Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6
The night had passed without any problems. Vin was determined to stay awake, but Maude slept most of the night. Ezra slept, with an occasionally calling out for his Mama and Bart. The southern woman had been up and at the gambler's beside in seconds, whenever her boy would cry out.
Vin had started to doze off when a familiar voice called out. "Maude?" A weak and raspy voice called out.
Maude was awake in an instant and by Ezra's side, as was Vin. Both noticed that Ezra was looking at her with tired but alert eyes.
"Well, sleepy head. It is about time you opened those beautiful eyes for me." Maude smiled as she kissed his forehead and noticed no fever burned his skin.
"What-" Ezra tried to ask but was interrupted.
"Before you ask any questions you have to drink some water. Then, and only then, when you have drank enough to satisfy me, you can ask a question. But, only one question at a time." Maude smiled again as she poured a small glass of water.
Ezra nodded as he sipped slowly, enjoying the coolness of the water as it traveled down his parched throat. The southerner felt like he had dragged through sand in the middle of the desert. He looked over at Vin and could not meet his eyes; he did not want to see the rejection he would, no doubt, find there.
"Ez, look at me, pard." Vin wanted his friend to see in his eyes that he did not believe the lies.
The con man slowly looked up and prepared himself for the worst. Maude had seen what was going on and waited, trusting Vin to make him see the truth. Ezra only noticed the smile that the tracker had always given him, a smile of a friend. He watched as the Texan winked and nodded his happiness that Ezra was alive.
"Ez, it's good to have ya back. Ya had me scared I was gonna lose a friend." Vin whispered, allowing his concern to be heard and seen in his eyes as their eyes met.
"Vin, it is good to be back, I assure you," Ezra returned the smile; a feeling of redemption came over him, even though he did not know what he needed redemption for. "Now, can I ask my question?"
"Yeah, I guess ya can." Vin stated as Ezra had continued to look at him and take sips of water.
The tracker knew that Ezra's first question would be about why the others had turned their backs on him. He knew the gambler was more concerned with his possibility of having done something wrong to his friends, rather than wanting to know why he was shot, or who had done it.
"Vin, what have I done to make everyone turn away and hate me?" Ezra asked in the tone of a small child asking why he was being punished.
"I think I will go and let Nathan and the others know you are awake." Maude gently smoothed the hair back off her boy's forehead with such a loving touch. "We will talk later, just you and me." She reached down and softly kissed his lips and rubbed their noses together, just as she had done when he was a child.
Both Maude and Vin were amazed at the smile and glow that came over Ezra's face from the simple gesture. Maude knew she could not let her boy see her anger and bitterness when the tracker told him the story. She was comfortable letting Vin be the one to explain how the men had judged him.
"Maude, can ya see if Mrs. Potter has some broth ready? Ya see, she makes it all nice and special for Ezra when he's sick or hurt," Vin said as Maude made it to the door.
"I will do that, Vin, and I will bring you some breakfast too." Maude smiled at both her boys as she left the clinic, suddenly feeling sad for Ezra for what he was about to hear.
Ezra watched the interaction between his mother and Tanner and lifted his eyebrow in question toward the tracker.
"She says I'm family now. So I get to pick on ya for sure, baby brother." Vin laughed at the shocked look on Ezra's face.
"Baby brother? I assure you, Mr. Tanner, I AM NOT A BABY." Ezra glared back, but the smile on his lips betrayed the fact he was enjoying the camaraderie.
"Nope, you're not, but it makes me your big brother. AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT." Vin stressed the latter to make the gambler realize he was serious about being family now.
"Vin, are you sure that Mrs. Potter will you know? Im sure she is upset with me as well." Ezra's smile faltered slightly.
"Ez, she just got back ta town yesterday. I bet she makes it extra special, since I hear she cut everybody's credit at the store that is saying bad things about ya. Ezra, ya can walk in horse manure and she would still say your boots don't stink." Vin smirked as he brought the chair closer, along with another glass of water.
The tracker worked at making his friend more comfortable before telling him the story. It made his heart ache that he would be the one telling his friend about the others' betrayal of his friendship. Vin settled back into the chair, never losing eye contact with the gambler as he began is story of woe. "Well, Ez, let me begin with what happened while you was playin' poker in Eagle Bend." Vin began the story that would surely affect the man more than he would let anyone know. The tracker prayed to the Great Spirit that his friend would be strong enough to heal both the injuries to his body and to his heart. Either way he would stand by him until the end and follow him wherever he would go. 'After all, they were family now,' Maude had said so.
Chris was sitting outside the jail, drinking his second cup of coffee of the morning. He found it hard to settle back and relax after talking with Buck this morning. The man in black knew that Buck's concerns were well founded; they needed to have two people on night duty in town. The gunslinger was about to join the others for breakfast when he noticed Maude come out of the clinic.
