Note: Not mine and never will be
Thanks: To NT for her great betaing as always
This is a great site if you dont know anything about guns! Go to Ask the Experts to ask your question. To retrieve your answer you do have to go back and find your question, but if I can figure it out, I know you can.
Special Thanks to Twy: for giving me a reason to finally write this story
This is the answer to a missing part of a major storyline in my Orphan Train story that I left out when I got in too big of a hurry to post the original. <sigh> Not completely necessary to read Orphan Train first, but it might be of interest all the same.
(Moved to Blackraptor January 2010)
The large preacher man sat at the table in the far corner, watching over the people in the bar. It had been a week since the children had been delivered to Ridge City, where they had been handed over to the army for their protection as they headed on towards Hamilton. The prisoners had been sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison. Mrs. Oleta was now staying with Mary as she gained back her strength. Nathan had said that it probably be another month before she was ready for the long journey back to New York, and Samuel, Sammy to them, was now with the Tulleges with his sister, Layton. As Josiah sat there, smiling, eyes gazing over the area, his eyes fell upon the single attraction of the saloon. Ezra was back to his old self and holding court at his table.
Watching the man flick cards out around the table faster than anyone could see, Ezra let his well-know smile flicker, showing off his gold tooth. The man oozed charm, grace and congeniality. Josiahs smile dipped a little when he remembered that just a little over a week ago all that had vanished in a blink of an eye, leaving behind a man that was as cold and deadly as the one who had started the gunfire in the attack of the loaded wagons of children. The only difference had been that, while Ezra had come too close to that precept that separates man from animal, he had not crossed it. There had been something else that had bothered Josiah about Ezra after they had found the group of outlaws, those guns. More specifically, the rifle. Vin, himself, had said hed hate to ponder why a man like Ezra had need of rifle like that. That was one of the reasons Josiah was sitting here today, staying sober. He wanted to talk to Ezra about the rifle and he knew he had to be sober in order to do it. Trying to talk to Ezra when one was sober was hard enough, it was close to impossible to do it if one had a drink in them.
Josiah watched another man fold his cards and walk away from the table. There was only one player left. Josiah slowly got to his feet and casually walked to the table and sat down. Ezra was shuffling the cards with an ability and dexterity that boggled the mind. While Ezra was shuffling, Josiah turned his attention to the other player. Giving the man a hard look, he was pleased when the fellow suddenly called it quits and quickly exited the saloon. Ezra simply cast his green eyes towards the preacher and asked in his slow southern drawl, I do hope you have a worthy excuse for chasing away that fellow, Mr. Sanchez. It wouldnt be very prudent of you to chase away money from my pocket for nothing other than a simple conversation.
Josiah fidgeted in his seat. When he had set out moments earlier to talk to Ezra, hed had it all planned out in his head. He realized belatedly that his timing and actions where off key and therefore might have a direct impact on Ezras willingness to talk to him.
Ezra sighed heavily as he doled out the cards between them. You wish to ask something? he asked rather perturbed.
Josiah picked up his cards and shifted them about in his hands. I was a thinkin, Josiah started, and then paused, placing his bet on the table.
Is this something new to you and you thought to inform the community? Ezra quipped. He was not pleased that Josiah had chased off a customer that had the potential for lining his pockets very well.
Josiah smarted at the remark. No, he shot back, irritated with himself and Ezra. Sometimes sparring with Ezra was like holding your hand out to a lion and daring it to bite it off. Gathering his nerve, Josiah decided it would be best to just get it out in the open. I wanted to ask about the guns, he said, looking at his cards and realizing Ezra had dealt him the worst hand possible.
What specifically about the guns do wish to know? Ezra asked, refusing to make it easier on the older man.
Well, about the Sharps? Josiah asked, hoping he picked the weapons hed be mostly likely to get a straight answer about.
Ezra shrugged as he laid down a full house. A man should never bet more than hes willing to lose, he said with a smile, as he collected the few coins that had been betted.
Josiah watched as Ezra reshuffled the cards. And the rifle? Josiah asked, as he picked up another rotten hand.
Ezra gave him a calculated look. Did you come here to play cards or to try and improve your interrogation skills? Because you obviously need help in both areas, Ezra remarked without a smile, laying down a small straight.
