A Weight to Bear - Nathan

By Yolande  

Thanks to Kelly A for the beta.




Nathan Jackson pointed his finger, jabbing the Southerner in the chest with the digit.  “I don’t know how you can live with yourself, stealing money off of good folks,” he angrily snarled at the smaller man. 

Standish stood his ground, patiently waiting for the healer’s tirade to end. “Have you anything else to say?”  What was the use attempting to explain to Jackson at the moment?  He was not in a receptive mood to listen to anything the gambler had to say, and would not believe the word of a conman over that of the disgruntled party involved in any case.  Was Ezra to blame only because he’d won Joe Smithy’s money?  In a game where he didn’t cheat to win and in fact, persistently urged Smithy to leave the table while he still held money in his pockets.  The farmer had obviously pored out his misfortune to the affable ear of Mr. Jackson. 

“Hell yes!” he agreed.  “But it would be wasted on the likes of you,” Nathan declared and stormed out of the saloon, barging through the swinging doors he left a coagulating mass of malcontent between them. 

Standish sighed, dropping his chin a fraction before restoring the mask that had almost crumpled under Nathan’s attack.  He stood motionless,  watching the retreating back of the enraged healer leave the saloon.  Ezra was unsettled by the furore of Jackson’s tongue lashing. 

Standish glanced quickly about the room, eyes darting surreptitiously to ascertain how many patrons witnessed the argument between Nathan and himself.  Much to his relief, Ezra found the saloon less than half empty and already most of the audience had gone back to their business of drinking and not paying him any undue attention.  He forced a smile to his lips and resumed his seat, preparing to set out a game of solitaire.  

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end and a shiver ran down his spine, but none of this betrayed itself outwardly.  His eyes continued to nervously flick while he shuffled the cards with nimble fingers.  Ezra lifted his gaze from the cards that were spread across the green felt tabletop and he made another scan of the saloon. 

Standish nodded a greeting to two dark-skinned cowboys who leaned against the long bar.  They both boldly returned his gaze with derisive sneers.  Hell, just what he needed, two of Nathan’s ‘brothers’ to have witnessed the altercation.  He’d have to ensure that he stayed out of their way while they were in town.  There was a distinct hostility about the two strangers that seemed to be focused in his direction.  He warily tipped his head and resumed his game, though his attention kept gravitating to the two men at the bar for the length of time they stayed in the saloon. 


Nathan closed his eyes and took in a deep calming breath.  He had said his piece to Standish and that was the last he was going to commit to the problem at the present.  He knew that the next time he saw the gambler that it would come to a head again, but for now, if he could concentrate on something else, anything else but Standish, his mood was bound to improve.

The healer removed a bowl from the top shelf and sat down at his small workbench.  Dumping the clean bandages out onto the table, Nathan set about the monotonous task of unravelling the strips and rolling them into bandages.  He just finished the forth roll when his door rattled with a persistent knocking.  “Come in,” Jackson welcomed and stood to greet his guests or customers. 

“Nathan Jackson,” the tall solidly built black man smiled, holding out his hand to shake Nathan’s.  “Doctor, no less.”  He shook his head in awe, but the smile remained intact. 

“Hey Nate!” the younger man announced his presence, pushing past his brother.  Ned smiled broadly, pleased that they’d found a friend in the western town.  

“Oh my gosh!” Jackson stuttered, looking from one man to the next.  “Ambrose and Ned Palmer!  What cha doin’ here?”  Nathan stepped forward and enveloped both men in a hug.  “Last I heard you were both going south ta look for yer folks.” 

“That was a long time ago, Nate ole man,” Ambrose affectionately returned the healer’s embrace.  “Yep, a lotta time.  A lotta things happened since then.” 

“Ma and Pa…we never did find ‘em,” Ned admitted despondently. 

“I’m sorry ta hear that,” Nathan murmured. 

“Ain’t nothin’ you did, Nathan.  Was them Southern bastards what ruined their lives,” Ned shook his fist angrily.  “And it’s like everywhere ya go, there’s always at least one that crawls out of the woodworks.” 

Nathan frowned slightly at his friend’s comment. 

“Seems like you’re still fighting for yer rights, Nathan,” Ambrose noted. 

“Always something that ya need to stand firm on,” Jackson agreed. 

“We was over at the saloon earlier, and saw ya arguing with that Southern dandy.” 

“Who, Ezra?”  Nathan shrugged, not wanting to discuss his problems with Standish with these two men.  “Nothin’ I can’t handle,” he dismissed eagerly, anxious to get the topic of conversation off the gambler.  The brothers still harboured a lot of hatred toward Southerners.  Probably best if he steered them clear of Ezra.  “So what you two boys doing this far west?  And how long ya in town for?” 

