PREVIOUS STORIES - #1 - The South Wind
SPOILERS Youll find some minor hints from Penance and LadyKillers in the story. The story stands alone just fine however there is some mention of events from The South Wind. After all, thats why they call it a series.
WRITERS NOTE References made to the history of Texas and its Rangers are accurate, as too is the timeline set out for the Author Jules Verne. My thanks again to Antoinette for her beta skills and guidance.
Five riders crested the ridge and headed cautiously down the face of the small hill. At the bottom they crossed the stream and reigned in their horses several hundred feet from the riverbed. Four tired men dismounted in the shade of a big Ponderosa Pine
"Thisll do for the night," Buck Wilmington smiled at Tanner. "Well make Ridge City by tomorrow afternoon."
"Indeed," quipped Standish, as he stretched painfully. After a moment to collect himself, he set about gathering the canteens.
"At least I will have the comforts of a feather bed for a day or two before our return journey."
It was customary for Ezra to complain about normal things. And when it came to the constant grumbling, it was also just as customary for the other peacekeepers not to pay much attention. Right now however, the gamblers injuries were still healing, and Nathan was concerned for his patient.
"You all right Ezra?"
Ezra waved Jackson off and tried not to reminisce about that last attempt on the bank. The fortunate part was he still didnt remember the horse crushing his body. The unfortunate part was, he had become accustomed to the aches and pains of the past four months. Two days on a horse wasnt helping matters any, but he just couldnt bear the indignity of a stage ride.
"Quite ... Mr. Jackson. I just need a few minutes for my joints to reacquaint themselves with the walking position."
Nathan looked at Standish intently and was slightly reassured by a faint smile. The gambler was attempting to stay focused on the task at hand, and at this point he would endue anything just to get rid of their prisoner. He looked up at Jimmy Dayton with disgust and headed for the little stream to replenish their water supply.
"Lets get you down," Jackson indicated to the prisoner as he untied the mans restraints from the saddle horn and lowered him to the ground. Nathan escorted the man to the big ponderosa and tied the shackles to ropes before securing the man to the tree.
"Ill be back ta check on your arm in a minute," said the healer.
The man gruffly pulled away from Jackson and attempted to make himself comfortable. He was none too happy with anything that was happening to him, and now he had to endure the attentions of the dark healer again.
Well, pose its betta than dyin! his fevered mind had told himself as Nathan had removed the bullet from his arm almost three weeks ago. The infection had already set in by that time, but the healer had managed to stop it in time to save the mans life. Not that it mattered much anyway. These men were taking him to the train station in Ridge City. He knew theyd be handing him over to some rangers out of Fort Worth, and he knew the laws in Texas would see him hang for his crimes.
"Ill see if I can rustle us up some supper," the tracker announced as he picked up his rifle and some snares.
"Well get the fire goin," the ladys man called after him. Vin just waved over his shoulder as he made his way up the embankment.
Nathan and Buck went about setting up camp. The healer freed the horses from their saddles and gear, while Wilmington cleared an area for the fire and collected some kindling to get it going. Ezra returned a short while later and set the canteens near the fire ring. He appeared a little more comfortable than he had twenty minutes ago. He looked at Wilmington and smirked.
"Really Mr. Wilmington, you shouldnt attempt to deceive your associates. We are all well aware that you are not as capable an outdoorsman as our Mr. T Tadell. Perhaps I could lend you some valuable assistance."
Mr. Tadell? Oh, yeah, Right! Buck remembered the little deception they had been using to hide Vins name from their prisoner. The last thing they needed was for the Texas Rangers to get word of Tanners true identity and try to bag themselves two prisoners instead of just one. The judge was still working to clear the Tanner name, but so far hed only succeeded in stopping the production of new posters.
Of course, the smart thing to do would have been to leave the tracker back in Four Corners, but Vin had insisted that he be allowed to go along. He was still having a hard time readjusting to town, after spending most of June and all of July in the mountains. The manhunt for Dayton and his victim had cleared a few cobwebs, but it wasnt enough.
"Cant let ma name stop me from doin ma job" he had told Chris. Naturally it had been Standish who had suggested that they simply change the offending name for a short while. Vin didnt like hiding much, but it was the only way Larabee would let him go along.
Buck was a little annoyed with the wise-ass insinuation the gambler was leaning towards. He looked up from the small mound of twig that he had been blowing on in an attempt to draw out any flame that might be present. His only reward thus far, was a small swirl of smoke that rose from the pile.
"Be my guest Ezra " He got to his feet and waved the path clear for the Standish. "If you figure you can do any betta," he quipped in the mans face as he headed over towards the horses.
