Chapter 5 (cont.)
Chris stepped out onto the boardwalk with several of his men behind him. Ezra had yet to return and the thought of telling Cora the bad news was weighing heavy on everyones heart. They could see Mary and Nettie trying to comfort the older woman, who seemed be wearing a hole through the boardwalk. Gloria Potter stepped through the newspaper office door carrying a tray of coffee. They were all worried.
The street fires had gone out, unable to withstand the force of the rain. Mud and large puddles of water filled the road. Horses kept their tails pressed against their backsides, and their heads hung low. A few windows down the street glowed from the lights within, but that was the only illumination giving the residents a path to follow. Even the moon sought refuge behind the dark clouds.
Chris spurs jingled as he stepped off the boardwalk onto the muddied ground. The lone horse walking down the street captured everyones attention, but JD was the first to reach the animal.
Trouble? the kid questioned, and then sighed in relief when he saw the two small children who had been reduced to tears.
Josiah and Nathan quickly pulled Emily and Joseph from the saddle and headed for the warmth of the clinic. Cora jumped off the boardwalk with Nettie right behind her. Both women followed the two men up the stairs, their concern centered only on the children.
Thank you, Lord, Cora whispered, Dear heavens, thank you. She wiped the tears from her face and entered the warm room at the top of the stairs.
Trouble pulled on his reins, trying to break free of JDs grasp. The animal was agitated and eager to get free. Wheres Ezra? the kid asked the others, as though they knew.
He aint worked up, Vin said, looking the horse over.
Vin, get up to the clinic an ask the kids where they last saw Ezra, Chris watched the tracker head for Nathans. And Vin, he called, get your ass outta the rain. That was an order.
Whats happened? Judge Travis asked, stepping out into the pouring rain. His tired features let everyone know that hed been trying to get some much-needed sleep.
Ezra found the kids, Chris sighed, rubbing his forehead in frustration, only Ezra didnt make it back. He turned his attention toward Nathan who was jogging towards them.
Joseph says Ezra fell out by the riverbank. Nathan handed over several blankets and one of Josiahs heavy coats. The boy had Ezras coat on, so hes out there without anythin but his jacket.
The kids all right? Buck asked, taking Troubles reins as JD rushed for the stables to saddle up some horses.
Cold, hungry, an scared but I think theyll be all right. Nathan smiled. Just go find that damn gambler an get im back here he turned to leave speaking all the while, fore he ends up with lung fever
Go find im, Travis ordered, a hint of seriousness in his voice.
When JD stepped out of the stable with three horses behind him, it didnt take long for Chris to grab Muds reins from the kid. You stay here, he ordered JD. With the kids bein back, I dont want anyone gettin any ideas about Cora.
JD nodded and handed Buck his horses reins. Watsons fields started to flood, so he aint going to be much of a problem for a while.
Never assume, JD, Buck ordered, tying the supplies Nathan had given him to the back of his saddle.
Just keep an eye out, Chris replied, mounting his horse. He pulled Troubles reins, making the suddenly agitated horse even more antsy.
JD nodded and backed away, pulling Gus with him. He paused only momentarily, watching Buck and Chris head out. The kid then turned his attention toward the judge, who was also standing on the boardwalk watching the two gunslingers. A worried expression adorned his face.
You all right, Judge? JD asked, pushing his hat up over his eyes.
Get out of the rain, son, Orin ordered, his fatherly instincts taking over. He scratched his chin and then headed back inside.
Cora held the two children tightly, almost afraid to let them go. Their teeth chattered, and their eyes shed tears freely. After all theyd been through, now was the time to let it out. Even Joseph couldnt hold back. He could feel Josiah and Nathans hands on his back, a source of comfort an action his father used to do when he was upset. He missed his parents, and it scared him to know that he might lose Cora and his sister if they were to go to an orphanage.
Cora cried with them. She repeatedly told them everything was all right, but the words didnt seem to be heard. She looked up in Nathan and Josiahs eyes and found comfort there, as well as worry. Whats wrong? she asked softly, wiping Josephs bangs from his face. When no answer came forward, her mind started reeling with the possibilities. It was Ezra that found em werent it? she asked, looking for confirmation.
Yes, maam, Nathan responded.
Cora smiled: Where is that chil? She looked toward Vin, who was sitting on the bed, his wound being tended to by Nettie. When she didnt receive an answer from him she looked toward Josiah.
Chris and Buck went out to get Ezra, JD said, entering the room, trying to escape the cold.
Ezra fell, Cora, Nathan said softly, but hes gonna be fine.
Thats is coat aint it? She tilted her chin in the direction of the tan jacket hanging on the wall, still dripping water. That boy, her voice sounded almost angry, but a worried expression was etched in her eyes.
The closer Buck and Chris got to the site where Ezra was at the more Trouble started to act like trouble. He pinned his ears back and made a strike for Chris hand that was holding the reins. The gunslinger let go, pulling his hand back in an attempt to escape the forceful bite. Trouble tossed his head and trotted forward, stumbling on occasion when his hoof slipped on a rock.
Damn horse, Chris muttered, trying to ignore Bucks chuckle.
Best keep up with im, otherwise well be looking for two people instead of one.
Chris threw his friend an inquisitive glance before encouraging his horse to move forward.
It didnt take long for the two men to locate Troubles still form silhouetted against the black sky. He stood protectively over his master, who Chris and Buck both noticed, wasnt moving. Chris slipped out of his saddle in a hurry while Buck did the same, stopping momentarily to untie the blankets and large coat from the back of his saddle.
Chris rushed up beside the downed gambler. Ezra, he gasped, placing his hand on the Southerners hip. He could feel the tremors and trembling beneath his hand and knew without asking that the cold had taken its toll.
Ezra moved his hand toward the bear trap that still encased his knee and cried out when Chris hand found it as well.
Hurry, Buck, Chris ordered, trying to decipher the situation in the dark.
Buck rushed over with his arms full of blankets, and Josiahs heavy coat. Ah, hell he all right? The ladies man squatted down next to his friend.
We need to get im up so we can get this trap off his leg, Chris said, trying to look more closely at the device. I hate these damn things!
Hell, Ezra, Buck said jokingly, squatting down behind the gamblers back, you had to go and find the only bear trap within ten miles of town. He placed his hand on Ezras shoulder and carefully started to lift him.
Ezra gasped in pain as the steel teeth moved. His teeth chattered uncontrollably, and he grabbed onto Bucks coat, more out of support than anything else. Thankfully, it didnt take long for both Chris and the ladies man to get him up, and at least resting on his left knee. Ezra leaned up against Buck, trying to keep his cold, trembling body under control.
