Missing Scene for the episode Witness
Characters: Maude Standish Author's Note I was thinking about how different Maude was with Ezra in Witness than she was in Sins of the Past. Maude-motives are never crystal clear, so this is just me taking a shot at them.
The hour was growing late and with every tick of the clock, Maude's irritation grew. Oh, not that anyone saw it, of course. She was still presenting the same winsome smile and inviting laugh to the players at her poker table that she had been displaying for the past hour. Poker, after all, was business and personal feelings had no place in it.
It had been some forty five minutes since Maude had watched her son and his cohorts return to town, escorting that despicable murderer back to join his accomplice in jail where they would face charges of murder, blackmail, kidnapping and God only knew what else. In her heart, Maude was glad to see that justice was being served. She had never been particularly attached to the straight and narrow, but there was simply no room in a civilized world for anyone loathsome enough to prey on an innocent child.
The child in question, Billy Travis, had returned as well, riding safely in the saddle in front of his mother. Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner had flanked the little family to either side like a pair of vigilant watchdogs and Misters Jackson and Wilmington had, in turn, been watching over Larabee with equal fervor, drawing Maude's attention to the bandage adorning his arm. Not an entirely bloodless victory, then. A small shiver of fear ran down her spine at the thought of the danger her son had willingly placed himself in to help save young Billy and that fear, in turn, made her angry. As much as she approved of those men paying the price for their actions, there was absolutely no reason why Ezra had needed to risk himself for a child who was a virtual stranger.
A subtle huff of disgust blew from between Maude's red-painted lips. One of the other players took it as the sign of a bad hand and raised his bet. Maude called, smiling at the man as she raked in another pot. Her reaction had had nothing to do with the card game. It had come as the result of a memory, specifically her son's earlier excuse for joining his compatriots on their heroic mission. He had done it so that the influential Mrs. Travis would owe him a favor, he had claimed. Complete poppycock! Maude had found herself trapped in conversation with the young widow more than once throughout this ordeal and it had become very clear that no such favors would be forthcoming. Mary Travis would bestow sincere thanks upon the men who had saved her son, but it would never occur to her to offer a more substantial reward, and Ezra would never ask for one.
That was what truly galled. He had done this good deed for nothing! A scant two months he had been in this dirty little backwater and already the lessons of a lifetime were being submerged beneath the weight of conscience; that annoying streak of charitable integrity that she had never been able to train out of him.
After helping settle the prisoners, Ezra returned to the saloon, accompanied by JD and Buck, all of them proudly accepting of the approval and praise of their fellow townsfolk. For a moment, Maude's hopes rose. Perhaps her son really was just milking these rubes for their confidence, intending to use their acclaim to his advantage at a later date. Then, as Ezra took a seat at her table and thanked her for her assistance earlier in the evening, settling back to enjoy a glass of whiskey and Buck's enthusiastic retelling of Billy's rescue, her heart sank. Ezra was happy here. He was not playing any angles, he was actually enjoying the life of an honest man; coming to view this rag-tag group of lawmen as friends!
This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue. Ezra was her only child. It was her job as a mother to disabuse him of such foolish notions as friendship and charity, harmful habits that might very well result in his dying destitute and young. She would speak to him tonight; give him a piece of her mind that he would not forget in a hurry!
As Buck finished his tale, Ezra smiled and excused himself, saying that he would return shortly. Maude watched him walk out of the saloon, knowing that he would be heading for his room at the boarding house. She had seen him brushing at the wrinkled material of his jacket and known it would not be long before he felt the need to exchange it for another. Fastidiousness was ingrained in her son's very soul. Even as a boy, while he had not shirked from the need to dirty his skin or wear ripped clothing to benefit a confidence game, the moment it was over he would find the nearest source of clean water and vigorously repair whatever damage had been done to his appearance. It was a personal quirk that Maude had always found charming.
She waited with well-disguised impatience for Ezra to return from tidying up, her need to set him straight on his responsibilities and priorities growing with every tale that Wilmington and Dunne shared of the exciting and dangerous life they all led. Opening her reticule, Maude checked the time. Ezra had been gone for far too long for a simple change of clothing. Lips briefly pursing in annoyance, the southern woman gracefully rose from her seat, collected her winnings, and thanked the men for their company. Hats were tipped politely all around as they wished her a pleasant evening. Maude smiled. It seemed that there was a modicum of gentility to be found in even the most rustic setting.
