A timid knock came from the back door just as Teresa was finishing the breakfast dishes. Drying her hands on her apron as she walked, she opened the door to find Juan Carlos standing there, hat in hand. Juan Carlos, one of the hands, had worked at the ranch for almost ten years and was one of their best and most skilled workers.

"Good morning Juan Carlos," Teresa said, smiling.

"Senorita Lancer." He replied, bowing just slightly. The man had an anxious look about him as he kept turning his head and glancing around refusing to look directly meet her eyes.

"Is there something I can help you with?"

"Si . . I mean no . . . I mean . . ." Juan Carlos stammered. Finally looking up into Teresa's face he asked if Johnny was available.

Teresa opened the door wider and waved him inside. "Johnny's in the den doing some book work. Would you like a cup of coffee?" Juan Carlos shook his head.

"Gracias Senorita Teresa." He wiped his boots on the small rug inside the door for that purpose and made his way down the hall. Stopping in front of the open den doors, he hesitated for a moment before clearing his throat.

Johnny, who hated book work because number one - sums were not his cup of tea, and two – he hated being inside on such a nice day. Actually glad for the interruption, he threw down his pen, looked up and grinned widely. "Juan Carlos. Buenos Dias. Come in and sit down." Juan Carlos advanced a step into the room holding his worn and faded sombrero in front of himself.

"Senor Johnny I am sorry to bother you." He said, almost in a whisper.

"I'm not, I hate bookwork. What can I do for you? Is there a problem on the ranch?"

Juan Carlos quickly reassured his boss, "No Senor Johnny. No problem." Johnny waited, still grinning. He could sense the man wanted to ask him something. Finally Juan Carlos advanced another step and stood up ramrod straight. "Senor Johnny, I have a favor to ask."

"Well, go ahead. I'll help if I can." Johnny reassured him.

"Senor, my cousin is traveling to the San Joaquin valley from Mexico. She wants to live in California. She wants to find a job . . . and a husband." He added, dropping his eyes in embarrassment.

"Now Juan Carlos," Johnny said, standing and coming around the desk to rest back on its front edge. "You know I'm not ready to settle down . . ."

"No, no senor." Juan Carlos said, shaking his head. "You misunderstand. I was going to ask you . . . well, I am the only family she has on this side of the border."

"And?" Johnny prompted. At the rate the man was speaking it would take all day for Juan Carlos to get to the point.

"I ask please if she can stay here, on Lancer, until she finds one."

"Finds a job or a husband?" Johnny teased.

"Whichever comes first!" Juan Carlos answered, a look of surprise crossing his face.

Johnny had all he could do not to burst out laughing. "I think that can be arranged. The guest house is empty, she can stay there."

"And it will be alright with your Senor Murdoch and Senor Scott?"

"They're both gone for a few days, you know that. Pa will be home sometime on Wednesday but Scott won't be home until Friday. I am in charge and I say it will be okay. In fact, we might even be able to hire her on for a short time. Teresa has been wanting to visit friends in Sacramento but won't go until we find a cook and housekeeper. Does your cousin cook?"

"Si Senor Johnny. Very good. At least the dishes from our country. At least that is what her mama says."

"Well that will suit me just fine. We'll give her a try. Teresa will be thrilled."

"Gracias, gracias Senor Johnny. She is coming tomorrow. I am so grateful to you." Juan Carlos continued to mutter thank-you's as he backed out the door.

Johnny picked up his empty coffee cup and sauntered down to the kitchen. "Sis, it looks like you might just be going to Sacramento after all," he said while refilling his cup. "Juan Carlos' cousin is going to be staying in the guest house for a little while and he says she is an excellent cook."

Teresa's face brightened like a Jack o' Lantern in which someone had just lit the candle. "Oh Johnny," she squealed, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him on the cheek. "I'm going to go right now and write Sarah a letter and let her know the wonderful news." Teresa gave him another quick peck on the cheek.

"I'll just stay here and wipe up my spilled coffee," he said, grabbing a cloth from the sink. He topped off his cup and then mumbled his way down the hallway to the den. "Book work! Yuk!"

Johnny stayed up late so that he could finish the ledger and not have to work on it tomorrow, thanking God that Murdoch would be home to take over. He ate a quick breakfast and headed to the barn to saddle Barranca. He planned to go out and check the fence along the northwest quarter line and wouldn't be back until late afternoon. Teresa had skipped breakfast, telling him she was going out to make sure everything was clean and in order in the guest house.

Johnny expected to see his father's horse announcing his return by the time he got home, but the stall was empty. Oh well, it was a few hours before sunset so Murdoch had plenty of time to get home. After Johnny put Barranca in his stall, removed the saddle and brushed the palomino's golden coat, he headed to the house to get cleaned up. Walking across the small courtyard, Juan Carlos hurried over to him pulling a young, attractive Mexican woman in his wake.

"Senor Johnny," Juan Carlos huffed. "This is my cousin Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Senorita," Johnny said, taking off his hat and smiling. She was very pretty, slender, large coal-black eyes, silky raven hair pulled back in a braid and looked to be about nineteen. She wore typical Mexican garb; a long, full skirt with various colored ribbons stitched around the hem, an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse of turquoise blue with embroidery around the neckline, and gold filigree earring that reached down her long graceful neck almost to her shoulders.

"Senor." She replied looking directly into Johnny's eyes.

"I tell her about the offer you made. She is very happy and says she will do well for you." Juan Carlos puffed out his chest until Johnny thought the buttons would pop off his shirt. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, her red rouge colored lips drawn in a tight smile.

"I'm sure she will. If you'll excuse me Miss I need to get cleaned up before my father gets home." He dipped his head slightly and resumed his saunter to the door. Stopping with one hand on the knob, he turned in silhouette and looked back at Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez. He didn't think she would have any trouble finding a husband. She was beautiful and, in a way, reminded Johnny of his mother.

The aroma of roasting beef wafted up the back stairs as Johnny headed down for a drink before dinner. Still no Murdoch and, with the sun quickly slipping behind the mountains, he doubted his father would make it home until tomorrow. Teresa was busy peeling potatoes. A fresh-baked apple pie sat on the counter. Johnny tiptoed over – as much as one can tiptoe in heavy boots and jingling spurs – to take a whiff. "Get away from that pie John Lancer." Teresa said. Johnny could never figure out how women did that; see out the back of their heads like they did. He crossed over to a chair, swung it around and straddled it. "Did Juan's cousin get here okay?"

"Yah, met her when I got home. Seems nice. She's real pretty." Teresa gazed over her shoulder and gave Johnny that "hands off" look of hers. "What? I got eyes ain't I? That don't mean I'm gonna . . . "

"John Lancer!" Teresa scolded. Softening her voice, she continued, "You should have invited her to supper. There's plenty with Murdoch not getting home yet."

"That's a good idea. I think I'll do that. Beats eatin' in the bunkhouse with the hands." Johnny rose and walked out the back door, down the brick pathway to the guest house and knocked on the door. When it was answered, he smiled. "Hello again Miss . . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Miss Lopez. Teresa and I would like to invite you to supper. Roast beef. Smells real good. It's one of the better things Teresa can cook."

Looking directly into Johnny's eyes she answered, "Si. Gracias."