Something about the way the woman was smiling alerted him that there must have been a change in Ezra's condition. He watched as she smiled at Mrs. Potter who had called out for her to stop. Chris snorted to himself as he remembered how the widow had asked for money up front for his tobacco. She'd refused to place anything on his account and had informed him that she was closing it as well, and that it was now considered past due.
Maude looked around as she left the clinic, looking for anything that seemed out of place. She noticed Mr. Larabee on the porch outside the jail and glared. Mrs. Potter's voice diverted her away from the sight that started to dampen her day.
"Mrs. Standish, a moment of your time please?" Mrs. Potter called out.
Maude forced a smile on her face, not knowing if the lady was friend or foe. The concern she noticed on the widow's face made her relax.
"How is Ezra? Is there anything I can do for him, or you?" Mrs. Potter asked as she pulled Maude into a tight hug.
"I have some broth I made this morning, just the way he likes it," Mrs. Potter continued to chatter softly.
"He is doing better. In fact, I'm on my way to let Nathan know. Vin asked me to tell you that Ezra would be ready for your special broth." Maude smiled as she returned the hug.
"Then be off with you. I'll go and get some ready and you can pick it up on your way back to the clinic. Let me know when I can come and visit with him, and tell him he is in my prayers. PLEASE, tell him I never believed those terrible, lies" Mrs. Potter pleaded as tears came to her eyes.
"I will make sure he knows, and I'm sure tomorrow my son would love to share your company, as well as that of your children. He writes to me about you and your little family often." Maude patted the woman's hand, offering the widow her thanks. "If it would not be too much, could you also fix a plate of food for Vin? He is with Ezra right now."
"I'll have everything ready when you come and pick up the broth," Mrs. Potter promised as she turned back toward her home.
Maude smiled as she watched Mrs. Potter hurry home to do what she could for Ezra. It lightened her heart to find someone else that believed in her boy. She turned toward the saloon, hoping she would find everyone there. She motioned toward the irritating figure dressed in black sitting in front of the jail to join her at the saloon.
'My boy, whatever did you see in that closed-minded, judgmental, arrogant buffoon? Ah, yes, I remember, he gave you a second chance. Maybe I will return the favor and give the notorious Mr. Larabee a second chance as well.' Maude thought to herself as she continued over to the saloon when she noticed the gunslinger stand and start in the same general direction.
The southern whirlwind, a nickname Ezra had given to her, walked into the saloon, hoping to find Nathan there and tell him the good news. She just had to keep the man at bay, and give Vin time to tell Ezra what had happened, and why his friends had lost faith in him.
"Ezra okay?" JD asked as he jumped up from his chair, concern written on his young face.
Maude could understand the mistake of youth clouding young Mr. Dunne's judgment of her son. The others she would have to take a closer look at, to see what could have caused them to turn away from her boy. These thoughts surprised her as she walked over to join the men.
"He is awake and taking refreshments. The fever appears to have broken, and he's is aware of his surroundings." Maude smiled and placed a hand on the healer's shoulder as he attempted to stand.
"I had better check on him then." Nathan looked questionably up at Ezra's mother, wondering why she was making him stay.
"I think he needs time alone with Vin right now. God bless that boy; he is good for Ezra." Maude sighed, shook her head and smiled as the leader of the ragtag group joined them.
Maude smiled her thanks as Mr. Wilmington stood and offered her a seat at the table. She sat down with the intent to let these men know that any further harm to her son by any one of them would be dealt with by her.
"What? Is Vin telling Ezra everything that has happened?" Josiah stood; worried that is was too soon. "I mean, maybe he is not ready yet, strong enough?"
"Mr. Sanchez, you will please sit. What my boy needs now is to hear what went on by someone who believed in him at the time. Mr. Jackson, I thank you for believing in Ezra. I understand that human frailty came first, and I cannot find a reason for you to feel guilty. So, gentlemen, if you would please give Vin time to tell Ezra what has transpired, I would most graciously appreciate it. Now, what have you found out so far as to who could have done this act of violence?" Maude firmly asked with her voice and her eyes as she looked around the table at the men before her.
"We are thinking that the fake minister had something to do with it. Does Michael White mean anything to you? Can you think of anyone that might have a grudge against you or Ezra from Silver Springs?" Chris asked, wanting Maude to realize it could have happened because of something she had done.
"Mr. Larabee, I can assure you that if it had anything to do with me, they would have let me know by know. What good is payback if you don't know what it is for? No, gentlemen, this was an act against Ezra. Tell me everything you can about this so-called creature of God. What did he look like, talk like?" Maude asked as she settled in to absorb all they had to tell her.
