by Helen Adams
Author.s Note: The wonderful character of Emma Lincoln was created by Sassysouix and DorkJunkie for their story Unfounded. They have graciously granted me their permission to borrow her for this story. Thanks ladies!
Ezra Standish turned from his conversation with the towns healer, Nathan Jackson, just in time to catch the small body that came hurtling his way. Laughing gaily, he swung the excited little girl up into his arms and twirled her around a few times before setting her on her feet again. Kneeling at eye level with the brightly smiling child, he said, Whats all this about, Gingersnap?
Im a angel! she repeated, nearly dancing with delight at her news. In Mr. Josiahs play!
Well, now! Clearly our Mr. Sanchez has an eye for appropriate casting, he told her, grinning at the news. For I cannot think of a lovelier or more angelic young lady in this entire town. Can you, Mr. Jackson?
Nathan smiled down upon his friend and little just turned six-year-old Emma Lincoln. No, I sure cant. You told your Uncle Amos the news yet, darlin?
Emma shook her head energetically. Uncle Amos is makin shoes. I aint llowed in there when he does dat. Emmas uncle was a blacksmith and had taken measures to ensure the childs safety while he was working at the forge. I seed you here, so I told you instead!
Charmed by the childs bright smile, now missing one of its lower front teeth, Ezra and Nathan grinned at each other. Well, Im certainly glad that you did, Ezra replied, and Im sure your uncle will be very proud when he hears the news. So, are we to assume that Josiah is putting on a Christmas pageant?
He already knew that this was the case, as Josiah had enthusiastically outlined the plans to his fellow peacekeepers just yesterday, enlisting their aid in all manner of related chores. Chris and Vin had been drafted to help build a small stage and backdrop. Buck and JD were in charge of corralling local children to play the assorted roles in the Nativity and ladies to provide refreshments for the Christmas party afterward. Ezra and Nathan were to put together assorted props and to help Mary Travis and Gloria Potter design costumes. The play had, in fact, been their topic of discussion when Emma had interrupted. Unaware of this, the little girl launched into an enthusiastic outline of the Christmas play.
Billy Twavis is gonna be Joseph an Sawah Potter is Mawy. Billy aint too happy, cause Sawah is taller than him but Mr. Josiah says that shes gonna sit down mostly, so it dont matter.
Makes sense to me, Nathan commented when Emma shot him a questioning look, clearly checking his opinion of the situation. Who else?
Two of the other girls is angels too, and Seth Potter is a shepherd and so is Tommy Conklin. Tommy wanted to be the mean innkeeper but Mr. Josiah says we doesnt have nough kids for all the parts and he needed an extwa shepherd. Mr. Josiah said that him and Mr. Buck would be the mean innkeepers who wont let Baby Jesus folks stay the night, but Mr. Buck didn wanna, cause he says all the ladies knows hed never turn away a lady in distwess.
Nathan laughed. Ill buy that. Whatd Josiah say?
He says that maybe Mr. Chwis will like bein a mean innkeeper better than a Wise Man anyway, so Mr. Buck gets to be a Wise Man now and Mr. Chwis is the mean man, even though I dont think hes vewy mean.
What about young Mr. Dunne? Ezra asked in amusement. Doesnt he get a part?
Emma smiled. He gets to be the nice innkeeper. The one who gives Mawy and Joseph a place to stay.
A soft laugh greeted this news. JD would make a fine innkeeper but the notion of his friends taking part in a childrens Christmas play was simply too amusing. Undoubtedly the men had been unable to resist the big eyes and eager pleas of the towns few children. Chris Larabee in particular was a soft touch when it came to little ones, much as he tried to hide it, and if Billy Travis had gotten involved then it wouldnt have taken much for his resistance to melt. I must remember to congratulate our comrades on their community spirit, he mused to Nathan, the twinkle in his green eyes giving away his intention to tease the other men unmercifully.
The healer chuckled. Wonder what kinda costumes we ought to put the boys in? he asked, mischievous eyes communicating back his own desire to rib their friends.
Maybe like the shepherds, only bigger, Emma suggested, taking the question seriously. We only gots nough kids to be angels and shepherds and Mawy and Joseph. Thats why Mr. Buck and Mr. Vin and you gets to be the Wise Men, Mr. Nathan. Oh, and you gets to be the head angel, Mr. Ezwa!
She beamed up at the men, then looked confused as they both bellowed, What!
