Magnificent Seven Old West
Ezra's Daughter

by Kay

"She is obviously your daughter and everyone dotes on her for it. I guess when we lost you it was natural that all that affection would be transferred to her. She looks just like you, Aggy. Well, with the exception of her blond tresses. Those come from Mother. Sometimes it hurts to look at her, it's like seeing you. She does, however, take after me a little. She has a surprising dexterity with the cards for such a small child..." Ezra continued his one sided conversation with his wife unaware of the towheaded girl watching him from just outside the cemetery.

She wanted to show him the new bonnet Mrs. Travis had given her and maybe get him to teach her another card trick. But Uncle Chris had told her not to interrupt Papa when he was here. So, she had been waiting quietly, but he was taking an awful long time. Finally she got tired of being still and ran back to town.

Christine ran all the way to the saloon and walked in, under the swinging doors. She made sure Mrs. Travis didn't see her go in 'cause she'd yell at Uncle Chris and Papa if she knew Christine was in there again. She looked around the room until she found who she was looking for. Uncle Vin. She didn't tell anybody, but of all her uncles, after Uncle Chris, Uncle Vin was her favorite. He was quiet and he always had time to listen to her stories. He was smart, too. He knew the anwers to all her questions and he could play the harmonica. Sometimes he made up songs just for her. She skipped around men and tables and clammered up onto his lap. He grinned and helped her up, wrapping an arm firmly around her.

"Well, Miss Christine, what'er you doin' today?"

"Gotta new bonnet an' I wanna show Papa."

"Why don't you?"

"He's talkin' to Mama."

"Oh." Vin nodded his head in understanding. Wanting to bring a smile to her little face he said, "Do you suppose you're old enough to steer a horse all by yerself?"

A delighted grin spread across her face and she eagerly nodded her head. "I'm this many," she said holding up four fingers.

Vin laughed, "No, your not!"

"Almost." she pouted.

Vin gave her a considering look, "I reckon almost four is old enough."

"Yea!!!" she yelled and clapped her hands.

Vin stood and swung her up onto his shoulder. They strode out of the saloon and to the livery. He quickly saddled Peso and lead him outside. Vin placed Christine in the saddle and got up behind her. He patiently showed her how to hold the reins and how to make the horse move. He gently guided her through the motions to turn Peso.

After a little while, Christine caught sight of her papa and called out excitedly, "Look at me! I'm making the horsey go!"

"I see that, darlin'. You seem to be doing an excellent job," he called back. He stood awhile longer and watched his daughter navigate through the mostly deserted street of Four Corners, then joined the rest of the seven in the saloon.

Vin was ready to put a stop to their lesson but Christine wouldn't hear of it. She begged and pouted for just a few more minutes. Vin couldn't say no when she looked at him with those big sad eyes and pouting bottom lip. Wrapped up in keeping an eye on the little girl in front of him, he was taken completely by surprise when a voice behind him shouted,

"Vin Tanner! I'm here to take you in!" The bullet that slammed into him also came as a surprise. The force sent him and Christine tumbling to the ground. He couldn't keep a grip on her and she landed several feet away from him.

His six comrades came running out of the saloon. Chris, Buck, and Josiah went after Vin's shooter who turned and ran. JD and Nathan ran to Vin. Both tried to keep him from sitting up while Nathan checked out his injured side. He tried to push them away, "I'm fine. It's just a flesh wound, the bullet went clean through. Where's Christine-"

He was interrupted by Ezra's desperate scream, "NATHAN!"

All eyes turned to the horrifying vision of Ezra sitting in the dusty street, clutching his daughter's lifeless, blood covered body to his chest.

They were all frozen for a moment, transfixed by the sight in front of them. Then Nathan remembered how to move. He got up and stumbled over Vin as he ran to Christine. He had to rip her out of Ezra's desperately clutching arms. He raced for his clinic, Ezra at his heels, yelling over his shoulder, "JD, take care of Vin!"

Chris pushed the struggling man into a jail cell. The bastard had made it about two miles outside of town before they'd caught him. He hadn't come easily.

"You can't do this! Vin Tanner is a wanted man with a price on his head!" he protested loudly.

