Vin sat in the front row chair, leaning forward, intent on catching every word from the player's mouths.
Chris leaned back in his chair beside Vin and rested his arms on the backs of the chairs to his sides. Ezra sat beside Vin and Nathan sat beside Chris. They were engrossed as The Scottish Play' was performed in front of them.
When Marcus took center stage and performed the Dagger of the Mind speech, JD, Buck and Josiah watched from the side of the stage. JD's eyes were wide with wonder. Buck grinned down at him. The youth was star struck; there was no denying it.
At the end of the speech, Marcus bowed, signaling the end of the performance and those sitting stood with loud applause and cheers. JD ran out and took Marcus' hand, shaking it enthusiastically. "That was...that was so...so..."
"Spectacular?" Josiah assisted.
"Yes!" JD said. "That was spectacular!"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The enraged voice forced them all to stop their applause. They turned to see Hathaway standing there in the aisle, his hands on his hips and a very angry scowl on his face. "Teddy, you have no right to be on that stage doing what you're doing. You were hired to set up the stage. I suggest you stop this farce and get on with your job!"
Marcus frowned. His shoulders sagged. He gestured to the men surrounding him. "I'm sorry, Mister Hathaway. These gentlemen just wanted to see me perform."
"Yes, sir," JD spoke up with determination. "We did."
"Well, Gentlemen, I'm afraid I must ask you all to leave. Teddy has work to do. The stage cannot dress itself." The look in Hathaway's eyes was none too pleased.
Vin approached him. "Mister Hathaway, we're the ones who distracted Marcus. If y'all let us, we can help him with the stage."
Hathaway glared at him with slit eyes. "Mister Tanner, is it?"
Vin nodded. "That's right."
Hathaway studied him, none too kindly. "Ah, so you're the one who's been pulling my stage manager away from his duties. I admire your poetic talent, Mister Tanner, but not enough to see you interfere with the duties of my people. Marcus knows his responsibilities and performing is not part of his job." He looked over at the actor, anger in his gaze. "I suggest you get to work immediately, Teddy, or I will assign a new stage manager to this troupe."
"Now wait just a damn minute!" Vin stepped up closer to Hathaway. "Ya' can't speak to him like that. He ain't done nothin' wrong fer ya' to treat him..."
"Vin," Marcus called out. "Let it go. He is, after all, my boss."
"Yes, Teddy. I am your boss," Hathaway said, looking back to him, a forced smile on his face. "You can perform all you want, but not on this stage, and not on my time. Get to work." Hathaway turned and headed back toward the exit.
Vin started to storm off after him. "It's our fault! Ya' want to yell at someone, yell at us!"
Chris reached out and took Vin's arm. "Calm down, Vin."
Vin looked at Chris, anger filling his eyes. "He can't treat Marcus like that."
"Yes, he can, Vin. Unfortunately, being Marcus' boss allows him the right to reprimand."
"Maybe so, but intentionally humiliatin' him? In front of us?"
Marcus had by this time left the stage and approached them. "Vin, I appreciate your concern, but Mister Hathaway is right. I need to be doing my job in preparing the stage for tonight's performance. Now, I am ever grateful to you all for giving me another chance to perform on stage, but the curtain has fallen and it is time for me to get on with my life, such as it is."
"We'll help you, Marcus," JD said. "Hathaway didn't exactly say we couldn't."
"That's right. Most of us are pretty good with hammers and nails and such," Josiah said. "Just tell us what to do."
"Right," Vin said. "We'll have this stage lookin' so purty, Hathaway will have to give ya' a raise."
Marcus looked at each of the men with astonishment. "I can't take you all away from your duties."
"Eight pairs of hands, Mister Marcus, as opposed to one...why, I believe we will have this stage set to rights within an hours time...two at the most," Ezra said.
"You're volunteering to help with manual labor, Ez?" Nathan asked with a snicker. "Never thought I'd see the day."
"Mister Jackson, it's the least I can do after that wonderful performance Mister Marcus bestowed upon us."
"Man's got a point," Chris said to Marcus. "Consider our help compensation for the entertainment."