"Good, good. I'll have Teresa set a place for you. Supper is in about a half hour. Just come to the back door and walk in. You don't have to knock or nothin'" Johnny bowed his head slightly, turned and walked back to the house. "She's a comin'." He announced as he passed the kitchen on the way to the parlor for a drink. 'Yep,' he thought. 'She'll have no trouble at all.'

Johnny was just on his way down the hall to the dining room when he saw Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez walk in through the back door. He waved her over to join him. Holding out Murdoch's usual chair, he waited until she was settled then pushed it in slightly. He had previously gone down to the wine cellar and brought up a bottle of the Barkley wine. After all, tonight was sort of a special occasion. When Teresa brought the meal in from the kitchen, Johnny stood. "Teresa, I would like you to meet . . .ah . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez. I am pleased to meet you."

Teresa looked at Johnny with quizzical eyes before returning her gaze to her guest's and smiling. "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

Teresa glanced at Johnny who merely shrugged his shoulders. Leaning close to his sister's ear he whispered. "I call her Miss Lopez."

Johnny carved the roast and then filled the wine glasses. Holding his glass up he said, "I propose a toast to our guest . . ." He looked at Juan's cousin.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Yes to . . .her . . . in welcome and with best wishes that she finds just what's she's looking for in our great country." Teresa clinked glasses with Johnny who then turned and touched the rim of his to the rim of their guest's. They all took a sip than began eating. An uncomfortable silence hung over the table while Johnny tried to think of something to say. "So Miss Lopez, do you have a nickname?" Their guest looked at him with a question in her eyes. Apparent that she was not familiar with the American term, he asked, "What do they call you at home?"

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

Johnny sighed. "I mean what do your madre and padre call you?"

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita." She replied.

Johnny glanced at Teresa and rolled his eyes. She fought to control a giggle and rose, saying she would bring in dessert and coffee. Johnny drained his wine glass while they waited. After they had all finished, Johnny stood, extended his arm and held his hand palm up indicating they would all be retiring to the parlor except their guest politely refused.

"Gracias no," she said. "I have traveled far these last few days and would like to retire to my room and rest now."

"Of course. It's pretty dark out. May I walk you?" Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita nodded. She brushed past Johnny and started toward the back door with him closely following. Once on the path, he put his hand lightly in the small of her back. Opening the guest house door, he entered and lit a lamp while she waited outside. Exiting, he again tipped his head slightly. "Buenas noches senorita. May you sleep well." Johnny made his way back to the house once she had entered and closed the door. Teresa caught him as he passed the kitchen.

"So what are we supposed to call her?" Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know. I'm sticking with Miss Lopez." He advanced to the parlor, poured himself a brandy, pulled a book off the shelf and sat down on the sofa to read for a while. A short time later, he heard the front door open. Rising he walked to the foyer to find his father hanging up his hat, jacket and gun belt. "Pa, I didn't think we'd see ya until tomorrow."

"Well, I thought about camping out again tonight but was so close to home I decided that another night on the cold, hard ground was not fitting for a man of my advanced age." He winced, holding one hand against his back at waist level. Walking with Johnny back into the parlor, he stopped at the liquor cart and poured himself a shot of bourbon which he tossed down his throat. "I'm beat. I'm going to bed. A nice, soft, warm bed. I'll see you in the morning. You can give me an update on what's been happening around here then." He reached out and gave Johnny's shoulder a squeeze then slowly ascended the front staircase still holding his back.

The next morning at the breakfast table Johnny filled in his father with the events of the last three days. "I got the ledger all caught up, the fence in the northwest quarter looks okay for now but will need replacin' in the spring, the men moved the cattle from the east pasture to the south one . . . Can't think of anythin' else. Oh wait, we have a guest. Juan Carlos' cousin is stayin' in the guest house for a little while. She's here straight from Mexico; came lookin' for a job. I told Juan maybe we could hire her on as cook and housekeeper so Teresa could finally go to Sacramento. I hope that's okay with you." Johnny took a sip of coffee.

"Good, good. Now I know why Teresa's in such a good mood. I do think we should try out this girl's cooking though before we let Teresa leave. What's her name?"

Johnny pursed his lips and exhaled slowly. "I call Miss Lopez." Murdoch looked into his son's face.

"Surely she must have a first name."

"Yah, yah she does but don't ask me to repeat it because I can never remember it all. You'll have to ask her." Johnny drained his cup, stood, put his hat on and turned toward the back door. "I'm breakin' horses today in the north corral. See you at supper."

"Be careful son. Have a good day."

Murdoch spent his day riding around the ranch making mental notes of what needed to be done in the next few days. He met up with Johnny just as his son passed beneath the Lancer arch. Johnny was covered with dust and his shirt stuck to his chest and back with sweat. "Hey Pa," he muttered, fatigue clearly marking his voice.

"Tough day son?"

"Not really. Just tired. I've been working that stippled stallion for almost a week and I'm not getting' to far. He's one ornery cuss!" Murdoch chuckled. As they dismounted, that day's stable master came out and took the reins to lead their horses to the barn. Johnny took off his hat and was swatting at his pants in an attempt to dislodge at least some of the dirt. Murdoch happened to turn his head in the direction of the bunkhouse.

"Is that our guest? You know, the one whose name you can't remember?" He teased.

"Yah that's her."

"Pretty! She looks a little like your mother. Aren't you going to introduce me?"

"I'll give it a try!" Together they walked over to where their guest stood. "Miss Lopez, this is my father Murdoch Lancer. Pa, this is . . ." Johnny sighed, hung his head and pointed at the woman. Thankfully she recognized his signal.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez." She replied, giving Murdoch a slight curtsey to which his father returned with a slight bow.

"Welcome to the Lancer ranch Miss . . . Lopez. I hope you have a pleasant stay. I understand from my son here that you may be our cook and housekeeper for a time."

"Si, gracias."

"Well, perhaps you could prepare supper for us tomorrow night. Come to the house after breakfast and I'll have Teresa show you the pantry. If you need anything, she can pick it up in town when she goes in for the mail. If you will excuse us now, we need to get cleaned up. It was nice to have met you Miss . . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez." Murdoch simply smiled, bowed again just slightly and turned, along with Johnny, to walk to the house. Johnny gave a sideways glance to his father who arched his right eyebrow.

"Told yah!" He smirked. Murdoch explained to Teresa during supper what he had told their guest about tomorrow. Chewing a bite of lamb Teresa nodded.

The following night's supper was nothing less than superb. Platters and bowls lined up down the center of the dining table as Murdoch, Johnny and Teresa entered. Johnny smiled brightly. He felt like he was back in his favorite Mexican cantina. There was alas de pollo frito, guacamole with homemade tortilla chips, crema de champinones, enchiladas, pollo loco, chuleton de bistek, quesadillas, arroz rojo, black beans and calabacitas guisada. Johnny dug right in, loading his plate to nearly overflowing. Teresa and Murdoch were more reserved, mostly because they weren't sure what some of the dishes were even though everything smelled delicious. They would take a small taste and then, smiling at each other, help themselves to more. By the time they had dished up their plates and bowls, Johnny was reaching for seconds.

"Oh man," Johnny exclaimed between mouthfuls. "I have died and gone to Heaven. I haven't eaten like this since a fiesta I attended in Juarez. As far as I'm concerned you can cook for me any time . . ." He pointed his finger.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Gracias and muchas gracias," he added, pointing to his plate with his fork. As he was about to reach for thirds of some dishes, Murdoch raised his left eyebrow.