Josiah took the not-so-subtle hint and sat back into the chair. There would be no forthcoming answers, so he figured he might as well play for the fun of it. If he kept after him, Ezra would garner his whole months salary before he knew it.
Play cards, Josiah answered with a dip in his smile.
Ezra smiled pleasantly and dealt out a better hand to the big man. The time passed quietly between the two friends. Josiah had a lot of questions and a lot to say, but knew this was not the time. The wounds were still too fresh to be picked at and the ex-preacher had learned the tough way that it was not a good idea to make an enemy of Ezra. No matter how disarming the man looked, he could be turn deadly in a blink of an eye. Josiah instead just accepted a quiet evening playing cards with a friend.
Vin Tanner was dead tired. The past couple of weeks had been physically and emotionally draining. He was grateful that these past few days had been quiet; he didnt think he could take much more excitement. Climbing into his wagon, he pulled the closure to, intending to get some sleep. Sitting down on the lumpy cotton mattress, he pulled off one boot and threw it under the bed out of the way. The sound following was something metallic. Bending over, Vin ran his hand under the wooden frame and felt the long object. Grabbing hold of the weapon, Vin pulled it from where he had stored it when they had returned from retrieving Fleming and his gang. Opening the flaps of his Conestoga back, the small amount of moonlight that lit inside bounced off the shiny metal, causing it to shimmer like gold. Slipping his boot back on, he crawled out of his wagon and went in search of the gambler.
Ezra always took the last patrol of the night, so Vin knew exactly where to find the man while he waited until his appointed hour. Slipping into the dimly lit salon, Vins sight went straight to the side table where the cardsharp was sitting playing a game of solitaire. He walked over to the bar, leaned over the edge and grabbed himself a glass. Walking over to the table where the gambler was sitting, he slid into a chair.
Ezra had watched the tracker walk in with a rifle in his hands. Looking at his friend, he kept his eyes off the rifle. Mr. Tanner, the southerner drawled out heavily, What brings you out at this hour?
Thought Id finally return this to ya, Vin said in a quiet tone, laying the rifle on the table. The polished finish catching the flickering light of the one lamp in the room.
Ah, yes, Ezra said slowly, not bothering to move the weapon. It seemed that tonight was doomed to have him speaking of the weapon in question. The only relief was that it was going to be to the tracker and not the preacher. For some reason, Ezra knew Vin would sit and listen without judgment far more than Josiah.
Vin sat in silence, giving Ezra the choice of whether or not to talk about the rifle. His curiosity was peaked, he couldnt deny it, but butting into a mans past unjustly could get him killed or, at the very least, decked.
The gambler sat at the table watching the cards in his hands dance in and out of his hands. Without looking to see if the tracker was listening, he began to speak. You heard of the battle at Cold Harbor, Virginia? Ezra asked quietly, his mind already traveling back ten years.
The South was more than just a place on a map, or a dividing line drawn in the sand. It was a way of life, a culture, a way of being. Being southern was ingrained him as much as good manners and breathing. It was not something one put on in the mornings or took off in the evenings like a coat; it was with one forever, wherever one might travel.
Vin nodded slowly at the question. Yep, I heard of it. One of the bloodiest battles fought, so I hear, the Texan drawled out slowly. He hadnt fought in the war, but knew many that had. He now wondered if Ezra had fought, too. It would explain a few things if he had.
June 3rd, 1864. A day in which one of Grants biggest miscalculations took place, Ezra said, with no great pleasure.
The war had bought conflict to his life personally. While he was a thorough southerner and would never denounce it otherwise, he had been forced to live with enough relatives that owned plantations to see the less pleasant aspects of life. He would never get in an argument over the wars rightfulness or wrongness. The war had been waged, fought diligently and with pride on both sides and, in the end, there had been freedom for the slaves. They were supposedly the victors of the campaign. Ezra was too realistic to see it as a true win, because while Lincoln could abolish slavery, no one could abolish hatred. That was one thing both sides had plenty of.
Ezra looked at the tracker waiting for him to speak on his own terms. This was where Vin and some of the others differed. While the Texan was patient, the others would have been peppering him with questions. Ezra shuffled the cards mindlessly. The hypnotic shushing sounds they made as they fell together sent Ezras mind back to that time he had just as soon forget.