"Well, now, I must say I never expected such generosity." Marcus nodded with resolve. "Very well, then. Let's get to work. JD, if you and Vin will go back stage, there are toolboxes that need to be brought forward. Mister Sanchez, if you and Mister Wilmington will follow me I can show you what lumber needs to be carried out." He turned to Chris, Ezra and Nathan. "I can show you three what other supplies need to be brought out, paint, paint brushes, that type of thing."
"Let's get to it," Vin said, and they all set to work.
+ + + + + + +
The work did in fact take only ninety minutes. Harding had brought the supplies as promised and the craftsman and art skills of all involved were put to use. The stage was ready by the time Hathaway returned.
The owner of the troupe inspected the stage with a bewildered expression. "Everything is just the way it should be. I must say, Teddy, I'm surprised."
"In all honesty, Mister Hathaway, it was these seven men who assisted me."
Hathaway looked at all of the men. His smile was forced again. Chris and Vin exchanged looks. Watching people for as long as they had, they learned to read body language well. Hathaway was furious and he was trying to hide it under false politeness. "You did?"
"That's right," Buck said. "Since we got him in trouble it was only fitting we get him out of it."
"I see. Very...honorable of you men." The tension did not ease from Hathaway's body. His jaw was clenched. Vin and Chris squared their shoulders.
JD watched the two and knew something wasn't right. They only stood like that when trouble was going to come down. He exchanged glances with Buck who nodded once to him. The scoundrel had noticed the chill drop in the atmosphere as well. Josiah was all ready standing his ground, his arms crossed in front of him. Ezra was leaning against the edge of the stage floor, casually flicking away lint from his red jacket with his right hand. Nathan was standing beside him and shook his head with disbelief. Hathaway, though being involved with actors, did not seem able to control his emotions to the point of believability.
"Honor ain't got nothin' to do with it, Mister Hathaway," Vin said, in his quite and calm voice. "It was pure gratitude for Marcus sharin' his talent with us."
"That's right," JD said, stepping forward. "And if you ask me you should put Marcus back on stage."
Hathaway managed a strained smile at the youth. "Mister Dunne, I assure you, you have not the slightest clue as to how the acting business works."
"Sure we do," Buck said, leaning back against the stage next to Ezra and folding his arms over his chest. The look he gave Hathaway reminded JD of the look Buck had given him the day he had entered the Seminole village, the day he had first met the rest of the Seven. A look of wisdom graced with a smile. "You depend on appearances and physical beauty to bedazzle and mesmerize the audience so that they'll pay more money to see more shows. After all, we all like to look at pretty things and handsome settings. But when was the last time we all looked under the surface to find the diamond in a chunk of coal?"
Hathaway looked as if he was trying hard to control his temper. "Mister Wilmington, the stage is a place of beauty because the world is in a perpetual state of ugliness. People come here to escape that ugliness and to feast their eyes on what is desired in their lives. On the stage that desire becomes tangible."
"Tangible?" Chris said. "You see a false display and call it tangible?"
"Well maybe not in a literal sense, Mister Larabee, but the effect is enough to see people through another day of mundane tasks and reality."
"And what about the beauty of the heart?" Vin asked. "That to me sounds a more real substance than your false and ugly tangible one."
"And what would you know of ugliness, Mister Tanner? You with the face of Adonis."
Vin tensed. He clenched his hands into fists. Chris stepped forward, knowing exactly what was going through his friend's mind. He touched Vin's arm to calm him, but Vin jerked away. He glared at Hathaway and snarled through his teeth. "No words can reach you, Hathaway, cause ya' don't know how to listen." He turned and stormed off to the back of the stage. The sound of a door opening and closing with a crash caused Marcus to close his eyes in sorrow.
Chris turned on Hathaway his eyes glaring with rage. "Now I know why I don't like you, Hathaway. For your information that man has lived through more ugliness than you will ever allow yourself to see. Yet he still can see the beauty of a sunset. He can breathe in the air around him and savor every scent of the flowers and trees. He can look at a man with scars," he pointed to Marcus, "and see beyond the surface to the heart beneath. He is more an expert on beauty than you will ever be. Not because his face is beautiful, but because he can see past what you call ugly. Marcus may have a disfigured face, but your heart is withered and dried up, while his is still pure and alive!" Chris jabbed his finger into Hathaway's shoulder and pushed him out of the way as he turned and headed after Vin.