"Ah . . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Yes, Miss Lopez. This is excellent. Truly excellent. My other son Scott will be sorry he missed it."

"Gracias. I will bring dessert now."

"Oh boy," Johnny exclaimed with a wide smile upon his lips. "All this and dessert too."

Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez returned with boca chica, camotes al horno, churros and Mexican sweet corn cake on a sizable tray along with a large pot of café de olla. Johnny felt as though his pants were going to burst but he managed to stuff down a piece of corn cake, a serving of boca chica and four churros along with three cups of café de olla. Leaning back and rubbing his belly, he sighed.

"Not at the table son." Murdoch chastised.

"Pa, it's a compliment in Mexico, isn't that right . . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Well since you ate the most, you can help clear the table." A wicked twinkle came into Johnny's eyes. "On second thought, Teresa, if you wouldn't mind. I'm afraid if Johnny does it, there will be absolutely no leftovers and I will need to send someone to get the doctor."

As the ladies gathered the dishes, Johnny leaned forward with his forearms on the edge of the table. "Well?" Murdoch simply nodded, rubbing his own belly now that the ladies weren't in the room. "Yippee!" Johnny squealed.

"But," Murdoch said before holding his hand in front of his mouth and belching quietly. "Can she cook anything that's not Mexican?"

"Only one way to find out. Have Teresa plan tomorrow's supper. Scott will be home. We'll let him be the judge."

When Scott walked into the foyer the next afternoon, he was greeted by the most tantalizing aromas that ever drifted from the Lancer kitchen. Hanging up his hat and gun belt, he swung his saddlebags over one shoulder and made a beeline toward the back of the house. In the kitchen stood a lovely Mexican woman cutting fresh vegetables. "Ma'am," he greeted. He could feel her watching him as he crossed to the stove and lifted the lid from one of the kettles. Inhaling deeply, his stomach growled. He hadn't bothered to stop long enough to eat lunch and knew that supper was two hours away. He would have to go upstairs to resist snitching a taste. Smiling at the pretty woman, he made his way to the back stairs. It was no use. Heat rises and along with it rose the wonderful smells from the kitchen.

Scott thought the clock on his dresser was broken, the hands seemed to be moving so slowly. Finally it was five forty-five, time to go down and have a drink with his father and brother before supper. Scott descended the front stairs to the parlor where Murdoch and Johnny were already sitting in front of the hearth, drinks in hand. They welcomed Scott home and conversed briefly about his trip. As the clock began to chime six, the three men made their way to the dining room where a large covered tureen sat in the middle of the table. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita was just bringing the fresh baked biscuits, butter and preserves to the table as the three men took their chairs. Scott and Murdoch immediately stood, Murdoch clearing his throat and gazing as Johnny who finally understood his father's signal and rose as well.

"Miss Lopez, this is my son Scott." Murdoch said, inclining his head slightly in his elder son's direction.

"I'm very pleased to meet you Miss Lopez", Scott replied. "And might I ask your first name?"

"You can but . . ."

"John Lancer!" Murdoch scolded.

"Si, my name is Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez."

"Welcome to Lancer Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita. I understand you will staying with us for a time and work as our cook and housekeeper. Please, if there is anything you need just ask me."

"Si, gracias." She replied, turning to go back into the kitchen. All three men sat down and arranged their napkins across their knees.

Johnny stared at his older brother, mouth slightly agape. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Remember all them names. I've known her longer than you and I can't even remember the first one. Neither can Pa. Isn't that right, Pa?"

"I address her as Miss Lopez out of respect, son. I advise you to do the same." Murdoch replied.

"You call her Miss Lopez because you can't remember either!" Johnny smirked, taking a biscuit. "I bet Scott can't say her name again. I'll bet a dollar on it."

Scott looked up. "A dollar? Not too sure of yourself, are you little brother! Why don't we make it five?"

"You're on." Johnny's eyes narrowed when they caught Scott's gaze as if in a dare.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez. I don't see why that's so difficult."

"You cheated . . . somehow." Johnny chided.

"I pay attention," Scott smirked with a tight-lipped smile on his lips.

"Yah, well . . ." Johnny retorted before being interrupted by his father. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita came back into the room carrying two large pitchers, one filled with milk and the other with water.

Scott's eyebrows knit together. "Aren't you going to join us Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita?" Johnny pursed his lips. 'Now he's just showing off', he thought.

"No, gracias senor. I will have my meal in the kitchen. Disfrute de su cena (enjoy your supper).

"Boys, why don't we eat before it gets cold." Murdoch lifted the lid of the tureen. The rising steam carried the wonderful aroma of simmered beef and vegetables throughout the room making all their mouths water. Murdoch ladled a generous serving of the stew into his bowl before handing the ladle to Scott, who did the same. After Johnny had helped himself to some, he grabbed another biscuit. All three men took a leisurely taste before commenting.

"Mmmm," Murdoch moaned in pleasure. "The beef is so tender it just melts in your mouth. The gravy is so rich and brown, but there is a taste I don't recognize. I feel like I should but just can't put my finger on it."

Scott took his second mouthful, chewed and swallowed before answering. "I believe I taste cloves, Sir."

"Cloves!" Murdoch exclaimed. "That's what it is! Really adds flavor. Teresa's was never this good but don't tell her I said that. It would hurt her feelings."

"Where is she anyhow?" Johnny asked helping himself to more stew.

"She went over to Mary Gifford's this afternoon. She's so excited about her upcoming trip to Sacramento she can't sit still. Took a dress over there to be hemmed. Mary knew Sarah too. I think Teresa might try to talk Mary into going with her. She's going to stay overnight" Murdoch, Scott and Johnny each took another ladle of stew and another biscuit.

"Johnny, son, don't you think you've had enough biscuits? How many does that make – four?"

Johnny dropped his eyes to his bowl. "Ah, actually five." Murdoch arched an eyebrow. "But Pa, they melt in your mouth and what with these peach preserves . . ."

"I agree. Better than Mrs. McGinty's and she wins the blue ribbon at the fair every year." Scott commented, taking another one for himself.

"I wonder what she made for dessert?" Johnny asked.

Just as the men were finishing their dinner, Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita brought in a large pot of coffee and a dish of apple brown betty. She sat the pot at Murdoch's elbow, slid the dish of dessert onto the table and picked up the tureen to take back to the kitchen. The three men sat there for several seconds, all eyes focused on the wonderful looking concoction of apple, bread crumbs, butter and brown sugar. It looked so perfect they were hesitant to dish it up but finally Johnny took the large serving spoon in hand. As he lifted the spoon up, Scott quickly pushed his plate under it. Johnny cast him a look that said "oh yah?" but relented dropping the betty onto his older brother's dish. He tried again, this time his father shoved his plate forward. Johnny gave him the same look but complied. twelfth

"Now is it my turn?" He smirked.

"Go ahead son. What are you waiting for? This is absolutely magnificent!" Johnny cast a sideways glance at his father before quickly spooning a portion on his plate. Murdoch was right. It was fabulous. Helping themselves to just a half spoonful more, they ate each complained in his own way on how full he was but it didn't hamper them for stuffing in another couple mouthfuls of the betty. As they finished and poured coffee, Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita came in to take the dirty dishes away.

