Song Of Chiara
Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are owned by Trilogy and MGM. I am just borrowing them and do not make any profit.
Dedication: This is dedicated to those who believe in anything strongly; deathfics, sappiness, The Magnificent Seven and miracles.
Note: Chiara is pronounced Key-yar-a and means light in Italian
Author's Note: This story is inspired by the movie The Song of Bernadette,
which is about the life of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes and the CD, Voice
of An Angel featuring Charlotte Church. Research information is from the
book Gifts of Grace by Lone Jensen. Lastly and most importantly, this
story was also inspired by MOG, a fellow Italian, motivator, beta reader,
human thesaurus *G* and creative consultant.
There are footnotes that are explained at the end of the story.
Archivist's Note: This fic was previously hosted on another website and was moved to blackraptor in September 2006.
Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief.
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else you need?
The Virgin Mary to Juan Diego in 1531
The wind was becoming stronger, making her shawl flutter about her. The Lady, from her visions , had told her she would guide her, and although at times it would be difficult, she should never lose faith. Even in the darkness Chiara could make out the cross on the top of the steeple beckoning her. Chiara bent her head lower into the oncoming wind. She knew she had found shelter from the storm. Holding on to the wooden banister she carefully made her way up the stairs. The door took all her strength to open, but finally she was able to open it wide enough to slip through. She lay down in the last pew, using her well weathered satchel as a pillow. She rummaged through the pocket of her dress and pulled out the rosary beads that had been her constant companion for the last three weeks. The Lady had told her Mama was going to die. She missed them all: Mama, Papa, Nonno and Nonna. They were all gone now. Nonno had carved the rosary beads for her from the tree near their old home in Italy as a remembrance. She thought back to when her family first arrived in this country, needing to start a new life. They had shared many laughs as they made their way to Oklahoma. Chiara let the smiling faces of her family summon her to sleep.
Josiah went to check on the church. Surely after the windstorm last night some shingles would need to be replaced. The preacher walked around the sturdy structure and found no damage had been done. Well, miracles do happen, he thought.
He entered the building, deciding to do some interior work. It was almost completed. Hopefully there would be some town folk eventually attending the services. Josiah began sanding one of the pews, humming as he went along. A sound made him look up towards heaven believing an angel must be singing. He then noticed the young, dark haired girl standing in the back of his church.
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found,
Was blind but now I see. 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fear relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
We have already come.
'Twas grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home.
When we've been there ten thousand year
Bright shining as the sun;
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun"
She was dark in color, olive tone, with large brown eyes that stared at him after she had finished singing. She wore a long gray colored skirt, a little grayer from the grit of travel and a white shirt. A plain white shawl covered her head.
"I am sorry Padre, but your humming made me feel like singing," an accent he did not recognize tinged her words.
"Padre? No young lady, preacher maybe, but why don't you call me Josiah," the preacher smiled. "What's your name?"
"Chiara Rosetti," she answered.
"Chiara Rosetti," Josiah said, feeling the strange name roll around his tongue," would you like to join me for breakfast?" he had noticed she was very thin and was surprised that such a voice came from such a small frame. Josiah also wanted to know why she was in Four Corners.
The girl's eyebrows creased together in pensive though, "yes, I would like very much."
Chiara halted in front of the saloon's doors. "Signore Josiah, this is a bar?" Chiara could not go into a bar, that was not proper. Upon leaving the church she had taken the shawl from her head and placed it around her shoulders. "Well, yes Miss Chiara it is, but only at night. During the day it is respectable," Josiah said opening the door for her to enter.
The sun came through the windows of the saloon highlighting all the particles of dust that were dancing through the air. Even the sun though could not bring light to the dark woods in the room. Chiara saw a woman behind the bar and five men in a corner table.
"Morning brothers!" Josiah bellowed to the table. He placed a hand on her shoulder, "I would like to introduce you to Chiara Rosetti." The men looked up to stare at her. Chiara lowered her head and looked down at the floor. Josiah made introductions, "this is Chris, Nathan, Ezra, Vin and Buck."
She stepped closer to the preacher. These men did not look friendly. The one named Buck, with the mustache, stood up,
"Any friend of Josiah's is a friend of ours," his voice sounded friendly, thought Chiara.
"Thank you," Chiara was able to say.
"Miss, " the man in black called Chris said tipping his hat as did the man with the long hair named Vin.
"You from around these parts?" asked the one who had been introduced as Nathan.
"Obviously from her accent Mister Jackson I am deducing that she is from another land," said the one called Ezra in the bright red coat.
Chiara nodded yes.
"I promised Chiara breakfast in payment for the song she sang me in church this morning. I thought an angel was singing."
Buck grabbed another chair and added it to the table. The chair legs scraping against the wood floor. "Well course she can join us. Have a seat little lady and Inez will bring you something to eat."
Chiara sat down in the offered chair. Josiah pulled a seat over from another table, and rested next to her.
"So what beautiful land is our young chanteuse from?" Ezra asked, leaning forward to hear her answer.
"Italy, but now I am American," Chiara added smiling shyly.
"Does your family live around here?" Chris asked.
"No, my family is gone now. I used to live in Oklahoma." Her eyes darted around taking in the bar and the men around her. She noticed their hands. All of them looked as if they had known hard work except for the one in the red jacket. His hands were meticulous. She also noticed that they were comfortable in each other's company, which gave her a small sense of ease.
Inez placed a plate of scrambled eggs and crusty bed in front of her. Chiara heard her stomach growl in anticipation. The Lady had helped her over the last few weeks, there had always been something from the earth to eat, but this had been her first cooked meal in a while. Chiara bowed her head,
"E nome de padre, di figli ed di spirito santi, Amen," she whispered over her food making the sign of the cross. When she looked up, the men were staring at her. Their eyes opened wide showing Chiara the difference in their color.
"How did you get here from Oklahoma?" Vin drawled, as he leaned back further in his chair.
"I walked," Chiara shrugged her shoulders. "My mama died and I could not live there anymore so I started walking." Vin had stopped leaning back and instead let his chair come forward. It landed with a soft thud.
Josiah broke the silence that had overtaken the men at the table, "You have been walking for weeks?"
Chiara nodded while lifting the fork of eggs to her mouth.
"Forgive me young lady, but how old are you? How did you get this far without...."Ezra closed his mouth, as if he suddenly realized no words were coming out. His face looked puzzled.
"What he is trying to say is, did anyone hurt you?" Nathan clarified. Chiara could see from his face that he cared about her answer.
"I am sixteen. And no, no one hurt me." The Lady had said it would be a long journey, but that she would protect her.
"What are your plans?" Buck asked. His mustache reminded Chiara of her Papa.
The Lady had said she would need to find the priest and help him to bring processions hither. She had repeated the words many times so that she could memorize them. Chiara thought this may be the place. "I would like to stay in this town. I can sew and cook. Is there a place I can work?"
"Well, we can ask Mrs. Travis after you finish breakfast," Josiah said. "She runs the newspaper."
Chiara nodded and smiled at Josiah.
"Josiah said you had a most melodious voice," the man, Ezra, said. He uses big words Chiara thought. "Why not pursue a career in singing?"
Chiara giggled, "No Signore Ezra." Chiara felt she needed to explain further, "I only sing in church." She swallowed, " if it is okay with Signore Josiah-I would like to sing at mass at the church?"