Chris carefully got the steel snare set out flat, with Ezras knee still within its iron grip. Rust had eaten away at the release mechanism. You got im, Buck? he asked, wanting to make sure the gambler wouldnt fall, taking the trap with him in his downward decent.
Yeah can you get it? Buck answered with a question of his own. Hes damn near froze, Chris.
The man in black looked up and captured his friends eyes. It was obvious Ezra was on the verge of collapse. He hadnt said anything, and his movements were more involuntary than voluntary. Chris nodded and then stood up. Hold im, the warning pierced the air like a bullet.
Buck wrapped a secure arm around the gamblers waist. Do it.
Chris brought the heel of his boot up and stomped on the old rusted release, causing the trap to spring open and break as Chris leg forcefully hit the release. Ezras grip on Bucks coat tightened and he held back a scream. Chris grabbed the bandanna from around his neck and tied it around the now-freely bleeding wounds above Ezras knee.
I need your bandanna, Buck, Chris said, reaching out for the item. When he received it he tied it around the wounds below the knee. Buck was already stripping Ezra out of his jacket and then quickly forced him into Josiahs heavy coat. We need to get im to Nathans.
Im Im okay, Ezras words came out fast and broken.
Trouble stuck his nose in the middle of things, trying to decide for himself if things were okay. Buck tried to push the horses head away, but received a look of warning instead.
That horse dont like me, Buck griped, readjusting his grip around Ezra as Chris helped him pick the Southerner up.
He dont have to like you, Chris responded, taking one of Ezras arms and pulling it over his shoulder.
Trouble stood still, patiently waiting for the weight of his master to be placed on his back. He didnt move a muscle, wanting only to make the process easier. It took both gunslingers to get the gambler mounted. Ezras body refused to obey his commands, opting instead to continue shaking. His arms had disappeared inside the heavy coat, the long sleeves covering his hands, but he gamely grasped the saddle horn despite the obstacle. Buck and Chris both threw the blankets up and over him, and then proceeded to tuck them around the gamblers uncooperative form.
He bleedin bad? Buck asked, pulling on Troubles reins.
Bad enough, Chris responded, his voice laced with concern.
Both men mounted up and walked on either side of Trouble, wanting to make sure Ezra didnt fall out of his saddle. Like a skilled warrior, Trouble traversed through the stones and muddy holes as though he were walking on water. He took every step with precision and care, not wanting to jostle his rider. Chris shook his head, he knew how strong the bonds were between horse and rider could be. Hed seen it all his life. Hed seen horses standing over the bodies of their wounded and dead masters, unwilling to leave, and staying until their own deaths.
Buck reached out and placed a hand on Ezras back, wondering all the while why a man like Standish stayed in Four Corners. His time in the town hadnt been easy it hadnt been easy for all of them but Ezra seemed more prone to Chris anger, Nathans scrutiny, and sometimes, everyones ridicule. Buck knew he would never have put on a purple dress, but Ezra did. He even forked over money when Nettie needed a loan for her homestead, and when Li Pong needed to be saved freed, and then without anyone knowing hed given the young girl enough cash to get home on.
Has it stopped rainin? Ezra asked, his teeth still chattering.
Buck chuckled: Its let up some, he responded. How you feelin?
Cold, came the over-simplified answer. Howd you locate me?
That thing you call a horse, Chris answered, relieved that the gambler was talking.
Fifty dollars well spent, Ezra muttered.
Save your strength, Ezra, Chris said behind a chuckle, youre gonna need it when Nathan sees you.
Judge Travis watched Cora as she comforted Emily, rocking back and forth on the old rocker. Everyone except Vin and Nathan had gathered in Marys living room. The large windows and comfortable furniture made it a better place to sit and wait for Chris and the others. The rain had let up, and thankfully, the wind had died down. Orin brushed the curtain aside as he looked out into the street. The lines on his face and thoughtful eyes expressed his worry.
Mary brushed Billys hair away from his face. The boy was asleep on the small sofa using his mothers lap as a pillow. Gloria Potter continued to work on her cross-stitching pattern, trying to keep her mind off the events of late. Nettie sat across from her, watching Cora and Judge Travis intently. She wanted to know as well as anyone where the children were going to be placed.
What was Ezra like as a boy? Orin asked, keeping his eyes on the window glass, seeing but not watching.
JD chuckled, for some reason he saw the gambler as a hellion. Someone who disobeyed his parents, and snuck into the cookie jar, but never got caught. He looked up and received a warning glare from Nettie, now was not the time.
I never seen a chil more aware of what was round im than that boy, Cora said softly, not wanting to disturb her charge. When he was two, his mothah and fathah took im from the plantation. They wanted to raise im up, her face was sullen, an it broke my heart to see im go. She forced a smile onto her face, and it was hardly seen in the dim light of the room.
You only raised him until he was two? Orin asked, slightly surprised.
Oh no, Cora sighed, he come back to the plantation after his papa died. Chil was five years old and wouldnt speak a word. She gently stroked Emilys face and turned her eyes toward Joseph who was sound asleep in a chair next to Josiah.
Have a hard time seein that man not willin to talk, Nettie commented.
The man, yes, Cora agreed, but the boy, no. She shook her head and paused before continuing, Ezras always been a sensitive chil, an he nevah asked for nothin her brow creased, as though she was thinking about her words, but he loved peaches in any form, that boy loved his peaches. She chuckled: So when he come home after his papa died well it just aint natural for a boy to be so quiet specially Ezra. Mastah Samuel always said that boy was born with a deck of cards in one hand an a glass of the best Kentucky bourbon in the other. She laughed with everyone else before continuing, Id make im peach cobbler an pie every chance I could get, an every time I cut im a slice Id make the piece smaller, cuz I wanted im to ask for seconds. She looked up and saw everyone in the room nod their head in understanding. Who wouldnt ask for seconds for something they loved so much?
Did it work? Josiah asked.
No, Cora responded sadly, never did finally, I got im alone when hes near seven years old an Is told im that is papas death werent is fault an if that chil didnt fall apart right there. She shook her head, looking at the men and women around the room. He were so afraid of talkin cuz the men that killed is fathah said theyd kill me an is Uncle Samuel if he ever said anythin bout it. There was a bit of pride in her voice, not for the fact that she got Ezra to speak, but rather, because he thought so much of her.
What happened between the two of you? Orin inquired.
Cora paused a moment, unsure if she wanted to go on. Ezra an my son, Benny, went to fight in the war she tried to blink her eyes and keep the tears at bay, the hardest day o my life was watchin those two boys boys thats all they were, gettin ready to fight in a war that didnt need to be fought. I tol my son and Ezra to just come home I didnt care how, I just wanted em home, her tears fell freely now. Thats where their hearts belonged home. Cora looked at the others in the room and knew they understood her feelings.