"Senorita," Murdoch said. "The meal was fabulous. I think you'll do just fine as our cook. Plan on starting tomorrow. When I go into town on Monday I'll let Dan at the general store know that I've given you permission to charge what you need on the Lancer account.

"Gracias."

Murdoch informed Teresa that she could start packing; that Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez was working out fine and if Teresa could be ready by Monday, she could ride into town with him and he'd put her on the stage himself. Teresa squealed with joy and ran up to her bedroom to begin getting her belongings collected.

The following Monday Murdoch kept his promise, taking Teresa into town, purchasing her tickets and actually giving her a hand up onto the one o'clock stage. He had already been to the general store, the livery and the barber shop. A cold beer and he would be ready to head home. Teresa would be gone six weeks and that meant six weeks of Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's marvelous meals. His stomach growled even though he had a quick lunch before leaving the ranch.

Two weeks went by and the men were exceptionally pleased with Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez. The house was spotless and the meals continued to be simply delicious night after night. Johnny was in the barn brushing Barranca, having just got home from the day's work, when one of the hands sauntered up to him.

"Hey Carl." Johnny greeted. The man walked over to the stall and stood for a minute just watching.

"Sure is a right beautiful horse you got there Johnny."

"Well, thanks Carl, but it's the same horse you've seen a hundred times." Johnny gave Barranca's coat a few more strokes with the brush. He could sense the man had more to say. "So, Carl, what's on your mind?" He swore he saw a slight blush appear on the man's tanned and leathered cheeks.

"I was wonderin' . . . Do you think . . .Oh, never mind." He stammered, turning to walk away, Johnny tossed the brush into the holder and came out of Barranca's stall. Quickening his step, he reached out his arm and grabbed Carl's shoulder, spinning him around.

"If you got somethin' to say, say it." He prodded, locking eyes with the man. Carl pointed to a couple bales of hay nearby and the men crossed to take a seat. Johnny tilted his head toward Carl and grinned slightly in an attempt to put the obviously uncomfortable hand at ease.

"I . . . I was wonderin' . . .well . . .I want you to teach me about women," Carl finally managed to spit out.

"Me? I haven't even figured them out for myself yet." Johnny chuckled.

"That's not what the word is in town." Carl challenged. "Seems you're quite the lady's man!"

"Where'd you hear that?"

"The saloon."

"Well, Carl, you don't have to know much about women. You just gotta have cash in your pocket."

Clearly flustered, Carl pursed his lips. "I never asked a woman – a lady woman – to go out with me. I don't know how. Can you help me?"

"Who you thinkin' about askin'?"

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez". He answered with ease.

Johnny shook his head slightly. "Why can just about everyone else say that name and I get all tongue tied and I'm from Mexico!" Johnny muttered. "I think you better talk to Juan Carlos. She's his kin."

"I already done that and he says it's okay with him. I just don't know how to go about it. I don't even know what I'd ask her out to!" Carl groused.

Johnny smiled. "Well, that I can help you with." Johnny offered, putting one hand on the man's shoulder. "I find the best thing – at least until you get to know the girl better – is to ask her out on a Sunday picnic." Carl nodded, that seemed safe enough. "Here's what you do." Johnny continued, leaning slightly forward. "You get all gussied up – bath, haircut, shave, maybe a little cologne, nice shirt, clean pants, shined boots . . ." Carl was listening carefully, nodding as Johnny talked. "You can use the fancy surrey and the matched team. You know that little meadow up on the east range; the one that overlooks Morgan's creek?"

"You mean that clearing with the big hickory tree?" Carl asked, his eyes beginning to sparkle.

"Yah, yah that's the one. Real pretty up there and real private too!" Johnny added, winking. There was that blush creeping across Carl's cheeks again.

"But what about vittles?"

"Well, its been my experience that if you ask her about four or five ahead of time, the lady will usually pack the lunch. I'll even sneak down to the wine cellar and bring you up a bottle of the kind I know she likes."

"Won't you get in trouble with Murdoch?"

Johnny shook his head. "Not if'n he don't know about it!"

"Okay, let's see if I got this straight in my head. Spit and polished, rig ready, bottle of wine, east meadow . . " Johnny had been nodding as Carl talked. Suddenly Carl stopped, his face visibly paling."So we're up there, eatin', drinkin' wine, then what?"

"Just talk to her. Ask her about where she's from, what it's like there, about her family, why she wanted to come to California, you know stuff like that. She'll probably ask you questions too. It will all work out and if it doesn't just sitting quiet and looking out over the creek with the mountains in the background is good too." Carl swallowed hard and rubbed his palms on the thighs of his jeans. "But," Johnny warned. "Don't swear or talk about girls you've known before or girls from saloons or getting drunk or anything to do with blood and guts. Girls hate that."

"Seems like an awful head full to remember." Carl mumbled.

"You'll be fine. Now, how are you going to ask her?"

Carl cleared his throat. "Well somethin' like Miss Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez I got a hankerin' to spend some eatin' and talkin' time with you, if you got a mind to." Johnny sighed. "No good? I been practicing in my head."

"No good. She's a refined lady. You can't use words like 'hankerin'' and 'eatin' and 'if you got a mind to'. She'll say no for sure. Here, try this: Miss Lopez, I would be pleased if you would go on a picnic with me this coming Sunday afternoon. I will pick you up at one o'clock." Carl watched Johnny's face and tried to memorize the words. He stumbled a bit but was able to repeat the most of it. "Tomorrow morning, go knock on the guest house door with a nice bouquet of flowers in your hand and ask her."

"Tomorrow? So soon?" Carl croaked.

"Yes, so soon. The sooner you get it over with and the sooner she says yes, the more relaxed you'll be. Askin' her in the morning is good too. You'll be nice and clean and fresh shaved. I've seen you after a day's work and . . . frankly .. . . not even a saloon girl would say yes with you holdin' a ten dollar gold piece in your hand. No offense." Johnny added quickly, after all he himself would be in the same shape after a day's work so who was he to judge. Slapping Carl on the back, Johnny rose. "I better get in to supper. She's a mighty fine cook, mighty fine. I don't want to miss any of her meals." He left Carl still sitting on the hay bale, practicing his invitation in a low voice over and over.

The next morning, Johnny purposely stood by the kitchen window to drink his coffee. From its angle, he could just make out the guest house. It was early and he knew Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita would be up but not ready to come to the main house just yet. Suddenly Carl walked into view. He held a clutch of Teresa's flowers in his hand. His hair was combed neatly and he was dressed in clean jeans, a freshly pressed plaid shirt and a leather vest. Johnny watched as he stepped onto the small porch of the guest house, his lips still moving in rehearsed speech. Finally he knocked. Johnny watched as Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita opened the door, accepted the flowers, and tilted her head to listen to well-practiced words. Johnny was elated when he saw her nod then take the flowers inside. When Carl turned and began walking back in his direction, Johnny saw a bright smile on the man's face. He was glad everything had worked out and that he had helped. He felt almost like a father watching his son ask out his first girl to the dance.

Carl came the day after the picnic to thank Johnny and tell him everything went well. The man seemed so much more relaxed. He couldn't stop talking about Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita.