"He was unarmed and you shot him in the back!" Chris yelled back.

"Dead or alive. Doesn't matter!" the bounty hunter taunted.

Chris started forward threateningly. Buck and Josiah both grabbed an arm to stop him. He was further distracted when JD stumbled in supporting Vin who was unbandaged and bleeding.

"Why hasn't Nathan seen to him?"

JD helped Vin into a chair, "Nathan's with Christine." He looked past Chris and Josiah to the man in the cell behind them, "You shot her!"

Without a word, Chris and Josiah charged out of the jail. Buck hung back, stepping close to the bounty hunter. His arm shot through the bars and he wrapped his fingers around the man's neck, "If she dies, I will kill you."

He walked swiftly to the door saying to JD as he passed, "Make sure that bastard doesn't get out."

Chris and Josiah burst into Nathan's room. Nathan and Mary were hunched around Christine's tiny body, working feverishly. It was impossible to see past them to gauge the extent of the child's injuries.

Ezra stood against the wall by the door. His eyes were opened wide as he stared at the scene in front of him, unable to look away. His skin was almost perfectly white, standing out in sharp contrast to the scarlet blood that covered his chest, arms, and hands. He was swaying ever so slightly from side to side.

Nathan looked up quickly, "Josiah, get Ezra the hell out of here."

"Ezra," Josiah approached him speaking quietly, "Come on, let's leave so Nathan can work." He lay a hand on Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra shook him off violently, never taking his eyes off his child. Neither Josiah or Chris could convince Ezra to leave. Finally, they forced him out. He kicked and struggled as they dragged him out and down the stairs and into the saloon. Chris pushed him into a chair. He stood back up and was immediately pushed down again by Chris.

"Nathan can't concentrate on Christine and worry about you at the same time."

Ezra slumped in the chair defeatedly. He looked so unlike the Ezra they were used to. Gone was his immaculate appearance. He sat in front of them covered in blood and dirt with his faced marked by tears. His hair stood on end from running his shaking fingers through it, a nervous gesture that had developed during Agatha's illnesses.

He was shaking his head back and forth frantically, "I can't lose her. I can't lose Christine, too." He dropped his face into his hands, "Oh, God."

JD came in, supporting a bandaged Vin. He helped him into a chair.

"How is she?" Vin asked.

"We don't know yet." Chris responded.

"She's so little, so helpless. I cannot lose her too." Ezra spoke into his shaking hands.

No one knew anything to say to bring him some comfort. So, they remained silent and prayed as they waited for news on the tiniest member of their family. It was hours and miles of pacing before Nathan finally came. He looked haggard, tired and defeated. They all jumped to their feet as he approached.

"How is she?"

"I removed the bullet from her back. We're just goin' to have to wait and see. She's so little and she lost so much blood..."

"May I see her?" Ezra asked desperately.

"Yes. Sit with her, talk to her. That's the best we can do for her right now." Nathan accepted the drink Josiah pressed into his shaking hands.

Both Ezra and Chris rushed out of the saloon.

Josiah walked quietly up to the door of Nathan's clinic. He carefully pushed the it open. He stepped into the darkened room and pushed the door shut behind him. He walked over to Christine's bed where Ezra and Chris sat in chairs on either side of her bed. Waiting. Only Chris looked up when the door opened. Ezra was too focused on his daughter to notice. Josiah motioned for Chris to come with him. They stepped out onto the clinic's balcony.

"What is it, Josiah?"

"Chris, you need to talk to Vin. We've all tried and none of us can't seem to talk any sense into him."

"Vin, why?'

"He's leaving."


"That's what he says."

"Where is he?"

"The livery last time I saw him."

Chris glanced at the clinic. "Sit with him, will ya?" he asked, jerking his head toward the room where Ezra sat.

"Of course."

Chris strode quickly to the livery, hoping to find his friend and stop him from doing anything stupid. Vin was there, leading Peso out of his stall. He reached for his saddle and tried to lift it up onto the horse's back. He ended up dropping it, clutching his side in pain.

"You're going to tear out those stitches Nathan just put in."

Vin looked at him, annoyed, "Then why don't you do it so I won't have to?"

