The saloon was filled with people, laughing and carrying on and getting drunk. Dan had a hard time keeping up with the demand of drinks. Ezra assisted, but more out of the energy filling the room than an actual desire to serve. JD was the guest of honor. To support their friend during his celebration, Chris and Vin managed to forgo their feelings of being stifled in a crowd of people and worked their way through the throng to offer their congratulations.
"Hey! There you two are! You missed them calling me as the winner!" the youth said with a mixture of pride and disappointment.
Vin shook his hand and clapped him on the shoulder. "JD, Chris and I were backstage. We watched the whole thing from there."
JD's eyes widened with surprised joy. "You did? Really?"
"Sure did, Kid," Chris said as he smiled and gripped the youth's shoulders from where he was standing behind JD's chair.
"Have a drink, you two! On me! Dan! More whiskey!"
"Shouldn't you be saving that twenty dollars for something more important?" Buck asked as he took a bottle of the whiskey they all ready procured and poured Chris and Vin a shot.
"What's more important than sharing with my friends?"
Buck gave him a reminder look and coughed, gesturing with his head to Vin. JD looked up at Vin and suddenly remembered what he could use the twenty dollars for. He had been discussing with Buck the possibility of having Vin teach him sharp shooting. For that, he would need a new rifle. "Oh, that's right," he said, slumping. "I completely forgot."
"What did you forget, JD?" Josiah asked as he took a swig from his own glass of whiskey.
"Nothing, Josiah. It's not important now. But, hey, I can still afford to buy you all another round of drinks. It's not everyday a man wins twenty dollars without having to work for it."
"But you did, JD," Nathan said. "You got up in front of a crowd of people and recited."
"What did our eloquent speaker choose to read is what I would find most interesting," Ezra said as he brought over two more bottles of whiskey.
JD shrugged, embarrassed. "Just some Shakespeare, like Buck did that one time."
Buck put his arm around JD's shoulders and gave him a slight hug, laughing with pride. "JD, tell 'em what speech you gave."
"Well, it wasn't anything really, just the Queen Mab speech. I was interested in reading it after the three of you recited that scene last week." He gestured to Buck, Josiah and Vin.
Vin raised his eyebrows, then smiled. "JD, what ya' did took a lot of guts."
JD grinned. "It did, didn't it?"
They all chuckled.
Josiah raised his glass. "A toast! May courage never fade in the hearts of the youth."
"Hear! Hear!" they all echoed as they saluted JD and drank.
Vin set his glass down and looked at Chris. "Reckon I'll turn in. Mornin' watch comes early nowadays."
Chris nodded to him. "See you then," he said.
Vin left the saloon, leaving the crowd and the laughter behind. It had been a good night. There weren't too many of those in his life, but this one ranked right up there with the end of the war, and finding a friend in Chris and the others...and Marcus. Tomorrow he would introduce the others to Marcus. It would be good for the actor to meet more people, to know that not everyone would judge him on his appearance.
+ + + + + + +
After Vin left, the rest of the Seven decided to try their hand at a game of poker, when Hathaway and Mary came strolling into the saloon with another woman.
Those in the saloon who had attended the play that evening recognized the woman as the actress who played 'Ophelia'. Her portrayal of Ophelia's death scene in Hamlet had literally caused a mass outpour of tears even from hardened cowboys and stoic, unemotional farmers.
The moment she entered the saloon, Miss Cynthia Stewart received a standing ovation. The actor who had played Hamlet, a one Geoffrey MacLeod, turned from where he stood at the bar. When he saw Cynthia he smiled and raised his glass of whiskey to her in a respectful salute.
She graciously bowed to the recognition of both Mister MacLeod and the other patrons.
Chris did little more than observe. It soured his stomach a bit that Mary was on Hathaway's arm and the actress was on the other. Why that scene bothered him he couldn't say. Maybe it was because Mary was real...what you saw with her was what you got. The actress, though admittedly beautiful and gracious in manners and sophistication, seemed to be too sophisticated...almost to the point of being phony.
