Special Thanks to NotTasha
Written in response to Jean's birthday challenge
Ezra Standish finally stood on the
outskirts of Moorebank; he surveyed the tiny village with a casual gaze.
Chaucer nickered softly by his side and the gambler patted the lame
animal. Both man and mount were exhausted from their trek north.
Standish licked his dry lips and took note of his dusty apparel.
His emerald green jacket was covered in a thick layer of dust, he patted
the front and a plume of dust fell from the garment. This would
never do. Fortunately he had another set of clothing in his
saddlebags. It would not pay to have his Mother see him in this
disreputable state. Appearances were everything; he could hear his
Mother's words echoing in his mind.
By rights, if everything had gone
to schedule, he should have arrived two days ago. Trouble was,
Chaucer put his foot down a gopher hole and came up lame. That was
three days ago. Standish had been walking for those past three
days. Through the desert heat, dust and the accursed flies.
His feet and legs ached, muscles unfamiliar with the bruising pace he'd
set. A simple two-day's journey resulted in an exhaustive four-day
Ezra remained on the rise,
overlooking the slow meanderings below. Why had Maude wanted to
meet up with him in this remote town? The gambler studied the
scene below and shook his head. Whatever reasons his mother had,
Standish grinned in anticipation. Maude Standish wanted to see
him, Ezra Standish, and it had nothing what so ever to do with a con.
Tomorrow was his birthday and she elected to spend the time with her
The sun was almost setting as Ezra
led his mount off the rise and down the sloping road into town. It
had been another long day, but still a lopsided grin creased his face.
He would see to his mount's needs first, then acquire a room for
himself. Such as the town could offer.
The southerner was not overtly
concerned to find Maude had yet to arrive, she had only arranged to meet
up with him on the morrow. There was still plenty of time and it
gave him ample opportunity to clean up. So there was no need to worry
yet over her absence. She'd arrive on the stage the following
morning. Although a small thread of doubt had begun to surface,
the southerner deigned to allow its growth, determined not to fret on
the slight possibility that his trip was for naught. Ezra had an
early night; the patron's of the saloon uninterested in his challenge
for a game, not wanting to lose their money.
Standish stretched and yawned,
pulling the covers over the top of his head. The form beneath the
blanket wriggled for a minute or two then settled back down, attempting
to sleep some more. His eyes shot open, the brilliant green orbs
sparkling with delight. Today was his birthday, and more
importantly, Maude was coming. The smile tugged at the corners of
his mouth, and he enthusiastically jumped from his bed. A soft
chortle escaped as he considered the reactions of the six men he worked
with, were they to find out he'd voluntarily gotten out of bed at such
an ungodly hour. Musing on this thought, Standish flipped open his
pocket watch to determine exactly what hour of the morning it was.
"Good Lord!" Ezra chuckled, shaking his head in
amusement. It was not quite the hour of seven. "I
sincerely hope the stage is early," Standish lamented.
Following a repast of barely edible
bacon and eggs the gambler left the restaurant. His first course
of action was to tend Chaucer. He knew he spoilt the animal, but Chaucer
served him well and deserved a special treat from time to time.
Intending to procure an apple from the grocer's, he was puzzled to find
the establishment closed. Frowning, he changed direction and
headed for the livery albeit empty handed. On the way he
passed the bank, saloon, druggist and hardware store, all displaying
similar signs in their windows.
Ezra tipped his hat and smiled as a
couple passed him on the broadwalk. "Ah, excuse me, madam,
sir, could you enlighten me as to why all the establishments are
The woman shyly bowed her head and
deferred to her husband to answer. He was middleaged with a
greying beard and both were resplendent in their Sunday best.
"Town's closed fer the day, mister. Everyone's goin' to the
fete down yonder at the Adamson's spread. Yer welcome ta come
along." He slipped his arm through the crock of his wife's
elbow and, satisfied he'd explained sufficiently to the gambler,
continued on his way.