The gambler smiled to himself, as he watched Buck gather up their mounts and head towards the stream. He carefully knelt beside the kindling and began to rearrange the pile of twigs.
Nathan had been busy arranging the saddles and bedrolls around the fire pit. He too had a smirk on his face.
"You shouldnt tease a man like that Ezra," he mused out loud. "One of these days he aint just gonna walk away."
Ezra peered at the healer over the steadily growing smoke coming from the twigs.
"Mr. Jackson, sir Whilst you have seemingly become immune to the occasional impractical nature of my obligatory merriment," he took a breath and smiled. "I have concluded that it will be some time before our Mr. Wilmington gains such worthwhile skills." The gambler blew on the pile in front of him and then added a little more kindling, as the flames became apparent.
"As there is no real harm in this endeavor, I see only mutual benefit to my continued badgering of the gullible Mr. Wilmington." He added some larger wood to the growing flames and backed up a little.
"Beside," he looked at the healer and waved his hand over the fire.
"When a perfect opportunity arrives," he smiled to himself. "One can not passed it up."
Jackson laughed out loud and shook his head. He wasnt exactly sure he understood all the words the gambler had used, but he understood the meaning.
"There are times Ezra Standish there are times." Jackson muttered as he took hold of his doctoring bag and headed back over to the prisoner.
The gamblers grin died down as he realized where Nathan was headed. He didnt see any reason to tend the prisoners injuries. The miscreant deserved to die for his crimes, why waste valuable medical knowledge and supplies. Ezra just wished he had completed the job he had started when he came across that that animal about to slay his prey.
It turned his stomach to think of that young woman, in the state he had found her. Beaten and raped repeatedly, Dayton was about to put her out of her misery when the gambler had spotted them. His first instinct had been to get rid of the knife. His shot had found the bastards arm and thankfully dislodged the knife from his grip. Dayton had fled, leaving the woman and his gear.
It took every ounce of strength the gambler possessed to get this victim back to Four Corners. Swaddling her in his own bedroll, Ezra had cuddled her in his arms and rode gently back to town. Hed had the unfortunate occasion to see what a man could do to a woman in a fit of rage. Hed even seen a rape victim before. None of those cases had prepared him for the state this poor girl was in. Never before had he been witness to such inhumane treatment of the gentler sex.
There had been little Nathan could do for the woman when Standish had brought her in. There werent a lot of physical wounds for him to heal. She had simply stared at the ceiling until her family arrived to take her home. Ezra had watched the hollow eyes as he helped move her to the covered wagon. His rage had still been building that afternoon when Vin and Josiah had hauled the fevered convict in to town. Chris had had to hold him back as they brought him to the healer to fix up.
Sometimes nothing about this justice made sense. The victim is returned home, less than half the person she was before while the perpetrator of this, the most repulsive of crimes, was nursed back to health so that he could face his accusers.
"Lets just take the bastard out back and shoot him like the dog he is," Ezra had pleaded with Chris in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. No matter how much Larabee had agreed with him, he just couldnt let the gambler do it. Larabees own version of the poker face had served him well that day.
So here they were two weeks later, escorting the man to the authorities from Texas. When the truth about this animal had come out Standish was beyond himself all over again. The wire from the judge seemed to indicate that this same man had done the same things to eleven other women throughout Texas. How many more were there that they didnt know about? Ezra had wondered.
He turned to watch the healer as he re-wrapped the mans arm. Standish smiled to himself as he admired the calm nature with which Nathan approached his work. It was beyond the gamblers understanding as to how the healer could witness the girls torment and then treat the sick villain who had caused her such pain. Jackson was indeed a scholar and a gentleman, and Standish was extremely proud to know this man and to call him friend.
Ezra shook his head and smiled again. Thats a far cry from the offish would-be aristocrat who gave second thoughts to riding with the dark man two years ago. He smiled at Jackson again as his attention moved to the returning ladys man.
Wilmington fixed a tether between the two smaller pines nearby and tied each of the horses to it. He stroked the head of his own mount before returning to the little encampment. He glanced over at Nathan and the prisoner and then back to Standish, as he made his way to the fire. He considered the gambler, as he looked at the fire he had managed to create.
"Nice little flame you got goin there Ezra," he commented as he sat down on is saddle.
Standish smiled his gratitude and tipped his hat.
Buck returned the gamblers smile then gazed intently at the fire. He watched the flames for a short while, as they slowly consumed the wood. He glanced back at the man across from him and considered the enigma that was Ezra Standish. He was still amazed by this man. Almost mesmerized on quiet evenings like this. Until two weeks ago, Wilmington had thought perhaps he might never really get to know the man beneath the veil. It was now clear that, at least some of the assumptions they had made about this man must certainly be wrong.
