A Sin From the Past
This was one of my first stories, posted on another site. I went back and cleaned it up a little.
Megan Evans rode into Four Corners late in the afternoon, bone tired. She arranged to board her horse at the livery and rented a room above the saloon. She traveled light, only the contents of her saddlebags and her bedroll tied to the back of her saddle. She rested for an hour before changing out of her traveling clothes and going in search of supper.
She felt them watching her as she descended the stairs. She was used to it by now. She was of average height but her body was often referred to as dainty. Her hair was white blond from birth and hung straight down her back to her waist. It was her face that caused people to look at her twice when they met her. She had a very fair complexion and looked more like a teenager than a grown woman. It was a look she cultivated and used to her advantage.
She took a small table near the corner of the room and ordered supper. The men in the saloon watched her as she sat. She studied each person carefully. She had learned early on that it was best to be silent and observant, it could save her life.
Ezra observed the young woman as she sat sipping her tea. He cut and shuffled the cards in his hands absent mindedly as he watched her. A couple of men approached the table and she politely declined their invitation to join them at another table.
Megan noticed the man in the brightly colored jacket in the near corner of the room. It was almost hypnotic watching him cut and shuffle the cards as his eyes scanned the crowd. She made eye contact with him and smiled before looking away demurely.
The gambler tapped the cards on the table before putting them in his pocket and checking his attire. He picked up his glass and the bottle he had been drinking from and started across the room. Would you mind if I joined you? He asked softly.
Smiling, Megan raised her eyes to meet his, Not at all. She sipped her tea and folded her hands on the table in front of her. Ezra pulled out the chair nearest the wall and sat down. She carefully studied the man as he adjusted the chair so that he could see most of the room. She noted that he did not turn his back on the doors or the crowd.
He offered his hand, Ezra P. Standish at your service.
She lightly clasped his hand, Megan Evans.
Well, well, Miss Evans, what brings you to our little corner of the world? He asked as he leaned close. Up close, she noticed that his eyes were a warm green color.
Im just passing through. I have to be in San Francisco in a couple of months so I thought I would see some of the country along the way, she replied.
Her supper arrived and she shook out her napkin and spread it across her lap. Ezra made polite conversation while she ate, trying to divine more information about her. She didnt really volunteer much, answering his questions evasively and asking him questions that kept him talking.
When she finished her meal, she asked, I saw you shuffling cards before, would you like to play a hand or two of poker?
Ezra smiled, showing his gold tooth, I would be delighted to play cards with you. Do you play for wagers?
Oh, no, she said, I only play for fun. I cant afford to gamble with my funds.
The southerner excused himself from the table and went to the bar. He brought back a small rack of wooden chips. Well use these to wager then, shall we? He asked. She smiled and nodded as he divided the chips evenly between them. He pulled the cards from his pocket and shuffled them once and set them before her. She tapped the deck and pushed it back toward him.
And what kind of poker would you like to play?
Five card draw? She suggested. Ezra nodded and dealt the cards. She picked up her cards and glanced at them. Her eyes flicked across his face as he looked at his cards. He smiled and she smiled back.
They played cards for hours. Ezra had learned to read people pretty well and he was surprised that he couldnt read the young woman at all. Her face remained relaxed whether she had good cards or bad ones. Her shoulders remained relaxed and she never stopped smiling. She won a few and lost a few, but she never folded no matter how high he bet. By the time she yawned and declared that she was too tired to continue, the chips were pretty evenly divided between them again.
Ezra stood as she rose from the table and shook his hand, I enjoyed playing against you, very much. Her eyes held his for a moment and then she withdrew her hand from his and moved through the crowd to the stairs. He watched her until she closed the door of her room. As he turned around, he noticed Buck, Chris and Nathan sitting at a nearby table, he hadnt even realized they were watching.
He stretched and yawned as he crossed to the other table. Vin asked, So, who is she?
Ezra smiled, Her name is Megan Evans. Shes just passing thru our little abode on her way to San Francisco.
Buck said, I never saw you play cards for no money, Ezra. Nathan laughed softly at the barely veiled barb.
The young lady didnt want to play for money so we just played for fun, Ezra said defensively.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Ezra had just returned from his patrol and was having a cup of coffee before he went to grab a few hours of sleep when Megan came down from her room. He watched her descend the stairs as the conversation around the table stopped. Buck was leaned back in his chair against the wall as he finished his coffee. Chris had just gotten his food and was waiting for it to cool before he started eating. JD never looked up from his plate, the boy had a healthy appetite in the morning.