Thinking perhaps they hadnt understood, she repeated, You gets to be one of the Wise Men who bwings baby Jesus his birfday pwesents, Mr. Nathan. And Mr. Josiah says that the Lord has a sense of humo' and that hes gonna like seein Mr. Ezwa pway the angel who bwings the good news to evewybody.
Nathans mouth had started twitching as he heard her explanation, and a full-throated laugh broke free when he saw that Ezra had been reduced to a fit of spluttering speechlessness. I cant speak for the Lord, Miss Emma, but I think thats a real fine idea. Dont you?
The dark-skinned moppet nodded vigorously, her two fat pigtails bouncing like wings at the sides of her head. Slipping her small hand into Ezras, she smiled sweetly. Im glad I gets to be a angel wif you, Mr. Ezwa, and that we gets to sing a song together.
Ezra could already feel his resistance crumbling as that warm little hand clasped around his palm, but he stiffened a bit at her final words. Song?
The little head bobbed up and down again. Mr. Josiah says that hes got a pwetty Chwistmas song that we gets to sing when wes tellin about Baby Jesus comin. Mr. Josiah says dere wont be a dwy eye in the whole church!
Suddenly having a presentiment that he was going to become very tired of the words Mr. Josiah said in the near future, Ezra sighed. He planned to have a few choice words with a certain sometime-preacher as soon as he got the chance but he already knew that he was stuck. There was no way he could be the one to put out the flame of joy he saw burning in his little friends eyes. Manufacturing a smile, he stood and offered a hand to Emma. Well, then. What do you say that you, Mr. Jackson and I walk over and share the news with your Uncle Amos, then well proceed to the restaurant and obtain some manner of confection with which to commemorate our joint venture into the thespian arts.
Emma frowned and looked again to Nathan who smiled and took her free hand in his. That means hes gonna buy us each a slice of pie to celebrate our bein in the play.
I love pie! she agreed happily, swinging the hands of her two escorts as they began to make their way up the street.
The hotel dining room was mostly empty when Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner walked inside. In fact, the only soul present was the towns resident gambler, who sat alone at a corner table scowling into a half full cup of coffee.
Howdy, Ezra. You here for lunch too? Vin greeted. Helping himself to a seat, his eyes lit up at the sight of the half-finished slice of dried apple pie that sat in front of him. Wasting no time, he caught it up and took a large bite. Umm, thats good stuff, he garbled.
Grimacing, Ezra watched the tracker consume the pie, cheerfully disregarding the cutlery sitting right next to his plate in favor of cramming the dessert in by hand. Mr. Tanner, that is disgusting! Its bad enough that youre eating someone elses leftovers. Must you do it in such a barbaric fashion?
Popping the last bit of crust into his mouth, Vin licked his fingertips and grinned unrepentantly. No use lettin good food go to waste. Besides, I figure I aint gonna catch nothin from ya, you bein so clean and all.
While I thank you for noticing, I should point out that the dessert you just inhaled was not mine. Young Miss Lincoln found herself unable to finish it.
Emma? he clarified, undisturbed by the correction. Thought I just saw her headin back to her place with Nathan.
Ezra sighed and signaled the waitress to bring more coffee and a couple of fresh cups when his voracious companion filched the beverage hed had in front of him and washed down the purloined pie with it. Im surrounded by savages, he muttered. Then more loudly, That is correct. The two of them had joined me for an afternoon snack but Mr. Lincoln requested that his niece be home within the hour, so Mr. Jackson escorted her.
Nodding his thanks to the waitress as she deposited a fresh cup of hot coffee in front of him, Chris gave his order for a bowl of stew and a slice of pie, which Vin echoed, then turned his attention back to Ezra. I think shes supposed to join all the other kids at Mrs. Potters for measuring. We just saw Billy and he was headed that way, too.
Kid was grumblin about being too short, Vin added, shaking his head in clear puzzlement over the complaint. Fer what, I dont know.
A laugh broke free from Ezra, lightening the dark mood that had overtaken him with young Emmas departure. All through their afternoon treat, the little girl had prattled on about the Nativity play, her words unknowingly filling her listeners with dread. Ezra had seen the alarm in Nathans eyes at hearing that there were to be live farm animals brought in to fill the holy stable. He had felt similar dismay at her idea of using real feathers to make angel wings, already imagining Josiah trying to wheedle away possession of his beloved feather bed. Nathan had laughed and Ezra had cringed when Emma had announced that they would need to find something to make halos out of, because naturally all angels had to wear halos. Ezra could already hear himself being laughed out of town if he were to don such an accessory in public. By the time his friends had left, he had begun mentally formulating excuses to be unavailable on the night of Josiahs pageant. The very notion of standing up on a stage in some ridiculous costume crooning hymns was enough to make him shudder.