Everyone just stared after him, their mouths dropping to the floor. "I have never heard Chris speak so much in one sitting in the entire time I've known him," Buck said with awe.
"That's because he had something to say," Josiah said.
+ + + + + + +
When Chris reached the outside he found Vin leaning his shoulder against the corner of the building gazing out past the alley into the main street of town. The blond man approached him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "You all right?"
Vin sighed, shaking his head. "I just don't understand people, sometimes, Chris."
"Oh, I don't know about that. Seems to me you have Hathaway pretty much pegged."
Vin allowed a snicker. "Yeah, but what I don't understand...why can't people just accept people for who they are? Seems to me lots of people turn mean to each other because no one bothers to take the time to accept em...to get to know em."
Chris squeezed his shoulder. "And it seems to me it'll be people like you and Marcus to teach us how to do that, Vin."
Vin looked down for a moment, kicking the ground with the toe of his boot. "Maybe. But why do people have to be taught that at all?"
Chris shrugged. "Because they're ignorant and prideful, Vin. That's what it all boils down to."
Vin allowed a shrug himself. "Reckon."
A silence formed between the two friends and Vin looked down. "I want to apologize fer what happened on the street earlier."
Chris kept his hand on Vin's shoulder, knowing the physical contact was necessary at that moment. "You were thinking of Calder, weren't you?" he asked, softly.
Vin nodded. "I saw that guy whippin' Marcus and I just had to stop him."
Chris sighed. "I kinda figured that was the reason. You couldn't stop Calder from whipping you, but you could stop Marcus from being hurt."
Vin shut his eyes. "I don't know why I went off so violently, though."
"Bad memories come at us in different ways, Vin. I've gone off a time or two, myself. I don't have to tell you that. You've seen it."
Vin lifted his gaze, but did not look at Chris. He nodded. "If ya' hadn't been there today..." he let the thought trail off.
Chris squeezed his shoulder one more time and then removed it. "Don't think about it anymore, Pard. Try to let it go."
Vin did not reply. Chris knew, though, that the advice would go unheeded. Vin wasn't the type to react violently like that and not be haunted by his actions. The blond man just hoped that Vin would know he had friends who understood. "Why don't you take the day off? Take Marcus and leave town for awhile. His work's done for the day, and the rest of us can cover for you on patrol."
Vin nodded. "I could stand to get away for a few hours."
Chris clapped Vin on the back and headed on down the alley toward the street. Vin sighed, then wondered...did Marcus have a horse? Or even still...did the man know how to ride?
+ + + + + + +
Hathaway straightened his tie after Chris had left and had the decency to look mollified. "Well, if you all will excuse me...I have tickets to sell." He turned and started heading down the isle toward the front of the meeting hall, when JD stopped him. The youth reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money. "Here's your damn contest money, Mister Hathaway, minus the money I used to buy drinks last night. I don't care anymore that you chose me to win. And I won't be there at the play tonight to perform the piece that helped me win. If acting is this cold and ruthless and empty...then it's nothing I want to be a part of." JD turned and headed back to the others. Buck wrapped an arm around JD's shoulders and pulled him tightly to his side. A smile of pride beamed from his face. "Well done, Kid. Well done."
"I concur, Mister Dunne. A most excellent speech," Ezra said.
Hathaway gazed at all of them with bewilderment. Shaking his head in disgust he pocketed the crumpled wad of bills and headed out of the auditorium.
Marcus sighed heavily. "I can't help but feel responsible for all this. I'm terribly sorry for any hostility that..."
"Mister Marcus," Josiah said. "You have nothing to apologize for. The truth, once spoken, can sometimes be hard to look at, for many times it does reveal...one's ugliness."
"If anyone's at fault it's me," JD said. "I shouldn't have butted my nose in where it didn't belong, telling Hathaway to put you back on stage. I apologize, Mister Marcus."
"JD, did you speak those words from your heart?" Marcus asked.
"Yes, sir. I did."
"Then as far as I'm concerned I thank you from the bottom of mine and there is nothing to apologize for. I thank you all for everything you have done for me today." Marcus lowered his head and walked backstage.