He had been waiting at the jail when the gambler had ridden into town carrying the listless body of Daytons latest victim. He knew the gambler was in physical pain, but hed watched in silence as Ezra refused everyones help and delivered the girl to Nathan himself. Buck had seen the gambler pace back and forth and deny himself sleep as they waited for word on the woman. Then hed seen the usually calm and reserved Ezra Standish, exploded in an uncontrolled rage as the prisoner was dragged passed him on his way to be healed. The gambler had gone so far as to take on Chris Larabee to determine to fate of their captive.
Alright, he admitted to himself. So maybe I dont really understand the man, but at least we have a few things in common. Wilmington understood the disgust and anger Standish had for their prisoner. He shared the same feelings of contempt. And perhaps Ezras attitude towards the fairer sex might be comparable to his own. Maybe they werent so different after all.
The trackers return brought the camp back to reality.
"Got a hankerin for rabbit stew anyone else?" he called out happily as he laid the butchered animal on a large rock and put some wild root down beside it.
"Ill get them potatoes from ma bag," Nathan added as he returned from seeing to the prisoners. He put down his black satchel and started unbuckling his saddlebags.
"Perhaps the evening will not be as unpleasant as I had first thought," commented Standish.
Chris Larabee sat outside the jailhouse sipping on a cup of coffee as Four Corners began to stir. He watched the townsfolk as they began their daily business, yet he didnt really see them. The cup was warm in his hands as he looked intently at the black liquid, but he didnt really see it either.
In his mind, the gunslinger was recalling all the things he had seen this town endure in the past two years. All the fights and gun battles they had seen. All the tests and confrontations they had witnessed, and even that womans murder some eleven months ago now. None of those events seemed to have affected his community, as much as Jimmy Daytons crimes had. He was glad they were finally rid of the pestilence. Happy they could at least try to move on with their lives.
Chris eyes moved from his coffee to the figure beside him.
"Mornin Josiah." The gunslinger shuffled on the bench as the big man sat beside him and sipped on his own coffee for a minute.
"Seems peaceable enough," the preacher commented as he looked around.
"Mighty nice even."
Sanchez glanced at his leader and smiled to himself. Some things never change he thought. Didnt matter what it was they were up against, they could always rely on Larabee to stare it down. No emotion ever escaped that face unless it was supposed to. Least wise, none that hed seen.
"You gonna be able to keep JD in bed taday?" Chris asked. Josiah raised his eyebrows and cocked his head at the thought.
"Well brother, Nathan did say four more days, and I always do ma best to follow the orders Im given."
Larabee smiled inside. It was the truth on most days.
"You boys remember the plan?" Buck asked as they sat on the hill outside of Ridge City.
"Not much ta remember best I can recall," replied Jackson. "Wes gonna secure Dayton with the sheriff. Ezra and Vins gonna see bout them rangers whilst you and me watch over the man."
"Thats bout it!"
Wilmington smiled at his fellow peacekeepers, as they set their horses in motion towards the large town.
Casey Wells made her way up the steps to Nathans clinic and knocked on the door softly before entering. She could see JD still asleep in Nathans big bed as she peered around the door. Slowly and quietly she closed the door, tip-toed over to the chair and sat down. She smiled as she watched the young man sleep, then bowed her head. Her feelings for JD Dunne were as confused as the images that occasionally crossed her mind when she thought about the young man now curled up in front of her.
She wiped the smile from her face as she remembered the torment he had put her through in the last year. She understood that he had a job to do. She knew that he fulfilled his commitment as best he could. But all this gunplay was causing her more grief than she knew how to handle.
First hed almost died when that that Mattie Stokes had shot him point blank in the belly late last year. Then barely six months later, hed taken those two rounds in the chest when those bandits had tried to blow up the bank. Six weeks ago Nathan had diagnosed the pneumonia, and told him, for about the hundredth time, he was doing too much again. His chest hadnt fully healed from the bullet wounds. Of course, JD had to fight the healer every step of the way. Casey looked at her young man gruffly. There are times JD Dunne oh, there are times!
As they entered city limits their shackled prisoner drew attention from the townsfolk. Ahead of them the sheriff became visible on the steps of the jailhouse. He stood and watched as the riders approached and came to stop in front of him.
"Howdy You must be the boys from Four Corners that Judge Travis wired me about."
"Thats right sheriff. Names Wilmington." He tipped his hat to the lawman as he dismounted. "You seen any Rangers yet?" he asked as he undid Daytons bindings and dragged the man from his horse.