Teresa stayed in Sacramento seven weeks and had arrived back at the ranch just yesterday afternoon full of stories and new clothes from her many shopping excursions. Murdoch now had the problem, however, of two cooks in one kitchen and he knew that would never work. After lunch the next day, he sat both women down and they worked out a schedule. Together they would make up a week's menus. Teresa would do the shopping, set the table, clear the dishes and do the upstairs cleaning. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita would do the cooking, wash the dishes, clean the downstairs and do the laundry. Surprisingly, they both seemed pleased and the dispute Murdoch had expected near came to fruition.

As the weeks passed, Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita and Carl spent every free moment together. Scott had even seen them kissing behind the barn one day when he came home unexpectedly early from his day's work. Johnny asked Carl frequently how things were going and Carl was overjoyed to tell him that he thought he was falling in love. Johnny shook his hand and congratulated him. He had no way of knowing that Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita had told Juan Carlos the same thing. All Johnny, Scott and Murdoch knew was that there was a glow about Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's face and she had begun humming while doing her work.

A few months passed then one day Carl trotted out to meet Johnny has be came in for the day. Taking the reins, Carl led Barranca into the barn while Johnny followed, beating at his dust-laden black pants with his gloves. Johnny took the saddle and tack off his horse and began brushing him. Carl stood with his hands in his back pockets, an anxious expression on his face.

"Carl you look like you've swallowed a Mexican jumping bean. What's with you?" Johnny said grinning.

"I'm getting married." He replied. "Me, I'm getting married."

Johnny tossed the brush aside, exited the stall and extended his arm to shake Carl's hand. "Felicitaciones mi amigo!" Seeing a look on confusion on the man's face Johnny repeated, "Congratulations my friend." Carl smiled and continued shaking Johnny's had vigorously. "You are going to have to learn some Spanish." Johnny commented. Finally Carl let go of Johnny's hand and Johnny shook out his arm in an attempt to get some of the feeling back.

"Ah, Johnny?"

"Yah."

"Would you be my best man?" Carl stuttered, looking down shyly.

"Me encantaría ser su mejor hombre. I mean 'I would be delighted to be your best man'." Johnny clarified. "When's the wedding? Do you have her la pedida? Ah, I mean her father's approval? When I get excited I tend to speak in Spanish. Sorry."

"Juan Carlos said he could give approval. I already asked and he said yes. We haven't picked a date yet. I gotta save up some money first." Johnny had an idea but would need to speak to his father before he said anything. Johnny slapped Carl lightly on the back.

"I hear you friend. I've been to a Mexican wedding. What a fiesta! I mean party." Carl shrugged his shoulders. "Well I got to finish up Barranca and get in for supper or Pa will have my hide." Carl, grinning like a Cheshire cat, walked toward the bunkhouse.

That evening after supper, Johnny asked his father, brother and sister to join him in the parlor as he had something important to tell them. Immediately a worried look crossed Murdoch's face. Johnny noticed and broke a wide smile across his lips. Murdoch's face relaxed quickly. Once everyone was seated in front of him, he told them of Carl's upcoming marriage.

"Well we need a drink; to toast them," Murdoch started to rise but Johnny halted him with an upturned hand. Johnny crossed to the liquor cart and poured them all a brandy. Handing them out, Murdoch opened his mouth to speak but Johnny again turned his hand to him.

"I believe it's the best man's job to propose the toast." He said, holding his glass up and noting the look of pride on his father's face. "A Carl y . . . " He paused and pointed at Scott.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita." Scott said, shaking his head at his younger brother.

"Con los mejores deseos para el futuro". The others all raised their glasses and then took a sip. (To Carl and Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita with best wishes for the future.)

"Well, it looks like we're all going to a Mexican wedding!" Murdoch exclaimed, slapping his knee.

"Ah, yah, about that," Johnny intoned. Three sets of eyes focused on him. "Carl told me he doesn't have the money right now for a shindig like that. I was thinin' . . . that . . .maybe . . ."

"Let 'er buck Johnny." Scott encouraged.

Johnny took a deep breath. "I was thinkin' we could give them a wedding right here at the ranch." Teresa jumped up, clasped her hands together and squealed.

"Can we Murdoch? Can we?" She cried. Murdoch looked up at Johnny and turned to look at Scott.

Smiling, he replied, "Why not!" Teresa ran to him, threw her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "What's all involved in a so called Mexican wedding?"

Johnny dropped down to sit cross-legged on the floor. "Well, it's a pretty big deal. Lots of people; almost everyone in the village comes. Food, music, decorations, dancing, lots of drinking, stuff like that."

"That's the reception thought right? What about the actual wedding ceremony?" Scott asked, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his thighs.

"There are actually two receptions, dear brother. The main one, the one for all the people, is like I said with the music and drinking and all. It lasts until sunup. Then there's the after party for whoever is left. It's customary to roast a pig and serve shredded pork in tamales or tacos. The main reception serves beef, rice, beans, tortillas and then, of course, Pastel de Almondra – almond cake. Drinks would be beer, tequila, whisky, probably punch for the ladies and kids." Johnny paused and took a sip of brandy. "As for the wedding itself, it is a very solemn Catholic occasion. It must be performed by a priest in the presence of a statue of the Virgin Mary or the Mother of Guadeloupe. The bride's whole family gives her away and the los novios, major hombre y dama de honor – the bride, groom, best man and maid of honor - all kneel for the entire rite. The bride's madrinas and padrinos – I mean Godparents – present the couple with a prayer book and a rosary. After the vows a lazo is placed around the couple and the groom presents the las arras to the bride. The couple is presented to the guests by the mejor hombre – best man - and the partying begins."

"What is put around the couple?" Scott asked.

"Lazo. It's usually a length of wide white ribbon that is draped into a figure eight around the shoulders of the bride and groom. Supposed to mean they are now bound together for life."

"And what the other thing you said?" Asked Murdoch.

"What other . . . oh las arras? The priest blesses thirteen gold coins, one each for Jesus and the twelve apostles. Then the groom pours them into the bride's hands and then she pours them into a fancy box or container. This is meant as a symbol of the man's ability to provide for his wife and family, and the woman's trust in him to do so. It is also a promise made by the groom that "what's mine is yours."

"Oh, it just all sounds so wonderful!" Teresa cried, her eyes sparkling. The men could just see the wheels turning in her head.

"I didn't say anything to Carl. It's gonna get kinda expensive. I didn't know if you wanted to do it. It could be presented as their wedding gift from us." Johnny explained.

Murdoch finished his brandy. Now all eyes in the room were on him. His forehead furrowed, his lips frowned, his fingers drummed on the arm of the chair. Suddenly he looked up, smiled widely and slapped his knee again. "Why not! We always give a big party in the fall for harvest. This could be that party, with – of course – some changes. I say first thing in the morning we get Carl and . . ." He looked over at Scott.

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita". He sighed.

" . . .in here and let them know and then divide up the chores and see what we can come up with."

"One other thing, Pa. In Mexico a wedding means that every relative that can ride, walk or crawl will be there. I'm sure at the very least her parents will come up. We might have to open up the annex."

"Well, we'll just add that to the list.

When Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita arrived the next morning, she was surprised to see Carl sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee with Johnny and Murdoch. Carl stood and, taking her hand, led her to the chair next to his. It was then that Murdoch told them of their plan, if it would be acceptable. The look on Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's face said it all. She threw her arms around Carl's neck exclaiming, "Que feliz estoy. Ahora no tenemos que esperar!" Murdoch looked at Johnny.

"I am so happy. Now we don't have to wait."

Johnny pulled the calendar off the kitchen wall and laid it on the table. "What say a month from this Saturday?" Scott and Teresa had walked into the room while the others were talking. Everyone glanced at everyone else.

"It's set then," Murdoch commanded. "A month from this coming Saturday. That will make it September 20th. Now let's let Carl get back to work and let . . ."

"Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita". Scott said, exasperated that his father and brother could not take the time to learn her name.

". . . make breakfast and then we'll sit down and make those lists. I will take the bride into town this afternoon and she can wire her parents."

With everyone so excited about the upcoming event, each easily agreed to what Murdoch put on their list. Johnny was responsible for asking the priest, hiring the musicians, going into town to order the beer, whisky and tequila, and taking Carl in for a new set of clothes. Scott was going to ensure the gold coins and box were ready, build an arbor with an altar underneath, rope off an area where guests could park their buggies and horses, and slaughter a steer and prepare it for the spit. Teresa was responsible for the ribbon for the lazo, flowers, preparing the annex for guests, and the decorations. Murdoch agreed to send the invitations, order the pig, ensure there were enough tables and chairs, and – most importantly – pay for the whole thing!

Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita telegraphed her parents and received a reply a couple days later. Her mother, father, sister, two aunts and her mother's parents were coming and should arrive September 17th. Carl's parents were both dead and he hadn't seen his brother in years. He thought him to be somewhere in Montana or Idaho but didn't know for sure so Johnny offered his family to him, for which Carl was very grateful.

The following Saturday, Johnny took Carl into town and bought him a new suit, shoes, shirt and bolo tie. He stopped at the saloon where the two men had an icy cold beer and where Johnny ordered the tequila, the whisky and the beer for the reception. Stopping at the livery Johnny talked to Dan, one of the musicians that belonged to a small group that played for a lot of the local dances and got him onboard. On their way back to the ranch, they took a side trip to the mission and talked to Father Bromfield who happily agreed to perform the ceremony. Johnny was rather proud of himself. He was the first one to complete his list. Now he could just sit back and watch the others working on theirs. Yah, right!

Scott built a beautiful arched arbor complete with a riser for the bridal party to kneel upon. Scrounging around in the attic, he found a green velvet bench-style cushion from their old couch that was in pristine condition – at least on one side – and that would just fit the riser. He also found an old library table that would work perfectly as an altar, it just needed to be cleaned up and painted, and a small but rather ornate carved jewelry box for the coins. An easy one day job. The next afternoon he drove into town and got the coins. Back at the ranch, Scott carefully surveyed the land closest to the house and decided on where the rigs and horses would be parked. All he had left was to butcher the steer and the pig and he had already talked to the hands who gladly volunteered their help for the day before the reception. He felt good seeing that within a couple days his list, too, would be complete.

Teresa was beside herself, flitting from one thing to another. It was too soon to clean the annex as it would get dusty again and she'd have to start all over. She went into town and ordered the rice and beans and bought the ribbon for the lazo and would stitch the ends together one evening after supper. While there, she found some items she could use to decorate and tore apart the upstairs closet where decorations from past parties were stored. She would have to leave gathering flowers to the day before or even the morning of the wedding. She was having a new dress made with the final fitting September 12th.

Murdoch secluded himself in the den for two days and – other than to come out for meals – wrote out the invitations. To simplify things, he merely put the groom's last name and the bride's last name. He reasoned if he would have to pen her whole name he won't live enough to get them done. Teresa took them to town and posted them. One afternoon he rode out to the west storage building to make sure there were enough tables and chairs and then rode over to the Wilcox farm and ordered the pig. Receipts started coming in from everywhere. He didn't even want to know how much money was being spent. He would deal with that later and so tossed all the slips and snippets of paper in the top desk drawer.

On the following Sunday morning, he asked Johnny to come up to the attic with him and carry something down. Johnny followed his father as he walked over to a pile of old lampshades and pillows and pushed them aside to reveal a large but worn leather trunk. Kneeling down almost reverently in front of the container, he ran his hand slowly over its top in a caress. Finally, he lifted the heavy lid and locked the hinges. Johnny stood slightly behind him and to the side to watch over his shoulder. Murdoch moved aside a few parcels wrapped in white paper and tied in ribbon. At the bottom of the trunk lay an oblong object covered with an old quilt. The object was large, just barely fitting in the box in length. Murdoch rose and stepped to the side. "Johnny, can you lift it out please. And be very, very careful." Johnny bent over the edge of the trunk and placed one hand beneath either end of the object. It was very heavy. With effort, he hoisted it over the edge of the container and laid it gently on the floor.

Murdoch knelt next to the item and pulled the strings that held the quilt in place. Slowly and with extreme care, he folded back the quilt to reveal an exquisite statue of the Mother of Guadalupe. It had been handmade and hand painted in Mexico, he explained, and had been a wedding present to Johnny's mother. Johnny knelt on the other side of the statue and tenderly ran his hand down the virgin's robe. The statue's eyes seemed to be looking right at him. "It's so beautiful," he whispered. Trying to choke back the lump forming in his throat he said, "this was my ma's?" Murdoch nodded and put one hand over his son's.

"She saw it in a shop window the day before we were married and so I bought it for her as a wedding gift. We were so afraid it would break in the back of the wagon as we brought it home but it didn't. I had that niche in the library built especially to display it. It stood there until just a couple years ago. I don't know why I finally packed it away but I did. I think this would make a fine addition to the altar for the wedding, that's if you agree of course. What do you think?" Johnny, a tear slipping down his cheek, merely nodded. "There are a few other things in that trunk that belonged to your mother too. I guess you have the right to go through them; to know what's there." Johnny glanced sideways at the small pile of items. "Why don't I leave you up here alone. If you want to look through them, fine. If not, that's fine too. I would understand. Take all the time you need." Murdoch stood and walked towards the attic door, pausing with his hand on the knob. "Oh, and son, don't try to bring the statue down by yourself. When you're ready, I'll have Scott help you." That said, Murdoch left the attic and closed the door softly behind himself.

Johnny sat there a while. He wasn't too sure if he wanted to look through his mother's belonging or not. He finally decided that, someday, he would but not now. He crawled back to the side of the trunk and started packing away the bundles. As he lifted a small one, a beautifully carved wooden rosary fell out and onto the floor. He picked it up and was about to stick it back under the wrapping but, at the last minute, slipped it into his shirt pocket. Putting the lid down, he left the attic to find Scott. Johnny and Scott carried the heavy icon downstairs and into the library with the intention of storing it there until it was needed. Entering the room, however, they found the plant which had always sat in the niche moved away. Johnny looked into his brother's eyes. Seeing agreement, they carefully placed the statue back where it truly belonged. "She's so beautiful," Scott whispered, almost reverently. "I'm glad Murdoch felt comfortable enough to unpack it. It would be a shame to leave something this grand in a dusty old attic." Johnny's eyes rimmed with tears as he looked at the life-like features of the virgin's face. Scott squeezed his brother's shoulder and quietly left the room. Johnny stood there a long time, arms wrapped around himself, and just gazed at the lady in the star-studded robes.

When Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's relatives arrived, Johnny drove in the surrey and Scott followed with the carriage in order to pick them all up and bring them back to the ranch. As expected, they were all talking at once and all in Spanish. Johnny smiled. Yah, this was how it was in Mexico when the family got together. It was a good thing he was fluent in the language so he could catch at least the gist of all the different conversations taking place at the same time. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita and Carl were waiting on the patio when the vehicles pulled up, Helping the folks debark, the women immediately ran over to Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita with outstretched arms and soon there was a conglomeration of six women all talking and hugging and crying. The men walked over to Carl and shook his hand. Johnny sauntered over to join them just in case his interpretations were needed.

Their Mexican guests, along with Juan Carlos, were all invited for supper that night. The women had all gathered in the kitchen during the late afternoon and were scurrying about helping Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita prepare the meal. The men had gathered in the parlor sipping bourbon. When Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita came in to announced that supper was ready, Murdoch asked her to bring the ladies into the parlor and to make introductions all around before they sat down to eat. When everyone was accounted for and seated, Murdoch, Teresa and his sons stood in front of the fireplace. It was Johnny's job to interpret.

"I want to welcome all of you to Lancer. We are very pleased you could come for the wedding. My name is Murdoch Lancer, this is my eldest son Scott, my youngest son Johnny and my ward Teresa O'Brien."

Seven pair of eyes shifted from Murdoch's face to Johnny's. "Quiero dar la bienvenida a todos ustedes para Lancer. Estamos muy contentos de que podría venir a la boda. Mi nombre es lancer de murdoch, este es mi hijo mayor Scott, mi hijo Johnny y mi pupilo Teresa O'Brien."

The eyes turned back to Murdoch. "I would like to have Miss Lopez introduce you all before we go in to supper."

Everyone again shifted their attention to the youngest Lancer. "Me gustaría que se pierda López presentará todos antes de que nos adentremos en a la cena." They nodded to one another and smiled.

Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita indicated with her open hand who she was introducing as she went along. ""Senors and Senorita, Esta es mi madre Alfreida Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez y mi padre Antonio Alfredo Adolfo Anselmo Alonso Alejandro Aldo Lopez." The couple nodded at the group before the hearth who smiled and nodded back.

"Esta es mi hermanar Evita Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Lopez." As beautiful as her sibling, Johnny greeted her with a bright smile.

"Estos son mis tías, las hermanas de mi madre Anita Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Ramirez and Alita Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Sanchez." Scott nodded and offered his usual tight-lipped smile.

"Y estos son los padres de mi madre, mis abuelos Benita Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita Fernandez y Edwardo Carlo Leonardo Marco Richardo Pepardo Vincardo Fernandez."

Johnny turned to his brother and whispered. "I'll bet you twenty dollars even you can't repeat all them names!" Scott grinned and indicated with the spin of his index finger that Johnny should turn back around and pay attention.

Murdoch turned to Johnny. "Oh now wait a minute, you don't expect me to remember all those names do you?"

"Just their relation to Miss Lopez will suffice."

He nodded his head slightly to indicate which person he was introducing. "Her mother, her father, her sister, her two aunts – sisters of her mother, and her grandparents – parents of her mother."

Murdoch gave his best smile and extended one arm, hand up, palm open, and waved toward the dining room. The table was laden with Mexican food. He later learned that each lady had prepared her best dish. After they were all seated, Scott and Johnny each took one side of the table and served the wine. Returning to their chairs, Murdoch stood and lifted his glass in salute. "To the happy couple. May they write their blessings in stone and their sorrows in sand." He looked at Johnny, as did all the others.

"A la pareja feliz. Pueden escribir sus bendiciones en piedra y sus penas en la arena." All their guests smiled at one another, lifted their glasses, clinked them with the person sitting on either side, and then raised all the goblets toward the center of the table. Everyone took a sip, put their glass down then clapped. The food disappeared quickly and poor Johnny only got two helpings. Still hungry he was wishing for dessert and was not disappointed. After the ladies cleared the table, they returned from the kitchen, each holding a plate or bowl. There was sopapillas, sweet Mexican corn cake, churros, flan, Pastel Galletas, sweet rice, and camotes al horno. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita followed behind with two large pots of Café de Olla. When everyone had their fill – or more than their fill, in Johnny's case, they disbanded. Women to the kitchen to put away leftovers and wash dishes; men to the parlor for a brandy and then out to the patio to smoke cigars.

Two days before the wedding, the Lancer ranch became a hub of activity. The pig had been delivered and was penned next to the chicken coop, the steer had been chosen and waited in the corral, Teresa along with Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's sister and aunts washed down tables, wiped off chairs and began hanging decorations. Scott and a couple hands moved the archway into place so he could attach the kneeler and position the now freshly painted library table behind it. They then rigged up the two spits, a large one for the beef and a smaller one for the pork. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's father and grandfather had offered to help the men butcher the animals, which would be done tomorrow. The kegs of beer where in the shade of the barn to keep them cool and the bottles of tequila and whisky sat in a wooden crate next to them. Ice had been brought from the ice house, placed around the kegs, covered with layer upon layer of straw and then wrapped in a canvas tarp.

Everyone, except Johnny, stayed as far away from the kitchen as they could get. Seven women were in there trying to share the space and clucking like hens whose coop had been invaded by a fox. Johnny's excuse was that he needed to translate until it was pointed out to him that all the ladies spoke Spanish except Teresa and Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita could translate for her. Nonetheless, he found ways of sneaking in to lick spoons, taste sauces, steal cookies and get his share of hugs from all the mamacitas. The amount of time he had spent there was obvious by the redden area on one cheek where all the older ladies had affectionately pinched him. Supper for the men that night consisted of sandwiches and potato salad served in the den.

There seemed to be only one problem. Scott. He had expressed his anxiety to numerous people all day, especially Murdoch. He was worried that the Mother of Guadeloupe statue would get damaged and that, somehow it would be his fault. Even though Murdoch had assured him at least a dozen times that everything would be fine, he still paced and fidgeted. A total change in character for him. Would the table be strong enough to hold it? Would someone bump into it and knock it over? Would the statue get dropped while the men were moving it from the house outside? Would the paint get damaged by the sun? After being shadowed by his eldest son for the vast majority of the afternoon with these same questions being asked for the umpteenth time, Murdoch finally placed one hand on each of Scott's shoulders and steered him toward the arbor. He studied the area for a moment and then suggested that the statue be placed between the kneeler and the altar. That way it would be protected from four sides and, as Teresa draped the arbor in yards of satin the sun would almost totally be blocked out. Murdoch told Scott that he and the men could put the statue back in the house before the receptions began to insure its safety even further. Scott relaxed just a fraction. Murdoch knew his son wasn't going to get any sleep tonight.