Once outside, she paused. Where would Ezra have gone if avoiding the saloon, and her? The jail was an option but she doubted he would have returned there. It would have raised questions from whoever was guarding the prisoners. He could have gone to the newspaper office to check on Billy, but that would be ungentlemanly if the child had just been settled after his ordeal. The stable, perhaps? He had always had a peculiar fondness for moonlit rides. Surely, he would not be hiding out in his room. It was entirely too obvious. Then again, the boarding house was one place he was certain to eventually return to. Mind made up; Maude picked up her skirts and strode purposefully down the street.
Soft scratches, a muffled click and the tiny squeak of hinges in need of oil were the only sounds to be heard inside the room as Maude picked Ezra's lock for the second time in a week and slid inside with a faint rustle of skirts. She was slightly surprised to find a lamp lit and turned down low inside the room and more so at the sight of her son. Ezra lay stretched across the mattress, one booted foot still on the floor and the other resting atop the coverlet. It seemed he had only gotten as far as removing his guns, coat and tie before the urge to nap had overtaken him.
For a moment, she considered waking him. After all, she had gone out of her way to speak to him and she had concocted a very stern and impressively cutting speech to rebuke him for his altruistic instincts. It seemed a shame not to deliver it.
Even as she reached out her hand to touch him, however, Maude knew that she would let him rest. He had looked quite drawn earlier, his naturally heavy eyelids dark and lazy as they blinked over his glass of whiskey. Had he been sleeping at all? She sighed regretfully. Probably not. He had been agitated over one thing or another since she had stepped off the stagecoach, and Ezra's state of mind always affected his sleeping habits. No doubt that irritating conscience again. Thank goodness she had never suffered from such an affliction herself.
Maude smiled slightly at her son's loose limbed sprawl. It was a position he had favored as a small boy, but it was difficult to remember the last time she had seen him this way. As he had grown older and his innocent childish trust had faded, the boy had taken to sleeping on one side, in a tight coil from which he could, and often did, spring up out of bed in full alert wakefulness when the need to flee in the middle of the night arose.
Maude sighed regretfully. The relaxation she was seeing now seemed to her yet another sign that the people of this odd little town were changing Ezra for the worse. He was losing his edge and growing entirely too comfortable here. He could deny it all he liked but this, to her eyes, was proof.
With a shake of her head, Maude bent to pull her son's dangling left leg up into alignment with the rest of his body. Ezra stirred slightly at this disturbance of his person, but settled again quickly, some part of his mind apparently recognizing his mother's touch. She removed his boots with the casualness of long practice, reflexively peeking inside and smiling at the sight of the pockets sewn into the top of each boot, each containing a generous fold of money. One boot top also bore a small sharp knife in a built-in sheath. So he had not gone entirely soft, after all. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.
Easing herself down to sit on the side of her son's bed, Maude studied his face. He still looked very young when he slept, his features carrying none of the guarded, closed-off quality that seemed to define him whenever he was not drawing someone in with that dimpled winsome smile of his. His face seemed softer this way, the lines of tension eased until she could see more than a hint of the little boy she had raised.
"You didn't raise me as well as a stray cat raises a litter. You dumped me, remember? At every aunt and uncle's house you could find. Unless you needed me. For a con."
Ezra's words from their last confrontation in this room played back through her mind and filled her eyes with sadness. How could she have failed to realize that her boy harbored such resentment? It had been there in his voice, bitter and painful, and she had reacted defensively, chiding him for his ingratitude toward her teaching of their trade before walking out on him.
Suddenly, Maude was glad that she had not delivered the lecture she had come up here to give. If Ezra were still in the same frame of mind now that he had been before, her well-intentioned words would have only driven him further away.
She would wait; bide her time until he was ripe for a practical lesson in keeping his skills sharp and his true heart hidden from others. That would work better and he would ultimately appreciate it, whereas he would likely dismiss sharp words as nothing more than maternal nagging.