"Horace Baxter," he tipped his hat then shook his head. "Their wire said theyd be on the noon train tommorra. You boys planning on sticking around?"
"Not that we have a choice in the matter my good man," Standish added to the conversation. "Accompanying the lawmen will be a Notary to take down my sworn testimony." He looked at the prisoner with disdain written all over his face.
"You see sir, I am the unfortunate gentleman who discovered this madman engaged in his dreadful deed."
"Youre another southern boy aint ya?" questioned the sheriff.
"Not of late sir."
"Lot of ya around these parts No matter." He shook his head and look at the prisoner. "Too bad you didnt aim your weapon someplace other than his arm," the sheriff commented as Wilmington walked the prisoner up the jailhouse steps.
"Indeed sir That very thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion."
"One of usll be around ta help in guarding Dayton?" Buck commented as he handed the man over roughly to the sheriff.
"Got m self four deputies for that. Reckon you boys can relax a while."
The sheriff looked at the four peacekeepers in turn. His eyes rested on the healer and his eyes narrowed.
"Stories didnt say nothin about you boys havin a darkie as one of ya "
"Stories?" Tanner questioned, as he suddenly became a little nervous at what Baxter had to say.
"Saw a paper outta Eagle Bend year before last. Story said seven of ya was hired by the circuit judge to watch over Four Corners and the outta territory."
"Thats right," Wilmington commented.
"Didn think you could be the same men. Report a couple a months ago said youd split up."
"Our group encountered some mis-communication for a time Sheriff, but we are back on the job as they say," Standish corrected.
"Well Id watch out for yer colored friend then. Some folks round here aint too friendly ta em much."
Nathans eyes narrowed a little, as did the trackers.
"Much obliged," Tanner tipped his hat at the man and motioned for Nathan to follow him.
"Ill catch up to ya in a bit." Wilmington nodded for Standish to accompany their friends, as he followed the sheriff into the jail.
"Do I gotta see to that bullet wound a all?" the sheriff asked as Buck unshackled the prisoner and put him in the waiting cell.
"Shoulda asked Nathan while he was here," he replied, as the sheriff closed the door and locked it.
"Oh," he turned and looked at Wilmington. "Shot im and fixed im up too eh!" he laughed to himself.
Buck looked at the sheriff and grinned.
"Nathans the colored fella you was talkin bout out there," he motioned to the door.
Sheriff Baxter looked at the ladys man. The confusion was written all over his face as he moved back to his desk. He hadnt expected a colored doctor or this mans tone when he referred, obviously defensively, to a real friend.
"It was just a friendly word of warnin Mr. Wilmington. What with the railroad and all, we got a lotta folks come through this town. A lot of em dont take kindly to the darkies."
Buck shifted his position and looked back at the sheriff. He didnt care much for this kind of talk.
Sheriff Baxter tried to lighten the mood a little.
"Dont mind em maself. Just suggestin you keep an eye on im ifn hes yer friend."
Bucks smile was small as he looked back at Dayton.
"Well if thats all sheriff," he moved for the door. "Ill be off ta find ma friends." He tipped his hat as he left the jailhouse.
"Hey there sleepy head," the young woman called as JD moaned and rolled over.
He looked up at Casey and smiled before a fit of coughing took over his body. The woman assisted him to a sitting position and rubbed his back. After several anxious minutes, the coughing subsided. She handed him a cloth to wipe his face, and moved to the small window to look out.
"Dont reckon you gotta be here to watch over me like a mother hen."
"Someones got to. You dont listen when yer told betta."
"Dont need no one lookin after me. I do just fine by ma self."
Casey Wells turned to look at her young man. Her look was as scolding as his mothers had been and JD felt himself retreat a little.
"If youd done what Nathan had told ya you wouldna ended up back ere in the first place."
The kid didnt have anything to say. He knew she was right. Casey was normally always right. Hed recovered relatively well after his second brush with death. Well enough to be on his feet when Vin came back three months ago. But Nathan had warned him to take it easy.
"Reckon you feel mighty fine right now JD. But you need ta take it easy. You need ta give yer body time to heal. It aint yer spirit thats weak its yer body. Slow down boy!" Jackson had scolded him several times.
And then when hed started to cough he hadnt said anything. It took Buck to drag him to see Nathan before he would admit that he felt poorly. And then the healer had put him in bed under a big pile of blankets. He felt silly at first, but was glad for the coverings a few days later. When the fever had set in he had felt as bad as when he was shot. Worse Maybe!
Alright!" Dunne threw he hands in the air and bowed his head. "You win."