Josiah's hand rubbed the stubble at his chin, "Well, we really don't have services yet, but I guess there always has to be a beginning."
Ezra cleared his throat. "Surely God would not mind if you used His gift?" Ezra's eyes were a sparkling green.
"He wants you to sing somethin" Vin drawled, leaning back in his chair.
"And he wants to see if he can make any money off ya," snickered Buck, slapping his hand on the table near Ezra.
"Buck, I had no such inclinations," Ezra said feigning disgust. "I just thought it would be nice to hear somebody other than yourself sing. I do tire of your colorful ditties."
"I will try to increase my repertoire for ya. In fact I know this song..." Buck said as his eyes crinkled with mischief.
Chris cleared his throat, looked at the Chiara, and then at Buck. Buck's face turned solemn.
"Ezra, another time. . ."
"My Mama thought that by singing I could learn English. Maybe a church song I know?"
"Smart Mama you had," Josiah said.
Chiara nodded up and down, not trusting her voice to speak. These men were Josiah's friends and since he had been nice to her, one song out of church would be okay, thought Chiara.
"Well, little lady, please sing. See iffen you can put ol' Buck to shame," Buck said while rubbing his hands together in glee.
"It is not in English," Chiara said, hoping the men would not be interested.
"That's okay," Buck said, "we won't know if you make a mistake."
Fit panis hominum;
dat panis coelicus
O res mirabilis!
Servus et humilis,
Servus et humilis."
There was a silence in the room as if the men had been transported to another place. Josiah was the first to applaud and then the others joined in. Chiara felt her face go hot with embarrassment.
"That was great!" A new voice said from behind Chiara.
"Chiara Rosetti meet JD Dunne another friend of mine." Chiara curtseyed to the young man. He was around her age, with jet black hair that went past his chin. He bowed to her in return.
"My aren't we fancy," commented Buck.
"Mayhap my good breeding is wearing off on young Mister Dunne," Ezra said letting a smile grow on his face. His gold tooth showing.
JD glared at Buck and Ezra," it is nice to meet you."
"Before they ask for an encore, I'll take you to see Mary." Josiah said ushering her out of the bar.
"Piacere, scusi," she said her face getting hot again, "pleasure to meet you all."
The men all looked at each other and bowed to her. Chiara curtseyed in return.
"Boys, Josiah was right. She has the voice of an angel." Buck announced. "We may all have to start attendin' Josiah's services."
Mary saw Josiah enter the office of the Clarion. His height hiding the waif-like girl that was behind him. The girl was not beautiful, but her face shined with innocence and goodness. Her black hair pulled back tightly, with a few wisps framing her face. Mary smiled at the girl. Josiah took his hat off. "Mrs. Travis, I would like you to meet Chiara Rosetti. She is new to these parts and is looking for a job." He went on to list her skills.
"Well, we don't have a seamstress," Mary said taking the pencil from out of her hair and tapping it across her lips. "I'm sure the women would love it, plus there is always the single men who need clothes mended and repaired."
"I am not afraid of hard work Signora Mary," Chiara pulled her shoulders back and tried to stand taller than her 5 feet 2 inch height.
Mary nodded, wondering what this fragile looking girl was doing in these parts by herself.
"She will also need a place to stay," Josiah stated, his eyes looking at Mary for a solution.
"There is a room back here. It is not luxurious, but it has a bed." Mary felt sorry for the young girl, if Josiah was involved then she was probably all alone in the world. Mary would have to ask him later. Mary looked the girl over again, she didn't seem to be a girl that would cause trouble.
"That's fine," Chiara's face broke into a smile. "It is truly, very kind of you."
"Let's get you settled in, and introduced to some of the townspeople," Mary said putting her hand around the girl's slight shoulders and prompting her into the room. Chiara looked back to Josiah,
"Thank you Signore Josiah. I will see you at the church?"
"Yes Chiara, I do believe the Lord and myself would like your company." Josiah left Chiara in Mary's capable hands. My but the Lord does work in mysterious ways, he thought.
If you follow her guidance, you will not go astray
If you pray to her, you will not give up hope.
If you think of her, you will not go wrong.
If she upholds you , you will not stumble.
If she protects you, you will not be afraid.
If she leads you, you will reach the goal.
Chiara was slowly accepted by the town. Many a day she would sit outside of the Clarion with her sewing. JD, often when he was not on duty, would sit next to her chatting incessantly about the world. Chiara liked his exuberance. She liked the town and the people in it too. The Lady had told her she could not promise her happiness in this world, but in the next. But Chiara felt very happy in Four Corners, surely the Lady must be wrong. At every opportunity she worked at the church. She had started a garden in the front, with Josiah's permission, to make the church more welcoming. It had taken a while to clear the rocks, but as she worked one of the seven men would always come by and lend a hand. She learned much about each man as the weeks went on. Chiara had asked the Lady about the men. With a smile she had told Chiara, "What they are meant to be -they are meant to be. Each is strong as one, but as seven they are stronger. They should not take that for granted."
Chiara thought Chris was meant to be a father. She had not been surprised to discover he once had a son. Chris had told her one day when she was struggling to dig some ditches for the flower beds. He had come over, and just started digging without a word. Chiara had stepped back while he easily dug the holes. Chiara was glistening with sweat, but Chris, even though he was wearing black, was cool in the May heat. His long legs firmly planted on the ground as he easily wielded the shovel . Although Chiara liked the silence of her own thoughts, she decided to make small talk.
"Signore Chris, do you have any children?" Chiara asked squinting at the serious man.
Chris stopped shoveling, his hat shadowing his eyes. "I had a son," he softly answered. He looked at her and went back to work.
Chiara had seen Chris around Mary, and knew a relationship was developing between them. "You will have children Signore Chris," Chiara had not meant to say that out loud. Chris snapped his head to quickly look at her. She gave him a shy smile, and tentatively patted him on the arm. He squeezed her hand lightly, smudging it slightly with soil, and went back to work. Whistling a little tune.
Vin must have seen Chiara digging up some wildflowers at the edge of town, because she found him by her side one day. Chiara saw the shadow above her, shaking his head, "Miss, those flowers are in a sorry state," Vin said bending down to examine the blooms. Chiara could barely make out the tracker's handsome features under the hat he was wearing.
Chiara had to agree. They were already yellowing from lack of water. "Well Signore Vin, with a little water maybe?" Vin was already shaking his head at her.
"Iffen you can wait a bit I'll take you to a place where the flowers will be more to your liken?"
Chiara nodded, "I can wait, right here. Okay?" A little while later Vin returned with a hat for Chiara to wear,
"We need to do a bit of walking, and the sun is strong," Vin said looking up to the sun and using his hand to shade his eyes. Chiara dutifully placed the hat on. As they walked Chiara could hear Tanner take deep breaths as they got further away from town. Chiara thought he had forgotten about his companion as he inhaled the untouched scenery.
"Is Italy like this?"
"The south is, but I was from Tuscany and it is much greener. It was . . . what word. . .bellissima-beautiful I mean," Chiara thought wistfully. "Oh, but, this land is bellissima too." She did not want him to think she was unhappy with Four Corners.