The rest of the seven looked at each other. "Gentlemen, I believe we have duties of our own to perform. Mister Tanner and Mister Marcus will work this out between themselves. With some assistance from Mister Larabee, I presume."
"Perhaps I can assist as well, Ezra," Josiah said as he headed to the back of the meeting hall, following after Chris and Vin.
JD looked at Buck. "Where's he goin'?"
"Never you mind. I think Judge Travis has some paper work for you to do, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, but..." JD pointed back stage.
"But, but, but, but nothing. Come on, Kid. Let's get on with the...UGLINESS OF LIFE OUTSIDE THE STAGE'!" Buck spoke out loud, hoping Hathaway would hear the mocking tone.
"Mister Wilmington, really, how uncouth. We are treading on the sacred ground of act-tors," Ezra dramatized as they passed Hathaway in the foyer.
Nathan and JD snickered as they passed the troupe leader. Then JD straightened and slugged Buck in the arm. "Sometimes, Buck, I swear you're just an over grown kid."
"Takes one to know one," Buck said swiping his hand over JD's head, stealing his hat and running down the street.
"Buck! Buck! You give that back!"
Ezra and Nathan laughed as JD ran down the street after Buck.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah met Vin coming in through the back door of the hall and the preacher looked at him with worry. "Are you all right, Brother Vin?"
"Yeah, Josiah. Chris suggested Marcus and I take a ride out of town, sort of get away and all. I was on my way to ask Marcus if he owned a horse."
Josiah put his arm around Vin's shoulders. "Let's ask him together, and if he doesn't he is more than welcome to borrow mine."
Vin shot him a small smile. "Ya' sure ya' won't be needin' yours today?"
"With all the work on the church I have yet to do, Vin, I'll be lucky if that horse will make it out of his stall before Christmas."
Vin's smile grew. "Much obliged, Josiah."
"Consider it my way of showing support for the arts."
+ + + + + + +
As it turned out, Marcus did not own a horse and was very grateful for the opportunity to leave town for the day. He put on his scarf and hat and followed Vin and Josiah out the back way toward the livery. Vin took the lead with Josiah bringing up the rear in order to make sure Marcus would not be seen.
Inside the livery, Marcus took the time to approach Josiah's horse and acquaint himself with the animal. "Solomon has taken to you, Marcus," Josiah said as he placed the saddle over his horse's back.
"I seem to have a way with animals," Marcus said as he placed one hand under Solomon's chin and gently caressed the top of his muzzle.
Josiah looked over to see Vin hard at work saddling and bridling Peso. He stepped up closer to Marcus and whispered, "As well as quiet trackers."
Marcus looked over at Vin and nodded. "Believe me, Josiah, Vin has touched my heart as well. You all have. I can't thank you enough for giving me your horse to use today."
Josiah continued to cinch up the saddle. "My pleasure, Marcus. He's big, but he's gentle."
"Like his master?"
"Well, in that respect he's big, but the gentle part comes easy to him. I have to nurture mine."
"Seems to me ya' do all right, Josiah," Vin said as he wrapped his saddle cinch into a knot.
Josiah grinned. "And you are an optimist, Vin. Where do you think you'll be heading out to on this fine day?"
"If there's trouble y'all can find us at Shepherd's Rock. Ya' don't mind, do ya'?"
Josiah jerked his head to one side indicating a negative response. "Not at all, Vin."
"Why would you mind, Josiah?" Marcus asked.
"Josiah named the place we're goin' to. Said it reminded him of a paintin' he saw of Christ with a flock of sheep."
"I go out there when the pressure of responsibility gets too much. It's peaceful, it's beautiful, and it's a perfect spot to think of what's important."
"Sounds to me like it was aptly named. I am anxious to see it."
"You'll like it, Marcus. I know it," Vin said as he took Peso by the reins and started leading him out of the livery. "We'll head out the back of town, so no one will see us."
Marcus nodded as Josiah placed a canteen of water over the saddle horn and handed Marcus the reins. "He's bit trained so you shouldn't have any problems."
The three men left the livery out the back way and mounted. Vin held out his hand to Josiah and the preacher clasped it. "Vin, Marcus, may the wind be at your backs today."
Marcus held out his hand and Josiah shook it. "Thank you for the horse, Josiah. He truly is a magnificent animal."
