The disclaimer is and always will be I don’t own ‘em and never made a plug nickel off ‘em. Wish I did. This is a series of stories where Ezra’s a child and the remaining seven are adults this story taking place prior to Ezra’s arrival in Four Corners a little AU created by Wyvern. This is a sequel to my story Summer Days so please do enjoy. This is the third installment of ‘Life Before Four Corners’. This story ain’t betaed all the mistakes are my own. Geographic knowledge of Old California is lacking so I apologize in advance for any discrepancies there may be.
Father John Brennan wasn’t at all what Ezra expected because he couldn’t remember the first time they met finding out the priest was a young man was a surprise. The Father had been persuaded by Maude to find a family to take Ezra in while he recovered in safety from the horrific injuries inflicted by his uncle. After spending the night in the church’s rectory meager sleeping accommodations the pair boarded the stage. Father Brennan assumed that the boy next to him was dozing, they hadn’t had much time for breakfast but one of his parishioner’s, a kindly widow, had packed a meal to take along. He looked over at the boy’s face while he remembered the first time he had met the boy.
Mrs. Standish been directed to him by the owner of the ‘Whispering Pines Mercantile’, the priest recalled the day she strode through the front of his church. A Saturday morning while he was readying himself for the next day’s sermon, a well-dressed blond woman strode in weeping.
“Ma’am, are you alright?”
“No I’m not Father…” she sniffed daintily into a lace handkerchief.
“Father Brennan…Please sit Miss…?”
“Mrs. Standish…and Thank you.” She said as she sat next to him on one of the pews.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Father Brennan I am in a terrible predicament my boy is very ill. I am unable to care for him and due to circumstances that I can’t explain he can no longer stay where he is at the moment.”
“And you need someone to take him in?”
“I may know a family that would be willing to take him in, The Reilly’s… Shamus and Margaret they have ten children of there own… good and kind people that live almost a day’s ride from here I could contact them for you?”
“That’s very kind of you, Father.”
“I’ll do my best. I’ll have Sammy from the stables run out there with a message. Where can I reach you?”
“At the boarding house… Dear man you’ll have to excuse me while I go compose myself.”
Mrs. Standish left the rectory and after he had sent young Sammy out with a message to the Reilly’s he tried to locate her at the boarding house only to find out she had never checked in. Father Brennan had regarded the whole incident was odd and slightly alarming that the distraught woman disappeared without a trace. It wasn’t until two weeks had gone by did he find out that Mrs. Standish’s boy had indeed arrived very ill at the doorstep of the Reilly’s home. Young Willie had rode in to bring the Priest back with him, where Mrs. Peterson gave him an ear full.
Father Brennan sighed and shifted awkwardly in his seat at the memory. Mrs. Standish had lied to him, not outright but by omission. The core of her story was true but the young priest was shocked by the boy’s state. The child had been brutally beaten and the trip to the Reilly’s homestead had caused him to become frightfully ill. Mrs. Peterson had relayed the truth to the Reilly’ and himself about why there hadn’t been little choice about bringing the boy on the harrowing journey. Matthias Stiles, the boy’s uncle that had tried to kill Ezra, was about to return and it was no longer safe to keep the boy in Barstow.
The father could understand Mrs. Standish’s fear. But could not find a reason why she hadn’t contacted the boy for months not even an inquiry about his health. Now a short notice departure for the boy asking him, Father Brennan to deliver the boy the San Francisco, he was angry with the woman for putting him into such a predicament. As for the boy Ezra, the child had been polite and quiet since his entering his care. Although the youngster was still pale and thin he looked remarkably well considering what he had endured.
Ezra had felt is was easier to feign sleep before dealing with the priest the last two days of rising early had left him weary along with the fact he was once again being carried of to follow his mother’s whim. Only slightly reassured that Father Brennan had been sent along with him on this trip but then again his mother probably figured that like Mrs. Peterson the Reilly’s would not let him travel alone. They had been on the stage a few hours and he was beginning to get hungry, to remedy that he yawned and stretched, then rubbed his eyes.
“Where are we?”
“Half way to Santa Rosa. Hungry?”
He smiled when the boy nodded, handing him an apple and some biscuits wrapped in a handkerchief.
“Would you like some blackberry preserves to go with that?”
Ezra nodded again as the Father Brennan dug the jar out of the basket. There was only one other passenger on the stage a well-dressed gentleman who was lightly dozing so the young priest could spread out the meal on the open seat.
“If you want I also have water in a canteen if you’re thirsty.”