"Well, he had dark hair, peppered with gray. Let's see, he had dark eyes, almost black, and a big nose. He was about Buck's size and wore a ring on his right forefinger, like a funny lookin' bird." JD stated with his eyes closed as be brought up the image of Mr. White in his mind.
"It was a falcon." Josiah looked at the others and shrugged, "I asked the man."
"NO, it can't be. There is no possible way, Lord, it can't be him," Maude said suddenly, knocking the chair backwards as she stood up.
Josiah immediately noticed how pale the woman had become. She looked about ready to pass out as her body began to sway back and forth. The preacher moved quickly around the table before anyone could stop him. Buck moved to place the chair back in the upright position, allowing the gentle giant to take care of Maude. The preacher gently assisted the woman back into the chair, whispering it would be okay. That they would not let anyone hurt her or Ezra. He'd watched Maude closely as JD had described the minister. It shocked him to see the fear that took over the woman's face, and how pale she became.
"Maude, look at me. Who is this man? Why would he want to hurt Ezra?" Josiah softly asked as he took the southern woman's cold hands into his.
"Josiah, he will kill him! He cannot let Ezra live, or he will lose it all. Oh my God, how did he find out Ezra's name? Lizzy, God Lizzy, what am I going to do?" Maude cried softly, knowing she would have to tell them about Ezra's past.
Josiah's heart about stopped when she had mentioned the name Lizzy. He remembered Elizabeth telling him now how her sister Rebecca was the only one that had called her Lizzy. That was the only mention Elizabeth had made of her sister, other than to tell him she was not allowed to speak to her.
"Mrs. Standish, maybe you had better tell us who this man is," Chris asked softly, seeing the anguish that the woman was in.
Maude silently prayed for guidance and strength to get through this. She was not sure how these men would take the depths she had one to, to protect her boy. Would they understand what she and Bart had done to keep Ezra out of the reach of the enemy?
Josiah motioned for Buck to move over to the chair he'd been sitting in previously. He needed to be close to Maude, the feeling that she needed him to be close was overpowering. The preacher watched as Maude took a deep breath before beginning her explanation.
"Gentlemen, Ezra Standish is not his birth name. The name he was born with was Michael Paul Dumont. Maude Standish is my married name, but before that is was Rebecca Maude O'Shay. My sister, Elizabeth, is Ezra's real mother. My father wanted me to marry a bastard by the name of Beau Dumont, a fellow businessman and plantation owner in Richmond, Virginia. I hated the man and refused to marry him, and my father disowned me for it. So I went and lived in Charleston, South Carolina with some of my mother's relatives." Maude looked around and motioned she needed something to drink.
Buck hurried over behind the bar and retrieved a glass of water and a small shot of brandy. Maude looked up and smiled her thanks at the scoundrel as she accepted the much-needed brandy. She drank the shot of liquor swiftly without a problem and then sipped the water before sitting it down in front of her on the table for future use, while Buck returned to his seat.
"So let me continue, be assured Gentlemen, what I about to tell you is the gospel truth. Lizzy and I kept in contact through letters, using our cousin Carolyn Ann, for father had forbidden us to communicate. I watched her grow through the letters that came my way. I had a letter telling me she'd found the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Told me she did not know his name, that she had noticed him standing next to his father in a revival tent. I did not hear from her again 'til I found out the young man broke her hear and left her in the family way. By then she did not want his name mentioned because it hurt too much." Maude stopped to take a drink of water, not that she was thirsty but she needed time to regain control of her emotions.
Nathan was the only one to see Josiah's shocked expression at the mentioning of a young missionary being the father of Elizabeth's unborn babe. Now Josiah had the proof that he was in fact Ezra's father. Josiah's eyes met that of the healer and shared a knowing look of understanding between them. Both men's attention went back to the southern woman's voice as she began her story again.
"My father, in his attempt to prevent a scandal, arranged for my sister to marry, making Dumont agree to raise the child as his own, with the understanding that the first born male would inherit the O'Shay fortune. I had begged Lizzy to come and live me and Aunt Olivia, but she refused. You see, I am my father's daughter, headstrong and willful, whereas Elizabeth took after our mother, the lady of the manor that defers to the male of the house. So Elizabeth and Beau were married and an alliance between my father and that bastard was forged." Maude stopped at looked around the table but she was not seeing the men present around her. She needed to regroup; this was not something she wanted to tell.