How old were they? JD asked, feeling a little out of place.
Fifteen and eighteen Ezrad just turned fifteen, Cora answered. I remembah workin out in my rose garden an this feelin come up on me an I looked up the road an I seen Ezra comin home, an at first Is so happy, but Benny werent with im, she wiped her tears from her face, I kept lookin, but he werent there, an I knew hes gone.
Gloria wiped her tears from her face, not knowing what it was like to lose a child, but grieving with this mother who did.
When Ezra reached me, hes covered in blood, dirt he was so skinny, she wiped her eyes again, he brung Bennys heart home, she choked, an I slapped im for it. Her voice was harsh and angry angry only with herself. I slapped im.
Orin nodded his head in understanding, unable to find his voice. Josiah squeezed his eyes shut, remembering a war from so long ago that was still fresh in his mind. JD didnt understand; he was still young, naive, and his eyes still too innocent to understand the brutalities of war.
Whyd he bring Bennys heart back ?
JD, Josiah scolded.
When the boys left for war, Mastah Samuel teached me t read an write, Cora smiled gloriously, changing the subject to something less painful. Hes teached me sos I could write my son, an I did everyday.
You should be proud, Orin said softly.
Oh, heavens yes Is proud of both those boys.
Orin smiled and sighed at the same time: Looks like theyre coming in, he said, heading for the door, after noticing three riders heading toward Nathans.
Ill see to the children, Gloria said, getting to her feet, and they wont wake up alone, she reassured Cora, knowing the former slave woman needed to be with Ezra.
The cold had lessened its hold on Ezras bones, but now the pain in his leg was keeping his mind occupied. He tried not to move too much, and Troubles feather-like feet softened each movement. The hand on his back helped keep him steady, and for that Ezra was thankful. His hands still shook too much to control a fall from his horse, and his right leg was useless for any kind of support.
Were here, Chris said, dismounting. He handed his reins to JD, whod rushed out of Marys with Josiah on his tail.
He okay? the kid asked.
Got is leg caught in a bear trap, Buck answered, keeping his hand on Ezras back until Chris and Josiah got a secure hold on him. Take care of the horses, JD, he ordered, while dismounting.
The blankets fell from Ezras back as he was carefully pulled from the saddle. He yelped in pain when his right foot caught the pommel of his saddle, pulling forcefully on his knee.
Watch is right leg, Josiah, Chris warned.
How do you want to do this, Brother? he asked, looking in Chris direction and then to the stairs that led to Nathans room. Ezra hung limply between them.
Both men knew their options werent grand, but in one quick movement, Josiah had Ezra slung over his left shoulder. Nathan opened the door before the big man could knock and immediately directed Josiah to place the gambler on the far side of the bed.
Chris shook his head as a barrage of visitors stormed up the steps to the clinic. Cora was leading the pack. Nettie Wells, Mary, and Judge Travis took up the rear. Quickly, Chris shut the clinic door.
Hows he doing, Chris? Travis asked, stepping up alongside Cora.
Nathans with im.
When Cora made a move toward the door, Chris reached out to stop her. You cant go in there, maam, he said with enough authority to stop most men but Cora wasnt most men.
Is seen that chil through the scarlet fevah, the lung fevah, an more accidents then you can shake a stick at, her voice was firm and unwavering.
He aint a child anymore, Chris tried to reason.
Thats were youre wrong, Cora paused looking up at him, hes always gonna be a chil in my eyes, like Billy ill be one in Marys, an ifn you ever have a chil of your own youll learn that, Cora said, patting his arm before entering the clinic. Once you climb down off that cross you got yourself nailed to youll see that as well.
Pick the battles you can win, son, Orin said with a grin, before following the woman inside.
Ezra sat on the edge of the bed, refusing to lie down while Nathan looked his leg over. The pain was almost unbearable, but he refused the laudanum the healer had offered. The opiate made him violently ill, and hed prefer to feel every minute of pain than lie in bed for the next week.
You sure you dont want any? Nathan asked again, pulling up a stool to get a better look at the leg.
Positive, Ezra answered quickly, wincing when Nathan removed the bandanna from under his knee.
Nathan tossed the now blood-soaked bandages to the floor and quickly ripped Ezras pant leg, exposing the wounds. There were eight in all, of which five continued to bleed excessively. Nathan covered the wounds with a clean cloth, trying to stop the steady flow.
Weve got to get your boot off, Ezra, Nathan pleaded. He looked up when the door to the clinic opened and several people entered. All of them looked worried.
Do you need anything, Nathan? Mary asked.
Hot water, and some sheets cut up for bandages.
Mary nodded and was out the door in a hurry. Nettie sat on the cot next to Vin, who was watching the scene intently. Cora straightened her skirts and sighed uncomfortably when Ezra looked up and met her eyes.
Hold still, Nathan scolded, after Ezra tried to move his leg.
Its fine, Ezra yelped, trying to shove the healers prying hands away.
Its not fine, Nathan snapped, youll bleed to death before you reach the stairs. He shoved Ezra back onto the bed.
Cora reached out and touched Ezras arm, not surprised when he flinched away. Slowly, she sat down beside him on the bed and gently started rubbing his back. At first, her touch wasnt welcomed, and she knew it, as the gamblers eyes sought out the door, but Nathans healing hand brought Ezras attention back to his wound.
Josiah, Nathan called, his voice lined with worry. He looked up when the big man appeared next to him. We need to get this boot off, he said, carefully lifting Ezras leg.
Ezra gasped when his leg was lifted, and he unintentionally leaned into Cora for support. The room began to spin slightly, and his mouth went suddenly dry. Im sorry, Cora, he muttered, his voice barely audible except to those close to him.
Aint your fault, chil, Cora said softly, pulling Ezras head onto her shoulder. Never was She wrapped her arms around his shoulders while brushing his hair away from his face.
Josiah gently grabbed the heel of the gamblers boot and started to pull. This was one time he didnt want to cause pain, but he knew he was when Ezra gasped and reached for his leg. When the boot came off, the sight of a blood-soaked sock caused Nathan to shake his head. Apparently the bandages Buck and Chris had used didnt do a good enough job, and Ezra had been either unable or unwilling to let anyone know.
Cora reached out for the blanket on the bed and pulled it up over Ezras shoulders. You have any more covers, Nathan? Cora asked softly, when the gambler ceased to stop shaking.
Chris, Nathan looked up, can you find some more blankets?