“Just wanted a change,” Ambrose answered rather obtusely, and Ned nodded agreement with his older brother from behind his shoulder.  “And we’ll be leaving in a day or so.” 

“Well it’s great to see the both of you.  And yer looking healthy too,” Nathan appraised each man. 

Ambrose chuckled heartily and slapped the healer on the shoulder.  “That’s the doctor in ya talking,” he grinned amicably.    “These folks let ya treat them?” he asked sceptically. 

“Most do,” the former slave confided.  “So what do you and Ned do for a dollar?” 

“Me and the kid, hire on, do a few odd jobs, then move on when the mood strikes.  Do a bit of fossickin’ now and again.  Headin’ towards California as a matter of fact.” 

“You could come with us,” Ned warmed to the idea.  “Just the three of us,” he enthused.  “We’d show those smartass Southerner’s a thing or two.” 

“I’m happy right here in Four Corners,” Nathan claimed.  “I work with six other lawmen to protect the town and I found somewhere that accepts me for who I am.” 

“‘Cept that Reb, we saw ya spatting with,” Ned snarled. 

Jackson shrugged.   He didn’t know how to debate that point. 


“Well, lookie here, Ned,” Ambrose sneered.  “Hey Reb, talkin’ to ya.” 

Standish groaned.  How had he let these men corner him in the livery?  “Gentlemen,” he delayed, backing up a few paces he bumped into the stall behind him.  Ezra ran through several possible scenarios and all left him in dire need.  He was uncertain about drawing on these men, certain that Nathan would take such a deed as a personal front against him.  And he was positive that Jackson would somehow find out about the incident.  So if he could talk his way out of this, maybe only acquiring a few bruises in the process, perhaps they would be happy with the outcome.  

“What'd ya know, we are gentlemen,” Ned snarled sarcastically. 

Ambrose stepped closer to the gambler.  “We don’t like your kind.” 

Ezra attempted to get in a word, holding up his hands in plain sight, not wanting either man to misinterpret any of his actions.  “I have no quarrel with either of you…” he persisted. 

“You fight with our friend Nathan, that makes it our fight too,” Ned bitterly spat, picking up a thick lump of wood half buried under the straw and waving it back and forth threateningly. 

Ezra gulped, trying to take another step back, but found he couldn’t move in that direction.  He eyed the timber warily.  “Perhaps we can come to an understanding…” 

Ned growled, swinging the plank of wood at the gambler, connecting with his chest and forcing the air from his lungs.  “We don’t make deals with the devil!” 

“Oomph,” Standish moaned and doubled at the waist.  

Ambrose reached over and snagged the Remington from Ezra’s holster, tossing it out of reach.  He had no use for a Southerner’s choice of weapon. 

Cursing under his breath at losing his main gun, Ezra triggered the derringer, catching the small weapon in his hand.  Time for talking was over. Straightening, Ezra brought the gun up and pointed it at Ned, who was the closest to him.  

“Look out, Ned!” Ambrose shouted, surprised by the disclosure of the small gun.  

The younger brother lowered the plank and slowly stepped back toward the door.  “Low scum,” he snarled, “we were just having a friendly chat.” 

Standish sidestepped away from the pair, hugging his left arm about his tender middle.  “Far be it for me to criticise, but I considered that we’d past the stage of…chatting.” 

The two brothers barricaded the exit, their large shoulders filling the opening.  

“You gonna shoot us, white man?” Ambrose goaded. 

“If you step aside, I’m confident we can all leave without further harm occurring.” 

Ambrose crossed his arms over his chest and his younger brother followed suit.  “Gonna have to come through us ta get out, Reb,” he grinned maliciously.  “And ya ain’t gonna be able ta use that popgun on both of us.” 

One of the horses in the livery chose that moment to whinny, and Standish, although he didn’t turn to investigate the sound behind him, did drop his gaze from his two attackers for a fraction of a second.  In that instant, both Ned and Ambrose tackled the smaller man to the ground, the derringer thrown from his hand in the fall and flying harmlessly, landing inconspicuously in the hay.  They rained blows on the Southerner, swearing and cursing at Ezra when he kicked out at them and fought back for all his worth, but the odds were against the gambler coming out on top.  Ambrose kicked Ezra in the abdomen and chest, while Ned used his fists.  Ezra curled up attempting to protect his front, but Ambrose moved behind him and kicked at his back.  A blow to the head sent the Southerner into darkness. 

Panting, Ned bent at the waist and administered another brutal kick to the unconscious Standish.  He glanced to his brother for direction.  “What we gonna do with him now?” 

The elder brother smiled sadistically down at Ezra.  “Wait an see,” he grinned up at Ned, smiling broadly. 


