It was a beautiful fall morning, Chris Larabee was stuck at the jail house with the town drunk sleeping it off in one of the cells. Chris was pouring himself a cup of freshly brewed coffee when Buck Wilmington came in.
"Hey Buck, what's up?" Chris said as he poured Buck a cup of coffee.
"Not much." Buck exhaled loudly as he sat down at a desk.
"Oh-oh, what did you do?" Chris said when he sat the coffee down in front of Buck.
"Thanks." Buck sipped the hot brew. "Nothing, I swear it, Chris."
"I've heard that before, Buck. Now tell me what you did?"
"I was sitting outside the saloon with Ezra, When JD and Casey went by holding hands and I asked Ezra if he ever remembered his first love, and he said he had from time to time."
"Well, he is from the south and he did mention an uncle having a plantation and having to spend time there, so when I asked him what happened, he said they were from different worlds, I took it to mean he liked them dark and I kind of said something to that effect." Buck grimaced at the look on Chris's face.
"Tell me you didn't?"
"Don't go and get yourself in a bunch. What was I supposed to think?"
"Buck! Sometimes I swear..."
"The man doesn't say much about his past or how he grew up. Anyway, he just looked at me then went inside the saloon. He didn't say one word to me when he left either."
"Can you blame him? Not all Southern men are like the ones we encountered in the war, Buck."
"I know that. I can't help it Chris. Sometimes when I open my mouth, stupid stuff comes out."
"Then don't open your mouth." Chris shook his head. "Ezra is a good man Buck. He has had your back a good many times."
"What? You Don't think I know that? Where are you going?"
"Where else? The saloon."
Chris entered the saloon and looking around, he didn't see Ezra anywhere. He did see Inez waiting on a table with a couple of loud mouthed ranch hands trying to get her to go home with them. It was not even noon and the day was already dragging.
"Inez? Where's Ezra?" Chris asked when Inez went to the bar.
"He came in and went to his room, Senor."
"Thanks." Chris headed for the stairs to the upper floor.
+ + + + + + +
Sitting on his bed, back against the head board, a small gold band on the end of his left index finger being turned around and around by his thumb, Ezra Standish remembered a day that was little more then a decade ago on a battle field where he and his regiment had fallen to the superior force of the Union Army...
All around him, his brothers in arms are falling, screaming out in pain as the Yankee's bullets rip through them. He goes on, firing until he himself is hit and is unable to go any farther. Lying there on the battle ground, young Ezra Standish has only one thought in his mind, 'I will not die on Yankee soil.'
A knock to his door brought Ezra to the present.
"Ezra? Are you in there?"
Sighing, Ezra answered, "Yes I am Mr. Larabee."
"May I come in?"
"Yes, you may."
Chris entered the room and saw a very dejected looking Ezra Standish.
"What can I do for you Mr. Larabee?"
"Not a thing Ezra. Are you okay?" Chris asked as he sat down in a chair in the corner of the room.
"I am fine. Thank you for asking."
"If you don't mind me saying so, you don't look fine."
"Just memories of days gone by, no big deal."
Chris couldn't help noticing the gold ring Ezra had on the end of his finger as his thumb turned it around and around. "I didn't know you were married Ez?"
Ezra stopped what he was doing and looked down at the ring, "I wasn't."
They sat in silence for a while. Chris could see the hurt in the other man's eyes as he remembered the past. He knew what that hurt felt like.
"It was during the war that I met her," Ezra said into the quite room. "I was not prepared for what I was about to encounter."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was slowly wakening to unfamiliar sounds and the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. He could hear a woman singing a song he had never heard before. He was warm and felt like he was lying on a bed of clouds. This must be heaven he thought to himself, until he moved. His eyes shot open as the pain from the slight movement went through his entire body.
"Shhh. It's okay." Ezra heard the soft, soothing voice say to him. "Don't move. You'll pull the stitches out and then I'll have to stitch you back up again."
Ezra wanted to tell the woman to leave him alone. He didn't want any Yankee, man or woman, doctoring him, but he couldn't make his vocal cords work. It hurt to even swallow.
"Here, take this. It'll help your dry throat."
Ezra didn't want to, but he was thirsty and the promise of something to drink was too enticing to ignore. The Yankee woman helped him to sit up so he could drink from the tin cup she held in her hand. The brew was disgustingly salty.