Chris nodded and quickly strode out of the room, looking at Buck before shutting the door. Buck knew his long time friend was worried; the lines on his face were the evidence. Ezras injury was the straw that was breaking the camels back. They needed to get the situation with Cora settled before every man with a grudge on his shoulder came back to town willing to fight in order to stop the former slave woman from taking Emily and Joseph.
Im sorry, Ezra muttered, trying to stay conscious. He could feel Coras hand rubbing his back, even through Josiahs heavy coat. Shed forced his head down onto her shoulder, and she stroked his neck just like shed done when he was young.
This was home.
Im sorry, he choked out, feeling guilty for Bennys death, for being the one whod survived. He hissed in pain when Nathan pressed harder onto the wounds on his leg.
You remember Jack Humphrey? Cora asked softly. When she felt the subtle nod of Ezras head, she continued, How could you forget, she laughed, remembering when Ezra had poured ink in the mans drink causing his teeth to turn black, his son, Zachary was there
Ezras back went ridged and his eyes locked on Nathans hands. He felt as though he was being confronted with his greatest sin. Though nobody else in the room understood what Cora had said, Ezra did. Fear, shame, and embarrassment consumed his being. He tried to struggle out from Coras grasp, but his weakened state prevented it.
He seen what happened, chil, Cora said, feeling everyones eyes on her. She tightened her grip on Ezra, unwilling to let him go. I never meant to hit you, she whispered in his ear. I never meant to hurt you. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Ezra tried to pull away as his throat constricted. Nathan paused for a moment when he noticed how aggravated his patient was getting.
Stop, Ezra pleaded, trying to move his leg.
I need to stitch these wounds, Ezra, Nathan said calmly, gently grasping his patients exposed calf.
Benny was gut shot, chil, Cora continued, tears continued down her face, landing nonchalantly on Ezras damp hair. Yous saved im. She forced his chin up so she could see his eyes. Yous saved im from all that pain. She tried to choke back her tears, but she failed. Werent nothin to be done for im, she pulled Ezra back onto her chest, unwilling to let him go. You done right by im. She pressed her cheek to the top of his head. She felt Ezras arm wrap around her back and like so many times before, he grabbed hold of her dress, hanging onto it with all his strength.
Tears fell freely from Ezras eyes, and he shuddered as this old pain resurfaced. He grabbed hold of Cora as though she were his lifeline in turbulent waters. It had been so long, and hed missed her guidance, her patience, and most of all, her understanding. He buried his face on her arm and breast, trying to hide his shame. He hadnt cried since he was a boy since the day hed shot Benny.
Cora tightened her hold and cried with him, gently rocking back and forth on the bed. She didnt know the pain he was in how could she? How could anyone?
Nobody saw Buck sneak out. Nathan continued to work on Ezras leg, it didnt matter what he did nothing seemed to pull the gamblers attention away from the ex-slave woman. Nathan didnt understand what had been said; he only understood the effect itd had on Ezra and the rest of the room. Josiah stood protectively against the wall, watching and learning. He scratched his chin, wishing he could do more, but knowing he couldnt. Nettie had begun rubbing Vins back, offering him some kind of support. He didnt need it, but she did. Orin Travis watched the men and women around him through the eyes of a war veteran, a judge, and a father. He didnt know all of the details of Bennys death, but hed heard enough to piece the puzzle together. Reluctantly, he tipped his head to the others and then quietly left the room, passing Chris and Mary in the process.
Give them a minute, Orin said, closing the door before Mary and Chris could enter.
Whats wrong? Chris asked, concern lacing his words.
Just give them a minute, Travis suggested, placing a gentle hand on Marys arm. He tipped his head in Chris direction and then continued his way down the stairs.
Ill take those, Mary said, motioning for Chris to leave the blankets with her, I saw Buck head into the saloon. She knew the ladies man might have more information than Orin had been willing to share.
Chris nodded and carefully handed over the blankets before leaving for the saloon.
Nathan reached up and touched Ezras shoulder and realized the gambler had finally succumbed to exhaustion. Hes asleep, he said softly, sighing in relief.
He gonna be all right? Vin asked, slowly getting to his feet.
Nathan nodded: With some rest he will be. He reached out and touched Coras shoulder. Hes gonna be fine, he reassured.
Cora reached up and touched Nathans arm, her face conveying her fears and sadness. Hes strong always has been, she said confidently, hugging her charge more tightly.
Josiah and Ill get im changed out of those clothes and get im into bed, then you can sit with im. Nathan grasped her arm in a comforting manner.
Cora nodded, and planted one last kiss on the top of Ezras head before releasing her hold into Josiahs strong arms. Is be outside. She wiped her eyes and followed Vin and Nettie.
Mary stepped in through the opened door and carefully placed her packages on the chair before leaving. She didnt want to be a bother, and it looked as though she wasnt needed.
Everything all right, Cora? Mary asked.
It will be, the older woman replied.
Chris entered the saloon to find Buck working on a bottle of red-eye. The ladies man seemed content watching the flames burning in the wood stove while sitting backwards in a chair. Chris took a seat at the table and poured himself a shot.
You wanna talk about it? he asked, knowing something was wrong.
Buck huffed before downing another shot.
Chris looked toward the doors when JD and Vin entered, but Buck didnt acknowledge their presence. The fire in the wood stove continued to burn with a life of its own. It took on shapes, had movements, and it even breathed. Everyone in the room knew what it was like to feel passionately about something. Everyone but JD was a war veteran. They knew what it was like to be on a battlefield shooting at the enemy. They knew what it was like to lose friends and to face Death head on. The War had changed everyone, but most moved on they had to most knew there were better things in life than living in the past. Chris had made that decision early and with conviction when hed married Sarah. He was looking towards his future. Buck did the same, though not with a woman, but with the Texas Rangers. They had both moved past the War, but those old feelings were still there, and some men harbored them more deeply than others. Northerners looked at the Civil War as a justification an acceptable means to an end, but to the Southerners it was a needless aggression. And for those who lived through it, it was a memory that they tried to bury, and nightmares that consumed their sleep.
It was ten years since Lees surrender, and the South still held animosity, of violent levels, against the North. Why wouldnt it be any different in Four Corners? Just because the land surrounding the area hadnt absorbed the blood of fallen soldiers, didnt mean its people suffered any less. War veterans were everywhere. When Emily and Josephs father hung himself, he opened a can of worms that had been ready to explode. The North may have claimed to have freed the slaves and fought for their rights, but the Union didnt support them after the War. Perhaps thats why so many stayed in the South
Chris watched his friend. He understood better than anyone what the ladies man was going through. They had both been kids when they enlisted. They were boys looking for an opportunity in life and they thought theyd find it in the army. Instead, they found death, horror, and an unexpected friendship.