"That he is. Enjoy the day, both of you."
Vin turned Peso and headed off out of town toward the nearest hill. Marcus followed. Josiah watched and judging from the way Marcus sat a saddle, he was a skilled horseman. He couldn't help the smile and turned to head back to the church.
On his way there he met Chris. "They take off?"
"Indeed they did. Shepherd's Rock if we find we need Vin's help."
"I think the only trouble brewing is with Mary. Seems JD left Hathaway high and dry for tonight."
"That he did, Brother Chris, that he did," Josiah said, a little gloating mixed in as he hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets.
Chris nodded. "Uh-huh, care to tell me what else happened?"
Josiah slowed his pace down until he stopped, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Let's see now. I believe he gave the money back as well. Said he didn't want to be associated with the likes of Hathaway and his way of business."
Chris nodded again. "And?"
Josiah grinned, a mischievous gleam in his eye. "Seems you're not the only one who can make a speech when the need arises."
Chris forced himself to stifle the chuckle that threatened to spill out of him.
Josiah filled the need for him, which caused Chris to give up the fight. "Wish I could have seen that one, Josiah."
"As the Bible says, out of the mouths of babes."
"Oh, don't let JD hear you say that."
"Never. I value my sanity as well as my life. Now, then, what of the lovely Mrs. Travis? Hathaway is a friend of hers, after all, and so is JD."
Chris shrugged. "Let them work it out. I never wanted the actors here to begin with."
"True, but if they hadn't come, Vin never would have met the great Theodore Marcus."
Chris stopped walking and bit his lower lip in thought. "You know something, Josiah? I hate it when you're right."
Josiah chuckled again.
+ + + + + + +
"JD, please reconsider. The people are turning their tickets back in simply because most of them wanted to hear your recital tonight," Mary pleaded from inside her Clarion newspaper office.
Ezra, Nathan and Buck were standing by the door their hats in their hands, listening to Mary try to smooth things over with the youth. JD stood in front of her desk, his face set. "I'm sorry, Mary, I mean no disrespect to you, but after seeing the way he treated Mister Marcus today...it just goes against my grain to be party to such blatant...disrespect...ma'am," he quickly added, knowing he was close to losing his temper.
"Well what if Mister Hathaway apologized for his...apparent...blunder, JD, would that suffice enough for you to change your mind?"
"It ain't me he has to apologize to, Mary."
The door opened and Chris and Josiah walked in. Chris nodded to Mary as he removed his hat. "Came to talk to JD for a minute."
"Please do, Mister Larabee. I can't seem to be getting through to him."
"Oh, don't misunderstand me," Chris spoke out softly. "I'm not doing this for Hathaway or his troupe. I'm doing this for JD, Marcus...and for Vin."
"For Vin? Mister Larabee, I thought you would be explaining to Vin the danger of..."
"If there's any danger, Mary, I believe it would be in bearing false witness. That would be Hathaway's mistake, not Marcus'."
"With all due respect, Mister Larabee, James has known Marcus a lot longer than either you or Vin."
"And Marcus is the one responsible for starting that fire that killed Hathaway's son. Even though it was an accident, he still blames Marcus. Wouldn't that constitute a degree of prejudice on his part?"
Mary crossed her arms in front of her chest. "I suppose if anyone would know it would be you, Mister Larabee."
Buck lowered his head, shutting his eyes in sorrow. That was the wrong thing to say to the gunslinger.
Chris glared at the woman.
Mary suddenly realized what she said and she paled. "Mister Larabee, I'm sorry. Please, I didn't mean that..."
Chris turned away from her and took JD by the shoulder, leading him out of the Clarion and onto the porch.
Mary lowered her head. "I honestly didn't mean to say that."
"Mrs. Travis, I admire your desire to have faith in your friends," Josiah said softly. "But you must practice that faith wisely, or it will blind you." He tipped his hat to her and started for the door.
They all stopped and turned to her. "I must ask...do you all believe that strongly that Vin is safe with Mister Marcus?"
"As safe as he would be with Chris or any of us, Ma'am," Buck replied.
"Can you be sure, though?" she asked, truly desiring assurance from them.
"We've met him, Mrs. Travis," Nathan said. "Have you?"