Whats funny? Vin prompted when no explanation for Ezras unexpected burst of laughter seemed forthcoming.
It seems that young Billy is a trifle upset over his make-believe spouse being somewhat taller than he is."
Surprising them both, Chris laughed. I can sympathize. I did one of those plays when I was a kid and had the same problem. Instead of Joseph and Mary, me and Alice Pritchet looked more like Jack and the Beanstalk!
The other men chuckled. Youll have to share that experience with Billy, Ezra advised with a smile. I suspect he would feel somewhat better for the knowledge. So, does this mean youve been demoted?
Confused, Chris repeated, Demoted?
From lead character to bit player. Seeing Larabees frown, he elaborated. Joseph is a considerably more substantial role than one of the overbooked hotel proprietors.
Vin and Chris exchanged a blank look. Standish, what the hell are you talking about?
I assumed that young Mr. Travis had informed you, Ezra replied in surprise. A wicked grin crept over his lips, bringing a gleam to his eyes as he realized that the other two men were as yet unaware of their upcoming performances. You gentlemen have entered into this no more voluntarily than I, have you?
Beginning to put together the pieces, Vin asked suspiciously, Are you sayin that Josiah put us in his play? Both of us?
Ezra laughed, suddenly enjoying the situation a great deal more. Indeed he has. It seems that Buck and JD volunteered to fill in the missing pieces when Josiah came up a few actors short, and-
And somehow we got involved, whether we knew it or not, Chris finished with a growl. So Josiah thinks that Vin and I are gonna be his innkeepers?
Ezras smile grew even wider as he studied the fidgety Texan seated next to him. Not exactly.
What do I gotta do? Vin demanded, tone revealing his dread of the answer.
Eyes sparkling, Ezra replied, I suggest that you drop by the General
store and see if Mrs. Potter has any myrrh in stock.
Myrrh? You mean oh, no!
Laughter bubbled brightly from the trackers amused companions. Dont have a conniption, there, pard, Chris chuckled at seeing the outraged expression on Vins face. If I remember right, the three kings dont have any lines. They just hand over the gifts when the narrator gives the signal.
Narrator, Ezra told him. A person who tells the story that the rest are enacting.
Vin snarled, Reckon ol Josiahll be keepin that job fer himself so he dont have to get dressed up like an idiot in front of the whole town.
Im told that hes playing Mr. Larabees fellow surly innkeeper, actually. Ezra ran the story quickly through his mind. Come to think of it, he could probably do both. I wouldnt say yours was such an onerous job, really. You just have to look solemn and respectful, and I believe you can trust Mr. Jackson to help the ladies come up with something attractive and appropriate for your costume, particularly as he will be wearing something similar as one of your fellow Wise Men.
Reminded that he would not be alone in his ordeal, Vin calmed a bit. Nate got drafted too, huh? You playin the third one?
Ezra sighed. Unfortunately, no. Mr. Wilmington will be your companion in charity. And before you ask, our juvenile population took all the shepherd roles so JD is playing the third and final innkeeper. The nice one, in Miss Emmas words.
Fits, Chris grunted. Eyes narrowing, he studied Ezra. So, why arent you a Wise Man? Josiah afraid youll take off with the gold instead of givin it to the baby?
At one time, Ezra would have taken offense at such a remark, but now he easily recognized it for the teasing that it was. Making a sour face at the slyly grinning man, he commented, Very droll, Mr. Larabee. I wonder that you dont take your comedic talents on the road.
Vin gave a puff of laughter. So, if you aint an innkeeper, or a Wise Man, or a shepherd, what does that leave? You are in this with the rest of us, aint ya? His tone threatened that Ezra had better reply in the affirmative.
I certainly am, he groaned. It seems that Emma and two other little girls will be joining me in spreading the good word to the populace.
The two frowned at the cryptic answer, then Vin began to grin. No way in He began laughing as Ezra gave a nod, his expression pained. Youre the ? He could not finish as he began wheezing with the force of his laughter, right hand pounding the table hard enough to make the coffee cups jump.