"I know, but it'll help you get better. It's chicken broth. My grandmother swore by its healing powers."
Ezra glared at her as she helped him to lay back on the bed after he had finished the broth.
"Don't go eyeing me like that, you need to heal before you can return to your regiment," The woman said as she tucked him in.
Ezra felt himself drifting off to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
"Who would have thought, a Yankee?" Chris said smiling at the man.
Ezra returned the smile, "Indeed."
Just then there was a knock on the door.
"Senor Standish? We have a problem down stairs." Inez said through the door.
"I will be right there."
Ezra opened a small red velvet pouch and dropped the gold band into it and then placed the pouch in his bedside table drawer, then he and Chris left the room.
Downstairs a fight had broken out between two groups of men from rival ranches.
The two men, along with Buck and Inez broke up the fight, but not with out getting a few bruises and cuts to their persons. A couple of tables got busted, as well as a few chairs and some bottles. The two men who had started the fight in the first place were hauled off to jail by JD and Josiah. Nathan was examining Chris, Ezra and Buck. Inez somehow didn't get a scratch on her. There were hand prints on her upper arm where one of the ranch hands had grabbed her, but other than that, nothing. Vin was standing guard with his sidearm in hand just in case any one else got the notion to cause any more trouble. The remaining men were told to leave with the promise that their bosses would be billed for the damages to the saloon.
After Nathan finished looking the three men over, Ezra sat heavily into a chair at his favorite table with a sigh. Inez brought over a bottle of whiskey and a glass for each man and ice packs for Buck's black eye and Chris's left hand. Ezra held a cool glass of ice to his bruised temple.
"Ezra? I didn't mean to upset you earlier," Buck said by way of an apology.
"I know." Ezra didn't pretend to know what Buck was referring to.
"What was she like?" Buck asked, then took a drink of whiskey.
JD and Josiah entered to hear Buck ask the question.
"Who?" JD asked, sitting at the table to join the others.
"No one JD. If Ezra don't want to talk..."
"It's okay, Chris," Ezra said, interrupting Chris. "She was like no other woman I had ever met. I was told that Yankee women were not very intelligent, untalented, and not very pretty to look at, and someone that any self respected southern gentleman would not be seen with."
"What? Who told you that pack of lies?" Buck said rather loudly.
Ezra and Chris grinned at the out burst.
"I have learned the truth my friend," Ezra said.
The others were grinning as well as Chris and Ezra.
"Good." Buck grinned back. "Now, what did she look like?"
Ezra leaned back as her image came to mind. "Her hair was the color of a fine whiskey and as soft as a downy chick, her eyes were the color of the ocean and just as deep, her voice was soft and she sang like an angel. I never tired of hearing it. When she smiled at you, you had to smile back no matter what your mood. What I miss the most, is her courage. She stood her ground. She was also a widow trying to make a go of a place God had forgotten."
"She sounds like a strong woman."
"Yes she was. She had more guts than any man I knew, including myself," Ezra said, then took a drink of whiskey.
"How did you meet her?" JD asked.
"She found me. I was barely alive after a battle against the Union army."
"What was your job?" JD asked. He wanted to know more about Ezra and the rest of the men.
"I was in charge of the cannon," Ezra answered.
"I was wondering how you knew how to shoot a cannon," Vin said out loud.
"She had taught me a few things about life. One of which is everything is not what it seems on the surface," Ezra said as more memories came to mind.
+ + + + + + +
"What do you think you are doing?" the woman asked as she came into the bedroom.
Ezra looked up from the floor to see the Yankee woman rushing over to him.
"I'm going back," Ezra said angrily.
"You can't even stand on your own. What makes you think you can walk out of here?" the Yankee woman said standing in front of him, looking down at him as he tried to stand, with her fists on her hips.
"Get out of my way woman. I don't want your help. You're a Yankee," Ezra spat at her.
The woman squatted down in front of Ezra and said, "And damn proud of it. Now get your sorry ass back in that bed."
After his third attempt at trying to get up, the woman helped him into bed.
"By the way, my name is Priscilla Knight," the woman said as she tucked Ezra back into bed.