"Bel-lis-sima, that has a nice sound to it," Chiara saw Vin grinning.
"Signora Mary showed me your poem. I liked it. You have a way with words." Her quiet companion just nodded.
"Miss, your singin'. . . It is bellissima," Vin said accentuating each vowel.
"Bravo!" Chiara clapped her hands. They walked along further, and this time Chiara broke the companionable silence.
"You like being out of the town?"
"Yes'm, I feel closed in after a while," Vin said as he touched his hat so that Chiara could see more of his features.
"My Nonno, grandfather, used to feel like that in Italy," Chiara continued, "after we lost the farm. We had to live in the city for a while. Nonno started to whither away. He used to say there was not enough air." Vin nodded. "When we went to Oklahoma, he was himself again. He said his soul could be free." The tracker looked straight ahead, the sun hitting his buckskin coat and making is a kaleidoscope of browns. "I think you are like my Nonno."
"Maybe someday I will be free," Vin explained a little," I have some trouble I need to deal with."
"I know you will be free Signore," Chiara said reverently.
Vin stopped suddenly, "we're here."
Chiara took in the site around her. Tall yellow grass interspersed with wildflowers of all different colors. The grass and flowers reaching past her knees. Chiara took out her little shovel, small sacks of burlap from her satchel, and began digging the clump of purple flowers. Vin sat down beside her crossing his legs in front of him and helped her.
"Thank you Signore Vin. The church will look beautiful."
"Don't ya mean bellissima?" Vin drawled out.
Ever since that day with Vin she went to the special place every day. It was here that she had the visions again and would meet with the Lady. The Lady requested she go everyday and pray to her. Today was no different. She had finished her sewing, and began her walk to her spot. She felt the peace first, then the smell of roses. The Lady appeared before her, dressed in white with a girdle of blue. Gold roses adorned each foot and she held a gold crucifix in one hand and white rosary beads in the other. "You have done much, but much more needs to be done. People need to believe," the Lady
said, her voice echoing through Chiara's mind.
"I understand," Chiara replied.
"Faith Chiara. You will be rewarded in the next life."
Chiara was actually rewarded later in the day in a way. She was planting a small tree. Eventually, she thought, it would grow and provide some shade to the churchgoers. While bringing some water from the well to the tree, she tripped. Water splashed every where, and Chiara landed roughly on her hands. Ezra had seen her fall and ran over. He offered his hand out to assist her, which Chiara readily accepted. He picked up the bucket and escorted her to the church steps. With a flourish, that made Chiara laugh, he took out a pristine white handkerchief which he dipped in the remaining water. He gently dabbed the abrasions on her hands.
"Thank you Signore Ezra," Chiara said watching him gently administer to her hands. She had only seen Ezra come to church recently. She had found out he was a gambler and did not know if she approved if this. "You are a kind man, Signore."
He started to shake his head. Chiara stared at him, looking into the green depth of his eyes. This was a man who needed his faith restored in mankind. Maybe being around these other men helped the gambler.
'Thank you Signorina Chiara," Ezra had asked the Italian address for miss. "But, you do not know me well." he smiled flashing his gold tooth. "There," he said putting his handkerchief away, "much better. Although I would have Mr. Jackson take a look at my handiwork when he returns."
"I will," Chiara nodded, "and Signore I know you as a kind man."
"Ezra are you trying to get Chiara to sing at the saloon again?" Nathan asked. As he crossed the street to the church.
Chiara spoke up, "No Signore Nathan. I fell, and Signore Ezra helped me. He is a good man."
Nathan looked from the her to Ezra.
"Well, Nathan, I believe that I will leave the Signorina in your capable hands. I cleaned her hands to the best of my ability, but your skill maybe needed." Ezra tipped his hat to Chiara. "Signorina, it was a pleasure to be of your assistance." Chiara watched the scarlet coated man go back to the saloon seemingly lighter in his step.
Josiah was sitting on the front steps of the church, taking a break from his work momentarily. He looked at the garden slowly taking shape. It was a little sparse, and the flowers were a bit wilted, but Chiara still persevered. She was a strange girl. Quiet, and not like other girls of her age. Josiah thought back to his sister at Chiara's age-always giggling at everything. But Chiara, although child like in appearance, seemed older as if she was carrying a burden. She had seen him praying one day, and had joined him. He told her, "I hope God answers your prayers."
She had looked at him strangely, "I prayed for you Signore Josiah that God help you with your sorrow."
Chiara was always surprising Josiah. "Sorrow. . . No. . .More like sins of the past. Nothing for you to concern yourself with."
"Signore, God only gives you what," and she gestured with her hands,". . .carry. Never too much. Your sins I think, are not too bad." She then shyly asked to make the garden, saying it would welcome people. Josiah had readily agreed, but it had been her singing that was bringing people to the church.
Josiah thought back to the first service where she sang the
"The Lord is my shepard, there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me, to revive my dropping spirit.
He guides me along the right path. He is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort.
You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes:
My head you have anointed with oil; my cup is overflowing.
Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell for ever and ever,
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell for ever."
He had gotten so lost in the singing he almost forgot his sermon. On the other hand he really didn't know if the congregation that day paid much attention to him. Over time each of the town's regulators slowly drifted into church. JD first, more because of his attraction to Chiara than anything, Nathan next, Buck came in eventually, and then Chris and Vin. Of course Josiah thought the whole congregation of 20 people had turned around when Ezra walked in. He just took off his hat and sat in the last pew with the other men. Josiah chuckled at the thought.
"Somethin' funny Josiah," the tracker drawled as he trotted by the church on his horse.
"No, Brother Tanner just thinking of life," Josiah continued, "going to take advantage of God's wonders today?"
"Yep, figurin' on takin' a ride. Where's your helper today?" the sharpshooter asked his motioning to the garden.
"Went off in search of more plants to that place you told her about," Josiah looked up at the sky. It was getting late and he had seen Chiara walking hours ago. "She should have been back by now though. . ."
"Josiah, I wouldn't mind your company iffen you want to take a ride in Chiara's direction," Vin said steadying his horse by a simple rub on it's mane.
He nodded. "I'll meet you in the livery in a moment."
Vin had taken out his spyglass when they were still at a distance from the prairie. He saw Chiara kneeling amongst the tall grass. When they rode up, she was still kneeling. They quickly dismounted and ran over. "Chiara?!" Josiah said. There was no response. Chiara's yes were wide. Her lips silently moving and she was clasping her beads. (1)
Tanner went to shake her, but Josiah restrained him, "Wait." It was then Vin noticed that the air around her seemed to be energized as if Chiara was glowing. There was also a sweet smell in the air. (2)
"Josiah, what is going on?" the tracker asked, his eyes never leaving Chiara's kneeling form. "Should I go back and get Nate?"
"No, not yet," the preacher's eyes were also fixated on Chiara. "I've heard about this. . ."
Chiara sat back on her legs, and bowed her head. She turned seemingly sensing the presence of others. "Signore Josiah and Signore Vin," her voice was very low, "did you see her?"
"See who Chiara?" Josiah went forward and helped her up, "are you okay?" He looked her over.
"The Lady, the lady in white," she looked at them intensely. " I feel wonderful."
"Who is this Lady?" Vin asked. Looking at Chiara for an explanation.