The other members of the Seven applauded and JD joined in standing with them, cheering and whistling.
Chris slowly stood out of decency, but he did not applaud. He caught Mary's hard look. Obviously she was displeased over Chris' lack of acceptance of James Hathaway and his troupe of actors. What could the gunfighter say? The only real person out of the bunch Chris had met so far was Marcus and Hathaway seemed to be doing his best to paint a bad image of the man. Well, if there was one thing Chris would not stomach it was being dictated to. Other people's opinions were fine and many times he would open himself up to listen to those opinions, but when it came down to making his own decisions, other opinions didn't matter. The conclusion Chris had come to that night was that he liked Marcus. Marcus could help Vin in some small way with his talent, and he didn't come across as nothing less than real.
If Hathaway had a problem with Vin seeing Marcus why did he not just come up to the tracker and say so? It galled Chris when a man couldn't confront another regarding whatever problem existed. Instead, Hathaway went to Mary, pulled her into this, using their friendship as a lever. It also galled Chris that so far all he had to go on was a gut feeling. Hathaway may be a snake in the grass, flicking his tongue, but the fangs had not sunk in...yet. Chris would stand perfectly still, watching and waiting.
The actress, Cynthia Stewart stood among them like a queen. She was dressed in an emerald green gown with gold embroidered designs. A white lace shawl graced her shoulders and her chestnut brown hair was pulled to the side in a tail, clipped with what looked to be a diamond comb. She soaked in the adoration and applause and greeted many of the patrons who came up to her. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, I thank you, but I simply must refresh my parched throat. If I may kindly ask for clear passage to the bar?"
The men took off their hats and were quick to offer her a hand to escort her to the bar.
Buck marveled at the attention the woman was getting, not noticing the whispers going on behind him between Josiah and Ezra. "I'm telling you, Mister Sanchez, within two minutes."
"Pull that watch out, Ez, keep track. I still say five minutes."
Ezra reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his watch. Chris and JD looked at each other. The youth was grinning almost to the laughing point, and Chris just shook his head, a bemused grin on his face as well. They sat down, but Buck refused to turn his gaze away from the gorgeous woman before him, now standing at the bar with admirers all around, offering to buy her a drink.
Hathaway and Mary both took a table to the side of the saloon and sat down. Mary refused to look Chris' direction. She and James melted into quiet conversation.
Chris ignored her. Two could play at this game. Besides, at the moment, the current bet going on between Josiah and Ezra was more entertaining.
"Boys, if you'll excuse me, I feel the need to rescue that fair damsel from the gawking stares of these wet-behind-the-ears pups," Buck said as he stood from the table.
"Huh?" JD looked confused.
Chris muttered to him. "Josiah lost the bet."
As Buck left the table to make his way through the throng, Ezra held out his hand. "That'll be two dollars, sir."
Josiah grumbled and reaching into his suit pocket he pulled out two coins. He placed them in Ezra's hand. "I thought for sure he would wait for the men to thin out," the preacher mumbled.
Ezra grinned. "I will place another bet, saying that the woman will not adhere to Mister Wilmington's advances and not pay him the time of day."
Chris looked thoughtful. "I'll take that bet, Ezra."
Ezra looked at Chris with surprise. "You, Mister Larabee?"
Chris pulled out two one-dollar bills. He set them on the table. "Put up or shut up," he said.
Ezra rested the two coins he had just received onto the pile. "You're on, sir."
They continued to watch.
Soon the actress had her arm hooked through Buck's and the scoundrel was escorting her out of the saloon, nodding once to his friends as he did so.
Ezra was dumbfounded. "A woman of her esteem, actually leaving her admirers to head out into the night with such a ruffian as Mister Wilmington. I do believe I have seen it all, now."
Chris reached for the money. He pocketed his two dollars and slapped the coins into his palm.
Ezra sighed. "You, sir, have an unfair advantage."
"That would be?" Chris asked.
"You've known Mister Wilmington longer than any of us."
Chris smiled and handed the two coins back to Josiah. "Consider this a donation to the church, Josiah."