"Did I ask you your name? Why do you insist on talking to me? Have I given you any indication that I wish to get to know you?"
Priscilla crossed her arms in front of her. "Let's get some things straight right here and right now. I abhor rudeness. I did not have to bring you here to my home and take care of your wounds. Do you even realize how much trouble I put myself in by bringing you here? No, you don't. There is a Union fort less then five miles from here. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick often visits me. Since you've been here, has been here three times. You're lucky he's a gentleman and doesn't invite himself into my home. I may not have much, but it's all mine and no one can take it from me."
"You wear a wedding ring, so where is your husband?"
"He died last year in the war."
"I am sorry. Ezra Standish."
"Nice to meet you Mr. Standish. Do you think you could eat something?"
"I could try. Thank you."
Priscilla left to fix a plate for Ezra. Ezra could hear her out in the kitchen moving around. The bedroom had a curtain instead of a door. Priscilla was singing the song Ezra had heard when he first came to after the battle.
After she returned, Ezra asked her, "Why do you still live here? Your husband is dead. You could go back to where you came from."
"I love it here and I couldn't go back even if I wanted to."
"And why is that?" Ezra was curious.
"I would be giving up my freedom. Here, I make the rules." Priscilla placed a tray of food on Ezra's lap. "I have a lot of brothers and sisters, so if I were to return to Michigan, I wouldn't have any privacy and I'd have to go by my parents rules."
Ezra took a bite of the food Priscilla offered. It tasted good. "This is good."
"Thank you. Do you have any brothers and sisters?" Priscilla asked.
"No. I do not."
"You must have had a lonely childhood."
Ezra never thought about it. "Why do you say that?"
"Because you had no one to play with or fight with."
"I had my cousins. Believe me, we fought."
Priscilla laughed. Ezra had never heard a woman laugh. The women he knew did not laugh, they giggled. It was an annoying sound. "You laughed."
"You can not tell me you never heard a person laugh before?"
"Not a woman. They just giggle."
Priscilla shook her head and stood up to go and get her own plate of food. "Where I come from, we laugh."
"She sounds like an amazing woman." Buck said taking a sip of whiskey.
"She was. I learned a few things about how she grew up and what her father did to keep a roof over their heads. Her marriage was an arranged marriage. She did not love the man. He was her ticket out of there and she took it."
"So how were the two of you different?" Buck asked.
"The list is a long one. However, I found I could not stay away after I met her and got to know her. She helped me back to my regiment once I was healed enough to travel. She risked her life in doing so. I have never had anyone willing to do that let alone actually do so. When I returned to her months later, she was surprised to see me."
"Oh really? You went back?" Buck nodded his head. "Imagine that."
"Time and time again, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra smiled.
"What about her that enticed you to keep going back? Other then her courage, beauty, and the love and kindness she showed you?" Josiah asked.
"Ain't that enough?" Vin asked.
"Not for someone like Ezra," Josiah answered.
"She was different. I had met a lot of women and even courted a few. But what I felt when I was with her, was something totally different."
"She completed you like Rain does me," Nathan said.
Ezra looked at Chris. "And now Mrs. Travis."
Chris smiled at the thought of Mary and Billy.
"That is why I feel there is still hope for me. You had a great love at one time before it was taken from you, Mr. Larabee. There is another for me. Now to finish answering Josiah's question, yes she completed me. We had our arguments. One in particular, tested me and my way of thinking.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra could hear scuffling inside the house when he step onto the porch. Priscilla opened the door a little breathless when Ezra knocked. Priscilla pulled the door closed behind her as she stepped out onto the porch.
"Ezra. Why are you here? I thought you were going to spend the holiday with your family?"
"My plans have changed. It seems mother had other plans herself and they didn't include me."
"You have got to be joking. Why wouldn't she want you during the holiday?"
"You know my mother."
"But still, it's thanksgiving. She doesn't know what's she's giving up. I would be more than happy to have you for thanksgiving dinner." Priscilla then reached up and kissed him.
They entered the cabin. It seemed to Ezra, Priscilla was genuinely pleased to see him. The aroma coming from the oven smelled heavenly.
"Were you expecting someone for dinner?"
"Yes and no. The Lieutenant said he may or may not show up, but since he isn't here, I guess he wont be coming."