Everyone was up very early the morning of September twentieth. The sun shone brightly and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The aroma of roasting beef surrounded the entire area. Teresa had skipped breakfast and rode up to the high meadow to pick flowers. Roses from the garden had already been cut and stood in a large vase of water on the back counter. On the other side of the kitchen the almond five tiered wedding cake towered above all else. Scott and the men had already moved the statue to its place by the altar, and as the other men went about their other chores, Scott whispered a silent prayer that nothing would happen to it. The musicians had arrived about an hour past, set up their stage and were currently tuning their instruments. Father Bromfield was due to arrive in about an hour. Teresa had returned with armloads of wildflowers which she plopped into a pail of water on the kitchen table. She now stood gathering handfuls into bouquets for the bride and her sister, the maid of honor. She tied them with narrow white satin ribbon that streamed down to her knees. Taking down a seldom used crystal vase, she made an arrangement for the altar. Picking up one rose bud at a time, Teresa stripped the thorns and broke off the stems, leaving a couple inches to be pinned onto the suit lapels of the groom, the best man, the father and the grandfather. She then tied together little nosegays for the mother of the bride and the grandmother. Once satisfied, she dashed upstairs to take a bath, wash her hair and get dressed. She knew if her two brothers beat her to the tub she would be out of luck.

Murdoch, who had already bathed, shaved, washed and styled his hair, took a long walk around the entire area to insure that everything – to his critical eye – was up to par. He then disappeared upstairs to put on his best suit and boots. He would be the official greeter at the front gate and he knew some of the guests would be arriving very soon. Scott strung some rope from tree to tree in the area where the buggies and horses were to be parked. Taking one last worried look at the statue as he passed, he entered the house and bounded up the stairs. Thankfully, Teresa was just coming out of the water closet. Having bathed and washed his hair the night before, all he really needed to do was shave and dress. He hadn't seen Johnny all morning and hoped that his little brother realized what time it was and that he needed to get a move on. Scott was just wiping the remaining lather from his face when he heard Johnny bounding up the steps and run into his room. Within seconds, he heard his brother's boots being dropped to the floor and seconds later Johnny ran into the water closet and began to fill the tub. Scott gave him a stern look and told him he better hurry up. Not waiting for the tub to fill, Johnny whipped off his clothes, jumped in and began washing. He could be quick when he had to be and within ten minutes had washed his hair, scrubbed his body and was drying off. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he picked up Scott's razor, glancing around nervously knowing his brother would throw a fit if he knew, and rapidly shaved.

Holding the towel with one hand, he sprinted across the hall to his room. He tugged on clean underwear and socks, wiggled into his sueded leather pants leaving them open at the waist in order to tuck in his shirt. He quickly buttoned the tiny pearl buttons running down the center of the white pleated shirt with black embroidery around the standup collar. Stuffing the ends into his pants, he quickly fastened them then dropped his bolo tie over his head and around his neck. Johnny hopped on one foot and then the other to pull on his dress boots then grabbed the suede bolero-style jacket as he ran out of the room, shrugging into it as he descended the stairs. His father was just walking out the front door and from his upstairs bedroom window, he had seen the first carriage of guests coming down the long drive. Scott stood across the road and waved the rigs into the designated parking lot. Teresa was hurriedly placing the vase of flowers on the altar and then ran over to Johnny with the rose buds and some pins. She told him it was his job, as best man, to ensure the men received them and had pinned them into place on the left shoulder. Father Bromfield had arrived and stood in his best vestments, bible in hand, near the front row of chairs nodding and smiling at the arriving guests which, if everyone came, would number somewhere in the two hundreds.

As Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita had stayed in the annex with her sister last night in order that she wouldn't be seen until the time of the ceremony, Carl had stayed in the guest house. Johnny trotted down the path and entered to find Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's father and grandfather helping him dress. Johnny passed out the rose buds as he studied his friends face. Carl was pale and trembling slightly. Johnny was worried that he might faint. Making him sit down and getting him a glass of water, Johnny did his best to assure his friend that everything would be fine. Planning to wait until after the ceremony to present his gift to the groom, Johnny decided that it might help Carl calm down if he gave it to him now. Pulling an envelope out of his jacket pocket, he handed it to his friend. Carl tried to refuse it, saying the wedding and reception was more than enough, Johnny smiled and closed the man's fingers around it. He told Carl to open it. Carl pulled out a small card and opened it to read what was written inside. Johnny thought his friend was going to cry and put his hand on Carl's shoulder to give it a reassuring squeeze. Last week Johnny had taken out the section map of his third of the ranch and studied it. After deciding on a site, he had ridden out and looked it over. It would be perfect. He wanted to give the newlyweds an acre of his land on which to build a fine house. Johnny fretted over telling his father for days until he finally took a deep breath and approached Murdoch. He was taken totally by surprise when his father told him it was a splendid idea and gave his youngest son his blessing.

"What did Pa give you – a week off?" Carl nodded. "Well if you're up and around by then . . .ah, no pun intended . . ." Johnny snickered and Carl blushed. "I'll show you and your new bride the piece I got planned out and if you like it we can go into town and get it recorded. Now, sir, it's time to let 'er buck!" Johnny pulled Carl to his feet, put an arm around his friend's shoulder and walked him up the path and to the front of the house. All the chairs had been filled and quite a few guests were standing around the edge of the well-wishers. Father Bromfield stood behind the altar, prayer book open and ready to go. Johnny dropped his arm and shook Carl's hand. Side-by-side they walked up the pathway from the front door to just shy of the arbor. Turning in profile with Carl on his left, they both watched the front door of the house. The women had escorted Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita from the annex in through the back door. Following her down the hallway to the foyer, they took their places. Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita father stood on the porch on one side of the door and her grandfather stood on the other. When the door opened, each man extended his arm to the bride.

Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita walked out first. She wore a long white dress, quite simple in style with a sheer but heavily embroidered bolero style jacket over the gown's strapless top. A white lace mantilla held in place by a pearl encrusted comb draped over her shoulders and into a long train behind her. She was followed by her sister dressed in red embroidered silk, then her mother walking alongside her grandmother, and then her aunts. Johnny heard Carl gasp at the sight of her and then break into a bright smile. Johnny nodded to the musicians who quietly played a waltz as Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita was escorted to Carl's side, her hand placed in his by her father. Her sister stood just off of Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's left elbow and Johnny just off of Carl's right one. They all watched the priest and waited for his signal to kneel, at which time the music stopped and the guests became quiet.

The ceremony was simple but held with extreme reverence. After the vows were said, Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's aunts came forward and wound the lazo around the couple. Then Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita's grandparents came forward and presented the couple with a new bible bound in heavily tooled brown leather and a large carved wooden rosary to hang on the wall of their first home. It reminded Johnny of his mother's rosary which he carried in his shirt pocket. After the four of them stood, the priest handed Carl the box with the gold coins. As Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita held out her hands he carefully poured them into the palms. Holding them while Father Bromfield blessed them, Carl moved the ornate box under her hands and she let them slip through her fingers back inside. Carl closed the box and handed it back to the priest who placed it on the altar along with the rosary and bible then gave the final blessing. The couple turned to face their guests. It was the best man's job to introduce the newly married couple for the first time.

Johnny took a step forward, the eyes of all the guests upon him. His palms began to sweat. He tugged nervously on the hem of his jacket with both hands before clearing his throat. "Ladies and Gentlemen, family of the bride and friends of the groom, it is my honor to introduce you to Chiquita Marquita Pappita Lolita Rosita Juanita and Carl David Henry Jacob Louis Maurice who from this day forward will be known as Mr. & Mrs. Jones. The guests all stood and applauded. Johnny spied Scott standing by the barn, clapping, smiling and giving his little brother a thumb's up – he had finally remembered.