Josiah grinned. "Under those circumstances, I'll accept with delight, Chris. Thank you."
And thus ended the evening's laughter and joking. Within ten seconds the men who had been 'oooing' and 'awwwing' Miss Stewart were now gathered around the bar listening intently to Dan tell his story of how he had seen a disfigured and scarred actor perform for him in the saloon. "He was amazing. I'm telling you. You never would have thought it by lookin' at him, but he was truly able to act."
"And you're sayin' he was covered in scars?" A man asked with a furrowed brow. "Burn scars?"
Dan nodded. "His whole left side of his face looked hideous, but he quoted pieces I ain't never heard before. And he did it with such style, it was like not seeing those scars at all."
"Well, listen to that fellas, there's a freak in the bunch!" another man laughed. He turned and walked over to Hathaway's table. "Is that true, Mister Hathaway? You got yourself a deformed actor in your party?"
Chris turned his eyes to the man at those words and watched intently what Hathaway would do.
"Well, sir, it is true we do have a stage hand among us who was burned in a fire awhile back..."
"Stage hand?" the cowboy said and turned back to Dan. "I thought you said he was an actor?"
"He did act," Dan protested. "He put on a show right in front of me and Mister Tanner and Mister Larabee."
The cowboy turned to Chris. "Hell, I'd like to see that for myself. A scarred actor performing. If that don't beat all."
Chris slowly stood and glared at the man. "The actors' name is Marcus. And he's as fine an actor as any of those you've seen tonight."
Geoffrey MacLeod snickered. "Used to be, Mister Larabee. And how would you know? I don't recall seeing you there to watch the rest of us exercise our talent tonight."
Chris smiled at the actor, but it was not a friendly smile. "I take it you were the one in the lead role tonight?"
Geoffrey bowed to him. "Geoffrey MacLeod, at your service."
"I doubt I'll be needing your service, MacLeod, except for one thing. An answer to a question."
MacLeod grinned, amused. "By all means."
"Marcus indeed must have been a wonderful actor. I'm even willing to lay odds that he offered you training in the part of Hamlet tonight."
Geoffrey's grin soured to a look of contempt. "What are you suggesting, sir?"
"I'm suggesting that you wouldn't be half the actor you are without his help. Am I right?"
"Well, I..." Geoffrey started to sputter.
Chris turned to Hathaway. "Isn't it true that among some acting troupes those with the greater experience train the novices?"
Hathaway glared at Chris. "Yes, it is, but..."
"Then, Mister MacLeod, I would think twice before insulting a man who mentored you."
"Mister Larabee, you speak of things you know nothing about."
"Really, Mister Hathaway? Seems to me that's a little like the pot calling the kettle black." Chris put on his hat, tipped it to Mary who only glared at him as he left the saloon.
Josiah, Ezra, Nathan and JD all exchanged looks. What the hell had just happened?
+ + + + + + +
"Are you sure it's all right for us to come in here when it's closed down?" Buck asked Cynthia as they entered the meeting hall.
"Of course it is, Mister Wilmington. You did say you wanted to discuss my performance tonight, didn't you? What better place than here?"
"Well, I was considering a more...secluded area."
"The rest of the troupe are at the saloon, and the hall is very quiet. I assure you, we won't be disturbed."
They entered the hall and found the stage lights still on. Cynthia was pulled into Buck's arms and the tall man gazed into her deep blue eyes. "You are the most exciting woman to come through here in a very long time, Miss Stewart."
She reached up and pulled his head down into a kiss. "Call me Cynthia," she whispered.
"Oh, Cynthia. I was lost in your performance tonight. I wanted to mount the stage and rescue you as you were dying. It moved me."
Cynthia giggled as they melted into another kiss. "You're moving me as we speak, Mister Wilmington."
"Call me Buck."
The sound of footsteps on the stage could be heard and Buck broke his kiss to glance up. He saw a man with his back to them, pulling down the set decorations. "I thought you said no one was here," he said.
The man slowly turned to his right at the sound of voices.