"You do not sound disappointed. Why is that?"
"He's not my type," Priscilla said as she stirred what ever she had on the stove top. "I invited him because I didn't want to spend the holiday alone. Just like you didn't want to spend your birthday alone."
"I had my fellow confederate brothers."
"Then why did you show up here?" Priscilla said then turned toward Ezra.
"Because I much prefer your company to theirs."
"Speaking of your birthday. I have something for you."
"You didn't have to..." Ezra started as he watched Priscilla disappear behind the bedroom curtain.
"I know, but I felt like I should have. I didn't even know it was your birthday until you showed up that day," Priscilla said coming through the curtain with a box wrapped in brightly colored paper and ribbon. "My father said it saved his life on more than one occasion."
Ezra didn't say a word as Priscilla handed him the gift. When he opened the box, he was shocked to see what was in side.
"Do you like it? I didn't know what else to get you. I had it repaired. One of the belt straps needed to be replaced."
"This is way too nice a gift. Especially one from your father."
"I want you to return after the war. But if you choose to pick up the life your mother has planned for you, you may have more use of it than I ever will."
Ezra smiled as he pick the metal contraption up out of the box and attempted to strap it to his right forearm. The small pistol had a ivory handle and held only two bullets. Priscilla helped him to buckle the last strap in place. She then set a plate of food down in front of him.
"You're going to make that thing go off if you keep fiddling with it," Priscilla laughed.
"I do have to practice with it." Ezra smiled back as he unbuckled it to remove it.
"Not in the house you don't."
They had a nice dinner together. As they were cleaning up the dishes, Ezra noticed something lying on the floor near the closet.
"What is this?" Ezra asked when he investigated it.
"What is what?" Priscilla asked turning toward him.
"It looks like a rag doll."
"I know what it looks like Cill, where did it come from?"
"A friend's daughter. She left it here by accident."
Ezra looked at the doll, then at Priscilla. He then opened the closet door and peered inside. Not finding anything out of place, he stomped a foot inside on the floor and was rewarded with a hollow sound. Looking at Priscilla, he bent down and lifted the rug that was covering the floor boards. Beneath it was a trap door.
"Mind explaining this?" Ezra glared.
Priscilla stood with her head held high. "What do you think it is?"
"I want to hear it from you."
"Samson? Come on out," Priscilla called to the closet.
Ezra stepped away from the closet as the trap door started to open. A black man emerged from it, followed by his wife and daughter.
"Ezra, this is Samson Rolland and his wife Beatrice and their daughter Eunice. They help me around here. For their help, I've promised to teach them to read and write. And I pay them a dollar a day. It's a win win situation," Priscilla explained.
Ezra couldn't say anything, he was so angry with Priscilla.
"Samson, why don't you and your family head home and we will finish your lessons tomorrow."
Samson nodded his head and left with his family.
Priscilla stood her ground. The tension between them was thick. Finally Ezra spoke. "How could you? You know very well what he is."
"He's a man trying to keep what family he has left in tact. His son was sold like a piece of property. That isn't right Ezra. Slavery isn't right."
"Do you know what position you have put me in?"
"Why do you think I kept it from you? I wanted to keep you out of this, but no, you had to go and put your nose in where it didn't belong."
"Cill, it's against the law for you to harbor runaway slaves."
Priscilla crossed her arms. "Tell me something I don't know. We could go on and on about this, but you know, it's also against the law for me to harbor a Confederate soldier, but I still do every time you come around. Look Ezra, go back to your uncle's plantation and look for yourself at how the Negro people are treated, then tell me I'm wrong."
Ezra was taken back at Priscilla words. He knew she was right about harboring a Confederate soldier, but was totally wrong about the rest. "Fine, I'll just leave then." Ezra left after he got his things.
"She was part of the underground," Josiah stated.
"Yes she was. And I, being southern, well, you can imagine how I felt."
"Did you go back to your uncle's plantation?" Nathan asked.
"Yes Mr. Jackson, I did. And I was appalled at what I had seen. I informed my uncle of what I had seen, but he didn't care about what was happening to the workers. All he cared about was how much work they did. I asked how much they were paid, he laughed in my face. My cousins were not much better."
"Is that the reason you let Nate drink and eat here?" JD asked.