Miss Wells lowered her head then looked at the young man as she moved back over to the bed..
"Only one around here who wins JD is you." She sat down beside him on the bed and took the cloth from him.
"Dont fight the people who care the most about ya JD." She lowered her head once again, then looked into his eyes and smiled.
John Dunne smiled back.
"Over here Buck," Jackson called to the ladys man as he rode down the street. Wilmington re-directed his horse over to the hitchin post and dismounted in front of the rooming house.
"Well gentlemen," miffed Standish as he came outside to gather his belongings from his own mount.
"Its not the Grand Hotel, but I would presume it will have to suffice for a day or two whilst we conduct our business."
"Thats right pard," Tanner slapped the gambler on the back as he followed him back inside. The trackers opinion was the same as Ezras, although his point of view was, of course, completely opposition.
Jackson shook his head and smiled as he started to follow.
"Nathan." Wilmington called.
The healer looked back at the ladys man and tilted his head a little. He could see the concern on his friends face. His own expression questioned What.
"You heard what Sheriff Baxter said about colored folk round ere?"
Nathan nodded his head. Hed heard that sort of talk, and worse, all his life. Not that he liked it much, but it didnt faze him any more.
"Best you stick with one of us while were ere. Wouldnt wanna ave ta head back to town without ya."
The healer smiled and turned to go inside the establishment.
"Yeah, Ill do that. Was kinda lookin forward ta seeing ma place again."
Wilmington smiled and followed the healer. He quickly glanced over his shoulder at the surrounding town.
"And where is it you are looking to go Mr. Jackson?" Standish questioned as he joined his friend back outside the rooming house.
"What?" the healer looked back over his shoulder as the smaller man joined him.
"Mr. Wilmington indicated that you had some errands to run and that I should keep you company since he and Mr. Tadell are going to the train station to check on arrangements for Dayton."
"Oh yeah," Nathan finally caught on. "Josiah asked me ta look for a new book, and I saw a book store down the street a ways."
"By all means." Ezra indicated to the walk and they made their way down the street.
They wandered down the block and crossed the street at the corner. Nathan pointed out the bookstore and they traversed the side street and entered the business. The storeowner eyed the pair as they browsed and seemed curious as the healer picked up a book and showed it to Ezra. He moved to join them in the corner of his store.
"May I help you sir?" he looked at the gambler and smiled.
"Well actually my good man, yes." he smiled back. "My companion here is looking for a novel for an associate of ours."
The storeowner looked a little taken aback. It was obvious he was confused by the southerners reference to Nathan as the man looking for a book.
"He can read?"
Ezra Standish looked at the man coolly as the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up.
"My good man " he started to say in a tone none too friendly.
"Its alright Ezra," the healer stopped his friend.
"Im looking for a book for a friend," he directed his attention to the owner and tried to dissolve any mounting tension.
"Josiah said he heard this man . Jules has written another book. Something about goin round the world. Says he missed the last one but thought the one he read some years back was real good."
Jackson shook his head and muttered out loud as he looked at the gambler.
"Strange idea if ya ask me. People aint got no way ta go to the moon."
Standish looked at the healer and laughed.
"Going to the moon" he repeated. His eyebrow was raised questioningly, and the laughter was clearly audible in his tone.
"That would be Monsieur Jules Verne . Sir," the storeowner clarified, but he was still talking to Standish. "A Frenchman of some considerable talent I might add. Your friend has a taste for adventure."
"Flights of fancy perhaps." The gambler was still stuck on going to the moon.
"You got this new book then?" Jackson asked, trying to overlook the fact that the shop keep was all but ignoring his presence.
The man moved to the back wall and climbed the ladder to reach the third shelf. He shuffled through the books and found two he was looking for. Retrieving them he returned to the counter where he had originally been standing. Jackson and Standish joined him.
"I have here the book your friend is looking for. It was published in America about three years ago. " He placed Around the World in Eighty Days in front of Ezra.
Standish looked at the book and then at the man in front of him. Although highly amused by the title of the book, his concentration was still on the fact that the storeowner was still ignoring Jackson completely. Without breaking eye contact, the gambler slid the book over to Nathan.
The storeowners expression was clear as he continued. He placed the second book closer to the healer.
"This book was released in Europe in 1870."
Ezras gaze moved to the second book and he snickered out loud as he tapped Jackson on the shoulder.
"If nothing else Mr. Jackson, my associates keep me smiling. First going to the moon and then around the world." He pointed to the second book.
"Now to the bottom of the ocean." He looked back at the owner and smiled as he shook his head.
"How you remain in business sir is beyond me."