"Depends on why you're saddling your horse."

"I'm leaving."

"To go where?"


"Then, no, I won't help you saddle your horse."

"I'm going, Chris! You can't stop me."

"Why are you going? To get hung?"

"If that's what happens when I turn myself in, then yes."

"Turn yourself-... Are you crazy?!"

"Don't you see what my being here has done? It's my fault that Christine is fighting for her life! I put everyone here in danger. She got hurt because of me."

"It's not your fault."

"Yes, it is! If I hadn't been here, she never would have gotten hurt. That bounty hunter was after me and Christine got shot because of it!"

"The only person responsible for Christine's injuries is that bastard in the jail. He's the one who pulled the trigger. He's the one who shot her. Not you." Chris realized he was getting no where. Vin was still convinced of his own guilt in Christine's shooting. Chris decided to change his approach, "Do you remember when Christine was about eighteen months old and Agatha left her with me, you, and Josiah? Remember how she started to choke on whatever it was we fed her? You were the one who knew what to do, you knew how to hold her and whack her on the back to get it out of her throat. You saved her life."


"And besides," Chris interrupted, "just imagine how furious she'll be when she wakes up and her Uncle Vin isn't here." He got very serious, "You can't just leave. We're all a family and we need you to stay."

"But Ezra-"

Chris cut him off again, "Ezra doesn't blame you."

Vin looked at Chris for a long time before slowly nodding his head, 'I'll stay."

Chris gave him a quick nod and headed back to Christine's side. Vin lead Peso back to his stall.

Ezra and Chris had rarely moved from Christine's bedside in the two days since the shooting. Day and night, at least one of them was with her. The others came for short visits. They spoke to her quietly, whispering encouragements. Josiah often prayed. Nathan entered the clinic. He needed to change Christine's bandages. So far, there was no sign of infection and he wanted to keep it that way. Ezra was slumped in a chair next to his daughter's bed, asleep. Nathan gently shook him awake.

"Ezra, I need to change her bandages, why don't you go down to the saloon? The others are there."

"No, I-"

"Ezra, go." Nathan interrupted. The last time he had changed Christine's bandages, the child had moaned in pain. Ezra had completely lost it and there was no way he was going through that again. "I need to change her bandages and I'm not going to do it with you here," he said firmly. Then his voice gentled, "Go get something to eat. We don't need you sick too."

Ezra stood and look down at his daughter. He tenderly stroked her hair and leaned down to kiss her forehead, whispering, "I love you, darlin'."

They had hot food waiting for him when he arrived at the saloon. He didn't speak. He sat down and picked up the fork but didn't eat. He just pushed the food around his plate.

"Ezra, you really need to eat something." JD said.

"Thank you for your concern, Mr. Dunne, but I find it impossible to ingest anything at this particular moment."

They all recognized the look in Ezra's eyes. They had held that look when Agatha got sick that last time and they knew she wasn't going to get well. Ezra was giving up.

Buck racked his brain for something, anything, that would pull his friend out of his dark mood. He fell back on what he knew. Humor. "Hey, Ezra, remember the last time Agatha was in here? When that professional gambler was in town and you couldn't beat him honestly and since you both checked the other before a game, you couldn't hide any cards, so you used Christine. Hiding cards in her diaper." Buck forced a chuckle and looked around at the others desperately for some help.

Vin picked up on what he was trying to do. "Yeah, and then Agatha walked in and realized what you were doing. Woo boy, I ain't never seen her that mad." They could all still hear Agatha's voice as she jerked the baby out of Ezra's arms like it was yesterday, "Ezra Standish! You low down dirty skunk! You're using my baby to cheat?!!" The chuckles were a little less forced now as they remembered the past.

"And the gambler felt so bad for you he let it go."

A slight smile curled Ezra's lips, "She was magnificent that day. Standing over me with righteous indignation in her eyes." The smile got a little bigger, "She swore never to step foot in here again because she didn't like what she saw. And she never did." They all grinned at Agatha's determination.

The laughter faded, and JD, afraid the lighter mood would dissipate, said, "What about the time Christine got her hands on Chris's gun?" The chuckles returned.