I was passing through, Ezra began, not expanding on the statement. At this, the tracker had to smile. That was the non-committal Ezra he knew. Never allowing the other person to know the truth. For a moment, Vin wondered again if Ezra had been in the war.
Ezra continued talking as his mind drifted back to the carnage that had taken place. It was past the middle of the day. The major part of the battle had been fought and only small skirmishes continued to break out around the area. Grant had taken a beating, even though he had the larger army. Heard he lost over five thousand men in just the first hour of fighting. The Confederates only lost 1500, Ezra added, the smallest of smiles appearing on his face. Which only teaches us to never discount an underdog, Mr. Tanner, the southerner drawled.
Vin laughed in spite of himself. He wondered if Ezra was referring to himself as an underdog or whether he was alluding to something else. Picking up his beer glass, he quietly toasted the remark and took a swig.
Now where was I? Ezra asked, reshuffling his cards.
You were passing by a large battle field on one of its bloodiest days, Vin said with a smirk.
Ah, yes. Ezra regrouped his thoughts. I came upon a young man. I shall neither mention his name nor which side he was fighting on; neither are relevant to the story. Suffice to say, he was injured and trapped by sporadic gunfire, Ezra said with shrug.
I could not, for reasons which I wont explain, take him directly into his camp --not at that moment at least. I found a group of trees not to far off that would provide him with adequate relief from the beaming sun. Since there were still skirmishes about, I felt it necessary to shall we say; pass the time amid the protection, Ezra said, never quite looking Vin in the eye.
Vin guffawed. You mean you had the guy in hiding? he said with a large smile.
Ezra frowned deeply. Mr. Tanner, hiding denotes cowardice. That was not the case. I merely thought it prudent that we stay in seclusion until safer travel methods, other than walking amongst the enemy, could be found, Ezra said sharply, his face belying his unhappiness with the trackers choice of words.
Vin realized his error immediately and raised his beer mug in surrender to the point given and taken. He had no intentions of marring Ezras actions. He had just meant to say that Ezra was keeping the soldier safe. He could see it would be a few minutes before Ezra might start talking again and reflected on how quickly Ezra had angered when he thought hed been labeled a coward. Drinking down a large swallow, Vin figured that discussion was for another time.
Ezra sat in the near darkness of the saloon.. His thoughts drifting back once more as he recalled a twentish-year-old Ezra, alone and desperately trying to make his way across a field without being shot by either side. In the thickness of the smoke, he knew it would be too easy to be mistaken as the enemy by either camp. He had scouted around a molehill, too low to the ground to provide much cover, but he hoped it would be enough. Coming in from the side, he was startled by a weeping sound. Immediately on guard, Ezra grabbed his gun and peered on the other side of the hill. The sight had him immediately holstering his weapon and dropping to the ground. The bleeding lad before him couldnt have been more than sixteen. He was holding both hands over the flowing wound on his side. As the pale face lifted up, big, scared, brown eyes captivated Ezra for a moment. Criticizing himself, for what he was about to do, Ezra dropped to the ground, took off his jacket and ripped his shirtsleeve off. One look at the boy with his calloused hands and sinewy muscles told Ezra this was no city kid. What are you doing out here? You ought to be home helping your pa taking care of the farm, the gambler rebuked softly as he tried to stem the flow of blood with the shirtsleeve.
Is fightin, the boy replied innocently.
Ask a dumb question, get a dumb answer, Ezra muttered to himself.
Covering the shivering boy with his jacket, Ezra looked around for help. The only people nearby seemed quite intent on killing one another. Any other time, a white flag would have been adequate in retrieving and getting help, but not after the hatred this battle had produced. Emotions ran high on both sides and Ezra didnt figure either side would be willing to give aide to a foreseen enemy.
Looking back down at the young man, Ezra asked, Whats your name?
Private Wilkerson, sir, the soldier hissed out.
Please to meet you, Private Wilkerson, though I do wish the circumstances under which we were meeting were slightly better, Ezra said, intentionally not introducing himself.