By now, Chris was laughing as well. Somehow I never would have pictured you wearing a halo, Ezra.
Believe me, neither would I, he agreed fervently. Though frankly, that part doesnt bother me half as much as the other.
What else? Vin asked eagerly.
Emma informs me that we are expected to sing. Ezras tone clearly conveyed the distaste he felt over that notion.
Chris frowned. Whats so bad about that? Youve sung before, havent you? In fact, I seem to recall you causing a distraction at Wickestown that time by singin.
Glaring darkly at the reminder, Ezra stiffly replied, That was entirely different. One does what one must to help save a life. Besides which, a falsetto barroom melody sung to a bunch of drunkards in a strange town is hardly the same as singing a hymn in my normal voice to people with whom I must interact on a daily basis!
So, which is the bad part, Vin asked astutely, the fact that we know ya, or the part about it bein a church song?
Ignoring the question, Ezra sat forcefully back in his chair and glared at the tabletop for a moment before saying, I would happily tell Josiah precisely where he could stick his idea if it were not for the fact that Emma is so delighted by it.
Chris snorted. Know what you mean. My first thought was to march on over to the church and rearrange Josiahs face when you told us what he wants us to do, but right behind it I imagined how let down the kids would be if we all backed out on em.
Same here, Vin confessed. Could just picture little Sarah Potters face yesterday when she asked me if I was gonna help with the play. This aint exactly what I had in mind but I reckon I can stand it, just this once.
The men traded sheepish smiles. Three tough hard-as-nails lawmen reduced to balls of mush by a bunch of little kids. It was downright embarrassing.
So, does this mean youre gonna give in and sing us all a purty song, Ez? Vin teased.
Ezra sank a bit lower in his seat. I suppose it does. Lord help me!
Josiah Sanchez sighed deeply, rubbing the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. All week long things had been going to hell. The farm animals, two goats, a donkey and a sheep that he had thought would lend such an air of realism to the play had become entirely too realistic. The goats had made a meal of the scripts Mary had printed up for him when he had thoughtlessly left them too close to the animal pen, necessitating a second printing. The donkey acted like it was on locoweed every time it caught a glimpse of Buck Wilmington, stomping and braying and fighting to get at him, which had brought on a veritable army of animal magnetism jokes from JD. And the sheep appeared to have some sort of digestive disorder, necessitating that the stage area be cleaned up and aired out repeatedly. The children had burst into giggles every time they laid eyes on the flatulent animal and Josiah had finally decided that a few quickly cobbled wooden animals and a good dose of imagination would have to suffice.
The human actors had proven to be even more troublesome at times, but unfortunately replacing them with facsimiles would not be practical. First, JD had managed to forget his one and only line We have no room, but you may make yourselves comfortable in my stable. every time his cue came. Buck had been flirting playfully with eight year old Mable Haven, one of the angels, after discovering that the little girl had a terrible crush on him, and now poor Mable was blushing and giggling every time he so much as looked her way. Chris had gotten a bit too involved in his role-playing on the second day of rehearsals and had glared and snapped out his line about having no room at the inn with such ferocity that their young Mary and Joseph had both started crying, in spite of Billy Travis normal hero-worship of Chris. Poor Chris had done more apologizing in the space of one day than he had probably done in the entire year preceding it, and his delivery of the line had become far less stern. Vin and Nathan were doing fine so far, hitting their marks and keeping any gripes to themselves, and Josiah felt sure that without them he might have just given up this whole idea.
The worst headache of all to the ex-priest was Ezra Standish. Ever since Josiah and Mrs. Potter had arrived at the first rehearsal armed with a hymnal and a robe of flowing white fabric formerly a nightgown, Josiah suspected trimmed in silver thread, Ezra had been finding ways to squirm out of whatever he was asked to do. At every opportunity that presented itself the man was offering up a new excuse not to play the role that had been assigned to him.
First had been the rather weak suggestion that someone should divorce himself from the proceedings in order to make certain the town had one law officer on duty at all times. Chris had silenced that argument with little more than a measured look and the promise that if anyone tried to disrupt the play; he would take care of that troublemaker personally. Recognizing the implied threat, Ezra had quickly declared himself most relieved and had gone back to work helping the children learn their lines.