"Thank you, but I have
alternate plans," Standish called to their retreating backs.
The fete was obviously beyond the town limits; the steady flow of people
leaving all headed up the road he'd arrived on the evening before.
That didn't bother him; once Maude arrived he'd have all the company he
Ezra leaned back on the bench
stool, resting his back against the wall of the saloon. Although
it was closed he still felt some comfort in waiting by its door.
Besides, it would be the first place Maude would come looking for him,
and it also gave him a good view of the street. The gambler sat
waiting patiently for an hour and a half. It was only nine-thirty, still
early by his standards, but the traffic of passing citizens had slowed
and only an odd straggler loped out to the fair.
A degree of uncertainty had settled
in his chest, yet he refused to allow its full fruition. He stood
and leaned against the support post of the verandah, tipping his black
hat back off his face. Standish crossed his right leg over the
left and idly brushed at some unseen lint from his burgundy jacket.
Outwardly he betrayed no evidence of the churning nervousness that was
beginning to play havoc with his emotions.
The sheriff swaggered up in front
of him, smoke circling from the cheroot that hung from his mouth.
"Ya ain't gonna cause no trouble now are ya?" he gruffly
"That's not my intention, sir.
I am merely waiting on the stage, to meet up with an old friend."
"Stage ain't coming
today," the sheriff announced. "Don't come on Saturday.
Be here on Monday."
Standish licked his suddenly dry
lips and stared at the aged peacekeeper. He shuffled the dirt on
the road with the toe of his boot. "But she said…" he
paused, not about to discuss this with the stranger. "Would
you be so kind as to point out the telegraph office?"
The sheriff turned full circle and
pointed out the dilapidated building at the end of the street.
"Shifty ain't there, he's out at the fair and all."
Marvellous! Ezra groaned
inwardly. "Mr. Shifty…"
"Nah, it's just Shifty,"
the sheriff interrupted.
"Ah, Shifty, will he be
returning tonight?" Standish inquired.
"Yeah, after dark but."
Ezra slowly sank to his seat.
He knew this was likely to happen. How many times had Maude done
this to him? And he continued to fall time and again to the same
con. Had she even planned on coming? Or was it all some
elaborate hoax? Great! Just great!!! Ezra screamed
silently, throwing his head back hard against the wooden wall. Why
did she have to do this to him? Now he was stuck in this
deplorable little backwoods town, where all the shops were closed,
including the saloon. With everybody gone off to their fair, his
horse lame, and Maude not going to show up. This day got better
and better, he sarcastically moaned. And to top it off, today was
his birthday. His 34th birthday, and yet again he was to spend it
He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing
to stem the tears that stung at his eyes. Angrily he thumped his
fist on his thigh. Ezra had even refused JD's generous offer to
accompany him here, bearing in mind that Maude would not have
appreciated the youth's company and exuberance. What a miserable
day this was turning out to be. Still…he could go to the
fair…he glanced up the road, eyes glistening with tears. He
bobbed his head to his chest and fingered the chain that secured his
pocket watch. No, he was not in any mood to join the revellers.
With the saloon off limits he
couldn't even bury himself in the drudgery of liquor, much to his
disgust. Standish found a secluded area behind the hotel where he
rented his room. He occupied himself with his deck of card,
expertly manipulating them in his nimble fingers. Even this could
not secure his undivided attention. The knot tightened in his
chest, and the tears threatened to fall. The gambler wiped at the
moisture that trickled down his cheek and swore futilely. How was
this any different than any other birthday? None were particularly
memorable. With a snort of frustration he admitted that at least
he wasn't rotting in some jail, or about to be hung. Now, those
particular birthdays definitely rated among the worst.
Standish hovered restlessly around
the town, lost in his morose thoughts for the entire day. It was
late afternoon before the townsfolk started to trek their way back into
town. Moorebank was once more gripped with the fervour of laughter
and revelry. The chaotic atmosphere from the fair travelled along
side them, sending Standish into an even deeper depth of despair.