Cynthia turned to see who the man was and sighed with disgust. "Oh, him? He's nobody. Marcus, you haven't struck the set yet?"
The man lowered his head. "As you can see, Miss Stewart, I am only one man, and the set is large. It will be another hour as yet."
"Marcus?" Buck asked as he approached the stage. "You're Theodore Marcus, aren't you?" Buck tipped his hat to the man. "Name's Buck Wilmington. I've heard about you. I'm friends with the men you met last night."
Marcus almost turned completely to Buck in surprise. "Really, Mister Wilmington?" He caught himself and lowered his head. "I am pleased to meet any friend of Mister Larabee and Mister Tanner. Your friends also include Mister Dunne and the healer Mister Jackson?"
"That would be right."
Cynthia grabbed Buck's arm. "Let's go back to the saloon, Buck. I'm suddenly very thirsty again."
"Wait, Cynthia, please." He turned back to Marcus and drew closer to the stage, holding out his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
Marcus kept the left side of his face hidden as he knelt down and shook Buck's hand with his right. "The same to you, Mister Wilmington."
Cynthia walked up to Buck and took his hand. "Buck, please, let's leave Marcus to his work."
"I'm sorry. I interrupted something. I can come back later," Marcus stood.
"No, no wait! We're the ones interrupting you. We can leave."
"Yes. Let's do that, Buck. Let's leave." Cynthia pulled on his arm.
Buck held out his hand again. "Mister Marcus, I was told of your accident. I can't tell you how sorry I am."
Marcus lowered his head. "Thank you." He slowly turned and showed Buck his scarred face.
Buck did not turn his gaze from the appearance. He kept his hand out.
Marcus reached for it. "I'm grateful, sir."
Buck shook his hand and smiled at him. "I hope to see you again, Mister Marcus, before you leave? There is much we could talk about regarding your craft. It was something my mother wanted me to get involved in at one time, but...well, my life took another direction."
Marcus smiled and gripped Buck's hand tighter. "Thank you. You would do me the honor of such a conversation."
"No, sir. You would do me the honor."
Buck released his hand and allowed Cynthia to start leading him out of the hall.
"Good night, Mister Wilmington. Good night, Miss Stewart," Marcus said.
"Marcus," she replied without looking at him.
Buck felt the coldness she conveyed to the scarred man and stopped. He turned her to face him. "Something going on between you two?"
Cynthia rolled her eyes. "We were together once. It's over."
"I see," Buck was starting to get a feel as to where this woman was coming from. "And what ended it?"
She laughed. "You must be joking, Buck. You saw his face."
Buck turned to see Marcus disappear behind the set. He could see the slumping shoulders and the stature of a defeated man. He sighed. "Yes, Miss Stewart, and I can now see you." He put on his hat and tipped it to her. "I believe you can find your own way back to the saloon." He turned and walked out of the hall leaving Cynthia looking after him her mouth dropping to the floor. "No gentleman has ever turned his back on me!"
He called over his shoulder. "And I can honestly say I have never turned my back on a lady. Not even now."
It took a few moments before Cynthia Stewart realized she had just been insulted.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Chris met outside the jailhouse as the early morning mist swept over the sleeping town. All was quiet...a far cry from the night before. "Sleep well?" Chris asked as Vin stepped onto the porch, buckling his gun belt around his waist. The tracker nodded. "You?"
Vin shot him a glance. "Why's that?"
"After you left the saloon last night, there was talk about Marcus. Seems Dan told some folks about him. Didn't leave out the scars. Hathaway didn't help matters either."
Vin sighed. "Reckon there'll be trouble?"
"Well when people don't understand..." he let the thought trail off.
Vin looked up and down the street.
"Guess we better warn Marcus," Chris suggested.
"Let him sleep fer now. He had a good night. Hate to ruin it fer him." The two leaned opposite each other against the jailhouse porch poles. Vin sighed. "Well?"
Chris sighed. "If Marcus is insane then I'm the President of the United States."
Vin smiled, shaking his head. "Ain't never figured ya' fer the speech makin' type."