"Lizzy had a hard labor and, after the birth of Michael, was never able to conceive again. The letters stopped coming as much, and by then I had met and married Bart Standish. Bart came from a good and financially well off family; he was the younger of two boys. He was a gambler and taught me everything I know. One night Claudia, a slave that me and my sister had shared growing up, showed up at our doorstep with a letter and a small boy in her care. I knew that this boy was Michael; he looked so much like Lizzy. He had such a haunted look to his eyes; he was just staring off into nothing. Claudia explained that she was instructed by my sister to bring Michael to me if anything happened to her." Maude stood up and looked around the room, avoiding any eye contact with the men at the table. "Gentlemen, I need a moment, please." She then swiftly moved toward the stairs, taking them quickly up to Ezra's room.
Josiah's pain was evident to the men around him; only one knew the real reason and the depth of it. Josiah wanted to follow the hurting woman upstairs and offer her comfort, as well as to get more of the story. The preacher's gut feeling was the next part of the story was going to give them a better understanding into Ezra's nightmares. The gentle giant of a man looked into his oldest friend's eye and smiled at the understanding he found there. He knew he could trust Nathan to be there for him when it came time to talk about his time with Elizabeth and his finding out he was Ezra's father.
Nathan watched the emotions flow over the preacher's face. He also noticed the confusion in the other four men when they looked at Josiah. He was not sure that the information about Josiah being the missionary's son that fathered young Michael was really important right now. They needed Maude to tell them more about this bastard, Dumont.
Maude walked over and sat in the rocker by the window after entering Ezra's room. She started the chair in motion, letting it bring back pleasant memories of how she would rock Ezra back to sleep after a nightmare woke him up, with him calling her mother as he cuddled close to her. Bart sat close and watched over them and came and lifted the young boy up off her lap and into his arms and carried him back to bed. She remembered how the man kissed the top of the chestnut hair and told Ezra how much he loved him.
She felt her strength coming back as these memories helped heal the bad ones she had just shared downstairs. Maude looked over and noticed one of Ezra's handkerchiefs on the side table and smiled. She stood and walked over and picked it up and placed it in her pocket and then turned and walked out the door, ready to continue where she had left off.
Josiah was able to pull himself together before Maude returned. He had realized he had known deep down since finding the St. Christopher medal that Ezra was his son. It took the words and the story from Maude to make it reality. 'What will she think of me? Hell, what will Ezra think of me?' He knew that was not important now; they had to find out more about this Dumont, from his son's past. The preacher thought to himself that maybe neither of them needed to know his newfound relationship with Ezra. He knew he could trust Nathan to keep it a secret. He just wanted to know what had happened to his first true love. It just did not seem right that it had come from the woman that he had now come to love more than life itself.
None of the occupants of the saloon noticed Mavis as she sat quietly behind the bar, listening to their conversation. She'd been able to move around to keep from being seen, something she'd learned to do at a young age to help her hide from the abuse of her father and uncle when they drank too much.
"Damn, damn, what the hell. Can't that bastard die? Beau swore as he threw the glass against the wall.
It had taken Silas longer then he had expected to return to town. His horse had stepped on a stone and most likely bruised its hoof. But, either way, he had to walk the last few miles back to town.
"That damn boy of mine, did you see him? Why the hell has he not come to tell me this news sooner? Imbecile, I should have known better than to send a boy to do a man's job." Beau continued to pace and swear as Silas nodded his agreement.
There was no way that the bitch and Elizabeth's bastard were going to take the O'Shay fortune away from him. He had lived with the knowledge he was stuck with the bastard as his heir for four years too long. Then, the whore of a wife, not being able to give him a legitimate heir made it worse.
"I should have smothered the little bastard when he was born." Beau muttered to himself as he promised himself the next time Michael would die and Maude would then be next.
"Don't worry none, I's will takes care of it myself," Silas promised.
"I know I can count on you, Silas. I should have sent you in the first place," Beau smiled as his old slave, now friend.
Beau settled down and looked over at his old friend and knew they needed a plan. Michael Ezra Standish O'Shay had to die.
"It's like he is a cat with nine lives," Beau shook his head.
"I have a cat o' nine's tails waitin' to make it his last." Silas' grin was pure evil.
Ezra listened to every word as Vin told him of the accusations and lies that had been told about him by Mr. White. He tried to correlate the events of which he was accused, and what he could have done to make his supposed friends believe them. It had surprised him that Nathan had not believed the lies, but due to the circumstances beyond his control he had not been able to approach Ezra himself.
The gambler looked out the window as he slowly came to realize that most of his associates, and what appeared to be most of the town, had judged him guilty without a trial. His associates did not even have the decency to ask him if the story was true, or give him a chance to defend himself. What made it worse was he had approached them only to be pushed aside or threatened. He again looked at his friend and felt the need to ask a personal question.
"Vin, if you had not know before of my engagement in Eagle Bend, would you have treated me as they have done?" Ezra looked toward the tracker, looking for him to answer honestly.