They were able to laugh about it now, but at the time it had been terrifying. Watching her swing around the heavy, loaded weapon had stopped everyone's heart.

"She took ten years off my life that day," Chris commented. "I'll never understand how she got it out of my holster."

"Nimble fingers, Mr. Larabee." Ezra said. "Got them from her mother." The laughter was coming naturally now as they thought of Christine inheriting her mother's pick pocketing skills.

Josiah spoke up, "Remember her first words?" Everyone groaned even as they laughed thinking about it.

Agatha had been waiting on pins and needles for Christine to start talking. She'd repeated 'mama' over and over to the child, wanting it to be the first thing she said. But when she started speaking, it wasn't 'mama' that came out of it.

"I can still see her," Buck said between laughs, "standing in the kitchen, opening her sweet little mouth and 'aww hell' coming out of it." They laughed louder.

"Snicker now," Ezra said grinning, "but it took months to get her to stop saying it."

Nathan approached wondering how they had managed to get Ezra to smile again. It didn't matter, it was just good to see. "Ezra, I'm done changing her bandages. You can go back up," he said.

Ezra stood and looked at his friends, "Thank you, gentlemen," he said quietly. He walked swiftly out of the saloon, back to his daughter. It felt good to have people in his life who would help lessen the burdens he was carrying.

Three days after the shooting Christine had yet to wake up. The entire town had a strange feeling of limbo hanging over it. They were all just waiting. Buck and JD quietly pushed open Nathan's door. Ezra sat in his chair next to Christine's bed. He held one of her tiny hands in his as he murmured quietly to her. They tiptoed across the room and stood on the other side of her bed. Buck sat in the chair there and gently picked up her other hand.

"Hey, there, Chrissy. You gotta wake up soon. I'm wanting to go fishing and I can't go without my best girl." Buck looked down at her as he spoke. She didn't seem like the Christine he knew. She was so pale. Her little eye lids were bluish, he could see the tiny veins in them. The unruly blond hair, that she kicked and screamed when someone tried to brush, had been tamed into two tidy braids. She was too still, too quiet to be the vibrant little girl they all loved.

"Ezra, is there anything we can get you?" JD asked as he and Buck got ready to leave a few minutes later.

"No, thank you, Mr. Dunne."

Nathan entered as they left. He lay his hand on Christine's forehead, checking for fever, then gently examined her wound.

"How is she?"

"Still no sign of infection. That's real good," Nathan commented.

"Ezra, maybe you should go get some rest."

"I'm fine, Mr. Jackson." Nathan looked skeptical but let it go. He left to go find Chris. Chris and Vin entered the sickroom a few minutes later after talking to Nathan.

"Ezra," Chris said quietly," you need to go get some rest."

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not. You're not going to be any good to anyone in the shape you're in, especially Christine."

Ezra finally gave in and stumbled into the next room and collapsed onto the bed. Chris and Vin each took a seat on either side of Christine's bed. Chris took a hold of her hand.

"Come on, Little Chris, you need to wake up before we all fall apart."

Vin gently stroked her hair and leaned close to whisper, "I'm sorry, Miss Christine." He pulled out the harmonica she loved to dance to as he played and began a quiet song he made up just for her as he went along.

Ezra could only sleep for a few hours. Chris and Vin tried to convince him to sleep awhile longer but he told them, "I need to be here for whatever happens." They were reluctant to leave but Josiah came in, so they wouldn't be leaving Ezra alone. Ezra and Josiah replaced Chris and Vin in the chairs by Christine's bed as they stepped out into the night. They sat in silence for awhile before Josiah began to quietly recite a prayer.

"The Lord is my shepherd..."

Ezra let the familiar words wash over him. Josiah had said it often with Agatha. It had been her favorite at the end.

*Please, God,* he prayed, *don't let this be Christine's end.* He suddenly wanted to shout at Josiah to shut up. That prayer was for Agatha's death. Christine wouldn't die, couldn't die, so he should just stop saying it. He propped his elbows on his knees and held his head in his hands as he continued to pray. *Please, God, she's all I've got left. She's all that's left of Agatha to love. I can't lose her, too.* A small voice interrupted his internal voice and Josiah's prayer.


The End