You told me once, Buck, that you cant drown your troubles away in a bottle of red-eye, Chris crossed his arms and rested his elbows on the table.
Life aint supposed to be so complicated, Buck responded softly, never taking his eyes from the fire.
This comin from the man who lives it to the fullest, Chris said, nodding in understanding, wishing with all his heart that life had been easier.
What do you remember most Buck sighed, about the war? He looked toward his best friend and noticed Vin and JD were sitting beside him.
Hell, Buck, Chris paused, I try not to remember it.
But you do he returned his gaze to the fire, no matter what, you always do.
Chris nodded in silent agreement; there were some memories you couldnt escape from.
Remember that patch of ground on the outskirts of Antietam? Buck asked quietly.
Yeah, Chris sighed, I remember. And he did, he remembered that narrow path of ground that was lined on either side with corn that was ready for harvest. He remembered how Buck saved his life getting him to the doctor, and he remembered that boy
I remember haulin your skinny ass down that trail cuz you had a bullet in the leg, Buck said, attempting to regain his normal fun-loving self but he was failing and he knew it.
How could you forget, Chris replied with humor in his voice. Seeing Buck in such a heart-torn state wasnt a common occurrence.
I think that boy we saw was Ezra, Bucks voice seemed distant to those around him.
Cant be sure of that, Buck, Chris replied, running his fingers through his hair.
What boy? JD asked, unsure of the conversation.
Buck paused a moment: Ask im, ask Ezra if he was at Antietam.
A lot of men were
How many killed their best friend to save them? Buck asked with conviction, the softness in his voice was gone.
Benny was is cousin, Chris corrected.
Id bet Ezra dont know that.
Vin shook his head and looked up when Josiah and Nathan entered the saloon. They took a seat at the table with the rest of the men.
Hows Ezra? JD asked, taking a drink of his coffee.
Sleepin, Nathan responded softly, Coras with im. Im worried bout that leg but I got it cleaned as good as I could and he bled quite a bit so its flushed. He continued, but his mind was torn between Cora and Ezra.
Cora seems to be pretty close to im, Vin acknowledged.
Closer an Maude is, Nathan replied sadly.
Buck stood up and started pacing the floor, memories still flooding his mind. He wasnt anymore an a boy, he said, running his fingers through his hair.
Whats got you so riled up? Chris asked, noticing that everyone had quieted and now had their attention turned toward Buck. It happened a long time ago. Let it go.
Buck stopped abruptly and looked hard at his friend. Nathan, he grabbed the healers attention, how long would it take someone whos been gut shot to die?
Nathan shrugged his shoulders, but he understood the question. Seen a lot during the war could take days.
How many of em survived?
Hard to say, Buck, Nathan answered, but very few did.
Buck turned his attention back to his longtime friend. Its im, Chris I can feel it in my gut.
So what if it is?
Buck shrugged. He didnt know what it was about the situation that bothered him. Could you do it? he asked.
Chris leaned back in his chair and sighed. He didnt know if he could.
Whats goin on? JD asked, slightly flustered.
See kid, Buck started, his voice harsh and bitter, After the battle of Antietam Chris was wounded in the leg, an well, we needed to get to the hospital tent an get im taken care of. So, we went through a little strip of land called Snavely Ford hell most of the ground was coved with bodies he paused, trying to settle himself, we saw this confederate soldier, just a kid really, leanin over the body of a colored soldier.
You think it was Ezra? Josiah asked, listening intently to Bucks words.
Buck nodded: Yeah, I think it was im. The colored boy was gut shot, an there aint no way that Reb was gonna move im. He paused and returned his gaze toward the fire. Chris an I moved past im we heard a gunshot an when I turned to look, that boyd killed that colored soldier.
Josiah watched as Buck relaxed, as though hed worked his problem out by talking about it. Perhaps it had helped. The big man understood the frustration and pain Buck was feeling. It was to be understood. The story hed told brought new light to the gambler, and everyone else. The pain and guilt Ezra had felt was understandable. How could it not be?
Do you think hed do it for any of us? Buck asked the group. They were friends, almost brothers, and like most large families, Ezra seemed to be the brother that was teased more than the rest, and the one that didnt quite fit in. But was he close enough to any of them to offer such devotion?
Chris paused and ran his fingers through his hair. He didnt know. Belly wounds were painful, more painful than anything else. Hopefully, well never find out, he replied softly.
When Judge Travis entered the saloon, he found six of his men sitting around a table quietly talking. The day had been long. Mary and Nettie, along with Glorias help, had put all the children to bed. Gloria then returned home. Shed always been a strong supporter of the seven, and felt as though they were mistreated by many of the townsfolk. On several occasions, shed made sure Nathan had plenty to eat after hed had a long day treating patients, or made sure Josiah had a few extra supplies for his church. Like Gloria, Nettie had taken a particular liking to Vin and JD, treating them like the children shed lost so many years ago. They didnt seem to mind, and several times Vin had taken it upon himself to make sure the older woman was safe and comfortable on her homestead.
Boys, Travis said, moving toward the group. You doing all right? the question was for everyone.
Fine, Judge, Chris responded for everyone.
Orin stepped up to the table and placed a strong hand on Nathans shoulder, offering the only support he could. What I have to say isnt good, but it needs to be said. He looked hard at everyone, letting them know he was serious.
Chris and Vin nodded as thought they were attached to the same body. They knew what was coming.
Due to the injury Ezra has suffered, I think it best if we handle the situation regarding Cora and the children as quickly and quietly as possible. Most of the towns farmers and ranchers have returned to their homes due to the weather
What have you decided about the children? Buck interrupted.
They cannot stay with Miss Liddell, Orin answered flatly.
But JD started.
They will leave with me on the afternoon stage tomorrow. Ill do my best to make sure they are adopted out together, but I make no guarantees. His words were strong yet soft.
Youre sendin em to an orphanage? Vin asked.
No, Travis shook his head, there is an older couple that live next to Evie and I that will take the children in and find them a place to live.
What about Cora? Josiah asked, knowing this decision would break her heart, but then again, her heart had been broken many times before.
That is a question only she can answer, Travis answered softly.
You gonna tell her? Buck asked, anger peaking in through his words.
Yes. Orin looked at the men around him. A strange group really, filled with men with different pasts, emotions, feelings, and pains. But yet, they all came together like a perfectly crafted puzzle. He knew the news he had to share wasnt what they were hoping for, but in good confidence, Orin couldnt leave the children in Coras care. The risks were just too great.