"Yes Mr. Dunne, it is. I just do not see why his money isn't as good as yours or mine. It all spends the same."
Just then a couple of men came into the saloon looking for the seven men.
"Larabee! My man here said I was being billed for damages to this place. He also said Carl didn't start it. So I feel I shouldn't have to pay a dime."
"I don't give a damn what you feel. Carl Rafferty and Leo McCloud started the fight, you and Mr. Burke are responsible for their actions, Mr. Sands."
Mr. Sands glared at Chris. He looked at each man sitting at the table. "Why they choose this place is beyond me," Mr. Sands said looking down his nose at Nathan. "Eagle Bend has far better clientele."
"Then I suggest, you have your men have their libations in Eagle Bend," Ezra said looking into his empty glass.
Mr. Sands heard the under tone of the words that were quietly spoken, Ezra left no room for misinterpretation.
The other men at the table heard it to. JD stood to back up the words but said nothing.
Sands looked to Chris.
"You heard the man. Leave."
"I'm leaving as soon as I bail Carl out."
"JD," Chris said looking at Sands.
"Oh man, I want to hear the rest of the story," JD whined.
Ezra smiled, "I promise not to say a word until your return, Mr. Dunne."
"I'll come with you. It'll go faster with two of us doing it," Buck said, leading the way to the Sheriff's office.
Chris shook his head at his oldest friend's antics. "Buck always did like a good story that was about a woman."
The others laughed.
Buck and JD weren't gone too long, and true to his word, Ezra waited before going on with his story.
"Did you go back after your fight?" JD asked after Inez brought another bottle of whiskey.
Inez was listening to the story as she worked, but didn't feel like she should ask any questions. She was just happy to hear about the woman in Ezra's past.
"Yes I did, Mr. Dunne."
+ + + + + + +
Priscilla opened the door when Ezra stopped in front of the house. She moved to the top of the steps and looked up at Ezra.
"Staying long?" she asked, hope in her voice.
"Depends, do you want me to?" Ezra asked in return.
"Yes, of course I want you to stay. I thought you wouldn't return after the fight we had the last time you visited."
Ezra dismounted, and stepped up to meet her. "I do not want this war to come between us," Ezra said as he pulled her close to him.
"It will if we let it, Ezra."
"I did what you suggested," Ezra said. "You were right. I could not believe what was happening."
"Come inside, we'll talk about it. How long can you stay?" Priscilla took Ezra by the hand and led him inside.
"How ever long it takes." Ezra grinned.
"Hot damn, I know what she had in mind," Buck howled.
"Yes, well, I think we all know what she had in mind Mr. Wilmington. If I recall correctly, Mr. Wilmington, I had mentioned that I had returned on many occasion."
"Um, did you ever ask her to marry you, Ez?" JD asked.
Chris looked over at Ezra and watched the smile he was wearing leave his face. Chris knew the answer, but wondered if Ezra was going to say anything.
Ezra sighed, "Yes I did, Mr. Dunne, and she accepted."
+ + + + + + +
"I probably should take care of my horse," Ezra said quietly into the silent room.
Priscilla was lying beside him, her head on his bare chest. "That would be a wise thing to do. Then you can come back to bed."
"Of course," Ezra said, then pulled her close to him and planted a kiss on her lips when she looked up at him.
"Don't take to long, I don't want to get cold."
Ezra quickly took care of his horse.
Priscilla was up stoking the embers in the fireplace when Ezra came in. Ezra watched her as she moved the embers around. Priscilla stood and turned to face him.
"What are you looking at?" Priscilla smiled.
"You," Ezra answered as he went to her. "Cill, I want to ask you something."
"Sure, anything." Priscilla wrapped her arms around Ezra.
"Will you marry me?"
Priscilla looked stunned for a minute or two before she said anything. "I would love to marry you, Ezra. But are you sure you want to? I mean, I am from the North. I won't apologize for that."
"I am not asking you to. And yes, I am sure. I haven't been so sure of anything in my life."
"I thought you said you were never married, Ez?" Chris interrupted.
"That is correct, Mr. Larabee. We did not marry, we had planned to marry after the war was over."