Next, Ezra had contracted a suspiciously sudden case of laryngitis that prevented him from practicing the song Josiah had chosen for him to sing at the plays conclusion. Fortunately for the play, though perhaps not so fortunately for Ezra, Nathan had immediately confined the gambler to bed for a day with a foul-smelling poultice of goose-grease and horseradish wrapped in flannel around his throat and enough hot-water bottles to thaw the North Pole packed around his body to sweat the illness out of him. Much to Nathans satisfaction and everyone elses amusement, Ezra had made an amazingly quick recovery.
Today was the topper. Ezra had arrived at the church all smiles, with the news that he had a perfect solution for Josiahs casting dilemma, a problem the harried director had not realized he had. Nobody would be happy to see an inveterate sinner such as he playing the role of a Christmas angel, Standish had scoffed. The mere thought was almost sacrilegious! Vin Tanner on the other hand, with his honest forthright manner and almost pretty face would be ideal, and since the two of them were just about the same size, it would be no trouble for them to swap costumes.
Surely you can see the advantages of having Mr. Tanner lead the heavenly host in my stead, Ezra argued in his most reasonable and persuasive tone. Why no less an authority than Mrs. Nettie Wells has been heard to say that our friend has the face of angel, and I believe that if properly washed and groomed it is entirely possible that those extensive locks of his would lend a positively ethereal quality to his appearance.
Josiah shook his head. Ezra, knock it off. I picked you to play that part for good reasons and thats the role youre going to play!
What reasons? he demanded, irritated at having his powers of persuasion so effectively ignored. I demand to know one good reason why I should play this role instead of Vin.
Ill give you three, was the calm reply. One, youre going to deliver word to the shepherds and you know as well as I do that Vin cant read those lines.
Surely he could memorize-
Josiah held up a hand, cutting off the argument. Im sure he could, but you know how Vin is about public oration.
Ezra grimaced, conceding the point. Vin was as capable as anyone else of speaking his mind, in his own words and his own time, but he was also notoriously shy when it came to any sort of public spectacle. It was actually something of a miracle that he had given in to the notion of appearing in the play as easily as he had and Ezra knew that the promise of having no lines to speak had been a great part of that.
Two, Josiah continued calmly, a twinkle lighting his gray-blue eyes as he glanced over to the other side of the church where the man in question was pounding nails into the new stage platform. Ive heard Vin sing. Not something Id want to inflict on an unsuspecting public.
Unable to help himself, Ezra laughed. Hed been audience to the trackers peculiar warbling on the trail a time or two as well. All right, I will concede that Mr. Tanners singing voice is not precisely heaven-sent.
Knowing he had won but unable to resist pressing the point, Josiah finished, And the third and most important reason. You promised somebody special that youd do this.
Turning his head, Ezra followed the older mans nod to where Emma Lincoln stood a few feet away, her eyes brimming and her lower lip trembling. Fixing those great brown eyes upon her friend, the little girl sniffled. Don you wanna be a angel wif me no more, Mr. Ezwa?
Aw, hell, he mumbled, shooting Josiah a dark look. This was playing just plain dirty! Crouching down to face the upset child, he held out a hand. Emma stepped forward into the welcoming circle of his arm without a trace of hesitation and Ezras heart swelled. How rare and wonderful a gift the trust she placed in him was. Oh, Gingersnap, dont cry. Of course I want to be in the play with you.
Then why do you keep twyin to get out of it? she cried bluntly, surprising him for he had not realized that his wiles had been quite so obvious.
Struggling for words, he finally said, I must confess that the whole idea of doin this play scares me a little. Her wide questioning eyes prompted him to explain further. Im afraid I dont know very much about bein an angel and I believe that I might ruin it for the rest of you.
You wont, she told him with comforting certainty. Yous an awful good man. Good and kind, and you do nice things fo me and teaches me portant stuff like weadin, and I always feel safe cause I know you help pwotect evwybody.
Sounds like good angel qualifications to me, Josiah said warmly, smiling at his friend who suddenly seemed to be unable to form an answer.
Remembering an important part of what she had overheard, Emma smiled and laid her small hand against the gamblers left cheek. Dont fwet, Mr. Ezwa. You dont got long hair like Mr. Vin but yous awful pwetty too.
Startled by the compliment, Ezra laughed; blushing at the same time as he heard Josiahs delighted chortle behind him. He felt a terrible certainty that the rest of their cohorts would be hearing a repeat of this conversation all too soon. Thank you, darlin. Thats very kind of you to say.