Ezra stood and called to Megan and she changed directions to approach their table. Miss Evans, allow me to introduce you to some of the denizens of our little town, the southerner said as she arrived at his side. This is Buck Wilmington, Chris Larabee and yonder youth with the large appetite is JD Dunne, he said as he indicated each with his hand.
Buck nodded at her as their eyes met, Chris touched his hat with his fingertips as he nodded at her and JD looked up from his plate and smiled around the mouthful of eggs he had just put into his mouth. Pleased to meet each of you, she said.
Heavy footfalls on the boardwalk preceded the swing of the bat-wing doors as another man joined their group. Ezra looked over his shoulder at the new arrival and started to introduce him to Megan, And this is, he began to say.
Megan interrupted him quietly, Hello, Josiah.
Josiah studied the young woman standing before him silently. Megan stepped toward him and to the astonishment of the others, the older man stepped back. Ezra looked from Megan to Josiah with a confused expression on his face, You two know each other? He asked hopefully.
Its been almost ten years. You havent forgotten me already, have you? Megan asked softly.
Josiah was ashen. He shook his head, No, I havent forgotten. How did you find me?
A look of hurt crossed her green eyes before she replied, I wasnt looking for you. I just happened in here yesterday.
Josiah looked from Megan to the group around the table. It was so quiet in the saloon that he could hear his own heart beating loudly in his ears. Excuse me, I forgot something I need to do, Josiah said as he backed away from Megan and turned quickly as he left the saloon.
Ezra looked from the doors to Megan. She had tears in her eyes before she bolted up the stairs and into her room. The gambler looked around the table and asked, Could someone tell me what just happened here?
I dont know, but I think I should try to find out. Chris pushed his plate away and sighed. He picked up his coffee and downed it, scalding as it was before leaving the saloon and walking toward the church.
+ + + + + + +
The blond gunslinger climbed the steps of the church and hesitated at the door. He had never seen Josiah look so shaken up. He opened the door and stepped into its dark, quiet interior. Josiah was on his knees at the front of the church. Chris could hear the faint whispers of fervent, apologetic prayer.
Chris cleared his throat before touching the preacher on the shoulder gently. Josiah? He said softly, Who is she?
Josiah turned and shifted from his knees as he sat on the floor leaning against the rail, One of my many sins, come back to haunt me.
Closing his eyes, Josiah rested his head against the rail, It was a long time ago, Chris, I was another person.
+ + + + + + +
Ten years before, Josiah was riding throughu a field near the edge of an old-growth forest. It was bitterly cold and he tucked his fingers under the edge of his saddle to warm them. Prophets breath made plumes of steam. The air smelled of snow and Josiah was trying to get under cover before it started. He had been gone from the church for a couple of years, wandering aimlessly across the country as he sought the answers to the empty feeling he had been having.
Out of the corner of his eye he detected movement. He watched as the figure in the distance weaved along the edge of the tree line before falling and becoming still. He turned his horse and kneed him to a trot as he went to investigate.
The figure on the ground was a girl. He knelt beside her and gently brushed away the loose tendrils of fine, blond hair that clung to her face. She had been beaten. Her eye was swollen and black and there was a darkened spot on her jaw. Her wrists were bruised and her hands scratched. She was poorly dressed for the cold and pitifully thin.
Josiah considered his options. He doubted that there was any way he could get her to safety before the snow started and he didnt want to be riding around with her in a blizzard. He studied the woods before making a decision. He pulled his bedroll from behind his saddle and covered her with it. He then walked into the woods searching for a suitable place to set up a lean-to for protection from the storm.
He worked for nearly an hour, clearing a level place and hanging his canvas tent cover between two trees. He cleared a place to build a fire and gathered all the wood he could find, they might have to stay there for several days.
As the sun began to set, Josiah led his horse to the site and ground hobbled the animal. He started a fire, using some of the whiskey in his saddlebag as an accelerant. He then went and gathered the girl in his arms and carried her to the shelter.
She was so cold that she wasnt even shivering. Josiah leaned against a tree trunk and wrapped her in his arms. He closed his hands around hers after tucking his blanket under his legs and wrapping his coat around her. It was over an hour before she began to shiver. He tightened his grip on her as she trembled more violently and comforted her as she whimpered in pain.