"She never told me. I have asked, but she is silent." Chiara usually spoke very softly, but she raised her voice a bit, "She is good though."
"Okay Chiara," Josiah patted her head. "We better be getting back to town though okay?"
Chiara was visibly relieved and nodded, "yes that will be okay." Chiara started to walk to the horses, "Look! Over there!" she pointed to some flowers. "Those were just what I was looking for!" Chiara ran over to the flowers.
Josiah started to join her, but Vin held him back, "What's going on Josiah? Is she talking to spirits?" He was familiar with the Indians talking to spirits, but never expected a young girl to have any connection.
Josiah sighed, "I don't know. I just remember a story I heard about this man in Guatemala. (3) He had this vision. . .But young girls do make things up."
Vin looked down at the ground, "I don't think she is one to make things up."
"Me neither. But to be on the safe side let's not tell the others until we learn more."
Vin nodded his acceptance. He wished he could tell Chris, but he had promised Josiah. They walked over to the young seamstress, where she was digging up a small little bush with tiny buds.
"Don't reckon I know what those flowers are," Vin said as he bent down to examine the little bush and help Chiara. He knew most of the herbs and plants that grew in these parts, but this one had him stumped.
"They are roses," Josiah said inhaling their scent. "You don't find them around here," His eyebrows creased together in puzzlement.
"They are beautiful. Now the garden will be complete," Chiara said, oblivious to the looks of the two men. Once they had the rose bush out of the ground, the trio made their way back to the horses.
Josiah helped Chiara on his horse, "Chiara we are not going to tell the others about 'The Lady' just yet," Chiara looked at Josiah in confusion. "Other people may not understand."
"The Lady said I should help you, and if you think that is best then I will do what you ask." Chiara said, turning her head to look up at the larger man.
"That's a good girl," Josiah said.
Vin shook his head and spurred his horse forward. He was now keeping secrets and secrets always led to trouble.
The ride back into town passed by silently. Chiara was still confused about Josiah's request not to talk about the Lady. Surely he understood the Lady was good. When they reached the livery Buck and JD were there to greet them. Josiah handed Chiara to Buck. "My Miss Chiara, you are as light as a feather," Buck's eyes twinkled. "I could hold you over my head all day."
"Signore Buck, please put me down," Chiara said, although she felt comfortable around these men. She still had to remember she was a lady.
"Buck, she's turning pale. Let her down," JD said, being the voice of reason.
"I am sorry Miss Chiara," Buck immediately put her down. Looking her over to make sure no harm had been done. "What's in the sack?"
Chiara let the excitement of finding the roses form a smile on her face. "Roses for the church!" She opened the sack so they could see.
Buck stuck his head in the sack, "well they have a nice smell to them." He had the curiosity of a child.
"Buck you wouldn't know roses from a weed!" The young man bantered with Buck.
Buck hit JD with his hat, "well at least I know how to treat a lady. Miss Chiara would you like some help in planting the roses?"
JD turned red, embarrassed he had not thought of it first. However it did not matter to Chiara.
"Yes," Chiara continued, looking at the young gunslinger, "but I think I could use help from both of you?"
"Okay," JD said taking the sack from Chiara's hands.
"Signori," she waved to Vin and Josiah, "thank you for the ride back to town." Both of them were brushing down their horses and waved to her in response.
Buck offered his arm to escort her and upon seeing this so did JD. She entwined her arms with each and let them escort her across the street. They made quite the site: the taller man, the slight girl and the long haired boy. The bantering continued as they made their way to the church. Chiara liked the friendly teasing. It reminded her of the liveliness of her house a long time ago. Again these men made her smile.
"I think you two are Italian," she commented.
"Why do you say that Chiara?" JD asked in puzzlement.
"Because you talk so much, and you are very . . . .lively when you talk, just like Italians."
"You know, we just may be a little Italian. You never know," Buck said, a smile tugging on his mustache.
"You two are definitely fratelli though, ummm brothers I mean," Chiara said glancing back and forth at each of them.
"Brothers!" JD choked out, "More like a guard. Always telling me what I can and can not do. ."
"Now JD," Buck drawled out. Chiara had started calling JD 'Signore' because he had told her he felt everyone treated him like a child even though he was nineteen.
"I wish I had a brother," Chiara interrupted. "I had a cousin in Italy who was like a brother. Always keeping me out of trouble, and protecting me." Chiara giggled, "Oh the trouble we used to get in to," she continued, "but I loved him. Even though he is not my real brother-I carry him with me, and maybe in a way he still keeps me out of trouble."
"Great, that means I will always hear Buck's voice in my head," JD said smiling at Buck.
"I wouldn't want any other way kid," Buck smiled back.
They had just placed the rose bush down in the garden when Chris ran up to them.
"Billy's missing. Vin and Josiah around?" Chiara noticed that the darkly dressed man was a man of few words.
"Just left them at the livery," Buck said, his face void of the previous merriment.
"I'll go and get them," JD ran off to the livery. The dust of the road forming brown clouds behind him.
"He went to see little Jonny Mitchell, and when Mary went to pick him a little while ago, they told her he never came."
"Hey pard, heard about Billy. Where do you want to start?" Vin asked as the other men came up behind him.
"I figure Josiah and JD can look in town," they nodded in response, "and the rest of us can look right outside of town. He can't have gotten far."
"Maybe the young man found some sort of hiding place? Children can be very inquisitive," the gambler said trying to diffuse the mood.
"Let's saddle up," Chris tersely responded.
Chiara stopped Josiah, " I am going to see Signora Mary, and check if she needs anything."
"I think she would like that Chiara," Josiah said giving Chiara a half smile. The young girl quickly ran to the Clarion.
Mary was distraught, pacing her kitchen, waiting for any news on her son. Chiara hugged her trying to bring her some comfort. The bell to the Clarion tinkled as two women entered. Mary introduced Chiara to Mrs. Wells and Casey, who had just returned from visiting relatives. Mrs. Wells went to sit with Mary. Chiara took the opportunity to talk to Casey. JD had told Chiara all about her, and Chiara had been looking forward to meeting someone her own age.
"Signore JD has told me a lot about you," Chiara said with a shy smile.
"You talk kind of funny. Are you from around here?" Casey said appraising Chiara with her eyes.
"No, I am originally from Italy," Chiara continued, " Signore JD told me that maybe you could show me how to fish?"
"Well JD shouldn't be talking about me with complete strangers," Casey turned on her heel and went to check on Mary. Chiara was left alone in the Clarion in Casey's wake. This hostile girl was not the young lady JD had described. Hopefully next time they would meet under better circumstances and they would become friends. She quietly crept out of the Clarion, and made her way to the church to pray for Billy. She could think of nothing else she could do to ease Mary's suffering. Mary had been very good to her and Billy was a sweet child. She hated to think a tragedy befalling either of them.
She kneeled in a pew, placing the shawl over her head in deference to the house of God as her mother had taught her.
"Dear Lady, I never have asked for anything. I do not ask this for me, but for my friends. They have been good to me. Please help to find Billy, that he may be fine, and back with his mother," Chiara continued to pray her head bent low.
"Chiara, Billy is safe," the Lady said, illuminating the small chapel with her glow, " I will tell you where to find him." The Lady continued and told Chiara where to find the child.