Amused by neither the comments, nor the customers, the man tried to rid himself of both as quickly as possible.
"Will you be taking the material?" the man directed his question to Nathan for the first time.
"Well," he looked at Standish. "Josiah only gave me enough money for one book. "Dont suppose youd be willin ta .."
Now this was a question Ezra Standish would normally not have considered. He looked at his friend and then back at the shopkeeper. He could see the disdain in the mans eyes as he looked at Nathan. The gambler briefly considered that this might have been himself a couple of years ago. Thanking the powers to be for his enlightenment, Ezra responded to the query.
"Well of course Mr. Jackson. Anything for my friends."
Patting the healer on the back once again, Standish pulled out the money roll from his vest pocket and paid the shopkeeper. The man handed the southerner a small amount of change with one hand and the two books to Nathan with the other.
"Good day gentlemen."
Nathan smiled and Ezra tipped his hat as they departed the store. The gambler took hold of Nathans arm, as they were about to cross the street.
"I trust I can rely on you to remind Mr. Sanchez of the amount of which he is in my debt."
Nathan smiled again and shook his head. He should have known the offer of money was too good to be true, but he appreciated his companions show of friendship in the face of bigotry.
"Mr. Larabee," the telegraph operator called to Chris as he sat in front of the restaurant reading a book. The gunslinger looked up at the young man.
"Mr. Larabee," he handed the man a piece of paper, "Telegram from Mr. Wilmington sir."
Chris nodded his thank you and the young man headed back down the street. The gunslinger opened the paper, read the message from his oldest friend, and set it on the table.
"Another wire from the judge?" Josiah questioned as he approached. Hed seen Walt Simpson heading towards his leader and decided hed better check.
"Just Buck," Larabee replied as he went back to his book. "Sayin that they got to Ridge City alright and would be back in four or five days."
"Thats about what we figured."
Josiah smiled to himself and tipped his hat at the gunslinger as he turned to return to the jailhouse. He knew better than to try and keep a conversation going when Chris wasnt in the mood.
The gunslinger adjusted himself in his chair as he tried to get comfortable again. Suddenly there was a shadow across his face and he looked up and offered a smile to his visitor.
"Good afternoon Mr. Larabee and how are things with you today."
Chris looked at the woman intently. He tried to read her body language but couldnt understand the dialect she was speaking. He gave up after several long seconds.
Mrs. Travis smiled at her favorite blond and sat in the chair across from him.
"Nothing is wrong Chris. I just ..," she lowered her head. "I was just wondering . I wondered "
For some strange reason Mary felt like a schoolgirl. She knew what she wanted to ask this man, but the words just wouldnt come out of her mouth.
Larabee could sense her disposition. He set his book on the table between them and reached over to lift her chin. He spoke as their eyes met.
One look into his beautiful hazel eyes and the words flowed.
"I was wondering if you would care to join Billy and I for some supper this evening. As its Saturday, I am preparing a chicken Its a little too large for just the two of us and since youve been in town a lot of late. I though perhaps you would care for a home cooked meal. Of course, if youd prefer to eat at the restaurant Id understand .."
"That would be nice."
She hadnt realized that she could say so many words with so little air in her lungs, but it was his short response that took her breath away. Did he just say yes, she questioned herself! Her expression was rather puzzled.
"Yes," he said again, just to make sure she had understood him.
"Well," she smiled at him as she got to her feet. "Shall we say six oclock then."
Larabee nodded his head in agreement and returned her smile.
Mary looked at the gunslinger inquisitively.
"Could you possibly . Tidy up a little?"
A scolding look crossed the gunslingers face as he looked at the woman. She tilted her head and smiled.
"See you at six Mr. Larabee," she called as she turned and walked away.
As Chris Larabee watched her walk away his expression softened. She was a sight to see whether she was coming or going. He picked up his book again and smiled. Dinner at six it is!
Sundown found the four peacekeepers in a dusty saloon at the far end of town. They had tried to enter the one closer to their sleeping quarters but found their entrance denied because of the color of Jacksons skin. Buck has caused a small skirmish before Tanner pushed him on down the street.
The tracker sat quietly on one side of the table sipping at his beer, while Wilmington and Jackson looked about the room. Ezra was busy eyeing up the card game going on in the corner when a tall, lean, well-dressed man approached the gaming table and watched the activity.
"My lord." Standish called out.
"What?" questioned the ladys man. He had been distracted by a rather pretty brunette over by the bar, and did not look at the gambler as he made his remark.
Ezra got to his feet and straightened his clothing.