When she had finally warmed up, he slid out from behind her and added more wood to the fire. He had set his canteen near the heat so that the water wouldnt freeze. He coaxed a mouthful of the warm water down her throat before he lay down to sleep. He drew her against his chest and wrapped the blanket around both of them as he rested his head against his saddle and drifted off to sleep.
The soft nicker of his horse woke him at daylight. It was snowing! The girl lay sleeping in his arms, oblivious to the world. Josiah eased away from her and went to check on the horse. He brushed the ice crystals from Prophets coat and petted him. He put more wood on the fire and collected the coffee pot from his saddlebag. He walked to the edge of the forest and filled the coffee pot with clean, fresh snow. He put the pot near the fire to melt the snow before going to check on the girl.
Josiah knelt beside her and shook her shoulder gently, Hey, its time to wake up! She recoiled from his touch, wide-eyed with terror. Easy now, Im not gonna hurt you. My names Josiah. Whats your name?
She scooted farther away from him, drawing the blanket with her, My name is Megan Evans.
Easing himself to the ground, Josiah drew his saddlebags into his lap, Are you hungry? I dont have much, just some deer jerky and dried fruit. He could see the hunger in her eyes as he drew the bag of jerky from the saddlebag. He took out a piece for himself and offered her the bag. She watched him warily; he had seen the same look in the faces of wild dogs as he had offered them food. He tossed the bag into her lap.
Megan opened the bag and withdrew a piece of the jerky before taking her eyes off of him to close the bag. He pulled out the bag of dried fruit and tossed it to her. Thank you, she said softly. She opened the bag and drew out a few pieces of the fruit and closed the bag. She tossed him the jerky and then the fruit without taking her eyes off of him.
Josiah started to get up to check the water in the coffee pot and she nearly bolted. Easy, easy, Im not going to touch you. Im gonna check the water in the pot. Do you like coffee? He asked as he walked over to the fire. She nodded. Good! he said as he added the grounds to the basket.
She accepted the coffee from him timidly. He retreated to the farthest corner of the shelter and sat down with his cup. He watched her as she warmed her hands around the cup before inhaling the warm steam rising from the coffee.
Howd you get the shiner? he asked.
Her eyes locked on him and she tensed, M-my Pa. He was drunk and I got in his way.
He do that often?
Only since my Ma died last year. Thats why I ran away. How about you? What are you doing out here in the middle of Gods nowhere?
Josiah smiled at her choice of words. They talked for several hours. She began to relax somewhat. They ate more of the jerky and fruit for lunch and Josiah melted more snow so that she didnt have to drink the cold water from his canteen. He gave her his extra shirt to wear over her clothes.
Everything was fine until dark. Josiah yawned and stretched as he leaned against the trunk of a tree. You think we should get some sleep? He could see that she had been nodding off. She nodded and settled her head on her knees.
Josiah stood up and crossed to her side. Come here, he said as he touched her shoulder. She fought like a wildcat as he took hold of her arm. He pinned her arms to her sides and held her as she fought. She kicked at his ankles until he swept her feet out from under her and put her on the ground. She never made a sound as she struggled.
Josiah held her until she stopped fighting. He had thrown his leg across hers as he restrained her. He looked into her eyes, Im not going to hurt you! I just wanted to share the blanket with you. Okay? Her lip quivered and her green eyes filled with tears as she nodded. He moved off of her and turned her back to his chest as he rearranged the blanket to cover the both of them. He let his arm rest across her side and waited for her to fall asleep.
When he awoke in the morning, she was gone! Josiah threw off the blanket and called, Megan!
Right here, she answered from outside of the shelter. He stepped out and looked for her. She was standing next to his horse brushing the ice from his coat. I gave him some water, she said as she smiled.
She had gathered more wood and had built up the fire. She had filled the coffee pot and set it to warm in the fire. He looked more closely. She had unbraided her hair and let it hang loose down her back. God she looked so young! The horse nickered and stomped his feet to get her attention as she had stopped brushing him.
The storm had passed and it was a little warmer. Josiah decided that it was time to move on. After breakfast, he took down the canvas and folded it neatly. He handed her the blanket. Megan fell silent as she watched him take down the shelter and snuff out the fire. He saddled the horse and checked his feet for injury before mounting.