The man of the cloth leaned back into the seat and watched as Ezra polished off every bit of food he had set out before him.
The next scheduled passenger pick-up was in Middletown the stage would be arriving there within the hour. Ezra watched as the trees went by, although he wanted to play with his deck of card he didn’t think it would be wise to do so in front of his traveling companion besides they were in is carpetbag on top of the coach. He found it amusing that his mother entrusted his care to a priest, his mother was bias when it came to religion after they had scorned them, condemned her for having him out of wedlock and often referred to him as a heathen bastard. That was back when he was a young child, since then his mother had turned her back on all churches and religions. Father Brennan was the first cleric that had ever treated him with any kind of dignity or respect.
The boy was so wrapped in his thoughts that he didn’t realize they were in Middletown until the stage stopped. Ezra stepped out on to the dusty streets to stretch his legs while the driver swapped out the team of horses for a fresh team. Another small town, they were all beginning to look the same to Ezra, Father Brennan took the time to send a wire along to his mother advising her on their progress.
The driver had called all the passengers aboard and they were underway again with the addition of three new passengers, the other man that had been with them since Whispering Pines stayed behind. A middle age couple and someone who looked a little of place riding on a coach was a man in his early forties that easily could have been a gunslinger wearing an expensive low crown black hat. The man had a hard edge about him, truthfully made Ezra a little wary. The older couple Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ezra thought that they were farming people had taken to talking to Father Brennan, who patiently listened to them as they regaled him with the birth of their first grandchild, a baby girl named Louisa, they just finished an extended visit with the proud new mother their eldest daughter and were returning to their farm which their eldest son was taking care of in their absence. While the happy couple droned on and on until he fell asleep.
Jolted from him sleep, for reasons he could not understand he was airborne, he was painfully smacked into a solid object then was once again air borne and as quickly everything went out of control it stopped with the sound of horses and people screaming. The air in his lungs stole away with as wooden axles hit the ground, snapped. The stagecoach settled on its side as the reality slipped away from Maude Standish’s baby boy.
“Damn… Damn… Damn…”
Was the first thing Ezra heard when he woke frightened because he didn’t know what had happened? His last memory being the seemingly endless stories the older couple told about the newest addition to their family. Cautious he slowly opened his eyes the sky above had changed into the vibrant colors of the setting sun. Looking around he tried to locate the voice he heard. The man was along the tree line cursing as he tried to dig a crude hole in the earth as he clutch one hand to his side. Ezra noticed for the first time that he had been covered with a blanket, which he pushed off and continued to look around him. The Stagecoach was mangled on its side three of the four horses that had pulled it lay dead still twisted in their hitch. The fourth horse although scraped up and cut was foraging around the brush it had been tied to. The confused boy whipped his head around when he heard the man begin to curse again in time to see the man awkwardly roll a blanketed body into one of the three shallow holes that were dug into the ground then sag to the ground.
Reaching out Ezra pulled himself up using a nearby tree as support. When he felt steady made his way towards the man who had yet to notice that he was awake watching as the man rolled the next body into a hole for the first time Ezra noticed the jacket arm of Father Brennan and was unable to pull his eyes away from the sight until a voice brought him out of his reverie.
Ezra blinked realizing that the man was talking to him.
“Hey Kid don’t look...”
The boy went stiff when the man picked him up and carried him away. The rough looking man held on to him tightly until they were on the other side of the stagecoach where Ezra couldn’t see the graves anymore collapsing to the ground with the boy.
“Father Brennan is dead.”
“Yeah so are Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and I cain’t find the driver. I want you to stay put until I finish. Then we can say some words and figure out what to do next. Understand?”
Ezra weakly nodded as he watched the man stagger away, the fates had been cruel and once again he was left at the mercy of a stranger.
Forty-five minutes had passed before the man had returned and stiffly lowered himself down as he sat next to Ezra.
“Kid my name is Bean, what’s yours?”
“Mr. Bean … I’m Ezra P. Standish and I’d say it’s a pleasure but under these circumstances…”
“Well Ezra P. I’m jist plain Bean and you sure do say a mouth full fer a kid.”
“Excuse me Mr. Bean but what exactly are your plans?”
“You see Ezra P. it’s a might late to start out of here now sun’s going down and I’m going to look around for some kindling to start a fire.”
“Mr. Bean what can I do to be of assistance?”
Bean’s dark eyes twinkled and his rough face broke in a big grin, the boy still had spunk after what happened most adult he knew couldn’t handle such a turn.