Chris allowed a lopsided grin; then he remembered the envelope inside his coat pocket. He reached in and pulled it out. "Mary wanted me to give this to you."
Vin reached out and took the envelope. "Much obliged." He stuck the envelope in his coat pocket and continued to lean, not bothering to give Chris an explanation. Chris would learn, soon enough, what Vin was planning.
The gunslinger sighed. "Meet back here in a half hour?"
Vin tipped his hat and the two separated to go about the business of patrolling the streets.
+ + + + + + +
Marcus worked steadily the next morning on the set for that night's performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'. He was behind the backdrop going through the supplies when he noticed how they were running low on a few things. He closed his good eye and sighed. "Jenkins," he whispered and shook his head. Turning, he headed back toward the office where Hathaway was busy working on paper work. He knocked. "Mister Hathaway?"
Hathaway refused to look around. He kept his attention on the sales receipts in front of him. "What is it, Teddy?"
'Teddy'. Hathaway was the only one who called him 'Teddy' knowing the actor hated the use of it.
The leader of the troupe looked up from his work and turned a frustrated look to Marcus. "Well? Speak up! I haven't got all day."
Marcus swallowed. "Jenkins forgot to restock the materials the last town we were in. I've run out of supplies for the stage decorations."
"So? What do you want me to do about it?" Hathaway turned back to his work.
"I thought you would want to send him to the hardware store."
"Can't you go? You can walk, can't you?"
"Mister Hathaway, you know I would prefer not to..."
"What you prefer or what you do not prefer is not the issue. The building of the stage takes priority over your insecurities. Just cover your face and use your hat like you normally do."
"But it's Jenkins' responsibility to see to the purchase of the supplies."
"And it's your responsibility to see to it the stage is completed and ready for each performance. Besides, I've sent Jenkins ahead to the next town on our itinerary."
Marcus remembered his words to Vin the night before; 'I don't feel ashamed of my appearance anymore.' He suddenly knew he had hope enough to go to the store, obtain the supplies and not give Hathaway the satisfaction. "Then, you are giving me permission to leave the hall?"
"We all have our duties, Teddy. I suggest you handle it."
"Very well, sir. I take it there has been an account established with the hardware store?"
"Yes, Teddy," Hathaway sounded exasperated. "As always."
"I was merely clarifying. I'll leave right away."
Hathaway stopped what he was doing. He turned a surprised look to Marcus. "You're serious about this aren't you?"
Marcus shrugged. "It's as you said, we all have our duties, sir."
Hathaway looked dumbfounded and speechless. Marcus smiled inwardly and turned, leaving the office doorway with a new sense of pride in his step.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris and Vin finished their patrol's they headed over to the saloon for some breakfast. Josiah, Buck and Ezra were sitting at a table, all ready eating, and JD was coming up the boardwalk. "Mornin," he said to the two friends as they reached the doors. "JD," Chris replied with a nod. Vin just nodded to him and let the youth go in before him.
They each took their seats and relaxed. The food was brought over, Inez already knowing what they each would have, and set the plates down in front of them.
"Thank you, Inez," Vin said as he started to cut up his one egg.
The woman smiled sweetly at all of them, except for Buck. "Enjoy your meals, senors," she said as she turned and went back to work without paying Buck a second glance.
The scoundrel sighed. "That woman is enough to make a monk second-guess his vows."
"You still moonin' over her, Buck?" Nathan laughed. "Do yourself a favor and let it go. It's obvious she ain't interested."
Buck ignored the pending ribbing over his attraction to a woman who wouldn't even look at him. He turned his attention to another subject and furrowed a brow at what was on Vin's plate. "One egg and one piece of toast? That's all you're having, Vin?"
Vin shrugged. "All I need."
"Boy, someone's got to talk to you about your way of eating," Buck said with a shake of his head. "You're all ready about to dry up and blow away."
Vin gazed at his plate as he stuck a forkful of egg into his mouth. "What's wrong with my eatin' habits?" he asked.
"That's just the point, Vin. They're all wrong. It ain't healthy for you to eat so little."