Having arrived at an acceptable solution, Maude relaxed, enjoying this unusual moment of quiet with her son. Fingers drifting up, she stroked his hair. It was worn far shorter these days than he had preferred it in the past, no longer tending to flop forward into his eyes. How many times had she chastised him for allowing his hair to grow to such unsightly proportions? She smiled, knowing that her disapproval had likely prompted him to keep it long as an act of youthful defiance. Ezra had no idea how many times she had sat next to him like this as he slept, fingers brushing unruly locks back from a beautiful child's face. Those reddish brown locks were just as soft as she remembered them and the face had only grown more attractive with the added maturity of adulthood.
Though she had dismissed it earlier, Maude had understood perfectly today how Mary Travis had felt about her missing son. While she herself would never have put on such an undignified public display, she did understand the driving emotion behind it. She had felt that same pain to some degree every time she went off in search of a new mark during Ezra's childhood, leaving him behind to be cared for by some handy relation, often fearing that they would not treat him as well as he deserved, but having no other choice.
She had felt that pain again today when she had watched her son deliberately place his own life in danger for young Billy Travis.
As Ezra smiled in his sleep, unconsciously nestling his cheek into the soft palm resting against it, his mother's mind drifted back over the years they had spent together. Ezra and Maude had been an amazing team, a perfect match of charm, finesse and such a natural talent for the game that a mark rarely even realized he or she had been swindled until it was far too late to do anything about it. They had been friends as much as family, each of them able to anticipate the other's moves and work a perfect balancing act of illusion and sincerity upon the gullible souls they encountered. She had been the master and he the apprentice, of course, but she missed that closeness and connection; something that she had never found the like of with anyone else.
It hurt, she could admit in the privacy of her innermost thoughts, to think that Ezra could have found another such bond here, with a pack of reprobate 'peacekeepers' in a ridiculous little western town full of fools and dreamers. To realize that perhaps he could get along just fine without his mother's guiding light.
But how, even if that were true, was it possible that Ezra could have turned his back on his true calling?
Acting as a lawman for a short time in order to obtain a pardon for some unnamed transgression she could understand. It wouldn't do to have wanted posters and such with his picture on them, and how better to get on the good side of the law than to infiltrate their ranks and work from within? But she had seen the honest pleasure on Ezra's face as he returned from his errand this evening, the ease and closeness he felt with those six gunmen, and it had forced Maude to face the shocking reality that her son was taking this new 'career' seriously.
Ezra might say that he was only ingratiating himself with this town for business purposes, but she had seen the truth. He had found a place to belong, and was quickly growing far too comfortable. Maude understood how he felt. She had, much to her own embarrassment, given in to that desire for normalcy herself on five different occasions. But a settled life was not made for such as them and trust never came without a very high price-tag.
Maude's mouth settled into hard lines as she studied her son's innocent slumber. It would only be a matter of time until his new friends proved false and threw him aside in favor of their own needs and wants. And then where would he be? Alone in the world and no longer fit to exercise his god-given talents; destitute, friendless, hurt . . . maybe dead.
She simply would not allow it. She needed a bit of time to plan, to devise some shocking and sobering way to prove to her son that he was being a fool. Better to let Ezra's fragile hopes be broken in one swift stroke than to stand by and allow his soul to be slowly and agonizingly chipped away until there was nothing left of him.
Mind made up, Maude gently shook her son's shoulder. His lids quivered and slowly rose. "Mother?" he mumbled. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, darlin', I just wanted to let you know that I'm leaving on the morning stage tomorrow. I'd appreciate it if you could join me for breakfast before I board."
The sorrow he felt shone clearly from Ezra's sleepy green eyes as he said in a wistful tone, "So soon?"
"I have some business matters to conduct, and I really cannot put them off any longer," she told him, smiling a little as his eyes slid shut. She drifted her fingertips over the heavy lids as they struggled to rise once again, telling him wordlessly that it was all right. "Rest, darlin'. Tomorrow will be here soon enough."
He did not reply, but shifted to lie on his side, settling into the guarded position she thought of as normal for him. She nodded in satisfaction at the change, knowing that he had subconsciously set his internal clock for first light. He was on guard now, even as he fell back into the arms of Morpheus.
It wasn't too late.