Nathan Jackson stomped from the saloon and stared with indecision up the length of the street.   Which way should he go?  Where the hell was Standish?  It was unusual not to find him at the saloon.  Perhaps the conman was on patrol?  No, he shook his head recalling that Josiah had mentioned that he was up for the next patrol.  He supposed that even Ezra needed time away from the saloon.  Reckon he’d find Ezra sooner or later. 

He berated himself angrily as he continued his search for the missing conman.  When Josiah had informed the healer of Ezra’s true actions, Nathan couldn’t help the groan that rose from his chest.  Ezra had taken the winnings from the game played with Joe Smithy and deposited it in the bank against the farmer’s mortgage.  Why didn’t the damn Southerner just tell him?  He would have listened.  Nathan chewed at his bottom lip, frowning at his errant thoughts.  No, he admitted, he probably wouldn’t have listened.  Is that why Ezra didn’t try and defend himself against his verbal assault?  He admitted that the Southerner very rarely came to his own defence.  Why wouldn’t Ezra want to be seen in a better light? 

“Nathan,” the older Palmer Brother greeted.  “You look lost in thought, brother.” 

“Ambrose,” Nathan nodded in return.  “Just hashing out an apology I need ta make to a friend.” 

The dark ex-slave chuckled.  “I know just the thing that’ll make swallowing yer pride that much easier,” he tempted. 

Nathan broadly smiled in return.  “What’s that?” he asked in interest. 

“Ya gotta come with me now,” he waved his hand in a beckoning gesture.  “Somethin’ you’ll want ta see.” 

“”Now ya got me intrigued,” Nathan stepped off the sidewalk and followed behind his old friend.  He could find Standish later, but Ambrose and Ned would be leaving soon so he wanted to spend as much time as possible with the brothers.  “Where’s Ned.” 

“He’s already there waiting for us.” 


Nathan and Ambrose rode at a casual pace, keeping the horses at an even stride.  “So where we going?” Jackson asked curiously. 

“Just a little further,” Palmer replied.  He pointed to a grove of trees that bordered the raging river.  “Right over there.” 

Nathan nodded; he could see another horse tethered under the branches of the trees, and movement in the shadows.  “So what ya got to show me?” he eagerly inquired. 

“It’s a surprise, Nathan.  Won’t be long and you’ll see.” 

The former slaves arrived five minutes later, Jackson blinking his eyes to adjust to the dim light in the shade.  He smiled widely at Ned and reached over and shook his extended hand.  He glanced about the clearing, curious as to what the brothers had planned. 

Nathan’s mouth dropped opened, the words stuck in his throat when his gaze took in the battered and bruised body of Ezra Standish.  His arms were tired behind his back, his jacket was missing and his shirt was ripped in numerous places.  “Ezra!”  He gaped in confusion, jumping from his mount he quickly raced to the Southerner’s side.  Why was Standish here?  He lifted the gambler’s head holding under his chin and frowned with concern at the dazed look that met his own.  “Ezra…” Jackson didn’t know what more to say.  Instead he let his hands assess the Southerner for injuries and pulled back his hand when Standish gasped, his face contorting in pain and his knees trembled.  “Hang on, Ezra.  I’ll get you out of this,” he reassured the swaying man. 

Spinning angrily on his heels he glared murderously at the brothers.  “What have you done?” 

Ned chuckled, unaware of Nathan’s hostility. “Thought ya’d like to see him swing,” the dark skinned man giggled, pointing to the prepared noose that hung from a large branch. 

“What!”  Jackson’s eyes bulged, as they swung from the knotted rope and back to his supposed friends attempting to ascertain if they were serious.  “You can’t just hang a man for no reason,” he implored.  “That’s murder.” 

“What do you care?  He’s a Southerner, Nathan,” Ambrose reminded.  “Surely you remember all the things done to you by his kind.” 

“And because of that, it gives you the right to murder him?” Nathan asked incredulously.  “It wasn’t Ezra that done those things to you, or me.  You don’t even know him.  Yer taking the law into yer hands.” 

“You sayin’ he don’t deserve this?” the older brother frowned, shaking his head. 

“He no more deserves this, than we did by being slaves,” Nathan retorted.  

“But you and he were fightin’…” 

“And that ain’t none of yer business.  That’s atween me and Ezra, nobody else,” Jackson snarled stepping away from Ambrose in disgust.  How could he have thought they were his friends?  

Ned ignored the argument between his brother and the healer, stepping around Jackson with the intention of preparing Standish for the hanging.  He brought the grey horse over and single-handedly managed to get Ezra into the saddle.  Then he led the horse and semi coherent rider under the noose. 

Nathan turned and fired a single shot in Ned Palmer’s direction.  “Get away from him now!” he shouted the order. 