Chiara hurried down the stairs of the church, her shawl tumbling off her head. JD saw her hurried steps and met her in the street.
"Chiara? what's the matter?"
Chiara was gasping for breaths, "I know where Billy is."
JD looked stunned, but shook his head, "okay lead the way."
Chiara took him behind the saloon, "he's around here."
"Chiara, behind the saloon?" JD asked doubtfully.
Chiara continued to look around, until she found it. About 50 feet from the saloon a hole in the ground. She lay flat against the ground, peered in and saw him.
"Over here!" She yelled to JD.
JD ran over and also peered in, the dryness of the earth sending up a cloud, and causing Chiara to cough. "Billy!" He yelled.
"Yeah," said a raspy little voice.
"It's JD! I'll get you out of there!" JD sat up. "He's stuck in a sinkhole. I am going to get some rope. I'll be right back," JD ran to the livery.
"Billy, it's Chiara," Chiara said reaching her hand down the hole in hopes that she could reach the child. "You are going to be fine, and with your mama soon."
"Okay Chiara, but I am really scared," Billy said choking back a sob.
The sound in his voice made Chiara's heart break. "I know caro, but Signore JD will get you out. In fact here he is now," Chiara got out of JD 's way as he lowered the rope down the hole.
"Billy grab on to the rope and wrap it around you. Can you do that?" JD said, concern entering his voice.
"Yes, I think so," the little voice replied.
A few moments passed and Chiara saw the rope move, signaling that Billy had tied the rope around himself.
"Hold on Billy, I am going to pull you up!" JD began to pull the rope. Chiara joined him trying to lend a hand so the boy could be brought up quickly. Chiara felt another presence behind her, and turned to see Josiah easily pulling the rope. With a cough Billy was again at the surface. His golden hair covered with dirt, and his face a mixture of sweat, tears and soil. Chiara went to hug him.
"BILLY!" Mary yelled. Josiah had seen the commotion behind the saloon , and figured someone better send for Mary. Mary ran to her son, lifting him to her arms and covering him with kisses.
"Awww, Ma, I'm fine!" Billy whined, trying to squirm his way out of his mother's grasp.
His mother squeezed him tighter. "What happened to you?" Mary asked, a little anxiety still in her voice.
"I was going to Jonny's and the ground went out underneath me. I yelled but no one heard me," Billy's eye's glowed with unshed tears. Mary crushed his head to her chest.
"Thank you JD," Mary said over Billy's head.
"Mrs. Travis it wasn't me," JD looked at Chiara. "Chiara told me where to find him."
"Chiara, thank you," Mary said reaching out a hand, which the young girl held and squeezed. "How did you know?"
"The Lady answered my prayers," Chiara said. Josiah looked up to the sky. Chiara had gotten caught up in the moment and forgot about the promise she had made to him.
'The Lady?" Mary asked, confused at Chiara's answer.
"Yes, she visits me sometimes, and told me where to find Billy." Mary let go of Chiara's hand, and wrapped it around her son, as if to protect him. Chiara did not see the gesture.
Josiah had to diffuse this situation before more questions were asked. He cleared his throat, "Shows over folks. The boy's been found. Thanks for your help." The crowd began to disperse still mumbling about the turn of events.
"Mrs. Travis, why don't you take the boy back home. I'll send Nathan to you as soon as he gets back here."
"Thank you Josiah. I think that is an excellent idea," she turned to Chiara, "can you walk back with me. I think you may want to clean yourself up."
Chiara looked down at her soiled dress, "thank you Signora Mary. I think I will."
Josiah watched them make their way back to the Clarion. Forgetting JD standing beside him with a confused look on his face.
"Brother Dunne, why don't you ride out, find the boys and tell them we found Billy," Josiah suggested. Hopefully giving the boy something to do would take his mind over what he had heard.
"Okay Josiah they will be happy to hear it!" JD pushed his hat firmly on his head and ran to the livery to get his horse.
"JD, all I am saying is we don't know much about her. Maybe she's a witch." Casey said to JD outside the Sheriff's office where they were sitting. Casey had been away awhile, and was now trying to spend some time with JD. "Who's a witch Casey?" Buck asked as he sauntered next to JD tipping his hat off. With a sigh JD placed the hat firmly on his head.
"Chiara, the new girl," Casey said crinkling her nose in disdain.
"Signorina Chiara, our angelic chanteuse. You are mistaken," Ezra joined into the conversation as he walked up the boardwalk.
Casey was not happy. Chiara had put the seven under some sort of spell. She tried to rationalize it to them. "Well, how did she know where to find Billy?" Some townspeople had gathered around, intrigued by the conversation.
"Be glad that she did find him Casey," Buck said defending the girl, and giving Casey a hard look with his eyes.
But, Casey would not be deterred. "Who is this Lady she talks about?" The crowd murmured around her.
"Casey, maybe you should be heading home?" JD said looking at the crowd. "Didn't you say your grandmother needed some help?"
She was not going to get any where with these men. "Fine JD, you're right," she glared at them, and left stomping the ground in frustration.
Buck, Ezra and JD watched her leave. "Woohoo," Buck said softly, "boy you have trouble."
"Your Miss Casey, JD, has been bitten by the green-eyed monster," Ezra's nodded to Buck in understanding.
"What are you talking about?" JD said looking at each man. Buck knew JD didn't have much experience with women. But now he was being obtuse.
"Casey is jealous of Chiara," Buck said simply. Ezra put a hand on JD's shoulder in comfort.
JD bent forward with a groan, putting his head in his hands.
"Yes, Mr. Dunne, women have been known to have that effect on people," Ezra chuckled.
Casey wasn't going to go home just yet. First she wanted to tell little miss foreign girl a thing or two. Chiara was hiding something and Casey was going to find out what it was. She went by the Clarion and saw Chiara was not outside the storefront sewing , which meant she would be at the church. She checked outside in the garden, but she wasn't there. It was then she heard the voice everyone was talking about,
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive this who trespass against us
And lead us not in to temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
And the power
And the glory, forever. Amen."
Casey clapped three times, "so is that how you cast your spell over everyone?"
Chiara was obviously startled, "Oh, Signorina Casey, I did not hear you come in."
"It doesn't work on me you know," Casey said making her way up the aisle. Her hair jumping around on her shoulders with each hostile step she took.
"I do not understand," the singer's face was filled with uncertainty.
Casey snorted, "you think you got them fooled. Well I want to say I know who you are."
Chiara moved past Casey to exit the church. "Signorina, I am no one special."
Casey caught up with the seamstress outside on the church landing. "Admit it! You are a witch!" Casey spat at Chiara. Chiara tried to escape the accusation, but Casey quickly gripped her arm.
"I am not," Chiara stated trying to free herself. "The Lady speaks to me. I do not know why she chose me."
Some of the townspeople hearing the commotion had gathered at the foot of the stairs.
"What does she tell you?" Casey asked digging her hand deeper into Chiara's arm. Wanting Chiara to scream out the truth, that she was a fraud, and would be leaving town.
"She tells me. . . ," Chiara faced the crowd, "Pray for the sinners, and let your processions come hither."
The people start to laugh at her, "She's crazy," someone heckled. "Someone better lock her up!" Again the crowd laughed.