"Truth is, Ez, I can't say for sure how I would have acted other than I know I'd have faced ya and asked ya about it. I'm pretty sure I woulda believed ya. You've never been able to lie ta me before, not then either, I'd imagine. Don't think I don't know whatcha do when you are tryin' to avoid my questions. Ya can't tell right out, but ya can't lie either, so ya avoid the answer with them five dollar words ya hide behind." Vin winked, then smiled, letting Ezra see the truth behind his words
"Vin, for some reason, I could never lie to you. I feel that you can read me better than anyone I have ever met. Your friendship was, and is, more important to me, than hurting it with lies. But, I have to hide some of the personal aspects to some of your questions; they would draw too much unwanted attention to me." Ezra looked sadly at his friend. "The wrong kind of attention in my profession could be hazardous to my well being. Something that has been taught to me, it would seem, since birth."
"Ez, ya gotta know that the others are feelin' real bad about misjudgin' ya and all. Nathan still feels mighty bad about not seekin' ya out and standin' behind ya." Vin offered with a smirk on his face, "Who would've thought old Nate would be willin' ta protect your reputation."
"I still find it hard to believe Mr. Jackson believed in ME." Ezra looked out the window again as he turned his mind back to thinking things through. He was worried about how he would feel when the gentlemen in question came to visit, if they dared.
"Ez, he even jumped on their shit for thinkin' you, of all people, would hurt any younguns, let alone a woman." Vin laughed as he remembered Nathan's look of disgust that the healer had directed at the other men.
Vin frowned as he heard the sad sigh come from the gambler. He watched as the southerner continued to stare out the window with a sad expression on his face. Both men fell into a comfortable silence. Ezra felt like he was safe with Vin watching his back, especially since he felt he was still in danger. The tracker just liked the fact he had been there for his friend and would continue to do so.
"Vin, I'm not ready to face the others. I know Mr. Jackson has to come and check on my wounds, but could you tell him I'm not ready to talk yet," Ezra whispered, not know how Vin would feel about this.
"Ya need someone ta guard ya. At least 'til ya are a little stronger then ya are now."
"They can guard me from the outside. Please, I have a lot to think about and sort through. It will make it more difficult if I have them here crowding me," Ezra pleaded as he looked over at this friend.
Vin understood and nodded his willingness to tell the others. He knew of one man he did not look forward to telling that his presence was not wanted at the moment. The tracker knew that Josiah was not going to like it at all that he could not see Ezra for himself and see the man was okay.
Beau watched as his son rode into town. He could tell the boy was dreading telling him the news that Standish was still alive. The boy was going to pay for waiting so long to inform him of the unfortunate news. Dumont elbowed his sleeping friend beside him. "Silas, I think we are about to be told old news." Beau's smile was evil as he watched his son walk over toward them with his head bowed down. "Damn boy does not have any backbone."
"Was too much a mama's boy growin' up, tied too tight to her apron strings, I warned ya." Silas shook his head as he spoke. He had tried to tell the man that the boy needed to be out in the fields more, learning to be a man.
Toby could not look directly into his father's or uncle's eyes. If he had, he would have run back to Four Corners and packed up Mavis and left. They had called him weak, stupid, and a mama's boy most of his life. He knew deep down that after telling them that the gambler still lived he would be beaten for sure and called worse names.
"What's ya got ta say?" Silas growled.
"The gambler lives," Toby whispered.
"Ya just comin' ta us now boy? Where ya been?" Silas' voice sounded deadly as he slowly approached the boy.
Toby looked at his uncle and was unsettled with how much his uncle looked like the healer in Four Corners, 'could almost pass as brothers'. Silas was just a few shades lighter and the lips fuller, especially the bottom one.
Toby and his sister, Mavis had settled in Four Corners two months ago with the intent to learn all they could about Ezra Standish. They reported all they found out to their father and uncle. The plans were made after Toby overheard the southerner and the tracker talking about the gambler going to play in a card game. Everything had gone as planned, except the man didn't die. Mavis had tried to talk him out of going through with the plan after moving to town. She talked about how nice a man the southerner was and how he treated her like a lady. He'd watched Standish and noticed that the man treated the women in town with respect, even the saloon girls. The problem was that he wanted so much to be accepted by his father that none of it mattered.
"His ma came ta town. I wanted to see what happened with her and the others before I came." Toby offered, hoping it would be enough to keep him in their good graces.
"Rebecca is there? Well, maybe I can kill two birds." Beau smiled at his son. 'Maybe he is smarter than I think,' Beau thought to himself.