Keeping his head down behind the little coverage the rise was giving, Ezra struggled to find a safer place to be. He finally spotted a small grove of ten or more trees a hundred yards away. Great, he grumbled. Looking back down at the scared youth, he shook his head at his soon-to-be-stupid, foray into kindness. Alright, listen to me. There is a stand of trees about a hundred yards from here. We have to get to them, you understand? Ezra asked sternly. The boy looked at him with confidence, knowing there was really no choice in the matter.
Yes, sir, the boy said weakly, nodding his head.
Aint old enough to be called sir, Ezra mumbled, as he counted to three and then in one swift move, stood and hoisted the heavy farm boy over his shoulders. Mother would surely be appalled if she were to see me now, Ezra gritted out under his breath.
He could only hope the men around them were too busy to pay them any attention. What seemed like twenty miles later, Ezra reached the stand with his burden. The only proof he had that the boy had stayed with him through the trek was the frequent grunts and moans.
Placing his burden on the ground, Ezra checked the bleeding. It had slowed down to a seep. Dreading what he saw as necessary, Ezra clenched his eyes closed and gritted his teeth as he tore off the other sleeve of his shirt. Talking to a now unconscious person, Ezra said, I do hope you appreciate the sacrifice I am making for you. Your bandages are quite expensive. Coming from a quaint little shop in England. Ezra sighed, as no movement or noise came from the wounded soldier. Ezra pressed the new bandage to the old one and settled down, attempting to make himself as comfortable as he could on the hot, hard ground. Ezra tried to keep the boy as comfortable as possible throughout the day, using what little water he had in his canteen to keep the wound clean. By late afternoon, only a few skirmishes flitted in and around Ezra and his wounded soldier. The rest of the armies were collecting their dead and tending to their wounded. For a moment, Ezra thought about sneaking out and going to find someone from the boys company, but he wasnt sure about leaving the young man alone. So, he did the only thing he saw possible to make it out alive himself; he waited until dark before taking the soldier up once more. Walking towards a burning fire in the distance, Ezra watched and listened with each step he took, careful not to be caught. When he was twenty yards away, he laid the wounded man down on the ground and took up his jacket. Placing both hands on either side of the pale face, he got the boys attention. I didnt risk my life so you could waste yours. Go home and be a help to your family, Ezra directed, before moving off.
When he was sure he was safe enough, he cupped his hands around his mouth and gave a cry for help. Listening from where he was crouched, he heard the sounds of many footsteps crashing through the dark, and someone stumbling across the wounded boy. Ezra had felt a sense of relief when the soldiers company found the wounded boy and took him back to camp. Seeing the soldier was in good hands, Ezra backed out of the area and continued on his way. Afterwards, though, he would sporadically wonder in the following years whether the man-child had survived and made it back home; there had been many on both sides that hadnt.
Vin watched his friend under lowered lashes. Ezras normal blank expression gone, emotions from sorrow and worry to a wry smile flittered across the features. The Texan wished the man would share more of what had taken place, but didnt hold out any hope of it happening. Shifting in his chair, Vin was about to call it quits when Ezra began speaking again.
I was in Kentucky, of all places, visiting Mother last year, he said, stopping a moment to look speculatively at the man beside him. Did you know that at the beginning of the Civil War, the Governor of Kentucky refused both sides call for volunteers? Resolved that Kentucky would remain neutral and would take no part in the fighting? Ezra asked, his face displaying a look of unbelief. Did he really believe that would happen? he asked rhetorically.
Vin knew that the question didnt warrant an actual answer and simply said, Some people got hopes bigger than reality.
Amen, to that, Ezra said, upturning his glass before refilling it. So, where was I? Ezra asked. Oh, yes. Mother, he said derisively. She had declared it was mandatory I escort her to a soirées she had been invited to attend. I figured it was just one more in a long line of her attempts to find me the perfect wife, Ezra said distastefully, rolling his eyes at the word perfect. You understand perfect meaning that the woman in question be wealthy and easily manipulated, he added mockingly, then took a drink of his whiskey and swished it in his mouth before swallowing in an attempt to rinse his mouth of something foul.
I had found the bar, and was attempting to find a secluded place in which to drink my libation when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find myself staring into the face of a man that looked vaguely familiar and yet a stranger at the same time, Ezra said, his mind drifting again.