“You can help me…”
He painfully pushed himself on as he led Ezra away from the graves to find kindling and dry wood for a fire. The boy shadowed him through out the evening as they gathered what they could as far as supplies after they had finished Ezra sat near Bean watching as he started the blaze. Bean had retrieved Ezra’s worn carpetbag and his new hat for the wreckage. As they sat there picking the salvaged basket of Father Brennan’s food, the boy brought out his deck of cards after he pulled on his coat and began to shuffle the cards effortlessly from hand to hand eventually cutting the deck single handed first in his right then his left hand while Bean watched on in amazement.
As the night wore on Ezra fell asleep with his cards in hand and Bean kept watch, despite the growing discomfort in his belly his weariness got the best of him and he too fell asleep under the stars.
Morning came quickly when Ezra rose from his sleep Bean was nowhere to be seen, the horse was gone and the ashes from the fire were cold. A full canteen and the basket with the remaining food had been set down next to his blanket. He had been left behind and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it now. The boy began poking through the food settling for gnawing on the now hardened biscuit between sips of water unconscious fingering the deck of cards that now resided in his coat pocket. He heard hoof steps behind him coming his way and turned around to see Bean slowly riding up bareback on the horse.
“Sorry Ezra P. didn’t think I’d be gone so long… I found a way out of here back to the stagecoach route. Figure that the coach will be missed soon we were supposed to be in San Jose this morning but they won’t know where to start looking. We have to get going Kid.”
“Sounds like a splendid plan Mr. Bean.”
“Best roll up that blanket and haul yer ass over here Kid.”
The boy did as he was bid and carried both the blanket and his carpetbag over.
“Ezra P. if you want carry that bag you best hand it so I kin pull ya up as well…”
The bag was quickly handed up to rest across the man’s lap and then Bean gasped as he hauled the boy up to sit behind him then patted the arms that now held tightly onto his waist.
“Ready to go Ezra P.?”
“Yes Mr. Bean whenever you are.”
Bean allowed the surviving horse to settle into a comfortable pace, there was need to push an animal that had been traumatized and still rebounded well enough to be ridden away from the accident. The horse although its tenacity amazed him the boy confounded him more, it was almost like talking to a grown man in the disguise of a small boy. While Ezra P. Standish was a little unsettled immediately after he woke right hours after the accident the boy remained calm and didn’t seem bothered when he woke alone when Bean was scouting the area. The boy hadn’t shed one tear, that pale skinny child had a strong spirit and that was what Bean was counting on.
The day wore on as the animal plodded up the steep hillside, Bean thought it best to cut a diagonal path because the most direct route to the top was almost vertical. It had taken the better part of the day for the tired beast to make the ascent. By mid afternoon they were back on the well-worn stagecoach route and Bean was spent, the pain in his side was increasing by the hour. The man slipped off the horse and slid unimpeded to the ground.
“Are you alright Mr. Bean?”
Ezra whispered in his ear. Mr. Bean was deathly gray. The man’s skin was cold and clammy.
“I’ll be okay in a moment, why don’t you those cards out and we’ll have us a game.”
The man looked far from okay so the boy ignored what he said instead pulling the man forward and shoving his carpetbag under Bean’s shoulders to prop him up. Ezra looked the man in the eyes for a brief instant then went to fetch the canteen and help him to a refreshing drink before he finally settled and began to deal the cards.
“Ezra what are we playing?”
“Good if I win you leave me here and go get help…”
The boy wasn’t a bit surprised as he replied.
“And if I win?”
“You can have my hat.”
“You have a deal Mr. Bean.”
Ezra won the hat in the first hand, and won right to stay be Mr. Bean’s side with each subsequent hand. Towards dark Ezra stopped long enough to start another fire. The pair played long into the night until Mr. Bean could no longer hold the cards or was able to keep his eyes open.
“Ezra P. you have a talent for the cards.”
“My mother says it God given…”
“I don’t about that but yer kindness and strength of spirit are…”
Mr. Bean never said another word instead he died as the night sky started to lighten. The tired boy did what he could to make a shallow grave and covered Bean’s blanketed body with stones saying a few brief words before securing his carpet bag to the tired horse, he dusted off the expensive hat and proudly set it on his head before climbing onto the beast.
At some point during their long poker game Mr. Bean made it a point for Ezra to memorize the way to the next stagecoach stop a place called Calistoga. The boy squinted from under the brim of the black hat as he remembered the route Mr. Bean told him to take, urging the horse forward while he sat tall on its back in a direction away from the rising sun. Southwest and follow the well-worn route.