Vin glared at him. "You ain't my mama."
Buck snapped his fingers. "It's your metabolism!"
JD looked at his friend quizzically. "Thought that was your problem, Buck."
Buck cast the youth a hard gaze. "What I have is Animal Magnetism, JD. I'm talkin' Vin's metabolism."
Ezra shook his head, chuckling. "I wasn't aware you were acquainted with two such large words, Mister Wilmington."
Vin rolled his eyes, but his half-smile said he was finding this exchange amusing.
Buck glared at Ezra. "I'm not as ignorant as ya' might think, Ez. Vin's metabolism is all out of whack. Tell 'im, Nathan."
Nathan nodded. "Could be right, Vin. All you do is lean, walk like you don't have a care in the world, sleep like you do, and eat like we're all on rations. I reckon if this town was hit by a tornado, it wouldn't shake you up none the least."
Vin shrugged. "I am what I am, Nathan."
"Spoken like a true philosopher," Ezra piped in as he took a sip of his coffee.
Josiah and Chris just ate while they listened.
Buck scooped a couple of pieces of bacon onto Vin's plate. "Have some meat, there, Junior. It will make me feel better."
"Can't," Vin replied as he finished off his toast. He handed the pieces of bacon to Chris and stood taking his plate to the bar. "I'm full."
"Full?!" Buck cried out. "How can a man be full on one egg and one slice of bread. The boy is sick, Chris. You better have Nathan check him out."
"Vin's Vin, Buck. Leave him be."
"That's right, Bucklin, leave me be."
"Josiah, you're a man of wisdom, help me out here," Buck pleaded.
Josiah shrugged. "As long as Vin doesn't keel over during a gun fight, I reckon he can eat the way he wants to."
Vin tipped his hat to the preacher and gave him a small grin as he reached over and took the mug of coffee Inez poured for him. "Thank ya', again, Inez."
"My pleasure, Senor Vin," Inez replied with a smile; then she went back to her duties.
Buck sat back. "Here I am, just tryin' to show I care and all I get is grief."
JD reached over and patted Buck's stomach. "From the looks of things, Buck, you could eat for both you and Vin."
"Uh-oh," Chris muttered. "That's gone and done it."
"What are you sayin', Boy? That I'm getting fat?"
JD shrugged, "Well, your clothes are fittin' a bit tight around the middle, there, Buck."
"See? What did I tell you? Grief!" Buck looked at Chris imploringly, but the gunslinger shrugged as he sipped his coffee. "You started it," he said, simply.
Buck's look turned into daggers.
"Mister Wilmington, I could share with you some eating secrets that would eliminate some of that obvious paunch in your stomach. They are truly magnificent..."
JD decided it was time to change the subject. "You all coming to the recital tonight?"
"Recital?" Vin asked. He came back over to sit down, sipping his coffee as he did so.
"That's right, our resident actor has been asked to perform the piece that helped him win that twenty dollars last night," Ezra said.
Josiah smiled. "I remember hearing something about that being part of the contest. Congratulations, JD."
"Well, I'm hoping you all will come to see it. It will help me to know you fellas are out there."
Vin leaned back in his chair. "Reckon I'll be there, JD."
The others echoed their assent and JD beamed. He then turned to Vin. "Will that Marcus fella be there, too?"
Vin and Chris exchanged glances. Chris shrugged. "He's part of the company, JD. I reckon he'll be there."
"Good, cause I want to meet him. Buck met him last night and..."
"You did, Buck? When was that?" Nathan asked.
"When I took that...actress..." he almost sneered, "to the hall last night. Marcus was there, working away, and I got a chance to meet him. He seems like a very interesting man."
"He is," Vin said, quietly.
"What can you tell us about him, Vin?" Josiah asked. "Chris seems rather tight lipped about the subject."
Vin shrugged. "Marcus is helpin' me with my readin', is all. He's a poet, I reckon."
Chris pushed his plate away and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He took another sip of coffee. "Has he talked about the fire at all?"