Guess that means youll be keeping your wings after all, eh, brother? Josiah prompted, grinning hugely when Ezra gave a reluctant nod. Good. Why dont you go over and wait by the piano while I round up the girls. Time we had a little choir practice.
Ezra grimaced at the smug announcement. Josiah had him over a barrel and they both knew it. Only that morning, the proprietor of one of the local saloons had generously donated the saloon piano to this project and Josiah had surprised everyone by displaying a considerable, and previously unsuspected, talent for coaxing soft music from the jangly old instrument. Having revealed this ability, the gray-haired man had agreed to provide background music for the play, passing the position of narrator on to Mary Travis. Buck had, by now, gotten thoroughly into the spirit of things and changed his mind about playing an innkeeper, assuring them all that he could handle two roles. All he would need was a quick change of costume and removal of a false beard between characters, thus allowing Josiah to concentrate on music and direction.
With a small sigh, Ezra stood up and straightened his shoulders. He still wasnt entirely comfortable with this, but he was committed to it now and he would give the people of Four Corners a performance to be proud of. Holding out a hand to his small companion, he said, Come on, darlin. Lets show em how its done.
Ezra! JD yelped, scowling at the gambler who had unknowingly smacked him in the face with an angelic wing for the third time in as many minutes. Quit pacing, will ya? Youre gonna kill me with those things!
Ezra stopped his fretful motion, shooting JD an apologetic glance as he peeked out through the stage curtain that Josiah had set up the previous day and took in the increasingly large group of spectators filling the church pews.
Why are you so nervous anyway? JD whispered, as he ducked in front of the protrusion on his friend's back to take a peek for himself. Wow, some crowd, huh?
I believe youve just answered your own question, Ezra told him glumly, for once not even bothering to deny that he was, in fact, nervous. He knew what a poor job he was doing of disguising the fact. Trying to stretch his shoulders a bit, he grimaced and asked, Could you help adjust this contraption a bit? The buckle is poking me right in the backbone.
JD carefully took hold of the harness attached to Ezras shoulders beneath his costume and shifted it up a couple of inches. It really was a clever design that Nathan and Vin had come up with. Two leather belts had been sacrificed and sewn together, one fitting around the gamblers ribcage and the other cut in two to form straps over each shoulder. There was one wood frame and white cloth wing trimmed in goose-feathers attached to each strap. The design allowed the wings to be attached after the gambler had donned his white robe which JD privately thought looked a great deal like a ladys nightgown effectively disguising the harness. The rig was heavy and required Ezra to move very carefully, but it looked fantastic. The gambler had managed to talk his way out of wearing a halo on the argument that it would look better if the little girls, who would not be able to wear the heavy wings, would have small golden halos instead. He had, however, conceded to Mary Travis wish to put some kind of pomade in his hair. His locks were not nearly as long as Vins, but they did fall just over his collar, so by not combing the hair back into its customarily neat style and allowing Marys cosmetic to bring out his natural wave, Ezra had a considerably softer appearance than usual.
You look great, Ezra, the young man told him sincerely. And you sounded real nice at the dress rehearsal yesterday too. I dont think you got anything to worry about. Not like me.
Seeing the grimace that pinched JDs face, Ezra touched his arm sympathetically. Im sure you will deliver your line with aplomb and dignity, my friend.
JD sighed. Josiah had put them through a mess of rehearsals since this project had started up two weeks earlier and he had managed to screw up that one stupid line nearly every time. Adjusting the small wound-cloth hat Mrs. Potter had made him, he admitted, Buck wrote my line down on the back of the inn door, just in case.
Ezra smiled. Vin and Chris had built three clever little panels in the stage backdrop that would open and close when they were knocked upon. There was plenty of space on the back for written instructions. A very fine idea. I suspect that will solve your dilemma.
A laugh signaled JDs agreement. Yeah, I think Bucks got bigger problems than mine though. That sticky stuff thats supposed to keep his Wise Man beard on aint working right. Keeps falling off when he bows.
Picturing Bucks beard flying off in the middle of a scene, Ezra laughed as well. Have you seen Josiah? Im surprised the poor man has any hair left the way he keeps pulling it every time something goes wrong.
Yeah, last time I saw him he was still trying to convince Vin that the three kings didnt wear weapons, and Vin was arguing back that only fools would travel a long way to an unknown destination carrying treasure but no weapons. He giggled softly. I think Josiahs ready to throttle him.