"Dont worry. I's won't let the bastard live. I'll leave the woman up to you." Silas nodded as he looked at Toby and wondered if the boy was lying about his reasons for not coming sooner. Silas looked at his oldest friend, former master, and smiled. He had watched as his old master had to marry a woman carrying another man's child, and pass it off as his. Old Man Dumont would not let Beau divorce the whore after she could no longer produce a real heir for the family. So he helped young Beau take his frustrations out on the little bastard child.
But the boy's mama grew some backbone and interfered in their fun one night. The woman was dead because of it, but her slave had taken the boy somewhere and hid him away.
His old master was sure that the boy was taken to Rebecca, the bitch's sister. No matter who they talked to, they could not get anyone to tell where she had moved. Then, a couple years back, they'd accidentally found Claudia living with her family in Ohio. It had taken a long time, but he was able to break her and found out what they needed to know to locate the lost Michael.
The only problem was they could not find any Bart or Maude Claremont. Then after further investigation, they'd found out that the Claremont's had changed their name to Standish, thanks to an insightful visit with Patrick Claremont's widow. It had been hard to trace them after that, especially with the moving around that the small family of three had done.
Then a few months ago, Beau had come across a book of sorts with the Magnificent Seven as the heroic group of men, with one of them being Ezra Standish. Then the plans were made and here they were now, with the plans not working out as they should have.
Beau smiled at his childhood slave now turned protector and partner in crime. They had done some terrible things to survive after the war. He'd lost the plantation in the war with no way of claiming it back. But, he knew that he could still make a return to wealth and status, if one Michael O'Shay was never found. Then the bastard would have to leave his fortune to him.
Dumont looked over his son, looking for any trace of his mother in his features. He could see Rose's dimples were there, nothing more. Rose had been Silas' sister and the one thing he wanted in his life, but could not have. The woman gave him two children that he could not claim as his own. Beau had loved her from adolescence to now; it was a outrage that Yankee scum had raped and killed her when she'd tried to save the plantation from being burned to the ground. Beau, in his own sick madness, had blamed Michael for this as well; with the illogical thinking that O'Shay's bastard grandson should be dead, not his one true love.
"Seems we have some plans to readjust. If at first you don't succeed, you try again. This time we won't fail, and I will have the pleasure of making Rebecca watch as I kill her nephew, before I kill her." Beau chuckled as he placed his arm around his son's shoulder. "So, tell me more about what is going on in Four Corners."
The three men went in search of a quiet place to talk and plan. Toby had felt ten feet tall when his father had placed his arm around his shoulders. The man had never openly offered such familiar contact since he was a child, unseen by others on the plantation. Maybe helping his father do this would bring them closer together and they could be a family, after all?
Maude squeezed the handkerchief in her pocket for support as she descended the stairs. She now had the strength to finish her story. She just wished she had told Ezra first, but she felt the others needed to know so they would understand it was important to protect the boy she loved more that life itself. As she made her way to the table, where she'd left five curious men, she noticed the pain and sorrow on Josiah's face. Her last few impressions on her visits here were that the man considered Ezra the closest thing he would have to a son. The pain he felt at his betrayal of his son would haunt him for a long time.
Mavis scooted closer against the bar, trying not to be seen as the elegant lady came down the stairs and went back over join the five peacekeepers sitting there. She knew she should make herself known and tell them what she knew, but the courage would not come.
Josiah noticed the renewed strength in Maude Standish and was in awe at what an incredible woman she was. He knew if she forgave him for what he did to her beloved sister he would never disappoint her again. 'I promise, Ezra, to do better by you. Maude, I promise to love you forever, nothing will keep me from keeping my promise to both of you'. Josiah vowed silently as his second chance at love walked over to the table and returned to her seat beside him.
"Gentlemen, if you are ready I will continue." Maude looked around as the men nodded for her to proceed, "Please realize that Ezra does not know any of what I have shared with you this day. He truly believes he is Bart's son, and mine, due to his parents being killed in an accident when he was very young. But, after today he will be told the truth, all of it. All that was done from the time he came into my care was to protect hi the best that I knew how, before and even more after Bart's death." Maude looked at the five men around the table letting honest emotion show on her face for the first time. "Do I have your promise that it goes no further that between us?"
Each man nodded their heads, letting her know that they believed her and would keep this between them. This offered the encouragement needed for her to continue the story of Ezra's childhood. She truly wanted to trust that the men would help her to protect her boy from the forces of evil that were closing in on him. She was sure now that Beau would not stop until both she and Ezra were dead.