Mary sighed. It was clear she was ashamed. "It seems if you all think that highly of him and what he's doing for Vin, then I must meet the man as well. And that I must look more closely in the mirror to see what other faults lay within."
Josiah walked up to her and held out his hand. She reached out and he grasped hers, squeezing it gently. He leaned down and kissed it, giving her a wink.
Buck, Ezra and Nathan tipped their hats to her and smiled. She had gained their forgiveness for her rude comment, but the one she really needed to ask it from was the man standing outside talking with JD.
+ + + + + + +
"JD, I want you to reconsider reciting tonight."
"Chris! You can't mean that! After the way that man degraded Mister Marcus in front of us? After the way he talked down to Vin?"
"I know what he did, JD, but like I told Mary, I'm not asking you to do this for Hathaway, not even for me...but for Vin's sake as well as your own. And for Marcus' sake."
"How can my reciting tonight help Vin and Marcus?"
"You'll be doing what Marcus is unable to do because of his appearance. You'll be bringing words alive on stage. Vin can't do it because like he said once, he gets all nervous. But you, JD," Chris put a hand to the youth's shoulder and squeezed it, looking him square in the eyes. "You can make them both proud as well as the rest of us."
"Us? You won't be there, you hate performers."
"I'll be there, JD, if only to hear you recite."
JD's eyes went wide. "You will? Honestly?"
Chris nodded. "I'll be back stage with Vin and Marcus, but I'll be there. It may not change anything with Hathaway and the way he views the business, but..."
"It'll sure feel good knowing someone on that stage is doing it for the right reasons," JD finished for him.
Chris smiled and nodded. "Exactly."
JD turned to Buck who was just walking out the door, followed by the others. The mustached man nodded to him in encouragement to follow whatever it was Chris was telling him to do. He turned to see Mary through the window looking back at him with sorrow in her eyes. He squared his shoulders. "All right, Chris, but only because it's for us and Marcus."
Chris held out his hand and JD shook it. The gunslinger turned and headed for the jailhouse.
JD started to go back inside the Clarion when Josiah pulled him away. "I'd like to say something to you, JD, if that would be all right?"
"Sure, Josiah, what is it?"
The preacher put a hand on the youth's shoulder and sighed heavily. "If Buck came to you and said something, and you trusted that he was telling you the truth...and if someone else, say a brand new friend you'd come to know, came to you later and said the exact opposite of what Buck had told you. Would you not stand in defense of Buck?"
JD looked appalled. "Of course I would."
"Why? Because he's my friend. How could I not trust him?"
Josiah grinned. JD,' he thought, God love ya'.' He continued. "When you go in and talk to Mary, carry that information with you. She wants to trust us, but she also wishes to trust Mister Hathaway because he is also her friend. Right now she is torn, confused."
JD sighed. "Maybe so, Josiah, but she didn't have to say what she said to Chris."
"No, son, she didn't. And she's regretting that slip of the tongue greatly. She and Chris will work it out when the time is right, but for right now, just focus on what you need to do and remember where Mary is coming from. All right?"
JD was thoughtful for a moment then he nodded. "I understand, Josiah. I will."
Josiah patted his shoulder once. "Good man."
JD smiled at him and continued on into the Clarion.
Buck went up to Josiah. "What did you tell him?"
"Helped him put the shoe on the other foot, Buck. That's all."
+ + + + + + +
When the door opened Mary looked up. "JD?"
"Mary," he pulled his hat from his head and walked in, closing the door behind him. "I apologize if I came off angry a few minutes ago."
"That's all right, JD. I understand why."
"I wanted you to know that I'll go ahead and do the recital tonight, but only for Marcus and Vin and us. I can't do it for Hathaway. I just won't."
Mary nodded. "I understand, JD. Thank you."
JD nodded and walked out of the Clarion.
Mary watched him go and felt a sadness creep into her. Was Josiah right? Had her faith in James blinded her to the truth?
+ + + + + + +
Outside the Clarion, unseen due to being hid by the building, James listened as Chris and the young JD Dunne spoke. His anger welled up inside of him. Marcus had made friends of these men and they would inspire the actor to rebel against him. This whole year he had kept Marcus on a short leash, keeping him under control. Now with these men in his life and especially that Vin Tanner, Marcus would think he could do anything again. Have a life again. That was something that Hathaway simply could not stomach. He would put an end to this once and for all. He would find a way.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Buck walked into the jailhouse to see Chris sitting at the desk reading the newspaper articles again. "Chris?" Buck said as he walked in.