"What happened?" Buck asked
"I had started to spend a lot more of my free time with Cill, so much so, that a few my brothers were getting suspicious of my frequent absences. They knew we were too far from my home for me to be going home and staying as long as I was and still making it back in time for my duties."
"Ezra? I thought you were an only child?" Vin asked.
"I am Mr. Tanner. When I said my brothers, what I meant was my brothers in arms, southern men like myself."
"Oh. Okay then, that makes sense."
"They follow you?" Josiah asked, knowing the answer.
"Yes they did."
"You don't have to tell us Ez." Chris saw the tears well up in the man's eyes at the memory.
"It's okay, I want to."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra and Priscilla heard horses outside of their door.
"Stay here. I'll get rid of them like before," Priscilla said then kissed Ezra.
"I think the Lieutenant is in love with you," Ezra teased.
"You may be right, but my heart belongs to someone else."
Ezra watched as Priscilla grabbed a wrap from the back of a chair and placed it around her shoulders. She kissed him before she went to the door and opened it.
"Good evening ma'am. I am Capt. Ronald English of the Confederate army. We are looking for a comrade of ours. We think he may be around in these parts somewhere."
"Maybe if you describe him to me, I may be able to help you."
"Where are you from lady?" the man to the Captain's right asked.
"Does that matter?"
"You sound like a Yankee."
"That's because I am. I'm from Michigan."
Ezra heard the voices and recognized them as being from his regiment. He got up, and went to the door and stepped out onto the porch to stand next to Priscilla.
"Capt. English. What can I do for you?"
"You can start by telling us why you are here."
"What I do with my personal time is no concern of yours or anyone else for that matter."
"I told you he was a traitor, Captain."
"Dix, Shut up. Let him explain himself."
"He is no traitor. He has never told me anything about the Confederate army," Priscilla protested.
"We ain't listening to no Yankee. You are just protecting his no good hide," Dix spat at Priscilla.
"Dix, I said to shut up. I'll do the talking," the captain said.
"Yes Dix. Please do as your Captain says and shut up," Priscilla said, crossing her arms in front of her. "I may be a Yankee, but I at least I have the brains to know how to speak with proper English."
"Cill, please let me handle them."
"I will not take that kind of talk from a woman, let alone a Yankee woman," Dix said as he dismounted his horse.
"Get back on your horse, Dix," Ezra said as he stepped in front of Priscilla.
The man on the Captain's left pulled a gun on Ezra.
"NO!" Priscilla yelled and shoved Ezra out of the way as the gun went off.
Ezra produced his colt .45 and shot the man dead, then fired on Dix wounding him. In the space of a few seconds, it was all over.
Ezra and the Captain stared at one another, guns drawn, "Take your men and get the hell out of here."
"You know you'll be arrested for treason as soon as you return."
"I will not be returning. Now leave before I change my mind."
"If you value your life, don't ever return to the south. Ever." The Captain took his men and left.
Ezra dropped the gun as soon as the three men were out of sight and knelt down to hold Priscilla in his arms. Soon, a few Union soldiers showed up. A man dismounted and walked over to stand on the steps of the cabin, with his hat in his hands. "I am Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick."
"I know who you are." Ezra said as he held Priscilla close to him and rocked.
"You are?" the Lieutenant asked.
"I thought she might have been hiding someone. If you wish, we will take care of things."
Ezra looked up at the man. "You are not going to arrest me?"
"No. She always said that color didn't matter, blue or grey, were welcome here."
"If you do not mind Lt. Fitzpatrick, I want to take care of her."
"Would you like any help?" the Lieutenant asked, placing his hat on his head.
"No thank you. I can manage."
"Who did this, may I ask?"
Ezra looked the man square in the eyes and said, "Not a who Sir, but a what... this damn war."
"I buried her next to her husband, gave the land deed to Samson and his family and came west. I have not looked back since. So you see Mr. Wilmington, I do remember my first love. Every time I see a young couple walk down the street holding hands, I remember what I have lost."
A quietness fell in the saloon. No one wanted to say a word. Finally Josiah spoke, "Your Priscilla was a good woman, Ezra. I think maybe you should let her go and go on with your life. I know there is a young Chinese lady in San Francisco that would love to return here. All you have to do is ask."
"I'll think about it." Ezra smiled at Josiah.