But she loves those kids, JD pleaded, turning young eyes toward the judge. You cant give er a chance to not care for em.
I wish it were that easy, son. Travis looked directly at JD. She doesnt have an income, she hasnt been formally educated
But none of us have.
Maybe, but thats not the issue.
She cant take the children, JD, Chris said firmly.
The kid dug into his pocket and pulled out a small wad of bills, nine in all, but it was a start. We could all pitch in and help her out at least with the money an all.
Judge Travis shook his head: Ezras already tried. He pulled out a wad of bills and handed them to Chris, knowing theyd find their way back into the gamblers boot.
Nathan sighed, and shook his head. For Ezra to willingly give up cash
He offered more, Travis spoke up, but I couldnt let him give it up.
Seems to me those kids could do worse than stayin with Cora, Vin spoke up, offering his opinion. Ezras proof of that.
But he had more than just Cora, Chris replied.
It aint like Maude put forth that much effort, Buck snapped.
Maybe so, Orin agreed, but my decision stands. He squeezed Nathans shoulder and headed out of the saloon.
Cora pushed Ezras bangs away from his forehead as he slept. It had been so long since shed seen him, and hed grown so much. He was a man now, not a boy trying to develop. He looked like his father, but he seemed to have adapted some of his uncles traits. Yes, it had been so long.
Ezra stirred and he rolled his head toward his right shoulder. He blinked slowly, trying to pull himself out of the darkness hed fallen in. He could feel soft hands caressing his brow, and it was comforting. His leg still sent spears of pain through his body when he moved. Nathan had propped his knee up onto a pillow, thankfully, lessening the strain.
What happened? he asked hoarsely.
You fell asleep your body jus got too weak, Cora answered, pouring a glass of warm water. Gently, she moved behind Ezra and propped him up, forcing pillows behind his shoulders so he could drink. She carefully placed a blanket around him when he shivered lightly, always the mother and caregiver.
I apologize about my behavior earliah
When you was a boy, Cora chuckled, yous always thinkin bout things, always watchin folks. She sat down in the chair next to the bed. Your uncle was that way he thought the worl of you. She tried to busy herself with her hands.
Ezra watched in fascination and uncertainty.
When Zachary come by that day, aftah the war, Cora paused, noticing how uncomfortable Ezra was becoming. She reached out and grasped his arm. He done tol Samuel that Bennyd been shot in the belly, said how painful those kinda wounds were, an he done said that you showed im the only mercy hed a gotten. She wiped a lone tear away from her cheek. I never meant to hit you, chil, Cora squeezed his arm lightly, after we buried im I learned you left
Dont, Ezra said lightly, not wanting her to continue.
We looked for you, Samuel and I but, she shrugged her shoulders, after Samuel passed, I had to leave an I just prayed that you was alive an doin well.
I should have tried hardah, Ezra replied, turning his eyes toward the door.
An what? Cora challenged. Gotten killed with im. She shook her head and leaned back in her chair. No, you done the bes you could for im, an I thank you for it.
But it wasnt enough, Ezra said softly, its never enough.
You aint ever gonna change, Cora chuckled.
Ezra pushed himself up, and looked at the older woman. What will you do?
Cora smiled: Not to worry, she said softly. Not to worry.
Ezra sat up and carefully moved his legs over the side of the bed, careful not to jar his injury. The sun peaked in through the curtains and dust particles danced in its rays. Everything was quiet, as though the world had suddenly come to a standstill. For the first time in days, spring had suddenly made its appearance. Cora had left after Ezra had fallen asleep; she had other things to tend to.
Carefully, Ezra slipped into the pants and shirt that had been left on the chair next to the bed. Only Cora would have done such a thing. Nathan would have kept clothing away from the gamblers grasp until he was deemed fit. Cora, however, knew how impatient he would get lying in a bed day after day, and she knew how important it was for the body to be moving after an injury something shed given Nathan a lesson on when he tried to move the clothes before shed left. She knew Ezra better than anyone, perhaps even better than he knew himself.
Cloaked in his warm coat, he stepped outside. Though the sun was out, the air was still cold and he shivered in response. Only a few people from town were out and moving around. Obviously, it was earlier than Ezra anticipated. He needed to find Nathan so he could get his watch and other belongings back. Slowly and carefully, he maneuvered his way down the stairs. His leg throbbed, but thankfully the extent of his injuries had simply been blood loss and the now scarring wounds to his leg. Chris had said the trap was old so it hadnt snapped shut with its full power.
Howre you feelin, Brother? Josiah asked, stepping up alongside the gambler as he made his way to the saloon.
Bettah, thank you, Mr. Sanchez.
Josiah reached out and helped support Ezra when he stumbled momentarily. His movements were slow and slightly sluggish; clearly, it was too soon for him to be walking on his own.
Im fine, Ezra reassured, shrugging off Josiahs attempt to help.
Listen, Ezra, Josiah started, but paused when his friend turned questioning eyes toward him. Judge Travis is goin to send the children away. Theyre leavin with him today
Its for the best, Josiah tried to sound confident.
For whom? Ezra snapped. He started walking again, heading for the saloon, his movements hindered by his injury.
Josiah shook his head: Ezra, he called after him.
Where is he? Ezra stopped before reaching the saloon doors.
Sheriffs office, Josiah answered, Chris and Vin are with im.
Ezra nodded and clenched his jaw. The office was across the muddied street, not a distance he wanted to travel at the moment. Slowly, he stepped down onto the ground and he gave his leg a moment to rest before continuing. Josiah was next to him, unwilling to let him fall should he do so. The trek was long and tedious, and more times than not the gambler had to stop and collect himself before continuing. He incessantly refused any help from the former preacher.
Judge Travis looked up when Ezra and Josiah entered the office. Vin and Chris leaned against the wall, both men drinking coffee. Cora sat across from the desk next to the fire. Shed obviously been crying, having already been told of Travis decision.
Ezra? Travis said, slightly surprised, how are you feeling?
You all right, Cora? Ezra asked, ignoring the judges question.
Heavens yes, the woman replied, wiping her tears from her face and trying to act as though nothing were wrong. She was still trying to protect him.
Sit down, Ezra, youre looking rather pale, Travis said, motioning with his hand for one of the others to get the gambler a chair.
Im fine! Ezra snapped. Why are you doin this? he directed his question toward the judge.
Sit down, son, Orin said with more conviction.
Ezra stepped further into the room, feeling Josiahs form behind him. He refused to sit down. He ignored the others in the room and concentrated on the judge and Cora.
Judge Travis leaned back in his chair and looked the Southerner over. I know this must be confusing for you...