"What is it now?"
"It's Mary," Josiah said. "She truly regrets what she said to you back there."
"Yeah, Chris, she does," Buck chimed in. "She wants to meet Marcus. She knows she spoke brashly."
"Spoke," Chris smirked. "It seems we're all getting lessons on the use of words these past few days, ain't we?"
"Can you find it in your heart to forgive her, Chris?" Josiah asked.
Chris sighed as he leaned back in his chair. "She really wants to meet Marcus?"
"Yes, she said so herself," the preacher replied.
"Then as soon as he and Vin get back from Shepherd's Rock, she'll have the opportunity. I'll introduce her to him myself."
"Is that...a type of forgiveness?" Buck asked, cautiously.
Chris looked at him and his expression revealed nothing. "It's all I'm willing to give at this moment."
Josiah nodded. "It's a start, Chris."
The two men left the jailhouse and Chris watched them leave. Then he saw Hathaway come his way. "Now what?" he muttered. He really didn't want to deal with that man right now.
He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the desk. Then he pulled out his pocketknife and picked up the piece of wood on the desk he used for whittling. He began to carve and braced himself for what was to come.
Sure enough Hathaway stormed in, flustered and his face was red from anger. "You cannot allow this farce to continue, Mister Larabee. I'm telling you, Teddy Marcus is a dangerous man. I've seen how you all have taken a shine to him. Please, believe me, I know how he is. He gains your trust one moment, then the next he is capable of killing. You wouldn't want anything to happen to your friend would you, Mister Larabee? Marcus is unpredictable. Your friend could look at Marcus wrong and he could fly into a murderous rage causing your friend severe bodily injury."
Mary came in before Chris could answer this accusation on Marcus' behalf. "James, what are you doing here?"
"I'm trying to stop these men from blindly putting their faith in a man who could kill one of them with his bare hands!" The desperation in Hathaway's face pierced Mary's heart and she turned to Chris, all thoughts of seeing both sides of the story driven from her mind. If James was so determined to get his point of view across, there had to be some truth to his claims. "Mister Larabee, can't you see how James is only trying to help us?"
"He's trying to turn us against Marcus!" Chris almost shouted and he stood up in anger, slamming the piece of wood down on his desk. He glared at Hathaway and pointed his finger at him. "If you have a problem with Vin seeing Marcus then you talk to him! Don't go sneaking behind a man's back, spreading two-faced rumors about a man that none of us believe would hurt a fly, let alone a human being. And from what I've seen...all we have is your word on the way Marcus is. And right now, that's not good enough."
Hathaway took a moment to regain his composure. "I'm trying to help you see."
"Help me see, Hathaway?" Chris sneered. "If you had seen what I saw this morning you would know you have no leg to stand on."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm surprised you haven't heard about it. Five cowhands roughed up Marcus pretty good this morning right outside the hardware store. And if he was as dangerous as you say he is, then he would have fought back, but he didn't. He just took it from them. We managed to stop him from being hurt bad, but he didn't raise a finger against them. That's your dangerous man for you, Hathaway." Chris took his hat and walked around the desk heading out the door.
Mary was torn. She looked at Hathaway then she headed after Chris. "Mister Larabee, please...wait."
"Not now, Mary!" Chris seethed and he kept on walking. Damn, but he needed a drink. And fast.
Mary stopped following him and watched him head off further and further away. She lowered her head. "Well, Mary Travis, you've certainly messed up things between the two of you. Aren't you proud of yourself?"
"Mary?" Hathaway's voice came to her and she turned to see him walking toward her with concern. "Are you all right?"
"Please, James. Just leave me alone."
"You do believe me...don't you?" he asked with trepidation.
She shook her head. "All I believe right now is that I should never have invited you and your actors to this town. I'm sorry, James." She turned and headed back to her office, leaving Hathaway staring after her with sorrow. He clenched his fists and stormed back to the meeting hall. He knew what he had to do. Marcus had succeeded in destroying his life once. He would not succeed again.
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