"When Claudia brought young Michael to me he was a very quiet and pale little boy. Come to find out the boy had been abused by that monster for quite a while. He himself would not lay a hand on him, but he had slaves do the beatings. One of his favorites was a young man named Silas, who had taken a special interest in beating Michael the most. When I undressed my nephew for bed before I talked more with Claudia, I found old and new bruises, and old and healing whip marks on his back. Over the years they faded to almost nothing, but you can still see them if you look closely for them. The poor child just stood there. He let me undress him, and stared off into nothing, with no emotion showing in his face or eyes. I wanted so much at that time to kill the bastard that had hurt him so." The hate and anger radiated in the woman's voice and the men around her had no doubt she would have done so, if given the chance.
"I was so angry I went in and yelled at Claudia about what had happened and where was my sister that she had allowed this to happen. I must have had the look of a madwoman because Bart was up and holding me back from throttling the poor scared woman in front of me. Claudia broke down and sobbed and she explained how she and my sister had found out what Beau was doing. It seemed my brother-in-law handpicked the nanny for Michael, one that was loyal to him and kept secrets well from the child's mother. He made sure that Lizzy had very little contact with her son, saying it would make him a better man and not a mama's boy. Luther, one of the field hands that loved Claudia, broke down and told her what Silas and some of the others were doing to the small boy. When my sister confronted Beau during the last beating, he turned on her and beat her to death, in front of Michael. So the dreams you have heard have been Ezra dreaming what he cannot remember when he wakes." The tears ran down Maude's face as she tried to get control she reached and grabbed the handkerchief, feeling some of the calmness returning.
Josiah could no longer hold back as he pulled his chair closer and took Maude's hands into his and squeezed. He would protect them, no matter the risk to his life. "I'm with you, I will promise to protect you and Ezra from this from this man," Josiah vowed.
"Thank you, Josiah. I know that you will help keep my boy safe." Maude smiled, letting it reach her eyes to let the man know it was a genuine smile of gratitude.
"Bart's family was very well to do and had many powerful connections. They were responsible for making Ezra's birth certificate official. Michael Paul O'Shay no longer existed and Ezra Patrick Standish was born. The name Ezra came from Bart's father and Patrick from Bart's old brother. Bart and his family, after seeing the condition the boy was in, had taken it upon themselves to investigate and then do everything they could to protect him from going back to Dumont or my father. Patrick had done business with my father, so he was made aware of the riding accident that had taken his daughter, Elizabeth's, life. Then the kidnapping of his grandson hit the community hard, especially since no ransom was asked for. The Claremonts loved my boy as if he was one of their own; offering him their names had proved that. Standish was Martha's, Bart's mother's, maiden name." Maude stood and walked around the saloon, trying to calm her nerves.
She could not believe she was telling these men everything, and before she even told her son. 'Oh, Ezra, will you be able to forgive me?'
"After the deaths of Bart and Patrick, their father lost all interest in the family business. Martha lost the will to live and soon followed her sons one night in her sleep. Patrick's wife, Abigail, had moved back to her family with her children; the memories in the family house were too painful for her. Not a month after Martha's death, Ezra Claremont went into his study and placed a gun to his head and went to his grave a very unhappy man. He'd left all there was of value to me and Ezra. It was not much, but it was enough to get me as far away from my father's reaching hands as I could manage. My Aunt Olivia had contacted me to inform me that my father was looking for me to see if I had produced any sons. So my travels with a small boy in tow began. I ended up leaving Ezra with various people through the earlier years for his protection. Bart had made many friends in his travels and they were willing to help his widow and child. I was sure I had covered our tracks well, but it seems I was sadly mistaken." Maude sighed as she looked out the window towards the clinic that housed the most precious gift she'd ever received.
"Gentlemen, I would appreciate it if you would keep this to yourselves. Ezra has no idea about his past, unless he as remembered it since growing older. I told him that his real mother and father were killed in a riding accident." Maude turned to face the men still seated at the table, looking at her as she spoke. "It would seem that it is something that now needs to be told to him, if you will excuse me, I have my boy to check on and another good man to relieve so he can get some rest."
"Mrs. Standish, if you would please wait," Chris asked as he watched the woman turn to leave.
"Yes, Mr. Larabee," Maude acknowledged without turning around, wanting to get back to be with her precious boy.
"Nothing will be said by any one of us," Chris said as he glared around the table at the other four men present, letting him know he was speaking for all of them.
"Thank you very much," Maude stated as she again attempted to leave.
"Excuse me, Maude, but I think that you should not be traveling alone either. I will walk with you back to the clinic, if it's okay with you?" Josiah stood to leave with her, whether she wanted the company or not.
"I will allow you to accompany me, Mr. Sanchez," Maude whispered as she waited for the gentle giant of a man to catch up.
"Mrs. Standish, Josiah, let me know when it is okay for me to come and check on Ezra," Nathan softly demanded. He would not rest until he knew for a fact just how the gambler was doing.