He slowly stalked to the telegraph office to wait out front of the
building. After another hour, he began pacing - ten steps to the
right then swivelling in a narrow circle he counted back ten steps to
the left. The insidious clip of his boot heel on the roughened
sidewalk became a monotonous melody, in harmony with his tempered mood.
As night settled over Moorebank a
hoot of laughter and raucous yell startled the southerner and he snapped
his head up. Standish pierced the drunkard with an irritated gaze.
The drunk wobbled nearer the gambler, tripping over his feet as he
stepped off the road and landing in a heap at Ezra's boots. His
words slurred together and his vision swum wildly. "Wan sum,
mista?" He held the half-empty bottle aloft, as he crawled to
Reluctantly the gambler reached
down to assist the man to his feet. "I think I'll pass,
thanks all the same." Ezra wrinkled his nose at the stale
whisky breath that was blown into his face.
"Your loss." The
drunk pulled a key from his hip pocket and rattled at the lock, but
dropped it in his clumsiness.
Standish arched an eyebrow, and as
the drunk bent to look for the key Ezra swooped in first.
"You're Shifty?" The gambler stared incredulously.
"What's it too ya?" he
"I'll open the door for you,
if you could check the messages for me?" Standish negotiated.
The drunk eyed Standish
suspiciously, but not for long. He swallowed another mouthful from
the bottle and grinned foolishly. Nodding, he stepped away from the
door, allowing the steady hand of the southerner to insert the key into
the lock. Shifty fell into the room and waved at the untidy table
by the window. "Help yerself," he yawned, dropping
wearily to the single cot.
"Good Lord," Standish
groused. Doesn't the man know how to utilise a filing system?
Ezra picked at the assortment of papers and folders that covered the
table. Lighting a lamp he pulled up a chair and started sorting
the messages into piles. Shifty's raucous snoring and the
occasional grunt were the only indications that he was indeed in the
Ezra picked up the another message and with a great sense of relief, saw his name printed at the top of the page. Finally!
SON STOP CHANGE OF PLANS STOP MEET ME AT BRUNXTER INSTEAD STOP LOVE MAUDE STOP.
Standish scratched his head,
disappointment encroaching on him. He scanned the message again.
"What!!!" It was dated two days ago. He jumped
from his seat and stalked over to the drunk. Shifty grunted in his
stupor and rolled to the wall. What the hell, the gambler would
get nothing coherent from him anyway. If the gambler had been in
town early as he'd planned, then he may have acquired the wire in time.
But as it was, it was too late now. Standish dropped back into the
chair and fumbled with the lost opportunity. Maude would have
moved on by now, there was no use chasing after her, she would have
figured he wasn't coming by now.
The gambler stole quietly from the
room taking his message with him. He would more than likely be
leaving in the morning. No, it was already this morning and his
birthday was gone for another year. So much for his reunion with
his mother. What an empty and totally wasted day. Ezra
returned to the hotel for what was left of the night. Later today
he would head back to Four Corners.
Shifty guiltily called out to the southerner as he finished saddling
"Mr. Shifty…to what do I owe
"Huh?" His hangover
was bad, and he'd thrown up twice already that morning.
"Um… this came fer ya early yesterday morning - sorry it's late,
but I didn't find ya 'fore I went to the fair. Guess ya didn't see
it last night, neither?"
Ezra nodded and accepted the wire, dismissing the telegraph operator with a coin. Not expecting more than one message, he admitted to himself that he must have missed it in his search the night before.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY EZ STOP HAVE A GREAT DAY STOP SAY HI TO MAUDE STOP JD, BUCK, JOSIAH, NATHAN, CHRIS AND VIN STOP.
A small grin returned to his
features. The day before didn't seem nearly so bad after all.
I'd love to hear your comments. Please send them to Yolande