Ezras grin faded as he took another quick glance out at the gathered crowd. Dear Lord, theres Judge and Mrs. Travis. I hadnt realized they would be in attendance tonight.
They arrived on the noon stage, JD confirmed. Said they couldnt miss Billys performance. I kinda think the Judge wanted to see all of us, too.
No doubt, he agreed grimly, once again adjusting his wings. This just got better and better. Thank God his mother had declined his invitation to spend the holidays in Four Corners, or Ezra might have just gone into hiding until this debacle was over, disappointed children or no.
Places everyone! came Mary Travis soft call, and the time for speculation was over.
The curtain parted and the audience drew in a soft appreciative breath as the townspeople took in a painted backdrop of desert and plains. Vin Tanner had proven to be quite adept at painting in the outdoor scenery he loved so well. From her place at the side of the stage in the shadows, Mary Travis began to speak.
When Rome was a great Empire ruled by Caesar Augustus and Israel was governed by King Herod, in the village of Nazareth lived Joseph and Mary. Joseph was a carpenter and Mary was a young virgin who would become his wife. Mary told Joseph of a dream in which she was visited by an angel who told her she had been chosen to bear the Son of God and his name was to be Jesus. One day the emperor sent notice that all persons to register for a new tax. They were instructed to return to the towns of their birth. Joseph & Mary left Nazareth on the long journey into Bethlehem.
The audience murmured again as Billy Travis came into view walking slowly across the stage pulling a wooden donkey actually a sawhorse with a head and tail, which Chris had attached to ropes and runners so that he and his men could pull the animal forward unseen upon which sat Sarah Potter. The two children sighed wearily.
Weve almost made it, Mary, Billy said loudly. Bethlehem is just over that rise. Do you think youll be all right until we get there?
Sarah made a show of patting her tummy, which had been stuffed with a pillow beneath her homespun robe. Yes, Joseph. Im fine. I hope we can find a place to spend the night before the baby comes.
Mary began reading.
When they reached Bethlehem it was night. They looked for a place to rest but there were no empty rooms
Behind them the set shifted as the painted cloth backdrop was hoisted up to reveal the three inns. Billy walked up the first and knocked loudly enough to cause a few snickers from the audience. The door panel swung open to reveal a darkly scowling Buck Wilmington. Yes?
Please, sir. My wife and I need a place to spend the night.
No room, the tall innkeeper grunted. Move on.
The small Joseph heaved a dramatic sigh and moved back to his wife. Many members of the audience smiled to see the supposedly hard-hearted innkeeper wave at the departing couple when they looked back at him.
Moving to the next door, Billy loudly knocked again. The door flew open and a second innkeeper eyed the young couple suspiciously and growled, What do you want?
Again, the wanderers made their plea. Chris scowled at them and barked, Were full. Everybodys full! Move on. At the two disappointed faces, the innkeeper rubbed a thoughtful hand over his chin. Perhaps you should try the place down the road. He might have a small space.
The audience members whispered delightedly, many of them guessing that Larabees lines were improvised on the spot.
The two travelers moved to the third and last inn where the request was made for a third time. Please kind sir, my wife is tired and we are cold. Can you give us a place to stay before our child is born?
JD cast a sorrowful look upon the youngsters. We have no room, but you may make yourselves comfortable in my stable if you like.
You did it! the young Joseph exclaimed in surprise. Hearing the laughter of the people in the audience, Billy realized his mistake and made a quick recovery. I mean, thank you kind innkeeper. Come, Mary. We will go to the stable.
The two children moved off stage and, struggling not to laugh herself, Mary Travis resumed her narration.
In the stable, Joseph made beds of fresh hay, cleaning and filling a manger with hay to use as a crib for the baby, born that very night. The baby was called Jesus and when the child was born, a great star appeared over Bethlehem that could be seen for miles around. In the fields nearby, shepherds were tending their flocks when an angel appeared before them.
As the starlit outdoor backdrop was once again lowered into place, Tommy Conklin and Seth Potter appeared, carrying wooden sheep, which had been covered in uncarded wool to good effect. The two knelt and pretended to tend to their animals when a signal from offstage produced an effect, which had the audience gasping in appreciation. Lanterns were lowered from one of the overhead beams to light the sudden appearance of a white robed figure standing high above the now-frightened looking shepherds. He stood upon a platform, feathered wings wide and beautiful in the soft lantern light.