Casey loosened her grasp. She has gotten what she wanted. No one would think she was special now, just crazy. Maybe now JD wouldn't think she was so extraordinary. At the same time Casey loosened her grasp, Chiara unexpectantly tried to pull away. It happened so fast. At one point Casey tried to reach out and stop her from falling, and the next Chiara was on the bottom step unconscious. Someone in the crowd screamed, and Casey saw Mr. Larabee coming over.
"What's going on here!" he bellowed. He made his way through the crowd. People stepped back for the man in black, and the crowd had gone silent. Casey couldn't seem to make herself move. She saw Chris bend down to see the crumpled, unconscious form in front of him. From Casey's viewpoint she could see a large bruise had already formed on the Chiara's cheek. Larabee gently pushed away the hair that had fallen to cover Chiara's pale face.
The sound of a shot from Mr. Tanner's mare's leg echoed amongst the crowd.
"Best all you people went home. Looks like you caused enough trouble today," the crowd dispersed. "What happened?" he whispered to Larabee.
"I. . .didn't do anything. . .She fell. . ." Casey finally stammered out, drawing the attention of the two men. They ignored her.
"She's alive," Chris gathered Chiara up in his arms.
"I'll go tell Nathan to be expectin' her," Vin raced off to tell the other men.
What had she done, Casey thought as she saw them race to Nathan's.
At morn, at noon, at twilight dim.
Maria, thou hast heard my hymn:
In joy and woe, in good in ill,
Mother of God, be with me still,
When the hours flew brightly by,
And not a cloud obscured the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be,
Thy grace did shine to thine and thee.
Now, when storms of fate o'ercast
Darkly my present and my past,
Let my future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.
Edgar Allen Poe
Chris's long strides ate up the path to Nathan's clinic. He heard soft footsteps behind him, turning Mary was behind him. Inside, Chris saw the concern etched on the faces of Josiah, Vin, Buck and JD, as they looked at Chiara's inert form as Chris passed by them. The door to Nathan's room had been left open for his arrival, and Nathan motioned for him to lay Chiara's silent form on the bed. "Chris, it's best you leave," Mary gestured towards the door, "I'll stay with Nathan and help." Her eyes soft as she looked at him. Chris gave one more glance at the girl. He closed the door quietly, leaving him to face five worried gunslingers.
"What happened out there? Why is she hurt?" JD asked, twisting his hat in his hands.
"I don't know. I saw a crowd all riled up in front of the church. I went to break it up. I saw Casey on the top of the steps and Chiara on the bottom," Larabee answered. He looked at JD trying to find a reason for what Casey may have done.
"Casey!" JD exclaimed.
"The green-eyed monster has struck again," Ezra nodded at Buck.
"Want to explain that?" Chris did not like it when his men hid things from him.
"Me, Ezra and JD overheard Casey accuse Chiara of being a witch," Buck explained to his friend. "We knew she was jealous, but didn't think anything would happen."
"Witch? Why would anyone think she," his hand gesturing to the broken body behind the door, "was a witch?"
"On a count of the Lady," Vin interrupted, looking at Josiah to continue. "Josiah and I saw her in the meadow, and she said she was talking to the Lady."
Chris gritted his teeth. It seemed as though everyone was conspiring today. "When were you going to say something pard?" Vin blue eyes met Chris's stare.
Josiah's baritone voice added, "I thought it was best we didn't say anything until we knew more."
Chris sighed remembering the conversation he had with Mary earlier. "Mary mentioned something about a Lady. We thought is was just her imagination. Mary said girls can be like that," Chris said looking at Josiah for further clarification
Josiah sighed, and crossed his arms, "I don't think it is her imagination."
"You're saying she communes with the spirits," Ezra laughed in disbelief.
"I am saying that she was chosen, by someone in heaven, and they commune with her," Josiah said with a serious tone in his voice.
"Who do you think this someone is?" Buck questioned. Chris had to admit he wanted to know what Josiah's conclusions were too.
"Do you really want to know?" Josiah asked, rubbing his chin stubble in indecision. They nodded eagerly.
"The Virgin Mary," Chris saw each man sit down on Nathan's sparse furnishings. He found himself sitting on a table.
"Mother of God," Buck sighed as he sat down. "No disrespect, Josiah."
Chris took his hat off, and looked up to Josiah, the only man standing. "Want to fill us in?"
In Nathan's room Mary had finished taking off Chiara's dress, leaving Chiara in her pristine white shift. The girl's weight barely making an indentation in the bed. Nathan had asked Mary to help knowing that Chiara was a modest girl and would want a woman with her when she awoke. Nathan was busy finding some salve he felt would come in useful when he heard Mary exclaim, "Nathan!" As he turned he saw it too. Large, dark, angry bruises and raised bumps covered Chiara's body.
"Are these all from the fall?" Mary's voice was no louder than a whisper.
"I don't think so," Nathan ran his hands over Chiara's legs and arms to check if she sustained any breaks from the fall. "Here are the fresh bruises," he pointed to some bruises on her arms and back. "These other ones are old, but I have never seen anything like it." Nathan spied his books on the shelf. "Mary, can you apply this salve to Chiara's bruises. It will ease the soreness a bit. And keep a cloth on her forehead. She has a concussion. I just hope she wakes up soon. I am going to check my books."
"Okay Nathan," Mary bent down to her patient. Some tendrils of blonde hair came forward softening her serious face.
It is at times like these he wished he was a real doctor. A real doctor would know what was the matter with this young girl, Nathan thought. He skimmed his last book. He had to read the section twice when he saw it.
"Nathan, what is it?" Mary asked as she squeezed the cloth another time before placing it on Chiara's forehead.
"She's dying Mary," he hadn't meant to say it so bluntly. He couldn't believe what he had read.
"Dying?" Mary's eyes darted from the form in the bed to Nathan's brown eyes. "She only has some bumps and bruises?"
"It is called tuberculosis of the bones," Nathan said handing her the book.
Mary read it quickly, "it says here that it is very painful." Nathan saw the look of hope entering Mary's eyes. "She never has complained about any discomfort."
"But she has all the symptoms," Nathan closed his eyes momentarily. "I don't understand it either."
"Ahhhhh," Nathan heard. He looked to find his patient waking up finally. He moved near the edge of the bed as did Mary.
"Miss Chiara, you are in the clinic," Nathan spoke slowly so as not to startle her. "You took a nasty fall, but you are going to be okay."
Her brown eyes opened with clarity shining in their depths. Nathan went down his list of questions he asks all his head injury patients.
"Do you know your name"
"Do you know where you are?"
"Do you remember what happened?" Nathan was very interested in this answer since Vin had told him about Casey's possible involvement.
"Yes, it was an accident," Chiara blinked her eyes focusing again, "Casey let go and I pulled. It was just an accident."
Nathan believed there was more to the story, but if Chiara wanted to defend Casey then Casey was a fortunate girl. "You have a concussion so you need to stay here a couple of days."
"Do you want some water, honey?" Mary held the glass of water out to Chiara.
"Yes, please," Chiara accepted the glass shakily and took a few sips before placing it down on the night stand.
"Chiara, how long have you had these other bumps and bruises?" Nathan asked as he watched Chiara maneuver the glass.
Chiara looked down at her exposed arms, and shrugged. "For a long while now."