Vin looked thoughtful. "Not much. Seems to be eatin' at 'im, though. Kinda hopin' he'll talk about it today, but I ain't gonna push 'im."
Chris nodded solemnly. He knew what it was to keep secrets locked away himself. Vin looked over at his friend and saw the far away expression. Chris felt the gaze and glanced up. I'm all right, Vin. The silent message was sent.
Vin nodded. He knew where Chris' thoughts were straying to...the fire that had taken his wife and child three years before.
"How badly is the man disfigured?" Ezra asked.
Vin tensed. "It ain't what a man looks like, Ez, it's who he is."
Ezra's eyes widened. "I meant no offense, Mister Tanner. Obviously he is a man worthy of respect, to garner such from you. I was merely trying to ascertain if you believe there will be trouble from the citizens who might not understand the way we do."
Vin's tension eased and his face softened. "Reckon he'll be all right. Long as he keeps to hidin'. Somethin' he's been doin' fer awhile now."
"But he did come out of hiding last night I hear?" Nathan asked.
Vin nodded. "Yeah. Figured it couldn't hurt since everyone was at the play last night. He seemed to enjoy hisself."
JD looked intrigued. "Wish I could'a been there to see him perform, Vin. Dan was praising him up one side down the other."
Vin smiled warmly. "Well, Dan seemed to be pleased Marcus was willin' to perform just fer us three. Reckon he never thought he'd get a private showin'."
Josiah finished his last bite of egg and pushed his plate away. "I remember reading about that fire. Hathaway lost his son, didn't he?" he asked.
Chris nodded. "And from what I can gather, though I can't prove it, he blames Marcus for his son's death."
Vin smirked with disgust. "Marcus wouldn't hurt a fly," he said.
"Maybe not now, Vin," Chris pondered. "But what about before the fire?"
"You're talkin' hearsay, Chris. All ya' know is what Mary told ya'. We haven't even heard Marcus' side of the story, yet, or fer that matter Hathaway's." There was an edge of warning in Vin's tone.
Chris raised his hand in surrender. "I know, Vin. Calm down. I'm not accusing Marcus of anything. It's just...if we can help him...we have to know what happened."
Vin lowered his head. "And if'n he don't want no help?"
Chris sighed. "Then we let it go."
"What exactly did Mary tell you, Chris?" Nathan asked.
"She said that Hathaway told her Marcus is crazy. Neither of them think Vin should be hanging around him. I think Hathaway's full of it, but we're on the outside looking in."
Vin shook his head. "Marcus had plenty of chances to hurt me yesterday, when I went fer my first lesson. He did nothin' but be a friend."
"Still, Vin, being scarred like that and coming through a terrible experience can sometimes cause a man to...well...not be right in the head," Nathan said with compassion.
Vin shot him a glare. Nathan knew about the scars on Vin's back and how he got them. "Horse shit, Nathan. You're just sayin' that 'cause ya' don't know 'im."
Nathan nodded with understanding. "Course it would all depend on how strong the man is, too, whether he maintains control or not."
"I say we meet him, then," JD said. "Today."
Chris and Vin exchanged surprised looks. "Been thinkin' 'bout that all ready, Chris. I could ask 'im. If he all ready met Buck I'm sure he wouldn't mind meetin' the rest of y'all."
"I say we go straight to the horse's mouth," Josiah said. "Let's judge for ourselves."
"Indeed," Ezra said. "It would behoove all of us to meet the man who has obviously become a kindred spirit to our own Poet Laureate of Four Corners." The gambler lifted his cup of coffee to Vin in a toast.
Vin gave him a lopsided grin.
Chris chuckled as he lit a cheroot. He caught Vin's grin again. What are you laughin' about, Cowboy?
"Hathaway," Chris answered Vin's silent question. Then he gave the tracker a look that said: Just thinking what Hathaway would do if he found out we're not listening to him.
Hell, he'd blow steam from his ears.
Reckon he would.
The other members of the Seven saw the looks exchanged between the two friends and sighed. The Silent Communication was becoming so much the standard norm for those two that no one paid it any mind anymore.
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