"I will send Josiah over to get you, before I talk with Ezra." Maude sighed, knowing it would be best to let the healer look her son over before he found himself not wanting anyone around him.
Josiah looked over at Nathan and nodded his agreement to Maude's plan before they went out the saloon doors. The preacher just prayed he could keep from letting his secret out, that he was Ezra's father. 'Can I keep from blurting out who I truly am?'
Chris, Nathan, Buck, and JD sat quietly as the couple left the saloon. None of the men had anything to say out loud, but their thoughts about what Ezra's mother had told them kept their minds busy. The sound of someone crying alerted them that they were no longer alone.
"What the hell?" Chris whispered as he looked at the other men at the table.
Vin had stepped out on to balcony for some air, after the gambler fell into a restless sleep. He'd never stayed inside for so long, for as long as he could remember. The tracker's gut feeling was that Ezra's restless sleep had nothing to do with a return of a fever, but was more likely the hashing out of what the other men and the people of this town had done to him.
The Texan knew he would stand between Ezra and anyone that would not abide with the gambler's wishes to be left alone. He would have a talk with Nathan and ask him to avoid asking the southerner any questions, and not to talk about anything pertaining to Ezra's shooting or the others treatment of him after the lies that Bastard White told.
Vin watched as Maude and Josiah left the saloon and walked over toward Mrs. Potter's. 'Well, looks like Ez is gonna get some special broth;' the tracker thought to himself and smiled.
Josiah walked over with Maude to help pick up the food for the men at the clinic, who were having a different but no less traumatic conversation between them. He just hoped Ezra would not shut him out of his life forever. The preacher understood that the gambler would need some time before having to face anyone other than Vin, and maybe Nathan, until he had time to deal with their betrayal and behavior toward him.
Maude wanted to run up to the clinic and just talk Ezra into leaving town, maybe go to San Francisco. They could start a new life by getting new identities and start fresh. But even as she wished this to happen, she knew deep in her heart it would not happen; her boy would not run from this attack on him.
Both Maude and Josiah were surprised to see Vin sitting in a chair outside the door to the clinic.
"Vin?" Maude softly asked, as she noticed the tiredness in the young man's face.
"Don't worry none, I needed some air and he was sleepin'." Vin nodded toward Maude and smiled. He did not want to tell the preacher man that he was not welcome in the room right now.
"He doesnt want any of us to be with him right now, that is, he wants only you, Maude, and maybe Nathan." Josiah sighed as his gut feelings told him the tracker was feeling uneasy about some news he needed to give, so he made it easier on his son's tired friend.
"Only wants Nate to check his wounds, nothing more." Vin drawled, happy that the preacher said the words for him and he only had to agree.
"But why not talk with Nate?" Josiah questioned, not understanding that one at first.
"He knows me and Maude won't push him none, ta talk. He known we will listen when he is ready and be patient enough ta wait him out." Vin shrugged and offered a weak smile at the older man.
"Did he take it hard?" Josiah asked, fully aware it was stupid question, 'of course he was upset, you damn idiot.'
"Not talkin' 'bout it. He will tell ya what he thinks when he decides ta talk. Respect that and he will know ya really care and are truly sorry. Don't respect him and he'll know it's just ya needin' to find forgiveness and not interested in fixin' the friendship." Vin seriously offered the advice he felt was best for the troubled man.
Josiah looked at the Texan and let the meaning of what he was saying sink in, "You're right, Vin thank you." The preacher then turned his sights on Maude and said, "Just let me know when you want me to get Nathan."
Maude had watched the two men as they worked it out together about how best to handle the problems between Mr. Sanchez and her boy. 'That man is as intelligent as Ezra told me he was'. Maude thought to herself as she silently applauded the young Texan on how smoothly he handled the older man.
"Gentlemen, I'm going to see about Ezra and get some of this broth down him before it gets cold. Vin, you need to eat and get some sleep, but Josiah will need to talk to you before you retire." Maude forced herself to smile before turning to enter the clinic carrying the tray with the broth and some real tea that was sent by Mrs. Potter. Vin moved to open the door for her since Josiah held a tray in his hands as well and could not assist her.
"Thank you, Vin." Maude leaned up and kissed the tracker's rough, unshaved cheek.
Vin nodded as he turned with his eyebrows raised at the man left standing holding the tray of food meant for him. He was not as interested in the food, even if his stomach was growling from the lack of being fed; he wanted to know what the preacher needed to tell him.
"Eat first, information second, and then sleep. You will be of no good to Ezra if you are not rested." Josiah smiled as he placed the tray with a large portion of eggs, biscuits, bacon, and gravy on the plate, compliments of Mrs. Potter, who knew how much the young tracker could put away at one time. Also on the tray was a pot full of coffee and two cups.