Megan walked alongside the horse and handed him the blanket. Josiah put the blanket across his lap and waited. She stood looking up at him, almost in tears again. What are you waiting for? She looked puzzled. He reached down and grasped her wrist, Get up here and lets get going. Her expression brightened as she set her foot on his and pulled up onto the horse.
He waited for her to settle behind him before lifting the blanket over his head and lowering it behind her. He caught her wrist again and drew it around his waist. Hold on, he told her. He kneed the horse into motion and they left the woods. As they rode, he felt her relax against him and her head bobbed gently against his shoulder.
They made camp for the night in the shelter of some rocks. Josiah built a fire and threw the canvas on the ground for them to sleep on. Megan wasnt as reluctant to snuggle up to him on the second night. They both slept soundly after the long day of riding.
After the third day, they made camp in a little copse of trees near a river. Josiah shot a rabbit and cooked it over the fire for them for supper. Megan watched him intently as he moved about the camp, banking the fire for the night and filling the canteen from the river.
When he drew her to him that night, she turned in his arms and snuggled against his chest. The top of her head was nestled against his shoulder and her arm was thrown across his body.
On the fourth night, she kissed him. Josiah hesitated, unsure how to respond to her invitation. He had some experience with women since leaving the priesthood, but she was practically a child! Her hands worked the buttons of his shirt and her fingers left cold trails wherever they touched.
His passion finally got the better of him as he pulled her to him. He covered her mouth with his, applying pressure until she finally opened her mouth and allowed his tongue to sweep inside. His hands roamed up and down her body as he molded her to him. He made love to her in desperation, his conscience screaming that it was wrong even as she clung to him.
Afterward, as he lay spent and exhausted, she snuggled against his side. He lay awake for a long time, staring at her as she slept. It was wrong for him to have done what he did and he knew it. She was barely seventeen years old! The aching emptiness inside him didnt seem quite as deep, though. It was a sin! He lay for a long time berating himself for giving in to animal lust. He pushed the guilt down, deep inside his soul and wrapped his arm around her as he drifted off to sleep.
He made love to her each of the next three nights before they went to sleep. By day he berated and castigated himself as she rode behind him. She asked nothing from him. She never said that she loved him and he never told her that he loved her.
Finally, they reached the outskirts of Denver. They checked into a boarding house for a night to get a chance to bathe and get a good, home cooked meal. As Josiah lay in his room that night he realized that he had to get away from Megan before anything happened between them. He woke up at daybreak and snuck out of the boarding house after paying for her to stay for a few more days. He left her a note and a small silver cross on a chain. The note said simply, Im sorry.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah wiped tears from his eyes as the memory faded. He had felt incredibly guilty for leaving her like that with no money. Several times, he thought to go back for her but something always came up. Then he spent time among the Indians. He found out about Hannah and shifted everything in his life around providing for her care. Then he found himself in Four Corners.
Sensing that Josiah was lost in memory, Chris settled himself on one of the pews to wait. Finally, the older man began to cry. I left her in Denver. I was afraid to keep her with me! She made me feel, his voice dropped off as he looked around the church.
Chris moved to kneel beside the big man, Josiah, why dont you talk to her? Tell her how you feel about what happened. She looks like she came through all right. Give her a chance.
Wiping tears from his eyes, Josiah focused on Chris. I thought about her a lot at first. But then I would feel guilty, so I pushed her memory away. I dont know if I can face her, not yet, his voice pleaded for understanding.
The blond man sighed and clapped him on the shoulder. How does that verse go? If you forgive something on Earth, it is forgiven in Heaven? Maybe shes here to forgive you, he offered.
And what is not forgiven here is not forgiven in Heaven. What if shes not?
+ + + + + + +
Megan sat on her bed, crying. She remembered Josiah as he had been. She remembered the way he had held her when she was so nearly frozen to death. She remembered the tender way he had made love to her. He had gone a long way toward healing the damage her father had done when he had beaten and raped her.
She had been distraught when she found out that he had left her. The owner of the boarding house had taken pity on her and let her stay on as a maid for a while until she decided what to do with her life. She had stayed on for three years.
She had fallen in love with a gambler who taught her to play cards and watch people. Megan was good at cards and at reading the people in a room but she couldnt bring herself to do the cons that he tried to set up. Something about the tiny silver cross kept her from swindling people. She had also refused to sleep with him unless he married her. She traveled with him while he ran scams for two years. Finally, one night in St. Louis, he beat and raped her and left her for dead.