Spreading his arms in a benevolent gesture Ezra spoke, his southern accent deliberately softened into near non-existence. His voice was gentle but carried to every corner of the room as he said, Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Unto you this day, in the city of Bethlehem is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
From the other side of the stage, more lanterns were lowered, showing three small, white clad figures with brightly gleaming wire halos painted in gold above their heads. The little girls began to sing a soft sweetly lisping chorus of, Silent Night.
Ezra waited for the song to finish then said in a solemn voice, Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.
The shepherds gathered their animals and scurried off stage and above them the lanterns were raised and the curtain lowered to disguise the exit off-stage of the host of angels. The audience burst into an impromptu round of applause for the small singers, which Mary Travis waited patience to die away before she began again.
As the star shone over Bethlehem, in the east three kings also saw the star and knew it was a sign and set off to follow it. There was Caspar of Tarsus, Melchior of Arabia and Balthazar of Ethiopia, and the three traveled for many days over the mountains and plains following the bright star. When they finally arrived in Bethlehem they found the child in the manger. The 3 kings bowed down and offered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
As Mary slowly read the words, the sounds of whispering and thumping could be heard behind the stage. When the curtain raised again, a beautifully dressed and turbaned trio appeared. Vin - in a redesigned dressing gown of rich dark blue material, Buck - now sporting a bushy black beard to go with a red robe that had once been a curtain at the former Hotel Ritz, and Nathan - in a yellow robe made of material donated by Tommy Conklins mother. The men walked slowly and solemnly across the stage to the center, which now held a manger, piles of hay, several wooden animals, two shepherds, Joseph, and Mary. Within the slightly uptilted manger lay a china faced doll wrapped in swaddling clothes. The effect was charming and the audience cooed appreciatively. The three Wise Men bowed solemnly one at a time and presented their gifts, Melchior making a quick grab for his beard when it began to peel away as he bowed, causing his two fellow Wise Men to grin at each other before regaining their solemn expressions.
The light rose around the scene as the overhead lanterns were lowered once again behind the scenes and Ezra once more appeared on his high perch. He was not alone this time, for Emma stood in front of him. The two other small angels walked on stage to stand on either side of the tableau at center stage and began to hum softly as Josiah struck up the melody on the piano.
Above the crowd, Ezra waited for his song cue, his insides trembling with nervousness. A small hand slipped into his cold one and as he looked down, Emma smiled up at him, adoration in her eyes as she drew his arm around her body and began to hum along with the other girls. Bringing his other arm forward, Ezra clasped her hands in both of his as he hugged her and began to sing, his voice gaining strength and sureness with every note.
O, Holy Night. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night, of our dear Saviors birth.
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining. Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices, for yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees. Oh, hear the angel voices. Oh, night divine. Oh, night when Christ was born. Oh, night, oh night divine.
As the chorus repeated, the other actors joined in and several townspeople who knew the lyrics added their voices. When the lanterns were extinguished and the curtain lowered for the last time, thunderous applause filled the little church. The children spilled out from behind the curtain to proudly take their bows. Buck and JD happily followed suit, dragging their slightly more reluctant compatriots forward to receive their share. Josiah and Mary received a round of their own, as did Ezra and Emma when they finally made their way back down to ground level.
Happy that his ordeal was finally over, Ezra accepted his share of the accolades with a bright, relieved smile. He cringed a bit when he spotted Judge Travis breaking away from the proudly beaming Billy and approaching him. Quickly disguising his apprehension, Ezra blinked in surprise as he felt his hand being vigorously shaken. That was quite a performance you put on tonight, Ezra, the judge told him, eyes shining with could that be pride? I never would have guessed you had it in you.
Ezra laughed, squeezing the shoulder of Emma, who was still glued to his side. Neither would I, sir. I couldnt have done it at all if it were not for this young lady, however. She gave me courage to attempt the impossible.
Travis smiled and petted his hand over the childs head. You did a fine job tonight too, little Miss.
When Emma did not respond except to stare up at him, Ezra nudged her. What do you say, my dear?
Emma looked from Judge Travis to Ezra and back again. Then, smiling brightly she chirped, Mewwy Chwistmas!
Travis and Standish grinned at one another and by mutual consent replied, Mewwy Chwistmas.