"If you gentlemen would excuse me," he fluffed his collar. "I believe I have observed an old friend. I believe it would be prudent on my part, to reacquaint myself and perhaps partake in the current diversion afoot at the corner table."
The gambler smiled at his companions, tipped his hat and departed.
"Cant that man ever just say " Jackson started to say.
"Nope," interrupted Tanner. "Dont know how." He concluded his statement as he swallowed down some more beer.
Bucks attention had momentarily been diverted from the young lady at the bar. He followed Standish with his eyes and looked at the tall man at the card table.
"Did Ezra Standish just use the word friend?"
The gambler stood behind the tall, well-dressed man and smiled.
The man turned at the sound of his name and a gently smile slowly made its way to his face.
"Ezra . Is that you?" the man questioned in a familiar southerner accent a little stronger than his own.
Standish returned his old friends smile and offered his hand to the man. Slowly they shook hands and completed their greeting.
"Indeed. How long has it been my good man?"
"Oh, .." he flicked one hand in the air. "Id say at least six years maybe more. Lets see . Last I saw of you, my grandfather was having you thrown off the property, yes, I believe thats correct."
"And how is the dear old man?"
Maynards smile disappeared from his face.
"Dead Im afraid."
Ezra too lost his smile and shook his head.
"Not to worry Standish." He clapped the gambler on the shoulder and smiled again.
"Wasnt your fault. Happened last year. . " He tapped his money belt. "He left me a bit of money to console myself with though."
The two gentlemen smiled at each other as they watched a man vacate his seat at the card table. Noticing that there were now two seats open, Ezra motioned to his friend.
"Care to join me?"
Dont mind if I do."
The two men settled in for, what they hoped would be, a good game of cards. They ordered drinks and kept up the conversation intending to discover what each had been up to during their separation.
Across the room, Buck Wilmington had sidled over to the lovely lady at the bar and was making himself at home.
Nathan and Vin sat quietly at their table. Finishing up his beer, the tracker turned to Jackson.
"Im feelin a might closed in. Care for a stroll before we turn in?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
The pair glanced at Buck and Ezra as they made their way to the door. Those two were definitely more comfortable in a bigger town.
Josiah moved slowly around the healers clinic. He was trying hard not to wake the boy, but he stumbled over the chair Casey had relocated. JD sat up with a start.
"What . What!" he called.
"Its nothing son, just a clumsy old man tryin to be quiet is all."
The kid looked at Sanchez and smiled.
"Any man can be clumsy when there aint enough light ta see the side of a building right in front of ya." He lay back down on the big pile of pillows Casey had collected for him. Itll help yer breathin she had said.
"How ya feeling this mornin?" The preacher located his bible and moved to the bed.
The kid stretched and smiled as Sanchez handed him a tray of food.
"Between you and Casey watchin out fer me, I aint had much time ta ma self. Reckon Im a might interested in getting out ta this bed today."
The preacher smiled to himself. The kid had had his share of bed rest that was for sure.
"Ill be conducting service in a hour or so. Nathan did say you could get out ta bed taday," he tapped the boy on the shoulder.
"No over doin it though," he quickly added.
"I know Josiah, Casey gave me a talkin too yesterday. Reckon she aint up fer seein me in bed all the time."
Sanchez smiled at the thoughts that crossed his mind as he headed for the door.
"Well John Dunne. You might need ta think through your actions in the future." He opened the door and moved through it.
"Havin a woman in that frame of mind aint good for a mans soul."
JD considered Josiahs words for a minute as the door closed behind the big man. It took a few seconds before he caught on to his meaning. JDs expression was a combination of embarrassment and contentment as he set about eating his breakfast.
The morning sun found Vin Tanner resting on the rooming house porch with a cup of coffee in his hand. Hed been up with the sunrise and was watching intently as this new town slowly came alive. The tracker never passed up an opportunity to study the local wildlife no matter where he might be.
Today he was particularly interested in a young colored boy across the street. Tanner figured the child to be about three years older than Billy Travis, but it was obvious that he hadnt been given much opportunity to be a child. The boy had been already busy at his task when Vin arrived on the scene. Since then hed completed washing the store windows, swept down the walkway on both sides of the general store, and was now busy moving heavy stock items out in front of the business.
Vin watched as the boy tried to move a heavy barrel out to the side of the double door. Feeling the weight of the container loaded down with farming tools, the child moved to the other side and tried to push, rather than pull the load. The barrel still did not move, and boy pushed a little hard.
The container, and all its contents, went crashing to the ground, as the child put more pressure on the top of the barrel rather than the bottom. Momentarily stunned by the accident, the boy huddled into a ball as a large white man holding an equally large switch came into view and started waving his arms in the air and yelling. Tanner quickly set down his coffee and went bounding across the street and stood between the man and the boy.