"Do they hurt?" Maybe he was wrong thought Nathan, and they were just bumps and bruises.
"Everyone sufferers a little. I do not hurt as much as others do." She answered, brown eyes meeting brown eyes. "Signore Nathan," Chiara grasped his hands, "I know you can not heal me. I understand. Please, I do not want you to feel heavy, no guilty, you are a wise Dottore."
"You know then?" Nathan looked into the eyes of the girl who had read his mind. She nodded. "But I can't help you."
"Yes you can. You did. You showed me kindness." She squeezed his hands once more as if to affirm what she was saying. Her eyes were blinking rapidly and she tried to stifle a yawn.
"Why don't you try to get some sleep."
She look relieved at his request and fell back to sleep immediately.
"Are you going to tell them?" Mary asked, but Nathan's hand was already resting on the door knob, with a sigh he turned it to face the men outside. He did not expect to see the six men scattered upon his furniture with dumbfounded looks upon their faces. They immediately stood up when they noticed that Nathan had entered the room.
"How is she?" Buck asked, none of his usual gleefulness on his face.
"She's awake. She has a concussion," Nathan thought it is easier to start with the matter they knew about. "She is calling it an accident. Casey let go of her arm and she pulled away at the same time and fell."
Buck hit JD on the back in relief of the news. The other men grinned.
"There's more. I am going to tell you straight out- She's dying." Nathan watched his words register on the faces of his friends.
"You just told us all she had was a concussion," Vin drawled, searching Nathan's face for a reaction.
"Yeah, but when I examined her I discovered she has a disease," Ezra stepped back slightly, and Nathan saw the movement. "It 's not contagious, but she is going to die from it."
"Is she in a lot of pain?" JD voice cracked.
"That's the strange part. People who have this disease need to take morphine all the time because the pain is so bad," Nathan was still puzzled by the situation. "When I asked her about the pain she told me she was suffering, but not as much as others."
"Only through suffering will you enter the kingdom of heaven," Nathan heard Josiah mutter.
"Would the Lady have anything to do with this?" JD asked. Nathan had no idea to whom JD was referring to.
"Could be," Josiah answered and turned to Nathan, "mind if I sit with her awhile?"
"No go right ahead. Mary is there now." They all watched as Josiah entered the room.
"Come on Nathan, we'll fill you in on the rest at the saloon," Buck said beckoning Nathan with a hand as they made their way to the saloon.
As Josiah entered the room, he saw Mary fussing with the sheets and softly speaking to Chiara. She nodded to Josiah and smiled, "I'll be back in a bit," her skirts swirled past her as she exited.
Josiah pulled up a chair by the bed. "How are you?"
"Fine, Signore please don't worry about me," she said beseechingly.
"Chiara, we need to talk about the Lady," Josiah looked at Chiara's face. She unflinchingly met his gaze.
"Okay, Signore," she awaited his questions.
Josiah questioned her for a half an hour. Chiara never wavered in her answers. Josiah felt he had received enough confirmation to believe this young lady was blessed.
"Chiara one last thing and I will let you get your rest," Chiara nodded. "Are you in any pain?"
She closed her eyes, "the Lady said I would not find happiness in this life, but in the next." She repeated the statement again, opening her eyes and looking out the window. Josiah clasped her hand. "But, Signore for awhile I was very happy in Four Corners."
"Go to sleep now Chiara. We'll talk more in the morning," Josiah watched as the young girl turned on her side and fell asleep.
Josiah had left Mary in the room, and promised to send Nathan back shortly. He was still reviewing Chiara's statements in his mind when he found Casey in front of him.
"Excuse me Josiah?" Casey stood up from the seat she had taken in front of Nathan's home. "JD left here in a hurry, and told me he didn't want to talk to me." Casey looked down at the ground, "he said something about Chiara dying?"
"Yes, Casey, she is very sick" Josiah waited for Casey to continue.
"Can I go in and see her? I mean do you think she would mind if. . ." Casey's already red rimmed eyes filled with tears.
"Don't see why not, Mary will be checking on her, but Chiara might enjoy the extra company." Casey nodded, and went to enter, but Josiah grabbed her arm first, lightly.
"She said it was an accident," he stated, giving Casey a knowing stare.
Casey pursed her lips overcome by emotion, "I didn't mean to cause any trouble."
"I know Casey. I just wanted you to know." Josiah released her arm, and watched Casey slowly mount the steps to forgiveness.
Casey softly knocked on the door. Mary just nodded at seeing her there and left her alone with the sleeping form. Casey stood over the bed, looking at the girl she should have been friends with instead of persecuting. "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me. I didn't mean it. I know you are not a witch. And I didn't want you to get hurt," Casey whispered letting the tears fall on to the white sheets. Casey saw Chiara stretch. She opened her eyes and blinked as if not believing the sight in front of her. Chiara moved to the other side of the bed.
Casey noticed Chiara's fearful reaction. "I won't hurt you. I came here to apologize." Chiara's features relaxed and she moved back to the middle of the bed. "I hear that you are sick. Is there anything I can do?"
Chiara seemed to think about the request a lot. She looked at Casey as if she was trying to measure what kind of person she was. "Could you take care of the garden at the church?"
Casey was relieved at the request. She would have done anything to rectify her actions against Chiara. "Sure and I will visit you everyday until you are better and tell you about it."
The corners of Chiara's mouth dropped in sadness. "I won't get better Signorina Casey."
Casey sat down in the chair next to the bed. "Sure you will," putting hope behind her words. "We will go fishing and do everything."
Chiara looked at the window, the sunlight seemed to anoint her forehead, "that was never for me."
"I'm sorry," Casey was saddened by her words. Chiara had forgiven her, and she wanted to help her. "Will your Lady help?"
"No she promised me happiness in the next life," Chiara said still staring out the window.
Casey decided that no matter how long Chiara had left she was going to make her as happy as possible.
Buck watched Josiah cross the street. His footsteps heavy as he made his way to the table where Buck and the other men had been waiting for him. "What did she say?"
"She said that the Lady told her she would not find happiness in this life but promised her happiness in the next."
"That is right kindly of the Lady," Buck said, not understanding why the girl was giving up.
"Do you believe her?" Chris asked looking up from the table.
"She did not say the Lady was the Virgin Mary," Josiah sat down next to Buck. "I think that is who the Lady is, " Josiah accentuated, I think. "She's an interesting girl though, she can't understand why she was chosen. She doesn't think she has suffered enough."
"The girl is the most kind heartened creature I have ever met," Ezra never looked up. He focused intently on his cards.
"She say anything else to you Josiah?" Buck was curious.
"The Lady had a message for me-She wants processions to come hither and for all to pray for sinners." Josiah looked around at the men. "There is also a message for the rest of us. As individuals we are strong but as seven we are stronger." The men nodded in response. "And we will be what we are meant to be."
"Heck Josiah, all the messages were met for us. Seven, strong, sinners," Buck laughed at his play on words.
"Do you believe her Josiah?" Chris asked again.
Josiah sighed "We know she is not crazy. . .Like I told you there have been visitations of this sort before."
"When?" Nathan asked. Buck had forgotten to tell him this part.
"Most recently in France to a young girl in 1858 and in Guatemala in 1537 to a man," Josiah continued. "Both described similar Ladies."
