back here now. They've been in one of the storerooms back at the hacienda and he's glad to get the space back. And Tom, he said once we'd emptied the wagon, you and me are to go back and bring a load of hay for the barn. Like I said, he's a good man to work for."

Tom said something, subsiding into muttering, but Marcy stopped looking and listening to him. The wagon pulled to a halt in front of the stoop. It was piled with chairs and an upended table with its legs sticking up holding another bedstead between them. There were bags of beans and flour, she could see, and other stores in a box. The crate of chickens was lashed to one side, its occupants complaining and clucking to themselves. Marcy's sight blurred again. She blinked when her hands were taken in two warm ones. The Señora had come, along with a young girl of around sixteen and a tall, but stocky, Mexican man who turned out to be the Señora's husband, Cipriano.

"We have come to help, Elena and me," she said in her quaintly accented speech. "Old Tadeo has been gone from here these two years at least, and the house… ai!" She stood in the doorway and shook her head. "It is a good house, Señora Dane, and a sound one. It will not take long to clean it up." She rapped out something in Spanish to Elena, who ran to fetch another bucket of water. The Señora watched her go, her mouth curving up. "Elena is Cipriano's cousin and in our care until she marries. That may not be long now."

She glanced from Elena to Walt, who had given up all pretence at emptying the wagon. He hurried to take the bucket from Elena, touched a hat shading a face so brick red that Marcy could only smile, and ran off to the stream leaving Elena smirking and blushing and twisting a black curl between her fingers.

"Cipriano will help your husband and Walt with clearing out the barn," said the Señora, and her husband waved an airy hand and went back to unloading the Lancer wagon. She smiled, a charming smile that made Marcy feel hopeful for the first time that day. "But come. There is much to do. And the sooner we start it, the sooner it will be done and you will have your home again."

It was late when Marcy got to bed that night. Tom was already abed and snoring when she climbed onto the mattress, filled with warm-smelling clean hay by the Señora and Elena while she had scrubbed the bed frame almost white. Cipriano had strung rope from side to side of the frame and the Señora had made up the bed for them. If she saw Marcy's shame that the quilts were dingy and needed washing, she said nothing of it. But as she and Cipriano left that evening, she promised that Elena would be back the next day to help Marcy with a washing day.

"It will be good practice, no?" she'd said as Cipriano helped her into the wagon, and set lanterns at every corner of the wagon box to help light their way home. She'd smiled at Walt's blush and Elena's conscious glances, and leaned from the wagon to wave goodbye as Cipriano drove them away, leaving the family to have their first supper in their new, clean house.

Marcy slid into bed and lay back. Everything was quiet. Tom was sleeping and Emmie was in her own room. The Señora wasn't there to see it, nor Walt to pity her. And definitely no Mr or Mrs Lancer to look at her with eyes that were compassionate or coolly indifferent.

She could cry a little out of grief for all they'd endured, and thankfulness for the haven they'd found. She could cry a little now, and no one would ever know. There was no one to see her, no one to hear.

Because even with Tom there and Emmie sleeping in the room next door, Marcy Dane was all alone.