She convalesced in a hospital run by nuns. She came to love their gentle ways. Megan had a great need to care for others and the nuns nurtured the need. She worked in an orphanage for a couple of years before being offered the chance to run an orphanage in San Francisco. She had accepted without hesitation.
There was so much she wanted to say to Josiah. She wanted to tell him that she understood why he had left her. That he had given her the best opportunity to make her own way in the world. She loved working with children, showing them the love that her mother had shown her in abundance.
A gentle knock at the door caused her to wipe the tears from her eyes. Ezra stood in the doorway, looking at her with concern in his eyes. Is there anything I can do to help? The way his accent made the words flow together brought a smile to her face.
Want to play a few more hands of poker? she asked in a teasing tone.
Ezra escorted her down to a table and invited Buck and JD to play with them. When they ran out of the wooden chips, they played with matchsticks. After the first few hands, it was clear that she was toying with them. JD took every opportunity to tell some of his horrid jokes. Megan smiled and laughed with them, but she looked up hopefully every time the doors opened.
Josiah spent the rest of the day in the church, agonizing over her appearance in town. All the guilt washed over him and his spirit ached from it. He prayed over and over for some kind of sign, some clue as to why she was here. Nathan stopped in to check on him later in the afternoon. Buck came by early in the evening to tell him about how she had bested Ezra at cards.
For more than a week, he avoided her. The normal easy relationship he shared with the others was strained because she was getting close to Ezra. There was something so similar about their personalities that they just clicked together. The children of the town flocked to Megan as easily as they did to the fancy dressed gambler.
Around sunset on Sunday, Josiah finally decided to face her. He squared his shoulders and started toward the saloon. Whatever she had to say to him, whatever condemnation she called down on him, he knew he deserved it. He made it half way down the street when he heard the sound of a fight in the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
The man was drunk. He was mean drunk. He demanded to be allowed into the poker game that Ezra had going with a couple of local farmers. The gambler dealt him in and he promptly began to complain about the cards he was dealt. When the hand was over, the man jumped to his feet and accused the three men of cheating him. He swung on the farmer to his right, knocking the man from his chair.
Pandemonium broke out at once. People fled the saloon as the man began to break chairs against the wall. Ezra drew his gun, but he didnt want to shoot the man unless he had to. Megan had been sitting next to Ezra when they began playing for money. The southerner pulled her behind him as he tried to shield her with his body. He began to edge around the wall toward the door with the woman behind him.
The drunken man smashed a chair against another man, knocking him across a table. He then grabbed the mans gun and turned on Ezra. The gun went off as he brought it to bear on the gambler. Ezra saw the muzzle flash and pulled the trigger of his gun, striking the man in the chest.
Josiah hit the boardwalk running. Just as he reached for the bat-wing doors, he heard the gunshots. A body slammed into him and he wrapped his arms around it by reflex. He slammed into the post at the edge of the boardwalk and struggled to keep hold of the body in his arms.
Ezra stepped out of the saloon, staring wide-eyed at the older man. Time slowed for Josiah as he watched the color drain from the gamblers face. Ezra shouted for Nathan. Josiah looked down as the body he held slumped in his arms. Megan! He whispered. The bloodstain on her dress was spreading rapidly. Josiah began to shake. Nathan shoved his way through the crowd to take her from his arms.
The two men followed as Nathan carried Megan to the clinic. As the healer applied pressure to the wound, Megan whispered, Josiah! Nathan looked over his shoulder and shook his head sadly; there was nothing he could do for her. Josiah knelt at her side and gathered her hand tenderly in his own.
She was hurting, he could tell. Josiah, she whispered again.
I loved you, you know. I never stopped loving you, her voice trailed off as she struggled to breathe.
Can you forgive me for leaving you?
She smiled, I forgave you a long time ago. Her hand moved slowly to her neck, to the tiny silver cross on a chain, I kept this to remember you by. She coughed, spraying blood across the blanket. Josiah gathered her into his arms and held her as he sobbed. Josiah, she whispered, Im not afraid. He stared into her eyes as she reached out to caress his cheek. She drew a last, labored breath and her hand dropped to her chest. Josiah looked up at the men gathered around him through a blur of tears. Ezra sank into a chair, his mask of control shattered and he sobbed into his hands.
Megan was buried the next day in the church cemetery. Josiah openly wept as he read the 23rd Psalm over her grave. One of his oldest and deepest sins was forgiven. He would never forget her.