“Calm down, Nathan,” Ambrose mockingly soothed.  “What’s one more Reb dying to ya?” 

The horse shied away, nervously pawing at the ground.  Ned attempted to grab at the reins, but the frantic animal snorted and pulled its head up and out of the Palmer’s grasp, continuing to step around in small circles.  Ezra clamped his legs about the mount’s middle and sank low over the horse’s back. 

“He’s my friend!” Nathan declared and glanced over at the Southerner, trying to convey his support to Standish. 

Ned made another snatch for the reins, but Ezra kicked out at him, knocking him off his feet.  The black man snarled up from the ground and fired at the gambler, but missed and hit the horse.  The grey reared up in fright.  Squealing in pain, the wounded mount tipped the gambler from the saddle over the side of the embankment and into the rushing water.  

“Oh God!  Ezra!”  Nathan glared at the brothers.  “Get the hell out of here!  ‘Cause if you don’t, I’ll be back to settle the score.  And don’t think I won’t!” he warned.  Hissing with vehemence, Jackson snarled, “You wanta pray that he don’t die.” 

Nathan dropped the gun and dove straight into the fast moving water.  He tensed at the sudden impact of the cold water and after he was splashed in the face by the white water he began swimming instead of just being propelled along with the current.  Nathan spotted the struggling gambler and lost him just as quickly when a wave swept over him, devouring him.  God, hold on, Ezra, he pleaded.  

Ezra panicked; he could swim quite well in normal circumstances, but with his arms trapped behind him, broken ribs and bruised anatomy, he struggled to keep his face above the surface.  He kicked and attempted to move out of the flow, but the current dragged him down, slamming him against rocks and burying his head and suffocating the life from him.  When he surfaced again, Ezra gulped desperately, tipping back his head, but the roaring torrent sucked him under and covered him again.  He felt the frantic grope of hands pull him back to the surface and hold tightly about his middle. 

“I got you, Ezra,” Jackson shouted over the roar.  “Don’t struggle, Ezra, I’m gonna get you out,” he promised.  

Standish coughed, choking on the inhaled water.  “Nathan?” the gambler whispered in astonishment. 

The pair flowed down the river and were rammed together into a hidden rock.  The breath was forced from Ezra’s lungs once more, but they were momentarily stopped and the current flowed past them.  Nathan managed to pull the Southerner toward the shore and out of the river.  He dropped down beside the injured man and collected his own breath. 

Standish needed to take the pressure off his tied hands and rolled onto his side.  His breaths came in ragged gasps and a moan past his lips when his broken ribs reasserted themselves.  He felt the knife that sliced through the wet rope and with a sigh of relief brought his arms round to the front.  “Thank-you,” he rasped. 

Nathan leaned over the gambler; concerned that Standish laid so still.   “You alright?” 

“Fine,” he slurred through gritted teeth. 

Jackson snorted; he should have expected that response.  “You oughta stay away from folks who want ta hang ya,” Nathan reprimanded, though a smile softened the words. 

Ezra blinked.  “They are your friends,” he simply replied. 

“No friends of mine go round trying kill my other friends,” he let his anger surface and show for the Southerner to see.  Nathan wasn’t going to let Ezra think that he was party to what had happened, or that he approved of it. 

Standish stared at the healer in confusion.  Did Nathan just refer to him as a friend?  He attempted to sit up and bit the inside of his cheek to stifle the cry of pain this action caused.  God that hurt. 

Jackson gently pushed him back down and unbuttoned the wet shirt.  The dark bruises were vibrant against his torso and Nathan winced in sympathy.  “You’ve got a couple of broken ribs.”  He pressed around the bruises on his face and looked deeply into the green eyes. 

“I know,” Ezra forced a smile to his face, but the gesture was weak. 

“You got a headache?” 

“A little,” Ezra shrugged. 

The healer nodded in understanding.  “Think if I help ya, ya can make it back to town?” 

“What about your fr…” 

Jackson interrupted, not wanting to hear the word on the Southerner’s lips.  “They’ll be gone,” he gruffly stated.  

Ezra sighed. 

The former slave lowered his head.  “I know about the money.” 

“What money?” Standish asked in confusion. 

“Josiah told me what really happened.  I was coming to apologise when Ambrose sidetracked me.”  He looked up and gripped Ezra’s cold hand in his.  “Kinda glad he found me, woulda hated for ya to have entertained them on yer own.” 

Ezra could see the sincerity in the brown eyes and wearily nodded his head.  “I’m relieved you could join the festivities.” 

“Yeah, so am I.”    

   The End



Want to read  more of this series?

A Weight to Bear - Series


I'd love to hear your comments. Send them to Yolande