"What are we going to do, pards?" Vin said from the corner of the saloon where his form was hidden.
"Nothing we can do. Just make her comfortable," Nathan answered.
"We can pray brothers," Josiah said raising his drink, "we can pray."
Buck raised his drink in response and took a swallow. "How was she doing when you left her?"
"Casey is with her now."
"CASEY!" JD sputtered out. Buck rubbed JD's back in circular motions so he would not choke.
"I wouldn't worry, Casey was apologizing," Josiah finished his drink. "And as Brother Standish said, Chiara is a good hearted girl, I am sure she forgave her."
Chiara never really recovered from the fall. A tiredness had befallen her making even the most menial tasks difficult. She had been allowed to move back to Mary's, and from there the days passed quietly for Chiara. There was always a visitor when she awoke from a nap keeping her company. On days in which she felt strong one of the men would carry her to the boardwalk in front of the Clarion so she could get some fresh air, and do some sewing. They had all been so kind to her. Nathan had wanted her to take laudanum for the pain, but she was already sleeping so much of the day away as it was. The pain was not too bad.
Casey had become a good friend. She came by everyday for a visit. Chiara had told Casey when she married JD, she would have to pick some roses from the church. Casey had giggled, and said Chiara would have to be right by her side as maid of honor. Chiara did not want to lie to Casey, and told her she would not be around when the day came. Tears had welled up in Casey's eyes. Chiara thought about this as she lay in her sparse bedroom. She had heard Signore Ezra enter the Clarion. A quick knock on the door told her she was going to go outside today.
"Come in," Chiara said as loudly as possible. She saw thick black hair and then the grinning face peek in the door.
"Signorina, if you are up to it then your chariot awaits," Ezra said coming forward into the room.
She grabbed the shawl that hung closely by on her bedpost. Ezra effortlessly picked her up and brought her outside to the warm sun.
From his vantage point at the saloon Vin saw Ezra bring Chiara outside and sit her in the rocking chair Mrs. Potter let the young lady borrow. Vin saw Ezra was making some small talk, which he was good at, with the dying girl. He saw Ezra bow as Casey arrived and took a seat next to her friend. Ezra quickly crossed the street and came to stand next to Vin, "Whiskey please," Ezra said to Inez. He drank the drink in one fast swallow. "She is withering away Mister Tanner. She barely talks now, and sometimes she lapses into her native tongue."
"She's dyin," Vin didn't know what else to say, but the truth.
"No divine intervention, Josiah?" Sanchez was also in the saloon nursing a drink for at least an hour. Vin hadn't bothered him, since he had the air of someone who wanted to be alone.
"She has accepted her fate. Ezra we should respect her decision."
"HELP! SOMEONE HELP!" Casey said waving in the air to get the attention of a passerby.
Vin, Ezra and Josiah ran across the street. Nathan was already there taking Chiara's pulse.
Casey was distraught, "She passed out. Not like the times when she just nods off. She just passed out."
Nathan had gathered Chiara up in his arms. "I am taking her back to her room."
"Nate?" Vin asked quietly.
"She's fading. It won't be too much longer." Vin nodded and went to find the others.
Seven men and two women had crowded into Chiara's small room waiting for her to wake up, listening to each labored breath. No one spoke, everyone too caught up in their own thoughts. Josiah had pulled a chair next to Chiara's bed. He was the first to see her eyes open. "Chiara, it's Josiah. We are all here," he said in hushed tones to the young lady.
Her eyes looked slowly about the room and she closed her eyes again momentarily. Josiah saw her lips move, and bent down further to hear what she was saying,
"Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen." Again she closed her eyes to regain some strength.
"Signore Josiah. . . .I forgot to tell you. . . .The crows, the Lady said. . . .are just crows," the corners of her mouth turned up as if in a smile.
"Signori, I want to go to the church," Josiah heard the words come out of her. She kept repeating them on and on like a mantra. Josiah turned to Nathan,
"Brother Jackson, Chiara wants to go to the church," Josiah gathered her up in his arms. Chris stepped forward to stop him, but Nathan rested his hand on his forearm.
"It's okay, there ain't nothing I can do for her." Chris nodded.
Vin opened the door, and Josiah led the way. The procession following him to the church. Chiara was still repeating her mantra.
"Shhhh, we are at the church now," Josiah walked down the aisle to the front of the church. The men, Mary and Casey gathered around him.
"Holy Mother pray for me," Chiara said, her eyes half closed and with heartbreaking sorrow in her voice.
Mary and Casey kneeled, their hands clasped together in prayer.
Chiara closed her eyes again, and as she exhaled she began to sing. It wasn't singing at first just a whisper of the words "Ave Maria," she kept repeating the words, and with each repetition her voice became stronger. Each time she extended the melody on the words, holding the notes longer.
Josiah felt a tug at his sleeve. JD was at his side signaling him to look at the door. The townspeople were silently shuffling in, heads bowed in prayer.
Suddenly Chiara stopped singing. Her face illuminated. Her visage showing no pain which she had been suffering constantly from this last month. She lifted her upper body from Josiah's arms shakily. In a resounding voice she stated,
"Holy Mother pray for me!" The words echoed in the full church. Chiara fell back into Josiah's arms with a gasp, and a sweet smile on her face.
Nathan came forward and pressed his fingers against her neck. "She's gone." He bowed his head as did the others. Tears glistened in everyone's eyes. Ezra cleared his throat although his voice still sounded raspy when he spoke,
"I'll get the mortician." He slowly backed his way out of the church. Josiah laid Chiara's body in the first pew, and covered her with her shawl that was always with her.
Ezra stepped in, ignoring the townspeople, "Gentlemen, better come and see this," Josiah did not want to leave the body yet, but the others quickly followed the gambler.
Josiah heard the gasps, but continued to pray over the innocent soul. A rustling sound made him look up. It was Casey placing a beautiful bouquet of pink roses in her friend's cold hands.
"Where did those come from?" puzzled by the out-of -season roses.
"Josiah the little bush that Chiara planted is huge and blooming hundreds of pink roses," Casey said wiping the silent tears that streamed down her face.
Josiah looked down at the blessed soul who surely must be resting with the angels now.
"A little to the left, pard."
"No, a little to the right."
"It is askew,"
Chris looked up, "Josiah hold it right there." Chris grabbed his hammer and began nailing into the wood.
They all stepped back to admire their handy work.
"I think she really would have liked it," Casey said looking at the fresh grave in the cemetery.
"Yep," Vin said taking in the site.
The clouds parted slightly allowing a ray of light to illuminate the sign in approval of the church's name, "Our Lady of Four Corners."
(1) In 1961 Mary appeared to 3 girls in Garabandal, a mountain village. The young girls always knew when Mary would be appearing because they felt what they called the three joys: the first was a slight feeling, then a more intense sensation, and finally a strong interior calling that would lead them to meet Mary wherever she was appearing.
(2) In Betania, Venezuela the Virgin Mary has been visiting Maria Esperenza Bianchini. Thousands have made a pilgrimage to the site and report the strong scent of roses.
(3) Bishop Zumarraga requested proof from Juan Diego for the of out-of-season roses. The tilma which Juan Diego used to carry the out-of-season roses to Bishop Zumarraga bares the exact image of Mary and still exists today.