It sounds more conspired than that.
Ezra, Chris warned, continuing to lean against the wall.
Really, Ezra said, with more sarcasm than was necessary, how many children are left homeless every year because they dont have a place to go? he asked, but the question went unanswered. I can think of nobody more capable of caring for those children than this woman, whose only downfall is the color of her skin oh yes, and the fact that those arent her children.
Ezra, Josiah spoke softly, placing his hand on the gamblers shoulder.
Ezra shook it off, and the judge let him continue. You cant do this.
My decision is made, Ezra, and its in the best interest of everyone, Travis replied.
The room went quiet until a soft chuckle escaped the gamblers lips. This has nothing to do with interest and you know it.
Ezra, thats enough, Chris warned again, stepping away from the wall.
You see, this is the easy answer, the Southerner ignored him. This way the kids stay in a propah home, Cora disappears from view, and the judge doesnt get removed from his position.
Thats enough! Travis yelled, slamming his fist on the table causing Cora to jump. I will not tolerate this kind of disrespect!
Then do whats right! Ezra yelled back, moving his weight onto his uninjured leg.
He has, Cora spoke up softly, he has, chil. She smiled confidently, showing a brave face to those around her. What those children need is more an what I can give em.
Youll find away you always have, Ezra argued.
No, she looked hard at him, they need a home with two parents lookin after em. Folks with nough money to buy em things, an send em to good schools. They need to learn bout the white world an I just cant show em that. She paused and looked at the judge. Im never gonna know it.
Travis sat back down and looked at the men in the room. He was relieved to hear what Cora had the courage to say, not many would. He watched as Ezra sighed, and then wipe his forehead. Despite the appearances of this situation, my decision is based on the facts, not the manifestation. I have no doubt that Cora could raise those children up and have them turn out to be effective citizens of this country. But thats not whats at risk. By placing the care of Emily and Joseph into her care, I not only risk Coras life, but the lives of those children. This country is not ready to face the fact that Negros are equal in Gods eyes and until it is, I will not risk their lives to make a statement, he said softly.
Ezra clenched his jaw and reluctantly nodded in acceptance. He still didnt like the decision, but if Cora had accepted it, then so would he. His mother had been right about one thing: appearances do make a difference. I need to sit down, he said softly, suddenly feeling lightheaded.
Josiah grabbed a chair and pushed it up behind the Southerners knees. Ezra reached out and grabbed the back of the seat before slowly sitting down. He left his right leg out in front of him, as the pain of bending it was still too great.
You all right? Judge Travis asked, watching as Cora stood up and poured a cup of hot coffee.
Ezra nodded with his eyes squeezed shut hed done too much too fast. Cora stepped up to him and carefully grasped his shoulder, causing him to open his eyes and look at her. Of course she smiled, not letting anyone around her know the pain she was in. She placed the cup into Ezras hand, and making sure he wasnt going to drop it, she stepped toward the window.
Vin watched with the skilled eyes of a hunter and friend. He knew Cora was hurting how could she not be? But he had to agree with the judge. The best thing for those children was a home that could give them what they needed. Unlike himself, they had an opportunity for schooling, a better home, and hopefully, two parents whod love them. Vins life hadnt been as difficult a life as some, but it sure as hell wasnt as easy as many.
If it hadnt been for the fact that Ezra had nearly froze and bled to death the night before, Vin didnt think he and the others would be able to read him as easily as they had. Now, he was almost an open book, to his friends anyway. That normally placid façade was cracking, showing emotions than nobody thought he had. It was obvious to anyone who cared to look that he loved Cora. She meant more to him than anyone could imagine, and for the moment, he wasnt afraid to show it. Perhaps there was hope for the rest of them to earn such friendship, loyalty, and compassion but perhaps they already had, but didnt know how to accept it. Ezra wasnt a dog that would continually come back looking for acceptance because of his devotion.
No, hit Ezra and you lose him probably for good. It didnt take a fist to strike him either; words could do just as much, if not more damage. Theyd seen that seen the way he distanced himself from everyone and the way he used his skill with words to lessen his pain when a friend used it against him. Oh, Ezra was good at what he did probably the best but he was human, just like the rest of them. And even gamblers have hearts that can be damaged and scarred.
Chris leaned back against the wall and watched the Southerner. Orin seemed to have a power over him that nobody else did, and like any child, Ezra had to push the boundaries. It was in his nature to challenge authority, like it was Vins nature to seek out truth, or Nathans when it came to healing. They all had problems, and none of them were perfect, but thats why they fit together so perfectly as friends, comrades, and brothers. For Ezras stubbornness and greed, there was Bucks foolishness and womanizing, JDs innocence and pride, Nathans knowledge and critical eye, Josiahs self abuse and strength, Vins simplicity and desire, and then there was himself, quick to judge and quick to act. Somehow the balances worked, creating men who could face a battle alone, and win a war together.
Cora moved to Ezras side and placed her hand over his brow, checking for a fever. She noticed the judge and Chris smile in response to her actions, but she didnt care, and Ezra refused to acknowledge it. You need to slow down, she said softly, pulling the gamblers chin up to face her. Her face was serious, but her eyes expressed only concern and care. You aint evah goin to change, she said with a laugh, moving her hand to his shoulder and gently rubbing his back.
Seems to me hes changed a lot, Chris said, thinking about the first time theyd met.
No, chil, Cora said confidently, people dont change, theys only get the opportunity to show who they really are. She looked toward the judge and Vin and then shrugged her shoulders. Sometimes thats good, and sometimes thats bad.
Youre an amazin woman, Miz Cora, Vin said, returning her smile with one of his own.
Cora laughed: No, she said softly, her face warm and inviting, I just seen life in all its forms, an Is had a good time along the way despite the pain of it.
Chris looked at her and nodded in understanding.
Cora stood on the boardwalk, waving to the children who were still crying. She was a pillar of strength and she refused to let Emily and Joseph see her anguish. As expected, the children reacted poorly to the news of their departure without Cora. Joseph was angry, refusing to look at anyone, but he held his sister, offering her the only support that he could offer. Emily just cried. Shed clung to the former slave woman with all her might, hoping, in some way, that they could stay together. But they couldnt. It took both Mary and Nathan to pull the child from Coras neck. Emily cried and screamed out the whole time. She didnt want to leave the last person in the world that she cared for. Cora had said comforting things, trying to make the childrens departure easier, but nothing helped. Both of their lives had been torn apart by death. Why should this situation be any different?
Billy waved to his grandpa as the stage jolted forward in a familiar fashion. Mary held the childs shoulder feeling as though she were lucky in life, to have her son so close. She wanted to comfort Cora, but she didnt know how.