"Now hold on there Twas just an accident. Aint nothin broke. Aint no reason ."
"This aint none of your concern mister," the man responded gruffly. "Best you just mind yer own business."
"Reckon its my concern ifn yas aiming to use that there switch ta harm the little fella."
"Ill do what I like on ma own property." The man stood up tall and had several inches on Vin. A vague memory passed through Vins mind at the harsh words the man spoke. The tracker stood his ground and looked the man in the eye as best he could. What he would have given for someone to stand up for him when he was young.
A few of the townsfolk had stopped to watch as the two men stared each other down. Even the boy huddled in the corner was now watching the battle of wills. Noticing the attention he had succeeding in gathering, the man became more agitated.
"If yous so concerned with the darkies well being, I reckon you can just give im a hand cleaning up this mess," the man finally said. He waved the switched in the air and stormed off back into the store.
Vin turned and watched the storeowner disappear into the back of the shop then turned his attention to the boy.
"Come ere young fella" he called.
The child looked at him with fear in his eyes and did not move.
"Come ere," Vin repeated. "Its alright, I aint gonna hurt you none."
The boy seemed a little more at easy with the trackers gentle tone and he slowly got to his feet. Looking around at the people who were staring at him, he slowly moved over to the man.
"Now," Vin patted the boy on the shoulders and smiled. "Lets see what we can do about gettin this mess cleaned up shall we."
The boy gave Tanner a small smile as the few remaining observers moved on. Together they started to clean up the debris strewn all over the boardwalk.
Billy Travis came rushing through the door to the jailhouse and jumped happily into Larabees arms. The gunslinger was surprised when the door burst open, and wasnt quite ready for the boy when he made his leap. Together the two of them went lumbering into the desk as Chris tried to cushion the boy from any bumps he might get.
"Whoa there Billy," Larabee called out. His tone was course, but his face betrayed his attempt at discipline.
"William Steven Travis," a decidedly stern mother called out from the doorway.
"How many times have I told you, you are getting too big to be jumping up at people like that. Now you apologize to Mr. Larabee right this minute."
"Its alright ."
"Im afraid I must disagree with you Mr. Larabee. It most certainly is not alright. Billy ."
If looks could kill both Chris and Billy would have been in trouble right now.
"Sorry Chris. I didnt mean ta to surprise you like that."
The gunslinger looked at the boy and then at his mother. It was obvious that she was trying to discourage him from some of his activities, and he tried to play along.
"Well perhaps you can knock next time," he smiled at the boy trying to say its okay.
"Were goin to the church service this mornin. Are ya comin Chris?"
"Billy!" Mary called out.
The younger Travis looked over at his mother in surprise. It was just a question, why did she raise her voice like that? A lot of people in town went to Josiahs Sunday morning service. Billy might avoid it if given half a chance, but his mother insisted that they go every week. The boy was about to ask a question, but was distracted as Cody Haynes walked passed outside.
"Hey Cody," Billy yelled as he jumped out of the gunslingers arms and ran out the door. "Wait up ."
Chris and Mary watched the boy leave. The smile on the gunslingers face slowly disappeared as he realized that she was looking at him intently. Theyd talked about this before. She had asked him more than a few times if he would attend a service now and then. The one word answer had always been the same, .. until .
She knew something had happened while she had been away four months ago. She knew several of the peacekeepers had been at odds with each other. Mrs. Potter had told her about the attempt on the bank and the resulting argument between the men. But that was all she knew for sure, she couldnt explain the little changes in them.
All Gloria knew was that Chris had left town before Tanner, and that he had only come back three days before Mary arrived home. He was very quiet for weeks. Kept to himself a lot, and was always riding out of town .. watching for Tanner he had said. When she asked him about what had happened, he wouldnt answer her. None of the men would even explain where the tracker had gone.
When Vin had finally come back, everything seem to go back to normal. Shed got up enough courage three Sundays later, to ask Chris about church again. He had looked at her for a long time, before closing his eyes and lowering his head. Shed almost believed he was being torn in two different directions from the look in his eyes. Then he had finally looked back at her. There was no expression on his face when he spoke the heartfelt words.
"You gotta accept my answer Mary. I cant listen to words about a God I dont believe in anymore. Maybe one day . But right now I have to be accountable to myself. You have to trust to me on this."
She hadnt asked again.
"Well," she turned to leave. "Id best be after him before he finds something else to crash into."
And with that she was gone. Larabee lowered his head and closed his eyes. He didnt know which one of them he was more disappointed with.