That soldier you found? Vin guessed, intrigued by the story and no longer feeling so tired.
Yes, Ezra said with a smile. We slid out a back door out into the garden and found seclusion. It turned out he took my parting words more to heart than I had intended. After his return home, he took a job as apprentice with an architect. After a few years, he was made a partner. It turned out he is a natural architect, Ezra smirked.
Vin wasnt sure what an architect was, but wasnt going to ask. Ezra caught the reflective look on his friends face and added, He can see what a building should look like and draw it to perfection. Vin nodded slightly, catching the hint.
He made quite the fortune in the aftermath of the war in rebuilding many of the destroyed cities and towns, Ezra said, reflectively.
The following night I was asked to meet him at his estate. When I got there, he had that rifle hanging over the mantle. He awarded me the honor of having such a rare beauty, his voice fading slightly.
Ezra stopped talking again as he reflected that moment.
The previous year:
Ezra stood at the mantle admiring the finely crafted rifle, a Remington 1of 1000. The wooden stock had been rubbed to a sleek, smooth finish. The long barrel was made of high quality steel; the intricate design engraved with perfection. The stock plate on the butt of the gun not only had the brand of the gun, but also the owners name. The double sights mounted on the top ridge of the barrel were set with exact precision, each of the added amenities making the rifle even more valuable. Wilkerson lifted the rifle down from its resting place and handed it to Ezra. The southerner ran his hand appreciatively over the fine piece of craftsmanship and whistled low in admiration.
Its one of only one hundred and thirty-six made, Wilkerson supplied, a smile showing his pride in obtaining such a rarity.
Ezra looked up in surprise. Then it surely is a worthy prize, he said.
Ezra handed the gun back and the two men seated themselves. Wilkerson poured two tumblers of the finest Kentucky Bourbon. In a way, I owe all this to you, the man said, sweeping his hand in an encompassing gesture.
Shifting slightly, Ezra waved off the compliment. I assure you, sir, I was just doing what any descent individual would do in rendering aid to the fallen, he said, deciding this subject was getting too personal.
Well, I do appreciate you risking your life for me, but I meant the words you spoke to me before departing. I took them to heart, Wilkerson explained.
My words? Ezra asked. He had forgotten he had spoken anything before leaving. He only remembered wanting to get out of the vicinity as quickly as possible.
You told me not to waste your efforts in saving my life, Wilkerson said. After I returned home, I became determined not to let you down, he said sincerely.
Oh, Ezra simply said, being at a loss for words. He didnt recall saying anything to that effect.
Looking at the man who had saved his life, Wilkerson rose from his chair and walked over to the mantle. I want you to have this, he stated taking down the rifle, in return.
Ezra was speechless. No one had given him such a great honor. Rising, Ezra walked over to the man. Dear sir, I can not possibly take such a gift as this, Ezra said, inwardly wanting to take it.
Nonsense, The architect said. Think of it as a payment on an honorable deed.
Ezra inwardly snorted at the statement. No one would ever believe that Ezra P. Standish was capable of doing an honorable deed. Gazing at the offered reward, Ezra carefully took the rifle from Wilkersons hands and nodded silently. There were no words for the honor of this mans offer. He knew he could never let his mother know about his deed or rifle. She would mock the first, and try and persuade him to sell the second.
Grabbing the glasses, Wilkerson handed Ezras his and raised his in a toast, To good things in life.
Ezra raised his and nodded. Indeed, sir, indeed.
Ezras vision cleared back to the present. Neither man spoke. Vin knew the gambler was trusting him to keep the confidence of a shared a secret and would do so. As the two friends drank down the last of their libation, the small clock in the back of the bar chimed. Ezra sat up straighter in his chair and said, Ahh, I see the hour of my excursion into the dark has arrived.
Vin stood with Ezra and glanced down at the weapon. Ezra also looked down at the table and pushed the rifle towards the tracker. Perhaps, you would be so kind as to keep this stored until a later date in which I can retrieve it? Ezra asked.
Vin wasnt sure what the man was up to, but nodded in agreement. Sure, Ezra. You know where it is, he said.
Ezra tipped his hat with a smile. Indeed I do. In very capable and worthy hands.
Together the two men walked out into the dark night, each going their separate ways.