Chris and Josiah stood side-by-side watching the scene intensely. The others were positioned around town, making sure nobody tried to do anything stupid. Since the news had gone out that the judge had decided against leaving the children with Cora, everyone seemed to settle down some. However, there were still a few stragglers that were looking to cause a fight.
Chris was sorry for all the sadness shared by Cora, the children, and those close to them, but he was also relieved to see the situation come to an end. Not everyone wanted to see the older woman lose those kids, but the facts were undeniable. She didnt have what they needed, no matter how much she cared for them. Shed even admitted it, but it didnt make it easier.
Ezra slowly stepped up behind the ex-slave woman, and without looking to him, she held out her hand and he took it gently. Not one to show affection, he did make an acceptation today. Cora wanted to cry, she wanted to scream out and let the world know that shed been a good momma and a child, no matter their color, deserved all the love in the world. But she wouldnt.
Where will you go? Ezra asked, as the stage disappeared in the distance. He watched as the townsfolk went back to their business.
You could stay here, Ezra interrupted, youd be welcomed, and there are plenty of opportunities for you.
Cora turned and faced him. She reached up and gently patted his cheek, honored by his suggestion, but knowing she couldnt stay. This is your home, chil, not mine
You always said your home was where you wanted it.
Home aint the place, Cora said, looking out over the town, home is with family an ifn you dont see it, one day you will. You got family here, chil six brothers who worry, tease, an argue with each other, jus like a family bound by blood. She squeezed his hand, and spoke to him as though he were the only other person in the world. I always loved you like yous one of my own, an youre always gonna be special to me but I cant stay here.
Ezra nodded, and looked around trying to regain his composure. Where will you go? he asked softly.
Cora grasped the gamblers elbow and walked with him across the street. I figured Id go to Florida an see my brothah maybe help im raise up his grandbabies.
Brothers, Josiahs voice echoed throughout the saloon like a shot from a cannon. Spring has arrived and brought with it new life. He sat at the table where Chris, Vin, Buck and JD were sitting.
Whats got you in such a good mood? Buck asked, folding his cards and laying them on the table. Apparently, hed held a losing hand.
Its the third day in a row where we havent had any rain, and I spent all mornin workin on the roof of the church why shouldnt I be in a good mood?
Chris chuckled and shook his head: Travis sent a wire, he pulled the telegram from his pocket and laid it in front of Josiah, says the kids are doin well. Guess Evies tryin to talk im into bein adoptive grandparents.
Judge ill make sure they get a good home, even if they do end up with em for a while, Vin responded with smug smile.
Ezra know? Josiah asked.
Not yet, Chris answered softly. Figured Id tell im after Cora leaves today.
Where is he? JD asked, and then finished his glass of milk.
Nathans rewrappin is leg, Buck replied, eyeing the new girl that sat across the room. Boys, he said with a grin, duty calls.
The others watched as Buck sashayed across the room. Only he could walk like that and attract a woman. Chris chuckled and took a drink of his beer.
You think hes goin to win er over, Vin asked, leaning back in his chair, lifting the front legs off the floor.
Theres no doubt in my mind, Chris responded confidently. Hed known Buck longer than anyone, and some things were just a guarantee.
Chris, Mary said, stepping up to the gunslinger, having somehow entered the saloon unnoticed.
Everyone turned to face the beautiful blonde, nodding their heads in greeting.
Mary smiled, and then pulled up a chair. Im still going to write my newspaper article about the war, but Ive decided to change a few things, she spoke softly, not wanting to upset anyone.
Dont know if its a good time for somethin like this, Mrs. Travis, Vin said, tipping his chair back into place.
Im only after a few scattered memories, something that sticks in you mind more than anything else
Mary Chris started.
There was a farmer who lived in Pennsylvania, Josiah spoke up, he told a Northern newspaperman about the Southern men who fought on his land. He said, I must say they acted like gentlemen, and, their cause aside, I would rather have forty thousand rebels quartered on my premises than one thousand Union troops.
Dont tell Ezra that, JD said, with humor in his voice.
Reckon he already knows, Vin answered softly.
Chris? Mary looked to the gunslinger, wanting him to add something.
The wars over leave it at that. Chris tipped his hat and stood up, then quickly left the saloon.
What about you, Vin? Mary asked, not willing to let Chris behavior dissuade her.
Vin paused a moment, and then looked at Josiah and JD. I only served the last year but I remember when the war was over, headin back to Texas I passed this cemetery an there was this man standin over two graves. When he looked up and saw me, he noticed I was still wearin my uniform. He told me hed just buried his last son, lost em both durin the war, one for the North, the other for the South. Vin paused a moment. He told me that only God knows which was right. He looked toward the saloon doors: Figure he was right bout that.
Ezra stood next to Cora as the stage driver placed her single bag on the roof of the coach. The ground had started to dry up, leaving scars of previous tracks in its wake. He tried to keep his attention on the horses, the switching of their tails, the flickering of their ears, and even the occasional toss of their heads. The town was relatively quiet, and for Four Corners, it was a nice break from the norms.
Were loadin up, the driver called to the passengers.
Cora reached around and gave Ezra a warm hug, something shed never done in public. You take care of yourself, an let that leg heal, dont want you gettin ill. She smiled, and wiped away a lone tear from her cheek.
I want you to take this, Ezra said, grabbing her hand and shoving a handful of money into it.
I cant take this, chil, Cora responded, shock lacing her words.
Please, he almost begged. I cant do much, but I can make your trip to Florida a bit easier.
Cora watched his eyes, noticing how green theyd become. I love you, chil, she reached up and gave him a kiss on his cheek. I expect you to take care of im, Mr. Larabee, she said, her tone stronger now.
Theres six of us to keep im in line, seven, if you count the judge, Chris replied, leaning against the awning railing.
See that you do, she warned, otherwise, Ill come back here and tan all your hides. She smiled, and gently patted Ezras shoulder and stepped toward the stagecoach. The driver assisted her into her seat and shut the door.
Ezra waved as the coach pulled away, unable to find his voice. So many memories he cherished with that woman. His childhood hadnt been grand, but while Cora was in it, shed managed to make it special.
You all right? Chris asked, filling his paper with tobacco.
Of course, Mr. Larabee, Ezra responded confidently, watching as the stage disappeared into the distance.
Come on, Chris said, nudging the gamblers shoulder, Ill buy you a cup of coffee.
Ezra raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
Chris smiled: Okay, he laughed, a beer.
Ezra chuckled: Sounds bettah, he said, following the man in black towards the saloon.
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